Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Memoir 44 Online, thoughts on sustaining multi-player games

It is an undeniable fact that it takes money to maintain online games for players.  The revenue from initial sales cannot justify a game’s online existence past a set amount of time.  Subscriptions or DLC or micro-transactions are a reality (Guild Wars not withstanding).  Currently the Free 2 Play with micro transactions model is winning out.  Players get hooked on the freebie and then come back paying for more.  Some people view this as bad, but personally I view it as good and in my world it’s a way for me to reward the developer for giving me the game to try first before I invest.
This upkeep is one of the reasons I believe we have not seen many popular board or card games come to the multi-player online space, even when they are directly tied to an online game.  It baffles me that the World of Warcraft card game, is in fact, a physical card game.   Where is the UI mod that lets me play WoW the card game while playing WoW the MMOG on my PC? 
I can live without fluff card games such as the WoW CCG on the PC, but I have a significant itch for some good online multi-player board gaming on (and I’m not just talking cheap flash rip offs).  Fortunately, in stepped Days of Wonder (DoW) with Memoir 44 Online
Not only did they pick the right game to try out to scratch my itch, but they chose the right platform (Steam) and a solid business model (pseudo-subscription).
In order to play games online, players must spend Gold Ingots (GI).  For starters a player is given 50 GI, which results in them being able to play about 16 games completely free of charge.  From there they can purchase buckets of GI to play more games.  The amounts are various generous and I can forsee months worth of play for very little investment.
My only concern with the model is that it probably won’t work for games with smaller followings as after the initial freebie rush, the players start getting gated out.  I’d prefer to see a monthly recurring infusion of free GI to players so the free ride lasts.  If the game is good enough it will convert those free riders into paying players.  Free GI would actually be a great way to market the game.  Other systems such as refer-a-friend would work as well to reward players for joining up.
Memoir 44 Online is doing its best to show the potential of this system.  It’s a great, time-tested board game to begin with, so it was a question of implementation and DoW nailed it.  Anyone having played the board game can immediately sit down and be ready to go with the PC version.  For new players there is a well made tutorial and the game itself lends to ease of learning via right clicking to see the rule cards governing each piece of the game. 
Online match making is a little hard to understand as the same screen used for launching solo play is used to initiate multi-player games. After a quick chat in the main chat room, I was able to figure out how to start a match (but ended up being invited into a game by another player).  I didn’t fair well on my first couple of matches just due to the fact I hadn’t played Memoir 44 in ages and have far more experience with its fantasy-based sibling Battle Lore.

The game runs absolutely great on my laptop (Alienware MX11 R2) and hooked up to the big screen it’s a glorious site to behold.  The added flair to actions and combat is a nice touch.  And the biggest benefit to playing this game digitally is the zero set up and zero clean up of all the tiny plastic pieces!


Personally, I would find it embarassing if my company's flahship game had an error displaying the terms of service which then prevented players from playing. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wrath of Heroes is wrong, how I would do WAR Free 2 Play

I’ve tried my hand at thinking up a Free 2 Play (F2P) model for Warhammer Online (WAR) before, but I fell into the trap of making a model that was too confusing.  WAR COINS was a bad idea.  Bioware Mythic also has an idea for F2P WAR in the case of Wrath of Heroes (WoH).  Unfortunately, WoH heads in the wrong direction by making an entirely seperate game, so I'd like to take a few minutes to propose a new F2P model for WAR that would still be the same game we all wanted to love so dearly before having our dreams crushed.
One of my biggest problems with WAR has been the lack of content and action within the tier four RvR lakes (aka zones).  The lakes are more like deserts, devoid of content and people except for the oasis of an undefended keep.  The lack of content can't be fixed over night, but the lack of people certainly can.
Instead of building WoH, Bioware Mythic needs to be bringing the tier four Realm vs Realm (RvR) action to F2P.  Over night, populations in the RvR zones and scenarios would double (if not triple).  Undefended keeps would turn into knock out, drag out fights.  People would be interested and focused on RvR again.
And why would they be so locked onto RvR?  Because the F2P model would gate them from the PvE content. RvR zones and scenarios would be 100% F2P.  Players would start off with a rank 31 character that was restricted to travel only within the tier four RvR zones.  Through RvR they could level up to 40 and gain up to Realm Rank (RR) 20 (adjustable through testing).
That would not be the only change.  As it is, WAR's best gear lies within RvR gameplay.  In my model, the best gear would be pushed towards the PvE aspects of WAR.  Tier four Public Quests and the Land of the Dead would be where the good loot was to be had.  Access to the PvE zones would be available to subscribers willing to pay a monthly fee.  The gear would only be useable by those that are active subscribers or active within the last month (aka players get a one month grace period to use their gear after going strict F2P).
Other benefits of subscribing, which I am calling "becoming a Citizen of the Realm" include the ability to exceed realm rank 20, capital city access, increased experience and RP rates, and prestigous battlefield titles (basically, the F2P zergs will recognize who is a paying player when on the RvR battlefield).  All except the titles would be retainable when switching back to F2P (yes, thats basically a month subscription price to access the capital cities, including sieges).
Which seguays into the downsides of being a "member of the Free Companies", one of which is being able to help push zones towards a capital city siege, but not being able to participate in it.  Those within the Free Companies would also be restricted to to only one character slot, prevented from using PvE gear, recieve lower priority for scenario queuing, and gain experience and RP at the standard rate.
This approach achieves almost exactly what Wrath of Heroes is attempting, but with the benefit of still supporting the main WAR and providing a little flavor differentiation.  Also there is strong evidence that this is exactly what freeloaders would want out of a F2P WAR.  We only have to look at the current limitless trial for WAR where anyone can play up to the top of Empire's tier one for free for as long as they want.  WAR's Empire tier 1 is always bustling and the RvR zones and scenarios filled.  Why Mythic then abandons any of those poor souls who decide to subscribe to the barren wasteland that is tier two and three is anyone's guess, but after playing Wrath of Heroes a few hours, I'm not at all surprised.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Last Hitting (and denying) in DOTA-like MOBA games

Last hitting in DOTA-like MOBA games is completely against the idea of a competitive player vs player experience.  It restricts players by making them spend more time looking at minion health bars than competing against the enemy players.  Not to mention the idea of denying, whereby players attack and kill their own minions to deny the enemy from doing it.  Both are unintuitive left-overs from the Warcraft III engine and its disappointing to see games such as League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and DOTA 2 sticking with them.

There are better solutions that would allow players to focus on each other instead of minion health bars.  For example, there should be a radius around the minions in which gold is gained when the minion dies.  This way the focus for the player is to zone (aka push) their opponent out of the minions gold radius without having to then immediately stop focusing on the other player and return to health bar duty.  If players are unable to push each other out of the “gold radius” then they stay on par with each other.

Not only is this solution good for encouraging player vs player interaction, it also helps balance champions/heroes.  No longer does the speed of attack animations have to come into account for the sake of last hitting.  Also players can try new characters out without first having to spend practice games mastering attack animations;
which means the average player can more competently play more characters.

Removing last hitting also helps to speed up the rate at which gold is “farmed” which in turn cuts down the rather boring farming phase of most DOTA games.  This would then help cut down the length of the average match as players more quickly achieve their goals.

Battlefield 3 Recommended PC Specs

Battlefield 3's recommended PC specs are below:

OS: Windows 7 64-bit
Processor: Quad-core Intel or AMD CPU
Graphics card: DirectX 11 Nvidia or AMD ATI card, Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 or ATI Radeon 6950.
Graphics card memory: 1 GB
Sound card: DirectX compatibl sound card
Hard drive: 15 GB for disc version or 10 GB for digital version

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steve Jobs and the League of Legends

I'll make no bones about it: I didn't like Steve Jobs.  There has been and are far more influential people in the tech industry that will never receive the amount of attention that Steve Jobs has garnered.  However, most of all I dislike Steve Jobs because he's a lot like me (give our take a billion or so dollars) and I know I'd dislike me if I wasn't me.

Steve Jobs' greatest achievement was giving people what they needed instead of what they wanted.  He literally had no technical breakthroughs with any of the things he was involved with.  He simply ignored everything customers and critics ever leveled against him and forged ahead with his vision.  For him it worked because he controlled the vision; viciously.

The Steve Jobs approach.  The giving communities of people what they need instead of what they want.  This.  This is still a very valid and increasingly needed approach to all products.  Actually, its an excellent barometer to use when comparing forces in other markets.

The more I become involved in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) community, through playing League of Legends, the more I like to look at what has happened in the (MOBA) market and what is coming up.  What I see reminds me a lot of the Steve Jobs Apple.

The three big players in the MOBA mareket are: DOTA (the original Warcraft III mod), League of Legends (from Riot games), and Heroes of Newerth (from S2).  The 500 lb gorilla in the room, currently in beta testing, is DOTA 2 (from Valve). 

The current king, by all measurements, is League of Legends (LoL) which boasts 15+ million accounts on its Free 2 Play model.  Heroes of Newerth (HoN) in comparison had approximately 400,000 accounts when it was a standalone boxed game, but it recently moved to Free 2 Play model and new player numbers are not available yet (regardless, its still well below LoL's numbers).  There is no reliable way to count the number of DOTA players due to the fact it is still a mod, but estimates are over a million players for the original DOTA (again well shy of LoL).  Valve's DOTA2 did attract over 500,000 beta requests and goes into full scale testing soon.

LoL is considered a simpler version of DOTA and it's developers, Riot Games, actively support this notion as they designed the game to be easier to learn and have produced a non-DOTA game mode.  HoN is a near clone of the original DOTA.  DOTA2 is the literal clone of DOTA and is exactly the same game, but with Valve's Source Engine and a focus on more community features.

Even with DOTA2 spinning up and Blizzard threatening with their own official DOTA flavor on the Starcraft 2 engine, LoL is dominating the market.  And to me LoL is the Steve Jobs of the MOBA genre.  LoL by no means does what it's players want.  It does what the players need, whether they know it yet or not.

If you ask LoL players what they want you will inevitably come to the conclusion that LoL players want:

1. Replays
2. Spectator Mode
3. A better game client/launcher

Riot Games has been slow to develop any of these.  Not to say they haven't worked on any of these areas, but if you spoke to the LoL faithful you would quickly think that Riot hates their core community.  It's practically a crime at this point that LoL doesn't have replays, or spectator mode and that players are still forced in to the Adobe Air game client (FROM HELL!).

Funny thing is, all of these items are things players WANT (seriously, they won't shut up about them), but in no way is it what a MOBA game NEEDS.  MOBA games, especially those inspired by DOTA, have a reputation problem.  The original DOTA community sucks.  It's intolerant of new or bad players.  While DOTA offers an incredibly deep and competitive experience, the community continually keeps the vast majority of new players away.  Replays, spectator modes, and game clients can not fox that problem.  A MOBA game can not be successful on the DOTA model without dealing with the community.

As LoL players screamed for the listed items above, Riot Games focused on other endeavors, one of which is an absolute key to their success: The Tribunal.  The Tribunal is a community polcing tool.  If a player acts the fool in a game of LoL, players can easily report them for various infractions (most often, verbal abuse).  These reports are then later reviewed by players who get to say yay or nay to whether the conduct reported was detrimental to the community. The recommendation of the players is then forwarded to Riot Games who makes a final call on the punishment.  More times than not if a random selection of players votes that someone was being a jerk, Riot agrees and warns (or bans) the account.

LoL and Riot Games have taken this to the bank, millions of times over while their competitors (mainly HoN) tried to simply redeliver the DOTA game.  To no one's surprise, the bad community vibe followed right along to HoN.  Now that HoN is Free 2 Play, its easy to compare the two communities.  HoN is terrible.  LoL is no picnic all of the time either, but there is satisfaction to be had knowing that fellow players will be judging the retards who can't keep their fingers off the /all chat key.  Overall, LoL has far fewer problems because of the Tribunal.

Problem is, LoL players feel cheated because development efforts went into the Tribunal, which most players felt was just a waste of time (after all, we should all just accept terrible communities because there are mute buttons  AMIRITE!?!).  Players WANTED replays. They wanted LoL, the then second generation of DOTA, to fill in features that DOTA had, but could not capitalize on due to being tied to the Warcraft III engine.  Riot put their head in the sand and said NO.  They pushed on what they knew was going to make their game a success.  They made LoL accessible and policed the 12 year olds (in 30 something old bodies).

This is not a blanket "Riot did everything right statement."  Riot has made it's share of mistakes.  Riot was right though and delivered to the needs of their players.  Players were the DOTA-like game's worst enemy and they essentially fixed it while making LoL accessible.  Had they made the game accessible and not fixed the community, the game wouldn't have survived.

Moving forward, DOTA2 is coming down the pipe line.  We don't know if it will be Free 2 Play.  We don't know what Valve is doing to tackle the community problem.  However, we know DOTA2 will have replays.  DOTA2 will have spectating.  DOTA2 will have a lot of what the players WANT. My concern is that DOTA2 and Valve may not be focusing on what players need.  However, Valve has a stubborn history themselves.  All one needs to do is look at the history of Steam itself to know Valve knows what players need well before we even know we need it.  Let's hope Valve is ahead of the curve with DOTA2.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hide the kids: World of Warcraft selling GOLD for CASH

Rock, Paper, Shotgun sums this gem up nicely:
The day has come. Pack your children into a suitcase, sell the dog, flee to the countryside and put all your energy into growing giant marrows. The end times are coming. The Great Doom has begun. The last bastion has fallen.

World of Warcraft now allows you, in a roundabout sort of way, to officially swap real money for in-game gold. RUN FOR THE HILLS.
The basics are this:

Blizzard sells pet for $10
Pet is NOT Bind on Aquire
Players sell Pet in Auction House for X gold
Players are now able to basically buy gold for cash via $10 pet

Why Blizzard just doesn't cut the shennanigans out is beyond me. They need to just shut up and start selling gold and other mictro-transactions and move World of Warcraft to a Free 2 Play model.

Monday, September 26, 2011

League of Legends: Dominion is LIVE

League of Legends: Dominion is now live. Go!

The moment that you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived! Today, you’ll step onto the battlefield to face off against your opponents on the Crystal Scar! Get ready to capture, defend and dominate your enemies in this brand new game mode for League of Legends!

We promised to deliver the unexpected in 2011, and today we make good on that claim.

Nearly a year in the making, League of Legends: Dominion represents the largest and most ambitious update to League of Legends since its launch in October of 2009. In Dominion, summoners do battle on a brand new map, the Crystal Scar, and vie for control over five Capture Points, a style of play never before attempted in the League of Legends universe.

League of Legends: Dominion is the latest example of our ongoing commitment to bringing you the best of the MOBA genre in new and innovative ways. You’ve been requesting new battlefields upon which to test your skills, and today you’ll do battle not only on a brand new Field of Justice, but in an entirely new and groundbreaking game mode!

Prepare yourselves, summoners! The battle for the Crystal Scar has officially begun!
Video for the unattenuated:

Friday, September 02, 2011

It's MOBA, not ARTS

MOBA - Multiplayer Online Battle Arena
ARTS - Action Real Time Strategy

It annoys me, greatly, that games such as League of Legends (LoL) and DOTA2 are referred to as ARTS.  The term action does NOT fit with the term strategy.  Strategy infers some form of logistical component to the gameplay.  None of aforementioned games feature any form of logistical management.  They very much focus on the action, aka tactical, gameplay elements.

MOBA, on the other hand, describes the games perfectly.  They are multiplayer games that feature battles in arena-style maps.  Sure, the DOTA model has lanes, creeps, and towers, but don't be fooled.  DOTA is still about killing the other team.  DOTA just adds objective-based gameplay into the arena (and objective-based gameplay long ago took over straight up death match).

So next time you are out at the pub talking up the latest dime-a-dozen MOBA coming down the line, please remember this post.