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New MMO Players Are Old Noobs

In doing the research for the last article, I came across this interesting August interview with Tom Chilton. It is a sort of “past 10 years, next 10 years” sort of interview, but here were the quotes I want to draw attention to:

Q. Each expansion clearly serves the game’s existing audience first, but there always appears to be a secondary goal of either driving new player sign-ups, or winning back lapsed accounts. Warlords of Draenor looks like it’s especially designed to win back lapsed players. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

A. […] We are also trying to make things easier for new players. We have an improved tutorial. We’ve definitely found over time that the players we’re getting now are far less familiar with the standard MMO-slash-RPG mechanics than the players we got years ago were.

Frankly, that’s the biggest difference in terms of our subscribership. It’s harder to keep the funnel of people coming in to offset, inevitably, people not playing anymore.

So we’re making a lot of improvements there, teaching people how to move their characters, how to look around, and how to turn their first quest in, because we’re seeing that’s where huge amounts of people drop out.

Back in September, I posted a similar Q&A session with Ghostcrawler who basically said the exact same thing:

I’d like to know what Blizzard considers to be the big barriers.
Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a movable camera. (Bashiok)
I agree. So does a lot of data. (Source)

Back to the Chilton interview though, he makes a point about how… well, let me just post it:

Q. Going back to the subject of 10 years, and talking about changes in the subscribership, different playstyles and different expectations, have you seen a shift in your demographics?

Chilton: We certainly have. Our demographic has gotten a lot older over time. A lot of that is because we have a lot of players who’ve been with us for 10 years, and now they’re 10 years older than when they first started playing. Our age has shifted up over the last 10 years.

That has interesting implications in that essentially the playerbase becomes more casual over time. As people get older and have kids and careers, they have less time to spend on playing the MMO.

It definitely influences how we evolve the content and trying to make sure that there are good ways to engage with the game that aren’t massively time-consuming.

Now, it is a pretty well-tread argument that players get more casual over time, for exactly the reasons mentioned: you got older, out of college, kids, more obligations, and so on. But I find it a little weird when combined with the prior quote from Chilton insofar as most of the new players coming into WoW are having issues with camera movement and turning in quests. I mean, unless WoW is literally your first RPG, you would think that most everyone coming in would have experience with similar mechanics from literally any other RPG in the last 10 years.

All of which is leading me to believe that, perhaps, most of the new players coming into WoW are precisely older people who haven’t played many (or any) RPGs prior to this. It could almost be poetic, if the players who started playing 10 years ago (and kept going) are recruiting their now-older non-gamer peers into the game because those are the only people they know. Hell, you can almost imagine this as a geologic strata forming: the MMO layer being compressed by the MOBA layer of slightly younger players, followed by the Minecraft generation.

None of that really describes what’s going on with the FPS genre or console games, but it’s a convenient narrative I’m rolling with.

The PlanetSide 2 Quickstart Guide

So you went and downloaded PlanetSide 2. Now what?

The following set of tips and tweaks that will hopefully make your beginning experience that much smoother in PlanetSide 2 (hereafter Ps2).

Why Bother in the First Place?

To be completely honest, the new player experience in Ps2 is awful. Right after character creation, you will be drop-podded down into the thickest fighting on the map as a Light Assault class, and probably killed in seconds before you even had the chance to look at the keybindings. You will empty a clip into the first enemy you see, and they will turn around and kill you with two bullets. Your HUD will be filled with icons that may as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics, there will be cooldowns and resources and cash shop items and oh my god get me out of here. The entire purpose of this quickstart guide is to soften the blow, but you are still going to be punched in the face. So why bother, especially with this F2P game?

Because this happens:

Escorting the 15-man plane so it can break a stalemate.

Escorting the 15-man Galaxy so it can break a stalemate.

And this happens:

Moments before your squad's own deployment.

Moments before your squad’s own deployment.

Oh, and this was yesterday:

Still frames doesn't do the firefight justice.

Still frames doesn’t do the firefight justice.

I am not a part of a Guild/Outfit, I did not schedule my play session, I know none of the people I was playing with, and I likely won’t even see them again. Many people will say that the “correct” way to play Ps2 will be a part of an organized group of friends. That might be more fun, but it can be plenty fun logging in solo. Will you experience the sort of uniform fun that comes from playing a few maps of Battlefield 3? Not all the time, no. But I can say you will never get a moment in BF3 when you are flying in formation with 20+ other airplanes, raining havoc upon your foes. Or having the ability to create a tank on a whim, instead of waiting for a respawn.

Suffice it to say, when Ps2 is good, it’s really good. When it’s not, it’s not. This guide is about getting more of the former, and less of the latter.

Finding the Action

So you’ve just been killed within 30 seconds of starting the game for the first time, or maybe you have just been wandering around, lost and confused. Where is all the action taking place?

First, hit either Esc or M to bring up your main menu:

First thing I do whenever I log on.

First thing I do whenever I log on.

  1. Click the Social button.
  2. Click the Join Squad button next to a squad you think will work for you.
  3. Click the Map button.
  4. In the lower-left part of the map, click Squad Leader and then Deploy.

If you follow the steps, you will be drop-podded near where the squad leader is located, which will typically be in the middle of a war-zone. From there, find some friendlies and follow them around, occasionally shooting bad guys. There is no guarantee that your squad knows what it is doing, but the idea is to get yourself acclimated to this particular FPS flow, with base layouts, how firefights play out, and so on.

When you die – and you will, many, many times – you will see a screen like this:

Get used to it.

Get used to it.

First thing I’d recommend, if you haven’t already, is change your class: click on either the Combat Medic or Engineer. For the Deployment locations, they are generally listed in the distance from where you were killed. You will not always be able to respawn near where you were fighting; sometimes your spawn location will be taken over (if a base) or otherwise destroyed (Sunderer). A Sunderer is a troop carrier vehicle that can deploy into a mobile spawn location, and will be your best friend in any base assault.

It is also worth noting that the little symbols on the right end of the bar correspond to what kind of consoles are located there. Every base will have a Pistol icon (Infantry console), but whether there are others depends on the base layout. For example, if I want to spawn somewhere where I can create an airplane, I’ll need to choose one of the bottom two.

What Do I Do?

The general idea is to take over every base on the map. Each area on the map will have one or more types of bases, ranging from small outposts to those huge Biodomes you can see from miles away. Taking over bases involves putting warm bodies next to the capture nodes for the base/region and waiting for a bar to fill up. In larger bases, there will be generators that power shields that keep your faction’s vehicles at bay, along with shields that protect a 2nd generator keeping the enemy’s spawn location active.

It sounds complicated, and to be honest, I believe it is overly complicated for no reason. If you familiarize yourself with the various icons though, it becomes much easier to follow.

Not pictured: 167 other stupid icons.

Not pictured: 167 other stupid icons.

Basically, if you see the Up Arrow icon in someone else’s colors, go there, and hang out near the weird data thing pictured in the lower right. You can see your progress towards capturing this particular node in the center top of your screen. Once captured, you should be able to start spawning near this location. If you see an [A] icon instead, that means… well, do the exact same thing. The key difference is that capturing an [A] node is just as quick as before, but your faction won’t actually own that point on the map until that second bar in the center-left part of your screen fills up. With bigger bases, you will also need to cap [B] and [C] if they exist. I don’t know for sure whether the map only caps if there are people hanging out near a capture point, but hang out anyway; being near a facility being capped gives you a huge XP bonus (enough for +4 Certs for a Biodome, in fact).

Not pictured above are the various generator icons, the respawn generator icon for large facilities, and other things. While you do want to help blow generators up (go up to them and hold E to destabilize them), it is not something I would focus on as a brand new player. You are likely going to be of much more use helping your team cap nodes than bringing down the shields so your tank column can set up shop outside the enemy respawn location.

Teleporters are probably useful. Use them. Indeed, if you are assaulting a Biodome, if you capture the outlying bases (they will have the Up Arrow symbol near them) then you gain access to a teleporter that sends you to a shielded room in the heart of the Biodome. “Shielded” as in you can shoot enemies out of the room, but they cannot shoot you inside. Biodomes sieges in general are good sources of close-quarters killing/farming XP.

There are three types of consoles are indicated by their symbol: Pistols (Infantry), Tanks (Vehicles), and Airplanes (Airplanes) Go up and press E to use them. You can restock ammo infinitely at the Infantry consoles, along with changing your class. Vehicle and Airplane consoles are pretty straightforward, and you should never feel like you don’t know enough about the vehicle in question to build one and drive it around. Each player has their own individual Resource pools from which to build vehicles, it fills up by X amount every 5 minutes automatically, and it has a cap of 750 points. Ergo, if you have 750 Mechanized Resources and aren’t building a tank, then those Resources are going to waste.

Speaking of wasted points, here is another Pro Tip: you spend Infantry Resources to get more grenades (among other things).

Yet another thing that should have been in a tutorial.

Yet another thing that should have been in a tutorial.

  1. If you have more than 100 Infantry Resources, go ahead and stock up on (explosive) consumables.
  2. Pick the class with the consumable (grenades are universal), then click a Loadout.
  3. Click on Grenade or Utility, depending on what you have.
  4. Make sure the appropriate item is selected, then click Resupply.

The short version is that things like grenades are considered one-use consumables; you can only carry one grenade at a time (unless you unlock more), but you might only start with 5 total across all your classes. Since the only other use of Infantry Resources is busting out a MAX unit, anytime you have more than ~100 points, spend them to stock up on your consumables (which includes medpacks, proximity mines, C-4, and anything else you’ve unlocked). If you let your Infantry Resources cap out at 750, you are seriously hurting yourself later should you get into a situation that calls for some supplemental utility.

Classes

As I mentioned before, I am recommending the Combat Medic or Engineer for new players. Why? Not only are both useful in a group setting, but you are also much more self-sufficient as either class than you would be by yourself. And until you get a handle on what is going on, you are probably going to find yourself lost and alone pretty often. Here is a quick rundown:

  • Infiltrator – Press F to cloak, but you cannot fire or be healed. Class is a bit weak until you unlock better sniper rifles. Hack enemy consoles by pressing E.
  • Light Assault – Double-tap or hold Spacebar for jetpack. If you are ever fighting somewhere that you can get to without a jetpack, you are doing it wrong.
  • Combat Medic – Press F for AoE heal (including yourself). Use your heal gun on people; revive the dead. When you revive someone, finish healing them.
  • Engineer – Drop ammo boxes, drop a turret that you can man. Repair everything, especially friendly MAX units.
  • Heavy Assault – Press F for an extra shield. Only class with default ability to hurt vehicles via rocket launcher.
  • MAX – Press F to run fast for a few seconds. Left-click left gun, right-click right gun. Swap anti-tank weapon for anti-air depending on fight.

Personally, I play Engineer 90% of the time in-game. Running out of ammo is a pretty major concern in Ps2, and few people run around as Engineers despite it being an easy source of XP. Each time someone gets resupplied, you get 10xp, or 10% of a kill. Plus, after you take a base, there is typically a lot of repairing that needs to be done to get the AA guns and consoles back online.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • There is friendly fire in this game.
  • You can move your drop pod slightly with WASD. Aim for rooftops.
  • Press Q all the time. It will help you spot enemies you didn’t actually see. Plus, if someone kills them you get free Spotting XP.
  • The secondary fire (press B) of the Engineer Turret is another ammo pack. Once you buy some other Utility item, drop your “regular” ammo packs and get the benefits of having both.
  • You can swap out a MAX’s weapon loadout at any Infantry console without losing the MAX itself. If you switch classes though, the MAX goes on cooldown.
  • Drop an ammo pack near Sunderers, get massive amounts of Resupply XP from people running back to change classes/get more ammo.
  • Normal guns can damage light aircraft (Scythes, etc), so shoot at them to encourage them to go somewhere else. Larger aircraft are immune, though.

Certifications, aka Certs

All the XP you are earning is basically a means to get additional Cert points to unlock new weapons, gear, attachments, and… well, everything. The Cert interface is pretty confusing, especially when you start browsing the weapons, but there are some inexpensive items to get you started.

Another UI element that could be cleaned up.

Another UI element that could be cleaned up.

In the screenshot above, we are looking at the Suit Slot of the Heavy Assault class. Note that there are six different options, but you can only equip one of the upgrades under the specific tab at a time. I already have the first rank in Nanoweave Armor, which gives me 10% base health and cost exactly one (1) Cert to purchase; the next rank is pretty inexpensive at 10 Certs as well. The different classes usually have different options, although sometimes an unlock is class-wide, such as Medpacks and even some weapons like shotguns. If you unlock something new, such as a gun attachment or the aforementioned Nanoweave Armor, you have to specifically equip it in a Loadout before it takes effect.

The above process is the same for vehicle Certs.

Are there must-have Certs, or always-avoid Certs? Probably. I recommend getting the Nanoweave Armor upgrade on all your classes since it is 1 Cert a pop, for example. There are some similarly cheap upgrades for the healing/repair guns. I might also recommend unlocking Medpacks since they get unlocked for all classes with a single purchase (don’t forget to equip them and buy more with Infantry Resources!). From there is starts to hugely depend on what class you have found yourself gravitating towards. Since I enjoy the Engineer the most, I went ahead and bought him some Proximity Mines. Just yesterday I purchased C-4 for my Light Assault as an investment in future shenanigans.

When it comes to weapons, I have been playing it pretty slow and avoiding spending any Certs. The majority of the guns cost a whopping 1000 Certs, which is probably 10-20 hours of straight gaming assuming you know what you are doing; no matter how cool the weapon, you are likely go to get a lot more mileage out of class upgrades than weapons, especially since the former cannot be purchased with Station Cash (only boosts). Once you do find a weapon you enjoy using though, I recommend investing in a better scope and horizontal stabilizer.

By the way, you will passively earn roughly ~12 Certs overnight. It is not a whole lot, and you stop earning them after 48 hours of not logging on, but there are some decent early ranks you can pick up with that amount.

How Much Will This Really Cost Me?

It’s Free to Play, bro.

…for the most part. We all know F2P games are not always as free as they appear, but Ps2 is a lot better than any I seen. The 1000 Cert floor for most weapons takes them off the table for rational people, and while all of them being “sidegrades” is probably a bit too charitable, I am extremely satisfied with the default guns (as Vanu… your faction mileage may vary).

The only point at which I feel at a decided disadvantage is when it comes to the Heavy Assault rocket launchers and the light aircraft rocket pods. The default dumb-fire rocket launcher for the Heavy deals the most damage out of the available options, but the AA rocket launcher can change a “getting farmed in respawn location by aircraft” engagement into an enemy rout. On the flip side, flying a light aircraft with the A2G rocket pods can turn you into a jealous Greek god, meting out judgment upon the lowly worms in your warpath.

There are ways around these limitations – switch to a MAX with an AA gun if aircraft are near, and… just use your machine gun or not fly – but these were definite F2P thumbscrews for me. I have heard similar things regarding High-Explosive rounds for tanks vs the default ammo, but I have not used ground vehicles all that much when I could be getting my Greek on.

Important note: Cert/Station Cash unlocks are currently character-specific. In other words, if you dropped some real cash unlocking rocket pods for the Scythe (Vanu faction), you cannot use those rocket pods on another Vanu character on another server, or different faction on the same server. This is slated to change in future, i.e. unlocks becoming account-wide, but there was no timeline given so who knows when that will go into affect. Such a change will apparently be retroactive, but in the meantime, it is a good idea to stick to a faction/character you think you can live with.

Conclusion

If all the negative press regarding the new player experience has made you leery of downloading Ps2… well, it’s true. The new player experience sucks. However! From what I have been reading, the developers are listening to and implementing feedback at a pretty quick clip. Plus, hopefully this Quickstart guide will ease your passing into what I have found to be a very entertaining FPS.

Honestly, after being able to create vehicles on a whim, I don’t know if I will be able to go back to the Battlefield 3 model of camping the helicopter pad for a chance at 3 minutes of fun. There are still timers in Ps2 to prevent light aircraft spam, but between using Certs to reduce the timer or simply creating a tank to wait down the clock, I am never at a lack for mayhem to get into.