Author Archives: Azuriel
Before its release in August 2016, the hype train for No Man’s Sky was insane. Something like 17 trillion different planets in a vibrant galaxy full of procedurally-generated lifeforms. Do anything, go anywhere! Reality hit people hard, including me, even though I did not buy the game at release.
I did buy the game a week or so ago though, and I can say that after a year of actually substantive updates, No Man’s Sky is almost ready for its debut. Mostly.
The first hour or so of gameplay is not that great, and can be worse depending on the randomly generated planet you start on. The vast majority of planets have hostile weather that necessitates the constant recharging of suit protections, driving you to seek shelter in your ship or a cave or farming Zinc from plants. Your ship needs Plutonium to lift off the ground each time, and your Life Support systems can only be charged with Thamium9. And you have to juggle all of these competing element requirements with a micro-inventory that gets worse before it gets better.
That’s really the summary for the game: No Man’s Sky gets worse before it gets better. Mostly.
After getting a few upgrades here and there, especially getting a better ship, the game opens up tremendously. You still need all the survival elements, but you have the space and cash to stockpile a few stacks. Then there is the forward momentum that comes from the primary quests, assuming you did not choose to free-roam. Things progress quite nicely, especially after unlocking your base and assorted goodies like Exocraft, e.g. vehicles.
Here’s the thing though: the core gameplay loop is incredibly tiny. On each non-lifeless planet, there will always be the following: Life Pods, Habitable Buildings, Trade Posts, Crashed Ships, Monoliths. All of them will look the same, although there are a few different types. All of them will be randomly scattered around, but the scattering itself will be very uniform across the entire surface of the world. By all measures you can actually fully upgrade your Exosuit before leaving the original planet you spawned on (assuming you somehow got the cash).
Planets are literally the size of real planets, but everything you could really ever need on any individual one of them will exist within 10km of wherever you land. Each star system has a Space Station, and each Space Station is set up exactly the same way. You can accept “missions” from an NPC there, and these missions are essentially Radiant Quests ala Skyrim. Kill X number of Y, collect Z resource, kill some space pirates, deliver this item, etc. As you increase your reputation, more lucrative quests unlock, which feature harder to find Z resources, or tougher pirates.
Some of the gameplay elements remain half-baked. Early on, you will find many rocks that contain Deuterium, which you are unable to mine. After unlocking Exocraft, e.g. vehicles, you can finally mine them. I was pretty excited… up until the moment I realized Deuterium is only used for Exocraft upgrades. Once you install the ones you want, the element has no purpose anywhere else in the game. The same applies to another element that comes from “raiding” (read: blowing up) protected silos. Why would you ever mine Deuterium or raid the other element again? It not being used for anything other than the thing it was needed for seems comically short-sighted.
It’s not obvious at first, but No Man’s Sky is more of a game about economics than anything else. Each plant or creature you scan gives you Units. Some elements exist only to be mined and sold as vendor trash. Completing missions gives you Units, and unlock better missions that grant more Units. Some of the base-building requires specific elements, but for the most part its Iron which is everywhere. Pretty much the biggest reason to have a base at all is so your can start a Farm, which lets you “grow” special elements. That you then turn into unusable-but-very-sellable items. So you can eventually buy a Freighter for 186 million Units… to have more inventory space. For Units.
I’m at over 50 hours at this point, and I have no idea why I still find this fun, but I do.
The key, I think, is to temper your expectations. This is not Minecraft in space. This is not 3D Starbound/Terraria. I’m not even sure if it’s all that good for Explorers, given that procedurally-generated terrain/plants/creatures generally all look the same after a while. That said, I do find the Primary quests to be interesting, and I very much enjoy the ability to just fly around and do whatever. Want to stop what you’re doing and warp to a different star system? You can. Want to just make a bee-line to the center of the galaxy? Go do that. Want to make the perfect farm so you can mass-produce Circuit Boards and sell them for 1 million Units apiece? Yeah, I’m on it.
No Man’s Sky has gotten a lot of updates since release, and it seems as though more might still be on the way. I ended up buying my copy for $20, and at that price I feel like I got my money’s worth already. In a few months, it might even be cheaper with more content and better gameplay loops. We’ll have to see.
Pete over at Dragonchasers gave a few parting shots concerning the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 loot boxes a few weeks ago. Who still cares, right? I do. Not just because I feel someone is wrong on the internet, but because it highlights one’s entire constellation of opinions on gaming, fairness, and life in general. And that sort of thing is interesting to me.
During our back and forth in the comments, the following argument was floated:
Even if [loot boxes = god mode] was true, there’s always going to be someone better than you, whether it is because they supported on-going development of the game, or because they live in their mom’s basement and play 8 hours a day, or just because they’re naturally a better gamer. Online gaming is never going to be an even playing ground. That’s what match making is suppose to solve, though it rarely does.
First, it should go without saying, but the better-skilled player winning a game is basically the axiom of fairness. So there really should be no possible complaints about losing to a “naturally better gamer” aside from the possible lack of fun if one is constantly matched against superior opponents. It is hardly sporting for anyone to have a Chess novice play against a Grandmaster, after all. But if the game is testing skill in some way, it is achieving its purpose if the better-skilled player is winning.
Second, there is no distinction between natural skill and skill derived from time spent. It boggles my mind any time someone tries bringing up the “unfairness” of those who “play 8 hours a day in their mom’s basement.” Are they more skilled than you, yes or no? If yes, they deserve the win. How is it unfair that someone who dedicates more time to something achieves greater results? Is practice itself unfair?
Even in the scenarios in which one can accumulate advantage via time-spent – perhaps by grinding levels or gear – I find it difficult to imagine the unfairness. Is it unfair that those who read more pages in a book are further in the story than we are? There are certainly long-term game design concerns if the game is set up with insurmountable advantages, but the concept itself is fine.
What we’re left with is the “supported on-going development of the game” to get an advantage.
Really, just repeat that sentence to yourself out loud. You became more competitive in a game because you paid money to the people who made the game. The difference between that and bribing referees in traditional sports is… what, exactly? And just like in traditional bribery, its mere existence suddenly makes everything suspect. Was that bad call because you didn’t pay, or was it legit? We just cannot ever know.
All of this sort of presupposes that fairness is possible. Pete certainly doesn’t think so:
If I give you $100,000 so you can quit your job for a year and devote yourself to playing a game full time, how is that not pay to win? Silly example, I know. But time = Money, Money = Time. Paying cash for an advantage or having the luxury to be able to spend significantly more time playing… either way one person has something others don’t. There’s zero difference in my mind. For that matter, on PC the person who can afford the rig to run at the best frame rate and has the fastest internet connection has paid to win over the person who has a modest PC and lives somewhere that broadband is still very slow. There’s dozens of ways one player has an advantage over another.
So, for the first part, that isn’t P2W considering they are practicing to win. That’s legit. Whether they have that time to dedicate to practicing is because they were given $100K or because they’re unemployed or they’re a student or a retiree or whatever, is irrelevant. They put in the time, they put in the effort. If that is unfair, show me your rubric in which fairness as a concept has any meaning.
Now, the second part is a little tricky. As even Raph Koster points out:
Pretty much every physical sport uses pay to win. You buy a better tennis racket, better sneakers, better racecar, better golf clubs, because you think it will get you an advantage. We just don’t like it in videogames because digital in theory frees us of that unfairness. Though of course, we cheerfully buy Alienware computers and Razer gaming keyboards… ahem. Anyway, pay to win is basically one of those things that people are, shall we say, deeply contextual in their disapproval (though they will deny it until the cows come home). There are lines where it’s excessive, but defining them is hard.
If you pay the money for a high-end PC with a 144 Hz monitor and fast internet, you absolutely have an advantage over someone who doesn’t in FPS (etc) games. By strict definition, that is indeed P2W.
The key difference, of course, is that your payment is not contributing to the perversion of the game’s underlying design. When you bought that GTX 1080ti, the developers didn’t transition all of the best-looking gear into the cash shop. That Razor keyboard didn’t pay the bonus of the asshole who turned progression into loot boxes. In other words, there wasn’t any impact to the game itself, its rules, and/or the closed system it represents. Your consumer surplus is not under assault when someone buys a fancy keyboard.
So even if you believe “P2W is P2W regardless of form,” or that natural skill and practice are inherently unfair, you cannot deny how only one form of possible advantage adversely affects the game’s fundamental design. Hint: it’s the one where you are
bribing “supporting” the game designers beyond purchasing the game that they designed.
I gave FF14 six months. But I just can’t take it anymore.
Obviously I did not play it as my primary game, else I would not have ended at level 42. That had less to do with my motivation and more to do with the fact that it simply isn’t fun. There is zero satisfying about FF14’s combat – none of the attacks have any weight, and it’s all just flashing lights and high-pitched screeches. I might have been able to get over that, if questing had any meaning. But it doesn’t. Maybe WoW has “corrupted” me into believing one should be able to traverse a narrative without mandatory grinding breaks, but that’s what on offer here.
The final straw was more recent. The day before, I was once again stuck a third of the way into level 41 and the Main Story Request required level 42 to continue. I joined a group of three friends and we ran a dungeon and guildhest in order to get enough XP to get over the hump. The next day, I played through 3-4 MSQs and once again got stuck halfway to the required level 43. So, I queued up in the LFG equivalent and started playing around on my phone.
Then, 23 minutes later, the queue popped. It was a one-boss, no-trash encounter. No loot, shit XP. Fantastic. I queued again, and 17 minutes got into a more traditional dungeon. Except by the time I got to the end of it, I still had not leveled up. I was halfway to 43 with full rested XP at the start, and still needed 25% of a bar to go.
People complain about questing in WoW where you out-level the quests in a zone before reaching the end, but the alternative is apparently completing a zone and then farming public quests/dungeons for days. No thank you.
There is always a chance that I come back a year or whatever down the road. Perhaps after Square Enix fixes their dumbass game design. But for now, I am done. Yearly attempt over.
Cyber Monday now behind us, it is time to take stock.
First, I did not buy a PS4. The loss of the +$50 Gamestop/+$60 Kohls gift cards was simply too great, psychologically. Well, that, plus I could not find a normal $200 PS4 deal to save my life. There was a slight chance of some late shenanigans involving Office Depot selling $100 Gamestop gift cards for $80, but why go through all that trouble – especially having to go outside – if none of the $200 deals are around? Having said that, apparently Gamestop sells Amazon gift cards, so one could imagine someone going through the hassle of stopping by multiple stores in order to achieve a 20% discount at an online retailer.
Second, I have been playing No Man’s Sky and it has consumed my life. I’m 30 hours deep already.
Third, I did end up buying a phone. Specifically, the Moto G5 Plus from Amazon. I waffled on the Honor 6X because ~$150 seemed like a lot for +1GB RAM and +16GB space over my current 5X. Well, the G5+ comes with 64GB internal memory and 4GB RAM straight up. Yes please. I played the holiday pricing game a bit too close though, and missed the $180 deal for a new phone, so I settled for an Amazon Warehouse resell for like $160. There aren’t supposed to be any scratches on the screen itself, but you never know until it shows up.
Finally, I took all this week off. No particular reason, other than I had to use time lest I lose it. My original plan (beyond normal IRL errands) was to give FF14 it’s one last huzzah before they take another $15 from me. While it’s still possible, No Man’s Sky makes it unlikely. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the week goes.
I saved almost $400 this Black Friday! By… not buying anything, thanks to bots.
Truth be told, it might not actually be due to bots, but I have my doubts. Specifically, both the GameStop $199 PS4 + $50 voucher deal and the Kohls $199 PS4 + $60 voucher deal were sold out by the time I got up on Thanksgiving morning. I am sure there are still technically $199 PS4s floating around (Edit: Looks like a no), but considering those vouchers were almost the equivalent of all three of the PS4 games that I would have played, I’d rather take my wallet and go stay home.
Then again, maybe it was all normal people pulling annoying arbitrage bullshit like WoW AH goblins. Out of curiosity, I went to eBay to look at the current listings of things.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?! Both the clueless idiots still capable of navigating eBay but un-savvy enough to not look for deals with a simple Google search, and the swindlers preying on them. This is all a prime counter-example to show whenever someone tries to win an economics argument with the assumption of rational consumers. We are all irrational as hell.
Alas. Perhaps this entire episode is doing me a favor by not enabling me to buy three $20 PS4 games at technically $86 apiece. Even if I had gotten the voucher, they still would have been the equivalent of $66. In almost all other cases, I would prefer to play games on my PC, which already has a Blu-Ray player. Now, I may have eked out a bit more value from the free games from PS+ each month, but considering that my PS3 has gotten zero use in the last year, that’s still debatable.
I also passed on the Honor 6X for now. It actually went on a flash sale for $145, but in the process of looking at it closer, I realized that I bought my Honor 5X back in June 2016. Seems a bit silly to buy a new phone 1.5 years later when my current one is still functioning at 100%. People spend way more money on new iPhones every year, but those people are irrational.
What I did end up picking up were Far Cry 4 and No Man’s Sky, for about $13 and $20 after discounts, respectfully. I’m still on the fence about Destiny 2 at the moment, but I might take the plunge with some of my $90 in Blizzard credit from having sold WoW gold a year ago; I should still have enough for the next WoW expansion since Destiny 2 is on sale. That should be enough, right?
I may have mentioned it before, but I really enjoy Survival games. For the most part.
I am currently playing The Flame in the Flood, which is a Survival roguelike, and not at all a catchy Vance Joy song. The experience was immensely frustrating for my first run, as I felt like I never had enough of any supplies, and was about to uninstall and set the category as Finished in Steam. The second run, which I have been playing for the last five hours or so, has reached that point beyond which eventual victory is all but assured. Nevertheless, I hit up every single location I can, hoarding ever-greater numbers of probably unnecessary supplies for some kind of nightmare scenario. Which kinda makes sense in the vague, post-apocalypse setting.
Hitting that equilibrium moment in Survival games though is bittersweet. It’s like the middle of every Civilization game I have ever played – the game part is over, and now you must go through the motions towards inevitable victory. Ideally, you would want the challenge of the game to match up with the game’s end, and not midway. Some games like 7 Days to Die will try extending the challenge with escalating enemies, but there comes a moment when the escalation outstrips the whole Survival aspect and the underlying game becomes something different entirely, e.g. a shooter.
Then there is the opposite problem, in which the game’s challenge doesn’t ever really end, and part of the reason I added the “for the most part” caveat. I have not played it since its release from Early Access, but I never felt good in The Long Dark. There never seemed to be enough food, or fuel, or supplies. You were always on the precipice. And that’s the goal, right? The precipice is where all the fun is had. But while the surviving part is fun, I feel like there’s an invisible Anxiety Meter that fills up for me, and once it tops off the fun drops to zero.
Plus, sometimes Survival games are bullshit. I frequently found dead bodies in The Long Dark, searched them for candy bars, but could not, you know, take their clothing. I get it, things are simplified and balanced accordingly. Still, it gets a bit annoying when you come across dozens of boarded-up buildings in The Flame in the Flood, but “Old Lumber” is a relatively scarce resource you have to specifically loot from places. Or that Flint is a consumable resource for making a Campfire. Or that nothing could be salvaged from a sprung trap you just made.
Makes me wonder though. Would a more “realistic” Survival game be any fun? Seems like the more realistic it is, the less the game could actually be about Survival. At least, unless you set it out in the straight wilderness. Which kinda brings you back to The Long Dark.
EA has temporarily removed the loot boxes from Star Wars: Battlefront 2, right before the official launch of the game:
We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.
I am honestly quite surprised. The negative press surrounding GTA Online’s Shark Cards or Shadows of War’s single-player loot boxes affected zero change, but here we have EA, of all people, turning off the cash spigot right before the water main gets connected. Then again, EA did get mentioned in half a dozen news article for having the most-downvoted comment in Reddit history (-676,000 at the time of this writing). Not exactly the narrative you want to be having right before the game’s release.
It’s tempting to pat ourselves on the back, at least those of us who actually care about game design and our fellow human beings. But the victory feels… well, like EA says, “temporary.” They did the right thing… under withering criticism. It’s like a politician apologizing for a decades-old scandal – an apology is more than we can expect these days, but it would have been nice if they had apologized before it was news. Or, you know, never did the action in the first place.
Alas, here we are.
It will be interesting indeed to see under what conditions the microtransactions return in SWBF2, and what possible new permutations they might take in other EA games. Will Battlefield Whatever’s design be impacted by this learning experience? Is this a learning experience at all, or simply an unfortunately-timed (for EA stockholders) zeitgeist?
We already know that the suits from TakeTwo don’t give a shit:
It appears that the GTA Online/MyCareer model is going to be the standard for big Take-Two Games going forward. People have expected a GTA Online type environment for Red Dead Redemption 2, which launches next year, though Rockstar has not announced what its online features will be.
“One of the things we’ve learned is if we create a robust opportunity, and a robust world, in which people can play delightfully in a bigger and bigger way, that they will keep coming back,” Zelnick told investors. “They will engage. And there is an opportunity to monetize that engagement.”
And that sort of underscores the vice gamers are put in to begin with. SynCaine pointed out that anyone buying SWBF2 is complicit with its monetization scheme, even if they don’t spend cash on loot boxes. That is technically accurate. But by that same token so is anyone who bought GTA V, given the Shark Card shenanigans. Do we really need to commit to never touching Red Dead Redemption 2 or the inevitable GTA VI?
I dunno. On the one hand, I am obviously an idealist when it comes to the purity of elegant game design. When the pieces fit together, when the various game systems synergize so perfectly… it’s orgasmic. Microtransactions have literally no place in any such gaming schema, any more than the concession stand does for the symphony performance. The symphony or game might rely on outside money in order to exist originally (artists have to eat), but once created, the art does (and should) exist independently.
Also, Consumer Surplus. It’s a thing.
On the other hand, we live in an absurd universe in which any sort of meaning or value is surprising. Thus, EA’s capitulation here, however temporary, is something to be celebrated. I certainly don’t think any of us expected it, especially given the likelihood that whales would have justified the PR hit by buying thousands of dollars of loot boxes on Day 1. And even if EA hadn’t backed down, if it’s possible for you to enjoy playing the game, what particular sense does it make to deny oneself? They’re microtransactions, not blood diamonds. Go have fun – nothing matters anyway.
All things considered though, I do think I’m giving SWBF2 a pass for now. Who is buying a game at full MSRP a literal week before Black Friday? Wait a month or two, save some cash, play your thirty other Steam games, and see how it all plays out. At least, that’s my plan. You do you.
Black Friday and the frenzied consumerism of the holidays is close upon us. It’s probably a bit silly to be thinking about buying more things considering I have more Steam games to last two lifetimes, but… Capitalism, ho! Here’s what I will be keeping my eye out for:
- Playstation 4 ($199 + $60 Kohls Cash)
- Final Fantasy XV
- Horizon Zero Dawn
- The Last Guardian
- Huawei Honor 6X Phone (< $150)
- Steam Games
- Far Cry 4
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- Oxygen Not Included
- NeiR: Automata
- Dead Cells
- Salt & Sanctuary
- No Man’s Sky
- GW2: Heart of Thorns & Path of Flame
The PS4 purchase is probably the most excessive of the bunch, considering how infrequently I have used the PS3 since purchasing it five years ago. Of course, I didn’t really have a good setup at the time – projectors are cool, but sitting down and pressing a button is easier – and things have changed since then. There is a certain symmetry in how I basically bought the PS3 for The Last of Us, and The Last of Us 2 is one of the driving factors for a PS4 purchase (albeit a few years from now). If/When I end up getting Destiny 2, it will be on PC though.
Phone-wise, I’m in the stereotypical “my phone works, but there’s a better one out there” pinch. My SO’s phone died a couple months ago, so I of course created a Google doc comparing all the different phones available to map out the best bang for the buck. That’s when I realized the upgrade potential between my 5X and the 6X: +600MHz processor, +1GB RAM, +16GB storage, and +340mAh battery. Is that worth $180? Ehh. Is it worth $150 or less? That’s much closer, especially considering how much gaming I do on my phone.
The Steam list is a bit eclectic, but they are all games that weren’t on sale, not on sale far enough, and/or not out of Early Access yet. No Man’s Sky is a bit odd on there considering how much negative press it has received over the last year, but the last sale had it at $24. If it hits $15, I feel like it’d be an easy decision for a kinda-sorta temporary Minecraft experience. I have certainly made worse purchasing decisions.
Finally, the MMO section is just GW2. There have been a few Heart of Thorns sales for $15 that I have missed, but I feel like we might see a combo deal better than the original $50 set. I’m sure there will be yet another sale for the FFXIV expansion too, although every day I become less and less interested in the supposed great plot in the game. If your call to fame is a great story, but the only way to get to said story is to spam dungeons… yeah. No thanks.
We already know that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has loot boxes and that they’re bad, but we can always use more articles about them, right? In the comments of that Kotaku article though, someone questioned the author about what exactly the “moral issue” is when a company is trying to extract money from their consumer base. The author responded with some more general criticisms of capitalism as a whole and the conditions it creates, but when pressed by the commenter again, came back with this:
If you really want the “Heather isn’t fucking around version,” here it is:
Loot boxes are, ignoring the hair splitting of insufferable pedants like yourself, gambling. They are crafted, from probabilities to visual to their contents, to condition individuals and encourage repeated purchase and use. People with addiction problems will be funneled towards a system designed scientifically to exploit them. Kids will open the shiny boxes. They’ll do it with their parents credit cards without understanding the effect. Players frustrated with the grind will throw down money because that’s what the grind is designed for: to fuck you over and take your cash so some executive can take a vacation while the people in the trenches crunch.
If you don’t see what the problem is or if you somehow think this an acceptable state of affairs or what to talk about how it’s some God given providence of the rich to seek further profits at any cost, I don’t know what to tell you because I am so very tired and I just don’t know how to explain to you (or anyone anymore) that you should care about other people.
Pretty much the only thing I would add to that is how the rise of “recurrent consumer spending opportunities” has perverted the fundamental design of these games. SWBF2 doesn’t need loot boxes in order achieve some gameplay goal – progression from simply playing the game is more than sufficient to generate fun. The loot boxes exist to make money, and that’s it.
If you don’t care because you’re not going to be playing SWBF2, well… just wait a while. Guild Wars 2 introduced the Mount Adoption License as a method of randomly delivering 30 new Mount skins. Most of the outrage has understandably been directed towards the fact that it’s gambling, especially if you were only interested in a few of the skins (a few of which are for a mount you might not ever get). But here’s the real rub: 30 Mount skins were introduced into the game with zero gameplay elements. These aren’t spoils for defeating a boss, these aren’t the rewards for a long quest-line, these aren’t the goal at the end of a difficult achievement. Nope, they’re just item shop fodder. If each were attached to a task that took an hour to complete, that’s like a month of casual content removed from each individual player.
Do loot boxes make games better? Fundamentally, that’s the question you should be asking yourself every time. A raid boss dropping random gear on a weekly reset creates content by encouraging you to face that raid boss again. A loot box dropping random gear does… what? You do not have to care about other people – although you probably should – to care that loot boxes are fundamentally destroying elegant game design. Instead of developers focusing on tighter gameplay loops or additional content, they care more about monetization opportunities. Which used to be “sell more copies of the game,” but is now “sell random in-game content for cash.”
You know, I never thought we’d see something more abhorrent than on-disc DLC. But here we are.
In a recent debate with Gevlon, he replied with the following:
You still don’t realize how obsoleting content is against the defining feature of the MMO genre: persistent world, defined as “previous gaming sessions significantly affect the current”. It’s a genre. It’s not for everyone. But if you throw it away, you are competing with MOBAs and I think LoL is a better MOBAs than WOW.
Now, the topic was at hand was a criticism of catch-up mechanisms. I, of course, disagree that there is anything wrong with the “End Game Content” model, but that is neither here nor there.
What I want to ponder on though, aside from the question of whether WoW has a persistent world, is whether a persistent world is actually a feature of MMOs, should be a feature, or ever really works as a feature. As I see it, there are three elements of persistence: Space, Consequences, and Advantage.
In strict, technical terms I do believe that a “persistent” world is a defining feature of MMOs. Specifically, that the world exists. The alternative to a persistent world is a lobby-based world featured in a lot of otherwise throwaway action RPGs – the world exists as little arenas, created on demand, which disappear when you exit the stage. In WoW, Goldshire exists independently of whether or not you are to witness the shenanigans which transpire in the Inn. In fact, that shenanigans can transpire at all is because the world is persistent, e.g. meeting other people in virtual space.
At the same time… phasing and shard technology exists. Can we really say that Goldshire is a part of a persistent world if there exists Goldshire 1, Goldshire 2, etc? I am even conceding that Goldshire on Server 1 counts despite there being another Goldshire on Server 2. But these days, the Cross-Realm technology is almost a strict “Channel” system which (albeit seamlessly) drops you in a shared instance of the world, rather than “the” world. Does it really matter that there exists a Goldshire Prime somewhere that doesn’t turn off when you leave, considering you’ve never been there? So, arguably, we’re kinda already in a lobby-based experience, and it’s only shared insofar as other people get dropped in our lobby.
I’m not so much trying to argue against the notion that WoW’s world is persistent, but rather that the distinction is kind of moot these days. I do find that Azeroth is more overtly contiguous than many other MMOs, like FFXIV and GW2, which feature hard breaks at their borders. Cramming thousands of people into a singular space doesn’t exactly improve the gameplay experience, so I’m not sure what benefit that is supposed to provide in the first place. As long as people can naturally congregate and interact at will, I believe that’s enough to count as persistence.
Way back in 2011, I pointed out the following:
One of the hallmarks of the MMO genre is a notion of a persistent world, but that persistence is always in tension with the fact that other players exist. Players say they want a world where consequences matter, that if a town gets burned down it stays burned down. But do they really want a world in which the choice of saving the town is never given to them because some noob 4 years ago logged off in the middle of the quest to put the fire out and the town burned down?
Persistence, on a more metaphorical level, means lasting consequences and mutual exclusivity. The town cannot be both burned down to you and not burned down to me, and still be considered persistent. However, what is the desirability or utility of that persistence in the first place?
On the one hand, it can be used to good effect in games like EVE. If some Corp muscles into your star system, blows up your space station and then places their own… well, you’re out. That star system is now theirs, until the same thing happens to them at some point in the future. There are tangible consequences to game world actions, which persist beyond you switching accounts or logging off. There being finite space to fight over also underpins the gameplay loop of full-loot PvP – you care about moon goo because your ship blowing up tangibly reduces your wealth, so you need to control wealth-generating resources.
On the other hand, look at the player housing situation in FFXIV. The housing plots are finite and exclusive – if someone bought the plot you want, well, tough shit. The developers’ goals appear to be for these “neighborhoods” to feel real, and anchored into the game world. You aren’t just buying a house, but this particular house, situated in this particular location, exclusively.
And that’s dumb. Unimaginably dumb.
In FFXIV, it’s dumb because it serves no gameplay purpose. Getting a housing plot is a matter of having the money and clicking faster. After that, you simply continue paying the upkeep fee and that’s it. There are no gameplay elements to the neighborhood around you, and no homeless player is going to walk around gawking at your decorations. There is no reason to be there, specifically there, even for the homeowner themselves. Absolutely nothing changes if housing were instanced.
So, the only time persistent consequences makes sense is in player-directed ways, underpinning core game mechanics. And, as the term implies, the only way for persistence to make sense is for it to be consistent. Nothing else about the FFXIV world is exclusive or provides lasting consequences. So why have it?
The final element of persistence is really an off-shoot of the previous one: persistent advantage. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because, conceptually, it does nothing good for any game. I mean, I guess it could be argued that in EVE it’s nice to be able to log into the game years later and fly around a reasonable ship. But I would argue that that is not so much because one’s advantage has been maintained than there being a low barrier to (re)entry. Sort of like, I dunno, logging into WoW and breezing your way back up to the current level cap and snagging some easy gear from a vendor.
The truest form of persistent advantage is essentially the attunement. And it’s terrible for all the same reasons it was in 2012 and earlier. It gates content arbitrarily, based not on skill or merit, but seniority. It squeezes out the middle class gamer, who either gets into a guild that carries them through the attunement, or they forgo whatever is gated behind it. In this case – and in all cases, really – the “challenge” is one of logistics. It’s difficult enough corralling 10/20/40 people into one place at the same time, much less adding pointless bureaucracy on top of it.
So, taken together, the desirability of persistence is vastly overstated, honestly. Persistence is a tool to achieve a specific effect, not some ideal or higher calling. WoW and all the rest are still MMOs by any reasonable definition of the term, in spite of allowing you to actually quest and explore locations without having it all be destroyed by a failed Deathwing raid years ago.