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[FFXIV] The Long Road

Implausibly, I continue to pay for a FFXIV subscription.

In the last week or so, I have made some progress both in the story and in the Job system, hitting level 35. It is slow going though, as I do not consider the game anywhere near the top of my evening entertainment preferences. I will typically play for about an hour or two, run into so kind of roadblock, and then log off and play something else.

The roadblocks are generally the pointlessly forced dungeons – I seriously had to run a dungeon because the Main Story Quest called for cheese, literal cheese – but I am also running into level breakpoints too. My understanding was that XP was sped up so that the sidequests were no longer necessary to complete. That seemed to be true under level 30, but since then, I have consistently been between 50%-60% of a full level behind.

So, yeah, do those sidequests.

Story-wise, I have certainly hit that stage at which the plot supposedly picks up. And it certainly has, comparatively. I do find that the greater focus on Empire soldiers is more able to keep my attention. Traditional fantasy is not especially interesting to me, except when it tends towards more grimdark themes or “realism.” Fantasy + Magi-Tek shenanigans though, have been interesting to me since I first booted up FF6 in my SNES.

Gameplay-wise, not much has changed. My Archer is now a Bard, and that means… more damage cooldowns. I do actually enjoy having group buffs, as it reminds me of the old WoW paladin days. Beyond that, combat is formulaic, boring, and completed in a daze-like trance 100% of the time. It’s still worlds better than my experience as Monk, but I think most of that is because melee in FFXIV feels terrible. And that is probably mostly to do with the high-pitched squeals and screen-flashes that constitute FFXIV attacks. Nothing feels particularly weighty or anchored to the world.

While the sale has since closed, Amazon and a few other places had the Stormblood expansion on sale for $25. I was tempted to purchase it for all of two seconds. The very real problem is that I am ages away from even getting to the end of the ARR storyline, let alone getting to the required Heavensward stuff (which is thankfully included in Stormblood). There is no guarantee that I make it to level 50 at my current pace, so it seems a bit silly to be buying expansions. At the same time, not buying the expansion sort of depresses my desire to hit the end of the road, as that would mean either taking a break until the next sale or giving up.

Oh, well. I shall continue as time and interest permits.

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WoW Endgame As it Stands

A few people have asked me about my WoW endgame experiences, and as I recently turned in my 3rd WoW token, I should probably talk about it some more.

In short: it’s almost as good as Wrath.

Going forward, I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult to not have World Quests (WQs) and scaling mobs in future expansions. This is the “final form” of casual themepark gameplay IMO. Is it functionally different from traditional daily quests? Not really. Does it feel better than daily quests in every possible way? Absolutely.

Blizzard has tried to spice daily quests up before, and largely failed. Remember the Firelands dailies back in Cataclysm? Those had rotating/random dailies and somehow felt worse than what came before. In Legion though, it feels more… organic. I don’t even necessarily think it’s something special about the dailies, per se, but rather due to the fact that these “dailies” aren’t in the same location and not with the same mobs every time. Scaling tech allows Blizzard to utilize the entire continent, and they do. While you do end up seeing the same WQs pretty often, you never really know exactly where you will be flying that evening until you open the map.

Also, big props to Blizzard for having rotating WQs throughout the day. In other words, you don’t have a single list of 25 random WQs and that’s it until 3 AM. Some last a few days, some last a few hours. This not only satisfies the “optimization” need in me – only doing the most efficient ones – but also the individuals who might be bored and looking for things to do all day. There will almost always be a WQ for you providing some kind of reward.

The one problem with WQs might be that it can become a victim of its own success. For example, my druid is pretty much in full 850 gear, having stepped foot in heroic dungeons maybe four times (none of which resulted in upgrades). At this point, the only WQs I do are the ones to give Warden and Nightfallen reputation, as nothing else results in better gear. I mean, there is a chance a gear piece rolls Titanforged, but that’s a stretch. Mythic dungeons? No thanks. Maybe for the quests, but I’m not particularly interested in Mythic+ dungeon runs on timers.

This means, two months in, I am close to being done with all world/quest content in Legion. Indeed, I am in spitting distance of the Pathfinder Achievement, which is my current goal – just need about 2000 Wardens and 7000 Nightfallen rep before getting it. Luckily, 7.1 is coming out next week, but unless there are a bunch new WQs and/or increased ilevel rewards, I will be passing. Then it is PvP or alts until next year.

Speaking of alts, I finally have a level 3 Shipyard on my namesake paladin, and am just waiting for the BoA ring mission to proc. Considering that I have 20+ maxed out Garrison soldiers and have yet to have seen a single Elixir of the Rapid Mind mission, I am beginning to question whether these things are even still in the game.

I actually switched to Protection for the Tanaan dailies (for Oil), and it feels better than Ret, but the paladin is pretty much a pass for me again this expansion. I tried out the Frost DK and got to chill with the Lich King, but that is going to be another pass. Basically, I wasn’t too impressed with the DK’s self-healing capabilities. Yeah, I’m sure Blood can be immortal just like most questing tanks this expansion, but even getting to level 102 is a chore. My Outlaw rogue is in a similar position, insofar as it just doesn’t feel as fun to kill shit with. Assassination seems pretty powerful these days, so I’ll likely try switching specs if I can make it to 102.

Beyond that, I actually have a Demon Hunter and playing it… is interesting. Double jumping and gliding is pretty much the main draw, as the rotation is meh. Coming from all these other classes, having one spammable attack and one resource dump is pretty basic. There are cooldowns, don’t get me wrong, but the fundamentals don’t really change. Well, unless you take the current Momentum build, where you are forced to zip around the boss/mobs every 4 seconds like some ADHD 7-year old playing soccer for the first time. I can’t imagine how annoying that might be on raid bosses.

As I wrap up Legion Pathfinder, I’ll be spending some more time on the alts, to determine which (if any) might eventually be transferring to my new “main” server. I’m still kinda holding out until some kind of 50% off Services sale or until I quit WoW in disgust again, but maybe there will be a simpler realization that I don’t actually like playing any of these alts anymore.

Beginning of Endgame

I have been at the level 110 cap in Legion for about a week now. A lot of hit, and a little miss.

World Quests (WQ) are an interesting variation of the traditional WoW endgame daily quest grind. You get an “Emissary quest” every day (accumulating to three total), which gives you some general direction: complete four WQs of that specific faction, get bonus rep and a chest full of goodies.

What’s odd about the system are two things. First, the interface for this is all weird. Maybe an addon will solve this (Edit: there are several), but I find it awkward having to zoom into each individual zone and hover over the WQ icons to see the rewards. Don’t really care all that much about Artifact Power or gold at the moment, and a whole lot more for the free gear.

And that’s actually my second concern with WQs: it does weird things to incentives. Basically, some of your WQs are going to reward gear straight-up, and the relative quality of this gear increases as your average ilevel increases. I’m not sure of the limitations of this system, e.g. if every armor slot is open season, but you better believe I’m willing to click on some objects and/or kill X mobs for the equivalent of heroic dungeon gear. Then you sometimes get Mythic gear WQs for defeating dungeons at any difficulty. Which, yeah, provides a pretty big incentive to run dungeons.

Incidentally, my DPS dungeon queues the last few days have actually been 3 minutes. One time it was actually instant, which caused a moment of panic as I thought I accidentally queued as a tank. I think WQs are the same across regions, and that might be the reason why a given dungeon would have no queues. Or possibly more people are willing to be tanks, given how easy questing is as one.

Gold-wise, I broke 100,000g last night. All as a Gatherer mind you, as the AH continues to be throttled. I suppose the expansion is still new – and raids have just came out – but the prices of some of these goods is rather surprising. Either Blizzard has gotten the farming bot situation finally resolved, or everyone is still flush with gold from Garrisoncraft, because 70g 100g+ Foxflower is crazy. That herb in particular is not only easy to farm, it can proc a literal fox that runs around and drops 20-30 herbs. If I cared more about wanting more gold, I’d be doing that every night. Fjarnskaggl is also crazy, and Starlight Rose? 280g apiece.

Given the profitability of Herbalism, I went ahead and dropped Mining on my druid. I started up Alchemy, under the assumption that if herbs were so profitable, adding some labor in there might increase that profit margin. As it turns out, I understand now: Alchemy got hosed. Basically everything is gated through a half-dozen or more dungeon quests. Not just high-tier recipes either – you don’t get the Alchemy trinket or transmutes until the end of a long, multi-dungeon quest-line. Flasks are after heroic boss kills. Rank 2 recipes also drop from dungeon bosses.

And then you have recipes themselves, which require ridiculous shit even for cosmetic items. Skystep Potion requires four (4) Starlight Roses. To move at 150% speed for 8 seconds. At current prices, that’s over 1000g a potion. Yeah, herbs will probably be cheaper a year from now. But Starlight Rose in particular is an herb that can actually proc failures.

In any case, I am overall comfortably coasting right along at the endgame. I spent another WoW token to resub, and the general gameplay of collecting the easy WQ gear and herbing my way to 10,000g by the end of the session is satisfying. At some point I am going to check out Demon Hunters, and then take a look at my rogue and/or other alts. My other alts will be a problem though, I suspect: most are trapped pre-Draenor, and I never unlocked flying there.

We will just have to see how engaged I stay with the druid.

Royale Plateau

I am nearing my end with Clash Royale. And not by choice.

One thing to note about Clash Royale is that it, like many games, is very rewarding right away. You get free treasure chests every four hours, with a maximum stack of two. Every eight hours, you can request cards from your clan. You have four slots for treasure chests from winning games. Every X hours, you have a Crown Chest that you unlock by accumulating 10 crowns (from destroying towers). My play pattern basically means I’m opening 1-2 chests every time I boot up the game.

The problem is you run into a very real payslope eventually.

I have been “stuck” in the Royal Arena 7 for going on a month now (or more). My highest trophy count is 2575, which is still pretty far from hitting the last Arena level. But for the most part… I don’t care about that, since nothing new unlocks at Arena 8.

In the meantime, day after day, I open chests and get the same rares/common cards. Upgrading from level 8 commons/level 6 rares to the next higher level is something that takes weeks-worth of gold, for only very marginal gains comparatively.

But it’s not even about that either. My progression is stuck. Here is my setup:

ClashRoyale_Deck

The Baby Dragon slot fluctuates between Barbarians and/or Mini PEKKA.

It is essentially a Judo deck – a reactive deck that relies on countering my opponent’s push and then winning via superior plays. It lacks the sheer ridiculous power of some other deck openers, but it is decently resilient, as evidenced by my trophy levels. Could I use other cards? Maybe. My only level 3 epics though are Freeze, Crossbow, and Mirror. Meanwhile, everyone I face seems to have level 3+ relevant epics and legendary cards. I keep thinking that if I were to get Prince up to level 3 or Balloon or something, that would provide enough of an incentive for me to change my deck.

Then I realized that my little skeleton bomber is a strictly worse Princess or Ice Wizard. All cost 3 elixir, all fill similar roles, but the latter two are (of course) legendary cards that could change the course of games all by themselves. This is a poisonous sort of knowledge though, as each and every chest I open that doesn’t contain a replacement legendary is a waste of time. The expectation that such a legendary will be opened is fallacious, of course, as the odds were remote in the first place, much less that this particular chest will contain one.

And so, here I am.

Most people would say “at least you got 2+ months of entertainment from a mobile app.” That is true. But in experiencing these last MMO-esque gasps yet again… well, it makes me long for the mercy of a quick, definitive end of gameplay. You know, to finish a game before you’re done with it.

Wildstar AMA

There was an AMA by Jeremy Gaffney (Executive Producer) regarding Wildstar on Friday. Here were some of the interesting notes:

As someone who has left the MMO scene for quite some time now, do you think WildStar could pull me back in? (ex WoW player)

Our #1 market is probably ex-MMO players, truth be told. That’s many of us as well :) (source)

Subtle and straight-forward. I like it.

Your stand on “catch-up gear” content? Like if I want to get into raiding say about year after release and I of course need to get proper gear to get into raiding. So are you planning to do 5man dungeons with some godly gear or other catch-up mechanics?

We’ll want some catch-up mechanics that are also fair to the long-term raiders; I know the econ guys have thought but thank heavens that’s a ways out yet. (source)

Given the Wildstar team’s commitment to to anachronisms like attunements, I have to wonder about how exactly “catch-up gear mechanics” would even work. Blizzard is heading towards making all of Warlord’s LFR gear be non-tier, so I could see “ghetto-tier” gear as a means to help newer players catch up… but what about those attunements? Is it “fair to long-term raiders” for attunements to be relaxed after the content is no longer current? How is that any different than the traditional cry that content is being obsoleted?

By the way, attunements were dumb, are dumb, and will always be dumb.

Will it be possible to purchase high end gear or tier equivalent gear via the Auction House? In other words, given the existence of the CREDD system, will it be possible to buy power in this game with cash?

In general, nope. In practice, there may be a few BOE pieces of appropriate rarity/difficulty to acquire that spice up the mix, but buying power is a dangerous thing to systemize. (source)

 Fair enough.

The questing experience levels 1-6 is terrible (especially on Dominion side), why do your tutorials areas have so many quests that are not interactive for the player?

Mostly through focus testing with players of a variety of experience levels; you’ve probably played too many MMOs to want your hand held for long and don’t value the world and character introductions we do there (and why should you? You don’t know if those will pay off later and just want to check out the gameplay, which is rational).

We will likely add an option down the road for you to opt out. (source)

This is a subject that could almost be an entire series of blog posts by itself. Namely, the tension between clearly going after competitor’s subscribers (e.g. “Not in Azeroth anymore!”) and needing to be accessible for first-time MMO players. Because let’s be honest, the only real way you’re going to build word-of-mouth is by exciting the already-existing base, unless your base is already established via IP. Quite frankly, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen more MMO companies come out with mid-range or even end-game gameplay in their beta right from the start. I mean, I guess even veterans will need a little bit of time to acclimate to the new environment, but you need them to be excited about the long-term future, not forcing them to spam-run tutorials every beta weekend.

Many people have had a really bad first impression of the game (usually first few hours of play), what would you say to these people to sway them into trying the game again?

Getting people back into the game is tricky (you form an impression and stick with it) – we change so much month to month that I don’t expect to re-earn the eyeballs of many folks who played in the past and left (even if we fixed some of what bothered them).

My plan personally is that you play what your friends are playing; the one thing more than any other email/ad/PR campaign we can do is get people liking the game itself and convincing their friends to come back in – thus Friend Passes, etc. (source)

That… is astonishingly honest and straight-forward. I have a few friends that pre-ordered Wildstar already, and they will pretty much be the only reason I purchase the game given my previous beta impressions.

Class balance is on going but their seems to be a mostly agreed tier list, with Spellslingers and Medics at the bottom in terms of DPS, and by a fair margin. What approach are you taking to get classes more in line with each other? Nerfing the top classes, or buffing the lower ones?

We err on the side of buffing rather than nerfing, but not to the point of insane mudflation. We’ll pretty regularly rebalance classes so that none is too gimped or OP (some drops are slated around this directly, while some will happen in each drop for higher priority stuff). (source)

I would say that erring on the side of buffing is the opposite of the WoW approach, but I don’t think classes ever got OP when someone else got nerfed, so… yeah.

Currently WildStars PVE Group Content ins linear, like in vanilla wow or tbc (the good times). With Wotlk and multilayer-content, problems like content skipping occured. Are you aware of that and are your gonna stick with the linear system? How will you ensure, that the linear system will work successfull on longterm for all different kind of raidguilds (casual, average, hardcore).

Adventures are intended to be heavily NON-linear, and raids are intended to have a fair amount of weekly variation (room ordering, sub-bosses, etc.) for just such reasons – if what we have is well received at launch, we’ll add more. (source)

I’m pretty sure they were talking about two different things here. I’m not sure about anyone else’s guild, but I absolutely hated the random variables in boss ordering (e.g. which drakes were in the cage, which bosses activated first, etc) as it required explaining the entire fight and every variation every time to everyone.

Q: In most MMO’s the crafted gear/items don’t have any real impact on endgame… What’s WildStar’s stance on this?

Our goal is that crafted items are competitive with the best items, but usually need to be earned through those same activities (either by the wearer or by the crafter) to keep things balanced. (source)

I have a difficult time trying to determine if this sort of thing would work for me. If I can’t craft the epic sword before being able to kill the guy who drops an epic sword, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to crafting (beyond playing the AH). On the other hand, I could sorta see this working if the raid boss had a much higher chance to drop the crafting component necessary to craft the epic sword, such that my profession had value in reducing the randomness of drops. This would require the crafting component to be personal loot though, I think.

I currently play GW2. what’s one good reason I should stop and start playing your game?

Don’t! Guild Wars 2 is an excellent game as well; respect to MO and the other arena.net devs. (source)

If I was less of a cynical bastard, I would be pretty impressed with this response. Alas, both MMOs are from NCSoft, so…

Misleading Product Titles

Out of all the possible game launch issues, I find this one especially embarrassing:

Burn Level: Well-done

By the way, having to scan a Twitter feed for bug updates to a problem acknowledged on Facebook is perhaps the least responsible use of social media technology ever. I am talking 1998 Geocities auto-playing MIDIs level of ridiculousness.

Some people have said they can get in/make guilds. Good for you. It has not worked for my small band of players as of this posting, and it is still listed as a bug on the Guild Wars 2 webpage. The good news is that ArenaNet has a workaround!

Sounds eerily similar to how I got my CompSci 150 final project to compile.

I would almost be tempted to try that if WvW for my server had not been in a permanent queue since the pre-launch happened.

On a final note, I take back every good thing I said about one-server games. See, I enjoy(ed) the fact that you can have a name with spaces in Guild Wars 2; it gives you more options, allows for some creativity, naming-schemes, and so on. But the more I think about it, the more asinine it feels to require unique names across the entirety of the playerbase on every server everywhere. We already have the equivalent of “Battletags” for use on the forums and our accounts (e.g. Bob.4375), so why require unique names? The more successful the game is, the more annoying this problem becomes. And it is not as though this is some kind of technological problem: Blizzard has been doing this cross-realm shit for years, nevermind whoever did it before them.

This name thing is especially an annoyance to me in terms of guilds. I liked the name Invictus, in spite of it being a fairly common guild name and yet another “Ominous Latin Noun” (which is itself an ironically standard name). But, no. Some random guy in Wisconsin six servers away claimed ownership first, now and forever, leaving me with choices like The Invictus, XxInvictusxX, Invictus 2: First Blood, and a cavalcade of increasingly poor choices. Is it entitlement to simply desire the ability to title the group of friends you are hanging out with? Maybe.

Then again, the name of the goddamn game is Guild Wars 2, so you would assume that… well, nevermind.

P.S. While I was researching whether guild names are indeed unique across all servers, I came across this interview that I must have missed. It is somewhat topical given the raised eyebrows surrounding the news that some guy hit level 80 in GW2 before the official launch date:

Post: Guild Wars 2 has a maximum level cap of 80 — which is pretty damn high. And with high level caps, there’s always a feeling that players need to grind their butts off. Is there anything in place to prevent that urge or need to grind?

Eric Flannum: We regard leveling as a good measure of progress and not as the ultimate goal of the game. There is an amount of time at which a single level becomes useless as a measure of progress because you can’t make significant gains in a single play session. We are continuing to tweak and tune just how long we think that is but we currently put it at around 90 minutes. Since we aren’t interested in leveling as an end goal this allows us to cap our leveling time at around the 90 minute mark. This means that our leveling curve flattens out relatively early in the game. For example it currently takes about the same amount of time to progress from 79 to 80 as it does to go from 49 to 5o. This allows us to avoid the grind often associated with the later levels in an MMO. (source)

The flat leveling curve is not news, but I was not aware ArenaNet specifically put a 90-minute target down. That is about 120 hours until 80, or roughly 1.5 months if you play ~20 hours/week. Dunno if they revised those numbers since that interview, but it certainly feels a little bit faster than that. And that “we’re not interested in leveling as an end goal” certainly strikes me as a bit amusing since Diablo 3 very publicly turned an aboutface on that very issue just last week.

If Guild Wars 2 Succeeds, It Will Be In Spite Of…

With there being just ten days until the prepaid preordered preliminary prelaunch, I figure now is about as good a time as any for a damp GW2 blanket. Not really cynicism for cynicism’s sake, but because there is a bit too much irrational exuberance in the comment sections of otherwise reasonable skepticism. When people start suggesting an MMORPG without a endgame will be fine because MOBA or Counter-Strike, it is time to grab the hose.

And lest anyone forget, the following predictions are based on my experience in all three of the beta weekend events – feel free to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and/or Part 4 for a recap, or just read everything in the GW2 Category for the full experience. I already paid my $60, I am going to be there on the 25th (assuming the servers are up), so it is not as though I want GW2 to fail. I just personally believe that if GW2 succeeds, it will be in spite of…

1. Dynamic Events

Seriously, folks, “Dynamic” Events (hereafter Events) are one of the most over-hyped, under-performing features since WoW voice chat. If anyone in-game talks about Events a month after launch, it will solely be in the context of “Where do I level now?” and “Where are all the Events?” and “I’ve been waiting for X Event to spawn for six minutes now!” and “Lame, the Waypoint I wanted to use is contested.” Events are not Guild Wars 2’s killer app. Events are fun the first time, promote spontaneous grouping in the immediate area, and technically have branching paths, I guess.

Events also scale horribly with a lot of people (melee in particular get hammered by dozens of instantly spawned +2 level mobs), are boring the 2nd/3rd/nth time around, interfere with normal questing/exploring in the area (yay, 20 kobolds just spawned in this cave again), are not easy to find or fun to wait around for, and become just plain tedious when completed alone. Regardless of how successful or not GW2 does sales-wise, it will not take but a few weeks for the playerbase to diffuse across the leveling/zone spectrum, making the outdoor-raid-esque feel of beta Events turn into the Warhammer’s “Forever Alone” Public Quest ghost towns.

You do not even have to have played the beta to understand any of this. Just explain out loud, to yourself, how and why Events are going to be fun for you. Do you sound convincing? For bonus points, elaborate how you figure Events are supposed replace traditional quests as the bulk of GW2’s PvE system.

2. WvWvWvWvWpppfffft

I understand that there will probably be some sort of dedicated segment of the playerbase that thinks WvW is the best thing since Isle of Conquest. And they will be correct, it is an improvement on Isle of Conquest in almost every way!

WvWvWow, Isle of Conquest

Other things better than Isle of Conquest include: stepping on a nail, papercuts on your knuckles, Miley Cyrus’ haircut.

I can honestly say that I do not see the appeal of PvWall. It was fun using a cannon to shoot down a constant stream of anonymous damage against massed chumps, but I would be hard pressed to recall a time when being said chump in a rain of frames-per-second-crushing pain was at all what I wanted to do.

And did you see the screenshot I posted way back in the first beta weekend? Here, let me bring it to your attention again:

Yo dawg, I heard you like “world” in your world pvp, so…

If you zone in with 8-10 friends, or even a small group, I can maybe see it being a nice diversion to go kill a bunch of NPC guards at one of the random outposts and otherwise inflicting maximum annoyance. But knocking on a wall and then killing a Keep Lord and then losing said keep a few hours later after you turn in for the night when the West coast PvP guild logs on? And god help you if you want to do WvW below level 80 – you get leveled up to 80, but neither your gear nor your skills are leveled likewise. I imagine we will all get pretty adept at playing Angry Birds one-handed as we navigate the 2.25 minute graveyard run for the millionth time.

Did all this work in DAoC? I dunno, I’ll take your word for it. Then again, a lot of shit worked ten years ago. Like subscription-based games, amirite?

3. Flat Endgame

I only today ran across these two Youtube videos that answered one of my fundamental questions of what happens at endgame, and it was surprisingly succinct: you continue gaining Skill Points for each “level” you gain past 80. Moreover, you can spend said Skill Points in a variety of ways (you likely will have purchased all the character Skills long before this point) including transmuting mats and… more cosmetic gear. I do not find cosmetic rewards in of themselves particularly compelling, but at least you gain something for sidekicking with your friend’s alt or whatever. Not that you always need a reason beyond their company, but let’s face it, it is better for everyone involved that it is incentivized at least in some small way.

That said, I have a big problem with the argument that the vast majority of WoW players do not see an endgame, and thus GW2’s lack of one is no big deal. Yes, raiding is only experienced by ~20% of the playerbase (although LFR undoubtedly changed all that). However, an order of magnitude more players run dungeons as an endgame activity, satisfying the urge of character progression via Justice/Valor Point purchases. Nevermind farming Honor in random BGs. Ostensively both activities exist in GW2 as well – although there are what, 3 BGs (all Conquest) and 8 dungeons? – but running, say, dungeons over again is going to be the equivalent of WoW’s upcoming Challenge Modes. Does anyone thing this is going to be a long-term retention solution?

By the way, I find the “everyone just rolls alts” rationale amusing considering it cedes the progression point. Gaining levels and better gear is fun, and that is exactly why designers try and transplant that same feeling into the endgame via incremental gear upgrades.

In any case, those are my Guild Wars 2 predictions ten days before the headstart launch. Like I mentioned before, and hopefully you have understood by the title of the post, I am not necessarily predicting GW2’s failure or poor retention or whatever else. It could very well be that the game is a smashing success, breaks the 7th Seal, and ushers us into a dawning Age of eternal bliss. If it does so, it will be in spite of Dynamic Events, WvW, and its endgame, not because of them.

I could be wrong; it has happened before. We’ll just have to see in the next 1/3/6/12 months.

SWTOR Will (Probably) Be Fine

With the 1-month honeymoon coming to its end, and a series of “amateur-hour” missteps combined with other bad news, the general feeling seems to be coalescing around SWTOR’s present or future inevitable “failure.” While everyone is entitled to their own insipid pessimism, the sorts of reasoning being provided are a little weak.

1) Absurdly High Standards

There are two main flavors of absurdity under this umbrella. The first is simply ridiculous, the sort that sees WoW going from 12 million to 10 million as a failure, a sign of collapse, of crushing moral defeat. Or, going from 32 to 26.667 times the size of EVE, the MMO yardstick whose robustness is the de facto definition of success. I agree that WoW deserves the subscription loss, that it is directly linked to Cataclysm, and further that WoW may never recover those subs and/or continue a sub decline for the foreseeable future.

However, let’s be honest here: if that is the sort of yardstick we are using, the entire MMO market is an abysmal failure.

The second, lesser form of absurdity is identifiable in this quote from Nils:

[…] I would now say that EA could be happy if they had 500k subscribers one year after launch.

In other words, SW:TOR failed. And it failed for EXACTLY the reasons we, the blogosphere, had predicted for at least 2 years prior to launch. We should be proud – and sad.

For comparison, EVE is the second largest Western MMO on the market at, by last count, 375,000 subs. Between 25% and 62.5% larger than 2nd place is a failure? Really?

You know what, though? I think it is important to have a discussion about what “success” really means – just like with “casual” and other loaded terms, having some kind of idea where people actually stand would reduce the effects of talking past one another.

2) Vague Definitions of Success

“Success” is largely arbitrary, and depends on the goals one sets for oneself. If you set out to run an 8-minute mile and can only get to down to a 9-minute mile, you have “failed.” That you improved from a 15-minute mile to 9-minutes is irrelevant in an objective sense.

Success in a market sense, is a little less arbitrary – you are either making money or you are not. According to the information we have available (circa last May), SWTOR needs a minimum of 375k subscriptions to break even, and ~500k to be reasonably profitable. So in the Nils quote, SWTOR would be a success at 500k.

But what of the analyst who sent EA stocks tumbling 3% based on “disappointing sales” and churn rates? Since we don’t have access to his data or methodology, it is difficult to appraise his conclusions. However, the very next day EA stocks went back up 2% after three separate brokers said SWTOR is “performing in line with expectations.” One of them went on to say:

Evan Wilson of Pacific Crest wrote Friday that he has raised his sales estimate for “Star Wars” to 2.2 million units from 1.5 million units for the quarter, and said he remains “comfortable” with his 800,000 subscriber target when the company’s fiscal year ends in late March.

“Admittedly, we set our expectations as if Star Wars was to be a good, not great, MMO,” he wrote. “Fortunately, we think the company did too.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement, but there it is. There is a line between the soft bigotry of low expectations and aggressive schadenfreude – the challenge is finding it. “Good, not great, MMO” might be a bit too low for even my standards, especially given write-ups like these in the LA Times (turns out SWTOR officially cost $200m). We will know more about the numbers in February when EA’s financial statements become available, but I am inclined to say that if SWTOR can achieve/maintain 500k-800k subscriptions for the year it will undeniably be a success.

3) Endgame Concerns

About a week ago, Tobold was discussing Richard Bartle’s feelings towards the SWTOR endgame (which are rather interesting, by the way). Down in the comment section, Tobold said something I wanted to highlight:

In short, I know why I prefer leveling in SWTOR to leveling in WoW. I don’t know why I would prefer raiding in SWTOR to raiding in WoW. Do you?

It is an interesting question because by all accounts, we have no idea what the average WoW player is doing. Looking at Cataclysm, only approximately 17.28% of the Western audience killed 1 raid boss in T11 content, and ~12.69% killed 1 raid boss in T12. Even if my methodology¹ is flawed, it is likely we are looking at a game in which over two-thirds of players do not participant in raiding, i.e. the “accepted” endgame. So… what are they doing? Heroics? Battlegrounds? Goldshire RP? Everyone seems to agree that the WoW leveling game has been irreparably destroyed, and yet there seems to be no other explanation as for what the vast, vast majority of the playerbase seems to be doing.

In this respect, SWTOR’s raiding endgame seems as likely as not to be irrelevant. Perhaps the social mechanisms of organized raiding trickle down to the masses, perhaps raiding increases player engagement, perhaps you need hardcore gamers to bind a community together long enough for a population’s sheer gravity to take over. These are open questions. Until we get some usage statistics from Blizzard though, I feel comfortable enough suggesting that the depth of SWTOR’s endgame is not particularly important to its overall success/failure; it clearly is not in WoW.

Retention is a function of social ties, which inevitably take place primarily in the endgame, but they are not about the endgame per se. As long as Bioware steps up its guild infrastructure plans and its Show & Tell aspects, as I said before I see no particular problem with retention at whatever sub level they achieve.

Flowers, Sunshine Aside…

The real challenges SWTOR faces are more systemic in nature.

Nearly everyone has expressed concerns when it comes to the full voice acting, for example, but I am much more concerned about the related problem of localization. According to that LA Times article I linked earlier, SWTOR is only localized in two languages (German and French). In contrast, WoW has been localized into eight: German, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Korean, and both Traditional and Simplified Chinese. While SWTOR catches somewhat of a break when it comes to the aliens speaking gibberish that can be Cut & Paste, just imagine the ridiculousness that is recording all other voice work in three separate languages (plus male/female differences!), let alone additional languages in the future.

This is relevant because, quite honestly, WoW could shut down all US/EU servers and still probably maintain 5+ million Asian subscriptions into perpetuity (Aion inexplicably has 4 million after all). Meanwhile, SWTOR does not have access to the Asian MMO market and thus has much shorter reach. Assuming, of course, that Star Wars is even a hot commodity over there to begin with.

The other systemic issue is the gravity of the game itself. While I believe SWTOR will probably be fine in maintaining at least ~500k subs (and be successful as a result), needing at least 375k subs to be worth the $200 million endeavor is somewhat worrisome. All MMOs probably have some kind of break-even point, well-publicized or not, but generally speaking a game company grows in relation to the success of the game. The question arises as to how long EA would tolerate sub-375k performance before more drastic measures were enacted. Given EA’s rather public rivalry with Activisn-Blizzard when it comes to Call of Duty vs Battlefield 3, I am inclined to believe they will go to heroic lengths to keep SWTOR in the fight should it fall, but it may well go the other way too.

In any case, things are shaping up to be an interesting year.

¹ I actually think my methodology is better than the sort of Armory audits appearing on MMO-Champ as of late. The problem with Armory audits is the “white noise” of alts. Since I extrapolate based on guilds, it is much more likely that a raider’s alts are filtered out rather than included, and thus not diluting the figures. Of course, MMOData.net hasn’t been updated since WoW started hemorrhaging subscriptions, and so finding the current US/EU/KR/TW baseline is impossible, thus possibly skewing the percentages of T12 and beyond.