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Fallonomics

We live in interesting times.

Eurogamer is reporting that even the /r/Fallout76 subreddit is rebelling against the high prices of the Christmas cosmetics in the Fallout 76 Atom Store. A Santa/Mrs. Claus outfit plus Stuffed Radstag CAMP decoration and matching player icons is retailing for 2000 Atoms, or basically $20. Then there’s a Red Rocket Mega Sign for $14, set of Holiday Emotes for $12, and the perennial Power Armor paint jobs that debut on release for $18.

The article ends on this note:

It’s worth pointing out all this stuff does not affect gameplay, beyond the aesthetic. You can’t pay for a powerful weapon or more perk cards, for example. Still, at these prices, it’s easy to see why players feel like they’re getting ripped off.

It’s also not a good look for Fallout 76 at this point in its life, a month after the disastrous launch. It is (was) a full-price game. Selling skins at the kind of price you’d expect to see from the free-to-play Fortnite doesn’t make a lot of sense for those who paid full whack at release.

It’s worth noting (again) that you earn Atoms from in-game activities. At level 70, I have accumulated around 3000. The bulk came from one-time “challenges,” but there is a trickle of daily quest-esque rewards and some weekly ones that, combined, will give you about 570 Atoms per week. The angle is clear for all to see though: Bethesda wants you to purchase a few big-ticket items with the first hit of cash shop crack, and then bust out your credit card for the rest.

This, of course, makes Bethesda a monstrous, amoral scumbug, charging nearly half the cost of the base game for the modern equivalent of horse armor. Did they think they could get away with it because Fortnite charges more?!?!?!

Clearly, you should log out of this always-online multiplayer game and log into Guild Wars 2…

GW2_StorePrices

When you convert the tricky gem prices, you get $8.75 for cosmetic clothes, $5 for glider skins, $12.50 for new resource node animations, $5 for random mount skins, $15 for a specific mount skin, or $25 for a super-special mount skin. This is to say nothing about selling bank tabs and bag slots in a game especially designed to fill your inventory with massive amounts of junk.

Let’s log into WoW instead…

WoW_StorePrice

Ah, almost the original home of the $10 pet and $25 mount, to say nothing about the completely outlandish prices for character services like name changes and server moves.

Or maybe log onto Elder Scrolls Online…

ESO_Shop

Crowns appear to be 100:$1 ratio when not on sale, so that’s about $4 for hair, $5 for emotes, and between $9 and $30 for mounts. There is also a housing section in the store that features, at the top end, “The Orbservatory Prior” clocking in at $150 (furnished). I don’t know enough about ESO to comment on the value proposition of that purchase, but there it is.

“Fallout 76 isn’t an MMO!” I agree. But we all knew going in that Bethesda was going to pay for Fallout 76’s ongoing costs by way of cash shop purchases. Some of these complaints seem to be from people awakening from cryogenic sleep, discovering modern multiplayer gaming for the first time. While many are saying that the prices should be lower, I am not entirely convinced it could ever be low enough to bypass the “controversy.”

Did I think at the end of 2018 that I would be defending Bethesda cash shop purchases? No. The Atom Shop stuff is certainly more expensive than I would ever pay, if I did not have about $30 worth of credit from playing the game. And I am sympathetic to the argument that a full-fledged MMO has a greater volume of content that could conceivably justify higher prices elsewhere.

That said, complaining about the Fallout 76 store is a reach. If/when Bethesda starting putting shit in lockboxes – like they did with Fallout Shelter, a F2P mobile game everyone praised – that’s when the knives should come back out. Until then, stick to the legitimate, if boring, stuff like bugs and PR.

Housing Madness

For the most part, I attempt to resist the urge to indulge in housing systems in MMOs and other games. These are good features and I am very much glad that they are implemented. In fact, I have expounded on the benefits of Show & Tell mechanisms for years.

The problem is that my efficient and logical exterior is but a bulwark against the roiling pit of madness that lies just beneath.

Perfectly logical.

Perfectly logical.

You see? Decor items are too valuable to a vendor or as an AH object for me to “waste” learning. There are a few items that slip through the cracks (in my psyche), sure, but I can solve that problem by scaling them up to the maximum. Everything is all good here, thanks.

Or at least it was until I checked a reputation vendor and noticed they sold some decor at 60 copper apiece. Then… then, They came inside.

This sort of thing amuses me. Amuses me greatly, indeed. I already have visions of a house plot completely enclosed in metal, like a Borg Cube. Or perhaps more accurately, the inside of the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser. I am near-cackling already, simply by imagining the look on the faces of visitors; they know not how far the jabbit-hole goes.

The answer is that it goes all the way.

Luckily for everyone involved, I am far too close to my goal of CREDD funding via in-game means to afford to bring my sinister plan to its dark fruition. I have Dyes to peddle, commodities to exchange, crafted items to vendor. The time for living room skull pits and such is not yet nigh.

166 Human skulls. All legitimately obtained, I might add.

166 Human skulls. All legitimately obtained, I might add.

Err… not yet again nigh.

Wildstar Housing, Balance

This Penny Arcade is pretty much spot-on.

I have not personally succumbed to the housing endgame, but I absolutely see the appeal. My present domicile is named Function Over Form, and is primarily centered around having my own Mining and Garden nodes for resource gathering. Any decor that isn’t worth vendoring is placed as amusingly as possible, scaled up to the maximum. As it turns out, the scale on most of these items figuratively and literally go to 11.

I enjoy the view from my 30-ft couch.

The view from my 20-ft couch.

If you were looking for more serious housing endeavors, examples abound. I especially enjoyed seeing the DIY jumping puzzles. The craziest, most underrated part? You can visit other peoples’ houses. You don’t even need to know them in-game; as long as they have opened their house to the public, you can stop by, and perhaps harvest their resource nodes (more on that in a sec).

Here is the method to do so, and please pass it along:

Won't you be my neighbor?

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Wildstar is by no means the first MMO with player housing. I was questing with a few friends on Vent the other night, and one friend actually complained that EQ2’s housing system was more intuitive. I’ll, uh, take your word for that.

Carbine has done something really clever here though, in elevating the Show & Tell aspect by combining it with Challenges and resources. I have my low-effort housing solely to be able to low-effort mine resources every hour or so; the Shardspire Canyon FABkit in the back similarly allows me to complete an easy challenge for a shot at additional goodies every 30 minutes.

But see, you can get a list of a few dozen people who have opened their houses to the public and check out their setups. If they too have resource nodes or Challenges on their property to complete, you have an incentive to essentially cold-call them to become Neighbors. Collect a big enough list, and you can probably farm all day just in other peoples’ houses.

Maybe that doesn’t seem all that social. I will tell you though, that it got me to add a random stranger to my Friend’s List so I could talk him into letting me farm his creepy, albeit very committed Plushie-themed house on the regular. I’m already trying to come up with a naming convention to indicate people willing to 50/50 their nodes into a… well, a “neighborhood,” to our mutual benefit.

The fact that there is a Zone Chat specifically for people in their houses is goddamn brilliant, by the way.

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Having said that, I now have a 2nd character parked at level 15 with very little impetus to move forward. It is difficult to shape into words why that is the case, as I even enjoy my Medic main. As others have mentioned, by level 15 you will have unlocked your house, your mount, and will have opened up enough abilities to get somewhat of a grasp of what buttons you’ll be spamming for the next forever.

Part of the problem is commitment issues. Mobs don’t die in 2-shots anymore, so you better like who you’ll be grinding with. Is Medic really the best for me? In trying out the other classes though, let me just say that Carbine is going to seriously need to work on the ESPer and Engineer (I’d say Warrior too, but I’ll give it another shot first).

The Engineer problem is pretty straight-forward: the bots suck. Not only do the bots suck damage-wise – which is a big problem when they constitute 2 of your very early ability selections – but they have pathing issues too, which can lead to aggro issues. My Engineer is level 8 and it just doesn’t feel fun, and none of the upcoming abilities sound like they will be fun either.

The ESPer problem, on the other hand, is a complete breakdown in the class design. I can’t speak for it’s endgame performance, but there is almost nothing I like where I’m at. It is currently the ONLY class to have it’s “primary” builder require being stationary, which makes it worse than useless in PvP. Flag carrier running away? GG. Target runs out of your telegraph? Now they’re 35+ yards away and you’ll never hit them with anything. GG. Then you have it’s R ability with its… stay stationary to gain an absorb shield, interrupt armor, and PSI points? Only useable in combat? Let me just say that using that ability in PvP just leads to pretty much instant death, even in the lower brackets.

Medic was more fun, but PvP is a crazy mess.

Medic was more fun, but PvP is a crazy mess regardless of class.

I’m mentioning PvP a lot with the ESPer as that is largely how I leveled with that toon. The Aurin/Mordesh starting area is abysmal, and meanwhile PvP is pretty outstandingly rewarding and fun. It takes around 3-4 games per level, and you pretty much consistently get 300-400 PvP currency per battle. The PvP gear has some “useless” stats to make it weaker in PvE, but you can unlock usable shoulders that will likely last you a half-dozen levels or more with pure PvE stats. Otherwise, you must rely on opening the PvP loot bags rewarded at the end ala GW2, to similar effect (read: none).

My goal with the ESPer was pretty much to heal exclusively, and in that area it is kinda okay. Most of its healing abilities are actually targeted (and stationary), which reverts the game back to WoW-mode; I moved the team window down to the center of the screen and basically used it like Healbot. I ended up unlocking a standard telegraph heal in the teens though, so I was able to be a bit more mobile as a healer.

So, yeah, ESPer, Engineer, and likely Warrior are about the three weakest classes at the moment. Carbine is on the record for saying that classes will be buffed up to the top level rather than top-tier classes being nerfed, so we’ll see exactly how they plan on solving this balance issue. I don’t see any way out for the ESPer other than making the level 1 ability a mobile cast though.

Quotes of the Time Interval

I am a particular fan of well-crafted treatises, clever turns of phrases, and compelling wordsmithing in general. And in that regard, it’s been a good week:

People tended not to cause too much trouble at the cultist areas in Silithus. We all had stuff to do and some of that stuff involved fighting things that could easily kill us. This meant that we didn’t want a fight, but if one started, we weren’t going to waste time trying to do any more PvE. It instantly escalated into a full-scale war. We didn’t need any sand for that, just something we wanted to do and someone getting in the way of us doing it.

Klepsacovic delivered in that last sentence something more profound than ten-thousand PvP forum posts. Blizzard has been attempting to recapture the lightning for years with successively unsuccessful variations of the sand mechanic, with seeming little regard as to why people chose to fight over the sand in the first place. Namely, they didn’t. Fights chose them, and they chose to meet halfway. No amount of gank-friendly daily quests will bring back vanilla PvP if the players themselves have lost the taste for blood.

So there I am, back home in Abella Cove. The rent’s paid til the end of the world. I’m not going anywhere. Ever again.

With the heroic stoicism of a Norse god staring down Ragnarok, Bhagpuss spins a tale about player housing in Vanguard that almost makes me wish I had played the doomed MMO just so I could lose something in solidarity.

Maybe Too Much Verisimilitude

So, I guess the devs from FFXIV just released the prices for in-game housing and no one is happy. The pushback from the devs was phrased this way from Massively:

Yoshida said that the high cost in intended to prevent wealthy players from snapping up all of the plots and that all players will be earning more money with patch 2.1. “I understand that, in taking these measures to ensure even distribution of land, we are asking for considerable patience from those players who are eager to enjoy housing right away,” he said. “While I sympathize with players concerns, we believe that this is in the best long-term interests of the game.”

In other words, the concern was that the wealthy players would go around and snatch up all the land before the average player/guild could do so, Monopoly-style. Considering that the housing area is already going to be instanced away from the game world, which is itself already segregated into identical servers, this seems like an Extraordinarily Dumb Problem to Have.

In fairness, I have never thought that “in the world” player housing was ever a good idea, in any game. I’m sure that it “worked” (for very narrow definitions of the word) in various games, but the whole thing strikes me as a kind of bizarre pyramid scheme. What’s the content? Where’s the gameplay? If you are first in line, congratulations, you have an exclusive advantage on into perpetuity and everyone behind you is screwed all in the name of… what? Some vague sense of permanent ownership in a virtual world? Don’t get me wrong, I fully support player housing in general. I just don’t see the point in finite plots of land in a game ostensibly being played by hundreds of thousands of players. This sort of nonsense is why I never got into playing multiplayer Minecraft – where is the fun in traveling to the shit ends of the world because all the prime real estate is taken?

But hey, Square Enix, good job with that heavy, capitalistic dose of realism in your escapist fantasy MMO. Maybe you could add some adjustable-rate mortgages in the next patch, or just allow the rich players to become landlords and rent out property.

Revisiting Single-Player MMOs

Keen has a post up entitled “MMORPGs are not Single-player Games,” which laments the direction MMOs are heading as evidenced by The Elder Scrolls Online having a 100% solo “main story.” I am not particularly interested in talking about TESO, but rather this paragraph (emphasis mine):

If it’s so important to your game that the player be the hero in the story, why are you making a MMO?  MMO’s suck at being single-player games.  Did you skip SWTOR?  What makes MMO’s any good at all are the multiplayer elements.  Take those away and what are you left with? A game worse than the one you could have made if you actually made a single-player  RPG.

Well… do MMOs suck at being single-player games?

It may be easy to answer in the affirmative, and in some respects I would agree. Undoubtedly there are concessions made in an MMO that are irrelevant in a single-player RPG. Daily quests, for example, exist as “content” to get people to log on at regular intervals and maintain social ties. The related notion of paced content (i.e. weekly resets) is also an MMO staple that makes no particular single-player sense. Even normal quests are likely more generic (and numerous) than they would have to be.

But in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG. There are two main reasons why.

1) The gameplay is often more satisfying, for longer.

The example I used in Keen’s comment section was The Witcher. Here is a 3rd-person action-RPG game with hotbars and talents and exploration and quests and so on. Basically, a mini-MMO, if you will. As I detailed in my review, The Witcher’s combat system is terrible. Way worse than even Warhammer Online’s janky PvE gameplay. While I considered the storyline/setting to be somewhat of a redeeming factor, it could very well be that something like The Secret World or World of Darkness (assuming that is still a thing) or some other MMO eclipses it even within its own specific niche.

I would never agree with someone who would suggest that stories in RPGs are irrelevant, but let us be honest here: most of your RPG hours are spent in combat. RPGs don’t necessarily need gameplay deep enough to last 1000 hours because the story runs out in 40-100 hours, of course. But there is nothing worse than getting stranded 2/3rds of the way through an otherwise good story with gameplay that has ran out of steam. MMO combat systems, even the ones that feel “off,” convey a depth far beyond the average RPG. They have to.

Keen responded with “length isn’t related to quality,” which is true enough in a general sense. After a while though, one must admit that voluntarily playing the same game for 1000+ hours is perhaps indicative that fun is being had. I would not trade Xenogears’ 80 hours for WoW’s 7800 hours, or for the rest of my Top 10 RPGs for that matter. But for the Top #11-#120?

Absolutely.

2) Show & Tell enhances the single-player experience.

I truly believe that Show & Tell is the future of single-player gaming. If you are not familiar with the concept as I use it, this quote (from a year ago) sums it up:

In this light, I do not particularly think the trend of companion AI or whatever is necessarily bad. Having played Minecraft for a while now, I have reached that plateau where you want nothing more than to show off the cool biodome tower you built or the Pit of Doom you dug or the cross-Atlantic powered railroad to someone, anyone else capable of appreciating the amount of effort/vision it took to do so. Of course, the thought of trying to do what I have done on a multiplayer server where anyone could wreck my house and steal my materials at any time is mortifying. I want a Show & Tell, not a group assignment. I want a single-player MMO.

And also:

Repetition is required for communities – people are more asocial in LFD precisely because you aren’t going to see anyone again (unless you have a ranking system, of course). We can, however, condense the process via Show & Tell. What this means in a general sense is instead of blooming into a flower in front of others over time, you do hours and hours of blooming beforehand and invite others into your garden. […]

But that’s just it: players generally have a preternatural desire to express themselves any way they can. Player housing would not be about having somewhere to chill out waiting for a LFD queue, or even arranging your trophies and armor sets in aesthetically pleasing ways. It would be about designing and decorating a virtual space for others to look at. You already know the meaning behind that piece of gear that’s been sitting in your bank for the last four years. Other people don’t know, and deep down I believe it is a common human desire for said object or achievement to be recognized and acknowledged as something meaningful.

Show & Tell can be (and has been) implemented in bad ways. I am not a huge fan of arbitrary Achievements, for example, and I think focusing on the latest gear rewards is a bit crass. Transmog and costume options, on the other hand, are much better. Being able to invite you in to see my living room skull pit in Skyrim?

166 Human skulls. All legitimately obtained, I might add.

Would have been epic. The mere possibility of being able to eventually post the above screenshot, and having someone able to appreciate it on some level somewhere, generated dozens of hours of additional gameplay. In a single-player game. MMOs generate gameplay in this fashion all the time, of course, and I am here to confirm that it works for single-player games too. And, by extension, MMOs that are played as single-player games.

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So getting back to the question at the top, I say: MMOs can (and often do) make excellent single-player games.

Keen openly wondered why this “mystery demographic” is getting catered to by MMO developers at the expense of “MMO identity.” I would say: where is the mystery? The vast majority of MMO players today are single-player MMO, erm, players. Less than 20% of WoW players raid; what are the other 80% doing? How many EVE players never make it out of high-sec space or never engage in consensual PvP? When you look at graphs like this:

This technically qualifies as a Rorschach test in six states and the District of Columbia.

…what do you see? Did 5+ million social MMO players crawl out of the woodwork in a single year? I don’t think so. Rather, Blizzard tapped into the latent single-player market by letting said players solo at their own pace all the way to the level cap. That was Blizzard’s biggest innovation.

Are social players more valuable to the long-term success of MMOs? Absolutely. Can studios focus exclusively on such players, ala Darkfall etc? Of course. But in so doing they leave literally millions of dollars on the table. And so the reason we see a “dilution” in the MMO identity is precisely because developers are seeking out the most profitable piece of that Venn Diagram – the intersection of single-player and MMO – by trial and error writ large.

The age of single-player MMOs has arrived. And for the majority of gamers, this is good news.