Sunday, March 24, 2013

Late to the event

I finally got around to do doing the Gree event the second time around. The first one I skipped as I was a bit busy at work. I was also pretty burned out on any sort of dailies after doing a bunch of them in WoW to get my main there exalted with all of the factions. (Since my main there works on the reputation achievements the grinds were effectively mandatory. Having been the primary tank for my guild unlocking the valor gear was a motivator, as well, for the reps.)

The rep grind has been pretty relaxed for me. By the time the event goes away again I should have enough rep and rep tokens banked to get me all the way to Legend. Not bad for a two week event. In future I'll be able to just focus on the dailies that give me the item tokens.

I started out at first doing the dailies on three characters, my Jedi Sentinel, my Jedi Consular, and my Sith Warrior.  Once I hit Friend and could do the Grey Secant quests I stopped doing the dailies on my Sith Warrior. I did do the one-time quest on all three. That one was fun, other than a few hiccups on Voss, as I got to get out and about on the planets instead of sitting on my ships or on the fleet. I even skipped doing dailies a couple of days when I just didn't feel like logging in. It has been nice to be at the point I do dailies when I feel like it and not feeling like I "have" to login and do them to keep up.

The pve quests were generally painless, though the pirate one could be a pain when you went for the 'end boss'. Having him spawn next to another gold mob can be problematic for a healer with a tanking companion. Still, it was a bit reassuring, in a twisted way, to see that Bioware still screws up mob placement even now. ^_^

The pvp dailies were the most surprising. On my server, Jedi Covenant, very few people were doing them. Turning in the orbs was quick and painless for the most part. I think the most I ever saw in line for the orbs was three people (including me) on one occasion  Other than that, it was pretty much wait a minute or so at the pylon and turn in your quest.

Actual pvp was limited to a few times when my group was doing the heroic in the pvp area for speed and once on the pylon/orb quest. The pylon pvp was actually funny as a there were several Consular involved and they kept blasting people back from the pylon. No one was hurt and I was just laughing at my keyboard as I had the image of a school ground shoving match going on.

I do hope Bioware brings back the other events. Even if they were once a year things, that would be nice. Definitely the Rakghoul plague because re-occurrences of a plague makes sense. The Grand Acquisition might not make sense, but being a bit selfish I would like to see it because I wasn't able to work on it while it was here.

All in all, I liked the Gree event and I'm ready to start working on the other reps (as I feel like it) when the Gree event is over. Kudos to them for a successful event.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

By the numbers

My son and I were talking about Richard Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter game.  We were specifically discussing the 'personalized multiplayer' aspect of the game. He mentioned he wished he had more money to help support nudging the industry more towards this direction. I mentioned that even if the title was more of an indy hit, you didn't need big numbers to be profitable. Ultima Online is still running and it has around 100k subscribers. (Which, swtor fans, is good news. EA will keep a profitable MMO running for a long, long time even if it doesn't have a WoW-sized player base.)

Later on I thought about how World of Warcraft effects everyone's perceptions of success, especially the ardent defenders of the game. Now, to be clear, I am *not* saying that WoW is dying. Far from it, but there are things in the subscriber numbers to notice and watch. At its peak WoW had 12 million subscribers (Blizzard press release for October 2010). As of date of this post the official subscriber numbers are at 9.6 million subscribers. The numbers have been lower, surged a bit at the release of Mists of Pandaria, and have dropped back down. Most of the defenders tend to focus on the raw numbers. To be fair, they rightfully say that WoW's numbers are still impressive (they are) and that most MMOs would love to have a player base equal to what WoW has lost. 2.4 million subscribers would stellar for 99% of the MMOS out there.

The thing is, the defenders haven't discussed the dip in subscribers from a business perspective. Any business (and Blizzard is a business first[1]) would be very concerned to have lost from 20% to 25% (at one time) of their market. Losing that many people means something has gone wrong. It could be internal mistakes or a failure to adapt to external changes. When you look at Mists of Pandaria from this angle you can see why some of the design decisions were made. Perhaps not as a primary factor, but definitely as a significant one. The loss of subscribers helps explain why Blizzard went back and recycled some of the concepts from Vanilla and Burning Crusade (tiered raids you have to progress through, alt-unfriendliness, etc). Going back to systems, albeit with a fresh coat of paint, which originally brought in a lot of subscribers is worth trying.

If we look at that loss a bit differently it can actually be positive for WoW in the long run. In some ways the loss is permanent. People's lives change and they just won't play an MMO, any MMO again. In other ways that loss is good if it means people went to a different MMO and are having fun. Ignoring the inevitable WoW-bashers in other games, most of the people playing other MMOs are having more fun with their current MMO than WoW. This is good for the industry as a whole when each MMO can find its (profitable) niche. More experiments, more successes, more people playing MMOs (or MMO-likes, such as Shroud of the Avatar), even WoW. Having WoW (or any big MMO) can be nice because it gives us a common language to talk about MMOS in game terms. It isn't so nice when to succeed people try to imitate WoW or call themselves WoW-killers *cough*sw:tor/warhammer*cough*. As players we need those experiments to push the genre. Without it we're stuck with Blizzard trying to reinvent WoW each expansion and the inevitable stagnation and player-base decay that will occur. So the next time someone gets defensive about WoW's decline in subscriber, introduce them to the idea that it could be a good thing for WoW in the long run. :)

[1] Blizzard is a very competitive, very hard-nosed business-oriented company. If you look at when they release cinematics, patches, expansions and when their competitors do the same you'll find a fair amount of matching up on the dates. While they disingenuously say they develop on their own cycle without paying attention to competitors (a tactic Apple uses all the time) there are too many coincidences for them not to be trying to compete. Now if I was an Activision-Blizzard shareholder I'd be happy about this. If I was a competitor I'd try to make sure I was ready for Blizzard to mess with me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I've been trying to hit up a flashpoint everyday with my smuggler to get the daily planetary commendations. (Having a lot of adaptive gear creates that hunger for the leveling mods, dontcha know? :)) As I've been reaching the conversations pitstops I noticed that I was waiting on the rest of my instance group to reach the response tree. Having played since the beginning I had gotten used to everyone hitting the space bar to get through the conversation as fast as possible. Grab those social points and go, go, go.

At first, I figured the other people were likely the casual f2p players being in the instance for the first time. Later I realized when folks were buffing me with all four buffs everyone now seems to be actually watching the events, even the long term subscribers. I don't know when people's behavior changed, but this is a welcome improvement as far as I'm concerned. Having and enjoying the story in the flashpoints is part of the fun and I had missed it during the spacebar-at-all-costs era.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Big in-game events

I was playing the ending arc of Chapter 2 of my smuggler's story line when a casual line by an enemy got me to thinking.  The line was to the effect that the Republic and Empire were officially at war. There was more, but the thing that focused my attention was the fact that Bioware never really showed the war starting. You can easily miss the fact about the war as you level because it was so quiet. It is easy to continue on up to Corellia not realizing this. (In fact, Voss's planetary storyline is such that it could easily be a cold war situation.)

For a game company that made story its Fourth Pillar, not seeing the events that started the war unfold is strange. That's a major story event, and big events should be shown to a player. If they happen in passing or in the background then they become minor and unimportant. I don't know how they would have included the start of the war, but having each class see or be a part of the start would have ratched up the tension in the game and added to the flavor.

This isn't to pick just on Bioware. Blizzard really messed this up with the beginning of Cataclysm. There was an event in two of the cities of each of the factions. An elemental invasion were if you slew enough elementals you could open a portal to four bosses for some quick loot. The problem was that fairly quickly only one of the faction cities gathered enough folks to kill the elementals. Since two of the four bosses were tied to each city if you wanted a drop from the other two bosses you were out of luck. Yep, it was pretty boring and uninspired as far as world events go. (The Mists of Pandaria non-event was even worse. There was none, just a showcase of a scenario that didn't make sense to anyone that hadn't read the book. Talk about disconnects.)

Now, when Cataclysm started you basically woke up in a set spot and moved on. Unless you played through specific low level areas (Darkshore, for example) you never even felt the impact of events. Heck, the Worgen starting zone literally has the Cataclysm happen off screen. As it was, it was a 'Huh? What happened? :shrug:' and move on moment. Instead of having us fear Deathwing or making a connection to us where he mattered, Deathwing became this empty threat that would torch a zone once in awhile. Instead of being this dangerous, intelligent if crazy opponent, he became this ineffectual blowhard that we put down while we advanced Thrall's life crisis. :sigh:

I think if Blizzard had let us be involved with the Cataclysm happening then it would have allowed us to make an emotional connection to the events. Ask anyone that played WoW if they remember the zombie invasion pre-Wrath, or the pre-BC event where a massive demon attacked the major cities. Those big events got us fired up and ready to go when the expansions launched. When we got to the final fight we could look back and have closure. So, my thinking is, if we could have tried to stop Deathwing at the start and *failed* then it would have A) let us see the start of the Cataclysm and B) allow us to get emotionally invested in stopping Deathwing. When we finally beat him in Dragon Soul it would have made for a much better sense of closure.

TL;DR: If a game company is going to have a big, world changing event, they need to let the players be a part of it. We need to see it unfold and be in it, even if on a periphery. Big events that happen in the background or off-stage are non-events.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Leveling tip

One of the things I've found helpful while leveling characters is the ability to switch world instances. World instances are the that Bioware handles lots of players on a given planet. Too many people and you get lag and too much competition for mobs, resources, etc.. By having from 1 to around 120 people per world instance Bioware balances the feeling of having enough folks around to make the world seem active with the easing of excess competition.

All that said, sometimes you hit the leveling wave at the wrong place on a planet and have to wait longer than you want for mobs, quest items, etc. What I've found that can sometimes help is to manually switch world instances (if you've ever joined a group on a world to do a heroic quest and been moved you've encountered the automatic version of this).

If you want to switch just press M to bring up the main map and look in the lower right corner at the World box. If you see your planet's name and a number then you're read to switch. If you don't see the dropdown box then you're currently out of luck as there aren't enough people on the planet at the time to spawn multiple world instances. I've only seen Quesh not have multiple world instances. (Mainly due to Quesh being so fast and short.)

Choose your destination, click yes, and hopefully you'll be able to get back to leveling!

Note: You can generally only take this option once every 30 minutes or so. Occasionally you can bounce between instances without having the cooldown start.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I posted part of this as part of a comment on Blessing of Kings: Disengaged, but I thought I'd post it here, as well. Maybe I can get off my behind and start actually writing stuff up on my gaming blog. :) Consider this as a snapshot of what I'm playing, MMO-wise.

The Secret World - I'm still mucking around in Kingsmouth. I felt the starter bit for the Dragons was pretty poorly done. (Give me a tutorial mission where you give me abilities and then take them away at the end? Not too smart.) I think Funcom's problem is that they when they did the quests for TSW they got too enamared of ARGs for everything and not just for Investigation quests. This game really feels like you need a second monitor with a browser open looking everything up all the time. Personally, combine that with the ability to eventually learn all the skills in the game (though you can only use a few at a time) and you get the situation where you feel like you're spinning your wheels without any direction. If they had taken the idea Guild Wars 2 used and an obvious story thread to follow, plus a few stock 'archetypes' for abilities I think they would have kept more folks subscribed. It also wouldn't have hurt if they had put something more interesting in as the starter zone. Zombies and the Lovecraftian/King atmosphere are both rather overused at this point in time. I eventually want to push through the content and see everything, but I feel like I'm fighting the game to see it and not working with it. :sigh:

The Old Republic - Right now I'm just leveling characters to 50 to see their class stories. With the new expansion coming I'm not worried about doing anything with my other 50s. Leveling characters is a lot of fun because I'm seeing how Bioware intertwinned the stories among all the classes, plus I love seeing the little callbacks to the KotorR games. This is the game I'm spending the bulk of my time at the moment. Being able to do what I want, when I want has really invigorated my desire to log into an MMO and play.

World of Warcraft - I was pretty burned out by the end of Dragon Soul, but I hung in for my guild to help give it some leadership stability. I've leveled three characters to 90, but with all the dailies and the alt-unfriendlyness of the expansion, I've pretty much gone into hibernation with it. All I'm doing is logging in to see if I can get my other binding from Baron Geddon once a week. My guild is still raiding, but with the changes in raiders due to folks leaving at the end of Cataclysm they picked a raiding time that doesn't work for me. That's ok with me, but it does mean the normal "I need to be on and prepared to raid" efforts aren't keeping me logged in. I have done LFR and subbed in on some normal mode runs, but I have to say that T14 is pretty 'meh' for me. That may be just DS burnout lingering, but it may be that I'm very tired of trying to stay on Wow's Red Queen's racetrack of progression.

Guild Wars 2 - I had been leveling a Charr with my son and we were having a blast with the content. Luckily both of us are in sync with how we like to play (both completionists about things) so that made the leveling very fast and smooth. I've also been messing around with a Norn guardian. While I tend to do the best with melee classes, I normally wouldn't be quite so exuberantly extroverted as she is. It has been a fun change to play a character so different in tone from my usual choices. I need to get back to the game, but that's one thing I really appreciate about GW2 is that I don't feel like I have to log in or else I'm wasting my subscription fee.

World of Tanks - I downloaded this to just see what it is like, but unfortunately work decided to eat my extra free time. Right now SW:ToR and a tiny bit of WoW playing consume my free time. But as someone that loved the old board wargames like Panzerblitz, Tobruk and Squad Leader the idea of manning my own tank is irresistible.

Edit (Mar. 10, 2013): Thanks to my sharp-eyed son for noticing that I had my ToR mixed in with my WoW. That should have been "level three characters to 90", not to 50. >< Fixed now.