It ain’t what it used to be

Time-zones can be a bitch, but they can also be quite useful for inspiration. See, by the time I get up my little British (and Euro) chums have already done their morning posts and, as I peruse them over coffee, I can get all sorts of ideas I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

This one is Spinks’ fault, again. The post itself is on MMO burnout and how to avoid it — a feat I’m not sure is actually possible — but a passing comment in the text was what drew me to comment and then, shock-horror, made me have a thought of my own.

Here’s the catalyst:

The first thing that strikes me is that many players (probably the majority) don’t ever go through the  mastery and burnout phases. They hop straight from ramping up to casual, possibly even skipping the ramping up phase if the game offers that option.

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Off with their heads! Player politics.

Spinks shared this, so it actually came up on my reader, and I have to cry shenanigans. Oh wait not that one – BS. That’s the one I want.

It’s another “gamer-types” post and here’s the original. It’s another incredibly biased gamer-types post where one side is beauty truth and light and the other is one step down from maggots. I wonder if you can work out which is which from the quote below?

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Damn those Joneses

I don’t care about the MMO Joneses. Really, I don’t.

So why do I so often feel like I’m being compelled to a particular activity in MMOs? If that’s not pure Keeping Up Syndrome I don’t know what is.

Take bonus XP weekends, for instance — when those are running, every time I log on I feel as though I’ve GOT to do something that generates xp, or I’m wasting my playtime. The thing is, as I said over at Dragonchasers (in this very good post), I have no problem levelling crafting characters — it’s what I find enjoyable after all — and I have no desire to level adventuring characters. Or rather, I don’t feel compelled to have max-level characters. If my gals level I’m not going to cry about it, but it’s not a particular aim of mine. There’s nothing in EQ2 I want to do that I can’t do at lower levels, and that includes harvesting.

(Which reminds me, I did say I’d do an EQ2 harvesting post. Oops. I will. Really. Maybe. I don’t know if you’re worthy of knowing the seekrits!)

The same goes for events, and I’ve posted about that before. Events are fun, events are great, but at some point I end up feeling like I HAVE to be doing them or I’m somehow missing out.

This is what I find odd. I don’t feel the need to have adventuring levels, and yet I do feel pressure to get some kind of xp — adventuring xp if I must — when there’s a bonus xp weekend on.

The whole concept of “missing out on” stuff is weird and slippery. Some things I don’t care about so I don’t feel as though I’m missing out. But then there are other things that, on the face of it, I don’t particularly care about but still end up feeling needled with if there’s some kind of event associated with them.

How many bloody glass baubles can you possibly want on one account anyway? That was the deal with Frostfell (Christmas) this year: log in every day with every character and get a present for each and every one of them from Santa. I did that for a few days with ALL my chars on both accounts, after which I wisely decided my world doesn’t need that many presents. But I still felt needled, if distantly, to log on. “Log on! You’re missing out! This stuff is being given out FOR FREE and you’re not getting it!”

Part of me says “So what? I don’t need it!” but the part that gets needled doesn’t understand the whole “don’t need” concept. If it’s there, it must be obtained/striven for/taken part in. Even as I opt out of doing this I can feel the pillars of a consumption-driven society shake under my feet. As above (RL) so below (MMOs). Okay, enough metaphysics.

I’m beginning to wonder if this is what drives so much of the playstyle I don’t understand. Is that why people raid? To get stuff because it’s there, it’s there for them, and they therefore HAVE to get it whether they really want or need it in the first place? I’m sure there are lots of people who enjoy raiding for its own sake, but I also know there are tons of people who don’t like raiding at all and only do it for what they can get from it. If you go by what people say, anyway — which isn’t always entirely reliable, I guess.

Anyway, the long and short of this is, as Pete said: Play the game; don’t let the game play you. And that includes playing on your expectations.

Pricing Models: pay what you want

Rock, Paper, Shotgun reports that Crayon Physics Deluxe has gone “Pay What You Want” which has apparently already worked relatively well for one of last year’s Gooey games and, of course, has been more famously done by big bands and big author names. (Note: this is a time-limited sale, not a permanent pricing model.)

The problem is, apparently, that most people only pay enough to stop making them feel guilty, or enough to get them a look at  the thing. Or nothing at all, if they can get away with it.

I’ve noticed this in MMOs when crafting: what I think something is worth is not what most customers think it’s worth. Many customers, in fact, think it should be free. In SWG I head this argument more times than I can count: “It’s not real stuff, why should I pay for it?” Well, for starters, it’s not real money either, so pony up you little shit.

But even away from the utterly stupid arguments and closer to the realm of the somewhat reasonable, I was often offended by people who’d say things like “You didn’t have to fight anything for it. It’s only crafting. Anyone can do it.” — all of which boils down to “MY time is more valuable than YOUR time, for which I can’t be arsed to pay you, so hand over the product and stop being a whiny gouging crafter.” To which I would invariably reply, “Then do it. Happy grinding to Master Weaponsmith. Byeeee!”

I’ve also noticed that when other people charge, it’s gouging. When it’s oneself doing the charging, it’s what the market will fairly bear.

Ah, humans. Hate em, can’t get rid of ’em.

So anyway. Crayon Physics isn’t an MMO and presumably doesn’t require staff to keep stuff going, make up new stuff, put out new stuff, and deal with whiny customers. But even so. Consider for a moment what you might pay for a PWYW MMO. Say DDO, which is already free, decides to go PWYW. Would you pay anything?

The problem is, of course, that people will want to know what they get for their money. For the one-time purchase of a game it’s easy: cash = game. But for an ongoing MMO, what do you get if you pay $3 a month that you don’t get if you’re not paying that money? And what do you get if you pay $10, or $20? Should you get anything special at all?

We’ve become conditioned to thinking that if we pay for something, we should get more than if we don’t pay for something, and if we pay more then we should also get more. Of whatever it is.

Consider the radical notion that it doesn’t actually have to be that way. You could pay $5 a month because you think the game is worth it and it makes you feel good to contribute to paying game staff salaries. Does that really require you to get an in-game noncombat flatworm pet? You could pay $25 a month for the same reasons and because you’re a rich bastard with a bit of a conscience.

The upside of all this would be, if you’re enjoying the game, you pay. If you’re not, you can stop paying.

The downside, of course, would be that most people are lying, self-interested shits and wouldn’t pay anything, or would only pay a pittance. And that this is not a very predictable or secure revenue model for a game with monthly expenses on the creation side.

Still, it’s nice to be idealistic once in a while.

(In the interest of full disclosure I should add that I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which may be influencing my views on fat capitalist bastards.)

Window on the (game) world

As everyone knows — well okay, the three or four people who have heard me rant about it before — I’m a UI Nazi. Seriously. I’m not just concerned with UIs, or mildly interested in them, or even rabidly interested in them. If I can’t make the UI do what I want in a game, chances are I’ll eventually stop playing that game. That’s a hard theory to test though, since the games I’ve played that have had awful UIs were also pretty awful games generally.

Even when they’re reasonably well designed, UIs come out of the box looking pretty crap because they have to suit the lowest common denominator, or in this case screen resolution. And one thing even the best-designed UIs out there love to do (and I can’t name any good UIs off the top of my head, just a few decent ones) is waste visual space with unnecessary scrollwork, decoration, or just plain empty UI-element space.

EQ2 is no exception. When I saw Werit’s otherwise very entertaining video of his EQ2 heritage quest experiences, I couldn’t help cringeing at his UI. It’s not his fault, of course, it’s how the game presents it to you — and that’s after some customisation on Werit’s part. But now I understand that whenever I thought he was intentionally ignoring me in game, he was just probably not seeing the chat, because 17 million other chats were spamming to one chat window. (Which also kept fading — what is it with fading windows? Is it an FPS thing? I detest that with a passion. The last window I will ever want fading away is chat, because 99% of the game’s information — let alone the minor aspect of its bloody social side — is echoed in chat.)

And now Syp is also trying EQ2. My prediction is that it won’t stick for him — the game is too huge to adequately try out in a few weeks, which may sound like a good thing but has actually become a rather large barrier to getting any kind of new players. It can take several tries to find your EQ2 legs, and in my opinion the freaky, highly uncanny-valley, brown-dominated art style really doesn’t help there. (There are some gorgeous views and great textures in EQ2, but the art style is still weird no matter how you spin it.)

Part of what puts players off, I’m sure, is the yucketty (technical term), unwieldy, and apparently intractable UI. When you first log in, there are boxes and hotbars and crap knows what else all over the place — you’d think at the very least that, by now, there might be some kind of a default layout that loads based on the screen rez you’ve chosen in the game. Well, a better default layout, I mean. One where all the windows aren’t squished together in the middle. Some of the windows are opaque, some are not, and some fade when you’re not looking. It’s a mess, and it’s unusable until you’ve at least dragged a few elements here and there on your screen. That’s bad: you should have something usable right out of the box, even if it’s fugly; this is fugly and useless.

Fortunately, as Syp points out, you can load UI settings from other characters. They’re just text files, so you can even load settings from other people’s characters if they let you have that file. For my Test server characters, who occupy an EQ2 folder of their own, I just copied over my main character’s settings from the live EQ2 folder. Easy as pie — once it’s set up.

The first thing I do in any game is mess with the UI, and I’m constantly tweaking and messing some more. I’m using a couple dozen UI mods (all sourced from EQ2interface), and 90% of those are designed to replace basic UI elements like bag windows, hotbars, equipment windows and the quest journal. A couple of them extent the functionality of elements like the broker. I only have one mod that actually does anything in the strictest sense of the word, and all it does is allow me to cast heals and cures on groupmates without having to untarget, target them, then retarget whatever it was; given the number of debuffs that get flung around in EQ2, this is really handy though it’s not actually essential.

As I said I’m always tinkering with my layout, trying to find the perfect balance between being able to see lots of game info when I need it while still keeping as much screen space free as I can. When I see WoW-screenies that show a teeny-tiny visible window surrounded by scads of group info, raid info, DPS meters and crap knows what else people need to see in WoW I always shudder and wonder how people manage. Yes, I need my UI elements, but I also need to see the game. Most of them are worth looking at.

So here’s Fairuza’s more-or-less current UI layout. If you click through you can see it full-size, which for me is 1920×1200. After years of cramped screens, being able to have loads of stuff showing and still see lots of the game is a wonderful luxury.

Fair’s hotbars are in a constant state of flux, because the higher she levels the more stuff she has to throw on there, and I’m still looking for the most intuitive arrangement for me. The one where in the heat of battle I’m not going “OcrapOcrap where’s my healing spells argh!” but can still access her damage spells because nuking is what Fair does (yeah, she’s a healer, but a nuking healer. Best of both worlds, right?!) And because I craft and harvest a lot, I’ve also got hotbars with recipes (for doing crafting writs), hotbars with bag shortcuts, hotbars with gear-swapping macros, hotbars with pets, etc. etc. etc.

Targeting stuff is as close to the middle of the screen as I can get it without them being on top of the character. Lots of people like having stuff on top of (or very near) the character, but I can’t stand that, so this is my compromise. Remember, I don’t raid — I don’t usually see particularly urgent combat situations, so this works for me.

And most of my UI is taken up with chat windows. EQ2 spams a LOT of chat and I like to be able to catch up on stuff without having to scroll for 18 miles to see it. So on one side I have main chat, showing xp stuff, guild chat, tells and the crafting channel, with tabs for combat, sub-channels and narrative spam (e.g. “You successfully counter Burn Your Eyebrows Off crafting event!”). On the other I have tabs for NPC tells — quest conversation logs, basically — loot (mostly to see what I’ve been harvesting) and skill increases. Some of those tabs are a bit redundant and I could probably mush skill increases in with other stuff, but I’ve got it set up that way because it makes things easy for me and because I can. It just takes a while to get everything juuuust right.

The main point of this post is that although the default UI in most MMOs is poo, you don’t have to put up it. Taking the time to set up an interface you’re happy with and can navigate rapidly will be amply repaid every time you log in.

And yes — if people want, I can set up a default 1920×1200 UI for people to use in EQ2. Because I’m a giving UI nazi. 😉

Why write my own?

…when Elder Game does it so much better — and they actually know what they’re talking about, being insiders and all, rather than just blathering on the edges like I do.

Most fascinating, Captain. A little painful, as truth can be, but it matches up with what I experienced in WAR* and what I’ve read others experienced in Champions Online. I haven’t been too sanguine about STO largely because Cryptic insisted on launching CO way before it was ready — ok, an MMO is never ready, but there’s “omgnotready!” and “ok-we’ll-live-with-the-remaining-bugs-ready.”

Most fascinating of all was the obvious-once-you-read-it assertion that turning the screws on a game’s leveling because you’re afraid people will outlevel the content too fast means you’ll end up with NO players, instead of with players who outlevel the content too fast but who have fun doing so, and who therefore WILL come back when you do an expansion or add more content in whatever way.

Oddly enough, that’s been working pretty well for WoW since 2004. People copy everything about WoW except its way of retaining (or regaining) subscribers.

One thing everyone agrees on is that 2009 hasn’t exactly been a beacon of excellence in the MMO world. Full of hype, sure — but we need to not confuse vast amounts of hype with vast amounts of goodness. What I’m seeing in the last few years is a LOT of hype and not much actual delivery, going all the way back to 2007 and the Vanguard launch (yes, I was a Vangirl for a while). Eh, we could go back to Horizons as far as that goes, if we wanted, but we won’t — and the hype machine wasn’t quite as well-developed and pervasive back then.

These days the hype juggernaut’s good enough to show me a clog and make me believe it’s a glass slipper, and I’m pretty cynical and suspicious of hype-like things in general. I don’t froth easily, so when I do get enthusiastic the subsequent disappointment is almost worse; and boy has there been a lot of disappointment in the MMO scene lately. Thank god for little sleeper hits like Fallen Earth — and I could have told you that’d be fun a year ago but I was respecting the NDA /nod. (Hey, I can jump on the ToldYa Bandwagon if I want, there’s room at the back there!)

I guess that’s why I’ve spent most of the last year playing a 5-year old game. If nothing else, it’s lasted long enough to iron out most of the big kinks. And they added quite a lot of content. Can’t really quibble with that.

~.~

* And I’ll admit I’ve never caught on to the {insert developer name — in this case P Barnett} cult of personality thing. I don’t get it. He’s just a guy — they’re all just guys. (Actually, way too many of them are guys. Can’t we get some women devs in there please?). Is he really funny? Or something? What am I missing? I’m not saying he’s a BAD guy, I’m sure he’s very lovely and all. But fascinating in and of himself, and worth following all over various social media? Not that I’ve seen so far. Then again I’m not all that desperate to follow famous or quasi-famous people anyway. But that’s for another post some other day.

It’ll give you wrinkles

Thinking will, that is. Still, I like Spinks’ Thought For The Day, which I’ve pondered many times over the last few years. What do we mean by “socialising,” these days? Sitting right next to? Having drinks with? Babbling uncontrollably at? Being in the same room, even?

I will say that “social” endeavours as defined by MMOs in recent years (i.e. grouping) have become so activity-focused that I talk less in them than I do when I’m doing just about anything else in game. The more button mashing we have to do, too, the less we’ll talk.

So what sorts of things could we do in games that would be a little more conducive to old-fashioned sociability? Traveling is the big one, though I’m not certain it was designed primarily to encourage chatting — it just happens to be something time-consuming and passive that almost everyone has to endure. But when are we going to be able to have picnics or parties or, hell, darts or bowling competitions?

I’m not asking that the big games suddenly become arcade centres but… well, I suppose in a way I am. I just remember that in Asheron’s Call we’d have parties and stuff, because you could drop stuff (food, equipment, whatever) on the ground — or, if you were good at positioning, on tables and other pre-positioned landscape items. People would show up and pig out, not because it “fed” them in any real sense, but because eating with others is about so much more than just food. Also, Asheron’s Call food items sounded fun and tasty, and many of them were chocolate-based (always a win).

We’d also hold equipment swap meets based on the same principles: bring your excess stuff, drop it around the place, pick up other people’s stuff that looks interesting to you.

(For those who wonder if the world ended up littered in other people’s dinner parties and excess gear, the answer is no: there was a sweeper system that would just remove stuff every so often. Bad if you were muling (moving stuff from one character to another), good for the game in general.)

Most Asheon’s Call players will remember nekkid dungeon runs, too. There was no particular point to doing them nekkid except that it was fun — and dungeons weren’t instanced, so you essentially got to streak past whoever else was in there being very serious and professional. We haven’t lost the ability to do things like that, but we just don’t seem to do them anymore.

Have MMOs become too achievement-oriented? Have our incessant demands to have more to do resulted in our having so much to do we never have time to just kick back and be silly? Silly is a large component of fun, at least for me. I miss it. It makes people laugh together, and that is social.

~

Last and mostly unrelated but not least, take a look at another great post from the other side of the fence over at Brian “Psychochild” Green’s place. (My armchair is comfier!)

En Garde!

No, not the play-by-mail game of the 80s and 90s (and if you know what I’m talking about, many props!). Rather, Syp’s thrown down the gauntlet to EQ2 players to give him 5 ways in which EQ2 is better than WoW. Since both games launched at almost the same time 5 years ago, it’s a good challenge.

I’m not generally a fan of numbered lists but this one does interest me, not in any spirit of WoW-bashing but more to examine why I’ve spent more time in EQ2 than in any other game since Asheron’s Call, my first MMO. We originally played it for a year in 2005-2006, then left for greener pastures. I don’t recall wanting to leave the game as such, I think it was more the lure of greener, shinier things “over there” — including various betas like Vanguard. I returned to EQ2 in April this year and have been playing it consistently ever since. The only game that’s lured me away for any length of time has been Dragon Age, and even that is on hold until I decide I’m willing to drag Kaitou’s bored backside through the end of the Fade section.

For the benefit of those new to this blog, you need to know the following about my playstyle to understand how I judge games: I am a crafter who adventures as a hobby; if it’s shiny, it must be picked up, no matter the danger; if it’s harvestable, ditto. I avoid raid-type stuff at all costs, primarily because I’m not motivated by the item-treadmill reward such raids offer, but also because I find them (much like other people view crafting) to be a rather tedious waste of time better spent doing something else. The only exceptions to my item-disinterest include anything that can be used to decorate a house or anything silly that can be used to decorate a player.

Snow White and the Shard of Love (I'm the dwarf on the far right)

So, the list, per Ysh.

1. Crafting. While the process itself is as repetitive and ultimately tedious (for many) as in any other MMO, the “sphere” of crafting, to intentionally borrow from Vanguard, really is independent from adventuring in EQ2. You don’t need to be a level 50 adventurer in order to be a level anything crafter, which was something that turned me off WoW both times I’ve played it. Crafting is the core of my gameplay, not the side-dish. There are many other things that fit into this category, like the plethora of crafter quests that are constantly being added to, that make EQ2 one of the few games that genuinely understand and cater to the crafting playerbase — not the adventuring playerbase that also happens to craft when they can’t get a group.

2. Guild Halls. Quite a few games have guild halls now, but not many of them offer the communal amenities EQ2’s guilds & halls can offer to their guild-based communities. Aside from being very grand buildings with tons of decoration options, guild halls can offer bankers, brokers (think auction house), crafting stations, adventuring/crafting writ givers, and a ton of other stuff that’s normally found in the outside world. The downside is that guild halls have become the social hubs of the game, emptying out city areas that were already underpopulated due to the weird partitioned way in which the two primary capital cities were originally designed. On the other hand, however, most guild halls are at least partly open to the public which means they can become genuine alternative meeting places.

3. Housing. Most other EQ2 players will mention this, I suspect, because it’s one of the most glaring lacks in WoW. If you like housing and you’re playing WoW, you’re SOL, to pile on the TLAs. Aside from the fact that it’s at least offered in EQ2, it also comes in eleventy-zillion different flavours — each city has its own distinct housing look and several different room-counts and layouts to choose from. In Freeport and Qeynos houses you can actually change the texture of walls, floors and ceilings. Furniture can be dropped freeform and moved as you please — there’s no x-axis rotation (as there is now in SWG), but you can resize, move stuff up/down, and rotate on at least one axis, all of which is a lot better than simply being given hooks to hang things on, as in LOTRO. (As an aside, that LOTRO system is one Turbine used in Asheron’s Call housing back in 2001 — time for a change, guys!)

4. Mentoring. Unlike many games, WoW still doesn’t have a system to allow players of disparate levels to play together. That said, since WoW’s focus is now entirely on getting people to max level as fast as possible, it would be silly for them to include any such system, but that speaks to a fundamental difference between the two. EQ2’s levelling used to be really slow, compared to WoW, even back in the vanilla days; the curve has been flattened quite a bit in the intervening five years, but EQ2’s motto is not, and hopefully never will be, “The Game Begins at 80.” This always jarred me in WoW, was one of the things (along with … well, #1-3 above) that turned me off the game, and is I think one of the major contributors to the bad side of raid-based gaming — you know, elitist jerks and gear snobs. (Who are starting to come out of the woodwork in EQ2 as it starts to focus more and more on raiding. Oh, EQ2, step off this path before you become Brown-WoW!) Now in EQ2 you can mentor yourself down for no reason other than that you want to be a lower level again for a while, which reopens up a ton of previously greyed-out content — and trust me, there’s a LOT of content in EQ2.

5. It’s not a Theme Park. It’s not entirely a sandbox either, but one of the things many people who try EQ2 often end up saying is “I didn’t know what to do or where to start!” This is a frequent sandbox-type issue, and actually EQ2 has become a little friendlier to new players over the years, but it certainly doesn’t put you on rails and send you out along the Ride To 80, even today. For the type of player I am this is a definite plus rather than a weakness, because once you get past that head-spinning stage you end up faced with tons of possibilities whenever you log on. It doesn’t always come down to the only choice being adventuring — and I know that’s not the only choice in WoW, but since so much of everything is tied to one’s adventuring level and since the game is by design slanted towards chomping through content, then adventuring and chomping through content sort of end up being most people’s default choice. Fighting stuff is very rarely my activity of choice in any game, and in EQ2 there’s still always more to do than I have time to do it in — which is exactly what I want from an MMO.

I could mention guilds as levellable entities, collections, appearance slots (so that you don’t have to look quite as ridiculous as you do in WoW), art style (it’s on the brown extreme but it’s learning to be more chromatic)… but I won’t, since we only get 5 slots. Go add your own to the comments here or to Syp’s.

Other bloggers to have joined this meme-in-the-making include Stropp, whom I may have had a hand in luring to EQ2 in the first place.  /halo. See also this Elder Game article kindly linked to by one of Syp’s commenters, since it’s an oldish post; good read!

Last but not least, Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating it today in the US.

Events, schmevents!

Or: Ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties.

I’m not usually a huge fan of events in MMOs. Let me qualify that: I used to be, and then somehow they got to be more of a chore than anything else. Much anticipated, much hyped within a game’s community, but then they roll around and you have to do eleventy-zillion things before zomg-time-runs-out!!11oneone! And somehow, imperceptibly, you slide from having fun at game events to feeling like you have to cover every last piece of an event with every damn alt (which for someone like me is a lot of alts) or you’re not getting your money’s worth, or your achievements’ worth, or whatever it is.

Happily, EQ2 is breaking that mould for me somewhat. For one thing, the events in EQ2 are either nice and long, or short and sweet but recurring. As an example, this year’s Hallow– wait, Nights of the Dead celebration runs from October 21st to something like November 9th; that’s almost three weeks to get your ghoul on which means that there is absolutely no hurry. Even the slackerishest slacker, like me, can manage to leisurely stroll at least ONE character through that in that kind of time-frame. As for the short-sweet-recurring ones, those would include the monthly Moonlight Enchantments event, which contains five different fairy-themed mushroom rings that you can visit with any or all of your characters, one at a time. Those only last something like 48 hours, if that, but if you don’t get there this month there’s always next month.

NotD app armourWhat’s even better about both of these events is that they offer kickass fluff rewards. (There might be useful rewards as part of the Nights of the Dead thing too, but that kind of stuff doesn’t tend to stick in my mind.) The Moonlight thingies let you collect tokens that you can use to buy a vast range of faerie/nature themed housing items, from grassy squares to full-size trees to pixie plushies, not forgetting various kinds of temporary mounts like leaf-strewn magic carpets or unicorns. The Halloween event includes a set of appearance-only armor, collection shinies that fight back, various housing items and all manner of other crafted, quest-rewarded, looted and clicked goodies.

Since it’s all fluff I feel no particular push to do them. I am doing them on various characters and I’m enjoying the events, but I don’t have this feeling that if I don’t run everyone through it, or run at least one person through everything, that I’ll be missing out. people_china_zIf there are any particular achievements linked to these events (other than the “Take part in seasonal events!” one) I’m not aware of them, which is just as well. There’s nothing quite as good for damping my enthusiasm than to have something be almost nothing but achievement-chasing — which was one of the things I really disliked about my brief return to WoW at the end of last year. That and the fact that suddenly the whole world and her dog was doing whatever event was going on at that time. Sure, people should do them and it’s fun to see people doing events alongside you, but when it’s the equivalent of rush hour at the beach I just end up wanting to pack up my plastic shovel and go home.

Not content to have had two events running concurrently, EQ2 has thrown in a few more for good measure. There’s the “find out what happened to that nice Erollisi goddess woman” event thingy, which is ooookay. The Plane of Love zone at the end might be fun, but I’ve only putzed around in it long enough to know that I was badly outclassed trying to be in there on my own; the quests that led up to that plane I found to be, frankly, extremely tedious, even if they did try to tell a story. For one thing the story was presented in massive chunks of NPC exposition, which is never the best way to present any kind of lore, and the quests themselves were of the run-back-and-forth across 8 zones variety that I’ve already railed about in the past. Pillar-to-post quest design is lazy lazy lazy, and if your story requires some kind of constant return to the quest giver then you should at least try to mix things up a bit so you’re not just doing A–>B–>A–>C–>A–>D–>A and so on. That’s just plain boring. All the same, even that event offers some fun but not must-have fluff/housing thingies, so you can be sure I’ll find a way to get through that zone someday.

Aside from all that eventy goodness, there’s something going on with the teleport spires that dot the Norrathian landscape, which is a nice nostalgic shout-out to those of us involved in the first spire-rebuild event some years ago. That one’s very quiet, but it’s still there and I’ve done a few repeating quests to earn some tokens to… buy more fluff items!

In any event (see whut I did thar?), the point is I can miss these things if they don’t appeal. I don’t think games should ever, ever,EVER hand out stuff that’s in any way important at these events, so that people don’t end up thinking they have to do them. Having to do a game event is like having to go to work for the holidays when you’d rather be on a beach in Maui — it doesn’t exactly fill a player with fuzzy feelings and enthusiasm. And yeah, I know, nobody is actually holding a knife to anyone’s throat in a game but if you make a reward required enough (by other stuff, by peer pressure, whatever) then you really are making something as close to compulsory as MMOs get.

So hand out fluff or hand out nothing — give out temporary rewards that make people laugh, give out decorations and appearance items and whatever else you can think of, as long as it’s more cool than important to have — that’s all fine by me. But most of all, make sure your events are FUN. Shockingly enough, that seems to be getting forgotten a lot of late.

Gotta go, I want to run the Haunted Mansion one more time! Got another vampire mirror to get!

There Can Be Only One… And then another one…

Since my playing time is curtailed at the moment, I’ve spent some time thinking about gamey stuff (and I don’t mean venison) instead.

Like, for instance: what if I couldn’t have alts anymore? What if, instead, I had to retire character A(lly) before I could make character B(essie)? Bessie would have some advantages Ally didn’t have (skills, stuff, buffs, whatever, the specifics aren’t that important), but Ally would be gone forever, or at least inactive on my character select.

clancybrownYou can gussy that up in various ways, like having subsequent characters be descendants of the first, and so on. I’m pretty sure that if this doesn’t already exist in a game, it’s been suggested many times by bloggers and others. I’m not claiming originality of ideas, here — I’m just wondering what I, as an altoholic, would do. Would the lure of “better stuffz0rz!!” be enough to convince me to retire the first character? Or would I just continue to play that character, pining for the ability to have alts?

In all likelihood, if the game was good enough, I’d probably do what we had to do in SWG back in the 1-char-per-server days, which was to get another account — but it’s another account, not the same account, and therefore not one where you can easily hand out “heirloom” style goodies the way many games do now. Having multiple accounts has its perks but in some ways I find it unsatisfying (not to mention more expensive under the standard subs model) — the characters on one account form a sort of gestalt, a family, even if they’re on different servers and even if they’re not related in terms of backstory. My first EQ2 (and other) account characters are definitely very distinct in my mind from the second, more recent account characters — who to me are definitely noobs who have to prove that they’re as fun as the first lot before I’ll take them seriously.

Course, none of these altoholic issues would be issues if one could only have one character at a time.

Personally, I think my head would do a Linda Blair and then explode. Once an altoholic, always an altoholic…