Critical mass?

Disclaimer — this is not a post about how omgwtfbbq crap WAR is. If you’re here for that, move along. It *is* about why I’m not enjoying it so much right now. It’s also about whether having lots of population really is the only thing WAR needs to suddenly be a happy shiny people game.

People are leaving WAR. Not necessarily in droves, and not all for That Other Game (or the Other Other Game, insert your own, eg LOTRO, various smashing console titles that came out recently, etc etc.). Still, they are leaving. I haven’t got a whole lot of desire to log in to WAR myself, for a variety of reasons.

WARNING — I am breaking my anti-negativity vow. I shall go straight to blogger hell. Mea culpa; now on with the show.

That’s the thing. A lot of folks reckon population critical mass is THE thing that will save or sink WAR. It’s undeniable that an RvR game isn’t quite what it should be when you don’t have enough flesh-puppets to actually create said RvR. But if there were, magically, enough people every day and night, would it really “save” WAR? (Tangent: I don’t think WAR actually needs saving — it wasn’t all things to all people, but who the hell realistically expected that it would be? Get a clue-by-four. It’s doing well enough, even though it’s not WoW, at least for the time being.)

While having enough people to make a player-versus-player based game lively enough is pretty crucial overall, I don’t know if it’s the single factor that would, for instance, make me want to log on more right now. I suspect at least part of the issue includes:

  • The waiting game. Open RvR tends to be mostly hurry-up-and-wait, and instant gratification types don’t wait so well. Instead, half the warband melts away to play scenarios.
  • Traveling is slow. I know loads of people who haven’t joined a keep defense because it would have taken too long to get there on the very slight chance there was real action happening. It’s disappointing to cross half the world only to discover the stupid keep lord over-reacted when a lone witch elf tickled his kidneys.
  • No real idea whether anything you do really makes a difference. And, since the campaigns reset at intervals, nothing you do really does make a difference. That’s unmotivating.
  • Only two sides. What usually happens is one side has overwhelming numbers, and crushes the other side for a while. Very rarely the numbers are more balanced and fun ensues. Would critical mass population solve that? I don’t think so — in most cases it’s easier to rumble over an outnumbered opponent and collect your loot bags than it is to actually wait until a proper defense (or offense) can be mounted.

I do know that a lot of my negativity about games very often comes from bad stuff happening in real life. If a game suddenly isn’t doing it for me anymore, for no real reason… it’s not usually the game’s fault. An improvement in RL will usually mean the game suddenly becomes shinier and more interesting too. Ah, the humanity. We’re emotional creatures, and we don’t all compartmentalise well enough to distinguish between “RL is crap” and “this game is crap”. I try to, but it doesn’t always work.

That being said, what bothers me most right now about WAR is that whenever I log on, I feel like I’m caught in treacle. Getting places is slow. Running around in scenarios is slow. (And spending 75% of a scenario running slowly back from being quickly dead is not heart-pounding action, trust me.) Watching the xp bars creep in the high teens is so slow, glaciers seem to move at light speed in comparison.

This is all mostly a matter of perception. I’ve played my healer a lot, and that’s contributing to the “slow” feel of… everything. We’re playing in Ostland, which is freaking pillar-to-post cross-half-the-freaking-map to pick someone’s nose and-then-run-slooooooooowly-back. Not only is it slow, it’s just plain bloody boring. (Sadly, I’m not sure how to solve that one. Would it be easier if I could port back to quest givers, so I’d only have to run half the distance? Probably. But oh noes, it would break immersion (that fuzzy concept people ONLY use when they want to prevent something they don’t like making it into the game). But I digress.) Everywhere is packed with mobs so that is all you bloody want to do is bloody run from bloody A to bloody B, half the bloody time it means you’ll progress 20 feet, have to fight a spider, progress another 30 feet, fight another spider, and so on. I just don’t have it in me to find that entertaining right now. It’s the D&D random travel encounter taken to its MMO extreme and you know what? Random encounters were 95% boring and 5% amazing even 20 years ago; not much change there, then.

I feel constrained in WAR right now. I am extremely unhappy at the return of issues like cloaks (and other stuff) suddenly being un-dyeable again. I detest my stupid conehead SW hat and it irks me no end that I can’t just turn it off and have it stay off. It drives me bananas that every time we zone (into a new map, into a scenario, whatever), ALL MY FACKING BUFFS DROP!!! And I’m an archmage, I only have one and it’s a one-cast group-wide; if I were a runepriest, I think I’d be chewing on my staff.

For me, the little things don’t all have to work but when enough of them mess with my experience every single time I log on, I will eventually stop logging on, population or no population.

The RvR part of WAR is great, provided there are enough people. The rest, while perfectly workable, is somehow soul-less. I’m not sure why, because the quest text is probably the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO and the NPCs are funny, pathetic, tragic, noble, or all of the above.

Maybe my malaise has nothing to do with WAR, and everything to do with the current incarnation of the MMO genre. It’s YAFMMORPG, as Syp calls them, and maybe I’m growing tired of that. It’s also the most closely linked to tabletop games that I’ve seen (I beta tested DDO which cured me of wanting to play it, so we’ll exclude that one) — and oddly enough, that doesn’t help. I’d outgrown the quest-kill-reward basic paradigm even before I started playing MMOs, and had moved on from (A)D&D-style games to others where the quest-kill-reward mechanism was a little less obviously implemented; so perhaps it’s not surprising I am starting to find it tediously repetitive in online games too.

I’m not sure. I’m dabbling in Wizard101 right now and that’s rather standard in terms of quest-kill-reward. Maybe the main difference is that I run faster there, can have some really disgustingly cute pets, and can recall back to the main square almost anytime I like.

Inspirational credits to MMOment of Zen, Mystic Worlds, Symptom of a Greater Cure, Werit, Dragonchasers and hell, most of the WAR-blogosphere for the lively debates and thought-provoking posts. Discussing the merits, fun, nuances and irritations of a game isn’t necessarily bashing said game — or if it is, why do we bother having book and film reviewers?

11 thoughts on “Critical mass?

  1. Funny you should mention this. Last night, 6 or 7 servers medium pop at PEAK times. This morning, well I have posted a new blog already today. A dead game does not fun make. Or something Yoda’ish like that.

  2. I don’t know some of the best times in DAOC were when the things were empty, and it was just 8v8 teams running around. The zerg fests are overrated me thinks.

  3. At least in pnp D&D you’d usually only have one random encounter, and you didn’t have to sit there quietly at your desk roleplaying the half hour of travel.

    “are we there yet?”
    “no shut up”
    *jeopardy music*
    ” the random encounter doesn’t start for 10 minutes, then we have another 10 minutes of travel”
    *jeopardy music*
    “can you pass the cheetos?”

    Who in their right mind would make a game like that? Blizzard, Mythic, Sony, etc etc. Why can’t we cut to the fun?

    Some might say pen and paper has more immersion, and there you cut right to the action (or diplomacy or role playing). None of this travel time crap. (I think this is the 10th time I’ve mentioned this on someone’s blog. I guess it’s getting to me).

    I loved having the no cooldown bindstone in beta. I don’t know why they put a cooldown in it, just because everyone else does? Or to put a brake in front of players? That is a silly reason. People will congregate around quest hubs and pqs anyway, you don’t meet them out on the road.

  4. Yesterday was not a really fun day in WAR. It is part my fault and part population fault. I don’t play at peak hours, so the scenarios and ORvR are slow. This game is really at its best during peak hours.

  5. I still think more population would help, but I agree it wouldn’t cure all the game’s ills. I still enjoy Warhammer when I play it, but I don’t play it very much (according to XFire, 3 hours in the past week).

    They should put a flight path at every hub, IMO, so that you can always fly to the hub nearest a keep under attack, then if its a false alarm, fly back to where you were questing.

    I wouldn’t mind all the random beasties if fighting them earned you something. Gold seems kind of meaningless, the experience you get from fighting them is trivial…

    But when you said this: “The rest, while perfectly workable, is somehow soul-less. I’m not sure why, because the quest text is probably the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO and the NPCs are funny, pathetic, tragic, noble, or all of the above.”

    Last night, in some other game (LOTRO) it really hit me how soul-less War is. It feels like a game, for reasons I can’t define either. It doesn’t feel like a world. And it didn’t really hit me that this was a problem until I jumped into something that (IMO, yours may differ) *does* feel like a world.

    And yet with all that, I feel like I’m really going to miss Warhammer while I’m away from it, and I’m already looking forward to coming back, even though I haven’t left yet. And I wonder how much that has to do with my reading the Gotrek & Felix books. I think I’m drawn to the lore of Warhammer as much as I am to the game itself.

  6. The guild, would I hope, be another part of that reason, Pete. 🙂

    It’s an odd beast really… such a great game, muddled by a few irritate-you-over-time issues that Ysh does a great job at outlining.

    Luckily for me, I have some great offline-games to play right now. Taking a break for a day or two is often all I need to come back and like WAR again.

    But I’ll be honest, when I first started playing WoW and LotRO… I never needed a break this early.

    I think WAR needs to simply close some (or a lot) of its servers to help make the world feel more lively. People, as in LotRO, WoW, EQ2, etc. are a BIG part of what makes an MMOG feel alive. In WAR, unless you’re in the cities, or grouped with friends, the world feels empty save for NPCs.

    There’s TOO MUCH content spread too thin. It’s an odd problem to have, for sure and one that needs addressing via server MERGES not transfers.

  7. Thanks, Ysh, for this post. Now I don’t have to write it. 🙂

    For me, RL has been the thing holding me back from playing. It’s not necessarily negative stuff either, as you’ve read on my blog. But time is definitely an issue.

    There is so much going on in RL that I don’t necessarily need tons going on in the game I’m playing. Damn, do you know what I’m actually playing right now? Mobsters on MySpace!!! I mean DAMN!!! But it fits my gaming needs right now.

    WAR will be my game for awhile, however, the guilt to get things done in RL is stronger than the guilt to get things done in the game.

  8. “The guild, would I hope, be another part of that reason, Pete.”

    Sorta, but I kind of feel in my heart that the guild transcends Warhammer now. 🙂 Plenty of guildies have left the game but still hang around being friends, and I figure our paths are going to cross and re-cross. And that’s a Good Thing!

  9. Words well written! What is being established now is sort of a down spiral. Folks now take breaks, play less or quit and add to the population issue. I don’t blame them at all for doing it as there are many things in life that are fun so why waste your time doing something that is not (well at least for entertainment value)?

    All mmogs for me are social. That’s why in part my fuse blew the other night. I can see a decline and downward spiral where a guild is left with only a few players left, only a shell of it’s former self. I have seen this many times and for various reasons. Usually it is loyalty that those last few stay with the sinking ship. For me at least, when it becomes a wasteland, it’s time to move on to an existing large guild or try a new game and join a large casual guild.

    It is my hope that we can regain our numbers so there will be plenty of folks to do things with. Alliances are a step in the right direction but not the same as having a marching army of Mooooos! At least Mythic seems to be willing to listen to us and has been responsive to making adjustments and changes. I hope that game improvements combined with raves by stalwarts can stem the tide or perhaps reverse it.

    Well on the bright side if they don’t, I certainly have more than enough housework to do to make it less of a batchelor pad and more suitable for occasional female cohabitation 😉

    Either way, I am still having fun pugging it in scenarios, questing, occasional guildie events, so I will stick it out till I get one toon to 40 at least or there is a mass exodus to another game.

  10. Well we seem to have a core of 15-25 people on at “peak” hours, and that number will grow slowly. I think that’s a solid place to be in WAR. It’s a good core of people for all the content WAR has. That said, I do want us to be larger, and we will be in due time.

    The fact people will have to face is that there will be dead nights. There will be nights when there’s not much going on, in the guild and the game as a whole.

    In WAR, we’ll feel this more than most MMOGs because the main draw is RvR which is dependent on people. But so it goes, folks… so it goes.

  11. Right, Bildo. Just a product of the animal really. My well-established guild in EQ2 has dead nights. They raid three times a week and it’s a ghostchat the rest of the week. Any game is like that, really.

    I’m not sour on WAR by any means. But if I walk away from it, by any means, the best thing will definitely be being part of Casualties. I see CoW lasting a long time.

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