What really makes a themepark tick, and why FFXIV is a rolex

Where a good sandbox is like a mountain climb with incredible peaks along with plenty of valleys, playing a good themepark is like taking a nice walk on a familiar path; at no point are you overly thrilled, but the activity as a whole is enjoyable and ultimately you feel good about the time spent.

Most themeparks ‘fail’ because that steady drip of entertainment drops below an acceptable level, and people drift away (or you do something really dumb to instantly piss them off, like Allods with its cash shop). This is especially true if the themepark tries to use the sub model, because now there is further pressure to justify not just your time, but also your monthly cost (trivially low as it may be). At least under F2P, it only takes a tiny subset of all players to whale it out and keep things going (short-term anyway; long-term the need to keep those whales spending inevitably dooms the game), rather than a majority vote of happiness that is the sub model.

For years WoW held a choke-hold on themeparks because of how good+popular it was (not the post for that breakdown/discussion, but hopefully you understand that WoW wasn’t successful just because it was well-designed). The fabled coming of a WoW-killer was announced often, and each failed. If you were going to play a fantasy themepark (or ‘Sci-Fi’ that was fantasy reskinned), you might as well play the one with good content that all your friends are playing, right?

Realistically the only entity capable of ‘killing’ WoW was Blizzard itself, and thanks to New Blizzard making one mistake after another with the game since WotLK, that process has been underway for a few years now. WoD was able to lift WoW as much as it did because the hype was “a return to Vanilla”, but clearly New Blizzard wasn’t able to produce what really made Vanilla WoW, and sub are once again dropping.

While New Blizzard was working hard on stopping what should be an unstoppable juggernaut, SquareEnix re-released FFXIV, a themepark that is, in a way, Vanilla WoW in 2015. Not in terms of content, systems, or any specific design (all those are evolved and better), but Vanilla WoW in terms of keeping you on that nice, steady, enjoyable walk along that familiar path. Much like in 2004 WoW didn’t do any one thing amazingly well, in 2015 FFXIV doesn’t have a ‘killer feature’; it just has basically everything you could want, all co-existing beautifully in a world you want to spend time in and with a character you want to progress further, with plenty of ways for that progression to happen.

Themeparks don’t need a Burn Jita event. They don’t need to push the envelope in terms of battle sizes, or economic complexity, or to build and sustain the history of large player groups and rivalries for a decade. You don’t play a themepark expecting the peak of something like BR5 to happen, because you also don’t play it for the hours and hours of valley that makes something like BR5 possible and matter as much as it did. And you most certainly shouldn’t attempt to design your themepark to achieve this, because you will fail, horribly.

At least so far, SquareEnix seems to understand this with FFXIV. While the pace of content updates is very high, few if any of the updates are highly controversial or change/remove something you previously enjoyed. They add stuff, and generally the new stuff is good so you will experience it, but it if doesn’t happen to click with you, you aren’t disrupted or upset.

The other very important thing for any MMO, themepark or sandbox, is that updates should add content, not replace it. EVE is amazing in this regard, and FFXIV is good as well. WoW hasn’t been for some time. Most of the time a major addition to WoW effectively replaces something else, which can not only cause disruption, but also doesn’t create the massive content juggernaut that the game should be.

Take something as simple as leveling; in WoW every level increase should extent that part of the game (the best part of the game for many), but with every increase the leveling rate is also increased, so while you have more levels, they come quicker, and can be accomplished with less content consumed and time spent. That makes sense if you are dead-set on everyone sitting at the level cap, but for those that wish to experience an older zone as it was meant to be played, they either can’t (outlevel it) or can but only though additional hoops (stopping xp gain, limiting what items you use, etc).

Right now I’m ‘behind’ in FFXIV, with my main class at 38, my highest crafter at 25, and my miner at 21. If I was playing WoW, at lvl 38 I’d quickly outpace my current zone, everything would be a cakewalk due to item inflation, and it all wouldn’t feel like it did for those who hit 38 originally. Forget experiencing dungeon or group content ‘as intended’. In FFXIV none of this is the case. Every dungeon run has felt appropriate, every zone feels alive, and group content (fates) are still very popular (imagine playing WAR a year after release, being in a mid-level zone, and being able to complete every PQ with a group; that’s FFXIV today).

Other related little bits:

I recently opened up ventures for my retainers, as well as the dye and materia systems. All three open up once you complete some quick and easy, but totally optional quests. We talk often about exploration in MMOs, but way too many games have exploration limited to going to a pre-set and easy-to-spot landmark and getting an achievement, which is more achiever content than explorer. In FFXIV ‘exploring’ is, in part, finding these optional quests that open up more content for you, which is awesome.

Ventures for your retainers also tie nicely into the economy, crafting, and the roles system. Since you have to equip your retainer, and how well you equip them impacts the rewards you get, crafting lower level gear is viable/valuable, and your retainer can only level up as high as you have that role, be it combat or gathering (no crafting). Since you can have multiple retainers, this further encourages (though doesn’t force) you to switch and level different roles to open them up for your retainers as an option. The ability to switch roles on your character is already a great feature, and retainers add just one more reason why.

The dye system is fluff, of course, but is one of those “every game should have this” system, and again feeds into crafting nicely. The materia system is, as far as I see it right now, mostly an end-game thing, although you can use it earlier to give your gear a little boost. Creating materia by first getting gear to 100% bind, and then breaking it down, is another nice system that again ties other systems together. Since you can equip retainers, maybe you don’t automatically break down all your older gear? It’s not a major decision point (you can always craft or buy gear), but it exists, it adds depth to the game, and it’s a tiny little piece of a much larger, yet all inter-related puzzle that keeps you playing/paying.

FFXIV rightly deserves its spot as the top themepark MMO out, and hopefully current Square-Enix doesn’t become Old Square-Enix ala Blizzard in the years to come. If they continue down the path they have traveled so far, we’ll wonder if any MMO will ever topple it, much like we did with WoW back in 2007ish.

 

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Finally MMO genre is free of Smed, at least for now

Back from vacation, and this reentry Monday is ROUGH. After every vacation I question whether actually going on vacation is ‘worth it’, because coming back to 500+ emails to dig through isn’t a lot of fun, especially then all 500+ can be summed up as “we held off doing anything until you got back, but now every deliverable is overdue, enjoy!”

While I was away we had a little bit of SOE being SOE, or more specifically, Smed being Smed. Only here it’s Smed (likely temporarily) going away, in about the timeframe that someone predicted. Being constantly right is the cross I bear, and yes, its heavy.

Now before I get into the meat of the post today, let me get this here first. I don’t have a personal issue with Smed. I’ve only talked to him once or twice in person, and interacted with him a few more times on the web, all of which was cordial. I also don’t support or feel good about the harassment stuff he has dealt with; there is a certain price for fame, but having your plane delayed and some of the other stuff is way over the top. Now, with that out of the way…

Smed ‘moving on’ is a good thing for the MMO genre, and as an MMO dev, I think Smed is about as overrated as you can get. I also hate seeing this ‘Smed was a gamer dev’ notion, because while true (Smed does play games), it didn’t help other MMO gamers one bit.

Smed was and will forever be tied to SOE, so how much of this is Smed’s fault vs just general SOE is up for debate, but when you are the figurehead, you eat the blame.

SOE sucks. Did when they were officially SOE, still do as Daybreak. If you take away EQ1 (and if EQ1 never happens, maybe we don’t spend a decade mired in clone-world themeparks, eh?), SOE has nothing. Planetside, perhaps the only other somewhat successful product they made, was meh at best, and PS2 is a joke. EQ2 was a disaster. Their entire “F2P, ALL THE WAY” push was a disaster that didn’t work out, but sure helped mire the genre once again. They have shut down numerous terrible games, if it wasn’t for EQ1 being such a major cash cow, they perhaps don’t survive past the EQ2 launch.

If Smed is such a gamer, why allow so much of the above to happen? After SOE ruined SWG, why dump a truckload of salt by calling H1Z1 ‘home’ for SWG players prior to it’s release? Hell, why as an MMO gamer are you releasing a DayZ clone years after the DayZ fad has passed, and then releasing something as putrid as H1Z1, and having the gall to call it an MMO? And if the response is “it wasn’t Smed’s call”, then what kind of CEO are you, and what exactly were you doing besides collecting a paycheck, posting on reddit, and tweeting?

What are you doing with Landmark? Again, why are you jumping on the Minecraft bandwagon so late, and bringing nothing to the table? When Trion’s Minecraft clone is ‘better’ (Trove), you know you have hit absolute rock bottom (get it?). And what kind of ‘gamer’ dupes your core audience into forking over $150 for access to Landmark when you know its not going to amount to anything? Just how long as Smed been cashing out at the expense of core SOE/EQ fans?

I could go on, but really just look at the Daybreak wiki page and the list of games and the story writes itself. SOE dying was a good thing. Smed leaving is also a good thing. The MMO genre is better off with both gone, just like it would have been much better off without them originally.

 

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RIFT PATCH 3.3 IS LIVE WITH EXTRA NIGHTMARES

You don’t have to wait until Halloween for RIFT to break out the heebie-jeebies, as its Waking Nightmares update went live yesterday, though it was not without its problems. A number of issues caused multiple outages yesterday, including a guild bug and unrelated exploits that caused Trion to keep the servers down most of the afternoon and evening.

Community Manager Ocho promised players compensation for the downtime: “As a thank you, from the time RIFT is again available we’ll turn on 50% Bonus Experience (including PA Experience), Favor, and Prestige through Sunday July 19 at 11:59 PM Pacific.”
Patch 3.3 represents a wealth of content that could keep RIFT players busy over the remainder of the summer. It includes Act One of the nightmare saga questline, planar crafting rifts, a Tarken Glacier instant adventure, wardrobe enhancements, and an introductory version of the Gilded Prophecy sliver. Another nice change is that souls can be reset within the soul tree window, offering instant convenience to build modifications.

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THE DAILY GRIND: IS THE SANDBOX MMO RESURGENCE THE RESULT OF NOSTALGIA?

Do you think of the recent emergence of sandbox MMOs is based only on nostalgia? Or is it a necessity to push the genre forward as a whole?

Here’s the thing: I tend to think of nostalgia as a bit of a cheap word; when used pejoratively, as it so often is in MMO land, it’s a way of dismissing people’s memories, feelings, and opinions without having to provide an actual argument. We sink to absurdity when we suggest that, say, someone who is actively playing an older game or an emulator is just doing so “out of nostalgia.” That just isn’t how nostalgia works!
Even so, much of game design is predicated to some degree on nostalgia. Games from Albion Online to Das Tal openly declare classic Ultima Online a core influence. Any MMO that’s a sequel, a spiritual successor, or part of a branded franchise is brazenly using nostalgia to attract loyalists. It’s not something unique to sandboxes.

But “only” on nostalgia? Nope. I’d say the recent emergence of sandbox MMOs is based on money and a genuine desire to push the genre away from on-rails, curated gameplay and back to untamed virtual worlds. A huge number of gamers enjoyed and still enjoy that gameplay, and the market is simply shifting, however slowly, to try to meet that perceived demand.

Maybe you say differently. Is nostalgia responsible for the re-emergence of sandbox MMOs?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Pre-Alpha v.0.2.2 Update For Gloria Victis

Gloria Victis received its latest update on the Pre-Alpha journey today as update v.0.2.2 welcomes an exciting array of changes and improvements to many of the upcoming MMORPG’s most popular elements. Among the more noteworthy aspects of the update are improvements to the in-game territory control system that has undergone many minor improvements alongside the addition of destroyable gates for strongholds and new defensive options with pots of boiling oil. Furthermore the team made adjustments to the item durability and repair system, an addition made possible by current donators backing the game voting on the official forums.

Other elements of the v.0.2.2 update can be seen below:

Gameplay:

– Implemented gates which can be opened only by the players from a nation controlling certain location – players from enemy nation have to destroy it first
– Implemented pots with boiling oil set on the walls of towns and outposts
– Implemented knife damage modifier based on character’s dexterity
– Modified items durability and repair mechanics, basing on the results of a Community poll; implemented a solution proposed by many of our players – durability threshold, after which items statistics are decreasing to the preset minimal value; for testing purposes we applied 50% durability threshold and statistics decrease down to 50% of initial value when durability is 0
– Reworked the party system
– Placed 25 new NPC enemies on the map
– Added four new pieces of music
– Added new game languages – Portugal, Brazilian, Swedish, French, Hebrew

Fixes:

– Implemented a new launcher version, allowing to download the game files from a mirror located in North America
– Fixed bug related to displaying the alternative materials in crafting window
– Fixed bug from the latest version, causing FPS drops in towns at night

 

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