Streaking in MMORPGs

Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 in Blog, World of Warcraft | 2 comments

Social control is what keeps us from running down the street naked, even so we feel from time to time like we should just do that. All while having half a million reasons and none of them having to do with sex. Just to make it clear, this is not an article about streakers, it’s about social control. Even so there’s a half naked troll dancing in the streets of Ogrimmar in the feature image. But it is about trolls, and other not so welcome players in MMOs.

How often have you been annoyed by the behavior of another player in your game? How often does something similar happen in real life, for instance on the subway, in the nearest Wal-Mart, your neighborhood Starbucks or in your office? Since I ordered this list in a certain way, it happens online at the highest frequency and of course in your office with the lowest frequency. More often on the subway, less at Starbucks. Why? Because the consequences of us misbehaving are very different in each of the venues I’ve listed.

What happens if you mine a node in WOW while somebody else kills some mob that was guarding it? Nothing. Somebody calls you a jerk, and that’s usually all that happens. Unless you are on a PVP server. Rolling need on every single item that drops? Go right ahead, maybe somebody votes to kick you from the group after 3 need rolls. But the dungeon tool will get you into the next one after a short wait.

What happens if you play loud music in the subway? Not much. Maybe there’s a transportation cop around who’ll give you a warning. What happens if you behave like a jerk to the baristas at your Starbucks? You’ll be asked to stay away, and if not, you better check if they aren’t spitting into your beverage. And if you get out of line in your office, there’s a pink slip waiting for you pretty soon. The consequences of your doing are the harshest with people you know. They are the ones who care and speak up.

The wikipedia article about social control says that society is using shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism and disapproval as tools for social control. Discrimination and exclusion are the most extreme forms of social sanctions. And that’s a pretty common reaction to trolling or other forms of misbehavior online. The difference is, the perpetrator can avoid the social consequences so easily: He logs out and switches to another character. If he comes back the next day, he’s got most likely a new audience, who hasn’t heard his trolling, and the ones who’ve heard him might have him on their /ignore list. In extreme cases he just deletes the character, asks for a name change or a server transfer. No real consequences. And at no point in time he actually has to look his victim in the eyes.

Syl, over at Raging Monkeys talks about the consequences for raiders  because of the lack of social control. There she explains that it is so easy for players to acquire the gear necessary to raid without learning the skills to raid. Five man dungeons and heroics used to be gate keepers, where players trained the finer points of their class. But with the LFG tool nobody really bothers to interact with a newbie and to show them the ropes. The usual reaction is to call them newbs and kick them, without much consequence for the group, since the next player is 3 clicks away.

I don’t have any solutions to offer to fix the lack of social controls. PVP is not the answer, since it can lead to even worse behavior (griefer, corpse camping and the Jihad of EQ Sullon Zek days). One of my answers is usually to call them out earlier or leave groups where they are in and explaining why you are leaving. It won’t help much with the clinical cases, but occasionally you’ll get an in-game mail from somebody who feels sorry for his actions. Artificial measures like a social vote for a character are easily abused and therefore not very helpful.

In the end, the only way to improve this, is to make our virtual world look more and more like the real world. But who would want that?


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Why Are We Playing MMOs?

Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in Blog, Guildwars 2, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft | 1 comment

I’ve been reading various blogs this morning and this post by Keen caught my attention and triggered a couple of thoughts on the subject. Why are we playing MMOs? Why do we drop some of them so fast and why do we stick with others way beyond a point where it seems reasonable?

There are three main reasons why we play MMOs: the achievements, the socializing and the storytelling. MMOs and many other games give instant rewards for all kinds of in-game achievements. It’s part of our nature that we grave recognition and rewards even if they are only given by a machine. The socializing aspect of the game is obvious as well. Humans are social animals and tend to do things in groups and tribes, guilds or clubs. And there’s more to it than just storytelling: The immersion, escapism, exploration, role-playing and the fun from customizing your characters looks, in game housing and even whole dungeons. (See this article by Nick Yee )

According to this article, not all players are built the same. Some are in it for the achievements, others spent their evening in the game chatting and yet another group will move around carpets in their virtual homes until it is perfectly matched with the hobbit painting on the wall. Obviously we will play a new game to find out how it will satisfy our tastes and quit as soon as we find out it doesn’t do it at all, or not as well as the old game, or after a while it just won’t be able to satisfy your needs anymore. You’ve reached max level, all achievements, know in your sleep that a 21/2/18 build is inferior to 23/0/18 for leveling purposes. Or the socializer, troll or extrovert is sitting in the games main hub all night talking to himself without any feedback, because the world has grown stale to most people and nobody feels like talking.

As the Gartner graph posted by Keen shows, an MMO  will go through these phases:

  1. Trigger: “Game of Thrones MMO announced”
  2. Inflated Expectations: “Play GW2, meet hot chicks and win the nobel price”
  3. Trough: “SWTOR has no endgame”
  4. Enlightenment: “Rift has cool features, is well implemented”
  5. Productivity: “WOW, 13 mio subscribers”

As time moves on, competing games will offer new features, like SWTOR’s voice overs, Rift’s and GW2’s dynamic content. If WOW can’t keep up with it, people will move. Should Blizzard come up with feature people don’t like, lets say pandas, people will turn away.

However, and now we are getting more into people issues and toward an answer to the third question, players tend to stick with the things they know. Like old shoes, unfit to walk in the rain with, or an old hoodie with a hole the size of a DVD in the sleeves, people will not leave their game because it is safe.  They know it inside out and know how to get their kicks out of it, even if they have to get higher and higher doses of it to be happy. They fear the new game, don’t know how it will react to their whims. And that’s why Everquest is still around. The game has changed ever so slowly, just enough to not alienate the remaining base of players. And that’s why the frog stays in water that’s slowly heated, but jumps out when thrown into boiling hot water. (so they say, don’t do this at home)

Back to the pandas. I strongly believe that the pandas are scapegoats for the general dissatisfaction with WOW. People have become bored with the game and see the need to justify their decision to leave their partner (game) of seven years. And that’s why they bash pandas, because the real reasons are many fold and much harder to explain.

 

Attribution: Gartner hype cycle and the panda picture are copied from http://wikipedia.org

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Princess Ileana

Posted by on Feb 28, 2012 in Blog, Star Wars: The Old Republic | 0 comments

Ever since I got my first beta invite for SWTOR last November, I’ve been gently nudging my wife to try it out as well. I didn’t get much response during beta itself, only something like “If I try it, you won’t be able to test it.” Which was nice of her, but didn’t help in making a pre-order decision for her copy. And I know better by now than to just go and buy 2 licenses, let Rift be an example of this.

Opening day came and went and it was still just me playing SWTOR, while my wife kept collecting pets, and did her dailies on WOW. Plus some raiding. And numerous alts. And holiday events. At some point, when I asked I got this answer: “I don’t like Star Wars!”. What do you mean, you don’t like Star Wars? The game or the movies? “The movies!”. I had no problems with her being major league annoyed at the acting in episode 2+3 a couple of years back, but it never appeared to me that this included the original  episodes as well!

Life’s back to normal now and I haven’t divorced her over it, especially since her WOW guild mates convinced her that SWTOR is actually a cool game. Half of them were playing already and talking about it on Ventrilo, plus my persistence convinced her on Sunday to try out a Jedi Consular, with the goal of becoming a Sage. Initially she had made “Ileana” on my account, but on Sunday night it became clear she’d get her own.

I spent two hours on Monday recreating her looks on the new account, and less than an hour to bring her to level 6, where my wife had left off. You wouldn’t believe how different colors can look on two monitors. Head type, hair style and even complexion were easy to duplicate. But I am being told I missed the hair color by a notch. I restarted the game a number of times with different accounts on both of our computers to get the skin color right. But it was quite an ordeal to figure out that skin color #17 on my monitor looked like skin color #22 on hers.

Those are differences I really don’t notice during normal use of our computers or just by glancing over to my wife’s monitor. But you might have gotten the idea, that it is a science, if you’ve ever set up a new monitor and went through the installation process suggested by the manufacturer. But regardless of looks and color temperatures, I made a Trooper as a play mate, ready to explore “The Old Republic” together. You’ll be hearing about those travels more in this place


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SWTOR with My Brand New Logitech G13

Posted by on Feb 17, 2012 in Blog, Star Wars: The Old Republic | 2 comments

Shortly after New Years I noticed my G15 keys got stuck at times. It started with the backspace key but others followed shortly after that. I’ve had been cleaning it with canned air a couple of months ago already. But the keyboard is at least 3 years old and looks pretty yucky. Guess it’s time for a new solution.

My “G15”  is actually a G11, which replaced an even older worn out G15. I never had much use for the LCD display, which was hidden underneath the monitor stand most of the time anyway. The problem is, Logitech doesn’t produce G11 or G15 anymore. They have been replaced by G19, G110 and G510. The G510 has a LCD display and 18 G-keys, but the other two have only 12 G-keys. I want at least 18 extra keys and just don’t want to pay $120 for the 510.

Thus, I decided in favor of a G13 gameboard with 22 G-keys, a joystick and 2 thumb keys. It was on sale at CompUSA (formerly TigerDirect) for $60. As a regular keyboard I was using one of the many I have already in my house. While researching for this post I found out that Logitech has cut prices by $17- $22 for gaming keyboards by now. I am not sure about the current pricing through retailers. Ask your favorite search engine.

Just to clarify things upfront, I am right handed and my setup of course reflects that. I am aware of the many problems lefties face, but I can’t offer any advice in that direction.

Setup

Setup was easy. I just replaced the old G11 with a regular keyboard and plugged in the additional G13. The old Logitech software did recognize the game board, but I had to upgrade the software later in order to use the joystick properly. As I’ve said before, I use the Logitech keyboard only to map hotkeys, almost never to record and replay macros. Thus, I quickly assigned Shift-F1 to Shift-F12 and Alt-F1 to Alt-F11 (skipping Alt-F4) to my 22 G-keys. I assigned WASD to the direction indicators of the joystick, TAB to the left fire button and the Q-key to the bottom fire button. You do have the option to use the joystick as a generic joystick, but SWTOR doesn’t recognize this setup. What I am missing after a couple of days of usage is quick access to the space bar or any other key mapped to jump.

Association

The G13 has two rows with 7 keys each, one row with 5 keys and one row with 3 keys. For SWTOR, I have no choice but to map them to the 2 hotbars on the bottom of the screen. The top hotbar is being assigned to G1-7 and G15-G19. The lower row is assigned to G8-G14 and G20-G22, leaving the last two fields unassigned. I do need the visual association between the hotbars and the row of keys. I can’t blindly assume that for instance G12 is mapped to “Ravage” on my Sith Juggernaut. I will always have to locate the ability on the hotbar, put my hands on the game board and feel my way to the exact key. It’s just the way I am wired. YMMV.

Ability Mapping

Given the key layout on the board, I’ve put the most often used abilities on G4 and G5. In the case of my Sith Warrior, those are Assault and Thundering Assault, the rage builders. G1, 2 and 3 are next, occupied by Force Charge, Smash and Force Scream, the typical opening sequence when questing. G7 is occupied by Disruption, a rarely used ability, but easily accessible when it is needed in emergencies. Right now, the second row of the keyboard has only 3 keys used, G10,11 and 12 with high DPS moves. My fingers usually rest on G3, G4 and G12 which of course makes this the preferred place for frequently used abilities.

The third row has only one key, G19, used for now. It’s the Saber Ward ability. I plan to put other defensive abilities into this row, most likely filling them up from the right. Which follows once again the way my hand is resting on the keys. In the fourth row I am currently using only G20 with an AE snare, which in fact I haven’t used, ever. I am looking at it as a placeholder for crowd control function which could go here.

As I said above, I’ve mapped TAB and Q to the fire buttons of the joystick. In game I have “target nearest NPC” and “companion/pet attack” assigned to them. This way I can quickly change target and also send in my companion whenever it is needed.

Mouse or Keyboard to Move?

Why am I not using the standard assignment with WASD for G4 and G10, 11 and 12? Two hard facts: It’s faster to turn using the mouse and it is faster to push keys than to move the mouse and click to trigger actions. Which has me using the mouse in the right hand for movement and leaves the left hand exclusively for abilities. This of course is absolutely personal preference. You should do whatever you feel most comfortable with. Indeed, you should always keep an eye on what your hand is doing and adjust your keyboard assignment accordingly.

In the end, my game board is mapped in a way that keeps standard action sequences, frequently used keys and similar functions in close vicinity of each other. This way, I get my brain and my fingers much easier in sync. What I haven’t mentioned so far, are the two sidebars on the left and right. They are filled with rarely used, non-critical abilities, like stances, quick travel and buffs. I’ve also lined up all my med packs on the top right. Those are easily accessed with the mouse, and healing myself is more important then moving in that particular moment in time.

Conclusion

The G13 is usable and very useful to me. However, I find myself fingering my way to certain keys or  wrongly pushing the neighboring key. Which tells me that there are to many keys around without any physical distinction. In that sense, the old G11/15 layout was great, since you could feel you are pushing the left, right or middle key of a group of keys, including top or bottom row. Occasionally, my hand would rest in the wrong group out of the three, but I have learned to deal with it. Of course, this is all part of the natural resistance to change. Time will tell if my hand will be able to deal with my minor problems with the G13. It’s all ergonomics.

 


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Trademarks are the property of their respective owners. LucasArts, the LucasArts logo, STAR WARS and related properties are trademarks in the United States and/or in other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © 2008-2011 Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd. or Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. BioWare and the BioWare logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of EA International (Studio and Publishing) Ltd. You may not copy any images, videos or sound clips found on this site or "deep link" to any image, video or sound clip directly.
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The Moat Around World of Warcraft And How Bioware’s SWTOR Gets Around It

Posted by on Jan 5, 2012 in Blog, Current Games, Featured, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft | 0 comments

Investor Warren Buffet has coined the term economic moat as an almost insurmountable advantage of one company over another company in the same industry. Typical names that come up in this discussion are Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart. Any new company that wants to compete with these two is looking at a very long time with minimal income before they will be able to come even close.

Does this mean World of Warcraft has a moat? You bet. Just look at all the features it offers and how many of them new games like Rift or Star Wars had implemented at their release date. Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Dungeon Finder
  • Raid Finder
  • Extendable User Interface
  • Accomplishments
  • Guild Perks
  • Plethora of Pets
  • Flying Mounts
  • WOW Armory
  • Class Balance
  • Economic Balance
  • In Game Events

Of course, at first, this list doesn’t look to bad, but these features have to be implemented, tested and rolled out and balanced. How hard will it be to implement a cross server dungeon and raid finder for SWTOR? It’s my gut feeling, not backed up by many facts that they’ll have a harder time to do that than Rift.

While playing Star Wars, of course I notice issues where I can clearly say, that Bioware will have to either take some lessons from Blizzard or learn them the hard way. For instance I am not sure, if the economy around the Galactic Trade Market will ever become viable. The auction interface is certainly not up to it. The bigger problem there will be the underlying supply and demand of raw materials and finished goods. I can see for instance that there’s far more metal for armor and arms available than there are crystals for synthweaving and artificing. It is open where it will find a balance, but I question if the Bioware designers have put much thought into the subject. But that is part of the moat I described.

Having said that, Bioware might not need to conquer the moat, simply by building their own castle. Bioware’s loyal customers are RPG fans who’ve kept their distance to MMORPGs. But the way it looks, with Bioware’s story driven approach and a lot of voice acting, that barrier is torn down. The ingame chat has certainly seen its amount of WOW comparisons, but they’ve actually died down relatively fast. Thus, Bioware isn’t taking away much of WOW’s market share. Bioware is expanding the market. Something everybody in the industry will be grateful for.

 


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Objectivist Gamer

Posted by on Jan 5, 2012 in Blog, Current Games, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft | 0 comments

While playing last night, somebody mentioned in chat the usual “SWTOR plays like WOW” and of course started a small storm. What was different this time, it wasn’t just a troll, but a gaming writer who was reviewing the game. Which of course gives the discussion an entirely new dimension.

I can certainly see where the opinion comes from: There are many aspects which are very similar, for instance the user interface and the skill tree. But that is a good thing. Every MMO player wants to be able to type /who, or find the social menu bound to the O key, as well as configurable hotkey bars. But there are enough differences aside from the voice dialogues which make SWTOR stand out over WOW.

In any case, I didn’t want to start a lengthy rant, but wanted to point to a site of a professional game reviewer and to his work. Most of his reviews cover the general gaming area and much less MMOs. That, by itself is an interesting fact, since obviously SWTOR pulls in Bioware’s RPG fanbase with their familiar story driven games, just like WOW brought Blizzards RTS crowd into the MMO mixture.

I am looking forward to his review and his viewpoint.


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Trademarks are the property of their respective owners. LucasArts, the LucasArts logo, STAR WARS and related properties are trademarks in the United States and/or in other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © 2008-2011 Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd. or Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. BioWare and the BioWare logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of EA International (Studio and Publishing) Ltd. You may not copy any images, videos or sound clips found on this site or "deep link" to any image, video or sound clip directly.
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