Is social networking killing the MMO genre?

Not social enough for Rift?

Rift was my main game this year, the one I would play before any other. The only real way, I feel, to really enjoy a MMO is to go all-in, completely devote yourself to it. Otherwise you remain an outsider or a dabbler. I love MMOs, so if I followed my natural inclination, I’d just play a dozen at a time but never really get to know any of them.

But Rift was the real deal, a fantastic effort from a great group of people who did an imaginative variation on the tried-and-true World of Warcraft gameplay. I devoured the game, got through all the T1 and T2 dungeons, finished my T1 armor set and was busy replacing it with T2, had done the first couple ranks of PvP and had maxed out all three crafting professions. I’d even started a little raiding, as well as having fun in the pickup rift raids.

Then I stopped playing. I didn’t have any explanation. Work got busy again, but that wasn’t it. My guild started emphasizing raiding more, but that wasn’t it — raiding isn’t required in the guild. I had fulfilled all my goals in the game, having seen all the non-raid content by then. That was part of it.

What was I doing besides playing Rift? I wasn’t playing another MMO. I wasn’t even playing many single player games. Mostly I was chatting with friends on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and recently, Google+. Google+ in particular has become a fantastic platform for serious discussions; blows Twitter away.

Turns out what I really love about gaming is the social interaction; clear back through EverQuest, it was the chance to hang out with like-minded friends that kept me logging in. And with social networks, I can hang out with like-minded friends no matter what I do.

I first noticed this phenomenon back when Dragon Age: Origins came out. It’s a single player game, but a lot of the people in my circle were playing it and we used Twitter and blogs to keep each other up to date on our progress and to discuss the game. It was a fantastic experience, and I awaited each expansion and DLC so I could play alone (with friends) again.

The same thing happens with books — when George R. R. Martin came out with his fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, Dance With Dragons, we read it together and my longest Google+ discussion remains that with friends who have also read the book.

This whole social media revolution has changed gaming.

Friends met through a MMO would often essentially vanish when they stopped playing. Now, these friends move up a level, and you can opt to keep gaming together. MMOs used to be entirely about community building. Now that better tools are available, MMOs are less about community and more about being quick fun. Which kind of diminishes the entire raison d’etre of MMOs to begin with.

I’m looking forward to Skyrim and Diablo 3. I’m sure they’ll be great games in their own right, but I know I’ll be able to share the experience with dozens of other people playing the same time, and _that’s_ going to make all the difference.

Rift: Just give me what I want…

Raid rift in Shimmersands

All I want out of a fantasy game is dragons and the tools to kill them. DDO (more on that in another post) is a disappointment there. They should just rename that game “Dungeons and ????? Online”. But Rift… Rift is just lousy with the big lizards. The whole rift concept seems tailor made for them as well. A dragon pushes a bit of its own reality into Telara; it comes with buildings, henchmen, swirling, floaty rocks and storm winds, and we push it back.

Right in the open world, too, among other adventurers going their own ways. They can even decide to join in for some rewards. I was benched out in Saturday’s Greenscale raid, so while waiting for a spot to open, I went on a couple of pickup daily raid rifts. It’s difficult to see how raiding could be more accessible than it is in Rift. Pickup raid rifts take about fifteen minutes to do, once you get started. Loot usually is a couple of planar essences and a bit of gear, as well as the inscribed sourcestones used to buy “best in slot” essences back in the capital. So there’s a powerful incentive for even raid-geared folks to get these daily raid rifts done.

More dragons and lots of other stuff, after the break.
Continue reading Rift: Just give me what I want…

Rift: The Expansion Trap

Chillaxin' in Meridian

Every time I post, my character is wearing a new outfit. It’s a compulsion! I can’t help it. But this outfit is special — it’s T1/P2 complete. Everything comes from either Tier 1 expert dungeons, or Prestige 2 PvP gear vendors. The gear from T1 and P1/2 are roughly equivalent. I spent Saturday chaining warfronts to get to Prestige 2 expressly to get that tunic. Afterward the guild (and I) raided Greenscale Blight where we easily took down the duke and got the interrogator (or whatever the next boss is called) to 17%. I was asked to switch to bard spec, which is raid code for “your DPS sucks, play these songs and try to stay out of the way”. But that’s okay.

Rift is fun, but I’m missing the excitement. It’s easy to dismiss raiding as a waste of time, since when Rift releases an expansion, the level cap will likely rise, and all this hard-won gear will be instantly useless. (Thus my new idea for raid loot, once I become eligible to loot, which is to pass on everything and get nothing and save the DKP for when it matters — next expansion. Or the expansion after that.) Raiding for loot is trading time for pixels. The real purpose of raiding is to build a community among the guild — shared struggle and victories, bring people together, you know upon whom you can depend, that sort of thing. Boot camp for gamers.

I’ve been a raider in EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot (well, keep sieger), World of Warcraft, EverQuest II and now, this last week, in Rift as well. It all feels very much the same from one game to another. Rift is already falling into the expansion trap. They announced a new high level dungeon for those raiders who finished all the previous high level dungeons. Non-raiders have T2 dungeons and likely soon T3+ dungeons to do. Expert and raid rifts give the pickup group contingent things to look forward to. But…

Once a MMO embarks upon the “new expansion, gear reset, more love for raiders” road, the danger is that the game becomes so linear and focused on the end game that players new to the game may feel they can never catch up — and that even if they have the desire, the largely unpopulated lands between them and the bulk of the playerbase could be very discouraging.

MMOs need to become wider as they age. EverQuest substantially widened their game with entirely new leveling paths and races and even classes with the Kunark, Luclin and Serpent’s Spine expansions, as well as adding game-changing content for every level with Lost Dungeons of Norrath, and Depths of Darkhollow etc. But even that game now struggles beneath the weight of 90 regular levels and usually desired 1000+ alternate advancement levels, with complete gear resets every ten levels. WoW and EQ2 fall right into line, though WoW, with a super-accelerated leveling curve and no AA levels, at least provides few barriers for a new player trying to join friends at the end-game.

Still, there’s no reason Rift needs to go that route, and I’m hoping they don’t. Here’s some things I’d like to see instead of ten more levels and a gear reset.

A Third Faction

Two factions forces an “us vs. them” attitude, which is easy. It’s boring. DAoC had the “you and me against them!” attitude, where “you” and “me” shifted with the tides of war. That was exciting. Rift has lots of places you could fit a third faction; there’s The Endless, the followers of Regulos working for the destruction of the world — that would be my pick. Maybe there could be some sort of refugee faction, where Guardian and Defiant Ascended decide to set aside their battle against each other and unite to save the world. Or since we now have rifts that open to parallel worlds where the conflict is already won or lost, why not explore these places?

Problem is, if anyone can claim there is a story behind Rift’s conflict, this is a conflict that is going to have to be resolved at some point. Wouldn’t it be fun if the first expansion came out, and the dragon war was over, the Ascended won it after all, and now something new happens — a new chapter in the story?

New Souls

This isn’t stretching. Any Rift expansion will add new souls. The alternative is adding more soul points, and that would just make characters too powerful, requiring widespread nerfing and rebalancing and just angering players.

Telara is a patchwork land. It’s not crazy to think that there’s other, forgotten countries where the people are making their own stand against the planes, in ways unique to them. The souls that come from those lands don’t mix with the souls we know. These strange new techniques are very effective against the creatures of the new lands, whereas the ones we have today don’t work quite so well. So everyone will have to acquire some new souls if they want to travel to the new lands — and the people of those lands will have to change their ways when they visit Meridian and Sanctum.

Builders

When EQ2 launched, crafting was a separate but equal path of advancement to adventuring. As you leveled crafting, you accessed the same higher level chat channels as adventurers, gained access to the same higher level zones, and so on. In Vanguard, crafters can build homes and ships you can leave in the world. Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies had that as well. The real world is full of builders; people love building things! Minecraft, Sim City, even Farmville offer builders a chance to play. Dark Age of Camelot relied upon its siege engine builders. Horizon tasked crafters with unlocking new races.

Destruction is easy. Building is hard.

I’m not talking about building bridges, train tracks, new cities, ships that sail the seas and trades to be done with the people at these far off lands. I’m talking about… hey, wait. Those ARE all the things I want to see. Give me a place to build and something to build there, and now I have something worth fighting for. Enfranchise me, Trion!

Guild halls a la EQ2 are a good start. EQ2’s best guilds prize their interior decorators. A well put-together guild hall is a testament to the guild. Vanguard’s are better, since they are in the world and not instanced. I’d like to see Rift’s take. In Rift, characters walk right through each other, they don’t touch the world, they leave no mark. Let’s leave a mark.

Rift: Tier 2

If you really want to keep it, put a ring on it

That’s the amazing Stingite and I admiring each other’s fashion sense. Because that’s what these games really are, when you get right down to it — Barbie dolls for adults, right?

Things are busy at work, but not as grueling as recently, might just be about time to start up with the blogging again. But, tonight, just want to update on my Rift progress. Which may be dull, but I vowed to play Rift as my main MMO for at least six months, so for news of what I play — it’s Rift, and not much else.

Well, my guild leader on Godville wants me to play more.

Anyway. After (apparently) beating the necessary stats for queuing for T2 dungeons for some time now, looting a sword pushed me over whatever barrier I hadn’t been clearing. Nonetheless, the only dungeons I managed to get via the looking for dungeon tool were T1 dungeons.

I hadn’t had much luck finishing Expert King’s Breach, with the spiky room at the end, so when we drew that dungeon tonight I kinda groaned inside. But I was with a great group of puggers who had no problem with wearing our soul vitality down to zero, healing up and working it down again until we learned the moves and — there we go, we finished it up, and my last T1 dungeon was completed.

My wonderful guild offered to take me along on a T2 dungeon, Expert Abyssal Precipice, and of course I leaped at the chance. Every fight was explained, we had a couple wipes but nothing serious, got a new tunic (the dress my character is wearing in the picture) and enough plaques to buy some ENORMOUS shoulderpads (also being worn). Runed them both for +20 more dex, and had previously runed my weapons for +30 more, so that’s a +50 rise in dex in one day. Still need to work on the +hit.

I haven’t yet raided with my guild. I am still hoping to get my +hit above 160, but I have a long ways to go.

Nonetheless, Rift is still pretty engaging. I think logging in with a definite plan is not the best way to approach the game; I log in and start doing whatever occurs to me, and by the end of the night things have gotten done, but they are rarely what I set out to do. Spent a fun couple of hours fighting a new kind of water invasion in Iron Pine Peaks, where our initial small force was totally being steamrolled by the mobs, but we regrouped and managed to hold them off right at our last bulwark.

Something always seems to be happening.