Thursday, December 23, 2010

League of Legends

I suppose I'm late to the party. I kept putting off playing LoL because I kept hearing reports much like the linked blog. Belligerent players, hard to learn, not enough information. Well, one year after that post of the Beta of League of Legends, and the information is rampant online. Champions are tiered for high level effectiveness, Totalbiscuit is making videos on youtube about it. His video does an excellent sum-up of what is going on in League of Legends.

So why play League of Legends? Well, the game does an excellent job of presenting you how to play. Without visiting the forums I learned the basics of the gameplay, the win/lose conditions, and how to navigate the interface. The game's tutorial is very thorough, and well worth it for a first time player. While learning, the game also allows you to play against the computer until you learn what is going on. The game recommends items for you to purchase for your champion during gameplay. These items are only sometimes a good choice, but usually you'll want to explore other items to find something that will work with your playstyle.

Now none of these tutorials or guides are really good enough for helping you compete against better players. That's why playing versus the computer is so important. Until you are really comfortable with a champion, it is best to hold off on playing it against live players. For the details of gameplay though, you really need to look outside of the game. But here as well, Riot games does a good job of promoting their website and forums. Though I'm sure it is full of trolls, I have easily been able to find useful guides and information without having to interact with the trolls.

Furthermore, there is a plethora of information available through google. So for the last few days, I've been having a ton of fun and frustration playing LoL. Frustration? I thought I was writing a positive look at the game...

Yes, frustration. I'm not quite sure if its because they're summoner level is higher than mine or they are simply that much better than me in the game, but some opponents just simply murder me in seconds flat. Also, there are times where I don't stop and turn back, regardless of how often I click to go back. This has led to quite a few deaths. This level of frustration varies from game to game, and more often than not, I'm having a lot of fun with the game.

Honesty aside, since the game is free to play, and they have an interesting referral system, I decided to put a referral link here:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Warcraft Cataclysm has only 3 million subscribers?

WoW only sold 3.3 million copies in the first 24 hours. Burning Crusade sold 2.4 million in its first 24 hours. WoW claims and extra .5 million subscribers, which is only a bit less than the difference in sales of these two expansions.

Could the reality be that WoW has less then 12 million subscribers? Are there currently players out there stuck at 60? Or worse, never having made it to 60, are there players who are experiencing the shattering, and not able to appreciate even the differences in Thousand Needles, due to never having leveled that far?

How is is that a game with over 10 million subscribers only has an adoption rate of 25% for the expansion? Does that mean that only 25% of players are at level cap and/or want to play as Worgen/Goblin?

All I seem to be able to find online is day one sales. Frankly, that hardly matters to me. What about month 2 sales? One year sales? I understand that Cataclysm is only a week old, but Burning Crusade sales numbers would help us understand how many people will buy Cataclysm.

But, perhaps we should look at the numbers another way. Cataclysm has already raked in over $132 million dollars in sales.

Video games train you to Perform in Real Life

With examples of Flight Simulations and Racing Simulators being effective ways to train people, and with the Army having their own video game, it is not surprising that so many people are afraid of games being murder simulators. The issue of course is the necessary conversion and physical conditioning necessary to convert the video game/simulation experience into real life ability.

So, those kids who shot up schools and other kids, who claimed "video games" made them do it, would not be able to do what they did without real world training. They practiced firing real weapons first. Otherwise, the recoil would most likely have resulted in them hurting themselves as well. Just like a pilot or driver must train to resist the G-forces of actual flight and racing to not pass out or throw up.

With that in mind, what kind of games do I let my 6 year old play? Gardening games, reading games, math games, shape games, puzzle solving games, racing games, action platform games (the most violent games he plays). I also sit and play games with him, and ask him questions. He counts everything. I read to him, and make sure he reads a book every day.

I wish more parents took responsibility for their kids, and stopped trying to blame video games for the violence in schools. GTA: San Andreas has sold over 21 million copies (pdf), and we do not see 21 million school shootings since 2005. In fact according to, they have 19 school shootings from 2005 to 2009. The wikipedia article has 32 shootings from 2005 to 2009. So regardless of how many people have played a violent video game such as GTA, the number of school shootings is low compared to the number of sales. If there was ANY causal effect, we would see gun violence in schools up in the millions per year. Instead, we have less than 40 in 4 years. Though that number can be considered high because of the destruction of human lives, it is low compared to the number of violent video game sales.

With everyone talking about how video games can be used for learning, and how effect games can be to helping children learn, it is interesting to note how violent video games is NOT leading to healthy kids becoming deranged. Instead, we see kids that had other problems who liked playing violent video games. If it wasn't video games, they'd blame a porno, or a movie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gating is Necessary for a Nascent MMO

We've seen it happen quite a few times in MMOs, some group gets their entire WoW guild to invest in a game, and they rush to the end. After reaching level cap before then end of the first month, they declare the game boring, as there is nothing to do at level cap. An MMO has more challenges than just creating a fun world to play in: they need to engage the player at the onset of the adventure, allow enough activity for them to survive the mid-level doldrums and they need to have an end-game worth investing time into.

In all three cases, the main ingredient is allowing the player to feel progress. Each level must have meaning, and each piece of gear must allow the player to differentiate himself from who he used to be. Though each level need not have the same rewards, it is important to have something there. With this being the case, perhaps there are other progression systems that can be made available throughout a game, so that there is always some ethereal goal to attain.

World of Warcraft does this in several ways. First there is the leveling game: this is the easiest to implement and most straight forward advancement possible. Next there is a gear's ilvl: at some point you will need to reach a certain threshold of gear to progress, and each piece of gear adds to your survivability or damage throughput. Next is faction advancement: this is currently the more ethereal concept, but the idea has been slowly advancing to commit to factions to gain gear. What is missing from the faction advancement is an alternative reward not tied to the ilvl advancement. WoW also has skill advancement: primary and secondary professions show a sort of advancement as well.

Of course, the problem is that all these systems are finite, and at some point you will reach a point where there is nothing else to do. WoW of course then added achievements, and rated PvP. These choices are slightly similar and different from ilvl and faction advancement, but they serve as a functional extension to those who enjoy them.

Of course, WoW is a six year old MMO, with quite a bit of history and expansion under its belt. So a new MMO surely does not have the amount of content to compete with WoW, even if they manage to squeeze over six different forms of character advancement into their game. If that's the case, what can a game do to slow down progress of level-cap rushing players, and still allow the game to give a feeling of progress? We saw the reaction given by the player base to Final Fantasy's concept of limiting player experience gains. We also have heard how people hated having to get keyed for raid access in WoW. Gating is very much a no go for gamers. The oldest form of gating would be grinding, and that is also something that is looked down upon by a majority of people.

The thing is anything that requires repetition is now a grind. The key is instead making the grind fun. I mean, stomping on goombas is a grind, yet people still have fun doing so (to be fair, koopas are more fun). So since a new MMO doesn't want people at level cap by the first five hours, it is important to find ways to extend game play without making the player feel like they are being held back, and instead make it feel like they are being pushed along.

SWTOR: Crew Skills

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why "Me Too" Game Design?

Over the years I've noticed something in products, from chips to movies, if someone else does it, you can do it cheaper and make money. Is the big movie company selling Alice in Wonderland for too much? Pay $5 and get Alicia in Wunderlund instead. Snakes on a Plane? Try Snakes on a Train. Kool-aid drink mix costs too much? Buy the cheap store brand.

This goes on to Tablets, dish soap, and all other things. Including video games. But in the case of video games, no one wants to pay for a bad game. Where a bad movie can have a certain appeal (there are people who only watch B movies), someone who plays only B games (60 on a metacritic score or lower), would instead be depriving themselves of quality and fun (unless the game happens to be niche).

So with game design, you can't necessarily think, I'll make a game that is less fun, and still make money. Unfortunately, people imitate another game, and all you have is the same game with perhaps less graphics, or missing that one really cool mechanic. Usually, you are disappointed, and realize you should have just spent the extra $15 on getting the good game.

Perhaps, if a game follows the idea of investing less graphics, or less sound quality (music, sound effects, etc.) they can make a game that is equal in fun or perhaps even more fun. In this case, they need word of mouth for people to go, hey, this game is cheap and more fun. I'll invest in that!

But to drag someone away from the heavier investment though, amazingly takes more work. That person's social graph needs to be following the cheaper, less impressive looking, but more fun game, to get to them. Don't forget they have time and money invested in the more expensive but slightly less fun product.

What if a company invests more money into their "me too" game? So that graphics, sound, and fun are in greater proportions, and they make the game equal in price or even higher. Don't forget, up to a point, people perceive price as a measure of quality. Although people want things cheap, they will invest into something that seems of better quality.

In this case, most people who are still happy with the first game, wait to see the results of this new game. Did people like it? Was there a bunch of bugs? Is it worth their time? Are their friends playing it?

People think that once a product reaches a certain point, then there is no way to dislodge it. But, at some point, you need competition. In the case of iPhone and iPad, the Android is creating serious competition. In the case of Google search, the competition has 40% of the remainder (meaning that though Google is on top, they are not the only search engine). The same is true for World of Warcraft. For years their numbers have remained about the same. Yet only 10% of all accounts make it past level 10. That means that 90% quit. 11.5 million is only 10% of all people who have tried WoW. Either that, or gold sellers have made 90 million WoW accounts.

So far, "me too" game design has not worked on gaining market share against WoW. Its competitors have had to switch to a different model. Perhaps, they were not different enough. Much like dealing with Facebook, some sort of revolution in the social graph would be required to take people from WoW. Failing to do so, everyone else should instead, look to working around WoW, and compete in that F2P micro-transaction area.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Playing Single Player WoW for Free

For the last month, I've been playing World of Warcraft for free. Unfortunately, this means that I have to play it as a single player game. There are other limits, most of which come with the single player play, but there are other limits: I can't level past 20.

If anyone is still guessing, I'm talking about the World of Warcraft free trial. In this sense, I am experiencing The Shattering, and playing the original races up to level 20, experiencing a good chunk of the changes that WoW 4.0 brings.

Since these trial accounts are throw-away accounts, I've been using a web service called Mailinator. Mailinator is a temporary e-mail service. Their slogan is, "Let them eat spam." Essentially the service saves a step in creating a rubbish account.

As I register for, I set an e-mail, such as I proceed to set a password that I would never use, and put in false information. The confirmation e-mail is sent to Mailinator, where I (and actually, anyone else) can get to it, and click on the link to activate the account. I then log-in, and ask for a WoW trial. After that, I'm able to immediately start playing WoW. All I have to do is copy my previous WTF/Account folder into the new WTF/Account folder, and I don't even have to worry about resetting key bindings.

I now have 10 days to level through as many starting zones and secondary starting zones as I can. When I get to level 15, I can choose to try out several instances, using the dungeon finder. On average, the 1-20 journey is about 10 hours, at the end of which I usually have a mount, since just questing gives more than enough gold for everything I would need.

So here are a few questions:

1) I am playing WoW for free. Is what I am doing wrong or am I simply playing within the confines of the Free Trial rules.

2) Morally (not technically), is there any difference between what I am doing, and playing on a Private Server?

3) Either way, I am not paying Blizzard, and will not do so for a while, does that change anything?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Multi-game

The idea of multiple games affecting each other is something that EVE creators CCP are experimenting with in Dust 514. For a long time I had been thinking of a Mega Game. A game that was persistent and had everything in it. MMOs covered part of it, and FreeRealms kind of did what I wanted. I haven't tried Lego Universe yet, but it seems to have a nice variety of activity in it.

No, a Mega Game is about being all games tied to a single Avatar. You would make your Avatar, and control him in a persistent world. This world would have adventure and hi-jinks. With this same character, with the stats and choices you make, you can then switch over to racing, fighting, puzzle combat, crafting, etc etc. Your choices in appearance, and stats would affect the other aspects of the game. So high agility or intelligence would give you faster acceleration in the racing game or strength and intelligence would give you a better top speed. Your car would look a certain way based on your gear and appearance choices (details were never figured out).

The other idea I've been hoping to see (or later on create) is a true Multi-game. Where I could release a city building Sim to casual players, which in turn becomes cities used in a strategy game. The cities layout would be used for when a unit invades an occupied city. The game would then become a Tower Defense style game.

OnLive, $9.99 plan

OnLive is rolling out a plan for unlimited gameplay for only $9.99 a month. The thing is, that not all games will be in the plan. Instead you get a selection of games that may or may not be available on the free/pay-as-you-go-plan. This also goes the other way around, where the newest games will not appear on the $9.99 plan. Go here to see what games are available on the subscription plan. They promise more to come, but expect it to be older games.