Monday, March 31, 2008

When is a Bug not a Bug?

There was an unexpected bug after patch 2.4 that Blizzard quickly jumped on and had fixed by Thursday. This really wouldn't be worth mentioning except that the bug actually fixed a long standing exploit in the battlegrounds that annoys the hell out of me. While patch 2.4 supposedly made it so that pre-made teams are more often matched against other pre-made teams there's still a handy method for getting around it. Every pre-made uses "scouts" which are single players that enter into a battleground and makes sure they aren't playing against another pre-made team. If everyone on the opposite side is from the same server they assume it's a pre-made team and they tell the leader to queue them up for another battleground.

This is annoying to me for two very good reasons. The first reason is that it makes it so that pre-made teams mostly play against pick up groups and it artificially increases the rate at which they gain honor at the cost of other players. Some would argue that putting the effort to organize a pre-made should grant them an advantage but truthfully it's overkill. The second reason is that it creates a lot of games that start with an unfair advantage between the two factions. If a pre-made queues out of a game then chances are that one side is only going to start with 3-4 players. In games like Arathi Baisin and Eye of the Storm where you have to defend your flags an initial number disadvantage usually allows the other side to increase the score where it's almost impossible to catch up.

The bug in 2.4 that accidentally addressed the scouting exploit was one that caused all the server names to be improperly displayed for players. Players all saw each other's server names replaced by a generic "BG#" tag. As a result scouts couldn't tell if the other side was from the same server and thus a pre-made team. For one glorious day I didn't run into a single pre-made team as most of them got stuck playing each other. All of this was over as soon as the hotfix was applied and this weekend was filled with Arathi Baisin's starting (15 vs 3). As much as the 2.4 changes to the matching system were supposed to force pre-mades to play against one another it still wasn't as effective as a bug in Blizzard's code.

So to answer my question of "When is a bug not a bug?" When it fixes an exploit.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Instant Honor Calculations and killing the RNG

I didn't have a lot of time to test out the 2.4 patch content last night so me and my friends just played a couple games of Arathi Baisin in the hour we had. I must say that not having diminishing returns on honor was very noticable especially in the way that honor automatically showed up on your PvP tab. It seems that in general that battleground rewards are becoming more and more tangible to players. It used to be that you had to PvP your heart out until the weekly maintenance recalculated the honor rankings. You never really knew if some botter was going to knock you out of achieving the rank you wanted. This made the rewards very nebulous since you never knew what week you were going to get them.

Then Blizzard made the huge improvement of changing battlegrounds to work on a currency system and every day you had a rough estimate on how much closer you were to your reward. That rough estimate did get annoying pretty quickly especially with the increase on diminishing returns after the first week. The amount of times I ended a night with a honor estimate that was no where near what I got the next day was uncountable. Nothing better then logging into the game to find yourself a couple honor short of that upgrade. Now without diminishing returns honor can be calculated right away and no one should ever suffer from that particular problem again.

I really see this as a sign of Blizzard changing the overall reward system in World of Warcraft. The random nature of loot is on its way out and showing your player base their exact progress is in. While loot tables will probably always exist in fantasy based MMOs they can be supplemented with other reward systems to prevent the random number generator from screwing us over and over and over agin. Random dice rolls to determine loot have been in these types of games for too long simply because that's the way it was done in Dungeons and Dragons. With the badge system and automatic honor calculations we have a much better idea of of the time investment required to get the next item. The days of gambling and being slave to the RNG for our rewards are numbered. (couldn't resist)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fixing the Randomness of Instance Loot

Over the past six months we've seen a major change in how people are gearing up their characters in World of Warcraft. It used to be that group and raid instances were the best way to gear up your characters but with the introduction of multiple sets of arena gear it’s been quickly overshadowed by PvP. It's only understandable that people would eventually get tired of PvE content since its static and the enemies never change tactics. However, the problem is that even new players are skipping dungeons simply because of the random nature of rewards in most instances. Most players simply see it as a smarter decision to collect honor which guarantees a small bit of progress towards an epic item. This beats the small chance of getting an item from a dungeon to drop and actually winning the roll.

Several ideas for fixing the loot system in PvE content have been thought up and the developers have even used one recently to make raiding a bit more rewarding. The developers basically copied the token system idea used in the battlegrounds and made it so that badges of justice would drop from bosses in 10 man and starting today 25 man raids. This has the effect of giving better equipped raiders a motivation to visit lower end instances and perhaps help newer players with the content. This has had the negative side effect of draining away most of the heroic dungeon players but it seems like a small price to pay to better balance raiding against PvP.

Another idea for improving instance loot is moving away from gear which is only good for one of the classes that can wear it. You can see the developers starting to implement this by the itemization changes for paladins where their gear is having spell damage replaced by melee haste. This way in the expansion a piece of plate armor can have melee haste or strength on it and be good for both paladins and warriors. Blizzard apparently has plans to do this for most of the different types of armor so that more loot dropped in instances is useful to the classes who can wear it. This would help to a certain extant but still wouldn't address the problems caused by the different talent trees for each class. For example a holy paladin wouldn't be interested in anything a fury/arms warrior or retribution paladin would use.

I think that there is a nice solution to addressing the different itemization needs for classes caused by talent trees. Quite frankly the current gem bonuses on gear are underused at the moment and most people don't even bother getting the correctly colored gems. The bonuses are simply too small and really don't add anything to the gear. In the expansion though I can seem them being used to increased the number of different classes who could use an item. Picture an item with different gem bonuses and the one that is active is dependent on a master gem slot. Put a red gem in that slot and the item gains intelligence and spell damage. Put a blue gem in that slot and it gains intelligence and +healing.

Example Item:
Gauntlets of Extreme Usefulness
Type: Plate
AC: 1200
Sta: 25
Master Gem Slot: ( )
Red Bonus: 20 str and 20 critical strike
Yellow Bonus: 20 int and 40 healing
Blue Bonus: 20 sta and 20 defense

Why would an item system like this be more useful than simply switching all dungeons to a token based system like badges of justice? This was the first question that occurred to me and it was easy to answer once I thought about the benefits to talent respecs. This system would easily allow players to change their talent tree focus without forcing them to collect an entire new set of gear. A tanking warrior who wants to go mortal strike for a bit could simply buy a few red gems to change his gear.

This would almost eliminate the problem of loot dropping in a dungeon which no one in the group could use. Players are already used to customizing their gear with gems and I think this would be a logical expansion to the system. The only problem of course is that it would make fights over items much more common. Though there would be a high amusement factor in seeing a feral, moonkin, and resto druid all fighting over the same item.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Keeping Outdoor PvP Objectives Relevant in WoW

It's no secret that Blizzard hasn't had the best of luck in designing outdoor PvP objectives. In the early days most objectives were player made and mostly consisted of wiping out low level newbie towns. When the battlegrounds were first introduced this practice greatly decreased as most people worked on faction grinding and trying to obtain a rank which actually gave rewards. However, it soon became apparent that there was something quite fun about having battles in the overworld which was missing in the closed instances. As a result Blizzard has spent a considerable amount of time trying to recapture the player made fun of early pvp. They've had a lot of missteps along the way but they seem to be improving their attempts with each try.

The Four Iterations of World PvP

1) Free for All World PvP - Rogues rule
This system is described by some as the golden age of PvP but there were a lot of problems with it. Generally, the people who are most nostalgic about the early days played rogues. Without any sort of real objective to encourage player cooperation it usually was all about 1v1 combat. Having the ability to stealth gave a huge advantage to rogues in 1v1 combat and about 85% of all world pvp at this time started with the victim hearing the stealth sound.

2) Tarren Mill vs South Shore - Ranking System accidently cause large scale war
When the ranking system was first introduced the battlegrounds weren't quite ready and Hillsbrad Foothills became the zone of choice for earning honor. It was an area easily accessible by both factions and PvP became more about large scale battles and roving death squads rather than just ganking. Battlegrounds killed the everlasting war in Hillsbrad but the memories still linger since the towns for both factions are still quite often ransacked.

3) Silithus and Plaguelands Objectives - Is a Buff a reward?
After the battlegrounds were introduced the large scale conflicts pretty much disappeared from Azeroth. It wasn't until sometime later that Blizzard tried to encourage world PvP again by using zone wide buffs as a reward. The problem was that while the buffs were useful for those running instances in the zone, it wasn't enough of a reward to draw people into the conflict. Blizzard learned that rewards needed to be more permanent then buffs to encourage players to organize for large scale battles.

4) Outlands Objectives - Rare Items are deffinitely rewards
Blizzard learned a little bit from their past mistakes and put rare quality items up for grabs for those who farmed the objectives long enough. In the beginning this worked out fine though there was some exploiting in Hellfire Peninsula. Eventually this lead to the idea of the daily quest which allowed the developers to better control the rate at which rewards were granted. Objectives that gave zone wide buffs or advantages were less successful unless they were also tied to rewards. This can especially be seen in the popularity of capturing the spirit towers which allow tokens to be earned in the Auchinduon.

As you can see Blizzard originally thought that players needed little encouragement to form up for large scale battles like in the days of the Hillsbrad Foothills wars. As a result their first attempts at world PvP objectives were laughable and could be considered failures. It really was the introduction of the honor ranking system that caused so many people to fight at the midway point between Southshore and Tarren Mill. Of course once you have a large amount of people doing something then you start to build up interest. The opposite is also true that as less and less players participate in an objective then it snowballs into obscurity.

This is the problem facing the world objectives in the Outlands where the rewards have not been updated to match the PvP or PvE parts of the game. Some objectives like the Hellfire Peninsula stadiums have useful rewards for those leveling up. However, it’s impossible to get any tokens since both factions are required to be participating at the same time to earn rewards. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for a stadium to decay all the way back to neutral so you can recapture it. So with the current ghost town state of the current PvP objectives one has to wonder if Blizzard will be able to keep interesting in Lake Wintergrasp.

Lake Wintergrasp is supposed to be a siege warfare zone with capture points and a play style that mirrors the RvR of Warhammer. One can only assume the rewards will be useful while leveling through the zone but what happens once everyone hits max level again? I'm taking a leap of faith here that Blizzard has learned its lesson and knows that if they want to keep an objective from becoming a ghost town they need to update the rewards. While some argue that this just encourages exploiters I can't seriously recall a time that PvP was anything other than ganking unless a reward was involved. There needs to be something to draw players to the zone and work together for a common goal.

In my opinion the Lake Wintergrasp rewards will:
1) Initially, be rare items similar to what you would find in level 80 dungeons.
2) Eventually, be switched to a token system that mirrors badges of justice.
3) Deffinitely, updated each arena system to avoid becoming a ghost town.
4) Never, be as powerful as arena items.

All in all I have good feelings about Lake Wintergrasp and I think it might become what the developers wanted Alterac Valley to be. A big ass battle that actually gives rewards without resulting in 16 hour stalemates.

Monday, March 17, 2008

How-to Interpret Beta Impressions

As I've mentioned before I've been having fun in Tabula Rasa for the last couple of months. The game is quite different from any MMO I've played before and I like to think this is a good thing. Unfortunately, the game experience for Tabula Rasa hasn't grabbed me like a normal MMO though it’s still been entertaining. This was the sentiment originally expressed by beta testers though most said it wasn't enough to justify a subscription fee. Such an opinion usually dissuades people from trying a game even though it might be something worth experiencing.

This brings me to the point of this post. When do you listen and trust the beta testers for a game? In some cases like World of Warcraft you pretty much hear nothing but good news about the game. Other games like Vanguard you get people breaking the NDA to warn people away from the game and they turn out to be right on the money. But what about games like City of Heroes and Age of Conan which get mixed reviews? I remember back in 2004 that a decent amount of beta impressions for City of Heroes were negative. A lot of testers said the game was fun but the lack of items and end game content made it not worth buying.

City of Heroes still became quite popular because it broke from the fantasy genre and had a very nice character creation system. The beta testers weren't really wrong about the game experience which most people admitted was kind of fun. On the subject of whether the game was worth buying though most beta testers were speaking from months of experience with the game. In the end if a MMO keeps me occupied for three months and only costs me 50$ + 15$ + 15$ then I consider it a good deal. If you're just looking for something new and don't care if the MMO has years worth of content then you have to ignore certain opinions a beta tester might express.

Pay Attention to the Beta Tester On

1) Was the game fun?
The number one thing to look for in a beta impression write up is the word "fun". Chances are that if at any point a tester thought the game was fun then most likely it's worth playing. Every game in beta is going to have a few issues which annoy players and they are going to be pointed out. The key is that if the issues were game breaking then the tester would have used a different word.

2) How buggy was the game a month before release?
Bugs are always a part of any MMO but it’s become standard practice not to release a game with a bunch of obvious ones still in the game. If a beta impression a month before release is talking about bugs in combat or other areas of core game functionality then chances are the company ran out of money and is trying to release as quick as possible. This is important in that if the game doesn't gain a huge amount of subscriptions right away they might just pull the plug on the servers.

3) How much time did the beta tester spend with the game?
I never got a character past level 12 in the Vanguard beta before I quite playing. As such my opinions on the overall game were considerably incomplete and I didn't try to write a review. The best beta impressions are from testers who stuck with a game for a couple months and didn't just play tourist in the newbie zones. When reading a review that looks based on a long-time tester make sure the comments section is not filled with people saying his facts are wrong.

Feel Free to Ignore the Beta Tester On

1) Whether the game was worth a subscription.
Most beta testers are pretty much given a free game to play for three months. Since they got their game play experience for free they are going to be much stricter on whether they would pay for the game. If a bug filled beta test kept someone entertained for more than a month then chances are it’s worth the cost.

2) Opinions on the art assets
There are basically two types of art assets used by MMOs at the moment. One is realistic like EQ2 and LOTR and the other is stylistic like WoW and Warhammer. Everyone has their opinion about the two styles so beware of phrases like "the graphics suck" in a beta review. It could either mean the art assets are very poor or that the tester was simply not a fan of the style that was used.

3) Opinions on the end game
By the very nature of a beta test it’s almost impossible to get an accurate impression of the end game. Games like LOTR and WoW both released with very limited end game activities but added content at different rates. The state of a MMO's end game is more determined by its patches then by its initial development.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ten Toxic Troll Tricks from the WoW Forums

I was once a firm believer that every MMO should have its own forums and that they should be managed by the developers and not left to community fan sites. After all by using multiple fan sites the opinions of the player base is fragmented and it becomes harder for developers to research player reactions. That was my argument back then. It’s changed dramatically since World of Warcraft surpassed the million player mark and I found my daily journeys onto their forums starting to resemble walking through toxic waste. There are numerous moderators trying to keep the community in line but the massive number of subscribers just spawns too many trolls.

I've since given up the good fight and now depend on rss readers and community fan sites to read and discuss the play mechanics of my favorite MMO. It’s ironic that I eventually started using methods that I argued against so much. There are still large parts of the World of Warcraft forums that are uncorrupted but any sign of a serious discussion attracts the army of ravenous trolls which lurk in the muck. I haven't visited the official forums for over a year but I have a pretty good idea of what still goes on.

Top Ten Troll Tricks

10) FTL :-(
"For the Loss" is the least powerful of the forum troll attack moves. It’s a basic maneuver which uses lewt speak to back up a claim usually meant to inspire others to anger. The troll doesn't really believe in the claim but instead is trying to give the impression that a single ability/class/developer/game mechanic is directly responsible for a player's bad experience. An example could be "My Warlock dies all the time, Cloak of Shadow FTL".

9) Nerf [insert class or ability here]
The staple of any MMO forum troll's arsenal is the Nerf attack. It's an overused and weak attack especially when compared with the more specialized trolling techniques. However, by its very nature the nerf attack is very versatile and can be used for a multitude of purposes. Making nerf posts against classes in their very own forums is a popular pastime on the WoW forums and helps foster class animosity. Witness the recent fight between warlocks and mages over warlocks getting their life tap nerf canceled. I wonder just how many posters in the warlock forums were actual mages and how many were trolls?

8) FTW!!!
"For the Win" started out as an opposite expression to balance against FTL and was meant to be exclaimed during victory. However, it’s been corrupted by the trolls and is now mostly used sarcastically in the same manner as "For the Loss". Trolls depend on people not being able to tell if the term was used sarcastically in their posts and thus they can appear to support and be against a topic at the same time. One example could be "I love paladin healing. Only 2 spells FTW" Is the poster a fan of the simplified healing mechanics of the paladin or does he find it boring? Who Knows? Let’s spend 5 pages fighting about it.

This is one of the more entertaining type of troll posts and much like a traffic accident it catches the eye of everyone passing through. Unfortunately, just like in real life it causes a massive slowdown since everyone has to stop on by the thread and find out what's happening. These posts almost always "out" an unfair relationship in the guild's upper tier of officers and usually throws out every rumor they can about the guild. Half the time the poster is on a level 3 alt and might not even be the person who left the guild.

6) L2PLY
An instant classic that became such a popular rebuttal that it even got its own music video. The most effective troll techniques are insults because people naturally want to defend themselves even if the entire thread is garbage. It’s also an effective way of crushing the spirits of new players because nothing tastes sweeter then noob tears. *actual ingredient in Ben and Jerry's Ice-cream.
Myndflame L2PLY Video

5) Dev Plays a [Insert Class Here]
This is a highly developed form of troll attack which is often accompanied by fake evidence. Recently the nerfing of elemental shamans was met by accusations that Kalgan (Tom Chilton) played on an arena team which lost to burst lightning damage quite often. I believe the "evidence" was a player who called the shaman nerfs before they were implemented on the test realm and supposedly Kalgan's arena team. Luckily, the overuse of nerf attacks on the forums makes it very easy to find any all sorts of different predictions for every type of class, talent, or ability.

4) Thread Necromancy
The only thing more powerful and hated then a warlock is of course a necromancer. Thread necromancers were a real problem for a period of time but luckily moderators now quickly lock any old threads that mysteriously rise from the dead. The basic premise of the attack is that trolls would search very far back in the forum archives to find threads which could be mistaken for being about a current topic. They would then post a comment to make it look like the discussion was still recent in the thread. This was especially effective if a CM had posted in the thread since their comments could be taken out of context.

3) Theoverlylongtrollpostwithnospacescopiedfromothertrollposts
Trolls aren't the most original manner of internet monster and sometimes they just don't feel like writing their own posts. So a common and brain scrambling tactic they sometimes use is to copy bits and pieces of other posts to make a loose collection of thoughts and ideas which tricks the reader into thinking there might be a point somewhere in the mess. In reality the post is an undying mound of garbage made of political opinions, philosophy, bad game design, history, and religion and is technically related to fruitcake despite not being edible. *fruitcake is only supposed to be edible and usually isn't.

2) N RL IM [insert famous/rich/attractive here]
Ah one of the more insidious troll tactics on the face of the internet. I said earlier that the most successful troll attacks are insults and this goes double when they invite people to pay attention and insult themselves. These threads usually start off with some thread making fun of everyone who plays a MMO and ends with something like "I'm glad I'm married to a supermodel, make 200 thousand a year, and not a loser like you guys." Everyone knows he's lying and mostly like resembles that guy from the "Make Love Not Warcraft" episode of South Park. The problem is that knowledge isn't enough and the weak willed can't help but call the troll out on it. In the end the troll wins because he gets attention and the keylogger url on his signature now has a better chance of being copied and pasted.

1) Hardcore vs. Casual
If ever a troll is having problems coming up with a pointless topic or wants to derail a good discussion about the game then they can simply call up the Hardcore vs. Casual argument. This is the bane of any moderator since it has a habit of being hard to kill. A nice long thread on reward structures can quickly be ruined by some troll nudging it into a Hardcore vs. Casual debate. It doesn't matter if it’s locked right away since five new threads all on the same subject will quickly appear accusing the moderator of favoritism. The whole argument basically hinges on outdated stereotypes accompanied by outdated game design. If it rears its head in your forums often then chances are the developers were lazy at some point with the end game.

CTL+ALT+DEL Comic on the Subject

Friday, March 07, 2008

Is Collision Detection necessary for good PvP?

The most annoying thing about a lack of collision detection is how much it changes the mechanics of melee classes in PvP. Without this law of physics existing it becomes quite possible for two objects to be in the same place at the same time. Throw in the time honored tradition of requiring line of sight on everything and you get some weird side effects. My favorite one has to be jousting where slow 2 handers are used by people to land a hit then they run through their opponents. Sometimes you'll see two melee classes both trying to use this method which is how it got the name of "jousting".

Another common problem of not having collision detection is that it makes spells with a cast time very hard to get off in close quarters. If you watch your target's cast bar then step through them right before they finish the spell you can almost always avoid it. Most casters are well balanced enough to have an AOE or CC spell for such a situation but some classes like shamans are limited in their options. As a result a lack of collision detection inherently gives classes that have instant cast abilities and spells a distinct advantage.

This becomes a problem only when you a few classes limited to spells with long cast times. It doesn't matter if they get better mana efficiency or deal more damage if they can never get the spell to hit a target. This is a contributing factor to some classes being non existent in the lower arena brackets. You think it would be easy to fix the problem but in several cases it would actually change the entire balance of the class. Thus we see Blizzard having to experiment by adding and removing effects to talent trees instead of just applying class wide changes.

It’s probably easy to avoid most of these issues if class balance is designed around collision detection from the ground up. This way classes which have an abundance of instant spells and abilities aren't favored as much when fighting other human opponents. Oh it will still be hard to get spells with a cast time off but it will at least make it possible in close quarters combat. In the upcoming game Warhammer people are already thinking about using tanks to block melee classes from casters. In that game collision detection only works on enemies so it would be possible for tanks to block while casters could still attack through them.

This looks like the evolution of the PvP model and you can already see how this is going to cause strategy to become more important. I don't think we'll see military formations in the game but we'll definitely see tanks become more useful in protecting healing and damage classes. What will have to be closely watched is if Blizzard decides to follow suit and change their game to use collision detection. It might be a coding nightmare and as a result they may wish to see if it adds to or detracts from the PvP experience in Warhammer before jumping on ship. The question thus becomes if it works really well in Warhammer will all MMOs in the future have to use collision detection to have a competitive PvP game.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Is Arena Season 4 being delayed because of Age of Conan?

I haven't written a good WoW rant in awhile and I have to blame the developers who haven't given me any good source material lately. Oh well, I guess you can expect "welfare epics" level material to be handed out every day. I did have some high hopes that with the patch about to roll out we'd see some developers come down with foot n mouth disease. Surely the developer reasoning behind repealing the warlock nerf would be laughable but no they came equipped with numbers. Stupid logic. Luckily, besides the nerf roulette the lead designer Kalgan did stop by the forums to drop a bomb on PvP fans. Arena season 4 won't be coming out with the next patch or anytime soon.

Kalgan basically said the purpose of arena gear is to allow PvP players to keep up with raiders and not pull ahead of them in gear quality. Thus the next arena season will be put on hold until players have unlocked the new raid zone. Apparently, everyone is supposed to stop doing PvP and start doing the Sunwell dailies in the same fashion as the AQ opening event. At least this time everyone should be making money and not just crafters. Also with the changes in patch 2.4 there should be a lot of new material that can be bought with badges of justice. It’s not that hard to picture people concerned with gear switching from arenas to heroics while the Sunwell is being unlocked.

The problem I have is that not everyone is concerned just with gear and grindy opening events are almost always boring. They also tend to be a sign of developers stalling for time. I know that Tigole said they had emergency patch content after the Sunwell if the expansion wasn't ready. However, I wasn't expecting for that content to be arena season 4. I mean he could be referring to the some hidden patch content scheduled for the summer but I have a sinking feeling that's not it. No instead what looks to be forming is a late March release for patch 2.4 then Arena Season 4 hitting us sometime in May. I think this is real ballsy of Blizzard if this is their answer to the Age of Conan release.

Stringing out content like this is just going to spur the number of people who will try out a competitor's game. I can kind of see what Blizzard is thinking but I don't think it’s going to work. Age of Conan has some nice PvP mechanics which aren't going to be offset by a 3v3 tournament and a new arena season. This goes double for Warhammer which could still actually release during the 2nd Quarter. In reality, not having Arena Season 4 match the Sunwell release is just going to frustrate the player base which has adopted to the PvP play style. They'll be plenty of loot and gold for players in the new Sunwell content but there are going to be some people who won't like it especially if they've become use to fighting human opponents. This decision could backfire and actually force people to leave before Age of Conan or Warhammer comes out.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Community by Critical Mass

Out of the discussions from the last post it seemed that a lot of people thought that a strong community was one of the most important characteristics of a successful MMO. This seems to be true since there is definitely a relationship between how long people play a MMO and how many friends they have in that game. Gaming experiences usually are more rewarding when interacting with other humans rather than just a non responsive AI. Over the last 10 years we've seen a rise in games which are oriented around human interactions either by utilizing online connectivity or group game play. First person shooters now rise and fall based on their online features while games like guitar hero and Wii bowling have found their ways into bars.

MMOs seem to get the best of both worlds since they're usually structured around group game play and require an internet connection. The advantages to the genre are really only offset by the increased fees to maintain and develop the online portion of the game. Initial gamers were hesitant to pay extra fees and people who did pick up a MMO usually didn't join with a bunch of their real life friends. This is what probably lead to designers using the "group only" design philosophy which so characterized the early MMORPG market. It was thought that by making game players weak compared to mobs that it would force them to form friendships in the game to advance. In general this method worked at retaining players but did very little to attract anyone new to the genre.

As I said in the last post World of Warcraft was unique at the time of its release by being the only MMO to not force community building with harsh solo penalties. Their end game did require grouping but since every previous level was open to soloing it seemed like a much larger game to most new players. As a result players who didn't form social ties right away stuck around much longer and weren't forced out. This is what really allowed their numbers to increase over the million subscriber mark and eventually cause the game to reach critical mass. When I talk about critical mass I'm actually talking about the player base becoming so large that eventually gamers starting finding real life friends in the game.

Once that started happening it was like communities started being imported into the game. Friends would find out each other both played World of Warcraft and would start planning on bringing in more people they knew. When multiple friends started recommending a game then you can't help but be curious. This happened with the older games to a certain extent but was usually only successful with groups of friends who were already fans of the MMO genre. The older games pretty much built all of their community ties from the ground up inside their own virtual worlds which didn't branch out much into the real world.

The game Lineage did reach an earlier critical mass effect and built up probably the second strongest MMO community in existence today. However, the game was not designed for broad appeal and instead simply benefited from the government subsidies in Korea that made broadband access so cheap and prevalent. This pretty much increased the willingness of gamers to try MMOs in that country compared to the United States and Europe at that time. The game never really gained widespread popularity in the west though it’s pretty much a success story of showing how popular MMOs can become when you remove barriers of entry.

All of this becomes important when people starting talking about how another game could never beat the numbers that World of Warcraft has achieved. It’s quite possible that World of Warcraft might not be done growing for a long time especially with recent focus on other aspects of their game besides raiding. However, this growth doesn't mean there is a lock out on their subscriber numbers. In fact World of Warcraft is estimated to have a very high churn rate for a MMO which means there is a huge ready made community of ex-WoW players out in the market. If a game could tap into this community cough*** Warhammer*** we'll probably see a similar explosion in numbers and the best part is that it might not even effect WoW that much.