Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three big questions of massively multiplayer games

First thing first: EVE is back on discussing features. The "no EVE rule" was made because I compared everything to an imaginary unrigged EVE and everything looked pale. After I played Albion Online, this is no longer valid, as I successfully got involved in another game, so it's sure I can (and shortly will) do it again. EVE is a good comparison standpoint for many game features, it's dumb to act like it's not existing.

Another note: I haven't given up on Albion yet, and ready to return if they at least admit that gold speculation is a game-breaking, obviously corrupted feature and pledge to remove it before release. But I won't hold my breath and make the page this week if they don't.

I'm afraid most game devs are unaware of the big questions of MMOs and design their game from the standpoint of lore, visuals or combat system, then looking puzzled why their "awesome" game failed. The reason is that while bad lore, visuals or combat can kill an MMO, good ones don't make one. MMOs need other players - a community - and they are already somewhere. An "awesome" WoW clone will be empty, while WoW will be full. Not to mention that Blizzard can just import some of the "awesome" features (like they did with AoE loot) and beat you. I claim that MMOs that give the same answers to the big questions are mods/reskins of each other and only one can be successful. Sure, if you have a billion dollar, you can make a WoW-killer, but the only way to make a new MMO that coexists with existing ones is to give a different answers to the big questions. There are no right and wrong answers to the questions, just different games for different audiences.

Below you'll see the big question and the answers of WoW, BDO, EVE, Albion, League of Legends and World of Tanks (as they claim to be, ignoring rigging)
  1. Can you change the game World for other players? The simpler version is "Is there a World, or are you playing parallel single player games?" Many players prefer to be left alone, while others want to cooperate and compete with others. Please note that optional group-worlds do not apply, so just because your raid can kill a boss for a week and it's dead for all of you, it did not affect any other players who did not choose to be in your raid. Similarly distant and irrelevant elements (like who holds Tol Barad in WoW) do not count either. The World must be strongly affecting the gameplay of all players (besides total newbies in starter zones). While "sandbox" usually means a living World, they are not interchangeable. A Persistent setting where you can do whatever you want is sandbox (Hitman, Grand Theft Auto), while being a combat soldier commanded from one battle to another can be a living World, assuming your victories and defeats reshape the World for everyone.
    • WoW: Persistent
    • BDO: Persistent
    • EVE: World
    • Albion: World
    • WoT: Persistent
    • LoL: Persistent
  2. Is there meaningful trading? "meaningful" refers to "buying and selling items fundamental in progressing your character and/or affecting the game World". It's a big question, because trading allows non-combat cooperation and competition between players. Please note that trading irrelevant and auxiliary items do not count. If a player gains most of his power from his personal play and not traded it from others, the answer is no. This question has a weird connection to Is it pay-to-win? (meaning "throwing money to the game makes your character more powerful") If there is trading and there is any form of in-game spending, the players can trade their premium item for power items with other players. So a "meaningful trading" game is always P2W unless every player is strictly paying the same, which has no precedent in the last years (as devs want money). So the three answers are "No", "isolated P2W" (no player trading, but there is item shop), "trade-P2W":
    • WoW: No trade
    • BDO: Trade-P2W
    • EVE: Trade-P2W
    • Albion: Trade-P2W
    • WoT: Isolated-P2W
    • LoL: No Trade(remember, ignore rigging!)
  3. Is there PvP where you can lose character progression or the World changes against your will? Obviously important question. Please note that PvP being consensual doesn't nullify the question, as long as the loser loses progression or the World does change for everyone upon his defeat (for example nullsec citadel changes hands). Further question: is this PvP enforced to be at fair numbers or can one bring zerg to win? Both are valid answers, but result in very different games and cultures:
    • WoW: PvE
    • BDO: PvE
    • EVE: Zerg
    • Albion: Equal
    • WoT: PvE
    • LoL: Equal

After crossing out impossible combinations, I see 11 different options, 11 possible successful big massively multiplayer games. Instead we have a few successful ones and a bunch of WoW-clones looking puzzled why they don't grow. Let's look at the whole map:
  • Persistent, Notrade, PvE: this is WoW and no one else can take its place without a billion dollars. You only progress your character and do so by gaining stuff for yourself by fighting NPCs. There are PvP arenas but they give rewards for losers too, so they are just another non-competitive grind (many people do them AFK).
  • Persistent, Notrade, Equal-PvP: this is what League of Legends claims to be and probably is after Platinum. You only progress your rating and do so by fighting other players in an equal footing (you wish).
  • Persistent, Notrade, Zerg-PvP: impossible option as creating a zerg always means some World-changing thing, even if not hard coded into the game. The forums, chats needed to create such zerg would also mean some meaningful sub-culture that is a World of its own. Also, no one would play a game where you can only progress your character by ... being a meaningless cog in the zerg.
  • Persistent, Isolated-P2W, PvE: World of Tanks. The "PvE" part is what skyrocketed this game. As long as you play, even if you always lose (impossible due to rigging), you get XP, so you can buy new tanks. So while it sells itself as a PvP game, it's actually just a grind, that's why it can be botted. Credit income depends on your premium status and gold tank use more than on your combat results.
  • Persistent, Isolated-P2W, Equal-PvP: Clash of Clans and the rest of the moneygrabbing mobile crap.
  • Persistent, Isolated-P2W, Zerg-PvP: impossible option as creating a zerg always means some World-changing thing. Also, who would pay to win just to be zerged down and his progress taken?
  • Persistent, Trade-P2W, PvE: Black Desert Online. Get more and more powerful gear via trading and payin that you use for nothing (unlike in WoW where you claim it yourself from "hard" bosses)
  • Persistent, Trade-P2W, Equal-PvP: Impossible combination. The point of Equal PvP is to be considered (by himself or others) to be skilled. This can of course be cheated by P2W, see mobile crap. But trading would allow skilled players obtain premium currency by trading, and then pwn paying ones, giving them negative progression, killing the game.
  • Persistent, Trade-P2W, Zerg-PvP: impossible option as creating a zerg always means some World-changing thing. Also, who would pay to win just to be zerged down and his progress taken?
  • World, Notrade, PvE: Financially impossible, since the P2W versions will always pay more. Not P2W games can only exists where the focus is personal progression and players reject cheating via P2W.
  • World, Notrade, Equal-PvP: see above
  • World, Notrade, Zerg-PvP: see above
  • World, Isolated-P2W, PvE: I don't know any games like this, but is not impossible. It would be a player empire fighting against an NPC empire, changing the map as they progress, players using only items they gained themselves or bought in the item shop.
  • World, Isolated-P2W, Equal-PvP: I don't know of any games like this, but it's not impossible. Imagine player empires fighting each other for land, but only using self-gained items and fighting in enforced arenas. Actually WoT clan wars are somewhat similar, though they aren't really a "world" since most players can't interfere or be affected by it.
  • World, Isolated-P2W, Zerg-PvP: It would be my long held dream of Knights vs Demons (parts are all over my blog, I must write a comprehensive post some day)
  • World, Trade-P2W, PvE: I don't know of any games like that and not sure how it would look like, but is not logically impossible.
  • World, Trade-P2W, Equal-PvP: This is where Albion is, despite the devs didn't ask the questions before designing their game, therefore copied the "small highsec, middle lowsec, big nullsec" of EVE and look puzzled why black zones (Albion nullsec) are empty: it's because 5v5 GvG can't be zerged down, so black zone play is only for a small elite, while EVE nullsec alliances hire large amount of unskilled players for F1-pushing zerg. I believe Albion has a chance for success (because it has a unique niche), if they redraw the map and strictly redesign PvP in every other aspect to rule out zerg play (not because zerg play is bad, but because those who like zerg go to EVE).
  • World, Trade-P2W, Zerg-PvP: EVE Online
Please think about other games, try to place them on the map and tell me if they are somehow different than others on the map. Because I have a feeling that they are not and could be made as mods of the other game there.


Anonymous said...

Steel H

World, Trade-P2W, PvE – Syncayne’s PVE Sandbox design (I want that game!)
World, No trade, PVE – WoW had sparks of this: the AQ40 event, server wide progress on Sunwell and Thunder isle. They never went anywhere because that is not Blizzards vision. Which brings me to:

“WoW and no one else can take its place without a billion dollars” I disagree with this premise, and Nostalrius/Elysium/official vanilla servers petitions in the 100K range are my proof. As I said before, I started playing on Elysium and having a blast. I love everything the modern fanboys claim made vanilla horrible: real mana, only 2 spells to cast, no dance, strategic planning, threat, hard hostile world, you are NOT the ONE etc. If someone made a game like this I would pay up to 30$ sub/month. The clones fail because no one is cloning vanilla, they all clone wrath/cata (rift, eso, wildstar). Also modern Actiblizzard won’t steal the core of that game because:

1) Blizz does not like “world”s, the whole point of WoW was to take the MMO world concept and gamify it. (And then gamify some more). The shallow, everyone is a hero, queue for everything, dance-dance game of Cata and beyond is what they wanted all along.
2) They can’t remove any of the convenience and welfare the modern game is based on because they have proven for 10+ years that they cannot resist the screams of millions of morons asking for easy/free shiny.
3) There is a market for the kind of game vanilla was (granted it’s not 10 mil, it’s more than 10k though) and you can’t undercut it by cloning that game +more free/convenience. I am playing 1.12 and loving it and so are lots of others, and for sure they/I do not want LFG/flying/cash shop/AoE loot – even if I grew up with these in wrath.

Gevlon said...

WoW pirate servers don't need a billion dollars, because they stole it from Blizzard who developed and marketed WoW Vanilla from about as much money (adjust inflation for 15 years when development started)

Anonymous said...

Where did you come up with a billion? A quick google search shows something like 60-100 million, and the bls CPI calculator sais 100 in 2000 = 140 in 2017. That's a lot of digits sure. But then EA spent something like 300 million on SWTOR, mostly on voice acting. The MMOs that tried to clone WoW didn't fail because they didn't have enough money , but because they cloned wotlk/cata (read syncayne's blog about rift/gw2/eso). That game cannot be cloned because it is terrible, as you have documented yourself - wow only survives now because of it's enormous inertia and the Blizz name.

Gevlon said...

WoW survives because it's a very good game. Sure, it's not the genre we like. Just like plastic Thomas the Tank Engine is not, but it doesn't mean it doesn't sell. WoW offers large amount of story content to consume from the viewpoint of the hero by performing trivial tasks with the ability to play with "friends" when you like.

There can be only one in this niche, any clone will either fail, or kill WoW, there is no in-between.

Cathfaern said...

World, Isolated-P2W, PvE: Everquest Next was promised to be sort of like this (persistent world, quest hubs / mob distribution changed on player's activity, players could build towns, etc. There was PvP but the emphasize was not on it and I think they spoke about PvP / PvE realms like in WoW). Of course it was too grandiose even for an announcement so although I was really looking for it, no suprise it was shut down. RIP.

Alexey L. said...

World, Isolated-P2W, Equal-PvP
It's what SWTOR should have been, but failed, cause it had both "Zerg" and "Equal-PvP" arenas, where the "Zerg" were the ones responsible for "land" which was stupid when you only have 2 sides not nearly balanced and no way to balance them from dev side.

janespright said...

Hi GG,
Huge fan here, i admire your work and we think in similar ways, i just never got to write guides but whenever i hear about a new game i always analyse the economy first and the pvp second and then judge if it's worth wasting time in it or not.
I have a few suggestions of my own but i am aware that they suck ass, it's the best i could come up with.

There is perpetuum online, basically an eve with mechs and mechanics adjusted to land fighting, not enough players to enjoy but it's also b2p. Falls under the same category as eve.

Then there are several Ultima online emulators which i like and respect very much because of the meaningful pvp and RP if you are into that of course. The economy model is not bad but it's not good either.

And finally, a browser game which i used to play a long time ago, with realistic economy and will to power but now, just because it's a browser i can't get back into it, star wars combine. To be honest i never saw a market as good as in this game and it forces you to be smarted than the competition if you want to be someone. I like that in a game.

I keep my eye out on Albion but the mmo scene is getting to be depressing fast for me.

There is a possibility that the games are so bad that you will be forced to get back to eve just to get your fix for what you like best.


Gevlon said...

@Janespright: I've checked on Perpetuum online and found "I logged in yesterday during EU tz. Like 50-80 players online. Seems dead to me. Cool concept imo, eve clone with robots." And a bunch of similar comments elsewhere. Also very low Google hits in the last year. Last Facebook update of the devs: Feb. This is dead.

No way I play EVE again or Albion if they don't remove gold speculation. There is no point to play a game which is ran by corrupted guys and their RMT-ing buddies, with no regard for anything but money to be stolen.

Anonymous said...

I miss "overly powerful positions". Aion has transforms, based on some stupid ranking system, a top position can transform to something equivalently powerful as a swg jedi (pre-nge patch). I like it but they changed Aion into KR WOW.

In other games every class gets normalised and basically they do all the same today. even in horrible balanced games like BDO. it really doesn't matter what you play, you played valk because of ovious reasons, doesn't matter anymore ... since awakening every class is the same, block, CC, some flashy dmg skill. no variety, nothing, boring shit. if you want variety you play another class so you don't have to bother tinker with a build. boring as hell.

The clones fail because no one is cloning vanilla
wildstar - here you go. cloned vanilla even better, waaaaay better. it did fall on its face, badly.

I can't add anything to the list. Just that I stopped playing EVE when this happend. To my mind you joined space WOW from the real WOW. and throughout the whole gaming industry all games baseline suck or look promising and get patched so suckdom.

Games are made for the masses not the niche, and every niche game tries to expand to the masses. And in that kind of "greed" lies the problem. In this case everything is wrong when you start patching the core game out of the game.

janespright said...

GG there is also swgemu, a preCU star wars galaxies emulator, it has a very interesting take on the market, harvesting and crafting.
Even pvp can be meaningful, up to a point.
Build a city, establish your guild as a power house, strive to eliminate competition (sadly it's not full loot pvp so eliminating competition has different mechanics, i think that you can take over other player made cities).
I bet you heard of it before, what are your thoughts on it?

Anonymous said...

"WoW: No trade"

I don't think the definition can be so simple.

You can buy a wow token for $20 US and sell it on NA realms for (currently) about 100k gold (source: ).

~300k gold (so ~ $60 US) will get you a full carried mythic run, giving you multiple items and the achievement and ilvl required to get into PuGs. So while perhaps not pure P2W, in-game trade of gold bought buy RL money can meaningfully impact your character progression.

zergel said...

World, Isolated-P2W, Zerg-PvP: Planetside 2
Or something I do not understand. (google translate)

Anonymous said...

I put here the 1 april joke of reddit. /r/place
It was just 72 hours project, but interesting one. It qualifies to the World, Notrade, (PvE/Equal-PvP/Zerg-PvP) section.

It is financially impossible, thats why its a just one time event and will not work on long run. Its nice to see how it evolves in short time from PvE("Fighting" the white canvas) to Equal-PVP ("Fighting" for your color to spread) to Zerg-pvp("fighting" with your group to defend and evolve the territory). Just a example how no trading at all, and a big world to change combination worked and how it will end up.

Anonymous said...

“wildstar - here you go. cloned vanilla even better, waaaaay better. it did fall on its face, badly.”

Tone and art
Wildstar: the trailers and promos made me think: “cartoon postmodernist deconstruction of an MMO for 8 YO hipsters ” Why is the warrior class announced by a tortured chipmunk? It looks like someone took the gnome race, took the clowning to 11, then went from there. Much like MoP
Vanilla: like all grand epics (starwars, startrek, lotr, etc) it hit the full spectrum of tones, from eipc, to tragedy, to comic relief and everything in between. The trailer still gives me goosebumps everytime I watch it

Gameplay and combat
WS: twitchy spammy skillstots FPS dance dance zap-zap dead. The stuff that drove me (and gevlon) from Cata
Vanilla: 2-3 spell to cast, the rest is strategy and thinking – watch your threat, watch your position, watch your mana, think ahead. I like it a lot.

Pacing and difficulty
WS: “I keep hearing people say WildStar is more difficult than vanilla WoW. Simply untrue. I mow through mobs and level in WildStar like there’s nothing in my way. The leveling process in WildStar is so scripted and holds your hand so well that they practically hand you levels for quest rewards. It’s meant to be that way. They want you to feel like you are hyped up on sugar when you play” Keen and Graev
Vanilla: slow painful grind. Pull more than 1-2 mobs and you die. Sit and eat after every pull

WS: raid or die

I could go on, It’s the same for SWTOR/GW2/ESO/Rift.

Anonymous said...

World, Isolated-P2W, Equal-PvP: Heroes and Generals -

First person shooter with Isolated-P2W (helps you advance faster and get better tanks / weapons, but becoming a general )
But all the battles feed into a persistant land battle. Generals have to spend war resources on every battle, so even if you as a player can drive the heavy tank, you need a general (the player to started the battle) to spend resources on it.

"Players can take control of the war as ‘Generals’, determining the strategic direction and support fellow players by managing battlefield assets, army units and reinforcements for ongoing battles."

Granted, for 99% of the players, it's just another online WW2 shooter, but winning battles does actually contribute to whether or not your side wins the war.

World, Trade, PvE: the old Star Wars Galaxies met this criteria, but it's dead now, so not sure that really counts. But the ideas of a player run economy, affecting the world, and mostly PVE (if I recall there was some PVP with Bounty Hunter and Jedi mechanics).

I was also trying to figure out where NexusTK would fit on the list. Another older mmo that's still kicking with a ridiculously small player base. It was PVE, with no P2W, but the player paths (classes) were player controlled. The clans were player controlled and could have massive clan halls, but you had to pay for each part of it. Even starting a clan was a massive ordeal. But, it all led to a lot of corruption and favoritism. Sounds somewhat like a PVE version of EVE.

maxim said...

Funny how you crossed out all Zerg-PvP variants except Eve.

Dark Age of Camelot was a pretty big limited-P2W Zerg-PvP thing once :D. Guild Wars is still a big thing (World ItemShop ZergPvP if i understand correctly). Ultima Online is also a zerg-pvp example that is not trade-p2w (I hear it's still around).

World notrade PvE example is Realm of the Mad God. I am sure PvP variants also exist somewhere.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: and does my side winning the war has any effect on me?

I didn't cross out World, Isolated-P2W, Zerg-PvP, exactly the type you brought examples (that are all old dead things)

Ucki said...

Actually Persistent, Notrade, Zerg-PvP was/ is Planetside 2 .. but the non real persistant and the bad zerg management + REAL CORRUPT devs = dead game

Anonymous said...

> Guild Wars is still a big thing (World ItemShop ZergPvP if i understand correctly).

"World" is questionable. You can conquer territory but the losers don't really suffer: they can still access the markets, level up their characters, participate in dungeon runs, etc. In extreme circumstances, the losers don't even suffer equipment damage upon death. And the whole thing gets reset every week.

Gevlon said that "the World must be strongly affecting the gameplay of all players". Guild Wars 2 is basically opt-in PVP which many players ignore completely.

Anonymous said...

World, Trade-P2W, Zerg-PvP would also be Mortal-Online..

But it has the same Problem as eve (as a niece-game) with a very small (but active!) community.

It also exists since some years.