The Casual MMO

The following editorial contains views that are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of Allakhazam.com

Playing an MMORPG is a lot like living in Canada or the USA. While you may vote, the fact remains that your government has probably done a lot of things that you’re not particularly fond of (I’m looking at you, University tuition). There also remains the fact that there is very little you can do, aside from joining those hilariously drunk student gatherings where everyone rents a bus and goes ‘somewhere’ in order to demonstrate that they have no money to pay for school. In reality, this is about the same when it comes to our own MMORPGs. While it is true that there are very hard working developers who are constantly trawling the communities for ideas to bring back to their caves, chances are, the most significant changes that are added into an MMO are implemented according to the will of the parent company. I really can’t recall a time when I was asked “Would you like us to raise the level cap to 80?” in World of Warcraft. On the other hand, while I would be fairly flattered if I was asked this question, basing key development ideas off of my coin-toss decision making abilities is a great way to anger your fan base.

Take, for example, Star Wars Galaxies and the New Game Enhancements, or Everquest II and the addition of Station Cash, or Final Fantasy XI and the Mog Bonanza, or even World of Warcraft and the addition of Badges of Justice. With all of these changes, despite them being implemented “in the best interests of the community” (as most companies would say), there remain the disenchanted bunch; the groupies who are groupies no longer because their game has changed irrevocably in confusing ways that they do not enjoy. As well, there is the final fact that this ‘no-longer-groupie’ player base can’t do much outside of either yelling a lot (and still have ideas go through), crashing servers (and getting banned), cancelling accounts (and then missing their Mog Bonanza winnings!), or, finally, they can continue to play. And pay. Like me and my angry relationship with University.

But despite our sometimes violent reactions to change (THIS GREEN WILL NOT REPLACE MY PURPLE SO HELP ME GOD), could it be that our MMOs are moving away from the classical sense of the word ‘MMORPG,’ and into a newer, perhaps better vision of themselves? In this regard, perhaps the two most interesting cases of MMOs evolving to become more player friendly are Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft.
   
Starting with Final Fantasy XI, it’s obvious that many additions made over the past few years have definitely been angled towards a more casual play style. I played near the North American launch, and when I quit / came back about half a year ago, I was astonished to see how much easier the game had gotten. I don’t mean this in the sense that mechanics were simplified, but there was definitely a less ‘grindy’ feeling to the game (2handed weapons became stronger, Weapon skills became more accurate, a lot of jobs got new abilities, Sanction and Signet both give nice bonuses, the addition of very squishy leveling mobs in ToAU areas to name a few additions). Not only this, but a lot of the new endgame content was timed and limited to near 30 minutes (Salvage, Nyzul, Einherjar), not like Dynamis or camping HNMs; both of which can take 2-4 hours of your undivided attention.

What does this suggest? While FFXI is definitely moving towards a more casual playstyle, it is definitely interesting to see that they aren’t sacrificing their original vision of the game to do so. There are still additional HNMs that were added in the latest expansions, and really, the new endgame additions merely supplement an already full endgame schedule - not replace it. It’s surprising to hear people say that they don’t have enough time to “do all of endgame,” even when they play up to 8 hours a day.
   
Ultimately, however, we must consider this. When an individual can play an MMORPG for 8+ hours a day, every day, but still not find time to do it all; is this what we consider to be an ideal MMO? There are many MMOs out there that reward players who can dedicate up to six hours per session, as opposed to the very few MMOs that allow their player base to make equivalent gains in a smaller amount of time. One of those very few MMOs is World of Warcraft.
   
Way back before the Burning Crusade was released, World of Warcraft had an endgame system that was very much like your average MMO; it had a very linear path of escalating difficulty, and working up that path of progression often took a great deal of luck. In this particular case, you were either lucky enough to join a guild that was farming MC and BWL (so that they could easily farm and gear you up), or you were lucky enough to join enough lesser guilds and get enough loot to hop and skip your way up the progression ranks. I grinded my way to 60 just as Naxxramas was being released, and during that entire time before The Burning Crusade was released, I can tell you that it was incredibly difficult to crack the endgame scene. Not only that, but if I really wanted to sport something beyond T1 Cenarion, I’d either be forced to progress very slowly with a new guild (Razorgore was such a painful, painful experience), or I’d have to lay down some more ‘serious’ raiding hours to join a higher end guild that could farm the content I wanted, but also demanded a level of dedication I could not maintain (although for two weeks when my girlfriend went away, I was totally living the raiding dream). In short, Pre-TBC, Pre-WotLK World of Warcraft rewarded only the player who could devote a chunk of his time every day to bettering his toon. I briefly considered PVPing in lieu of endgame, but any High Warlord or Field Marshall will tell you that getting to that rank required perhaps more dedication than solid raiding.
   
For those who play World of Warcraft now, can they see just how different the game has become? PVPing is such a remarkably different beast than the olden times of endless grinding; even raiding in itself can be ‘completed’ with the toss-in of a few hours every few days. Arena gear offers superior items that can allow individuals to rocket into the endgame scene, and the existence of Emblems means that anyone can become equivalently endgame geared without even touching a single 25-man raid. Looking at all of these changes, I haven’t even begun to talk about how super-fast flying mounts (insert reference to my extra fast Gladiator Mount here if you’d like), summoning stones and Warlock summons have really ‘sped’ up this game.

I have to say, however, that even though World of Warcraft has become extremely streamlined in nature, I cannot really bring myself to be as attached to it as much as I’ve been attached to other MMOs I’ve played. I’ll confess, I’m a massive sucker for small rewards and lots of work; for some reason, I enjoy those moments of achievement much more than when I raid and pick up two pieces of gear in a single night while also getting enough emblems to get a third piece. On the other hand, I will definitely say that I’m a dying breed of gamer; even though I could never put in the time and dedication to be one of those super-geeks that everyone loves (at least when I’m in your party!), I just adore having a game where I can play for years, but still not be able to accomplish all that I want to accomplish. With World of Warcraft, what ultimately wound up happening about half a year before the release of Wrath of the Lich King was that I ended up operating like a robot. I would log in on a specific date, complete my 10-20 arena games (there was no point in playing any more than that, because we were in the 2300 range, and nobody wants to risk their ratings getting tanked), and then, twice a week, I would log in to frolic in Black Temple with my guild. After that, there really wasn’t much left to do. It was around this time that I realized that I had basically beaten the game in terms of big goals that I wanted to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I loved raiding with my guild (hello Indifference!), but at the same time, once I knew that I could achieve everything if I really pushed... I just stopped pushing. I’m weird like that.
 
Glancing back at all of these drastic changes to both games, it is interesting to see how both have managed to retain their player base even through such revolutionary additions. While other MMOs have not been so lucky (Hello Jedi Starter class!), is this indicative of brand loyalty, or, as a gaming population, are we truly seeking to break away from the 'second life' stereotype of video gaming? Ask your average non-MMO gamer why he doesn’t play MMOs, and, chances are, he’ll tell you that it’s because the time commitments are way too big. Yet, looking at the direction that our biggest MMORPGs are going in, will this truly be the case 5 years down the line? Ultimately, this is definitely an exciting time to be playing an MMO, especially for our players who do not want to sit at their computers from 8 am to 8 pm (to catch all those pop windows, obviously!). For those of you who are zealously guarding your Relic Weapon or your Orange Staff of level 60 (GET RID OF IT ALREADY), wouldn’t it be nice if you could wake up a little bit later, and go to sleep a little bit earlier while still having that Orange Bow of Awesomeness?
   
No?
   
Too bad. You can crash servers if you want.

Christopher "Pwyff" Tom
Editor
Allakhazam.com

Comments

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Woo
# Jan 27 2009 at 11:25 AM Rating: Decent
I agree with everything you said. BUT, being an old player who is starting from scratch again, all that stuff helps, it help with the European players as well. I really don't want to be looking in Qufim or in Kazham for a party at level 25 warrior all over again, that is what made FFXI very unenjoyable, searching 30 mins to an hour looking for a party for a job you could care less about playing, now I can sign on, be at level 30 search for a party in the dunes and get one within 5 minutes most of the time. But yes I remember being at level 52 DRG, working extremely hard for those snipers and still having a great time with a hard game, especially playing DRG when everyone hated them.
The Myth of classic WoW
# Jan 21 2009 at 11:44 AM Rating: Decent
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Tamat wrote:
Way back before the Burning Crusade was released, World of Warcraft had an endgame system that was very much like your average MMO; it had a very linear path of escalating difficulty, and working up that path of progression often took a great deal of luck. In this particular case, you were either lucky enough to join a guild that was farming MC and BWL (so that they could easily farm and gear you up), or you were lucky enough to join enough lesser guilds and get enough loot to hop and skip your way up the progression ranks.


While this is the single most popular indictment of raiding in classic WoW it is factually incorrect. I ended up joining a raiding guild that was working through the progression. I was with them as we started in ZG progressed into AQ 20, then MC, then BWL and AQ40. For a variety of reasons we did not make it into Naxx before the arrival of tBC. It was not necessary to join a guild farming raids nor to "hop and skip your way up" through many guilds. Nor was it necessary to spend endless hours raiding. While some of our raiders were the stereotype others raided no more than once or twice a week generally not more than 4-5 hours at a time. Sure they progressed more slowly, but they eventually saw all the end game that the rest of us did. Friends of mine are in a guild that cleared all classic and all tBC end game content raiding two nights a week for typically 4 and not more than 5 hours a night.

The problem is that far to many current WoW players equate the acquisition of gear with their enjoyment of end game. In classic the people I raided with certainly took pleasure in getting the drop that completed a tier set or an item that pushed them across some boundary, but we raided because we enjoyed end game play. Gear was ancillary. It may have been a marker that indicated someones advancement through the raid progression, but for most of us it was not an end in itself. We preferred to take down the bosses because that helped our raid get stronger to tackle the next part of the progression, but we enjoyed the challenge of raiding in and of itself.

If you follow the forums we see the trend that as more people reach end game in Wrath and blow through the content they are becoming dissatisfied with end game. It is simply too easy. "Casual" players complain of boredom. WoW players tend to evolve strong social bonds within the game, but eventually bored players leave. Blizzard's challenge is to find the sweet spot before that happens

Edited, Jan 22nd 2009 12:33pm by MrFredII
CSM
# Jan 21 2009 at 10:30 AM Rating: Decent
On the topic of giving players a voice or a say in the direction a MMO is heading, EVE relatively recently created the "Council of Stellar Management". It can be hard to find info on it without an eve login so here's the short and quick.

CCP (the people who run EVE) had an ingame election wherein one account got one vote towards anyone who chose to nominate themselves. The positions for grabs were to represent the players to CCP in real life (at their office in Iceland) on a regular basis. At these meetings, which happen something like twice a year, the CSM brings up the biggest issues players have with the game, which are determined from the special CSM section on the forums and so forth. CCP then addresses these concerns. When they're not physically at the office, the CSM reps still have an inside connection with CCP to address player concerns.

I haven't recently read up on any progress they've made in the past year, but regardless it was a good idea in my book that gave people a voice in something they're spending their money on.

Edited, Jan 21st 2009 12:32pm by Sorlac
Some Good Points to Ponder
# Jan 20 2009 at 10:03 AM Rating: Decent
Very interesting read and introduces a number of ideas to think about. I started playing WOW back before the release of Naxx and remember looking in awe at the might of level 50+ players (will I ever get my toon to those most awesome of levels?). I have come to the point of dreading patches anymore. If only a patch was what a patch was supposed to be, a way to fix something. Instead, I dread the inevitable nurfing that comes along with them. Unlike my 8 year old son who only enjoys Backyard Baseball/Soccer when he wins by a 50 to 60 point lead, I believe that close games are much more dramatic and enjoyable and that hard work makes attainment of a goal all the sweeter.

Just the other day I was skimming through notes on the new patch and thinking about how I had just finished running my level 65 Paly all the way across Northrend, gaining flight points and massive amounts of exp with each kill. I'm thinking, is maybe the game a little too easy? I remember back in the day when the entrance barn to Dead Mines was filled with Delfias and was a dangerous place for a level 17 toon to hang out, and now the place is absolutely vacant. What I remember thinking was how cleaver Blizz was in that they had Delfias just hanging out like real bandits would do in a hideout. The place isn't a hideout anymore, it isn’t interesting anymore, its just another old barn. On the other hand, I am impressed with the (relatively) new digs that were given to Nat Pagle. I never really understood why he was just left there, like an afterthought, when so much work had gone into the environmental detail for other characters.

Then BC and WoLK each launched everything changed and most of it was really good. DKs are supposed to be heroic and terrifying in their awesomeness and the laundry list of changes in the new patch was just too much for me to read through. I also find myself asking is it really that bad that there are some toon classes/weapon/armor/talent combos that are OP? Isn’t that the way things should work? A player who spends all the time researching and playing, grouping and raiding should be more powerful than someone less careful and less committed. Sure, I’m a little disappointed that I’ll not be the most super-awesome-spectacular Paly the game has ever seen. But then I strive to be the best I can be, and do get a little kick out of coming online to see that green text saying “welcome”. At least someone out there thinks I play well enough to want me to group with them. And I’ve learned to realize that in-game, just as in-life, there are people with more and/or different skills and that no-one or no-toon can do it all. No matter how OP someone is there is always a weakness which can be exploited by the cleaver or cunning. Should Blizz nurf the OPed to make a more “level” playing field? I’m not decided on that issue. However, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want DKs nurfed, heroic toons should be heroic in more than just title. Besides, now that everyone has one (I have two) I like the opportunity it brings to increase my popularity as a fairly decent healer. I just wish that I could have healed all those groups when WoLK first released who were willing to shell out 20 gold or so to get a healer for Northrend instances.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the game hasn’t become more, or less, playable with all the patches. It has always been playable, and I’m not so sure it’s a good thing that someone can level from 70 to 80 in an afternoon. I’ve started several toons and it seems like leveling is so fast anymore that I feel cheated by not having the time to explore more of the game content at any given level range. My latest Paly is now at level 66, and I’ve not had the opportunity to run him through any instances other then DM and Stocks before hitting outland. Sure, he’s been in several as part of the various Paly quests, but they don’t require the completion of the instance, and it’s practically impossible to get a full groups for most of them anymore anyway. I almost feel sorry for the new players who will get cheated out of the fun in exploring Mara, or the frustration of Gnomer. Heck you don’t even have to go in Black Fathom Deeps anymore for the corrupted Kor Gems. Yes, I know I can run all of the old world instances solo now, buts its not as fun when I know how its going to end and that I can kick all the bosses butts. It feels more like taking the trash out rather than an adventure, and without excitement and challenge the game becomes just plain old boring.

I’m not crying, I’m just thinking out loud and offering a critique. If I was a new player and unable to get into endgame content, I’m not so sure that I would enjoy it as much. But then, I’m not so young either and I can appreciate the effort the designers put into the game, and I get most of the references to other places, times and characters. Maybe some of the attempts to level the playing field and make leveling quicker appeal to more and younger players, and maybe Blizz is doing a good job of attracting more players which makes more money (that’s what its really all about for them and I don’t fault them for it), but I’ve seen more and more of my older friends and guildies stop playing. I applaud Blizz for making more material available for us players with family and work responsibilities who don’t have 6, 8 or 10 hours a day to play, but I’m not sure the longer and more complicated material needs to be weakened any either. After all, I sometimes get the house to myself on a Saturday.
Some Good Points to Ponder
# Jan 20 2009 at 2:28 PM Rating: Good
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56 posts
I'll admit that many of these changes have made FFXI a lot more suitable for many audiences also.

Most of the experience points required to get to even as low as level 50 paled in comparison to what they were used to

Level Sync has helped the community in that even those who believe they do not have enough time to play FFXI, they are still able to. The repercussions of Level Sync is also shown. Some leveling spots are token by those soloing, for those leveling their weapon skills (The frequent Level Syncers), and to top it all off with classes that often solo to level (PUP and BST mainly but also includes BLM.) The prime example of this happening daily is Qufim Island. It is just packed from levels of 18 to even high 70's that make you curious of why they are in such a spot.

I haven't touch end game too much yet besides being able to get to Sky, other than that I have also see many recent changes to FFXI. CoP used to take one full alliance (of 3 parties) to even think about getting to the NM Prommy fight. Now today, you only need a well suitable party to get to the NM and fight.

The Dancer Job has made it possible to solo with many more jobs. Although RDM is still able to solo more NM's then any other jobs can.

I do have to say that being able to accomplish my goals too easily doesn't make it fun. When you hit level 75, all you can think of is "Now what?". Then you either decide to merit, or decide to level a new job. I remember years back when I finally got level 52 BLM on my old Tarutaru character. It was one of the best feelings ever. I can't, however, say that getting PLD to 75 with my new Hume character is as fun. To put it frankly it felt a bit too easy and not as rewarding knowing I can get to 75 if I had enough time within a month or less.

But again, level sync has help and also has killed part game. Having those awesome gear doesn't sound as necessary anymore. Everyone running around in their AF gear (even though there are MANY gears that are better then AF gear for most jobs.)
#REDACTED, Posted: Jan 19 2009 at 11:55 PM, Rating: Sub-Default, (Expand Post) Pwyff... sounds like a noise someone makes when they break wind.
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# Jan 19 2009 at 10:49 PM Rating: Default
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793 posts
enjoyable. :) hope to read more articles from you.

AND THAT CAT IS ADORABLE. hahaha.. and i'm a dog person.
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The little things
# Jan 19 2009 at 10:36 PM Rating: Good
I also am a sucker for little rewards for hard work. (In World of Warcraft) I just finished farming my 4th dragon whelp, I have all the farmable ones now. There's difficult things, but they're often not the thing everyone is trying to accomplish. Sometimes you have to make your own little difficult goals. That is what keeps the game fun for me.
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The little things
# Jan 20 2009 at 8:15 AM Rating: Default
indeed, i'm already 3/5 t7a (i call the Heroe's T7a and the Valorous T7b). and it's just not the same feeling as getting t1 or even dungeon-2.

so now i work on achievements and vanity items..like getting all t1-2 on my paladin :D


and it's funny how the lazy-casuals still mock us when we say "yeah, i have 3.2k achieve pts." a good example happened yesterday in grizzly hills, while i was fishing. general chat was talking about if achievement pts would cashable...and it didn't take long before many were comparing (yes, i do mean 'compare' not "lol, i have more; you suck"-compare). and of course we had the "lol, you guys have no lives."-crap. i mean seriously, this game is **** easy and yet people still think that if you have better gear than them you must be some kinda basement dwelling freak.
The little things
# Jan 20 2009 at 9:56 AM Rating: Good
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You know what the nice thing about being a basement dwelling freak is though? While everyone is upstairs melting and complaining about the heat during the summer you're down there comfortably in a sweat shirt ;)
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Hurrah
# Jan 19 2009 at 10:11 PM Rating: Default
I missed your GR articles. Glad you are writing again.
Welcome Pwyff!
# Jan 19 2009 at 8:40 PM Rating: Excellent
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1,577 posts
I'd like to welcome Chris "Pwyff" Tom to the Allakhazam team! You can look forward to his weekly articles from here on out!
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Welcome Pwyff!
# Jan 19 2009 at 8:48 PM Rating: Excellent
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Hi guys! Avatar will be coming soon! It will involve cats!

And uh, if anyone wants to know, or cares to remember, yes this is Pwyff of the Ooglar.

OK!
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