Was Mass Effect 3 Really The Worst?

When Mass Effect 3 came to an end people were clamoring about how bad the ending was.

Having never played any of them the debate really had no interest to me.

So one year after the release of Mass Effect 3 I decided, I should probably play them.

I’ll be playing them all in order and playing them to the fullest.  Since these games require you to beat Normal Mode to unlock Hard mode and Hard mode to unlock nightmare mode… I’m only doing one playthrough.

It’s weird that Bioware stated only 5% of the population actually did their hardest difficulty setting without looking into WHY so few people played their games on the hardest difficulty settings.

Regardless, three brief reviews of three Bioware games.

Mass Effect 1

Sheppard you have to prove your worth and will be observed on your mission.

Mission failed

Promoted to SPECTRE!

What?

Yeah that’s how this story begins.

Highly unlikable shallow characters galore.
Highly unlikable shallow characters galore.

Worst yet the game is constantly reminding you that you can choose as you want.  The Council (who are like your bosses) are always reminding you that they do not care what you do or how you pursue your mission.  However at the end of every mission they will make sure to lambast you.  HOW DARE YOU SAVE THOSE PEOPLE they might say… if they find nothing wrong with what you did.

Much like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you can just go wherever you want with no absolute path.  One of the things I was immediately attracted to this game was how you could travel to so many planets that had nothing to do with the story at all and chase a bunch of red herrings.

The game allows you to pick various characters to bring along with you.  In my experience it seemingly did not matter which characters I brought with me.  There were unique conversations but nothing major.

The game features a moral system.  I of course, hate moral systems.  You get dialogue choices in which one line of questioning is rather neutral, one is kind of dickheadedish, and one is kind of nice and friendly.  The problem is the words you are given don’t always indicate which is which.  Sometimes you might get something like “Keep talking” and then suddenly Sheppard will jump on that person in a very negative manner.

No time to dance when you're saving the universe
No time to dance when you’re saving the universe

But you get two moral leveling options, Good and Bad (real names? who cares).  Supposedly these moral choices have an effect on how things go.

The combat system is pretty bland.  You get behind an object and fire at dudes.  You hit a spell button and hit dudes really hard.  The grenades are annoying.  You throw them straight and have to activate them.  While waiting for them to hit the right location you are left exposed and fired upon while watching.

The RPG elements in the game are pretty weak.  I think a good RPG needs to have a large number of mostly useless skills.  Skyrim is the perfect example of a game full of mostly useless skills.  In this game you get Charm and Intimidate.  So I maxed out charm and every now and then as long as I followed the path of good I’d get a unique option to get extra cash and XP.

On top of this you were allowed to customize your team mates. This is where the bulk of those useless talents kick in.  The default option is auto level… which is what I used.  99% of the time I didn’t have enough “Electronics” to salvage anything.

Overall Mass Effect is a great game and a great start to a series.  With every single unlock completed it took me 14 hours to finish the game.  Once again however I am playing each game through three times so I can do all difficulty levels… that’s just retarded game design at work.

Had I bought this game in 2007 at $60, I might not be so enthusiastic about how little play value I get out of it.  But as of $5 Steam sales this game is pretty good.

Mass Effect 2

I tried my hardest to keep my save file from the previous game and play with it here but no matter how hard I tried I just could not get it to work.  So I played the game fresh with no information from the previous game.  It was a little disappointing because apparently it made some major modifications on the game.

But whatever.  You open the game and Sheppard dies, the end.  Except he’s kind of cloned back to life.  His entire team has disbanded and he has to pick a new team.  I was desperately hoping that my krogan was still alive.  I took a path in Mass Effect 1 that allowed me to keep him alive.

The game however was successful in making sure Kaiden was dead.  I hated Kaiden so much so I was happy to see him go.

Since Mass Effect 1 seemingly killed off the big bad guy who successfully killed off the Protheans it is essential for them to create a new threat that is large enough to make bringing Sheppard back to life worthwhile.  The new threat are a bunch of garbage men… I’m sorry collectors.  This brings Mass Effect into the oh so common path of having insectoid enemies.

So a man, an Illusive Man, sends Sheppard on a mission to kill all the bugs.  You know, like Starship Troopers.  The switch is now Sheppard is working for the bad guys and of course everyone knows there are some devious evil corporate terrorist stuff going on here.

The character creation was just so much better.  Apparently I could have picked a class in the first game, I had no idea until I played the second game and found eight classes.  I played as an Adept so that I could shoot lightning balls at people and be a boss like Goku.

Unlike the previous game I could play this on hardest difficulty.  The big change is that enemies have so much health you run out of ammo and you are forced to Goku blast people to death.

The talent trees are really tiny compared to the old ones.  Basically you can completely max out your talent tree by the end of the game.

This ruins replay value because it means you can’t try and play the same class again with a different build.  Yes it means you can only replay just the 8 classes, what a sad sorry world we live in (that’s sarcasm).

I tried my hardest not to have sex with anyone while playing but dear god you play the Paragon role and it’s guaranteed you will get every single female on the ship guaranteed (and maybe even a gay lover or two).

The game mechanics changed around quite a bit.  The old infinite ammo heated weapon mechanic was replaced with actual ammo clips.  The downside is… you run out of ammo, a lot.  Head shots are in which is cool but massively downplayed by the insanely high amount of damage you wield through powers.

Some cool new things I liked is the ability to position your squad.  It makes you feel like you’re actually commanding a squad that matters as opposed to a bunch of people that sort of just do their own thing and subsequently die all the time.  It doesn’t matter how many times you command them to stay out of fire in cover, as soon as you move they seem to just change position.  This of course makes it all around less tactical because honestly what’s the point of ever bringing the sniper (Garrus) if he always run to the front of the fight and dies.

They also changed up the planet scanning mechanic from being a collectible to being a way of customizing your weapons.  Truthfully this was the part of the game I cared least about so any change to this won’t matter to me (unless they remove it).  I scanned every single planet in the galaxy before embarking on too many missions and truthfully the game would not let me upgrade heavily… so it seemed pointless.

They definitely have more lineararity to the game.  In Mass Effect 1 you could leave planets at any time.  There could be zombies everywhere chasing you down and you could be like, yeah I’m leaving this place.  Mass Effect 2 locks you in.  Once you enter a zone or a planet you are locked into that zone or that planet and you may never leave.  To make it feel more like levels you get a status report at the end telling you all your rewards for completing said mission.

But to make it feel a little more open ended The Illusive Man informs you that you can choose whoever you want to be on your team, he is merely giving you dossiers of the galaxy’s most qualified men.  So you get all the missions in blocks to complete.

Unlike the previous one you don’t have a ruling council sitting at the end of every mission going REALLY MAN YOU’RE SUCH AN ASSHOLE!

I’m uncertain how I feel about this.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the sandbox style of Mass Effect.  It seemed kind of tedious and pointless.  Sandboxing to me feels like where you should be able to do everything or it sucks.  And that’s kind of the problem I had with Mass Effect 1.  It feels like the far more linear storyline of Mass Effect 2 works out.

There are some Easter Eggs but I mean they’re so obscure and hidden 99% of people won’t get it.  The Miranda/Sheppard love story takes dialogue directly from Team America World Police.  There was also a reference to Star Wars I noticed and then there were tones of Easter Eggs so obscure not even I’ve heard of them.

It was about my third day on this game I spotted this:

MassEffect2 2013-04-16 20-46-38-50

Why yes it is in fact the lofty promise that everyone references that Bioware made (that there was seemingly no evidence of) that your decisions would create your own individual specific ending… except that’s not what it says.

Good time to shift over to Mass Effect 3!

But before doing so I should note that my copy of Mass Effect 2 (on Steam) came with all of the DLC.  The standard copy gave 30 hours of gameplay, the DLC added about 5 more hours.

Oddly enough the DLC isn’t listed on the Steam page despite the game containing it.

When you compare to the original it just makes Mass Effect 2 that much more amazing.

But yes, time to move on to the grand finale, Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect 3

Is it just me or did they give Williams a sexy make over?

Mass Effect 1:

Highly unlikable shallow characters galore.

Mass Effect 3:

MassEffect3 2013-04-21 20-11-56-88

Yes let your hair down Lieutenant Williams because it’s time for Mass Effect 3!

So right off the bat a lot of the annoying things from the Mass Effects are gone, mainly scanning the galaxy for minerals this was a tedious boring grind and I’m happy it’s gone.  In its place is a zone wide scan to see if there’s anything interesting (extra missions).  Far bigger improvement.

I’d also like to announce that I was able to transition all my data from Mass Effect 2 to 3…. yay I would have flipped my shit had it not worked.

Immediately the first thing I notice (and most people do) is the game is structured a little less sandboxish.  There is about 20 hours of extra side missions to do, but you can opt to skip all of them and only complete the main objectives in 20 hours.  Yes I did the side objectives anyway.

The upside is that it means you are getting 40 minutes of well scripted voice acted content.  This can be compared to Mass Effect 1 in which you ran around in a dune buggy and killed a bunch of people at an outpost 100 times as your side missions.

Or this can also be compared to Mass Effect 2 in which you went across the entire galaxy scanning every single inch of every single planet in hopes that one of them would have a compound for you to attack that would have a few enemies in it to kill.

Having these side missions scripted gives them context and meaning in the overall story.  I never felt at any time I was doing a mission which only involved me killing stuff.

Also there are less options as far as crew members go.  You might remember that in Mass Effect 2 you had nine different crew members to choose from.  This approach was actually really dumb on Bioware’s part.  I’m sure many people shat on Bioware for not including their favorite new champions in this game, but I like it.  With as many champions as there were in Mass Effect 2 I feel I didn’t get much of a chance to meet the reptillion guy or the matriarch woman or well… most of them.  Cutting down the roster also means the various champions are very specialized as opposed the the vast number of copies that I saw in Mass Effect 2.

So story.  Well the reapers are finally here and they are… zombies.  The first wave of guys were robots.  The second wave were proteon bugs.  The third wave are space zombies.  They’ve pretty much covered every single scifi villain race.

The reapers randomly show up and simultaneously invade everything  Sheppard is re-commissioned to the Alliance Army to unite everyone under his banner to do battle with the reapers.  To make matters worse Cereberus is evil again and doing all sorts of bad things.

One major difference in storyline elements between this one and the others is that the others featured a lot of unknowns.  It wasn’t entirely certain what they would face when they reached the end.  In this one they know exactly what they’re facing because it’s just always around.

To this extent the storyline writers had to make some major stylistic changes to how the story is told and added in a lot of hipster bullshit stuff that was seemingly unnecessary.  On top of that they’ve also made sure to elevate every single average character or champion from the past games to some massive status.

It goes like this.

I MET SHEPPARD ONCE, HE HELPED ME MILK A COW!

Promoted to General.

But seriously the story of this game is REALLY good.  A lot of people are going to dislike that it moved further and further away from sandboxing. To me the Mass Effect series is great for someone who likes well written stories.  This can be compared to Elder Scrolls which has all around terrible story telling but really great sandboxing elements.

So.

The worst Mass Effect is…. Mass Effect 1.

Hands down out of the three this is the worst.  There are tones of terrible design elements that don’t fit.  Mass Effect 2 is so clearly the best Mass Effect.  Despite having way too many champions it made for an insanely satisfying experience.  Mass Effect 3 just might have been too cinematic.  Just the shear amount of time spent on cinematics is insane.  It could have easily been over 50% of the game.

So closing this one out.

My favorite thing about the Mass Effect universe is easily the Morden.  When you first get him in Mass Effect 2 he is a scientist who carries a shotgun, gunning down any mercenaries that come to his clinic.  He thought like a utilitarian seeing things in terms of results.

We find out that he engineered the deadly genophage virus that was killing off the Krogan population.  But over time as he travels with you and sees the consequences on people’s lives that he is causing he slowly changes his mind.

By Mass Effect 3 Morden is so pro-Krogan that he leaks information to the Krogan clans of a cure.

It is because of this transformation from psychotic sociopathic doctor to caring and guilt ridden scientist that his death is so tragic.  It is interesting to know that only 5% of people opted to murder Morden, goes to show how much people got into this moment.

There is no single statistical choice as low as this one.  Every single person wanted Morden to become a better person.

It is stories like these that made people rage so heavily at the end of Mass Effect 3.  Mass Effect from start to finish has had a very emotionally invested storyline in which you are introduced to a large cast of very likable characters who you personally have an impact upon.

To me I was more upset about the ending of Mass Effect than Mass Effect 3.

In the end the game offers what people wanted, a different story every single time.  After finishing all three I decided to look up Rachni Breeder Betrayal.  As it turned out had I saved the Queen in Mass Effect 1 the Queen would have appeared in Mass Effect 3 and not betrayed me.

The game offers tones of permutations and alterations.  So what if the game ends the same way every single time.  If you really cared about the ending of an RPG you probably haven’t played a lot of RPGs.  Skyrim ends the exact same way every single time, and yet you never hear people complain about how absolutely crappy the ending is to that game.

In the end Mass Effect 3 is not a bad game.  It’s not the best of the series.  But it’s definitely worth purchasing the entire series (on sale of course) and playing through all of them.

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Why did Wrath of Heroes Fail?

Had you asked me a year ago if Wrath of Heroes would have closed today…. I might have believed you.

The game was doomed to fail.  In this article you will find out how.

Origins

It all began with a studio called Mythic.  Mythic successfully created a game called Dark Ages of Camelot.  DAOC was successful in attracting 1M gamers to its ranks and was one of the few early MMOs actually able to compete with Everquest and Lineage.  It was a masterpiece.  The game was so great (for it’s time) that people would be talking about it as the prime example of great PvP for a full decade of development.

For years people would release MMOs talking about how they have former developers of Dark Age of Camelot.  Even today, Elder Scrolls Online, declares that it has developers from this monumental game.

So when DAOC studio Mythic was purchased by Electronic Arts people started throwing doubts into the future of this former independent studio.  Warhammer Online was announced as the first post-EA title.  The game was hyped up to no end.  A large part of the success of the hype was how into the game developers were.  When asked to describe MMO players the lead developer stated “people want games that are addictive, in which you beat your chest run at your opponent and kill or be killed.”

It was this sort of attitude that saw the game get 1M on launch sales… but that’s all.

Warhammer Online fell apart relatively quickly and was never really able to develop as a game.  Support for the game was dropped very quickly and some or all of the staff was re-assigned to a new MMO studio “Bioware Austin.”  To this day Warhammer Online still runs with the infinite trial which unlike most games which have this… it’s had no positive improvements on entry into the game.  SWTOR went free to play, Warhammer Online still remains a subscription based game.

The Warhammer franchise was still felt to be worth exploiting.  THQ was still having relative success with their Warhammer 40K series and it was felt they just needed to make the right Warhammer game for the giant Warhammer tabletop community.

The end result was they created a multi-online battle arena (MOBA) based around Warhammer Online’s end game multiplayer.

Fail #1: Market Mis-Conception

At the time of Wrath of Heroes there were really only two types of MOBA games available, your typical shooter types and your League of Legends types.

The shooter types were more popular as their gross sum of players was by and large the largest percentage of the market.  Although League of Legends had a large player base, other games of its type (and there were many) had no chance of success.

So it was openly presumed that League of Legends was a bit of a fluke and copying it’s format was a bad idea.

League of Legends had a lot of problems with its game.  The first was that it wasn’t all that welcoming to new players.  The amount of stuff you would have to learn was tremendous considering HOW many unit and unit types there were exactly.  One top of that it wasn’t all that obvious what items you ought to buy, the values of different things for different classes, and the end game for this game.

The League of Legends format was seemingly not worth copying because it fit into a large niche similar to that of World of Warcraft.  In the past Mythic (now Bioware-Mythic) tried to snake users away from Activision-Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and failed.  So obviously taking on the industry giant was not going to be their goal.

Then they looked to the other genre, shooters.  Shooters are open to anyone to join.  They actually have no learning curve whatsoever.  Anyone can jump in and play instantly.  Shooters didn’t revolve around an existing evolving game like LoL and didn’t have complicated in-game decisions to be made.  Shooters were games you could jump into and jump out of, no long commitments and no long term investment, other than the initial purchase.

Call of Duty’s model in particular was of great interest.  It allowed people to make open customizations in between games to weapon types in between matches based on how much you leveled that particular weapon.  It was felt this could be adopted to heroes and as you would level your heroes you could create advantages or traits.

This ended up being a fairly large mis-interpretation of the existing market place.  As it turned out the reason why people were so accepting of Call of Duty style play was because it was really the only popular option.  Tribes Ascend was able to show with it’s hyper popular space shooter that you can have complicated progressive play in a MOBA and be very successful.

The end result was a product that felt very bland and didn’t seem to go anywhere.

They very significantly missed the marker on their market.  The thing that people liked about Call of Duty games was that your kills rewarded you with a “in a row” based system in which you could deploy some sort of trick against the enemy.  Had the Call of Duty franchise been expanded into larger roles it’d probably do even better.

There was no evolutionary system in WoH.  It was simply a game in which three teams spammed their abilities against each other in hopes of landing final blows until the time was up.

Fail #2: Tri-Faction

One of the crowning ideas from Dark Age of Camelot was the idea that it was easier to balance a game around three factions than one.  The idea worked like this.  If two teams are fighting each other the two teams had to be identical otherwise they would have advantages over each other.  With a third faction added in it meant in three way battles there needed to be far more co-ordination to team up with the other team and take down the person who was in the lead… and then backstab your former friend who is now in the lead.

If this doesn’t make sense to you… you’re not alone.

But you can’t convince fans of the original franchise of the inherent wrongitudeness of this argument.

Let’s say for example you are one such person who accepts this argument.

The fault in the argument is that there is some sort of balance in a constant 2v1 type of scenario, in which the king of the mountain is always the one.

As a matter of fact the levels of tactics in this gets minimized from removing key players or isolation type strategies simply to two teams zerging whomever happens to be the top.  Of course you can’t zerg only the guy who is on the top because you want to also crush the person on the bottom from time to time so that when you get to the top they have further to grow.

The end result is that whomever is in third place will always almost be in third place forever… and it goes back to be a 1v1 with an extra non-important party involved.

This failed tri-faction format has plagued MMOs for quite some time, when introduced into a MOBA it just showed very little hope.

By adding in third third faction it meant that you could not plot traps because any second you are not engaged in combat you are missing an opportunity to score some of those deadly kills.

If you are losing in a MOBA like DOTA2 your best bet is to play defensive and spring traps on lesser numbers of opponents.  If you are losing in a MOBA like Wrath of Heroes you run out and do the exact same failing tactic you were doing before.

The problem ends up being killing blows.  In a simple 1v1 scenario it’s very easy to track who earns a kill.  But in 1v1v1 if I was to do 80% of the damage but you were to get the final 20%…. you got the kill.  That just doesn’t seem right… and that fact just didn’t set well with the community as a whole.  The fact that the game favored classes that had high nuking power over all others proved to be a massive downfall in this 1v1v1 format.  People were choosing heroes specifically so that could run in and steal killing blows in team battles.

The tri-faction also limited what sort of game modes they could release.  Of course there is elimination.  Then there is elimination.  There’s a hold a point mode.  There was a somewhat of a capture the flag game.  The capture the flag game ended up just being another elimination mode.  The hold a point mode simply ended up being a run in circles mode.  The tri-faction modes simply could not be fun.

Had they simply removed the tri-faction mode they could have created game modes that were strategic and fun.  Instead it just always ended up being the largest spam possible.

Unfortunately though they could not remove it, all because of the third point.

Fail #3: Games Workshop

An intellectual property contains the right to an idea.  So Games Workshop owns the rights to all content regarding the licensing of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K.  So at the end of the day all final say will go to Games Workshop on all things.

When you’re dealing with some IPs they’re very flexible.  There are nearly 100 different incarnations of Superman and Batman with extremes being allowed by artists.  When you look at Batman games in fact you find very few common elements as everyone seems to have their own unique take on Batman.

Having a very flexible intellectual property is important because gameplay elements have to be fun and the story has to be great second.

A MOBA has a very simple design.  But when designed within a very stringent world it becomes difficult to create something worthwhile.

One of my friends was a former employee of THQ and he spoke of how hard it was working with Games Workshop.  It would seem that as they had great ideas for Warhammer 40K titles they kept getting shot down because it was outside of the character and lore of the people they were portraying.  In fact there was a book called Space Marine which Game’s Workshop sued because they felt they owned the term “space marine.”

The same basically happened for this game.  The developers might have had all sorts of great ideas for the game… and they all got shot down by Game’s Workshop.  All characters, abilities, game modes, and settings had to be run by Game’s Workshop before they could make it live.  It kind of hurts when your hands get tied by intellectual property owners.

Fail #4: No Hooks

At the end of the day Wrath of Heroes did not have any “hooks” for consumers.  A strong MOBA developer will offer a carrot to a gamer.  Then the MOBA developer will slowly string that carrot away until the player is so far deep into the game that he gets upset about there being no carrot… and then he finally gets the carrot… and another trap is presented to the player.

This is the profit making gameplay of nearly every MOBA and every single MMO.  The goal is to reward your players as little as possible but make it seem like they are making possible.

World of Tanks does this by rewarding two currencies that can be invested in different ways strategically.

Call of Duty does this by making it so your weapons level on every single use so that as you are leveling to unlock new weapons and perks you are also leveling to unlock new gadgets.

DOTA2 does this by offering you randomized rewards and set rewards.

A good hook for one of these games is one in which you are following that carrot for your reward and some intermittent reinforcement is presented so that you continue playing.

DOTA2’s model was lottery based, and there was no intermittent reinforcement.

Basically after achieving certain objectives in a match you would receive a lottery spin based on each win you get.  You gained gold based on what combinations of things you can get.

There was no second tier keeping you there.  If all of your gambling rolls were bad you were less interested in grinding.  If all of them were good you would just think this is normal and still not care.

The gambling mechanic itself doesn’t represent a good hook.

A good gambling mechanic involves risking something to gain something.  This mechanic has no risk, it’s just a randomized reward.  If your reward happens to suck you feel cheated and unrewarded.  If it’s amazing you feel lucky… and still unrewarded.

Instead the game ought to have scaled rewards in such a way that you gain large rewards for great success but you can risk it for even greater rewards… and then choose what your risk level is.

Without an effective hook however Wrath of Heroes was unable to keep people playing.  Instead people would play for a while, make no progress and then just quit.  The brain responds best to almost getting something and feeling like they could have had that.  Without scaling rewards you cannot create an effective hook.

In the end the design team at Mythic-Bioware were trying to create a game that was fun to play instead of a game that was addictive.  Games that are fun people will have people play it once and be done with it.  Think of any single player game out there that you enjoyed… but uninstalled after you played it once.  That’s what Wrath of Heroes was, an online game without an addictive hook.

Command and Conquer To Be Free to Play

Well it’s official, EA has lost their minds.  Or they’re just realizing that free to play models are insanely profitable.

Command and Conquer will be free to play.

This is not to be confused with Command and Conquer Tiberian Alliances which of course is already free to play.

This is a game that was originally called Command and Conquer Generals 2.  Bioware was set to make the next Command and Conquer as the first in their series of RTS games.

It was questioned whether or not Bioware could even do it.  Bioware is basically EA’s RPG division and they do nothing but RPGs.

So after a few months of development the name changed from Command and Conquer Generals 2 to simply Command and Conquer.  It was announced also that they would be releasing Generals 2 at a future date.

Well now they’ve decided that Generals 2 will be the main body of work for Command and Conquer.  As well it will now be a free to play game.  They will be working on new factions that are more Tiberium Sun and Red Alert themed later.

Yes, Red Alert themed.  That one should be strikingly odd since the Red Alert factions were basically just modern day armies with crazy technology.

Their free to play model will involve purchasing a general and gaining abilities as you level up your general from playing.  Each faction will have several generals that can be purchased.

This model resembles League of Legends in which you can purchase heroes to level them up.  It can also be seen as similar to Age of Empires Online in which you had premium factions which could accomplish post level cap grinding.

What this means is that if this game fails it will be the final Command and Conquer ever.Age of Empires Online went through a similar process.  Age of Empires was steadily pumping out RTS games and their final Age of Empires was oriental themed.

Age of Empires Online came out.  The studio stated they would make whatever faction people wanted, and so they did.  But as they started making factions the number of users just did not increase.  They dropped the game and stopped making content.

The failure of this title was so massive the Age of Empires series was completely cancelled.

Command and Conquer will go through a similar process in which if the holy name of Command and Conquer is not strong enough to attract millions of users…. it will go belly up and fall.

Where SWTOR Free to Play Wins

A few months ago I was actively criticizing the SWTOR free to play model.

To me it seemed stupid for Bioware to GIVE away the best part of their game.  If you are unaware you can have one character slot and you can play the entire single player leveling experience for free.  Anyone who has played the game knows that this fully voiced leveling path is easily the best part of the game.  Anyone who has played the game probably only did this part of the game and probably skipped over everything else.

The problem, to me, with Bioware’s model was that it didn’t really give people an incentive to buy stuff.

And then they dropped a bomb shell.

The new free to play details went live and boy did it start to all make sense.

If you ever pick up any epic gear in the game you would now need to pay a micro transaction fee to use it.

Although this cuts the nuts off of the consumer this is…. brilliant.  Another game did this, Age of Empires Online.  This is one of the few free to play games that was ever successful in conning me to pay beyond the regular game.

So basically what will happen is you will be playing the free game going tra-la-la and suddenly, you’ll get an epic item from a quest… or a world drop…. or one of the free dungeons.  It will have a lock on the piece of loot and you’ll let it sit there until eventually you start falling apart and are forced to buy this item in cash.

Some might call this a ‘buy to play’ format.  In some ways… it is.

In reality, it’s not.

To actually do anything PvP or end game content you need to get a weekly pass.  The weekly pass itself is a little bit of a s-cam.  Basically a subscription fee costs $15.  But for the average person $15/month sounds a little too steep.  So instead of that you offer $4/week for everything.  Now suddenly they’re making an extra $1 a month off of people AND they’re attracting more people to do this stuff.

People also end up doing a lot more content when they know they only have a short time to do it (and you’re paying by the second people!).  As long as people purchase weekend passes they assures that content will stay active.

Of course as you know I’m as cheap as they come and I will no doubt resist the temptation to make a micro transaction until absolutely necessary.

Why SWTOR Will Be a Success… and Why I’m Not Playing It

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is probably the most anticipated game of the year. It has been hyped for two years and many people have been given a free sneak peek of the game via a beta. With everything that is out the hardcores are calling the game down to the shitter calling it a terrible game and immediately indicating it will fail.

There is a large list of complaints from the hardcores including long leveling path, poor dungeon designs, weak gear models, and of course, game imbalance.

But despite all of this it will have no impact on ToR’s success.

Why Other Games Fail

It takes about 5-6 years to make an MMORPG. MMORPGs are made in phases. You might think of one as simply a planning phase where you create the game concept. This only requires a small team and some basic renderings to sell the idea to someone who will supply you with money for development. The game goes through many design phases and requires a lot of teams.

Because it takes 6 years to make these games you have to bank on the supply and demand of six years down the road. Graphical technology can be improved over time, that is not a problem. The big thing is getting in place the very basic concepts and coding that will stay with the game. Because of this a game can be a success or a flop and most people just don’t get that this was based on estimates from so long ago.

Six years ago the king of the market was, World of Warcraft. In 2005 the World of Warcraft Burning Crusade was the big deal. It was interesting to find that only 10% of the player base had completed Karazhan (the opening raid encounter). Only 8% had completed Tempest Keep or Serpentshrine Caverns. Less than 5% had completed Hyjal and Black Temple. Less than 1% had even killed the first boss of Sunwell. And yet World of Warcraft was the top game.

When people looked at World of Warcraft what they saw was a great game with amazing raid content that brought together players… so they based the game on this. You can name so many MMO titles that have come out over the years that have tried to put out just amazing raid content. Rift is an excellent example of a game based on the supposed demands of 2005. Rift has put out tones of massive dungeon content in so little time and yet had so little success. The game developers have not asked why, they have simply kept on the same path.

Honestly who could have known people would get sick of fantasy worlds, elves and mass raiding content?

Age of Conan and Warhammer Online enjoyed some success because they were able to predicate the MOBA fad that currently exists today by building a game around short player vs player encounters. The games failed out for not having enough content and other fish come along to claim the prize.

It’s something that many people did not realize in 2005. The large cluster of World of Warcraftees (5M large) were not attracted to this game because of the massive raid content that would take endless hours to complete. They were attracted to the game because you could log on and do something quick, and log off just like that. The game was the first to feature battlegrounds, a PvP instance that would take tops 20 minutes to do. The game had so many quests everywhere that a person who was just into lore could be fascinated for a full year of gameplay. A person could grind out reputations and collect pets and mounts. The game, had so much to do. A lot of people who like Skyrim say the same thing, SO MUCH STUFF. The game is loaded with stuff and it’s all stuff that you can do after you log out.

Blizzard’s success came in Wrath when they moved from a population of 5M to 12M in under 3 years. Many gaming developers who were building their products at the time attributed it once again to Blizzard’s massive content. During this time Blizzard put out more content than they had ever before. Most importantly it was all easy content so that anyone at all could do it. It was also casual. A raid would take 4 hours to complete start to finish and people did not mind you leaving early with the loots if you have to go. The game had transformed into a casuals paradise.

Looking at Rift you have a game where clearing River of Souls will take about 4 hours for a mere five bosses. Clearing GSB will take 3-4 hours for another 5 bosses. Clearing Hammerknell could take all week for seven bosses. It was not casual, at all. I raid three days a week in Rift and get little to nothing done. If you want to clear content you need to raid six days a week!

Trion desperately tried to repair this massive misstep by introducing more casual friendly content: world raids, leveling beyond cap, personal dungeons, personal adventures, bonus quest content, collection rewards and a looking for group queue for dungeons (which were nerfed to make them more accessible).

Other games simply missed out on the fact that people want to play casually. That’s why Age of Conan when it went free to play has jumped to two million ACTIVE subscribers. This is why DC Universe Online free to play is now at 1.5M active subscribers. Perfect World Entertainment boasts 40M players amongst all of their games. It’s not a coincidence. People enjoy casual content that provides them entertainment. Age of Conan is a GREAT game with full dialog and a full and compelling story. People who play it.

The main problem is that new MMOs are not fulfilling a real demand. They are fulfilling a demand from 2005 that they thought was true, but however has been long time proven false.

So What Makes ToR Tick?

The reason why The Old Republic will be a success is because when they started development of this game in 2005 they knew that people enjoyed stories in games. The massive success of nearly all Bioware games has been based on the fact that they have been able to tell a story that is compelling and interesting.

Think of what games Bioware has made over the years: Baldur’s Gate, Jade Empire, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age and Mass Effect.

All of these games told compelling stories that made me want to finish it just for the fact that I could see how it ends.

Bioware has always made great games with great stories and has proven time in and time out that having a great story is enough for people to finish a game.

The Old Republic will allow you to build the story as you go. It will be dynamic, full of cut scenes, options and fully voiced. It will offer something that only one MMOs offers so far, a compelling story. Many games do not understand that leveling is a major part of a game. Too many people are trying to fast track their player base to the end game where they will devour that content very fast.

I hit Level 50 in Rift in under 24 hours of game play. I hit level cap for every expansion in under 10 hours for World of Warcraft.

It took me 200 hours to level cap in Fallout: New Vegas.

So from the perspective of a developer, why is hitting level cap in a game like Fallout the whole experience and in an MMORPG it’s only expected to be 1/100th of the experience? The main problem is the subscription fee. With subscription fees people expect that they are going to get new content for their fee. These people are the hardcores who are the loudest on the forums.

The Old Republic doesn’t need PvP or raids. If it was just Knights of the Old Republic online it would be a massive success. But it’s not. It’s a great game WITH all this other extra crap to do. ToR will follow the great adage… SO MUCH STUFF.

Why I’m not Playing

I won’t say that I’ll never play this game, but I’m not playing it at launch, or probably even the first month.

The problem with The Old Republic is its launch date, December 20th. The developers at Bioware tried so hard to get this game out before Christmas that they put it out on the Eve of Christmas.

I’m not ultra religious by any means but I do find it a bit mean to release this game during a time that gamers traditionally, don’t play. I only played an MMO on a single Christmas day. But other than that I’ve always spent my Christmas with family and friends, being drunk and being merry.

After that there is a timing thing. I will have about a week before New Years Day where I will not be doing too much. But once New Years comes around it’s my only other time of the year I hit the bottle.

And then after that I have to move back into my house again and get settled down.

It is a timing thing.

If this game was released at the beginning of December I would be in. If this game was released after New Years, I would be in.

But this game is coming in… during the busiest time of the year for me.

So no, I will not be putting up any ToR content, and when I do it will be late and second stream. I will not be leveling in the game with any of my old guild mates, but I might join them afterwards.

Bioware are indeed slavers expecting you to game over the holidays.

Why did Star Wars Galaxies Fail?

With the announcement of Star Wars Galaxies finally shut down it’s time to see why it didn’t do so hot.

It’s hard to forget that some eight years ago existed a different Star Wars MMO.  Unlike The Old Republic, Star Wars Galaxies was based in the timeline we all grew to know and love, the world of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  The game starts a little after the destruction of the Death Star and during a time uncertainty in the galaxy.

I think Star Wars Galaxies amongst all games was one that found a realization that you don’t need an insanely big player base in order to survive.  However Star Wars Galaxies came in during a very pivitol point in gaming history… the birth of World of Warcraft.  It is suspected that if Everquest 2 and Star Wars Galaxies didn’t do so poorly World of Warcraft wouldnt’ have initially grown to that power level it did that allowed them to swallow MMORPGs whole.  It was these initial failures that created the monster that is World of Warcraft and has been the reason why MMORPG websites are helplessly building up MMO after MMO as the WoW killer.

Had Star Wars Galaxies not brought the massive numbers of Star Wars (and maybe Star Trek) fans into MMOs, the size of the fantasy genre wouldn’t be what it is today.  Having said that, on to the story.

Star Wars Galaxies was announced in 2001 as an MMO space RPG by George Lucas personally.  It was announced in development roughly the same time Blizzard announced they would be releasing a fantasy Warcraft themed MMO and Everquest announced they would be releasing a sequel.  So it’s to no surprise that the inevitable shake down would occur between these three games with only one coming out on top.  The folks at Lucasarts felt that World of Warcraft and Everquest II would tear each other apart since they both represented the fantasy genre… what happened was far from the fact.

Star Wars Galaxies started off with the largest single gamer base of any game period, 300,000 players.  However after a year that gamer base shrunk down to a mere 100,000 gamers and continued to shrink.  The game launched four expansions afterwards but after each expansion launch was only allowed to ever keep it’s gamer base, never expand.  It maintained its same 25 servers until 2009 when Sony Online Entertainment made a historicly bad decision, free server transfers.  This caused all players to flock from Low Population servers to Medium Population servers.

Of course all this ended up doing was shrinking the game down even further with more and more plans to shrink down the game more.  This gave room for The Old Republic to come along and sweep all the Star Wars players.  That is to say, the final knife in the heart of Star Wars Galaxies was a better Star Wars game being offered.

But beyond that it is wondered, how did Star Wars Galaxies get into this poor fail state before The Old Republic came around?

1. It Wasn’t Star Wars Enough

Star Wars Galaxies was introduced in the middle of the new Star Wars movies.  By the time Star Wars Galaxies came out Episode #1 (The Phantom Menace) and Episode #2 (Attack of the Clones) had already been released.  However as a problem child Lucasarts issued an Xbox license and a PC license to their franchise.  The first being more in tuned with the new movies was Knights of the Old Republic which tells the tale of how The Republic ends up being in the first movie… and Star Wars Galaxies based on  a time after a movie that was made almost 30 years ago (Episode 5).

There was a pretty serious disconnect between the new generation of Star Wars fans and this game.  But despite this challenge Star Wars Galaxies out sold Knights of the Old Republic in a massive way.  It’s success was unparamount largely because more people had computers at this time than Xbox’s.  Some argue that Microsoft shoed its way in the market because of Knights of the Old Republic gaining any sort of sales at all.  I should note though that Knights of the Old Republic’s numbers were far better than the two games combined.

After all of this people played the games and offered it a big thumbs down.  The game simply… wasn’t Star Wars enough.  Sure there was C3PO and R2D2 lingering about but that’s about as Star Wars as it could get.  Today with all the updates and expansions it’s become a little more Star Wars.  The battlestyle although not as boring as Knights of the Old Republic’s queueing moves system was pretty boring.  As it seems the only class that could possibly be interesting in this game was the Jedi…. but of course…. you couldn’t play Jedi for a few patches.  When that patch was released it was found out that you would unlock the Jedi by maxing out a profession…. of course it didn’t work retroactively.

One of the biggest hits of ‘not being Star Wars enough’ is their version of space combat.  Basically no matter what ship you enter every single one of them felt like you were just manning some turret on the Millenium Falcon.  Star Wars was never a world where you just stood in place and shot.  Even when Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker armed those turrets in the millenium falcon it was still pretty action packed.

It looks like Hans and Luke are having a gay old time with this… but if they jumped into a gun in Star Wars Galaxies they’d be bored as all hell.

2. Nothing to Do

When Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft came into fruition both offered world bosses to conquer and some mild form of early instanced content for you to farm.  Although it was pretty lackluster and weak… it was something.

Star Wars Galaxies for all intensive reasons had nothing at all to do.  Each profession (class) was supposed to have some sort of task they are carrying out all the time.  Unfortunately only traders ended up having something to do… so everyone leveled up a Trader who ended up having something to do.  Worst part was that the GMs ended up controlling trade way too much.

So in economics there is this theory called “Firm Theory.”  It ends up being the prevalent theory of market competition.  What it entails is that in any scenario where there are multiple firms each firm must match all of the services and price.  The firm that cannot beat the other in these regards will lose business and will slowly lose reputation.

So in an auction house setting a person who puts a material at a low price will sell it first.  This means everyone will have to match that price (or go lower than it) in order to gain a sale.

So let’s say I want Item A to build landspeeders, but Item A is currently going for 100 and landspeeders are going for 200.  Theoretically I will still make a profit.  But I’m not looking for a profit, I’m looking for a massive profit.  So what I do is I throw 4-5 of Item A on the market so that everyone else is forced to drop Item A down to that number or below… then I take my Item A off of market and buy up everyone elses Item A.  Now I can make insane profits off of it.

If you did this they stated you were exploiting the games economy and you were not allowed to trade.  If you applied almost any economic principles to try and make a buck you were also accused of exploiting the game’s economy.  That is… if you were really good at the only thing that was really in the game (galactic trade) you were penalized for it.Eventually they came up with tasks for the other classes to do individually but on launch… nothing.  It took forever for them to develop space combat and that just ended up sucking.

3. Developers Just Didn’t care

It is good for a developer to have a vision and a goal.  In fact I respect that.  It tells me that at some point they are designing a game that is not only good enough for the games but meets their personal standard of excellence.  However when a developer ignores the sound of their gamer base and can only hear the sound of their awesomeness you get disasterous results.

And I mean, who could blame them.  Their Lead Developer Jeff Freeman killed himself only two years after the launch of Star Wars Galaxies.  It was such a serious thing that Sony Online Entertainment had to issue a statement indicating that it had nothing to do with Star Wars Galaxies.

A lot of games fail and they don’t get the appropriate feedback for those games.  I can think Age of Conan was a game with that.  All of the people they hired on to beta test their game had the best in computer systems and were the sort of elitists from World of Warcraft you learn to hate (like present company).  Because of that, Age of Conan didn’t get the right kind of feedback and so when a different type of gamer showed up to play the game they just felt it sucked.

No, Star Wars Galaxies had tones of great feedback from gamers on aspects of the game that needed to be improved and developers just were not listening.  It just felt like their own goals and visions were too big and they could not break them to see what was happening.  A lot of games have this sort of problem.  They try and make people play the game as they want to play it, instead of opening up avenues. Over time they did expand the game but only for the remaining people playing the game.

4. The Old Republic and Star Wars Galaxies Cannot Co-exist

When Knights of the Old Republic was announced at the same time (for release) as Star Wars Galaxies it was questioned whether KoTR and SWG could coexist.  As it ended up Xbox had not taken off as fast as Microsoft had planned so they in fact could coexist.

But can Star Wars Galaxies and The Old Republic coexist?  No.

In truth, Star Wars Galaxies was destined to fail.  One thing that George Lucas loves is money and he gets his money by whoring out his only popular franchise.  Lucas has worked with over 70 different developers to create 128 different Star Wars games franchises.  Some people felt that George Lucas wrote in the Pod Race event from the Phantom Menace just so that he could put it in 14 games and design two games entirely around it.

Every single Lucas game has been done, redone, remasters, and recalculated.  Hell the first game (Star Wars) was 100% copy and pasted to the Super Nintendo in Super Star Wars.  Anyone remember X-Wing?  Of course not because the next year they came out with X-Wing vs Tie Fighter.  How about Dark Forces the Star Wars first person shooter that wowed the world with it’s amazing play style and story telling ability.  So five sequels later they finally came out with Republic Commando.

It goes without mentioning that Star Wars went into the RTS realm as well when they developed Star Wars Battlefront (FPS RTS) and Empire at War (top down RTS) at the exact same time.

You knew George Lucas 100% sold out when we saw LEGOS create 7-8 different Star Wars games.

So yes.

It was DESTINY that eventually Star Wars Galaxies was going to fail.  It was destiny that eventually George Lucas would run the game concept again.

In fact I suspect that ToR won’t do as amazingly as people suspect.  I’m thinking people might be sick of Star Wars.  Consider for a second that Lucas has released 56 titles in the last ten years.  30 years, 128 titles.  10 years, 56 titles.  That’s insane!

The folks at Sony Online Entertainment knew that as soon as The Old Republic came out Star Wars Galaxies was doomed.  There is potential that some Chinese company will purchase Star Wars Galaxies and make it a free to play game but honestly the game is so old and dated that it’s unlikely.

Star Wars Galaxies joins the ranks of Lineage as one of these super old games that finally shuts down.

And no, I will never write on why Lineage failed.  It failed because Lineage 2 came out silly.

The Old Republic: Anticipation and Doubt

We’re about 4 months away from the release of The Old Republic and in a time where MMOs are feeling mostly dry the anticipation of one of the largest games in the world is driving gamers mad.  I say largest because the game file will be around 20 gigabytes.  It’s the largest MMO to be released to date and a gamer’s dream is that it is 20 gigabytes of nonstop fun.

A lot of the focus around The Old Republic has been around the storylines, quests and adventures.  The game follows a similar path to The Knights of the Old Republic which featured a sort of ‘build your own story’ type mode.  This of course allowed for near infinite replay value of a gaming genre that usually supposed one play (The standard RPG).  In fact the RPG genre was so deafeningly bad people would replay SNES games during the PSX time just for the replay value.

It is this formula that Bioware hopes would be the winning element for keeping people playing a subscription fee to continue playing their game.  Of course… MMOs just don’t work like that.  An insanely necessary element to any MMO is continuous activity.  There just needs to be something for someone to do at any time of day otherwise they will just log out.  Now given I did play Knights of the Old Republic about 9 times full through and Knights of the Old Republic 2 a little over 30 times through (compared to the twice I’ve played FF4 through) I’m not entirely sure that just quests can keep this game alive.

Hopefully in the next four months we will see The Old Republic Hype Machine come into full swing.  So far all we have seen from The Old Republic is their class system and the quest progression path.  This would be more than enough for a traditional game, but not an MMO.  An MMO needs some sort of look at what an end game is going to look like.  Leveling will be enough to hook your most casual of gamers for a long time, but not enough to hook

Successful hype for end game can be seen in the games Age of Conan and Warhammer Onlne.  It was enough to gain 1M initial subscribers to each franchise.  Obviously it didn’t pan out so well for them.  Age of Conan/Warhammer Online appeeled to people interested in MMO PvP.  I suspect that The Old Republic will have to go for something a little bit different.

But as well there is room for them to institute PvP.  I think my two scene from the newer Star Wars movies is the battle scene in which Obiwan and Anikan Skywalker assault Lord Dooku (Darth Tyrannus):

This intro had two elements, the first being a space battle with thousands of ships.  This was followed by a breach by the Jedis on to the flag ship of Lord Dooku.  In some ways this type of assault type combat would make for great space PvP assuming that they can get space combat right.

However this can also be seen as a way of instituting raids…. if not for the fact that the Sith are also a playable race.  In most MMORPGs you have two sides that fight against each other constantly but also at some point need to fight a third more powerful threat.  In Rift it’s the threat of Regulos and the invasion of the rift creatures. In World of Waracraft: Cataclysm it’s the threat of Deathwing and the upsurge of elementals.  Even James Bond and Mother Russia had the mutual enemy SPECTRE during the Cold War.

The Old Republic is based around a time of peace where the biggest threat is…. each other.  It’s two massive empires The Sith Empire and the Galactic Empire.  Both have the full force of a giant space fleet.

Without some massive mutual enemy that threatens to tear apart both enemies… there’s no real point in PvE raids… unless they make separate ones for each side.

Another major problem with the game is just the size of the content and keeping up with that.  If this game is to go beyond the leveling process and the first tier of content this means hiring on voice actors for all new content.  Simply put, it will not be cheap.