Faxion Online: Advertisements Pwn

When I played Faxion Online I found the game to be awful and simply ‘not my cup of tea.’  The game used a lot of humour to try and carry it’s storyline and it wasn’t doing it for me.  However… their advertisements are amazing.  They have released the following two videos:

Pirates vs. Ninjas:

Cake vs. Pie:

http://gamertube.com/video-1840742-Faxion

Love or hate this game, at least they have a sense of humor.

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Artifacts in Rift

When World of Warcraft released archaeology they did so as an incentive to continue playing even after you are post level cap.  The idea was to create a new profession that would keep people occupied doing these hunting objectives, everyone loves a treasure hunt right?  Rift had the same idea long before WoW ever put it in, except it’s far more of a treasure hunt.

Each artifact is part of a puzzle that has to be solved.  Each of them tells a story that adds to the lore or culture.  Of course you ignore this part of the game.

Each zone is going to feature a number of sets of artifacts.  There are also going to be those that are cross-zone.  You can find artifacts as these shiny sparkles on the ground.  You will generally find them under bridges, behind rocks, in caves, behind structures, or at high altitude.

Unfortunately artifacts do not seem to be grindable.  Much like Pokemon you need to trade them with other people as you are likely to find doubles and triples of everything.  I’ve been selling them on the auction house at 30g a piece (doubles).

Every time you turn in a completed artifact you will get a Lucky Coin.  Lucky Coins are used to purchase the items below:

As you can see it’s a lot of carebear stuff, pets, non-combat weapons, and non-combat head pieces.

You can find the vendor here:

It’s all pretty much straight forward until you run into something like this:

Artifacts have set spawn points on the maps.  Some of them are kind of messed up.  The one above is a little bit of a puzzle.  They are all reachable by a person however for most people they will feel pretty unreachable.  What you have is two bars that move up in a curve that curve to lower altitudes the higher you get up.  As you can see the first jump is an unmountable jump distance.  So what you end up doing instead is jumping on the ballista next to it which is at a higher elevation.    You then side jump up and do tow more perfectly aimed jumps forward.

Of course if you have the heroic leap racial like I do you just jump and pop that racial and move up.  Heroic leap was a pretty lackluster racial until you engaged artifacts.

Artifacts are definitely something designed around people who are either interested in:

  1. Puzzles
  2. Grinding
  3. Pets/Mounts
On top of that the sparkliness of them make it so that everyone will pick up every single one they see.  If you are looking to finish puzzles you should be able to find them on the auction house.
In truth I’ve only completed two of these so far… they’re hard to finish.  I’m 5/6 on a lot of them but I just cannot bring myself to paying gold to complete them (yet).
Overall this makes for bad game design.  This is something that needs to be improved upon in upcoming patches.  The potential is there for this to be an interesting part of the game… it’s just not there yet.

Crafting in Rift

Well for the last two days I’ve been leveling professions.  Getting gear in this game is insane (so is making gold).  So I decided I’d do some PvP grinding while leveling up my professions.  Well I’ve been at it 2 days and am half way of my first PvP rank and all done Armorsmithing and Weaponsmithing.  Mining it seems is one of the hardest professions to level.

What ends up happening is you level up one profession by mining out the necessary mineral.  You use an ability called salvage to make leveling the other one easier.  Salvaging breaks down armor into some of the mineral you used to make it and a unique item of recycled metal which is used for temporary weapon/armor/shield enchants.  Leveling the second one gets easier because you have all of these extra materials.  I could have probably done both in one day, but I was PvPing as well.

Mining is insanely hard to cap out.  You have to level it off of a green mineral that you do not need for leveling your other professions.

As it ends up crafting isn’t an instant way to get your epics.  It takes days and a chance of getting these unique currencies from daily quests.  These “plaques” purchase recipes and as it seems, they’re pretty darn rare.

The utility these two crafting professions offer are endless.  It seems like they’re too valuable as it seems offering massive buffs that I’m presuming are raid required… since I’m selling them for such insanely high prices.

Unfortunately as it seems the best way to gear is PvP/dungeons and rep grinding.

Final Review on Rift

About two months ago I put out a review for Rift while it was still in beta.  I felt at the time that the game was a major point where it was probably going to be launched soon and what I saw was what I got.  The review saw more resistance than any other review I had ever done.  So as a valued Beta tester the folks at Trion had felt the need to give me a free copy of their game and it just so happened they were offering a free week of play.  It’s hard to turn up an almost $60 value for free.  So I took a second look at the game.  This time around I hit level cap.

Below are my diary issues of leveling to Level 50.  In them included detailed dungeon, warfront and questing information:

So I’m giving this game a pretty average review after giving more than a fair look at this game.  This review to that regard will be emphasizing the negative aspects of the game.  This is not to say that there are not great parts of the game.  It is by no means a lost cause and with some time and hard work this can be transformed into a game with a popular following like Guild Wars and Eve Online.  If you want to look for some strong points including a powerful specialization system, strong early game, and many great instanced PvP encounters.

Major Problem #1: Dungeoning and the Lack of LFD Tool

Finding groups for dungeons has and always will be a problem for a massively multiplayer environment.  You have literally hundreds of thousands of people all with varying roles and you need a leadership cast to put these people together.  Leadership is going to represent less than 1% of people.  Think about any given company, how many people are in charge in comparison to people who are working?    How many people do you think can do a good job as a leader vs those who cannot?  Think of your raid.  How many people in your raid are leaders?  There might be 5 people in a 25-man that are strong leaders… if you’re lucky.  Game designers hence stopped putting their faith in their player’s ability to lead and made a group creating tool.

The first Group creating tool was developed by first person shooter.  Blizzard was probably the first MMORPG to adapt it for the MMORPG environment.  Hence it has become standard for games with instanced content of all varieties.  Not having one of these is a pretty epic failure as it has become a basic element of any online game.

DC Universe has one.

Global Agenda has one.

Even Star Trek Online had one.

Why couldn’t the developers of Rift design a basic dungeon finding tool?  They said they were delaying the release of this game because they wanted to release a finished and polished game.  So why then does it miss a basic feature that is now required for any online game?

Finding a group at low levels is easy because everyone wants to heal and everyone can tank.  Finding groups at higher levels is a mess.  The game was presented with four ways of leveling, questing, rifts, pvp and DUNGEONS.  Dungeons is simply not a viable way to level unless you’re a healer.  Even when you’re a healer you can only level through dungeons during prime time hours.

At Level 50 this problem just compounds.  Unlike the enlarged sense of community you get while leveling at level cap no one wants to PUG due to the extreme hassle.    I can say I’ve been Level 50 for 48 hours and am yet to see a single Level 50 looking for anyone to fill a group in the global Level 50 channel.

Major Problem #2: Broken Questing Path

When WoW first launched it did so with 41 zones.  Even with so many zones there was a gap at the level 55-60 range where you’re basically stuck on grinding.  Over the years WoW learned to improve these zones so that you can’t actually finish all of the quests before advancing to the next zone of levels.  In every expansion it was made that you end up having too many quests and cannot finish them all before hitting level cap.

Rift doesn’t have this problem, not even close.  If you sit down and play the game all night long what you end up with is about 56 hours of content…. with 20 hours of that being you just running around killing mobs and praying for Warfront queues.  There is a gap between Level 40-50 where you will advance so far and be forced to sit back and grind so you can move on to the next set.

Basically for 40-50 there are four questing zones, Iron Pine Peaks, Droughtlands, Shimmersand, and Stillmoor.  Each zone will have quests that range from 40-47, Shimmersand has some up to 48, and Stillmoor is the only area covering 48-50.  If you do this perfectly you might not run out of quests at level 50.  That is, doing dailies every single day for every single zone and appropriately moving to each zone as soon as you get orange quests (super hard ones).  However Iron Pine Peaks and Stillmoor are on one side of the world and Droughtlands and Shimmersand are on another.

On top of that there’s no breadcrumb quest leading you into Droughtlands.  You are offered a breadcrumb quest for Stillmoor from Iron Pine Peaks and Meridian.  If they added in another quest zone or added in more quests per zone the questing process would go smoother.  Basically in order for this to feel right you should either need to do Droughtlands and Shimmersand OR Iron Pine Peaks and Stillmoor… not all of them.

Major Problem #3: Repeatable Exploits

The terrain in this game is wonky.  In most games the vertical cap for moving is pretty low.  That is once you hit some minor slump in the ground suddenly you’re unable to run up it.  Hills in WoW were so poorly designed that it was decided it’d be easier to implement flying mounts rather than try and fix it.  Rift did a pretty good job of creating unrealistic terrain where you can climb up some insane verticals.

Unfortunately having odd terrain like this can lead to massive exploiting.  I’m not going to say any of them simply because it just leads to abuse… but I’ll  say that certain specs of rogue have found a way of going underground in a certain warfront and attacking you without you being able to attack them back.

Repeatable exploits are called “working as intended.”  When it gets nerfed or buffed they call it a balancing issue.  When you see 9 rogues in the same war front using the exact same exploit you get a little bit angry.  And that’s not to say I haven’t found my fair share of warrior exploits.  But this is stuff that was brought up in beta that was not fixed.  Nobody likes being man handled by flying warriors.

Major Problem #4: Rifts

So I went AFK next to a rift and a person added me to their party and went about killing the rift off.  I came back to the computer to find that the rift was gone, I had a loot option and was not 2k XP richer.  Rifts are a perfect expression of the “free rider problem.”

In the free rider problem you have some option that is free.  It is free because the mass is  providing the means for it to be free.  For example children who do not add anything to society benefit from policing without actually contributing.  They are “free riders.”  The problem being that you have people who do not contribute who benefit.

Rifts are the biggest free riders in the world.  You can just sit around doing nothing and get the same benefit as everyone else.

Warfronts are not so bad as you need to heal a person killing a player or kill a player to get any benefit.

Rifts are something different.  They’re in such a small area and there’s no real way to track contribution since taking damage, is as merited worthy of a reward as doing it.

What really sucks is when you’re soloing a rift and one of these leaches shows up and just sits there.  You presume he’ll help so you take more risks and.. they don’t pay off.  He just sits there and waits for you to die.

Major Problem #5: No Addons?

When game developers fail to create some feature that people want, people usually make it themselves.  A lot of the killer features you find in a polished game like World of Warcraft were invented by addon authors.  Addons are usually pretty poor and crappy.  Take for example AVR which was a raid assist addon developed to direct raid members into complicated staged areas.  This was done by creating circles on the ground.  Today Blizzard has implemented something like this by giving new raid markers the ability to create circles with symbols floating over them.  The Deadly Boss Mod addon has been so successful that Blizzard has been working hard on creating a comprehensive raid guide tool.

Addon developers give temporary fixes to customization problems in your game.  It also gives a good way of seeing whether you need to add that feature to your game.  If everyone uses an addon then it’s a good idea to add it to your game.  The best part is most of the work is already done, you just have to find a way of incorporating the addon’s code into existing code.

Not having addon authoring available is a taste of arrogance from any game developer.  It’s to say that they don’t need input.

Conclusion

And that I feel are the major problems which keep this game down.  Maybe there are far more stretching problems I’ll encounter at level cap.  But realistically this game doesn’t have that many more problems than most MMOs do.  Whether this game will succeed or not will depend on the developers continuing to pump out content and a reasonable rate and increase the accessibility of that content to new members.  As of right now content feels insanely inaccessible.  In upcoming patches they’ll be fixing that.  Whether or not this game ends up in my “fail” series will be seen.

Why Did Allods Online Fail?

Well it’s part three in series of failed MMOs.  Today I’ll be covering Allods Online

Allods Online was a free to play Russian franchise that featured powerful graphics and strong story archs.  Allods Online on release had slightly better graphics than World of Warcraft, two factions, multiple races, multiple starting zones, and multiple classes.  It represented the most dynamic and expensive free to play MMORPG on the market.  To show an idea of cost the average MMO costs about $2M to make.  Rift cost $50M to make.  Allods with no box sales and no  subscription cost $12M to make.

The game was a finished product and an amazing game to boot.  The gameplay was enjoyable, the dungeon content was challenging and the PvP was balanced.

So what went wrong?  Allods inevitable downfall as a competitor for DDO can be summed up in three points: (1) Greed, (2) Funding, (3) Market Data, (4) PvP.

(1) The Story of Greed

When Allods Online made its North American launch it did so without any flaws, a finished product, and a fairly large gamer base that was ever so increasingly growing.  Rift sold 100,000 boxes on its launch which was considered a massive commercial success.  Allods on the other hand had attracted over 500,000 gamers to their free to play model.  Allods was a huge success amongst the casual gamer market that was in love with free to play games.

But the gamers were duped into what seemed like the perfect free to play game.  On launch the store was fair.  If you wanted a mount you purchased mount feed.  Other things were included like pets, healing potions, mana potions, These items were not unpopular either and were sold at a reasonable rate.  A person would buy credits with a minimum purchase value of $10.  That’s about half as much as the cost of a subscription for any other game.

But the developers of Allods Online had sunk a lot of money into this game and wanted a lot more money back.  After a month of being online Allods reworked their store to increase prices by almost 4x.  People were upset about these ridiculous prices, but the worst was yet to come.

A fun game transformed into one that was almost unplayable without money.  People’s leveling stats were reduced so that a new product, a temporary stat boost, would look more appealing to their gaming community.  The people who continued to play the game bought the stat boost obviously upset while many people just quit the game completely.

Allods had lost a giant chunk of their gaming community in what felt like a vie for subscription money.  My favorite part about the temporary buff is that they give it to you for about two hours and then strip it from you.  That way you know the difference between what it’s like to have and not to have the buff.

Take for example if you died you received this massive 10minute curse that stacked in power.  You either have to wait for it to wear off (in PvP as well).  Of you could purchase a Holy Charm that would remove it.  It is only recently that they removed Holy Charms.

In the end the store prices were fixed, but it was probably too late.  The game had already alienated it’s game base by showing how it’s design can be driven by profits.

(2) Funding

Releasing an MMO is a hard thing.  Blizzard is the only game that was able to keep their funding and design in one company.  In the end they “sold out” to Activision.  This allowed it so that they could design without having to ever worry about money.  However the downside to this is that as their distributor and financier they will start requesting things of them.  People have already remarked after only a year of the Activision/Blizzard merger of how this has changed the game and it’s marketing.

Allods entered a similar arrangement except instead of just working with a single distributor for their game like Blizzard is they operated through four different distributors, all with different demands for the game.  In the end their changes to the game that effected the inevitable move of their free to play player base revolved around decisions not even pertaining to them.

On launch Allods was distributing in Russia and North America.  After launch financing was cut to the game developers as they were asked to prove profitability before they received any more financing.  This of course is an awfully high standard for any business at all.  A business is likely to be in the red (deficit) for the first year of operation.  With funding cut off for future developments Allods was forced to act fast to save money.

They set out a directive to limit the development of new content that pretty much still exists today.  As an example their latest event for St. Patrick’s Day was to have GMs stand in the main cities and give out free potions to people who dressed up their characters and danced with them for St. Patrick’s Day.  Any other game is going to produce content releases.

Allods can’t keep people playing their game specifically because there ends up being nothing to do.  Once you level up fully and do some of their dungeons you find very quickly that there isn’t much else to do.  A game without anything fresh is something that might get replayed for nostalgia purposes… but not something you will occupy your time with.

(3) Market Data

When they did end up getting funding the question came to pass, who are they making this game for.  Market data was not looking so good towards a North American market.  In truth the free to play craze hasn’t caught on.  This is largely because anything with free associated with it is going to be given the obvious signs of some sort of trap.

Allods Online in the end represents to the average American an affirmation of that.  In a time when Allods Online was in deep troubles they immediately shifted the costs to their customers.  With a subscription basis the subscription fee is more likely to go down than up when profits are dwindling.

It’s, I suppose, one of the ironies of business that you need a hook to increase revenues.  Decreasing price is a way of encouraging people to choose your product over one that has a stronger image.  Unfortunately increasing price without offering new services just reduces customers.

Market data suggested that their main focus should be South America and Asia.  A general westerner perspective on these regions is that you are more likely to con these people.  In truth this is a market of poorer people who take things in turn.  That is they’ll take free entertainment and pay for other things when they can afford.  People in North America prefer annual rates.  Why else would the highest complaints in North America be about the price of gasoline which changes on a weekly basis.

Allods fails specifically because it could not create anything that a westerner would want to pay for.  If the game had provided a normal leveling experience and sold quest packs, access to zones, PvP content, or special perks for quality of life then maybe it might have been successful.  If you read my review of it from almost a year ago you’d see I actually enjoyed the game.  Other free to play models modified content access, this one made the non-modified version of the game very unplayable.

(4) PvP = Player vs Payment

Generally speaking when a game has two factions it should have powerful PvP.  This game just doesn’t have it at all.  what it offered was a limited free for all arena system where basically everyone sort of just gangs up on non-guildmates.  The other part of this is random encounters with your guild’s astral ship.  This of course requires you to actually build an astral ship. The concept could have been cool.  Firing guns off at each other and than teleporting to the enemy’s ship.

But this kind of mass PvP needs a lot of help from developers to work and requires some facilitation.  I mean the world they developed is huge.  Trying to randomly find enemy air ships just did not happen.  If they had created an instanced battleground featuring sinking the other person’s air ship than it might have been more acceptable.  In fact that’s a great Battleground idea for Blizzard to steal.

The game itself would have been better if there was a single faction.  You could still have some PvP.  The game already has PvP flags turned off and on as options.  Once you hit a certain level the game teaches you to turn on PvP flags and you can have an open free for all situation, this arena PvP system and this battle ships type thing.

All of this of course could be done and would have made the game better.  Having one faction means there’s a higher player base to do content with.  If there’s no benefit game wise for separating factions than you shouldn’t.  A lot of people hated the fact that LOTRO didn’t have a playable evil faction.  Of course LOTRO has probably invested more into their lore than anyone else.  Had LOTRO built a PvP system their story would have sucked.

And I should say that the storyline in Allods is actually quite amazing.  If you are a fan of Russian literature then you would definitely enjoy this one.  However it just doesn’t seem to make so much sense as a player vs player environment.

So here’s how the story goes.

You wake at the heat of a massive battle with the enemy faction.  Your commander suits you up and you lead a group of adventurer’s to defeat the enemy when something evil shows up and kills everyone.  You teleport to the low level area where you as a hero of said faction will go around helping people out with smaller tasks as you get leads from these people towards some larger encounter.

How hard would it be to re-iterate this story arch as a one-faction story?  There is a growing habit by developers who are trying to emulate World of Warcraft’s success to make it

But did Allods actually fail?

Usually when I do this series I’m covering a game that either has its server’s shut up, is in a constant spiraling degression of players, or has been abandoned by it’s developers.  Allods is really none of these.  Allods is actually still quite successful, it’s still growing and it’s developers are still actively working on balancing the game and making the game funner to play.  The game may be shrinking in North America which generally frowns on the free to play model, but it is growing in Asia, South America and Russia.

The game is in fact insanely popular outside of North America which contributes to it’s questionable status as whether it actually failed or not.  One thing that can be said though is that the game is most definitely dead in North America.

Rift Sells 127,000 copies

Well Rift sales numbers have been released and numbers are looking good.  Rift is now up to 127,000 sales.

The bulk of their sales have been in The United States encompassing a total of 100,000 of their sales.

For the naysayers, 127,000 sales is a lot.  You can’t compare everything to WoW’s insane record breaking numbers, franchises always start off small.  Consider for a second that at those numbers Rift is banking in over $4,000,000 with an additional $1,000,000 in subscriptions per month.

Rift itself cost $50,000,000 to make,  Whatever the next expansion for Rift ends up being will probably pay off this production cost total, assuming they can hold 100,000 of those subscribers.  Rift players have been pretty loyal so far with a perfect launch and what appears to be a finished product on launch.

Source: http://gamrreview.vgchartz.com/sales/49494/rift/

WoW Clones, Cloning and Ugly Offspring

In one of my most recent articles I was talking about poor marketing attempts and I briefly mentioned the WoW clone.  A few of my readers got insulted insinuating their favorite MMORPGs are somehow different from WoW.  So here i’m just going to break down the common elements that WoW clones don’t have.  Some examples of NON-WoW clones that you can think about yourself are Eve Online, Global Agenda, Jumpgate Evolution, DC Universe Online, Warhammer 40k Online and Star Wars The Old Republic.

Races – Factions

The first thin I’d like to bring up is not only that races and factions exist in the game but exactly what those races/factions entail.  At the player creation screen you will always be able to choose between two competing factions.  One faction is going to look noble or cute and will look like ‘the good guys.’  The other faction will look tougher, darker and uglier.  The goal here is to draw a line between the two to leave no grey areas, if you choose to fight for The Horde you are choosing to fight the enemy of mankind.  If you are choosing to play the alliance you are a champion of humanity.

You are supposed to get the feeling that by playing for a faction you are doing bad things or doing good.  All PvP interactions are going to be limited outside your faction and there will be grouping limitations to your party  Upon choosing your faction you are choosing the group set for the remainder of the expansion.  The goal here is to give group based community spirit.  Creating artificial communities means that people are more likely to act together.

Non-WoW clones are going to either increase the number of factions in the game beyond a simple binary existence or have none at all.  Dark Age of Camelot and Matrix Online had 3 factions.  Star Trek Online will add a third soon.  Pirates of the Burning Sea had four.  Global Agenda and Eve Online had no factions.  Having two factions makes sense simply because it makes PvP far less complicated.  How much would it suck if you had to do 3v3v3 and no one wants to move because they’re afraid a third team of players is going to capitalize on you guys focusing each other?  Not many games can do it, Dark Age of Camelot did a very good job of it.

In factions are races.  The story is always similar, a group bands together out of mutual self-interest against some common enemy.  You will see a lot of familiar races in different MMO-RPGs.  The graph below was made to illustrate this point.

Human Dwarf Gnome Forest Elf Dark Elf Undead Orc Animalistic* Troll
World of Warcraft
Warhammer Online
Lord of the Rings Online
Lineage II
Everquest
Final Fantasy XI
Allods Online

* Animalistic is a category or subclass for a type of invented creature.  It is going to have the body of a man but some sort of animal head.  Although these races may seem fundamentally different they all draw from the same animal nature that is being used as a metaphor to describe who we are… except in an actual format.

All the sources for all of this information are linked by the game.  Green represents the game having that race and red not having it.  Maybe you’ll try and argue that a gnome and halfing are different somehow but fundamentally they’re the same thing.

The case in point here is that the WoW clone wants to draw upon a familiar set of characters.  It is expensive and hard to try and push your own brand of races.  Ask the makers of Aion about building a race.  They created two equal and opposite races that seem or feel like the exact same thing.

As a final note all the races are the distinguishing aspect of your game play experience.  In some games your aesthetic is just that, something you can look at.  Races modify some base stats and give you some special abilities.

User Interface Elements

The WoW UI is simple but flexible

User Interface or UI is an important aspect of a game.  In a UI people want something that is customizable, graphically interesting, familiar and useful.  This is why every single MMO seemingly uses the exact same HUD.  It’s not a bad thing but unfortunately for the developers of blizzard they did a great job at it.  Some people have minor concerns with the WoW basic attack interface because they want to move it around some, which blizzard won’t let you do without addons.  Which you can get because the games own coding is very customizable.

Instead of posting a million screen shots I’ll just give you a few links you can look at and see how horribly copied it was: Warhammer Online, Lineage II, Aion, LoTro.

Blizzard’s greatest asset is their popularity.  It means that if people are going to create WoW clones and try and snag some people away by doing something slightly different it in the end has to feel like WoW.  The biggest complaint that a lot of people have with failed MMOs is that their UI is unfamiliar and it doesn’t seem to make sense.

The biggest example of this is Star Trek Online that developed an obscenely different user interface. Your ship has four sided shields and once shields go down you take damage.  So the game has a click aspect where you can choose which side of the ship to give more shields.  Then you have six bound or unbound buttons that come in multiple types of weapons that do different things.  That attack interface has 3 options (fire all lasers, fire all torpedoes and fire all weapons).  Then you have three levels of bindable buffs, heals, and survival cooldowns.  So in the end if you bind everything you’re looking at 40 keys and just too much to watch.

Compare to WoW.  WoW has a health bar that fills automatically.  WoW doesn’t dissect cooldown buttons from attack or defense buttons. You are keeping track of less things and those things that you do keep track of the very centralized UI setup is going to account for.

My favorite copied UI element is probably floating combat text, which did not exist in MMOs before WoW came along.  The purpose of floating combat text originally was to display information so that you could make decisions on offensive/defensive cooldowns.  Of course floating combat text in today’s WoW is actually quite pointless, there’s too much information to digest.  Floating combat text was designed around roughly 1/4 of the action that currently exists in the game.  The game where floating combat text came around was based around healers waiting around on mana (mana conservation) and timing heals.  DPS had one or two buttons total.  Tanks had to pay attention to periodic increases in damage and time cooldowns for them.  Floating combat text also made sure you knew exactly when spammy buttons showed up.  But now all of that information is retarded.

Here’s a video of basic floating combat text from another game that looks more like old WoW:

Okay that’s fine.  Here’s what it looks like now:

Try to pay attention to incoming damage, cooldowns, healing you are getting AND damage you’re dealing all at once.  Within seconds you’ll be lost.

Sadly though this feature has been copied to every single MMO clone.  Yes even the bad UI elements from WoW get copied into other games.  This makes these games feel bland and actually keeps people playing WoW.  I mean if I’m bored with Warhammer and it 100% reminds me of WoW then why not go back to WoW?  Ironically developers need WoW’s UI elements to get their game to market and it is one of the biggest hits against their product.

MMO UI feels a lot like first person shooters that largely feel the same.  What’s the difference between Modern Warfare 2 and CoD4 Modern Warfare?  What’s the diference between Gun and Red Dead Redemption?  Games do well because they copy each other’s gaming elements.

Mirror Class Systems

As said earlier one part of the game is having two competing equal factions that dissect a community into two distinct units.  In order to make these sides equal blizzard made perfect mirrors that are entirely balanced with slight differences.  I have talked about races but now I’m talking about classes.

The mirror class system divides all the games potential classes into  three categories: tanks (damage takers), healers, and DPS (damage dealers).  A game is generally going to want to have multiple types of each.  So for WoW there are four tanks, four healers and ten damage dealers.  In order to accomplish this the game has specializations.

Specializations are a way the game caters to “noobies.”  Noobs don’t pick a class because they are thinking of any end game role.  This is generally why people come up with alts.  A noob goes to a screen and goes COOL human knight.  They have no idea about how any of the mechanics work.  Specializations are the single tool in the game that make it so if you don’t want to do your class’s primary role.  In WoW the four tanking classes can alternatively be a DPS and two of them can be healers.

In the original WoW class system there were 9 classes total with 8 per faction with paladin being alliance only and shaman being horde only.  This made game balance fairly easy.  Since they are mirrored it means that you really only had to balance two classes total, paladins and shamans.  As long as they could make paladins and shamans roughly equal the game was perfectly faction balanced.  Of course later on WoW got more complicated and tried to balance all of the classes and then all of the specializations.

The class system games have copied differently.  The basic model of tank/healer/dps and specialization has stayed in most clones.  STO’s ground system ended up failing because of a total lack of tank/healer/dps interface where everyone felt like they were one of them.  People who play WoW clones have played WoW and so they enjoy the direct break down of classes.

In games where classes are different on each side they generally pair them off.  Imagine a warrior on horde side being called a berserker instead.  Well now we only have to modify names of moves and bam we have two different classes doing the same thing.  The further a game moves from the static format generally the more unsuccessful it will be.

The best example of a game that probably would have failed is The Old Republic. ToR will no doubt be based with horrible balancing because it doesn’t offer a mirrored class system.  Instead of having simple 1 to 1 comparisons of specific class types and roles the classes all seem impossibly different.  The only thing that seems even remotely similar are the healing classes.  However even the healing classes are using different and unique resource types that you will have to deal with.

While a Republic side is going to have a nice melee tank with a rage type system the Sith are going to have a ranged tank with energy and ammunition.  Luckily for the makers of the game before they released this information the game was hyped up based on it’s graphics and storytelling.  Once the class information came out people went WHAT THE FUCK!

Of course all of this kind of stuff is pretty common in MMOs, just not popular ones.  The popular ones have something similar to WoW.  The ranged tank is obviously the biggest throw off.  I mean honestly you’re in a PvP battle and your melee are just whaling on your tank who can’t defend himself because all the cool ranged things that protected him aren’t up.

Luckily for ToR thouh this game was hyped around other things that it’s game play and what will obviously be horrible class imbalance for the next year or two until they release an expansion and create new imbalances.

WoW offers three different resource types.  Energy/focus, rage, and mana.  I should also add in combo points and holy power.  In designing these classes different roles are going to have different resource types…. except for healers of course who are entirely mana driven people.  This is very true in other MMOs.  The most unique non-WoW type of healer is a monk or a bard.   The singer or fighting monk heal using their damage and offer completely non-targeted healing system.  But even these melee healers end up using mana to generate the combos and notes required to grant these heals.

Other MMOs don’t go beyond 2-3 resource systems for classes.  The more complicated the resources get the harder balancing becomes.  If everyone was to use mana balancing the game could be as simple as balancing a resource.  The more games have moved to make classes unique and less similar the more complicated the game has become and in the end the harder it is for new players.  LOtRO is probably the biggest perpetrator of this.  Each of their classes uses mana, that’s fine.  But then each class has it’s own secondary and tertiary resource type.  Although each class is a unique experience you may want to do if the game had any actual PvP it might be a nightmare.

PvP/PvE Break Down

In most ames that have player vs. player interactions the player vs. player element is actually part of the storyline. When you’re playing call of duty you are entering a battlefield and fighting towards some goal.  Where it is some rickety canyon, some small plot of land, or a town with makeshift empty buildings the battleground.  A lot of the games even build the storyline of the game around what you are doing.  In games like Civilization you are building a unique history.  In games like Call of Duty you are winning individual battles on the front line.  In games like Splinter Cell you are shutting down enemy spies.  In the new DC Universe sometimes when you are doing dungeons you will randomly encounter other players and have to beat them to continue with the dungeon.

The newer generation of games has found a way of making it so that PvE and PvP are intertwined.  Aion made a failed attempt at it by making it so that sometimes when you’re randomly battling people monsters would show up that it’s mutually beneficial to kill.  Then it got kinda gay as the two enemies unite to battle one enemy.

WoW has a binary dissection of PvE and PvP.  The entire game can be broken down into these two categories.  There are PvP talents, there are PvE talents.  There are PvP dungeons there are PvE dungeons.  There are PvP stats and PvE sats.  There are PvP  zones an PvE zones.  There are PvE servers and PvP servers.  The point is that you can take a piece of chalk and draw a line down the middle of the game and see that it is a non-homogenized world of PvE and PvP.  In a way it is two different games featuring the same game engine.

The simple reason for this is because they want to attract different gamers.  The social gamers want to kill bores and kill bosses.  The aggressive gamers want to murder people and wreck their keeps.  If a game was to wrap these two together you might lose the gamer that wants to kill bosses untampered and you might lose the players who hate scripted fights and just want to kill people.

To this end games that have cloned WoW have emphasized more towards PvE or more towards PvP.  LoTRo is the greatest villain of all by making PvP into a completely separate mini-game called “Monster Play.”  Other games like Warhammer Online and Aion have moved us by creating world PvP relentless everywhere PvP that is lackin from the instanced PvP that exists in WoW.

One of the odd models that Blizzard started was the Warsong Gulch-Molten Core model of development.  This was something WoW created in 2004.  The idea was that people don’t actually enjoy a world PvP model, what they like is having objectives and goals to beat the other team in, not just mindless smashing against each other.  Ironically 3 years later blizzard would come up with arenas which ended up just being that.  The Molten Core model of raiding was simple, you started off with bosses that were meaningless and stupidly easy and then you slowly amped up the difficulty and required people to pay more and more attention.

Now nearly every MMO on the planet uses this system.  More and more games are getting instanced and simple multi-bossed dungeons are released with maybe one hard end boss and a pile of easy bosses.  PvP is usually some mini-game.  Star Trek Online offered the oddest mini-games that were very unfun versions of popular WoW games (capture the flag, resource races, arenas and PvE battle downs).  In the end the instanced separation of PvE and PvP has made games feel very bland to play.  But this ends up being what people want.  Once again a game that is like WoW but isn’t.

The Aion model of PvP in the end failed because people were confused.  They’d run up and smoke a creature with their awesome epic sword and then bam an enemy Daeva shows up.  Or consequently yu are enjoying yourself battling someone and suddenly this giant beast shows up.  As I’ve said DC Universe Online will have something like this.  Apparently some of the dungeons are going to be done differently depending on whether you are Good or Evil.  Imagine doing Utgarde Keep backwards.  You are going throw waves of easy mobs and then suddenly you run into another group going the regular route.  So at this point you go um…. and then you go at it.  Of course the downside to this is something that blizzard found out a long time ago…. it’s hard to make tanks good in PvP.

Blizzard’s best attempt at making PvP tanks was protection paladin healers, protection ret paladins and African Turtle Cleave protection warriors.  But these were so horribly imbalanced and made it unfun for everyone.  In the end a person whose primary job is to soak up damage can’t do too much back meaning that if people aren’t targeting a tanking class he’s going to be rather useless in a PvP scenario.  The dichotomy works for balancing issues because you can look at moves and abilities encounter by encounter and adjust your PvE or PvP abilities appropriately.

There are tones of games that have worked because they have mended the void in PvE and PvP, but WoW comes from an ancient line of team play.  Blizzard was a huge fan of color coded team members.  All of their games have separated PvE and PvP in odd ways.  The closest thing to a merge was the Use Maps Settings option they had on many games.  But that was user created content.  Blizzard’s basic system was storylined PvE strategy game with PvP done separately.  Think of Red vs. Blue in Halo.

In the end Blizzard’s lack of vision has made the PvE-PvP divide extremely popular and every game is forced to use it simply because people are used to it.

Story Telling

The final aspect of the WoW clone is it’s ability to rip off how blizzard chooses to tell a story. In most games you get a cinematic reward for completing so much of the story.  Interactive game voice overs and timed music help in building the suspense and mystery as the story unfolds.  It is entirely scripted and even so you get into it and feel like a part of the story that is being told.  WoW storytelling is very different.  Stories in WoW are entirely text.  There is rarely any voice work and there are no cinematics.  The music really doesn’t change that much other than a sound track and completing a quest feels completely unrewarding and just makes you feel like you have to keep doing quests for your big pay off.

Even the boss fights feel empty, I have no idea why I’m after them.  In other games the whole game is building up to some final enemy that you have to take down.  I remember Starcraft: Bro0d Wars.  You played as the human and protoss factions first and built up these jackass villains who were in charge of operations.  Then on the final mission you fight all of them as the Zerg Queen.  The voice acting was perfect with just enough sarcasm and seriousness wrapped in to make you feel like you accomplished something.

Blizzard’s new project (WoW) had none of that.  The story felt like it was entirely user generated, you had to make up reason to go there.  You actually enter Molten Core before you find out the lore behind it through Molten Core rep quests.  It was a similar inverted storytelling structure for every expansion.  Imagine for a second you’re watching your favorite movie, you’re watching Predator because if Predator isn’t your favorite movie you’re a faggot.  Okay so Arnold Scwarzeneger at the beginning of the movie is in this huge epic duel with the Predator.  So after Predator dies it goes to the start of the movie where Arnold and his crew are just getting to the jungle and are sent in to figure stuff out.  Now that’s cool and all but now you have to watch all the crappy parts of the movie that are long and going on forever and you’re sitting there going why am I watching this movie I already saw the best part… that is the WoW lore experience and unfortunately every single MMO copied it.

Lore is one part where some WoW clones have tried to improve on.  They’ve made the questing experience come before dungeons so that you can’t really get into them until you’ve done what blizzard used to call “Attunements.” And the attunements are all neat.  In LoTRO you are brought to instanced single-player dungeons where you go through an epic storyline.  By the time you get to the boss in the dungeon you are aware of them and know why you’re killing them.

However not all games are like this.  The main problem is how these games get designed.  They know that people pick up games for dungeons and PvP so they’re going to be either working hard on the game play or the dungeons.   Later on skins get added to the boss models and the lore is added in later.  A lot of times lore will get developed around the dungeons.  So story telling itself is going top down.  It’s like I give you a list of characters and you have to link them all together like Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

In the end WoW’s story telling goes like this, there’s some symbol over someone’s head you left click on them and don’t read anything but the bottom.  It tells you to kill certain things or collect something and you go and do it.  It’s such a horrible way to tell a story if you enjoy lore aspects of games but it’s the way people like it.  People who want more dynamic story telling have moved on to games like LoTRO and the soon to be launched The Old Republic where storytelling is key.

I hope after reading this you get some sort of idea by what I mean when I say “WoW clone” and in large part get a better idea of why they fail or why they do well.  In the end the WoW Clone is just like anything else it’s doomed to failure because it only fulfill temporary demands.