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Darkfall Schadenfreude Alert

As the Darkfall servers are now up and accepting customers, I’m announcing that the Darkfall Schadenfreude Level has been lowered from OMGZRed to Working As Expected Orange. Stay tuned for future updates; watch especially for the Darkfall developers to come out of their bunkers to announce how much they pwned the rest of the industry.

And yes, as Tobold and others have noted, I am taking an unhealthy level of glee in this. Come on, it’s been almost a DECADE of interacting with the wonderful and perfectly well-adjusted Darkfall community. This makes Horizons look like a marvel of efficient project management.

But now, it’s shipped. And as Tasos and the other Aventurine developers are about to discover, things change when you go live. The wolves have teeth, and they’re going to be looking for soft necks.

To commemerate Darkfall being up and available for your pwning roleplayer needs, the best Darkfall video ever made.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_Z2HUX9TEQ

Darkfall May Or May Not Have Launched, May Or May Not Be Available For Purchase, You May Or May Not Care

Darkfall pre-orders have sold out! Good thing too, since as this is launch day they can’t technically sell any more. Now they would be called “orders”.

The latest update has Darkfall slouching towards Bethlehem to be born sometime “this evening European time”. For you Amurrican types, that would be… right about now (at this writing it is 7:00 PM GMT). So… Darkfall may have already launched! You probably missed it because you suck and aren’t hardcore and/or European enough.  Can’t you feel the steady beat of the bodies hitting the floor? Oh wait, that’s the other game that launched today: “50 Cent: Blood on the Sandwich“, where Fitty goes on a mad rampage to kill everyone who dares to bleed on his food, thus causing more blood to spill in an existential commentary on the futility of violence.

Which has nothing to do with Darkfall. Or Shadowbane, for that matter.

The Mordred Problem

So, a more serious look at Darkfall’s incipient release.

Most of the traffic on the boards and blogs recently seems to be doomcasting Darkfall pretty harshly. It’s not a AAA MMO, its ruleset is ridiculously hardcore, and it is doing its level best to minimize the number of people that actually *can* log in (no NA release, limited number of boxes sold, etc).

I actually disagree. I think it will have a groundswell of excitement, some people will be pumped about “a hardcore game not for carebears!!1!”, and we’ll see some ridiculous eBay auctions of Darkfall boxes.

For three months. Then… it will collapse upon itself.

Why this curve? Because every PvP-centric MMO released to date has seen this. Even PvP-specific servers, released to great fanfare with their users, see this curve. And the reason is pretty simple – because people enjoy hardcore PvP in the abstract. Or, to put another way, many more people believe they are ‘hardc0re’ than actually are. And they dislike being proved wrong pretty powerfully.

The best example of this in my experience were the free-for-all PvP servers in Dark Age of Camelot. They were eagerly anticipated. When the first one, “Mordred”, came out, it was the most popular server in the game. A second PvP server, “Andred”, was quickly pressed into service, which also was popular.

Then… they weren’t. Andred in particular became a ghost town and after a decent interval was merged back into Mordred. Mordred still exists, but only has a vestigal population at best.

Of course, if you talk to the players themselves, there were other issues. PvP in DAOC was an afterthought, levelling was too difficult, there were too many exploits, there were bugs, etc. etc. Much as in Shadowbane, one of the most highly anticipated MMOs ever judging from message board buzz – bugs, bad design, exploits, etc. etc.

All of which is true. But they are not unique to PvP servers, or PvP games. What *is* unique is the PvP ruleset – the sense of the hardcore. The Mordred problem is simply that a great majority of the people who believe they are hardcore are not, and after being violently disabused of the notion, will leave.

Thus, the curve. Servers that will be massively overpopulated one month, ghost towns the next.

Perhaps Darkfall’s developers are well aware of the Mordred problem, and are enforcing a rigid scarcity of availability to try to counter this. Personally I’m dubious of this, based on the PR coming from some of their spokespersons that would have made Todd Coleman in a GOD stripper booth blush. But in the end, it will definitely work in their favor. If they can ride that curve, they may find the true level of their niche.

And those people outside the niche will complain about bugs. And poor design. And poor polish. And a community of rabid weasels. And and and. All of which will probably be true. But very few will admit to a Mordred problem. And addressing that problem will be a key dilemma for any PvP-centric game.

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It’s Beginning… To Look A Lot Like… Pontification

It’s time for PREDICTIONS, that being the job of every pundit this time of year. But first, let’s see how I did last year so you can judge whether or not you should bother to read the rest of this post!

This is going to be a slow year for MMOs… …In the next few years following, we’ll see the results of everyone trying to go all aikido and step where WoW isn’t. But for this next year or so, you’re going to see the effect of an entire MMO industry three to four years ago going “Holy crap. They sold how many boxes? And our entire development team is in a WoW guild? Hmm.”

I’m going to call this one a HIT, since there wasn’t any good positive news out of the MMO industry this year except things that were kind of pre-loaded already from years past. (Bioware’s SW:TOR, Sony’s Freerealms) Plus, as we’re going to see, I really, really, really need to pad that hit percentage.

Specifically, PotBS will be a niche title a la Eve which does well long term but nothing spectacular out of the gate, Warhammer will grab over a million subscribers (counting both the US and European markets) which will make it the second biggest MMO, disappointing everyone who wanted it to be Teh Giant Slayer. Age of Conan will do somewhere in the 200K range, much less if there are launch issues (it remains to be seen if Funcom’s learned from Anarchy Online). No one will care about the much-vaunted nudity. It didn’t save Shadowbane, either.

Pirates of the Burning Sea – jury is still out. It wasn’t a smash hit, but after an initial server merge it seems to be keeping on keeping on, too, out of everyone’s radar and on SOE’s Station Pass life support system.

Age of Conan – well, I hedged and said that if there were launch issues, it would tank. There were some pretty significant ones, and all avoidable ones at that – fundamentally broken design flaws (equipment had apparently no use whatsoever, for example) compounded by rapid twice-a-week patching in response that finally broke Funcom’s version control safeguards (Necromancers had half their talent tree patched in one week accidentally, which made for some interesting ‘found gameplay’). And by all reports, it has tanked pretty seriously.

As has Warhammer, my biggest miss in this category – I predicted it to be over a million by this time. It’s hard to tell what their subscriber numbers are due to EA’s habit of only announcing “registered players“, but it’s safe to say if Warhammer had ever broken 1 million subscribers (or even registered users) it would be difficult to dodge the press releases. Failing that, the most visible metric would be “voluntary character transfers” in the wake of the hurricane called “Wrath of the Lich King” effectively closing half their servers. So we’re going to go ahead and call this a MISS. Damn it, we needed some hits this year from companies not named Blizzard. And we didn’t get any.

Speaking of Blizzard: Starcraft 2 will slip to 2009, sorry. However, fear not – the PC market will still be in a Blizzard hammerlock, as the next World of Warcraft expansion pack will ship just in time for the Christmas rush, dwarfing any other game’s launch that year. Note: I did not say “any other MMO game”. I meant “ANY OTHER GAME”.

Yeah. Never underestimate the ability of Blizzard to make the PC market their bitch. Last month here was NPD’s top 10 11 sales chart:

1. World Of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
2. World Of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Collector’s Ed.
3. Call Of Duty: World At War
4. Spore / EA Maxis
5. Fallout 3 / Bethesda
6. World Of Warcraft: Battle Chest
7. The Sims 2 Deluxe
8. Left 4 Dead
9. The Sims 2 Apartment Life Exp. Pack
10. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
11. World Of Warcraft

I made this top 11 just to show that World of Warcraft – the original, non-expanded World of Warcraft released years ago – is still just shy of the top 10 in TWO THOUSAND FRAKKIN EIGHT. And the top 2? Yeah, that’d be the same game. Warhammer? Age of Conan? Guild Wars? Hello Kitty Online? Nowhere to be found in the top 20. Welcome to the Blizzard Desert. Not only a HIT, but a body blow to the solar plexus. The only MMO title in the top 20 was Everquest 2’s just-released and generally well-recieved expansion at #14, just below Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy. Yes, below. And the linked-to PC World recap remarked on that with:

“They still make Everquest games?” What I said, too.

Hardy-freakin-har.

EA Austin — sorry, Bioware Austin will finally announce that yes, they’re working on Knights of the Old Republic Online. Everyone will yawn since that was leaked all over the place LAST year. Or maybe those leaks were MISDIRECTION! And they’re really working on Peggle Online. That Gordon Walton fellow is crafty.

OK, so they dropped the Knights part, but still, they had to announce sometime, so this is a HIT albeit somewhat of a gimme.

Free MMOs will continue to pull in more free users, more paid users, and more money than the vast majority of “old school” MMOs, as Raph Koster is vindicated in spades, over and over, when people start to actually notice that more people play Maple Story than World of Warcraft.

I’m going to call this a MISS for two reasons – first off, no one has really noticed yet that more people play Maple Story than World of Warcraft. Second, the reason for that is that World of Warcraft makes about a skillion more dollars than Maple Story, thanks to 80% or 85% of Maple Story players not actually paying any money. I still think free-to-play is a pretty significant market (and John Riccitiello apparently agrees with me) but… the jury’s still out on the big iron I think. Of course, it may well be that the only company that can still make subscription big-budget MMOs is Blizzard. Sucks for all of us not working there!

Second Life will no longer be all over the news as even Reuters figures out that a lot more people talk about Second Life than actually participate in it. They will continue to have server and client issues, and near the end of the year the first Second Life clones that were conceived back when Second Life was the new hotness hit the market. I don’t know what they are off the top of my head, and you won’t either, because as Linden already knows and these new kids will learn, enabling a game wholly based on user generated content in a 3D space is REALLY REALLY REALLY freakin’ hard.

Also a MISS. The media’s love affair with Second Life may have cooled, but some of the ardor remains. And more importantly, no Second Life clones have reached the market yet – the closest are efforts to bring an open source version of SL to the masses (driven largely by Linden Lab’s community mismanagement) but those are still alpha-quality at this point.

2008 will be to Facebook as 2007 was to Myspace – no one will care any more, some hot new thing will come along, and everyone currently working on Facebook-centric startups will feel awfully silly (but still make hojillions of dollars).

Bzzzt, MISS. Facebook still is where everyone knows your name (and irritatingly, your birthday. Thanks, Facebook, for reminding everyone I know that I’m old.)

The election matchup will be Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, and Obama will win in a landslide. I’m willing to fudge on the Republican side given Iowa’s results but it’ll still be a Democrat landslide. Ron Paul will run from the right as a Libertarian candidate (I know, he said he wouldn’t, HE FIBBED DEAL WITH IT) and break 5%, which dwarfs the LP’s previous best of 2% but is still a statistical blip.

Mitt Romney? MITT ROMNEY? I don’t care if Obama DID win in a landslide, MITT ROMNEY? Dear god, 2007 Lum, what the hell were you smoking. Oh, and Ron Paul didn’t run as an independent and the Libertarians’ Bobbarr managed to get 0.40% of the vote. MISS.

So, now that we’ve established that I am wildly, wackily unqualified to make any predictions ever again, let’s do it ag’n!

* The video game industry is not going to be immune from the Great Recession. The MMO industry is especially not going to be immune, as the only proven path to success for MMOs is in huge budget gambles that have missed more often than not. There will be a couple of high profile announcements next year, but they are all games that managed to secure funding before the global economy fell over in a drunken stupor. There will be major, major consolidations between companies (“EA buys Ubisoft! No, wait, Ubisoft buys EA!”) which will result in consequent massive layoffs – layoffs which have dwarfed any to date. A not insignificant number of people, burned by the consequently flooded job market, will leave the game industry entirely for safer climes, and the usual incestuous job hopping will come to a screeching halt as everyone lucky enough to have a paying gig holds on tight to ride out the storm. Austin, Vancouver, and Boston will depopulate (not entirely – but significantly, as has already happened in Austin) as game development hubs as consolidation moves everyone towards California. The impact of this hammer blow will be felt over the next 3-4 years as new development slows to a crawl and the large publishers focus their efforts on safe, secure investments. Hope you like fantasy RPGs and Madden games.

* Those unemployed game developers have to do something – expect something of a boom in iPhone and web titles, both platforms friendly to small teams (in the iPhone’s case, sometimes talented one-man teams). Some really surprising and technologically sophisticated titles will be released there, and that will be where all the technical and design innovation is centered around. There’s movement by hobbyist/unemployed developers in semi-open platforms such as SL’s Opengrid and Metaplace as well.

* World of Warcraft will not deliver an expansion next year, focusing on live patching (effectively, the raid-level instances left out of WotLK’s release) as the company focuses on delivering its first Starcraft title and moving Diablo 3 into beta. Blizzcon will see an announcement of a new MMO that isn’t World of Starcraft, World of Diablo or World of World of Warcraft and everyone will glom to it as The Savior Of The PC Gaming Industry (which by this time will be pretty painfully obviously in desperate need of saving). Wrath of the Lich King will still be in the top 10 PC titles at the end of the year.

* Aion will do well in Korea. It won’t do well enough (like Tabula Rasa, Aion has been a high-profile and high-budget project in development for far too long). NCsoft will undergo serious retrenchment (related to the general global downturn) in Korea, although not in the West, because, well, they kind of already did that and there’s not much left to cut (though currently unannounced projects may disappear from lack of funding). Given the cutbacks from Webzen and Nexon earlier this year, this will mark the high water market of Korea’s investment in the US market, to be replaced as 2010 begins with Chinese investment, as the Chinese MMO market will continue to boom, unlike the West or Korea.

And… that’s it. 2009 is going to be a grim year. Sorry. On the up side, I think Battlestar Galactica’s final episodes will be pretty cool!

It’s The Fun, Stupid

Age of Conan is a mess, as the twice-weekly massive patch notes attest. But it’s a great and gloriously fun mess. Just take this example that I wrote describing one of the classes for someone who asked:

You BURN THINGS. You BREATHE FIRE AND BURN THINGS while swinging a REALLY BIG SWORD and things DIE in FIRE. All your combos do WTF massive AOE damage. You can also turn into a demon for even more burnination, assuming things are not already burned to death. Eventually you get Fire Lance through a talent which can do thousands of points of burst damage. HoXs are good if you like the combo system, like spells, and like making things burn. In fire.

Sure, there’s hundreds of bugs, including some really head scratching did they REALLY do that ones, and class balance is kind of a sick joke and content gives out eventually… but fire! You SET THINGS ON FIRE! Age of Conan clearly has staked out a niche: people who like burning things. My suspicion is that this may be a fairly large niche.

 

And yet the “established wisdom” is that in the post-WoW world, you have to have a polished launch, you just can’t do the usual MMO screwups that we’re all sadly accustomed to because players just won’t put up with that anymore. Well, clearly this isn’t the case. Age of Conan isn’t polished – in fact it’s almost aggressively unpolished. One especially cringeworthy patch note, for example, announced that a key Mage buff, which had a five minute duration, would have a one hour COOLDOWN when instead they meant it would have a one hour DURATION. The difference is somewhat important. It’s now a tradition to find all the stuff in Funcom’s patch notes that they kind of forgot to add.

But… it’s fun. A critical review (which is almost entirely accurate in all the things it takes Funcom to task for over AoC) has been shouted down on F13 because… the game’s fun. Did I mention you can burn things? Also, there is nudity (NWS). But you’ll note what I fixated on, which probably says a lot more about me than you wanted to know. Also, you can burn things. In FIRE.

Age of Conan has also done some pretty impressive market jiu jitsu, whether intentional or not. The insanely high system specs limit their market to the PC gaming hardcore (at least until the Xbox 360 version is released). The mature environment (which, in addition to immolations, decapitations and nipples includes a very morally dark and corrupt world and a hardcore Shadowbane-esque full PvP implementation on PvP servers) limit their market to adults or people who can pretend to be adults in game stores. But both of these things very much set the game apart from World of Warcraft. It’s a large niche, and a safe one.

Of course, much remains to be seen – will the bugs and the inevitable class balancing nerfs chase off customers? Is there enough stickiness in the largely unimplemented elder game to entice customers to keep playing? But I think we have reinforced one lesson from World of Warcraft that perhaps hasn’t been reinforced enough: fun trumps everything. Everything. You can have a server bugfest and a client that barely runs on year-old machines – but all is forgiven, as long as you can set things on fire.

Oh, and you can set things on fire.

Everyone’s A Prophet This Week

So far be it for me to buck the trend!

  • This is going to be a slow year for MMOs. Last year saw the release of most of the projects that began development before WoW shipped. (The remainder – Age of Conan and Warhammer Online are set to release this year, and Pirates of the Burning Sea this month.) Now we enter the Desert of Azeroth, as the extinction-level-event that is World of Warcraft’s unbelievable success caused everyone in the MMO industry in 2005 to go:
    whoa.jpg

    In the next few years following, we’ll see the results of everyone trying to go all aikido and step where WoW isn’t. But for this next year or so, you’re going to see the effect of an entire MMO industry three to four years ago going “Holy crap. They sold how many boxes? And our entire development team is in a WoW guild? Hmm.”

  • Speaking of those above three MMOs, they’ll all be pretty successful, if not astounding million sellers, which means that every pundit will wax profoundly about how they’re all failures, despite keeping their dev teams paid and their publishers afloat. Note: MMOs can be successful revenue sources even when not produced by Blizzard! Specifically, PotBS will be a niche title a la Eve which does well long term but nothing spectacular out of the gate, Warhammer will grab over a million subscribers (counting both the US and European markets) which will make it the second biggest MMO, disappointing everyone who wanted it to be Teh Giant Slayer. Age of Conan will do somewhere in the 200K range, much less if there are launch issues (it remains to be seen if Funcom’s learned from Anarchy Online). No one will care about the much-vaunted nudity. It didn’t save Shadowbane, either.
  • Speaking of Blizzard: Starcraft 2 will slip to 2009, sorry. However, fear not – the PC market will still be in a Blizzard hammerlock, as the next World of Warcraft expansion pack will ship just in time for the Christmas rush, dwarfing any other game’s launch that year. Note: I did not say “any other MMO game”. I meant “ANY OTHER GAME”. The PC market, by and large, is rapidly becoming WoW-driven. Proof? In November, almost a year after Burning Crusade’s ship, amidst all the new hotness Christmas releases like Orange Box and Call of Duty 4, Burning Crusade was #9 in the PC charts for the month and World of Warcraft was #5. This doesn’t track subscriptions – these are box sales – new accounts.  In terms of subscribers, WoW will finally plateau after cracking 10 million, mainly because there is no one in WoW’s target market left. The big news at next year’s BlizzCon will be the announcement of Blizzard’s next MMO, which will not be World of Starcraft or World of Diablo.
  • EA Austin — sorry, Bioware Austin will finally announce that yes, they’re working on Knights of the Old Republic Online. Everyone will yawn since that was leaked all over the place LAST year. Or maybe those leaks were MISDIRECTION! And they’re really working on Peggle Online. That Gordon Walton fellow is crafty.
  • Free MMOs will continue to pull in more free users, more paid users, and more money than the vast majority of “old school” MMOs, as Raph Koster is vindicated in spades, over and over, when people start to actually notice that more people play Maple Story than World of Warcraft.
  • Second Life will no longer be all over the news as even Reuters figures out that a lot more people talk about Second Life than actually participate in it. They will continue to have server and client issues, and near the end of the year the first Second Life clones that were conceived back when Second Life was the new hotness hit the market. I don’t know what they are off the top of my head, and you won’t either, because as Linden already knows and these new kids will learn, enabling a game wholly based on user generated content in a 3D space is REALLY REALLY REALLY freakin’ hard.
  • 2008 will be to Facebook as 2007 was to Myspace – no one will care any more, some hot new thing will come along, and everyone currently working on Facebook-centric startups will feel awfully silly (but still make hojillions of dollars).
  • The election matchup will be Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, and Obama will win in a landslide. I’m willing to fudge on the Republican side given Iowa’s results but it’ll still be a Democrat landslide. Ron Paul will run from the right as a Libertarian candidate (I know, he said he wouldn’t, HE FIBBED DEAL WITH IT) and break 5%, which dwarfs the LP’s previous best of 2% but is still a statistical blip.

Feel free to tell me I’m full of it! Bonus points if you (a) tell me I totally forgot about Darkfall or (b) complain that Shadowbane didn’t actually ship with any nudity.

How To Make A Game With ‘PvP Done Right’

Considering that every time I make a post with “P”, “v” and “P” somewhere in the title the ensuing comments pile up into three digits, either Scott Kurtz has a lot of fans or there’s a whole lot of people still mad about getting ganked in front of Despise 10 years later. And given the recent comments by Auran on the less than stellar success of their new PvP MMO, it seems a refresher course may be in order on H0w 2 mak3 y0ur playerZ gAnk. So, here is my incredibly humble checklist of how to make your player vs player not morph into player vs company. In other words… a design manifesto cleverly disguised as some incredibly obvious aphorisms! I can speak from experience, of course, having worked on one of the more successful PvP-centric MMOs and, much more importantly, having complained a lot on message boards.

PvP should not be the focus of your entire game. There have been three MMOs where the entire game consisted of player vs player combat: Planetside, WW2 Online, and Fury. Although all of these games are still running, none of them were considered market successes. (That’s not to say that a PvP-only game can’t be successful – but be prepared to consider a niche title a success.) Very few players in an MMO want to be “all gank, all the time”. Even in a game where PvP combat is the primary focus, such as Shadowbane or Eve, other elements of the game (city building, economy, etc) provide context for the persistant-world battling. With that context, your players exist in a world at war. Without that context, your game is a long-running deathmatch. And it’s safe to say other people are probably doing deathmatch better than you are.

PvP should not be a random afterthought. Or if it is, be prepared for it to be an afterthought that few bother with. Gameplay mechanics that may be crucial for the player vs environment game can spell hot death when used against other players, such as crowd control. If you go the path of designing a combat system that works well against AI monsters and raiding, and then retrofit it to a PvP environment, at least establish a framework so that what works against a monster doesn’t necessarily work against a player. However, if you go down that dark pathway, be prepared to hear a lot of complaining from your newly disenfranchised players that you just nerfed into goo. Another problem with “hey, let’s throw in a dueling system” PvP is that, by definition, that system will have little context.

PvP players hate classes. Generally, the strongest advocates of skill-based systems are PvP players. Not much of a surprise, since PvP players tend to also be the more experienced MMO players who feel as though they want to play on “advanced” mode. Class based systems also breed a sense of entitlement and disillusionment, as the players feel as though their class is inferior to everyone else. (Note: in a class-based system game, check the message boards for that class – if there’s not several dozen pages of people complaining their class is underpowered, that’s a good sign that class is wildly overpowered.) Plus there’s always the allure of coming up with a “build” that no one else has (even though everyone else in a skill-based game is playing one of three builds – maybe two) and bragging about it on message boards.

PvP players need classes. The best argument for this is what Damion Schubert has termed tactical transparency. The easiest way to illustrate this in a PvP context: players want to be able to build contingency plans. It’s hard to have a contingency plan in the heat of battle when the best you can determine about an enemy coming over the hill is “uh, he’s big and he is holding some sort of weapon”. Note that you don’t need a class to fit this need so much as a clearly visible role. If your PvP game is in a fantasy environment (note: stop), make sure your casters can’t wear platemail and tote a halberd. There, you just made it easy to identify a caster. Now, to define it further, make it so your healers have to wear a Pope hat to have a strong connection to the divine. Hey, now your players can target healers by looking for the funny hat. You just made gameplay. Also, even if your game does have classes, some means of differentiating player choices within each class is crucial. World of Warcraft’s talent system is a great example of this; a priest can be a good healer, can melt faces in PvP, or can spend points in that other tree no one uses.

PvP players detest grinding. This is something of a trick question as all players detest grinding. However, PvPers will be the loudest of the contingent demanding a shortcut. Be it level grinding, skill grinding, reputation, items, whatever roadblocks you put in the way for players to reach the end of the game in two weeks, people wanting to engage in PvP will demand that, yes, they want to reach the end of the game in two weeks, thank you.

PvP players need some grinding. Without some form of ‘grinding’ – in other words, character persistence and improvement – you have a world without meaning. No one grinds in Counterstrike (unless you count the very real grind of player skill and oh boy are we coming back to that one in a bit). Very few PvP players want no character improvement – what the argument boils down to is that they want a small “ramp-up” time, and then small incremental improvements over time that give their characters a wider set of abilities without making the constantly growing equation of power growth = time invested that is so common in MMOs to date. At any rate, that’s the charitable view. The cynical view is that the average PvP player wants player growth for everyone else capped to 10% to 25% less powerful than they personally are at any given moment.

PvP should not screw new players over. This is the No, You Cannot Be A Juvenile Little Brat rule. For examples of what happens when that rule is broken, consult everyone’s favorite, Ultima Online In The Good Old Days. Another example is “world PvP” in World of Warcraft on PvE servers, which usually consists of a passel of bored level 70s deciding to camp on a low level town owned by the other side and wipe out all the characters. Most games prevent this by making NPCs in low level zones higher level than the attacking players, or simply prevent them from bottom feeding in low level zones entirely. However, it’s pretty clear that Blizzard intended for players to be able to “raid” low level zones – without thinking through the impact that has on precisely the players who (a) cannot actually fight back and (b) are learning how to play the game and (c) deciding if they want to continue paying for said game. Alienating people who have not yet decided if that free month you gave them is enough time to get tired of your player base’s crap? Not a good idea. I mean, clearly, look how badly it’s hurting Blizzard!

PvP should screw over someone. At the same time, without someone bitterly throwing a keyboard against the wall and breaking it yet again thanks to yet another goddamned stupid pickup group not that I would know anything about any of that, PvP combat becomes just a meaningless exchange of particle effects. Part of opting into PvP (and oh, yes, we shall return to that point in a moment as well) should entail the understanding that not only can you lose, you will lose something dear to you. Whether that is as simple as time, or as permanent as item loss or even permadeath (if you’re particularly insane), consequences are part and parcel of meaningful PvP.

“You gotta keep ’em separated.” Whenever you hear old-school Ultima Online veterans indulge in nerd rage!!!1! over something called ‘Trammel’, they’re talking about geographic PvP separation – in this specific case, the introduction of safe zones into UO. Which pissed off every vocal PvPer playing UO, marked the end of a glorious era of a true shared virtual world, was a horrible sap thrown to skill-less “Trammel newbs”, and, oh, also, stopped the incredible bleeding of customers UO was suffering to the very-much-not-a-shared-virtual-PvP-world Everquest. Although the stereotypical MUD-era “PK switch” doesn’t work very well in an MMO environment, geographical separation does work very well indeed for providing a pure “opt-in” to a PvP-free-fire zone, even a ‘soft’ separation as seen in Eve where there’s not a line but more or less likelihood of retaliation by the NPC police force. And if you think seperation/opt-in PvP isn’t a very good idea for whatever reason (purity of your virtual world vision, desire to have a hard core PvP experience, deep and undying hatred of your new players), keep this simple fact in mind – your game will have a geographically based PvP switch. The question you should answer is – will it occur within your game, or by players leaving it for games with other rules systems?

But not too separated. At the same time, there should be encouragement to actually enter what I’ve been known to call ‘Gankytown’ (if only so I can intone “MASTER BLASTER RULES GANKYTOWN”) (note: when designing PvP systems, it often helps to indulge your inner 14 year old). Both to give the battle-hardened denizens someone new to slaughter, but also, and more seriously, giving new players a taste of battle so they can discover whether or not they have a taste for it. The best way to do this is to place optional, but valuable rewards for new players (and only new players, preferably through the mechanism of quests or other one-time-only reward systems) that encourage them to get into the fight against other new players from opposing sides after the same thing. Continuing this progress through to “battlegrounds” where hopefully even-matched players compete against one another, and players discover that losing a PvP match doesn’t actually cause massive internal bleeding, and more importantly start to make contacts among other interested players and guilds. Guild Wars tends to do this pretty well with its PvP minigames, as does World of Warcraft (though the low level WoW battlegrounds tend to be dominated by specialist twinks in a sort of PvP minigame, which can alienate the truly new player). Other possible carrots include valuable raw materials for crafting and, in level grind games, greatly expedited experience gain vs. other players (which worked very well for Dark Age of Camelot).

In the endless player skill argument, you should assume your players don’t have any. I’m tempted just to leave that sentence as is. However, the player-skill vs character-skill argument is, in the sense of this discussion, almost a red herring. Does your game have twitchy gameplay? Is player growth simply gated by whomever has the most time or cash on eBay to spend? Are your rules so arcane and so often patched that your players have to level up their Google skill just to get an accurate spell list off your website? No matter what gates exist, there will be some. And there will be those who are better at working those gates than others. It’s what I call the tyranny of the skilled minority. A given small percentage – be it 10% or 20% or whatever – will win any contest consistently, when faced with the less skilled 80% or 90%. There’s not much you can do about this, save be aware of it, and more importantly, ensure that losing isn’t too painful a proposition. Note that this directly contradicts with the rule that “PvP should screw over someone.” Congratulations on the realization that no matter where you step, the mine will go off directly under your foot.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward those players who do. Players should always feel as though PvP combat is more than just a random dice roll weighted by what level their Panzerelf Warden ground up to. Even if a player is consistently losing to the skilled minority when they are matched up with them, if they feel that in a fair fight they had a chance of winning, the pain of that loss is lessened considerably. If the player feels as though given enough practice and skill they can turn the tables, they’re motivated to do so (and also possibly pay for a new keyboard). If a player feels as though they had no chance because the Emotionally Distressed Wizardling class just pushed a button that vaporized all players within 500 feet, that motivation usually expresses itself as “finding another game”.

PvP players are angry and bitter, and will hate you. This has nothing to do with design. I just thought I should warn you. There’s been enough bad games out there that you have no honeymoon period at all. Sorry.

What Darkfall Expects Of You: To TAKE YOUR FORUM INVASION LIKE A MAN!

The Darkfall Forum isn’t happy I closed the 2 1/2 week old post on a Darkfall commentary that turned into PK VS ANTI, PART 87,308,022. I’d have posted this on their forums instead, it being considerably more relevant there, but, well, their forum has a 72 hour waiting period. Yes, posting in Darkfall’s forums is much like buying a handgun.

What kind of bullshit is that. I know this is kinda off topic, but to have a entire page mocking this game, yet shutting down the discussion because the peopel who support it come to….support it..is the msot ridiculously self centered and self righteous thing i’ve ever seen anyone do i na forum. I guess i dont’ visit enough forums or something.

I know the distinction is probably lost, but I wasn’t mocking Darkfall, but the *manly man* commentary someone made about it. To mock Darkfall (which I wouldn’t do anyway since I rarely if ever talk about specific games due to working on competing products), I would have to know anything about it, preferably through – you know – playing it.

And I shut down the post comments because it was in response to a Darkfall developer almost literally telling his fans to go “defend the faith” two weeks after the post actually had been made. Said fans did so, and did so vociferously and without knowing or caring about any other posts on the blog, which, frankly, I didn’t find terribly amusing. Yet still, I let it run for about a week, so that everyone who wanted to get in their points could. When the post war showed no sign of ending, and in fact started repeating themselves (easy to do since the identical arguments have been raging since the previous century), I put the whole thing out of its misery.

This no doubt pissed off the participants, who then went back to Darkfall and muttered the same frat-boy juvenile things they muttered since I mocked the literally exact same people for literally the exact same reasons EIGHT FREAKING YEARS AGO.

OSI hired Sir Adrick and Evocare. I laughed and then I cried.

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Who cares about what Scott Jennings does on his own worthless section of the internet? His blog is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. He posted a completely bullshit response to an article, and when his ignorant ass got called for it and the Darkfall community stepped up to the plate, he realized that the average Forumfall members excrement contains a greater degree of intelligence so he ran like a bitch. I don’t see the issue. Let idiots be idiots.

You know, I’m not sure what would piss them off more – the realization that I’m actually not just a random blogger, or that Evocare is responsible for the PvP and systems design on a somewhat popular game.

But let’s move on to the key mistake they made about my personal investment or lack thereof in all of this:

Yeah, he apparently feels that he can be a critic, but wants to be above criticism himself. I guess it sucks to be called out on a facetious remark on your own blog.

he can dish it out, but he has to go cry and lock the post as soon as he’s called out… lame… O.o…

Except that for the most part, I didn’t take part in the *very* *long* *argument*. Because, well, nothing new was being said. It’s the same argument that raged back when people were pissed off that someone stole their house keys in UO. It’s the same argument that Shadowbane fans made any time someone dared point out that the game they were rabidly following TO THE DEATH did not yet technically exist.

I didn’t say anything mainly because, well, I already did, years ago, and there’s no real reason to repeat myself. So really, I had no dog in the hunt; the comment thread itself was closed simply because the blog’s actual readers as opposed to forum invaders had moved on, and in my capacity as site janitor, it was my job to shut it down so as to not clog the “new comments” indicators.

So there you have it. Feel free to chuckle and high-five each other about how you pizz0wn3d the carebear. (Despite, you know, my being neither.) Hope you have fun in Darkfall!