On Free to Play Games Vs Subscriptions

This topic has come up a few times lately, well, a couple? Enough that I want to write about it, and this is my blog so “I do what I want”. Mainly this topic seems to come up whenever a new MMO comes out that is either Free to Play or has some form of monthly subscription. The latest game to cause this was ArcheAge and the fear that it will be full of jerks. This isn’t to say that every free to play game is full of them, but it feels that way some times. This might be an over abundance of immature players (ie teenagers, or children) that can’t afford to pay monthly fees.

I think the concept of Free to Play is fine as long as it is done correctly, and so far at least Trion seems to be the ones that do it best. They have a nice balance of free content, a cash shop, and an option subscription service that gives you added benefits but does not give you an unfair advantage in the game you’re playing. In fact in their last few live streams about ArcheAge they’ve specifically said they don’t want to make Pay to Win games. I have no problem supporting these games either through cash shops or the optional subscriptions because I know where those payments go. Just like subscription based games it goes to maintaining the network, and paying their employees so that there is ready customer support and content development.

Really the only thing I don’t like about Free to Play games is the risk of having a bad community experience. If games games that have optional subscriptions such as Rift or ArcheAge offered a subscriber only server I would gladly pay the $15 a month for it so that I would be a little bit less worried about a bad experience. Now that isn’t to say having a subscription means there won’t be players that want to ruin things for everyone else. That is a risk of any game that allows you to interact with so many other people from around the world. The only way to avoid it is to play single player games.

I know a few people who don’t understand the whole subscription model, especially if it is a game you went to the store and paid $60 for to begin with. They don’t seem to grasp the concept of the company having to have at least enough of a profit to pay their employees. I would like to think that everyone that is capable of paying for an optional subscription would because that just means better support and possibly content.

That being said, would I choose a subscription over a free to play game or vice versa? To be honest I’m not sure. I like the concept of free to play games because there is no commitment to a pay schedule. If you stop playing the game for a couple months you don’t have to worry about paying the monthly subscription with no personal benefit. The first thing I tend to look at is the quality of the game, and if I find it interesting enough to compel me to want to play it. If I’m on the fence and can try it for free I will be more likely to play it. If I was on the fence and had to purchase the game first I don’t think I would. I would have to wait for someone else to tell me about it or watch videos to see if I would be interested at all. Like I mentioned before, I have absolutely no issue paying for a subscription if I feel it is worth it, even if it is optional. Some people may think that is dumb, but as a professional software developer I understand why they need that money and as a gamer I love having new content and customer support if something comes up.

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On PVP – Player Choice or Mandatory

PVP is something that I’ve discussed a little bit before when talking about ArcheAge and that games “always on” PVP. After reading another blog by my friend Ashgar where he mentions PVP I thought that I’d go a little bit more in to the subject.

It is an established fact that I am not the worlds biggest fan of PVP in games, whether it is option or required. One of the most annoying things that can ever happen to me is being killed by another player, in some cases repeatedly. The first MMO that I ever played that had what I’d consider “always on” PVP was Lineage 2. Leading up to the game I thought it looked amazing, the graphics looked great and I thought I’d have a lot of fun playing it. I don’t remember the specifics of their PVP system, but I know that if you attacked another player you were basically red flagged as a player-killer (pk’er). This essentially flagged you for pvp allowing anyone to come and kill you without consequences.

So naturally the first thing that happened when I hit left the starter area? Someone attacked me and immediately disengaged, but I still ended up killing them in self defense. However, since they had disengaged from the fight I got the flag. This lead to them standing there farming me, so every time I would respawn they’d just kill me again. Needless to say I got tired of that very quickly and I stopped playing that game within a day and I haven’t played it since. That’s probably the prime example of why I don’t like a PVP system that doesn’t give me a choice. People are jerks.

As I’ve mentioned the one aspect of ArcheAge that I am not looking forward to is PVP. From my understanding there are areas where you will always have to worry about being killed/farmed by other players, but, you can also be attacked and killed by players of your own faction. That in and of itself is a problem, but where it gets annoying is that the game seems to reward certain types of players for doing this. In ArcheAge players can become pirates by essentially being a-holes. Every time you do something illegal you get crime points, and the justice system allows players to judge you and sentence you to jail. Eventually this will make you a pirate. So what’s the quickest way to be a pirate? Be a jerk.

Now, I don’t have a problem with responsible PVP. If you want to do that it should be up to you. I don’t want it forced on me when that is not something I enjoy. In my opinion games like World Of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online have it right because, while they have PVP, they don’t require you to do it. There are certainly benefits to it such as titles and other rewards, but you certainly don’t have to do it. World of Warcraft has specific server types that do allow for “always on” PVP, but you don’t have to play on those servers. Personally I prefer RP servers because the communities are generally more mature, not guaranteed but at least more likely.

Now there are also games that are specifically designed for PVP and they are gaining in popularity. These are games like League Of Legends and the upcoming Heroes of the Storm from Blizzard. These types of games are called MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas). I’m not to familiar with the objectives of these games, but I would consider them PVP based so these types of games will probably never be installed on my computer.

So to summarize, I don’t think PVP should be required in a game. If it has to be there then I think it should be optional either by having non-required areas set aside for it, or servers where you opt in to always being PVP flagged. I can guarantee if I play ArcheAge the minute some jerk starts farming me just so they can become a pirate I will quit the game.

On Player Housing

I’ve read various blogs lately discussing player housing and whether or not the presence or absence of might be a deal breaker for some people. Personally I think player housing is purely optional and if it’s there great, but if it is not then that isn’t going to keep me from enjoying a good game.

I know there are plenty of games that contain some form of player housing, the ones that I’m aware of are Everquest 2, Rift, and ArcheAge. I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that pop in to my head. Each of these three games has its own take on how much customization they allow. Star Wars Galaxies also had a form of player housing, but to be honest I don’t think I ever got that far in the game to know anything about it. Galaxies was the first MMO I played, and it was before I met any of the friends I have now that helped me get more in to the genre.

Everquest 2 for example lets you add items to your house that you collect through playing. The houses themselves are more like apartments in the capital cities, the more you pay for the apartment the more space you can get. At least, this is the way it was back when I played, and I’ll admit that has been awhile.

From what I know of Rift it allows you to build your own “Dimension” that you can share with other players. A good example of this can be seen in a video posted by my friend Bel showing off the dimension made by our friend Rae.

The last example is ArcheAge, from what I can tell this game has a large amount of customization as well as an interesting system to keep space opening up. Player housing in ArcheAge is player built on plots of land claimed by players. Each player, once obtaining a plot you have to pay rent on the property so that you can keep your land. If you stop playing the game and stop paying your rent eventually your house will be destroyed and you’ll be sent the items. I think this is a good way to keep to many empty houses from cluttering that land.

There is going to be a finite amount of land available, so if you play the game and get a house but quit playing then I think it’s obvious that someone else should be able to use the space. If you’ve seen the video by Trion Worlds they state that housing is a premium. If every plot in the game is taken then no new players will be able to build a house. This also encourages one of my favorite aspects of any game, which is exploring. From what I understand you can find some fairly remote places to build a house, so it might take a long time for every conceivable spot to be used up.

The one feature I think it really cool is the amount of customization you have for items placed in the house. You can import your own images in to the game to create textures. I’ve seen videos where people had soda machines, stereos and family photos in their house.

I think rather than trying to explain this all correctly I will just embed the video. The developers do a good job of explaining it.

On The Importance of Character Creation

So this morning my friend Belghast made a post discussing his first impressions of the ArcheAge alpha, part of which was covering the character creation system. This made me think about what kind of things I look for when playing an MMO for the first time, and how important the customization was when creating a character.

Most of the MMO’s that I’ve played in the last few years offer at least some amount of character customization. Whether that is the basic amount of information such as race, sex, hair color, or allowing details that most people don’t even think about such as nose length, depth and things like that. The question is how much detail should be required as the bare minimum and how much is to much?

Personally I think a good example of what I would consider “bare minimum” would be World of Warcraft. The character creator there allows you to pick race, sex, hair style, hair color, face and a couple other things. There are not really any sliders, except maybe height, so you can’t get super detailed with your personal character. On the other end of the spectrum is Elder Scrolls Online that gives you a lot of options to personalize your appearance. This makes me wonder if there is any kind of middle ground that is more than minimum, but not so detailed that you don’t care.

Facial Customization

Don’t get me wrong, I like the ability to be that detailed, but I don’t tend to spend a long time on features that are going to be covered up. I would say extreme amounts of individual limb customization might be a bit much, but I would say that extra detail when customizing a face would be something I’d want. Back to previous references, Warcraft only lets you pick a standard face, and some features such as hair, facial hair and jewelry. Elder Scrolls allows you the same options but you can customize your face with even greater detail. Both games allow you to hide your helmet slot allowing you to see those details. So in this instance to much detail is the right amount.

The one thing that bothers me about all MMO character creators is hair. Depending on the genre of the game (Medeval, Fantasy) the hair styles tend to vary but the options are always limited. I know that you can’t really allow that much customization here, but I just never really like the hair styles. They never seem to fit the character that you’re wanting to make.

The same can be said about the facial hair, what kind of options do you expect? The article that I linked above talks about not having the ability to make a full/thick beard. I’d tend to agree with this, I would think that it if you are going to allow beards, you should be able to have a Santa Clause beard if you want.

Body Build Customization

This is where you get in to more of a personal preference area. I think that you can easily allow to much detail here that doesn’t really matter. Personally all I need is a height modifier and build selection. I’d be okay with some extra amount of sliders here though, just to tweak the exterior appearance to make sure everything fit. But I don’t need options like torso length or foot size. Bare minimum would be just picking defaults, anything less than that I wouldn’t be okay with.

Now would I skip over a game because of any of these things? I guess that depends. If a game has more customization than I think I’ll need that wouldn’t stop me from playing it. That is there for the people who want such things. Just because they are there does not mean I have to use them. Now, if a game has less than I would consider bare minimum, I can’t say I would play it either. The game itself would have to be able to make up for the lack of customization whether from content, or exterior customization options such as gear or vanity items.

Personally I don’t know where newer games like ArcheAge or Wildstar fall on this spectrum yet. The only customization I’ve seen for ArcheAge was facial features, and I have not had a lot of time to look over the Wildstar character creator yet. From what I’ve seen of ArcheAge though I think that I would probably be absolutely fine with the options available.

On Alpha/Beta Tests

So this morning I read that one of my friends got alpha access to ArcheAge, and at first I had mixed feelings about this. Not that I’m not happy for my friend, I’m just a bit jealous. Now after thinking about it for a little while I’m absolutely fine not getting it (alpha access). The reason is that I think there is always the possibility that it could leave a bad taste in my mouth.

To expand on this a little bit, I have done a handful of beta tests and one or two alphas. The last alpha that I was in was one that I paid to get in to, not $150 or anything, but I still paid to get in to it. The problem is that in an alpha state the game was frustratingly buggy. So much so that I could barely play the game. Now, I understand this is the point of an alpha. They make it very clear that what you’re playing is not remotely finished. Even knowing that it left a bad impression and I didn’t play it again until beta testing started. So to me alpha/beta testing is mixed because you’ll always have these memories of the game being “bad”.

The other reason that I’m okay with this is because of burnout. The last few MMO’s I’ve played have only kept me interested for about 3 to 4 months, and those were games I did not beta test extensively. I find that once I “finish” an MMO I start to lose interest in it. I did the WoW thing for a long time, starting out casual, then doing regular dungeons with friends, and finally serious raiding. I raided so much that I got tired of it, and the thought of doing it again just doesn’t appeal to me. I know that there is always going to be a point where you run out of things to do, and I’d rather do that with friends. Playing the game through an alpha/beta state means I am probably playing by myself and that by the time the game comes out there is a good chance I’ll have seen everything there is to see.

Personally I like to experience these things at the same time as my friends. I don’t want to be the guy who knows everything about what is coming up and eagerly waiting for someone to get there so that I can talk about it.  Now that doesn’t mean I’m still not jealous, but I’m also ok with not having access because by the time I got to play with my friends it wouldn’t be the same.

That being said, I don’t mind the occasional weekend beta test. I think that is a great way to get people interested in the game. You can’t get very far in 2 or 3 days unless you’re super hardcore and don’t sleep. Which if you are, then maybe you’re not playing for the right reason, but that is a different discussion. I’m still on the fence about ArcheAge, and I wouldn’t say no to alpha or beta if I got it, but I’m not going to stress myself out about it.

This is not specific to ArcheAge either, this really would be how I felt about any game. I think it just came up today because of hearing this news. I absolutely think these tests are necessary, and they help to produce better products. I just don’t think they’re for everyone. You have to be willing to look past the bugs and know that you are helping to make the game better. If you play an alpha just to play, then you aren’t really helping.

Now with that being said, I hope to gather more information about the game from my friend. And I’ll probably get even more excited based on what I hear.

On ArcheAge

So I mentioned this game a little bit yesterday, and I feel like talking about it a little bit more.

The last couple of days I’ve watched quite a few game play videos for this game on youtube, all of which have made me start looking forward to the game. I find that most everything I have heard about this game makes me feel like this game could be one of the best MMO’s to come out. Well, mostly. There is one thing about it I am not fond of, but I’ll talk about that later.

Class Combinations

Yesterday I was watching a video that stated that there was somewhere around 120 different class combinations in the game based on the selection of up to 3 talent trees. Each of the different combinations has its own unique name, which I think is great. The only other game I’ve played that had this much freedom in class specialization was Rift, which also let you choose multiple skill trees to put points in to. Today I found an online talent calculator and discovered probably my favorite class name ever, the “Angel of Death“. Now I don’t know if this is what the actual name of this class or if that is just how it translates. The site that I found is German based, so that might not be accurate, but it still sounds cool.

Player Housing

One of the videos I watched yesterday discussed how players can pick up schematics to craft their own housing, which they can place in various places on the world map. I think this is fairly innovative, as I’ve never played a game that let you do that much customization. Not to say it doesn’t exist. I’m aware Rift also allows this, or very, very close to it and Everquest 2 allowed you to populate your player housing with items you could pick up throughout the game.

The only downside to this is that you essentially have to pay rent on the land. I believe that you can pay this with in game currency or through the cash shop. I have mixed feelings on this though. I think that if I spend the time and effort to get the house build and populated with items, then I should always have it. However, I understand the reasons behind this. Assuming that there is a finite amount of land that players can put down houses it is understandable that you wouldn’t want a non-active players house to take up space. Requiring  that player to pay rent on the land is a means to keep them playing. From what I understand if your house is destroyed that all the items that went in to crafting it are sent back to you, so at least you don’t have to re-craft everything if you just forget and lose it.

Mounts

Another thing that I find interesting is the mount system. From what I can tell there are 4 different types of mounts in the game: Gliders, Land Vehicles, Boats, and animals. From what I can tell all players can at some point buy a glider, but the other mounts you have to build or raise. I have not seen a video detailing land based vehicles, but I have seen boat construction which requires the player to craft all the essential parts and then construct the boat. Similarly with mounts, you buy a “baby” mount and have to “raise” it.  I think this system is pretty cool, and requires the players to put in significant effort in to obtaining the higher “quality” mounts.

The flying mounts (Gliders) are also not typical flying mounts. At least, not from my personal experience. Gliders are exactly what they sound like, they glide. You cannot stay in the air forever and will eventually have to land. Several videos have discussed using gliders in pvp tactics, which seems like it would add a new element to the mix.

Graphics

Up to this point I have not seen any really high quality videos, most seem to be a bit rough even at 720p. From what I can tell though the game does look very nice. It reminds me of the graphics in Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn which I also enjoyed. Most people have described this as the difference between Eastern and Western game design. Personally I just think it looks nice, and that is one of the more important parts of any game for me.

PVP

This is the one thing about this game that I don’t like, though to be fair I don’t like PVP in any game. My understanding is that the higher level areas are strictly PVP so there is always the risk of dying to another player. I do think that PVP has its place in these games, but I don’t like being forced to do it. I know that not every person online is a jerk, but it seems that when you talk about open world PVP all you ever hear about is bad experiences. I did hear that these areas will have “safe” times that will make them PVE only, but I am not sure I heard that correctly.

I am looking forward to at least trying the game out. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be the game for me it does look interesting and at the very least unique.  When there are so many MMO’s to choose from, having something unique (or at least original) is going to make me look extra hard at it.

I’d recommend going to the Trion Wolds Twitch page and watching their developer videos on ArcheAge. They discuss a lot of the features in more detail.

On Upcoming Games and NBI

Upcoming Games

So last night while talking with my pals in voice chat, the topic came up of a new MMO that is coming out sometime this year called ArcheAge and the various pay to test options that were available.

First off though, a bit of background on the game. Granted, this is limited information, just what I’ve read and heard on the developer videos. From what I can gather this game was a Korean developed game that is being brought over by Trion Worlds (who produced Rift). So from what I can tell the game is already out there, or at least in there version of beta testing. Most of the videos I’ve watched are from folks who managed to get past some odd region locking.

So right now Trion has the game in alpha testing, with beta testing coming up “soon”. Following a current trend with Free To Play games they are allowing players to buy there way in to the alpha/beta programs. Starting at $50 you can get instant beta access with some perks, and for $150 you can get instant alpha access. Our discussion was very brief, as none of us are really willing to drop $150 on an alpha. Granted some of us have before, but lessons were learned.

Personally I would probably pay the $50 for beta access, once there was a definitive date, except I have 2 PS4 pre-orders that are coming out in the next two months. Right now I have Watchdogs and Murdered: Soul Suspect coming up, and those will probably keep me pretty busy. On top of that I’ll still have ESO and Dark Souls 2 that I’ll be playing so I’ve got a full plate. I’ll also be talking about these games more once I get my hands on them.

That being said, I really do think ArcheAge looks like an interesting game, and I will definitely be talking more about that soon. I’ll apologize in advance if my twitter wall gets a bit filled up with contest retweets. I managed to snag a Hearthstone beta key that way, so I’m hoping to get in to the alpha or beta of ArcheAge as well.

I’m pretty sure they are okay with people livestreaming the game, as I’ve already seen channels on twitch showing it off.

NBI (Newbie Blogger Initiative)

I also signed up for the Newbie Blogger Initiative this morning. If you don’t know what that is go check out their site for info, mainly cause I am not sure I could describe it correctly). The gist of it is they hook up people who are interested in blogging with mentors and help get some exposure to their blogs. One of the things that I have always been afraid of when writing here is that nobody would read it. I don’t know if what I write will ever be super popular or even very good, but I figure I need to at least make the effort.

My buddy Belghast has been blogging every day for over a year now, and he has repeatedly told me that one of the main hurdles is setting aside time every day to write. So even if I don’t post every day at the same time, I want to post at least once a week, if not every day. I just need to find time in my day to read up on things to have topics to discuss.

There was also an amusing video put out by Felicia Day that talks about how to start writing that is pretty interesting. And if you read any of the early stuff on here you’ll know that the main reason this blog even exists is because of her.