Thoughts for the Day

Gah! Seems like every time Real Life decides to get extraordinarily busy (as if I could post any less recently), the MMO industry decides to throw a party and get the ‘sphere all a-flutter.

Age of Conan

I blame Turbine, really. They made the switch twice – once for a failing game that pulled it back from the brink of closure into a realm of respectably-sized piles of gold coins, and once for a game that wasn’t failing because, well, we-can’t-just-leave-well-enough-alone-can-we-and-look-how-well-it-worked-for-that-other-one-we’ll-be-drowning-in-our-piles-of-money. The thing is, for however I feel about Turbine’s business decisions (take a wild guess), they got the F2P/hybrid model pretty much right. No matter how hard they toe the line between appropriate items in their Store and handicapping non-paying players, they have yet to really push into pay-to-win territory. I don’t like some of their decisions, but I also can’t point at any one item and say, “That’s just wrong.”

However, Unrated is not LotRO, and the model Funcom has chosen is just not good. It’s a sad rehash of Sony’s EQ2X, where the access tiers are just convoluted and too much of the game is walled off from the “freeloaders” (because that’s how you’re treating your potential customers, Funcom). If you look at the breakdown between Free and Premium accounts, it’s a little ridiculous. Two-thirds of the classes (and the most interesting ones at that!) are unavailable and great portions of the group content are walled away. And time-based passes to access dungeons? Really? Wow.

The thing about being Free to Play is that either you really go for it or you forget about it. Going halfway is really just nickel-and-diming your players, and we know it! As much as it pains me to say it sometimes, Turbine really has it right in the Cash Shop model – convenience items, cosmetics, and zones of side-quest content. That’s why the model works for LotRO – there’s always a central storyline to which everyone has access, from The Shire to Moria to Enedwaith. Age of Conan might have that, but I have to agree with Keen – going Free to Play doesn’t necessarily make AoC a game worth playing; I might check it out to get to the areas I never saw, but it’s certainly not worth putting money into. The restrictive model they’ve outlined only accomplishes two things – it alienates the players who might have considered paying for something, and it exploits the players who aren’t educated enough to know better. Neither is good business.

Burglar Changes

Orion posted a list of proposed changes to the Burglar and Warden classes yesterday. I won’t pretend to know enough about Wardens to comment. Burglar, on the other hand, is my one-and-only!

Overall, I like the changes. Here goes:

  • Removing some of our highest tier skills from the critical response chain certainly opens up some moment-to-moment options for us and will help with Power management as we don’t have to burn through a handful of other skills just to get to them.
  • Being able to toggle our “stances” (for lack of a better term) after defeat is HUGE. I understand not wanting Burglars to be able to flip back and forth during combat, but losing your stance after death in a group scenario is a major disadvantage. It means not burning Hide in Plain Sight just on the off chance that I might need it to get back into Mischief. So in reality this change frees up multiple skills, at least when playing in groups.
  • The consolidation for Seize Initiative and Escape Clause is nice, but not particularly thrilling. I don’t use either much. It’ll be nice to have another space on my hotbars, though!
  • Adding a 100% chance to Surprise Strike from stealth is a really nice change. Again, it’s more flexibility as I don’t have to save Aim up “just in case”.
  • Subtle Stab ticking off the cooldown timer for Mischievous Glee is great! It somehow “fits” in my mind with the tone of the class and the lore. I can just imagine my Burglar slipping through an Orc’s defenses, getting in a solid hit, and giggling the whole time! And it will greatly aid in survivability.

The last details – Riddle not breaking stealth and it working on all creatures – are the most jarring, and disappointing, changes proposed. I don’t PvMP much, but this could be a huge change to the battlefield in the Moors. More than anything, however, the proposed changes are just too drastic for an aspect of the class that I consider to be fundamental, both in how it plays and in how it fits into the lore. I’ve always thought that Turbine did a great job of building a familiar yet unique set of classes that fit well with the lore (every class being inspired by one of the key characters of the stories), and thought that they really hit the ball out of the park with the Burglar.

But making Riddle so much more…generic…just hurts. It’s a big stretch to the lore, which is important to me. And it robs us of the need to be more strategic in our solo and group play. Sure, many other players don’t understand or appreciate the Burglar, or see it’s usefulness in a group setting. But those that do understand all too well how much of a difference a good Burglar can make.I guess I understand Turbine’s motivation – making it more generally useful and desirable as a member of Fellowships – but it’s just not going in the right direction. If there is a need to expand the Crowd Control functions of the Burglar, at least find a way to do it that makes sense in the lore, instead of just stating “it works on everything now…have fun!”.

It’s almost entirely personal, but these last changes are, in my opinion, quite horrible. These kinds of changes reek of the WoW approach, where the developers start overreacting to a perceived deficiency (often perpetrated by the vocal minority) and don’t stay true to the theme, and vision, behind the design of a class. Then we end up with major overhauls every few months and every new expansion, and no one knows how to play their class or even cares to learn because “it’s just going to change in the next patch anyway”. There should be some aspects of every class that are sacrosanct, and for me the strategy involved in playing a Burglar is one of those.

It does say ‘Advanced Class’ when you create a Burglar. Leave it that way, please.

Free Server Transfers

The timing of the announcement was either sheer luck for Trion, or pure genius; either they stumbled into a pretty nice PR win or they’ve got people inside Blizzard feeding them info. Either way, I hope someone got paid a little extra. Kudos for that.

As a player, being able to move around for free is nice. I’ve been bitten by this before, and being charged anything, especially per character, stinks of a simple cash grab. If it’s meant to be a deterrent, just don’t allow them because otherwise it’s just insulting. I work with databases for a living, and I don’t care what anyone says – moving a set of rows from one database to another is a simple thing. If you can’t do that easily, then your system is designed VERY poorly. Legacy code is no excuse; how can you expect to run an ongoing service if your not willing to clean up your past mistakes?

And if you don’t think that Blizzard or Trion or Sony or whomever can’t pull up anything and everything about your characters, all in a few seconds, you are mistaken. What Trion has introduced is a completely automated system that costs them next to nothing and wins them huge points with their customers, especially in the context of what others charge.

I do agree with others, however, that it’s not entirely magnanimous nor is it as clear cut as the PR announcement. It’s not a free-for-all where anyone can go anywhere. This probably is a way to deal with population imbalances. But you know what? It’s FREE. And it shows that Trion values its customers by giving them the choice, well in advance of server merges, and it will continue to be an option. Every week. FOR FREE.

They’re not saints and its not driven by charity; I don’t expect them to be. But it’s a valuable service that they’re providing free of charge. So, overall, it’s a win for Trion.

That’s it for now!

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