The Final Fantasy XIV bashing will continue until morale improves.
Square-Enix, in an attempt to be as cool as other MMO developers that gently “remind” players that game companies do not need players constantly logged in to continue making money off those players, has decided to impose a penalty on players that stay logged in too longer.
MMO vets will remember World of Warcraft‘s initial, disastrous implementation of the “rest XP” principle: stay in the game too long, and players experience would rise at gradually slower rates. In effect, this penalized people for having fun.
As a facet of game design, penalizing people for fun actions is a good way to ensure no one wants to play.
So the rest XP principle was reworked: now, players would be given a benefit for taking a rest, like logging out, or spending time working on crafting skills in a town or village. This is good game design: if designers want players to do a thing, give players a benefit. “Rested XP,” which now grants 200% experience gained from killing monsters or turning in quests, is what keeps levelers on a fairly reasonable timeline. It is perfectly possible to work out when continuing to play will grant diminishing returns on time invested. Most of us do not do this, because we are not so great of nerds, but it is still possible.
Square-Enix, whose main offices are apparently in a cave, or perhaps some fold of space-time where it is still 2004, have decided that if players spend more than eight hours in-game, their characters will suffer a “rest XP” penalty.
Even for a certified casual noobycakes like myself, that is drastically low. I mean, I play games on the “easy” setting if it is there. Although I have amassed some notoriety as a “competent DPS” and “decent enough tank” in World of Warcraft, it is not like these skills were particularly burdensome to acquire. Fighting with a virtual sword is considerably easier, and usually less painful, than actual fencing, and I am not half-bad at fencing.
Still, eight hours a week would be two nights of raiding for me, not counting additional time spent in-game doing dailies, playing the Auction House, shopping, or aiding my guild members with sundry things. If Square wishes to force ultra-casual gameplay on people, there are better ways of doing it: make the time-to-awesome-reward ratio lower. Sure, it cuts down on e-peen-ism, but that is a good thing. It could also make the game drastically boring.
But an eight-hour-per-week-or-penalty mechanic punishes people, and punishes them hard, for just trying to enjoy the game. Even extending the period (especially given the 48-hour cooldown on guildleves) only lessens the bad effects. These are not bad effects that are dictated by some limitation in design, but a completely voluntary choice on the part of developers. A bonus to taking a break is infinitely better than a penalty for not, and it looks like Square is going to learn that lesson the hard way.
On the other hand, my faith that our friends in the East design, on the whole, excellent gaming experiences has been restored. The original Guild Wars and its attendant expansions were early attempts at PVP-focused MMOs that were moderately successful, being built of a subscriptionless model on top of fair-to-middling gameplay. I gave it a whirl a few years back and found it a bit dull, but only because I did not have the staying power to make it through the long and boring leveling process to the endgame.
Morale Improved, Just Not For Square
Guild Wars developer ArenaNet has apparently been paying attention to good gaming design with its dynamic quest system which apparently takes the best parts of Warhammer Online‘s public quest system and makes them an essential feature of the gameplay.
For the uninitiated, a “public quest” is a timed world event that repeats on a regular schedule. Quests range from easy difficulty (2-3 players) to hard (over 10) and usually have 3-4 objectives that must be completed in sequence before the timer runs out. Assume, if one will, that the quest involves storming an enemy encampment (the most typcial quest). Players will kill low-level enemy soldiers up to a certain amount (usually between 20 and 50). Upon successful completion of this, players will then be tasked to kill slightly more powerful lieutenants, until, during the final phase, a powerful boss character requiring careful gameplay will be activated.
The good parts of public quests are that they are repeatable and provide significant experience and factional standing increases. In WAR, for example, it is possible for an enterprising solo player (moi) to grind out the first steps of each easy public quest for “Influence,” a type of factional experience that leads, at the highest level, to some pretty sweet gear. While repetitive, the tuning of the reward to time allows this to go by quickly, without all of the running hither and thither to complete NPC-given quests. With a party, completing the quests becomes very fun, and the rewards range from dinky (like crafting materials) to my awesome epic breastplate I got from whacking trolls.
The GW2 model is a tweak and an improvement on this. Rather than having NPCs assign most of the quests, players will simply “walk into them” and be drawn in to participating or not at the player’s choice. Given smart use of phasing mechanics where appropriate, this system could be great.
The downside might be the downside that plagues every game with significant amounts of levels: a glut of people participating and bogarting the rewards at high levels, while new players are left out in the cold from completing more involved low-level quests.
I have, in the past, suggested two solutions to this problem: either provide an incentive for higher-level characters to do old quests, or to help out others (points or item currency assigned for “mentoring” low-level characters that goes to mounts or gear or whatnot); or to provide a robust “leveling” mechanic that equalizes everyone’s base level (health and base stats, but not gear-based stats and abilities) to the lowest level of the group, with appropriately-tailored rewards. This allows even end-game ready players to “tune it down” to make low-level fights balanced, while still providing them with rewards commensurate with the difficulty.
Listening, ArenaNet? I have ideas; you have (presumably) some need for them. We can do a deal.
All Used Up
The other news of gaming moment this week is that the industry really hates the used-game trade.
Oh wait, that is not news at all. That is fucking obvious.
I hate the used game trade… sort of. When I was young, I would always sell my old console games in garage sales or to friends to raise money to buy new games. But, and here is the catch, I sold them at really low prices to people that would otherwise not be able to afford them.
I know in this age of downloadable content (a move I support) and one-time use special edition codes, used games provide much less in value than new games. And so, a tiered pricing model suggets itself: if I want, say, the Assassin’s creed: Brotherhood collector’s edition, what with maps and item codes and a creepy fucking jack-in-the-box, then I have to buy it new, at $70. If I want just the game, but I want it new, I have to pay the usual $50-$60. If I want a digital download copy, through Steam or Ubisoft’s website, I may pay a little less (reflecting no manufacturing/shipping cost).
But if I want the game on the cheap, I have to accept that I will not obtain any of added value of buying a new game… and I should be charged accordingly, no more than $10-$15 for a recently-released game, and certainly no more than $5 for an old game.
I do not think, however, that the used game pushers (of whom Target is the latest, bizzare entry) will accept this model. While Gamestop might (might) be willing to give me $10 on a trade-in of a new game, they will never turn around and sell it to the kid behind me for less than $30. That kind of profiteering is wrong.
But to be against used game sales, in general, whether of veritable classics on eBay, or to the kids down the street at one’s garage sale, is to be against the consumer’s right to control the disposition of their own property.
That said, if companies really want to put this trade out of business, the answer is to go the way of Valve and use digital distribution as a model, with Valve’s attendant pricing and useful platform. Imagine if one’s saved games could be stored remotely on a company’s server and synched across platforms, from Xbox to PC to PS3. “Playing a game” then becomes more fun as the game is portable, allowing a wider audience to be exposed. It allows friends to share games, to play together in various venues, and to have the same sort of freedom that memory cards and physical discs currently give us.