Thoughts on MMO tourism Monday, Nov 9 2009 

david-bowie

I totally see Bowie playing a Warlock. Like, for sure.

[Song to the tune of Fashion, by David Bowie]

There’s a brand new MMO
but we don’t its name…
The players from WoW are
coming to play…
But the game is big and bland,
full of mobs and gear…
We grind up some levels and cancel our subs.

Fashion! Sub to WAR!
Fashion! Sub to Aion!
Oooooooh wa, fashion.
We are the WoW tourists
And we don’t plan to stay!
Beep-beep

I just can’t help myself.

I try the shiny, new MMO but I keep coming back to WoW. Is it a sickness? Has Blizzard brain washed me? Dear Gawd what’s wrong with me!!!!!

Yet again, another MMO has failed to inspire me… yep I’m talking Aion. I just can’t work up enough enthusiasm for the game. Unlike WAR which I played solidly for six months before giving up, Aion didn’t even make it past the month.

Ok! Ok! I’m the dreaded WoW tourist! However, I’m not concerned about the slings and arrows that may be thrown my way. I’ll continue to try new games, but I’m yet to be lured away from the “One True Game”.

We’re mad, bad, and dangerous us WoW tourists. We descend on a game like a horde of locusts and then, just as quickly, we’re gone. In recognition of this fact, I dedicate the above song to both myself as well as the other WoW tourists out there.

But to be frank, I don’t feel guilty. A succession of MMOs have failed to maintain my attention: that’s not my fault. If the developers can’t make a product that keeps me enthused, then the blame mostly lies with them. I will give a game as much time as it deserves. Really I will.

But still, what is it about WoW that is different to the other MMOs? On the surface there is very little difference between these games:

  • Generic fantasy setting
  • DPS/Tank/Healer classes
  • WASD/Action bar controls
  • 3D graphics
  • Professions
  •  Virtual economies
  •  PvP
  • Instanced dungeons/raids

Tick “check” for all of the above for WoW, WAR, DDO, Aion, LoTRO and the rest.

What is that makes a difference: is it quality, polish, content, story or game mechanics? Sure, if a game fails in any of these, then it will find it hard to maintain its player base. Still, that’s only one half of the equation.

The other has to be the strength of the games community. And I don’t mean the number of subscribers. I mean how passionate a fan base is about their game.

“Community” – a much abused word – helps sustains a games pollution. It keeps players engaged. I read several WoW related blogs and listen to podcasts such as “The Instance”, “WoW.com” and “World of Warcast”. When they talk about game content, I feel the urge to go see it in-game. Reading other blogs inspired me to create my own blog. I caught up with same friends last week who I meet via WoW, and we talked about life and WoW. I’ll jump on a forum and join an interesting WoW related conversation.

All of this is part of my “WoW experience”, and a great deal if it is generated by other fans of the game and not by Blizzard.

Like most players, I crave a community that “speaks my language”. A MMO with no community does not inspire me to stick with a game. For me, it’s a vital element.

That was my experience with WAR: as the blogs and pod casters started closing up shop, it felt as though the community was dying. That, as much as the problems with the game itself, helped fuel the mass exodus of players. As the most vocal players lost their passion for WAR, so did other players.

In my mind, MMO’s need two things: a solid game as foundation and an active fan base prepared to talk about the game. World of Warcraft obviously owes its success to being both an enjoyable and accessible MMO experience. But just as important is the passion and enthusiasm of the player base in writing and talking about the game. It’s a case of players inspiring other gamers to stay part of the community and continue playing the game.

That’s something very hard to replicate.

Aion Goldfarmers: the sequel Saturday, Oct 3 2009 

Credit where credit is due.

Aion’s GM Silverfang replies and lets me know the bot/gold farmer account has been banned. Fast response… OK, my nerd rage could have been tempered somewhat. Still, a simple tool like the one Blizzard implemented would make it easier for players to help the developers police gold farmers.

A timely response.... nice work NC Soft!

A timely response.... nice work NC Soft!

Having said that, full marks for Aion’s community management team!

Aion Goldfarmers: let us police them NC Soft Saturday, Oct 3 2009 

My ticket on left, bloody gold farmer on right... take that!

My ticket on left, bloody gold farmer on right... take that!

So far my time in Aion has been terrific. I’m really enjoying the starter zones for both the Elyos and Asmodians. But there is a little black cloud hovering over Atreia’s horizon… gold farmers have descended on Aion like a plague of spamming/whispering locusts.

The chat channels have been rendered useless thanks to the gold farmers. I’ve also received numerous “whispers” from farmers.

Gahhhhhh! Bloody gold farmers!

Sure, I blocked their names and even reported one by using the in-game ticketing system. But letting gold farmers sit in a trade channel and nuke it with spam FOR HOURS is f**kin ridiculous. Come on NC Soft, there are plenty of ways to restrict their actitivities!

Take a leaf from Blizzard’s book: they understand how a players experience can be ruined by gold farmes.

Blizzard gives their WoW players a simple tool to help police these buggers. While in-game, I can select on a gold farmers toon, right click and select a “Report Spam” option. The moment a little gold farmer pops up in General or Trade Chat, I’m right clicking.

Allowing players to police gold farmers behaviour is a simple and powerful way to keep them under control.

Sure, gold farmers are a fact of life in MMOs… however at present they’re casting a dark cloud over the enjoyment of players such as myself.

Phew, there’s today’s quota of nerd rage.

Spotted in Aion: celebrity sightings Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

I’ve frequently mentioned the depth of the character customisation tools of Aion and the power it gives the player to create a unique Avatar. Combine these tools with a great sense of humor and you get some interesting results. Viz, the profusion of toons named after a players favorite “actor” or performer.

So, I present Spotted in Aion, a round up of the rich and famous of the entertainment industry currently playing Asmodians.

Thriller?

Thriller?

Does this count as an official Michael Jackson sighting? I’ve heard his ghost is haunting Neverland… but Aion? Anyhoo, welcome Michael. Can we expect a world tour of Atreia?

I've never seen one of her movies, honest!

I've never seen one of her movies, honest!

American “actress” Jenna Jameson has also been spotted in Aion. I think Machinima is about to take off in a whole different direction…

"What you talkin' about..."

"What you talkin' about..."

Yes, that’s right. Gary Coleman. A diminutive one foot tool Scout with an Affro. Don’t mess with him. He’s tiny, angry and armed with two very sharp knives.

Aion versus “The MMO that shall not be named” Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

"Go on say it biatch! My MMO is the best!"

"Go on say it biatch! My MMO is the best!"

It’s fascinating when a new MMO drops and witnessing the ensuring controversy, blog commentary and inevitable comparisons to “The MMO that shall not be named” (TMMOTSNBN is a mouth full, so lets shorten it to “The Unnameable MMO” or UMMO for short).

Yes kiddies I’m talking about the supposed battle between World of Warcraft and Aion. But let’s be honest: this isn’t a fight.

Aion is aiming for the number two spot of Western MMOs. Why? Because they’ve seen plenty of other MMOs try and fail.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

If it was a cage fight – UMMO vs Aion – we know who’d win. UMMO is in a different class all together. It’s too big, too powerful and has the subscribers and resources to take on anyone and anything. UMMO has a punch that will knock down the most confident of challengers.

Just ask Mythic. They’re still on the mat, dazed, groggy and punch drunk long after the referee has finished counting, the crowds have gone home and the stadium lights have been turned off.

But the comparisons made by bloggers, players and forum trolls will continue for weeks, if not months. The most anticipated event after Aion’s release will not be the announcement of a new expansion, but when NC Soft releases subscriber figures for Aion. It is then that the interwebz will pronounce Aion a success or failure.

For the moment we’ll have to put up with the simplistic comparisons. We Fly Spitfires notes how the General Chat in Aion is dominated by WoW/Aion comparisons:

“Aion has a pretty lively General Chat channel on my server and one of the topics that seems to crop up on a regular occasion is World of Warcraft. Usually it’s initiated by someone saying something like “Aion is way better than WoW”, “go back and play WoW”, “WoW is for care bears” or the witty “WoW sucks”. Suffice to say it’s enough to cause a storm in the chat channel as the few people who actually seem to like Warcraft try stick up for it against vast, insurmountable odds. It seems like everyone’s a WoW hater these days. I guess it’s no surprise considering how WoW has so few subscribers compared to the other MMORPGs out there. Oh wait…”

It was exactly the same on my server. It was also noted by the store assistant when picked up my collectors edition: “I’ve heard great things about this game, it’s supposed to give WoW a run for it’s money!”

Well, it’s good that Aion has great word of mouth. But I’m not sure the UMMO/Aion comparisons helps. Bottom line: it’s far too early to tell. Well get a true picture of the game once a sufficient number of players reach the “end game” and there’s been time to reflect.

Aion: the case for cautious optimism

Wall of Text makes a great point, noting time is needed to judge a MMO. I have to agree:

“The moral of the story is to temper your enthusiasm about a game until you’ve experienced more of it. A lot more of it. Just a dose of reality for those enamoured with Aion, Fallen Earth, or even Champions Online right now. Give it time before singing its praises, you could end up eating your words…”

Right now I’m enjoying Aion. Graphically it’s a stunning game. I don’t think this is too controversial a point to make. However it’s still too early to say much else.

Presently I’m playing both a Scout and Warrior – both of whom are about to “ascend”. I’ve not decided on which will be my main: I’m experimenting, testing the mechanics of each class and deciding which play style I enjoy more.

However I’m not prepared to claim Aion “Worlds Best MMO!”.

Instead I’m cautiously optimistic. I think it’s an enjoyable game, well produced and with great “polish”.

That does not mean I’m about to cancel my WoW sub. I’m too deep into the end game to simply give up. Aion gives me variety. How far I go into Aion will depend on how much I personally enjoy the game.

My recent travels through out the MMO world have convinced me that most games have their strengths and their inevitable weaknesses.

The moral of the story? MMOs come in different flavours: it’s a question of personal taste which one you enjoy most.

Aion: five tips for new players Monday, Sep 28 2009 

Character customisation: go nuts!

Character customisation

Character customisation

Aion’s character creation tools are simply wondrous. Since stepping into Atreia I’ve been amazed by the variety of avatars players have created. I’ve seen diminutive one foot tall warriors, eight foot tall, muscle-bound hulking sorcerers, pixie-like Chanters, bird-like avatars, sultry Amazonian Priests, dashing Scouts and everything else in between. It’s a riot of colours, hairstyles, body shapes and names. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the look of your toon.

I strongly encourage you to explore all the tools, options and styles available in character customisation. Individuality in MMOs is a rare thing: take the time to create an avatar that is just right for you.

X marks the spot: use the dictionary

Use the dictionary function

Use the dictionary function

The Dictionary is a handy in-built feature and will make intuitive sense to you if used to add-ons like quest helper in Warcraft. When reviewing your quest log you’ll note that some of the words in the text descriptions appear in blue: as expected these are hyperlinks.

Quest objectives can be easily located

Quest objectives can be easily located

Clicking on these will open up a small window providing more detail on the item, monster, location or NPC. You’ll also note there is a “Locate option”. Click on that, and the Map will open with a small purple X indicating where you’ll find the item/MOB in question.

The dictionary acts like a “mini wiki” within the game: it’s great as you don’t have to Alt-Tab out to a third party site to look up locations or descriptions.

Heal thyself: comma and bandages for rapid healing

Bandages: actually do something

Bandages: actually do something

Compared to say WoW, combat is slower in Aion: MOBs hit hard and they’ll take down a fair percentage of your health points (HP) if you not paying attention. Fortunately you can rapidly regain HP through resting and the use of bandages. After a fight hit the comma (,) key to rest your character. They’ll sit for a few moments, allowing HP/mana to rapidly regenerate. Alternatively you can use bandages. The good news is bandages seem to be an effective tool for healing. They’ll regenerate most of your health, have a very fast cool down and can be purchased cheaply from NPCs (50 kinah is typical for a stack of 50).

This is great for my Scout, a melee DPS class. They hit hard, but wear leather and can sometimes take a fair bit of damage – especially if I attempt to fight multiple MOBs. Fortunately down time for regenerating HP is not long, resulting in very little down time.

Buy and sell: jump into the economy early

What ever your selling, I'm buying

What ever your selling, I'm buying

It’s about the economy people!

The economic system of a MMO is critical in bringing people together. Aion does this really well by allowing players to set up their own stores anywhere. Frequently you’ll find players have set up little stalls around quest hubs: take the time to check out what they’re selling. More often than not you’ll pick up a great armour upgrade for very little.

To browse a player’s store simply walk up to them and click: a window will opening listing all the items and their sale prices. Alternatively, set up your own store!

Don’t make the mistake of vendoring all the trash or items you can’t use. Green quality armour and weapons drop frequently from MOBs so put these aside for the moment until you can sell them.

Often you’ll find five or six players selling items: check out each store for the best bargains. I upgraded my armour to mostly “green” quality items in a few minutes by using the player run stores for very little kinah.

Allowing players to set up their own stores turns quest hubs into thriving markets.

Don’t race to level cap: enjoy the trip!
Last, but not least, please don’t race to level cap! Take the time to enjoy the scenery and art-work. Aion is a beautiful game, and if you’re an explorer saviour the incredible vista’s Aion has to offer. I’ve not enjoyed levelling a character this much in a long time. Sure the quests are standard “kill ten rats”, but reading the quests text and exploring has been immensely enjoyable.

If you’re an existing (or ex) WoW player, you’ve been trained to power level all the way to 80. Put that habit to one side and enjoy the levelling process once again.

Aion: award for most beautiful game world Sunday, Sep 27 2009 

Visually, stunning.  

Look Ma! I can fly!

Look Ma! I can fly!

 

I’ve spent much of my game time in Aion this weekend. There’s a lot to comment upon, but at this point all I can say this is simply the most beautiful game world I’ve experienced. The artwork, design, landscapes and environmental effects are second to none.

I’ve played at least six MMOs in the last year, and Aion is by far the most visually stunning. If you’re playing, or interested make sure you take the time to explore and relish the visuals.

Is there depth to this game? That’s a good question. I’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m playing multiple alts, trying them out to see what feels comfortable.

Alt crazy: and why wouldn’t I be?

Without doubt, the avatar models are simply gorgeous. Thanks to the powerful character creation tools the “toon” you create will be unique. I’ve probably spent as much time creating characters as playing the game.

I’ve created two Elyos alts. Severen, a Warrior who I’m thinking about making a tank…

A career in tanking?

A career in tanking?

…and Aigiline, a priest. Perhaps a Healer:

Or even healing?

Or even healing?

Of course, I’ve had to create Asmodian alts as well. Severan’s evil twin, another warrior:

Brooding and blue

Brooding and blue

And Lokee, a Scout (i.e  rogue) who I’ve already gotten to level eight:

Have swords, will travel

Have swords, will travel

I’m taking my time in Aion, I don’t want to level too fast. I want to saviour the experience.

Aion Friday, Sep 25 2009 

Meet Severen, Aion Warrior

Meet Severen, Aion Warrior

Loaded last night onto PC. Logged in 6am this morning and created character.

My first impressions? Character customisation: amazing.

Created a Asmodian Warrior, planning to make him a Gladiator (DPS melee).  Got him to level three within the first half hour.

Visuals: stunning.

I’m intrigued…

Tasty MMO goodness! Thursday, Sep 24 2009 

There are days when I just love the playing MMOs. Yesterday was one of them.

I collapsed into bed well after midnight feeling warm and fuzzy about all things MMO last night. Two things made it a great day…

Aion: got the box

Firstly, I picked up my collectors edition of Aion. It’s pretty and has a cool figurine.

I’m going to wait a week until the usual launch issues of server queues and connection issues shake themselves out. I’m not too concerned about what I’ve read in other blogs… I’ll wait to see myself.

Being a proud MMO tourist I have no issue in dipping my toe into Aion’s waters to see if I like the game.  However Aion is not front of mind at present… especially since my WoW Group finally cleared Naxxramas last night!

Woot!

The Fall of Naxxramas

It’s taken nearly two months and a lot of hard work, but our group finally cleared Naxxramas last night. We took down the final boss just before midnight. The feeling of the group was ecstatic. I feel I’ve passed an important MMO milestone: clearing and endgame instance. 

It’s only been in the last few weeks that the group line up become solid. Once we had the right players we started breezing though content. The tanks, well tanked. The healers, healed. The DPS did some serious damage. Our co-ordination was great. We worked as a group with a common interest. We also had a lot of fun as well.

This is what can make WoW’s end game so enjoyable.

Sapp was one shotted. Damn we were pretty pleased with ourselves:

One shot

Not so tough now eh?

Kel’Thuzad we took down on the third attempt. Massive cheers and clapping could be heard over Vent.

Up popped the achievements and “Gratz” flowed in from the guild.

I also picked up two more Tier 7 pieces last night, so I’m feeling pretty special. OK, they’re Tier 7 and item level 200 (For non-WoW players you can get Tier 9 sets). 

Sure, there’s better gear out there… but I look hawt!

I love the smell of victory...

I look like a professional raider now.

It also means I’ve made the final graduation from casual  to serious raider. With Naxx under my belt I’m ready to move onto Ulduar.

It was only in late July that I entered the world of raiding. All the research, collecting gear, working on building a team worthy of the challenge… it all paid off.

What I felt last night was enormous satisfaction. Sure, killing a dragon in an MMO does not change the world. But everyone in the group felt a real sense of accomplishment.

This is why I play games such as WoW: for the shared experience. Ten people who would otherwise be strangers get together and set out to achieve a goal.

Naxxramas is the perfect level entry raid dungeon. Ulduar may test the group in other ways, but I’m confident we’re up to the challenge.

By the time Patch 3.3 hits, this group just might be ready to take on Arthus.