Posts Tagged ‘Pirates of the Burning Sea’

Home Sweet Home

Since the IA blog space received its first major decorator overhaul recently it seems only appropriate to inaugurate the new look with a post on the role of player housing in MMORPGs.

I just bought my first house in Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).  Since I’m still playing with only a premium account (i.e. I haven’t paid for any additional inventory space yet) this was a pretty significant moment because it now gives me a space to offload some of my accumulated crap.  However, it started me thinking about how MMORPGs in general handle space.

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Guild Wars 2

Image via Wikipedia

When the iPad was announced earlier this year I wrote a blog entry that was generally sceptical of the device’s overall potential to revolutionize anything; nevertheless, I was still interested in its possibilities as a gaming platform.  At the time, I wrote this:

Apple will in all likelihood need some breakthrough application that really takes advantage of the size and scale of the device (since no significant new functionality was demonstrated) to allow people to do something that they couldn’t do before.  Alternatively, it will need to allow people to do something they could do before but much more efficiently.  Note:  much more efficiently.  I have a hard time seeing how anyone will part with the amount of money needed to get the version with reasonable storage and connectivity if it only does some things a little better than is possible at the moment.

This breakout app that helps to redefine the iPad hasn’t happened yet as far as I’m aware.  No one who has showed me their iPad has yet done the “but what you really need to see is this” move that made me jealous of any number of people with iPods and then iPhones.  Of course, I did underestimate basic human nature.  In fact, lots of people will part with a lot of money to get something that only does things a little better than other devices (and in some cases a lot worse: seriously, have you used the “keyboard” on this thing?  Better yet, watch a proud iPad owner using it: they grin with that kind of “No, this may look painful but I’m really having a lot of fun” look that is vaguely reminiscent of the way elephants look when trying to have sex). . .simply so they can have what most other people don’t have. . .yet.  There is a word for these people.  Posers.

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Pirates of the Burning Sea

Image via Wikipedia

In an interesting development last week, the MMORPG Pirates of the Burning Sea announced that it was going to transition to a Free-to-Play model.  Appearing on the same day as the release of the Power and Prestige expansion (that, among other things, allows players to run for Governor of the various ports in the Caribbean,  to set taxes for other players, and adjust port expenditures on defense and economic infrastructure) the announcement took a lot of players by surprise.  There is currently no timeline for the change from a subscription-based business model to that of F2P but Flying Lab Software (FLS) has made it clear that they have been working on this for the better part of a year, that the infrastructure is in place, and they expect the change to take place quite soon.

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In a recent developer blog, Colin Johanson, Lead Content Designer for Guild Wars 2 asserts that their new dynamic content system will fundamentally change the MMORPG genre:

MMOs have become extremely popular, but the genre has done little to evolve over the past decade. Generally MMO players explore an unchanging, persistent game world, leveling up by performing quests which do not change the world in any way once completed. It’s time for the genre to take the next step, and explore the idea of a truly dynamic, living, breathing persistent world where the player’s actions really make a difference, and everything that occurs in the game world has cause and effect.

I’ve really been enjoying the Guild Wars 2 developer blogs.  I like the use of the cartoon strips to poke fun at some of the hoary practices of traditional MMOs (in the blog providing an overview of the combat system, for example, players are all set to pitch into a bar fight but then are reduced to standing around trying to calculate their relative damage and attack stats; I wept bitter tears of recognition).  The GW2 developers’ analysis of the problems with current MMOs is considered and, for the most part, accurate.  The design they are proposing in response sounds great; everything about it (with the unfortunate exception of it being set in a fantasy realm, but I could possibly suck it up and deal with that) sounds like exactly the kind of game that I would love to play.

However, I don’t have a lot of faith that this kind of game will prove sufficiently popular to last very long.

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The rise in popularity of Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) has been a boon for game studies scholars.  Not just because it has meant that we have more great games to play, ponder, and write about (of course, the better the game, the less likely we are to get round to the pondering and writing phase, but that is an issue for another day).  And not just because the obvious complexity of these worlds is enabling scholars to think about them in interesting ways; as, for example, testing grounds for economic (Castronova) or sociological (Bainbridge) theories.  It is because the development of an MMORPG has become a quintessential part of the product and is therefore highly visible in the way that is not the case for other genres of games (even though the visibility for those games is a lot greater, in many cases, than in previous years).  Increasingly, members from every major section of a development team are writing occasional and sometimes regular developer logs that describe not just the “features” they are working on but articulate the goals the team has for the game and the writer’s theoretical approach to their particular specialty.

There are some straightforward commercial reasons for this.  Making the development process more transparent is a way of building the brand.  Unlike your average console or computer title which will typically be forgotten in a couple of months or, with better games, a year or two at the absolute outside, developers and publishers of MMORPGs hope that their brand will endure for many years.  The development phase also, therefore, plays a vital role in setting the parameters for the kind of player community the developers hope to see after the game is launched, and the kind of relationship they hope to have with that community.

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