Category Archives: MMO Design

Amazon Renews Plans for a Middle-earth MMO while LOTRO Abides… for Now

News this week included the announcement that Amazon Games, which had previously scrapped a development partnership with a company later purchased by Tencent for a Lord of the Rings title, had returned to the Middle-earth well, this time with the company that purchased Tolkein Enterprises, the uncomfortably names Ebracer Group.

Here they come again

This would have been a bit of a “wake me when it actually means something” sort of story for me… after all, we have heard this tale before from Amazon… except for the fact that it showed up just as I was attempting to launch back into Lord of the Rings Online, the one title in the universe most likely to be threatened by this Amazon venture.

Of course, none of the involved parties are saying that right now.  In fact, they are saying the opposite.  The LOTRO team declared that the game isn’t going anywhere in the forums and the Amazon Games studio VP Chris Hartmann is allowing that the games can “co-exist.”

That said, he also seemed pretty sure elsewhere that LOTRO players would simply migrate to their new title.

Even the most likely scenario is… for people just to move over, because the other one is an old game.

Part of me feels the hubris that seemed to infect New World, where Amazon seemed to feel that lessons learned in the industry could be disregarded because they were smarter than that.  The saving grace for New World was that they did have something fun and a bit different, even if Amazon had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way about things like having a test server.

Among the lessons of the last 30 years or so is that people invested in one title are not likely to move on to another merely because it is new.  I think a very direct lesson in this regard was EverQuest II, which SOE seemed to assume people would migrate to from EverQuest.

And EQ players certainly tried it out, but many just went back to the old game after their initial experience, while a good many moved on to World of Warcraft.  That left EQII, the newer and, in some mechanical ways, the arguably better title forever in the shadow of its predecessor.

The combination of the world and its setting, its familiarity, the fond memories, and the sense of community conspire to hold people in place even when other newer and possibly better options appear… which is the lesson of pretty much every fantasy MMORPG launched after WoW, including LOTRO.

The general chat of every new MMORPG beta or launch since 2004 has included a litany of comparisons to WoW and how it did x, y, or z better than this new title, something supported by the gaming news, which just loves to brand things as a simple “WoW clone” so they can look insightful and move on.

That isn’t entirely without merit.  If you pull back far enough, if you aren’t interested in details, distinctions, or lore, all fantasy MMORPGs look about the same.  The same could be said for four door family sedans or mid-sized SUVs… they’re all about the same in the end if you just glance at the general spec.

For those who get deep into the games, for those for whom the details matter, for the connoisseurs of the MMORPG genre, the games are often dissimilar as to make such hand waving comparisons seem bizarre.  LOTRO is NOT like WoW, nor was Warhammer Online just like WoW, Richard Bartle comments aside.  Fans of WoW run off to try new titles and find that they still really like WoW due to the details of the game and not the general pattern of the primary game play loop of the general art style. This has been repeated enough to be a trope of the genre.

Likewise, if you are invested in the nuances of LOTRO and all that the development team has built up over the last sixteen years, then some new title that is only superficially similar… it is an MMORPG… or maybe it is… and it is set in Middle-earth… has an extremely high likelihood of not being satisfying for all of its shiny newness.

And I strongly suspect that anything Amazon produces will bear only a superficial resemblance to what LOTRO offers today.  I opined eight years ago, as we passed through a past LOTRO anniversary, half the game’s lifetime ago now, that the era of making anything as sprawling and chaotic as Turbine’s vision of Middle-earth seemed done and gone.

Who would ever fund such a thing?  Sure, LOTRO is a financial success, if a modest one.  But it never lived up to its potential or promises or reach that Turbine internally assumed it would.  So the question is who would thrown a lot of money into a similar investment?

Yahoo Headline 2007

Nobody.  I believed that eight years ago and I think that still stands.  Amazon is not going to make something that feels at all like LOTRO.  I will be genuinely surprised if they get anywhere close. (I’ll even be modestly surprised if they ship anything at all honestly, but that is another opinion piece to be written)

So good news for LOTRO then, right?  Unless Amazon and Embracer gives it the (completely predictable) SWG treatment, declaring that there can only be one Middle-earth MMORPG, things should be fine.  And, while everybody is saying LOTRO is safe, the news is still hedging a bit on the long term prospects of the title, with Game Developer throwing this line into the mix:

Standing Stone will continue to keep its Lord of the Rings MMO up and running as Amazon’s separate Lord of the Rings MMO is being developed.

Yeah, and what happens once it has been developed and is ready to launch?

That is tomorrow’s problem though.  We’ll set that aside for a few paragraphs and assume that LOTRO will carry on as before and things will be great, even when Amazon launches its new game.

Except, of course, this news comes just as I am returning to LOTRO and… oh boy… the game is a mess.  Leaving aside the playability issues at resolutions above 1920×1080 and the muddle that is (and always has been) the UI and the long encroachment of free to play into the game mechanics where nearly every alert has something you can buy with a mithril coin or five, the game needs some serious work.

And we can start with the launcher, move through into client performance… 64-bit did not give the game any help it seems… and then drive straight through into ongoing and very noticeable lag issues in game.

For the latter, I’m not just talking about Bree when there are half a dozen bands lined up on a Saturday night ready to play when you walk out of the Prancing Pony and the world takes a deep breath and says it will get back to you in a few minutes leaving you stuck in place until it can figure everything out.  I am seeing some bad moments with annoying frequency while out and pretty much alone in the Midgewater Marshes and the Lone Lands.

It is not a good look.  And I know I put the UI in the category of “leaving aside,” but I feel I need to reneg on that and say that the UI, even when scaling isn’t an issue, leaves a lot to be desired.

But, as I said, that does not impact the current, dedicate base of users.  If you’re in a band that stands outside the Prancing Pony on a Saturday night waiting for your turn to perform, some new title… which probably won’t support anything like the LOTRO music system… isn’t going to interest you.  The problems of the game are already baked into your decision as to where you want to spend your time.

However, when we get to 2028 or whenever this new Amazon Middle-earth title that will completely not like New World at all arrives on the scene (and I don’t know why they insist on saying it won’t be like New World, since a lot of that title seems pretty solid, so clearly Amazon is still smarting from something on that front if they’re disavowing it in their own special way), then the option for any NEW players who want to run around in Middle-earth will be the 20+ year old LOTRO and all of its problems, or something shiny and new where they can get in on the ground floor and it probably plays well on their 20 Core i17 CPU or PS7 or XBlizzBox BS or whatever.

And that is where LOTRO‘s slow walk into oblivion gets accelerated.

Because that cuts off most of the potential new players, and while the old players remain, they eventually tire of move on, and eventually the game will fall below the level of profitability if there isn’t some replacement for those who leave.  And the threshold for profitability is higher for LOTRO than a title like EverQuest because Tolkien Enterprises… or Middle-earth Enterprises, as Embracer has renamed it… needs to get paid for the license every month.  Probably off the top.

All of which brings me back to something I wrote in Monday’s post, that being crap at higher resolutions and generally being problematic to play is an existential threat in the long term, and that threat only gets larger if there is another Middle-earth out there.

Though, honestly, I think Embracer is going to give LOTRO the SWG treatment when the time comes.  I mean, they can do the same math I can.  And they might even convince themselves that if they shut down LOTRO and force people to move on, Amazon’s title will benefit to some degree.

And if it is that obvious, then EG7 will be do those same calculations as well, which means that investing in any major upgrades will seem futile, so there will be no wide screen support and new users will taper off and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They will, as a business, opt for maintaining profitability for as long as they can, which will mean only working on things that will directly bring in revenue (expansions and cash shop items) while ignoring ongoing problems and trimming back staff to keep the books balanced.

The future is, as always, grim.

So who is working on a LOTRO pirate server already?  It is never too early to start on these things because if sure feels like the writing is on the wall.


Answering Gaming Questions with AI – Tell Me About Sandbox MMORPGs

I am back once again for another question time with the local AIs.

AIs thinking about video game questions… drawn by an AI

This is the fifth in the series of posts asking gaming questions.  Previously we had:

This time I am going to try to answer the unaswerable, I am going to try to have the AIs tell me what a sandbox MMORPG is.  My prompt:

Define what a sandbox mmorpg is

This is the classic United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart situation where I cannot define what it is, but I know it when I see it.  (Note: remind me to ask the AIs to define “porn” next.)

For me there isn’t a set of hard and fast rules, but a sense of how guided your experience in an MMORPG really is, which can vary greatly.  EverQuest, for example, doesn’t strike many as a sandbox game, but the early days where it, ironically, had very few quests meant that it was fairly open as to how players approached things and set the rules of how people played the game.  Nobody at SOE told people about the etiquette of spawn camps or warning people about trains in Splitpaw.  It was very much a communal agreement and you could find yourself something of an outcast if you did not abide.

On the flip side, EVE Online‘s sandbox nature is undisputed.  But it has a very guided PvE experience, the traditional path of running missions and doing story arcs.  That it is a dead end that tends to leave people unfulfilled is a bit beside the point… lots of PvE content can feel that way.

It isn’t just player agency, or how deep the economy runs that defines things, but also the ability of the community to set its own rules and standards and enforce them that.

Or such are my thoughts at the moment.  The subject is porous enough that I might change my mind in an hour.  But before I do, I went and asked the AIs about the whole thing and this is what I got.

First, as usual, is BingAI:

A sandbox MMORPG is a type of game that offers a large and persistent virtual world that can be freely explored and modified by the players². Unlike a progression-style game, a sandbox MMORPG does not have a linear storyline or predefined tasks, but rather lets the players create their own goals and adventures³. Some examples of sandbox MMORPGs are EVE Online, Minecraft, and Screeps².

(1) The 22 Best Sandbox MMORPGs In 2023 – MMORPG.GG
(2) What is a Sandbox (in Gaming)? – Definition from Techopedia
(3) RPG Defined – What is a Sandbox MMO? – Giant Bomb.
(4) Perfect Definition of a Sandbox Everyone Can Accept –

As usual, BingAI is brief and to the point, with references.  A world that can be freely explored sounds nice… but modified by players?  You would have to define that in some very specific ways to convince me.

The implied comparison is progression vs. sandbox, with the linear storyline and predefined tasks being the hallmarks of the former, while players creating their own goals and adventures marking the latter.  A bit simplistic.

As for examples… well, EVE Online is pretty easy to accept, but Minecraft?  But I am pretty sure BingAI told me Minecraft wasn’t an MMORPG previously.  Sloppy.  And then there is Screeps.  I have never heard of that.

Overall, too shallow and simple to serve as a useful definition.  This is what you get from just reading stuff you find on the internet.

Grade: D-

On to Google Bard, generally the most fanciful of the group.

A sandbox MMORPG is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that gives players a great deal of freedom and control over their characters and the world they inhabit. Unlike traditional MMORPGs, which have a linear story and set progression paths, sandbox MMORPGs allow players to choose their own goals and objectives. This freedom can be seen in everything from character development to world exploration.

In a sandbox MMORPG, players can choose to focus on combat, crafting, trading, or any other activity they choose. There are no set classes or levels, so players can develop their characters in any way they want. The world of a sandbox MMORPG is also fully explorable, and players can go anywhere they want, at any time.

This freedom of choice is what makes sandbox MMORPGs so appealing to many players. They offer a unique gaming experience that allows players to create their own stories and adventures. Some of the most popular sandbox MMORPGs include EVE Online, Albion Online, and Wurm Online.

Here are some of the key features of sandbox MMORPGs:

Freedom of choice: Players have a great deal of freedom to choose how they want to play the game. They can focus on combat, crafting, trading, or any other activity they choose.
Open world: The world of a sandbox MMORPG is fully explorable, and players can go anywhere they want, at any time.
No set classes or levels: Players can develop their characters in any way they want. There are no set classes or levels.
Player-driven economy: The economy of a sandbox MMORPG is player-driven, which means that players can buy and sell goods and services with each other.
Persistent world: The world of a sandbox MMORPG is persistent, which means that it continues to exist even when you are not playing.

If you are looking for a MMORPG that offers a great deal of freedom and choice, then a sandbox MMORPG may be the perfect choice for you.

In case you missed it, “freedom” seems to be a key element for Google Bard.

The freedom of choice though, that does seem key.  Being able to step off of any progression path seems like a strong pick.

I am not sure open world is as well defined as that section assumed.  Players can certainly seek to travel anywhere at any time, their success and the time it might take them is not assured.

Not having set classes or levels, which usually means a skill based system, is often a go-to when trying to define a sandbox MMO.  It isn’t an absolute, but it is a common factor.

Player driven economy seems key as it is something that enables a number of economic paths as alternatives to the usual combat focus.  But persistent world… again, didn’t that get covered as an aspect of MMORPGs in general in a past post?

That isn’t bad, and unlike BingAI, it managed to pull out three examples of sandbox MMORPGs that most people would agree on.  Not as clownish as Bard can sometimes be, though it still seems a little too sure of itself.

Grade: B-

Then there is ChatGPT.  What will its wisdom bring?

A sandbox MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) is a type of online game that emphasizes open-world exploration, player freedom, and non-linear gameplay in a virtual setting. Unlike theme park MMORPGs, which follow a more structured, linear progression, sandbox MMORPGs give players the opportunity to create their own experiences, shape the world around them, and interact with others in unique ways.

In a sandbox MMORPG, players can often:

1. Explore large, open worlds with few restrictions or boundaries.
2. Choose and develop their characters’ skills, abilities, and professions without being limited by predetermined classes or roles.
3. Engage in player-driven economies where they can gather resources, craft items, and trade with other players.
4. Participate in dynamic and emergent events, such as player-created quests or spontaneous world events.
5. Build and customize their own homes, cities, or other structures, often with in-depth crafting and building systems.
6. Create and enforce their own rules, laws, or social structures within the game world.
7. Participate in large-scale PvP (Player vs. Player) battles, sieges, or other conflicts that can shape the game’s politics and alliances.

Sandbox MMORPGs are known for fostering a strong sense of immersion, player agency, and social interaction, as players can collaborate, compete, or simply coexist within the shared virtual world. Examples of popular sandbox MMORPGs include EVE Online, Ultima Online, and Black Desert Online.

Sandbox MMORPGs must have the word “online” in their name.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a pattern it latched onto.  There have been some crazy comedy in training AIs with samples only to have the AI latch onto some unexpected pattern of the data it is being trained on rather than the aspect it was supposed to see.  AIs do not think, they only find and repeat patterns.

ChatGPT hedges quite a bit in this.  It has a list of characteristics that are “often” part of sandbox titles, but not necessarily in all of them.  So you can pick and choose from that list.  And its example titles include Black Desert Online, which quite clearly has classes and levels, something that the other two definitions were set against.

All in all it is an unsatisfying answer.  Yet, how can I hold that against it when I said up front I could not define a sandbox MMORPG in any absolute terms.

Grade: A-

Then, as a follow up, I asked each to recommend some sandbox MMORPGs to me.

BingAI told me there are many sandbox MMORPGs, but these are some of the more popular ones:

  • EVE Online: A sci-fi sandbox MMORPG that lets you explore a vast and dynamic galaxy, engage in various activities such as mining, trading, combat, exploration, and politics, and shape the game world with your actions.
  • Minecraft: A sandbox MMORPG that allows you to build anything you can imagine using blocks, destroy the environment and modify anything in a massive amount of multiplayer modes available.
  • Black Desert Online: A fantasy sandbox MMORPG that features an immersive open-world that invites adventurers to explore it, a complex and fluid action combat system, a deep character customization system, and a variety of life skills and professions.
  • Screeps: A strategy sandbox MMORPG for programmers that lets you control a colony of units using JavaScript and other programming languages, secure resources, train units, and conquer territories.

Once again, Minecraft isn’t and MMORPG and I’ve never heard of Screeps.

Google Bard also assured me there were MANY sandbox MMORPGs and gave me the following list:

  • EVE Online: EVE Online is a massive space-based MMORPG that is known for its complex and player-driven economy. Players can choose to be traders, miners, explorers, or even pirates.
  • Albion Online: Albion Online is a fantasy sandbox MMORPG that is set in a medieval world. Players can choose to focus on combat, crafting, or trading.
  • Wurm Online: Wurm Online is a sandbox MMORPG that is set in a medieval world. Players can build their own homes, villages, and even kingdoms.
  • Black Desert Online: Black Desert Online is a fantasy sandbox MMORPG that is known for its action combat and stunning graphics. Players can choose to focus on combat, crafting, or exploration.
  • ArcheAge: ArcheAge is a fantasy sandbox MMORPG that is known for its open-world PvP and player-driven economy. Players can choose to be pirates, traders, or adventurers.

Then ChatGPT, after reminding me that it doesn’t know anything that happened after September of 2021, told me the following were popular sandbox MMORPG choices:

  • EVE Online: A space-based sandbox MMORPG known for its complex player-driven economy, massive PvP battles, and political intrigue. The game offers a vast, interconnected universe where players can engage in mining, exploration, manufacturing, trading, and combat.
  • Black Desert Online: A visually stunning sandbox MMORPG with a large, open-world to explore, fluid action combat, and an in-depth life skill system. The game features a vast character customization system, housing, trading, and more.
  • Albion Online: A cross-platform medieval fantasy sandbox MMORPG, where players can engage in a player-driven economy, open-world PvP, and territorial control. Albion Online emphasizes guild cooperation and strategic alliances in its gameplay.
  • ArcheAge: A sandbox MMORPG set in a vast fantasy world, offering a mix of both sandbox and theme park elements. Players can engage in crafting, trading, farming, PvP combat, and exploration. ArcheAge also features a unique naval system, with players able to build and customize their own ships for ocean adventures.
  • Star Wars Galaxies (SWGEmu): Although the official servers were shut down in 2011, passionate fans have created private servers running the Star Wars Galaxies Emulator (SWGEmu). This sandbox MMORPG is set in the Star Wars universe and allows players to create their own adventures, explore planets, engage in crafting, and participate in player-driven events.
  • Mortal Online 2: A first-person, open-world sandbox MMORPG with a focus on realism and player freedom. The game offers a deep crafting system, full-loot PvP, and territorial control, where player actions can have lasting consequences in the world.

EVE Online and Black Desert Online seem to be the consensus candidates, while ArcheAge and Albion Online both got two mentions.  Mortal Online 2 and Screeps both get one vote from the three.

But the surprise suggestion has to be SWGEmu.  I am sure Bree and MJ over at Massively OP would be pleased.

Answering Gaming Questions with AI – Why So Many Fantasy MMORPGs?

Once more into AI Question Time with another gaming question challenge.

AIs thinking about video game questions… drawn by an AI

Following up on last week’s question I figured I would dig out what used to be a common chestnut in MMORPG discussions.

Why are fantasy based MMORPGs much more common than science fiction based MMORPGs?

This is one of those points that used to come up quite regularly back in the early days of the MMORPG phenomena at the start of the century.  People would look, first at EverQuest then at WoW, and ask why people kept making more fantasy titles and when the big science fiction MMORPG success story was coming?

I have written a few posts on the topic, going back to 2008, and my conclusion back then, as it is now, was pretty much:

  • There is a ton more fantasy out there than science fiction, with a much longer history of cultural influence.  Beowulf is pretty much 11th century fantasy.  And that brings a level of familiarity that science fiction doesn’t.
  • Dungeons & Dragons took the plethora of fantasy and gave us a framework that influences how we think about fantasy in games.  Science fiction lacks a similar yet distinct prototype and, in fact, tends to just be D&D with lasers.
  • The concepts are easy to understand and implement; sword hurts you, armor stops it from hurting so much, numbers in the stats tell you how much of each.  You can also get hit and hurt and believably still carry on while phasers and blasters tend to be one-shot kills.

So I turned this question loose on the AIs to see what their data would suggest.

Bing was up first and, as usual, provide sources for its answers.

That’s an interesting question. There is no definitive answer, but I can share some possible reasons based on the information I found.

One reason could be that fantasy themes are more popular and familiar among MMORPG players, as they are often inspired by traditional role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons⁵. Fantasy MMORPGs can also offer more variety and creativity in terms of races, classes, magic, and monsters³.

Another reason could be that science fiction themes are more challenging and costly to develop and maintain for MMORPGs, as they require more advanced graphics, sound, and physics to create immersive and realistic worlds². Science fiction MMORPGs may also have to deal with more complex issues such as balancing futuristic weapons, technology, and lore⁴.

A third reason could be that fantasy and science fiction themes are not mutually exclusive, and some MMORPGs combine or replace elements of both genres to create hybrid settings that appeal to a wider audience⁵. For example, some MMORPGs feature spaceships, aliens, and robots alongside swords, magic, and dragons¹.

These are just some possible explanations, but there may be other factors that influence the prevalence of fantasy-based MMORPGs over science fiction-based ones. Ultimately, it may depend on the preferences and tastes of the developers and the players.

(1) Massively multiplayer online role-playing game – Wikipedia
(2) Science Fiction vs. Fantasy: How Are Science Fiction and Fantasy
(3) The 7 Best Sci-fi MMORPGs to Play & Enjoy in 2023 – The Cursed Crusade
(4) Fantasy vs Science Fiction – Page 3 –
(5) The Best Sci-Fi MMORPGs, Ranked – Game Rant
(6) MMOs exploded this year, but not in the ways you’d expect – PC Gamer
(7) The Best Fantasy-Based MMOs To Play In 2023 |

That is… kind of bland. Also, most of the time when somebody says a question is “great” or “interesting” they really mean, “WTF? How am I supposed to answer this nonsense?”

On the first set of points I obviously agree about D&D, though the idea that fantasy offers more creativity in terms of races, classes, or monsters seems pretty easily dismissed.  If anything, fantasy seems very much constrained as a genre.  It is always elves or dwarves isn’t it?  It is always fighter, rogue, mage, and cleric of some sort.

The cost to develop I cannot really speak to directly, but it doesn’t seem to ring very true all the same.  It really depends on what one is attempting to convey.  You could have low budget sci-fi and expensive fantasy if you wanted.  Balancing futuristic weapons though, I guess I could buy that… but it still feels tangential.

The third set of points seems neither here nor there.  I mean, I get that there CAN be a melding of the two genres, but I am not sure that is really on point with the question.  That hunters in WoW have guns and engineers can make devices that might be science fiction adjacent does not go very far in explaining why there are more fantasy MMORPGs than science fiction unless you believe that everybody who plays a hunter, as an example, feels they are really filling their sci-fi needs.

And then it wraps up with a hand wave about the taste of the players and developers, like that means much.  Fantasy is popular because it is popular isn’t the argument you think it is.

So, while Bing seemed to get close to an answer here and there, it doesn’t feel like it really got to anything convincing.

Grade: D

Then there is the aptly named Google Bard, which goes in for some bullet points of its own.

There are a few reasons why fantasy based MMORPGs are much more common than science fiction based MMORPGs.

Fantasy is more familiar to people. Most people are familiar with the tropes of fantasy, such as knights, dragons, and magic. This makes it easier for people to get into a fantasy MMORPG, as they don’t have to learn a whole new set of rules and concepts.

  • Fantasy is more visually appealing. Fantasy settings are often more visually appealing than science fiction settings. This is because fantasy settings can be more fantastical and creative, while science fiction settings are often more grounded in reality.
  • Fantasy is more timeless. Fantasy settings don’t rely on current technology or trends, so they can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Science fiction settings, on the other hand, can quickly become dated, as new technologies and trends emerge.
  • Of course, there are also some successful science fiction MMORPGs, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and EVE Online. However, these games are the exception rather than the rule. Overall, fantasy is simply a more popular genre for MMORPGs.

In addition to the reasons above, there are a few other factors that may contribute to the popularity of fantasy MMORPGs. For example, fantasy settings often have a more clear-cut sense of good and evil, which can be appealing to players. Additionally, fantasy settings often allow for more creative freedom, as players can choose to play as a variety of different characters, such as knights, wizards, and elves.

Ultimately, the popularity of fantasy MMORPGs is due to a combination of factors. These games offer a familiar and visually appealing setting, as well as a sense of good and evil that is appealing to many players. Additionally, fantasy settings allow for more creative freedom than science fiction settings, which can be a major draw for players.

Bard jumps right in with what I feel is the strongest point, the familiarity with the tropes of fantasy and how putting them in a game eases people into the game.

Also, the timelessness aspect of it is underrated.  Science fiction can be overtaken and regularly is.  Read any of Isaak Asimov’s robot works from the 50s and 60s where his protagonists insist that getting a robot to speak, for example, is extremely hard but that understanding the spoken word is easy.

On the flip side, I am not buying that fantasy is necessarily more visually appealing nor the idea that fantasy offers more creative freedom.  Those seem provably incorrect.

Meanwhile, stating that there are, in fact, some successful science fiction MMORPGs seems like embroidery, on the topic but not necessarily a proof related to the question at hand.

It sums up by going with familiarity and the sense of good vs evil, which I think are strong points in its case, but the creative freedom and visual aspects still don’t sit with me.  Its best arguments are undermined by those two points.

Grade: C+

And, finally, ChatGPT chimes in with this entry

There are a few possible reasons why fantasy-based MMORPGs are more common than science fiction-based MMORPGs:

  • Historical precedence: Fantasy has been a popular genre in literature, film, and other forms of media for centuries, whereas science fiction as a genre is relatively new. This historical precedence has likely influenced game developers to create more fantasy-based games than science fiction-based ones.
  • Relatability: Fantasy settings often draw upon familiar cultural motifs and archetypes, such as medieval Europe or mythical creatures, which can be easier for players to relate to and immerse themselves in. Science fiction, on the other hand, may involve unfamiliar worlds and advanced technology that can be more difficult for players to understand and engage with.
  • Accessibility: Fantasy-based MMORPGs typically have lower hardware requirements than science fiction-based MMORPGs, as they can rely on traditional graphics and gameplay mechanics. Science fiction-based MMORPGs, however, may require more advanced technology to create immersive environments and simulate futuristic technology, which can limit their accessibility to a wider audience.
  • Market demand: Fantasy-based MMORPGs have been more commercially successful than science fiction-based MMORPGs in the past, leading game developers to continue creating more fantasy-based games. However, this could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the lack of sci-fi MMOs might limit the demand for them, and therefore, their profitability.

Of course, these are just a few possible factors, and there may be other reasons why fantasy-based MMORPGs are more common than science fiction-based MMORPGs. Ultimately, the popularity of these genres depends on various factors, including cultural trends, technological advancements, and player preferences.

ChatGPT starts off strong with the historical aspect, fantasy having a long standing in our culture while science fiction is the new comer.  I agree both because of the newness of Sci-Fi and the depth of the fantasy field.  There was fantasy before Tolkien.

Relatability seems on point as well and aligns with one of my own points.  The dynamics of fantasy are pretty familiar, while science fiction is often projected into the future where one can lose that sense of the familiar and have to explain basic concepts that you wouldn’t need to in a fantasy context.

Accessibility though, that point seemed off in past answers and ChatGPT does nothing further to support it.  The idea that science fiction requires better, faster, or more advanced hardware seems unproven.

And then for its last point ChatGPT declares that consumer demand is why there is more fantasy than science fiction in the MMORPG market, which is one of those things that I will admit, given the question, is technically correct but which also comes close to begging the question.  It certainly doesn’t add any depth to the WHY aspect of things.  It is essentially saying fantasy is more popular because fantasy is more popular.

So I think ChatGPT was on to a couple of solid ideas with the history and relateability aspects, but fell off with accessibility and consumer demand.  Over all, its answer felt like it took fewer risks than the other two AIs… it went into less detail, preferring to avoid specific examples… which made its good points land more softly, but also meant that its off points did not detract from the answer as much as they might have.

Grade: B-

So those are the three answers I got.  I actually order the answers Bing/Google/ChatGPT up front and then go evaluate them afterwards.  That they seem to rank in ascending order down the page is only apparent to me after I go back to grade them.

And, as always, I only take the very first response they give, which can be kind of tough.  ChatGPT got an update after I asked it this question and, on letting it run again, gave me a slightly better answer.  It still had the same faults, but threw in an extra point about fantasy bringing a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time, which is not only a valid point, but one which I had not included in my own view.

But I only got that response after I had written my evaluation of its first response.  So your answers may vary by session.  And if you ask multiple questions in a session, that will also influence the response you get, which is another reason I like to go with the first cold answer from a new session.  My updated response from ChatGPT was also likely influenced by some follow on questions I did.

Anywhere, there we go.

Next time around I am going to move from away from broad, somewhat opinion based questions to something more specific, something where the response can be objectively evaluated.  Will the AIs do better on that more solid ground?

Did Free to Play Work for MMORPGs?

This will be one of those posts where I am asking a question that I do not… and probably will never… know the answer, it both being murky, situational, and possibly unknowable because there is no way to go back in time and test the alternatives.  But such barriers have never stopped me from asking a question before, so why let it stop me now?

In my memory, when it came to MMORPGs, free to play had two objectives.

The first was to remove a barrier to getting players into your game.  I will use WoW as the example, as it stands as something of the pillar against which success might have been measured.  Back in the day you needed to commit to a $15 a month subscription in order to play WoW.

You might have gotten a free trial period from an offer or through a referral, but in not too many days you were going to be asked to commit to a monthly fee to access the game.  In addition, you might have to buy a box up front.  Or a virtual box.

I remember being annoyed way back in the day when I first started playing EVE Online because once I got the end of the free trial I not only had to subscribe, but I had to buy the game… but there was no physical game to buy.  I had to give them money up front for the privilege of being able to subscribe to their service.  I already had the game downloaded, so this felt more like an initiation fee than buying something tangible, and it irked me.

I think free to play has wiped most of that away.  At a minimum I think most MMORPGs have some sort of infinite trial period.  Even World of Warcraft doesn’t require you to buy the base game anymore, and you can hang around and play to level 20 taking as long as you want.  There are restrictions, and companies will promote the benefits of subscribing… every time you log off a Daybreak title it opens a window in your default browser to encourage you to subscribe… but the barrier to some sort of basic level of entry is pretty low.

I am sure there are still a few titles out there that are old school on this front.  I think Final Fantasy XIV still requires you to buy the game.  But, on the flip side, there are titles like Guild Wars 2 that have a whole game available pretty much for free.

So I think on that front free to play succeeded. Some f the friction, the barrier to entry, was erased. Granted, there is still the whole multi-gigabyte client down that stands in the way, but at least most places don’t make you pay for the privilege.

The other aspect was competitive advantage. Against titles that charge to play, free is a pretty good opening bid.

And, certainly, the early titles to jump on board did, in fact, find the conversion to that model drove their numbers and revenue up. There were more than a few press releases about the total and complete success of the change in the first month or two.

But as Brian Green once pointed out to me, nobody puts out a press release when the numbers fall off down the road. And, since almost all entrants in the MMORPG market have some free option, has free become a requirement rather than a differentiator?

Some titles still have subscriptions to back up their free model. John Smedley was very up front when he said that the free option was there to get you to subscribe. Others sell expansions. And there is always a cash shop and an RMT currency.

I do think that free to play has let some titles survive. The $15 a month model can be a high bar for many. So success in that way seems to have occurred.

But, just to throw out another measure at the end of this post, did we end up with better games because of the free model. That is harder to measure. Sure, a game that is still up and running is better than one that shut down because of the subscription model. However, it also feels like the cash shop and the weekly specials become the focus of some titles because of that model.

So no good or definitive answer here I suppose. But, as I said, that never stopped me from asking a question.

Musing on the Walls that Age Brings to MMOs

You can’t go home again.

-Thomas Wolfe, title of one of his posthumously published novels

That quote, expanded on at the end of the novel, is meant to warn that you cannot return to a previous time in your life, that the pull of nostalgia is a false promise tainted by the fact that memory tends to emphasize the good and diminish the bad.  There is no happy past state to return to, just a different set of problems.

It is an argument against dwelling in the past.  And yet here I am, headed down that path again.

Today, however, I am going to try to avoid pining for some past idyllic state of vanilla WoW or launch day EverQuest or EVE Online before warp to zero was a thing.  Instead, I was thinking more about the barrier that change and progression and expansions and the long term effects of an economy of endless faucets does to a game over time.

I’ve bemoaned at times Blizzard’s inability to launch and expansion in anything less than a two year cycle, but sometimes it seems like as much a blessing as a curse.

At the end of last year WoW launched its 9th expansion.  But EverQuest, which is just five and a half years older than WoW, will kick off its 30th expansion by the end of 2023.

Thirty expansions.

And even though the EQ team doesn’t throw every class and mechanic in the air with every expansion the way WoW tends to, every expansion, every new layer of content, changes the game.  EQ has such a giant mountain of content and such a vast world that it is difficult to even figure out where to go.

That is a lot of walking

Norrath has expanded to such an extent that even the in-game guides that try to direct players where to go can barely communicate how to reach your destination.  See my adventures trying to reach the Scarlet Desert a couple of years back.

Meanwhile the game has to make some concessions to new players, so the climb to level 50 or 60 or 90 no longer take as long as they did when those were the caps on the game.  So the play through is… not very much like it was back in the day.

That can be both good and bad.  EQ has added a tutorial for new player, which I rather enjoy when I go back to the game.  The problem is that after you leave it the game doesn’t live up to the promise of the tutorial.  While the experience can be much more directed than it used to be back in the day, it is still isn’t a well lit path, so it being speedier is probably something.

And, on top of all of that, there is the economy.  I always laugh when I go back to EQ to try and play because you get copper coins as drops, but more than 20 years of mudflation has had its impact on the economy so it is like, say, minimum wage staying where stuck in time while prices rise constantly.  The players at that end of the scale aren’t able to afford much.

Okay, EverQuest (and Ultima Online) are probably the extreme examples in this scenario, titles with more than two decades under their belts.  They still carry on, but they feel like places that cater to a very specific and entrenched installed base who will stick with the games until either it or they pass away.

And WoW isn’t that far behind, coming up on 19 later this year.  Standing in 2023 it is objectively not that much younger than those other two titles.  And Blizzard has tried to fight that eventual barrier to entry that is created by longevity, though not always successfully.

A slower expansion cadence helps.  You can take a year off and not feel completely out of touch with the game.  But other things they have done… I remain mixed about the level squish that came in before Shadowlands.  I will grant that it provides a less chaotic path to level cap, at least potentially, than the past need to climb through each expansion, though the constant adjusting down of the level curve meant you barely got very far in any old expansion before the next one was within range.

These are example of older titles, but no title is getting any younger.  Any MMO that lasts beyond a few years seems destined to either hang on for decades, even if it means getting bought out and milked for the last few ounces of profit it can provide.

So, while I am just meandering in text at the moment, I do wonder what lessons newer titles, maybe Lost Ark or New World, if the latter can hold itself together, should learn… or probably should have learned before they launched… to be more sustainable over time.

Is there something EQ or UO or WoW could have done along the way that would have made them more approachable in their second decade?  Are retro or or progression or fresh start servers the sort of renewal process that helps maintain longevity?

Or am I fighting against the quote I threw in at the top of the post?  I put it there more as a warning to myself, but I always somehow manage to bypass my own advice.

Why Is There Not Another MMO Like EVE Online?

Last week I wrote a couple of post about EVE Online, one about the cycle of the last year with CCP and the game and another about why players stick with the game even when CCP is doing things we don’t like.

In that latter post, one of my points was that there really is not a title out that that delivers the same, or even vaguely similar, experiences as EVE Online.  I ran through some examples of things that you can only find in New Eden in order to support my case.

A good day to see doomsday weapons firing

And then Bhagpuss showed up in the comments to ask why nobody had made something like EVE Online once the title had shown it was a success.  He made the parallel between EverQuest, which achieved what seemed like huge success back in the day, surpassing 550K subscribers, only to be eclipsed by World of Warcraft, which took the EverQuest idea and enhanced it such that it hit 12 million subscribers at its peak.

My response to his comment, to sum it up, was that the business plan for EVE Online was pants on head level crazy, even back in the day.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t completely crazy back in the day, because when it was conceived the genre was still young and people were not sure what would work.  But still, by the time it had become a success… which took a few years, 2006 being something of the breakthrough year… the industry had decided that some things were just not as popular as they thought.  Also, World of Warcraft.

For example, PvP.  I think that here, in 2022, we can all pretty much agree that an open world ‘PvP everywhere’ title, and EVE Online is very much that, has a limited potential audience.  That was the lesson of Ultima Online nearly 25 years back.  There is always somebody declaring it a must-have feature, but PvP is not good for long term player retention in a persistent world MMO.  EVE Online is surprising in its longevity given that alone.  How many attempts to go there have flamed out and died in the last 20 years… or, like UO, made a hard turn into PvE focus?

As with PvP, being a skill based game is one of those things a vocal minority of players is always asking for, but which has its problems.  You end up with the fighter/wizard min/max issue.  I will admit that CCP went its own way on this by making skill training completely time based rather than use based.  And EVE Online doesn’t have the same sort of skill min/max issues that fantasy titles end up with, the time base training can be a mixed bag, both a hook to get people to stay around and a frustration a you wait for skills to train to do what you want.

Then there are attributes which, unlike any other title you’ve probably experienced, have zero impact on the actual performance of your character in the game.  Maxing out charisma doesn’t make anything even 1 ISK cheaper nor does maxing out perception make my probes scan even 1 second faster.

Bizarre, right?

Attributes only impact the speed at which you train those time gated skills I mentioned, which means what you pick had better line up with your training plan because you can only reset your attributes on a one year cycle.  Why CCP doesn’t see an attribute reset token for PLEX in the game remains a mystery. (Except they keep saying maybe they’ll do something with them, but then they never do.)

Oh, and then there is gear.  I always let out a little sigh when somebody says they won’t play EVE Online because it is “full loot” PvP and they don’t want to lose their epic gear.  Gear, which is ships and modules and consumables and implants and whatever, is all completely replaceable in-game with ISK.  Nobody is going to take the raid gear you spent months farming for because there is almost no such gear.  If you lose your ship, and if you never lost your ship then you’ve never really experienced the game, you get your insurance payout and you go back to Jita or another trade hub and you buy a new ship and modules that will be exactly the same setup as you had before.

Pretty much everything you need is a commodity you can buy in bulk on the market.  All you need is ISK, which is why ISK faucets are so important to many players.  ISK enables you to do what you want in the game.  And even the rare exceptions, like Alliance Tournament ships, can be had if you have enough ISK.  But if you undock and lose one, there will be no replacing it. (But nobody will loot it, because the hull is always destroyed.)

That is all great and makes EVE Online what it is today, but how do you sell a game where gear is generic and replaceable?  How can you tell who is ‘leet if there are no rare drop world unique raid rewards that the creme de la creme can lord over the peons by standing around in the public square.  Even if the game had something like that, if you sat on the undock in Jita with it somebody would gank you just to have the shiny kill mail.

This talk of gear brings me around to the economy, which is both the most important aspect of the game in my opinion… I don’t write about the MER and complain about CCP messing with the economy because I feel it is trivia… and the one that CCP should thank players and whatever favorable omens they were born under in that it actually worked out, because that wasn’t a given.

It is easy to talk about wanting a player run economy, but how do you create one?  How do you make that happen without creating a bunch of false incentives and crutches and NPC work-arounds to ensure that there is an economy without making the economy dependent on them?

Add in the fact that there is really no central story line to take you through the game… there is lore, but lore isn’t game play it is just framing… and that there is no avatar play… something people moan about incessantly but which defines EVE Online… and wrap that all up in a business plan and tell me how you think that would fare.

Seriously, even putting the modest amount of thought I have towards what CCP pulled off given their starting point… which was also a lot rougher, more obscure, and less forgiving than it is today… and pondering all the ways it could have gone wrong and you start to appreciate how unlikely a game EVE Online really is.

So you have that business plan, all those features laid out, most of which I think are likely essential to creating something that would give you the feel of EVE Online (you could change skills and attributes and work in some more story, but PvP, the economy, and the replaceability of gear are non-negotiable to my mind) and you’re looking for somebody to give you the ~$100 million it would take to turn that plan into a live game.  Who is going to invest?


There isn’t a serious investor today that would look at EVE Online and say, “I want to make more of that, only bigger and better.”  No gaming company with the resources to make it happen, no investment company with the capital to burn, no angel investor still taking their meds is going to put money into that.

Short of somebody with a Chris Roberts level of influence over a a dedicated audience willing to throw money at their collective screens to make another EVE Online happen… and are there any big enough names in video games that haven’t squandered whatever good will they had going down that path already… I can’t see this being a viable business proposition, unless you decide to load it up with blockchain, crypto, pay to earn nonsense, and then you know what kind of shady investor you would end up with.


CCP in 2022 – Here is my business plan for an internet spaceship MMO!

Every sane investor: LOL, wut?

Quote of the Day – This is Not Why VR has Stalled

That being said, it is worth pointing out that the world of VR currently lacks several elements of the metaverse that experts believe are key to the growth of this nascent market. For example, most VR-centric games today come without a blockchain framework; feature a poorly designed economic setup; lack tangible incentives; or have shoddy gameplay mechanics. As a result, they have small, limited user bases, a problem that has been compounded by problems of poor graphics, lack of upgradability, and low scalability.

-Adam Bem, Why the lack of metaverse integration in today’s VR ecosystem needs to be addressed

Every once in a while I think that maybe VentureBeat has decided that it doesn’t serve the best long term interests of their brand to basically run paid advertisements for Web3, blockchain, crypto, NFT scams.

Not really about Blaugust, but why not throw in a reminder about it all the same?

I mean, after their Metaverse 2 conference earlier this year, it seemed like the hosts, in summing up, ended up somewhat skeptical of the whole crypto angle while speakers like Raph Koster brought a sense of reality to a topic that tends to live somewhere between wishful thinking and full on pipe dreams.

But that is just me forgetting that VentureBeat isn’t really interested in journalism as much as cashing in on trends and making a quick buck today without a thought for tomorrow.  They have consistently and repeatedly treated all of the crypto garbage with unquestioning seriousness, never asking anybody ever a difficult question.  That isn’t any sort journalism, that is just paid advertising.

Anyway, that leads us to the quote at the top of this post, which is truly a gem.

I would certainly agree that VR has not taken off as some… like VentureBeat… thought it would more than half a decade back.  There are lots of problems, including price, expense to develop games, motion sickness, and the whole need to strap a monitor to your face that blots out the real world.

We heard just last week that Meta’s Reality Labs division, which includes Oculus and their whole metaverse plan, is losing around a billion dollars a month for the company.  It is a testament to how much Meta milks out of Facebook and Instagram targeted advertising that they can afford to lose about as much cash on Zuckerberg’s Facebook Horizon VR wet dream every month as World of Warcraft was bringing in annually during its peak.

That isn’t even enough money to get John Carmack to buy into Meta’s legless metaverse vision.

And into this mix comes Adam Bem, COO and co-founder of Victoria VR, who tells us that the reason that VR metaverse isn’t taking off is because it lacks parasitic, rent-seeking crypto integration.

Because, when you get down to it, that is the essence of blockchain and crypto.  Even if you could get past all the scams, theft, and other shady behavior, even if you could see blockchain working as intended on its best day ever, you would see its real goal is just to be a tax on digital transactions, adding no value whatsoever.

There is absolutely nothing that proponents of blockchain and crypto claim for the technology that can’t already be done better, faster, cheaper, more securely, and with less environmental destruction.  100% true.

As such, it would probably not surprise you to learn that Victoria VR, Adam Bem’s company, is putting itself forward as a developer who is going to create a blockchain, pay to earn, VR based metaverse.

You know, the thing that John Carmack is skeptical of even with a billion dollar a month burn rate.  Oh, wait, Carmack left out the blockchain!  No wonder he hasn’t succeeded!

You should take a minute to go look at the Victora VR web site, because it is the most anodyne, check all the possible boxes, no concrete details provided piece of work I have seen in a while.  The whitepaper they have available on their site is entirely about monetization, because that is the most important aspect of video game design.  Even when they superficially dip their toes into things like quests for a page and a half, it is simply about how that will introduce players to more ways to spend money.

It is monetization all the way down.

I have to imagine that this what making an MMO looks like to people who have never made an MMO.  Or a video game of any kind.  It is all generic, hand waving, high level terms and no proof that their team has the technical ability to bring anything like what they are promising into reality, virtual or otherwise.

As somebody who has followed online gaming since the 80s, and 3D virtual worlds since the late 90s… likely before Adam Bem was even born… you get a sense of who has the ability to pull something like this off and who is just blowing smoke… and Victoria VR clearly cannot pull off anything of the sort.

Things Like Valheim in a Post MMORPG World

I watched a video the other day about how to save the MMORPG genre.  It was an hour reasonably well spent if the topic interests you.


The video brings up a lot of problems and contradictions that the community has long discussed and argued about, such as the importance of community, servers, end game content, and a whole package of other items that will no doubt sound familiar if you’ve been part of the discussion over the last decade and more.

And I will say that there isn’t anything critical that I disagree with when it comes to the discussion.  It is largely a quest to get back to the things that made the genre exciting and fun back in the early days without necessarily throwing out every single “accessibility” feature that has shown up since EverQuest was the booming vanguard of the genre.

The result, which is necessarily a bit vague, can charitably be called a tightrope walk over a pit of knives, suggesting as it does some sort of balance between contradictory goals.

In the end, it seems unlikely that anybody is going to come up with a perfect and sustainable mix of features that will bring back the early joys of the genre, if only because much of what we were willing to put up with nearly a quarter century ago will no longer fly now that we’ve experienced better, easier, or more relaxed versions of virtual worlds.

The novelty of the experience has passed for many of us and, while we want a lot of what virtual worlds bring us, the price we’re willing to pay in what can seem like sheer bloody minded inconvenience is nowhere as high as it used to be.

Yes, you can run a special server now and then catering to the nostalgia of the good old days.  But that is no more sustainable than it was the first time around.  People will clamor for the quality of life changes, only much more quickly as one of the quirks of redoing a game for nostalgia is that the experience runs in fast forward mode because the whole thing is already a solved problem.

I don’t think MMORPGs are dead, but they aren’t going to go back to the dawn of the 21st century in anything but indie niche form.  The mass market voted with their wallets for WoW in droves… and then asked for the rough edges to be smoothed down to the point we have arrived at today and the dichotomy of the whole fun vs effort thing.  In the end we do seem to favor low friction entertainment.

But I also wonder if the edge has been worn of the MMORPG experience by some of the alternatives.

Back in 1999 you couldn’t even run two EverQuest clients on a single machine.  Multi-boxing meant literally having two machines.   So the idea of being able to run your own personal persistent world was out of reach for most people.

That changed.  I think Minecraft gets some serious credit for popularizing running your own world for just you and your friends.  I am sure there are other games titles that pre-date it for that sort of thing, but Minecraft created an industry around hosting worlds, a big enough industry that Microsoft felt it was worthwhile to run part of it.

Minecraft isn’t the ideal replacement for MMORPGs.  It can lack that sense of purpose, which is why I have Valheim in the title of the post.  Sure, you could substitute in something else for it… there are other options… but it is the one that resonates most with me at the moment.

Setting sail

Having your own Valheim server with your friends gives you a lot of what MMORPGs offered back in the day.  A persistent server to share with friends, monsters to find, a major quest to follow in order to win Odin’s favor, a world to explore, bases to build… and you even get that holy grail of online adventures, the ability to change the world and have it persist.

Which leads me to wonder where the future of online gaming in the MMORPG sense ought to be heading.

Valheim is imperfect… and largely so right now because it is incomplete.  It is currently impossible to gain Odin’s favor and win or otherwise finish what you started.

But the promise of it?  Now there is something.  We have twice now spent three months and more going through the content of the game… and in a rapacious manner, throwing many hours into our efforts to explore and move ahead… when it isn’t even half done yet.

What happens when there is a year of content for an industrious group?  What happens when there are multiple titles such as that?

I don’t think the MMORPG is going away.  There is still something to be said for the big game with many people playing in parallel.  But the smaller world, the shared persistent space you and your friends can share… that feels like it has a long ways to go before it seems over populated as a genre.

Of course, that might be why Blizzard is looking into the idea.  Or maybe the devs there just liked Valheim as well.

Things Shared in Lost Ark

As a title, Lost Ark continues to surprise me.  I realize it has been around for years in other markets, giving it time to have evolved, but it starts out so simply, looking more like an Asian themed Diablo III game than an evolved MMORPG.  And then, as you play through, you start running into more and more things.

So today’s Lost Ark topic is sharing.

Welcome to Lost Ark

How to deal with alts is an issue as old as online gaming.  I have told the tale of early EverQuest where, wanting to transfer some equipment to an alt and didn’t have anybody I truest online, so I moved the target alt to a quiet spot in Qeynos, logged them out, logged in the character with the item, went to the same spot, dropped the item on the ground… back in old EverQuest you could just drop stuff and it would be there in the game, on the ground… then logged that character out and the the receiving character back in to collect the item.  And that worked.

And alt issues pre-date that by years.  I remember wanting to transfer good drops to alts in Diablo a couple years before that.  And it was always a thing in TorilMUD, where they eventually had to modify the “no multi-boxing” rule to allow players to have two characters logged into an inn so they could trade items. (Inns were made silent rooms so you couldn’t log in and buff your little alt up, though I think they have since reverted that.)

And that doesn’t even get into the whole need to do everything again with every alt which used to plague online games.

Not that things didn’t get better over the years.  EverQuest II launched back in 2004 with shared bank slots that could be used to pass items and coin between characters on the same server.  World of Warcraft eventually made achievements, pets, and mounts a shared resource on the same account.  Things have evolved.

But Lost Ark seems to be taking this to a new level… or I haven’t played many recent MMORPGs… or both.

So, for openers, the game has shared storage for your characters on the same server.  Like I said, that was surprising and new back in 2004, but I am still happy to see it in titles as it is not ubiquitous.

Then there are shared mounts, which I figured out pretty quickly.  One of the first quests you do in Pridehome is the mount quest just outside the cathedral.  I picked a different color mount with my first three characters, then noticed that they all had access to all three mounts.

Likewise, pets are shared, though there is only one default pet and once you have it you don’t get the pet quest again on that server, which cause us some confusion at one point when trying to get the group on the same quest and I told people to get past the pet quest when we were all on our second or third character.

On an alt I suddenly noticed that they had a lot of silver very shortly after they got into Pridehome… like 100K silver.  I logged him out and in with another character and found that they shared the same balance.  No sending coins to alts as they share the same wallet.  All currencies seem to be shared.

I also noticed that when my run ahead character wore out one of his harvest tools, which gives you the paper doll on the UI.  But the paper doll appeared on the UI of an alt as well, because apparently your characters not only share crafting resources, but harvesting tools as well.

I am also pretty sure that you share a stronghold, though none of my alts are as far along as my highest level guy, so I am not sure yet.  We’ll see on that… and the boat as well.  I finally got my boat this weekend.  Still not quite sure what to do with it, but I have one!

Then there is the whole Roster thing, which I am still not sure about, but which looks to be an alternate xp advancement path that applies upgrades to all of your characters.  But what happens when you make somebody else a “roster friend?”  This is a step beyond friends, but I am not sure what it even means.

And then there are collections and the card catalog and the adventure tome and achievements and titles and rapport, all of which appear to be held in common with all of your characters on the server.

Sheet music.  That is one thing that isn’t shared, but it is also something that gets unlocked as you play through the story, so that is understandable.

So far, it seems to be working out.  I like it.  The only problem I have seen with it is with rapport, where a lower level character seems to be blocked from doing rapport interactions due to something my highest level character has done.

Five Bad EVE Online Ideas that will Never Die

EVE Online can be a divisive game.  People tend to love it or hate it, with the latter being the larger group if comment threads on gaming sites are any indication, though the largest group of all seems to be those who watch it from afar to be entertained.  And all three groups probably add up to fewer people that the active subscribed WoW population right now, though I suspect those numbers might have gotten a bit closer since the Shadowlands expansion.

And in such an environment, there are a wide range of ideas as to what the game should be, and everybody seems to have a plan that would improve the game and, naturally, boost player numbers because we all seem to believe that the majority of the universe shares our exact likes and dislikes and are shocked that these few outlier weirdos who see things differently from us seem to run all these games.  It is like some sort of conspiracy.

But there are a few ideas that seem to persist.  They pop back up again with a regularity that begins to grate if you’ve been around the community for a while.  Here are the ones I see that just won’t die the death they deserve.

1 – Walking in Stations

At the top of the list because CCP dabbled in this with Incarna. The company, after neglecting the core of EVE Online for a few years and plundering the efforts of the teams working on Dust 514 and World of Darkness, proudly launched what I heard one wag call “walking in a closet.”

Captain’s Quarters

I will admit that I was among those who thought the game needed avatar play when I started playing.  EVE Online has the curse of many vehicle games in that everybody is alone in the spaceship and you can’t wave or jump ceaselessly or dance on the mailbox in your underwear, which can give the game a sterile, impersonal feel.  Forza Horizon 5 has the same impersonal feel out in its shared world too.  Every car focused title does.  Are there people demanding “walking in Forza” as loudly as the walking in stations crowd does for EVE? (Seriously, are there?)

The problem here is that nothing in the core of the game is improved by having to walk around and I have yet to hear a suggestion from anybody that didn’t either make current functionality more awkward (e.g. you should have to walk to your agent in a station and speak to them face to face) or required CCP to essentially build a new game within EVE Online to accommodate avatar play.  That adds up to making things worse or development time spent away from the core of the game.

It has been made clear over the years that CCP struggles at times to keep up with the “flying in space” aspect of the game that is its core, so having them ignore that again for a multi-year stretch in order to build a feature of dubious value seems like a really bad business plan.

But people ask for this feature a couple of times a month on Reddit, though the request seems to rotate through the same small group of people.  And then there is Hilmar, who said they might bring it back at some point, which just cemented in my mind the fact that he might be head of the studio, but he has no clue about the game and just likes to say things that get attention.

Walking in stations is bad for EVE Online.  I will die on this hill.

2 – Dogfighter

This is the almost prototypical response from somebody who came to play EVE Online and happens to own a flight stick.  They go away disappointed that combat isn’t maneuver based, that they cannot used the tricks they developed playing X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter or whatever, often dropping by Reddit to announce their displeasure.  The reaction range between “this sucks” to long design documents about how the game should be rebuilt into a space flight sim.

But the core is always the same, that the combat is too simple, that you just press F1 and you’re done.

The first issue here is  the idea that every game must be built to meet their personal preferences.  If you want a space flight sim, I get that EVE Online isn’t for you.  But there are a lot of other options, so coming in and declaring that the game should be rewritten to meet your personal needs is a bit over the top don’t you think?  And that leaves aside the herculean effort that it would take to remake the game.  Get over yourself.

Second is that if you think combat in EVE Online is simple it is because you haven’t spent enough time with it.  Yes, you don’t have to get on somebody’s tail or calculate deflection in your head, but range and engagement envelopes and transversal and tracking and damage types and reload times and a host of other small details enter into each engagement.  That you are not thinking about this when you press F1 doesn’t mean it isn’t all in play, it is just likely to explain why your ship is a wreck and the other person has a fresh kill mark on his hull.

3 – Safe Space

There are a lot of flavors to this one, ranging from the idea that high sec should be completely safe (and sometimes that low sec should be like high sec is now) to being able to flag PvP on and off like you do in World of Warcraft to make yourself immune from all player attacks.

This seems to stem from people wanting to just be left alone to tinker with whatever space project they have going on.  And I get that.  It is a sandbox and some people want to play in their own corner where kicking over sand castles isn’t allowed.

The problem is that any safety will be exploited.  Any source of income that is unassailable will be overrun.  ISK per hour is a primary motivator for many, but the safety factor comes into it as well.

And you may ask who would even bother tracking down high sec alts, and I have an answer; all of us.  EVE Online has a rich history of wars in low or null sec finding their way into high sec.  In World War Bee there was a whole shadow war fought in and around Jita and Amarr with both sides trying to track down alts in NPC corps that were being used to ship supplies into the war zone.

So, leaving aside the usual argument about safety breaking the theme of the game, there are some more immediate ways in which it would break actual game play and the economy, and we don’t want to give CCP any more reason to go in and manipulate the in-game economy.  They are hamfisted enough going after imaginary problems, lets not make some real ones.

EVE Online is just a PvP game.  It has been since 2003 and that is the way it is going to be.  End of story, time to move on.

As an aside, I am always interested in how angry people get when another player blows up their ship, which glows white hot compare to the response to dying to an NPC.  I dream of an experiment where CCP mocks up a slightly different UI and tells an experimental audience that EVE is a single player game with advanced AI based on real world behavior in order to see if the anger is the same when your hauler gets blown up by a gang of suicide Catalysts if you believe them to be NPCs.

4 – Another Server

There are a few flavors of this one as well.  There are, of course, the people who just want a PvE server.  See above, plus I am not sure how sovereign null sec or faction warfare even work in the minds of those suggesting this, but there it is.

Others want EVE Classic.  They want to go back to the good old days, which correspond to the point in time when they were most enthusiastic about the game, or when some change in mechanics didn’t ruin things. (I still occasionally hear somebody angry about CCP adding in “warp to 0” as the thing that killed PvP, which was a change that happened in 2006 not long after I started playing.)  And, as somebody who is a big fan of the whole retro server idea, it is hard for me to not pine as well for some past fun.

The usual problems apply.  When would you set such a server?  What patch level?  What bug fixes do you retain and which are part of the flavor of the time?

But the enterprise will never get that far because CCP knows that two servers are not twice as good as one.  EVE Online needs a critical mass of players willing to take on the different roles in the ecosystem for it to function smoothly.  I am a bit sad I didn’t play at launch mostly because I wonder what the game was like with no established player market.  EVE can seem annoying because it feels like as soon as you decide what you want to do, you need to do six other things first to get ready.  But at least you don’t have to buy the blueprints for a hull, mine the ore, and build the ship.  The economy is the core lubricant that makes the game manageable.  Splitting the game into two servers threatens that.  The main fear for EVE is that someday the population will fall below a critical mass and the economy will fall into chaos.

So no second server will ever compete with Tranquility.

(And yes, I know there is a second server in mainland China.  But even now many players who used to play on that server are able to VPN into Tranquility to play with the rest of us.  In fact, one of the reason that the game turns in the concurrency numbers it still manages these days is because it has managed to attract many of the core players who fled the bad days of the Serenity server.)

5 – Better PvE

I am going to have to qualify this one because I don’t think any player, new or old, would have a real problem with something that led to a better PvE game in New Eden.  Better PvE isn’t a bad idea at its core.  But it is almost always expressed badly… and by badly, I mean people generally just demand better PvE and stop there, leaving what that even means to the interpretation of those hearing the demand.  Or, if they provide details, it generally describes much worse PvE.

Basically, it easy to say “better PvE,” but it is tough even describe it, much less make it happen.  What is better anyway?

Making it harder isn’t better.  If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that players want PvE that is just difficult enough to give them a sense of accomplishment without any real risk of them failing.

You can make things like missions interesting for the first run.  But they don’t stay interesting after a few passes.  You can then make more missions… I think CCP has more than six thousand missions of various types in the game… but they tend to fall into a few simple categories.  In the end, PvE quickly becomes a solved problem.  Even if you add more missions, is that really better PvE?

CCP has had some luck with randomizing PvE in Abyssal pockets.  The mechanic requires you to commit your ship before you know the foes and puts a 20 minute timer on the mission.  If you don’t make it in time you lose your ship and your pod.  But even with randomness, if it is still a 90% solved problem (fly a Gila) and they have had to make the rewards worthwhile to keep people running them.  All those muliplasmids to modify ship modules keep a lot of players going back to get the one that will give them the right MWD or stasis webifier or hardener for a fit they have in mind.

But I still find Abyssal pockets boring.  In the end it is the same thing over and over and some variation in foes barely qualifies as interesting unless I get a bad draw and die.  And then it is annoyingly expensive.

I have yet to hear a viable idea from anybody that would make PvE more interesting in New Eden.  But I think that says more about the nature of PvE in general than anything about us or CCP.  There might be an idea out there, and maybe it will find the right ear some day.  But for now, just saying “better PvE” isn’t very helpful and the suggestions that come with it generally involve making it harder or making people go through more hoops, neither of which really meet the “better” bar.

Honorable mentions

Those are my five.  But those are not the only ones that rattle around, so I have a few honorable mentions that I want to tack onto the end of this post.

Things Were Better When…

This is the person who doesn’t want a new server, they just want CCP to roll back to some past feature state that was “more fun” for very specific definitions of the term.  They want it in the current game, and it can be anything from removing “warp to 0” to going back to Dominion sovereignty to giving titans AOE doomsday weapons that can blow up a whole subcap fleet in another system through a cyno… again.

The problem is that, for the most part, much of what has changed over the years has been changed for a reason.  We bitch about Aegis sovereignty, but we bitched about Dominion sovereignty before that, and people certainly bitched about the tower/moon sovereignty system that came before Dominion.

In the end, even if CCP went back and changed the sov system back or removed warp to 0, it wouldn’t recreate the game and the fun times you were having back when they were a thing.  Dunk Dinkle likes to say “nostalgia is a trap.”  As somebody who likes to remember the good times, I take umbrage with that at times.  We can’t ignore the past because all we are is what the past has made us up until this very moment.  But when we gaze too far abroad with our rose colored glasses or think that doing something we did ten or fifteen years ago will do more than just rekindle some fond memories, then I have to agree with Dunk.  I want to be young again too, but removing “warp to 0” won’t get me there.

Subscriptions only

This is a specific subset of the “Things were better when…” crowd who would like to roll back skill injectors, PLEX, and free to play.  All of these are viewed as bad to various degrees… though we have had PLEX in the game for well over half the life of the game at this point.  The first big PLEX loss was back in late 2010.

This just isn’t going to happen.  It probably can’t happen and keep the game being developed at its current pace.  I have been down this path before, but to put it simply, the price of a subscription remains locked in 2003 while the price of everything else has gone up over the last 19 years.

Also, people playing EVE Online… that peaked in 2013, before either free to play or skill injectors showed up, so there is scant chance that going subscription only will end up in any scenario besides “EVE Online now makes much less money.”

Yes, I hate the cash shop mentality of MMOs.  I just want to pay my flat fee and play the game.  But the reality is most everything now has some sort of free option, so demanding cash up front just limits your options as a game.  That is just the reality of the market now.

Breaking up corps and alliances

This is the go to solution for people who don’t like null sec or who are trying to solve the “n+1” problem of sovereignty warfare.  Are null sec battles growing too large for the servers?  Are big null sec alliances keeping you and you five friends from holding space?  Then just put a cap on corp or alliance sizes!  That will put everybody on an even playing field!

The suggestion rarely include a number at which organizations should be capped, just that 30K Goons is too many Goons and we need to put a stop to that right now.  But that doesn’t really matter as there is no correct answer.

Let us say that CCP picks 1,000 as the cap for an alliance or corp or combination thereof.  What happens next?  Two things.

First, we go back to the bad old days when null sec groups were very selective of members.  I know there are some who long for those days, the era of the small, elite PvP groups holding vast areas of space.  But organizations like Brave, Pandemic Horde, or KarmaFleet, which have been highways into null sec for new players, they dry up and die.  Everything goes back to needing to justify why you get a spot in an alliance rather than one of the CEO’s alts.

Second, we find out it doesn’t change much.  Unless CCP also disallows standings, EVE Online players have shown that they can create meta organizations that exist outside of the structure of the game.  There is no in-game mechanism specifically for coalitions, yet they exist and have existed for as long as null sec has been a thing.

The limit just ends up turning the null sec clock back to 2011 or so when small groups ran big rental empires and formed coalitions to defend their holdings.  As we have seen elsewhere in the game, when CCP enforces scarcity, players change their behavior in predictable ways.  Well, predictable to most people besides CCP.

Banning people you don’t like

This seems to be the knee jerk reaction to many issues in EVE Online, that CCP just needs to ban more people.  Botters (which is anybody who repeats a game play loop in a game with a lot of repetitive game play loops), gankers, cheaters, scammers, exploiters, bumpers, whales, ratters, miners, Alpha clones, people with more than n accounts, scary wormhole people, under cutters, specific nationalities, play styles you don’t like, Goons… there was practically a “Ban Goons” subculture at one point in the game… and mean people in general. Basically, whatever is annoying you, CCP should just ban them.

Here’s the thing… somebody probably wants to ban you and whatever you are doing as well.  Also, CCP would like to stay in business and have a viable video game that pays the salaries and keeps the servers running and up to date.  While the EULA and terms of service give CCP the right to ban your ass for anything they want, becoming the game that bans people is a good way to become a game mentioned in the history of MMOs rather than in the current stable of running MMOs.

Player made SKINs

This comes up every time somebody posts a pretty JPEG of a ship they colored up themselves.  Somebody will see this and declare that CCP should allow players to make ship SKINs.  And, superficially, this seems like a good idea.  More SKINs in the store, the better, right?  And many of us like pretty SKINs… or at least SKINs with obnoxiously bright colors.  And CCP at least strongly implied that we would be able to make SKINs back in 2016.

This falls apart on a couple fronts.

For openers, being able to make what looks like a nice SKIN on you PC isn’t likely to be at all comparable to what it takes to make one usable in the game.  There are probably a dozen players out there with the skill, knowledge, and motivation to make decent SKINs, but they still don’t have the tools that the CCP art team has in order to make something usable by the game.  Those are, no doubt, in-house developed tools and not suitable for distribution outside of their environment.

Second, dealing with user made content is a lot more work than you think.  There is a reason that companies that try to leverage user made content either shut it down eventually (Cryptic, Daybreak) or just give up any attempts at moderation (Roblox).

The thought that comes up a lot is that CCP could just let the community vote on SKINs.  But have you met us?  Enough people would upvote penis SKINs to make this completely unviable.  Also, it assumes that SKINs are like mods, and that the whole thing could be treated like Steam’s Workshop, with little or no supervision.  This is completely wrong.

That brings me to the next issue, which is that SKINs are part of the game.  They are in the build, part of the client, and nothing at all like a player mod.  That means CCP would need to spend a lot of time vetting every submission, testing it thoroughly and examining it for hidden images, words, and penises, because once it is in the game it gets pushed out and placed on every system that has the game installed.

Which brings me to the final point on this, which is whether or not all the work would be worth it.  I don’t think it would.  The hubris in this is that players would automatically make cooler, more popular, better selling SKINs than the CCP art team.  The reality of user created content is that 99% of it is garbage.  Game mods and things like Steam Workshop let people experiment and get better, but that allows players to opt-in.  But putting something in the game that everybody will see, that is a step well beyond.

And, in the end, I am not sure more SKINs are better anyway.  The in-game store is already a pain to use… something it shares with online storefronts every where, which pretty much require you to know what you want because simply browsing is an awful experience… so fewer, high quality SKINs seems to be the reasonable plan that CCP is trying to follow.  It is probably no coincidence that the best SKINs are the ones on a few hulls while the ones that try to cover a whole faction or every ship in the game tend to be a bit “meh.” (The Biosecurity Responder SKINs are the exception there.)

Anyway, that is a lot of words.  I guess this could have been “Ten Bad EVE Online Ideas” rather than five, since I just kept on going with the honorable mentions.  But the first five are really “never go there” ideas that CCP might consider, while the latter five I think we’re pretty safe from.

And I didn’t even get into blockchain, crypto, and NFTs.  Those are bad ideas as well, but I am waiting for Pearl Abyss to tell CCP to do them before I jump back on that thread.