What makes you spend money in a game?

I love money.  Most of you will say you love money, but what you really mean is you are a slave to it.  Money ranks high in causing violent emotions responsible for most of our crime.  Money has been called the root of all evil.  Many of you won't admit you are actually afraid of money. 

Virtual economies are the most misunderstood beast in gaming.  Just like we do in real life, we treat our games as a place to buy and sell things.  We want to be the best, have the best, be a hero.  Similar to real life crime, ingame money issues have created an entire industry hellbent on making real life money on ingame crime.  I am still mad hackers stole the shoes off my feet in Everquest 2.   I mean, come on?  My shoes?

Our jaded connection to money drove the changes to online gaming we are trying to survive.  The entire landscape has changed.  I can't think of a AAA game that doesn't have an ingame store?  It's too much of a cash cow.  People will spend real life money on ingame items.  Gamers buy whole characters with epic raid gear on Ebay. They buy ingame currency with real life money from gold farmers.  Oh look, another opportunity to share one of my favorite videos of all time.  8 years, and I still giggle.

My mind has been percolating for the last few months trying to figure out what it is gaming needs.  We've seen a huge change in the business.  Free to Play, or Play to Win depending on your take, made major houses fall to their knees and weep under the whip of gamers who refuse to pay a subscription.  I am not sure a game could launch without a Free to Play option and survive. 

Free to Play hasn't created any great gaming innovations.   If anything, I have watched good games dumb themselves down to the lowest common denominator.  Wildstar  launched promising players hard instances reminiscent of WoW's good ole days.  What players got was a toxic environment where even the best players would rage quit an instance when a lesser player made a mistake the group couldn't recover from.  Less than a year after launch, the game looked like a dusty ghost town.  People don't want to pay to feel inadequate.  Dollars talk, and the slew of subscription cancellations shouted pretty damn loud.  The game relaunched as a Free to Play game a month ago, and was said to have re-balanced dungeon's and raids.  Read "made easier."

What are we willing to pay for?  Looking at what is offered in many ingame stores, I see the same "type" of items over and over again.  I figure they are there for a reason.  People pay for them. Game houses are going to put development dollars to work where they will get more bang for their buck. 

Skill accelerators, mounts, pets, housing items, penalty removers, seasonal/holiday items, bank/bag/storage items.  There are other things in games depending on their genre, but that list covers most of the good stuff.  This is what we will pay for.  Some of the items are there because we want to skip the gates.  I don't want to get a bazillion favor with XXX in order to have more slots in my bank.  I'll just buy them and get it over with.

The bank example points out one of the most important parts of Free to Play.  Long term players are not where the money is made.  The most bang for the buck happens when a new player hits the server and wants to play with the big boys.  They spend the most money in a short burst because they are in a hurry to experience the best part of any game.  The end game. Touted as where all the fun happens.  Most guild's have a heavy concentration on end game, and new players are in a hurry to get there and be included.

This Pandora's box of bad seeds has been a self perpetuated prophecy.  Gaming developers did this to themselves.  Most games get through launch and concentrate almost exclusively on end game.  They want to keep the players they already have spending money on their game, so they cater the content to them.  New gamers want to get to the good stuff as fast as possible.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Some games have even taken this too far.  Star War's Online recently launched their new expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire.  They are offering a new character to players who is automatically level 60.  I cancelled my Swtor subscription.  I worked quite hard to get my character to the max level.  Handing them out to newbies who don't even have the game mechanics figured out yet was too much for me to take.  Does it make sense in a way? It could.  Having a character who can automatically join higher level groups helps immerse a player in the game and keep coming back.  Helps them spend money on items you want them to buy.  I just don't think it's going to make for better players.  One step too far in the Pay to Win column for my liking.

Free to Play hasn't solved the gold farmer issue.  They are still there.  I see bots ingame from time to time.  They wouldn't be working if no one was buying. 

Two factor authentication hasn't solved the hacking issue.  If anything it's made my life miserable every time I get a new phone and forget to switch accounts.  Being locked out of a game when it's your fault is a little humiliating.  I am taking so many precautions I've locked myself out of my own stuff.  I don't think the hackers are having this issue.

Money might be the root of all evil.  Even in our virtual lives we've managed to screw up.  We've made our avatars about stuff.  We need more stuff in order to be better players.  Attaining stuff is why we run around killing squirrels and collecting herbs.  We can't seem to think past consumerism even when we go into a made up world. 

So where do we go from here?

Game On!

What makes you stay in your game?

I realized last week while looking through my budget, I am currently subscribed to four MMO's.   I started looking at my games and trying to make choices.  Holding onto four games is a little ridiculous, besides being a drain on my pocketbook. At the moment, I am subscribed to DDO, LOTRO, EQ2, and WOW.  That's a lot of games, and I can honestly say, I don't have that much time to play and give each game justice.

Since 2007, I've used Xfire to track my games, time played online, and to keep in touch with friends.  I swung by their website to look up the data and see what I am actually playing.

xfire time played
xfire time played

In peeking over my profile, it appears I spend wayyyy too much time gaming.  Xfire doesn't even keep track of my Wii, or Xbox.  Kinda scary when I think about it.  By the way, my total time online in computer games sits at 3,413 hours. O.M.G.

lh_ddo_community_play_weekend
lh_ddo_community_play_weekend

I've played DDO the most hours. 1,811.  That's a ton of time to invest in a game.  I've been visiting Stormreach since December of 2006.  That's four years of making friends, moving servers, joining guilds, leaving guilds and all the assorted drama that comes with an MMO.  What keeps dragging me back to DDO?

The biggest factor keeping me hooked into the game is  my static group.  Four of us have been together since the beginning 3 or so years ago when we were level one, didn't know each other and were playing character's in a whole new way.  Now we exchange Christmas cards, babies are  talking children, and our lives are intertwined by meeting once a week to blow off some steam and enjoy time together.

I have never left the game entirely, but I did stop playing actively on my home server for about a year.  My friends are what drug me back into game.

Generally, I play DDO when I am feeling chatty and social.  It's not a game I play solo.  I play with my guild or with my friends.  I don't PUG.  Pretty much that is a hard and fast rule.  I would rather short man a quest than run with people who may make the quest more work than fun.

DDO offers  Free to play options, has maintained the game for their subscribers and has an E-store.  It lacks Player housing, mounts and any kind of cross server chat amongst players.  There is little avatar customization offered in game, and it's limited to items bought in the E-store. Crafting is bulky and exceedingly limited.

It is rich with a grouping style that has continued to morph in mostly positive directions as changes have affected the game.  Recently added guild housing has ramped up this social aspect of the game, pretty much for the better.  The game also boasts a strong storyline, an active combat style and the best character build customization I have experienced in any MMO.

DDO stays on the list of games I am going to play in 2011.

LOTRO-logo1
LOTRO-logo1

Next up is LOTRO coming in with 558 hours.  I haven't actively played LOTRO since it went free to play in September of last year.  I've logged in a few times.  Mostly to pay for my beautiful deluxe hobbit hole house I lovingly decorated.  I have a guild mate who bugs me on facebook to log in and play.  I just haven't found a reason to stay more than moments online in ages.  Zeff has been playing a lot of LOTRO.  I have watched him and heard the music in the background as I am playing other things.  It has tempted me, but I haven't fully commited to playing again.

LOTRO has a free to play option, solid subscriber options, and an E-store.  It has guild housing, player housing, mounts, and good avatar customization.  You can add limited mods to the game with LUA scripting.  The game has a solid crafting system.  You can easily solo through the game,  but there are ways to group up and play with others.  I generally play LOTRO solo or as a duo with the hubby, but have grouped up with guild mates to run the tough dungeons.   Character builds are through a skill tree type set up, and therefore not terribly creative.  The four festival's are one of my favorite pastimes in Middle-Earth, and I gather up all the cosmetic items and fun frothy beverages with zeal!

The best aspect of this game is the storyline.  If you love Tolkien's world, please do yourself a favor and load this game.  The graphics are stellar, the music gripping and the the quest lines easy to follow and enjoy.  The combat style is a combined active and tiered gambit style.

If you have never played an MMO and are wondering where to start, I would really suggest this one.  The playerbase is almost as rabidly protective of the game as DDO's, and I have generally found them helpful and encouraging.

Still, I think LOTRO will need to be parred back to a free to play game this year.

925__580x299_destiny-of-velious
925__580x299_destiny-of-velious

EQ2 ran third with 281 hours.  I was amazed I had that many hours  considering I only started playing last fall.  I simply love the game.  I love the varied storyline's, avatar customizations, mounts, guild housing, player housing, good versus evil alignments, festival's, different mods you can add and the overall varied and spicy flavors this game has to offer.

If I can think of it, I can do it EQ2.

My first MMO experience was in Everquest years ago.  I have a lot of fond memories of that game, and I still have a friend or two hanging around I originally met in Norrath.  Playing Everquest 2 is like coming home.  While there are many new fangled things in EQ2, I can't help the feeling of familiarity with the lore of the game.

It offers free to play options on free to play servers, subscriber options on subscriber servers and a very limited E-store.   The crafting is fully functional and delicious.  Player housing is the most customized I have seen in any game to date.  It can be soloed, but offers grouping options.  The graphics are 7 years old, but continue to be updated.  It's not as pretty as LOTRO or even DDO, but it's still pretty enough.  There are many events in the game, covering all the holidays and then just some monthly city events and such dotting your time online.

I would not suggest this game to the first time MMO player.  It has a major learning curve.  The combat is a combo of gambits and action.  The character builds are cookie cutter, but the avatar options are awesome.

EQ2 stays on my list for games to play in 2011.

wowcataclsym
wowcataclsym

Lastly Wow with 54 hours.  I am really new to this game, and I am not sure I can give a full thumbs up or down.  I will say if it offered a free to play options, I would use that method.  It has a plethora of mounts, crafting, cosmetic pets and cross server chat.  It does not offer guild or player housing.  The grouping system for dungeon's is one of the smoothest I have ever seen.  The graphics are cartoonish, but livable.  It lacks any kind of character or avatar customization.

I have to be honest in saying I am only playing this game for a friend.  It's probably not something I am going to stick with.  It really doesn't offer me the things I have been looking for.

Maybe I simply haven't been playing it long enough to find the nuances.

It's staying on my play list for 2011 on a limited trial basis.  I fully expect by summer to be out from under it.

In looking at my games, I can say I have a pretty strong idea of what I like and what I don't.  I want to be able to customize my character whether it be in it's build or in it's overall appearance.  I really like housing, both guild and player based.  I like the fluffy festival's that add both some fun and a level of immersion to the reality of a MMO world moving in time and season.  I don't like to be pigeon holed into a cookie cutter unless there are other outlets for my creativity.

Most of all I like story.  This isn't a true surprise to me.  I am a voracious reader.  I like to follow characters to see where things will go, and one of my favorite play styles is a light role-play element in a game.  All of my character's have a back story, and I am rather disillusioned when their builds or looks are messed about with by the developers of a game.  Even in my MMO worlds, I am adverse to change.

I know there is a level of individualism even in our MMO worlds.  So what is it you look  for in a game?  What keeps bringing you back  hour after hour? What turns you off a game?  Let me know!

Game on!!!

The WoW I'm a Cow Experiment

After years upon years of World of Warcraft bashing, I took the plunge.  Hello, my name is Rowanheal and I'm a cow, er, Tauren...oh please people it's a cow. An old gamer friend of mine has been waxing poetic about WoW forever in a day.  I've received phone calls, text messages, Xfire messages, IM's, emails and so forth listing all the reasons I needed to experience Azeroth.  I finally rolled a 1 on my will save and decided to give it go when Blizzard ran a special on the digital download.  $5.00 for the basic game.  It was less than the price of a meal at my favorite greasy fast food chain.  If I hated it, I could at least save myself from the constant "Please come play WoW" invitations.

He did some kind of personality/class quiz over the phone with me while I waited on my game to download.  I am apparently the perfect druid.  Considering I've played a druid almost every time I roll a character for PnP, this wasn't a huge shock.

I was then given a list of 30 or so add on's that were simply REQUIRED to play WoW.  My head was spinning around,  and I had yet to create a character.  I joined Curse.com and began the process of downloading all the add on's.  I wish Curse worked with other games.  It's a fabulous little program that keeps track of all the add on's and let's me know when they have been updated.  I'd like it for EQ2, DDO and LOTRO.

I would love to give you all a feel for what all of the add ons actually do, but to be honest I don't have a bloody clue.  I can say I am using the Spartan UI, Carbonite, Auctionator, Hear Kitty, Zelda loot, Bagon, Healbot, Scrap,Deadly boss mobs, and a ton more that I can't keep track of.  I think they help this n00b understand a little more of the technical side of the game.  Probably.  Perhaps it is just muddying the waters.

Before I would even log into the game, I attached an authenticator to my account.  I have had gaming friends who have messaged me about how their accounts have been stolen.  In fact, when WoW came out in 2004, I bought a box and tried the game.  I lasted for 3 days before I clicked DELETE.  That account was stolen 4 years ago by a gold spammer.   I know because Blizzard was nice enough to contact me with my perma ban :D

After trying to create enough security to keep even the CIA out of my WoW account, I pressed play.

I was told I would be a Horde player since my friend was.  There are two factions in WoW.  Alliance and Horde.  I  don't know why they don't like each other.  I don't know how there came to be two sides.  I only know I am horde.  *shrugs*

I'd been counseled that in order to make a raid worthy druid who could tank and/or heal, I would need to be a Tauren.  I dutifully built, named and logged in with the new character and realized I was a cow!

CowMount
CowMount

Yeah, it's a cow on a horse.  It's hard to get immersed in a game when you're a cow.  I simply don't have the roleplaying skills to convince myself a cow should even be walking upright, much less riding a steed.

I found the starting area easy enough.  I can button punch with the best of em, and I was soon through the starting area into the great big world.

It was about level 10ish or so where I began to lose grounding in the game.  Friends power leveled me through dungeons, flew me through the world, and held my hand periodically. At the time of this writing I am level 64.   I have seen very little of the game outside of the dungeon system.

I will say, the random dungeon engine is pretty darn fabulous.  You can queue up for a dungeon from anywhere in the world.  The finder connects players cross servers, cutting down on the dreaded wait time for a group.  If you are in a party,  you will go into the random dungeon and be joined by enough members to make a group of 5 for the instance.  It's a painless and beautiful thing.  I adore it.

The experience and gear attained through the dungeon system has made questing seem like a HUGE grind.  I can't do it.  I might for an hour while doing laundry or making dinner, but as soon as chores are done, I'm going to do a dungeon.

My biggest fear for WoW had been the pervasiveness of douchbaggery.   I can say I've been there, done that and I need a T-shirt.  It truly does suck butt to be in a dungeon and have the little twerps utilizing their new found curse vocabulary,  whining and generally making an ass of themselves.  What helps is the ability to vote as a dungeon group to kick the little brat so you can get back to soaking up insane xp and loot.   It's doesn't happen alot, and I can say if there are a ton of under 18 peeps playing WoW they are good players who know how to shut up.

I am currently playing my druid as a feral kitty.  I can DPS like a mad woman.  Being able to shapeshift into my kitty means I don't have to stare at a cow's behind the entire time I am gaming.  Not to mention, she's just terribly fun.  I've found the rhythm to bleeds, rips and shreds.  I can pop out of being a kitty to do a spot heal or two if things seem to be going south in a group.  I can rez.  I love the versatility.

Kitty
Kitty

I can also shapeshift into a bear and a bird.  It's just cool.

Bear Tank
Bear Tank
Birdy
Birdy

So am I enjoying it?

I am for the most part.  I knew going in I was going to use my experience to write a series of articles for the website.  The Great Cow Experiment. :D  My uncommitted play style maybe allowing me to simply poke the big WoW beast thus avoiding being consumed.

I am not getting the shakes to run to my computer and play WoW.  I did however buy all the expansions including the newly released Cataclysm.  When I hit level 60, I wanted a flying mount, so I just pressed buy and got on with it.  I play maybe once a week for 6 or 8 hours when my friend has time to duo.  It's not MY game, but it is a game I am playing and I refuse to be ashamed of it.

Is it going to stop me from playing DDO?  Not a chance in hell.  It just hasn't hit my sweet spot like DDO continues to do.

Am I seeing the appeal WoW holds over 12 million players?  Not really.  I haven't reached raid level, nor am I geared to raid, so maybe I will feel the pull once I hit 85.   I'll let ya know.  For now, the skinner box in WoW is an epic fail.  I am playing because I am enjoying playing with an  old gaming pal, and I like ripping things apart with my kitty.

Stay tuned for more on my cow in the coming weeks as I learn my way around Azeroth.  It's turning out to be quite a ride.

Game on!!!