Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Woes of competetive gaming

    The inherent problem with competetive gaming  is that one side inevitably loses. No matter the time spent on training , preparation and planning  one side will win and the other does not.  And losses are depressing, especially if you were preparing

    There was a recent tournament in World of Tanks game , 96 teams applied. Only one won. First there is barrier of finding 20 people who would commit to playing together in tourney. 2nd there was actually those who honored their commitment. 3d there were those who were preparing and 4th there were those who were good. At the end there was only one team which won! 

My clan had 5 teams.  All were organized. All were training. But just 2 made to rewarde  stage  and only one won. In my team in particular we had daily trainings and drills for over a week . We made to semi finals, I could not play the game due to work emergency, my team lost in semis. I was supposed to be one of the key players on the flank which was overrun , so blame could be partially placed on me. It could be we would been overrun anyways , but fact is because I could not play  they had to put replacement player who was  not used  to play on that flank in this role ,which potentially tipped the scales in favor of opposite team

At the end of the day it worked fine for us -after all we still got some prize. It was not so good for many others. One of the top teams lost before getting to semis,  it had some elite players (in game  top 10), the loss before prize  stage was clearly not satisfactory, as a result of this  loss some players broke up from their main clan. I think some might have even quit the game.

Of course this is not really a problem. Tournament teams are self selected. People  know what they are aiming for and know that not everyone will be on top.

       Bigger problem is how you make broader base of non competitive   gamers accept that you don't win all the time. In fact for large numbers player base their loss might be more than 50% of the time .Do you reward them anyways? Do you   isolate  this aspect of gaming from main game  completely? Do you try to make everyone play vs same skill levels so they w:l 50% of time?

Monday, May 16, 2011

On grouping, community, mutual respect and ratings

     A big problem in online games ,especially MMO ones is player grouping. There is massive pool of players all of different skill levels and attitudes  .And all of them anonymous. The. G.I.F.T. syndrome. is one of the biggest problems. But  how do you  group players together effectively?  How you make them care about each other instead of being 100% selfish?

For start lets analyze player communities, there are few stages, from the least cohesive to most:

  1. Random anonymous pugs
  2. Random pugs with some locality (same server for example)
  3. Clans/Guilds for "fun"
  4. Competitive clans/guilds
  5. Tourney/Arena teams
    In first two its basically up to chance. And since people in general are so different from each other - you get junk 90% of time.  Case #1 is the  worst. Cross server WoW LFD is shining example of this.  #2 Is actually a noticeable improvement - and  smaller the community  the better experience is.  I for example never bothered joining communities for FPS or niche RTS because server wide community is small enough and moderated enough (cheaters,spammers etc are banned by local admins on regular basis)

#3 is example which removes anonymity. You join guild/clan and you are accountable  inside it.While you may not know all people inside it  , there is strict moderation and controls to keep  disruptive elements out . It filters a lot of problems with random spammers, ninja looters ,tkers, afkers, botters and so on.

Now by disruptive elements I mean those who are not within a spirit of community. There could be guilds of "elitist jerks" ,asshats, griefers , etc. They keep scrubs out. There are communities of "nice people" who keep the former out , and so on. The point is there is already several layers of filtering present. 

But #3 while is plenty for most people is still not enough. See the problem is that while community attracts same minded people there are still considerable discrepancy between skill levels and dedication to game among members. You maybe same guild and you wont ninja loot or team kill each other, but some do not like playing with others . for the reason of "carrying them".   So intra guild cliques form. Its most common phenomenon in large guilds when there are same few players who group with each other and wont accept outsiders aside rare exceptions.

       Now when we move to stage #4 and #5  then we start seeing truly organized players. Working as a unit. Trained to work as a team. The training is just like in military or sports team - be reliable and be on time. Listen to orders. Participate in drills. Strict hierarchy and chain of commands is a given. As is the baseline skill levels. Familiarity with all members of group is very high due to voice chat and lots of time spent playing together. They are not random people anymore. They are part of your team.
       Level of commitment is on entirely different level than that in previous 3 groups. For #4 and #5 its not a casual game  for fun anymore. Its a game you play to win , fun is winning, gameplay is secondary.

     Now if you been a part of #4 and #5 the most starking contrast you see in #1,#2 and #3 and is absence of any sort of respect and organized teamwork between members. Having pondering on this aspect for a while I think much of it relies on 2 things:

1) Possibility of playing with same players again
2) Unknown skill of other players (and our monkey brains automatically assume its inferior to ours)

       If you playing with more skilled player  for a while you start seeing the pattern. You start noticing things he does better than you. You start trying to imitate what he does and listen to his advice. If you play with player of similar skill you are more likely to play as  a team. As you know you can rely on them . Playing under same leader  teaches you to respect authority and follow orders, as you know success is a lot more than sum of individual skill and your tactical insights  are not replacement for whole strategy however brilliant they might be.

Being part of #4 and #5 is a great experience.  Only if only we could replicate same level of cohesion and mutual respect for all players it would be so much better for their experience. Unfortunately it requires a noticeable time investment and level of commitment out of reach of most players.

So what is the solution?  First lets make a fair rating which would fairly approximate players skill on an individual level. Put it into brackets and display it.  If you know your rating and know its fair you would appreciate and have more respect for other players displaying similiar or higher skill levels. You do not need to player hundreds of matches with player before you decide whether he is good to team with or not. Players will be able to initially gauge it right away

Second - lets make our game group players together based on their skill and "like"ness networks.If they like each other they could tag so. and next time there is grouping it would try to group them together first before. 

When players will start being grouped with players who are very much like them they will stop being anonymous assholes. Because they will know the other guy is worthy of respect and cooperation. The culture of playing as team will arise in each community  , of course in each community it would be different- its likely on lowest skill levels tactics would be no different than random pugs, but above that we would start seeing more and more elaborate tactics. More following direction and orders. More cohesion and cooperation and as a result much better gameplay  for all

Thursday, May 5, 2011

World of Tanks (WoT) review

       When I first heard of it  I would never think it would be a good game. First - what a silly name! Second  f2p MMO with tanks? Really? But I kept hearing good things about the game so I got into beta last july  .... And  got hooked. 4000+ matches later I am in release, in clan and preparing for a tourney. That is the game I am playing more hardcore than any MMO in past 4 years  and its not even an MMO. Ohh the irony

    To set things straight - its neither "World" nor an MMO.  Its a 3d person tactical tank  shooter with central lobby. Emphasis on "tactical" .The game does not require fast reflexes and split second reactions.  Positioning ,coordination  and tactics are what wins games , not  jumping headshots.  But its not a simulation - lots of things are tweaked in name of balance and gameplay. (such as faster tank speed and  turret turn rates, reload times, artillery is  satellite guided precision weapon )

     There is lots of history and background you  can dig into (did you know there was a french tanks ace who killed 13 tanks alone? can you name top 3 tank aces? -all german of course :) ),  many tanks are fantasy prototypes and its quite interesting reading about them and then try it out in game.

       It has 2 types of progression - vertical (access to higher tier tanks) and horizontal - different tank types (heavy, medium ,light ,tank destroyers ,artillery) of different nations  . If your first thought is" how varied can you really make tanks play" - answer is surprisingly varied.  4 distinct play styles,  tiers play differently as well and each tanks has its unique feel too (if compared to same type/tier other vehicles)

   The main thing - playing tanks is simply fun.2nd  - if you interested in tanks at all (and you will be if you male geek - even if you dont think so at first)  progression will keep you busy .Game is F2P so its worth to give it a try regardless!

     The end game feature is clan wars  which should keep you playing   . Map is Risk like , with players representing stack of chips , each day clans battle for provinces in scheduled matches, owning provinces gives you gold and epeen. You can  check how it goes  on already released in Russia version :

F2P features - it mainly serves as progression shortcuts. Premium account gives you 50% more xp and credits per battle -its generally the best option to spend your RL money on. There are gold consumables and ammo ,but no one uses them outside of tournaments (since they too expensive to use on regular basis). Gold tanks are nothing special , unless you absolutely need have every single tank in game (in this case you will  also have to spend gold on buying additional garage slots). The only gameplay feature which is restricted to premium users  is option to create platoons (groups of 3), but non-premium user can join any other platoon, so its not  a big deal.  WoT is F2P done right .

Game is a huge success in Russia  ,while having reasonable population in EU,  China and US

  • Fun minute to minute ,session to session gameplay
  • Huge amount ( 100+) of  meticulously detailed  vehicles
  • F2P not pay2win
  • Progressing in higher tiers does not make lower tiers obsolete (they still fun to play in their own tier)
  • Game mechanics and certain maps benefit campers to much. Matches sometimes degenerate into 15 minutes boring draws
  • Developers are slow to implement new changes
  • Playing with randoms  sometimes makes you rage 
  • Tier matchmaking could use some work for lower populated server (e.g. US )

 Its a great game. And great example how a lobby based  progression project with solid core gameplay could generate solid revenue stream using f2p model.  We need more games like that. If black prophecy follows that model it would be good game too. But its not an MMO  -which is fine, most fun and worth playing games are not MMOs  nowdays ,   if you want game - check it out , if you want world or MMO - you may have to wait much longer .

p.s. Game is using Big World engine for its lobby and session organizer. engine is heavily customized for  physics of tank gameplay.