Steam Library Update is Here!

In beta form at least. But it’s open beta! So if you want to take a play for yourself, you can. (Settings -> Account, click ‘Change’ under Beta Participation to ensure you’ve enabled Beta updates.) The news struck that it was out while I was at work yesterday, so I itched all day to give it a go.

Now that I have, it seems my earlier excitement from back in June was well warranted. The library update is every bit the revolutionary update (for Steam) that the earlier Chat update was.

There’s kind of a lot going on here even just on the main screen.

Starting from the top and possibly the most obvious changes — there is a view of recent updates and recent games. These two rows can’t be toggled at the moment and are always on. There is plenty of feedback on this already though, so I expect we’ll see a change here.

The updates are kind odd in some respects and I’d be curious to know what the algorithm for selecting them is as it appears there is more going on than just freshness of the update. You can hide individual updates, but there isn’t currently a way to hide updates for games as a whole. I thought at first it might be looking at the games I ‘follow’ but this doesn’t seem to be the case as some titles that show I don’t follow presently.

The updates row I find of dubious utility then, and I’ll likely continue to use the general ‘Activity’ log for a review of updates I’m interested in for games I own and for those I don’t. Still — I don’t think I’d turn it off even should that option become available. Entirely possible something will catch my eye.

The recent titles list however may become my most common game launch point, with it showing games both recently added to the library (Hai2u last Humble Monthly titles!) and your actual last played on a timeline, which you can scroll back for further history.

The Library ‘Shelf’ Space

This is where you start getting to customise. Ohh yeaah. By default you’ll have an ‘All games’ shelf, but you can add others based on your categories (now revamped to ‘collections’, which I’ll get to shortly).

You can then sort the display order within an individual shelf on any number of criteria. Stock standard alphabetical, played time, games which have the most friends currently playing, release date, etc. Can even sort by metacritic score if that way inclined, or perhaps just looking for something to pick up next.

A particular shelf will always display one row of titles no matter what — but you can toggle between that one row only and a full display of every title within that category/collection.

In the screenshot above you can see I’ve added my ever optimistic ‘Play soon?’ category (although I guess at least I was self-aware enough to add a question mark to it). ;)

I may also end up adding an ‘Uncategorised’ shelf to the view simply so that I have a visual reminder not to let this group grow too excessively large again.

But particularly if you weren’t one to categorise your games previously — then this shelf concept may not be of too much interest yet. Which brings us to the new collections — specifically, Dynamic Collections.

Category Improvements and Dynamic Collections

Before — if you wanted to categorise your titles, it was by hand. And it involved a few clicks too many to do it. (Right Click, Set Category, tick the categories you wanted, click OK.)

It was tedious, in short.

And error prone too. Not sure entirely how I missed this given they would’ve been right next to each other all along, but I had both a ‘CCG’ and a ‘CCGs’ category. <facepalm>

Now at least — and I hope you’re seated for this, because it’s some really revolutionary tech we’re about to talk about here…

…You can click and drag from one category to another.

Wizardry!

I jest. And of course it does demonstrate just how far behind the times parts of Steam’s interface was before. But whatever the before state was like — this? This is nice.

You can multi-select (which to be fair, was possible before too), and then drag those items into the new category you want (or to the top to simply remove from the category you’re dragging them from currently). The UI has some really nice visual feedback about where its going, with even the border in the visual display on the right turning solid to indicate the currently hovered category.

So if by-hand curation of your categories is your thing, this is now a relatively painless task even for big libraries.

But if you’d prefer, you can create and define ‘Dynamic Collections’ and I’m seriously considering converting my categorisation system over to this.

My old categories, plus opened the Filter options display — which is how you can create Dynamic Collections.

There are a number of ‘built-in’ filter toggles as it were. If you want to create a collection of only co-operative RPG games that feature trading cards and achievements — you could do that. Any new game you purchase or add to your library in the future fitting this criteria would be automatically added to this collection, too.

If — like me — you want to get a little more specific than the broad genre categorisations allow for, you can also add any number of Store Tags to your filter. Want a dynamic collection that lists your completely unplayed games that the store tags have listed as having ‘Great soundtrack’? You could do that.

Being possibly a bit more practical (for me, at least) I’m more likely to create collections of things like ‘Multiplayer titles I have installed’, add that collection to my home page and then sort it by friends playing. Gives an easy launch point for jumping into things with buddies.

I’ll also likely switch my current genre manual categories over to dynamic collections using a mix of the prebuilt/base-line criteria and store tags. Not having to manually curate any more would be a Godsend. xD

Overall Impressions

Very positive, if you couldn’t tell.

I appreciate that even the classic style ‘list’ on the left was not removed immensely. It has received the benefit of updates to searchibility, sorting options1 and the filters used to create dynamic collections will also pare down this list.

Switching to the Library view is snappy, and scrolling even a list of hundreds of games poses no performance issues (in my experience). I even flicked the scroll wheel around the place with smooth/infinite scroll mode toggled on the mouse itself and no problem. As soon as the scrolling stopped the thumbs appeared snappily, despite loading from a standard HDD as opposed to an SSD.

I’ve certainly offered some feedback on the odd thing I’d like to see added (there is a beta feedback in the top right of the Library’s homepage), but even in its current beta state — it is a night and day improvement over what came before.

Post Publish Update: The Actual Game Entry Pages

Paeroka’s comment made me realise I missed out on a glaringly large piece of this update — the game entry pages! They’ve been given a bit of a spit-shine as well.

Each game receives its own mini-activity page, specific to the game itself. It now shows a log of news updates, achievements and shared screenshots from friends and yourself.

As a nice little piece of visual flair, any achievement where less than 10% of the game’s population has achieved it will be given an animated golden border.

Unsure yet whether this will change my general habit of consuming update news through the main ‘Activity’ page, but I could certainly see it being handy when interest strikes out of the blue for a particular game to see how it’s come along since I last checked it out. I used to go direct to the game store pages for that, but now wouldn’t need to. :)

Gaming Addiction

Roger recently posted on the topic of WHO declaring Gaming Addiction as a recognised disorder. It’s an interesting topic and still one subject of much debate. As you might expect, the ESA is up in arms about it — but even within the profession, it is by no means a decided matter. The DSM-5 notes it as an area worthy of further investigation, but without sufficient evidence to categorically state it is a condition in and of itself as opposed to a further symptom of other underlying issues.

Although it is possibly worthy of note that the DSM-5 was published in 2013, and there have been additional years of study since.

Roger’s post already talks through some of the potential issues with this becoming a recognised disorder and I noted some others in my reply comment but the topic has stuck with me in the days since. And in particular that my initial response possibly lacked a certain degree of care and empathy. It was by and large reflective of a younger-Nait’s way of thinking, a less-informed-Nait’s way of thinking.

I can claim no particular expertise on the topic from a professional standpoint. I have no way of knowing whether my own experience is typical or atypical. Nor can I absolutely claim it would have met the diagnostic criteria set out by the WHO.

But as implied by that paragraph — I have been through a time in my life where I suspect I would have met the criteria.

The False Alarm

Before getting to that — there was another time in my life when I was not addicted, but nonetheless my Mother was worried enough to send me along to a psychotherapist for a chat over it. Luckily I had a good one who listened and understood, so it was a positive overall experience regardless. But it could have been worse and I share the worry Roger expressed of parents equating a lot of gaming with problem gaming.

Essentially, I’m very far along the ‘Introvert’ end of the Introvert / Extrovert scale. I had friends at school — and Mum knew this, as I both had them visit and I visited them on fairly regular basis — but I still needed a lot of me time to recharge after the average day of school or in preparation for such an event.

Gaming was not only a hobby, but it was my vehicle for gaining that necessary social charge. Plus of course, the fact I loved it in and of itself too. It was fun.

So I did it every available moment — which I suppose is where Mum’s concern came in, despite the other healthy indicators. Also of note here, when I say ‘available moment’ that is not meaning that I put aside school homework / projects. I did my work, I studied, I did pretty well — if I may say so myself.

I maintained social contacts (offline) as noted and so overall was very much not letting gaming run my life. Just my free time. (Incidentally, Asheron’s Call was a part of it at this point in my life too!)

Probably the Real Deal

Later on though, after I’d left home something did change.

I was now at University, studying Computer Science. First year was pretty good — I remember getting an A+ in CompSci 101 and being pretty pleased with myself. Math 108 I think I only got a B+, but even that I was OK with given my general dislike for Math. Heck I even joined the student council that year.

Second year, I started down the path of falling off the rails.

I started prioritising raiding in WoW (on a US schedule, whilst living in NZ) over attending classes. I prioritised playing over getting out with the friends I’d made the year before.

Projects were given a backseat, any work I deemed as optional (i.e., I thought I could reach the mandatory class percentages without it) were not done.

In short, I did the bare minimum to not fail. And I did that only grudgingly. When I did attend lectures, or tutorial classes I was always giving thought to being back at home and playing more WoW.

Worse still, at the time I was lying to my family about my attendance and sometimes going to lengths to achieve the deception such as leaving the house by car in the morning only to return when I knew the house would be empty again.

This carried on for the better part of a year — and it is only the fact it was less than 12 months in duration that make me doubt it would have met the current WHO criteria. The criteria state a duration of 12 or more months unless driving especially severe consequences.

I was fortunate. Very fortunate. While I tanked my GPA to be sure, I maintained a pass grade in all classes (barely). On the home front it certainly caused tensions with my now-Wife, then-Partner. As even after Uni hours, I still wanted to do very little else but play WoW.

Here’s where the diagnosis might be key…

…And partly why I cannot say for sure whether my experience was typical or not.

As bad as my behaviour was — I always knew that for me it was a choice. It was something I was doing to myself and to others. It was a selfish and terrible choice, but it was one nonetheless.

In my case at least, I don’t feel that I was under the thrall of some disease and therefore had no agency (or blame) in the matter.

I don’t mean to say it was an easy set of choices to start reversing — because it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I’d put it on par as being at least as difficult as establishing a new set of habits around eating or exercise for someone not used to maintaining these disciplines.

I was helped too, in a way, by there coming a tipping point wherein the obvious upset I was causing my partner — someone I still loved very much through the gaming haze — was simply not worth the in-the-moment transient joy of playing the game.

In fact, thinking on it further… I’m unsure I would have possessed the strength of will and necessary discipline to change my behaviour otherwise.

Huh.

And with that realisation, I wonder if I otherwise would have even sought to change my habits. Or what the trigger might have been. Or whether I would then have required professional help.

Another way I have been lucky…

…Is that unlike substance addictions or the other behavioural addiction currently recognised (gambling), it hasn’t been necessary in my case to cut gaming entirely from my life.

I have no way of knowing whether this is going to be the typical experience or not.

But once I set the proper checks and balances back into place, and even more importantly — made sure I clearly understood my priorities?

Gaming has been able to make a full return as my means of recharging my social batteries. I can still enjoy it as a hobby without it taking over. I’ve even been able to return to raiding in WoW without letting the game run rampant over my life. (Although of course part of this was switching to an Oceanic timezone, too!)

I guess in closing just a final word to a couple of different groups…

To the parents of kids who game: Long hours alone does not a problem make. Not if they’re still meeting their other school commitments and getting the sleep and exercise they need to remain healthy. It’s OK for kids to be introverted and need time alone. If they need this — let them have it. At the end of the day, the key questions are: Are they happy? Are they healthy? If yes — then try not to worry.

…To anyone who thinks they might have a problem: I think you will know. That you wonder it is quite likely indicator enough. If you are sacrificing your health to play more, if you are sacrificing your offline relationships to play more — it’s time to really buckle down and make a change. And just like a personal trainer or nutritionist can help you stay motivated and sticking to your health goals — seeking help from a professional might just be the best thing to keep you on track with the necessary changes here.

This need not come at cost, either. If you can’t afford professional help — there are any number of avenues to check down. Employed? Check in with your EAP (Employee Assistance Program). If you’re at school, approach the school counselor. In the US, check out this link. In New Zealand? This one.

There will almost certainly be a page similar to these for your own country if you live elsewhere. Just look for it now while its top of mind.

Travel Down that Ol’ Town Road

Everquest isn’t the only old school MMO in town with an emulator scene. Asheron’s Call does too. Until recently I’d resisted making any attempt to return. I was alright with just leaving my memories as they were and in the past. To be occasionally plucked to the fore and examined kindly before being put away again for another day.

Until that was, WoW Classic blasted onto the scene. One thing in particular that WoW Classic demonstrated was that sometimes there is value in revisiting what came before. And that the old game worlds can still be played for enjoyment quite successfully.

That in mind, along with the longer-running thread through the community of enjoying Project 99 in all it’s glory, I set out to get myself up and running in AC again.

Getting setup was not too much of an ordeal, I just followed the instructions found here on the GDLEnhanced page. Despite what the instructions say, you can change the paths as you go. Just so long as you take account of the changed paths in subsequent steps. Otherwise though, pay heed to the details in each step as some of them are critical to success!

GDLEnhanced is one of the two major AC Server emulator projects at the moment. The other being ACEmulator — fortunately regardless of which server type you end up on, the instructions on the GDLE page work just fine.

And just like that, I was ready to go on to the character creation screen. (On the Coldeve server, incidentally. It seems the most populated — and I’m not ready for the PvP experience just yet anyway.)

Whoa — where did all the extra playable races come from??? How on earth is THIS explained by lore?

This was the first sign that something was awry.

Now — truth be told, I do have dim memory of this (and the subsequent horror of the changes to the skills on the next page) — being something brought into the ‘real’ AC nearer the end of its life. But I didn’t play very much during this era, and when I did I essentially buried my head in the sand and played existing characters.

But starting fresh I had no choice now but to look at it.

It didn’t feel like my Asheron’s Call any more. It was some undead beast lurching about in AC’s skin. And I already didn’t like it.

Even so — I persisted. I created an approximation of my old Sho Unarmed (now ‘Light Weapons’) build and logged in.

I was greeted with a familiar introductory sequence. It wasn’t there at launch but had nonetheless been a part of the AC I knew and recognised and therefore it was OK. The New Player Onboarding sequence sees you run through a few quick tasks to familiarise you with the systems and how XP is earnt and spent.

One of the last trials of the introductory experience sees you descend into a Young Olthoi hive, to recover an orb of protection.

But all too soon it was over, and I was thrust back into the world.

A sidebar:

Holtburg has ever been my ‘home’ in Asheron’s Call. I’ve bound and lived at other places, possibly for longer times all up than I ever spent at Holtburg. But it doesn’t matter. Holtburg (West, in particular) was where I very first started in Asheron’s Call.

The place I took my first timid steps out into the world around, my awe constantly growing at the realisation there were no ‘levels’ or loading screens.

I never ranged far afield at first, as I ever wanted to be certain I could get back home. Holtburg was safe, and had everything I ever needed as a young player.

Of course eventually, confidence grew — at least sufficiently that I was willing to travel by road to some of the nearby towns I’d heard of. Apparently people were selling elemental weapons in Cragstone, a little to the South.

/ End Sidebar

Right. So here I was, thrust into the world on my new character — and into Holtburg.

But… It was so different. There were too many NPCs. Additional buildings. New adjoining structures. And there was a town portal network, just… there? What happened to having to know your way around the world and where the portal loops of old could take you?

Character creation had been taken from me. Now it appeared Holtburg had too.

Asheron’s Call needed its own ‘Project 99’ it seemed, I was despairing of finding any common ground with this iteration of the game.

Still, not quite ready to logout yet, I ran from town in a southerly direction and soon found myself trotting the well-worn path to Cragstone.

Coming around one corner of no particular note, I was presented with the following sight and my breath caught.

South Holtburg Valley

Now if you’d simply asked me, ‘Do you remember the valley south of Holtburg, toward Cragstone bordering the river and the road?’ I would have said ‘No, not at all.’

You could have further prompted me, ‘It has a hut in it, with a peddler inside’ and I still wouldn’t have been likely to recall it

But seeing it… Oh boy, seeing it.

When you die in Asheron’s Call, there is no map marker or anything else to tell you where your body is. You have to just know, or else be able to find it again. This is a skill you learn over time, especially if you’re hunting in an area you’re familiar with.

But for characters starting out — the best advice I ever received and could hand out in turn was to hunt around a landmark.

This valley? It was a spot my friends and I often guided young players to, and suggested they keep within the bounds of the valley until they were a little more confident. Behind me in the screenshot is a Lifestone — so should they perish, the valley is right there and is a confined space to search.

Across the river in the old spawning rules of the world was slightly higher level creatures than what was in the valley itself, so it offered a natural progression as well.

To see it again, after the despair just moments before, was quite a stab to the feels. And it gave me some hope that maybe I can adjust to the changes made — that the core of the game I loved so much in some fairly fundamental ways is still here.

Still… I’d really love for at least one of the emulator projects to go down the P99 route. Or at LEAST consider stopping before the race and skill change were made. :P

Gamer Motivation Profile

Quantic Foundry — the game research institute co-founded by Nick Yee, and not to be confused with Quantic Dream maker of games with sad robots — has a Gamer Motivation profile survey thinger. Your profile is free, but of course the data is then onsold in aggregate to other interested parties.

Should that not bother you it’s an interesting little insight piece. Angie of Backlog Crusader tagged me into giving this one a go. Turns out though that like Wilhelm, I’ve done this in the past. Unlike Wilhelm I apparently didn’t bother to save a profile when I did, so I can’t offer a direct comparison against my old results. Boo.

Action-Oriented, Proficient, Ambitious, and Social

So describes my Gamer Motivation Profile as it stands, September 1st 2019.

I like such a stupidly wide array of games and genres I was pretty curious how this would come out. The ratings provided as a percentile — i.e., a 70% percentile in Action means there are 30% of respondents who rate action more highly in importance than I do.

But more interestingly, and insightful is the next level down — the secondary motivators which drive the primary. Second thing of note: The 12 secondary motivators are a spectrum, or continuum and so can be read in two directions. I’ll get to this a bit later.

Still! I was surprised at just how high the ‘Destruction’ metric ranked in the secondary motivators. To such an extent I went back over the questions asked and answered to see if I could tell where it was coming from.

But as I went through… I remembered I put Just Cause 2 as one of my favourite games as all time. And that there is a question on whether or not you like being an agent of chaos to which I said, ‘Oh yes, very much.’

But like Wilhelm noted in his commentary on the survey — it’s all very contextual. In a Just Cause game of course I adore it. The open world fully destructible sandbox is essentially the full allure. It certainly isn’t the voice acting or the story.

But if the question is meant more specifically as do I enjoy being an agent of chaos in just any ol’ game? Then no! Not so much. I didn’t adjust my answer for now despite perhaps being a little unclear on the intent here, but thought it worth a call out.

Terminology of ‘Achievement’

As a top level category I object to how ‘Achievement’ seemed to be defined around hunting down all collectables or 100%ing a game. Yuck.

Who has time for that?

But I still like doing things that have some sense of meaning. Downing a raid boss, doing something in an unusual or more difficult way. If I’m also being rewarded with a dopamine inducing pop-up saying, ‘Yay you! We see you there — doing the thing!’ then even better.

But that’s not really what they are talking about.

You can see the spectrum descriptions for all categories here.

When you break down the two sub-motivation spectra that forms the Achievement category, it at least starts to make a little more sense on why my rating is where it is — even if the word choice still makes me quirk a brow.

My sub-results for ‘Achievement’.

Accurate.

Wrap Up

If you want to check your own Gaming Motivation profile so you can either sit in awe of its accuracy or nitpick terminology *cough*, you can do so here.

I already linked this above, but if you want to check a little more into the detail of the twelve motivation spectrum used to drive the six top level ‘primary’ motivators, you can find that here.

And finally, while a little dated being from back in 2016, Nick Yee did a talk on creation of the model, how it was started and some of the refinements and findings to that point. The clustering effect — whether I like the terminology or not — is quite real and extremely fascinating.

Co-operative Romance

*Bow-chicka-wow-owwwww* No! Bad background music, stop it!

*Kenny G sax floats in from the nether* Wait- What? No! Stop, I say! Take your sax and go on the waggley-eyebrows you rode in on!

Right. We done? Good.

So I recently heard for the first time about a game called Haven from one of Angie’s posts. It’s from the developers behind Furi, The Game Bakers. Furi was an extremely well received game but even so, Haven forges its own path in quite a different direction in all respects except elements of the aesthetic and an overarching theme of fighting for freedom.

Where Furi was a frenetic action combat game — Haven takes a more relaxed JRPG approach to combat and includes pacifist options to at least some extent.

You play as two characters — a young couple in love. So far we don’t know a lot about their situation, but they’ve escaped to a deserted planet in order to stay together. We don’t know why law or the rest of society wants them apart, but I figure it’s something we’ll discover in the course of the game.

Oooh. That’s where the bow-chicka-wow-oww’s were coming from.

The game is focused on being a single-player experience first and foremost but allows for co-op play as well.

As a single-player experience, this could potentially be a bit of fun. As a co-op experience it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I noted that in the comments back to Angie, but it took a bit of back and forth to get to a point of articulation on why it makes me so uncomfortable.

Turns out it wasn’t even really that deep or complicated in the end. It’s simply that I view the character (or characters) I control in a game, at least to a certain extent, as an extension of myself. Their actions are my actions. Extend that out to a co-op situation and my character is ‘me’ and your character is ‘you’.

But it doesn’t even matter who I imagine inserting into the role of ‘you’, it seems to me this would be an incredibly awkward and uncomfortable experience — including even playing with my wife (were she even interested in gaming).

I think The Game Bakers have come to this realisation or otherwise already received this feedback though. If you look at their original press kit it merely says, ‘A solo game at its core, but at any time, a second player can jump in locally.’ Contrast to more recent commentary on the co-op feature on the Steam page, ‘A RPG to play solo or with a special someone.’

For me? That still seems strange. But a bit more understandable. I wonder whether or not it would be a different perception if my wife and I gamed together more generally. I think not, but I can’t be certain.

Game Hype

Hype has been on the mind of a few people lately. Beyond the posts themselves, there has been interesting takes shared in the comments. It has also been discussed a little in the Blaugust Discord. It seems to be a topic getting a lot of thought-time, in any case. Possibly in reaction to Gamescom going on.

For myself, I’m not about being extremely cynical about everything, as that isn’t a fun position for anyone involved. But I am by and large very… cautious when it comes to jumping on the hype train. There was a time when I was capable — and indeed happy — to quite ‘actively’ wait for an MMO I was excited on, fueled by little more than the sniff of an oily rag.

Shadowbane — which if you’re familiar with the development history and ultimate fate, you might think would have taught me my lesson — and then again Darkfall being the two prime examples. I was an active forum member of both, and for Darkfall even joined the community staff as an IRC channel op before leaving that position in order to run the WarCry Darkfall site (RIP) .

I can’t do that again. Not ever. Not for anything.

That’s not to say I’m not excited by the prospect of any potential new MMOs — but my waiting will be much more passive in nature. I’ll keep my distance, without much in the way of investment, and just poke my head in for a look every so often.

That’s my approach more generally to games far out from release. Hype is something to be kept at arms length, and I absolutely believe this is a defense mechanism against the waves of disappointment that inevitably arrive when your expectations shoot through the stratosphere.

Roger Edwards made a comment that I can’t help but to agree with too. He said, “So although it is fair to lay a portion of the blame for hype culture at the door of marketing departments and PR companies, we should also look to ourselves.” I can think of at least a few examples, easily, of where my hopes for a title have led me down a garden path completely of my own design.

It’s so easy to latch onto one or two vaguely worded promises or features and allow your mind to just run to the extreme ends of the earth on what it might entail or look like.

The end of the broken hype cycle is, I reckon, a bit like finally reaching the end of the rainbow and finding that there is in fact a pot there. And as you approach, you can even tell that the pot is full of something golden and glittery. Your pace hastens and you reach in, letting handfuls of the golden bounty flow through your hands. It’s real. It’s here.

But the weight is off, bringing a small frown to your face. They are too light. And the texture is wrong. You pick one golden coin up and inspect it closely and your guts sink. It isn’t a golden treasure at all — it’s a pile of confectionery for a kids party. Pirate coins.

Sighing deeply, you unwrap one, hungry from your journey and pop it in your mouth.

And if you are very, very lucky — it is actually chocolate.

Eat crap often enough and eventually you learn that the promised pots of gold are not all they’re cracked up to be and you start to look upon them with a great deal of caution.

Still — sometimes, perhaps inexplicably in restrospect, something cracks through the armour of jaded cynicism and the hype begins to grow. This happened to me with Anthem, but if it hadn’t — I probably wouldn’t be here blogging today.

More than that, occasionally it is just nice to experience a sense of glee and child-like excitement about something. I’m sure a balance exists somewhere, but I surely haven’t quite managed to find it yet.

Case in point:

*SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!*

SO MUCH EXCITE! THIS TIME IT WILL BE GOLD, I AM SURE!
(KSP 1 was amazing, I jumped on after the Early Access was over and had the time of my life and accidentally learnt about orbital mechanics in the process. Ohgodohgodohgod, let me have it naaaoooo!)

A Better MMO

Kaylriene recently posted on Sandboxes and Themeparks. I love reading the different perspectives people have on this sort of topic. World view can be so incredibly different based on your own experiences and when you started. This particular topic was one once near and dear to my heart, too. Reading Kaylriene’s post appears to have restoked the coals. So. *cracks knuckles* Let’s do this.

I agree with much of what Kaylriene wrote — but I never thought I would see the day where any iteration of WoW was accused of falling into the ‘Sandbox’ camp. I can agree though that WoW Classic was certainly further toward the sandbox end of the Sandbox <—-> Themepark continuum though.

Eventually I want to give my own take on what a better MMO formula might look like. But first… There was an assumption that we’re all on the same page on the definitions though, and I’m not absolutely certain that’s true. So defining our terms to talk on the same page might be helpful after all.

Sandbox Games

Sandbox MMOs rely heavily on principles of emergent gameplay and player-driven story creation. Rather than tell a story of a war through a scripted quest chain, the sandbox MMO developer is more likely to create a system where guilds may officially declare war on each other. Then allow for land ownership and scarcity of certain resources to drive the conflict.

Without the rails allowed by the theme park style of MMO, there is often a strong element of players needing to find their own fun and set their own goals.

Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call were early examples of this style — with EVE perhaps still holding top dog spot for this style of MMO at present.

Outside of the MMO space, you can see examples of this concept too — Minecraft being a big one. And the slew of survival-esque games that followed.

Theme Park Games

By comparison, theme park games tend to be more of a directed experience. You are passed around from NPC to NPC, each with their own story to tell and set of specific actions you need to complete for them.

Your goals are often set for you and rather than making stories, you are being told stories.

World of Warcraft — including Classic, I would contend — falls into this camp. Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online and truthfully, most of the big MMOs today.

Sandbox and Themepark aren’t Binary Though

A game doesn’t necessarily have to fall into a single camp. It isn’t just one or the other. Games can absolutely layer directed content over a player-reactive world. Even WoW contains some elements of each.

Or, you can simply choose to ignore the theme park entirely and go wandering through the garden. This doesn’t necessarily increase player agency or world reactivity, but it pushes the needle a little further toward the sandbox end by having the player find their own fun.

My Ideal MMO Looks Like…

A world first and foremost. A place to virtually live. A place you can settle and build onto — even if this comes with limitations on place, so as not to create a littered landscape.

Give it an economy similar to EVEs — where players of all skill levels can contribute in some fashion, even if it is simply in the creation of component pieces that other players would then turn into the end products usable by still other players again. And ensure there is a mechanism by which these created products can leave the economy again.

You might be with me so far. I suspect I’ll begin to lose a few more people here though — so I’ll note that the next aspects aren’t strictly speaking necessary for a ‘sandbox’ experience. Just my ideal version of one. :)

Location should matter as a core tenet of the game. I’m not entirely against fast travel, but I am against fast travel that requires no decision making on the part of the player. What do I mean by this? Well, for example in Asheron’s Call you could recall or open portals to a very limited number of locations.

You could bind to a dungeon that you wanted to go to, and then summon a group in as a form of makeshift LFG if you wanted. But this was a choice you had to make and it had an opportunity cost against binding to another place. Otherwise you moved on the power of your own feet through a seamless world.

Global storage if it exists at all should be minimal, getting the necessary resources from place to place an undertaking that carries risk and requires some forethought.

There is more I would like, but many of them orient around being a PvP game. And as much value as that can add, I no longer view it as a necessary component. So this is the detailing of the sandbox elements more or less.

Now, throw on the Theme Park! Layer it all over the top like a fine sauce.

Bring on the quest driven stories. Make the people of the land matter with their own needs and stories to tell.

Bring on dungeons and instanced raids (although world bosses should absolutely also be a thing)!

Annnnnd I’ve done a terrible job of explaining my vision — turns out this isn’t the sort of post I should try work on over lunch at work. I didn’t fully finish it there, but then a late night tonight due to heading out for one of my sons’ Birthday has also lead to less time on this than I would like.

But you know what? It occurred to me just how much I was (attempting) to explain the vision behind the Ashes of Creation MMO. Which is no doubt why they managed to extract a Kickstarter backing from me. So perhaps go read their description as well for an additional view of what I mean — although they also talk to the dynamic aspects which I haven’t raised at all.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see Ashes of Creation in our lifetime. Or if it does come out in an MMO form whether it will even remotely resemble the promises. I’m well over the stage in my life where I was content to hype and hope and wait for an MMO.

But still… If it does. It could be a beautiful thing.

The Ashes of Creation Kickstarter video that took my money!

Mainstream Media on Games Might be Working

I didn’t think I was going to cover this one. Intended to ignore it completely, in fact. An experience yesterday changed my mind. Yesterday morning, the company I work for hosted a session of the ‘Online Gaming Wellbeing‘ workshop, run by the Learn with League division of Riot.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this workshop going in. I had been forwarded the invite only a day or so prior, so I hadn’t really dug into the detail yet.

I wondered whether they were going to try and get a bunch of corporates to play a game of League. Maybe then try draw some learnings from that. That would have been amusing, to say the least. (Also, I had already mentally dibsed going support. Leona, probably.)

I felt compelled to login again just to get a screenshot. Only felt up to ARAM though, as it has been aaaages since I played a ‘real’ game of League.

So I will admit, when I turned up there a definite sense of disappointment upon entering the venue and noting that it was not, in fact, set up in preparation for a mini-LAN party.

But the session was valuable and eye-opening even so.

The question of why we were here doing this session, in light of video games inspiring violence like the Christchurch massacre was brought up.

The question was given voice by a smart, intelligent person. Yet clearly the rhetoric in American mainstream media had done its job.

I was really surprised by this at the time although, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been. The response it drew though was immediate.

Voiced in a near shout from another corner of the room, defying this and calling it out as untrue. I worried that this poor person was going to be left scarred by the encounter. For daring give voice to, what was to them, a legitimate and serious concern.

The hostility and derision in the room from those who in turn likely felt personally attacked by the question was palpable. But only for a moment thankfully. The room gentled almost immediately. I think there was a realisation that while perhaps not asked in the most tactful way, or with a good read of the room, it was a sincere worry.

There followed a brief discussion on the closer correlation between access to guns and gun violence. We talked to the lack of scientific evidence supporting the conclusions being espoused in the media. We also had someone in the room who had grown up in Japan. They testified from first-hand experience just how false the claim that Japan and similar cultures didn’t game was, or that it could even possibly therefore follow that the lack of gaming was the reason they had less gun violence.

Ultimately I don’t know whether we convinced the person who raised the question or not. We might have. The conversation certainly could have gone a lot worse given the knee-jerk reaction of a start it received. But the Riot host handled the situation with a surprising degree of grace. He allowed people to have their say on an extremely charged topic without allowing a total derailment of the workshop.