20 Oct. 2007

What is Gold farming? Simply put, gold farming happens in a MMO when a player camps a favorable spot to kill a mob (mindless ominous brunet) repeatedly to accumulate gold. It is normally extremely tedious and repetitive but effective, in particular if your spot is well chosen, the mobs spawn fast and drop generous amounts of precious coins.

There is nothing bad in farming gold, I mean, is atrociously boring but licit within the terms of all the MMOs I can recall. Problems arise when someone, namely the gold farming industries, farms gold in a game (let’s say World of Warcraft) and sells it through the internet to other players for real money; for example 5000 shiny doubloons for say 100$. Well, that is not only against the rules and terms of many games but it’s also very bad for the economy of the game as (virtual) money value gets deflated and the cost of items, at the AuctionHouse for example, can get out of control. This is just the tip of the iceberg considering that in fact, gold farming (GF) has many other impacts on the gameplay in general.

Nonetheless it can also be extremely tempting to buy virtual gold as it allows overleaping a sometimes boring gold accumulating phase often necessary to buy a mount or expensive whatnots. That’s why many players fall into temptation and the plague spreads.

The ways a GFer can pass the money to a player in game are actually 3 basically.
a) direct transfer from player to player;
b) through the mail system;
c) through the Auction House (less practical).
All strategies have advantages and disadvantages for the GF companies. The ideal for them would be a fast and untraceable transaction with no risk of loosing the high lvl character used for farming. This is why very often the transactions are carried by expendable freaking-named lowbies characters. (xxhyfgggmmy anyone?.

Many strategies have been suggested to eradicate this evil weed and multimillionaire companies (Blizzard) invest money and human resources to systematically track down and ban gold farmer accounts. But why do not put an end to this with a dramatic and decisive stroke? Why not making gold soulbound for example? This would certainly stop any possible traffic of illicit virtual gold as there won’t be anymore possibility to pass the gold from the hands of the farmers to the hands of the player that actually buy it. We know that this would be unfair and unpractical as it would impact dramatically and negatively on many aspects of the game: players who just want to gift some gold to a newbie friend or need to gather gold to buy potions before a raid, just to make a couple of examples.

I want here to suggest an idea that could be practical to implement and would not impact the gameplay (I have WoW in mind) significantly whilst reducing dramatically the impact of gold farming or at least facilitating the traceability of the illicit transactions.
The idea is composed of 3 modifications of the gameplay:
1. making the amount of money a character can carry function of its actual level (for example a lvl1 would be able to carry no more 10gold a lvl2 20 and so on);
2. making money storable in the character bank instead of allowing character to carry all of their money with them.
3. controlling the buyout price on low level items in order to minimize or eliminate the use of fake AH transactions as a money transfer method. That’s it.

The advantages of such a strategy are obvious. Lowbies could not carry more than a certain amount and consequently could not be used efficiently for the transfer from character to character. This would solve in a shot also the mail transfer as you would need a high lvl character to take the money and of course a high lvl character to send it. Character would be allowed to use all the gold they have stored in the bank at the AH.
A minor drawback is for example that you have to go back to the bank to “empty” your pockets when (if) you reach the gold limit for your lvl but, hey, that already happens with items. I realize that there are also slightly major drawbacks in this idea but I think they are acceptable compared to the advantage of possibly remove gold farmers from the game. What do you think?

18 Oct. 2007

I couldn't think a better subject to start with, a post containing at the same time WoW and the Devil.... there must be some connection between the two. Kidding aside, I'd like to tackle the tedious problem of what distinguishes a great MMOs from mediocre ones namely what distinguishes WoW from the embarrassing amount of trying-to-keep-up MMOs which are being published lately (free or with subscription). Well many words have already been written on the subject and I would like to offer a slightly different perspective. The major strength of WoW and actually of all Blizzard games can be summarized, in my opinion, with the sentence “easy to learn but hard to master” which could be paraphrased “easy to get caught in but hard to get rid of”.

Let leave the analysis of the “hard to get rid of” section to a subsequent moment and focus for a second on the part “easy to get caught in”. I have tried many other MMORPG and what immediately struck me was the absence of the same “magic” I felt when I started playing WoW, that invisible force that immediately connected me with the game and made me feel at home from the first minutes. Now, I do not believe in magic (even if mages are my favorite avatars) consequently I have tried to figure out the reasons that make this force materialize in some games and not in others. I think that the ability of a game to create a proper “suspension of reason” in the gamer, since the first minutes, is essential to capture his/her interest and to encourage him/her to continue exploring and experimenting the gameplay.

But what are the ingredients that a designer can use to concoct this effective entree? Here are a couple of things which have been implemented properly by WoW and that made the difference to me versus other games:

  1. Character inertia. In many MMO I have played characters are disconnected from the ground and in general from the basic rules of physics. I mean their walking or running speed is not reflected properly by the correspondent animation; this creates a disconnection from the ground as if the character were sliding instead of really contacting the soil. This is particularly frustrating with heavy characters or big monsters where this phenomenon dilutes or even completely breaks the so called suspension of reason induced by the game. I know WoW suffers of this problem as well in many circumstances (see for example giant Kodos turning speed during combat) but it is incomparable to what I have seen in other games.
  2. Interaction with the environment. WoW, starting zone for Dwarves and Gnomes; it’s cold, air condenses through breathing and forms a visible vapor that is exhaled by the characters; when lv1 Giggins runs on the snow he leaves footmarks and visible snow sprinkles are tossed in the air at every step. Same environment, start zone LoTRO.. Nothing… no condensed breathing, no footmarks no sprinkles… again another little indent in the suspension of reason.

What’s your opinion?

Well, here we are... After a loong period spent reading everybody's else blogs about MMO I have come to the decision of writing one myself. Why it is not important...what I really woud like this Blog to be, is a space where we can lively discuss how next generation MMORPGs should be. I have a few ideas I'd like to share with you and get your feedback about...

see you in the next posts folks