Why I don’t give a !&*# about advance NDA drops

If you’re following Warhammer Online, you know that some websites have permission from Mythic to break the closed beta non-disclosure agreement. I know this has pissed off some dedicated WAR bloggers, like Syp. And I don’t blame Syp. It’s really a shame that his dedication to WAR goes unrewarded here, but I suppose EA/Mythic feels like they have to kiss the ass of “major gaming sites” and give them something exclusive.

I’m in the beta, so I have the luxury of already knowing (and sometimes disagreeing) with what’s being posted by said gaming sites. Maybe if I was dying for news, I’d be hanging on every word they’re posting, but I kind of doubt it.

I’ve noticed, after a couple years of reading RSS feeds, that I’m likely to ignore the dozens of posts churned out daily by the huge gaming sites. I’ll skim through those folders in Google Reader once I’ve read through all the blogs produced by individual bloggers, but I don’t read them the same way, or in the same detail, that I read The Ancient Gaming Noob, or Syp’s blog, or Hardcore Casual. Maybe I’m just an old MMO dog, but individual gamers write about what interests them specifically. They can talk a little more narrowly, perhaps, than the broader appeal of bigger gaming sites.

Maybe I like the individual blogs because they’re talking about what interests them, not what they think will interest me. If they happen to find like-minded souls out in the gaming ether, that’s awesome, but they don’t write thinking about page views and click throughs and a certain number of posts a day. Sure, we all like an audience, and we enjoy the conversations that arise, but I think the primary motivation for an individual blog is saying “Hey, here’s something I thought was interesting”. It doesn’t have to be news, or journalism, or a breakdown of game mechanics on a broad level, or developer interviews…I don’t care as much about those things. I want to read about what other gamers found interesting while they were playing games last night.

I don’t think I’ve read much of anything about WAR from any of the gaming sites that can bypass the NDA. If I did, it was just a skim of a headline in my RSS feed. Yeah, I’m in the beta, so I know I’m not the standard audience, and I’m sure some people are enjoying what’s being written, but you can bet that when the NDA drops for the rest of us, and CoW bloggers start writing stories about their experiences, I’ll be reading their stories with great interest.

Ya know, I don’t think I care so much for stories about how the game works. I want stories about what people are doing in the game. Syp, I know it sucks, and you definitely deserve a nod and a thanks from Mythic for your work promoting their game, but dude, I’m anxiously awaiting your WAR stories, and I could care less what the big dog sites are writing. It’s not the same as acknowledgement from Mythic, but I want you (and other WAR bloggers who might feel slighted by this) to know that you guys provide a personal perspective that I appreciate and gravitate toward. Keen and Graev, Snafzg and crew at The Greenskin, Syp, CoW bloggers; those are the sites I want to hear talking about WAR. The big sites are sort of the CNN of gaming. It serves a purpose, and they do it well, but it’s definitely my second choice for reading.

And yeah, I know, I’m dangerously close to high school-type arguments about why arena rock bands are sellouts and the real shows are in the clubs by unsigned bands, bla bla bla. Maybe it’s a little stereotypical, but there’s some truth in stereotypes too. Like Dwarves and drinking. Or Goblins and stinking.

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Tobold, WAR, and PvP

Tobold interviewed Paul Barnett from Mythic Entertainment, and something jumped out at me that I’ve been wanting to write about. Tobold asks a question that, quite frankly, I could have written back in 2001, shortly before Dark Age of Camelot was released, and I was happily enjoying PvE Everquest, burned out on PvP. Tobold asked:

Now there are people, including me, who either don’t enjoy PvP much, or who feel they can’t compete with pimply 12-year olds ganking other players all day. How are you going to sell WAR to us?

The selling of WAR, and of RvR in WAR, won’t happen through words in an interview, or blog posts, or podcasts, or articles on the Warhammer Herald. I don’t think I know any anti-PvP players who would be swayed to try PvP in WAR by an argument made outside the game. If people are going to suddenly find value in going out to PvP, it’s going to have to happen inside the game. The developers are going to have to create a compelling reason for someone to take up arms. They’re going to have to provide you with teammates, so at least if you die, you don’t die alone against terrible odds (or against the pimply 12 year-old who really should be doing his Social Studies homework). And, there has to be a reward for putting your character and your ego in harm’s way.

Hmm. I think I need bullets, or I’ll get distracted.

  1. Create a compelling reason to take up arms
  2. Provide you with teammates, so PvP is a social experience
  3. Provide a reward for participating in PvP

I’ll get back to those in a minute. I’m limited by the NDA, but I think I can talk about WAR in general terms that have already been mentioned by Mythic in other places on the web. First, though, I want to talk about how Mythic implemented those three elements in Dark Age of Camelot, and how they turned a PvE player into a PvP player, at least for DAoC.

Before I started playing Everquest in 1999, I was a pretty hardcore MUD player. I played on a PvP MUD, and it was cutthroat. I always had to watch my back, I got jumped frequently, I lost items, experience, and money. And I took some items, money, and experience as well 🙂 Generally, though, I lost more than I won, and I eventually tired of always watching my back. When Everquest was released, I was relieved that there was a PvP switch. In fact, that’s mostly why I skipped  UO…back when I was considering playing it, there was open PvP, and I didn’t want to constantly watch my back. In hindsight, I wish I played UO anyway, but alas, I missed it.

Back to DAoC. I was burned out on EQ in the fall of 2001, and I was looking for a new experience. I was very interested in Dark Age, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to PvP. Since there were separate PvE and PvP areas in Camelot, I figured I would spend my time making characters and leveling, not participating in PvP.

Man, was I wrong.

My first character (and main character) was a Hibernian Ranger, and they had stealth ability. I was a pretty young Lurikeen when I first stealthed up to explore the frontiers (the PvP-enabled areas of each of the three realms in DAoC). I mostly wanted to see the world, but I ended up finding good places to level, and good places to find enemy players leveling. That was my first taste of PvP, doing drive-by killing outside the gates of Midgard and Albion. I had a good time, but it didn’t provide any of the three requirements on the bullet points above.

It wasn’t until I joined a guild and followed my guildmates out to fight as a group in the frontiers that Realm versus Realm combat really caught my interest. I don’t know if I asked specifically why we were going out to fight, or what we were going to do out there, but it involved someone taking one of our keeps, and we were going to take it back, and then we were going to take their keeps, and then we could all go to Darkness Falls, the RvR shared dungeon that was controlled by the realm with the most keeps. Darkness Falls had good loot drops and seals that could be turned in to buy armor and weapons (not that kind of seal). Suddenly, there was a reason to go fight, instead of just ganking people trying to level in their realm frontier.

Back in those days, we died a lot. Hibernia (our realm) on Percival (our DAoC server) took a beating for while, mostly from Midgard. And that’s where the second item on the bullet list comes in. I found that dying with a group of friends was much, much, more enjoyable than dying alone. Dare I say, it was fun dying with friends. It was more fun winning with a group of friends, but there wwas plenty of fun and plenty of stories that came out of dying as well.

The sense of adventure was palpable. Each night, we’d level for a little while, and then we’d saddle up and head for the frontier for RvR. There was value in capturing keeps, or defending your keeps, and we’d gather at bottlenecks in the frontier to prevent the enemy from entering our lands, or rush out to defend a keep under attack. Soon, I wasn’t just having fun with my guild group. I got to know other rangers stealthed on the wall in Emain, facing the Albion portal keep, waiting for the inevitable tide of enemies trying to enter our lands. I listened to rangers and nightshades, stealthed throughout the frontier, offering intelligence reports on enemy movements. I learned who to trust, who gave timely information and accurate assessments of enemy abilities. I learned which players could be followed in battle to defend our realm or attack another.

In Everquest, each group alongside you in a dungeon was a potential competitor. There was little sense of shared purpose, and little motivation to cooperate with each other. In DAoC, Mythic gave you reasons and rewards for trusting your realmmates and cooperating with them in RvR. And that brings us to bullet point number three, rewards for participating in RvR.

I’ve already mentioned Darkness Falls, which was a nice prize to end your evening of fighting in the frontier. Additionally, Mythic offered realm points for participating in RvR, which could be used to purchase abilities for your character. Also, each realm had two relics, prized items which resided in the largest keeps in each frontier (two keeps per realm). Those relic keeps were difficult to capture, but if you did capture and return enemy relics to your own relic keeps, you got additional bonuses for your realm. Also, if your guild claimed a keep in your frontier or the enemy frontier, your guild got bonuses for fighting around that keep, both realm point bonuses for RvR and experience and money bonuses for PvE.

Fast forward 7 years. Take all those lessons learned in Dark Age of Camelot, and picture how Mythic might be trying to take the best elements of realm versus realm combat and distill them into a new game, a post-WoW game. The MMORPG landscape has changed tremendously since 2001, and WAR is a different game than DAoC.

Without breaking the NDA, here’s what I think I can safely say about the WAR experience. First, RvR in DAoC was reserved for the higher level players in the game, especially in the early days. Levels meant a lot. WAR is giving you opportunities to fight your opponents starting at the very earliest levels, and there’s a cap for each area. You won’t find yourself fighting a level 40 opponent when you’re level 12. There’s a level range you’re fighting against, and it seems pretty fair. I wouldn’t venture into the World PvP areas on my own as a level 2 character, but you could make a contribution out there as a member of a group. Scenarios, on the other hand, are definitely something you can participate in at very early levels. I want to say more about how Mythic is attempting to balance encounters, but a) that’s probably beyond the NDA, and b) I don’t want to talk about something now, only to see it changed or cut before the game launches. Let’s just say that I felt comfortable jumping into Scenario RvR at level 3.

Following the bullet points, here’s where I’m at with WAR.

1. Create a compelling reason to take up arms – The game is all about war. It’s all around you. The PvE quests deal with it, your zones abut enemy zones, and you’re encouraged to participate in scenarios (think WoW or DAoC battlegrounds) and open world PvP through quests. So, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with PvP, but you’re not going to do it alone.

2. Provide you with teammates, so PvP is a social experience – WAR’s PvP would fail out of the gate if you were sent off alone to fight the enemy. Every time you queue for a scenario, you have the opportunity to join as a group. Or, if you queue solo, you can join a group as soon as you enter the scenario through a very simple interface. Mythic is also experimenting with a variety of tools to help you find groups…and I’d like to talk more about them, but ya know, they might get changed, they might get cut, I promised not to tell, bla bla bla. Let’s just say that this is the easiest MMO yet for finding groups to adventure with, and I can’t wait to be on a live server where I’ll actually see the same names around me from level 1 to 40.

3. Provide a reward for participating in PvP – Mythic is freakin’ nailing this. You’re collecting money, PvE experience, and PvP experience (Renown) every time you enter a scenario or world PvP. Renown offers the chance to purchase good armor and weapons as you increase in rank (as does your faction in PvE, which is increased through Public Questing). PvE and PvP are both viable ways to advance your gear opportunities. And that’s just a selfish perspective. If your faction controls the zone you’re currently adventuring in, there are additional bonuses to your faction.

In DAoC, there were indeed rewards for participating in RvR, but they were mainly for players at or near endgame, and I know a lot of my MMO game-playing friends missed out on what I loved about DAoC because they didn’t make the grind to the level cap. Plus, I think i was lucky to play on Percival, which had tons of quality players from all three realms. I think my server community was the glue that kept me playing.

In WAR, Mythic is looking to hook the player on good gameplay experiences almost from the moment you create your character. You won’t have to hit the level cap to enjoy what I loved about DAoC. It’ll be available to you, completely integrated into your leveling, from the moment you enter the world. You’ll be meeting people, fighting alongside them in scenarios, public quests, and world PvP, winning and losing, living and dying, telling stories about your adventures, from level 1 to 40. Making friends and having fun isn’t the only reward, though. Mythic’s also giving you great rewards for pushing back the enemy hordes.

As always, I’m conscious of sounding like a fanboy. Maybe I am, but I think that my tone speaks to Mythic making MMO’s that have a gameplay element that I really enjoy, and I don’t find in other MMO’s. That’s a blessing and curse. WAR is a very focused MMO. It’s not all things to all people. You won’t find SWG-level crafting, housing, and economics here. I’m sure there are things that WoW fans might miss. It’s funny, WAR’s getting killed by some people for being a WoW clone, but I bet there will be people bitching that it’s not enough like WoW when it’s released.

Take WAR for what it is. Mythic wants you to join up with a group of friends for adventure, level, and profit. They want a PvP environment that’s rewarding for everyone. They don’t want people feeling ganked, alone, and hopeless. Run with a group of friends, and even if you die, there is fun to be had and stories to tell…and plenty of rewards for your efforts.

As always, if anyone from Mythic is reading this and needs me to STFU about anything, just let me know. I’m pretty sure everything I’ve talked about is already public, but if not, holler at me 🙂

Addendum – Holy &%$*, this was a long post. It’s posts like this, which was originally going to be a reply to Tobold’s post in the comments on his blog, that made me start my own blog. No one needs a post this long in their comments. Hell, I’m not sure anyone needs an individual blog post this big, but hey, I had extra coffee today, and you don’t have to read it all if you don’t want to 🙂

I hate NDA’s

I hate NDA’s, but I have to respect them. Or at least try to respect them. I pretty much click off on the NDA with my fingers crossed and saying something like “I swear I’m not going to talk about this game…unless someone is buying me beers.” I’m not cheap, but I think I might be easy.

So. There’s a Warhammer beta. I’m in the Warhammer beta. That’s all I’m allowed to say. But damn it, I want someone to buy me beers so I can spill out everything about the game that’s bubbling inside me.

Stupid NDA’s 🙂 “Fall 2008” seems much too far away!