Archive for June 16th, 2010

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Exclusives, Exclusives, Exclusives

June 16, 2010

Exclusives! It seems to be the way of things these days, game companies and retailers offering bonuses up the wazoo to the point I can’t even keep the number of special items straight anymore.

Obviously, I started thinking about this topic in light of Cryptic’s decision to put Star Trek Online pre-order bonus items in their C-Store. Even though my own STO account is lying dormant right now, it’s hard not to follow news about the game because one can almost always be certain copious amounts of drama will follow anything that happens. Anyway, pre-ordering customers and lifetime subscribers who have spent money to collect these “exclusive” items were understandably upset.

I can empathize. In an ideal world, exclusives should be exclusive, not something made available to everyone mere months after launch. But the thing is, we don’t live in an ideal world where all MMOs are successful like World of Warcraft, a game that for all intents and purposes have still kept their exclusives exclusive. It’s a sad truth that most MMOs will never see millions of subscribers and none will last forever. With so many games flooding the market right now, it’s becoming necessary to expect pitfalls within a game’s life cycle and the ensuing money-sinks.

To stay sane, I have to believe in general that companies aren’t out to deliberately screw over their customers. I do actually believe they want to honor their promises and have their exclusives remain just that…but they’re also in the business to make money. And sadly, sometimes it’s not pure greed but just the need to stay afloat. I don’t know for sure if STO is in this rocky boat, but obviously, most companies will have the foresight to work in a paragraph or two in their Terms of Service, usually along the lines of “We reserve the right to change or limit order quantity, price and availability of any product or service without notice” or something to that effect.

In the end, it’s because of this that we as consumers can rage and complain all we want, but there’s not much else we can do about it, infuriating as it is. I wouldn’t say the corporation gets to walk away unscathed either though. Make your customers upset and fall back on legal-speak one too many times, and people will start to lose confidence in your products and services, which is a very damaging thing to a company in the long run.

I’ve learned something from this. Admittedly, I’m easily dazzled by the promises of exclusives and special bonuses myself…*recalls my Age of Conan puma pet obsession*. I’d have it all if I could. Needless to say, I was pretty miffed that the only STO pre-order bonus available to me in Canada was the Constitution Class Cruser offered by Gamestop/EB Games, but in hindsight, maybe this was a good thing because it did spare me the decision and save me money. Now that these pre-order items can be bought piecemeal in the C-Store, a Liberated Borg officer or a Mirror Universe costume can be mine if I want them, just four and a half months after I bought the game.

Yeah, maybe Cryptic made these “exclusives” available way too soon (I did notice still no playable Borg though…smart move), but despite the grumblings, a lot of players were able to benefit from this. This is a good thing for people who missed out on the opportunity to get these items, and for the folks like me who weren’t even offered the choice.

Still, this whole situation just serves to remind me the importance of making a purchase decision based on the game itself, and not the bonus items. In a world of ToS agreements and markets where MMOs rise and fall, going forward I’ll certainly be more grounded and guarded when faced with the offer of exclusives. I’ve noticed that it has become a lot easier to get swept up in the advertising hype these days, now that more and more retailers are offering special pre-order, collector’s edition, or time-limited items and this trend doesn’t seem like it’s going to die down anytime soon.

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My Feelings On The MMO Trinity

June 16, 2010

The “Holy Trinity” system is a classic concept in MMOs and in many ways I feel it’s a good gameplay system because it creates distinctive roles for players to fill. It’s a formula that’s straight-forward, tried and true — one person protects, one person damages, and one heals. There’s no confusion to anyone as to what part you’re supposed to play as soon as you step into a group. Over the years, several games have taken this concept and evolved it into the different variations we see today (like hybrids), or they’ve taken individual classes and extended their roles to include other utilities (CC, buffs, etc.) Despite all this, in most cases it still boils down to Tank, Healer, DPS.

While the trinity may help players organize themselves in group settings, admittedly it does tend to place constraints on player choice as characters are forced to spec in specific ways in order to be effective in their duties. Situations also arise where players will call for specific classes to fill a trinity role when attempting group content. Once you’re invited, your role usually does not change for the duration of the instance-run, and after a while, gameplay can start to feel a little redundant and stale.

Today’s G4TV E3 hands-on of Star Wars: The Old Republic made many wonder how the Trinity system will play out in this game. Bioware has said before that they were aiming for a “heroic” feel, and that the 25-raiders-beating-on-a-boss style was not it. Some people have assumed that this means there won’t be a Trinity concept in SWTOR, but I wasn’t so sure (the very fact we will have companions as back up tells me that there will be important roles to fill). And to be honest, I was a little relieved to see a bit of the Tank-Healer-DPS synergy happening in the video.

That said, while the video clearly shows that there will be tanking, there will be healing, and there will be nuking, I did notice how the smuggler in the background was running around doing crowd control, DPS, and a little healing while he was taking care of loose trash. This is a definite sign that there will be some flexibility, and there’s the possibility that this won’t be a standard trinity.

I know there are some who were disappointed by this “lack of innovation”, but I personally found out today that I may be a bigger fan of the Trinity system than I realized. I thought I was all for new ideas, and yeah sometimes I get tired of staring at my big bear butt…but deep down, I guess I do still have a soft spot for defined roles.

I like order, dammit!