SOE Joins ZAM For a Landmark Livestream

On Tuesday, July 29th (today!), Sony Online Entertainment's Director of Development, Dave Georgeson, and Landmark Senior Producer, Terry Michaels, will be joining LockSixTime for a Landmark play session livestream! Join us this evening and tune in on the ZAM Twitch TV channel at 4pm Pacific (7pm Eastern). See you there!

UPDATE: The recording is now available after the jump, or catch the text highlights here!

Landmark Founder Pack Discounts: Right or Wrong?

Sony Online Entertainment launched a 48-hour Steam sale on their Landmark Founder's Packs yesterday. According to the official forums (as well as reddit and Twitter), this sale left a bitter taste in some people's mouths.

When it comes to controversial topics such as this (especially as an active member in SOE's gaming community), I try to be fair and see it from both sides of the coin. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and put down the pitchfork for a moment, while other times we are completely justified in feeling wronged and slighted. Unfortunately, this sale seems to fall in a grey area no matter how I look at it.

Your Next: Looking for Guilds

Another week groans by, dragging behind it those of us hoping for a chance at a glimpse of what we're waiting for. How dramatic a pose we strike; after all, it would be ludicrous to feel like this over something that wasn't that important.

So, here it is, the calm before the storm and the insufferable wait. I imagine we've all been here before, at different times and in different parts of the world, refreshing home pages and bouncing around subreddits.

I'm glad that, as an adult, I've found something akin to the magic of waiting for Santa, but I don't think my inner child sees it that way.

I wonder sometimes, in passing fits of maturity, how it must feel on the other side. The weight of expectation, the doubts, that feeling of having a secret you just have to pass on before it bursts.

The feeling of excitement coming from those with new toys to share at SOE Live is palpable; they're proud, they're confident, and they can't wait to let us see what they have.

Your Next: Post Structuralist

We had a lovely chat last week about the way persistent online games are evolving—in particular, how innovation is becoming more possible. As the industry moves on to the fresh scavenging grounds of the MOBA genre and MMO players are becoming savvier and discerning about the type of content they want, the way we think about MMOs is changing.

Inertia, nostalgia and confirmation bias all still play their part, of course. It's not difficult to find examples of all of these in large scale discussions of any game, but it seems there is a growing sense that things don't have to be done the way they've always been done. An argument from tradition is, after all, no argument at all.

In the past a major barrier to innovation has been the massive investment and risk involved in releasing an MMO, and once it was loose, keeping the beast fed with a stream of content and features to maintain a healthy playerbase seemed like an impossible task.

Last week I mentioned No Man's Sky as a specific example of how the industry is changing, as it seems to encapsulate many of the current trends while still managing to be fresh and exciting in a way that the stagnant behemoths around it at E3 couldn't compete with. It was made by just a few people who wanted to make something really special, in a time where that has become more possible than ever before.

With no points, levels or specific goals, emphasis on exploration and emergent gameplay, being voxel based with gathering and crafting being core mechanics, No Man's Sky could be considered a Minecraft clone. I do not mean that in a derogatory way at all, I use the term only to make a point. Are you ready for the point? Here is the point.

As we of a certain age are aware, there was a time when every first-person shooter was called a Doom clone, it was fertile new ground for the industry to explore and it took a while for the genre to mature to the point that games could be considered on their own merits. Once we stopped thinking of these games as clones we could start seeing what possibilities existed.

There have been a fair few games labelled Minecraft clones, including Landmark, which is why it's important that No Man's Sky has largely avoided the tag – not because the comparison is offensive, but because it means the game is being considered on its own merit. We look at the game and marvel at what it is and what it could be without resorting to shorthand.

We made it! I got around to talking about Landmark, finally.

Your Next: Norrath Officially Under Construction

Just when you thought it was safe to hang up your legendary picks, the Landmark development team have dropped an epic reason to dive right back in.

I've spent a number of weeks sharing ideas about EverQuest Next and Landmark through the context of other games and general MMO design goals. I haven't felt the need to share any specific developments about the games with you, as I feel like if you're here you are probably keeping up to date with the news.

This week is different; a new development has come around that, for me, will be a defining feature of Landmark and something that I hope continues for years to come. So permit me, dear reader, to gush for a while about how amazing everything is and how Landmark and EverQuest Next are going to be the best things EVAR.

One of the biggest draws for Landmark when it was revealed, way back in the distant past, was the chance for players to have their own creations show up in the upcoming EverQuest incarnation. This possibility is still incredibly exciting, but now SOE has gone one better and given us optimists something to point at to prove they want the input of players.

Your Next: Playing to Strengths - GLHF 3

Two whole columns have passed with barely a mention of EverQuest Next or Landmark; today we find out if it was worth it.

As I said in part one, I have been thinking a lot recently about why I enjoy MMOs, why I seek them out, and why I put an inordinate amount of hours into them, as opposed to seeking out the more carefully directed gaming experiences to be found elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong, I love games like Portal, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Skyrim, etc, that exist to revolve around the experience of an individual player. I just like to spend the bulk of my playing time in a virtual world, alongside like-minded people like you.

The more I think about the great single player games I have played, the more I lament how much MMOs have been trapped trying to capture success in the same way that they do, and I think it comes down to playing to the strengths of the medium. By and large, MMOs miss out on their opportunities by looking to emulate greatness from other genres.

Your Next: Pressing Buttons - GLHF 2

A good joke doesn't need explanation, you either find it funny or you don't; the same goes for fun. You know if you're having fun, and the only possible effect of someone telling you why is that you stop having fun. You'd have to be some sort of demented sadist to expect anyone to read multiple columns on that topic.

So here we are with Part 2! 

In the previous edition of Your Next, I lamented the fact that I couldn't get on with The Elder Scrolls Online. I have been critical of it for some time, and while that could have clouded my judgement of the finished product, I still feel it is underwhelming overall. Again, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't like it.

One thing the game did give me was the desire to figure out exactly what it was that made MMOs fun for me, why I was still drawn to the genre after so many duds. Maybe it's the same reason we kiss so many frogs when looking for a prince.

So we move on, and look to the horizon for the next potential disappointment. This time we don't have far to go at all, with WildStar already dashing in like a neon cavalry, replete with hoverboards and a sense of humour that is so refreshing after years of po-faced offerings. 

Your Next: GLHF

A game called The Elder Scrolls Online launched recently—you may have heard of it. While you may not have heard me make mention of it, I have been pretty critical of the game for some time. There are some things about it that, in my opinion, are simply broken, but you could say that about many games, MMOs in particular. So this week after much goading by friends I decided to give the game a fair shake—many people are enjoying it, after all.

So off on an Elder Scrolls adventure I went, willing to put a whole week of my gaming time on it in the name of research, hoping to be proven wrong. I tried to look past the things I disliked and to enjoy the experience for what it was, and play the game in the way it was intended.

While there are some things that I was too critical of, and other areas that I think are quite good, on the whole I had a terrible time.

When I said before I was willing to put a whole week of gaming time into it, I should have said I failed to put more than a couple of days into it. I am purposefully being as vague as possible about what it is I like and don't like about the game; this isn't a review and the specifics are unimportant.

What it boils down to is that I wasn't having any fun playing the game. I was having fun chatting and joking around on Skype, but the game itself did nothing for me. I'll make it clear at this point—it’s fine if you like the game, I'm not saying you shouldn't, I'm just making the point that it's not for me.

When push comes to shove, I think the phrase 'it isn't fun' is the most damning thing you can say about a game. While you could write thousands of words explaining in detail why you believed it (just be glad I didn't) the phrase cuts so violently to the core of the issue. It isn't fun.

Of course, fun isn't the only thing games can try to be – the developer CCP maintains that fun is only a very small part of a user's experience, so there's little benefit in trying to design for it. But then, they would say that, they make the utterly brilliant but not obviously 'fun' EVE Online.

Your Next: Do It Like EverQuest

I know that I'm meant to be talking about EverQuest Next and Landmark, and we'll get to them shortly, but there are a couple more stops to go on the H1Z1 train before we get there. After an inaugural livestream plagued by tech issues, but showing potential, SOE President John Smedley headed once again to Reddit to float a new idea.

Many developers seem to enjoy the semi-structured feedback they can get from the Reddit boards, and Mr. Smedley seems to love it. He's a big ideas man, after all, and they don't come much bigger than this.

Since H1Z1 works with an MMO server architecture it will work a little differently to other games in the genre—with a huge persistent world holding thousands of players and no server resets, the game will operate more like an MMO and less like a large shooter map. This could end up being one of the major selling points for the game, but one drawback of the system is the lack of player run servers with their own rules and personalities.

This is where the big idea comes in. Mr. Smedley wants player communities to be able to define the theme and ruleset for their own server. With enough active support from the community we could see those PVE 'carebear' servers that are continually slammed on the DayZ subreddit, or stricter grouping and faction rules designed to let players know who is really friendly.

Now, I understand completely why players want these kinds of rulesets for the Apocalypse Survival genre, but I would bet my last tin of beans they would be a colossal failure.

Players want these kinds of servers because they're sick of KoS, they want to band together with other people to survive the harsh new world and community is what makes persistent online games great. Ultimately though, the fact is it is these hardships and obstacles that make the genre great. If you don't like it, maybe you just don't like the genre. If it wasn't for the intense paranoia and tales of what happens when two people met in the game, DayZ would never have got the recognition it has, and the genre may never have existed at all.

I could be totally wrong of course; as all gaming experiences are subjective I could be in the minority in thinking that DayZ on an empty server feels like eating dry toast when you aren't hungry, or that playing Minecraft on peaceful difficulty feels like spending a sunny afternoon making confetti with a hole punch.

Your Next: No More Heroes Anymore

After much teasing, SOE President and apparent surprise fetishist John Smedley laid out the details of the newest MMO offering from SOE this week. Landmark is no longer the new kid on the block as H1Z1 shuffles out into the light, a zombie apocalypse themed MMO. The reaction seems mixed right now, with some commentators wondering what will differentiate this offering from the other early access zombie contenders.

For my money, SOE won't want to mess too much with the formula that made DayZ a phenomenon, but what they do have is a solid MMO engine and the resources to get a well-polished product into the market, something the current crop certainly struggles with.

If you're a regular reader you'll probably be aware I'm a big fan of DayZ, and since H1Z1 is free to play you can be sure I'll give it a try. It's also one more reason to invest in the new SOE All Access subscription plan, so in my opinion SOE knows what it's doing.

The announcement did make me think about the direction of game development as a whole, as we are seeing more and more games that put the user in the driving seat. There are more robust tools for user generated content, an increase in player agency and a focus on emergent gameplay. I'm a fan of this type of design, and I think it will persist until it becomes the norm. There's the rise of online gaming as a platform to consider, the 'evergreen' nature of procedurally generated content and PvP, but ultimately it's what the new generation of gamers are used to. 

These new crops of gamers are growing up with MOBAs like League of Legends, procedural sandbox builders like Minecraft and survival gankers such as DayZ. These are the games that the largest demographic of video game players in history are shaping and being shaped by. Interestingly, while these games have mechanisms that can make a player feel powerful, they don't make you feel like a hero if you don't want them to. Landmark follows this trend—there is no good or evil as of yet, and with players eventually determining the nature of the content, can good or evil really exist at all? We can destroy the evil cyborg one day and blow up the elf queen's castle the next.

Think about how many games the older generations grew up with that cast us as the hero, which prescribed us a moral compass and told us who was evil.

It's an interesting thought, and incredibly important to consider when trying to contextualize decisions being made by designers who want us to play their game for the next 10 years. For younger players so used to having such a big impact on the world they play in, H1Z1 and Landmark seem to be a great step in the right direction.