Pain, Grief and Gnashing of Teeth

Darkfall

After more than seven years shrouded in mist, often seeming to be little more than a swirl in the vapor itself, Darkfall has a release date.

Athens, Greece – December 5th, 2008 – Audio Visual Enterprises SA and Aventurine SA in a joint statement today announced that their highly anticipated MMORPG title Darkfall Online will launch across Europe on January 22nd, 2009. North American players are also welcome to participate in the European launch of Darkfall which will precede a North American launch.

If you haven’t been following it, Darkfall is a free for all player-skill-based PvP MMO with wet-dream features to please even the most hardcore. Why Darkfall matters, after the break.

Tobold notes that hardcore PvP is niche. “Niche” is a relative term. Compared with gaming in total, even WoW is niche. Nonetheless, the hardcore market is likely quite small. The PvP market (sans hardcore) might actually be quite large. Think back a decade or so ago and remember the hundreds of thousands playing in online FPS tournaments.  These people didn’t die … they just went on to other games.  It’s entirely possible a skill based PvP MMO might attract these people, if done well … and if not confounded with hardcore concepts.
 
I used to be an UT fan and I really enjoyed PvP in that environment. In MMO’s, I don’t typically engage in much, if any, PvP.  But then again, I’ve never experienced a PvP game that I liked. All I really want is Unreal Tournament with a persistent world and a reason to fight. Inevitably though, the care-bear hating mouth-breathers descend, and the discussion of skill-based MMO’s ultimately gets tied up with hard-core features like perma-death and full loot rights.

Of course, there are those who seemingly aren’t convinced that skill based PvP is workable at all.

Lesson learned from Counterstrike: skill-based PvP has its place. That place is not an MMO. The tyranny of a skill-based elite is only compounded by the permanence of the MMO. As seen with the popularity and success of the Camelot zergs, people can be successful as part of a massive team, but that success wears down if that team can be wiped off the map by 5 really super guys.

The argument is basically that in an MMO where skill counts, if you assume that 95% of your players have no skill, 95% of your players will therefore have no fun and you are doomed to failure. While I ain’t no turple-aye devil-upper … I call bullshit.

I was one of those 95% of players that sucked at FPS: in fact, I sucked badly. But I still had fun and I still played regularly. So did 10’s, perhaps 100’s of thousands of others … a fact often forgotten.

The key for crappy players like me was to find a server full of others with similar skills. Here’s the interesting thing about MMO’s. A player’s avatar cannot be in all places at once. Rather than servers self-sorting for skill, a skill based PvP MMO would have “areas”. To help ensure that players with higher skill sort appropriately, incentive could be built in to the game rules. Most skilled players would say they’re more likely to have fun when matched appropriately, anyway.

In UT, most players were good at segregating themselves by skill level. Occasionally, you’d be having a grand old time and someone with uber skills would drop in, wipe everyone, and then leave. In a skill based MMO, it would be important to provide disincentive for this kind of behavior.

Again, I’m certainly NOT a game designer, but I believe these are only design problems. As a business software developer, I do know that smart people, committed to solving a problem, can usually find a solution.

I’m not expecting Darkfall to be a smashing success. Rather, I expect much pain, grief and gnashing of teeth. It seems producing and operating an MMO is a herculean task, sufficient to bring all but the strongest to their knees.

But, as pointed out by others, we need innovative new ideas to carry the industry out of the feudal dark-ages in which it is mired. In the very least, Darkfall is destined to produce some good design lessons. Perhaps it will also become a notable part of the folklore of mmodom.

I think I will give it a try.
 
 

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