Lockboxes Suck, So How Should MMOs Monetize?

I don’t write a lot about bad monetization, because honestly, I mostly just shake my head and try to ignore it. As MMO players get more and more spread out across more games than I can count, populations of individual games keep declining. Unfortunately, in reaction to this, studios seem to have shifted focus from trying to bring in as many players as possible and keep them there to simply trying to milk the loyal players for more and more money, and the cash extraction method of choice in recent years has been lockboxes. And it’s not just an MMO problem. Physical TCGs have been doing this forever, and digital ones are no different. Pretty much every mobile game I’ve ever played has some kind of gacha mechanic. And now it’s starting to show up in mainstream AAA games like the new Star Wars Battlefront II (the 2017 one by DICE, of course… I really wish they had given the new series a different name or subtitle or something from the ones from the twenty-oughts, but that’s a whole other rant).

Then Massively Overpowered posted an article entitled “But seriously, lockboxes suck, even if the ESRB doesn’t think they’re gambling. Stop buying lockboxes.” (I love that title, by the way), and it got me thinking about how, yes, lockboxes suck, but what model should MMOs be using? Monetization is a necessary evil in MMOs. Yes, it’s an evil that keeps getting eviler, but game developers are not charities; they do this to make money. I hear people talking about what monetization scheme is “ideal,” but the problem is that the player’s “ideal” and the developer’s “ideal” are in opposition; the player’s ideal is that they get everything for free forever, and the developer’s ideal is that players throw unlimited money at them for doing nothing. Neither situation is remotely possible, so the question, then, becomes what monetization method is best for both parties? Below are a few options, ranked roughly from worst to best.

You get a lockbox! And you get a lockbox! EVERYBODY GETS A LOCKBOX!!!
…that’ll be $5 a pop for a key to open them. Seriously, this is debatably the worst case scenario. Perfect World’s Neverwinter and Star Trek Online are kind of the worst offenders for this one. Yes, their games are free-to-play, but you’re constantly reminded that you should be giving them money by them filling up your inventory with lockboxes you can’t open and on-screen announcements when someone else out there opened a lockbox and got a ship that’s cooler than yours (you can technically turn those off, but you have to do it in a bunch of different places that aren’t very obvious). But even Guild Wars 2, who I think of as having one of the most generous models in the industry, does this to a certain extent. Enemies occasionally drop lockboxes–not anywhere near as often as STO, but often enough–and a simple double click will show you all of the treasures that might be contained within. What’s the point of dropping a lockbox if I have to pay for the keys? Especially when you hand them out like Halloween candy so they’re absurdly cheap on the auction house. The answer is that they need a way to remind people with more money than sense that it’s time to feed their gambling addiction, but in a way that doesn’t feel like a popup ad. And make no mistake, lockboxes are literally gambling, and if you believe anything else, you’re not paying attention (despite whatever the ESRB says). The aforementioned Massively OP article has some links to some great articles discussing this far better than I could.

I put this term in scare quotes because everyone has a different definition of “pay-to-win,” in one of the few genres where there is literally no set win condition. Is Star Trek Online pay-to-win because the highest tier ships–with stat bonuses a few percent above their lower tier counterparts–are cash shop only? Is Guild Wars 2 pay-to-win because you can buy gold with money, buy crafting materials, then craft gear with the best stats in the game? Is World of Warcraft pay-to-win because you can buy a level boost token? Is Elder Scrolls Online pay-to-win because one of the classes, which happens to be considered to have the best group healing, is only accessible to players who have the expansion? I’ve heard all of these arguments and more.
Personally, I don’t consider a game pay-to-win unless the best gear in the game only comes from the cash shop (or if there is a cruel and unusual amount of grind for gear that is bypassed by paying money). These games exist, especially in the mobile realm, but most of them chase away their players, so I wouldn’t consider this a viable long term solution for any game.

Pure Subscription
I don’t like this kind of model because I have so many options for MMOs, and I would really rather not be tied down to any one at any given time. But if you’re not into multi-gaming, this is actually not a bad model for you. Developers get a steady, fairly predictable stream of money, and can, in turn, crank out consistent content for players. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV are really the only major games that survive on this model anymore, and that’s only because they both of large, devoted player bases. Smaller games simply can’t compete this way.

Pure Buy-to-Play
This is my personal favorite monetization scheme. You had to at least pay the price of entry to play the game, so the developers at least have some revenue from every player. Developers are incentivized to keep cranking out expansion/DLC content, because otherwise players aren’t going to be giving you money. This can be good or bad, since one bad release that no one buys can set a game on a downward spiral in that vicious cycle of not enough content to keep players paying, not enough money to create content players want to buy.

Buy-to-Play with Optional Sub
…but seriously, if you want to play the game a lot just go ahead and sub because it’s not worth it otherwise. I think Elder Scrolls Online is the best example of this. I can play all I want for free, but I’m going to have to resist the urge to pick up crafting materials or I’ll be running out of bag space every hour. If I’m really serious about playing this month, I can shell out my $15. I’ve met players all over the spectrum; from those who bought the box when the game went buy-to-play and haven’t given ZeniMax a dime since, to those who buy each DLC outright but don’t subscribe, to players who haven’t stopped subbing since the game launched. I put this at the top, not because it’s my favorite, but because it’s probably the best compromise for the good of the game. I can play for free, but it’s clear that the developers really want me to sub so they get that constant, predictable revenue stream we talked about in the Pure Subscription section. This can go wrong, as it has, in my opinion, in Star Wars the Old Republic, which is basically trying to be a Pure Subscription game while still keeping its free-to-play players, but I think it’s the most ideal situation.

If there was a perfect monetization model, everyone would be doing it, but there isn’t. Some models are worse than others, but it’s a very subjective matter. Different players would put these models in a different order. Everyone has different preferences. I feel like my preferences have changed over the years as well, because of fluctuating time constraints and financial situations. But some of them, I think we can all agree, do suck. Let’s all vote with our wallets and our playtime, and encourage developers who have good business models to keep doing what they do best.


(Spoiler-Free) Path of Fire Launch Impressions

It’s finally here! Guild Wars 2’s second expansion is finally live! I’ve had so much more anticipation for this expansion than last expansion, despite the fact that the time between its announcement and release was really short. I think that’s due in large part to the change of scenery. While jungles like that of Heart of Thorns always feel cramped and frustrating to navigate, deserts are wide open and interesting to explore. Also I’ve been excited to play the new elite specializations. When we only had one choice of elite spec, you were pretty much always limiting your character’s potential if you didn’t use it in some fashion. Now that we have a couple of different elite specs to choose from, we start to get some real choices. Some of my characters are definitely staying in their current spec for now (revenant, warrior) and some will be switching ASAP (engineer, thief), and for some the jury is still out (elementalist, ranger). So far most of my time has been spent on my engineer with the new holosmith elite spec. The vanilla engineer ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me by endgame, and the scrapper spec didn’t do much to help. The holosmith’s lightsaber sword proficiency and holoforge mode gives the engineer a fun, in-your-face type of gameplay that really resonates with me a lot more than swinging a giant wrench or lobbing grenades ever did.

It occurs to me that this expansion offers a lot of returns to the old, pre-HoT Guild Wars 2 formula. The map is so much easier to navigate (again, open, flat desert vs. layered, convoluted jungle), and the mob density/difficulty is a lot more similar to that of Central Tyria than that of the Heart of Maguuma. Similarly, hero challenges seem to be mostly designed such that an average solo player can complete them instead of most of them requiring two or more skilled players. In short, it feels like an expansion to the Guild Wars 2 from 2012, not the one from 2015. And I’m quite happy about that.

While I’m glad that the gameplay structure of pre-HoT Guild Wars 2 is back, I’m a little frustrated that some annoyances are not fixed yet. In typical ArenaNet fashion, characters are repeatedly introduced as if we should already know who they are. I really don’t get how this keeps being a problem. I can’t go into more detail because I marked this as spoiler-free, but maybe I’ll write up a little rant about it in a few weeks when the people who care about spoilers have seen everything. Also, mandatory reminder that people want new dungeons. Raids are fine, but we still want dungeons.

I also wanted to mention how impressed I am once again with ArenaNet’s management of the game. To my knowledge, the servers went down for a total of maybe half an hour over the course of the launch week. That’s really impressive for an MMO of Guild Wars 2’s size. There were some problems with individual maps, but they were limited in scope and even those didn’t last terribly long. There were a few patches from time to time, but Guild Wars 2 servers can run two versions simultaneously, meaning that it notifies you that a new version is available and gives you two hours to finish what you’re doing and log out to receive the patch. I was also amazed at the seeming lack of lag I experienced. The only reason I could even tell that the servers were under heavy load at all was the fact that it took a long time to log into the game a few times (I’m guessing I was in some kind of queue, because switching maps or instances didn’t take a long time, just the initial login). Launch wasn’t 100% perfect, but it has gone better than some games with much bigger budgets than Guild Wars, and I really appreciate it.
EDIT: Apparently there were some problems affecting Europe, but this launch still went smoother than many I’ve seen in the past.

Overall, I would say that Path of Fire has been the most fun I’ve had in Guild Wars 2 to date, which is saying a lot. Great job, ArenaNet!

I Miss WildStar

I’ve never missed a game so much as WildStar. I’ve never experienced the shutdown of one of my MMOs, as players of Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and others have, but WildStar is probably the closest thing. It still runs, but the population is severely declined, and updates have slowed to a snoglug’s pace. Worse than that, my guild disbanded, and there isn’t a lot to do at endgame without a group. I’m tempted to go back for the new Homecoming patch that updates housing and adds group plots (a feature that I thought was supposed to launch with the F2P transition two years ago?), but I doubt that alone will keep me in the game. There really isn’t a whole lot out there that captures WildStar’s combat, visual style, or housing system, and I really wish it was found in a game with more active development and community.

The game isn’t without hope, though. Bree pointed out in last week’s MassivelyOP Podcast that everyone knows at this point that this game is a lot smaller than it was originally designed to be, and if NCSoft was going to pull the plug on it based on that, they would have done it by now. It makes sense to me; as long as the game is staying in the black, it’s not like it’s costing them anything to keep the game running and staffed with a skeleton crew. There are probably a lot of MMOs out there surviving on smaller communities than WildStar’s; it’s all a matter of how niche you want to be. But, this is NCSoft we’re talking about, the company that killed City of Heroes for less, so some fears were reasonable, but I think NCSoft learned their lesson from that incident. Americans want their MMOs, even niche MMOs, to be more or less permanent, and if you take them away prematurely, they will not simply move on to one of your other games as they seemed to expect. Many players would rather boycott your company rather than get attached to one of your other games only to have it pulled out from under them, as many have done. Better to keep the game plodding along than take the PR hit of shutting it down.

Sadly, this pang of nostalgia for WildStar comes right before the launch of Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire, and I know that I’m going to be playing that pretty much non-stop for at least the next couple of weeks. Still, I keep WildStar installed on my computer, and I hope to come back and visit soon. I just joined a new multi-game guild that apparently has a WildStar chapter, so hopefully when I’m past my 30 day trial period and can join multiple chapters, I can get back into it.

August in Screenshots

Sorry for being mostly absent during August. This was partly due to the fact that I was very restless in my MMO gaming time which meant that I messed around in a lot of games and didn’t get anything interesting or blogworthy accomplished, and partly due to the fact that I’ve been having that writer’s block/self confidence problem that I know writers much better than I struggle with as well. Anyways, I thought I’d catch you up on what I’ve been doing this month with a few screenshots.

The Elder Scrolls Online

I rolled a new warden. I’m not proud of it, but I did it. It’s mainly because I’m an altaholic, but also because I read about this cool ice-based magicka tank, and I wanted to try that out without respecing my stamina healing warden. Yes, I realize that I’m playing both of those roles with the stat opposite of what you would expect, but maybe that’s why the warden has clicked with me so much more than other classes in ESO.
Screenshot_20170803_233216While my first warden started out doing the Morrowind story, this one went through the main vanilla story. Because levels don’t really matter anymore, you can pretty much do it all as soon as you get to your faction’s first city where The Prophet is. I got all the way to the penultimate chapter by the time I was level 15 (apparently, even though it ignores level for the entire rest of the story, you can’t do the final chapter until you’re actually level capped), and I spent a few days doing that and a few other quests that interested me around Stonefalls, but, when it quickly became clear that my new tank warden was my new main, I decided it was time to start on Morrowind again. Some day I’ll go back and see all that the vanilla game has to offer, but right now I feel like I should experience the shiny new expansion zones while they’re still somewhat populated.

Guild Wars 2

Probably the most interesting thing about my August in Guild Wars 2 was also a new character. I, of course, preordered Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire. This time around, the more deluxier packages are actually really nice. I bought the cheapest Heart of Thorns package because nothing in the nicer packages were really that exciting (a mini, a PvP finisher, a guild hall decoration, and a lame glider skin… meh), but this time around, ArenaNet actually talked me into buying the deluxe package (Sunspear outfit, a character slot, a makeover kit, and one of those passes to one of those premium crafting area things they’ve been doing recently), and, of course, if you’re buying the deluxe package, you might as well drop the extra $25 to get $50 worth of gems in the ultimate package. I was planning on making a new mesmer anyway, because I really like the Heart of Thorns elite spec as well as what I’ve seen of the Path of Fire one. Couldn’t I have just switched back and forth for free? Absolutely, but I never turn down an excuse to make a new character, and if I didn’t make a new character, that level 80 boost would go to waste, so my new mesmer was born. His name is Random Axes Memory, which celebrates both my love of computers and my love of puns. The new Path of Fire elite spec, of course, gives mesmers access to axes, so I’m really banking on the fact that I’m going to like it, or this play on words would make no sense.
While Guild Wars 2 is in that pre-expansion holding pattern, I’m trying to turn some of that anticipation and impatience for expansion day (less than three weeks!) into motivation to finish finish up some things. First, I finally, for the first time, actually finished the Trahearne personal story chapters in Orr. That’s right, with all of my hundreds of hours in Guild Wars 2, I had never personally done the part of the story where you defeat your first elder dragon. And sure enough, it’s just as anticlimactic as everyone said it is. You don’t so much slay the dragon yourself as ride along while the airship does all the work. I’ve also put a lot of time in the Heart of Thorns zones getting hero points so I can hit the ground running in Path of Fire’s new elite specs. I’m getting really sick of these jungle zones, and I’m so ready for a big, new, wide-open desert to explore. I also put some time into the various betas that they’ve been doing recently, and I’m really excited to play the new story and elite specs. Mounts are going to be fun too! I’m probably looking forward to this expansion more than any other expansion I’ve played to date, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say come September 22nd.

Sonic Mania

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I’m a huge Sonic the Hedgehog fan. Modern Sonic games, however, have been hit-or-miss (mostly miss) and have generally failed to recapture the magic of the originals. I had a big post written up on how big game companies so often fail to realize what made their older games great, and how fans so often recognize it much more readily than the people who get paid the big bucks to design games, but it was really too big of an issue to tackle in a blog post, so I scrapped it (see opening paragraph). Anyways, along came a team of fans–headed by Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, whose claim to fame is that he wrote a a perfect, ground-up remake of the first level of Sonic CD in 60fps and widescreen for iOS, then got a cease and desist order from Sega, who then subsequently hired him to finish it. After doing a couple more iOS/Android remakes, they were then given the green light to make a (mostly) original Sonic game in the style of the classic Genesis games, called Sonic Mania. And the results are absolutely incredible. I haven’t been this excited for a Sonic game since I was a kid. I actually canceled my PC preorder because it got delayed and bought it on Nintendo Switch instead (honestly, though, the portability of the Switch is nice, and I can probably pick up the Steam version on sale a few years from now). The graphics are beautiful, the physics are perfect, and I couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack. I could probably gush about its perfection for a whole post, but no one is interested in reading it. Except for the Oil Ocean octopus boss, which is absolutely awful.

I also puttered around LotRO–my rune-keeper is still in Moria, and I’ve been tempted to bring my low level lore-master out of retirement, but I’m trying to resist that temptation–as well as Guild Wars 1–working on a Paragon to catch up on area lore for Path of Fire. I also gave Destiny 2 a try, and can’t say that I overly thrilled by it, but the beta was pretty limited. I might buy it on sale eventually, but it’s certainly not my next big thing. It did, however, remind me that I bought Mass Effect Andromeda at launch and barely played it due to some technical issues that are now fixed, so I’m back to playing that as well.

Anyways, here’s hoping that September brings lots of interesting new gaming experiences, and hopefully more frequent blog posts.

GW2: Looking Back At Living World S3, Looking Ahead To Path of Fire

Warning! Spoilers ahead.

Well, now we know. After a bizarre amount of secrecy, ArenaNet has finally announced their new expansion, Path of Fire, which comes out surprisingly soon at September 22nd. I’m really excited for this expansion!

Living World Season 3
Before I jump into the expansion, I wanted to talk a little about Season 3. The Living World content has always been a little hit-or-miss, especially for the first two seasons. I didn’t really play any of season one because I took my sweet time getting any of my myriad characters to 80 (I did a little bit of the Battle for Lion’s Arch, but that’s about it), and the fact that that means I’ll never get to be properly introduced to the main cast of characters for all of the content for the foreseeable future makes season one probably the biggest blunder ArenaNet has ever made. Season two was at least repeatable, but it felt super rushed, and most of the chapters had a lot of filler. Season three finally brought the Living World on par with the game’s main/expansion story, with each chapter bringing its own zone, and a new mastery. While the masteries are a little contrived (most of them only work in the zone they were added with, and it just hit me last night that I probably didn’t even need to train the Siren of Orr one from Episode Six), at least they fill up pretty fast. It’s also nice that they were added per zone, unlike the Heart of Thorns masteries that were just dumped on you all at once with no direction as to which ones would block progress in the story. At least the masteries themselves have some cool effects (I love the grappling hook from episode five! I hope that comes back in some form!). As for the story itself, it was good, if a little scattered. I like the idea of the mursaat and the human gods coming back, but it was a bit back and forth. Basically, the plot goes like this: There’s a bloodstone-splosion that summons an evil magical mursaat, who turns out not to be evil, except he’s actually neither of those, he’s actually an evil human god in disguise. Then we forget about the evil god for a while (until the expansion hits) and join the Shining Blade to kill the actual mursaat. The one that the evil god was pretending to be. Simple, right? Oh, and don’t forget the fact that some important pieces of that story were locked inside raids which I haven’t done, so I had to look them up on the wiki. Those complaints aside, I really like that they’re bringing back a bunch of Guild Wars 1 lore. While I’ve barely played Guild Wars 1, and only after playing 2, it always seemed strange that the sequel seems so disconnected from its predecessor.

Path of Fire
Finally, something other than dragons to fight! Desert zones, especially ones with varied biomes like Elona, have always been among my favorites, so heading to the Crystal Desert sounds good to me. I’m interested to see where they go with the whole Balthazar thing. What exactly happened to the rest of the gods? Are they going to make an appearance as well? I’m also interested to see where the whole Aurine thing is headed, since they’ve been building up to that one for a while.
The addition of mounts is an interesting one, since ArenaNet has long held that they’re unnecessary because of waypoints. For the most part they’re right, but waypoints in every zone added from Living World season two on have been few and far between, so they’re not an unwelcome addition. Plus the addition of faster travel allows you to open up zones and do larger, more interesting landscapes. I think my favorite so far is the Skimmer because it looks cool and allows me to avoid underwater combat (plus it’s probably the closest thing to a WildStar hoverboard I’ll get in this game… man, I miss hoverboards).
What I’m most excited about, however, is the new set of elite specializations. I like what I’m seeing for all of them so far. I’m excited for the thief to finally get rifle (mainly because they were lacking ranged options, but also because I have a bunch of cool rifle skins that I’ve never been able to use), and the dual-element, sword-wielding elementalist looks pretty interesting as well.
I think the pricing is pretty reasonable this time around. I didn’t think the price for Heart of Thorns was outrageous like some people did (isn’t $50 just what expansions cost? Isn’t that what WoW charges, with a subscription on top of that?), but given that there’s no new class this time around, it’s nice that they knocked a little off of the cost. The deluxe-ier editions seem like a better value too; I’d much rather have a character slot, a makeover kit, and a premium crafting area pass than a mini, a PvP finisher, and a boring glider skin any day. And, of course, if you’re going to get the deluxe edition, you might as well upgrade to the ultimate edition, since it’s got $50 worth of gems for only $25. Curse you and your marketing, ArenaNet!

Overall, this is a good time to be a Guild Wars 2 fan. Hopefully this expansion will be better received than the last, and the new zones will be less frustrating to navigate. I’ve started messing around in Guild Wars: Nightfall to catch up on my area lore. More on that soon? I’m really looking forward to this weekend, when we’ll actually get to get in and mess around with all of the new elite specs. And, of course, the expansion isn’t far behind that!

Albion Online Launch Impressions

Normally when I see the word “Sandbox” I turn around and walk the other way. The popular understanding of the term has changed a lot in recent years, but generally, either way, it’s not something I get excited about. Games developed under the current understanding of the term tend to devolve into PvP-with-crafting gankboxes (eww) and those developed under old understandings of sandbox tend to be too slow moving and too open ended for me (and still contain more PvP than I enjoy). But something about Albion Online caught my attention. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve spent a lot of time emphasizing that they want PvE and crafting players to have a real place in the game, even delaying the game’s launch significantly to make sure those players have a good experience. Maybe it’s because it looks so much like RuneScape, my first MMORPG and the only sandbox I’ve ever enjoyed. Either way, I bought the founder’s pack about a year ago, messed around with it a little, and decided to come back when the game was finished (and the threat of wipes didn’t excite me either).

Starting out, after a short cutscene, players are dumped unceremoniously on a beach with nothing but a loincloth. Then there’s a quest to gather some basic materials and craft gathering tools and armor, and that’s about it for the introduction. This has changed very little from beta, which surprised me, because I always felt like it was kind of a placeholder tutorial. In town there’s a guy who instructs you on how to make a weapon, but that’s easy to miss. I know I did the first couple of times I walked past. I am, however, struck by the fact that all of the introductory quests are about teaching you to make things and gather materials, not kill stuff. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this, since that’s kind of the definition of a sandbox, but it’s oddly refreshing.

One interesting thing about Albion is that it is fully cross-platform with Android. I thought this would be a cool game to play on my phone, but, as it turns out, it’s a bit much for my two-plus-year-old Galaxy S6. It runs decently, but it gets really hot and burns through the battery in a matter of minutes. I tried playing with the phone plugged in, but that made it heat up even more and go into cooldown mode, which limits CPU usage and makes the game unplayable. Clearly, this game is meant to be played on beefier Android tablets and not phones. Sadly, I don’t have an Android tablet that’s capable of running Albion, but I do have a Surface Pro 4, and the Windows version of Albion supports touch as well. I spent a few hours last night playing keyboard-free while watching TV (given the massive launch rush, most of my time in the game was spent waiting for stuff to respawn, so distraction was welcome) and I can see myself playing a lot on a tablet just as easily as the PC.

As I mentioned earlier, playing Albion feels a lot like going back to RuneScape. It’s an isometric, crafting-focused, click-to-move game where players have to compete for resources. Even the graphics are similar. They’re not going to win any awards, but they’re distinctive and I like them. I posted a while back about going back to Old School RuneScape. That was fun for a while, but once the novelty wore off, I was left with a daunting amount of grind before the game gave me anything like convenience in terms of getting around or getting useful gear. It left me wishing for something similar to Old School RuneScape with a little more accessibility, and I thought Albion might be that. What remains to be seen is whether or not the developers’ promises of the endgame being viable to primarily non-PvP players. If I get to the endgame and everything I need is walled inside PvP zones controlled by massive, Eve-style guild conglomerates, I won’t be sticking around. Sadly, from a lot of the player feedback I’ve been hearing, it sounds like that’s what a lot of it is going to end up being. Worse, if you believe MMO news site commenters (which is always iffy), the developers have tried to keep this kind of behavior under control, but don’t seem very competent at it. Don’t quote me on that, though, because honestly I haven’t done much research into any of it, because, let’s be honest, when’s the last time I did any endgame gathering and crafting, even in games I really like?

Three Things MMOs Can Learn From Master X Master

As an MMO player who is generally uninterested in PvP in any of its various forms, I’ve never really found MOBAs all that appealing. When NCSoft started talking about this new Master X Master thing, I pretty much ignored it. Just another MOBA for me to skip, right? Plus I don’t really like the name. I think “Master X Master” is supposed to be like “Master Vs. Master,” and I can’t decide if I feel like it’s a stylistic choice that is ok or a minor translation oddity that’s going to bother me (I think the title of “Tree of Savior” is a large part of why I didn’t stick around that game for long). Then I started seeing some chatter surrounding MXM’s PvE game, and I was intrigued. I tried the beta, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would. The game reminds me of a lot of the things I loved about WildStar’s dungeons; lots of frantically running around dodging red circles with combat that requires you to actually aim at the target rather than just stay in range and mash buttons. You can probably see that, from there, it wasn’t far to go to start thinking about what MXM does and doesn’t do as well as its more massive cousins.

Group Content Doesn’t Have To Be Huge To Be Fun
For far too long, massive raids have been king of the PvE endgame. Some games have at least started scaling back such content to raids requiring a much more reasonable ten or twelve people and putting more focus on dungeons requiring five or so people. This is a step in the right direction, but what about all of the times when I have one or two friends online and we want to do something together? Three is usually not quite enough to get through a dungeon without a lot of difficulty (i.e. dying every other pull), but most open world stuff is designed to be soloed, and having too many people in one spot can actually cause a bottleneck. Master X Master solves this with a difficulty slider for instances. It is by no means the first game to do so–Bree and Justin were just talking about City of Heroes’ solution to this problem last week on the Massively OP Podcast, and LotRO’s skirmishes are always fun, and I wish there were more of them–but it’s something that I feel should be standard for all MMOs. I’d also like to point out MXM’s minigames, which I ignored at first, but they’re actually pretty fun. From what I’ve seen, are all variations on non-combat bullet and AoE dodging. Not much of a game by itself, but a nice way to break up monotony and practice not standing in fire.

Hotbars: Less Is More
Almost two years ago, I wrote about how, while hotbar limitations can be frustrating (see: Marvel Heroes post-BUE), unlimited hotbar space often ends up introducing unnecessary complexity (see: Marvel Heroes’ Doctor Strange pre-BUE) that makes the game more about watching cooldowns instead of what’s going on around your character. MXM takes this to an even further extreme, giving each hero three regular attacks (left mouse button and two keys), one cooldown-type “ultimate” ability, and one dodge/block. If you only had one character, this would get really boring really fast, but MXM also includes a character swapping mechanic, similar to those seen in a number of arcade fighting games, which means that you have access to twice the abilities, as long as you’re willing to wait for a cooldown before you swap again. This makes the game feel a lot less overwhelming than it could otherwise. In fact, I’ve actually gotten a couple of friends to play with me, and they’ve both commented on that very fact.

Class Variety Is The Spice of Life
As someone who loves playing an army of alts rather than a single character, I really like the idea of a game with a whole bunch of characters that I can switch between as I feel like it. It’s one of the reasons why I love Marvel Heroes so much, despite the fact that the gameplay revolves around doing the same content over and over. And the reason why playing a bunch of different characters/classes is fun in a game like Marvel Heroes or Master X Master is that they each have a unique gimmick. Instead of two or three types of DPS, support, and tank, they’ve got a variety of archetypes for each, and some degree of customization within each character. Does this create a balance nightmare? Probably. But I think you’ll find that the majority of your players care more about having fun than being at the peak of the performance curve.