Skyforge Beta Notes Show Forethought From Devs, But Will Gamers Agree?
The Skyforge dev team wrote up some extensive notes regarding the feedback they've received in the first few weeks of the game's beta test. It contains updates on a lot of the expected topics, like animations, client optimization, tweaking the Ascension Atlas, quality-of-life changes, and an explanation for one of Magicman's biggest pet peeves: why melee combos are broken so easily when an enemy dies or moves.
But there are two parts of the writeup that I thought were unusual and that show a kind of self-awareness that a lot of games and game developers don't.
Playing (nice) with others
The shorter of the two is the section titled “Playing with friends of various Prestige level and adventure difficulty.” It's no secret that a lot of games have taken steps to make it easier for players of various levels to group together. Whether that's by upscaling or downscaling character levels or greatly reducing or outright eliminating vertical progression, it's finally becoming obvious to MMO developers that when you get into a multiplayer game, you might want to actually play it with your friends or just random other people – not when you reach max level, but right away.
As such, Skyforge will remove group Prestige requirements for adventures, allow for different difficulties, and offer rewards based on personal Prestige levels in a future beta build. It's nice that this is being addressed, but it's still a little puzzling that it took as long as it did. The explanation for why this hasn't been implemented from the start strikes me as a little dubious:
“As developers we forget about this stuff sometimes, it's easy to cheat your character up or down to play together or with devs, or to test an adventure.”
That would make sense, if you only were ever a developer for a game and had never, you know, played one. But it's hard to imagine someone being a developer who had never had the experience of playing an MMO and being frustrated by the inability to group with friends of different levels.
My guess: Some people on the dev team thought it should have been done, and some didn't, and, based on beta feedback, the side in favor won out. But rather than saying, “Some of us thought keeping players separated was an honestly good idea,” it's “Oops! Silly us! We just didn't think about it.”
None of this would be a problem if, as every MMO developer hopes and dreams, all of a game's players voraciously consume it, letting it take control of their lives and be their sole source of entertainment – and where they spend their dollars. A decade or so ago, with relatively few gaming options, that might have been how most people played.
But that's not realistic for a majority of players these days, and it's a point that the Skyforge dev team realizes and addresses in the longest point in its notes. In fact, they address it in those exact terms when discussing the game's semi-controversial weekly limits on currency gains:
It's amazing to see a dev team acknowledge this phenomenon, that with more games being available, the chance that one will become a player's sole obsession is shrinking every day. Yet most games are still designed for the “time whales,” an increasingly smaller percentage of players who are the loudest and, in F2P games, the ones most likely to be “monetary whales,” as well. Still, a game admitting that it doesn't expect you to give up your life for it is borderline astonishing.
It's a variation on the Awful Idea of limited-time MMOs that I had a few months back, though less restrictive and probably more palatable than the harsh version I came up with. It still remains to be seen if it will be accepted by the Skyforge player base, which is something the dev team admits could be an issue, though it's trying to address that.
There has been, and will be some heated debate regarding the topic, though, if they get the math right, it will only affect a small number of the most hyperactive players; whether it's a good idea to rankle that group is questionable, but it seems to be a risk the devs are willing to take in order to provide a better experience for the 90+% of players who won't run up against these limits.
In reality, though, establishing limits on how much an account can earn is present in virtually every MMO – what do you think weekly raid locks are meant to accomplish? Without those, the hardest of the hardcore would blow through raids multiple times and be fully geared in less than a month. It's not really a new idea, it's just being implemented in a different way. Other MMOs, mostly imported from Asia, have tried stricter systems to limit gameplay, but I've never seen the rationale for it laid out quite so eloquently.
The Skyforge dev team gets that keeping players clumped together so they can play together – the goal of an MMO – is a good thing, even if requires some unorthodox means to do so. What do you think?
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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