Dual Wielding LFG Edition: Creating Community, Developer Side

Dual Wielding: LFG Edition— sometimes a topic is just too big for a couple of bloggers on their own. That’s when we send out the call, and see who steps up to help us with the challenge. This week, in a special LFG edition of Dual Wielding, we’ve put together a four person team to tackle the question, “what can developers do to foster community?”

And make sure you also read what Mersault, SylWolfy, and Aywren had to say on the topic!

A few weeks ago a conversation that began with my frustration with games like Tree of Savior and Black Desert that fail to explain key gameplay elements turned into a discussion about community—what creates it, binds it, and what developers could do on their end to foster it. Sure, this burden isn’t completely on the shoulders of the professionals working on the MMOs we play, but neither should it be ignored by them during the development process. Ultimately, I think it comes down to encouraging community by greatly rewarding group play without punishing solo players. It’s that simple.

Before getting started, I need to make a confession. To some extent, I don’t really care one hoot whether a game encourages group play or not because I prefer to play solo in my MMOs. Yes, I’m one those people who insists on playing a massively multiplayer game largely on my own. That isn’t to say I never interact with other people; I enjoy running dungeons using a group finder tool, queueing for battlegrounds, and if I see someone who needs help with a mission or elite mob I’ll jump in and give them a hand. However I’m just as happy the other 90% of the time when I’m playing by myself.

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Secondly, I want to address the subject that started the conversation, which is whether or not MMOs should bother explaining the intricacies of gameplay or if that should be a matter of crowdsourced information and thus a means of fostering community. To the latter I say poppycock. Yes, it’s true that when games are confusing or complicated and require relying on other people for answers that they can bring people together because of it, but that’s just lazy. If I’m playing a new MMO I expect the game itself to provide me with all the information I need to understand what it is about and how it is to be played at least for everything required in the first ten to twenty hours of gameplay. Higher level systems can be figured out by the community but fundamental gameplay should not have to be.

That said, there are other ways to create inherent difficulty within an MMO that requires people to work together in order to overcome the challenge. Take Black Desert for instance. Ignoring the fact that it’s one of the games that does a terrible job introducing new players to the intricate systems that make it such an amazing title, even once you have figured out these systems the game does not require reliance on other people. If anything, the game’s design encourages players to go it alone. For example, during my brief time with BDO I was helping out with a guild mission one evening that was meant to be accomplished by a group. The goal was to harvest a set amount of lumber as a team, however we were all in different places on the map and we all kept the wood we personally harvested. There was nothing about it that required a group, it was basically a single player mission on a larger scale.

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What Pearl Abyss could have done to create difficulty and necessity in that situation would have been to turn the mission into a group effort requiring multiple roles. The mission could have read, “collect X units of lumber and place them in your guild warehouse within Y minutes.” To reap the rewards a guild would have to divide the work—one team to gather and a second team to haul the lumber to the warehouse. To make it even more interesting (and challenging) they could include a combat element, either PvP or PvE in which a third team would be required to protect the other two. The rewards for completion could benefit both the guild and the individuals involved so that everyone is encouraged to work together to meet the common goal. Here the difficulty is not poorly designed tutorials (or complete lack thereof) but an actual thought out system that rewards groups working together.

On the other hand, I do not want to see mechanics that punish solo play because most of the time that’s how I’m actually playing and I’m selfish like that. Tree of Savior is unfortunately one of those games that does just that with its “last hit receives the kill credit” mechanic. What this means is that I, as a slow damaging Cleric can bash a cluster of cute little pigs on their collective heads for several seconds only to have all XP and other rewards stolen from me by that Ranger who thought he was being helpful by using multi-shot. The incentive to group then is to avoid losing credit for a kill, but this approach, where solo players feel punished for being alone leads me to resent the game’s design, not relent and group up.

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However in that same MMO, dungeons are a much better example of how it should be done. Well, almost. Once you’re able to enter the first dungeon, there is a huge XP bonus for joining a random group and a smaller one for entering the dungeon as a premade. Personally, I would have done the reverse so that people are rewarded for actually talking to one another and entering together. Considering players have to physically stand next to the entrance to use the random group finder it would be fairly easy to do. But I always ignore the cries of “looking for one more” by those forming a premade group because I know the XP is better queueing alone. Regardless, the XP buff encourages me to group up with others one way or another and if something similar were applied to grouping in the open world in place of the terrible last hit mechanic, you better believe I’d be looking to join others there as well.

I know none if this is a novel approach to solving the problem, and yet there are enough examples of MMOs that fail to encourage group play at the most fundamental level that I still think it’s worth repeating. And even as someone who isn’t always looking to turn MMOs into a social affair, I would love to see MMO developers get more creative in encouraging group play. Not the lazy kind that comes from bugs and broken systems which force community out of necessity, but intelligent and intentional gameplay decisions that reward the formation of communities while allowing solo players to have their fun as well. I won’t always be first in line to participate in those community building affairs, but I would be cheering them on all the same.

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Hunting in Black Desert

Yesterday I reached level 20, which meant not only could I finally use my pet for the Tamer class but I was also given a reward for reaching that level, much like claiming the daily rewards. One of the options was a magic crystal that would increase my XP for one of the crafting skills. I recognized most of them—gathering, fishing, cooking, etc., but one of the crystals said “hunting.” Huh. Since the game is terrible at explaining how to get started in just about everything, I searched online a while to figure out what exactly it was and how to get started.

I’m glad I did because it sounds interesting and I would have never figured it out on my own. And I’m assuming others might be interested as well and equally unsure of how to get started, so I thought I’d write a simple guide.

The first thing you need to do is go to Velia and find the guild manager, Laiano Pietro. From Laiano you can rent a practice matchlock ( a hunting rifle) that you will use for two dailies to earn hunting XP.

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Location of the guild manager (you should be able to make out my character’s icon on the west side of town).

 

Once you have the matchlock, head down to the fishing docks and find a little otter-man named Crio who will give you a quest for hunting seagulls along the beach. You’ll definitely need to turn on all quests to be able to see the hunting one he offers. Equipping the musket is just like equipping a regular weapon only it makes your character walk slower and disables jump (space bar causes you to kneel down and aim instead) so you’ll want to get in position before equipping.

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Crio’s location on the docks

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From that point it’s a simple point and click shooting mini-game with moving targets. They aren’t that difficult to hit but the seagulls have to be close because the matchlock doesn’t have much range and sometimes the camera angle can make it difficult to aim your weapon but I found it worked best to just let the birds fly close to where I was aiming rather than moving around a lot to track the birds and risk the camera clipping grass or a wall. You only need to shoot two birds to complete the quest, then return to Crio for your reward and for hunting XP.

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Location of the Cattle Ranch

 

After that, you’ll want to travel down to a cattle ranch set in between Heidel and Lynch Farm Ruins. There’s a little wooden house with a villager there who will give you a quest to set up a scarecrow because the eagles are scaring his cows (uh, sure why not). Once that’s complete he will give you a second quest to hunt the eagles. This time you only need to shoot one and then you can complete it for more XP. After those first two quests I was about 83% of the way through level 3 hunting. I tried shooting more eagles to see if that would increase my hunting skill but it didn’t; only the dailies will give you XP.

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“Wait for it….”

 

Eventually you can rank up and make your own musket but I’m not sure how that works just yet. Ultimately the goal is to get your hunting skill high enough to go after whales and crocodiles. Whaling sounds interesting if I can find someone with a good boat, but I think the crocodiles are probably what I’ll go after. I don’t really know what benefit there is to hunting these things but it sounds like fun. The gathering and crafting skills in BDO seem like a huge time investments but hunting is something I can spend a little time on daily while still focusing on combat quests or playing other MMOs.

Finding My Niche in Black Desert

If you had asked me right after Daum announced the launch date for Black Desert in the NA and EU what I would be doing the week of March 1st, I would have told you, “Nothing but playing BDO of course!” I had even considered taking off work the first few days of early access so that I could really take advantage of the head start. But the beta put a damper on some of my excitement and my interest in TSW started to peak again around that same time and so in one week of having access to Black Desert I’ve only played somewhere around 9-10 hours.

During that time I was watching the pictures flood in on Twitter and the first impression pieces take center stage on my RSS feed and while I was happy that so many people were enjoying the game (and still are!) I hadn’t really found my own groove yet. It turns out, I’m not much of a sandbox guy, or at least it’s going to take me longer to ease into that new paradigm than it might for other players. Adjusting the quest tracker to display all available quests (as Matt suggested in his first BDO column) turned out to be overwhelming for me, spreading my attention too thin and making me feel like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. So Monday night I turned it back off, only allowing combat quests to display, and I’ve been enjoying the game so much more ever since.

It’s actually an excellent feature to have in the game’s UI; the ability to choose which types of quests to focus on and which to ignore. And of course in time I can change things up, switch on the life quests and turn off the combat ones, or turn them all back on again. For now it’s helped me to make the game more familiar to my previous experiences; a central story driven questline (albeit an odd one) with a lot of kill “x” mobs quests that move me from one area to the next on the map and allowing me to explore the world in an “on rails” manner, which for now I prefer.

I realize this is something along the lines of being stranded on an island for years with nothing but fish to eat and at the first opportunity to dine at a real restaurant with a myriad of choices I order… the fish. But that’s okay, because the whole point of a sandbox is that you find your niche in a world with as many options and opportunities as the developers are able to imagine and bring to life in game and then figure out how your chosen path (or paths) relate to the world and its inhabitants as a whole.

For me, that means going in to these Imp camps and laying waste to every last one of them. I like leveling up this way and it does give me Imp specific drops that I can trade for a greater return from vendors if I sell them in larger stacks so I’m still able to participate (sort of) in the economic side of the game. Eventually I’ll look into things like fishing, cooking, boatbuilding, and trading but for now I’m content to use the training wheels provided by Daum and use them to explore the world on my own terms. My terms just happen to require a lot of kill quests and hand holding, that’s all.