Category Archives: MMO Rant

How Playing MMOs Changed Me as a Gamer

The end of the year lends itself to introspection, to looking back. This year I’ve been looking back on my MMO career and reflecting on how things have changed over the years.

My oldest MMO character, my rogue, shows off her guild tabard in World of Warcraft

I’ve been playing (and writing about) MMOs for a while now. Almost ten years. Now, I know that compared to some of you, that still makes me a relative newcomer, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

And in that time, my attitude towards games has changed a lot. My experiences in MMOs have shaped who I am as a gamer, and it’s changed how I look at the entire hobby. It’s helped me to enjoy video games more.

Indulge me, if you will, as I engage in some holiday reflection and take stock of just how my time with MMORPGs has changed me as a gamer.

It Ruined Vertical Progression for Me

I think on some level I was always a little less interested in high levels and “phat lewt” than the average gamer. I play games to escape reality — to explore imaginary worlds and immerse myself in rich stories. Making my character more powerful is more a means to that end than something that I found compelling for its own sake.

Still, in the past, I had plenty of excitement for shiny new gear drops or big level dings. That was before I spent years playing MMOs, though.

When you really think about it, vertical progression like this is sort of a lie. You feel like you’re constantly getting better, that you’re evolving into something awesome, but you’re not, really. Content evolves along with you, keeping your relative power level more or less consistent no matter how hard you grind. There’s always a new challenge ahead. Improving your character’s stats isn’t a climb to the top; it’s just a treadmill. You’re always moving, but you’re never getting anywhere.

A hunter ranger character in Neverwinter takes a break from the grind

And nowhere is this more clear than in the realm of MMORPGs.

The persistent nature of MMOs makes vertical progression meaningless. You’re never finished; the integrity of the genre depends on it. The level caps keep getting raised. Today’s best in slot is tomorrow’s vendor trash. None of it means anything.

But it’s an easy way to extend the life of content, so developers just keep pushing us onto the treadmill. For me, this has just led to my becoming incredibly jaded about the whole concept. I have gotten so much sweet loot and heard so many level dings that I’ve lost my taste for the whole concept. I don’t care anymore.

Instead, it’s other rewards I seek. I still like getting new gear appearances, as building outfits helps me establish my characters’ identities. I also enjoy unlocking new abilities for the same reason. Horizontal progression, in other words. Give me more options, give me new ways to express myself in-game, not just another +3% to DPS that will be invalidated next patch.

I still have some taste for vertical progression in single-player games. It works better there because eventually you reach the point where you’re done. It’s less of a treadmill. And with less concerns about balance, single-player games can also be more dramatic in their rewards, as opposed to, again, just +3% DPS.

Still, even there, loot and levels entice me far less than they used to, and increasingly I’m finding it refreshing when games don’t have any vertical progression at all.

Most of the ways MMOs have affected my gaming are positive, but this one’s a bit more of a mixed blessing.

A department store by night in the MMO shooter The Division

On the one hand, it’s been very freeing. I no longer feel pressured to keep on par with other players, or to be the best. I don’t have to spend months grinding for the best gear. I’m happy with gear that’s merely good enough. For me, games have become much less like work and much more like, well, games.

On the other hand, I do find it frustrating to see how much developers and players still fixate on vertical progression now that I realize how pointless it is. This medium could be capable of so much more.

It Helped Me Focus on What I Like

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: MMOs are really big.

That is, of course, sort of the whole point. And for the most part it’s a good thing. We flock to MMORPGs because they offer us a breadth and depth that no other form of entertainment can.

But it can also get overwhelming. If you try to do everything there is to do in a single MMORPG, you’ll probably end up running yourself ragged and burning out. If you play multiple MMOs, doing everything is going to be pretty much impossible, at least until scientists invent a pill that replaces sleep.

It is therefore best to focus. Find the gameplay you enjoy most, figure out what your goals are, and focus on that. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t worry if you’re behind or ahead of the curve. Don’t try to keep up with the virtual Joneses. Just find what gives you joy and immerse yourself in that.

Early on in my MMO career, I felt very compelled to experience everything a game has to offer, and to play it the “right” way, but nowadays I’ve let go of a lot of that. I’m still mastering the art of saying no, but for the most part I’m much better able to focus only on playing in whatever way I enjoy the most.

My agent explores the planet Alderaan in Star Wars: The Old Republic

For example, in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I pretty much only play solo story content. I’ve tried group content and PvP in that game, but I don’t think Bioware is very good at designing either of those things, and I don’t generally enjoy them, so I stopped. I focus only on the part of the game that actually entertains me.

And the same attitude guides me throughout my gaming. I have sunk hundreds of hours into World of Warcraft, but I’ve never done a single pet battle. I played The Secret World heavily for five years and never once did any of its raids.

When it comes to single-player games, I can still be a bit of a completionist — it’s easier with a clear finish line in sight — but instead I’ve learned to better focus what games I buy. I’ve become much better at ignoring hype and trends. I’ve learned to focus on the games I know (or can safely bet) that I will enjoy.

I Learned Not to Sweat the Small Stuff

Let me tell you a story.

A few years back, World of Warcraft launched a new pet in its cash shop, the Guardian Cub. They’d been selling vanity pets for a while at this point, but the Cub was special. It could be traded, meaning players could sell it to each other for gold. This made it a form of legalized gold-selling, a sort of precursor to today’s WoW Token.

Reaction to the decision was swift and negative. Before, Blizzard had only sold vanity items, but this allowed people to directly purchase an in-game advantage.

And I was right there on the front lines, posting my angry comments on the official forums. I joined the chorus screaming, “Pay to win!”

But the feedback went ignored, and the Guardian Cub launched. And you know what happened?

Pretty much nothing.

No need to take it all so seriously

I was angry for a few weeks, but nothing whatsoever changed in my experience of the game, so eventually I forgot all about the Cub.

And this encapsulates almost every experience I’ve ever had with MMO monetization. I have a knee-jerk negative reaction, but then it fails to significantly impact me, and I move on with my life.

And after so many years of this, I’m finally starting to realize how little all of this matters. I’m no longer concerning myself with lockboxes or “pay to win.” And I’m enjoying games so much more as a result.

It’s not just about monetization schemes, either. MMOs have a great way of putting everything in perspective. Spend a few days wrestling with an uncooperative MMO server, and suddenly a few animation hiccups in Mass Effect: Andromeda don’t seem like such a big deal.

That’s not to say that you can’t criticize things. I’m a firm believer in the value of constructive criticism, and I can still be quite vocal when I have a problem with something in a game.

But it’s important to keep it all in perspective. Ask yourself how much something is really affecting you, and don’t let small things ruin your fun. There’s so much negativity in the community, and it’s so easy to get lost to cynicism, but really, there’s never been a better time to be a gamer than right now. We have so much to be grateful for. Don’t let the little things rob you of the joy of what’s out there.

* * *

What about you? How has playing MMOs changed your attitude toward gaming as a hobby?


MMO Blogging Dead? No, But…

“blogging about them [MMORPGs] doesn’t appear to be a thing any more.”

Tobold, MMORPG blogger turned general gaming blogger, created waves with this statement. It’s a testament to his legacy in the community though that he is able to create such ripples for a community he doesn’t really place himself within any longer. It sparked defense from several bloggers and a handful of readers. Many clamored that MMO blogging is far from dead, citing a wealth of posts composed every week.

The quantity of posts originating from self professed MMO blogs doesn’t necessarily point to the trade’s life or death. After all, everyone shifts their attention away from MMOs here and there. Tobold points to single player game articles on MMORPG.com as evidence of a decline in this niche field. Here at MMOBro, we too touch on single player games. Does that make this less of an MMO site? I don’t think so. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has had board game articles, but they’re still squarely a PC gaming site. The focus of topics here is still on MMO(RPG)s.

That said, it is true that there are less (if any) pure MMORPG sites out there. The answer as to why is as clear as it is subtle. The proliferation of MMO and MMO-lite games has blurred the distinction between MMOs and MMORPGs to the point where that line has all but faded away. Distant cousins of the genre like MOBAs have embraced growth and achievement mechanisms that made the genre popular in the first place. Now that players don’t have to inhabit a persistent world, nor necessarily grind for growth, MMO populations have fallen.

The reality is that it only seems that way to MMORPG purists and veterans. To everyone else in the world, Destiny occupies the same genre as World of Warcraft. And that means the genre is as healthy as ever. It’s just not restricted to PC anymore nor does it require a hundred players to occupy the same space. MMOs have always been about achievement/progression, online play, and persistent characters. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of developers – but that’s what kept people playing and led to the genre’s massive growth. Without progression, people quit and move onto something else. All of this is why our MMO games list includes a myriad of online options. MMO means different things to different people.

mmo blogging shadow of war

It may not be an MMO, but Shadow of War really feels like one.

All of this trickles down to single player gaming as well. MMOs continue to lay the ground work for addictive feedback loops. Only playing players pay, so developers focus on creating content that keeps players busy without drifting into boredom. You can see these loops implemented into AAA single player titles like Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. The developers for those games spent so much time copying those loops that they even added loot boxes, but that’s another discussion entirely.

This trickling effect isn’t a one way street though. Features from single player games regularly make their way into MMOs. Perhaps the most compelling of such features is rich, linear stories. Final Fantasy XIV arguably boasts the best storytelling in series history. Most of the game’s story can be experienced without any other players. Despite this solo focus, we don’t look at Final Fantasy XIV as less of an MMO. To many, it’s the best of its kind on the market.

This is why we can’t assess MMOs in a vacuum anymore. Gaming genre definitions have and will continue to blur. What makes an MMO an MMO, an RPG an RPG, and so forth no longer applies in any strict sense. Genre names are only starting points for us to find a product that will fulfill that which we’re seeking. Many video games can provide the same sensations as MMOs and vice versa. Because of that, I think it’s critical that MMO bloggers in fact do not wholly focus on MMO content. The only way bloggers, journalists, and writers can fully explore the genre is by stepping outside of it.

MMO blogging isn’t dead. It’s just evolved.


Lowered Health Pools – More Fun?

I have some strong feelings about (most) MMORPG health pools. And like any good opinion, it can be summed up with a meme:

mmorpg health pools meme

MMORPG health pools have grown to absurd propositions. DPS meters clear a million easy. More precisely, World of Warcraft’s top damage dealer serves out 1.5 million damage per second. World of Warcraft’s DPS currency resembles a country suffering from hyper inflation, and like a such a country, it’s hard to take seriously. High health enemies require monotonous ability usage to down. High health characters negate any semblance of combat intensity. Simple calculations give way to mandatory use of online tools to decipher true net effects. Gameplay starts revolving around bigger and bigger numbers, leaving little room for anything else.

The benefit of large health pools is that it’s easier for developers to balance. Boiling everything down to a few numbers rather than fine tuning systems takes a lot less effort and allows for more fractional balance changes. That’s noteworthy – so I’m not saying smaller health pools is easy to implement.

I’m simply suggesting that there’s a lot to be gained by taking the path less traveled. D&D has balanced around small health pools for decades. Some of the positive side effects of such a system can be found in games like (not surprisingly) Dungeons & Dragons Online.

5 Reasons to Lower Health Pools

1) Easier to understand and mentally calculate the effects of abilities, talents, items.

2) More room on the screen for things that aren’t ten digit numbers.

3) Forces developers to move into damage mitigation, which opens up more diverse play styles.

4) Ramps up intensity and sensation of danger (whether artificially or not) when every hit point actually means something.

5) Higher hit points tend to result in longer, repetitive fights. MMORPG battles stay interesting until you “solve” them. On average, I would expect lowered MMORPG hit points to lead to faster battles and fewer slogs.

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do it

The main reason high health pools are “in” is because it’s simply less time consuming for developers. This frees up man hours to create more content, which is the current big selling point for maintaining active players. Personally, I’d rather see more time devoted towards a better base system. The content gap can be filled by procedural generation and emergent narrative structures.

Expansions and DLC are usually the primary culprits for numerical inflation. It’s easy to grasp that higher damage, healing, health, etc. is better. Sticking to a low health pool system necessitates developing less obvious character progressions. Horizontal progression is one option (pick the right tools for the fight), but damage mitigation is absolutely paramount regardless of the progression type. Unfortunately, most damage mitigation systems devolve into an obtuse Diablo style resistance system.

Again, tabletop RPGs like D&D offer a neat outline for engineering these solutions. Tabletop games are forced to work with smaller numbers, and there are some pretty cool lesser known RPGs out there like Iron Kingdoms. I know if I had millions of dollars to develop a new MMORPG, I’d spend a few hundred of that on tabletop player handbooks for market research.

At the end of the day, it’s about creating a product that maximizes fun. When choosing between high health pools and low health pools, the latter exhibits so much more potential.

 


Emergent Storytelling Reigns Supreme

This is a collaborative post debating merits of emergent storytelling vs. static storytelling between yours truly and Roger from Contains Moderate Peril. After reading this, make sure to check out his side of the debate!

When it comes to MMOs, emergent storytelling is king.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good static story. The choice driven narrative in The Witcher series is as compelling as the linear experience of The Last of Us. For a single player game, it’s still the way to go. Emergent storytelling is improving for single player games like future XCOM-like releases, but they still pale compared to a hand-crafted story. The reason for this is single player games lack the human component. We’re still not close to AI that can mimic humans. But if there’s one thing that existing MMOs don’t lack it’s people. It makes the genre what it is.

Think about the most memorable stories in MMORPG history. Lord British’s assassination in Ultima Online. Felling the Sleeper in EverQuest. World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague. Eve Online’s heist (and basically everything else in that game). For MMO-lites, Rust has long been a source of entertaining stories. These events are so special that they transcend the worlds from which they originate. The common denominator between them is players using (perhaps abusing) the game system in unforeseen ways.  You literally can’t make this stuff up. That’s the potential of emergent storytelling.

emergent story eve heist

It’s true that to fully experience emergent stories, you need to be there when the event occurs. For the regular person, that’s not feasible. Gamers also work or go to school and can’t be available for something cool that’s happening in a video game. Fear of missing out affects a lot of people, given how many choices we have for entertainment. Playing a game where that’s a constant threat can be stressful. The flip side is that every login, it’s possible you will experience something memorable and unique. Maybe you’ll even be the one to initiate it. There’s no end to the storytelling in an open-ended system. Contrast that with a static story that will eventually end, and I think it makes the risk of “missing out” completely worth it.

Most of the events also tend to revolve around loss of some kind. Eve Online makes news based on espionage or massive wars, leading to the loss of property for players. Even the family friendly World of Warcraft’s most newsworthy happenings revolved around a nasty plague and disrupting a funeral. These are the things that make headlines – but I think that’s because MMORPGs have largely relied on PvP for emergent gameplay thus far. Non-MMO multiplayer games, like Minecraft, have demonstrated that players can impress us with cooperation as much as with conflict. Unfortunately, MMORPGs in that realm (like Landmark) haven’t made it very far. And in terms of PvE gameplay, public quests in games like Guild Wars 2 and Rift have been too predictable.

Ultimately, there is a lot to be gained by emergent gameplay. The point of the above is to show that thus far developers haven’t gone far enough with it. World of Warcraft blew everything up with its focus on solo play and quests. MMORPGs are expensive to produce so that’s been the blueprint for a decade. Thanks to the beauty of crowdfunding though, developers can now take risks to differentiate. MMORPGs like Star Citizen, Crowfall, and Chronicles of Elyria will (hopefully) deliver some exciting emergent options.

star citizen emergent gameplay

The core element is focusing on freedom of choice. I realize that’s easier said than done. The balancing element that also narrows the scope is consequence. Everything is possible, but everything has a price. It’s from this choice and consequence that people create these memorable narratives. Whether MMORPG developers like it or not, people play pivotal roles in storytelling both by their absence and their presence.

1) Absence – AI is predictable. Predictability does not lead to good stories. Good static stories circumvent this through scripted events to weave their tale. The problem is that these events work in isolation. When players are running around the world, that changes the experience in unseen ways. The absence of real players is usually critical for the storyteller to deliver their goods as intended. But MMORPGs are not solo affairs. Why focus on stories best experienced alone when the medium itself is built around multiplayer?

2) Presence – Humans are anything but predictable, especially when relatively minor consequences and internet anonymity gets thrown into the mix. MMORPGs should use this to their advantage. I’d argue that playing Eve Online is boring at best, but experiencing Eve Online’s multiple PvP systems is thrilling. Give players the tools, and they’ll create history. Again, just look at the massive success that is Minecraft and all of its copycats. Whether it’s building and destroying or cooperating and conflicting, it’s the people that make the MMO genre what it is.

Even language itself changes in unintended ways thanks to the players. MMO first timers might be overwhelmed by all of the genre’s jargon. It can feel practically like a foreign language. What’s cool is how this language naturally evolves to create terms or abbreviations that didn’t exist prior. Language may not be flashy, but altering the way we communicate fascinates me. And we have MMO players to thank for that.

I’ll close saying that games like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars: The Old Republic offer good stories, but I’ve never seen them talked up besides from those who have experienced them. By contrast, I do see single player stories talked up. That’s all because it’s a strength of that focused medium. I say leave static storytelling to those single player games and push MMOs to invest in systems that allow players to tell their own stories and build their own legends. MMOs were built for emergent storytelling.

Like any good debate though, there’s always another side to the story. Check out Roger’s discussion in favor of static storytelling at Contains Moderate Peril.


The Greater Evil: Gold Sellers or Toxic Players?

As MMORPGs have carved out their sizable hole in the video game industry, they’ve attracted all sorts of scrupulous folks. One of those is the third party gold seller. Black markets for real money transactions have been around since Ultima Online. Back then people used eBay to sell gold for real money. This eventually evolved into China (and others) creating jobs out of farming in-game currency to resell it. These real world monetary ties have been only further enforced through items like lockboxes. Now every MMORPG (especially the free to play MMOs) are filled with bots spamming chats with gold selling services or occupying grind spots to make more gold to sell you.

Along with the prevalence of RMT, the sheer size of MMORPG communities have created another type of nuisance: toxic players. Reputation just doesn’t matter as much as it used to when MMORPG communities were tighter knit and games necessitated player interaction to accomplish anything. The risk accompanying trolling or harassing players affected behavior when it meant real penalties. EverQuest players would blackball trolls from groups and Ultima Online players could straight up kill you and loot your belongings. Now that MMO anonymity reigns supreme, with things like pugs comprising most of the grouping content in MMOs and an increase in dispensable characters through fast leveling, the average player is more likely to make a mom joke than help you learn the ropes. Nobody wants to be cursed out or harassed during their wind down time, but toxic players just don’t care who they hurt.

Gold sellers and toxic players. Both thorns in the side of the silent majority MMORPG player, but who is worse?

The Case Against Gold Sellers

Chat Spam

“Go to w w w . hax0rz-gold-place . i o to get 1,000 gp for $1 SPECIALS 24 HOURS ONLY BUY NOW!!!! Whipser me!!”

Surely you’ve seen something similar to the above. Surely you’ve seen it paint an entire chat log. When $1 buys you an hour’s worth of work in gathering gold, it’s no wonder people turn to gold sellers. While I don’t blame buyers for eliminating grinding from their MMO diet, the unfortunate consequence is that gold sellers need to plaster their services everywhere to get noticed by those buyers. Even people I know who buy gold block the spam from their chats, but new names and accounts pop up everyday. It’s not like it’s hard to do when they’re all…

Bots, Bots, Bots

There used to be a time when men were men. Now men are bots, at least those farming for gold. Nothing makes a world feel more hollow than watching a train of supposed players slaying monsters with robotic rhythm. It also cheapens the entire experience seeing that your job could be finished by a handful of scripts.

Pay to Win

MMORPGs with a heavy PvP slant can see competitive balance completely upturned by gold sellers. Let’s be real, actual player skill level is a fraction of one’s prowess. The bread and butter of strength for the vast majority of MMORPGs lies in spending time just playing the game. Paying gold sellers in certain ecosystems can result in power spikes that would be impossible otherwise. Of course, some companies don’t even need gold sellers to ruin competitive balance. Developers can usually find a way to keep massive monetary infusions from ruining their game (like bind on pickup items in World of Warcraft).

The Case Against Toxic Players

Insults

If something goes wrong, there’s a good chance somebody is going to blow a fuse. There’s an even higher chance that the target of their ire isn’t going to be themselves but someone else in the group. That’s when bitter insults get flung across the virtual chat logs at whoever the insulter is placing the blame on. But that’s besides the point. Nobody messes up on purpose (well, not true, but we’ll get to that). Insults ruin the experience for everyone – either the group needs to boot out the offender and wait for a replacement or suffer angry banter for the next hour.

Trolling

Then there are the people who get their jollies from purposefully playing poorly or antagonizing with the express purpose to agitate. This may be a reaction from another group member dropping the ball or a perceived slight against them for whatever reason. Trolls can sometimes provide a fun counter to the bitter insulter types, but that’s rarely the case. Instead they usually put all of their effort not just into degradation but to actively cause failures. No chat filter in the world can save you from that.

Social Contract

An old philosophical theory, the social contract represents an implicit agreement among members for a society to cooperate for social benefits. In the context of MMORPGs, this means more levels and more loot. While some developers are diving into anti-social multiplayer games, MMORPGs still remain largely about inclusion. In my opinion, this social contract is one of the top reasons why the genre is so strong. When somebody refuses to cooperate, their sending a message that society is so broken we should just play the game by ourselves.

Who Loses?

I’m certainly not going to argue gold sellers or toxic players are good for MMORPG communities. We’ve even posted some practical solutions for lowering toxicity. There’s only so much that can be done though. Policing toxic players past a certain point is going to get innocents into the mix and result in even less communicative games. At that point, I’m done with the genre. I don’t play MMORPGs to measure by item level rankings against other players. Meanwhile, gold sellers can be restricted by gaming systems that ensure the player meet some requirements themselves before being able to fully make use of the gold.

So with that, I have to conclude that toxic players are far worse for MMORPGs than gold sellers.


Is Trion Worlds Really Pay to Win?

This article was updated on December 8, 2017 primarily to reflect changes made to Rift that have impacted my analysis on Trion Worlds as a whole.

Trion Worlds has acquired a bit of a reputation as a pay to win company. For every game they launch, I see questions on forums and social media asking if the game is pay to win. Some don’t even get that far. Angry gamers scream, “it’s Trion, not gonna play that p2w trash!” Are these feelings justified? Surely some of it must be. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, after all. But are people just falling in line with the hive mind? Could anonymous gamers, known primarily for their thoughtful and rational analysis, be overreacting?

Welcome to the internet, where anything is possible.

I’m going to break down the most commonly faulted cash shopss in each of Trion Worlds free to play games. I’ll judge just how pay to win it makes each of these MMOs based on the criteria at the bottom of this article. The answer may surprise you (though perhaps not in the way you think).

ArcheAge

archeage cash shop

This is where the biggest pay to win talk stems from for Trion. People are filled with such hatred for how ArcheAge has been handled, they’ll twist words to infer Trion even admits running a p2w game. If you follow that link, read some comments too. People hate Trion Worlds. For all of the talk about how pay to win Archeage is though, people rarely cite any specific examples. As any good bro would do, I’ll set you down with the cold, hard truth.

The cash shop doesn’t sell a magic “win” button. There’s no one item that will super power your character, but there are items that are absolutely necessary to progress in the endgame. One of the best real money purchases are high quality upgrades. These items can in turn be sold on the general auction house for large sums of gold. In ArcheAge, gold can be used to obtain pretty much all of the best gear, vehicles, housing, etc. The endgame is fairly time insensitive (nice speak for grindy) so paying real money and converting to gold through the public market is not an insignificant boost. Additionally, crafting is pretty much a disaster without paying for a subscription. Players are restricted by labor points for crafting type activities, which not only generate twice as fast for subscribers but also generate while offline.

Yes – it’s an advantage for a subscription. I’m not going to call that pay to win though, especially because it can be purchased with in game gold. Subscriptions are limiting and not as open for abuse. The problem lies in the relationship between ArcheAge’s cash shop and it’s auction house. Players can literally become as powerful as the cash they spend. $1,000 is way more valuable than a year of average play time. It’s simply unrealistic to survive a grind to the top without real money help. The combination of selling both cash shop items for gold and endgame gear for gold is another serious concern. ArcheAge has a lot of cool things going for it, but if you expect to seriously compete in PvP, don’t expect to do it for free.

Verdict: Pay to Win

Atlas Reactor

This is the game Trion haters don’t want you to know about. The publisher took a while deciding how to monetize their best in house product since Rift. Fortunately, the solution they chose was the right one.

Atlas Reactor is free simultaneous turn based game with a weekly rotation of free characters. The freelancers (characters) are like League of Legends champions in terms of unique abilities. Instead of a 30 minute real time MOBA, Atlas Reactor is a 10 minute turn based tactical team death match. The weekly rotation can include any freelancer, and they’re fairly well balanced. Free players can also acquire cosmetic rewards by playing. Purchasing the game gets you every character, faster cosmetic rewards, and ranked play. At $30, it’s also a lot cheaper than buying the full roster for League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. However, there is no way for free players to acquire new freelancers without paying that one time fee. Still, it’d be nuts to call Atlas Reactor pay to win. There’s absolutely zero vertical scaling of power to buy.

Verdict: Not Pay to Win

Defiance

Defiance cash shop

Trion Worlds really wanted Defiance to succeed as a pure subscription game, possibly to get away from the pay to win moniker. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. For a time, everything was going well. Then it seemed like Trion wanted to milk Defiance for everything they could.

Defiance’s pay to win structure doesn’t jump out at you initially. The game is fun at first, with a good deal of steady progression. Eventually the grind will set in, and you’ll look for how to speed up progression outside of events. The fastest and easiest way is turning to the cash shop …maybe. You see, the cash shop in Defiance includes the chance to acquire legendary guns on par with top tier free items. Buying the best gear in the game is pretty crappy, but gambling for it is even worse. At least there isn’t a ton more than that in the pay to win department.

Verdict: Kinda Pay to Win

Devilian

Trion’s free Diablo clone felt like a winner when I first played it. The intro mission starts off with a bang, and there’s a nice slew of quests to run through. Combat isn’t special but felt solid for a hack and slash. Then the high level grind reared it’s ugly head with only one legitimate means to combat it: spending money. It’s technically possible to get everything in the game for free and catch up to older/paid players. It’s just that in practice it’s absurd to dedicate your entire life to it. And that’s exactly what it would take.

The marketing speak says paying for gem refinements to advance gear is paying for convenience. It’s not. It’s paying to stand a chance and play with the big boys. Devilian is one of those games that gets you hooked on a fun 10-20 hours and slowly tests your resolve to continue progressing without spending money on cash shop advances. Do you throw away a character you spent hours on without seeing the endgame? Or do you pay some money to make a boring grindfest somewhat more palatable? Devilian does everything they can to steer you to the latter.

Verdict: Pay to Win

Rift

Rift cash shop

This is the MMORPG that started it all. Rift was one of those heralded “WoW Killers” back in the day. It turned out to be more of a “WoW deviation”, copying a lot of WoW’s gameplay with it’s own twists. It played uniquely enough with its multiclass soul system to be worthwhile on that alone. For a long time after it went free to play, many viewed it as the MMO doing it right. Then ArcheAge came along and people were clamoring for heads to roll. Did Rift actually get worse or was this simply ArcheAge hate spilling over?

There was a time not so long ago when only paid players could use earring. Yep – an entire equipment slot blocked off from use without paying money. That’s pretty inexcusable and reeks of greed. That’s been fixed, and Trion Worlds has reverted to the same system as always – charging for content. The three things paid players will want are a subscription (increases money gains), expansions (needed to level up past a certain point), and souls/callings (classes). None of these grant instant, unearned power and most importantly, none of it is scalable. Players can’t skip to godly levels of strength without putting in the time. To me, that’s the most important qualification to avoid pay to win.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say Rift is truly free to play. To hit max level, players will eventually need need to spend money for high level content. It might make Rift’s free mode more of a demo, but it doesn’t make it pay to win. However, over the past year Trion has been adding more and more content that lets paying players surpass what free players can reasonably accomplish. As such, I’ve bumped Rift from its initial scoring of “Kinda Not Pay to Win” to “Kinda Pay to Win”.

Verdict: Kinda Pay to Win

Trove

Trove is sort of Minecraft meets standard MMORPG. Not being a big fan of builders, I’ve only played for a bit. Rest assured that during my short span there was plenty of pay to win discussion. Those clamoring to proclaim “pay to win” seemed to be resting on the laurels that everything should be free. The way Trove makes money isn’t perfect, but is it pay to win?

Players can purchase classes, cosmetics, and faster progression. No class is inherently better so that’s no big deal. Cosmetics are always fine for free to play monetization. Faster progression is the concern, and it is noticeable. However, it’s a subscription fee and thus isn’t scalable. Free players won’t ever hit a paywall in Trove, but paid players get to bypass the mindless high level grinding. No matter what though, players at the top have to work to get there. The best items in the game aren’t purchasable like in ArcheAge so even if somebody had some monetary assistance, at least you know they earned it.

Verdict: Kinda Not Pay to Win

Final Verdict

All in all, Trion Worlds trends towards pay to win. Let’s take a step back and look at the developers of the game, rather than the publisher.

Kinda Pay to Win or Worse:

  • AcheAge – developed by XL Games
  • Devilian – developed by Bluehole Ginno Games
  • Defiance – developed by Trion Worlds and Human Head
  • Rift – developed by Trion Worlds

Kinda Not Pay to Win or Better

  • Trove – developed by Trion Worlds
  • Atlas Reactor – developed by Trion Worlds

Notice a pattern? If not, I’ll spell it out. The games where Trion Worlds is fully in control are the games that lean towards a fairer system. Trion certainly isn’t perfect with their own IPs (Rift’s earrings), but they certainly respond better. Why is this? Maybe Trion Worlds takes on deals other publishers don’t want and so are beholden to third party developers’ greedy demands. Maybe they are at bad at negotiating with developers when adding cash shop items. Maybe they simply don’t care and get greedy with their third party games games. All I know is that I’m going to feel a lot better about diving into Trion Worlds games made solely by Trion themselves.

Unfortunately, since initially writing this article it seems that Rift has started diving into more and more p2w indulgences. The above paragraph still has some merit. Rift went a long time without succumbing to pay for gear indulgences, so I wouldn’t rule out playing a future Trion MMORPG. I’d just keep a stringent eye on developer practices to keep them honest.