Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More From the Heroes of the Storm Technical Alpha

Cooperative PVE in Blizzard's technically upcoming MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, has quietly taken a high spot in my gaming rotation due to the game's polish and familiar faces. 

I got into the "technical alpha" for Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm MOBA back in June and promptly did not play it.  Given a business model in which matches played translated into characters unlocked, it made little sense to play before the beta reset.  The game remains technically in alpha despite a functioning cash shop and allegedly over 2 million concurrent users during my gaming hours, but Blizzard announced earlier this month that hero and skin purchases and unlocks will be permanent. 

Yes, the chat claims there are 2,000,000 players online.  This has to be both the biggest "alpha test" in software history and the biggest abuse of the term "alpha test".
The game has largely met my expectations.  Compared to League of Legends, the game is more cooperative - your team has a shared level, so you never risk hampering your team by damaging foes and thus "stealing" experience or resources.  You unlock talents at fixed team levels without the need to return to your base hub to spend time shopping - and opening the door for a team to hit level 10 mid-battle and suddenly bust out a bunch of newly unlocked heroic abilities. 

Collectively, I play this game much like I play Marvel Heroes - the maps are the same but my approach to the maps is different depending on who I am playing.  The huge advantage of setting the world among Blizzard's various properties that the characters are already established - they look and sound like they should so even in the space of a few lines, ability animations, etc, you can recognize and appreciate that you're playing a familiar face. 

Business Model
My current roster
The business model will be familiar to League of Legends and Marvel Heroes players, but with a few quirks. 
  • Players will have access to a weekly rotation of 5-7 heroes (the final two are available at higher account levels, and typically have more complicated kits) for free, and earn currency that can be used to unlock characters permanently.  One possible issue for people looking to jump in with their friends is that this roster is applied to the entire game, so you and your friends will be stuck with exactly those five characters on your first play sessions. 
  • You can pay between $4-10 to unlock characters immediately, with better "exchange rate" compared to in-game gold for the more expensive heroes (and a huge premium for brand new releases).  
  • There are hefty one-time bonuses for your first few account levels (so you can unlock at least one character and be less at the mercy of the weekly rotation) and for trying each character to account level 5 (to encourage you to do so).  
  • Beyond these, Blizzard is very likely tuning gold gain, which is currently very heavily slanted to daily quests.  These quests effectively offer up 100 bonus gold per match for playing a certain type or franchise of hero, compared to 10-30 base gold depending on the game mode and whether you win.  Very rewarding to log in once a day (or every 2-3 days, as you can hold up to three dailies in your quest log) for an hour, significantly less rewarding to continue playing after you've cashed in.  
  • At the moment, it looks like you can expect to unlock a new hero every month or so depending on which price bracket you are aiming at, which is not bad.  
Blizzard is also offering some bundles, which can be a good way to establish a baseline stable of heroes to run your daily quests with.  I put $43 into the game when the tech alpha reset happened to snag some limited time offers.  The current bundles aren't that impressive but I assume that more promotions will happen as the game is actually open to the public.  

The shop also includes cosmetic skins, most of which are $10 though some are as low as $5 or as high as $15.  Cosmetic mounts are also available for $10-20.  That said, Blizzard has an unusual number of free visual options, including color variants for every skin and mount in the game (unlocked free with character experience) and exclusive gold-only cosmetic skins to sink some of that gold so that players will pay for heroes with cash instead. 

There are definitely some bugs left to sort out - for example, losing a cooperative match awards no money or exp and does not display a match results screen so you can determine how you did - but overall this game is looking solidly like what we would have called a beta before marketing people killed that term.  For the moment, I am logging in whenever I have daily quests available, and sometimes playing beyond that.  Given my calendar and the fact that I haven't really stuck with a MOBA in the past, this is relatively high praise. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Playing on Their Schedule

Syp has posted his latest action plan for fitting four separate MMO's into a week.  I don't have anything so specific - no one is expecting multiple weekly columns about different MMO's from me - but I am starting to arrive at a decision tree of sorts for my MMO time.  For better or worse, non-subscription titles combined with daily/weekly/monthly quest rewards often leave a clear-cut choice for my limited gaming time. 

My decision tree (in rough order starting from 30 seconds total in front of a computer all day, down the list as time permits):
  1. Log into Marvel Heroes to collect the daily login bonus (+1 daycount towards exclusive pets, team-ups, and other goodies). May immediately log out depending on which of the below is available. 
  2. Log into Neverwinter once daily for 2-3 minutes to invoke (+1 token towards an epic quality healer companion at the end of a year) and send my profession minions off to farm cash store currency for me.  If possible, check the web portal roughly twelve hours later to refresh completed missions. I've bought an account-wide cash store mount this way, time will tell if all this farming eventually pays off in actually playing the game itself.
  3. Time-critical content (will be gone or massively harder forever, may need daily attention).  Last week, that meant several loose ends in Pandaria that I feared would be prohibitive after the patch; in particular, I pushed to finish all of the of the Siege of Ogrimmar LFR wings once so I could say I'd done them, as I feared this could be a huge mess after the patch due to nerfs to "smart" healing abilities.  
  4. Time-sensitive content (typically not unique/not gone forever, but significantly more valuable to play this game at this time).  Last week, this meant the Heroes of the Storm Alpha, which was offering double experience.  I could also see Heroes of the Storm occupying some time every 2-3 days due to how its daily quest rewards and weekly rotation work. Some of Marvel Heroes' weekly events qualify because I like either the event or the rewards.  A monthly visit to the Darkmoon Faire if I have a WoW subscription active falls into this category. 
  5. Other content.  Marvel Heroes has typically fit in here, but this accounts for less of my time as I finish leveling more and more of the game's playable characters.  Expansions - WoW? Rift? would fit here.  I.e. anything else that would ordinarily fit under the category of playing the games normally.
  6. Oh right, I have a blog that I used to post on, don't I?  Funny how you don't get this far down the list when you have a toddler.  See also, not getting around to new MMO launches.
Most of these trends have been around for a while now, and there are definitely days where I feel like some daily incentive is pushing too hard in the direction of having to play a certain type of content a certain way.  Then again, I suppose there are days when having a good idea of the most valuable use of my time can help dodge decision paralysis from having too many options.  It is what it is. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pay Not To Play, Revan Style

"The sad truth with SWTOR is that I'd pay Bioware a fair amount of money - possibly as much as I've spent on the game during sporadic subscriptions - if they just removed the gameplay and offered an interactive movie version of the story in which my character just wins all the fights after I've chosen my dialog.  I suppose double exp is the next best thing in that at least I don't have to do any side quests, but this also does NOT motivate me to get back into the game when the exp drops back down to the normal rate."
- Me, back in March
Bioware has launched SWTOR's latest expansion pre-sale campaign with an odd pre-order exclusive - pay to get out of playing anything but your class story. Customers who pre-purchase the digital expansion for $20 and ALSO subscribe to the technically subscription-optional title will gain more than 12 times the usual rate of experience from their class story missions.  The boosted missions grant enough experience to reach the maximum level of 55 without doing any side-missions, PVP, dungeons, or other content to supplement their experience gain. 

Bioware's decision to offer eight distinct class stories - each with writing, production, and acting costs to rival a reasonably sized game - added significantly to SWTOR's notoriously high budget.  The investment largely failed to pay off, as players burned through the one-eighth of the story content available to their characters inside of a month and canceled their then-mandatory subscriptions.  The concept of movie-quality stories for each additional character sounded nice in principle, but in practice I was never able to get excited about taking characters to the same worlds in the same order to do (or work around) the same planetary storylines - sometimes with classes that played similarly - just to eventually earn a minute or two of conversation towards the class story plot. 

And thus the compromise - you still cannot get out of playing at least some SWTOR to see the story, but you can get out of playing most of SWTOR.  Only trouble is, that may still be more SWTOR than I'm willing to play, much less pay for.  Such is the peril of marketing NOT playing your title.