The Long History of Twinking & Soulbinding

Twinking is not really a thing anymore in modern MMOs, so I think it is worth explaining exactly what twinking is. Twinking is when you give lower level characters, whether your alts or friends, high level gear in order to give the lower level character an advantage in moving through the game.

In early MMOs, this was a big problem because higher level characters had more money, had more gear and had stuff to spare to give the lower level characters so this was easy for them. The problem for the game though is that it tends to ruin the power curve. Games are designed to take X amount of time to get from point A to point B and MMOs in particular are being designed to stretch out the amount of time it takes for players to get bored. They don’t want a player’s attention for a month or two…. they want it for a few years straight.

The initial method in which to stop twinking was actually the most effective, but not flawless. That was… the level requirement (and sort of class requirements… not that an item was limited to only certain classes, but that only 1 class could use an item). The level requirement is pretty simple… you have a powerful late game weapon, you make it have a requirement that it can only be used by late game players by adding a requirement that the player needs to be at the level cap in order to use it. This solves the extreme version of twinking pretty easily.

Now this method does actually kind of break immersion… if I know how to use swords, there’s really no difference between swords, they are all pretty much the same. This isn’t entirely true, of course… but the differences in swords are minute and have more to do with different types of swords than specific swords… for instance if you know how to use a Rapier, you may not know how to use a Great Sword… but that’s extreme. There are also minor differences to builds within the same class, but even so, you might have a minor disadvantage when first getting used to the sword but once you do, you’ll be fine.

It’s interesting to note that there have been methods to merge the level req with a more immersive and natural behavior. The first that I can think of is Dark Age of Camelot, which allowed players to use items higher than their level but the item was under-powered until you hit the weapon’s level… this actually kind of sounds like what I said in the previous paragraph, that was unintentional. I can’t remember if it was also DAoC or another game, but another concept has been to have durability go down faster if you were below the required level, which is a similar concept just done a different way.

The problem is, it doesn’t solve it completely. Not all items are the same even if the requirements are. If you have have 100 levels, and you are max level but want to help a level 5 player out so that they have an easier time…. it’s quite easy to buy them level 5 super rare super powerful items that aren’t easy for them to get due to rarity. So twinking generally still happens.

This lead to the birth of soulbinding. Soulbinding is when an item can only be used by the character it is soulbound to, and this soulbinding usually occurs on the character acquiring the item (though there are games, such as GW2, that has some items soulbound on use). This method instantly takes away twinking… because… obviously you can’t give the powerful items to other players. I believe (though could be wrong) that this idea originated with EverQuest, but was expanded upon with newer MMOs and even within EQ. Originally, it tended to only get done on super rare items and quest items, but the idea of soulbinding has expanded exponentially. There has also been an addition of Account Bound since its inception, meaning that you can trade it between characters within the same account.

I do think that the idea of soulbinding has been expanded upon for a reason other than to stop twinking to be honest. It has become a staple largely to help deal with the high level economy. The problem modern MMOs have is that because there is no durability and no death penalty in most games, there is no way for items to be removed from the game. Raising level cap fixes this issue… but that creates an issue of forcing developers to create a lot of in game content in order to appease all the players at a now higher level. The problem here is that players tend to move faster than developers. I know in WoW… players tend to reach the new level cap within a week (oftentimes days)… now it may take them a month or two past that to start getting the best gear. But once they get that gear they can start twinking other players with the best gear who now also can start twinking other players when they start getting duplicates and so forth. Soooo soulbinding to the rescue. A hardcore player may be able to get the best gear in the game rapidly, but they are going to punish themselves instead of the developers for that so that other players will still need to work for it, giving the developers far more time before the remaining 95% of the player population starts receiving their max gear.

There is, of course, a negative side to soulbinding gear in this fashion. And that’s player interaction. While twinking, overall, is a negative when done prolifically, it isn’t necessarily all bad. Players generally don’t just give each other their best gear, they sell it more often. Generally, straight up giving is held for guildmates and friends. And in reality, this is what an economy actually is… buying and selling things. By soulbinding everything, a game is getting created where the level economy and the boredom economy is taking precedence over the actual economy. And if I’m going to be honest, there are actual players out there who are more interested in the actual economy.

There is also the case for gold farming… by making items soulbound, gold farmers cannot farm high value items and sell them as easily and thus flood the market with those items. But there are better options at dealing with gold farmers and the reality is that game development companies just don’t want to. As evidenced by the fact that gold farmers still very much exist and are as prevalent as ever, and game developers stopped dealing with them completely outside of adding more and more soulbound items.

What I’m trying to say is that, switching to a system that relies heavily on soulbinding in order to stop twinking, keep players interested because they have to actually get their gear, and help prevent gold farmers… is yet another system that is going into place that interrupts player interaction in a negative way. And ultimately, the genre is COMPLETELY built around player interaction. There’s a ton of systems that have been added to the modern MMORPG that has disrupted player interactions, and this one is actually rather minor unless taken to an extreme. But it is an avenue all the same and does have negative repercussions that, I would argue, are actually MORE difficult to fix than the actual issues you are trying to fix by adding in soulbinding in the first place. You could, theoretically, just add another way to force players to interact in its place, but it would likely feel more forced and players resent being forced to interact. And really, nobody is doing this because it feels like more and more in the genre, all they are trying to build are single player games with a built in chat room.

Few games have gotten even close to UO in terms of tradeskills

Even past the ‘interactions” concept, making the most powerful items in the game soulbound, completely borks the idea of tradeskills. It continues to amaze me that game development companies continue to include tradeskills in their games while putting in such low effort into making them work, and more often then not making them specifically not work. Instead, because of something like soulbinding, we often end up with generic tradeskills that must be done by players themselves, rather than buying a tradeskill player’s goods as is supposed to be the case.

I will say that, I am not against soulbinding in general… and I’m certainly not against level requirements. I actually think a lot of early soulbinding usage was appropriate. If game devs build in a system in which to get legendary gear that takes a character a long time to acquire and these items are supposed to be the hallmarks of a character’s life… it’s totally appropriate to soulbind that item. I also have concepts in my brain to allow the player to choose soulbinding as a way to pay off positive attributes on their items, which I may or may not get into at a later date. I feel like soulbinding has its place, but it needs to be considered when it is used as it really does take away fun from the game to do it.

So I want to go into a little more how Guild Wars 2 is addressing this because I think that GW2 is proving to be an extreme case of soulbinding in particular. I also want to go into some thoughts that I have on what I would do in order to combat some of these issues without delving into the usual methods. But I feel that this post is long enough, so I’m going to split these into two other posts that will be released in the future. I think this is actually going to be something I do going forward… I will have one post giving a background of a concept and give arguments as to why I like or dislike certain aspects, follow up with a case study of the concept (good or bad), and then followup again with my thoughts on what could be done in a potential game.

MMO State of Mind

MMORPGs are really the genre of my heart. While I do love RPGs and strategy games, I always want to return to MMOs and hope to find something to sink years into and find new friends to chat with. It is a genre I feel so strongly about that for over 15 years I have been designing my own MMORPG in my head and on paper just for my own mental play and have even written articles on this blog about my thoughts. I have considered at many points creating my own on my own and have made minor attempts at it through the years in various ways.

Yet looking at this blog, I haven’t mentioned MMO’s for 3 years… an article where I talk about FFXIV… before that… 2012… where I talk about upcoming MMOs that looked interesting (only Elder Scrolls Online really worked out and I never played it)…. and it has seemingly been about 10 years since I really talked seriously about MMOs from a design/analytical standpoint.

Part of this, I realize, is that over the last 5 to 10 years, I really just have vacated the blog sphere entirely. Life etc… The other part of it is that I have also almost completely vacated the MMO genre due to the WoWification of it. The FFXIV spurt of articles that I wrote came because I was really jonesing for the genre so I went to the best available game, which fortunately or unfortunately was FFXIV.

Since about… August… I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2. I have played this game periodically on and off since near launch. I think the most the game has ever hit for me previously was the 3 to 4 month timeframe. I did take a break from GW2 for about 4 to 6 weeks over December and January, but I seem to be back in… We are now sitting at probably… 8 or 9 months of play which is fairly substantial for me these days.

So this coupled with the recent announcement that GW2 will get a third expansion and so I’ve been contemplating things I’d like to see in the game for that expansion, coupled with a lot of downtime due to Coronavirus… and I’ve contemplating game design for MMOs again of late. To add to it, last year about this time, I got a promotion at my job where I am developing programs with Java, and while i’m still new at it… I think I’m pretty freaking good at it and so the concept that I could program my own MMO is resurfacing as a very real possibility.

So… short story long… I kind of want to get some of these mental discussions back into blog form with the extra time that I have been granted. The one thing doing this really does for me is that it helps me focus. Because I can take a single topic. Talk about it and my ideas on it. Really dig in… and because it’s getting written, i don’t circle around it quite as much.

Done With Final Fantasy XIV

It may come as no surprise to anyone that late last week I cancelled my account for Final Fantasy XIV. The game is beautiful, has a couple of cool ideas, but overall it just isn’t for me. I had tried to salvage it one last shot by switching guilds, but the new guild didn’t work out so I just cancelled completely. Here’s a listing of overall issues I had with it.

  1. Lonely – I keep hearing how great the community of FFXIV is… maybe it is the juxtaposition of the juvenile community of WoW. But I never got over my sense of loneliness in the game. You were rarely encouraged to do quests as a group, really because they all contained long cut-scenes, in a lot of respects you were discouraged from grouping in them. Dungeons were largely cross-server which meant pick-up groups were even more throw away than before as you have no way to communicate cross server. The only real way to group was to get lucky on  your guild pick up, which I was not…. twice.
  2. Easy – FFXIV follows the WoW trend of making a game that requires no effort at all. No death penalties. Like, I’m sorry if I can do raids and extreme/savage difficulty in a pick up group, there’s something wrong with the game. The high end loot is all easily attainable by anyone. The game is, like WoW, designed to make sure that everyone has access to everything, and generally it takes the same amount of time, as everything is fairly kept to a cap, for everyone. (There are a few pieces that leave this formula but too few.) I find it funny that I had convos with people about the original FFXIV, and one of the things they brought up with why it was bad was that you lose xp on death… man that sounded nice. Now I have since watched videos on why the original was bad and I don’t think it was good, but that particular functionality is not a reason.
  3. Itemization – This game had really crappy items. I mean REALLY crappy. I feel like the game in general had a lot of features that were overly simplistic because balancing is hard. I mean, yeah it’s hard, that’s why they pay you money to do it and not just throw crap in. Items were super basic, there were no sets, no randomization, items never gave bonuses to skills. You have a stat for strength? Item will give it a bonus and nothing more. It wasn’t good and it made it difficult for me to want to progress. I didn’t look forward at items and go “Man I can’t wait until I get the extra 10 to Wisdom.”
  4. Raids – I have discussed this in a previous post. I chose FFXIV because I wanted to raid. And while the 3 raids the game had were pretty nifty… There just weren’t many here to hang your hat on.
  5. Class Selection – I will say, for the most part, the class selection in the game is fairly vanilla. I landed on Astrologer because I felt like it was one of the more interesting classes in the game, and also because I like healer, but everything else is also pretty standard. It’s hard to say so early, but I am kind of disappointed that Stormblood releases 2 DPS classes. Red Mage could have been cool if they did something to follow the traditional half-healer half-DPS, but they already got that sort of covered with the Scholar anyway. And the game completely ignores the fourth pillar of classic MMO class balance… the Support. I was leveling a Bard towards the end, but the Bard at its base is really DPS. It does touch on support, but not much.
  6. Elder Game  – Or lack thereof. This is kind of a summary of previous points to be fair. Obviously if there are few raids and no itemization. the Elder Game is going to be lacking as well.  I feel like FFXIV, and feel that again this is a problem in WoW as well, utilizing leveling  up secondary classes as a form of Elder Game, and as someone who just wants to play one or two classes at a time, this really holds little appeal to me. The game, and others in the game, really encourages you to go ahead and level that other class because it’s just so easy to switch between classes on the same character. It’s cool, but shallow. Stuck on the time limit to get better gear for your main class? Just level a new class! They entice you further by giving bonus XP for already having a max class character, so why not? Because there is no way for items to get lost, there is no need to get items more than once. And because it isn’t particularly difficult to get items, you always kind of have that urge of, I’m done with this class now to do another. It’s just not for me. Of note was the inclusion of a casino, haven’t seen that rendition of an Elder Game since the olden days. I didn’t mind that so much except to avoid people from getting rich, they made their own currency <rolls eyes>.

So with that, I end a chapter in my MMO life. At this point, there aren’t many  other MMOs I am very interested in. Most of the MMOs these days area either PvP or WoW-easy and I’m not that interested in either. Maybe in a year I will revisit the genre and there will be something new.

FFXIV 2 Months In

I am now entering my 3rd month with Final Fantasy XIV and I thought I’d stop and talk about it some. For reference, I have leveled both a White Mage and Astrologer to level 60, I’ve been at 60 for a few weeks with both actually and am starting to get fair gear for my level. I have also leveled the 3 gathering classes to level 46, and the about 8 crafting classes to almost level 40. I have not completed all of the Main Story line quests as of yet, but I feel I am probably pretty close to being done with them.

I first want to discuss the quests…. I did try to pay attention to the quests early on, but I got bored fairly quick and got tired of reading the insane amounts of text for what didn’t seem all that interesting of a story early on. I hear it picks up, but when I have this sense of “catching up” in terms of actual game since I didn’t play the first 3 or 4 years of the game, reading a ridiculous amount of text that don’t actually have much to do with the game play, well it’s easy to let it go. I don’t believe any of the story is interactive at all at any rate so I don’t feel like I am missing out. By interactive, I mean no choice I make or any player or group of player changes the story. We can’t as a server decide that we don’t care about X going on so that thing is going to not happen. As a matter of fact, you pretty much have to defeat whatever bosses you have to defeat because the only way to get content unlocked is by unlocking content which requires beating bosses. So if I decided to actually not defeat a boss because I don’t believe in his cause, well not only am I not unlocking that raid or dungeon or trial, but I am also not unlocking everything that gets unlocked AFTER it in the storyline, which is just awful. You may as well not play at that point. So there really is no story choice at all and there is no player that ever affects the game world at all in any meaningful way and because of this, I just don’t care about the story, even though I’ve heard it’s decent.

Now the reason that I came to FFXIV in the first place is because I heard that the raiding scene was pretty good. I am just starting to get into the raiding. I am not in a guild that has a regular group that raids, so I generally go in duty finder and just get auto added to the random raids. So I admit that I have a limited experience here. Still,  I have gone through most of the most recent line of raids. I have had a difficult time getting through the level 50 raids as there are fewer people who go through them which makes sense. My overall reaction is…. what raids? Which is only slightly unfair. Group content in this game is divied up into a number of different categories… It’s all instance and level synced so even at 60 you can play the level 17 dungeon and it is easier for a 60 than a straight 17 but still can be challenging.

  • Dungeons – are what you’d think, it’s usually 2 smaller bosses, one more challenging boss, and a bunch of trash. Usually it is a decent sized run that takes about a half hour and I find the Dungeons fairly satisfying, though they don’t drop any gear worth wearing for the most part. Most dungeons have a normal and a hard variety. I like this, as it reuses the assets from the original dungeon and keeps it relevant and variety later in the game.
  • Trials – These are essentially one off boss fights. The boss is usually fairly challenging, especially at extreme. The fight does have 3 difficulties: Normal, Hard, and Extreme. I kind of hope and expect for a forth difficulty with the upcoming expansion. Really, this is a non-loot event which is odd to me, the Extreme version does have super rare mount loots that people farm them for. They tend to have a decent tome drop compared to dungeons and they are super quick, like 10 or 15 minutes, there are a couple longer trials but they are rare. Honestly, I don’t entirely understand why people do the Trials but I find myself doing them more than other content because I find them fulfilling and when I only have a few minutes, they fill up time well.
  • GuildHests – Really these are kind of mini-trials. Most of them are a single fight and not overly difficult. The last Guildhest is level 40 so I have a feeling they won’t be continued longterm. Again no loot or anything, you do get some grand company $$ but not much.
  • Raids – Ok I am going to actually split this up into two:
    • Mini-Dungeons – This is actually a more accurate way to describe most of the raids in this game. Take 8 players and put them through a series of bosses, sometimes with trash mobs between. This is where most good loot is dolled out. They are generally quicker than actual dungeons because they have less trash to go through, but the mechanics of the bosses are far more complex and the boss fights take a bit more time. This is not at all what I would call a raid however because there isn’t a time investment or strategy investment really. They are like 2 or 3 trials put together, generally take 20-30 minutes. Honestly I’d rather do these more than Dungeons because there’s actually loot here. But because there isn’t a daily roulette, there aren’t as many groups doing it for some reason.
    • Raids – There are, I think, 3 Raids per 10 level tier. Seriously, only 3. And they aren’t overly popular to do. Probably because they actually require time and effort to do. But they also don’t seem to have as good of gear as the mini-dungeons either so there’s less reason to do them.

So here’s the thing. The best loot in the game is dropped in the mini-dungeons so everyone tends to focus on that. This makes sense. The second tier of loot can be received from doing ANY of the rest of the content (outside of guildhests). Because you receive tomes from doing them, you turn in tomes for 2nd and 3rd tier gear. YAY hazzah. Some methods you get more tomes than others, but generally you get tomes from doing near anything in the game. So in the end I feel very unfulfilled by what I’m seeing with the raiding tier. I don’t visualize small dungeons as raids, I really don’t. Raids are a massive undertaking…. to me it’s generally 20+ (though I would take 15+) people getting together and coordinating for a greater goal. And that was the draw I was looking for. 8 people running through large scale content, while fun is the stuff that fills the middle between the big thing. The dynamics within these are great! They totally remind me of the instanced dungeons in EQ2 that we would use to gear up to do the raids. But here they are the end result. It’s weird. The whole gear system is f’d up.

So Blech. I’m still playing FFXIV but I feel the writing is on the wall. I do really like their crafting system, being able to switch jobs is pretty nice too. I feel the game as a whole follows WoW’s “let’s make the game really easy so that casual players can play and hardcore players feel left out.” But that’s becoming standard, anything meant for a hardocre player is viewed as “not with the times.” I may go back to giving EQ2 another play, but honestly don’t have high hopes, it seems like the servers are pretty dead now.

Return to the land of MMORPGs

It was during Christmas Vacation, amidst working during my time off, that I was contemplating my current state of loneliness in life. And I was trying to think back to a time where I was feeling less lonely and more fulfilled by interactions with others, and I realized that this came largely due to friends made during online games rather than in real life.

I’ve always had a select few really good offline friends, but this was always supplemented by online friends made in games. It was in this way I always felt very fulfilled with my relationships in life despite having a case of social anxiety.

Well as it turns out, 5 or 6 years ago, I was playing Travian fairly hardcore and also in a hardcore EQ2 raiding guild when I had some fights with my roommate that led to me deciding that I needed to make my priorities a little more real life and a little less online. This was also helped by the fact that my raiding guild had broken up and though I joined a new one, I didn’t find it as fulfilling and didn’t really like the latest expansion from EQ2 so it felt like a natural time to end online games.

Now years later, no roommate and my kid is nearly 18, I find myself having less real world responsibilities again and I notice myself becoming more lonely. I realized that it was this absence of online games which had a big part of it so here I am, returning to the scene of the MMO.

I first thought, well EQ2 is still kicking but upon looking at the game as a whole I must say that it isn’t kicking all that much. I’m a little disappointed that EQ Next was axed as I think that one may have been a good home. So I started looking at what games made a good Raiding experience. I feel that, though I tend to prefer sand boxy games, this raiding cromradery is what I miss from my online life. Relaly guild cromradery, but I think raiding hardcore really speeds up frienships so that’s what I’m at for now.

With EQ pretty much out, there really isn’t a ton of games with a good raid experience. I kept on searching and finding people pointing at 3 games… World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and Wildstar. Well, I kind of don’t want to go to WoW…. I have always been against how they have dumbed down the genre and made it easier, and though they do have a raiding experience, in my EQ2 days, EQ2 was largely thought as the better experience. It’s totally possible WoW has since gotten better, but meh I just don’t want to play that game really. I also have discovererd that Wildstar, though newer than the other two, has lost most of its subscribers and is a fairly lonely game so I felt that kind of took it out of contention for me. This left me with Final Fantasy XIV.

And so, I began my journey into the world of Eorzea. So far, so good I guess. The first 50 levels went by pretty quickly but it did slow down quite a bit at 50, largely because the quests stopped giving experience at that level. I have picked up playing White Mage because in my raiding days, I primarily played a healer… though now that I’ve been playing, I have heard that Scholar and Astrologean are more desired in the raiding tier. I will probably switch to Ast once I attain level 60 but for now I’m sticking with the white mage. I think this makes sense because you gain an xp bonus on future jobs once you hit the cap.

I do like that you can switch jobs at will whenever you like with no penalty. And really each class is separate. You get attribute points for leveling, but the points you get are kept only within the job that you leveled. If I switch from White Mage to Warrior, those points I put into Mind, go away entirely and once I level I can put points into Strength without a second thought. I really like the system, it makes me wonder why they gave everyone 8 characters to play. 8 Characters per datacenter at that, so you can build 16 on American servers alone. Seems like a good way to make mule characters. Another nice feature is that you can have up to 10 hot bars, but you can mark certain hotbars as unshared. What this means is that if you do switch jobs, the unshared hotbars will switch as to the new job as well. Very nice touch. Theoretically you can have a completely new set of 10 hotbars per job which really gives you a lot of room to play around with.

So far, it does largely follow the easiness of WoW. I am currently level 42, and the only time I have needed other players is when I have needed to do a dungeon to complete a quest. You can’t do a dungeon solo, there isn’t even the option as far as I can tell, you have to do it with a group. So group I must. I have also grouped and done dungeons just as a change of pace from walking back and forth from the dull quests. But overall it’s a mostly soloable game which I don’t like because it is an multiplayer game after all. Also, I play a healer, which to me by definition should be asking for someone to heal but whatever. There is also no real death penalty as far as I can tell. I know items degrade over time, but they degrade for pretty much any reason. Using a spell in combat degrades boots for some reason, as does enemies hitting you and once to 0% I think the item no longer provides its bonuses anymore but I don’t ever notice a big enough drop off in my production so I tend to just keep going with a few items broken. Oh well. And I don’t notice a significant hit to those items durability from death so again I don’t really notice a death penalty. Really FFXIV seems like a WoW 2.0. But I feel that is where most MMOs are going these days so I guess I gotta live with it if I want to continue with the genre.

I also dislike that FFXIV requires you to unlock everything via quest. And I do mean everything. I don’t think I could have grouped until I unlocked that via quest. You have to unlock jobs via quest (which I think is good), every dungeon, trial, every version of dungeon (Hard, extreme, savage), everything has to be unlocked via quest. To some degree I kind of like it, it gives an extra sense of progression. But on the other side, some features I feel should just be available. Like really? I have to unlock the email service during a quest? It also makes me think I can’t do certain things until I find the quest to unlock it so that when  you run across one of the few things you don’t need the quest to unlock, you still aren’t using it because you still feel you need a quest. (I ran into this with their guilds, thinking there must be a quest to unlock them as there was a greyed out option in my bar and i figured I needed to unlock that to search for guilds, but no, you just can’t search for guilds in the game apparently). I am currently in the midst of a bit where I have tons of unlock quests from the time that 50 was the highest level, so there are all these level 50 dungeons I need to unlock and hard versions and extreme versions and whatever. It gets old, and none of them seem to give xp because 50 was max cap even though it isn’t anymore.

Be that as it may, I am trudging through. I have found a guild and continue on with progression. I have yet to find myself in a raid because I still haven’t hit 60. But I hope to be full on raiding shortly. Here’s to hoping at least.

Online Anniversary

2013 is actually a really special year to me. It marks my 20th year being online and playing online RPGs. I don’t honestly have an exact date as to when it occurred, I just remember being 15 years old when I discovered everything. I usually pen in my discovery of these fine interwebs and MMOs to August. Continue reading “Online Anniversary”