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Free for All: So what do I play now?


Last week I talked about celebrating your MMO transient status, something that drove some readers into a mini-frenzy. Perhaps my point was not clear enough, or perhaps the two or three sentences I dedicated to clearly stating my satisfaction with the "dedicated" player lifestyle were not enough. I did not talk so much about the players who dedicate most of their time to one or two MMOs because, well, it wasn't an article about them. It wasn't an article about celebrating some kind of digital floozy lifestyle, either, although some readers seemed to take it that way. It was an article about becoming comfortable -- or more comfortable -- with the fact that you, as a ramblin' player, might not gain that virtual glory that your more dedicated buddies will.

This week's column will still avoid the topic of the dedicated player simply because I am not one. As I have now indicated several times, I have no issue with such a lifestyle, but I would rather talk about something I am more familiar with. Many of my friends are hardcore dedicated, dedicated to the point of being married to one MMO experience, and although I am somewhat jealous of them, I am even more jealous of a different type of player.

Click past the cut and we shall discuss it!

If you've ever listened to the Van Hemlock podcast, you will be familiar with the two gentlemen I am going to describe. They are the hosts of the show, two British hrumpa-dumps (my made up word for them) who brilliantly dazzle me with their organizational skills every time they release a show. It's a slightly boring show, as well. Granted, it's a really good boring like a game of chess or a session of EVE Online, and it is always, always interesting. I am more jealous of these two excellent speakers than I am of any other gamer type I can think of.

"My main issue is one of dedication. Sure, I play games a lot, but I spread that out over many games. My transient lifestyle permits me a lot of freedom, but sometimes I miss home."

See, Jon is the console player. He plays 45 console games in a single sitting and can tell you every title that was released, alphabetically backwards and forwards, since 1999. It's amazing. Tim is the MMOer -- my guru of organization (unknown to him). He plays a different game each night of the week but stays dedicated to a certain bunch of titles. I sort of do this now, but in a much looser fashion. I try to play any games for Rise and Shiny at least 10 hours in a week. That's roughly two hours a night, with two nights for other investigations. Also, I will be looking at browser and mobile style MMOs at least 10 hours or more. That's another two hours a day, roughly.

I also have another column, this one, that is not really about a specific game but sometimes requires plenty of gameplay. I write plenty of first impression-style pieces and other "first look" types. While it might sound like a lot, it's really not so much as a hardcore raider or roleplayer.

My main issue is one of dedication. Sure, I play games a lot, but I spread that out over many games. As I indicated last week, my transient lifestyle permits me a lot of freedom, but sometimes I miss home. Ryzom, for example, and Mabinogi are games I really want to do more in. This is where the dedicated specific game night would seem to come in handy. Even just two nights of dedicated gaming would work wonders for my vagabond soul! I've tried this in the past, though, and ran into many difficulties. First of all, keeping everyone on the same page -- or level -- was a nightmare. Some of the writers from MMO Voices and I tried to host a static group on Saturday nights, but we ended up frustrated at having to constantly ask "OK, so what quest are we doing now?" and "Did everyone get the item needed for this quest?" Also, some members enjoyed themselves too much, logged in during the week, and out-leveled the rest of the group. It was a perfect example of how level-based play does not work.

There are other games, like Wurm Online, that require no level requirements for group-play. The problem with sandbox games is that they often present almost no in-game goals or forced in-game goals. Sure, we could meet one night a week and dedicate ourselves to achieving something, but sandbox games often require much more work to see any major payoff. Without the DING or shiny fireworks of achieving a level increase, a single night might feel much too slow to satisfy many members of the group.

"What happens when one of your standard players drops out for the night, an issue we had often with a Vanguard static dungeon group?"

The key is to find a game like Vindictus or the upcoming Spiral Knights, one that allows players to jump in, kick some butt, and jump out. Games such as those can be primary games if players wish or can be once-a-week jaunts otherwise. Of course, there could still be issues. How do you plan for international players? What happens when one of your standard players drops out for the night, an issue we had often with a Vanguard static dungeon group? You might meet only one or two nights a week, but that is still a form of dedication, and players might get used to line-ups and certain personalities. When that changes, the whole thing can crumble.

All of this makes me wish even harder for the abandonment of required grouping and separate servers. We have the technology, so why isn't it employed more? Many games like Mabinogi use separate channels that players can skip in and out of, allowing players to pick favorites or even to nominate community "shopping channels" or channels for roleplay. Look at the current robust population of RIFT -- what happens when the servers start to thin out and established guilds and groups of friends refuse to transfer?

I think I will make a list. I will pick out a few games and try to dedicate a night to them. Will it work? I don't know. I have tried these static groups and dedicated nights before, but if a co-host for a way-too-smart-for-me podcast can do it, maybe I can too. Wish me luck. Although it may not have seemed so in my last column, I miss a home. I miss groups of familiar personalities.

Well, occasionally I do, anyway.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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