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Ask Massively: Rules, sources, and buy-to-play MMOs


There are 4,001 words in the Massively style guide. The abbreviated version of the style guide. And that's without counting a few hundred emails detailing other rules that our writers must follow, plus English grammar and syntax, plus hand-me-downs from Captain Joystiq and peevish precepts imposed by a mean ol' editor-in-chief. Rules help us deliver a consistent product to you, the readership, and when we don't, you notice.

Gamers follow a set of rules, too, when it comes to judging games. Indie games are judged less harshly than blockbuster developers. Overhyped games are held to a higher standard. Games with subs are cut less slack than freemium titles. You might not have codified all these little rules into a 4,001-word document, but they're rattling around your brain making decisions for you all the same.

So let's talk about rules and how they apply to Massively's sources and buy-to-play MMOs like Guild Wars 2.

Soltanis asked: Pirate101 is mentioned 18 times in the launch-day hands-on article: once in the title, once in the top set of tags [categories], and again in the bottom set of tags. Not a single one of those links to the game itself. What happened to the "source" and "official site" section you used to have?

It's still there -- it's just primarily for news posts.

Massively runs several different types of content, each with a set of rules that govern how individual posts should be formatted and presented (we really, truly do not just post random crap). Many of those rules are not within our control; they were handed down by our big brother Joystiq. That includes the style rule that most articles should not link to the official game website in the body of the post, which is a rule that makes a lot of sense for Joystiq because of the way that site's game database is set up. Ours is not yet finished, so we're in a sort of an intermediate state. This is an extremely boring story, and I bet you're sorry you asked now!

Anyway, you'll find that our news posts (like this one) will always have a source and official site link at the bottom whenever possible, and most of our recurring features and columns (like this one) will always include the official site within the article. Stand-alone features like the one you mentioned are frequently cross-posted to Joystiq and therefore must conform to its style, with no site link. Thank goodness for Google!

Zombo asked: Whenever anyone brings up Guild Wars 2's shortcomings, fans respond that since it's buy-to-play, you can just leave and come back later when those shortcomings are fixed. The same thing happens when we discuss player retention; it seems as if the B2P model allows GW2 to escape criticism related to playerbase size. So just how much slack should a B2P game be given?

Should a subscriptionless MMO be cut any slack for imperfections at release? After all, you're not paying for it. Well, aside from the $60 you paid for it in an industry in which a lot of games have no box fee at all. GW2 is perhaps more comparable to a game like Diablo III than a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic, right? You paid for a box. There's no sub. You can play it online and nowhere else. That never stopped anyone from piling complaints at Blizzard's feet. By charging a full box price, the studios imply they are launching something worth a full box price, a complete and functional product, so you have every right to complain when the game has balance issues, economic messes, and bugs, bugs, bugs. The lack of an ongoing fee doesn't negate the flat fee you already paid.

Ask Massively Rules, sources, and buytoplay MMOsAt the same time, every game pretty much has those problems at launch, no matter its business model. So while it's fair to impose a rule that a game's quality should scale with its cost to players, it's probably a little pointless to expect perfection from any game. In that case, free-to-play and sub-free MMOs are more of a win for players. The more forgiving model doesn't excuse a game's faults, but it sure does make them easier to cope with.

I think GW2 escapes criticism on the player retention front more because it hasn't published any data on concurrent logins since launch than because it's B2P. We can guess that the game has seen peak concurrency drop because we haven't been handed new numbers, because we can see that zones and overflow servers are less crowded, and because we know Mists of Pandaria likely siphoned players from ArenaNet's new shiny. In the absence of hard sources, though, we're only guessing.

But GW2 supporters are right to argue that comparing GW2 to a subscription game like SWTOR would hardly be fair. How exactly would you go about measuring GW2's playerbase? Hourly logins? Daily logins? Weekly, monthly logins? And then you'd compare them to what -- number of people paying (but not necessarily playing) in a sub game per month? That's not a very scientific comparison; it favors the game modeled to win that showdown, not the game modeled to generate recurring peak headcounts. We're trying to shove new games with new models and new content and revenue schemes into success formulae that are 15 years old!

How you apply your own fairness rules to each of those games to measure them in relation to each other is, of course, up to you. I wouldn't cut any $60 game any slack; I'll criticize it even as I'm enjoying it. But I don't see the point in comparing apples to oranges here, and in a way, I'm glad to see a de-emphasis on massive playerbase size, even if it comes as an incidental benefit of the B2P model's obfuscation and invalidation of retention numbers. As long as a game is good, is getting updates, and has "enough" players to sustain it, I really don't care whether it has the most people. Obsessing over which game has the most warm bodies has never been a good thing for game design or the MMO community.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is there no edit button? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!

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