I'm not ging to tell at length what firefall is, you can just find that out right here. This "rant article" is about what I see what happens if a game developer tries to open up their iterative process to the public and how that public or at least part of it responds. Some of it is constructive, some of it is just "anti for the sake to be anti", and some of it is just misguided because of players who don't see the complete picture and judge too soon, but curse and insult the developer. It's that last part that I find disrespectful so I must reply with what I think about it.
No use to rant about how positive the other part of the playerbase are about the game because they love it and we want to throw water to the fire, not vice versa.
Firefall is one of these game that is at the vanguard of an evolution in the game industry. We come from a time where development of games happen behind closed doors and the game was presented in a box and that's that. No life extending features like DLC's or involvement of communities.
This was the game industry until around 2009. The firest sign of developers ready to accept community engaged discussions that I have personally witnesed though already happened in 2004 with Trackmania. I was deeply involve in the process of beta testing, managing the forum and do some documentation and translation for that game and it all happened in relative good spirit. Sure there were a few people who would always disagree with everything but they were the "odd trolls".
Nowaday, the trend where companies accept feedback from the community is even more present. Especially in an era where you have crowd funded efforts like kickstarter projects, the developer is actually looking for that very feedback because they know the players invested in their game BEFORE it is made and that it's up to them to deliver what players want.
So a prime example of such engaged community/Developer engagement is Firefall. The game is still very much in beta but it's already accepting funds from players in the form of convenient or cosmetic items, crafting accelleration and vip packs. The game is shaping up as we speak and herein lies a pitfall where some of the userbase misunderstands their role as a player. They see themself as player only and although that is allright, they kinda misrepresent themself in the following ways:
- They see a beta game as a finished product and give feedback as it's such
- They provide inflamatory feedback according to the game that they want and not according to the development vision of the game
- They are wrongfully insulting developers because of unfinished content while clearly there is a "beta" sign which mean the game is in full evolution.
All feedback is legit in it's own right, and I'm absolutely not trying to imply that everyone should always say "the developers are always right". But I feel that some feedback could be a bit more augmented towards what matters in "this" game, and that the playerbase shouldn't give feedback about other games and pit them against the spirit of "this" game. Because then we are discussing "taste" and not "purpose.
I would like to bring an understanding to the discussion. Time and again I feel that the ones who give the most vocal negativity about the game, make the same mistakes of thought and it appears they want another game but Firefall but don't quite understand the development vision behind it.
Look out of the box you're in
No doubt some people have valid concerns, valid expertise and their experience with games brings them to have a very solid vision on what makes things fun. Yet lots of those people who theorize on firefall's current state seem to be going past one important detail. Trying to project the notion of "fun" past current incomplete condition, stages, zones or mechanics of the "current" game.
I see that people with an extended mindset on gameplay experience just worrying that systems might fail because they canno't guesstimate the intended features as they become more complete. They fear that some systems fail because they don't have a way to experience it's intended full scale potential because of the simple fact that it has not been built or presented in game yet. That seems to make people "trapped" within conventional thoughts and base their expertise on what they see.
There are certain reccuring statements which confuse me in regards of what the playerbase really wants and really expects from a game like Firefall. A game which is entirely being developed by professional enthousiasts who serve as a catalyst for player demands and feedback but still want to make "their own game".
The studio tries to convert player feedback in what they think is a great game. Every aspect is included, also monetization. Although the playerbase seem to want to progress to a new model, there's a minority who is very vocal and wants to remain into an old state and keep the sepparate genres separate or hold on to "retailbox game" dogma like:
- If companies ask money, it's a release and everything should be included
- Progression should be simple and not require any extra work other than just gathering xp and unlock slots.
- Gated content is bad. (this totally depends on the game you are making)
- no mmo trope in a shooter
- no grind (if the perception of grind in the current state of the game is even a measure to determine the final quality of the game)
- no store before release
Players who participate in a beta shouldn't act like one dimensional customers. They should be ready to accept new possibilities and not hold on to what was experienced as "proper" the last decades. The implications of several unfinished systems should not be an excuse to rant about developers being amateurs. The player should know what they are getting into.
Hyperbole and misguided anger aren't "feedback"
Another thing that I feel where some gamers who give feedback have it wrong is that they take a certain (no doubt valid) complaint but blow it out of proportion and project that "fault" on the entire game, thus experience the entire game as bad and tell the developer that they are shitty. There are these things in firefall that need work but the developer conciously focuses on other more important things to finish before they will adress this. A few of these things are:
player to player trading.
The developer wants to make a system that is as goldfarm proof as possible and the have that right. It means that they need to come up with a "foolproof" system that prevents goldfarmers from making a business by proxy out of a free 2 play game. You don't see this in Team Fortress 2 and soon they will close the gold auction hause in Diablo 3. A modern game developer wants to make sure that there's no "parasites" in their game so iI don't know why players feel the game is "broken" or feel "pushed into the economy" in firefall due to the fact that this one feature isn't included.. YET.
Head cosmetic remove hair of characters.
This is one of these things that can be ascribed to priorities. The studio will revisit this once they feel the game is at a good place and they can literally occupy themself with the "details".
Visual progression. Idem as abve really.
As the core systems near completion, the studio is still focusing on the "body of the game" to finish it for release. After all these important tasks are done, then are they going to revisit cosmetics. I feel it's no reason to make the whole game look bad because this feature has been "left alone". This is part of game development and if you don't have a 1000+ man studio and you have to outsource development this is what happens. Is this bad ? Does that ruin the fun that is already present in the game.
Incomplete chosen warfront:
Just recently on Firefall Live it has been said that the developer is busy syncing up the chosen warfront and events across all game shards so that players have the same experience across the entire game network. There's a huge amount of reasons why the warfront isn't at a place where they want it yet because they need to tune some core systems to allow players to experience both the global accord mission (which is the icing on the cake of the mmo side of tha game). They need sure that this core system comes online and have players all work together to experience this chosen warfront. That includes chosen invasions, melding pushbacks, chosen attack formations and more things will be revisited in the future to all work together. It will make the game feel more "dense" if that happens.
Incomplete zones that are supposed to have endgame content but haven't YET
It's the same issue as above really. Developers bring systems online before the "content" is fully there in order to illustrate to the player what it looks like. The studio takes these decisions because they have backlog numbers as evidence to back it up. The number of players dying in new eden, the amount of progression being done in new eden. They can all crunch it in numbers and based on these numbers they make logical game decisions
The question that should be asked is "Does a player have to be suddenly confronted by stages of content that are too hard for them and should they have the option of choosing the difficulty they want instead of it being forced upon it ? That is a valid question that you can ask in an MMO/Shooter like Firefall. So i doesn't help to complain about the new "staged zone system". It doesn't help to blame the developer to be incompetence there are incomplete zones and content isn't complete yet. Because the zone difficulty is a result of internal studies that we as players cannot do. Blaming the developers for unprofessionalism because of that is just a bridge too far and not taking into account that the full effect of that decision isn't upon us as of yet. Content to support this decision is being rearranged and worked on as we speek so my feeling is to hold off such definite decisions of a game in progress until one can fully enjoy what they mean with that change.
The powercurve / creature AI are broken
People are already making final decisions on how broken the game is but how can something be broken before it is really fully made ? Small teams inside the studio are constantly upgrading AI systems and how creatures behave and as such various relationships between weapon damage and creature behavior might be in flux. Instead of saying "fix your shit", players should give feedback on what they would like to see from the creatures. As there were quite a few upgrades to the way the chosen and tanken bandits act in game, as I can remember the game is still in beta and the creature's AI is still ready to receive upgrades. Therefore if a player rands on how broken the AI is, the studio can't do anything with that info because the player doesn't provide info on what they REALLY want out of a creature/chosen behavior. There are some players who have given this info and I thank them for having a vision at least. But that even doesn't mean the creatures will be finalized in that particular way.
I have the idea that some players really miss the point of parttaking in the Firefall beta. Engaging in beta tests man that players should avail themself of enough information and openmindedness to come up with a reasonable idea of what's happening in the background and in the studio before downright blaming them of impotence.
Discover the "player" in you.
This is kind of an esoteric thing to suddenly throw in but I feel that it's a crucial element to this discussion. I see things going wrong in feedback discussion because players start saying "a game is boring because it is too grindy". The nto those I say: Know what you want as a player in a beta test and know your limits. For example, know that no matter how fun a game is, too much is too much and where I sometimes see discussion sidetrack to peopl's feeling of boredom and grindiness with the game, it has to do with the fact that they played "too much". Feedback given like "game too grindy , maxed all battleframes, nothing more to do" aren't useful because it just represents that player having grinded trough all content that is available but not taking into acount that more is to come. Then the decision is made that the game sucks. To me, that is cutting the curve a bit too much.
So I want to say that this isn't specificly an issue related to Red 5 studios' way of developing Firefall in an open development policy but actually it counts for all games. I'm getting a bit allergic by those people who say that progressing y or x feels like "a grind". To that I say that it's often people's own fault for feeling that way. There's 2 factors that play a role in that.
- You take any game or any repeatable action or operation in life for that matter, and the more you do it: the less you're going to really having the feeling of wonder and enjoyment. It becomes "routine". And that feeling of routine is often being mistaken as negative by those gamers who are quickl to say that something becomes "a grind".
Players who want to reach "goal x" sooner than yesterday cause their own grief by repeating the same stuff over and over and then complain about this experience being too repeating. They essentially find the best way to reach their goals the soonest and amputate themself from the rest of the experience that could make them arrive at the same reward pool but maybe a bit slower and then complain that the game is "boring".
In the case of firefall I often see how people manage to gather over one million XP in half a day. You have to play lots of ARES missions for that to achieve that, and to get the most resources possible they thump and they thump some more in locations that aren't finished yet and then complain about the game not being rewarding and diverse enough. Something is fishy about that and it ain't always the developer's fault
Ofcourse the game is bound to become a little repetitive by that time. Especially if it doesn't have the complete set of content offerings that it's supposed to have to make it deep enough to play longer periods of time. You can turn minecraft into a boring session where you do nothing else but farming silver to make your silver house. If you derrive fun from that then the goal of its own merrits the "grind". But you can't really start blaming the game that it doesn't give you the silver ingots quickly enough. I always say, a piece of cake is nice but forcefully eating a delicious cake entirely may cause indigestion problems. Translate that to the spiritual way in which you deal with and experience games in general and you have the same thing.
So I really feel that people should zoom out of themself, look back from a distance and ask themself that if they would do the same thing over and over in any situation if it wouldn't deminish their experience of fun ? Does that make Firefall boring ? They reduce their experiance o the game they want to play. Doing all content and reading into the development vision from the studio would cause players not to make the mistake of calling something "not fun" because they do it too much. One shouldn't mistake an unfinished game as final
The MMO shooter that wasn't:
So Firefall is marketed as an online MMO shooter. That means that there's some combination of mechanics that have to turn in a long lasting experience. It's something which isn't really done before and players have a hard time to place it in a socket. Should it be "something different" than Firefall's current direction ? Well, the part of open development learns us that developer itterates and part of the community doesn't follow and remains stuck in this idea where they would experience the beta state of the game from 2013 more fun than it is now, even if that version of the game had half of the content and progression systems in place. Which I always found a bit curious.
Everyone has seen this pax 2010 video where they show some gameplay. The things that were shown there were:
- "upgrading your battleframes in a simplistic "perpetually more powerful upgrade" way
- Fight chosen and world bosses.
- Huge open world sepparating New Eden from a location with with a big thumper in it
- Skillbased shooter first, MMO in the backlog to keep lots of players engaged (don't forget that last part)
Now that the studio made some changes and iterated on what "openworld mmo shooter" really means and how the gameplay feels, a few vocal people want to make us believe that this is not the game they were shown when in fact the video showed no trace of the crafting/progression system they have now.
Some players are reverse-indoctrinating themself with the notion that the idea of the game was better than the result even if the tye didn't know what the idea of the game was at that time and an idea of a simple call of duty esque shooter prevailed in their minds. This is always a wrong thing to do, to be stuck with an idea and preceive it as "the only thing that works".
I have the same issue with people who always say "the book is better than the movie". This becomes a matter of taste and isn't representative of the feedback that you should be giving as a player.
People seem to forget the MMO aspect in the term "Shooter MMO" and are quick to label that part as "grindy". Suddenly there are voices to make the game "simpler" and more shooter and less resource collection/crafting. They want battleframe progression to be less engaging than it is now because you have to roam around the world too much to find upgrade parts for it. People are requesting everything to be more simple and I just feel that this is because of one thing and one thing only:
Those players have a titanfall/call of duty mindset but this is not compatible with the vision of Firefall. They would rather like "automatic leveling" to be in place again while the developer clearly noticed that this wasn't rewarding enough for the game they were making. So all these "I want to go back to the old things" rants become a matter of taste and I don't feel this is a correct mindset to to give feedback on what Firefall is becoming. I would advice to see Firefall for what it is an not give feedback as if it should become a "shooter with upgrades". This leads me to look at it from another way.
The clash of cultures and the doctrine of "wanting everything"
You know what Firefall's "problem" is ? It tries to be a bridge between what gamers in Europe and the US want and what Eastern gamers want. Firefall has a chineese investor and they want it to cater to an audience that want "long term goals". But they also want to appeal to shooter fans. Now this is where I feel that some things get "conflicted" somehow.
"We in the west" want everything "now" and it shines trough what players need in games and what players play, and what he mindset is. Shooters = immediate satisfaction, and MMO = useless time wasting on spending energy in a world to gradually progress your virtual self. It seems to not reach players in a good way.
Although there's a few exeptions. It seems not to matter as long as players can tinker to a space station for hours on end or in building sims. But it seems that people don't want it in shooters because of "established game rules".
Diablo 3 is a "grindy game" by nature as well but that aspect is more hidden because you have the satisfaction of slaying mob after mob. But if you take the durability system for example, you'll see its almost the same exact idea than in Firefall, yet in firefall people don't seem to want it because some people have the misguided perception that it's a "Shooter" and that would exclude the need for a closed gameplay loop to keep the game from becoming boring and finite.
Some of the playerbase forgets that Firefall is about resource collection and involvement with the world. It goes beyond the veil of a typical shooter, it needs to include you in the world and give a feeling of being in a war where you have to battle not only the chosen, but give a sense of investment in that world. Ivestment in his/her own manifestation in the world.
As symbolism: the resource collection/durability is spot on! Firefall is not trying to be bioshock or call of duty or battlefield. It's its own game and has to be viewed as such.
It's often said that "eastern" players love to grind. You could also put it another way. Eastern people aren't that "rewards-only-please" craving as western people. They like to earn the rewards by working hard and it reflects their culture more, we are deviating from it and that is causing the clash.
This is one of the reasons why some are so against the professions system. it is sort of a research skill tree that lets players be able to craft either battleframe weapons or abilities or HKM's and shields. These categories are a game mechanic to create a dynamic diversity not only for the economy's sake but also further immerse players in the world of Firefall, to give them a choise, some sort of career path.
The "doctrine of everything" dictates that players should get "everything". Everything needs to be simple, everything needs to be accessible, everything needs to be giving a reward sooner than yesterday and the idea of being locked out of certain parts of the game is unbearable and unacceptable.
But limiting access and choose a career path works in other places. You see how in Payday 2 which is a totally different game, that "skilltree" system engages players to bunch together and they can go for the playstyle they desire and form a team of bankrobbers that fit inside the gameplay and make more sense, make players more human eventhough it's a virtual place. You start depending on others, if you can do everything you depend on nothing but yourself and that seems to reflect the individualistic society where we live in. MY fun, MY experience, rather than "our shared fun" and "our shared experience". I see this in many games that people don't fully grasp this concept that if a game mechanics forces players to "work toegether" in their unique way it's somehow something that should be viewed as "flawed".
I also blame lots of the "western vocal playerbase" (ahem) to not know what is good for them. They always complain about the fact that everything is a grind and everything is gated and stuff takes to long, yet they always provide feedback to just reduce involving gameplay and make things simple and repetitive again and easily winnable on their own. In essence, I see lots of players crave what they dispise. They hate to be "crippled" as a character, yet a character that can't do everything makes it unique and it will plug in to other characters that can do other thing and this creates truely involving gameplay. Dota is a perfect example of this dynamic as well. You don't have to be a genious to see the polyvalent clockwerk at work.
People have to be protected against themself sometimes. The definition is fun should be varied and not originate frome one game mechanic. To crave "everything" and then when "everything" is achieved nothing is left in most games. In firefall they want to change that. They want to create a "closed loop" of fun/rewards/more fun. This means that some of the things had to change often and some other things had to go like the leveling system.
Again I want to mention Payday 2 because it's not smell of roses all over in that game. Their leveling system that goes from 1-100 and allows progression trough some of the skilltrees I was talking about earlier. There's now an infamy system that essentially shrinks the requirements to progress and rebuild your skilltree much faster if you are "infamy level 5". But that system instigates a certain part of the community to "grind" a specific set of missions to get the most xp and progress their skilltree the fastest way. Instead of focusing on the fun of robbing banks together. These players NEED to be infamy level 5 and choose the fastest way to do that. But they don't understand that they behave like a hamster running in the same rolling cage over and over. It's a portion of those players who then start complaining about game being too boring and there's not enough heists. Think about it: if the focus shifts on the rewards only, nothing is "fun" anymore. It sips trough from the whole pluralistic society into gaming. That is actually a bad thing. This kind of thinking makes it seem that a game isn't fun if one can't be or do everything and enjoy the world if the rewards can't be obtained quickly enough. Only that seems to matter. And that seems to be a reccuring theme and becomes a component to measure the quality of a game upon. And that I don't understand.
In Firefall's case: It's almost as if everyone is thinking that if one can't progress their frame while not going out of the city, the game is too complicated. We really need to avoid thinking like that!
So at the end, we can't deny a few things ofcourse. Are there still things to fix obvious bugs in the game ? Yes. Are the core system still in flux and is there a lack of certain content for maxed frames ? Ofcourse! Should the game convey itself more to new players and teach them what it's about. Absolutely.
But it's not that the studio doesn't know this. This year is really a good year for shaping the game up to show it's full potential that's true, they know that and they are working on it. They're revisiting battleframe abilities, they are revisiting the chosen warfront, building new content as the systems for that are in place, expanding on new systems they just brought online. Armies 2.0 is coming, more missions and an overarching world event are coming. Pvp is coming back agian.
A small developer of a 100ish people are working on this big MMO adventure and some may argue that the studio is a bit too small to handle it swiftly. Some of the problems of this game will always be that content will come out in chunks and the people who are at the edge will consume it faster than the studio can make it. But for real fans that doesn't matter because there are other things to do in life. People can always be assured that if they come back to firefall there will be always something new to do if they take a break. As long as the studio can keep making Firefall it will grow.
That constant sense of lingering "incompleteness" isn't the same as what I described above as "incomplete core systems". It doesn't make the game be something bad. It makes the game something to revisit in the future if you don't like where it is rightnow. It's not plumetting as some say, it's raising the plainfield, slowly but surely! I wish many good things for Firefall, I'm a fan and I'm not hiding that fact. Especially not for those who want to find every reason to bring it down, I'll find every reason to lift it up. Players that want to fight for the survival of firefall should also know it's unique properties and not deny them and turn them into something else. Be constructive, be a true firefall beta player!
Don't think that I'm trying to be an elitist and would want :red5: to sue all people that have different oppinions on the game. After all I hope I made it clear that this rant is to make people understand that fun is a liquid concept, that it is different for everyone but that "fun" in this game and "fun" in serious sam 3 or Eve Online is very different and feedback should be given according to the game's spirit, not towards other games' ideas.
What I see happening often is that it's a matter of taste. It's the same like blaming someone who loves classical music that he is a shitty person and he should love dubstep instead or else he's no music lover; That doesn't help that "classical music loving" person
It's upon the one that blames to draw their own conclusions and either open up to it, or not blame the classic music fan at all for not being what the blamer wants. That is just not useful.
Otherwise, Let the rant continue but just remain openminded :P