Of Anarchy Online and The Future

        As many of you may already know Colin “Means” Cragg recently stepped down as Game Director for Anarchy Online and has passed the torch to Fia "Lindelu" Tjernberg. Sometime this month, Lindelu will make her first post updating players on the what to expect from here on out for the game.
        Some people seem to think this signals the end of Anarchy Online; that Means was leaving a sinking ship. Other more optimistic folks, such as myself, feel this could make for a breath of fresh air and will allow new ideas to germinate. I know I only post to this and others blogs once in a blue moon, but I found myself so excited by this news I had to write something up. My head has been swimming lately with the possibilities a new Game Director brings.
         Now that 's not to say I don't appreciate what Means has done. I started playing AO in 2009 and Means is pretty much the only GD I've known. According to his farewell post, he worked on the Alien Invasion and Legacy of the Xan expansions, as well as play testing the Crypt of Home static dungeon. For the past 8 years, he has tried his best to please the player base, while playing a dual role as Game Director and Producer.
         But there have been some less than spectacular content updates as well. One that comes to mind in particular is 10th Anniversary event, or what my friends call the “Failaversary” event. You and a host of other players were tasked with hunting down a mob called Desert Nomads which dropped certain “no drop” (nontradeable, nonsellable) items that were then to be given to a special NPC called the “The Tinker” at Stolts Trading Post in Newland Desert. Once that NPC had collected 5,000 of the items, a level 220 boss known as The Desert Rider would spawn. Killing him required a large number of level 200+ characters to gather and work together. However, once he was taken down, there was no crowd control to make sure by-standers couldn't loot the corpse. Thus, you had a crowd of 50-100 players of all levels sitting on the corpse, clicking it like mad and coming up empty handed. The loot included 6 Clio Yalms (a small speeder like ship; the Clio comically resembled a Prius) and 6 sets of quality level 300 Nomad armor which requires all of your base abilities to be 750+ in order to even equip it. In other words, this event seemed more geared toward high level players.
         I talked to my friends in The Independent Rubikans, one of the first Orgs (guilds/clans) founded in game. “Namiru,” who has been playing AO off and on for the past 10 years, had a problem with a lot of the new content being tagged for end game, rather than creating content to bring in new players. As a consequence, he and the others felt the game's population was falling, and they blamed Means and some of the other developers for it. I try my best to see things from both sides. I understand that the game can't run on good will alone and that Funcom relies on both in-game ad revenue and subscriptions to keep things running. And to keep people who've maxed out their toons subscribed, one of the few things I can think of is adding end game content along with bolstering the PvP experience.
         On the other hand as someone playing for free (“fr00b”) with a toon that has reached level 90, I feel like I'm running out of options for gameplay. There are daily missions, epic daily missions, and the regular mission terminals, and there are still bosses in the Biomare static dungeon to take out. However, when I and my mostly fr00b team first got to Biomare, Namiru turned to us and said that this was pretty much the end of the fun when it came to being a fr00b. I mentioned some of the other static dungeons such as Crypt of Home, Steppes of Madness, the Inner Sanctum, and Camelot. He shot down most of them stating that these where simply meat grinders and that you usually only went into them with the idea of obtaining certain No Drop items. He felt that Camelot in particular would be a better dungeon if the devs made it strictly PvE, instead of a mix of PvP and PvE. Not only do you have to fight the monsters there, but also the other teams camping the big boss at the end.
        Now I'm a casual player who's highest level toon is at 92. I've only just barely gotten Namiru and another fr00b friend, Matt Winchell (host of Mad Matt Reviews), to try running through Crypt of Home with me. I'm not a dev and I have no idea how much work goes into maintaining an MMO of this age, let alone refreshing the experience for those who feel they've done everything here. I guess, though if I were to improve the game, I'd try to:
  1. Give fr00bs access to at least the buying portion of the auction house (this is was initially a suggestion made by Namiru).
  2. Another idea that has been brought up to Means on the forums is to add a coherent story/quest line to the open world experience. If well written, this quest line could really enhance the sci-fi aspects of the game and further acquaint the player with the three factions we first met on n00b island.
  3. The devs could even offer more unique items encouraging players to experiment with different builds. AO is a fully customizable game when it comes to the 14 classes available, the only limit being how many Improvement Points you're willing to invest in nontraditional skills for your class. Some players feel it is throwing away IP to make an Adventurer class run around with a shot gun, or a two handed sword, etc. instead of the typical pistols, but the fact that the game takes such customizability into account is unique and worth reenforcing. I admit, that last suggestion was based on the fact that I have a dual wielding one handed blunt Enforcer.
  4. Or perhaps streamlining some items would be better. There are several types of equipable lighting items which could be combined into one. Perhaps more isn't better.
  5. Yet another idea is cheaper, easier to access to vehicles. Even with the fast travel provided by the Wampa Network and the even faster Grid, you still will have to run quite a distance to get to mission doors. I was able to purchase a Yalm at 2 million credits only because I found a ring Namiru bought from me for $20 million credits. I also had to wait to be able to equip it once my navigation flight skill got up there. An idea would be to keep the jetpack available, if not for free, then perhaps as a quest reward or shop item.
  6. Maybe someone could write a better guided? Or maybe fill out the AO wiki (I think there's a couple out there)? Then again there are quite a few guides already put out by such fine sites like AO Universe, really a site everyone should read when they first start out. I think that if I had taken the time to read it more thoroughly, I could have saved my friends a lot of time. There's so much info associated with this game that I'm surprised anything coherent exists.
  7. Maybe adding more map variety to the missions might help boost interest in them and boost the variety of game play. In fact, varying the writing for the missions themselves would help. Every other mission seems to be find this person, kill that person, find this object, etc. with of the dialogue in the transmissions being cloned in the same 4 or 5 selected missions.
  8. More variety in mobs might also boost interest. There certainly is a lot of unique looking creatures, but there's others such as some of the mutants in Biomare and the SoM that Namiru describes as “place holder monsters.”
  9. How about more social garb? I loved the Halloween costume pieces for 2011. Also, something that allows you to try on clothing without having to buy it first would be much appreciated. Many times, I thought a pair of boots would fit my ensemble only to find they don't work at all with any of my toon's outfits.
  10. How about improving and adding to the furniture in apartments? I like sitting on my couches rather than in them. More furniture of different varieties could be gained either through shops, crafting, or questing. Another idea would be to give each profession a way of taking basic furniture, and crafting it into something that matches that profession’s aesthetics.
  11. I keep reading about a balance problem. Namiru is always telling me how he thinks Agents are over powered and Fixers (the computer hacker class) are neglected. Being a casual gamer, I've really only experienced a few classes, the Martial Artist and Enforcer being my main paid and fr00b classes.
  12. Another topic people keep mentioning on the forums is the weak PvP. Now I don't usually do PvP except for dueling with friends, usually with a veteran player looking on to see if there is something awry with my character build. From what they are saying, the Battlestations where people can enter PvP instances according to their levels, are very empty thanks to the new daily PvP missions. I don't know much about it, but maybe there are ways to offer trophies for one on one, team, and even org PvP battles. I know Namiru gains Victory points for defeating foes in the Battlestations, but maybe unique or rare items could be handed out to the victors as well.
  13. Okay, one last thing I can think of for now. I would love to see more books, soundtracks, and other merchandising for AO. In fact, I was a bit disappointed to see there was only one book written for the game's mythology. I have no idea how Shadowlands or the Alien Invasion could be written into a coherent storyline, though it would be interesting to see someone try it.
        To reiterate, these are just suggests, many or all of which may never even come to pass, or they do exist and I just haven't come across them yet. I understand the devs are not some magical little fairies that, with the wave of a wand, can change the game at will. And again, I have no game development experience, whatsoever. Consider this a wish list for AO, a recording of my hopes and dreams for the future of the game. If anything, the rumor mill is still churning out gossip pertaining to a possible Anarchy Online 2 (reported canceled a while back) in the works after The Secret World wraps up.
         The Secret World is another beast altogether, and I might write about it depth some other time, nce it's been released and once I have a computer that can handle it. From what I've heard, it doesn't implement a level or class system. Rather, the selected skills are grouped together into 7 active and 7 passive, many of which can be used across the board for either ranged, melee, or miscellaneous. It's kind of similar to AO, in that varying amounts of IP can be invested into any skills you wish on your toon. However with Secret World, you might not be gimped so much in return for your creative character building.
         So there's the news, and then some if you haven't checked out AO in a while. It's showing it's age graphics wise, but gameplay is quite fun. That is, when you have the people to buff/twink you into your armor, weapons, and cybernetic implants. But I might get into more about the actual gameplay and socializing in another post sometime. For now, I'll wait with baited breath for Lindelu to post her update, and go forward into 2012 with high hopes for Anarchy Online.