Friday, February 21, 2014

It's Alpha! : Landmark

Pete at Dragonchasers has a thoughtful post up about why he's abandoned his daily Landmark diary. Along with the debilitating effect of visiting the forums (I don't think they're that bad - I've certainly seen a lot worse) and the completely understandable feeling that, for now at least, he's done about as much as he's willing to do in a test environment that's facing an inevitable wipe, Pete puts his finger on a potential problem that I've seen mentioned a few times:

"I’ve become kind of discouraged. Early on I was building stuff that I actually felt a little proud of, but every day we see a dozen incredibly awesome projects that make mine look like crap."

In the recent SOE Livestream there's a segment where they show a number of interesting player-made buildings and objects culminating in this, which is intimidating in more ways than one :

SOE Devs Not To Scale
Terry Michaels comments that when he came into work he found a dozen SOE staffers gathered around a screen in the Landmark offices marveling at this statue. When you're faced with competition from other players that even has the professionals gosh-wowing then yes, it could get discouraging.

At the moment there isn't an awful lot to do in Landmark other than build or prepare for building. You can work on your Claim, work on your tools or go out and gather materials so you can come back and work on your Claim and your tools some more. You can practice building, you can build or you can go and look at what other people have built.

Consequently the idea that people might, at some time in the future, want to play Landmark and not spend all their time building seems a bit hard to grasp right now. For some forum warriors, impossible. The uncomfortable fact, though, is that for all the Livestreams and Roadmaps we still don't really have anything like a clear picture of what Landmark will be when it throws open its doors to the non-paying public. With nothing else to give perspective at this stage, skill and imagination in building are fast becoming the defining orthodoxy of success against which some, possibly most, players feel they must benchmark.

Always pray for rain

If SOE are to be believed it won't always be like this. The forum motto "It's alpha" cuts both ways. Yes, "it's alpha" so don't be surprised if nothing works as it should (especially after last night's patch) but also, "it's alpha" so you can't draw any firm conclusions or make any definitive statements on how things are meant to be: much of the game simply isn't visible yet and anything that's there now might change at any time.

I think we have to take it on trust that the Landmark we get at launch will have a lot more to it than building for the sake of building. When that happens perhaps those highly-skilled builders will come to look more like a handy resource than a threat.

One thing we can be fairly certain is that creating, selling and buying templates of structures, objects and fully-developed Claims will be a big part of Landmark's gameplay. Pete describes the stable he was working on before he got disheartened. From his screenshots he seems to be underplaying his talents somewhat -  it looks like a pretty nice horse house. I'd guess that when Landmark is live there will be plenty of buyers for off-the-shelf stock items like that -  stables, smithys, shrines, statues - even some stuff that doesn't start with an S.

Sun, sea, sand. Well, two out of three ain't bad...

Let's not forget, too, that this is supposedly a sandbox MMO and where there's sand there's emergent behavior. When the crowds arrive, if the crowds arrive, gameplay could spin in unexpected directions. There's a short but interesting thread on the forums that raises the left-field idea of players renting out space in their huge mansions to other players, which drew some respondents to imagine renting space to NPCs and made me think of null-sec renting in EVE (something I only vaguely know about from reading TAGN and others and wouldn't claim to begin to understand).

Is it too far-fetched to imagine  something similar happening in Landmark, at least on open PvP servers, should they happen to come to exist? Do we really have any idea how important territory and ownership thereof is going to be? Or how permanent? Or how safe? Smed is a longtime, dedicated EVE player, after all...

In the end we'll all just have to wait and see how it turns out. Things may have slowed down a little after the frenzied excitement of the launch but the servers have only been running for three weeks and - It's alpha! The good thing about being in Alpha is we get to play now. The bad thing is - we get to play now.


  1. You're right that there are definitely much worse forums out there, and it could be that I just hit a bad patch. Or that I'm particularly thin-skinned! (Who? Me?!)

    I do look forward to seeing what happens as they add combat, and caves that we have to delve deep into in order to collect rare resources. I still have a lot of hope for the game...but for right now I need to distance myself from it a bit.

    1. Yes, I'm done with my claim now and only logging in for half an hour or so to fiddle about. Each time new stuff gets added I'll up my playtime and investigate. I anticipate that beta is when things will really start to get interesting for non-builders.

  2. I could see "it's alpha" becoming a quite the annoying phrase, right up there with "get a refund," in response to any criticism.

    I am still mixed about SOE's charging for letting people in this early. On the one hand, it does set up a barrier to entry so that only those who really want to be there and help will show up. On the other hand, once you start charging for things, there are implied responsibilities and expectations.

    While the EVE Online null sec renter space might come to mind, my brain went directly to the property ownership and sub-letting schemes in Second Life.

    I am still thinking October for any sort of actual "no more saying "it's beta" because "it's live" transition. There is a lot of stuff to be added and then made to work.

    1. Well, it's a step up from "Go back to WoW" but that's about as much as you can say for it!

      Yes, the super-early access is a bit of a double-edged sword both for players and developers. I read somewhere that they sold over 20k Alpha Access packs which is a very decent chunk of cash even allowing for the refunds but as Pete mentions all the servers are consistently at Low population now. I don't think it's because people have lost interest. It seems to be the exact same phenomenon you see in Live MMOs only magnified - players burn through content far faster than Devs can add it.

      The dedicated and skilled builders are still beavering away because although the resources are limited and the tools aren't finished they are bursting with creativity that they have to express. Mrs Bhagpuss, who was slow to take an interest, is there all day right now, learning the tools and building a full-scale project that she'll template and use in the future. The rest of us, like Pete and me, are scratching around for something to do until an update adds something interesting to play with.

      As far as release dates go, although I think we'll be in open beta with the Station Store open for business and Gold Membership on offer, if they go that route, I am starting to agree with you that they won't really be in a position to call it "done" in much less than six months. It's a *very* ambitious project and evidence so far is that progress isn't going to be all that speedy. I am starting to worry a bit that by the time it's a "real" game I'll already be done with it. Never mind though - by then EQNext alpha should be in sight!

  3. I find the idea that people might want to play Landmark and not spend all their time building a bit hard to grasp, too, I must confess. I thought EQNext was for people who wanted to play a game and Landmark was for people who wanted to build. Every time I hear stuff about e.g. combat being added to Landmark, I just get more confused and wonder what the point of the EQNext/Landmark divide was? Should I even expect EQNext to ever be released as a separate product, or will it just be absorbed into Landmark as it progresses out of alpha?

    1. Everyone's confused. No-one either knows or agrees what it is. Those of us who have been following it closely since it was announced last summer AND who didn't apply selective hearing so they only heard what they want to hear noticed very early on that SOE had stopped talking about Landmark as a building game and started referring to it as a "full feature MMO".

      They've given a lot of piecemeal detail about what some of those features will be - combat, achievements, pvp, economy - but what they haven't done is explain how they fit together to make a game. I get the feeling they're hoping that since it's a "sandbox" the players will figure that part out for them.

      You're not the only person starting to worry whether Landmark will eat Next, either. I've seen that concern expressed a number of times. I think that, even if LM was wildly successful, which I still find hard to imagine, development on Next wouldn't be affected. It's still the bigger ticket of the two. I guess there's an extreme outside chance that LM could turn out to be so successful that most people who might have played Next will skip it in order to say with LM. leading to Next failing, but I find that hard to imagine.

      Of course, given that both games will be F2P and that SOE's optional Gold Membership subscription now includes all their games automatically, I guess you could say that functionally there will be no difference between playing either or both...

  4. I saw the post at Dragonchasers and wondered why does it matter what other players are doing? Landmark is not a PvP game (not yet). You have your own space and you build what ever you want. Then I realised that large part of MMOs are about keeping up with the Jones otherwise you play a single player game! Sometime people like to say that there is no competition in PvE only MMOs but how wrong they are...

    1. For people like me it really won't make any difference whatsoever. My Claim is a shambles by the standards of any serious builder but I have enjoyed designing and building it enormously and it gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure every time I walk around in it. I've never needed to validate my own worth by comparing myself with others. Apparently it all comes down to how you were parented - I take no credit for it but I'm very grateful.

      MMOs, though, do tend to run on peer pressure and, as you say, keeping up with the Joneses. We don't have uber-flashy raid shoulderpads that can be seen from space in Landmark (not yet anyway) but we do have Claims and so Claims are what people compare.

      Wait til combat comes in. Then it'll all be "oh you can build a fancy tower alright but how would you cope down in a T8 Ice Cavern with twenty Frost Wurms trying to freeze your ass? Eh? Eh?!"

  5. I had two weeks off for work travel and have burned through hours last couple of days. Building and tearing down, learning the ropes, using the tools.

    The achiever in me loves building the highest crafting stations.
    The Zen-grinders in me loves harvesting (And catching up on dr. Who episodes. Grinding mats is good for this)
    The socializer in me just met a new neighbor, who happened to be an old DAOC guildmate and longtime gamer-friend. Someone to talk to =)

    The time-strapped married gamer in me is already scarily waiting the first wipe. I don't know if I will grind back all the top end crafting stations and picks/axes etch, so I sure hope they add the other elements of game play for me to enjoy in next phases.

    1. There was a mention somewhere (the last Livestream, I think) that there will need to be a wipe when new biomes are added. That seems to contradict the Roadmap, which suggests new biomes can and will be added continuously throughout alpha/beta. I think that a mid-alpha wipe would reduce the remaining, heavily diminished, numbers considerably.

      Actually, I think they should probably have been wiping a lot more frequently from the start, probably at least once a week, partly to emphasize the ephemeral nature of the enterprise but mostly to get people doing new things. Letting people bed in and undertake major building projects at this stage seem counter-productive on both sides. They could have heavily reduced or even removed the tool-grind after the first wipe to make it simple for people to re-start. Plenty of people had already made all the things by the end of the first week and I don't recall very many bugs on that side of things.

      I'm beginning to find it increasingly odd as an alpha. It's much more like a very unfinished game rather than any kind of testing environment at the moment. I know Smokejumper's intro video suggested they wanted alpha to be for playtesting and ideas feedback not bug squashing but it doesn't really work when most of the game isn't in the game yet.


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