In Support Of Blasting Through Content

This isn’t actually something I normally support, unhealthy but I got to thinking about my current Wildstar experience, and some of the bon mots that typically surround the MMO genre, and in doing the math, I think I understand why I’m enjoying the game up to this point.

The one statement that has always made my cringe is “the game doesn’t start until the level cap”. The explanation, of course, is that the real challenging content is in the end game: raiding, mostly, but by virtue of great ideas, hilariously encompasses repetitive dailies and mindlessly grinding for gear. Wiseassery aside, the game itself has all lead up to the point where you’ve gotten enough practice in to really put your skills to the test, which is the desire of every MMO player, right? Right? Sure, why not.

Except that journey is really fucking long. Like, really long if you’re soloing or have no power-leveling group which buys into the idea that the decades of levels, zones, content, dialog, gear, NPCs, enemies, dungeons, and anything else I might have missed are nothing but time-wasters holding them back from what they really should be doing. If this idea of starting the game at the cap were true…why don’t we start the game at a the cap? Why hire designers and artists and developers to create 50-100 levels worth of throw-away content that passes by like scenery outside our bullet-train window on our way to our destination? Why not just make level 1 super powerful, and the game nothing but one big Raid-Go-Round?

I only every got to about level 68 in World of Warcraft before I couldn’t stomach any more. And that was about two or three years ago. There was a lot to do, with several expansions, that I had about three quarters as much ahead of me as I had already put behind me, and as someone who doesn’t raid, I couldn’t endure the slog any longer. Some people say that WoW is too easy to level, and I’m sure it is if you’re on your second account because you’ve filled your first with the as many alts as the game let you create.

Wildstar was created by many ex-WoW minions who have claimed that they wanted to “fix what was wrong with WoW“, and they have, in a manner of speaking, in regards to their level curve.

Normally, I’m extremely sensitive to this curve. I have made it to the cap in only two games — one because I had people to play with, which kept my interest and momentum, and the other because of an automatic supplement to active XP gets. Normally I burn out between levels 15 and 30, which when you consider that a lot of games have caps between 60 and 100 equates to the young adult demographic if we’re talking age.

So far with Wildstar, I haven’t even had that inkling. I’ve consciously thought to myself, “do I want to keep going with this”, and the answer has always been a mental backhand. Normally when I find that question being asked, it’s not so much a question as an ultimatum, and I know the end is near. This time, the leveling in Wildstar is happening so smoothly that my need to see progression is assuaged without my even knowing it. In most games my trigger fires when I can’t progress, quest wise, but Wildstar hasn’t been shy about piling on the work. I’ve even got back-up work like tradeskills and work orders, housing planning, and Path missions. And although I’m not usually an alt-lover I haven’t ever gotten very far on the Exile side, so I have that entire half of the game to tackle.

Now, it could be that I’m still in the “honeymoon zone”, and I may find that the higher the level, the more of a slog it becomes, but I don’t know that it’ll bother me. I’ve not been measuring my progress by level so much as I have been by sub-zone and zone, with the Most Metal Level Up Noise Ever being the icing on the cake. And of course there’s Path stuff, and finding the hidden crap that’s out there…knowing it’s out there, but not knowing where…

Wildstar is the first game that I think has purposefully put it’s money where it’s mouth is in regard to the game starting at the cap, because they’ve done a good job at making the journey worthwhile, and not something you simply blast through. I know old habits die hard for some (as there were level 50s very shortly after the game launched), but the game really seems to want people to hurry up and get to the cap already…but not at the expense of the hard work that the devs and artists and musicians put into the journey.

Being Productive

I want to do more than just consume. I’ve always considered myself a producer, check but I’ve never really produced much for public consumption, case outside of this blog and my irregular attempts at streaming.

A lot of the common outlets for creating stuff for this community seems to be group based (aside from blogging and streaming, which is why those are the two I’ve attempted). That means you need to find other people who are just as jazzed about a project as you are, and if you manage to find people of such refined taste and breeding, you have to ensure that everyone has the time to make it happen. No amount of refinement and breeding can ensure that.

It IS possible to do a podcast or videocast solo, but is that really appealing? Listening to or watching someone just jabber on? I suppose if it were presented in such a way that made it appealing, which might be easier for a visual medium than it would be for audio-only.

What Twitch Can Do To Improve

The fine people over at fired off a quick Twitter poll yesterday asking Twitch (or other) streamers if they felt it was important to welcome their viewers by name:

Personally, I don’t really care. I rarely return to view any amateur channels, and will only view professional (read: companies that stream) when there’s breaking news, so being recognized as a repeat viewer isn’t going to happen for me. But I do know that some people are using streaming to “become a brand” by streaming on a schedule or streaming a specific game. They do up their display with backgrounds, chroma key effects (“green screen”) and tickers. For them, recognizing their viewers is good PR.

Twitch is a great resource for gamers on either side of the camera, but they could really do a lot better for the people who are broadcasting. I’m not a professional, but here’s some thoughts I had that I think would make streaming a lot more powerful for everyone.

1. Multi-Location Input

RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) is a fancy way of saying “video goes in, video comes out”. It’s essentially Twitch’s business, but their system only allows a single stream in, and a single stream out. Most users get around video composting at the client level by using apps such as OBS, FFSplit, or XSplit, all of which allow for multiple inputs at the local level.

But wouldn’t it be great to allow gamers from different locations to merge their video into a single output? It’s possible; You can do it right now. Setting up your own RTMP server is quick and painless, with the right instructions, and you and your friends can broadcast to a custom server, and have another friend accept each feed into a single source, passing it on to a specific Twitch channel. Complicated? Yes, but I’m sure Twitch could set up this kind of merge on their side, and ease people into it to allow remote users to stream together.

2. Live Stream Tools

I used to use a service called Livestream, but that was before they dropped their free tier and went pro-only. That was a few years ago, but their tools were lightyears ahead of what Twitch offers.

Using the Livestream web dashboard, users could merge multiple inputs from multiple remote sources, preview “on-deck” video, and switch over to it on the fly, just like you’d expect from real live broadcasters like your local 6 o’clock news shows. It had built in tickers and watermarks and graphics, and you could add clickable links to the video that users could click for whatever purpose you desired.

If Twitch had something like this, it would work great with item #1. Just these two elements would make Twitch a lot better than it is today.

3. Better Interaction

Users watching a stream can chat with the broadcaster, but it’s more like the floor of the NYSE than a way to interact. In a crowded room, text streams by so quickly that it requires a second person working with the streamer to filter it all and handle the channel interaction. Some users will block off a region of their screen where they can broadcast Twitch chat via the web page or via IRC, but that takes up real-estate.

I really don’t know how to solve this, but better tools for the streamer to keep up with conversations while still playing the game would be a massive boon to interaction on the channel.

4. Pre-Recorded Content

Although Twitch’s bread and butter is live streaming, it records and saves the content that’s streamed for later playback. That means they have storage, and that means that they could offer a platform for pre-recorded video.

As timely and exciting as Twitch streaming is, let’s face it: most channels are just people’s floating heads and a live feed of a game that the viewers could be playing themselves. Unless the streamer is particularly engaging or is offering unique content, a viewer’s time might be better spent playing the same game herself.

Being able to record video, edit it, work with audio, compost other video, and add effects, and then upload it to Twitch (or better yet, be able to do all of that on the Twitch website) could open more opportunities for gamers with more time and skill to reach other gamers. Right now, the outlet of choice is the general purpose YouTube. Twitch could certainly benefit from a healthy stock of videos that have higher production values, and gaming videographers could benefit from opportunities to showcase more than just their gear score.

5. Better Game Integration

This is really outside of Twitch’s control, but if you look at their API you’ll see that there’s a lot of stubs that streaming software isn’t using, like providing the name of the game that’s streaming, or the setting of the stream title. I doubt there’s been any streamer who hasn’t started streaming a game only to realize that they’ve Tweeted the title of their last streaming session. For streamers looking to build a brand, that’s inexcusable.

With Twitch finding its way into specific products, there’s no reason why the service can’t auto-update it’s game and title without forcing the user to visit the website to do it manually.

6. More Platform Integration

Twitch was just a PC thing, but now the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 have it at the system level. I’ve heard that there’s video capture devices for Nintendo xDS, and that Twitch streaming abilities will be coming to mobile and tablets.

One place that Twitch isn’t, and which is as conspicuous as a black hole appearing in Times Square? Steam. Steam is the biggest PC game distribution network, but it doesn’t have any kind of broadcasting abilities. EA’s Origin distribution client does. With SteamWorks as an option for developers to hook into Steam as a platform, why doesn’t Valve integrate Twitch streaming? Maybe they have plans to create their own streaming service…?