The Conundrum Of MechWarrior Online

The Conundrum Of MechWarrior Online

All games have their issues, particular elements that varying amounts of people dislike (some people outright hate what developers choose to do to some games) and it’s nothing new. A lot of games overcome this with patches and feature additions that come with the different strokes of development cycles and, for the most part, games tend to find themselves well received.

Diablo 3 is a good example. Hated at first, it now sits happily in the position of being “The game that it always should have been”.

So why is it that Piranha Games Interactives’ efforts in the MechWarrior franchise, MechWarrior Online (Battletech inspired sim-shooter), are so back and forth and incur such massive community backlashes that it’s amazing people still play the game at all?

events

Prize-winning events are often poorly thought out and cause more problems in their implementation than they do entertainment.

To begin with, I don’t necessarily think that MechWarrior Online is a bad game… it’s just a game that is constantly failing to reach the potential that it has. Ever since it began, MechWarrior Online has been mired in controversy; a 3rd person camera view that most fans didn’t want, the sale of gold ‘mechs drawing huge criticisms and accusations of cash-grabbing, founders that invested cash to get the game up and running being somewhat ignored for the first year or two before being rewarded with anything that might even be considered worthwhile – the list goes on.

Outcries have rocked the forums and MechWarrior Online world about the initial inclusion of consumables, heavy forum moderation, heavy handed nerfs set in place to try and change the metagame. Ghost heat, a mechanic in place to prevent large groups of weapons firing simultaneously, is still mocked and ridiculed today, years after its initial implementation.

When you add to this the removal of numerous community managers, for what one can only assume to be failing at their jobs considering the backlash they would often receive for their comments and acts (have Garth Erlam and Niko Snow been jetted into space?), numerous accusations of PGI lying about their intents and promises, all the way to more recent times such as an incredibly careless twitter comment made by PGI president, Russ Bullock likening the tragic events of 9/11 to accusations that PGI entice people into buying ‘mech packs and wait until they go on general c-bill sale before hitting them with the nerf-hammer and it’s not hard to understand why this game is surrounded by controversy. Its community, as a result, is constantly mired in drama and deliberation about all these issues.

When a football team isn’t performing well, the players and the manager or coach often come under scrutiny and often face the backlash of all the fans, all the people that invest their free time and money into supporting their team. Those fans, as passionate as they are, often find themselves dealing with a myriad of emotions, most notably betrayal and disappointment. With the exception of some, that makes up the majority of the MechWarrior Online community.

The most recent big controversy was the release of a game build onto the public test server that was meant to test a new attempt at balancing ‘mechs (one could argue that, if a game isn’t balanced after three years, then there is something fundamentally wrong in how or why it is balanced at a ground level and needs to be addressed directly).

PGI, and most notably lead designer and the man most in charge of balance, Paul Inouye, took a lot of flak for a number of reasons.

ForestColony1

The Stormcrow, when first released was an immensely powerful ‘mech. Whilst still a capable ‘mech, it was nerfed to less ridiculous levels following its release for c-bills.

Firstly, there was a huge lack in communication when it came to informing the players which particular aspects of balance were being tested. This was later addressed, somewhat, by No Guts No Galaxy streamer Sean Lang—an associate to PGI.

Secondly, a graphic posted by Paul Inouye showed that one of the aspects the overall ability of a ‘mech would be measured and balanced upon was something called InfoTech. In a nutshell, InfoTech is the range and speed at which a ‘mech can acquire locks and ‘mech ragdoll information. This created a huge ruckus alone, notably from the competitive community and high-skilled players, due to the actual in-game effectiveness of what InfoTech entails. Furthermore, in the same post the above image came from, Paul Inouye implied that a lot of the previous balance attempts (what was known as the “quirkening”) were made after having consulted with the “competitive community.” He then goes on to say that those quirks got out of hand, due largely to high-skilled players knowing what works well and how to best use it, creating a min/max stable of ‘mechs and builds. In truth, however, only a couple of people were ever spoken to from the competitive community, and what little input and advice they gave was largely ignored. Almost immediately following this outcry, PGI released news that the Marauder (a well-known and liked ‘mech from Battletech lore and previous games) would soon be available, with respective pre-purchase packages available almost immediately.

The timing was, to say the least, questionable.

So what is causing the problem?

The problem is two-fold, in my eyes.

First and foremost, PGI as a games developer is still relatively inexperienced at dealing with a project of this size. Although the company has been around since the year 2000, their credentials don’t scream high quality or capable games developer. Following some drawn out efforts with a first-person shooter, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza, A Bass fishing game and a couple of PSP titles, PGI likely doesn’t have any games that people even know of, never mind actually own in their collections. What has remained a constant, however, is their desire to work on a MechWarrior game. It’s been very much a stop-start desire since 2005, with the game finally making it into closed beta 2012 (it doesn’t feel like that long ago, but at the same time, it feels like an eternity).

The second problem, and a problem which certainly compounds on PGI’s relative lack of experience is that they’re dealing with a big, passionate fan base.

Battletech, the boardgame and universe that MechWarrior Online is based upon, as well as the numerous MechWarrior titles that have released over the years, has a pretty big following of what is a largely mature audience. Most people have been playing these titles, and in the BattleTech universe, for years, some even decades.

MechWarrior Online also happens to be the only game for these fans to be able to get their MechWarrior video-game fix from. There is nowhere else for them to go to get that.

mechpack

‘Mech pack sales tend to appear following every comunity crisis

So when you take these incredibly passionate fans and players, with a lot of smart people, not to mention skilled video-gamers, and then continue to develop a project with something similar to a “two steps forwards, one back, one forward, two back” mentality, then it comes as little surprise that constant controversy sits on the crest of every horizon.

How does one go about fixing a problem like MechWarrior Online?

I’m no expert, but I have my opinions as much as the next guy, and when you follow a game from the earliest stages to where it lies now, you like to think you have at least a little bit of weight behind your views.

I’m a football (soccer) fan and have supported Newcastle United for most of my life. They play in the top-flight of English football, the premier league, but things aren’t going so well for them right now. In fact, things haven’t been going well for them for quite some time.

Last year was hard for Newcastle, they performed badly, went through two different managers and barely escaped relegation to a lower division, thanks to a fortunate result in the final game of the season. Now, with a new season having started in early August, the critics are out in force again and rightfully so. It’s been a horrid start to the new campaign, regardless of having a new guy in charge, with a new coaching staff and having spent the 3rd highest of all English teams on new players. The reason for this, as most people point to and agree on, is from inheriting the problems of the past. Newcastle still have players who some have referred to as poison, and there’s little sense of any real change. Things have changed, of course, but you wouldn’t think it at a glance.

This is, in my opinion, where PGI is struggling with MechWarrior Online.

Communication was a huge early problem, and one that improved following a few near-disastrous community-riots but is once again rearing its ugly head. The lack of communication in regards to the latest PTS is a key example of this, old habits dying hard, problems of the past being inherited into the now.

In the past, two community managers have come and gone in the wake of terrible communication calls, namely Garth Erlam and Niko Snow, but the problems that PGI face are rooted deeper than community management. Whilst I’m not suggesting there needs to be a purge of staff (there is such a thing as overkill after all) what I think PGI and MechWarrior Online needs now more than anything else is a proper openness to input from sources other than those working at the company.

Dragon_Slayer

Once the most popular “cash purchase” ‘mech, now forgotten about and ignored in the wake of poor balance implementation.

If we use balance as an example, the people that will be able to give you the best input on how to balance weapons and ‘mechs in MechWarrior Online are the ones who min/max every attempt at balance that is put into the game. High-skilled players, such as the competitive community, are the people who take every change and make the most powerful combinations that they can from what is at hand. Take the “quirkening,” for example, where large-laser boating IS ‘mechs suddenly had a massive power spike that evidently had PGI recoiling in horror, so much so that they decided to introduce this new attempt in the form of Battle Value.

That right there is a clash, not communication.

PGI changes weapons, ‘mechs and certain bonuses, the competitive community and number-crunching, high-skilled players then took those changes and made monsters out of ‘mechs.

The logic, however obvious this may or may not be, should surely be to use those same people, that same part of the community, to get the best advice on balance? If you attempt to balance a game in response to the advantages the community finds and takes, then you’re constantly balancing in a reactive manner, rather than a proactive manner. When PGI have tried to tackle this proactively, however, they’ve come up short. Beyond short, considering the outpour of ridicule and disbelief on forums, Reddit and social media.

A part of me wonders if there isn’t some part of PGI that’s still a little bit bitter about past transgressions. Someone over there is perhaps feeling resistant regarding the embracing of a community that is so quick to chastise and criticize, and who could blame them? In the real world, if someone is constantly on your back, telling you that you’re doing everything wrong, the last thing your instinct is going to want to do is start working with them.

This isn’t the real world, however. This is the world of game development, the world of big robots blowing shit up, with passionate fans (some more abrasive than others) and skilled video-game players. This is a world of heavy opinions and quick, hard judgements, but also a world of ideas and advice.

For PGI and MechWarrior Online, the best thing that can be done right now is to embrace the community. Pride serves no purpose if you want to be progressive, because we all know how being stuck in old ways seldom helps you.

PGI needs to open up proper lines of communication with the competitive community so they can really learn how best to balance the game.

Whilst they might still continue to survive as the only MechWarrior product around, they’ll never begin to truly flourish as they could until they embrace the community that plays the death out of their product. And should there ever be any competition to this title, in whatever form that may be, then MechWarrior Online will need much more of their community supporting them than they do right now.

 

 

 

Michael Chater is an avid gamer with a passion for the more competitive side of things and a severe fear of losing. He’s also grateful for your reading of this article and would love to invite you to follow him on twitter@M_Chicky_Chater as well as the NerdGoblin facebook and twitter @thenerdgoblin pages.


29 Comments

  1. Avatar
    A Mechwarrior Player September 23, 2015

    Reminds me of the NFL team Oakland Raiders back then, but now it seems like they’re getting their things together, hopefully PGI does the same soon

  2. Avatar
    Spike September 23, 2015

    Good article, but fyi ragdoll is what happens when mechs collapse- targeting information and damage is shown on the paperdoll display.

    • Avatar
      Michael Chater September 24, 2015

      I knew there were dolls in there somewhere, a slight oversight but well spotted. ^^

  3. Avatar
    dustin smith September 23, 2015

    PGI needs to let the game die so a good dev group can take over

    • Avatar
      Michael September 24, 2015

      Don’t forget that there is MW:LL to play. For free.

    • Avatar
      Gallowglas September 25, 2015

      People keep perpetuating this myth. If a game fails, that’s not a huge signal to another company or to investors to take a chance on the property again.

  4. Avatar
    Steven September 23, 2015

    I can’t believe anyone is crying about ghost heat still. Unlike the tabletop, mechs were rewarded for being as one-dimensional as possible. You had either all LRMs or all PPCs or all Large lasers, etc. That simply doesn’t exist in any other Battletech iteration. I was one of those jerks who used double AC/20 Jagermechs and would simply decimate people. And there were of course the splatcats with 6 SRM6’s who would regularly do over 1000 dmg a game.

    From the get go, I was amazed they could make playing a light mech just as competitive as playing an assault. That’s another aspect that doesn’t exist in Battletech. You’re given a tonnage and the more the better.

    I stopped going, for the most part, to the MO forums because I found them to be so toxic. I think you’re right, the fanbase is rabid and insatiable and there really is no pleasing them. If MO shuttered tomorrow, you would see these same fanbois crying bloody murder about the glory days of Mechwarrior Online and how every other game fell short.

    Of course balance is reactive. Players are insanely smart and tens of thousands of them are always going to out-think handful of devs no matter how clever they are. Blizzard Entertainment, which has a lot of money and devs, is constantly blindsided with imbalances in their games, just like you said with Diablo3. If devs with that much experience can’t “get it right” at the start, who can?

    • Avatar
      Furluge September 23, 2015

      Ghost heat is mocked because it is
      A) Random
      B) Not something you are given feedback on
      They could have just as easily done a similar mechanic with less issues by making weapons become less heat or damage efficient the more of the same time you pile onto a mech and having that show in the mechbay.

      • Avatar
        mechwarrior Buddah September 24, 2015

        I stopped going, for the most part, to the MO forums because I found them to be so toxic.

        Three years of incompetent and lying devs does that. Remember where they said CW was coming out in 90 days like 4 times and we found out they hadnt even started on it because they werent sure they would be able to keep the mechwarrior license?

      • Avatar
        GetGuds September 24, 2015

        A) not random

        truth is it’s totally and illogically an arbitary bandaid to the real game mechanics problem.

        the result:

        want to fire 45 LRMs? 2xLRM20 and a LRM 5 costs 14 heat. 3Xlrm 15’s is 26.72… where did that 11.72 ghost heat come from the new player would wonder. I’m punished with twice as much heat just for rearanging the spurts of missles!? but then 9xLRM 5’s gets… 44.60 HEAT! almost twice as much just because i’m using more of one weapon type which in this smaller form and is worse anyways!

        thanks to this site: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/equipment
        For telling me this because PGI in their horrbile UI WON’T TELL YOU NOTHING ABOUT IT!

        It totally makes no sense balance or gameplay wise #pualinouyeisgenius. it just cripples random builds that were not good anyways. it was made after 6 ppc instant kill mechs (which were laughable troll designs and overheated to death but were used an an excuse/scape goat for these changes anyways) but more importantly 4 ppcs builds pwned everything. instead of fixing heat dispersion mechanic or the offending weapon they just added a stupid algorithim to the entire weapon value spread sheet. ghost heat for these reasons are hated by many now ex players. then months later clan stuff throwing all that, the exuses to build ghost heat and everything, out the window for a quick buck anyway!!! then quirks cancled out some of those values which was stupid when they should’ve just got rid of ghost heat and fixed heat dispersion and some wepaon values. way to go making this mess newbie friendly!

        and that is why Ghost heat has driven old and new players away in abhorent irratation or total confusion till this day.

    • Avatar
      Michael Chater September 24, 2015

      This is an opinion piece, for the most part, and as I’ve mentioned in this article and others I’ve written, I don’t think MechWarrior Online is a bad game – I just feel like it’s constantly missing the mark due in large to the team that drives it, PGI.

    • Avatar
      fosho September 24, 2015

      After the ghost heat bit, there is truth there regarding Mechs.

      You were rewarded with you got from a RAT table in BattleTech and using exactly what came with a Mech variant, which made your setup and strategy more challenging. Best way to play it – playing the other way was unrewarding, unrealistic, and cheapened the experience – just like the total customization in MWO and one-dimensional builds. All compounded by bad design decisions.

  5. Avatar
    Rouza September 23, 2015

    Very good read and spot on sir.

  6. Avatar
    Christian September 23, 2015

    If MWO were to shut down tomorrow, I’d be very cross because of the ridiculous amounts of money I’ve put into the game. However, I would totally understand.

    • Avatar
      yoyo September 24, 2015

      Sounds like you have been hooked into the gambling machine of f2p. A vicious, soul-crushing place to be. Get out while you can. Buy some other games that are not f2p and you will slowly remember what it is like NOT to insert money into the f2p gambling machine, in the Land Before F2P. Your soul and sanity will return, and you’ll be happier then ever.

  7. Avatar
    JD September 23, 2015

    Sorry but no. Never use the comp community for balance. Comp players balance for their playstyles, not the playstyle of the other 80% of players that play for FUN and not for WINS.

  8. Avatar
    TLBFestus September 23, 2015

    Good article, but I’m still a tad hesitant to hand the “lines of communication” over to the Competitive Community only.

    After all, the bulk of the player base is NOT those people, and as such they have their own insight into the game that will most likely clash with the competitive player base in areas.

    That said, there are a lot of good suggestions that go ignored no matter where they come from. Totally understandable as well, but again it’s communication that’s the biggest problem. If someone representing PGI would simply come along ans say…”Well, that’s a nice idea but we can’t do that because of X, Y, Z” most players would accept that.

    Finally, I have never been on a games official forums that does not act as an important “pillar” for communicating to the players as PGIs. They seem to deliberately ignore making announcements on their forums and you have to constantly watch for “tweets”, imgr, etc., to get any breaking news.

    That or they don’t even announce anything, as with a recent weekend ‘event” in which a random component was causing extreme frustration for players. Without any announcement that I could find, they lowered the requirements for success without so much as a post about it.

    While some may say that PGI doesn’t use the forums because of hostility on them, perhaps they could “suck it up” for the short term and build a relationship back up with the players by sticking with their own forums. Strange….

  9. Avatar
    Furluge September 23, 2015

    I don’t think PGI can ever reclaim trusted status. There’s just been too much shenanigans over the years.

    Also a World of Tanks cone of fire system would have done wonders in making mechs behave like they are designed to instead of having the poor Atlas, one of the game’s most iconic mechs, being utterly worthless.

  10. Avatar
    Chris Bagnall September 24, 2015

    I think the problem with heat in MWO is that there is no penalty for running hot. You wouldn’t need arbitrary heat spikes if mechs were at risk of ammunition explosion, had reduced speed, and failing targeting systems while at high heat. All of this was in the original board game and every other Mechwarrior pc game. It is a balancing tool built into the system that PGI have completely ignored.

  11. Avatar
    GetGuds September 24, 2015

    This is of no surprise, this reads the same as 2013 and 2014. and I can tell you now the best thing to happen will be for PGI to shut the servers and let someone else who have an idea how to game dev professionally make MW5 like the 5million dollar kickstarter worth of founders wanted.

    PGI have not changed a bit no matter how many people they fire and replace it’s always, Russ Bryan and Paul ruining everything. No matter how many white knights say it’s spot on perfect or it was just IGP the evil publisher (who dissapeared just as fast as they emerged around the rise of MWO and downfall of Transverse, please look up transverse to understand what ripoff merchants PGI are). even as early as 2012’s Ecm brought into the game, everything else got broken in “balance” patches to try and make it’s OP effects fair. the game has been a jenga mess eversince. lock on missles have always been hopelessly UP and then totally the only good OP weapon in patch upon patch juggling. this is coupled with the MM not accounting at all for team composition equipment wise. and they can’t fix it cause they’re talentless at programming, their UI remained terrible for over a year and months back they admitted they sacked the few people who could put swappable ammo in… a crisis 3 game engine with that functionality inherited into the design! Where most devs pat eachother on the back for intergrating whole global serverwide economies into their games to make a whole other level of gameplay, PGI’s achievments is just implementing 2-4 destructable assets in a 2015 shooter.

    MWO sheep: WE CAN STOMP TREES NOW HYYYYYPPPPPPEEEE!
    ME: oh can i shoot the third floor out of a building or destroy dropships? then use my damage GRAPH and rear view mirror on my interactive hud to spot enemies and tell to the exact HP how much armour i have left… like MW2 from 1995?
    MWO sheep: oh these haters are so entitled they should make their own game. MWO is in the best state ever it’s way more balanced than the older games, it’s spot on perfect.

    Then Heatsinks and Heat gen system with regards to dissapation were always wrong but we got doubles at 1.5 and ghost heat anyways. then realising they screwed a whole lot of innocent builds they put in quirks to cancel out the ghost heat which canceled out the weapon values which they screwed up in the first place. THAT’S THEIR GAME DESIGN! and newbies are told jack about it and still down’t know how many medium lasers it takes to bring about an arbitary extra heat value when they fire all of them at once. and when they do they won’t understand why a lesser damage output from 2 AC20’s gets ghost heat but firing 6 more powerfull medium lasers at once wont trigger ghost heat. LOGICAL BALANCE! and I haven’t even started on missles and then explaining how their are more gains and bonuses canceling them out with quirks but don’t worry you’ll never earn enough in the grind to buy the three mechs and to reach master bonuses and all the modules which vets brought for real money. IT’S SO NOT P2W GUYS!

    PGI are not a game’s developer they are a minimally viable casino selling the cheapest to make and most expensive to buy nostalgia mechpak coins for their awfull repeatative arena death match slot machines. no better than used car salesmens at best and surviving this far only because they have the sheeple fanbase in their pockest behind an hostage IP. i’ll always love Bryan Ekman’s transverse statement that they had the wing commander liscence but EA said no they’re lying and EA still have it hence Roberts made Star citizen and Bryan has dissapeared for trying to hostage IP and rip off SC for cash again but got caught out on it. wouldn’t surprise me that he did the same thing to the MW Living Legends guys (cease and dissist bullying against a mod that was looking a better game than MWO). If you can, if it’s not dead already try MW Living of legends. Or Buy a Marauder and i’m sure the PGI devs will build the game honest good this time, just buy one chance and Russ will garentee you’ll win the perfect mech game this time round! Promise!

    • Avatar
      Michael Chater September 24, 2015

      I don’t remember the specific details but how long is it now PGI have the license for MehcWarrior? I’m sure I remember them getting an extension to 2020 or something crazy like that.

      That begs the question – even if they did shut up shop, would they give up the rights to the game until that time period is over, assuming nobody pays what I’d assume to be a pricey premium otherwise.

  12. Avatar
    Biff Stimpson September 24, 2015

    A good article. Its been a while since I have played MWO but it seems they are still stumbling along and abusing their community.

    There is really only one explanation for this. Poor management.

  13. Avatar
    Troika September 24, 2015

    Be careful, PGI can and will ban people for criticizing MWO off site. I would be very careful to check whether you reveal your MWO username.

    • Avatar
      Michael Chater September 25, 2015

      Were PGI to ban me for an opinion piece, and I’ve made no efforts to hide my in-game identity to anyone that really cares to find it, it would simply cast further doubt on their manner of interacting with community members, amongst other things.

      I also imagine it’d cause quite the stir.

  14. Avatar
    JigSaw73 September 26, 2015

    I’m so sick of hearing how the “competitive players” need to be catered to and are the driving force behind this game. I don’t have hard numbers, but I would think (and guess) that there are more casual players than competitive players. I’m happy with the direction that MWO is going in (I bought the Marauder pack in the first 5 mins) and I’ve been playing almost daily since the closed beta (winter of 2012). There is SO much that is right about this game and it always seems to be ignored: BattleMechs that respond differently, frequent new/updated content, in-game items/customization, immersive graphics, in-game voice comms and intense game play. I’ve been playing BattleTech and the MechWarrior video games since about 1990 and I think this game is awesome. I love that I can drop into a match with other players and we can use strategy, communication, tactics, and coordination to put up one hell of a fight and have fun doing it! I hope PGI continues to make a more robust (looking forward to single player!) and well-rounded MechWarrior experience. I will keep playing and paying so that I can enjoy a good, solid MechWarrior game for a long time to come!

  15. Avatar
    PorkTornado October 08, 2015

    I have about $800 US into this game, and just uninstalled it. I finally started doing research into the company that ruined MechWarrior, and if I ever saw Paul or Russ on the street, I might end up in prison.

  16. Avatar
    Sundozer November 05, 2015

    Its weird. Companies spend millions of dollars trying to figure out what consumers want in order to “get it right” so that they can make a ton of money back. Gamers tell developers exactly what they want, for free mind you, and no one even listens.

  17. Avatar
    Anonymous December 20, 2015

    http://imgur.com/JUZktT6

    This picture basically sums up the most recent balancing fiasco.

    To top it off, when people complained about the blackjack’s structure quirks, PGI responded by keeping the structure quirks and nerfing the energy quirks.

  18. Avatar
    DeaconW December 20, 2015

    I only post to say two things: One, thx for the great article. And two, to thank GetGuds for this quote, “PGI are not a game’s developer they are a minimally viable casino selling the cheapest to make and most expensive to buy nostalgia mechpak coins for their awfull repeatative arena death match slot machines.”

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