And now about another type of online gaming

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It’s the year 2014, when online gaming is normal. People play first person shooters, strategy games, massively multiplayer role playing games, hell, even farming simulators through the internet, and it’s normal. The internet is a local area network of the whole planet, and gamers can connect to fellow gamers from half a world away. Nowadays these things are usual.

There is another form of online gaming, though – a form that nobody seems to consider gaming, probably because there is real money involved, and players need less skill, and more luck to win. It’s called online gambling.

You see, online games come and go. Every major MMO, online strategy title and FPS will be forgotten in a few years, while casino classics like blackjack and roulette will still be among the players’ preferences. Poker is one of the most popular online games, even with real money involved – the world’s biggest online poker room has over 50 million registered users from all over the world, and over 100 billion poker hands have been dealt through it since its launch in 2001.

Online casino gaming is also a popular form of online gambling. Millions of people from all over the world are playing at various online casinos, like the Euro Palace Online Casino, the online casino, the Jackpot City or the, to name just a few. Some operators even combine various forms of online gambling, offering their players the chance to bet on various sports events (this one I hardly consider gaming at all) and play a hand of poker, a spin at the slot machines, a round of blackjack or even some ‘casino darts’ (this one was a shock for me!) while waiting for the event to end. These operators are among the biggest in Europe, most of them with a long history in sports betting.

So, what games can you play at online casinos?

First of all, there are the classics: roulette, blackjack, craps, baccarat and other card and table games. These are all considered traditional casino games, and are present in real life establishments as well. Some of them are centuries old, others are new versions of old games re-invented (and patented, of course) by modern day casino operators.

Another big game category – perheaps the one with the greatest variety – is slot machines. This invention is also over a century old, but it couldn’t reach its full potential until the late 1970s, when the first video slot machine was built. Since then these games have become available in hundreds, if not thousands of varieties – some are replicas of classic Las Vegas slot machines, others are inventive and surprising pieces of software built entirely for computer screens.

To have a complete casino offer, developers usually include in their offer other forms of casino games, sometimes called ‘parlor games’ – video poker, scratch cards, various casual games, keno and bingo.

Online casinos are popular for two reasons: their variety of games and the chance of winning. Some people gamble for fun, others try to gain some extra income by playing these games. For some casino gaming is like a job, for others it’s a form of entertainment that can eventually mean some extra beer money…


The Rise of “Guilds,” and the Fall of “Heroes”

As one MMO flies to incredible new heights, another that once promised players that very feature is coming to an end.

Recently the MMO world was hit with two big bits of news as “Guild Wars 2” developer ArenaNet posted on their Facebook page, that all first party digital downloads of the new mega hit MMO are suspended temporarily in order to insure server stability. While the game is still available through third party sites and retail stores, the developers themselves feel they have a responsibility to everyone in the game to hold off on new sales directly from them, so that play isn’t interrupted. Currently new methods to expand digital services are being looked at.

Hot off the heels of that announcement comes another from the publisher of “Guild Wars 2,” NCsoft, that they will be folding Paragon Studios, and therefore effectively bringing an end to that developer’s MMO title “City of Heroes” by the end of the year.

The reasons for these individual stories of success and untimely demise are both simple and complex, but ultimately revolve around each other.

First, in case you didn’t follow the insane pre-release hype, or immediately snatch up the product that finally launched, “Guild Wars 2” is slowly taking the online world by storm in a way that no other MMO has done since “World of Warcraft” itself. It’s doing this through an incredible art style with a scope and integrity never before seen in a game like this, a PvP system that’s so brilliant and well executed it looks to make all other competitive systems irrelevant by the time it kicks into gear, and maybe best of all, a level of difficulty that rewards players for putting more time into it by actually making the game better as you go along, instead of creating more incentive for new players, and providing cold shoulders for veterans. Tying it all together, unlike “WoW,” “Guild Wars 2” is free to play, continuing one of the more welcome video game trends in some time.

I’ve had the privilege of playing the game recently, and I don’t think I could give you an honest critical review of it. That’s because despite some of its flaws, I have such a deep and abiding respect for the game that questions of review scores and likes or hates are irrelevant. It’s one of those stand up and take notice games that only come along once in a while, even if all of the specifics aren’t perfect.

Oddly though, it seems to achieve such lofts, a sacrifice of sorts had to be made. That seems to be the largest reason behind the cancellation of service for “City of Heroes,” as reports still have the game boasting a sizable player base, and even reporting some respectable sales figures as recently as last year for such an aging title.  However, earlier this year NCsoft reported its first companywide loss in a while, and at the time “City of Heroes” was at the bottom of the sales list. With other ongoing projects to support, and bigger titles on the horizon, it would seem “City of Heroes” fell to the archvillian known as fiscal reports, and nothing more.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to look at this as a case of one door closing and another opening. As good as “Guild Wars 2” is, and as great as it promises to be, “City of Heroes” long stood as the somewhat appropriate icon of hope in the MMO world. It wasn’t a fantasy or sci-fi game, yet it produced a well built and, initially, successful MMO. Now that it has fallen to a, admittedly well worthy, challenger to the “WoW” crown of fantasy MMO dominance, I worry that the message will become more and more clear in developer’s minds that new entrants in the genre are unwelcome, especially if they are trying something different.

In a year’s time I feel that the MMO market will be hotly divided by “Guild Wars 2” players, and by “WoW” addicts, and with good reason. At that time, the mention of a title like “City of Heroes” won’t lead to tears, but rather fond memories. Still, I wish that it were possible for the game to continue in some capacity for as long as it can. Because while the game’s sales figures may have been mild mannered like reporter Clark Kent, beneath the corporate visage of numbers lied an idea of originality, individuality, and innovation in the American way.

Underneath it, lied a true MMO hero.


Guild Wars 2 beta signups open for another 24 hours

Damn you ArenaNet. Why must you suck back in to the Guild Wars 2 news circuit? Why must you entice me to watch your manifesto again? Why am I yelling “yes!” after every point you make. Stop making me care about this game. At least I can’t be disappointed if I don’t care.

I do care, though, and you should too. Beta signups just opened for Guild Wars 2. You can bet this thing won’t be out until late Q3, early Q4, so there will probably be other chances. All the same, it doesn’t cost anything to sign up – you just have to submit your system specs.


The Next Great MMO: Why SWTOR will Fail

Outdated Republic.

I haven’t done a “Next Great MMO” spot in a while, mostly because MMOs have sort of slipped from my mind a bit. Of late I’ve been spending what I call my “long term game time” in Minecraft, exploring a few different servers in the hopes of finding a ruleset I like. That experience has made me wonder just what will make the next great MMO truly great, and as far as I can tell, nothing currently in development has what it will take, not even Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I wrote a longer piece about the ways SWTOR – one of the most anticipated and ambitious MMOs out there – will fail. I’m sure the game will still sell, but I don’t think it will make a dent in WoW’s numbers. It’s too similar a game and it fails to innovate in the genre. Here’s a quick excerpt from my article:

This is the experience most MMOs fail to deliver. Instead, games like “WoW” and “Champions Online” and yes, probably “SWTOR,” present the player with a paradox. The player is told he or she is going to be a great hero someday, defending the world from some great evil, and yet, as long as the player is playing the evil persists, the villains respawn, and the game world remains virtually unchanged as a result of that player’s presence.

For the full article, head over to our parent site, Be warned, there’s a lot of Minecraft talk, so if you aren’t down with Mojang, it’s best not to click through.


The next great MMO: I need a game where the mechanics don’t break my immersion

World of Warcraft UI.

With any game, I always hit a point where I cease to be immersed in the game as a world and start thinking about the mechanics, the way the game actually works. In Counter-strike, it was the day I learned to jumpcrouch. Suddenly this game-changing mechanic turned me from a terrorist running about desperately trying to stay alive into a hopping ball of impossibly accurate death. In Halo, it was the way grenades would explode once they sat still. I perfected grenade trapping on every map, so there was always an extra burst of damage where and when I needed it. With Oblivion, it was discovering that I could beat the game at level one by choosing primary stats and never leveling them up.

WoW suffers from this immersion problem as much as any game. Creating a class for the first time, you rarely think about the different racials. If you’re going to PvP, though, it’s obvious that human is your best choice. I always loved Beast Mastery on my hunter because I got to have a big scary pet and, in Wrath of the Lich King, unique pets, but when Blizzard nerfed BM damage into the ground, it pretty much killed my favorite way to play the class. Hunters lost a lot of flavor for me that day, and it was because of a mechanical change.

The thing I’ve always loved about MMOs is the flavor of the different classes. While I love to try different things, I’ve always been a player who settles into the class I enjoy most and really identify with. Every time mechanics intrude on my class immersion, I wonder how the next great MMO will deal with it. I started taking a look at RIFT recently, a game that has been getting a lot of positive attention in its beta phase. To me, the game looks too much like WoW for me to seriously consider it. If I’m going to pay a monthly fee for WoW or a game that looks an awful lot like WoW, I’m probably going to stick with WoW if only because I have so much time invested in it. Still, I was trying to keep an open mind on RIFT, until I read the talent trees for the different classes. They’re basically the same kind of boring crap you get in Warcraft. Increases your spell haste by 3 percent. Increases your damage from this spell by 10 percent. Gives you a chance to get a free spell cast. None of that stuff is fun or flavorful – it’s all mechanical. It helps your name climb up the damage meters. It doesn’t make the game any more interesting than it was before you put your talent point there.

My hope is obviously that someone will find a way to blend flavor and mechanics for an MMO, but it’s going to take someone with serious vision. I think a lot of developers confuse depth with complexity. League of Legends is a great example of a deep gameplay experience without a super complex experience. The fact that my hunter in WoW has 50 action buttons on the screen seems to me like a design failure. With so many different skills, I’m immediately sucked out of the game to worry about where to put my latest macro. While the four button approach for LoL may be too slim for the MMO experience, there has to be some happy medium, one hopefully much closer to four buttons than 50, that allows me to engage with the game world intuitively and simply enjoy my class for what it is.


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