Nov 21, 2008

[Moral Ambiguity, or Lazy Design?]

So Richard Bartle makes a comment about quests in WotLK requiring players to torture helpless people for information. This kind of squicks him out.

Broken Toys then accuses him of overreacting. The ensuing discussion thread there is kind of interesting, with some people actually seriously discussing the concept of moral choices in games.

The first quest I ran across in Northrend that made me stop and go "WTF, how is this not kind of effed up?" was one from a Tuskar asking me to kill members of a rival tribe and kidnap their children for him. I still am not really sure why anyone would think that somehow makes killing tribespeople okay, as long as you have their kids as prisoners in a sack somewhere (yes, you actually put the babies in a bag) so technically the race won't go extinct. A bit insane as well as something really wierd for a 'hero' to be asked to do as if it was the most normal request.

But then in Dragonblight I was given my first torture quest, to use a branding iron on a Scarlet Onslaught member to gain information, and then to kill him afterwards. Okay, I was kind of squicked out, but the Scarlet folks have been pretty big bastards to everyone, and it was a Forsaken quest and they sort of specialize in being bastards themself, and it was part of a chain (and xp) so I did it. It's not like NOT doing it would have made a bit of difference, anyway, as there is no real choice or value to choosing not to do a quest for moral reasons in WoW.

But now knowing that there are several other quests requiring you to torture helpless people makes me really stop and wonder what the Blizzard devs were thinking. Apparently, there are other quests where the devs seem to have completely lost any kind of concept of the morality they're pushing as normal here: Killing an ally because she was being brainwashed and threatened with rape (Keristrasza, with the rapist being Malygos himself) ('a fate worse than death' and all that, I suppose is the justification there). Waving a white flag to lure out an enemy leader to kill them, etc. Torturing prisoners (and never once is that torture result in anything other than success -- they never lie or valiantly die without ratting out their allies). Can a game really claim to be about making the player a hero, when it has you doing very un-heroic (or even evil) things, though?

There are some class/race situation where I could see how these quests could work -- Warlocks and Death Knights are pretty evil, after all. Forsaken characters tend to be bitter and vicious to the living, so I could see certain race/class quests that would make make sense in those contexts -- but asking a life-affirming Druid or righteous Paladin to do such things? An honorable Tauren or a devout Draenei? Most of these quests are chains or offer only a lose/lose result for not doing them -- you never gain anything for choosing not to do them, you only lose out on xp, loot or story progression.

Chris Metzen, when talking about the theme of WotLK, said this: "We want to add some layers of psychology that put you in strange moral situations of how you fight the good fight that mimic some of Arthas’ own experiences…. By the time you reach level 80 [the expansion's new level cap], by the time you stand toe-to-toe with this bastard, do you still have your pretty principles and highfalutin morality, or is it a mirror reflection? Arthas is after that as much as global domination. It’s a hook that makes it personal that Burning Crusade didn’t have.”

But the way they went about it was a lazy design choice -- Blizzard should have made moral choices in Northrend actually MATTER, so that the decision to do something immoral for loot or convenience actually had an impact, instead of basically expecting people to play all the quests regardless how bad those quests made them behave, and then wag their finger at us afterward for being so 'amoral' when we were never given a real choice to behave otherwise.

I think it's a blatant show of how Blizzard disregards the player's own feelings about their character and how they have personalized that character in order to facilitate Blizzard's idea of the story the way THEY want it to be experienced by us (instead of letting the player make their own path), and I think that's a violation of the entire concept of a MMORPG. To attempt to add 'moral ambiguity' to the game simply by adding quests that make people behave reprehensibly without any real consequences or internal conflict about it was a very poor way of going about adding 'moral ambiguity'.

EDIT: Raph Koster weighs in his opinion.

Nov 7, 2008

[What's the Deal With Twilight?]

  My personal feelings about this series' popularity are summed up in this comic and in the hilarious book reviews by Cleolinda.

  I mean, vampire romances are legion. There are lots of far better written stories out there with characters that are not TSTL (too stupid to live) abusive, shallow, and mary sue-ish. Yet, just like with Eragon, magazines went ga-ga over it (calling it the next Harry Potter? Seriously?!) and it's fans squee over it's mediocrity with frightening intensity.

  Is it just because its fans have never read a good paranormal romance, or are that many people's idea of 'romance' really that screwed up? If Edward wasn't a vampire, would the reactions even be so intense? Because if you remove all the paranormal trappings (and rainbow glitter) the relationships in these books are just plain dysfunctional, and only get worse as the series goes on.

  In an environment where there are so many better paranormal romantic books out there as alternatives, why is Twilight singled out at the one most worthy of all this praise? I just can't understand it.

Extra: A fun podcast about fandom in general, Twilight, relationships, feminism, and a slew of other things. =)

Oct 21, 2008

[Mother 3 Fan Translation!]

As a big fan of the quirky SNES game Mother 2 (EarthBound in the States), I was hugely excited at the announcement of a sequel being made on the GBA. I was equally let down when, even after a fan letter campaign, Nintendo chose not to release it in english.

But never fear! The great folks at have finally finished their fan-translation of the game! If you loved the original EarthBound, you'll want to check this out. =)

Oct 6, 2008

[User-Created Content and the WoW Killer]

Tipa of West Karana has made a post about my own pet topic, user-created content, and ties it into the whole 'WoW-Killer' speculation discussion. And I agree, that the greatest threat to WoW would be a game of equal quality that also allows players to customize their own experiences. The Shut Up, We're Talking podcast has a great segment on it and on the feasibility of freeform user-creation in MMOs and the future of content in the genre.

Sep 2, 2008

[The RL Grind]

I've talked about this before, how the continued emphasis on heavily-scripted game content instead of developing tools for user-created content is a bad thing for WoW. Basically, that the constant race to create new scripted content for people who chew through it 100x faster than it can be produced is a destructive, unwinnable cycle. A quote from a recent interview with Frank Pierce has confirmed my opinion:
Question: How interesting has it been for you to watch the success of World of Warcraft?
Frank Pearce: I don't know if I'd describe it as "interesting" as much as exhausting. We've got almost 3000 employees worldwide now, and the majority of that growth is due to the success of World of Warcraft.

As a company we've found ourselves spread very, very thin - because the World of Warcraft community has a voracious appetite for content. That development team is 130 people, they're working on content patches, they're working on an expansion set, they've got their hands full - and then we've got the other development teams that we need to continue to support as well.

So it's great, it's a great problem to have, but it is a lot of work. We've learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes along the way. It's been good experience for us, I wouldn't say that we've regretted it... but "interesting" isn't how we'd describe it necessarily.

And they can't ever lessen the breakneck pace, until they shift the focus of their development to longer-lived mechanics that allow people to make their own content and experiences. As long as WoW players are stuck waiting for handouts from Blizz for their fun, that 'real life grind' won't end, and I worry about potential burnout of the devs.

Aug 16, 2008

[Hardcore Gone Haywire]

Holy gawd... one of the strongest bosses in FFXI, Pandemonium Warden, held a hardcore raiding guild at bay for over 18 hours:

A linkshell (guild) called Beyond the Limitation recently faced off against Pandemonium Warden over an 18 hour period, but the NM was still going strong. The NM shapeshifts into multiple forms, making it even more of a challenge to defeat; Beyond the Limitations fought Pandemonium Warden through twenty of his possible forms, some of which took hours to kill. Pet Food Alpha, a Final Fantasy XI community site, quotes a member of Beyond the Limitation stating: "People were passing out and getting physically ill. We decided to end it before we risked turning into a horrible new story about how video games ruin people's lives.

Yeah... that's a little too 'hardcore' for me. I'd almost think the encounter has to be bugged -- no sane dev would think a boss that takes days of nonstop combat to defeat is in any way a legitimate design.

Aug 15, 2008

[Multiple Personalities in the Gaming Community]

The Escapist does a great write-up wondering why 'the Troll' is such a popular online persona for many gamers:

"It's difficult to play popular shooters like Halo or Team Fortress 2 on public servers without encountering racial or homophobic slurs. On websites that cater to gamers, visitors routinely spam comment threads and message boards with unhinged, bigoted troll posts. Our self-contradictions become more obvious as gaming matures and absorbs more people into the fold. The ubiquity of intolerant language and belligerent behavior raises troubling questions about what truly lies behind the mask of online identity."

Aug 12, 2008

[The Relationship Dynamic in 'Braid']

A fascinating discussion on the time-bending game Braid, and how it deals with the old Princess/Rescuer plot device. What message is the story trying to convey? It's not exactly clear, but very thought-provoking nonetheless.

(Spoiler warnings in effect for those who haven't played it yet.)

Aug 5, 2008

[Not My Rant, But a Good One]

A great three-part rant on the history and social relevance of Sci-Fi: "A Galaxy Far Far Away My Ass!"

A must-watch for SciFi geeks everywhere. =)

Jul 12, 2008

[The Importance of Moderation Online]

The quickest way to ruin the potential for an inclusive, intelligent online community is to have a poor moderation system (or none at all). Many people fear the accusation of 'censoring' others, or violating their free speech, even though those constitutional rights do not apply to private citizens' control over their own property (i.e. blogs, websites or forums).

The example of the Kathy Sierra debacle and it's resulting debates on web conduct, as well as a more recent event on Wired, illustrates clearly why allowing asshats unrestricted access to a web space quickly spirals the entire atmosphere of the community down the toilet. It eventually becomes simply an echo chamber for the lowest of the low, repelling and silencing anyone whom the trolls do not wish to be heard. Any chance for intelligent, constructive interaction in that space is then destroyed.

The actual side affect of proper moderation of a web community is that a free exchange of ideas becomes truly possible once those who are incapable/unwilling to behave like civilized beings are not allowed to usurp control and set the tone to their own low standards. Your personal web space is your own; do not be afraid to stand up for it.

Related reading:
'If Your Website's Full of Assholes, It's Your Fault'
'How to Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community'

Jul 11, 2008

[The 'Casual' Fallacy and the Blue Ocean Rising]

Okay, I've just read this article called 'Birdmen and the Casual Fallacy', which is talking about how there is no such thing as a 'casual gamer market'. The entire series of articles here (especially 'Drowning in the Blue Ocean' which explains the REAL definition of a console 'generation') are must reads if you have any interest in the gaming industry or the 'casual vs hardcore' debate. They will challenge your entire perspective.

Here is a snippet:

"The game industry was, and still is, distinctively hardcore. They generate their profits from sequels and big blockbuster games. The developers are all hardcore. The publishers are generally hardcore as well.

When a hardcore gamer looks at a hardcore game, he sees sophistication, magnificence, and, most important, art as if it were a mirror image facing him. When a hardcore gamer looks as a casual game, he sees simplicity, non-art, easiness, and, in sum, a retardation of gaming. Hardcore view casual games not as progress in gaming but as games tailor made for gaming retards.

“Retards!?” says a shocked reader. “Surely you can’t say what you mean!” Why not? When a casual gamer picks up the standard dual shock controller, he gets confused. He doesn’t have the patience to wade through these elaborate 3d worlds or memorize fourteen button combinations. While the hardcore call him “stupid”, he retaliates by calling gaming “stupid”.

Anytime you read ‘casual games’ in the news, just replace ‘casual’ with the word ‘retard’ and you will get how it is truly perceived by the industry. “There is a casual gamer boom!” should translate to “There is a retard gamer boom!”. The “EA Casual Games Division” really is translated to “EA Retard Games Division”. “Why are you calling casual gamers retarded!?” thunders one reader. I am not. I am saying that the hardcore industry is the one who thinks this way. ‘Casual’ is just a nice way of saying ‘dumb’ in their eyes.

The reason why hardcore gamers’ hearts sink when a company says they will make the game include ‘casuals’ is because they know that all the edge, difficulty, and passion will be ripped out to make a generic, easy, and soul-less game.

Despite every company and their dog making these ‘casual’ games, the so-called casual audience is not buying them (just as they didn’t buy the platformer clones of the 8-bit generation, the fighter clones of the 16-bit generation, the GTA clones of last generation, and so on). When seeing their ‘casual games’ flop while seeing Nintendo’s ‘casual’ games in the bestsellers, the third parties growl and say, “IT IS ALL NINTENDO’S FAULT! People only buy Nintendo games! Third parties can’t succeed on this platform!”

The problem is not in these companies’ execution of their plan. The problem is their world-view. Their perception is totally off, and it is costing these companies millions upon millions of dollars. Don’t you think, guys, that it is time to think about things a littler harder before you waste more millions?

There is No Casual Gamer."

Jun 9, 2008

[Lern2Make a Sandbox, kthx]

via Hardcore Casual:

There are many differences between sandbox and theme park MMOs, but I think one that often gets overlooked, at least by fans, is the one I want to get into today: the ability to play a sandbox MMO ‘wrong’.

Wrong not in the optimal or min/max sense, but wrong in that you are not using the tools available to you to get the most fun out of the game. Theme park games don’t have this problem because they basically force you to play ‘correctly’. You can’t accidently stay in one place too long; the game moves you on. It gives you breadcrumb quests, it grays out the current quests/mobs, and it stops giving you xp/items, all in the effort to get you into the next zone/area it wants you in. That’s not always the case with a sandbox game, and that is one of the hurdles such games face when trying to keep new players.

I think that as a result of WoW (which is now most people's main experience with MMOs), many new players to these other/older games have had their exploratory instincts stifled and shut down. Of course they will just mill around in a small, helpless circle in a sandbox game, not knowing what to do next, because they have no idea what to do unless the game mechanics are specifically pushing them somewhere. They have had no experience with anything different. It's not the fault of the players, but of the game in failing to properly show them how a Sandbox-style world works.

Any new sandbox games that come out in the future, will need to 'wean' such players gradually into the Sandbox style, via more structured intro gameplay that eventually 'lets off the reins' and lets the player make their own way. At the very least, the whole 'drop them into the world and let them figure it out' is a thing of the past. Sandbox games are going to have to come to terms with that fact if they want to make it in the new future of MMORPGs.

May 8, 2008

[EA's Totalitarian Protection Scheme]

So... new EA PC games (like Spore and Mass Effect) will be coming out with this ScureROM 'copy-protection' thing. Details thus:

This new version is causing controversy due to an online verification system connected to its CD key. The system requires a connection to the internet during installation… After this the game will try to re-check the CD key every 5-10 days… If the game can’t verify the key… it will continue to try for a further 10 days, after which it will stop working… The protection will also only allow the game to be installed three times.

Awesome. What genius in EA actually thought this would be a good idea?

EDIT: Apparently EA has backed down after hordes of angry Spore fans threatened them with pitchforks. It doesn't mention whether the 'Only three installs before you have to buy a new copy of the game' part is still in effect, though.

May 4, 2008

[The Cure for MUDflation]

Steve at Creating Living Online Worlds is writing about solving the 'incurable disease' of MMOs:

"The fixes [for MUDflation] have always been obvious – they are the basic principles of economics. Briefly, they are limiting the influx of currency (or currency-like objects), modeling more required purchases, and eliminating superfluous currency and goods.
The reason few, if any, of these have been truly explored in the MMO space is the “pain” of requiring a player to engage in a living economy outweighs the fun-factor of playing in the gamespace. Additional to this is the prevailing notion among the game design community that modeling and guiding the economy is “too hard” for the payoff it would give to the playerbase.
I’d like to posit that a lot of the ills of a mature MMO economy can be fairly easily corrected, and the “pain” of playing in a living gamespace is offset by the creativity of a dedicated design staff who leverages these behaviors – behaviors that players do naturally anyway as they try to succeed in the rapidly inflating economy."

His ideas for a better MMO economy are actually very logical and simple, you wonder why they haven't been implemented before. Read them here.

Apr 30, 2008

[More Fluff, plz]

via The Greenskin:

There can more rewards for character development than seeing your XP bar inch its way across the screen, renown-point tally rise, and hotbar clutter up with newer, more powerful abilities. There can be more to it than jumping on a never-ending raid treadmill (grinding for gear in one dungeon so you can enter and grind the next, ad infinitum).

Yet these are traditionally the core concepts MMORPG design is based upon, and rightly so, because they are what usually keeps people coming back for more. However, there comes a point when you can give us a little more… raise our expectations

Call them what you will—cosmetic or fluffy—rewards of this nature can be just as valuable in giving players a sense of accomplishment as the more obvious rewards we’ve come to accept.

I agree 100%... as someone who loves fun, cosmetic, customization-type items (I could care less about stats, stats are boring!) more games need 'fluffy' fun ways to 'develop' your character, instead of only having the 'progression' stat treadmill as the only option.

I mean, is seeing +1 in front of your new sword's name really as cool as having instead a rare, super cool-looking mount or player title?

Apr 5, 2008

[Be Imba!]

Okay, this is a neat little character analyzer for WoW. If you want to know what instances you're best equipped for, and what aspects of your gear are weakest, this is a nice little resource. As expected, my own characters are far from 'imba' -- min/maxing was never my strong point. This site helps simplify all that stuff for people like me. =P

[Not Gaming, But Still Geek-related]

This story just blew my mind, I can't help but snark about it:

Now a fixture at Department of Homeland Security science and technology conferences, SIGMA is a loosely affiliated group of science fiction writers who are offering pro bono advice to anyone in government who want their thoughts on how to protect the nation.

The group has the ear of Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Jay Cohen, head of the science and technology directorate, who has said he likes their unconventional thinking. Members of the group recently offered a rambling, sometimes strident string of ideas at a panel discussion promoting the group at the DHS science and technology conference.

Among the group’s approximately 24 members is Larry Niven, the bestselling and award-winning author of such books as “Ringworld” and “Lucifer’s Hammer,” which he co-wrote with SIGMA member Jerry Pournelle.

Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

“Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.

“I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.

Words fail. I always knew Niven was a bit of an ass but I'm still baffled at his 'logic' (and really, the entire SIGMA concept itself -- I mean, wtf thought that was a good idea?).

Mar 31, 2008

[The Great Divide]

Via Tolbold's blog:

The problem is that these two parts of the game [Solo and Group content] are drifting further and further apart in World of Warcraft and the MMORPG genre in general. Soloing becomes easier and easier, the need to group during leveling up has been nearly completely removed, elite mobs turned into soloable non-elites, and the rewards for pseudo-solo PvP have been much increased. It is now possible to go from level 1 to level 70 and full epic gear in World of Warcraft without ever joining a group once. And the classes who are best at soloing fast or best at PvP are the most popular and most played.
Meanwhile, raiding remains hard, because that is the very reason of being for it, and even harder raid content as added to the end with every content patch. But to overcome these challenges, people need to learn how to play in a coordinated way. And the mix of classes, talents, and gear required for raiding is very different from what is most popular and easy to achieve in the soloing part of the game. Slowly but surely the two modes of gameplay drift so far apart that cracks begin to appear, threatening the whole model.

From a raider's point of view the leveling game now fails to fulfill it's function of getting people ready to raid. Sure, they might be level 70 and have epic gear, but they might still be totally useless for a raid: they have not even the most basic training of how to play their class in a group, and they are of the wrong class, wrong spec, and wearing gear with the wrong bonuses to succeed in raids...The average player who soloed up to 70, invested some effort in PvP to get epic gear, and now wants to raid, will find himself rejected and laughed at by the top raiding guilds on his server. He'll complain about them being elitist, but in fact it is game design that created the gap between average player and raider.

What needs to be done is to rethink the concept of solofication. Why is soloing popular? A part of it is due to Real Life ® contraints, if you solo you can play in smaller bits and bites, group play needs longer periods. But another part of it is just a Skinner box: people like soloing because the game teaches them that soloing is the easiest way to advance. So even if they would have the time for a group, they rather keep on playing solo, because setting up a group is so not worth it... And WoW's concept of teaching players how to group is equivalent of throwing them into deep water to teach him how to swim: some people learn it that way, but many get hurt and frustrated in the process.

Solofication not only opens up a gap to end game raid content, it also moves MMORPGs in a direction where they become vulnerable to competition from single-player games. When I recently asked whether people would play a single-player version of WoW without monthly fees, I was surprised of how many people would prefer such a game over an online MMORPG with monthly fees. If game design minimizes your interaction with other players, then why pay $15 a month for that interaction?

I have to admit: I prefer the 'forced grouping style' MMORPG. I would rather not solo most of my time -- I started playing MMOs because of the social aspects, not in spite of it. Five and 10-man dungeons in WoW are my favorite content. I wish more quests were like that too -- as it is now, it's pretty hard to find groups for the few 'Group' quests out there. Many people skip them. It's rarely worth the time to look for a group when you could just move on to the next solo quest.

The 2 opposite kinds of 'wants' of MMO players can't both be supported equally; one or the other will fail and as a result the whole game will suffer. I think this just goes to show that a MMO should pick its niche and play to it 100% -- trying to court both is not the way to have the best overall content for its players. One or the other side will end up feeling shortchanged, and the entire original purpose for playing an MMORPG in the first place is lost.

Mar 26, 2008

[I Want a World]

It was true two years ago, and it still is true now:

So then, here’s the problem. World of Warcraft is TOO accessible. By that, I mean, it’s possible for someone who hates the MM part of MMOs - other people - to progress through the entire game without ever needing to, well, group. Eventually, in the 50’s, they might start getting pick-up groups for the lower level “end-game” instances or more difficult quest sequences. But the wall between “LFG Stratholme” and “finding a guild that will get me into MC/BWL gear” is abso-freakin-lutely HUGE. And it’s quite obviously a leap of design. It’s a very clear point of departure - once you get to this point, you’re no longer casual. Your character won World of Warcraft. You got level 60. You got the powerup. YOU WON THE GAME.

It’s no coincidence that Blizzard, no doubt driven by their community people put up a page on their website detailing exactly what to do when you, well, win. “Hey, you can… uh… do PVP? Raid? Roll an alt? Play our expansion?” Kind of obvious stuff - unless you have a player base composed mostly of people for whom this is their first MMO, and definitely the first MMO they’ve reached the endgame in. They want more stuff. They want more stuff like they already played.

They absolutely do not want different stuff. They want stuff like they liked. If they wanted that other stuff, they’d have not quit that other MMO they tried for a month. They want more stuff like the old stuff.

And… they ran out of stuff. And Blizzard can’t make enough stuff. And most of the stuff they are making… uh… it’s not that stuff. It’s the other stuff. The high-level raiding stuff that, to keep a tradition in every other MMO alive, wasn’t included with the original game, but was PatchedInLater.

So until the expansion comes later this year, which will deliver a DVD full of MORE STUFF, you have millions - millions of players who are out of stuff. It’s getting pretty ugly. And most of those have no interest in being in the top 25% or 10% or whatever of the pyramid of players that enjoys organizing raids to whack the most powerful foozles. They feel bait and switched. They had a good year or so of stuff. They want more stuff.

But every game eventually runs out of stuff. There’s never enough stuff. What’s left at the end - the endgame - is what the players can come up with to make their own stuff. Be it PVP or high-end complex PVE raiding until their fingers bleed, every game eventually has to figure out how to keep players happy - either in cranking out More Stuff on a regular basis (/wave Everquest) or in keeping people happy in making their own stuff. Thus why PvP is such a common end-game goal for designers - hey, people have an endless appetite for beating each other over the head with sticks.

But if you play WoW, and you got to level 60, and you don’t like raiding, and you don’t like PvP, and you don’t particularly want to level up a new character… well, you’re out of stuff.

And that’s where some people get REALLY ANGRY. Because they have a lot invested into their characters, their friends and the connections between the two, and they REALLY. DO. NOT. LIKE. BEING. TOLD. NO. Queue the hundreds of threads on the WoW forums. All of which boil down, in the end: “More stuff, plz.”

Because, despite the claims by both sides on the forums, the “casuals” don’t really want free government cheese from Nefarion. They want more character development. They want to get to 70, or 80, or 60.0009. They don’t want to feel like they’ve reached the brick wall of character development that, well, they have. They don’t want to completely switch their playstyle to keep developing the character they’ve grown attached to. They don’t want the game to end


And that sentiment is universal to all games. The fact that we’re seeing so much of it expressed in World of Warcraft bespeaks more of its success than its failures.

The task of the WoW designers - should they choose to accept it, and it’s quite likely they won’t, being that it’s Different and thus Scary - is to move players from a developer-driven character development model to a player-driven character development model.

Whether it’s through PvP (a “cop-out” that many players won’t accept), some form of guild-based PvE advancment that even the smallest guilds can participate in, or something entirely new… maybe a dancing contest! Everyone loves dancing. Really. But the point is that the life cycle of the character has to move beyond the racetrack that the quest lines and character levelling aims the player down. And the only way for further points in the life cycle to self-perpetuate is to enable the players to make, and track their own goals. There are five million WoW players. While there are probably a lot of WoW developers, there most assuredly are not five million of them. Numbers are not on their side.

And yes, this means getting more “world-ly” and less “game-y”. But games end, and worlds don’t. And players who are demanding that their character’s life cycle not end… are demanding more world. Not necessarily more content - but more ways to participate.

But that would require a good deal of thought, and development work. Maybe even an expansion! Never seen those before. But in the meantime, we’re seeing what happens if, in the days of Everquest pre-any-expansions, somehow five million people managed to cram into Lower Guk. Demanding more stuff.

...And I want a world. What worries me, is that all the future MMOs trying to copy WoW's success are just going to fall into the same trap. Really, as long as the game is profitable overall, who cares what the players want longterm? The devs will make their profit and be happy, and that's what they want, after all. I suppose it's our own fault for shelling out the cash to support a love/hate relationship with the game.

The second expansion pack is coming out sometime in the near future -- has Blizzard realized what Scott (and many other oldtime MMOers) have said for years? Or will it be more of the same? I hate to say it, but I really think it will be more of the same...

If anyone finds an MMO that actually tries to be a world instead of just a fun game on rails, please let me know. So far none of the upcoming contenders really seem to be trying for that, though.

Mar 25, 2008

[Because 5% Doesn't Pay the Bills]

via Broken Toys, on the removal of the incredibly complex attunement quests for Black Temple:

"Not everyone is happy about this:
'Blizzard no longer cares about the hardcore gamers, be that the raiders or the pvpers. Well, we’re done with it. It wasn’t just one thing really. While we were all excited to get some tier6 for our freshly 70 alts from this new badge gear, there’s a part of you that just has to feel some pain when you look back at all the time you spent farming instances…for nothing.'
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, silly. It’s silly to expect game developers to create content that 50 people on the planet can access. OK, so that’s an exagerration. According to Wowjutsu, 286,000 people have entered the Black Temple, and 121,000 have finished it. Still, that is 5% of a given fairly hardcore population… to show up on Wowjutsu, you have to be in a raid that has completed some portion of Karazhan. Just as a comparison, those figures above are compared to 2.2 million players that watched the Shade of Aran blow up their raid."

  The costs of developing and running an MMO do not allow the old EQ model of pandering content to the minority uber elite. It's not going to happen, and to expect it to just reeks of entitlement complex. Which happens to be what the 'hardcore' raiders like to accuse the 'casuals' of having, ironically enough. =P

"This isn’t a bad thing. If you make your game’s endgame challenge dependent on how fast your content designers can crank out ever-increasingly-difficult challenges, you either have a game that no one can finish, or a game everyone can eventually finish, given enough investment of time.
Which makes some people unhappy. Raiders denigrating casual players in WoW has a long, storied tradition, after all. But casual players pay the bills. I fully expect Wrath of the Lich King to have a hideously complicated attunement sequence for taking down Arthas at the end. I also fully expect that sequence to disappear a year later."

  Unlike EQ, where the high end content remained out of reach of the majority of the players, even after the hardcore had moved on to newer dungeons, at least WoW is trying to allow more folks to be able to experience more of the game as they add to the endgame. I'd like to see a good explanation of how to solve the problem of accessibility in a better way from these folks who feel that just because some other guy can get into Black Temple a year after they themselves did, it somehow cheapens their own personal game experience. Once again, the entire raider shpiel about how they're 'in it for the challenge' just rings false. If they were, they wouldn't care.

Feb 12, 2008

[Why I Don't Play EVE]

Bitter Old Noob asked the question: "Why don't more women play EVE?"
The common theory seems to be that there's not enough dress-up or pretty colors in the game.It's so annoying to always hear those same theories over and over again, whenever guys wonder about why more women don't play 'so-and-so game'. Those two elements are not the 'make or break' elements that encourage women gamers (or a potential woman gamer) to pick up a game.

I'm female and I adore spaceships. I think mecha are sexy (I watched GundamWing for the robots, not the boys). I used to have a poster of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey on my wall when I was in high school. So with that said;

I played the EVE trial. I loved the ships, and the space environments. It's a beautiful game, in my opinion. What turned me off was the lack of accessibility (Corp politics is where things get really fun, and when you start out, you don't have any of these connections). Aside from grinding asteroids for ore, 'training' is an automatic process that you just set up and wait for days/weeks to level up. That's too 'passive' for my tastes, and I like the sense of 'working towards' character development.

I liked the tutorial. Since I'm the kind that also reads game manuals (freak of nature, I know) the length of it didn't bother me much. After that, I went about trying to get some a better ship and outfitting. Once I had mined for a day or so (a boring grind), bought an upgrade ship, and outfitted it with lots of cool equipment, I went out on a pirate mission and got summarily blown up (still being a noob). And lost everything, even with insurance. Back to the square one empty starter ship. That's when I uninstalled the game.

I don't play EVE for the same reasons lots of other male gamers don't: The game's learning curve is steep and unforgiving. A harsh death penality. The PvP is free-for-all and a general state of controlled anarchy prevails. That gameplay style is not what I enjoy.

EVE is a beautiful game, and very unique. I follow stories of Corp intrigues and wars with interest, and I love how players have made their own societies in the game, and I wish more MMOs had that openness and potential. But only a very particular kind of person enjoys the kind of PvP play mechanics EVE offers. Brighter colors and adding avatar dress-up in EVE would not get me (or others who don't already like the game) to play it, because everything else about the gameplay doesn't appeal to me (or to the majority of MMO players, if you look at the game's subscriber count). It's a game that's tailored to a very specific gamer type. (And yes, the boy's club atmosphere of the community and advertising doesn't help attract women, either).

So there's one girl's reason as to why she doesn't play EVE. =P

Feb 6, 2008

[Kotaku vs. the Boy's Club?! LOL]

From an otherwise halfway decent article on gaming journalism's need to grow up, in which, Brian Crescente shows that he's either completely in denial, or confused as to what the term 'sexist' even means:
"What needs to stop is the boy's club, in which women are only featured as sex objects. Forget being offended by it; I'm just sick of it -- if I want titillation, I'll go to porn or, you know, an actual woman. Maybe I'll read Esquire, where they at least pretend to respect an actress's work before showing off her calves. See, it's not just that gaming journalism is obsessed with sexy women, it's that the obsession takes such an awkward form. The practice is found all over the industry. Some examples:
  • Porn Stars Love Video Games! Popular site GameDaily interviews porn stars about whether their boyfriends can play video games, and which game characters they'd like to get with. In the interest of service journalism, each micro-interview is smaller than the photo of the porn star above it. (No male stars, natch, but then again who ever wanted to hear something from the mouth of a male porn actor?) GameDaily also wants you to read "Babe of the Week" and "The Most Outrageous Boobs in Gaming."
  • Strip Halo 3: Porn stars get naked on video while playing a shoot-em-up with ugly guys.
  • Shooting Range: Industry leader Electronic Gaming Monthly sent a team of girl gamers to a shooting range to test their real-life skills. Am I picky for being annoyed that they were chosen for hotness?
  • Digital Lust: Now folded, Gamestar Magazine was an unapologetic tits-and-games mag. These "behind the scenes" photos from a holiday gift guide shoot looked so much like the start of a soft porn gallery, I felt surprised when I scrolled to the bottom and saw the model still had some lingerie on.
  • Gaming's kinkiest costumes: "Got a fantasy? Chances are there's a game to match," promises this gallery from Games Radar. The copy is full of "then go talk to a real girl" asides, which only make it sadder that the site is so desperately reaching for the never-touched-a-girl audience.
The industry is addicted. Like a GOP presidential candidate, they're too afraid of losing the base to appeal to normal people with reasonable options. No wonder they're losing attention to mainstream coverage (who says GQ can't review video games?) and sites like Penny Arcade, a biting comic and review site in which a pre-teen girl -- the niece of one of the authors -- is the maturest, most capable gamer. Gawker Media's gaming site Kotaku, says editor Brian Crecente, goes out of its way to stop boy's-club coverage. Both sites have enjoyed years of rising traffic."
 Anyone who's spent five minutes at Kotaku knows it hardly "goes out of its way to stop boy's-club coverage". In reality, it's one of the most popular and unapologetic offenders, down to the very commenters themselves. Shame on Nick Douglas for just taking that claim from Brian at face value, instead of actually fact-checking to see if it was true.