Dec 12, 2007

[Elspeth Tory: Entering the Boy's Club]

  A neat little interview here on MTV Multiplayer, interviewing Assassin's Creed dev Elspeth Tory about how she got into the industry and her experiences in the gaming world: 

Multiplayer: One disadvantage [of being a female in the gaming industry] I can think of is that people can doubt your abilities. When I was interviewing Morgan Webb, she said that guys still come up to her and ask, “Do you really play games?” And in Jade Raymond’s case, people were doubting her work experience…
Tory: There’s a real difference, I find, between what you experience internally, in the company, and what you feel from the outside on the forums, which are ridiculous. The stuff on forums is ridiculous. It’s so misogynistic, and it’s awful. And so I really try to separate myself from that. I find at least internally, the industry itself, when we talk about the actual companies and our working environment, I feel it’s a lot better, and I feel there’s a decent amount of respect going on there. But when you want to step outside, it’s exactly what you’re saying. Experienced producers like Jade, who was a programmer, is a huge gamer, really somebody who knows what she’s talking about. And people say, “Are you just a marketing tool?” And it’s just like, “What are you talking about?” So I think on that level, I don’t know if that’s calling it the industry, or just the demographic who are playing are just not getting it.
Multiplayer: So it seems that you’re saying with gamers — or outside the industry — there’s the negativity, but within the industry, it’s not like that at all?
Tory: Totally. Things have not gotten better outside the industry. For me, the important thing is in my working environment everybody gets taken seriously, and I am not in any way impeded in my progression. So that’s really important to me. On “Assassin’s” I started getting more exposure. You do an interview on GameTrailers, and you start getting comments. I was told to never go look at the comments, because they’re appalling!
But [being in the spotlight] has been an eye-opening experience for me. The forums in general, and basically all the websites that include all of these people who are really condescending and, I don’t know… It leaves a sour taste in your mouth. You just kind of feel like we’re making progress, we’re getting more women out there, the faces of the games are changing, and I think that’s so good. And then any time you put a woman in the position where she’s talking about things, there has to be at least a good chunk of talk about, for Jade, talking about how beautiful she is. Completely irrelevant to what’s going on and her job.
Multiplayer: Why do you think people reacted to Jade that way on the Internet?
Tory: It was really frustrating… The whole fan club thing, I think that’s fun and whatever. To me it’s just when they start criticizing her intelligence or her ability… It’s very frustrating to see that when you’ve worked with somebody for two years, and you know they’re good at what they do and they’re competent. I’ve found that she’s been an amazing role model for me, and to have people sit there and just, without any prior knowledge essentially, and truly because she’s a woman and she’s pretty, to rip into her. And to sort of imply that she couldn’t possibly have any idea what she’s doing. I think that’s a bit immature. It’s the kind of thing you expect from a 12 year-old. And maybe it is 12 year-olds making the posts. It could very well be. And if that’s possible, it’s not something I should worry about, because it’s just a 12 year-old making the posts. But it’s just the kind of thing that is not encouraging and doesn’t necessarily encourage other women to go in when they see that kind of flack.
Multiplayer: When disparaging stuff comes out on the Internet, what advice do you have for women dealing with that type of scrutiny?
Tory: Don’t read the forums! [Laughs] Don’t read the forums. That’s what I was told by some people and I stopped doing that, so that’s good. That’s helping. And try and focus on the positive aspect of what you do and the end result. I think it’s tough to know what to do.

  I feel it's sad that Tory has to avoid online gaming communities altogether in order to not be brought down and upset by all the crap on them. If that doesn't show that there's a real problem here, I don't know what does. The whole 'Just be quiet and let the trolls have their way' is clearly a failed strategy. What's that's doing is driving women away from many gaming spaces entirely. And it shouldn't be this way.

  If someone starts developing an interest in something, and then gets horrified/harassed/repelled by the people they find as the majority in the mainstream communties for those who share that interest, you don't think that would affect whether or not they'd want to participate professionally in that field, and/or make it a bigger part of their life? Can someone really claim that the tone of a community doesn't contribute in any way to people's feelings and enjoyment of a particular activity? I don't see how anyone can honestly deny that the bigoted/juvenile/boy's club tone of the mainstream gaming community is directly related to the fact that there are fewer women involved in it at higher levels.

  And yet, there are still folks who claim that the low number of women who enter the gaming industry and/or who are high profile in it has nothing to do with sexism. Right.

Dec 8, 2007

[WoW's Great Weakness]

  As someone who loves the 'virtual world' and immersion aspects of MMORPGs, I feel World of Warcraft is weakest in these aspects. WoW is an awesome game, and improvements to the game mechanics are always coming. But in terms of making an immersive fantasy world, I personally think it's dropping the ball (especially with the addition this last patch, of making interactive quest objects in the world sparkle and have big quest markers floating over them, so you don't even have to pay attention to your environment to find things anymore. It's very platform-game-ish way of dealing with interactive items, which I personally think is antithesis to the 'immersion' aspect which should be a goal of an MMORPG. The world should feel like a world, not a level in a platform game where you run around looking for the bouncing, sparkly items to pick up. >=(

  It's the immersion in the world and community that keeps MMORPGers in our games, that makes us feel a connection to it. WoW is, to me, lacks the most in exactly those aspects.

  Lots of loving care is going into raid content that few people ever see. Rep grinds and loot grinds abound. But where's that sense of fantasy and connection to the story and world, the sense that you are an inhabitant of Azeroth? To me, that is the most important aspect of an MMORPG. But currently, WoW is too focused on loot grinds and scripted static content that is consumed faster than it can be created, or is not consumed by most people at all. The next MMORPG that's looking to take a bite out of Blizzard's share of the market would do well to study these weaknesses and be strong in the ways WoW is not. Because there are many players (me included) that would consider leaving WoW for a game that could provide those things better, even if they weren't as 'polished'.

EDIT: I just found this post on Girls Don't Game, thats echoes a lot of my feelings:

"Not to knock WoW or anything, since I still play it and don’t feel like being a hypocrite today, but I really can’t get over how they seriously have not planned on giving us player housing. This is a horse that has been so incredibly beaten, you can barely even recognize the corpse. But it’s true. While players whine on the forums every single day about the lack of player housing, Blizzard keeps continuing to raise the level cap and add more high level instance raids left and right. There is so much more that could be done, in my opinion.
...I would love a game where I could just log on and not worry about hitting 20 that night, or farming primals. I would just like to log in, maybe redecorate my e-house, kill some monsters for new items, hang out with friends and then log out at the end of the night.
I heard that Blizzard was thinking about revamping the fishing skill or something but I have yet to see some actual hard evidence on this. Fishing is actually one of my favorite things to do in World of Warcraft. When I was still playing with friends, I wound up hitting fishing 300 because I was sitting on the dock in Orgrimmar all the time in private messages with them."

 The open-endedness of MMORPGs is their strength -- it's what makes players feel like they're part of a world, and have many ways they can have fun in it. To run around in a fantasy world, with the feeling that you can find all sorts of different ways to make your place in it, is the main draw of these games. That is where WoW is lacking the most, in my opinion.

[Is Raiding Hurting WoW?]

A thought-provoking article on TenTonHammer discussing whether WoW's current endgame model is actually doing anything good for the game as a whole:

"Here are the percentages of those guilds in the completion of various WoW raid targets:

Karazhan (99.45%)
Zul'Aman (32.00%)
Gruul's Lair (70.98%)
Magtheridon's Lair (30.63%)
Serpentshrine Cavern (33.81%)
The Eye (33.22%)
Hyjal Summit (5.37%)
The Black Temple (4.59%)

Karazhan and Gruul's aren't looking too bad, but four other raid zones have been completed by only about 30% of the guilds. The two hardest have been completed by only 5% of the guilds. Now, keep in mind that these numbers represent only the top 2 million players which are currently in raiding guilds-- WoW has 9.3 million customers, 7.3 million of which have never even defeated a boss in any of these zones. That means that the six hardest instances of the game have been defeated by only about 6% of the total WoW playerbase (about 600,000 players).

That's six whole zones, with scripted events, painstaking itemization, and hundreds of hours of development time and artwork paid for by money from subscribers that 94% of World of Warcraft players will never use, seeing as the Burning Crusade has been out for almost a year now and the next WoW expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, is right around the corner (bringing a new gear wipe with it that will make these current raid zones obsolete, much like BWL and MC are now).

...When almost 80% of your players aren't using content that you define as your "end-game," and 98% of your players don't even use two whole instances that you spent a lot of time designing, are you really catering to the needs of your players?"

This is a very fair question. WoW's playerbase is a mix of Blizzard fans who never really wanted to play and MMO before this one, and actual MMO fans. These two camps want different things from the game, and as time goes on, the question of whether Blizzard can adequately make both camps happy looms larger with every new expansion. But in my mind, this trend of MUDflation cannot continue:

"Because of the extreme gear disparity between raiders and non-raiders, the designers had a choice with Outland: balance it for raid gear, making everything in the expansion practically impossible for 80% of their player base, or balance it for "casual" gear (from solo play and 5-mans), making everything in the expansion absurdly easy for 20% of their player base with some raid gear. Either way, players were sure to cry foul. Instead, they did the smart move: Level the playing field by dropping raid-quality common items on new mobs and quests and balance everything for the new minimum. It made the most people happy while creating only a minimal fuss, and everyone happily went off exploring the new content.

Unfortunately, it also had the nasty side effect of making all the previous high-level instances totally worthless. Why would you bother with hard 5-mans or harder 40-man raid instances when easy greens with significantly more power are only a few levels away? Say goodbye to Stratholme, Scholomance, Blackrock Depths, Blackrock Spire (Upper and Lower), Dire Maul, Zul'Gurub, Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Onyxia, and Naxxramas [as well as both the Ahn'Qiraj Ruins and Temple].
Not only did MUDflation remove all incentive to go through some of the coolest 5-man instances in the original game-- it also made sure that there was no point for non-raiding players who hit the new level cap of 70 to go back into instances like Molten Core or Zul'Gurub and see what they missed the first time around.

That's a lot of work to ruin (and a lot of your subscription dollars wasted) just because raids are available to a game community that largely doesn't use them."

If the same amount of content development gets flushed (thirteen instances in Old World alone!) for every expansion of WoW, I cannot see it as a positive thing. It's a huge amount of effort and creativity being rendered useless in order to make each expansion's content scale with the gear of the small top raiding population. In other words, the minority is having the game's content being balanced to match their gear, rendering content that was used more by everyone else, instant trash. It's not an equal value trade off. It's not a healthy pattern.

Nov 28, 2007

[5 Lessions in 5 Years]

I've been tagged! Man, I totally missed this one! D=
I haven't been playing MMOs for 5 years yet, but I think I've got 5 lessions anyway.

1. A Guild Lives or Dies By Its Structure
Organization is the key to success. Write down your guild's values and goals, and uphold them. Support your teammates, think about morale. This is not just for raiding guilds; any strong community needs open communication, structure and goals to thrive and grow.

2. A MMO is Only as Fun as The People You Play With
In a MMO, the people you're around make a big difference in the atmosphere of your experience. Being a guildless soloer who only does pick-up groups gives you a totally different feel than a person in an active, close-knit guild. I never would have stuck with WoW past the first year if I hadn't had my guild.

3. Your Gaming Time is Your Own
Running lowbies through content, giving gold, etc. is fine... but be aware that some folks will milk you for all it's worth unless you put boundaries on your time. It's not a bad thing to log in and just want to play for yourself, don't be ashamed to stand up for that.

4. I Love You IRL, But Can't Stand You Ingame.
It's not always ducks and bunnies to get RL friends/significant others playing the same MMO as you. =P

5. Remember to Have Fun
Sometimes, you just need to sit back, stop the rep farming and instance grinds, and take a ride thru the zone you went through at level 2 and wave at the lowbies. Find creative ways to do silly things. Remember to make your own fun sometimes, and don't get stuck on the treadmill.

Nov 16, 2007

[Blizzard: 1 Hackers: 0]

Warden has been quietly updated in the latest WoW patch, basically breaking all current bots and hacks for the game. And, of course, the people who made it their mission to override Warden, are crying about it.

The Warden program scans your computer for illegal processes that are influencing the game (speed hacks, bots, etc. has been decried as and evil 'breach of privacy' by some players (those who're running those bots and hacks, most likely). Most of their arguments are just whines from people who hate having their 'freedom' to cheat forcefully denied. Scott sums it up:

But the real bottom line: if you don’t like Warden and find it an invasion of privacy, vote with your pocketbook and don’t pay for WoW. It’s really that simple. Histrionics on message boards aside, playing WoW is not some kind of constitutional right, it’s a contract between you and Blizzard. As part of that contract, Blizzard is going to be looking over your shoulder while you’re playing. If you’re not OK with that, there are, believe it or not, other online games out there, some of which have been rumored to resemble WoW to varying degrees.

Game developers have not only the right, but the expected duty, to enforce a clean and open playing field. As black hats get better at breaking them, white hats are going to get sneakier (and sometimes overbearing) in protecting them. The arms race will never end.

Or as we say in WoW: Q.Q more, nubs.

Nov 7, 2007

[Once Again, the Grind is the 'Real' Challenge]

Via Warcry:

"In keeping with their insane ability to tear through content, the first Illidan kill by the Chinese guild The Seven was recently [Oct 29th 2007] reported on the WoW forums.
While we've seen quite our share of Illidan kills on this side of the world so you may be asking "so what?"
Burning Crusade came out on September 7th in China, meaning it took only 51/52 days for to level to 70, gear up, and kill Illidan. From the screenshot you can see that many members are still sporting their tier 3, which speaks volumes for how powerful it actually is.
Naysayers may say that due to the various bugfixes and changes that went live prior to China even receiving the expansion they had access to a much better tuned Outlands than we did, but you can't deny how impressive this is, even if they had a little bit of an easier time of it than we did."
  ...Because removing attunement quests, bugged trash mobs, and rep grinds makes it 'easier' to kill the top Outlands raid boss while wearing mostly Old World T3 Gear. Right.

Yep, many MMO players have a very weird definition of 'difficulty'. I'd say this Chinese guild did an amazing job, seeing as how they were largely undergeared and still beat the Black Temple encounters this fast. But in the bizarre e-peen contest that is getting 'World First' raid kills in WoW, any excuse you can use to diminish someone else's achievement (and believe me, the cattiness I've seen between 'hardcore' guilds trying to demean each others' raid progress is hilarious in it's pettiness sometimes) is fair game. Sad that folks can't even give a 'grats' to these guys without adding an '...even though you did have it easier than us!' snark.

  Lots of comments in that thread about their 'sub-par' gear too. I guess people are totally missing the point of how that makes what they did actually cooler. People are always whining about how gear > skill in WoW. A case appears where people overcame a gear handicap, it's all suddenly 'lol! What lamers!' Hilarious.

Oct 10, 2007

[A Hilarious Take on Game Violence]

It's not an oxymoron!

It's technically a review of the game itself, but Yahtzee hits on the topic of games and violence in general.

[By the way, WoW is not hardcore]

In case you've missed the memo; the consensus about World of Warcraft among 'established' MMORPG players, is that it's cheap fluff, dumbed down, too easy, and lacks any 'real' substance. In an average month on gaming forums, you can often find many topics dedicated to sneering at the game's percieved (and real) flaws. It's basically a hobby for some folks to keep reiterating everything they don't like about WoW -- it's the price of popularity; lots of people will hate you for it because they feel you don't 'deserve' it. With games it's no different.
So I was kind of confused when I read Plaguelands' rant on the upcoming Patch 2.3 changes to the lower level content of the game:
"WoW players can finally stop pressing their stylish red ‘More Ez-Mode’ buttons because leveling between 20 and 60 just got a lot easier come the 2.3 patch.
 * 15% reduction in experience needed per level between 20 and 60
* Overall experience gained by questing between 30 and 60 boosted
* Say goodbye to the difficult to kill elite mobs that chill outdoors in the sunshine, they’ll also have same if not better quality loot drops
* New quests (approx 60 or so) and a new goblin town smack dab in Dustwallow Marsh (levels 30 to 40)
* Dungeons will be retuned to a narrower level range. (example: SFK currently is 18-25, but will be gimped to 18-21)
* Dungeon quests will yield a higher experience reward and dungeons will also see revamped loot tables
Removing the challenge. – Check
Dumbing down the game. – Check
Serving 9 billion. – Check.
...Overall, not bad changes, but some of it feels like, damn, this is for sissies."

This is WoW... the game that personifies, in many people's minds, 'dumb and easy'. Why the streamlining of the lower level game content in accordance to what, in most everyone's mind, is already the case with the game as a whole, is being considered some kind of cheapening of the game, baffles me. The game has always been about 'fun' over difficulty when the choice had to be made. Since day one.
WoW is the game for people who have never played a MMORPG, those who don't have the time/desire to play anything more time consuming, and those who are just a fan of Warcraft's storyline.
But some people don't consider those things legitimate design choices -- they're considered 'cop-outs'.
If you are playing WoW, and feel a twinge of annoyance every time the game makes an adjustment to suit the 'non hardcore', be prepared to be annoyed a whole heck of a lot.
To be honest, I see this as just a rehash of the other million topics ever posted about how WoW is dumb, filled with idiots, and only for people that are lazy, unskilled noobs. It's not saying anything new, and it's frankly getting annoying to the rest of us who play the game and are getting tired of being insulted for doing so by just about everyone, any chance they get. Yes, WoW is not a hardcore MMORPG. We all know that already. 
WoW has plenty of issues that can be discussed on their own merit, and as long as people can't get past simply repeating 'Dumbed-down, too easy, filled with idiots' over and over again as their main point of discourse about the game, it's hard to get any kind of substantive discussion about the game's merits and flaws and gameplay possibilities. I seriously doubt the game it's ever going to change to suit the people who think it's too dumb and easy as it is now -- so I think we can safely move on from that point.
Hopefully, once the '08 crop of new MMOs comes out, we'll have some more quality 'advanced' MMORPGs to choose from, and perhaps some folks will be able to forgive WoW for not being what they wish it was.
Anyway, for people like me, leveling their 6th alt through the Old World content, those patch changes are a godsend. I guess that just makes me a sissy. But hey, since I don't play games in order to prove that I'm not one, I guess I can live with it. =P

Sep 27, 2007

[More Thoughts on 'What Girl Gamers Want']

Alec from Castle in the Air hits the nail on the head about this ridiculous 'What do women want from their games?' debate:
"Here’s the main reason the question of “what women want” is stupid: We all want exactly the same thing from our games. Oh, some of us may prefer puzzles, others strategic board games, and still others vicious PVP, but what we really want is fulfilling entertainment.

In games with a narrative (most video and tabletop roleplaying games, for instance), this means that we want to be heroes—reluctant heroes, action heroes, and antiheroes, perhaps, but heroes nonetheless. On the more abstract, gamey side, we all want to be challenged, usually progressively, but not overwhelmed.

Do some women want the chance to decorate their avatars in MMOs in greater detail? I can assure you that an equal percentage of men want exactly the same thing. Do some adolescent men like to drool over cheesecakes in chainmail bikinis in their game books? Well, plenty of men are turned off by such illustrations, too.

In the end, the reason fewer women than men are attracted to all genres of gaming has everything to do with culture and almost nothing to do with “what they really want.” Almost all video and roleplaying games fail with women not because women don’t want to play such games, not because the games haven’t been successfully targeted to women, but because the games have been targeted at the hard core of a niche market. Most developers still market to the passionate minority. As soon as they start developing for people, not for “Men aged 18 to 35″ or “Women with $50,000 median income,” they’ll really start seeing a profit."
EXACTLY. Women gamers are not aliens, it's not gaming itself that discourages them from taking an interest in games, its the atmosphere of the marketing and community. The gaming industry itself needs to grow up and act like mature adults, and then they'll have better luck breaking into larger demographics.
The Wii isn't taking the industry by storm by accident.

Sep 24, 2007

[The Convenient Stereotype is Starting to Unravel]

MightyPonygirl brought up an interesting observation in light of some new studies that are poking holes in the common belief about 'women gamers'. For many guy gamers, that's not a big deal, but for others, they may start to feel backed into a corner:
"The culture of 'anxious masculinity' marries very well with the culture of gaming. To 'be a man' is to reject all things female and feminine: beyond purses and the color pink, anything that enjoys a female following is considered less-than and men who like the same thing are open for ridicule. Movies, music, books, and videogames — if girls like it, then liking it makes you girly. Using the videogame culture to bolster one’s masculinity means further dividing manly games from girly games — hardcore games from casual games, splatterfests from music and simulation games, and PS3s from Wiis."
I wasn't aware that some folks had started to label Zelda and Guitar Hero 'girly', but I had heard the whole thing about how the Wii is getting labled a 'girl's console' and belittled just for that by many male gamers before. To be honest, the commonplace misogyny in gaming culture is something I've written about before. It's understandable that guys that (were up until recently) considered nerdy and less 'macho' than say, sports-type jocks, would develop a culture kind of desperate to prove their (hetero) manliness to each other, even resorting to outright sexism. Once women start coming into this traditionally 'guys' space' a kind of backlash breaks out.

A recent study showed, that while men are playing 'casual' games like Bejeweled just as much as women, they are afraid to admit it. The 'casual = girly / hardcore = manly' game stereotype is alive and well, and guys are buying into it in order to protect their 'respectable (male) gamer' credentials. Why does even the hint of any kind of shared gaming interests with 'girls' (what puzzle games have to do with having a vagina, is beyond me however) equate outright hostility and shame in these guys? It couldn't have anything to do with a sexist 'girly things = stupid/emasculating things' attitude, now could it? =P

The desperation to categorize women gamers as some kind of strange, anomalous gamer-type that companies need to study scientifically in hopes of 'cracking the code' is a symptom of the fact that the male-oriented industry just can't figure out that women gamers are (gasp) GAMERS just like guys are, and it's not rocket science -- make quality games, and women (and men) will play them!

I didn't need pink consoles and Barbie Horse Adventures to start my interest in games -- I started on Apple II and Super Mario Brothers, just like the rest of the gamers from my generation. And I'm not alone -- in the beginning, games were just games, they weren't segregated by gender except by the male tone of the community. And it's the 'boys club' tone of the mainstream gaming community itself that's the biggest block to more women wanting to get into games and be more active in the fandom.

Sep 23, 2007

[MMO Players Are Social After All!]

OMG! Nottingham Trent University has published findings after interviewing 1000 MMO players from around the world, and here's the press release on what they found:

Three quarters of online role-playing gamers make good friends with the people they meet in their virtual worlds, with almost half meeting in real-life situations and one in ten going on to develop physical relationships, according to a new study. The research, carried out by researchers at Nottingham Trent University, and being published in the US journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, finally dispels any myths of online gamers as asocial, introverted loners.

Other findings to come out of the study, Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gamers, included more than 30% of participants finding themselves attracted to another player; and 40% choosing to discuss sensitive issues with online friends rather than their real-life friends.

One in five participants believed that Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) had a negative effect on their relationships if their partner was not a player, while more than two-thirds felt they had a positive effect on their relationships with those who did play.

Females were significantly more likely than males to be attracted to other players, and were far more likely to go on to date them. Most females gave therapeutic refreshment as their main reason for playing, whereas most males stated ‘curiosity, astonishment and interest’ as reasons.

Around a third of gamers reported they could be more themselves in the game than in real life.

The study, which looked at almost 1,000 online gamers from across the world, found the average number of hours played per week was 22.85. The most popular MMORPG in the study was World of Warcraft, with almost half of participants naming it their favourite game.

Professor Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “This study has revealed many aspects of MMORPGs that were not known before. Previous research has suggested that gamers are socially inactive, but MMORPGs are actually extremely social games, with high percentages of gamers making life-long friends and even partners.”

He added: “As well as making good friends online, 81% of gamers play with real-life friends and family, suggesting MMORPGs are by no means an asocial activity, nor are the players socially introverted.

“The virtual world that these games offer, allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, age, or other factors. They also offer a place where teamwork, encouragement and fun can all be experienced.”

...Who woulda thought people who play 'Massively Multiplayer' games would actually like to be around other people! =0

My husband, for one, sees his brother more often in WoW than in real life... and because of their age difference, oftentimes had little in common to talk about when they did meet in real life before they started playing. But the game as helped make a new bond for them.

I think the stigma around 'losers in their basement on the internet' is born more out of ignorance than any real facts. People, out of ignorance, have trouble comprehending 'virtual' interactions as 'real'. As more and more people get involved online the attitudes about MMOs and online relationships in general are eventually being changed. The potential to meet people you never could've in real life, people from all over the world, is a very positive thing.

Sep 13, 2007

[Final Fantasy VII - Voices of the Lifestream]

I'm a big fan of video game music, and this huge FF7 anniversary remix project is just amazing! Check it out; if you're a fan of Final Fantasy music, you're gonna love this. =)

Sep 8, 2007

[Women and Raiding]

Even though, according to some guilds, 'girls will ruin everything' and thus refuse to even recruit them to begin with. But that's a topic for another day. =P

Patrick at TenTonHammer recently wrote a pretty decent article dealing with women gamers and guild relations. It sparked a pretty interesting discussion on it's comments page, as well. ANYway, he touches on the topic of 'serious' raiders vs two other types of gaming women:

"As it relates to gaming, there are three major groups of women. The first is serious gamers, the second is social gamers, the third is Man-Seeking-Missile (MSM) gamers. Serious gaming women dislike social gamers when they share a guild, and want to strangle all MSM gamers. These are the ones you want in your guild; they are better than most men you'll ever play with, they care more passionately about performance than most raiders, and they are confident.

Serious gaming women despise Man-Seeking-Missiles, though. At least a quarter of my conversations with great women over two years of raiding involved this in some form or another. MSMs are not universally awful players, but they all reinforce our stereotypes as men. Women are subpar players. Women rely on men to game. Women can't think for themselves. Women only get ahead using sex. Strong, sensible women recognize these stereotypes and work against them; Missiles think it's "cute" to reinforce them. That's why the hate exists."

I'd label myself as a 'serious social gamer'... I like to be effective and knowledgeable at whatever class I'm playing, but I'm I don't consider it a waste of time playing just to roll alts with friends and chat, either.
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what his definition of a 'social butterfly' gamer is. Someone who never gets far past the newbie zones? Someone who plays without really being interested in higher game mechanics? Does he simply mean a 'super- casual' gamer? If so, then I can see how that kind of player would annoy a raiding guild, regardless of their gender. I'm not sure why such a player would even be allowed in such a guild in the first place, however.

I also agree with his description of the frustration a lot of women gamers feel when they see someone playing off the stereotypes and sexism of the guys in a guild to get attention. Sometimes I wonder if I sometimes don't do that myself unintentionally, since I have what could be considered a 'cutesy' personality a lot of the time. I think the more I got fed up with dealing with guys who took that as a cue to harass or disrespect me, the less often that aspect of myself shows in-game as time goes on.

But on the most part, my guild (I've been in the same one since before WoW was even released) is filled with great people, and is run by folks who value respect and an inclusive guild environment. I've been very fortunate, I think, because I hear some really awful stories from lots of other women who have played WoW as well. I think some quit the game entirely when they could've just quit their crappy guild instead -- a good guild makes all the difference in how much you enjoy a game, in my opinion.

I wholly agree with Easter's take on how women gamers should deal with bad behavior or sexism in their guilds:

"I think the way to get around all this gamer sexism is to take the same path I’ve been taking. Be female. Game. Win. If guys are offensive, say something about it. If you want to do something and your fellow gamers aren’t cooperating, find more cooperative ones. If your guild is full of drooling idiots, leave. Find a great one, like the one I’m in.

Don’t be afraid to cross the finish line first. To say “Excuse me, that’s wrong.” To seek out people that will encourage you to run fast and avoid people who only love you if you hold back.
You can get attention by flirting, sure, and you can also get attention by spray-painting political slogans on your butt and running naked through downtown during the lunch rush, but it probably won’t be the kind of attention that will ultimately make you happy.


Sep 7, 2007

[Avoiding the 'Wall of Suck']

Game dev Damion Schubert at AGDC summed up the four main factors why people stop playing an MMO, which he termed 'the wall of suck' that a player hits that makes them want to quit playing. I'd have to say he's spot on about all of them... and in my opinion the one that WoW is closest to having is 'The End of Fun', simply because adding more quests and rep grinds does not add anything new that we haven't already been doing for the past 70 levels. I myself am starting to head over to that place where there's nothing that exciting for me to log in to anymore.

He also defined the major types of MMO players:

1. Casual: participates in character creation, does newbie quests and areas
2. Interested: levels 10-20, chatting, battlegrounds
3. Committed: leveling to cap, crafting, grouping
4. Devoted: running instances, 10 man raids, guilds
5. Hardcore : 25+ man raids, rep grinding, competitive PvP

I'd have to say I'm a '4.5' -- I'm not that gung-ho about the bigger raids, but they're fun once in a while.
In my opinion, he shortchanges 'Casual' players a bit... I'd think that most people who call themselves casual players would do more than just play with the character creation and then get bored before even leaving the newbie zone. =P
I think a more fair definition of Casual would be 1 and 2 combined, and that most people overlap each category a bit.

"Next, Schubert argued that the industry uses the term “hardcore” too loosely. He said "hardcore" used to be a good thing because the majority of the market used to be hardcore.
“Now it’s something producers say is bad, and they bring in the grandma test. ‘Why can’t you make it so my grandma play this?’ ‘Boss, I don’t think my grandma will ever like a
Babylon 5 game.’”

I think he nails the issue right there... unless your grandma is a gamer to begin with, it doesn't matter what developers do, she won't want to play your game. When my husband explained football to me, for instance, to the point where I actually understood it all, I still didn't become a sports fan. I don't find football interesting in the least, even when it became 'accessible' to me.

It's a waste of effort to try to tailor a game for people who aren't interested in playing games in the first place. 'Casual' gamers are still gamers.

Sep 5, 2007

[The Feminine Gamer]

This month's issue of Cerise has several articles dealing with gender roles and gaming, which ties in with my last post. Check it out! =)

Sep 2, 2007

[Girl Games = Stupid Games?]

Anyone else notice this trend in game marketing?

Girl in the Machine discusses the wierd disconnect with reality that so many gaming companies have when it comes to what 'female gamers' want, and the negative stereotypes of 'femininity' that so many of us blindly accept as true:

"Let's take a moment to examine how these "girl games" hurt female gamers by taking a look at the bigger picture. Masculine hegemony characterizes femininity as frivolous, idiotic, weak, and ultimately different. Now, most of us who call ourselves women may come to despise traditional femininity because of the aforementioned prejudices, which have become part of the mainstream attitude. And if the patriarchy makes femininity what it is, why not?"
"And what does this have to do with video games? We sneer and recoil at these "girl games," designed by men for women. These are stupid, we think, and by extension: those who play these games are stupid. Therefore, women are stupid. Rarely do we automatically separate intended audience from the motivations and attitudes of the creators themselves. Therefore, our own prejudices arise, and the separation of "girls" from "the rest of the world" feels unfortunately familiar. It's a social construct that molds our personal opinions in a million subtle ways until we accept things such as sexism as normal."

  This attitude ties in with my thoughts about Age of Conan, which I think is a perfect example of this kind of attitude on the part of a game developer. The sexism and female objectification in that game is proudly displayed -- it's not a girly game, after all! It's for real, hardcore gamers! And the fact that so many people simply accept that logic as reasonable, without thinking about its implications, is very telling.

Aug 28, 2007

[Age of Conan: What's So 'Mature' About It?]

At's forums, I keep seeing post after post by AoC fanboys gleefully holding up every example of female nudity, sex, and gore in their game reasons why 'WoW kiddies and immature brats won't be mucking up this game!' I just have to lol.
(They also mention the complexity of the game mechanics as another assurance of 'older players.' I dunno about that, MMOs aren't rocket science. Now if the learning curve is overly steep, that may make a difference, but then that also turns off plenty of older players who just don't have the patience for that kind of thing, and it's hardly a guarantee of a certain maturity range.)

It's wierdly similar to how Vanguard fanboys kept saying how all the 'hardcore' level grinds and grueling travel time in their game would ensure a 'mature' playerbase (and repel those pesky WoW kiddies), too. What it ended up doing was giving the game fewer overall players, period.

For an MMO with a smaller player population, it tends to be easier for people to blacklist asshats, because word spreads faster. Therefore, people tend to try to behave better to avoid being ostracized (in theory). World of Warcraft's greatest weakness is that, with huge numbers of players and easy server-transfer services, troublemakers can easily escape bad reputations. In other words, the large number of idiots in WoW is not directly related to it's lack of blatant T&A. =P

It doesn't help that AoC's devs can't seem to think of ways to hype their game that don't include the equivalent of shouting 'Whee! Titties!" Check these quotes from E3, by Jorgen Thereldsen, Funcom's Product Director::
"It's a mature game. Hyboria is a brutal world. It's savage. It's violent. It's sexy. There's no pink hearts and pretty fireballs. Heads will roll!"
"We have boobs in our game!"
"See? It's good to be a healer. You have a naked lady buffing you!"

And, when watching a clip of an incubus character: "You have to watch the idle animation. Watch! It will cycle into the hip-thrust animation."
(He then angled the game camera up under the demon's loincloth to try and show off it's genitals. All while scantily clad 'booth babes' handed out shrunken head 'party favors' to the audience.)

For some reason, I get more of a 'frat party' vibe than a 'maturity' vibe from this game. Maybe Funcom honestly doesn't know the difference? It seems a lot of their fanboys don't, at any rate. With every new example of T&A or violence, they get more and more convinced that only the most 'grown up' players will be playing Age of Conan. Seeing as how every other rated M game available has plenty of kids under 17 playing them, I'm not sure where they get that confidence.

Is Funcom really that dismissive of the facts showing that the overall gaming audience is more diverse now than ever? Or, perhaps like CliffyB's brother, they have only disdain for anyone that doesn't fit their idea of a 'real gamer'? Jorgen's subtle jab at women gamers by mentioning 'no pink hearts or sparkles' in their game (because that's TOTALLY the deciding factor in what games girl gamers like best, tee hee!) hints a lot to what their attitude is towards any inclusivity: it's pathetic and 'wussy'. And for female gamers like me, that's an attitude we're all too familiar with. And it's a major turn-off.

Narrowing their intended demographic to the extreme stereotype of 'gamer dudes', while at the same time intentionally alienating most women and/or anyone not into gratuitous imagery, seems really self-defeating on Funcom's part. Vanguard's community also touted how they only wanted the 'most hardcore' players in their game, with no welcome for 'inferior' players. And designing gameplay around that attitude was one of the many factors in the game's failed launch.

Upcoming games like Warhammer Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, etc. are all vying for players attention. Can Age of Conan afford to be so polarizing in it's design choices in this future competitive (and rapidly diversifying) market? We'll have to wait and see.

Aug 24, 2007

[Are WMDs Bind-on-Pickup?]

This is old, but still hil-freaking-arious: 
"The head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, Kevin Zuccato, has warned that terrorists can gain training in games such as Second Life and another game known as World of Warcraft, using weapons similar to those in the real world." 
Apparently Mr. Zuccato thinks these weapons are "similar to those in the real world." o_O
...And they claim gamers are the ones with a tenuous grasp on reality.

Related Reading: Pentagon Researcher Conjures Warcraft Terror Plot

Aug 21, 2007

[Horizons: The MMO That Just.Won't.Die.]

  If you're familiar with the debacle that was the launch of Vanguard (and the subsequent drama-riffic crash and burn of it's developer, Sigil), then the saga of Horizons: Empire of Istaria will sound mighty familiar:

1. Game developer (Artifact Games) promises all kinds of cool, innovative features.
2. CO is an idealist with little clue how to run a company, deal with employees, or actually make significant progress.
3. Original publisher drops the game before it's released.
4. Bugtastic, broken-content, horrible performance, and lack of many advertised features plague the game's release.
5. Bankruptcy of the development studio ensues.
6. Original devs create a 'new' company, Tulga, (*cough*tax shelter*cough*) and maintain the game on minimal life support.

  Only for some reason, Horizons inspires near-religious loyalty among it's (tiny) remaining playerbase. Seriously, it's pretty amazing. I really think only a few hundred people even play this game, but despite the huge grinds, the 90% content-free gameworld, and ridiculously bad game client, these people just keep on keepin' on.

  After about three years of this, Tulga finally got it's lifeline pulled, and some shady ghetto-publisher bought the rights to the game. Things went from bad to worse (my opinion is that EI Interactive is also a tax-shelter joke company like Tulga, but that's neither here nor there). Basically, for the past year, absolutely ZERO has been done to develop or fix the game, aside from keeping the servers plugged in. Even billing no longer works, allowing ex-players to play the game even though they no longer have paying accounts (Not that I'm guilty of that at all... *cough*)

  After a year of THAT, someone apparently has busted out the defibrilator once again; some Tulga employees, under the name 'Virtrium', in cahoots with some of the players themselves, have apparently organized a takeback of their game.

  All I have to say is... holy CRAP. I mean, I know we MMORPGers get attached to our games, but this has to be one of the most obsessive lifesaving efforts I've ever seen.

 Now, I've played Horizons. Despite all the bad reviews, the game had three aspects I heard good things about: flying playable dragons (woohoo!), intricate crafting, and a strong community. In my opinion, the world is also one of the best-crafted ones I've seen, in terms of landscaping and placement of cool landmarks for explorers to stumble upon (one of my favorite MMO pastimes).
  However, the level/crafting grinds are atrocious, unlimited multiclassing means players can get to godmode and never need to play with anyone else, and, like I've said before, 90% of the world isn't even populated with mobs. And the fanbase, being so small, has a lot of unpleasant incestuous drama and clique-ism that all isolated small groups tend to develop after a while.

  In my opinion, it's the presence of free-flight for dragons, and the fact that dragons are playable race in the first place, is what inspires a lot of this rabid fan-loyalty. Never underestimate the power of dragons. =P

  But I have to admit to being really baffled by these latest turns of events. Even as someone who liked the game for the first few months of playing, it reached the point where the grinds, poor game client performance, lack of content, and broken gameplay just didn't make it worth my time or money, dragons or no dragons.

  And yet... the die hard fans and devs of this game just will not give up trying to make Horizons fulfill the potential they see in it, even if it takes years longer than most sane people would tolerate. I don't know whether to be impressed by their passion, or moved to pity by their inability to move on with their lives.

ETA: Horizons: Empire of Istaria has now been renamed Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted.

Aug 19, 2007

[It's Just a Sexist Genre]

It's pretty obvious that misogynist and homophobic behavior is almost required in most 'geek' fandoms, especially gaming. When the ultimate insults are either to accuse someone of being homosexual, or of being like a woman, it's hard to honestly argue otherwise. Hearing, over and over, that what you are is equated with everything pathetic, annoying, and weak by the people you're playing with, is incredibly tiring and hurtful. And no, the answer isn't "Just shut up and let the asshats talk however they like."

Women are often systematically driven out and/or silenced in many of these places; it's not that we don't exist in your fandom. We need to stop tolerating this kind of thing in order to try to 'fit in',and guys need to start accepting more responsibility for their behavior.

Instead of wondering why you don't see more women around in certain 'geek' communities, or just assuming (wrongly) that 'Girls just don't like [insert geeky interest here]. All of us (especially guys, being the majority) need to decide to step up and start breaking the cycle.

[I'm Colorblind; I See Everyone as White]

This essay on race in Legend of Earthsea is really amazing. Being white myself, I never ever thought about any of those things or how they might affect someone else. It's a real eye-opener.

It also makes the mini-series and anime of the books, where everyone is cast as white, really kind of embarassing.

[Gender and Game Design]

A great blog about gender inclusive game design and why it IS important.

The gaming community in general is basically a bastion for homophobic, misogynistic expression, you only have to visit a forum/play an online game for a few days to see it.
But not that surprising, given how in the 'real world' isn't much different. It's just become socially unacceptable to act that way at work or in public, but the internet lets people flaunt their true colors.

What's sad is all the female gamers who are so desperate to retain 'honorary guy' status (and the respect that only being considered a 'guy' can give you) that they lash out and defend that kind of behavior along with the rest of the jerks.

The argument that "90% of all gamers are teen males, deal with it" is not only based on flawed facts, but only seems that way simply because 90% of all online gaming website are run by and for people with those kind of attitudes, at the very least unwilling to care about having a more inclusive community.

The game industry itself even suffers from this attitude. And folks wonder why people consider gaming so juvenile and don't think it's worthwhile?

[The Chronicles of Spellborn]

Gamewatch: The Chronicles of Spellborn

The game I'm planning on leaving WoW for, if all goes well. I've been vaguely following it for almost two years now, and I really love the art style and lore. They promise lore-driven gameplay, skill based PvP and combat, and a
character customization system similar to City of Heroes. In other words, gear is for looks only, and stats are applied with 'sigils' that you slot into items. So your character's appearance is totally up to you. Score! =)

The tentative release date is for later this year (Q4).