Jul 23, 2010

[Why I Didn't Like FrontierVille]

So, because I've been on a 'trying lots of new F2P games' kick, I decided to try out a Facebook game or two, just to see what the fuss is all about. I made a FB account specifically for the purpose -- I didn't have one before, since I'm an internet hermit. =P

I picked FrontierVille over the more infamous FarmVille because it's newer and I assume it's got a lot of the same elements and maybe even some improvements to the basic formula. And hey -- clobbering critters with shovels is always good clean fun, eh?

However, after playing for about an hour... I was already annoyed. Not because of the 'click something a dozen times, rinse & repeat' gameplay, or the looped banjo soundtrack, but because the game is a HUGE NAG. Every 2 minutes, a pop-up -- either to nag me to buy something, or to bug my 'neighbors' for something, or to bug friends to join the game, or to start an available quest, etc etc. The game is like a needy 3-year old that can't. shut. up. I was done after less than a day of playing.

And I was totally willing to give it a shot -- I already have tried and rather enjoyed Pet Society (basically a cute virtual dollhouse), which is nowhere NEAR FrontierVille in the annoyance department. I dunno if the heavyhanded pushiness is just Zynga's style, or what. Whatever it is, I won't be trying any more of their games, that's for sure.

Jul 12, 2010

[Allods Online: Can They Ever Make Us Happy?]

I really feel bad for gPotato and the US Allods Community Managers. Ever since the initial Cash Shop opening, the nerdrage DOESN'T STOP, no matter how much the things that pissed folks off get fixed -- there is always yet another thing that is called 'a slap in the face' and 'this game is gonna die now'. I wonder how long gPotato will keep trying to make these folks happy before giving up? It's just a horrible example of how listening to the playerbase doesn't seem to ever be enough for some people, who will make it their mission to drive people away from the game and make it fail in some kind of 'revenge' for perceived slights.


Closed Beta: No Cash Shop, the GMs and players live in idyliic happiness.
Open Beta: Cash Shop opens, with (admittedly) high prices. THE FORUMS EXPLODE INTO RAGE: "The game is dead now" "gPotato are greedy bastards".
Open Beta Part 2: Cash shop prices are lowered, the playerbase is slightly appeased but is largely still 'betrayed and bitter' and some folks want them reduced even more so aren't happy at all.
Open Beta Part 2: The Fear of Death (penality) mechanic is tweaked to be more severe. THE FORUMS EXPLODE INTO RAGE. "The game is dead now" "gPotato are greedy bastards".
Open Beta Part 3: Fear of Death is removed, Cash Shop items for many items reduced again, a new CS-based death penalty is introduced. FORUMS EXPLODE INTO RAGE: "The game is dead now" "gPotato are greedy bastards".

The negativity from the initial Cash Shop blowup continues on the forums to this day. People post in newbie threads telling them to leave the game, there are dozens of repeat threads complaining about the same thing, bragging about how dead the game is now/is going to be, doom and gloom everywhere to the point of people actively trying to ruin the game's reputation as much as possible (I witnessed one guy in the League capitol telling players to get out of the main square so he could film it being 'empty' and then post it on YouTube to show how badly the game was doing because of the latest patch. This was at 12am PST on a weekday, less than 8 hours after the patch had been released).

And yet, if you actually step back and look at the timeline of events in the U.S. Allods release schedule... I see a company that seems to be trying to get things right -- both their prices in the Cash Shop, and the mechanics that encourage people to use it (AND OF COURSE they want people to use it, the game is not a charity). Do I think they have it right yet? No... I think the current death penality and use of Incense (which gives various buffs and heals when used) still needs tweaking. The Cash Shop needs to be more about fun and fluff items rather than 'gameplay' necessities, as well. But so far the devs and gPotato have been WILLING to adjust things according to feedback, even if they don't get it right the first time. But it seems the forum community is physically incapable of existing in any state besides bitter vindinctiveness against the CMs (who aren't the devs and don't make these changes) and the game itself, which is seriously pathetic (SINCE NOBODY IS FORCING THEM TO SPEND ANY MONEY).

Now, I DO agree that Allods' fixation on continuing to try tying the cash shop into the death penalty (i.e. punishment) over and over is a bad idea, if only because it makes the Cash Shop resented instead of being a more positive aspect of the game. But seeing as how EVERY other time there has been negative feedback over a game design change the devs end up changing those things (even if it's not in ways people like), I do not see why so many players continue to talk as if the devs are their enemy. If anything, they're listening to the players a lot more than MOST F2P devs I know of. You'd think that'd earn them some more slack/respect, but I guess not.

It's true that the playerbase of some games is their own worst enemy -- they'd rather tear a game down and kill it rather than just quitting (or taking a break to wait for changes) and playing something else.

Jul 9, 2010

[We Are Not the Customer Anymore]

  Even though the RealID blowup is over, I think it's brought to the foreground a fact about the relationship between gamers and their game developers that I think most people (especially those with an emotional attachment to a particular game) find disheartening.

  It began after this post brought to light the timeline of developments after the Blizzard-Activision merge, which put into a larger context the attempt to integrate real identities into the forums (no, it was never about just 'stopping trolls').

  For insight into the character of the man that the CEO of Blizzard has to report to, here are some choice quotes:
"The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks [people not part of the gaming culture] into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games."
"[Y]ou know if it was left to me, I would raise the [game's] prices even further."
  And in response to why Kotick got rid of several popular Activisiion game franchises:
"[They] don't have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. ... I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus... on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we'll be working on them 10 years from now."
  And finally, Escape Hatch sums it up nicely:
"We, the players, are no longer the World of Warcraft's customer base. Advertisers are."
  In the past, when MMOs were a niche geek hobby, the gamer WAS the customer. This connection between dev and player was reflected in how loyal people got to a certain company, how invested they were in the game's wellbeing and success. But it was only a matter of time before the businessmen saw this attachment as the potential for huge profit. This is why you have Robert Kotick bragging about taking the fun out of making games, of how he wants to turn game-design into an assembly-line of franchises and sequels churning out products filled with as many microtransactions and advertisements and profit-expanding features as he can get away with. Because he doesn't give a crap about the players. To him, we're just geeks whose emotional attachments to our games and the devs that make them makes us vulnerable to being exploited by guys like himself. To be fair, it's not all this one guy's fault, but it reflects the kind of attitudes that start cropping up when a company quickly shoots up into becoming worth billions of dollars like Blizzard did after it made World of Warcraft. The bean-counting vultures start circling.

  However these kinds of guys control future of the 'modern AAA MMO'. This is the kind of guy dev companies have to impress to get initial funding, to survive (i.e. get MILLIONS of players as fast as possible or else be labeled a 'failure'), and to be considered 'successful' on the business side of things in a world where having 'only' 3-500k players is considered 'not profitable enough'. However I think for many of us, this change from 'small tight-knit company to mega giant' is a sad one, especially if you've been in MMOs a long time and remember when things were smaller and more personal. It's the price we've payed for embracing the MMORPG 'going mainstream'.

  This is why I'm starting to prefer the smaller F2Ps, and indie games. They're lower budget, sure. Not so shiny as the 'big games', rougher around the edges. But a lot of times, when things get bigger they don't always get better. And I think we've finally crossed that line in the MMORPG sphere. Sure, it means bigger budgets, flashier graphics, bigger expansions and tie ins, and more prestige. But I think the MMORPG as a genre has lost a part of it's soul; a part that had originally appealed to many players in the first place.

[Playing Alone, Together]

An interesting paper talking about the oft-lamented trend of modern MMORPGs being designed for gamers to 'play with millions of other people (that they never need to interact with)', and how that affects the longterm health/viability of a game's community:

'Alone Togther: Exploring the Social Dynamics of MMOGs'

A choice line from the paper is: "One of the core game mechanics in MMOGs, leveling, has damaging impacts on the game's social fabric". Many people have been saying this for years now. While I don't mind leveling, there REALLY needs to be ways ingame for people of different levels to be able to group up and play together, and things like 'rest exp' don't really do a good job of achieving that. It'd be nice to see games actually coming up with some new ideas in that area.

Jul 7, 2010

[Blizzard's RealID Fiasco]

Will I quit WoW permanently over this change? No. But I will also never again participate on any Blizzard forum. Scott over at Broken Toys sums up my feelings pretty much, and presents a reasoned defense of online anonymity.

The folks running around calling people who have a problem with this change 'irrational' and 'paranoid' must be really happy in their privileged denial bubbles where the world is always safe and where losing your privacy online couldn't possibly have any negative repercussions.

Plus there's the fact that MMORPGs were originally based around creating an 'alternate persona' separate from real life, so why would folks be surprised that a lot of people who enjoy that aspect would consider bringing RL into their game as a sort of violation?

EDIT: Oh look, Blizz made a deal with Facebook to share RealID info across platforms. So at least now we know the monetary reason for this change -- the claim that it's all 'to improve the forums' is just PR bunk. You don't need to strip away pseudonyms in order to properly moderate an online community.

EDIT2: After the enormous outcry provoked by this announcement, Blizzard has pulled the idea.