Big Buisness or Big Hype - by Julie Whitefeather
Aug 16, 2007 18:15:49

There is an old expression that says "50,000 Frenchman can't be wrong." Now that SOE Fan Faire, and BlizzCon have both come and gone, I decided to test the truth of the adage. While we are waiting for the virtual promised lands of Legends of Norrath, Wrath of the Lich King, and Warhammer Online we are left with some time to explore the outer reaches of the Metaverse.

Less then 3 months ago, on May 30 of this year, Mind Ark announced that it had been chosen by the Beijing People's Government to create a virtual economy for China. The company that already holds the Guinness Book of World's record for largest ever sale of virtual real estate has literally aimed for the stars. Their aim is to attract over 150 million users from all over the world and to generate one billion U.S. Dollars annually. If they are able to carry it, it is, as they say, "Big time."

Numbers like that would make even Blizzard Entertainment seem like small potatoes.

Richard Garriott has been saying the MMO market seems to be bigger than people think it is. The fact that the World of Warcraft is up to 9 million subscribers while other companies still make a living seems to prove him right.

But the thing about being "king of the hill", as Mind Ark seems intent on doing, is that anyone who plays their game has to be able to begin the climb. If there is anyplace where Blizzard has set the standard, it is in making it easy for someone to play the game. I will have to admit, that even though companies like SOE and Turbine have begun to give us innovation, the foundation upon which they build is that same standard that Blizzard gave us. Blizzard made it easy to be a noob. Yes, it is possible to keep customers while still having a learning curve that gives new meaning to the word "steep". Eve Online has demonstrated that quite soundly. However, not everyone has patience enough for a game that takes a long time just to begin playing.

I set out to discover if Mind Ark had followed the standard that the Blizzard Entertainment set.

I set out on my virtual adventure in the universe of Project Entropia with a positive attitude. I had high hopes. They touted their corner of the metaverse as a true virtual economy.

The thing about having an MMO that makes it easy to play is that first impressions count. Ask any author and they will tell you that if you can't grab a reader's attention in the first paragraph you have certainly lost your audience. The same holds true when you are trying to convince people to play your game - especially if you are trying to attract new people to the MMO end of gaming that didn't participate before. Think of it in terms of a first date.

Imagine what it would be like if you put on your best clothes, only to have your date come to the door looking like they had just finished slopping the pigs. Likewise what if you just paid $50 for that MMO you have been waiting all year for, only to log on and be greeted with graphics that look like they were one step above being drawn with a crayon? First impressions count.

I heard big things about Project Entropia. When I first logged on I expected big things. I downloaded the game, created my character and logged on. In most games there is a friendly fairy or a blood elf with an attitude right there to get you started. In every MMO I have ever played there has at least been SOMETHING to guide the new player along their way. With Project Entropia I was literally dropped in the middle of a field; left to stand there scratching my virtual head saying "so now what?" No friendly NPC anywhere to be found.

When you first introduce a player to any game, it is difficult to avoid simply quests on the level of "go kill 10 rats". There are only so many ways to dress that up. But no matter where you start, whether you are sent to go kill rats, wolves or shrumblers (if you are curious what a shrumbler is, just ask) you are at least given something to kill them with - a club, a rusty sword, a pocket knife, SOMETHING. This didn't happen in Project Entropia. I was dropped in the middle of nowhere with the clothes on my back and nothing else. Maybe I could have given the mobs in the starting area an angry look but that is about it. In the end, it turned out I didn't need to kill the angry whatever it was that I eventually stumbled upon. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would be proud of Mind Ark.

I wandered in an open field for some time, not knowing where to go. I eventually came upon a portal of some sort. Stepping in to it I soon wandered into a field full of "animals". Here is where Project Entropia departs from the "go kill 10 rats" syndrome. Two of the alternatives I was given was either collecting the sweat off the animals, or picking up their crap. There wasn't even a friendly NPC anywhere to give me a pair of latex gloves. Mind Ark's web site suggested there was a place to pick up rocks to sell, but after three days of trying to find the place I gave up.

I gathered the animal sweat, figuring that was the less disgusting of the alternatives. Once I had gathered my animal sweat, I tried to find a way to sell it. In fact, the user interface was so bad I didn't even know I had the animal sweat at first.

Was there a market place in which I could sell my product? Initially the other players told me there wasn't an auction house. Finally one of the more experienced players told me there was an auction house, but I wasn't allowed to use it to sell the literal "sweat of my labor". In the end I was unable to find a guide to using the auction house. Instead, I was relegated to standing on a virtual street corner trying to hawk my wares - in this case sweat.

One of the big issues, as anyone who has ever been out on a date knows, is who is going to pay for the date? Yes, developers have to make a profit, and that profit may come from sales of the game (like Guild Wars), subscriptions (like WoW) or micro transactions (like so many of the Korean imports). Once the developers and producers have made their profit, and the game is being played, there has to be some way for the players of an MMO to make a virtual living. I took a course on seamanship from the Coast Guard where a boat was described as a "hole in the water that you throw your money in to." It seems that Project Entropia has been designed with the same factor in mind.

For a game that prides itself on being a virtual economy, having this as a barrier to entry was a surprise. By the time I played Project Entropia for a third time, it had become so frustrating that I quit. I realized my virtual relationship with Project Entropia was never going to work out.

Occasionally a game comes along where the developers make it as difficult as possible for a beginning player to make a living. If playing a video game the first time, is like a first date, there are some things we come to expect to keep the relationship going. With Project Entropia I didn't find that.

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Aug 16, 2007 18:15:49 CST (comments: 1)


'Mmm...sweat!' by VanHemlock
Submitted on 2007-08-17 05:41:52 CST
Had a brief go at this one last year some time, and it pretty much went like your visit, went down as well, and lasted about as long. Came away from it with the impression that it expects you to throw a sizeable sum of USD into it, blind, and to be honest, from a 'game' perspective, nothing I saw in there at the newbie level couldn't be got, for absolutely free, in Anarchy Online.

As to the more Second Life style 'world' aspects of it, I suspect that's just as hard to connect with as a newbie, and just as exaggerated, hyped and overinflated. Still, at least SL lets you build and design your own things, which I don't think PE seemed to.

I love the sweat thing though...a more humiliating way to start ones online life, I can't imagine!

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