Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 June 2010, 4:32 pm
Pablo Picasso is famously attributed the quote "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal". Copying, or emulating, is when you try to be like someone else. Stealing is when you take it and make it your own.

In the MMO space, we have seen plenty of examples of MMOs copying World of Warcraft. And they fail. And everyone is left scratching their head and discussing what went wrong.

By contrast, Warcraft stole from Everquest (and other games). They took these ideas and internalized them. They didn't just copy the idea, they took ownership of it. Then improved upon it.

Consumers don't want copies
A copy is never as good as the original. When a company copies a work, they aren't thinking about the consumers. They are thinking about the product. It's all "look we have these too" because it's become a standard feature.

That type of thinking just doesn't leave room for thinking about improvement.

This is why I ultimately believe WoW has been so successful. Take Warhammer, for example, which introduced an innovative new MMO feature in the Tome of Knowledge. WoW took that same concept -- internalized it -- and created their Achievements system. They made it their own.

And having played both games, I can say that the Achievements systems for all it's shortcomings is widely more popular and used than the ToK.

You might disagree with Blizzard's vision, but let me assure you that this ability to take ideas and make them their own is the real reason they are so successful.

They steal ideas, they don't copy them.

My book
One day I'm going to write a fantasy trilogy. It might not ever be published, but I'm going to write it. :)

I think one of the reasons that I identify with this "stealing" concept is because of how I've approached creating the world and story for my trilogy.

I'm not going to discuss the specifics of my fantasy realm, but there are several core elements that were "inspired" by other fantasy works. Things I really enjoyed in other books I've read that I felt would have a great place in my world.

But I didn't just copy the idea. As I said, I was inspired by it. I took ownership of the idea and turned it into something that felt right for my world.

And it wasn't just one idea. But lots of them from lots of different inspirations. The result is something entirely different and I think only I would make the connection to what originally inspired my world.

This is how I believe an MMO developer needs to approach designing an MMO. They need to take lots of different ideas from lots of different games. Think about what they enjoyed about these games and then meld them into something cohesive that they own.

Something new. Something different. Something that those of us looking for that next cool MMO would want to play.

Not just innovation, but evolution as well.



Define Hard: Six ways to make your MMO difficult
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 June 2010, 8:15 pm
The problem with calling something hard or easy is that it's a subjective opinion. What is easy for one person might be hard for someone else.

When I was younger, I had a very narrow definition of things I considered to be important attributes. If you were talented in those attributes, I respected you as a peer.

As I grew older, and particularly as I began managing employees, I learned that there isn't just one set of skills that are superior to others.

People are diverse and can be absolutely brilliant in one area and very obtuse and ignorant in another. As a manager, it became important to recognize these talents in order to set people up for success.

Today, I have a different outlook. I believe that all people are talented, not just in the same ways.

Some people are mechanical. Some people are intellectual. Some people are athletic. Some people are charismatic. Some people are beautiful. Some people are atristic. And so on.

The result of all this diversity is that there is no universal definition of HARD or EASY.

Why is this important for MMOs? Because one thing we consistently do as a group is rate content as either DIFFICULT or EASY.

Types of Difficulty in MMOs
  • Twitch Skills
  • When we speak of twitch skills, this is really a measure of a person's individual skill in executing a specific physical action. It's literally your ability to point-and-click or tap buttons both quickly and accurately. The downside of this method of difficulty is that it favors people who have great hand-eye coordination. Popular among gamers who have developed that coordination over years, but not as popular among the mass-market crowd of stay-at-home Moms.
  • Reactive Decision Making
  • Interestingly, when I think of this type of difficulty, I think about Tobold. He has been a big proponent for more reactive decision-making gameplay as an alternative to twitch mechanics. Challenges presented through this method require a decision to be made in reaction to some other gameplay element. The classic example would be "GET OUT OF THE FIRE" in a RAID encounter. Or, alternately, as Tobold has often proposed -- skills/cards that are randomly provided which you need to make decisions about which to use. The downside here, if there is one, is that players need to be more actively engaged. You couldn't, for example, watch a movie while crafting if such crafting required your constant ongoing attention.
  • Planned Strategic Thinking
  • Unlike reactive decision making, some situations require you to think deeply about the problem before you encounter it. The best example here is min/maxing your damage/healing output, thinking through how your character will progress, making equipment decisions and so forth. The downside here is that it's very easy for others to provide "cookie-cutter" solutions to these problems. The result is a lot of pressure from peers to make use of these "cookie-cutter" examples as the optimum solution. Individuality is crushed by the professional theorycrafters. 
  • Time Consuming
  • There can be no doubt that making anything take twice as long makes it twice as difficult to complete. The downside here is that making something more time consuming doesn't necessarily make something more fun. It's an artificial difficulty that most people, myself included, find cumbersome. 
  • Severe Consequences
  • More severe consequences is an interesting way to add challenge in that it doesn't directly add difficulty to the task. It simply adds consequence for failure which, in turn, alters your behavior in how you approach the task. The effect is that it adds caution to the approach. The downside is that it's very possible to make the consequence so severe that it entirely deters any attempts.
  • Organizational Structure
  • And finally, there is significant challenge in creating and managing an organization large enough to accomplish group tasks. In many ways, I find this is perhaps the most difficult type of challenge because it relies on players to play a meta "social" game to either lead or become part of a group that can work together effectively to complete the goals. The downside here is that the ability to operate as a group is completely independent from someone's individual effort and ability. A talented player with untalented friends may never progress.
For myself, I think I prefer increasing difficulty by making things more reactive and twitchy.



Online Privacy
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 June 2010, 4:51 pm
TAGN has an interesting read up about privacy and Blizzard's new REAL ID offering.

The overall thrust of the entry is that despite all the benefits that the REAL ID system offers, it comes with a price tag of associating your real identity to that of an online community.

Why is this an issue? Because you begin to lose control of the information that can be found out about you on the internet. And as TAGN writes, there is a high probability your name will be Googled by prospective employers, clients, customers, or even just some guy trying to sell you stuff.

A lesson learned
For the last 10 years or so I have been guarding my real identity in online games and communities.  My last name is just not that common and a Google search will pretty much pop up anything related to me in microseconds.

I have no illusions that if someone wanted to figure out who I am and post my identity that they could do so without much trouble. So the reason I keep my identity guarded isn't because I don't want YOU to know.

The reason is fairly simple and can be best illustrated by this story.

After Warcraft 3 was released (not the MMO, the RTS), I worked on WC3 maps and mods. Being the generally helpful guy that I am, I wrote some guides and posted them on some forums. I never posted under my real name (just a nick) but I did sign up for the forums using my real name.

So imagine my surprise when 6 or 7 years later, upon Googling my name, I find another post on an entirely different website in which MY REAL NAME is credited for writing a guide. Again, remember that the only place I ever posted my name was on the signup page for the forum.

Even today, this is one of the top 30 or so Google results for my name. Ironically, the guides themselves no longer even exist anywhere.

I'm of the opinion that my virtual identity is one that I want to control. As much as I love MMOs, I simply don't want to be asked why I consider myself to be a SERIAL GANKER in a job interview.

And even when it's controlled, it's uncontrolled
I Googled an ex-girlfriend of mine maybe a year ago. No particular reason other than boredom and perhaps a morbid curiosity.

The search results didn't turn up anything that she wrote or that she associated herself with directly. But what it did turn up was pure gold. Basically, she had some type of domestic problem with her roommate.

The pissed off roommate, in all her glory, decided to blog about it.  In detail.  In which my ex was painted as one of the worst villains in roommate history.

Needless to say it was a great read and my morbid curiosity was well satisfied. Thankfully, I've never pissed off someone in such a way that they've wanted to document it for all the world to see.

Disturbing trend
I don't know if you've noticed it, but there is a trend happening that is moving us AWAY from privacy. Which, to me, is incredible considering that identity theft has become such a common financial risk.

The driving force behind this trend is two-fold. The first is that the under-25 generation doesn't care much about privacy. The second is that it's good for business.

Facebook, Blizzard, Amazon, Google -- they all want to know as much as they possible can about you. Facebook, in particular, is already the world's largest data repository for personal information.

They know who YOU are, who your friends are, what you like, and depending on how much you filled out on your profile -- where you work, went to school and live.

And, of course, all this information is made more useful to them if you give up the fight to control your privacy and let them decide what's important to you and who should be allowed to know things about your private life.

Even scarier is the long-term plan which Raph posted in which they become your single login and wallet for all things on the internet. If that happens, they'll also know all the sites you visit and where you buy stuff.

/tinfoil hat off



The problem with PvP in MMOs
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 June 2010, 3:42 pm
I think what took me a long time to realize is that not everyone wants equality in their PvP.

Too often, we label something as PvP and then just expect everyone to understand what that means. But PvP comes in lots of flavors and not all of it is the same. Back in January I wrote an entry about what I called the PvP Political Compass. That compass is my attempt to describe the flavors of PvP that exist in games.

What is interesting about the compass is that it also describes what people WANT out of these games. At one end of the spectrum, players want their actions to have an Impact. You play to win and you make your own fair play by carving out your own little place in the world. And in MMOs, this means grouping with other like-minded individuals for protection.

At the other end of the spectrum are players who take their meaning from the competition itself. They don’t want there to be any confusion caused by unfairness. Two people meet under equal terms and the person who emerges as the victor KNOWS they are the better player. No question. This is the same type of competitive spirit we crave in our sports teams.

As you can see in the PvP Compass, these two ideas are not compatible. By virtue of having Impact, you create an imbalance that is unwanted by the player who wants more competition. But it’s not entirely black and white. It’s more of a sliding scale. The more competitive you make it, the less impact exists. The more impact you create, the less competitive it becomes.

Can we make a Competitive PvP-based MMO?
It’s not much of a coincidence that the only successful MMOs which feature PvP as a prominent part of the game happen to focus on Impact-type PvP. MMOs, by the very nature of character progression, do not lend themselves towards equality. Thus, a PvP game which is very purposefully designed without the need for equality is going to feel like a more natural result.

The problem here is that Impact PvP isn’t the most desirable type of PvP for most players. Starcraft, Counter-Strike, Halo and countless other games in other genres have been immensely popular to the Competitive PvP crowd. Even Tobold (known PvP hater) recently admitted that “PvP games could be more successful if they would do a better job of pairing people with similar skills and abilities against each other.

Impact PvP, by contrast, appeals to a much smaller group of players. It takes a certain type of player who is willing to both risk the consequences of negative sum PvP and has the skills to master the “social” part that these games require to find some measure of safety in a group.

So, in my opinion, it’s not that PvP isn’t a popular option. It’s that the type of competitive PvP that more players would enjoy has never been implemented in any MMO. Which begs the question, is it even possible?

Half empty or Half full?
Presumably, in a world of perfect equality, an average skilled player would lose just as many fights as they won. I think intellectually that most people can grasp that idea. But emotionally and subjectively, I think it becomes an incredible complex problem.

Because, in practice, most people will react emotionally. He must have cheated! We got nerfed! Laaaaag!

Further complicating the issue is self-perception. Would a person be happy they are winning half the time, or pissed off that they are losing half the time?

Countering the Character Progession
I sincerely wish that more games used a method of “tiering” players into relative power groups. WAR comes immediately to mind but they did it badly. For one thing, I wouldn’t “uprank” players to a new level. I would “downrank” more advanced players when they entered an area intended for characters who were less powerful.

Or as I suggested on Syncaine’s blog yesterday:
No upranking for low level characters into high level areas. Just downranking if a high level character chooses to visit an area that is not intended for them.

The key point here is that it’s an area NOT intended for them. Low level mobs they want to safely grind on? No. Sorry. Not intended for you.

Newbie players trying to figure out how to PvP? Sorry. Not going to be an easy gank because while you are more knowledgeable, you are not more powerful.

Everyone is welcome to travel anywhere they want, but if you choose to visit places that aren’t for you than there are consequences.

A low level character going into a high level area risks getting one-shotted. A high level character going into a low level area risks having to actually fight a new player on more equal footing.

Oh. And, sorry. No power leveling your buddy because you aren’t much more of a bad ass.

Now you obviously put all the best and most worthwhile stuff in non-protected areas. If the interesting stuff is not in these areas, then people will be motivated to move out of them quickly.

The real benefit of all this is that new people of similar power levels get to bang heads against each other instead of getting ripped up by the veterans.

I feel if you want to see a ‘popular’ implementation of PvP in an MMO that it has to address this competitive spirit. No MMO has done this well yet. Perhaps it’s impossible. But I’m holding out hope.



The worst part about Blizzard's recent announced change is that they sincerely believe this will clean up the forums.  Perhaps a bit, but at what cost?

The unfortunate reality is that Blizzard is simply arming the "trolls" with real information they can use to make the attacks more hurtful.

The real trolls, the ones who want to cause harm and mischief, just got a brand new way they can make your life miserable.  If they don't like what you have to say, they don't need to post the hate, they can just call you on the phone and leave nasty messages.

My Mom started getting hate mail from someone in an internet group with a grudge against her. Real mail. Sent to her house with threats.

There are countless ways that the trolls can now inflict harm upon you if they know your real name.  Get all their buddies to harrass you.  Sign you up for magazines.  Subscribe you to porn lists.

Or the other alternative I love is the “wrong guy” scenario. This is where the unlucky bastard who just happens to have the same name gets harassed in real life by some angry forum trolls. Calling his house. Leaving nasty messages. Sending him photos of his house with death threats.

Because the trolls don’t necessarily stop – they just know who you are now.

Kicking your ass in Real Life (courtesy of RealID)
I grew up in a small-ish town where there wasn’t much to do on the weekend. You either got drunk, got laid, or got into a fight. I’m also not a small guy and when I was in my teens and early twenties, I wasn’t always the best decision maker when it came to throwing a few punches. In one particularly noteworthy situation, I was carried out of a building by four police officers.

I’ve since matured quite a bit and been pretty subdued for the last 10 years. All of this ugliness was inside of a younger, less mature me. Outside of the occasional menacing glare, I haven’t been in a real altercation since the aforementioned police officer incident. The older me has too much to lose to ever behave that way again.

My point? Well, at one time in my life I was THAT guy. You know the guy I’m talking about... The one who snaps online and starts making the physical threats. “Where do you live? I want to kick your ass. Let’s meet somewhere.”

Thing is – I was serious. I really did want to kick their ass and had they been near my city... well, there would have been some vengeance for the online slights. Now I wasn’t always that angry. In all my years of gaming or participating in online activities I can only think of two instances where I would have been angry enough to take action.

But.. therein lies my point. I was angry enough to take action.

Look, in the grand scheme of things I’m not even the most likely person I know who would seek someone out to kick their ass. But I certainly know my younger self would have considered it. And my younger drunken self may have even acted upon it.

But what stopped me?

Anonymity.

As frustrated and angry as I might have been, I had no outlet. No way to act upon impulses that could have turned out badly. Impulses that were further inflamed because the source of my anger wasn’t physically present.

You see, the real Internet Dickwad Theory is only partly about Anonymity. Because part of what makes something so much more dick-ish on the Internet is that you don’t have any immediate personal feedback from people. If you are being a dick to someone in real life, even if they don’t know you personally, you can both use body language and vocal queues to keep the conversation from turning from just a civil disagreement to a raging war.

But if you are being a dick on the internet, their imagination supplies the tone. Words intended to be fair and considering can quickly be seen as hurtful and inflammatory. Removing the anonymity while keeping the same inflammatory problems is simply a disaster in the making.

Is the use of Real Names a good idea?

No.

And take that from the perspective of someone who is willingly admitting that they would likely have kicked the shit out of someone in real life had that anonymity not existed. That’s not fear-mongering. That’s just an honest appraisal from someone who knows himself well enough to know that this can only end badly.



No one likes grind.
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 July 2010, 6:40 pm
To me, the statement "No one likes grind" is one of the most obvious observations that a person can make. It's right up there with "the sky is blue" and "black is darker than white".

The actual definition of Grind is "a tedious task" and it's synonymous with Drudgery. Tedious, by the way, is defined as "boring, monotonous, time consuming". I think that pretty much sums up what most MMO players think of Grinding.

And yet... I always find it terribly surprising when someone speaks out in favor of the grind. "No. No." they say, "we like the grind. The grind is important. It provides meaning. Context for all our hard work."

You like boring, monotonous, time consuming tasks? Really? Forgive me while I display some skepticism for a moment. For I find it impossible that even a masochist would really enjoy tasks that, by definition, are uninteresting, repetitive and cause players mental weariness.

No. I don't think you really do like the grind. No one likes the grind.

I think you like the reward.
I think what players like is the sense of achievement that comes from overcoming difficulty. That and the shiny Pavlovian treat that usually accompanies that sense of achievement.

No. It's not the "grind" that players find rewarding. It's the reward that they find rewarding.

I'm convinced that if you created a "box" in the middle of Orgrimmar that players could jump on for free coins that players would happily jump on that box 24/7 and proceed to send Blizzard thank you emails for giving them that box. The "box" they would say is the smartest idea ever.

But, of course, it's not the "box" that players would enjoy but the Reward it provides.

We need challenge, but do we need Grind?
As MMO players, we crave challenge. We want challenge. It's what gives our virtual achievements context and meaning.

As I wrote in Mid-June, there are several ways to make your MMO more difficult:
  • Twitch Skills
  • Reactive Decision Making
  • Planned Strategic Thinking
  • Time Consuming
  • Severe Consequences
  • Organizational Structure
Of all six methods for making your game more difficult, the worst possible choice from a player perspective is to make it more time consuming. Difficulty, by virtue of only being lengthy, is a miserable and mind-numbingly boring way to make your game more difficult.

We don't need the Grind to make a game challenging. There are plenty of ways to increase the challenge without needing to make it monotonous or boring.



Input Devices, the iPad, Wii and You
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 July 2010, 7:51 pm
In recent years, consumer electronic products have seen several new and innovative technologies introduced to tackle the challenge of how users interact with their devices. Voice activation. Motion controls (Wii). Touchscreens. Invisible Mice.

Technology developed primarily as a result of wanting to create a more compact and portable product. The iPhone is perhaps the best example. It has voice activation features, motion controls to determine orientation and, of course, the now famous touchscreen. 99% of computer users still use a mouse & keyboard but most people have had some exposure by now to this type of technology with some type of non-computer device.

Why is this important?

Well, Raph Koster thinks the iPad form factor (or slate) is the future of computing for the average user. I tend to agree with him. It’s compact, portable and certainly covers all the needs that my wife, her parents, my parents, and all my siblings need out of computer. 

One of the knocks I had about the iPad at release is that for the price, you can buy a cheap laptop. And while I still believe that’s true, the trend is that the platform will eclipse PC innovation within the next 5 years. I would argue that it’s already eclipsed the innovation, but within 5 years it might actually become the dominant platform of choice among home users.

So by extension this is important for gaming because, in all likelihood, you’ll own one of these devices within the next 5 years.

Fighting the 1-2-3s
As we learned with the Wii, providing an alternate way to interact with our gaming devices is a novel and interesting way to breathe new life into them.


If I think about my own frustration with MMO controls, I find that what I don’t like most is having to make keystrokes (hotkeys) while simultaneously doing things with my mouse.

Compare that experience to the Wii with it’s motion controls. Or with the iPad's on-screen finger controls + motion controls. The controls themselves are not just intuitive, but fun to use. On a personal note, I find them more challenging as well. Something that is “easy” with the twitch of my wrist on a mouse is far harder to accomplish when I need to swing my whole hand or body.

As MMO players, we talk a lot about innovation. We talk a lot about how MMO devs need to break away from the 1-2-3 hotkey mold made popular by Blizzard.


For me, this was a huge part of the appeal with Darkfall. The UI might have been total crap, but the controls as it related to combat were both fun, challenging and innovative. As I’ve written about in the past, the simple act of killing a monster you need to “aim at” makes the game several factors more difficult than your standard MMO.

Gamers are all about efficiency
I think this is what strikes some gamers wrong about using these newer input devices. The Wii remote is not as easy to use as a Playstation controller.


Using motion controls to drive a car or do just about anything is a bit more challenging on a Wii remote. Some gamers, like myself, enjoy that challenge. Other gamers, like Yahtzee Croshaw from Zero Punctuation can’t stand the motion controls because they make them feel like they have to flail around to do the same thing they could have done with the twitch of a finger.

Gamers are competitive and look at the input device as a potential tool to make them more effective. They buy expensive mice with super high DPI ratings and more buttons than your number pad. I know that on a personal note I am very tempted to buy a Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard for that exact reason.

This is a fundamental problem with introducing new controls.  One of the games I have for our Wii is Mario Cart. As much as I love the motion controls, you can’t get me to use them in that game because it offers a method without the controls. If I were to use the motion controls while playing against someone who wasn’t – I would be at a disadvantage. Therefore, I feel like I need to play without motion controls in order to feel competitive.

If you want it to work, it can’t be a choice.

It’s not a new argument. There are plenty of people who play WoW who would rather play the game without addons. But in order to compete against players WITH addons, they feel compelled to download and install them.


As an addon author, I’m cleary not against addons. However, I can see that point and respect why other devs like CCP would choose not to allow them to exist in their game. Having an interface option where one method is clearly far superior to another method is really no choice at all.



World of Darkness
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 July 2010, 1:44 pm
I was just saying on Heartless_'s blog yesterday that if I were a game dev, I would have to strongly consider Vampire & Werewolves as the backdrop for an MMO. Vampires, in particular, is a subject matter that draws a lot of attention. Most recently, we have seen the Trueblood and Twilight craze but this has always been a very popular genre. Dracula, Underworld, Blade, The Lost Boys, Salem’s Lot, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with a Vampire.

The great thing about that genre is that it’s not exclusive to Vampires and can include all things that live in the dark. Poltergeists, Ghouls, Zombies, Necromancers, Warlocks, Witches, Demons, Ghosts, Banshees, and basically anything else used to scare the bejeezuz out of people by movie producers. People just eat this topic up and it has a bigger fanbase than even the strongest IPs like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

The other interesting thing about the IP is that the Lore is mostly based on the creatures and critters than inhabit it. It’s not specific to an area or even a point in history. You could just as easily have a Vampire / Werewolf story set in ancient Rome as you could in modern day London or New York. In addition, the creatures themselves are mostly immune to modern weaponry. So, from a lore perspective, attacking a mythical creature with a holy dagger instead of a gun is entirely plausible.

World of Darkness MMO
The impetus for this entry is that I just learned about the World of Darkness MMO. Credits to Tobold for pointing out the upcoming MMO list.

World of Darkness is a pen-and-paper RPG with the exact supernatural horror setting that I just described. One of my major concerns with many MMO titles is that the IP just doesn’t work or fit very well with game mechanics required of an MMO. However, when the IP is already based on an established RPG, the rules already exist and have been tweaked and tested through years of “on-paper” testing.

I stopped playing pen-and-paper RPGs around 1993-94, so I only knew the World of Darkness RPG under its original title of Vampire: The Masquerade. As far as pen-and-paper RPGs go, Vampire: The Masquerade seemed to be well liked by the people I played with regularly (one of which wrote several published D&D modules). And according to Wikipedia, it won an award for “Best Roleplaying Rules” in 1991.

In my mind, it’s a huge point in WoD MMOs favor that it uses a well-established and tested ruleset. The underlying game mechanics are important to the pen-and-paper crowd. These things still exist in MMOs so it’s big plus to know that the foundation is well thought out and tested over time. But more than that, the specifics of the Lore were designed with an RPG system in mind.

Developed by CCP
But perhaps more importantly, it's also being developed by CCP. The same CCP who is currently publishing the second most successful MMO on the market in EVE Online. There are several very important things we know about CCP:
  • They have the financial backing of another successful MMO. We know the lights aren’t going to get turned off anytime soon.
  • They execute well. You don’t attract the players that EVE has with shoddy craftsmanship.
  • They stay committed. CCP will stay the course and continually work to improve their products over time.
  • They have a proven track record of doing things that are different from World of Warcraft.
  • The graphics are going to blow your mind. (see Cloth and Hair demo)
If I’m being blunt, the mere fact that CCP is attached to this MMO guarantees it some measure of success. If, for no other reason, because we know that CCP will stay the course and put forth the work necessary to continually improve it into a quality MMO.

Success?
Tobold asks us today, Which upcoming MMO will break the million subscribers mark? If I was a betting man, I would place my money on World of Darkness.

First of all, it has World of in the name. Perhaps if Funcom had released World of Conan instead of Age Of Conan more people would have understood that it was an MMO set in the world of Conan. Clearly, Warhammer made the same mistake by not naming themselves World of Warhammer. Oh sure, this would have abbreviated to WoW but one could argue that such confusion would cause an increase in subscription numbers when my best friend’s brother-in-law signed up for the wrong WoW!

OK. OK. On a more serious note, blogger pundits like to write lots of theories about why no MMO has seriously offered Blizzard real competition over the years. There are several recurring themes in these theories and World of Darkness would appear to avoid most of them. It’s not fantasy based. It’s being produced by a proven developer. It’s in a popular genre with a strong IP. It’s based on an existing RPG with tested game mechanics. The developer has a history of executing well, supporting the game long-term and listening to the community enough but not too much. And finally, the developer is best known for creating a unique game that is markedly very different than WoW.

On the surface of it all, I have to say that WoD appears to be very well positioned as a major up-and-coming MMO. The only irony is that I don’t really like Vampire movies or books. Oh well.. :)



Quick Hit: What makes an MMO?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 August 2010, 4:38 pm
By definition, we all know it means Massive Multiplayer Online Game. Yes, I'm aware that it should more accurately be MMOG but the "Game" is implied when you say MMO.

The Online part is obvious, the "Massive" part is subject to opinion. And the "Multiplayer" part is subject to interpretation. For example, some would argue that the "leveling" game in a MMO like WoW is not Multiplayer at all.  Whereas, I might argue it is Multiplayer by virtue of it being a shared world.

I was reading an entry over at KTR about Cultural Differences and I was struck with a thought.  I think, at it's core, the defining characteristic of an MMO is shared experience. Or more specifically, a shared gaming experience with hundreds of strangers.

Now traditionally, this shared experience is in a Persistent Online World (POW), but I don't think a persistent world is really the defining trait. Lots of MMOs have sharded worlds or very little persistence. In fact, I would argue that if you start with UO, the trend has actually been to move AWAY from persistence in MMOs.

But the one commonality in all these games is shared experience.



Destroying PLEX for $$$$
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 August 2010, 5:30 pm
TAGN has an interesting discussion going on over in the comments of his blog about this article from Massively.
Quick Background:
CCP recently changed the rules regarding PLEX (a system for trading EVE game-time for game currency between players) so that it can be looted or even destroyed by EVE pirates. Previously, you could not move PLEX and it could only be traded safely in the hanger.  And now, according to Massively, some player lost 74 PLEX cards (1 PLEX = 1 month game time) worth around $1300 real-life dollars. Destroyed. Not looted.
The discussion over at TAGN site seems to be focused primarily on what action CCP will need to take to make things right with the player.

The part that is getting lost here is that with the old PLEX system, CCP had nothing to gain except future sales. For example, trading PLEX for ISK didn't add net new money into the pocket of CCP -- it simply allowed one person to effectively pay for someone else's game time.

But if PLEX can be DESTROYED...
It's a much different story.

From CCP's perspective, it's a paid subscription they no longer need to honor that has been destroyed. Unlike the virtual Ore that gets mined, someone paid real money for that PLEX card. A game card that will never be redeemed if it is destroyed.

And what happens to the real life dollars? Those aren't destroyed. They stay in CCP's bank account.

Is money the real Reason for the policy change on PLEX?
The major benefit to CCP of the old PLEX system is that it encouraged players to purchase game time they might not need in order to trade it for the in-game currency (ISK).

From a cash flow perspective, this is a great thing for CCP because they are are getting money upfront today for a future promise of service. They are still beholden to honoring that promise, but they get the money sooner rather than later.

But one thing always rubbed me wrong, what happens when there are more unused PLEX cards being openly traded than their are players who could reasonably use them?

In other words, if you have 1000 months of game cards and only 800 months needed by players, then a couple of horrible things happen from CCP's perspective:
  • Cash Flow Stops or Slows - your players don't need to pay you because they have already paid.
  • The in-game price of PLEX suffers dramatic deflation and your primary product (subscriptions) is de-valued.
Now I'm not suggesting that CCP reached the point where their are more PLEX game cards than players who need them. But what I am suggesting is that CCP, who does have an economist on staff, is well aware that such a system is an impending financial crisis and not sustainable for the long-term.

I would even hazard to guess that CCP started to see cash flows slow down as less and less players find themselves needing to purchase PLEX because it already exists in-game.

But, you ask, why is cash flow important? After all, doesn't CCP already have the money from the game cards they sold?

Well, the problem is that in all likelihood, CCP management didn't just set that money in the bank. It's going to be invested -- likely back into the company to pay for development costs on a future project for future returns.  If those returns aren't realized right away, they need continued cash flows to keep coming in order to keep the lights on.

Destroying PLEX for Profit
What's the best solution to having a surplus of something? Why blowing it up, of course!

The moment that PLEX is destroyed and rendered unusable as game-time, the promise of future services is gone and it becomes pure profit for CCP.

But more importantly, you no longer have as large a surplus of game time and it reverses the two trends I addressed earlier. Less PLEX means PLEX is more valuable. Less PLEX means more players will need to purchase additional game time.

It's for this very reason that I believe the change by CCP was deliberate, intentional and entirely motivated by self-interest.

The irony is that EVE has a player culture that revels in such losses. They don't want it to happen to them, but the fact it CAN happen is oddly appealing.

Contrast that change with Blizzard. Can you imagine the reaction from WoW players if you could get ganked and lose your game card in WoW?

Legal challenge?
From a legal standpoint, it's an intriguing situation. Does CCP have the right to void those promises of future services?

If I'm CCP, I would argue that what I am providing for the fee is not game time until it has been converted. Instead, I'm selling a virtual currency similar to ISK. What the player chooses to do with that virtual currency is up to them. Based on their actions, it can be traded, stolen or even destroyed.

Assuming the player losing the PLEX is not the same person who bought the PLEX, they have to agree with this interpretation. After all, if they don't agree that it's simply virtual currency, how did they trade for it?

It's a much murkier prospect if the person losing the PLEX is the same person who bought it. But even here, however, I think CCP is protected because there are other alternatives to adding game time. It could be argued that the only reason a player would buy PLEX over other methods is to at least have the option of trading it.

Edit:
On the legal issue, I particularly like Old Tom's comments at No Prisoners No Mercy:
Leaving out all extraneous analogies, the transaction between CCP and said customer is for a game-time code. That item has 2 possible functions – 1) Can be used to add game time to a particular account, or 2) can be transferred into an in-game item which then can be bought, sold, lost etc.

The transaction worked as promised. The issue is not the PLEX .. it is the game-time code. Seeing that the game time code was effectively transferred into PLEX, CCP’s implied warranty was fulfilled.
This is right in-line with my thinking that PLEX is first and foremost an in-game item subject to the rules for in-game items. That it can be redeemed for game time is secondary because the purchaser chose to turn the game time into an in-game item subject to those terms in the EULA.



I was engaging Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual this afternoon on a very old debate we have had about WoW-clones and specifically whether or not we should attribute the clone issue as the reason for Warhammer Online's failure.

My position has been and always will be that Warhammer Online failed not because it was a WoW-clone but because they had a very mediocre execution of a very flawed game.

Or as I wrote on Syncaine's blog:
WAR didn’t “fail” because it was a WoW clone. WAR failed because Tier 3 and Tier 4 weren’t as much fun. WAR failed because it couldn’t support the whole server converging on one hotspot for PvP action. WAR failed because a two-faction system allowed one side to grossly outnumber the other.

Those are all design decisions that have nothing to do with WoW. There are certainly a whole slew of other failures as well but those I listed above are the big ones.

ANYWAYS– We’ve had this debate several times and I still maintain the idea that the reason these games fail is that, at the end of the day, they just aren’t as good a game as Warcraft.

If they were, then more players would stick with the new game. Not everyone, mind you, but certainly far more than the desolate wasteland that these games become after 3 months.
But all that aside, here's my real problem with WAR's failure. It's now the world's greatest excuse by everyone as to why NOT to do things. Or as I commented a bit further down in the discussion:
WAR is my great disappointment because it’s become a great scapegoat for many people.

Those who dislike PVP can point to WAR as to why PVP can’t work in an MMO.

Those who hate WoW can point to WAR as the reason why MMOs should stay away from anything remotely WoW-like.

But the REAL reason WAR failed has nothing to do with either of those things.
That's what really gets my goat about the perception of WAR's failure. It didn't fail because it had PvP. It didn't fail because it was a WoW-clone.

It failed because it just wasn't good enough.



Should Used Games be Supported?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 August 2010, 3:46 pm
While I’m not of the opinion that buying used games is the equivalent of piracy, I certainly do agree that it’s bad for the business of making games. As a general rule, I think it’s safe to assume that the original manufacturer profits little to not at all when you buy or sell a game used.

I’m also not going to argue the legality of it. You can buy and sell used games. That’s not in question.

It’s true that a software license is simply a license to use and while that license gives you no ownership of the actual intellectual property, it does give you license to use the product. You agree to those terms when you install the product.

There is quite a bit of case law that exists for Copyright and Software. And some of it even says that one of the things Software companies can’t do is enforce a term that limits your ability to transfer the license to another party. It’s viewed in the same way that Books or Music copyright is administered.

BUT – unlike Books or Music, Software often needs to be supported long after the initial purchase or sale. This support comes in the form of patches and game updates. And, in many cases, some online service component that the game provides for multiplayer access.

Now the question I would raise is whether or not the right to continued support is something that should be transferable with that license to use?

I don’t think so.

In my mind, the right to use and the right to support are two separate items. Copyright law supports your right to use. It doesn’t support your right for support.

As I see it, a gaming company should be entirely within their right to provide a key for this support with the original purchase and then deny that key to anyone purchasing the product on the secondary market. There are plenty of examples of non-transferable warranties for non-software products.

To me, that’s entirely fair. If you buy a used game, then you buy an unsupported game.



Facebook: Sid the Seer?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 September 2010, 12:13 pm
Via Tobold, I just saw this article with Popcap executive Jason Kapalka who just confirmed my prediction from March that competition would squeeze the profit out of the Facebook gaming:

Serial Ganker (March 2010) - Facebook: A lesson in Competition
The Laws of Competition are going to require a successful social gaming company to compete by either:
  • creating lots of crappy games (most options)
  • and/or, build better games to distinguish themselves (best option)
This is what happens with market forces in a free market. Big markets with big profits attract lots of competition. Which, in turn, drives profits down because more people are chasing the same pool of dollars.

The point here is that while social gaming is attractive to investors right now, it’s not always going to be this attractive as competition drives down profits.

Those are my words from March above, but enough self-congratulating for being so smart and let's steal some juicy quotes from the article with Jeff at Popcap.

"You're definitely in the stage right now in social games where there's a lot of bandwagon jumping, where everyone sees moneymoneymoney and suddenly all these new companies appear. It happened before in mobile, it happened before in casual – in the past it's tended to signal the beginning of the end."

Kapalka isn't suggesting that social games as a whole are going to die. Instead, he says it's the end of a "golden era," where the possibilities of the genre seemed limitless.

So thus far, the first half of my prediction is coming true. Increased competition is bleeding away the profit in social gaming. Zynga, the largest FB dev, has taken the approach of making LOTS of crappy games with the hopes that will increase their overall exposure to more users.

The next stage, I believe, is that we'll see "better" games on Facebook. That's already becoming true to some degree. Certainly games like Desktop Defender, Kingdoms of Camelot and even (gasp) Frontierville are much better designed games than Mafia Wars and Farmville.



So I guess selling Used Software really is just like Piracy!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 September 2010, 1:18 pm
Via Tobold, I just read this article in Wired about the overturning of the Autodesk case by the 9th US Court of Appeals:
Guess What, You Don’t Own That Software You Bought (Wired)
The 3-0 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, if it stands, means copyright owners may prohibit the resale of their wares by inserting clauses in their sales agreements.

“The terms of the software license in the case are not very different from the terms of most software licensing. So I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t own their software,” said Greg Beck, the defense attorney in the case who represented an eBay seller sued by Autodesk. “The other ramification, there is no reason a similar license could not be put into the cover of a book. It wouldn’t be difficult for everybody to implement this.”
This may not be good news for eBay seller's and buyers on a budget but I absolutely agree with this ruling. When you buy software, you aren't buying the software but a LICENSE-TO-USE that software. As such, I feel a company is well within their rights to limit any transfer of that license to a 3rd party.

The more immediate ramification for consumers is that the discounts provided by a secondary market go away. But the longer term ramification is that the companies and individuals producing this software will be more justly compensated. That means they are more profitable and better able to continue to provide more of those types of products.

If I have a concern here it's the ramification to other Intellectual Property like books. A lot of books go out of print or have limited print runs.



So I guess selling Used Software really is just like Piracy!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 September 2010, 1:11 pm
Via Tobold, I just read this article in Wired about the overturning of the Autodesk case by the 9th US Court of Appeals:
Guess What, You Don’t Own That Software You Bought (Wired)
The 3-0 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, if it stands, means copyright owners may prohibit the resale of their wares by inserting clauses in their sales agreements.

“The terms of the software license in the case are not very different from the terms of most software licensing. So I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t own their software,” said Greg Beck, the defense attorney in the case who represented an eBay seller sued by Autodesk. “The other ramification, there is no reason a similar license could not be put into the cover of a book. It wouldn’t be difficult for everybody to implement this.”
This may not be good news for eBay seller's and buyers on a budget but I absolutely agree with this ruling. When you buy software, you aren't buying the software but a LICENSE-TO-USE that software. As such, I feel a company is well within their rights to limit any transfer of that license to a 3rd party.



Facebook: Sid the Seer?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 September 2010, 12:13 pm
Via Tobold, I just saw this article with Popcap executive Jason Kapalka who just confirmed my prediction from March that competition would squeeze the profit out of the Facebook gaming:

Serial Ganker (March 2010) - Facebook: A lesson in Competition
The Laws of Competition are going to require a successful social gaming company to compete by either:
  • creating lots of crappy games (most options)
  • and/or, build better games to distinguish themselves (best option)
This is what happens with market forces in a free market. Big markets with big profits attract lots of competition. Which, in turn, drives profits down because more people are chasing the same pool of dollars.

The point here is that while social gaming is attractive to investors right now, it’s not always going to be this attractive as competition drives down profits.

Those are my words from March above, but enough self-congratulating for being so smart and let's steal some juicy quotes from the article with Jeff at Popcap.

"You're definitely in the stage right now in social games where there's a lot of bandwagon jumping, where everyone sees moneymoneymoney and suddenly all these new companies appear. It happened before in mobile, it happened before in casual – in the past it's tended to signal the beginning of the end."

Kapalka isn't suggesting that social games as a whole are going to die. Instead, he says it's the end of a "golden era," where the possibilities of the genre seemed limitless.

So thus far, the first half of my prediction is coming true. Increased competition is bleeding away the profit in social gaming. Zynga, the largest FB dev, has taken the approach of making LOTS of crappy games with the hopes that will increase their overall exposure to more users.

The next stage, I believe, is that we'll see "better" games on Facebook. That's already becoming true to some degree. Certainly games like Desktop Defender, Kingdoms of Camelot and even (gasp) Frontierville are much better designed games than Mafia Wars and Farmville.



Should Used Games be Supported?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 August 2010, 3:46 pm
While I’m not of the opinion that buying used games is the equivalent of piracy, I certainly do agree that it’s bad for the business of making games. As a general rule, I think it’s safe to assume that the original manufacturer profits little to not at all when you buy or sell a game used.

I’m also not going to argue the legality of it. You can buy and sell used games. That’s not in question.

It’s true that a software license is simply a license to use and while that license gives you no ownership of the actual intellectual property, it does give you license to use the product. You agree to those terms when you install the product.

There is quite a bit of case law that exists for Copyright and Software. And some of it even says that one of the things Software companies can’t do is enforce a term that limits your ability to transfer the license to another party. It’s viewed in the same way that Books or Music copyright is administered.

BUT – unlike Books or Music, Software often needs to be supported long after the initial purchase or sale. This support comes in the form of patches and game updates. And, in many cases, some online service component that the game provides for multiplayer access.

Now the question I would raise is whether or not the right to continued support is something that should be transferable with that license to use?

I don’t think so.

In my mind, the right to use and the right to support are two separate items. Copyright law supports your right to use. It doesn’t support your right for support.

As I see it, a gaming company should be entirely within their right to provide a key for this support with the original purchase and then deny that key to anyone purchasing the product on the secondary market. There are plenty of examples of non-transferable warranties for non-software products.

To me, that’s entirely fair. If you buy a used game, then you buy an unsupported game.



I was engaging Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual this afternoon on a very old debate we have had about WoW-clones and specifically whether or not we should attribute the clone issue as the reason for Warhammer Online's failure.

My position has been and always will be that Warhammer Online failed not because it was a WoW-clone but because they had a very mediocre execution of a very flawed game.

Or as I wrote on Syncaine's blog:
WAR didn’t “fail” because it was a WoW clone. WAR failed because Tier 3 and Tier 4 weren’t as much fun. WAR failed because it couldn’t support the whole server converging on one hotspot for PvP action. WAR failed because a two-faction system allowed one side to grossly outnumber the other.

Those are all design decisions that have nothing to do with WoW. There are certainly a whole slew of other failures as well but those I listed above are the big ones.

ANYWAYS– We’ve had this debate several times and I still maintain the idea that the reason these games fail is that, at the end of the day, they just aren’t as good a game as Warcraft.

If they were, then more players would stick with the new game. Not everyone, mind you, but certainly far more than the desolate wasteland that these games become after 3 months.
But all that aside, here's my real problem with WAR's failure. It's now the world's greatest excuse by everyone as to why NOT to do things. Or as I commented a bit further down in the discussion:
WAR is my great disappointment because it’s become a great scapegoat for many people.

Those who dislike PVP can point to WAR as to why PVP can’t work in an MMO.

Those who hate WoW can point to WAR as the reason why MMOs should stay away from anything remotely WoW-like.

But the REAL reason WAR failed has nothing to do with either of those things.
That's what really gets my goat about the perception of WAR's failure. It didn't fail because it had PvP. It didn't fail because it was a WoW-clone.

It failed because it just wasn't good enough.



Destroying PLEX for $$$$
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 August 2010, 1:08 pm
TAGN has an interesting discussion going on over in the comments of his blog about this article from Massively.
Quick Background:
CCP recently changed the rules regarding PLEX (a system for trading EVE game-time for game currency between players) so that it can be looted or even destroyed by EVE pirates. Previously, you could not move PLEX and it could only be traded safely in the hanger.  And now, according to Massively, some player lost 74 PLEX cards (1 PLEX = 1 month game time) worth around $1300 real-life dollars. Destroyed. Not looted.
The discussion over at TAGN site seems to be focused primarily on what action CCP will need to take to make things right with the player.

The part that is getting lost here is that with the old PLEX system, CCP had nothing to gain except future sales. For example, trading PLEX for ISK didn't add net new money into the pocket of CCP -- it simply allowed one person to effectively pay for someone else's game time.

But if PLEX can be DESTROYED...
It's a much different story.

From CCP's perspective, it's a paid subscription they no longer need to honor that has been destroyed. Unlike the virtual Ore that gets mined, someone paid real money for that PLEX card. A game card that will never be redeemed if it is destroyed.

And what happens to the real life dollars? Those aren't destroyed. They stay in CCP's bank account.

Is money the real Reason for the policy change on PLEX?
The major benefit to CCP of the old PLEX system is that it encouraged players to purchase game time they might not need in order to trade it for the in-game currency (ISK).

From a cash flow perspective, this is a great thing for CCP because they are are getting money upfront today for a future promise of service. They are still beholden to honoring that promise, but they get the money sooner rather than later.

But one thing always rubbed me wrong, what happens when there are more unused PLEX cards being openly traded than their are players who could reasonably use them?

In other words, if you have 1000 months of game cards and only 800 months needed by players, then a couple of horrible things happen from CCP's perspective:
  • Cash Flow Stops or Slows - your players don't need to pay you because they have already paid.
  • The in-game price of PLEX suffers dramatic deflation and your primary product (subscriptions) is de-valued.
Now I'm not suggesting that CCP reached the point where their are more PLEX game cards than players who need them. But what I am suggesting is that CCP, who does have an economist on staff, is well aware that such a system is an impending financial crisis and not sustainable for the long-term.

I would even hazard to guess that CCP started to see cash flows slow down as less and less players find themselves needing to purchase PLEX because it already exists in-game.

But, you ask, why is cash flow important? After all, doesn't CCP already have the money from the game cards they sold?

Well, the problem is that in all likelihood, CCP management didn't just set that money in the bank. It's going to be invested -- likely back into the company to pay for development costs on a future project for future returns.  If those returns aren't realized right away, they need continued cash flows to keep coming in order to keep the lights on.

Destroying PLEX for Profit
What's the best solution to having a surplus of something? Why blowing it up, of course!

The moment that PLEX is destroyed and rendered unusable as game-time, the promise of future services is gone and it becomes pure profit for CCP.

But more importantly, you no longer have as large a surplus of game time and it reverses the two trends I addressed earlier. Less PLEX means PLEX is more valuable. Less PLEX means more players will need to purchase additional game time.

It's for this very reason that I believe the change by CCP was deliberate, intentional and entirely motivated by self-interest.

The irony is that EVE has a player culture that revels in such losses. They don't want it to happen to them, but the fact it CAN happen is oddly appealing.

Contrast that change with Blizzard. Can you imagine the reaction from WoW players if you could get ganked and lose your game card in WoW?

Legal challenge?
From a legal standpoint, it's an intriguing situation. Does CCP have the right to void those promises of future services?

If I'm CCP, I would argue that what I am providing for the fee is not game time until it has been converted. Instead, I'm selling a virtual currency similar to ISK. What the player chooses to do with that virtual currency is up to them. Based on their actions, it can be traded, stolen or even destroyed.

Assuming the player losing the PLEX is not the same person who bought the PLEX, they have to agree with this interpretation. After all, if they don't agree that it's simply virtual currency, how did they trade for it?

It's a much murkier prospect if the person losing the PLEX is the same person who bought it. But even here, however, I think CCP is protected because their are other alternatives to adding game time. It could be argued that the only reason a player would buy PLEX over other methods is to at least have the option of trading it.



Quick Hit: What makes an MMO?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 August 2010, 4:38 pm
By definition, we all know it means Massive Multiplayer Online Game. Yes, I'm aware that it should more accurately be MMOG but the "Game" is implied when you say MMO.

The Online part is obvious, the "Massive" part is subject to opinion. And the "Multiplayer" part is subject to interpretation. For example, some would argue that the "leveling" game in a MMO like WoW is not Multiplayer at all.  Whereas, I might argue it is Multiplayer by virtue of it being a shared world.

I was reading an entry over at KTR about Cultural Differences and I was struck with a thought.  I think, at it's core, the defining characteristic of an MMO is shared experience. Or more specifically, a shared gaming experience with hundreds of strangers.

Now traditionally, this shared experience is in a Persistent Online World (POW), but I don't think a persistent world is really the defining trait. Lots of MMOs have sharded worlds or very little persistence. In fact, I would argue that if you start with UO, the trend has actually been to move AWAY from persistence in MMOs.

But the one commonality in all these games is shared experience.



World of Darkness
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 July 2010, 1:44 pm
I was just saying on Heartless_'s blog yesterday that if I were a game dev, I would have to strongly consider Vampire & Werewolves as the backdrop for an MMO. Vampires, in particular, is a subject matter that draws a lot of attention. Most recently, we have seen the Trueblood and Twilight craze but this has always been a very popular genre. Dracula, Underworld, Blade, The Lost Boys, Salem’s Lot, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with a Vampire.

The great thing about that genre is that it’s not exclusive to Vampires and can include all things that live in the dark. Poltergeists, Ghouls, Zombies, Necromancers, Warlocks, Witches, Demons, Ghosts, Banshees, and basically anything else used to scare the bejeezuz out of people by movie producers. People just eat this topic up and it has a bigger fanbase than even the strongest IPs like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

The other interesting thing about the IP is that the Lore is mostly based on the creatures and critters than inhabit it. It’s not specific to an area or even a point in history. You could just as easily have a Vampire / Werewolf story set in ancient Rome as you could in modern day London or New York. In addition, the creatures themselves are mostly immune to modern weaponry. So, from a lore perspective, attacking a mythical creature with a holy dagger instead of a gun is entirely plausible.

World of Darkness MMO
The impetus for this entry is that I just learned about the World of Darkness MMO. Credits to Tobold for pointing out the upcoming MMO list.

World of Darkness is a pen-and-paper RPG with the exact supernatural horror setting that I just described. One of my major concerns with many MMO titles is that the IP just doesn’t work or fit very well with game mechanics required of an MMO. However, when the IP is already based on an established RPG, the rules already exist and have been tweaked and tested through years of “on-paper” testing.

I stopped playing pen-and-paper RPGs around 1993-94, so I only knew the World of Darkness RPG under its original title of Vampire: The Masquerade. As far as pen-and-paper RPGs go, Vampire: The Masquerade seemed to be well liked by the people I played with regularly (one of which wrote several published D&D modules). And according to Wikipedia, it won an award for “Best Roleplaying Rules” in 1991.

In my mind, it’s a huge point in WoD MMOs favor that it uses a well-established and tested ruleset. The underlying game mechanics are important to the pen-and-paper crowd. These things still exist in MMOs so it’s big plus to know that the foundation is well thought out and tested over time. But more than that, the specifics of the Lore were designed with an RPG system in mind.

Developed by CCP
But perhaps more importantly, it's also being developed by CCP. The same CCP who is currently publishing the second most successful MMO on the market in EVE Online. There are several very important things we know about CCP:
  • They have the financial backing of another successful MMO. We know the lights aren’t going to get turned off anytime soon.
  • They execute well. You don’t attract the players that EVE has with shoddy craftsmanship.
  • They stay committed. CCP will stay the course and continually work to improve their products over time.
  • They have a proven track record of doing things that are different from World of Warcraft.
  • The graphics are going to blow your mind. (see Cloth and Hair demo)
If I’m being blunt, the mere fact that CCP is attached to this MMO guarantees it some measure of success. If, for no other reason, because we know that CCP will stay the course and put forth the work necessary to continually improve it into a quality MMO.

Success?
Tobold asks us today, Which upcoming MMO will break the million subscribers mark? If I was a betting man, I would place my money on World of Darkness.

First of all, it has World of in the name. Perhaps if Funcom had released World of Conan instead of Age Of Conan more people would have understood that it was an MMO set in the world of Conan. Clearly, Warhammer made the same mistake by not naming themselves World of Warhammer. Oh sure, this would have abbreviated to WoW but one could argue that such confusion would cause an increase in subscription numbers when my best friend’s brother-in-law signed up for the wrong WoW!

OK. OK. On a more serious note, blogger pundits like to write lots of theories about why no MMO has seriously offered Blizzard real competition over the years. There are several recurring themes in these theories and World of Darkness would appear to avoid most of them. It’s not fantasy based. It’s being produced by a proven developer. It’s in a popular genre with a strong IP. It’s based on an existing RPG with tested game mechanics. The developer has a history of executing well, supporting the game long-term and listening to the community enough but not too much. And finally, the developer is best known for creating a unique game that is markedly very different than WoW.

On the surface of it all, I have to say that WoD appears to be very well positioned as a major up-and-coming MMO. The only irony is that I don’t really like Vampire movies or books. Oh well.. :)



Input Devices, the iPad, Wii and You
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 July 2010, 5:44 pm
In recent years, consumer electronic products have seen several new and innovative technologies introduced to tackle the challenge of how users interact with their devices. Voice activation. Motion controls (Wii). Touchscreens. Invisible Mice.

Technology developed primarily as a result of wanting to create a more compact and portable product. The iPhone is perhaps the best example. It has voice activation features, motion controls to determine orientation and, of course, the now famous touchscreen. 99% of computer users still use a mouse & keyboard but most people have had some exposure by now to this type of technology with some type of non-computer device.

Why is this important?

Well, Raph Koster thinks the iPad form factor (or slate) is the future of computing for the average user. I tend to agree with him. It’s compact, portable and certainly covers all the needs that my wife, her parents, my parents, and all my siblings need out of computer. 


One of the knocks I had about the iPad at release is that for the price, you can buy a cheap laptop. And while I still believe that’s true, the trend is that the platform will eclipse PC innovation within the next 5 years. I would argue that it’s already eclipsed the innovation, but within 5 years it might actually become the dominant platform of choice among home users.

So by extension this is important for gaming because, in all likelihood, you’ll own one of these devices within the next 5 years.

Fighting the 1-2-3s
As we learned with the Wii, providing an alternate way to interact with our gaming devices is a novel and interesting way to breathe new life into them.


If I think about my own frustration with MMO controls, I find that what I don’t like most is having to make keystrokes (hotkeys) while simultaneously doing things with my mouse.

Compare that experience to the Wii with it’s motion controls. Or with the iPad's on-screen finger controls + motion controls. The controls themselves are not just intuitive, but fun to use. On a personal note, I find them more challenging as well. Something that is “easy” with the twitch of my wrist on a mouse is far harder to accomplish when I need to swing my whole hand or body.

As MMO players, we talk a lot about innovation. We talk a lot about how MMO devs need to break away from the 1-2-3 hotkey mold made popular by Blizzard.


For me, this was a huge part of the appeal with Darkfall. The UI might have been total crap, but the controls as it related to combat were both fun, challenging and innovative. As I’ve written about in the past, the simple act of killing a monster you need to “aim at” makes the game several factors more difficult than your standard MMO.

Gamers are all about efficiency
I think this is what strikes some gamers wrong about using these newer input devices. The Wii remote is not as easy to use as a Playstation controller.


Using motion controls to drive a car or do just about anything is a bit more challenging on a Wii remote. Some gamers, like myself, enjoy that challenge. Other gamers, like Yahtzee Croshaw from Zero Punctuation can’t stand the motion controls because they make them feel like they have to flail around to do the same thing they could have done with the twitch of a finger.

Gamers are competitive and look at the input device as a potential tool to make them more effective. They buy expensive mice with super high DPI ratings and more buttons than your number pad. I know that on a personal note I am very tempted to buy a Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard for that exact reason.

This is a fundamental problem with introducing new controls.  One of the games I have for our Wii is Mario Cart. As much as I love the motion controls, you can’t get me to use them in that game because it offers a method without the controls. If I were to use the motion controls while playing against someone who wasn’t – I would be at a disadvantage. Therefore, I feel like I need to play without motion controls in order to feel competitive.

If you want it to work, it can’t be a choice.

It’s not a new argument. There are plenty of people who play WoW who would rather play the game without addons. But in order to compete against players WITH addons, they feel compelled to download and install them.


As an addon author, I’m cleary not against addons. However, I can see that point and respect why other devs like CCP would choose not to allow them to exist in their game. Having an interface option where one method is clearly far superior to another method is really no choice at all.



No one likes grind.
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 July 2010, 6:40 pm
To me, the statement "No one likes grind" is one of the most obvious observations that a person can make. It's right up there with "the sky is blue" and "black is darker than white".

The actual definition of Grind is "a tedious task" and it's synonymous with Drudgery. Tedious, by the way, is defined as "boring, monotonous, time consuming". I think that pretty much sums up what most MMO players think of Grinding.

And yet... I always find it terribly surprising when someone speaks out in favor of the grind. "No. No." they say, "we like the grind. The grind is important. It provides meaning. Context for all our hard work."

You like boring, monotonous, time consuming tasks? Really? Forgive me while I display some skepticism for a moment. For I find it impossible that even a masochist would really enjoy tasks that, by definition, are uninteresting, repetitive and cause players mental weariness.

No. I don't think you really do like the grind. No one likes the grind.

I think you like the reward.
I think what players like is the sense of achievement that comes from overcoming difficulty. That and the shiny Pavlovian treat that usually accompanies that sense of achievement.

No. It's not the "grind" that players find rewarding. It's the reward that they find rewarding.

I'm convinced that if you created a "box" in the middle of Orgrimmar that players could jump on for free coins that players would happily jump on that box 24/7 and proceed to send Blizzard thank you emails for giving them that box. The "box" they would say is the smartest idea ever.

But, of course, it's not the "box" that players would enjoy but the Reward it provides.

We need challenge, but do we need Grind?
As MMO players, we crave challenge. We want challenge. It's what gives our virtual achievements context and meaning.

As I wrote in Mid-June, there are several ways to make your MMO more difficult:
  • Twitch Skills
  • Reactive Decision Making
  • Planned Strategic Thinking
  • Time Consuming
  • Severe Consequences
  • Organizational Structure
Of all six methods for making your game more difficult, the worst possible choice from a player perspective is to make it more time consuming. Difficulty, by virtue of only being lengthy, is a miserable and mind-numbingly boring way to make your game more difficult.

We don't need the Grind to make a game challenging. There are plenty of ways to increase the challenge without needing to make it monotonous or boring.



The worst part about Blizzard's recent announced change is that they sincerely believe this will clean up the forums.  Perhaps a bit, but at what cost?

The unfortunate reality is that Blizzard is simply arming the "trolls" with real information they can use to make the attacks more hurtful.

The real trolls, the ones who want to cause harm and mischief, just got a brand new way they can make your life miserable.  If they don't like what you have to say, they don't need to post the hate, they can just call you on the phone and leave nasty messages.

My Mom started getting hate mail from someone in an internet group with a grudge against her. Real mail. Sent to her house with threats.

There are countless ways that the trolls can now inflict harm upon you if they know your real name.  Get all their buddies to harrass you.  Sign you up for magazines.  Subscribe you to porn lists.

Or the other alternative I love is the “wrong guy” scenario. This is where the unlucky bastard who just happens to have the same name gets harassed in real life by some angry forum trolls. Calling his house. Leaving nasty messages. Sending him photos of his house with death threats.

Because the trolls don’t necessarily stop – they just know who you are now.

Kicking your ass in Real Life (courtesy of RealID)
I grew up in a small-ish town where there wasn’t much to do on the weekend. You either got drunk, got laid, or got into a fight. I’m also not a small guy and when I was in my teens and early twenties, I wasn’t always the best decision maker when it came to throwing a few punches. In one particularly noteworthy situation, I was carried out of a building by four police officers.

I’ve since matured quite a bit and been pretty subdued for the last 10 years. All of this ugliness was inside of a younger, less mature me. Outside of the occasional menacing glare, I haven’t been in a real altercation since the aforementioned police officer incident. The older me has too much to lose to ever behave that way again.

My point? Well, at one time in my life I was THAT guy. You know the guy I’m talking about... The one who snaps online and starts making the physical threats. “Where do you live? I want to kick your ass. Let’s meet somewhere.”

Thing is – I was serious. I really did want to kick their ass and had they been near my city... well, there would have been some vengeance for the online slights. Now I wasn’t always that angry. In all my years of gaming or participating in online activities I can only think of two instances where I would have been angry enough to take action.

But.. therein lies my point. I was angry enough to take action.

Look, in the grand scheme of things I’m not even the most likely person I know who would seek someone out to kick their ass. But I certainly know my younger self would have considered it. And my younger drunken self may have even acted upon it.

But what stopped me?

Anonymity.

As frustrated and angry as I might have been, I had no outlet. No way to act upon impulses that could have turned out badly. Impulses that were further inflamed because the source of my anger wasn’t physically present.

You see, the real Internet Dickwad Theory is only partly about Anonymity. Because part of what makes something so much more dick-ish on the Internet is that you don’t have any immediate personal feedback from people. If you are being a dick to someone in real life, even if they don’t know you personally, you can both use body language and vocal queues to keep the conversation from turning from just a civil disagreement to a raging war.

But if you are being a dick on the internet, their imagination supplies the tone. Words intended to be fair and considering can quickly be seen as hurtful and inflammatory. Removing the anonymity while keeping the same inflammatory problems is simply a disaster in the making.

Is the use of Real Names a good idea?

No.

And take that from the perspective of someone who is willingly admitting that they would likely have kicked the shit out of someone in real life had that anonymity not existed. That’s not fear-mongering. That’s just an honest appraisal from someone who knows himself well enough to know that this can only end badly.



The problem with PvP in MMOs
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 June 2010, 3:42 pm
I think what took me a long time to realize is that not everyone wants equality in their PvP.

Too often, we label something as PvP and then just expect everyone to understand what that means. But PvP comes in lots of flavors and not all of it is the same. Back in January I wrote an entry about what I called the PvP Political Compass. That compass is my attempt to describe the flavors of PvP that exist in games.

What is interesting about the compass is that it also describes what people WANT out of these games. At one end of the spectrum, players want their actions to have an Impact. You play to win and you make your own fair play by carving out your own little place in the world. And in MMOs, this means grouping with other like-minded individuals for protection.

At the other end of the spectrum are players who take their meaning from the competition itself. They don’t want there to be any confusion caused by unfairness. Two people meet under equal terms and the person who emerges as the victor KNOWS they are the better player. No question. This is the same type of competitive spirit we crave in our sports teams.

As you can see in the PvP Compass, these two ideas are not compatible. By virtue of having Impact, you create an imbalance that is unwanted by the player who wants more competition. But it’s not entirely black and white. It’s more of a sliding scale. The more competitive you make it, the less impact exists. The more impact you create, the less competitive it becomes.

Can we make a Competitive PvP-based MMO?
It’s not much of a coincidence that the only successful MMOs which feature PvP as a prominent part of the game happen to focus on Impact-type PvP. MMOs, by the very nature of character progression, do not lend themselves towards equality. Thus, a PvP game which is very purposefully designed without the need for equality is going to feel like a more natural result.

The problem here is that Impact PvP isn’t the most desirable type of PvP for most players. Starcraft, Counter-Strike, Halo and countless other games in other genres have been immensely popular to the Competitive PvP crowd. Even Tobold (known PvP hater) recently admitted that “PvP games could be more successful if they would do a better job of pairing people with similar skills and abilities against each other.

Impact PvP, by contrast, appeals to a much smaller group of players. It takes a certain type of player who is willing to both risk the consequences of negative sum PvP and has the skills to master the “social” part that these games require to find some measure of safety in a group.

So, in my opinion, it’s not that PvP isn’t a popular option. It’s that the type of competitive PvP that more players would enjoy has never been implemented in any MMO. Which begs the question, is it even possible?

Half empty or Half full?
Presumably, in a world of perfect equality, an average skilled player would lose just as many fights as they won. I think intellectually that most people can grasp that idea. But emotionally and subjectively, I think it becomes an incredible complex problem.

Because, in practice, most people will react emotionally. He must have cheated! We got nerfed! Laaaaag!

Further complicating the issue is self-perception. Would a person be happy they are winning half the time, or pissed off that they are losing half the time?

Countering the Character Progession
I sincerely wish that more games used a method of “tiering” players into relative power groups. WAR comes immediately to mind but they did it badly. For one thing, I wouldn’t “uprank” players to a new level. I would “downrank” more advanced players when they entered an area intended for characters who were less powerful.

Or as I suggested on Syncaine’s blog yesterday:
No upranking for low level characters into high level areas. Just downranking if a high level character chooses to visit an area that is not intended for them.

The key point here is that it’s an area NOT intended for them. Low level mobs they want to safely grind on? No. Sorry. Not intended for you.

Newbie players trying to figure out how to PvP? Sorry. Not going to be an easy gank because while you are more knowledgeable, you are not more powerful.

Everyone is welcome to travel anywhere they want, but if you choose to visit places that aren’t for you than there are consequences.

A low level character going into a high level area risks getting one-shotted. A high level character going into a low level area risks having to actually fight a new player on more equal footing.

Oh. And, sorry. No power leveling your buddy because you aren’t much more of a bad ass.

Now you obviously put all the best and most worthwhile stuff in non-protected areas. If the interesting stuff is not in these areas, then people will be motivated to move out of them quickly.

The real benefit of all this is that new people of similar power levels get to bang heads against each other instead of getting ripped up by the veterans.

I feel if you want to see a ‘popular’ implementation of PvP in an MMO that it has to address this competitive spirit. No MMO has done this well yet. Perhaps it’s impossible. But I’m holding out hope.



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