[Misc] EVE advertising, Flexi raids in WoW, E3 and the rush of FPS MMOs

Apologies for this being a bit of a mashup. I should probably post more often rather than waiting till I have a few items together.

eve_ad

This banner was part of a banner ad for EVE Online on rpg.net. This is their advertising slogan. “Be the villain”. And they wonder why their community has a terrible reputation, and only 4% of the player base is female.

Just saying.

I’m still playing through my first month in EVE quietly, deliberately not getting involved in corps or PvP because I just wanted to get a feel for the flow of the game. By far the most compelling part so far is the Facebook-like skill training system. I don’t mean that as a knock to the awesome economic game, beautiful graphics or fairly dull PvE. But the skill training is surprisingly compelling (or perhaps not if you’re used to Farmville). So perhaps it is not surprising that the devs have introduced a new mini game in the recent update – I can’t personally comment on it since I haven’t really figured out probes in any case.

The immensely clever thing about this game is the gamification of boredom. PvE activities like mining are made deliberately dull to encourage player-ships to hang around while players are reading something in another window, making them easy prey for wannabee pirates. ie. the pirates are pretty much guaranteed easy player prey, whilst the miners/ distributers can still make enough credits to shrug off losing the odd ship every now and then.

And as long as everyone roughly gets what they want most of the time, no one will get pissed off enough to leave. It’s actually pretty clever, but still boring. Before anyone comments, I realise that the PvP game is where most of the fun is, just joining a corps is a massive hassle and my goal here was just to get a feel for the game.

One of the  main issues with EVE is always going to be how the devs can balance making the game accessible to newbies while allowing the longer term players to enjoy the advantages of lengthy playing time. For all I’m told that newbies can easily fly with PvP fleets (if in the right role), I still see a  lot of fleets in chat that have far more rigorous requirements.

Are you flexible?

One of the features coming to WoW in the next patch has been dubbed flexible raiding by the devs. In addition to LFR (25 man) and  normal mode (10 or 25 man) for raids, there is now going to be an inbetween version that lets you bring any number of players between 10 and 25 and scales based on how many you bring. The flexi raids also are on a separate lockout from either LFR or normal mode, and drop loot that is also between LFR and normal mode loot.

I’m cautiously hopeful about this new raid mechanic. At the beginning of Cataclysm, like many other people, I commented on how forcing 10 and 25 man raiding to the same lockout would impact on casual raid guilds. Back in the day, we used to run fairly chilled out 25 man raids and the more hardcore raiders could still go off and run their own 10 mans at weekends. After the lockout changed, we compacted into a casual 10 man guild where the more hardcore raiders could still raid with the main group and everyone else could come to alt runs or LFR.

The new flexi raids mean that if people want, we could return to the old Wrath raid pattern. I expect to see a lot more public flexi raids being run also, where raiders and their alts can chill with other raiders from their realm in a non guild exclusive environment. Given that more choice is good, I’m going to welcome the new raid type.

What it means to 10 man normal raid groups, I’m not sure. If like us they raid successfully but at a cost of rarely being able to include less hardcore raiders (I realise I am using hardcore in a different way to heroic groups Smile ) and often having a couple of people on the bench, it will be tempting to just shift to flexi raids and throw in the odd normal mode as an extra if players want.

Blizzard are also releasing more information about the next patch, which looks as though it will be rather more interesting than the current one. The Godmother has a quick summary of some of the new upcoming  features.  I actually applaud them for releasing the current quieter patch over the summer period, because players don’t really want to feel stressed to play MMOs when the weather is nice (I live in hope).

What E3 brought

I’m not really sold yet on either XBone or the PS4 as a next gen console, my PS3 is still looking pretty good and PC gaming has rarely been better*. However, I’m going to bow to Sony’s PR guys this week because their video on how the PS4 lets you share games is a winner; at least it makes them look as though they understand gamers rather better than Microsoft. I wouldn’t write the XBone off though, MSoft have a very clear vision of their customer – someone who loves watching sport, playing ‘core’ video games online with friends, and isn’t that price sensitive. We should just call the console the XBROne and have done with it. Imagine my surprise that the Microsoft E3 presentation a) showed no games with female protagonists and b) involved a scripted rapey joke at the expense of a female presenter. Like I say, they know exactly who their target audience are. And yes I do enjoy watching them get mocked for it in the national press.

* I will probably eventually pick up a PS4 to play whichever version of Final Fantasy we are up to now (15 I think) because old habits are hard to break.

I am also seeing (finally) a rush of FPS MMOs lined up for the next gen consoles. Between Destiny and The Division, along with Planetside 2 and whatever MMOlike features are planned for CoD et al, it will be interesting to see how both the monetisation strategies and gameplay catch on with console players.

And the game that most intrigued me was the Plants vs Zombies shooter. Like Liore, I think this is an interesting way of opening up the genre to a different audience. I kind of want to play a Sunflower that spits sunbeams, even though I’m not big on shooters.

In space no one knows you’re a girl

Last post (for the moment) on women in gaming. I was interested but not surprised that CCP recently informed Destructoid that 96% of EVE players were male.

I don’t think there is anything inherent in the game itself that edges women players out. It’s not a very exciting game on a minute to minute basis, but plenty of people would theoretically enjoy the crafting and economy game even if they didn’t want to get involved in fleet action. I also think that the gameplay is fairly hostile to the more casual gamer who may have hours at a time to devote but may also have to leave the computer at short notice to answer the door/ phone, or deal with some minor household emergency.

I also take huge issue with the argument that women traditionally don’t like scifi. Hello, thousands of Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica female fans would like to prove you wrong there.

The heavy competitive/ PvP focus traditionally is more appealing to male players. I imagine there are way more female players in games like Wurm Online (another sandbox with strong crafting emphasis) which doesn’t have the same push to PvP. The EVE community has also never been that friendly to women – what I mean by this is that if there was a kickass female-run corps, you’d see more interest from the type of women who might like the game anyway purely from the appeal of “get to play the type of game you like with people like you”. Which is more appealing than “get to play the type of game you like with the kind of people you try to avoid online where you can.”

There is also a certain type of complexity-for-its-own-sake that appeals to people who (in tabletop) love setting up spreadsheets for their Champions campaign, using the encumbrance mechanics in D&D and designing tanks using GURPS Vehicles. I’m talking about the trainspotter faction in gaming, predominantly male.

The other factor is because of the great advantages you get in  game by joining as part of a pre-existing group (most notoriously, Goons). That’s not a bad thing in itself, but when the majority of the groups are heavily male dominated anyway offline, any lone female joining the game is at a double disadvantage (because she would have to sign up with a group that are not particularly welcoming if she wanted that environment). Sure you could go sign up for SA but if you find that community toxic, why would you?

So basically I think the entire social structure of the game, albeit unintentionally, edges out the type of women who would otherwise enjoy it. And because so much of this is down to the metagame and out of game communities, there’s not really much CCP can do even if they wanted to. And they don’t really want to market to women because it might impact on their “harden the fuck up” narrative.

Plus of course it’s a hard sell pushing a subscription game to anyone in the current climate.

[Links] No news is good news edition

I wish I could package some of the good cheer that has enveloped us here from hosting the Olympics the last couple of weeks; whatever doubts people had beforehand, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the whole thing. Plus Paralympics still to come (that’s the one where I actually have a ticket to go see the Athletics Winking smile ). I’m surprised that the blogosphere hasn’t picked up on the Olympic theme more, I was half expecting to see discussions around sportsmanship in gaming (like: hardcore Olympic athletes don’t smack talk each other, and they congratulate each other after a good race/ bout) and whether e-sports might ever be included in a modern modern pentathlon. Alas, it was not to be.

Big up though to The Godmother who does share my Olympic enthusiasms!

The Secret World: one month in

The Secret World launched on June 29th, which means that it has now passed the one month mark, which also means time for some punditry on how things are going. Short form: not meeting publisher expectations. Blogger reactions on the other hand have been very positive. Players are enjoying the game and the general buzz has been good; unfortunately not in projected numbers, it seems. (So: philosophically, does that mean the game is a success or a failure?)

Scott at Broken Toys quotes from Funcom’s note to shareholders, highlighting  that projected sales for TSW will not be met. This is bad news for players, and likely worse for employees as at least 10% of them will be laid off.

Flosch at Random Waypoint gives his first reaction to this:

I really want TSW to succeed. It’s earned its right to succeed, and it shows that Funcom seems to be a company able of learning, which in and of itself is rare enough that it should be rewarded, not punished. Plus, I am having so much fun in the game now! It would be sad to see Funcom fail 100 meters before the finish.

Sente at A Ding World notes that the sales for TSW are pretty much in line with his expectations, that it’s likely that retention will be better than for similar MMOs, and that TSW is going to be available on Steam which might also extend its reach.

I did not expect then to sell over a million copies of the game and if they sell 500K copies of the game the first year I think that is fairly reasonable actually in todays market. Not because the game is bad, far from it. I think the game is great – but I think it is also a game that does not go out of its way to attract the big masses.

I see a general theme that solid games are being released onto the market but because the pre-launch predictions by publishers have been wildly over optimistic, costs aren’t kept in line and a game that probably should have been a success may end up labelled a failure. We’ve seen it with 38 Studios, SWTOR, and now TSW. It’s a failure of the marketing team (stupid projections) and bean counters, not necessarily of  design.

Terra Silverspar also writes a good review of TSW at one month in, explaining what she does and doesn’t like about it.

If I were to give this an overall, I would say wait until it goes Free to Play. I’ve heard they are adding more hairstyles and such, but hell, I hear a lot of things about MMOs that just launch that turn out to actually do very little. I really did want to like this game, as I said, but it just buried itself under the weight of a lot of things that just make it not very fun for me to play.

EQ2 will require players to pay for future content in cash, not coins

SOE have been very up front about tweaking their F2P offerings if the money isn’t coming in quickly enough, and I wonder if this heralds a general trend.

Starting Monday, August 27th, 2012, we will no longer accept Station Cash as a payment method for Expansions and DLC Packs. Real-world currency will be the only way to purchase these products.

So basically: like most other F2P publishers, SOE allow you to buy their in-house virtual currency with real money and then spend that virtual currency in their cash shop. They are now not going to sell expansions and DLC in that cash shop, instead you’ll have to buy those in actual cash from their website (which we could call the real cash cash shop, or something.) The cash shop will now be restricted to cosmetic items, bag space, and the other usual suspects.

Presumably this was because players were stocking up on the virtual currency when there were sales on with the aim of using it to buy future expansions/ DLC – we can call this “acting like sensible and forward thinking consumers who are confident in making a long term commitment to the game.” So rather than just making the DLC more expensive in virtual currency terms, they decided to remove it from the cash shop altogether so I guess they have more control over what people pay for it and when.

Monetization changes in MMOs generally mean that not enough money was being generated using the previous method. So maybe the virtual currency is now being seen as a hindrance in selling that type of content. This is likely to be pretty rough for anyone who was stockpiling virtual currency in EQ2 with the aim of buying future DLC; that’s now money down the drain that they can only spend on virtual goods and other stuff they might not want.

In a quite prescient post, Green Armadillo wonders if it’s possible to monetise an MMO via DLC. I think games like Wizard 101 seem to manage OK but I don’t follow them closely enough to know if they are also putting more pressure on players to spend more.

My conclusion is that it’s better not to plan too far ahead with MMOs these days. Don’t assume that your game of choice won’t shift to F2P in under 10 months. Don’t assume that your virtual currency hoard will pay for an expansion next year. In a genre that’s traditionally all about the long term planning, it rather sucks to be forced into short termism but c’est la vie.

In vaguely related terms, Jester discusses specific money making strategies in EVE connected with the faction wars.

CCP in general and Dr. EyjoG in particular have been bemoaning the fact that there is too much ISK in the game for quite some time which is why you’re seeing an increasing number of sinks in the game.  The recent addition of the need to purchase data-cores for ISK is a good example.

There are two main reasons for a dev to want to introduce more money sinks into a game. One is for game balance reasons, to keep people who have built up huge money hoards motivated and give them stuff to spend the cash on. EVE has a second reason, which is to generate more income, because of the mechanic by which players can exchange RL money for in game cash (via PLEX). Players can never really be sure whether changes are made for the balance reason or the monetisation reason (or both).

Dust to Dust

CCP’s new FPS game, Dust 514, is in beta at the moment, and we’re starting to get some feedback from players. The exciting thing about this concept is that it hooks into EVE so players can interact by blowing each other up or something. The rather unexciting thing is that EVE is a PC game and Dust is a Playstation 3 exclusive, so it looks as though CCP are aiming for very different audiences (ie. as opposed to EVE players who like FPS games.)

Chris at Game by Night casts a FPS-fan’s eyes over the game. He finds the learning curve steep, and wonders whether existing console FPS players will find that a turn off.

CCP makes it pretty clear that they’re looking to expand the MMO audience to a whole new demographic, which is awesome. <…> My concern, however, is that they’re stacking the chips against them. Excel Online is alive and well in DUST. Look at the first video in this link. I see that depth and think “wow, that’s awesome.” Your average Call of Duty player will probably think, “holy sh*t, that’s a lot of stuff to worry about.”

My prediction is that players who get over the learning curve will absolutely fall in love with the game. There’s really nothing else like it or even trying to be. There are design quirks but I’m also very much aware that this is CCP’s first try at something other than a PC MMO.

TAGN notes that CCP have recently raised $20mil in new funding. If that is based on Dust popularity, then CCP may have a lot riding on this one. Will their funders give them enough time to build a core playerbase slowly and grow it, or would an indifferent launch hit the parent company hard? It will be interesting to watch this one from the sidelines, because a game with a steep learning curve might not be the one to pull in loads and loads of F2P players.

What else is in the links file

Ratshag hangs up his blogging hat; he’ll be greatly missed and I wish him and his family the best of luck for the future. (I was going to say that he’s always been a voice of reason, but maybe voice of unreason is more accurate Winking smile )

Pixelated Executioner tells the story of what happened when he reported another player for racism in WoW.

Stropp explains why he thinks that Windows 8 will be a catastrophe for gamers.

G. Christopher Williams writes in PopMatters about why some people are really interested in whether their opponents are upset in PvP.

Many bloggers and current SWTOR players share their reactions to the news that SWTOR is transitioning to F2P in November. Ravelation compares her experiences in LOTRO with the proposed SWTOR setup.

Welshtroll reflects on why he loses enthusiasm for games when they go F2P.

It seems that the GW2 honeymoon period may be over as the cold light of reality breaks over the darkest hype. One of the questions seasoned gamers are asking is what sort of longevity the game might have without a traditional PvE endgame. Kadomi presents a carefully thought out list of pros and cons for the game, explaining her final decision not to play.

Kurn writes about his decision to leave WoW after playing and raiding for many years:

It’s not just because I’ve been playing for nearly seven years. It’s not just because I’m tired and have other stuff in my real life I should really be paying attention to, either.

It’s because I have satisfied my curiosity.

Tzufit wonders where new or inexperienced players are going to learn to raid in WoW these days. I suspect they might go to older content, as I do see raids run to Wrath and TBC raids for transmog purposes. But Cataclysm certainly didn’t provide an easy learning curve for new raiders.

Day Z, the incredibly popular zombie survival mod for ARMA is being turned into a stand alone game.

Keith Stewart at Hookshotinc shares his confessions of a middle aged gaming writer.

I am aware, when I go on press trips now, that I am old enough to be the father of some of the other journalists I am with. <…> I am ancient enough to remember playing games in black and white, on old Grandstand consoles; I played Pac-Man in a Blackpool arcade when it first arrived in Britain; I even remember when Sega was a serious force in the industry. That stuff makes me feel like Rutger Hauer as the majestic yet dying replicant in Bladerunner – I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Aly at Mistress of Illusions muses on why L2P (learn to play) is such a popular insult in MMOs, and what this might mean for GW2:

Speaking of Guild Wars 2, there has been criticism regarding the learning curve. Namely, that there is one. People don’t want watered down game play or another WoW clone, but when presented with something different, some people can’t handle being taken out of their comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s valid criticisms to be made but no complaint should ever begin with the phrase “I had to learn…” It’s a new game. You should have to learn. There’s nothing wrong with learning, and it’s a shame that a generation of gamers have stigmatized the act of learning.

Jeromai urges players, and particularly bloggers, not to let other players’ opinions of a game affect their enjoyment. He also admits to his love of cheesy games, and notes in the comments:

But my real point is, Popcap and other casual game manufacturers can hide some seriously solid gameplay behind initially unappealing to the so-called ‘hardcore’ gamer looks, and we will slowly get to that as I fiddle around with the games.

Gaming morality vs RL morality

Jim Stirling posted a video blog in The Escapist this week discussing why murder is pretty much the norm in video games but rape presents greater issues. I didn’t watch it because I pretty much never watch video blogs, but read enough of what he said afterwards to get the gist:  his current position is that this is OK because there could be good/ ethical reasons to kill (ie. in self defence, if it’s a zombie, etc) but not rape. So he’s taking a fairly sensible perspective, which might be surprising to people who have read his previous outbursts.

 

This post is not about rape, however. It’s more about how we do lots of things in games because we can, or because they score points or combos, or because they unlock more content or a cool cutscene/ kill scene. My partner is levelling an Agent in SWTOR at the moment and while I’m trying not to spoil the story for him, we do sometimes chat about when I made different decisions on my (dark side) agent than he has on his (light side) one. My Agent was also a kind of intergalactic Martin Sheen so I went for all the seduction options too. My beloved summed this up as, “So you shagged everything shaggable and shot everything shootable.” I said “Yes, obviously!”

 

The way in which the gaming brain makes decisions is not usually around morality so much as min-maxing, high scores, or winning the game. Maybe there is some power fantasy in there as well, especially in immersive settings. Where morality does come into gaming, it’s often around roleplaying or ‘staying in genre’ or ‘telling a good story.’ Some players always project themselves into the game, or prefer a heroic stance. But if a game awards points for a kill, double points for shooting people in the back, and triple points if you shag the corpse afterwards, then a lot of people would go for the necrophilia without a second thought. It doesn’t seem quite right  to blame players for doing madly immoral things in games if the game was designed to reward those activities.

 

And that’s why it is down to game designers to act like grown ups when it comes to deciding what actions get rewarded. If you reward it, they will do it.

 

Another way of talking about games that reward ‘madly immoral’ activities is the concept of moral hazard. This is where people are encouraged to do hugely risky (or just unwise) things because someone else will pick up the tab if things go wrong. In EVE recently, players found an exploit in a new patch and exploited it crazily for a couple of weeks before reporting it. CCP (after being prodded by other players) duly retrieved the ill gotten gains, released a comment about how clever their players were, and let it go. There’s no major punishment in EVE for this type of exploit – other than massive publicity. I assume the rewards for reporting exploits are decent also. Incidentally, EVE players are the craftiest in the world in the same sense that Carlsberg is the best lager in the world.

 

This is not however a snarky comment about EVE so much as noting that all sandbox games really struggle with empowering ‘good’ players to keep the ‘law’ and control or punish bad ones. The ideal platonic sandbox game would probably have a player run militia and legal system, in practice this is very hard to do without very active support from staff. Partly because naughty players can just log off when the cops are around, but mostly because the information you need to prove crimes is held by the system, and it’s generally hard to think of good punishments other than bannings. Because cop players pretty much have to be in collusion with staff to get the information they need (unless you’re in a hardcore RP game where baddies will volunteer info OOC so as to make a better story), the whole thing is subject to accusations of bias and can easily end up being both ineffective and actively bad for the game.

So even the players who disapprove of exploits have limited facilities to find out about exploiters in game or punish them. Especially if they are part of a large and powerful alliance. This is why people will tend to shrug and leave it to the devs to handle. So again, it’s down to the devs of a sandbox game to keep a close eye on what activities they are rewarding and make some judgement calls on whether emergent player behaviour is something they want for the game or not.

[EVE] How not to do in game/ out-of-game boundaries

I’m not sure if the EVE community has been working up to this over several years, but it’s like being at the drama bus stop at the moment, with several ‘stories’  all arriving at the same time.

First up was The Mittani (recently elected head of the player council of stellar management) dicking around during a live presentation and telling his corps mates to go grief some guy who claimed to have been suicidal, using the phrase “If you want to make this guy go and kill himself …” and giving out the player’s in-game character name.

He subsequently got a 30 day ban, lost his position on the council, et al.

Then apparently someone gave out The Mittani’s real life address on EVE radio and someone in chat there threatened to go round and rape his wife. (Garnered from threads on the EVE forums, which have now mostly been deleted.)

(You’re probably thinking at this point … are these people for real? Or maybe … is this a police matter yet?)

Being as metagaming is a huge part of EVE, chances are that none of this was intended by the speakers to be a serious threat (I’m not aiming to minimise rape threats, just too gobsmacked that it even happened to really comment), but there’s a certain batshit craziness to the entire story which does not reflect well on the game or the people who play it. And if I didn’t happen to know EVE players who are sane, well balanced PVPers, I’d be wondering what kind of an internet cesspit it had become.

Also, how is it that these players, who are presumably old enough to know better, have not twigged that some of the people listening to their rants or threats might in fact be dumb, obsessive, or deranged enough to either take them seriously or take them as a sign that this type of OOC threat is now within the parameters of the game so they should go do it some more too?

Oh and apparently Stabs says EVE players regularly refer to  mega industrialists as  ‘jews’ without any sense that this might not be appropriate slang. (PS. I don’t care if this is standard in your state of birth, and you should not need to be told this.)

Anyhow, this was a post I copied from one of the EVE threads on the subject before it got banned. Elsebeth is the name of the character (ie. not the player). I think it’s worth everyone reading carefully, because it is about the danger of making the boundaries between IC and OOC so thin.

Elsebeth Rhiannon wrote:

Disclaimer: I absolutely do not approve of threatening anyone in RL, not even “as a joke”, and hope anyone who does anything like that gets permabanned immediately, I do not even approve of pointing and laughing at people in the game in order to make them bad in RL, and I do not approve of the recent Mittani-bashing threads that have popped up. Any behavior the sole purpose of which is to “harvest tears” (and those are always RL tears, no matter how much you say “it is just a game”) is deplorable, regardless of target and how much they deserve it.

But that said, a Goon asking “Is this what Eve Online has degraded to?” is mind-boggling. You folks have tried for years to deliberately degrade EVE, to make it about pointing and laughing, and you have stepped across civil behavior lines repeatedly by e.g. circulating private evemail from people who appear RL hurt, even suicidal. How can you now be indignant that you have actually succeeded, and beyond what you hoped? Did you honestly think that if you encourage human beings to bring out the worst in themselves and go further and further in being tough assholes, you suddenly can stop the development when it suits you? Did you honestly think that when you feel that things are now assholish enough, people will telepathically notice and stop going further?

That’s not how it works. If you encourage people to “ruin the game for you”, “harvest tears”, “make them ragequit”, etc, it will become a competition in which someone will always go one step further. Maybe in your head there always was a limit to it. Maybe you believed that people knew what it was. But people are not like that. If you encourage them to be mean, they will be mean. And some day they might very well be meaner than you liked. “I never meant it to go this far” won’t help then, if you never explicitly spoke of the limits or encouraged a culture where it was ok to admit that well, really, we are not such bad guys, I really did feel bad blowing up that ship.

As sad as it is, you lie in the bed you made.”

Incidentally, if my partner was involved in a hobby that resulted in me getting personal threats and I found out, I would be making him choose between that hobby and me. You don’t do that to someone you care about.

[Links] A medley of links for early summer

The clocks changed here yesterday so let’s call it summer!

Last week was fairly heavy on MMO news, another sure sign that developers/ publishers are firing shots across the bows in anticipation of the summer convention season. (That’s a second sign of summer.)

Also, I saw The Hunger Games at the weekend, which may be this year’s first ‘summer’ blockbuster. (Enjoyed it a lot, in case anyone is wondering. We don’t see enough teen girl power fantasies that are about survival, purity of heart, and fighting social injustice rather than about romantic entanglements.)

The Mists of Pandaria beta started last week, without an NDA, so expect increasing amounts of news/ screenshots/ live video feeds etc on the internet from now until launch. I am bitterly regretting the WoW-blogger tendency to focus in hard on a single class because if (like me) you play a class that isn’t popular in the blogosphere, it’s actually quite hard to get a) a sense of excitement for your class and b) any information without having to delve around the bowels of patch notes/ dev comments on the mmo-champion front page. On the other hand, if you’re interested in druids or hunters, you’ll get it all analysed about several zillion times.

Anyhow, I suspect there isn’t much interesting to report on warriors. Even the glyphs look a bit dull, although there is one cosmetic one that makes your character look on fire when it is enraged. I’ll call it the “girl on fire” glyph.

Cynwise wonders where all the warlocks went in Cataclysm and looks at levelling data to find out how many people abandon their warlocks along the way. Warlocks in MoP beta, incidentally, have some tanking abilities (ie. proper tanking abilities, not just an attack with high threat.)

Apparently Blizzard have confirmed that they have started working on the next expansion after MoP. Are there any NPCs left to become raid bosses?

Green Armadillo is considering SWTOR 3 months after launch, and takes a look at how much money he would save if he buys it now compared with going in at the start, and how many bugs will have been fixed and extra content added (in 1.2).

This also reminds me I was going to write a post sometime about how fun Arb and I have found it to play our alts as a duo. There are times when the characterisations are almost uncanny.

Rohan has been playing TERA during a beta weekend, and isn’t impressed by the beta community.This is a game I dismissed automatically as soon I saw videos of female characters running in a way which involved panty shots. Call me psychic if you like…

Still, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. TERA choose high heels, skimpy armor, and lolicons. And thus they get the audience that is primarily attracted by high heels, skimpy armor, and lolicons.

Pete at Dragonchaser reports that Notch is apparently working on a new space trading sandbox game. He mentions the magic word ‘Elite’ and I start doing the pavlovian dog thing :)

CCP presented some information about the World of Darkness game at EVE Fanfest 2012. I had to read that article twice to be sure I’d gotten it right that they said “The game will have a focus on fashion”. So just like EVE then :P

Life in the sandbox

A couple of posts cropped up on my RSS reader recently which throw some light on the reality of life in sandbox MMOs.

Stargrace posts about her struggles in Wurm Online, and Chris Smith@Levelcapped exudes a sense of achievement in finding somewhere to live in the same game. This is clearly a game for people who like the idea of needing complex multi stage processes to build even the simplest of items, not to mention needing constant help from the wiki/ community to help figure it out. I do keep meaning to try this one, but I’m also not sure I have the mental fortitude to make it through the first day and have to figure out how to feed myself in game.

There are also plenty of blog posts describing exciting times people have had in EVE, but this post from Syncaine describes, dare I say, a more typical evening of searching around  for fights that don’t happen. If you played WAR you may also remember some of the complaints about PvP often involving battlegroups searching for and taking unoccupied keeps rather than going for the full scale siege standoff.

This is because, as Syncaine mentions in comments on that post, part of the art of fighting in a sandbox game is making sure you’re in a winning position (ie. have a larger army et al) before you get into a fight at all. And finding an undefended target is simply smart target selection.

It is also the nature of sandbox games that you can’t predict exactly what will happen when you log in. You may have an activity planned that gets disrupted by something else that is going on in game. You may plan a night of sailing your fleet around Hispaniola in Pirates of the Burning Sea (I do have a soft spot for that game) but find that all the actual fights are going on somewhere else. The best way to actually guarantee you’ll get the action you prefer and on a timezone that suits you is to be in a leadership role.

I’m not entirely convinced that sandbox games can ever be more than a minority interest. And I say this as someone who has played and loved them, back in MUD/MUSH days. And unfortunately, people who like them are shy about mentioning the many downsides. They tend to strongly favour organised groups, there is often huge amounts of politics (I mean, to an extent that would dwarf guild drama in WoW), they strongly favour people with large amounts of time, or flexible playing schedules, there can be long extended periods of boredom and no guarantee that you’ll actually be around when the exciting stuff happens, and I’m not really sure if exciting stuff ever really happens in a game like Wurm. (I do still want to try it sometime, but … yeah.) They are also just as fraught with elitists as any other online game, and although some games make it easier for casual players to carve out a niche, you will have to pick your niche carefully.

Fact is, you probably have to work harder for your fun in a sandbox game and there’s no guarantee how much fun it’ll ever actually be. It takes a leap of faith to throw yourself into these things. I found it worthwhile when I was playing them, and I really treasure some of the memories of people I met and stuff we did in game.

So excuse me if I’m dubious about claims by SWTOR haters (and honestly, if you need to hate, why hate on a game that’s actually fun when there are a lot of easier targets?) that if it fails all that money could go into big budget sandbox games. Truth is, we still don’t know if a big budget (or small budget) sandbox game could have wide mass appeal (ie. a million players), we only know that no one has really succeeded in making one that could. At least, not with a virtual world attached. Unless you count social networks like Facebook, which may be the biggest sandbox of all.

But something tells me that Facebook #2 isn’t the kind of sandbox ‘game’ that the themepark haters are hoping for …

I think also about games like HSX (which I am still hooked on — it’s a sort of stock market simulation for upcoming films) which isn’t really a sandbox per se, but has that appeal of being able to research and use real life information into your gaming. eg. I made a pile of cash on Red Tails this weekend by effectively betting that it would do better at the US box office than players had predicted based on the HSX stock price. You may say “Yes but that’s a simulation, not a sandbox game,” but all successful sandbox games that I know of are also simulations. World simulations.

And that’s the curse of the genre as well as the blessing, because they’re full of players who don’t want to stick to any setting or  theme other than winning at all costs. (Did I mention that metagaming is also often rife?)

CCP fire EVE community team (and WoD devs) to focus on … EVE

In classic ‘just before Xmas’ firings, CCP announced today that they had laid off 20% of their development team and put World of Darkness Online onto the back burner in order to focus on EVE. Makes sense if they have cashflow issues since EVE is the game which is currently bringing in money.

But players are intrigued to find that the 20% laid off includes members of the EVE community team who are popular with the playerbase. That’s an odd way to focus on EVE and its community …

Sympathy and best wishes to anyone who was laid off. But CCP is acting like a chicken with the head cut off at the moment. I’ve never known laying off 20% of the workforce to be a good sign for any company, and I’m sad (although not surprised) to hear about WoD which potentially could have brought in a whole new swathe of players and allowed CCP to show off their sandbox strengths to a new audience.

If they are able to focus on EVE and give the EVE players what they want then good luck to them. But firing community team from an active game with a lively community (to say the least) says that they don’t really understand the genre they are working with to me.

Maybe they should just rename EVE to Con Artists Online?

90% of the time I hear news stories about EVE Online doing the rounds, it’s because of some intricate con or scam which one player/ corps has inflicted on others. The other 10% is when CCP do something players don’t like. In regular MMOs it’s more like the other way around (ie. 90% of the stories are about devs doing something players dislike, 10% is about players doing something interesting/ awful.) I do note that in non-EVE games I’m more likely to hear about players doing something awesome in a good way. EVE seems to only generate interest when players act like dicks. That’s the power of player generated content in a nutshell.

This week’s con-du-jour is a fully fledged Ponzi scheme. A couple of players set up an investment company in the game and accepted deposits, promising investors a stupidly high return (which they presumably said they’d get by investing the money in EVEs auction house or something.) You can follow the link to read the rest, but it did involve a truly vast amount of EVE money so either there are a lot of suckers around or a lot of EVE players have excess cash to burn.

The only things stopping people running these types of scam in other MMOs is devs policing the trades (not sure how often that happens, but Blizzard for example do monitor large gold transfers so that’s probably not unusual, they’re also not keen on player-run lotteries), and players not thinking it’s worth the effort. (The most unusual thing about EVE is how much effort the hardcore players are prepared to put into it.)

I think the issue with EVE is not that players have too much power but that players have too little power to act in these situations. That game would be ripe for trialling player policing – maybe some players would be interested in forming the equivalent of an in game fraud squad with powers to trace dodgy trades and shut these operations down. I’d be curious to know whether many players would take on this role in the interests of cleaning up the game, given that it likely pays a lot less than being a successful con artist or trader. Or would no one care because they like their wild west unpoliced game space just the way it is?

I’d like to think that at least a few people either playing EVE or reading about the scam might go away more informed and able to not get conned by rogue investment schemes in real life. Sadly I think more of them might be attracted by the idea of scamming money out of naive (read: M&S) investors.

The times we live in. Clearly running a successful con makes you a winner in games, not a loser.

[EVE] Monocalypse Now

So the new EVE cash shop and captain’s quarters debacle turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. For a game that’s quite niche (albeit popular in its niche) they are certainly generating a lot of press at the moment.

I have been mildly surprised at quite how much blogspace and press EVE has been getting over this. I thought it was an interesting angle on experimenting with the value of virtual goods, but I think to get this much outrage out of the fanbase over a cosmetic cash shop, there are likely many other latent frustrations boiling up at the same time.

Anyhow, hard on the heels of the leaked internal newsletter article on microtransactions comes what claims to be a leaked email from the CEO on an internal mailing list. I’ll reproduce this in full since it’s a) quite interesting and b) might get removed from the bboard. (edited to add: Yup,  got deleted while I was posting this. My blogging instincts are being quite good atm.)

As with all such claims, this could be a fake. But even if it is, I think it’s pretty well written and makes the sorts of points that perhaps a CEO should be making.

We live in interesting times; in fact CCP is the kind of company that if things get repetitive we instinctively crank it up a notch. That, we certainly have done this week. First of we have Incarna, an amazing technological and artistic achievement. A vision from years ago realized to a point that no one could have imaged but a few months ago. It rolls out without a hitch, is in some cases faster than what we had before, this is the pinnacle of professional achievement. For all the noise in the channel we should all stand proud, years from now this is what people will remember.

But we have done more, not only have we redefined the production quality one can apply to virtual worlds with the beautiful Incarna but we have also defined what it really means to make virtual reality more meaningful than real life when it comes to launching our new virtual goods currency, Aurum.

And how do you know if you have succeeded in making virtual reality more meaningful than real life? By seeing how much you can make people pay for it. This idea that cash value is the optimal way to measure meaningfulness is pure CEO. It is, to be fair, the basis of many values in modern society.

I won’t debate meaningfulness here, but their argument is that expensive things are more meaningful. I don’t feel that this adequately explains tea, cats, virtual reality, best friends/ partners (unless your social network is very high upkeep) or books, but crack on. Meanwhile, the phrasing just makes me think of the Red Dwarf Holodeck, which was called Better than Life.

Naturally, we have caught the attention of the world. Only a few weeks ago we revealed more information about DUST 514 and now we have done it again by committing to our core purpose as a company by redefining assumptions. After 40 hours we have already sold 52 monocles, generating more revenue than any of the other items in the store.

These purport to be the hard sales figures, for anyone who was curious.  I know Stabs commented the other day that he’d bought one via in game cash to speculate with, so not sure how many of the other 51 monocles were bought for the same purpose.

Still it proves a point, if it’s there then people will buy it. I wonder if they’d sell more if a character could wear two monocles at the same time. He’s right about having gotten a lot of attention, too.

This we have done after months of research by a group of highly competent professionals, soliciting input and perspective from thought leaders and experts in and around our industry. We have communicated our intention here internally in very wide circles through the Virtual Economy Summit
presentation at the GSM, our Fearless newsletter, sprint reviews, email lists and multiple other channels. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say. Innovation takes time to set in and the predictable reaction is always to resist change.

This is perhaps the more interesting section, because he’s right that the feedback was predictable. He’s also right to note that players won’t always do what they say they will do.

However, think back a year or so to Blizzard’s RealID campaign. They stood their ground for awhile (and I’m sure these types of emails would have been circulating Blizzard HQ as well), but eventually they blinked. I wonder if CCP is for turning also – if I had to guess, I’d guess not.

Intriguingly, the corporate culture seems fairly close to the hard nosed in-game EVE culture. I think there’s got to be room for a PhD in comparing cultures in virtual worlds with the cultures in the companies that produce them. Come to think of it, CCP is also looking as leaky as a sieve these days with all these ‘secret’ memos and broadsheets making the rounds. I wonder how many of the EVE devs also play the game and are perhaps a bit too much enmeshed in the virtual world for corporate comfort. (ie. If CCP employees find that virtual worlds are more meaningful than for example their RL jobs.)

We went out with a decisive strategy on pricing and we will stay the course and not flip flop around or knee jerk react to the predictable. That is not saying nothing will change, on the contrary, in fact we know that success in this space is through learning and adapting to _what is actually happening_ and new knowledge gained in addition to what we knew before and expected.

All that said, I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished as a company, changing the world is hard and we are doing it as so many times before! Stay the course, we have done this many times before.

Standard wisdom on player (over)reaction to game changes is to sit tight and wait for the storm to blow over. For all players talk about quitting, there is no immediate EVE-substitute for them to flee to. Some games are more interchangeable than others.

But leaking an email explicitly stating that they have no interest in listening to what players say is probably not ideal PR. Neither is releasing a new patch with severe performance issues that might put off any new players who are attracted by the furore.

ps. I think this is one of my more inspired blog titles :)