Does the death of Google Reader mean the death of blogging?

The difficulty was that Reader users, while hyperengaged with the product, never snowballed into the tens or hundreds of millions.

- Rob Fishman

So I heard the news last night via twitter that Google Reader is being retired in July. I promptly checked the source and then RTed it with my first reaction (“Nooo! Don’t take away my reader!”), then posted a comment about it on my favourite bboard which noted the news story and asked for suggestions about a replacement. I may also have whined about it on Facebook and signed a petition or two. There is of course also a twitter tag for #savegooglereader.

Only now, finally,  am I mentioning it in a blogpost which could show up in other people’s Google Reader RSS feeds.

Such is the social media landscape in 2013. And frankly, the fact I’m writing this on a wordpress blog and not a tumblr, and that I haven’t pinned the story on pinterest just shows where I’m lagging behind the times. None of this is remotely likely to change the decision, it’s just how we communicate these days.

It is perhaps interesting that many of my favourite MMO bloggers had pretty much the same reaction; my Reader is full of posts about the death of Reader today. I guess we all used Google Reader a lot to keep up with the various press releases, community blogs, online publications, and personal blogs so that we could pull them into a community of sorts, and write about them in our blogs. If you ever liked reading my link posts, for example, thank Google Reader. (There will be many more link posts before July as I try to get through all the marked posts in my backlog!)

You would be excused at this point for thinking that Google Reader was the only RSS reader in the world. Of course there are others, and if we love our RSS habits then we’ll pick one and transfer. But it was a very well loved application by the people who used it, and may take a place in history as one of the things that Google got very right, and then fairly wrong, and then ditched. (The fairly wrong was when they neutered the sharing facilities –- you used to be able to add small comments on stories in your news feed and then share them with your friends.)

Even though G+ does offer some of the same functionality, it’s just not as neat and focussed on sharing websites as Reader used to be. People have not, in general, warmed to it.

Some analysis by other people

Google Reader’s former product manager commented on Quora that Reader had been under threat for years and links the decision to Google+.

Rob Fishman has a comprehensive, lively post on buzzfeed around the what could have beens of Google Reader, the social network that google built without meaning to. He’s included a lot about the history of RSS and Google Reader.

Never rely on the cloud

We all know that relying on free programmes and resources made by third parties is kind of a foolish thing to do – or at least unreliable. What is given can be taken away. Yet we all do it, we assume perhaps that they know what they are doing and if they aren’t asking us for money it’s because they have something else figured out.

We all know, also, that loving the product isn’t enough if there aren’t enough like-minded people out there and the money isn’t either. And yet, I’d have happily paid for Google Reader and I will miss it when it is gone. And you have to wonder what will go next if the userbase isn’t large enough, blogger perhaps?

Bloggers and RSS Readers

So a lot of bloggers adore their favourite RSS reader. It’s not surprising, blogs (weblogs) originally started as online journals where people could share their favourite links that they had discovered from around the web. Finding links to articles that other people have written and then reading and commenting on them has always been the nuts and bolts of blogging.  All the standard blogging platforms offer an RSS feed, it’s probably displayed prominently on your favourite blogs.

Without Google Reader, people can always find alternatives, but such a huge lack of confidence in the medium from a big name company cannot bode well for the ecosystem.

It may be that blogging’s day in the sun is  waning. I don’t entirely know. People do still very much want to share their thoughts, and those thoughts don’t always fit into small messages. Self publishing your own content and being able to create your own curated newsfeed is also the very stuff of Web 2.0, and RSS happens to do it very well. Specialist newsreaders can handle much higher density of usage than a pretty graphical magazine-style front end –  you can skim headlines in a list much faster than wading through 17 pages of headers, paragraphs, and (of course) images.

Anyhow, I am checking out some alternatives. I am quite inclined to pick an open source or paid for service (theoldreader.com, feedly and newsblur are on my list to try), and this is a crowd sourced list of current readers if anyone is curious.

Do you use RSS Readers to support your blog reading/ writing?

To addon, or not to addon?

Last week saw some very heated arguments around the WoW blogs on the subject of addons.

Codi presented her ‘no healing addon experiment’ and explained why it had become permanent, as well as her philosophy on addons. Tam was one of many to respond.  As was Miss Medicina with a thoughtful overview  (Sorry for bringing the subject up again, guys, but those are all excellent posts.)

At the same time, there has been a wave of discussion among LOTRO players who are now facing the prospect of addons being introduced into their game for the first time. Hawley explains why he’s worried about what this means for LOTRO.

I’m quite sure that one of the main reasons LOTRO players are wary is because they want to avoid the sorts of arguments about “addons make you a worse player”/”good players use addons” which have been raging in WoW ever since they were introduced.

Once the addons are in, the arguments will inevitably follow.

All True Healers use/don’t use addons

I think part of the reason the healers get so wound up is because this so easily turns into the No True Scotsman fallacy. If it is possible to have a favourite logical fallacy, this one is mine. It goes like this:

Scotsman1: No Scotsman wears pants under his kilt.

Scotsman 2: I’m Scottish and I wear pants under my kilt.

Scotsman1: Well, no TRUE Scotsman would do that.

So if you make a generalisation and find a data point that doesn’t fit, you tell the naughty data point that it doesn’t exist or doesn’t count.

In this case, the implication that using addons makes you a worse healer (no good healer uses addons) – even though that’s not what the poster said – was enough to raise the rafters with people arguing the exact opposite (all good healers use addons! Only bad healers don’t.).

From a tanking point of view, I don’t really care what the healer is doing with their UI as long as the heals keep coming. However, it is absolutely true that it is harder to heal with no addons. Addons give a big advantage to users, and also make the game more fun and less stressful. This, after all, is why people made them in the first place.

Not only that but healing is the raid role which can most benefit from addons. Healing via raid frames is clunky at the best of times (in my ideal world, I’d want to be able to do it just from looking at the actual raid, not at a grid on the screen.)

It is also likely that players with well optimised addons will top the healing meters. Meters measure things like reaction speed, which is helped massively by a well laid out UI. Meters do not necessarily measure who is a good healer, but people who take the time and effort to optimise their addons will probably also take the time and effort to be good healers.

So one reason not to use them is because you’re deliberately doing it for practice. (Who knows, maybe you’ll be asked to heal a raid just after a patch broke all the addons. Or maybe you’ll get to play on a PC which has no addons installed sometime.) Or maybe you want to flex your healing muscles and decided to build your UI again from the ground up, adding in elements as you need them. Or maybe you want to experience the game as it was back in ye olde days.

My only conclusion is that if you’re really keen to be a good player, at least make sure you know what all your addons actually do. Practicing without any of them might be a part of that.

How addons change the game

There is no doubt that having addons in WoW has absolutely changed the game. If only because Blizzard occasionally nick ideas from the popular ones and include them in the base client. This has happened since beta, when cosmos inspired the in game auction house – yes, beta WoW was going to ship with just a trade channel.

Raid designs in WoW are now built around the assumption that players will be using addons. This is very obvious when comparing WoW raids to LOTRO raids. The latter feature far simpler mechanics, they’re still fun and can also be very difficult but the complexity doesn’t compare. I am quite sure that this is because WoW raiders lean very heavily on addons to tell them when various boss abilities are due, when to get out of the fire, and so on.

LOTRO raiders need to be able to estimate timers and distances in game – that’s a big skill of being a raider. You also have to keep your eyes peeled for animations and effects  if you are on interrupt duties since there are no mob cast bars. Finally, although there are often poison/ fire effects to move away from, they aren’t signalled quite as obviously as in WoW.

Not only that but buff and debuff icons are quite small in the LOTRO base UI. Again, raiders have to become good at spotting these things. So paying attention to the surroundings is a huge raider skill in LOTRO. Beating the damage meter? Not so much. Although there are ways to record damage and good dps players work very hard at maximising their damage output.

In WoW, by comparison, the addons help with that in many ways. Your important buffs and debuffs will probably be highlighted in huge text at eye level (or wherever you choose) on your screen. You will have accurate timers showing when any of your dots or debuffs are about to run out. If you play a class with a complex dps rotation then you probably have an addon telling you when to press which button. None of these things make raiding easier in practice. Blizzard just make other aspects of the raid more demanding to maintain the challenge level.

Change is Scary

I don’t have a conclusion to the addons vs no addons argument.

I think that on balance, addons have made WoW a much better and more fun game. I think that they will have the same effect on LOTRO – there are aspects of the base UI which I hate, and look forwards to seeing modded.

I also think that damage meters in particular do make the game more stressful and more focussed on metrics.

But once the addons are there, they are a part of the game. There will be an expectation that good players will want to modify their UIs to suit their specific needs. You can choose to ignore them and will probably learn more about your class/role by doing so – or maybe you’ll just get a squint and a headache. Sometimes base UI elements are not the pure game design utopia of ‘how things were meant to be’ but actually shoddy pieces of design that never should have gone into the game like that in the first place.

For all that, I do admire anyone who can heal raids in WoW using just the base UI. You may be mad, but I salute you :)

MMO Blog Alliance 2009 Charity Drive

The holidays are almost upon us again and this year the MMO Blogging Alliance wants to help ensure a good season for all! We’ve decide to pull together and encourage our readers to donate to those less fortunate. It has been a tough year for many families across the world and a little boost can go a long way. Please consider donating to one of the many charities that we recommend or one you select on your own. If you’re a blogger and would like to participate in our drive it is as easy as writing a post, including this at the top, linking to the other posts, and picking a charity to donate to. Let’s show everyone that in 2009 the MMO community can make a positive difference in the world!

Kids studying in bad housing

Many gamers in 2009 followed the poignant tale of Alice and Kev, the Sims 3 homeless father and daughter, which showed all too clearly the issues that homeless people face, and the barriers that prevent them from getting back on their feet.

The charity I’ve picked to support this year is Shelter,  a UK based charity  that works to alleviate the distress caused by homelessness and poor housing.

The charity’s mission is to help anyone in need of housing to access and keep a home, by offering free advice on anything from trouble with the landlord to handling mortgage arrears or finding a place to sleep. This year, hundreds of thousands more families are struggling to keep up with the rent or mortgage payments due to the credit crunch. Many more people currently keeping their heads above water are only one or two missed paycheques away from the specture of repossession.

Charities like Shelter operate throughout the world, trying to help people to help themselves: Robin Burkinshaw at Alice and Kev has listed a lot of them here, perhaps one operates near you.

Click here to donate to Shelter.

If you’re interested in volunteering over the Christmas period in the UK, Crisis is another homeless charity which offers Christmas Centres for the homeless, where they can find company, a hot meal, and a wide range of other essential services — they need a lot of volunteers and it’s fun and rewarding work, which was my first experience of volunteering. Again, wherever you are, there are likely to be similar organisations, charities and hospitals which have use for volunteers over Christmas if you prefer to give time rather than money. (If you’re alone at Christmas and feeling down, it’s better than sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself.)

If you’d like to donate to multiple charities or a different one, why not check out these posts by the other MBA Charity Drive members (links might not be active until later on today):

Epic Slant

Stylish Corpse

Psychochild

Multiplaying

Nerf the Cat

Stabbed Up

Bio Break

Echoes of Nonsense

Eurogamer Expo

I went up to town (note for non brits: ‘up to town’ means ‘to London’ if you live in the Home Counties*) for the Eurogamer Expo on Friday. It was great to touch base with some bloggers and podcasters I really admire – here’s the shout out to Van Hemlock, Shuttler, and dmosbon (and please leave comments for links to anyone else, ‘fraid I was a bit foggy with whatever mild lurgy I’ve had over the last few days.)

It was also the first time in many years that I’ve been to a computer consumer exhibition. And boy have they changed! One thing that hasn’t changed is the ratio of men to women among the punters. When I arrived at the venue and joined the queue I estimated it as roughly 10000:1, later revised to about 150:1 when I was bored enough to start counting.

This particular expo was very much for gamers to come and try out new and upcoming games. The main floor of the exhibition was filled with huge widescreen monitors, several of which were assigned to each game demo. People were being quite polite about moving on after their 10-15 mins was up so there was plenty of opportunity to check the games out. Upstairs were the indie games, and booths for devs, along with cubicles where people could get advice on breaking into the industry (presumably having people pick over their portfolios). Then further up the meeting rooms where you could attend lectures.  It’s a long long way from the computer expos I remember when I was a kid, full of stalls selling anything from hardware, consumables, software, just about anything remotely interesting to geeks, or plugging fanzines or bboards.

Anyway, the layout meant that all the non flash-bang-whizzo games content was relegated to the top of the hall, where it was easy to ignore them and most people did.

What Caught My Eye

It had never occurred to me before that console games were designed so that they were fun to watch even if you weren’t the person actually playing them. It was very noticeable that the PC games just weren’t that eyecatching from a distance.

Most standout for me was God of War 3, where I (with many many others) was staring open mouthed at the ultra-crazy and over the top stunts, so it wins my whizz-bang award. Also gave me my best laugh of the show – I was watching the main character have a big fight with a centaur. At the end, the hero slashes the centaur’s stomach and all the guts spill out, gratuitously. After a moment’s pause from the crowd, I heard a plummy voice behind me comment, “Oh how absolutely awesome.”

But when I’d blinked the virtual gore and explosions away from my eyes, it was Uncharted 2 that held my attention for the longest. Even when I wasn’t the person playing the game, I thought it was absolutely spellbinding. I’ve not seen a game that made me think so much of actually playing through a Bond movie. The other thing I noticed, just from watching, is how brilliant the storytelling is in that game. I saw a segment (from near the beginning, I think), where our hero has been in a train where the front two coaches have gone over a cliff and he has to climb up them onto solid ground. I don’t know how hard that was to play (it looked vaguely platformish, with some running, jumping, and swinging) but the game made it feel like a very exciting cliffhanger action scene. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the carriages lurch as the character swung in through a carriage window.

It was also clear, even without sound, that the story was being told through flashbacks. I was just thoroughly impressed.

Also a sidenote to Army of Two because they gave me a free T-Shirt of swag+1.

PC Games of Note

I snuck a few minutes alone with the Star Trek Online demo and I’ll be writing up my impressions of that later this week. Dragon Age was also being displayed on both PC and PS3, and it looked very sleek indeed. I guessed immediately which screen showed Dragon Age because all the characters were covered in a fine speckle of blood.

The indie games were fun and weird and different and cool, which is pretty much what you want to see. They were also much more likely to have some of the dev team turn up to chat to players about the game and where they were going with it.

Particularly eye catching for me were:

(*Geek Aside: Looking at that map of the Home Counties, I’m reminded of the Golden Circle of shadows closest to Amber.)