[EVE] Vanity costs, and here’s where you start paying!

The latest EVE patch introduced the ‘Noble Exchange Cash Shop’ where players can spend real money on cosmetic gear for their prettified new toons (which are very pretty, I think I wrote about the new character generator a while back). Here’s their dev blog about the vanity store.

Jester at Jester’s Trek sums up what a lot of other people are thinking about CCPs pricing strategy.

I love plain grey just as much as I know all of you do, and CCP is being good enough to cater to my need for bland grey clothing by charging me 3600 AUR for a plain grey shirt.  This is about $20 U.S., which coincidentally, is how mucha real plain grey shirt costs in the EVE Online store.

But when he let out some snark about a monacle that costs the equivalent of $68 I thought “no way, he’s joking,” but apparently not. (There’s a 21 page thread on the EVE forums already.)

Now cash transactions in EVE are fundamentally different from cash shops in games like WoW or LOTRO because it is possible to convert game money into other forms (the dev blog above tries to show this graphically), so the price level may be something that experienced players will laugh off as the EVE equivalent of a WoW motorbike (ie. luxury goods designed to take some moolah out of the market). But judging from the tone of that bboard thread, I’m guessing it’s high even for that crowd.

Would you consider spending as much on a virtual piece of gear for a character as for a real life piece of clothing for yourself?

Commercialisation, and the appeal of an amateur fanbase

A lot of gamers will tell you that the opposite of pro is noob. It’s one opposite, I guess, but back in the meatworld the most common opposite of professional is amateur.

Amateur means a lot of things. It can mean bad (amateurish isn’t usually good), it can mean hobbyist, it can mean idealistic. For example, the Olympics is intended for amateur sportspeople, on paper at least. This idea that amateurs were purer hobbyists who did their sport/ game/ profession for the love of it, untainted by filthy lucre is starting to look rather old fashioned now.

So why talk about amateurs? In the wake of the EVE addon changes (which I wrote about yesterday, along with lots of other bloggers), I think there’s a backlash from a lot of people who just don’t like the idea of having their favourite game’s ecosystem commercialised. The amateur way is the purer fanbase, playing and making guides, websites, addons for the sheer love of the game.

The roots of the MMO hobby that I personally love come directly from amateur gamers. MUDs were originally based on  open sourced code, created and staffed by people who just loved them as a hobby. Things have moved on since then, become more commercialised, better in some ways and worse in others. The community itself hasn’t much changed, although it has grown a great deal. Yet the games themselves were once LOVED by their creators and their players, not consumed.

It may be that the majority of gamers would slaver over a more commercial ecosystem. They love wowhead, curse, EVEMon, and all the slew of professional quality player tools that have become available and would happily buy and use more if they existed. I do wonder though what gets lost in the transition.

Yet I think of the fan run scifi conventions I’ve been to compared to commercial conventions. I have seen good quality versions of both, but the fan conventions had more soul and connected with attendees on a much wider range of levels. People ran sessions based on what they personally thought would be fun and interesting, rather than on how many bums they could get on seats. It felt so much easier to connect personally with both other fans and people running the convention (who are of course also other fans), the power differential between producers and consumers just wasn’t there …

It’s on my mind at the moment since Arb and I are off to Comic Con in a few weeks time, which is easily going to be the largest commercial convention I have ever seen. I think it will be brilliant. There will be sessions that no fan convention could ever in a million years hope to match. But it doesn’t affect how much I want to get to Eastercon next year, which I think will feel more like ‘home’ (actually George R R Martin is scheduled to be at both, and lots of authors seem to enjoy the fan convention scene.)

End of the free ride for (EVE) money making gaming blogs, guides, and addons

CCP, developers of EVE Online, set the cat among the pigeons yesterday when they announced that they intend to charge a licence fee to 3rd parties who use their assets for profit making activities. (If you run a not for profit blog, service, etc then you just need a free licence.)

They didn’t spin it quite that way, saying instead:

Starting this summer you will be able to charge people for usage of your applications, websites and services for EVE Online.

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, why should people be able to make bank by producing online guides without paying anything to the owner of the IP? That’s not how things usually work. Or in other words, people already are finding ways to monetise (I do hate that word) their EVE blogs, guides, and apps and now they’ll all have to register and pay the piper.

Examples of monetization could be donations, one-time purchase, in-app purchase, subscriptions or ad-supported sites or apps

Note that they have explicitly mentioned ad-supported sites. If you run Google Adsense or have a tip jar on your EVE blog, CCP will also want their $99, thank you.

I have no horse in this race since this blog a) isn’t game specific and b) isn’t monetised (there I go again). But you have to wonder if other MMOs with strong communities will follow where CCP have led – after all, it’s money on the table and if a few bloggers who fancy themselves entrepreneurs throw their toys out of the pram and close up shop, no biggie. (The smarter ones will either find better ways to monetise or switch to a multi-gaming blog.) Would Blizzard do this? Hard to say, it’s a lot of work to police the licensing although doing so would give a dev plenty of clout and control over the fanbase.

On the other hand, if app writers want to charge people for services provided, are happy to throw a sop to Cerberus/ CCP  by paying the license fee and people want to pay, what’s the real problem with that?

If there is a problem, it comes from the increasing reliance of devs on addon makers to clean up their UIs. Effectively encouraging players to pay for addons is letting them pay for an in-game advantage, which is one of the things players have in the past complained about with cash shops for F2P games.

Maybe cracked.com got it right with their 4th most ominous trend in video gaming (“the new model is infinite payment”.)

Caveat Emptor. The bottom line will be whether or not CCP is prepared to go to court over any addon writer/ blogger et al who ignores this. If there is a real likelihood of a legal fight which will definitely cost more than $99 then paying the license makes sense. If not, then it can be ignored.

Creating and measuring good communities in games

Community is arguably the one defining factor that sets MMOs aside from any other type of game. You adventure in a virtual world and in that virtual world you can build a virtual community.  Oh, other games certainly have associated communities but they traditionally have been less of a part of the core experience.  This is now changing. We’re seeing a convergence with online games in which MMOs are getting less virtual world/ virtual community centric and other multiplayer games are picking up MMO conventions like in-game guilds and character progression.

This just means that in game and cross game communities are getting more important, not less.

It’s also well known that being part of a strong community (or social network, which is the other phrase that gets used a lot) is a big factor in people continuing to play a game. It also happens to be a big factor in the real world for social cohesion in a geographical area. There are theories that a strong social network encourages people to care for each other and to seek help when they need it, reduces crime, reduces mental health issues, and helps people to live longer and be happier. Good friends, good family, good local services, and good neighbours are in fact good for your health.

We may not know how well the idea of a strong community really does translate into games (especially since you have to balance it against gaming addiction), but generally speaking being part of a strong community is a good thing for individuals. And if it encourages people to play games for longer, it’s probably a good thing for devs too.

Measuring Social Capital

The notion of social capital is a way to describe the value of a social network. How good is the community? It’s a measure of how connected people are, and how willing to do things for each other and take an active role in running their local communities. It’s also a measure of how easy it is to build new links and for new people to be integrated into an existing community. A guild with good social capital will have lots of people keen to organise/ run successful raids and events, be welcoming to new players, and have a strong identity to which members are proud to belong. (This is nothing to do with whether it is a hardcore progression raid guild or a friends and family social guild.)

Not all strong communities are good for the wider community though. A gang might be great for the people in it, and still horrible for everyone around it who isn’t. We’ve had a whole dialogue of multiculturalism here lately where strong immigrant communities are variously seen as threats, unenlightened throwbacks, or potential nests of terrorists by politicians looking to tap a popular seam.

So we could look at two different types of community in MMOs.

  1. Your immediate community, either a guild or people you know iRL or regularly group with.
  2. The rest of the server/ game

We can also look at three different types of interaction:

  1. Gaming interaction. You’re playing a minigame with them, maybe PvE raiding or team PvP.
  2. Non-direct interaction like trading on the auction house. It could also be contributing individually to a communal longterm goal.
  3. Social interaction. This may involve *gasp* talking.

Chances are that if you are playing an MMO you will be enjoying at least one of these modes of interaction, even if you are not directly taking part. Some people enjoy listening to chat on global channels for example, even if it is inane and they are lurkers, just because it’s nice to know there are players around. Others like random dungeons/ PvP groups but have no interest in longer term relationships with any of the players.

Cosa nostra – the strong guild

WoW tends towards fostering strong, exclusive guilds. If you imagine each guild as a tight knit family in which the overall consensus is that “we’re not interested in anyone outside our family,” you’d be quite close to the general raid guild ethos.

Endgame also pushes people in this direction. The WoW endgame favours fixed groups and regular runs to the same instances. Once you are in a guild that can do this, there’s no real reason to build strong links with anyone outside the guild.

Random instance queues and battleground queues are great for encouraging gaming interaction, but very poor for social interaction. I think this is why people tend to feel that ‘the community’ in WoW is poor even while valuing their guilds and enjoying the availability of group content.

WoW also is very poor at offering communal server rewards that encourage the different guilds to work together. This has happened in the past. The opening of AQ40 for example required lots of resources to be gathered and at the time progression guilds who wanted the new raid instance took a pole position in encouraging the rest of the server to help. I remember raid guilds organising gathering competitions and the like that in which anyone could take part. (I think part of the reason they stopped doing this is that progression raiders on less progressed servers felt it was unfair that they would be behind when the new instance opened. It also encouraged hardcore raiders to server transfer to busier servers and swamp them.)

WoW also doesn’t encourage guild alliances, where different guilds might work together on shared goals without having to lose their individual identities and merge together.

So you end up in a game where guilds can be and are very strong, but the social cohesion between the rest of the faction/ server is extremely low. So as a new player, who isn’t in one of those strong guilds, you will struggle to see anything other than a poor community and the strong guilds have little incentive to welcome new players who might need extra coaching in any case.

Our town – the strong server

One of the features of older MMOs is that people did feel a strong attachment to their server. In DaoC for example, we had a lot of faction specific PvP goals and when our relics were in danger, everyone dropped what they were doing and headed out to the frontier together, casual and hardcore players from numerous different guilds alike. You tended to know people from different guilds because you would see them around the place, you would probably have been in PvP/ frontier groups with them, and you may have grouped with them in PvE.

This of course was before the advent of server transfers, so there was a hint of ‘work with the players you have.’ We also had strong guild alliances and it was likely that you and your guild would build up relationships with other guilds, and any friendships that you personally made would be a part of that.

The trend now is probably away from strong servers and towards the idea of either a single server, or easy transfers. In many ways this is a shame because a server with a few thousand players is easier to get to know your way around socially than a game with tens or hundreds of thousands. It’s like the in game equivalent of a small town, rather than a huge city.

Still, in smaller MMOs you can still get some of the same sense of social capital. Particularly games which may be struggling for players, as each new player is a valuable resource. I think this is what makes smaller games like Pirates and A Tale in the Desert feel friendlier.  But both of those games also feature strong non-direct interactions via trade. A new player who is keen can be a real asset to your faction even if they are (for example) not very good at PvP or PvE or play fairly casually. But – crucially – neither of these games put players in a position where they are forced to rely on newbies for rewards such as emblems or PvP points. It’s easy to be friendly when it won’t cost  you anything or hamper your own game.

In a MUSH I used to play, you could bring up a list of the last 20 new players to enter the game and existing players (especially if they were bored) often used this to mentor new players or try to make a special effort to include them in RP. This is the kind of mechanic that makes new players feel welcomed – just having someone going out of their way to include you.

I mention RP advisedly because even in non-roleplaying types of games, RP servers do always seem to have better communities than non-RP ones, such as it is. I think this is because they tend to attract players who value social interaction more highly, whether or not they actually roleplay in game.

I have mentioned above the notion of server goals and rewards, and using gameplay such as open groups, public quests, and faction based PvP to bring server communities together. If I could pick on one aspect of social capital where I think MMOs are currently failing, this would be the one. It potentially ties together the disparate guilds with common goals, gives guildless players a framework on which to meet and interact with guilded ones and works on a large enough scale to remind people that they are actually playing a MMO and not a squad based PvE game. Plus it is possible to foster server cooperation with non-direct interaction (such as the communal resource gathering) as well as huge PvP// PvE battles that require multiple guilds to work together.

Our society – the strong game

It is extremely rare to find a MMO where you could honestly say that the entire game had a strong community. Most of the games where I’ve experienced this have been smaller ones (or in beta), with a small single server that would have felt more like towns than vast cities.

However, if you look outside the single game to resources such as the WoW or EVE blogosphere you can get an inkling of how this could be fostered. Players on multiple different WoW servers happily cooperate on blogs or bboards to build a community that is in its way stronger and more stubborn than anything in game.

The WAR blogging community was and is still extremely strong for the size of the game. Whereas LOTRO in comparison really doesn’t have that strong of an online presence, even though it is probably more successful and most people would consider the in game community to be far better.

One thing that is key to understanding the importance of blogging communities is that they are entirely based around both social interaction and non-direct interaction, there is no direct gameplay involved. You don’t have to comment on blogs to feel part of the community. If you do comment, you don’t have to feel tied into a commitment.

Building better communities?

I personally do enjoy games with strong guilds, strong servers AND strong game communities, even if I may not choose to be part of all types of social network myself.

I think much of the debate about how game design can strengthen communities tends to focus on gaming interactions, and goal based communal achievements. There’s very little on increasing social interaction, which is a shame because it may well be key to building strong game communities, and strengthening ties between players who may have a lot in common and yet not really share common in game goals (possibly due to lack of time, etc.) I’m hoping to see more emphasis on social interaction and politicking on WoD Online when that comes out, it would suit a vampire based game to really pick at what makes virtual communities tick.

Interplayer links such as facebook, twitter or realID (battle.net) help tie players together without linking them to specific games. Are they a good thing for gaming communities or do they just make people more likely to parochially stick with players they already know and hence raise the bar for interaction with newbies? We still don’t know the answer to this.

Blizzard said yesterday that they value players being able to play with people they already know. This undoubtedly does create a sense of community which crosses real world/ online lines.  But how welcoming will this type of game be for a new player? Maybe they’ve decided that gaming now is so mainstream that everyone will know people to play with. Time will tell if they are right.

Brief look at the EVE character creator

eve_thal

If you are an EVE fan, you’ll by now be well aware of the upgrade to the character creator that came as part of the recent Incursion upgrade. My understanding is that Incursion itself is going to be in several parts, a phased approach to introducing a new expansion.

The other features of the recent patch, including content et al are listed here.

One of the reasons I was curious about the character creator is that in an interview with Massively, the player council don’t seem very enthralled with the whole idea or where it might be leading. It is pretty normal that hardcore players hate fluff and feel that it is a waste of resources, but when they comment, “so far we haven’t been shown any compelling gameplay” that could be a bit of a red flag.

Anyway, back to the character creator. I signed up for a trial and downloaded EVE so that I could try it out.

In just 7 days I can make you a (wo)man

EVE_creator

First things first, you start by selecting your faction and subrace. You can change your mind on these easily at any time in the character creator without having to keep going back. The subrace is very much going to determine your character’s racial characteristics. (They’re all human types if you haven’t played EVE before.)

So you will be doing a lot of customisation but it is around a very strict theme. No dark skinned Amarr with dreads, for example.

The characters are absolutely stunning, no two ways about it. You could certainly tweak the facial characteristics around to make someone fairly ugly but it will be within parameters. As you can see from the picture on the left here, you change the face around by pinching and pulling it with the mouse, rather than with a set of sliders. I found this fairly intuitive, and it’s easy to make attractive characters which is usually key to this type of setup. Hairstyle, eye colour et al are chosen from menus. The hair is particularly pretty and moves as you turn the character around.

On to clothes, and sorry to anyone who wanted Barbarella but you’re going to be wearing the equivalent of space jeans and a space t-shirt and you have limited ability to even pick the colours. It will look stunning though, it really is a very pretty character creator. You can pull and poke at the body shape (I don’t think they make this obvious, you have to actually try it) but there are limits to how dumpy you could make a character.

But it doesn’t really matter because the only thing you are going to be using this pretty new character for at the moment is to pose for a head/shoulders shot to be used as your avatar.

Summary: It’s gorgeous, utterly stunning, but the range of customisation options is limited, particularly in clothing. Which is a shame because space/ sci fi is really one of the settings where it’s perfectly fine for characters to be wearing just about anything.

After you’ve taken a few headshots, you pick the one you like best and then it’s off into one of the most poorly laid out tutorials I have ever seen. The first thing you are asked to do is open the cargo hold of your ship, and the cargo hold window opens UNDERNEATH the tutorial window. Maybe it’s just my screen setup but designers, please don’t do this.

Anyone enjoying the new EVE creator, looking forwards to the rest of Incursion, or want to share pictures of your new characters?

Player Justice!

Back in the day, the idea that players might be able to police their own virtual worlds was quite hot for awhile. After all, lots of online communities such as bulletin boards, newsgroups and the like manage to police themselves using moderators – so why not online games?

In the spirit of reinventing the wheel, League of Legends devs just announced in an interview that they have a new plan to clean up their notoriously obnoxious community. Player-run tribunals.

In an interview with Kotaku they describe their plans which look to involve letting higher level (elite?) players act as player judges and deal with reports of misbehaviour, and then they’re planning to reward player judges who consistently show wise behaviour. The cynical may at this point be thinking ‘smart way to avoid paying GMs to do this.’

And aside from all the possible ways this could go wrong (they do note that they don’t think playing badly should be a punishable offence, which I imagine is good for player retention), I think it’s an interesting idea. There’s no special reason why minimum wage GMs should be able to do a better job of judgement than active players. Especially in a game like this where it should be easy enough to make sure that the judge has no connection with the players involved.

On my old MUSH, we had player judges/ arbiters with an appeal procedure. It wasn’t all that uncommon a phenomenon on those types of games. The only real concern was conflicts of interests. We found the process worked better when the judges didn’t play the actual game, but evidently it was tricky attracting volunteers to come act as judges on a game they didn’t even play.

EVE does have a player council but because it’s tied to the in game world, any issues of power and metagaming are explicitly part of the council, rather than it being set up to deal purely with OOC issues. Plus player behaviour in EVE is supposedly dealt with via the anarchy of sandbox PvP.

With LoL I’m mostly curious to see how it goes. If you give the more hardcore players the ability to set rules for playing styles, will you end up with something like Elitist Jerks (who give out bans for bad spelling) or is it going to be a free for all with everyone out to get whatever the best ‘judge rewards’ are.  In fact, should you really reward the judges at all?

Would you be interested in a game that let you act as a tribunal judge?

Gaming News: Panasonic’s new handheld, DC Online delayed, Chinese gamers bored of MMOs, Layoffs at Paragon, F2P LOTRO doubles revenue

Today is World Mental Health Day, so not a bad time to consider your own work/ life/ gaming balance, whether you’re getting enough sleep and enough time with your friends, and how you plan to level in Cataclysm without driving yourself into the ground.

I really believe that gaming can be a very positive thing for mental health. Sometimes being able to log in and chill out is exactly the right thing to do. Being able to practice  taking on responsibility in a game can also be a great way to increase confidence iRL. But, as with anything, it’s important to keep a handle on it. Anyway, enough preaching … on with the news!

Big news for WoW players this week was the announcement of the Cataclysm release date: 7th December.

Blizzard also announced that subs to WoW were up to 12 million this week, following the release of the game in China. However, the percentage of the subscription gaming market held by WoW in North American and Europe is down from 60% to 54%. Next week will doubtless see more news coming out of Blizzcon, and I’m looking forwards to hearing more about Diablo III.

Daft news of the week is that Tim Langdell, who was trying to sue EA for using the word ‘Edge’ in ‘Mirror’s Edge’ lost his case.  This was based on the fact that he to held a trademark for the word ‘edge’ which turns out to have been gotten on dodgy grounds. In any case, he’s now lost all his trademarks, been told off for ‘trolling’ in court and been royally smacked down.

Blog of the week: Blacksen’s End. If you are at all interested in hardcore raiding in WoW and how a hardcore raid leader is planning for Cataclysm, check it out. He’s a very thoughtful writer who knows his stuff.

Welcome to the Jungle

Panasonic this week unveiled plans to launch a new handheld console. This one apparently is aimed at online gamers who would like to be more mobile and they’re looking to support MMOs.

The Jungle homepage is rather aggressively red and features an icon of a stickman with a gun. And … I’m still wondering if this is for real. Nope, still not really seeing it.

DC Online delayed until 2011

Anyone who read last week’s news and links will share my unsurprise that SOE announced this week that DC Online is now delayed until ‘early 2011’.

If they’re really unlucky they will have dodged the bullet of releasing against Cataclysm and will instead release against SWTOR.

Chinese gamers are bored of MMOs

A report published this week claims that hardcore Chinese gamers are flocking from MMOs to social gaming sites. Notice the use of the word ‘hardcore’ in the quote in that report – they think hardcore gamers are looking for a more diverse player base.

This sounds vaguely implausible to me. They may well be getting jaded of current MMOs (which doesn’t bode all that well for WoW if it just launched there) but trying to imagine hardcore gamers of any nationality deciding that they want to play with the noobs and non-gamers … stretches my powers of belief.

This is the press release from the company which produced the report. One of the interesting aspects that hasn’t been reported on so much is the trend for Chinese gamers to play more on PCs at home rather than in internet cafes.

Layoffs at Paragon

News hit this week that Paragon Studios, who produce City of Heroes, have had a round of layoffs. I don’t have much to say about this other than that it’s a shame we haven’t heard more  from bloggers about Going Rogue, their latest expansion. (My excuse is that my husband promised to jot down a few notes but is still too busy playing it to have actually done so.)

F2P LOTRO doubles revenue

Turbine have announced that the F2P version of LOTRO (US online at the moment) has been going well for them.  Apparently it has doubled the amount of money it is bringing in, and gained 1 million new account registrations since last month.

Would it be churlish to ask how many of those are EU players who weren’t able to access F2P via Codemasters?

EVE Online’s next update will include raids

What do you give to the space/ economic MMO that has everything? A PvE raiding endgame, obviously.

The EVE devs are currently doing some public testing with their next update, Incursion. This will include raid instances/ dungeons which are scaled for up to 40 players at a time.

Aside from the mental dissonance of calling EVE instances dungeons (they’ve always done this), I don’t really see the issue. It is a step away from their traditional direction but I’m big in favour of large public encounters in any MMO and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be fun in EVE too.

All about EVE

In the great firmament of online gaming of which we, gentle readers, are merely the most minor of cogs in the great machine, there is one great truth that is widely held by developers and commentators alike. Men and women don’t play the same games.

Except, of course, that many of us do. Many games appeal equally to everyone – Bejewelled knows no colour, or gender, or age. Even among games that genuinely are more targetted, the population of Farmville isn’t 100% female. Women play Modern Warfare 2 and other shoot-em-ups. It’s also true that those of us who are gamers will often play the games our loved ones play, even if it might not be our first choice.  Still women and men tend to favour some play styles above others, and many games on the market right now are directly targeted at either male or female fantasies.

Stargrace wrote an intriguing entry this week about attracting more female gamers to EVE Online, which is part of a competition organised by Crazy Kinux, the well known EVE blogger.

The actual answer for CCP is to just finish the goddamn Vampire game already. Or alternatively, I hear that flowers are quite popular? EVE is a hard sci fi, hard simulation, hard business, hard PVP game. It doesn’t need to be softened to make it more mainstream. Anyway, in the far future I’m sure people can live without women.

Nope? OK. Let’s start by looking at some of the very basic reasons why women don’t play EVE in great numbers, and how they might be addressed.

1. Deep Space

Hard Science Fiction is not a genre that is heavily populated by women, either as writers or as fans. Series like Star Trek or BSG which do have a very strong female following do so on the basis of the characters and the culture, not the space ships.

To inject more storytelling and more NPC soap opera into EVE would really run counter to the whole sandbox ethos. EVE is based on a game world in which players make their own stories, even if they mostly consist of boring mining ops. So there’s the double problem of:

  • no one is really interested in other people’s stories
  • even your own story probably isn’t all that exciting most of the time

Some of this could genuinely be addressed with better social features. Players could have their own cross-indexed blogs. Or more background could even be inserted into the game world – even player created.

Imagine having an information console where you could pull up details of interesting events that had affected either places you visited or people you knew. There’s definitely scope for making the existing stories more accessible.

2. PVP

Women tend to prefer to cooperate rather than to compete in games. It isn’t that they aren’t competitive, but it tends to make them feel bad or even guilty. It’s just the way we’re socialised. So, we need to be introduced to PvP gently, in a way that makes it clear that everyone is OK with it.

Now EVE does have some relatively safe locations where a new player who wanted to avoid PvP could stay. But that won’t protect them from being scammed on trade chat, or subject to whatever that scammy can flipping thing is called. To encourage more women into a PvP game would need more enclosed, limited PvP environments. Or better tutorials, or mentors.

And they need to be protected from being duped into PvP when they didn’t intend it. A woman is far more likely to just dump the game after an experience like that.

3. Better social functions

The chat window in EVE is functional, but hardly one of the game’s better features. It also isn’t especially easy to find a suitable corps (guild) and if you try to do it via the new players channel, information will scroll past faster than you can easily keep up.

4. Small scale business, art and craft

Women have traditionally been heavily involved in craft and cottage industries. And a lot of people, when playing simulations, don’t want to play sim-corporate-empire. Or in other words, they aren’t hardcore and don’t want to be wiped out by people who are. EVE has a very comprehensive industrial and trading simulation, but it is also one that pushes players to think big and industrial-scale, not small and bijou.

It would undoubtedly engage more women if players could create or commission unusual items of art or craft. Things that could be made in small numbers and not just by playing the intergalactic stock exchange. Or maybe even pursue careers as space pop singers, or theatrical producers. This is drifting away from EVE’s usual purview but it is the industrial, impersonal scale of EVE crafting that puts a lot of people off.

I’m interested to hear how the new ‘walking around space ships and running your own shop’ expansion will pan out. Imagine a typical female-fantasy type enterprise: a small boutique fashion shop. Could that exist in the new EVE? They have mentioned fashion outlets and plastic surgeons but does that mean players may be able to trade something that isn’t a commodity? Could she run a crazy popular hangout and be known as the place to come to get all the gossip?  Could a player commission or source enough unique and unusual items to make her shop an important hangout for intergalactic arbiters of fashion? Maybe even run her own fashion shows? Maybe she could. The link above highlights ‘custom, player made clothing’ as one of the features to be available.

Those sorts of roles in game would attract the female players who may not be interested in space piracy, mining, or being a queen of industry.

And then the question would be – how hard would it be for someone who just wanted their own little fashion emporium to accomplish that without having to slog through the gameplay that doesn’t interest her? And that is what we still are yet to see.  (OK, my actual first question is “how long before the first brothel?”)

4. the newbie experience

A better newbie experience is good for all new players, male or female alike. But men and women do favour different learning styles. I’ve lost the link but I recall reading an article that described how female players were reluctant to learn a new game by just jumping straight into it. They preferred to practice a small piece at a time and get comfortable with that before progressing to the next stage. They were more risk averse, and strongly disliked feeling rushed or pushed through a tutorial more quickly than they had wanted to go.

So even if a woman isn’t put off by the deep space theme, hardcore reputation, and notoriously steep learning curve, the EVE newbie experience is still a scary and lonely place to be. Especially to someone who isn’t a hardcore gamer and used to just jumping straight into stuff, dying horribly, and then doing it again. Or making horrible newbie mistakes with skills and talents, and just laughing it off. Even the lure of player created frocks might not be enough …

EVE is a fascinating game. I don’t play it myself, but I can see both the appeal and the frustration whenever people write about it. I think the new developments are going to be very exciting, but asking how to attract more women might just be the wrong question.

Added –  And for the purposes of competition, here are links to the last five entries on this topic:

Ladies to the gunfight (I laughed)

Hell hath no fury

(Cogito Ergo Yarr) The ladies of new eden

(Confessions of a Closet Carebear) Ladies of New Eden

(Cloaked and Watching You) Ladies of New Eden

Where does the virtual world end and the real world begin?

boundarypinkthinkgirl@flickr

Massively posted an interesting story last week about people in EVE Online’s volunteer program misusing privileged information. In this case it was connected with getting information (such as IP addresses) about the other volunteers, but it does point to one of the big issues with any kind of volunteer service in MMOs.

Games have often used volunteers as extra unpaid GMs, or to help coordinate other players, to mentor newbies or write newbie guides, or help support the community in other ways. These volunteers are drawn from the player base. So in a game like EVE, what’s to stop a player from using their volunteer powers to help their own character or faction in game?

In some ways it’s smart metagaming to grab as much power and knowledge as possible for yourself in any way possible, including by schmoozing people via out of game channels, buying gold, volunteering to GM for personal in game gains, etc. If volunteers were elected, you could imagine a player organising a huge election campaign with the hidden intent of supporting their own faction after the election. Just like real life, really. And just like in real life, unchecked metagaming leads to corruption in the game world.

But metagaming also leads to a huge increase in immersion. It may not be a good influence on either the game or the player base but it really does benefit players who get into their characters, even outside the game. EVE flaunts the fact that players have the freedom to join enemy corps with the intent to betray them. Is that metagaming? Well, if you lie to your corps mates on a regular basis then you’re probably playing a different game than they are. A con game, in fact. (From watching Hustle, I now know that this is known as playing the inside man in a long con – who said TV never teaches you anything useful? ). Is EVE supposed to be a game about con artists? Well, it is now.

Allowing, or even encouraging, some metagaming is a dangerous road to walk. Some people will always take it too far. If the worst that happens is one player stealing another guild’s bank or getting a list of volunteer IPs, then you have dodged the bullet. Wait till people start committing RL crimes due to unrestrained metagaming, or harrassment, or being driven to distress or even suicide. We’re at the thin end of the wedge, and I am concerned about how having increased social networking and increased continuous access to MMOs is going to affect metagaming in future.

We need solid anti-corruption rules, proper complaint channels, and watchdogs both in game and out to keep players in line. For their own sakes.

The Problem with Volunteers

It is always tempting to volunteers to use their additional powers to help themselves, even if they do it unintentionally. I remember back in DaoC, there was a volunteer network who assisted GMs. If you just happened to have one of those volunteers in your guild, you never had to wait long for a GM to come assist when you hit a raid bug. The volunteers (and we all knew their characters even though it was supposed to be secret) had the equivalent to a GM hotline.

When I was running a MUSH, all the staff were volunteers and many were drawn from the player base. One of their roles was to arbitrate disputes between players – it was hard for some people to be fair when their friends were involved, or even their own characters. We needed to think up rules to stop that and allow other players to ask for a different judge, without compromising the in game identity of our judges because they wanted to play also.

We took the blunt instrument approach. Initially, no players were also allowed to be judges, we had to recruit our staff from other MUSHes. It actually worked well, but if you don’t let staff play at all then they lose a lot of insight into what’s actually going on in game. Instead they just hear it from the whiniest players. So we relented and let them have player characters, but limited their power. So the most powerful and influential characters never would be staff alts. It helped and people were mostly happy.

You can still never entirely prevent people from wanting to help their friends or other people from abusing their knowledge of who the staff alts are in game. And that was more of an issue in a MUSH because the player base wasn’t that huge. In an MMO, you could just restrict a GM from dealing with anything coming from the server on which they played instead.

I’m not entirely sure what sort of policies current MMOs have about how their staff deal with in game issues. I assume they encourage their staff to play for the same reason that we eventually relented on that issue – it’s the best possible way to understand what’s going on in game, plus encourages staff to make the stuff they want to play themselves. But woe betide the game such as EVE that thrives on metagaming when one of the staff wants to play that game also; they have to consciously restrict themselves from doing what a regular player could do or else be open to (totally justified) claims of corruption from the player base.

The sad thing is that volunteers can add so much to a game. They’re already fans. And there is a section of the player base that genuinely enjoys entertaining other players. They’re the people who would be GMs in tabletop games; not quite designers but not quite players either. In MMOs they probably now take the roles of guild leaders or raid leaders, and in that capacity are doing a thankless task without which the games would be far far less fun for everyone else.

And many of those volunteers would be utterly selfless in using extra volunteer powers for good. It’s just safer for everyone if they don’t get the chance.