Why CoD Elite is great for gamers

Amidst all the complaints of cash grabbing and random exploitation of gamers levelled at Activision after the announcement of the CoD Elite subscription service, I wonder if anyone else thinks it’s a smart idea for what  could be a pretty good service.

I really like the idea of being easily able to find players who share similar interests. Don’t hate me! I just think it would be kind of fun to be able to run a battleground with other players who are fans of The Game of Thrones and discuss what’s likely to happen to Sansa and Arya in between rounds of PvP. Or easily find players who are from the same area so that we could get together for meetups more easily if we all get on.

One of the big unsolved problems in MMOs has always been how to find a good guild. Achievement-heads have gotten around this by defining a good guild as one where they can get lots of achievements, and then flocking to websites where guilds are defined by their achievement scores/ progression. More social players make contact with each other by chatting, by targeted ‘adverts’ on bboards and by getting recommendations from their friends. But there is always an element of luck involved.

But what if it was just easier to hook up with a bunch of fellow gamers who share similar interests/ location/ age/ criteria of your choice? What if it was easier to set up tournaments and events in the game just for your friend list?

The challenge of building a social network layer onto games isn’t a new one. Steam has an implementation, Blizzard toyed with Facebook associations before an outcry from players closed down that idea (incidentally, Facebook would have been free, anything they decide to implement for battle.net might not), various startups like raptr and xfire have experimented with these ideas as well.

But none of them have been as well integrated into a specific game as CoD Elite will be.

The first step with introducting a new paid service is to plan out a service that people will want to use. I think that Activision have hit this one for six, it could improve the game experience for a lot of current fans. The second step is to get them to actually pay – and in a world where other social networks tend to be free, that may be a harder sell.

And yet, those ‘free’ social networks are supported by advertising, by marketing demands which are tilted in favour of the bottom line and not of the users. Perhaps a pay-for social network which really is designed purely to serve the users’ needs isn’t a step we should be shying away from.

At the end of the day, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I commented recently that the way I’d prefer MMOs to earn more money from players is to offer more services and goods outside the game itself. I’d much rather pay for access to a cool social network than for cash shop goods and xp potions …

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Why we need killers to show us how to have fun

Sara Pickell wrote a brilliant post about MMOs, and the struggle between companies trying to sell them to us as goods vs services. I’ve tried to come at this from a different angle before, but she does it far more eloquently than I did.

But there was one paragraph that made me stop and think (and she’s referring to the Bartle player types here – achiever, explorer, socialiser, killer):

The primary audience of any product will always be the achievers, those who want it for it’s own use and to excel within it’s use. The secondary target would be explorers, those who are interested in seeing it in it’s entirety. You may still want some socialites to build buzz for you, but they are more likely to strain your system without seeing very much content so their presence is more a marketing investment than anything. Killers are last place, to one extent catering to another audience is always a good thing, on the other, killers are more likely to drive away other players or cause harassment issues. Killers are probably only given serious representation now because they simply make up one of the largest minorities in MMOs.

I think it is commonly held (by non-killers) that the ‘killers’ (ie. players whose primary way to have fun is by attacking other players) are a negative influence on the genre. They’re the griefers, the min-maxers, the trouble-makers, the forum whiners. They’re the ones who will drive other players away by corpse camping them for hours and then flooding forums with illegible leet smacktalk. They’re the kiddies, the guys who just don’t know how to play nice with others.

But all virtual worlds involve competition

When you get more than one person into a room, in real life as well as in a game, they will compete with each other. It may be subtle, it may be non-serious, but they will compete for any resource available.

The idea that a virtual social world utopia would be completely free of negative vibes is ridiculous. Social competition is some of the most bitter, vicious, cut-throat gaming that it is possible to have. And it’s largely based on trying to be popular. Being bitter about not getting enough attention from ‘the right people’. Networking. Trying to make yourself useful. Cybering for extra perks (it happens a lot).

You know what guild drama can be like? You know how people fret if they feel left out of a clique? Imagine an entire virtual world which is all about guild drama. I’m not saying that it can’t be fun – people are extremely fun. They will surprise and entertain you in ways that no mechanical NPC ever can. But we don’t have a good ruleset for social competition.

If the killers know one thing, it is how to compete

And this is where the killers come in. The way they compete is far simpler. You kill someone. Or you get killed. You exchange some smack talk. You go back to base and start again. At the end of the session, they leave the game on the table.

Compare that to the extended guild drama bitchfests which can leave people in tears or depressed for hours. Which is the most healthy form of competition, really?

For all that devs and other players complain about the killers in our games, I wonder if we need them there to teach us how to play the things.