December 2004


Play Anarchy Online for free.

It’s an interesting concept. I imagine the theory is that once you’re hooked into AO and have a guild of friends, you’ll want to join them in areas or activities that require an expansion (and a paid account).

The kicker as always are other people. Generally the easiest way to determine that someone is who they say they are is to get money from them (like, say, a credit card number). If you can’t do that, you can’t really tell who they are, since on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. There’s also the prospect that hundreds of thousands of people think "hey, free MMO" and blow out the server (note the "weasel clause" in case that happens). Or that hundreds of people start keeping your customer service people busy. Then again, AO has volunteers as a linchpin of their CS still (they can, being based in Europe where such things as volunteer labor, socialism, and Jacques Chirac are still taken seriously).

Another MMO, Knight Online, has used this approach for a while, and isn’t a raging success.\’c3\’82\’c2\~ Matt Mihaly’s text MMOs (as he likes to call them) also have "free until you want stuff" models and it seems to work for them.

Me, I like being paid. I’m funny that way. What good is it selling out if you don’t get the bling bling?


Terranova writes, commenting on World of Warcraft’s anti-eBaying statements: It will be interesting to see what a community does when the development team comes out strongly against eBaying, since we’ve never really seen this before. (The only MMOs I know of that condone eBay trading are Ultima Online and Second Life.) I eagerly await Terranova’s commenting on Blizzard’s allowing characters to wear pants, since we’ve never really seen pants before.

Project Entropia still exists and sold an island of stuff for about 903,381 quatloos. That may or may not be wholly convertible into Abkhazian zlotys. Mimesis Online doesn’t exist any more, although the only way you can tell is by going to their forum where people respond to help requests with “the game’s been shut down“. Somewhere, in a corner, Bucky Carooe cries bittersweet tears.

If you’re playing Knights of the Old Republic 2 (which is really, really good and really, really buggy) and you think the game wiped all your save games because you messed with a new character, hit the (X) button at the loading screen. It fooled me, too.

YOU are the Wowzer. Yes, you. Are you the keymaster?


Hope you liked Madden 2005 because that’s all you’re getting!

The deal, one EA admits to having lobbied for over the past few years, is an exclusive five-year licensing deal granting EA the sole rights to the NFL’s teams, stadiums, and players.

Just for purposes of comparison, DirectTV paid the NFL $3.5 billion for a similar agreement. Ever wonder how much money is in computer gaming? There’s a clue.

(Update: Ubiq runs the numbers. $3.5 billion is waaay too much for an exclusive deal, even for Madden games. Shrug. How much WOULD you pay to put all your competitors out of business, anyway?)


So, I check my referrers. I like to see who’s linking to my writings because, well, I’m vain like that. OF COURSE I’m vain. I HAVE A BLOG. Duh. Well, anyway, so I see this this morning.

Obviously, I am number one with a bullet with maintainers of porn sites! I’m a little suspicious though. I mean, sure, my old site practically invented breast obsession, but that’s only in an MMO sense. Generally, I’d think that people looking for pictures of, well, whatever you filthy people are looking for today would be somewhat disappointed to see some idiot rambling about game theory for 6 paragraphs.

And I was right. Apparently, there are now spam programs designed just to reach vain people like me.

Reffy is a Windows-based mass referrer spammer tool, which means that it will make a connection to a list of URLs with any referrer URL and User-Agent that you specify. This accomplishes several things. Firstly, it generates webmaster traffic from webmasters checking their referral statistics. Secondly, it boosts your link popularity and thereby your Google PR, because a lot of sites have public referral stats with linked entries.

Reffy comes with a pre-generated list of 3047 active blog websites, and a good User-Agent list of real User-Agents taken from real statistics is also included.

I’m not linking to it, because, well, you know, I don’t want them to know I exist. They ALREADY know I exist too damned much apparently. Do this Google if you’re really consumed with a desire to spam my referrer logs with porn sites.

Seriously, people, crap like this is why we can’t have nice things. STOP IT.

You can read more about “leveraging blogs for pr0n profit!” here, here, here, here and here. Really, I’m not making it up!

800 XP

So I’m thinking about class warfare.

No, no, I’m not plotting the overthrow of the government, put that Carnivore DOWN. Thinking more about MMO gameplay, and specifically how the interactions between players are governed.

Basically, most MMOs right now devolve into three very specific sets of gameplay:

1) Kill other humans. Won’t touch on this right now, since it introduces issues all its own. And every PvP discussion seemingly always goes back to gosh, weren’t those old UO days just swell, when we could kill people that didn’t want us to? while leaning back in the rocking chair kicking back a sarsparilla and wondering when we let women vote.

2) Kill mobile bags of improvement. Little bags of “XP” and “GP” and “PP” and stuff.

3) Dancing and everything after. I’m never talking about this. Ever.

So, MMO gameplay in its purest form involves searching out little bags of improvement and popping them. Experts in this will find the most brutally efficient means of popping bags of improvement. In a skill-based MMO, that means finding the one (and only one) template of skills allowed that the developers somehow overlooked which makes you God. There’s always at least one of these. You can tell which one it is, because it’s the one that everyone outside Newbie Town is using. So the skill involved in skill-based systems is in, well, finding which skill it takes no skill use. Skillfully. There’s not much room for discussion here, since the gameplay involved is in seeing which skill the developers screwed up and lets you be TankMageGod.

Probably through no coincidence whatsoever, class-based systems are far more popular in MMOs. They’re popular among developers, because instead of finding the one (and only one) template of skills, players will find the most broken CLASSES, which means that there might actually be a small amount of variety. That variety is always: Tanks, Damage Dealers, and Healers. This is the Holy Trinity of MMOs (Unitarians tend more to skillbased systems). No matter how many classes a game has (and DAOC, as an example, has 8,312) there are always just three. You either take the hits, give the hits, or heal the hits. Sometimes you do more, but Game Design 101 teaches us that there have to be Three Boring Classes which to compensate for them having no chrome are the min-maxer’s choice for being the best at one of these three. And since they are the best, players will very shortly figure out that there’s no sense in being any of the other classes.

Why not? For much the same reason that players hunt out the most boring Mobile Bags of Improvement possible – Return on Investment. Developers can make some insanely wackily complex encounters that require problem solving, cooperation, and the participation of players who aren’t members of the Three Boring Classes, but unless the risk-reward ratio is COMPLETELY broken in their favor, players won’t go for the bait. They will sit in one place and keep killing the most boring MBIs Over and Over and Over again – while posting on message boards about how boring your game is in another window – because it’s the quickest way to, um, get the most powerful member of the Three Boring Classes as quickly as possible. After which you might, you know, do some of the more interesting encounters or… yeah, right. There’s always more MBIs.

The thing is, as long as challenge is dangerous, it will be avoided. People generally will not take unnecessary risks with things that are meaningful to them. They will take the road most taken. It’s not their fault so much as it’s human nature.

So what can be done about the Three Boring Classes and the endless MBIs?

1) Make the non-boring classes better at the boring stuff then the Three Boring Classes. That way lies madness, my friends. Not only will the now disenfranchised TBC member be (rightfully) up in arms that the compact he made with you is broken (play a really boring class in exchange for being really good at something), the class you just made better will expect that their position in the class warfare be never relinquished, ever. If you just made a T64 tank more powerful than an M1A1, that T64 tank driver will never, ever let you roll him back to reality, with rear-mounted gas tanks that blow up and automatic cannon loaders that occasionally load a crew members’ arm into the gun barrel. And let me tell you, those kind of accidents are pretty gruesome. Best to not tamper with the Three Boring Classes.

2) Dancing. No wait, we’re not talking about dancing. Next.

3) Make special encounters that reward people with nonstandard classes/templates. Like, say, a room with a door that only your Thief Class That Is Always Ignored Until Someone Notices It Is Wackily Overpowered can open. This can either work out pretty well, or it can just cause resentment that you’re requiring something the players don’t always have (namely someone who isn’t a TBC) and eventually people will just bot your Wacky Theif Class and you’re back to square one.

4) Think outside the box. If all anyone is ever doing in your game is staring, with inflexible MonitorLock vision at your game client watching the MBIs fall over and over again, you’ve done something. You’ve made a boring game. If you disagree and point to all the great places and incredible environments and groundbreaking gameplay that all your players are carefully avoiding in their mad rush to the one safe MBI camp point you forgot about, I think I just finished that thought for you.

Here’s the thing. Very few people play these games because they enjoy the process of hunting bags of improvement. They are improving themselves as quickly as possible to get to the point where they can actually play. That point may be the cool “endgame” that you tacked on as an afterthought, or it can simply be the point in the game where taking risks is no longer as risky as it was on the mind-numbing way to the top. The TRUE objective of every MMO player is to get to the point where the game is fun. Note: for most people, risk isn’t fun. It’s risky. People don’t like to feel as though their time has been wasted. They want to get to the point where the mindless character development is done and they are on an even plane with their friends, and can spend time dancing.

Yes, it always comes back to the dancing.


Kotaku has a leaked memo by EA upper management noticing that they’re not very popular in the media lately.

As much as I don\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’84\’a2t like what\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’84\’a2s been said about our company and our industry, I recognize that at the heart of the matter is a core truth: the work is getting harder, the tasks are more complex and the hours needed to accomplish them have become a burden. We haven\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’84\’a2t yet cracked the code on how to fully minimize the crunches in the development and production process. Net, there are things we just need to fix.


– Wired News begins a news story with the following: “Peter Ludlow’s expulsion from The Sims Online may well be the highest-profile player ban in the history of video games.

It’s certainly the most self-publicized, at any rate – and if nothing else, teaches MMO companies that if you ban an academic for discovering, shockingly, that people engage in cybersex in MMOs, they’ll show up in the New York Times and the Daily Show will make fun of them. Way to stick it to the man! In Cyberia! Information wants to be free! And stuff! Open source MMOs! It’s a radical idea! No one has ever thought of it! (inhales sharply) Groovy.

World of Warcraft has now sold over 158 quadzillion copies and has 973 servers up, all of which will make you turn off the General chat channel after 3.2 seconds in Durotar. (Note, some of these figures are approximations). Now DANCE!

– Why are you reading this? You could be playing PIRATES!