November 2006

Giants In The Playground

Business Week has a brief roundup of the Asian MMO market, with giants Shanda and Netease slugging it out for dominance and Korean and Western companies nosing in for a share of a market far larger than we can probably comprehend.

Be sure to click on the slideshow for concept art from wacky Chinese games like “The Legend of Swordman”, “Project DaTang”, and “Dungeons and Dragons Online”.

Bashing EA Is Fun And Easy

…at least with interviews like these being posted, regarding the somewhat mindboggling cojones that it takes to “monetize” single player games that, you know, you already paid for.

Chip Lange, Vice President of Online Commerce at EA, stated that the publisher was only providing consumers with a choice and that players can instantly unlock something – such as a golf course in Tiger Woods, rather than put 40-50 hours into the game – something which Lang claimed only 20% of people would do.

When drawn upon the issue of charging for what once might have been a cheat code, Lange argued, “There are places where cheat codes are free but those are on websites and those websites are making money by selling advertising.”

Setting aside for the moment that you can’t get actually find a paid Xbox360 unlock on “a website making money” through tiny classified ads (something the EA PR person responded to with “Uh, I need to research that”), the point remains that, according to Mr. Lange, there’s a pressing market for people too lazy to actually play games. Which, judging from the success of some folks in the MMO sphere, you might think he’s on to something, hmm?

Well, no. One of the quickest ways I can usually start an argument with others in the MMO industry is by saying, flat out, that if your MMO has an RMT problem, then your MMO has a design flaw by definition. Simply because if someone is paying money – the measure, by almost any criteria, of the value of a person’s time in our society – to avoid part of your game, that part of the game is not fun. Because if it were fun, why would they not, you know, play it?

After all, they theoretically are paying you already for the privilege of playing the game. Why should they pay for what essentially is a fast forward button? It’s like picking up a DVD of the Lord of the Rings, and then paying an intern/illegal alien/teen runaway/whoever you prefer to exploit to constantly skip straight to the battle of Helms Deep. Sure, you COULD, but you miss a bit of, you know, the rest of the movie. By doing so, you’re saying you don’t care about the rest of that movie – it holds little value for you, and your time is valuable enough that you’d pony up the cash to skip ahead.

This is an arguable point in MMOs, because of the multiplayer nature and people wanting to catch up to their friends, engage in the social community that congregates on the high end, et cetera. But in single player games? It’s just mindbogglingly stupid. If you feel the need to skip ahead to the end of a single player game… why did you buy it again? I am reminded of Old Man Murray’s reaction to when RMT was first announced in Ultima Online; they immediately threatened to sell their Half Life save games on eBay. Which makes about as much sense as anything else.

Next on Hardball: Casuals vs Hardcore; Does Kel’Thuzad Hate America?

Now on G4: RMT: Doth It Suck?

If you don’t like Flash movies, here’s my HANDY RECAP. Note that I have not made up ONE SINGLE QUOTE.

Greg Vederman: “It’s against the terms of service!”

Julian Dibbell: “The whole idea of cheating is bogus!”

Vederman: “It is cheating, because the rules say not to do that!”

Dibbell: “Blizzard can put in a rule to say you have to be a Pastafarian, but that doesn’t mean you will!”

Vederman: “Julian, you’re wrong!”

Dibbell: “The idea that these are competitive games are absurd! They’re collaborative games!”

Vederman: (rolls eyes) “The fact of the matter is, it’s against the Terms of Service!”

G4: “Isn’t it.. uh, incentivized?”

Vederman: “In WoW, it is expressly forgiven!”

G4: “Here’s my issue. A “friend of mine” paid to be powerlevelled to level 30. It should be a crime! If you want to support a sweatshop…”

Dibbell: (rolls eyes)

G4: “Julian, some people on some of those gaming blogs paint a picture of a sweatshop, you know, a guy with a black mask cracking a whip….”

Dibbell: (snickers)

G4: “… but you’ve actually worked in one! What are the conditions like? Should they be banned for being so deplorable?”

Dibbell: “Nononononono. These guys are gamers. They’re not, like conscript armies of peasants, forced to whack orcs all day long. Twelve hours a day, one day off a month…”


Dibbell: “If you have a problem with this, you don’t have a problem with gold farming, you have a problem with the global capitalist order.”

Vederman: “You know what I got a problem with, buddy? There are six million players in World of Warcraft! Most of them don’t want this, despite what the G4 poll says!”

Dibbell: (shrugs)

Vederman: “And concievably, they’re going to be taxed! Because their money, their gold in WoW, which should not have a monetary value, does… because of people like YOU!”

G4: “Greg, how dare you discredit our G4 poll!”

So, basically, today we’ve learned that the issues of importance to the MMO community can be made as banally trivial as much more important issues! The progress brings a single tear to my eye, truly.

Office Perks

So today some old-school video games from Richard Garriott’s collection were moved into the hallway outside our offices.

Here one of our artists admires the particle effects from 1985.

Yeah, Elections And Stuff

Unlike Ubiq, I’m not going to bravely come out and be the lone voice of liberalism in the game industry.

Suffice to say that I was pleased at the result, but only because the Republican majority has been anything but conservative in its actions. (Note: invading sovereign countries and raising spending while cutting taxes is not a conservative platform, just in case there were questions to that effect.)

I’ve also been pleased with the Democratic tacking to the center in an attempt to move beyond their base, something the Republicans haven’t seen the need to do since Bush’s first election campaign. (Remember “compassionate conservatism?”) The rhetoric of the GOP operatives has been far more shrill as they try to appeal to their base in the face of a drumbeat of news from Iraq, New Orleans, and Washington.

However, I’m also old enough to remember Dan Rostenkowski and harbor no illusions that a Democratic-led congress will be a magical land of propriety, bipartisanship and moderation. About the best we can hope for: oversight and gridlock. And that, I have every faith our new Congressfolk can deliver!

Told You I Was Hardcore

NotAddicted has a review of every MMO to date’s attempt to make a HaRDc0RE PVP server. Worth a read/chuckle.

In most cases, the amount of people who beg for a hardcore PvP server is infinitely greater than the amount people who will actually play it for more than a week.

Nobody creates their evil Orc Shadowknight and imagines that one day he\’e2\’80\’99ll be crying and begging a PK for his +2 cloak back, or goes out of his way to avoid PvP in fear of getting embarrassed again. They imagine their level 352 Orc crushing wave upon wave of newbie roleplaying paladins, because they have a master plan, a little secret that nobody else thought of: \’e2\’80\’9cI\’e2\’80\’99m going to get lots of levels and items!\’e2\’80\’9d Their dream is crushed when they find that 3,000 other people have the same plan, and back to the normal server they go.