April 2007

SOE to snap up Sigil?

Rumors to that effect have been swirling madly about the interweb last week, and today Brad McQuaid, in his usual brief style, discussed everything within, but not including, a 5-foot radius of those rumors.

The money paragaph, and probably taken from Sigil’s pitch to SOE verbatim:

I think it’s safe to say that both Sigil and SOE see the potential of a mind blowing game by the end of the year. What’s needed, bottom line, is some time, and how to get that time is what’s being worked out. And so I still see a 500k+ game, I was just off by a year for a variety of reasons, some under my control, many not. And I think SOE sees this as well. To pull it off however, requires a funded and supported Sigil and a well marketed Vanguard with these different target audiences identified and solid plan on how to reach them all, and then a solid execution of said plan, hitting them hard, pushing these ‘WoW everywhere’ point of purchase materials from the front to the very back.. In the meantime, the Vanguard that was launched in early 2007 continues to move forward, with much of what I’ve talked about patched in over time, and the rest in the first expansion (or re-launch, or whatever we all agree upon in terms of product and service placement).

McQuaid analyzes the current market landscape hopefully (Hey, Burning Crusade has a silly raid progression, so casuals will come… try Vanguard! Lord of the Rings may not have a meaningful endgame so raiders may come… try Vanguard!) and sees a possible opening for a retooled Vanguard to take the world by storm. Unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult. Why?

You can’t make games for next year’s PCs. A good portion of McQuaid’s essay deals with the hope that gamers will, en masse, upgrade their systems to Vista, and in so doing have a machine that can, well, run Vanguard. Except that… gamers aren’t buying Vista. No one seems to be, actually. I just spent an evening yanking it off my machine.

World of Warcraft is successful for about 500 reasons. One of them is that anyone can run it. Its system requirements are low. It’s one of the few games I can comfortably run on my laptop. This is not insignificant. And it was very intentional (as Rob Pardo explained during his AGC keynote address) – to really have market penetration, you have to have as few roadblocks as possible. And an engine that requires… well, as McQuaid describes it:

Vanguard needs not only a fast graphics card, but also a system with pci-express, fast memory, a fast FSB, etc. With EQ, you just needed to buy a Voodoo 1 or Voodoo 2 – the rest of your system is fine. With Vanguard, however, just plugging the fastest AGP card into your 2-3 year old system doesn’t cut it. In fact, Vanguard runs pretty well on a 2 GB system with a decent pci-express video card and fast memory in a 2.6 GHz Pentium; conversely, run the game on an older AGP system, the fastest AGP card you can buy, and a 3.2 GHz CPU and you’ll have framerate issues. The game is simply not CPU bound, nor just graphics card bound, but rather mostly bound by the data that it needs to constantly move from the CPU to main memory to the graphics card, and then all the way back again. It’s all about the various bus speeds and caches – moving data around efficiently is arguably more important than processing that data on the CPU or GPU.

That’s not a roadblock. That’s a barricade manned by surly Somali gunmen in technicals, demanding all your RAM and motherboard bandwidth so they can trade it to IGE for qat leaves. And it sounds suspiciously like blaming your users’ purchasing and upgrade habits for your engine coding.

The market isn’t going to stand still. Sure, Vanguard launched against Burning Crusade. Then soon thereafter, Lord of the Rings launched. McQuaid describes this market as though these are where all his potential users have strayed, soon to return once they’re bored. Except that assumes that by that point, there won’t be Warhammer, and Conan, and WoW’s 2nd expansion, and any number of other new and shiny games. You can’t assume that you’ll have a chance once the new shiny wears off. The new shiny will always be with us. Which leads into:

You only get one chance. Sounds brutal. Is true.

Why? Because once your game no longer is that new shiny, you’re wrestling for users amongst the pool of churn, those players that hop from game to game and the occasional new convert achieved through word of mouth or web site ad or what have you. The problem is that finding those players is exponentially more expensive than just picking up the curious at first launch. When you first launch, you have no expectations (save those holes your marketing department or logorrheic message board posters dig for you). There’s a critical mass of new players, out of which social groupings can form among each other.

But afterwards, you have to deal with the fact that most players will be trickling in, and interacting with what community already exists. And if your launch didn’t go well? That community is ANGRY. Bad launches kill games.

Vanguard can, in a year, be the second coming of Robot Telon Jesus, and it won’t matter, without a concerted rebuilding effort. It’s not easy. As far as I know, there are only two games who have managed this: Eve Online and Anarchy Online. And neither have the mass market numbers McQuaid still expects. If Sigil/SOE does manage to turn the ship of Telon around, it will be a “world first”. They’ll have to significantly retool the client – not just expect users to upgrade to its level. They’ll have to have a clear path of content for users to explore, and a friendly community to embrace new users as they begin. (Anarchy Online has player volunteers that literally warp in and offer to help new players as they start, for example.) And even then… with all that… will Vanguard reach McQuaid’s oft-quoted and again-restated goal of 500,000 customers?

A better goal is a game that is slowly growing, self-sustaining, and with an active community. No one playing Eve really cares if they have 50k or 500k users – they have a fun game and they know it’s not going anywhere. That’s an example worth emulating.

Mike Gravel’s Running Mate

Gentlemen and Ladies, I give you Toyama Koichi.. Who I am certain will not let his being neither a Democrat nor an American stop him from the march to the White House. Which he will then proceed to destroy. Hopefully with laser beams.


The Asahi Shimbun has more on Koichi’s candidate for the Tokyo prefecture governership, for which he garnered 15,000 presumably confused votes.

Koichi Toyama, 36, who is also running against Ishihara, is calling on voters to stage a revolt against the government–but only after they have had their fill of beer.

Japan responded to his candidacy the only way they knew how.

Unfortunately, the winner, while still a menace, isn’t nearly as fun.

(Hat tip: Metafilter and Q23)

No, But He Is Full Of Fruity Goodness

Wired News has word that Jack Thompson has decided to sue Gawker Media, owner of the constantly updating yet oddly content-free gaming news site Kotaku for, apparently, being on the Internet.

Yes, Thompson uses the phrase “Not!” in his court filings, along with such bon mots as “slim to none, and Slim just left town” and “human piñata” in reference to himself. I am reasonably sure that Thompson is not filled with candy.

Kotaku also has news on their being sued, but sadly it is lacking in speculation on whether or not Jack Thompson is in fact filled with candy.

Why, Mainstream Media, Why

Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on something like the VT shootings, because (a) it doesn’t involve gaming, which is the usual subtext of this blog, and (b) it’s such a horrible tragedy that anything I would have to say about it would be obscenely, inappropriately, not nearly important enough.

Unfortunately, Jack Thompson doesn’t share my ethics. Assuming he’s familiar with the term to begin with.

Wall-to-wall coverage on all the 24/7 cable networks, and, of course, anti-gaming crusader Jack Thompson pops up on Fox News Channel as a “specialist” in school shootings.

Forget that the details are hazy; we don’t even know if it’s one person, what his name is, what his motive was, etc. Crazy, facing disbarment, Jack Thompson is an “expert” who is ready to immediately blame violent videogames for allowing this shooter to “rehearse” the incident.

Admittedly, the demands of the 24/7 news cycle is such that Benji the Wonder Puppy probably could have gotten face time on MSNBC, being earnestly interviewed by Brian Williams. “Come on, boy. One woof for the shooter using a 9mm pistol, two woofs for a rifle.” And to be fair, comparing Benji to Mad Jack Thompson is unfair, as Benji is probably very personable and most probably neutered and toilet trained. That being said, we expect Mad Jack to froth his usual froth around spraying Jack-bits everywhere. He’s an ambulance chaser, and that’s what ambulance chasers do.

The media that continues to give him a platform to spread his misinformed hackjobbery has far less of an excuse. I know that it’s the American way to find blame well before solutions can be found, and given the demographics of engineering schools, it’s more than likely someone will find a game or two among the shooter’s personal effects. It’s also more than likely that they will find textbooks and warm clothing, but of course, the games are far more relevant. And Lord help us all if they find, say, a copy of Guild Wars or Everquest II.

But could we at least wait until the bodies have finished being counted before someone gives Mad Jack a platform to spray spittle over whatever press release he wants to send out this morning? It’s only fair to the deceased. Give the bullet wounds a chance to cool before making your career off the remains.

You know, show some class.

I’m thankful that the only links to Thompson’s wackjobbery have been a New Zealand radio station, a blog, and a Slashdot comment. Let’s hope that that’s where the damage is contained, and Foxnews’ airing of Mad Jack is a temporary goof, something a panic stricken producer greenlit to fill the dead air between reporters trying to make undergrads cry on camera again. Maybe then we can start to work on the incredible growing alienation within our society that causes its most maladjusted members to suffer their demons alone, until they finally enter the “How Many People Can I Go Out With In A Blaze Of Glory” contest.

I know, wacky thoughts. Let’s just get Mad Jack on TV again, he’s always good for a sound bite. Right before the Anna Nicole/Howard Stern story for today, too. Roll tape.

Spam SPAM spam Spam

Getting hit by a spambot that’s getting past most of the site filters. Again.

My Akismet filter (the spam filter built into wordpress) catches ~ 3000 spam comments a day. It misses about 50-100 a day. So, in other words, spambots are leaving a good 25 to 30 times as many comments as, you know, actual readers. I love the Internet. no, really, I *love* the Internet. Especially this guy, who decided the most reasonable solution to ending blogspam is for every blogger to write their own commenting software.

So the site security is going up to Defcon Orange. You may see some wackiness.

Acclaim: Being Black Is Awesome!

Proving that the MMO industry is far, far superior to aged shock jocks, Acclaim’s new DANCE! Online dancing-required microtransaction-driven MMO has decreed that being a black person on the dance floor is so totally awesome, you must earn the privilege. Or, as one somewhat surprised user asks,


to which a “player moderator” replied,

Black is an EXTRA feature. It makes your person look unique, so that is an EXTRA feature. Therefore, you having to PAY for it. (Or ask a friend to pay for it).

Thankfully, before Rev. Al Sharpton was made aware that MMOs exist, an actual Acclaim employee immediately chimed in with

As an optional character upgrade, we must put this in the item shop for players to acquire. This is the only way to offer the African-American heads. However, it should be EASILY accessible to all, so we made it just 1 POINT in the shop (which is basically for FREE). You don’t have to spend any money to get it, just play the game and earn points. Thanks!

DANCE! has multiple currencies, and the 1 point referred to can be earned by, apparently, not being black briefly.

Acclaim should be aware that there is in fact, no parking on the dance floor, as rival dancing-with-the-cyberbits MMO Audition has signed Hillary Duff for something or another.

Interestingly, both Audition and DANCE! strongly complain if you use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. But if open source doesn’t free your mind, then what?