May 2007

I move they be called the “Worlds That Fly” awards

Two relentless self-promoters manage to get an entire story.

The academy will accept nominations on its Web site for categories like “Best Virtual World,” “Best Virtual Fashion Designer” and “Most Dynamic Virtual Economy.”

The winners will be announced in February and will receive virtual statues at “live” ceremonies in “Second Life” and “Entropia Universe.”

I remember when virtual worlds meant something else entirely.

Community Relations Is Hard

For those following the Tseric saga, he was apparently let go/resigned this week.

For those not following the Tseric saga:

Tseric was a forum moderator/community person for World of Warcraft. His main job involved gathering feedback from players on the official forums. There are words for jobs like this. Note: there are also other words.

Late on Sunday, Tseric gave what I like to call the Roy Batty Speech. This is a speech that everyone connected to a community on the internet gives at some point if they either (a) lose perspective about their life causing rampaging self-pity, (b) undergo a significant amount of stress causing rampaging self-pity, or (c) get so drunk they have an attack of rampaging self-pity but unfortunately not so drunk as to be unable to type into a web browser. (I have given several variations of this over time.) The Roy Batty Speech is something wildly dramatic, overwrought and self-indulgent. Note that Roy Batty had an excuse for being wildly dramatic and overwrought: He was a robot, he was Rutger Hauer, and he was dying. Unless you are a dying robot named Rutger Hauer, you don’t have enough reason to give the Roy Batty Speech. Tseric’s version of the Roy Batty Speech is preserved forever, because this is the Internet.

Posting impassionately, they say you don’t care.

Posting nothing, they say you ignore.

Posting with passion, you incite trolls.

Posting fluff, you say nonsense.

Post with what facts you have, they whittle down with rationale.

There is no win.

There is only slow degredation.

Take note. It is the first and only time you’ll see someone in my position make that position.

You can be me when I’m gone.

It went on for a while. Apparently posting on the forums has nothing to do with being teargassed in anti-globalization protests, just in case, you know, you were unsure. Also, you don’t understand what it’s like dealing with forums. Also, trolls suck.

The dirty not-quite-a-secret is that everyone even tenuously connected to the oversight of online games, or other internet communities, have said much these same words in various combinations. The difference is that we didn’t actually, you know, tell the customers these words. We didn’t give The Roy Batty Speech while we were on the clock. Because while blowing off steam is important, and necessary, it’s also something you by necessity do behind closed doors. Otherwise it’s not just venting steam, it’s merely venting. And that has its own connotation, and it’s an unpleasant one.

And that’s why Tseric is “pursuing other opportunities elsewhere”. Because part of having the fancy coloration in your name when you post is understanding that, no, you can’t just dive into the muck and root around with everyone else. You lost that privilege when you got the fancy colored name. You have to be different. You have to set the standard. And yes, that means you take a lot of unjustified punches. It comes with the territory of, as the Penny Arcade comic put it, eating bees. Sometimes the bees sting, and what are you going to do? Dude, you took a job eating bees. It will happen. And you’ll bitch about it to your friends off the clock constantly – but not on the clock. Not to the customers paying your way. It’s not how communities are run.

Anyway, it’s not really that important in the scheme of things. Well, it’s important to Tseric, since he’s LFG, but for the rest of us, it’s just another inappropriate context for the Roy Batty Speech. And it’ll happen again. People being human and all.

Many Dramatic Arm Gestures Were Used In The Making Of This Interview

Michael Zenke interviews the always quotable Paul Barnett of Warhammer Online.

EA basically means that we have a ton of money. And we have more resources than we did before. So when Mythic was making it alone, it effectively had a reservoir of cash, and it had a sort of marketing, and sort of resources and effectively had to make the best game it possibly could with that reality. With EA, and their bountiful riches, and their gold bullion that they send to us every week on the heads of slaves …

Sigil gone?

Rumor mill goes into overdrive.

As someone who’s been through rounds of layoffs: if that happened, it’s pretty crappy.

As Damion commented in the F13 thread, closing the company down to liquidate outstanding debts and then sending offer letters to the employees left standing is a fairly standard procedure… it’s what happened when Ubisoft acquired Wolfpack Studios. Hopefully SOE can pick up most of the guys working on the game; no one likes abandoning their baby.

(Edit: It’s official. More comments by John Smedley are here.)

Remember: These Folks Are Professionals At Industry Analysis

BusinessWeek reports breathlessly that Second Life may have some new competition: get this – people are playing online games not called Second Life! I know, I don’t believe it either. But it’s true!

Suddenly it looks as if Second Life, that 3D virtual world that last year became a favorite hangout for hard-core techies and trend-watching corporations, has competition. A new crop of online multiplayer games is coming, targeting a broader audience with simpler navigation and customization than Second Life. These games also rule out lewd behavior.

It’s a wacky thing, going up against Second Life, but it just! might! work!

Also in other mainstream media accomplishments: according to Time, Philip Rosedale, head of Second Life’s Linden Labs, is one of the 100 most important people in the world, edging out Kim Jong Il AND Lindsay Lohan. The justice, I tell you. The SPACE JUSTICE.

(Businessweek mockery nicked from Alice)

Blizzard to Arena teams: GG nubs, lrn2play

Exploding on the forums today: In preperation for flying the top-tier Arena teams to California for an e-sports frenzy, Blizzard apparently disqualified many of them for account sharing.

A writer from one of those teams had this to say:

Preparing to book travel for the qualified teams, Blizzard checked their real names against the names and addresses listed on their account info, disqualifying players whose information did not match up regardless of the reason. About a week ago, teams were contacted if they had information that did not correspond. Shortly after that, an eSports admin contacted teams saying there may be some hope, but two days ago it was confirmed: the disqualified players would stay that way. Of the top eight teams, a whopping twelve players were removed on a total of five different squads.

And why were those accounts shared? Levelling is hard, y0.

Right now, practicing is a daunting proposition for any team. It’s a huge time investment to prepare a character for arena play, so if a player wants to switch classes, try something new, or practice different set-ups, it’s impossible without sharing characters.

“The account thing is such a huge barrier to people even getting into WoW as an eSport. In order to practice, you have to put in such a huge amount of time commitment before you can even begin,” says Pandemic’s Quinn, “and when people kinda take a short cut to get to that point (buy/borrow an account) they can’t even participate in one of the bigger tournaments.”

In other news, when people kinda take a shortcut to get to competitive sprinting, they can’t even participate in the Olympics. What’s up with that?

Snarkiness aside, here is the disconnect made manifest: PvPers dislike levelling. I know, it’s a crazy concept, but work with me here.

As a game designer: If you design a game around character development, and then offer a sub-game/side-game/elder game around PvP, don’t be surprised when people try to race straight to what they consider the fun stuff. Instead, make channels for them to get there quickly; if possible, leverage their desire to get to the cheese somehow, possibly through rapid alternate advancement within the game world competitively (PvP ladders or the like).

As a “eSport competitor”: dude. You just collectively announced you were unable to level a character in World of Warcraft. I mean, come on. It’s freaking World of Warcraft. The easiest game to level in, ever, and you are collectively whining that you, the best of the best, the hard-edged core, training on the ragged edge of PvP mastery… yeah, following a powerlevelling guide is too hard. Pardon while everyone else snickers. It’ll be a while before they stop.

Microsoft: Open Source Has Cooties

Microsoft claims that open source software in Linux violates 235 Microsoft-held patents. Really, honest, they counted and everything.

[Microsoft’s lawyer] says that the Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted [free and open source] programs allegedly transgress 68.

The risibility of Microsoft accusing “teh Interweb” of, say, violating its intellectual property on user interfaces? Indeed, quite risible.

In 1988, Apple sued Microsoft for copyright infringement of the LISA and Apple Macintosh GUI. The court case lasted 4 years before almost all of Apple’s claims were denied on a contractual technicality. Subsequent appeals by Apple were also denied, and Microsoft and Apple apparently entered a final, private settlement of the matter in 1997 as a side note in a broader announcement of investment and cooperation.

Steve Ballmer claims that Microsoft is being bullied by, um, teh Interweb. No, really.

“We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property,” says Ballmer in an interview.

As seen by Microsoft’s history of honoring and supporting intellectual property by purchasing it, putting it in a small box, and then taking it out and playing with it on annual developer days.

Note that it’s a sad day when Fortune’s title for this story is actually funnier than mine:

Microsoft takes on the free world.

Is CCP about to cut out the middleman?

Sure looks like it. For those just joining us:

* CCP (Crowd Control Productions) are the developers of Eve Online.

* Eve Online is one of if not the most popular “niche” MMOs, with hardcore PvP and even more hardcore in-game economy.

* As part of that economy, until recently, there was a thriving grey market trade in RMT for ISK (Eve’s currency). The way it worked was that, in the quest for the One True Perfect Game Economy, CCP allowed players to exchange ISK for in-game subscription time.

This effectively made ISK convertible since, of course, you could purchase in-game subscription time for out-of-game currency (you know, the stuff in your wallet). Apparently, this was an unintended consequence. To quote CCP’S “Kieron”,

We allowed the trade of ISK for Game Time as an extension of the policy allowing the trade of ISK for game related services like TS server rental, forum signatures, etc. When we discussed allowing the trade of ISK for Game Time, the thought that we were inadvertently allowing the ‘sale of ISK for RL cash’ didn’t occur to us. The decision to allow the trade was not profit driven.

When Sony came out with their microcharge servers (sale of game items for RL cash), the internal CCP discussion lasted about 2 minutes. The discussion about Second Life’s business model lasted longer, but the results of the discussions were the same. We do not have, nor do we want to have, the ability to clone Tranquility and start up a microcharge server.

That was two years ago. Then a cryptic in-game message of the day appeared this past week alluding to/threatening bans for RMT trading in ISK. Why? Well, apparently things change.

The recent MotD mentioning the sale or purchase of ISK for real money generated some questions about how Game Time can be traded for ISK, Game Time that was purchased with real world cash. In some of my replies, I was unclear. This wasn’t by intention, but because of the information I am authorized to release at this time.

In the future, CCP will introduce a billing solution replacing the current system that allows the purchase of game time from third parties for in-game ISK. In essence, it will be possible for a time and ISK-rich, but financially challenged player to purchase game time directly from CCP. Game Time codes will still be available for purchase, but the trade of game time codes for ISK will no longer be an approved payment option.

We still have a number of details to work out, as well as implementation and integration, but that will hopefully clear up some of the confusion created earlier.

Well (as this ongoing F13 thread points out), that explains almost nothing. However, whenever your community manager uses the words “authorized to release at this time”? That means the players are about to get. Really. Damned. Pissed.

My theory: if CCP were simply to close the in-game currency for game time cards option, that would not make players Really. Damned. Pissed. Therefore, Occam’s Razor applies. What’s the simplest solution in this case? Simple… CCP cuts out the middleman.

Which will have… reverberations. This will make CCP one of the first, and definitely the largest first-party seller of in-game currency in the Western market.

Your Papers, Please

Second Life dropped a bomb on its merry Elysium Friday: to get into the ‘mature’ areas of Second Life (which in practice is, well, 90% of Second Life), you’re gonna have to prove you can drink legally. (A further statement here.)

Second Life has always been restricted to those over 18. All Residents personally assert their age on registration. When we receive reports of underage Residents in Second Life, we close their account until they provide us with proof of age. This system works well, but as the community grows and the attractions of Second Life become more widely known, we’ve decided to add an additional layer of protection.

(Snarky emphasis mine. “OMG, there’s an online game where I can pretend to have sex!”)

Said age verification is a bit more stringent then picking a date earlier than 1986 on a web form. Linden is partnering with Aristotle Integrity, a site which…

…integrates a government-issued ID database check, algorithms and web-based signature capture. The service provides merchants and government agencies with Patriot Act compliance and compliance with age verification laws and guidelines.

An MMO with Patriot Act compliance. Oh brave new world, that has such wonders in it.

The initial reaction from SL users: not positive at all.

From what we have been told so far, it does not seem that this new system will be any less prone to fraud than the existing system. Plus, it places burdens of effort and costs on the residents. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any definitive description about what does and does not constitute adult content which historically tends to force overcaution on the part of self-raters. This is most obvious in the comic and computer games industries.

Aristotle Integrity was previously used by Bud.TV to prevent underage tykes from watching a bad Youtube clone.

The Internet, with no government oversight and leaky parental controls, only compounds the problems. Self-imposed age-verification measures are almost laughable in their naïveté. Most ask visitors if they are of age, or ratcheting up the level of difficulty, request people to punch in their dates of birth to ensure they meet the qualifications. All that’s needed to get around that more advanced system are some basic math skills and a desire to sneak past the virtual bouncer. Anheuser-Busch, to its credit, will have one of the smarter gatekeepers keeping watch over Bud.TV. It has bought an identity-verification system used by casinos and banks, Aristotle’s Integrity, which checks the names and Zip codes against driver’s licenses and other public records.

Yet once vetted, there’s nothing to stop Bud.TV viewers from sharing the goodies with under-age friends, relatives or complete strangers on YouTube. Anheuser-Busch executives understand this viral loophole. With its inherent pass-it-on nature, Web video demands to be shared. Not only does it provide street cred; it’s also an inexpensive way to get the word out. And the Bud.TV logo will be emblazoned on every shared video.

Linden Labs isn’t in a good position here. On the one hand, they’ve created a cyberutopian world with all the happy Cory Doctorow-ish platitudes cyberutopias espouse. On the other hand, it seems the most popular activity in cyberutopia is cybering. Whoops. So the onus is on Linden Labs to do SOMETHING before an ageplaying leather-clad furry transgender makes the 9’o-clock news, or worse, the 2008 campaign.

But this OMG WE MUST DO SOMETHING! reaction is dangerous, because it rolls back further the excuse that Linden Labs is simply a common carrier, and has no responsibility over the wacky uses put to their “grid” by their users. The more control they assert over this (and this isn’t the first instance; Linden has also been cracking down on “ageplayers”, or people roleplaying pedophilia), the more they become responsible for that content. And that way truly lies madness.

I wonder if Linden’s long term strategy is to simply open-source everything and let the truly freaky join their own servers, while keeping the “official” Second Life a sterile Disneyland full of marketing and press releases. You know, like PS3@Home. Of course, the question then becomes… would anyone pay for it?