March 2009

This Just In: Women Exist In The Gaming Industry

Tom Chick at Fidgit justifiably lambasts a clueless blog posting.

Women are being “left on sidelines” in the “video game revolution”, according to the LA Times… But the real question is – assuming it is, indeed a Bad Thing – what can be done about it? And the answer to this, I fear, is not much.

He then goes on to explain that the problem basically is that Math Is Hard. Which is an excuse like any other – there are female engineers, just as much as female producers, female designers, and female artists. There are fewer of them than their male counterparts, but they exist, in every discipline, and an aggressive hiring policy that values diversity can succeed. (Mythic deserves a lot of kudos here, by the way – it was one of the most gender-inclusive workplaces I’ve ever encountered in the industry.)

The real problem, of course, not to put too fine a point on it, is that there just aren’t that many women willing to put up with the game industry’s bullshit. Perhaps that should be addressed before the whole math-is-hard-yo thing.

Cryptic Marcom Malreported, Verify Ungood, Rectify Candygive

There’s been some movement on the Cryptic poaching City of Heroes players thing F13 turned up. Mainly, we have an Ivan Sulic sighting!

Ivan Sulic was the TOTALLY AWESOME community manager for Hellgate: London who memorably told angry players in the aftermath of a lack of LAN play, “who the fuck cares.” Given that Hellgate: London servers no longer exist, I would expect “anyone who owns a Hellgate: London box” the fuck cares. However, clearly, telling your customers to man up and deal is your path to being a straight shooter in Cryptic’s Department of MARCOM.

What’s a MARCOM? As the form letter Sulic wrote which impressed the hell out of Eric Schild until he realized it was a form letter explains, “Marcom is basically Community, PR, and Marketing.” Or, another way to put it, “Marcom is what happens when you’re too cheap and too clueless to hire seperate people for marketing and community.” But hey! Sulic’s off to a great start, explaining to Schild:

I think I know what you’re talking about now. I’ve been reading up on recent press and some news aggregates have picked up this story. Maybe I can help clear things up a bit?

Or, in other words, “we were going to ignore this but now actual news sites are talking about it, so we have to appear as though we’re doing something!” I’m not sure if that’s the Mar or the Com of Marcom talking, but there’s definitely talking happening now, with Cryptic people flooding into the F13 forums to make absolutely sure that Unsub (the user who whistleblew the whole story) absolutely positively no really has his Champions Online beta access back. I’m pretty sure that’s the Com of Marcom. Because the Mar of Marcom managed to get this closing tag for the actual-news-site-talking-about-this:

It’s refreshing to a see a gaming company not only own up to its mistakes but to publicly apologize for them, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it would. In fact, I’d like to see that public apology. Note to Wired: There wasn’t one. Edgy “aw shucks, we didn’t mean to do anything BAD!” wisecracks don’t really count. Although there was a mistake owned up to in the Marcom Minitrue Pressrelease:

So, we’re currently running the closed beta test for Champions Online and a few of our employees thought it might be a good idea to contact avid MMO notables and various guild leaders floating about to see if they wanted to test. I’m certain this wasn’t meant to be a malicious attack on a competing product, nor did anyone intend to steal players, violate user agreements, kill babies, or knife hardworking farmers in the back. We had invites to send and the folks who send them figured people who play MMOs most might want them most. If a line was crossed, it was totally inadvertent and no harm was intended.

In case you’re keeping track, that admission is dead center in the middle of the paragraph, as part of a distant “well, from a distance, I don’t think any of this happened, as a disinterested observer” passive voice. Well played, Marcom, well played! Reading is hard, and it takes effort to stay with it all the way through the non sequitors about knifing agricultural workers and protestations of innocence. Note to Wired Deux: Protestations of innocence generally tend to nullify public apologies. “I’m really sorry BUT I DIDN’T REALLY DO ANYTHING WRONG” only works when you’re an AIG executive being asked gently to return bonuses.

I wonder if AIG has a Marcom department.

EDIT 7:30PM Central: Note FROM Wired: They agreed that upon reflection it wasn’t much of an apology to speak of.

As this gets traction elsewhere on the Intertubes (including links here since I’m apparently one of the more mouthy of the MMOGerati), I’d just like to make a few final points:

– I was at one time an employee of NCsoft, and although I didn’t work directly with the NCNC/City of Heroes team we often sent each other mash notes. No, really, it was kind of pathetic. “I love your website! I read it every day!” “I love City of Villains! I have a little Kim Jong Il mastermind!” So, I’m not entirely unbiased (which you should always assume of me) (and, really, which you should always assume of everyone) in this matter. (Although I’m pretty sure I’m not high on NCsoft’s Christmas card list any more, either.)

– I would point out that in the grand scheme of things, Cryptic using the official message boards to recruit beta testers is a bit of a smaller sin than letting your publisher handle your being sued by Marvel, and then once the lawsuit ends promptly turning around and signing a deal with that same Marvel, minus the publisher. Legal? Sure! Ethical? Hm.

Tell Me, Tell Me, How To Be A Gazillionaire

MMO publishers have been fairly static for the past decade or so: EA, SOE, NCsoft, a few other forays from Asia and the occasional indy (that more often than not promptly gets borged by one of the above).

But wait! A challenger appears!

Gazillion sure knows how to make a splash. The MMO (massively multi-player online game) publisher has been operating in stealth mode for three years, putting together a collection of development studios and signing one of the biggest video game licensing deals in recent memory: A 10 year pact with Marvel giving it exclusive rights to make MMOs based on every single character in the comic book publisher’s library.

This would be, you know, as opposed to the ten year exclusive deal Marvel signed with Vivendi. In 2002. Or the deal signed with Microsoft to develop Marvel Online with Cryptic for the Xbox 360. In 2005. Clearly, this time it will be different. Why? Because in case the Marvel Universe deal falls through (not that it’s concievable that could ever happen), Gazillion also now owns NetDevil, thus giving them Lego Universe and Jumpgate: Evolution, and Slipgate Ironworks, thus giving them John Romero. Failure: not an option.

World of Warcraft May Be Losing Millions Of Subscribers

And protectionism is to blame.

The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) intends to tighten approval criteria for online game imports in an effort to protect the development of domestic online game enterprises and avoid the excessive penetration of foreign culture among Chinese youth, reports Sohu quoting GAPP Technology and Digital Publishing Bureau Director Kou Xiaowei on March 16. GAPP will move from inspection standards that treat domestic and foreign games equally to become more strict when dealing with influential games such as The9’s (Nasdaq:NCTY) licensed MMORPG World of Warcraft, said Kou.

If you can’t beat them… get the government to beat them.

Note that this will mainly impact The9 (which has said they face bankruptcy if the state shenanigans continue to shenanigate). Blizzard themselves already has something of a contingency plan: another Chinese distributor, SoftWorld, in Taiwan, outside the reach of the “protection of Chinese culture” of the People’s Republic. The9 has already seen significant losses to the Taiwan version of WoW, which unlike The9 already has Wrath of the Lich King ready to go. And the fact that The9 is partially owned by a familiar company may indicate shenanigans of an entirely different sort.

A Brief Comment Contained Within An Image

Sci-Fi Channel Has A New Name – Now It’s Syfy

“We couldn’t own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,” said Bonnie Hammer, the former president of Sci Fi who became the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions. “But we can own Syfy.”

Another benefit of the new name is that it is not “throwing the baby away with the bath water,” she added, because it is similar enough to the Sci Fi brand to convey continuity to “the fan-boys and -girls who love the genre.”

The principal reason the idea kept coming up, Mr. Howe said, was a belief “the Sci Fi name is limiting.”

“If you ask people their default perceptions of Sci Fi, they list space, aliens and the future,” he added. “That didn’t capture the full landscape of fantasy entertainment: the paranormal, the supernatural, action and adventure, superheroes.”

Sci Fi Channel Aims To Shed Geeky Image With New Name

“When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said. “It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.”


SOE Adds RMT To Vanguard, Vision In A Corner Weeping Softly

SOE continued its adding RMT components to its games last week with the addition of LiveGamer support to Vanguard.

Notably, unlike Everquest 2 where Station Exchange (now operated by LiveGamer) was limited to a few new servers, Vanguard players were told that it was being added to the entire game. This is similar to the Station Cash item shop which was added to all Everquest and Everquest 2 servers last year; the differences being while StationCash is an “item mall” where SOE sells low-impact items such as decorative clothing and XP boost potions, Live Gamer is a player-to-player items-for-cash arbitrage. It was pitched as ‘voluntary’ since, you know, no one is actually forcing you to buy anything!

The ensuing discussion was somewhat heated. An SOE-penned FAQ which resulted from the thread had probably the clearest defense of corporate-sponsored RMT ever put to virtual print:

As several people have pointed out in the discussion thread, Real Money Transactions between individuals and 3rd party sites have been happening since the early days of MMOs.  What you may not know is that there are significant costs to game companies that result from homegrown transactions or unsanctioned 3rd party web site sales in our games.  Personal trades go bad (fraud) and 3rd party sites scam people and strip accounts, it’s a fact that SOE Customer Service been dealing with here since day 1 of EverQuest.

What happens when unsanctioned transactions like these go south?  Customers petition for help and sometimes it can take hours for a GM to research and get everything back to the way it was.  By providing a safe, secure, and sanctioned way for these types of transactions to take place for those that wish to participate, SOE is reducing CS costs while providing a little more to the bottom line.

So there you have it, RMT is here because you people keep doing it, so you might as well get it all sanctioned-like and save us some time.

The irony, of course, is that Vanguard, before its launch, positioned itself as the haven of the EQ hard core, standing bravely athwart the ramparts of history, watching the waves of easier gameplay and gold farmers break across the bow. In fact, IGE (back when they were the Bad Guys And Still Somewhat Relevant To The Discussion) actually funded buyouts of Vanguard player-run sites as a pre-emptive strike against… well, it’s not really clear what, any more.

Warcraft Killed The Community Star

Rich Weil on why community seems to be the same ol’ okey doke after a decade:

Community relations is not a new phenomenon, it is merely young in the games industry. A kind of professional isolationism exists here that puts any kind of independent existence of OCR entities in peril. Quite honestly, for the reasons I’ve previously listed, there is almost no reason that all our functions could not be directly integrated into marketing, PR or any larger communications structure.

Sanya Weathers doesn’t want to agree, but does anyway:

Even the White House values the synthesis a good community specialist brings to the table. But in games, after a decade of hard work, a community weenie is someone you call when you realize your president should probably stop posting on message boards.

My take on it is pretty simple. World of Warcraft is showing that, once you reach a certain mass? Community management doesn’t particularly have a great effect on your game’s success.


Can you identify the name of the head of World of Warcraft’s community management team? No? I couldn’t either. The ones visible to the customer base – “Eyonix“, “Nethaera“, etc – are front-line CMs who are visible by dint of posting on WoW’s forums,  but do you know who heads the department? You know, the community manager for the most popular MMO on the planet, the man or woman who signs off on what’s communicated to WoW’s millions of players? Who talks down Mike Morhaine after he drinks a full quart of chocolate milk and decides to post on the Yahoo ATVI board at 3:42 AM?  It’d be a fairly visible post, I’d think. It is, after all, a very large community!

Well… I got nothing, either.

So I checked the credits. As best as I can tell, the head of World of Warcraft’s community team is Paul Della Bitta. Who also runs the WoW eSports initiative. I guess at Blizzard, community management doesn’t keep you busy all day.

And sorry, Rich, that’s why community is the same ol’ okey doke after a decade. Because everyone is looking at Blizzard for the template of how to print money. And Blizzard shows that once you get to the executive suite, community management isn’t really a full time job. Because, you all know, all you have to do is put up twelve billion forums and walk off, until your designers get bored and decide to play community manager. And it’s all good, because as long as the core game itself is fun, the community will just deal with it.

Necromonger Delenda Est

Vin Diesel (yes… that Vin Diesel) talks to Destructoid about his gaming studio’s secret project, Barca B.C., where you can… uh…

“The reason why it’s my dream game is because it is an MMO and — remember you said funds were not an issue in this scenario, this is obviously a hugely expensive game — but, it’s a massively multiplayer online game where you create an avatar that lives in the reality of Hannibal Barca, the Punic Wars and life 200 B.C,”

OK, no one is allowed to mock any of the ideas I come up with for MMOs ever again.

“When we talk about dream case scenarios, man, I would love to play as a Carthaginian soldier 200 years before Christ. Sailing around the Mediterranean, that’d be pretty damn cool. If you could add some historical elements to it, the better.”

(and, uh, that sounds really freakin’ cool.)