May 2009

By Request, This Week’s Darkfall Post!

Eurogamer reviews Darkfall, gives it a 2/10.

While playing for a few hours of reasonably solid combat only netted me a few increases in sword handling, a kindly fellow informed me that it would only take me “about six or eight hours to get good”. On further questioning, this was revealed to mean “keep banging your head against the same goblins until you can reliably hit something bigger”.

And so hit those bloody things I did, not enjoying one second of it.

Tasos Flambouras reviews Eurogamer, gives it a -15/2.

When we read the hostile review by Ed Zitron, one thing became apparent: he had not played the game at all. Eurogamer readers and Darkfall players are posting bullet lists of factual errors in the story. The reviewer hadn’t even figured out the very basics of the game before he wrote about it. We checked the logs for the 2 accounts we gave Eurogamer and we found that one of them had around 3 minutes playtime, and the other had less than 2 hours spread out in 13 sessions. Most of these 2 hours were spent in the character creator since during almost every one of the logins the reviewer spent the time creating a new character. The rest of the time was apparently spent taking the low-res screenshots that accompanied the article. At no point did this reviewer spend more than a few minutes online at a time.

Darkfall is the largest MMORPG game of its kind and this guy spent a few minutes playing(?) before he tore it apart. How can someone do that responsibly? Ed Zitron didn’t even give Darkfall a chance.

Eurogamer reviews Tasos Flambouras, gives him a 13/20 .

The reviewer in question, Ed Zitron, disputes the server logs that Aventurine presents as fact. According to the logs they supplied, Ed played the game for just over three hours. Ed says the logs miss out two crucial days and understate others, which suggests they are incomplete, and he insists he played the game for at least nine hours.

That said, the passion with which Aventurine has attacked Ed’s review is considerable, and the allegations obviously go a long way beyond arguing the toss. With this in mind, it seems only fair to take another look at Darkfall to supplement the review we’ve already published.

I’ve already contacted another one of our PC writers, Kieron Gillen, who has agreed to review Darkfall. Kieron is a vastly experienced, award-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I’ll publish his review as soon as it’s ready, and we will see whether he agrees with Ed or not.

Lum reviews Darkfall, gives it a 0/10 since despite, according to Tasos, it being “the largest MMORPG game of its kind”, it’s not technically, you know, actually for sale.

Second Life Played More Than World Of Warcraft… No! Really! Sex May Be Involved. Oh Wait, We’ll Take Care Of That.

Wagner James Au weighs in with the news: according to Nielsen, Second Life pwns World of Warcraft, biyotch.

Based on audience surveys regarding a hundred non-casual, pre-installed PC games, Second Life is the most played of all, registering average playtimes of 760 minutes a week per user, nearly a hundred more than World of Warcraft, and second in total player popularity only to WoW.

No, really, there is numbers and everything:

You will also note that Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, a three-year-old middling-selling fantasy kick-em-up is more popular than Half-Life 2. You know, the engine for Counterstrike. You know, one of the most popular online games of all time. Yeah, that one. Clearly, everything you know about online gaming is wrong!

Or, more accurately, metrics are a dark art that can be easily abused, misreported (note the double entry for Civilization 4, which would place it as the second most popular game in the survey if properly collated) and gamed. Luckily, in this case, Linden Lab has always been fairly open with SL metrics and they have been tracked historically by third parties. With a peak concurrency of 75,000-80,000 users and an estimated 1.5 million active users (Mitch Wagner of Information Week quotes Linden Lab’s CEO as giving a figure of 600,000 for the latter), Second Life is pretty solidly in the top tier of Western MMOs in terms of popularity, but an order of magnitude less popular than World of Warcraft, or other free-to-play MMOs (which Second Life is properly classified as) for that matter (the ever-ignored Runescape has close to 8 million users).

But popularity figures are just that – a beauty contest. What matters is if a given virtual world/online game is profitable (well, to its publishers, anyway. What matters to its users is whether or not it’s fun, which is outside the scope of this discussion, though no doubt will be the subject of “SL is nothing but furries and phalluses” comments following this post!) And Second Life is profitable, largely because its profit isn’t dependent on maintaining the insane publicity bubble that Linden Lab managed to ride a year ago. There may be fewer articles in Time about helpful mentors giving Joel Stein a penis, but the users that remain are quite willing to give each other money – lots of money, over $350 million last year. Linden doesn’t see all of that, of course, or even most of it, but they do collect an arbitrage fees off of virtual currency conversion as well as fairly hefty server rental fees to store owners and power users. Lack of popularity isn’t going to hurt them.

Lack of community management, on the other hand, might. If you log into Second Life this month, what you’ll hear people talking about is “Adult Content”. Which is surprising if you consider both Second Life’s reputation as the Internet’s red light district and the fact that Second Life, um, is already rated 18+ only already. Yet in March, Linden announced an upcoming segregation of “adult content” (translation: everything you think goes on in SL) into its own virtual continent, called Ursula, or as named by some resident wags, “Pornadelphia”. This month, a new beta version of the SL client introduced with it content filtering, such as filtering out search terms such as “Gorean”, “bondage” and “bosom” unless your account was flagged for “Adult” (which, confusingly, is a content level above the already-existing “Mature”). Many users are fairly furious over this, less over an incipient uprooting (the move to Ursula only affects “mainland users”, or users who own land on servers, or “sims” managed by Linden Lab – users that rent their own sims are unaffected by this) then the fairly explicit scarlet lettering involved in entire adult-oriented lifestyles, which while no doubt snigger-worthy to outsiders, are an entirely valid reason for, you know, wanting to participate in a virtual world that was already labelled adult-only.

What you’re not seeing in all of this is, well, any community management whatsoever. There have been a couple of blog posts which while acknowledging the controversial nature of the subject, dismissed implicitly most of the user complaints. There is little to no interaction with community personnel on the main Linden forums, and absolutely zero interaction on third-party forums (which are far more popular, especially among the users most affected by this). For being one of the more utopian and libertarian virtual worlds, Linden has had a fairly antediluvian attitude towards community management. And in this case, it is costing them a good deal of user goodwill in the process of implementing what almost any reasonable person would see as regrettably necessary restrictions on sexually explicit content. A little more honest explanation of the why (“We can’t continue to position Second Life as a venue for remote education in a complete free-for-all environment”) along with some give and take on the how would go a long way. Yet most residents, correctly, are seeing this as a diktat from on high, with little recourse for protest or even negotiation. For a world that is explicitly owned in large part by its users as part of its terms of service, that is not a very good way to run a railroad.

If it continues, maybe next month, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic will overtake Second Life in the ratings!

I Hate WoW Achievements

As the title says, I hate WoW achievements.


Because I enjoy PvP in WoW. Specifically, in battlegrounds. Yes, I’m sure that’s not hardcore enough for you leet gank groups that cut your teeth on the blood of the damned in Darkfall or blow up Titans in Eve with your tackler or whatever. I enjoy killing things, and WoW lets me do that and rewards me with points so I can buy new pants. It’s a win-win, usually.

I can’t play this week. Why? Because Blizzard’s version of Children’s Week this week has, as a quest to unlock an achievement, capping flags in several popular battlegrounds.

Note: in a given game of Warsong Gulch or Arathi Basin, not everyone caps a flag. That’s not how the game is designed. It’s designed to be played as a cooperative team endeavor. In fact, everyone can’t cap a flag because only one person can at a time. And don’t even get me started about Eye of the Storm, because (a) the flag is in one spot where you are basically turned to paste anyway and (b) I play Alliance, and Alliance are never allowed to win Eye of the Storm. It’s in the rules. But hey! Someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to make an achievement for taking your little orphan sprog out to the battlegrounds, and spent about 3 minutes writing it up. Awesome.

Which means, currently, battlegrounds in WoW currently consist of nothing but achievement hustlers, frantically trying to unlock the achievement in the one week open to them before next year so they can get their purple pulsating flying manhood compensator (the flying mount, the fastest in the game, that you get for unlocking all the event-based achievements) trying desperately to outclick other players in clicking a flag, regardless of what actually is going on around him. Or, even worse, the achievement for Warsong Gulch where you have to return a dropped flag. Which results in entire teams camped around their flag in the hope that one foolhardy opponent actually tries to play the game as intended.

This is monumentally retarded, and here’s why.

  • You don’t force people into PvP who don’t enjoy it. My god, this is basic MMO Design 101. Blizzard usually plays in the big leagues, and then goes and makes a junior varsity mistake like this that makes me wonder if the adult designers went on holiday this month. PvP is an entirely different playstyle. You incentivize it, you reward it, you don’t make it a requirement, and you especially don’t make it a requirement for achievement playstyles who are collecting achievements instead of, you know, doing PvP.
  • You don’t make single player achievements that screw over other players. I literally wonder if the designer who made this achievement ever set foot in a battleground, so disruptive is it to gameplay. This incentivizes players – who, thanks to the point above, are there even though they have no interest in the actual gameplay – to screw over their teammates and be the first to win the CLICK CLICK CLICKY contest to unlock their precious little dingy achievement unlocked window so they can stop trying to screw over their presumptive allies and go back to doing what they enjoy. This is not good design. This is not even bad design. This is incompetent design. Anything that rewards players for pissing off other players is incompetent design.

I know. It’s only for a week. At least they didn’t include my favorite BG (though it seems awfully hard to queue for lately!) I should stop being a whiny …whatever the insult is for someone who just wants to kill people and right now wants nothing more than to kill his own presumptive allies (and lest we forget – I play Alliance. I *already* have a burning, unslaked desire to kill night elves) because Blizzard decided it’d be funny to direct the locust swarm of achievement whores through the wilds of PvP.


Just in case you think I’m being a whiny baby? Here’s what noted rantsite WoW Insider had to say:



This…is not going to be a lot of fun.

School of Hard Knocks requires you to enter the four pre-Wrath battlegrounds and capture/return flags or assault nodes with your orphan out. It may sound simple, but think about the length and frustration factor of the average pugged battleground, and then think about the length and frustration factor of a pugged battleground where your own team’s sole concern is beating everyone else to an individual achievement.

This is going to work in one of two ways: either you get these achievements for being close to a captured/returned flag or a captured node, or you have to do it yourself. If it’s the former, then this achievement is suddenly a lot less nightmarish. (Editor’s note: it’s not. You have to be the one to return/cap the flag.) If it’s the latter…I really don’t know what to tell you that might help. Your best bet is to try to organize a premade (if your guild isn’t doing one already), rotate people into flag and node captures, and hope everyone sticks around long enough for everyone to get their achievements done, although this is obviously going to be a tall order by the time you hit the 40-man AV.

I’m looking forward (well, not really) to seeing a series of Warsong Gulches where no one plays offense, Arathi Basins where no one plays defense, Alterac Valleys where no one plays defense, and EOTS where the entire game is a writhing, howling mass of players clustered around the center trying to be the first to click the flag. Oh, and to make things even better, with the huge decline in arena participation and the relative ease of raiding, few players at 80 have serious resilience gear, making it easy for burst DPS on the opposing team to annihilate people in the run for a flag or node.

I return to my previous statement; nightmare.

Hey! Blizzard! Why not for next month’s event? Make an achievement that requires you to get an arena rating of 2000! That’ll be a hoot!


I hate WoW achievements. I want my game back, goddamit.

“Worst. Presentation. Ever.”

Richard Bartle recently posted the presentation slides from his IMGDC keynote.

Note: bad presenters slam their entire presentation script into each Powerpoint slide, then read droningly from each slide, word for word, as if their audience were a crowd of illiterates waiting for the shaman to explain the pretty picture pages. Bartle is not a bad presenter. Thus the slides are more a hintbook into the presentation (and somewhat amusing that way) than an actual talk transcript. Still, it’s fairly good, and he makes some good points.

  • Cloning WoW is expensive, you will probably fail, and the result isn’t very good from a design standpoint anyway
  • There’s a vast difference between user-created content (such as City of Heroes’ architect system) and user-generated ‘content’ (such as the Eve Great War) – the latter is compelling and why people come back to MMOs
  • Elder games to date kind of suck thanks to the adherence to theme park-style game design as opposed to free-from social world design
  • This happened historically in the MUD development era, which no one knows about because for decades designers have ignored everything that happened in game development before the debut of their favorite MMO (note: Bartle was probably far too polite to actually say this)
  • The fairly obvious solution (which of course, no one has actually attempted) is a hybrid/balanced game akin to early MUDs where users begin on a theme park and graduate to an Eve-style freeform/social/user generated game
  • Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls” is pretty raunchy.

All seems very obvious (note: the best presentations point out obvious truths that everyone seems hellbent on ignoring for some reason in an amusing fashion). F13 didn’t get it.

Nothing in that presentation that hasn’t been stated by any armchair developer with more than 6 months gaming experience under their belt.

Physician, heal thyself.

This seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to make EVE/Shadowbane (that’s right, I said it) look good. Oh, and an excuse to use a lot of abstract terms in different combinations.

I think i’ve suddenly realized the attraction of being an academic. You can write “from on high” about the problems inherent in a topic without feeling obligated to present detailed solutions.

He’s spent thirty plus years saying the same crap and never putting his hat in the ring even though he could go to any publisher with a proposal, assemble a team and get funding. That’s the difference between us schlubs here and him: he could actually make the game he thinks is going to change the world and get all those subs but he refuses to do so.

Today class, we’re going to go to my ivory tower, built from MUD, and I’m going to show you my gold throne where I sit when I want to watch the peasants try to make something that I so obviously perfected 30 years ago. After that I’m going to snort blow off a co-eds thigh, give a speech somewhere I really shouldn’t be since my last real game came out before the NES was even an IDEA let alone a console that was ready for worldwide release that would change the world. Afterwhich I’m going to say a bunch of really profound, obvious shit and show you a square I came up with back when such a thing may have been relevant. After that? Yea, you guessed it. I’m going to ride naked on the back of my golden eagle that I have named Fame.

Wow. Whole lotta nerd raging going on. Almost as if someone threatened to take their candy!

So, to retort: almost everyone in that thread (including the moderator, and not including the post I’m about to cite below) is full of self-indulgent whiny bullshit. As someone who has built a career on self-indulgent whiny bullshit, I feel uniquely qualified to recognize this in the wild. Let me respond to the more obvious bullet points:

  • No, Bartle hasn’t worked on WoW. Amazingly, this does not disqualify you from commenting on MMO design (note: as far as I can guess, very few WoW game designers are posting in that thread. Ghostcrawler was probably busy.)
  • Yes, most of what he said was painfully obvious. Guess what: people are still funding WoW clones. Guess it wasn’t painfully obvious enough.
  • I find it deeply ironic that the sort of game Bartle advocated in the close of his presentation is actually fairly close to what the F13 hivemind would be quite excited over! (Hint: it was called Ultima Online)
  • No, Bartle can’t just walk into a game publisher, announce in a booming, stentorian voice “I WANT TO MAKE TEH GAME” and be given a $50 million budget. If you seriously believe that is how game development works, you are actually the target audience for those “tighten up the graphics on level six” game school ads.
  • The slams on his credibility are especially amusing. You do realize he worked on the first MUD, right. You know. The first one. PATIENT ZERO. This does give you a bit of credibility. At least for those people who don’t believe game development history began with the launch date of their current favorite MMO. It doesn’t mean that he is a Design Moses that comes from the mountaintop and shoots lasers from his eyes at gilded cow idols, but it does tend to get him invited to give presentations and it does mean he has things to say during them. Funny, that.

That being said – there was one valid point missed in the clouds of eloquent butthurtery.

So his proposal is to begin with a hand-crafted, polished, broad, directed experience (WoW) and then segue into an open-ended deep sandbox with nebulous emergent content (EVE). This is justified by his belief that content creation is, well, hard, and he dismisses user-created content as a potential solution pretty much out of hand. Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that “emergent” gameplay compares favorably to hand-crafted polished content.

You hear about these really cool world-changing political shifts in EVE online, and they sound really awesome, but the vast overwhelming majority aren’t playing at that level– they’re mining, or killing pirates, or PvPing, or trading resources. And that level isn’t really about the game anyway, it was “played” on bulletin boards and IRC chat channels. The game was incidental, a justification.

I don’t play games to chat with old friends, or collect cute pets, or decorate my in-game house with crazy furniture or play wacky dress-up. I don’t want to be a miner, or a crafter, or a cog in a wheel of a giant corporation. I don’t want to have to “find the fun”. I pay the devs for that, it should be handed to me on a silver platter. I want to be the hero that saves the day, exploring dangerous new continents, every day overcoming new challenges, progressing through a well-written story. That’s what I pay for.

Now, that’s just me. Some people dig all that crap, and I have no religious objection to that. But it’s not my bag. I want to be the hero.

And that is a coherent summary of why World of Warcraft is a raging success years later, and why many developers who presumably know better are afraid to veer from that paradigm. Many – probably most, in fact – players *want* to be content consumers, not content generators. They want to log in, be entertained, and log out.

The problem here is that this means they aren’t the target market for a virtual world. They want a game. So: how do you craft a virtual world that *also* is enough of a game to keep that person and his millions of cohorts entertained?

*That* is what we should be discussing. Not the length of Bartle’s neckbeard. (Note: most of the neckbeards come from forum posters, not game designers. Really. I checked and everything.)