EA FROM THE INSIDE II [Author: Lum the Mad]

Jinx from the Chosen has some bad news for some members of the current Earth and Beyond team — they’re being elbowed aside to make room for “more qualified” ex-UO2 developers. As quoted from the email scanned and available online (page 1 and 2):

This is an overstaffed list and we would pair [sic] down the headcount as necessary by releasing weaker/junior people currently on the team.

You mean EA is showing a lack of loyalty to its employees? Whoulda thunk it.

Of course, this memo optimistically assumes that said qualified UO2 people are chomping at the bit to come work for another division of EA. Word from folks I’ve talked to: not bloody likely.

UH… OKAY… THAT’S SPECIAL [Author: Lum the Mad]

Verant started updating their “In Development” page again, and they snuck in a doozy…

Evaluation of High Level Epic Encounters on Hold: We’re holding off any re-evaluation of high level epic encounters in Velious until after integration of server-side filtering. This is due to the potential effect of the change, as it may raise the soft-cap on the number of people you can bring on a raid. Before, it was widely held to be true that bringing more than 30 or 40 people would result in many linkdeaths. Following the change, the next out-of-game softcap is the ability to maintain framerate. We are not opposed to the idea of having encounters that take over 100 people to overcome, we just want to be sure that if that’s what’s necessary, the technology supports it.

I’m sorry, maybe I’m just not smoking enough crack lately, but this is just completely bugfuck insane to me. Please, someone, anyone explain to me what reward is justified by mobilizing over one hundred high level players for one encounter. Frankly, if I have to mobilize every uberguild on my server, which would be what it would take to get the numbers Anonymous EQ Designer On Crack is talking about, just to kill Foozle the Smelly, frankly, the only reward that justifies that level of organization, power, and accomplishment is a fucking Reset The Entire Goddam Server sword that procs Delete Every Fucking EQ Account as an effect. THAT might be worth it. Nothing else. And knowing Verant, it probably will mean you get FoH, Afterlife, Drow, Da’Kor, and who knows who else, just to loot a Rusty Broadsword, a Cloth Tunic, and 3 silver pieces.

Because, you know, the journey is the reward. It’s not about loot, right? It’s about the gameplay, the experience! Yeah, that’s why everyone floods into the planes, deals with massive linkdeath (which hopefully this patch fixed — jury’s out on that) and player death not for loot! It’s so they can see what creative things Verant did with the same models you’ve seen the previous 59 levels!

I’m not bitter. Nope. I’m just wondering where the hell I’m going to ever find 99 other warm bodies to line up and die so I can get +5 STR on my Bracer of Cat Ass.

EA.COM FROM THE INSIDE [Author: Lum the Mad]

I worked for EA.com for a short time after EA bought Kesmai. Before that I worked for Kesmai for over a year. I wish I could say these layoffs caught me by surprise, but they didn’t. I even feel a little guilty, because I recommended EA to some folks I knew and more than one ended up at EA.com alongside me. Some of those folks got cut in the recent layoffs, and to them I offer my apologies. I knew you would be worth keeping around if the worst happened, but EA apparently did not.

I wanted to write this to give some background on the tortuous road to being borged by the EA beast that Kesmai took, and offer a little insight into why EA is where it is today, on the other side of a job cut that didn’t have to happen.

Back in June 1999, Kesmai stood at a crossroads. We had GameStorm, which had been limping along and not quite generating profits. We were a wholly-owned subsidiary of NewsCorp, with headcount pressures that meant many contractors were employees-in-fact, simply to cut the Gordian knot of NewsCorp’s refusal to authorize additional headcount even in the face of a staffing crisis. What Kesmai CEO Chris Holden decided to do was stop the cost-containment mindset and bet the farm. He wanted NewsCorp to spin Kesmai back off into its own company, mostly backed by outside investors, to put together the game service to end all game services, that would finally make Kesmai a well-known name, not just among gamers but among all Internet users.

We set to work on the Banzai reengineering project, involving the entire company, from top to bottom. At the end of three weeks, we had a thick document detailing from the ground up just what the service would do and what it would use. It was all there — peer-to-peer games, message boards, IMs, client-server games, shopping, trading… Next we had two tasks: find investors and start proving that we really had the expertise to pull this off.

The original all-hands meeting was a turning point: Holden said (in so many words), “I want everybody to get behind this 100%. If you can’t… there’s the door.” Succeeding meetings started to take a gradually quieter and yet more desperate tone. After several months, no investors we’d courted had stepped up to the plate. We were doing a lot of prep-work but still had nothing concrete. Then one day in November, we got the word that there was an all-hands meeting that morning. At that meeting it was announced that we were being acquired by EA, to be spun off into a new company called EA.com. The room got quiet. This wasn’t The Plan. What happened?

Apparently EA was one of the companies courted by the executive team to invest in us. EA made a counter-offer: we’ll buy you outright and fund this Banzai plan of yours, and we’ll use our clout to get you deals you can’t get starting from scratch on your own. EA also really wanted some of the technology Kesmai was developing, and were willing to buy them for that reason alone.

The new unit, EA.com, was duly formed, funded in the minority by NewsCorp and AOL (who had somewhat more of a stake in the business, since EA.com was to become the new AOL Games Channel), and majority-funded by EA. Employees were promised stock options (which, it later turned out, were to be options in a new class-B tracking stock, *not* ERTS, or even class-A stock in a new company).

It was at this time that word came down that EA was going to evaluate all the games on GameStorm and AOL and, as much as contracts allowed, cull the “unsuccessful” ones. This brings me to a point about EA: EA management does not think long-term. The phenomenal commercial success of UO is the only reason it’s still around — EA has no room in their plans for a nice loss-leader game to draw people in, or even for long-term development on a really killer game.

Have we seen this in the recent brouhaha? Yes. For example, Air Warrior was killed. Air Warrior, the flight sim that WWII pilots lavished praise on, the next version of which had rendering so high-res realistic that an editor of a game magazine calendar initially rejected the Air Warrior entry because “You can’t submit pre-rendered posed shots — they have to be in-game screenshots.” And was stunned when he was told “They are.”

Back to the startup phase of EA.com. Staffing was a problem. EAHQ was in Redwood Shores, CA, and EAVA was in Charlottesville (this was partly alleviated when Anjelina Halstead was sent to EAVA to be the on-site HR coordinator). Site space was a problem — in June 2000 we ended up moving into a cubicle farm in a bank building south of town, with all the attendant headaches of both moving and cubicles.

Then the site “launched”, not with a bang, but a whimper. Part of the trouble was that EA.com had a cobbled-together feel. Parts of the game technology, like GILS (Game Install and Launch System), just didn’t work right all the time, and there wasn’t really a “GILS team” like there were game development teams, so a lot of issues simply went unresolved. Then there was the sudden dumping of support content for all EA games into EA.com, which put a huge burden on game producers and support leads (not least because much of the information was out of date). Site specs and even game formats (Java vs. Shockwave) changed on a daily basis.

The biggest headache by far, apparently, was that Andersen Consulting had been called in to help spec and implement infrastructure. I heard more than one person griping about the AC consultants being less than adept, and I have it on good authority from friends in the IT industry that AC has a well-earned reputation for being clueless. Anybody with clue jumps ship from AC as soon as they can.

We also suffered from what I can only describe as total incompetence on the part of EA marketing. In the entire time since EA.com was formed, I have never heard or seen a single EA.com television, radio, or print ad, and I should have been deluged with them. Maybe they’re running things in the gaming press, but I wouldn’t know, because I don’t read hardcore-gamer magazines — and (news flash, EA!) neither does most of the online-game-playing public. Being the AOL games channel doesn’t mean people will magically hear about all the cool stuff you have by osmosis.

The end result was, for various reasons, the site was posting something like 10% of the targeted metrics.

I said earlier that these layoffs didn’t have to happen. Here’s what EA should have done to avoid this:

1) Ship it when it’s done. WHEN IT’S DONE. Not when Marketing says it’s the right time to ship to catch the Christmas-season wave. Not when you get the 400th plaintive letter from a fan asking when the game will finally be done. Kesmai had a “when it’s done” policy and, by and large, Kesmai’s in-house games were solid products. Everybody who played on GameStorm will remember the contrast between games like, say, Air Warrior and Legends of Kesmai, developed in-house, and schlock like Aliens Online and Godzilla developed by schlock-meisters Mythic Entertainment.

2) Be Prepared. It’s the Boy Scout motto, and it’s just as true in

business. EA was unprepared to deal with taking a company of a little over 100 people and growing it to 300 in a period of months. They had to scramble to find space and resources to support all those employees. They had trouble converting some of the contractors to employees. Then they found out they were unprepared to carry those employees long-term in the face of stiff competition.

EA was also unprepared for the tanking of the banner-ad market. A *lot* of the revenue projections were dependent on banner-ad income. The moral there is, make sure you can cover your bets.

3) Think long-term. Air Warrior 4 had years of steady development behind it. UO2 got all the attention with its cancellation, but Air Warrior 4 was probably closer to shipping and could have recouped its costs in a shorter time with the right long-term support. But as I said before, with EA you either make a big splash or you sink without a trace. This is fine for a box-game company, where all you have to do is tell people to go to the store and buy it, but for an online subscription service it’s a terrible way to run a business.

4) Don’t set unrealistic short-term goals. This sort of grows directly out of point 3. Morale at Kesmai tanked over GameStorm when it didn’t “make the numbers”. Morale at EA did the same thing when EA.com finally coughed and wheezed its way onto the stage. In both cases what got overlooked was that the service had steady incremental growth. In both cases there were high expectations with little broad-spectrum marketing support to make them happen — both management teams paid lip-service to the idea of appealing to the “casual gamer”, but they didn’t do a good job getting the message out to that market segment. Ask 100 people on the street what EA.com is if you don’t believe me.

5) Keep your commitment to your employees. The greatest damage that’s been done to EA with these layoffs is to its reputation. We know now that it really *is* all about bucks at EA, and that all the spewing about the challenge of building a successful company and how the company will help you grow is just happy blather. When it comes down to the profit-or-loss line on the 10Q, employees take a backseat and become mere assets, to be purchased or liquidated at will.

In my opinion this last is the most damaging of all. The hardcore gaming community was stunned that EA took such a hard fall last week. A lot of EA employees will probably be polishing up their resumes, and a lot more folks will probably be giving second thoughts to submitting theirs. Because who knows? You might have a job there today, but next time EA decides to spend some cash gobbling up their competition, it could be your salary and benefits they’re rebudgeting.

It’s their right to spend their money how they want, but I think this

decision was penny-wise, pound-foolish. And there’s no going back — you can’t go to the employees you let go and say “oops, uh, we made a mistake, you’re really *not* fired, it was all just an accounting error.” If they needed huge amounts of extra labor to spin up the service, fine — but that’s why you hire contractors. They’re there specifically to work short-term contracts and move on. Hire a bunch of contractors on a six-month plan, with an option to renew month-to-month after that. Then you have no guilt, no bad reputation, and no morale hit when employees’ friends get dropped like pebbles from a rolling boulder.

So, to EA, I’m sad to see people I knew treated like chattels and dumped when it became convenient to do so. I’m sorry you didn’t recognize the value of these folks. But I’m not sorry to see you get rightfully slammed by your fans for what you’ve done.

WOW, THE NET HAS ALL KINDS OF NEW FEATURES [Author: Lum the Mad]

With the total collapse of the New Economy making ad banners completely obsolete, paradigms have shifted. Now the point of your website is to get as few hits as possible. It’s sort of Zen, much like waking up from a long sleep and realizing all these years, you’ve been voting for Dick Gephardt.

At any rate, this is just to note that if you look over there –> to the side, you’ll see links to new mailing lists. Sign up, get every LtM update in your mailbox, in handy userfriendly text or mailbox-choking HTML formats. YOUR CHOICE.

Brought to you by Lum the Mad, proud to say that we have no clue how we’re going to survive The Big Shakeout.

NEWS FROM A PROJECT *NOT* RAZED BY ELECTRONIC ARTS (AT PRESS TIME) [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

MAKING THE UPGRADE

UO: Third Dawn Upgrade Site Open

The Ultima Online: Third Dawn upgrade offer site is now open at

http://www.uo.com/upgrade.html. This promotion will last for 60 days, during which current UO customers with active accounts will be able to order this special upgrade for a price of $9.95 plus shipping and handling. The promotional upgrade version of Ultima Online: Third Dawn includes the final gold-mastered version of Third Dawn,the new retail version map of Britannia, the Lost Lands, and Ilshenar, and while supplies last – as a special bonus – we’ll include a collector’s edition cloth map of Britannia and the Lost Lands. This upgrade CD does not include a registration code and therefore cannot be used to create a new

account nor qualify for new account free game time.

Stop by and order your copy today!

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

In other UO news, players on the Ariang shard are experiencing a little bit of panic as reports slowly roll in about some sort of trans-facet shard mutation in which trammel houses and felluca houses are swapping sides, and in some cases, ownership. The Official Word from OSI is, “we know, ok?” The Official Word from Ariang Players is “OMIGOD.OMIGOD.OMIGOD”. More on this as we learn more.

STOOL STEAL STILL?

Could it be the return of our most beloved and adored bug – decaying lockdowns? You decide.

SO LET THEM BE BROKEN [Author: Mako]

Temptation is king, online or offline. People believe in a sense of personal honor and integrity in real life, sure. You’re not faceless in real life. Your victims aren’t invisible in real life. On the other hand, we all know the spontaneous shift to pointlessly violent ‘griefer’ behavior otherwise normal people make when they travel to our lovely MMOGs. Housewives become virtual serial killers. Grown men become cheating ferretlike whiners. Teenagers become computer criminals–all just for that extra lewt. The solution? Don’t even give them the chance.

We’ve all heard this routine before as far as bugs are concerned: “Bugs are bad, mmkay? Fix those bugs, you naughty developers. I mean, our game doesn’t even have bugs!”… yeah, right. But I’m talking about things on a more everyday level of the game: common grief. Part of the paradox of boorish behavior online is that people act that way just for kicks. Back in the dread lord days of UO, if looting was suddenly completely removed, would the killing have stopped? Of course not. PiMpHiTlEr still laughs as Dre’lin Nor’samm’th is fourzors hally hitzed off the face of the earth, leaving only a neatly folded deathrobe and a hotel mint behind. If he knew poor Dre’lin cancelled his account right afterwards, he’d be laughing even harder. It’s a power trip.

Power over other players, status, fame… These are the arbitrary unmeasurable goals that seem to baffle the designers of yore. Players are punished for wanting these things. “That is bad. That is the wrong way to act.” Players are resented for doing what comes naturally to them. Why not encourage this behavior in its proper place?

People will always griefplay. That’s an unfortunate fact of life. But if you can find a way to reward the players with those difficult-to-grasp arbitrary rewards automatically and gradually over time, you have the ultimate time sink on your hands. Here’s an example:

Bay Rum Online opens its doors to the players after months of hype and tens of thousands of preorders. When the players enter the game, they find a special tournament system in place. The person who can break full barrels of Bay Rum over his arena-opponents’ heads most effectively gets a chit. The competitions are hourly. As players rack up more and more chits (while going off and doing things that actually matter in the game, like gaining experience and equipment), they discover that getting large numbers of chits slowly turns your name fluorescent green. Players flock to get green names, but there are a limited number of tournaments per day and the competition is fierce. Plenty of people get a little tint, but only the truly elite have the actual green color. The top five people per shard get green fireworks shooting from their name every time it’s displayed, and the top members of each shard participate in an open arena shard monthly (which anyone can log into and watch) to fight for gamewide fame, their character’s picture and name posted on the front of the game’s web site. After the official competition ends, pickup games continue on the special shard for a few hours with average joes getting a chance to fight the most elite players.

What is this? It’s a game inside of a game. Level treadmills will end, loot will be discovered, content and storylines will be published to the fansite networks. Plus, if you make the smaller game automated and fun, you can have a continuing community going on for the extreme long-term. The point is that fighting a computer gets boring and exploring a continent gets boring. No AI yet programmed and no content yet generated by human hands has the replay value of battling other players. Four stars if you can manage to make the competitions matter, but there’s nothing wrong with a little Quakelike competition, especially if victories in the Quakelike competition have appearance-only changes in the real game itself (cool-looking equipment modifications, name color changes, titles, etc.)

The point is that it’s years later and people are still playing Quake. Only on multiplayer, though.

“BUT DUDE! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! *THE HEAD LOOKS LIKE ASS!*” [Author: Lum the Mad]

Massive Multiplayer.Org has an interview with this month’s punching bag, Thomas J. Scott, auteur of almost-possibly-a-real-game-someday Caeron 3000.

I was pretty naive about Lum the Mad, not having visited it before, and didn’t really know what it was all about. Once it was clear that I was dealing with a clan of immature people with no life other than to slam games, I realized the futility of attempting intelligent conversation.

Or, to quote the wisest man in the Universe, Homer Simpson:

Bad bees! Get away from my sugar! Ow! Ow! Oh, they’re defending themselves somehow!

REMEMBRANCES FROM THOSE PAST [Author: Lum the Mad]

I find it amazingly ironic that on the one year anniversary of my least favorite day in Origin history they have come up with my new least favorite day in Origin history.

It’s crazy. It’s sad. Somewhere, in somebody’s head, it’s a sound business decision, and I can understand that. Really. I understand business. But that was my family, dammit.

I suppose I’ve been a bit bitter. Certainly a bit reclusive, although it was unfair to disappear for so long after so many people were so supportive — both before and after I got laid off. But a year of personal crises can take a lot out of you. That’s not the point. I still loved Origin. I grew up with that place. People that lost their jobs last week were my friends. And trust me — I know how it feels.

I think I took the news harder than anyone else I knew — aside from those actually hit by the big axe, of course. This company has sweated and strained and grown together on one of the stormiest seas that this industry has ever seen. Aside from the pure financial and corporate realities, there’s a certain personal side that most people will never see. Origin was a place that I considered my own even long after they pushed me out of the nest. Now that place will never again exist as it did for most of my lifetime. The company will be missed. The people will be missed. Most importantly, the spirit that was the epitome of the game industry — the icon for every young kid out there who dreamed of making it in a land where worlds were

truly created — and the place that I realized that it truly was possible to love what you do — has now gone to an early grave.

It is a loss that everyone — employee and player, and even OSI’s competitors in the field — will feel. Origin will be missed. Across this industry, they have a vast family of those who entered their hallowed halls and then moved on to other places. I think that many of us still have a special place in our hearts reserved for OSI. I know that I do.

Anyhow, so much for the maudlin crap. The point: Lum, if you would be so kind as to post my e-mail addy (thefiredog@earthlink.net) on your page somewhere, or at least point me in the direction of the right place for me to shamelessly use your connections to our crumbling universe to get back in touch with all of the brotherhood, I’d love to get a chance to catch up with all of the people I’ve lost track of in the last year — on both sides of the game.

And I’m not gone for good.

Heck no.

You just wait.

Rob “Firedog” Irving

DESIGNING PAST UBER: CORE DEMOGRAPHIC ENCOUNTERS [Author: Lum the Mad]

Taken from <a href=”

http://boards.station.sony.com/everquest/Forum2/HTML/070432.html”>these posts:

1) The “average” playstyle, as per Verant’s own statements and as per the mechanics of the game, is the 4-6 person group with 2-3 hours to play.

2) This would make the “core demographic encounter” the 6-person group with 2-3 hours to play. This doesn’t necessarily relate to how MOST people SPECIFICALLY play the game; it is a “best model” based upon current, relevant information about how most people are actually playing Everquest. It is the most reasonable generalization based upon current facts.

3) The core demographic encounter is what Everquest should be structured around. What this means is NOT that ****every single thing in the game*** can be done by this CDE (core demographic encounter), but that there isn’t anything IN the game that any other playstyle can achieve that is exclusively superior to that which the CDE can achieve.

4) The ramification of this is that nothing is designed as reward in the game that cannot, at least over time and repeated effort, be achieved by the CDE. Verant may be able to design content that allows UBERS to achieve such reward quicker via more challenging tasks; and it might be able to design content that allows soloers such reward after much greater time and personal effort in the game. The central issue is that you design everything AROUND the CDE, and then extrapolate from that design if you can in order to be as inclusive as possible of the fringe groups you wish to retain as customers.

5) The REASON you design around your CDE is because this is how you best satisfy the greatest number of players. They play a certain way, have a certain amount of time to play. You design game content around that. This is only good business and common sense.

6) When creating content for fringe groups which do not match the CDE, a company should make certain that none of that content can be viewed as EXCLUSIVELY SUPERIOR to the content designed for the CDE. Why? Because it is pandering to a special interest group, and NOTHING should be done to alienate the company’s core demographic, or make their playstyle not just “second best”, but completely unable to achieve what is widely perceived as the “top content” or “end game” rewards.

I, and several others, have made many suggestions as to how diverse content could be put into the game in order to acheive at least the balance of having top reward also available via the CDE. Mini-zones, scaled content, real-time based quests, et cetera.

The idea that this would become the preferred means by which the “Ubers” would attain end-game content as well doesn’t matter. It can be coded in a way that presents as much challenge as the largest Uber-encounter, although scaled down to a 6-person group over a greater period of smaller investments of at-a-sitting time.

The argument that the ubers would “hog” all of this content as well is an ad-hoc, specious point .. they have all of that content NOW and it is utterly unavailable for even an ATTEMPT by the CDE. The only difference would be that at least more people have the POSSIBILITY of attaining that content. I have also put forth ideas that prevent such “hogging” of content.

I’m sure the talented programmers at Verant could CERTAINLY come up with a variety of mini-zone, scaled, or real-time based quests and finely tuned encounters limited to 6-person groups (so they can’t be trivialized by a 36-person brigade) so that their core demographic has a means by which they can accomplish the entire breadth of the game. Sure, the Ubers might attain it faster, and with greater ease and by taking on encounters that they the CDE will never be able to do. Maybe one Trak encounter drops the equivalent of a month and a half of CDE mini-zone quest encounters with finely tuned, very difficult challenges that are limited to ONLY a single group being able to attempt it.

Any reasonable person can see that this is a fair, logical system. If you want to keep your core demographic happy, you simply CANNOT offer exclusive, superior reward to a fringe group such as the ubers when everyone is paying the exact same amount. If a fringe group paid more for the service, then perhaps Verant would have a logical argument to support the idea that that particular segment of the player base deserves exclusive, superior reward, as well as an extra investment of coding resources TO design them exclusive content. If that fringe group even represented the vast majority of the playerbase, then perhaps this current system could be justified. However unless a certain group pays more, or represents the EXTREME majority of your player base, there simply is NO reasonable justification for offering them exclusive, superior game reward and untoward investments of coding resource.

It is, of course, fair and reasonable that the uber encounter would drop more, and more often. It is reasonable that an Uber-encounter should maximize the speed at which certain goals or rewards are attained in the game. However, it simiply is not reasonable, or logical, by any rationale, nor has any compelling argument been posited, that an Uber encounter **NEEDS** to provide exclusive, superior reward. This, specifically, has not even addressed by those attempting to counter this argument. Why does an Uber encounter ***NEED*** to provide reward that is both EXCLUSIVE and SUPERIOR to anything the CDE can obtain? Why not just more, faster, and with greater certainty?

Why indeed. And if Verant isn’t learning this lesson, evidence is coming in that others are…