No, We Just Can’t Have Nice Things, Can We?

This probably isn’t going to be a popular entry with some of you. But you know what? Some things just need to be said.

So, checking my bloglines, Abalieno (the Hedda Hopper of MMOs) has some surprising and disturbing news: Jeff Freeman, a designer at SOE Austin, yanked his blog after yet another “OMG LOOK WHAT HE SAID!!1!” post on the SWG forums linked to it.

Now, it quite obviously wasn’t corporate pressure that caused this – after all, SOE folks from John Smedley on down have plenty of blogs, and Raph Koster’s is probably the most visible in the industry. No, it was a feeling I’ve often felt after many an inopportune post – the feeling that your customers are using your words as a cudgel with which to beat your coworkers.

And, let me tell you. That feeling SUCKS. Working on an MMO is (and I’m trying not to be overly dramatic here ) in some ways a lot like serving in a warship during battle. You get a lot of crazy stuff crossing your desk each day, and a lot of silly stuff, and you rage a lot at pretty much everyone within arms’ reach, but at the end of the day? You are crazily loyal to your shipmates. They’re right there with you, and you rely on them to get through each day without yet another ulcer, and they rely on you the same way. And don’t get me wrong – most of the time it’s worth every pain in the gut. I really, really like reading reactions to patch notes I helped bring about and watching people go “woah, cool”. It’s why I’m on this crazy train.

And when you wax philisophic on your personal blog, as generally as you think possible, and it’s picked up and used as a stick to beat you and your coworkers with over Incredibly Important Issue #73075 on your game’s message board? That feeling SUCKS. You let your team down. They’re taking hits now and it is YOUR FAULT.

In my time at Mythic, I’ve always had the ultimate cop-out – I don’t actually work on design. I’m a coder. I fix things. Don’t get me wrong – I can pick out a WHOLE RAFT of things our players are mad about that are directly, 100% my stupid fault (and no, I’m not going to actually TELL YOU which they are, because I still have a small shred of self-preservation active) but the game’s design issues aren’t on that list. And that’s what most game message board posters care about. (Although I still can’t get through 3 pages of the VN boards without wincing and going “oof, my bad”)

So when a designer of an MMO has a blog, he’s going to take some hits just for being a designer. And when that game makes, by any measure whatever, some radical and controversial decisions about its future, that designer is going to be second- third- and fourth- guessed by players who want someone to string up and lynch for My World Gone Awry.

And you know what? Lynching isn’t in anyone’s job description. Not even the community people – after a certain point the abuse goes past a point that even they’re paid to put up with. So, without exchanging a single word with Jeff in… well… ever, I can totally understand where he’s coming from. He doesn’t want to be the stick that’s used to beat his team with.

And this is really unfortunate, because the industry NEEDS feedback, both from the players to the designers and from the designers back to the players. Hell, I’m a firm believer that the design of a game needs to be clearly communicated so that a player can actually come to the conclusion “I don’t want to be here”. I don’t want unhappy people in my game. If my game is not for you, I don’t want you to waste your time and money on something that will make you miserable. Yeah, millions of customers would be great, and yeah, it’s not the designer’s game but the players, and you know what? At the end of the day, if you’re not having fun, stop. I think I repeated that phrase 6 times in my book, and I say it two or three times every player gathering I go to. Because I believe it really strongly, and I think that the disconnect between “why am I here” and “why aren’t they listening to me” is one of the most toxic elements of any massively multiplayer community.

But players don’t want to hear that. They want to hear “you are listening to me, and you agree with me, and you’re going to do what we think is best for the game, because we know the game better than you.” (Which, most of the time, is correct, I’ll grant you.) And when they hear something different, they go absolutely ballistic.

So the next time you wonder why more MMO designers don’t have blogs, or post on message boards? Yeah. We can’t have nice things.

(Before you think this is some kind of windup for me shutting down my own blog? Yeah, my co-workers only wish I were that smart.)

I’m not crazy! The world? Different story entirely.

Not makin' this up!

That wascally wabbit.

A more serious analysis from Stratfor impressed me this morning. It’s subscriber-only so I’ll quote the more relevant bits.

It must be emphatically pointed out that the Muslim rejection of the cartoons does not derive from a universalistic view that one should respect religions. The criticism does not derive from a secularist view that holds all religions in equal indifference and requires “sensitivity” not on account of theologies, but in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. The Muslim view is theological: The Prophet Mohammed is not to be ridiculed or portrayed. But violating the sensibilities of other religions is not taboo. Therefore, Muslims frequently, in action, print and speech, do and say things about other religions — Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism — that followers of these religions would find defamatory. The Taliban, for example, were not concerned about the views among other religions when they destroyed the famous Buddhas in Bamiyan. The Muslim demand is honest and authentic: It is for respect for Islam, not a general secular respect for all beliefs as if they were all equal.

In terms of the dialogue over the cartoons, there is enough to amuse even the most jaded observers. The sight of Muslims arguing the need for greater sensitivity among others, and of advocates of laws against racial hatred demanding absolute free speech, is truly marvelous to behold. There is, of course, one minor difference between the two sides: The Muslims are threatening to kill people who offend them and are burning embassies — in essence, holding entire nations responsible for the actions of a few of their citizens. The European liberals are merely making speeches. They are not threatening to kill critics of the modern secular state. That also distinguishes the Muslims from, say, Christians in the United States who have been affronted by National Endowment for the Arts grants.

These are not trivial distinctions. But what is important is this: The controversy over the cartoons involves issues so fundamental to the two sides that neither can give in. The Muslims cannot accept visual satire involving the Prophet. Nor can the Europeans accept that Muslims can, using the threat of force, dictate what can be published. Core values are at stake, and that translates into geopolitics.

In one sense, there is nothing new or interesting in intellectual inconsistency or dishonesty. Nor is there very much new about Muslims — or at least radical ones — threatening to kill people who offend them. What is new is the breadth of the Muslim response and the fact that it is directed obsessively not against the United States, but against European states.

One of the primary features of the U.S.-jihadist war has been that each side has tried to divide the other along a pre-existing fault line. For the United States, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the manipulation of Sunni-Shiite tensions has been evident. For the jihadists, and even more for non-jihadist Muslims caught up in the war, the tension between the United States and Europe has been a critical fault line to manipulate. It is significant, then, that the cartoon affair threatens to overwhelm both the Euro-American split and the Sunni-Shiite split. It is, paradoxically, an affair that unifies as well as divides.

Welcome to the future, where the United States decries cartoon violence with no irony whatsoever.

Timecube Cubed

rstolley.com: like Timecube – but set to Asia. I’d say this was some kind of joke, but it has too much content to be. It just goes… on… and on… and on…

(The original quote-enriched post edited to prevent people from clawing out their own eyes.)

Moments At Work (Part 19)

I shuffle out of my office, in search of a Diet Coke. I’m still sore from moving, so I literally shuffle.

Sanya (whose team is across the hall from my office) is crouched, tiger-like, on the floor. She looks up fiercely. “I’M A FAIRY IN A JAR!”, she proclaims.

Deadpan, I respond, “I’m an old man shuffling forward.”

“EEEW!”

Fear your elders.

Feedback Loops!

Inspired by Raph this time, last month’s greatest search terms, in order of popularity…

jessica chobot : My most popular search term, by a factor of 4. I’m waiting for Sony to include PSP-licking booth babes at E3. Maybe they’ll lick PSPs you bring them, that would make it interactively yicky. I doubt they’ll lick your DS but you can ask.

chetvichoi : ONLY CHET TOUCH ASHKANDI

bewbies : Ah, the internet. Note that this was more popular than any other variation of the word “breast”.

nefarion strategy : I’m pretty sure I am NOT the person you want to ask. My wife may be helpful, but she doesn’t have a blog. Ah hell, I’m feeling generous.

nastycast : I have no idea what this is, nor do I want to. I suspect porn and iPods are both involved.

lum broken : Yeah, pretty much.

fat chicks : Good to see the frat still lets you use the web.

“race war kingdoms” items for sale : THE DREAM WILL NEVER DIE.

firiona vie naked : Have you considered pornography involving actual people? I hear something called “nastycasts” are big.

jessica chabot : Mispelled, she still scores higher than most proper spellings.

sex blogs : Boy are YOU ever in the wrong place.

whitefox pictures : Oh come on people. Stuff like this makes me glad Jessica Chobot is a real person.

“lum” mmo “is it fun” game : Signs point to no.

causes for lag on daoc : As a DAOC server programmer, I can tell you conclusively – the Internet is sometimes involved.

cheating puzzle pirates : Aw, people, do you have to ruin EVERYTHING?

fat ass 50 tiger mountain : Whoever this is, s/he probably is not taking Tiger Mountain by strategy.

funny funnier than the same old crap : I try.

guitar hero emulator : You do know that the controller is the entire point of the game, right?

macroing program for uo : FOR LIFE, YO.

sexual things to do with your girlfriend : Step 1 – MOVE AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER.

why is wow broken constantly : I got nothin’.

Believe it or not? All of these had multiple searches. Which makes them even more scary. The following, thankfully, only had 1 search each:

amazingly large penises : They are indeed of unusual size.

anonymously annoy bloggers : Step 1 – enter wackily surreal Google search terms.

are all men just after sex? : Yeah, pretty much. Sorry.

assholes on toontown : There has GOT to be a story here.

babylona in nude picture : This is probably why she quit updating.

brad mcquaid “i drove” today : Thanks for sharing, Brad.

bullet points about the roundheads:

    \tab

  • Roundheads are NOT CAVALIERS.
  • \tab

  • Roundheads are MAMMALS.
  • \tab

  • Roundheads sometimes FLIP OUT AND KILL PEOPLE.
  • \tab

  • Roundheads are amazingly precise.

cj having sex : There are many possibilities here. Are they talking about my co-worker the art director? The blogger? The press secretary on “The West Wing”? You know, pretty much all of the available options are kinda creepy.

cj having sex cheat : Well, this sheds absolutely no light whatsoever.

damaging character development with rewards : I feel almost obligated to write about this now.

does anyone want any mountain dew? : Nah, I’m good.

explain “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” : It’s about these three monkeys, see.

evil tricks to play on coworkers : I bet making them part of blog entries about having sex is on the list.

fat old people : Thanks.

hillary clinton topless : Oh, come on.

how magic the gathering is evil : Well, when you make parodies involving national disasters…

how much porno sites pays for photos : I forsee a magical career for you involving webcams.

how to deal with a mad wife : I find chocolate works.

how to destroy a network server : I find chocolate works.

how to legally aquire rental property without buying : I find chocolate works.

how to make a paper hat : I find…

i hate my princess magical talking vanity : Thanks for sharing.

i killed all the hoosnock everywhere : Good for you.

images of cj having sex in san andreas : Dammit, I preferred the mystery.

is chocolate good for you : Probably not.

is it against the law to leave a mean comment on the internet : If it is, send lawyers, guns and money.

is this the way to boring lessons : Usually, yeah.

long mmo design thought : It’s amazing how Google can bring you to your destination.

make your own game : Yeah! (Hint: include Jessica Chobot.)

mmo is it legal to sell in-game items and money : Not in mine, it isn’t.

mmog with playable fox dog people : Uhhh… yeah.

my korean isp cut my service : Not sure how you did the Google search, then, but thanks for sharing.

nge swg : I’m thinking this scored higher than 1 in Raph’s list.

ninja techniques : Mine – UNSTOPPABLE.

noone ever when broke underestimating the intellegence of the american public : Dominus flevit.

people that are fat : Thanks, Google!

richard dean anderson quit stargate? : Damn him!

show me the porn that they show when you complete the game maze of porn in warcraft 3 : I’m pretty sure this was actually from a song by the Cure.

soe developers blog starwars galaxies lum’s blog : It’s spelled D A O C.

stevie \’e2\’80\’9ckillcreek\’e2\’80\’9d case nude : The Internet never forgets, ever.

the most boring site ever invented : Another satisfied customer.

why did faarwolf leave soe : Porn was involved.

why was uo2 cancelled? : Not enough meerlings.