I Paid For This Chat Channel!

MMORPG.com has a “debate” between Brad McQuaid (you know, Vanguard, Everquest, vision, supercore, yadda) and… a self-righteous gold farmer. I guess Brad was bored that day (and actually seems to have just shrugged and wandered off near the end).

The actual points you’ve all seen before dozens of times. Bad for the game. Money grubbing companies. Taking money off the table. Fighting for the little man. Purity of the game. Etc. I did like the farmer just devolving into threats at the end:

In closing it does not matter if a game is designed with RMT in mind or not, the transactions will continue to take place. It is simply a matter of time before the gaming companies choose a RMT company to work with so that they will get the piece of the market they deserve.

“You sees, Mr. McQuaid, it’s an offer youse can’t refuse.”

One thing I’ve noticed though, with RMT partisans, is a sort of dumbstruck fury that someone is trying to stop them from this great free market they’ve discovered. Damn it, they farmed that gold fair and square, and companies are banning them and taking their gold and threatening them and what the hell? Isn’t making a buck American? Whatever happened to free speech and capitalism? I paid for this game, why *can’t* I sell what I do to someone else?

Of course, I would respond that for much the same reason that I can’t run a crack dealership out of my office. I mean, I *could*. I paid for the crack. It’s my office. I don’t get it. Why can’t I sell crack? I give away a lot of crack anyway with my design docs. This is just …better crack! I’m fulfilling a service. I don’t get it. Isn’t this America? Did al’Qaeda take over and prevent people from selling crack?

Clearly, there are social reasons to block some behavior. And in most games, gold farming is a harmful behavior. The RMT partisans (at least the honest ones) can’t really make this connection, because they don’t see MMOs as a society, but merely an entertainment medium and unexploited resource rolled into one. Since to them it’s not a society, they see no harm in their actions. It’s just, you know, making stuff. Virtual stuff. Then selling it, to wacky people who pay real money for it.

So, at the other end of this spectrum is something else today I found illustrative. Second Life is as far from most MMOs as you can get in, well, most things, and among them is their RMT policy. They’re all for it! Sell all the “Lindens” you want, knock yourself out, make it a convertible currency! That after all simply validates the worth of the “second life” within the first one. (WARNING: NSFW links follow. This being SL and all.) Of course, quite a bit of those Lindens are going to things Linden Labs doesn’t issue press releases on, but, well, that just makes it more like real life, I guess. We have a real economy here – an economy driven by cat-girl harlots, but we have to start somewhere out here in Multiverseland.

Which brings us to a blog entry by Kunikos, a Quarter to Three poster who seems confused by this whole virtual economy thing. He asks, plaintively, what’s to stop Linden Labs from just, you know, messing stuff up? What’s to stop them from just printing money, since people seem to let them… print money?

How long will it be before such “real economy” virtual worlds are regulated by the real world governments? How long before the bubble bursts or an Enron style collapse occurs? Do we know that Linden Labs isn’t already siphoning off $1000’s of dollars from the economy of Second Life already?

Of course, many people immediately pointed out that Blizzard siphons off considerably more than $1000 a day from World of Warcraft. It’s called, you know, profit. But here is someone who admittedly isn’t that familiar with all the associated arguments surrounding RMT, who asks, quite rationally, are we all playing with Dutch tulips?

Combined with the tax mania currently going around the web (OMGZ BLIZZARD IS GOING TO SEND YOU A FORM 1099 IF YOU LOOT THAT EPIC) and the recent news of the Korean government getting in the act… well, pretty soon we may have Mr. McQuaid debating someone who knows the law considerably better then Mr. Gold Farmer. And no matter what side of the RMT argument you come down on… that way lies madness.

Because I’ll just come out and say it – over-regulation can very easily choke the MMO industry in its crib. No company is going to operate an entertainment business with anything close to the liabilities being bandied around. It simply will cost too much. No sane MMO publisher will fund a project that requires more lawyers than world builders. Thus, no MMOs, as we currently know them, will be published.

And that will definitely settle the argument.

Burning Crusade Launches Today, Sorta Kinda Maybe

In an interesting tack, Blizzard makes a virtue out of necessity, aikido-style. Sure, the actual retail launch of the World of Warcraft expansion was pushed back to January, what with many dungeons not being done even today, but that didn’t stop the live team from posting the expansion-related content that will be pushed to everyone earlier. Specifically, today.

There’s lots of, as expected, wailing and gnashing of teeth as befits a revamp of PvP, talents and UI code. But imagine dealing with all that AND getting new zones online. Yeah. Preloading as much expansion content as possible before ship – not that bad an idea.

His First Project Was Somewhat Successful

J. Henderson has a story up on Gamasutra about the continuing adventures of Jake Song, who designed that Lineage series you may have heard of.

Was there an opportunity to reach both [Asian and American] markets before now? Maybe, Song wrote. \’e2\’80\’9cI think I had a chance to do it at NCsoft but I missed it. Maybe due to my laziness. I don’t want to blame anyone else except me.\’e2\’80\’9d

Metrics: The Other White Meat

On November 30, industrious Warlocks in World of Warcraft created

2,797,184

soul shards.

That’s the kind of statistic that makes me want to huddle under covers with a nice thick copy of “Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard” and gibber softly while waiting for the mind flayers to come.

So, all you armchair designers out there, what can YOU come up? Because this is the sort of eye-in-the-sky view that is perfect for making uninformed decisions backed up by random data points! Note: Damion already picked up on how Defias Pillagers are in need of a good nerfin’. Goddamn caster mobs. Van Hemlock has some fun analysis as well.

Well, *Someone* Had That Saved Up For A While

Well, then, allow me to retort!

Jeff Freeman, formerly of SOE so don’t ask him a goddamned thing about SWG, he said so, has the post to end all posts qualifying exactly what he meant by “forums aren’t bad, just misunderstood” (he thinks they’re actually kind of nifty, just not, you know, the corporate ones).

First, some specific notes regarding Jeff’s post, then some general ones.

Specifically:

Lum was unfair as well. \’e2\’80\’9cIs Cao right?\’e2\’80\’9d

Cao didn\’e2\’80\’99t say that. He actually talked about how useful forums were (posts from non-trolls, anyway). On the other hand, I said something very much like it, months before. Official forums are trollful, and compared to fan-forums not as useful for player-to-player or player-to-dev communication. Outright useless for dev-player communication when compared to a blog, or even an email. I wasn\’e2\’80\’99t comparing official forums to nothing and proclaiming nothing to be better.

He talked about how useful forums were in a very backhanded “Your posts are swell! We love them all! EXCEPT FOR THE BAD POSTS WHICH I AM GOING TO NOW COME DOWN ON LIKE A TON OF BRICKS HERE IN A VERY IMPOLITIC MANNER AND EVERYONE WILL CORRECTLY FOCUS ON FROM THIS POINT… NOW.” Yeah. See, I’m actually going to give him credit for knowing both how his post would come across in that forum, and assume that this was in fact his intention. To wit:

If, however, you feel the need to throw another stone, indulge a rant, whine, pick apart another poster, argue a dead point, rules lawyer, quote ancient history, or engage in any of the other classic board game moves, don\’e2\’80\’99t expect us to pay attention. We have better things to do.

We have some SWG to make.

Being as that is how he, you know, closed his post, one would assume that is the point he wanted to make, and not “We think forums are swell! Did I mention that lately? I LIKE YOU! (except for you trolls over there)”. In other words: people who troll up the official forums make it difficult to do business, so we (SOE) aren’t going to pay any more attention to them. Trolls, that is. Unless they’re in EQ, in which case we like them. It was in fact a very negative post, despite the happy happy joy joy opening paragraphs. Correctly, people focused on the negativity, because that was the unusual part of that post. I mean, people post about how great it is to work on Their Game all day long. People don’t often get up and metaphorically slap around the more unruly customers in their message boards.

Oh, and while we’re talking about people who should know what they’re writing about:

And I am not post-Raph Koster SOE. SOE has it\’e2\’80\’99s own website, and this ain\’e2\’80\’99t it. Know what they have on their website? Forums! Of all people, that one knows better than to post to a developer\’e2\’80\’99s snarky blog and assign their silly opinion to their employer.

Guilty!

Now then, enough specific things I should have probably just left in a blog comment, and on to the more general navel-gazing. Minus all the “for the love of god LEAVE ME ALONE ABOUT SWG, YOU PEOPLE” (Hint to Jeff – there’s a LOT of free-floating anxiety about SWG/NGE. It flops around everywhere. Even *I* get the occasional angst-filled rant. And my entire involvement in SWG: I visited the SWG offices once. And am married to an ex-bio-engineer. Trust me: don’t go there.), Jeff thinks official forums are ineffective by definition.

Which is true, to a point. Forums are many-to-many. Blogs, even official ones, are one-to-many.

One-to-many communication has its strengths, as Jeff noted. You can clearly put out the word on what’s going on in your community. You can highlight what is happening through pointers to active community supporters, highlight unofficial forums, etc.

All this is true. However, one-to-many has weaknesses as well. Chief among them is… well, they are one-to-many. Only one person is talking. If you’re a community manager seeking to keep the “state of the game” on message and relentlessly quash community blowups, that’s a good thing. However if you’re a player who feels disenfranchised and wants their voice to heard, that’s not a good thing.

The true problem, I think, isn’t in deciding between one-to-many and many-to-many. Because, really, you need both. (Note that every MMO has many-to-many forums, whether or not they are officially run. And there’s advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.) The real problem is that MMO players feel they deserve a vote.

How you handle that demand for enfranchisement… well, that says a lot for the kind of game you’re building, the sort of company you’re running, and how much you’re willing to dangle your arse out in the heady breeze of potential litigation. But when players demand response from “Blue” or “moderators” on forums – what they are really saying is “I own part of this. I want my vote counted.”

And that’s where things get interesting.