Spurned Lovers Are The Angriest

Today’s angry candy: It’s always sad when the bloom is off the rose.

Funcom, now lovingly deemed “Failcom” by a good portion of the planet

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself “Why the hell would Funcom devs read this…?” The answer to that is I’m going to personally e-mail it to every one of them.

Complete with personal attacks on every Funcom employee who ever gave a public interview! Points for the self-labelled “intentional Godwin”…

I bet its safe to say the majority of the Age of Conan team was just doing what they were told. Kind of like the Nazis were doing what they were told when they started cooking people.

…but come on. At least work the words Vidkun Quisling in there somewhere. Doesn’t anyone read history any more?

Extra bonus points for surrounding the article with ads from Age of Conan gold farmers.

Broken Business Models (Or Not)

I gave an interview to Wagner James Au over at gigaOM about my new gig which has gotten a lot of press (and flack via the press) in the past couple of weeks. Specifically, two paragraphs where I discussed the problems with standard MMO production (huge budgets, inability to manage projects) were boiled down into:

Why The MMORPG Subscription-Based Business Model Is Broken

To be fair, this isn’t the title I would have chosen (I probably would have used something involving obscure 1980’s alternative music lyrics), and I also wouldn’t have painted myself as some sort of latter-day Martin Scorsese moving into Youtube serials. But, hey, to be fair I did move from problems to solutions with the words: “So, in short, it’s broken.”

 

Now, when other places, especially those with a readership more composed of Warcraft players than dot-com venture capitalists picked up on the interview, the reaction was… well… mixed.

I think what he’s really saying is that the business model that he is no longer in is no good and the one he is now working with is totally awesome.

But hey, if Jennings wants to milk pocket money from kids and pestered parents, then that’s what he should say. There’s always a market for low quality shovelware with strings attached.

He made the leap? Wasn’t he pushed?

Since when was Lum the Knob an ‘Industry Heavyweight’ ?? Obviously the author of this piece is enraptured with Jennings, a low level code monkey and craptastic MMO player.

 

He got given the arse at one job, so now that industry sucks and is dieing, yet his new low level code monkey job is in the fast paced and exciting world of ..what was it again…..Web Browser Wars?

Obviously 2008 is the year that publishers and studios finally learn what a false religion The Cult of the Big-Name Designer is.

The takeaway from this is clear:

I Am A Big-Name Designer/Cult Leader

Rock! Also:

Never Ever Even Imply You Will Take World of Warcraft Away From People

Something I’m sure Richard Bartle would give me pointers on, if his email client has recovered yet.

 

OK – More seriously:

People Enjoy Playing Subscription MMOs

and the somewhat related

You Can Make A Lot Of Money From Subscription MMOs

Obviously, given the 11 million customer behemoth, this is a fairly obvious point. Blizzard makes money hand over fist. And rather more importantly, as Ben Zeigler points out in a well-written piece, NCsoft makes money hand over fist – and more last year from City of Heroes than Guild Wars. It’s a point well taken – both products are fairly old in Internet years, and Guild Wars has several orders of magnitude more people playing; yet City of Heroes makes more money, mainly because everyone is paying. (And also that NCsoft is still struggling with trying to monetize Guild Wars players over the long term – a struggle with any free-to-play game.)

 

So, when I say “this be broken, y0″, it’s more to the point of addressing this part of what I originally said, which many folks have skipped over:

The classic engineering dilemma is expressed as a joke: “Fast, Cheap, Good: pick two”. In game development, we *wish* we could pick two. We either crank out licensed console games on a one year cycle that literally burns through developers. Or we spend tens of millions just to keep up with the status quo. Or we have tiny budgets, which result in development that is neither fast nor good, and most of the time, consequently tiny results.

That is broken.  There is little room for creativity and advancing the state of the art in any of those scenarios – either you are working too fast, have too little budget for your scope, or you don’t have the flexibility because you are responsible for a blockbuster-sized budget.

 

That’s not to say that innovation can’t occur using the standard model – look at public quests in Warhammer Online. Of course, then note that that is, most likely, literally the only innovative feature of Warhammer Online. Given those big budgets, it’s simply not responsible to get all crazy with the innovation. Counter example: Star Wars Galaxies, a big budget title which had innovation out the wazoo, and was unable to deliver much of it until well beyond release.

Of course, you can quite easily crank out a game that follows 80-90% of the World of Warcraft road map, charge $15 a month and be quite successful. Both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online look to have done so, as did Lord of the Rings Online. All of these games are going to keep their studios going well into the future. That’s hard to argue with.

But not impossible. You see, not every game is a success. Some games never make it out the door. (Not that I’d know anything about that – but more on that in a moment.) And if they do make it out the door, they might not be terribly successful. Maybe they took too many risks, or the wrong ones, or they somehow otherwise deviated from The One Holy and Apostolic WoW. It is very easy – ridiculously easy – to waste a LOT of money making MMOs. And the longer we cleave to the current production model, your chance of wasting money goes up, your amount of money you wasted goes up, and the chance you can ever make a game that isn’t a reskinned WoW goes down. (And eventually the market will tire of reskinned WoWs, really.)

Even beyond that, there’s some other key problems with subscription-based games, though:

They self-select the hard core. It is a struggle for the average online game to convince the average internet user to pony up a credit card number. In fact, that’s one of World of Warcraft’s biggest achievements – and one reason why even developers of MMOs that have been decimated by World of Warcraft’s release are somewhat philisophical about it. Hey, that’s 11 million people that entered in a credit card number. They might do it again! (Except that, well, a large proportion of those are playing in net cafes in China and paying by the hour. DETAILS.) But still – asking for billing information is a decision point. Decision points are where you are faced with the decision – do I keep investing my time, attention and money in this game or not? And the longer you can postpone that decision point, the better. Free to play games nail this, because they don’t have to ask you for money until you are well and truly invested in the game.

They leave money on the table and encourage bad actors to pick up the slack. By this I mean gold farming, primarily. No reputable subscription-based MMO will sell you gold because, well, you’re already paying them money. Charging for in-game money or items is double dipping, right? No one would stand for that. But clearly the market is there regardless. And as long as that market is not served internally by the game developers themselves, it will be served by people who not only do not act in the best interests of the game as a whole, but have a very real financial incentive to act contrary to the interests of the game as a whole – gold duping, hacking the client, farms of unattended macro bots, whatever. Whereas a game who has gold selling as a revenue model (and it can be done without making a Entropia Universe-esque ponzi scheme of gameplay – dual currency models being IMHO the best way of hitting this from the design standpoint) puts those bad actors elegantly out of business, because no matter how low salaries are in whatever sweatshop, a gold farmer will never be able to compete with a SQL query for the cost of doing business.

They encourage bad design. You gotta keep those people subscribed somehow. Hey, I know, let’s jack up the XP curve, no one will notice. Oh, they’re max level? Crap, put in some other time sink – hey, “reputations” sounds fun, let’s see if that works. Now, free to play games also suffer from all of these problems. Which is kind of funny, because in a free to play game, if you’re not part of the 5% or whatever of players that is monetized, you are costing the company money when you play. Ideally your play time should be minimized, not extended! But old habits are hard to break. Jonathan Blow (the Braid designer) put this best. When his comments on MMO design first came out I was quite pissed off at what he had to say – but in the main, he’s right. It’s probably why I was pissed.

“I think a lot of modern game design is actually unethical, especially massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, because they are predicated on player exploitation,” Mr Blow says.

 

He believes players will naturally avoid boring tasks but developers “override that by plugging into their pleasure centres and giving them scheduled rewards and we convince them to pay us money and waste their lives in front of our game in this exploitative fashion”.

It’s a vast oversimplification – but that doesn’t make it less correct an observation. And that is encouraged by the revenue stream of the slow and steady MMO gamer.

 

So, will free-to-play, or web-based, or any other trendy buzzword fix all this? Of course not. But we as developers have to start thinking differently. Or failing that, enjoy the few years or so of profitable WoW-cloning left to us. Either way.

A more personal note: referring to this comment?

I think what he’s really saying is that the business model that he is no longer in is no good and the one he is now working with is totally awesome.

While I can’t talk about what I was doing at NCsoft, I think it is a very safe assumption to make that the business and production model we were shooting for, and trying to introduce to a company not really used to it, was informed based on much of the above discussion. It wasn’t so much a case of “oh crap, they stopped paying me – go talk nice about the stuff these guys are doing!” as “oh crap, they don’t wanna do this any more – go find someone else who is!”  I mean, I’m mercenary, but I’m not craven.

 

C Is For Credits And That's Good Enough For Me

Mark Jacobs, EA VP and head of Mythic, had this to say about the Warhammer credits foo frah.

There is a fate reserved for those who betray the Emperor’s trust. It is not death. It is not life. What is it when flesh and mind are taken into the body of the Golden Throne? What is it when organs are absorbed slowly into the flesh of the living machine? Is there a mind that suffers for eons as the Emperor suffers, or does the personality fade and melt away as the flesh that houses it dissolves into nothing?

OK, he didn’t say that. But admit it – that’d be cool. He said this instead.

 

[Leaving the person out of the credits] could be a mistake. I’m not saying it’s not happening. I just don’t know who the heck this person is. So come out, stop hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and the legal shield of ‘I’m going to sue EA.’”

If the three years is correct, there’s only a few people it can be. But I don’t know if the three years is correct because I know who was working on it three years ago, and most of those people are still with the company. Maybe this person was fired from Mythic and they don’t want to say who they were publicly.

In some of the cases that people left, some of them hadn’t done a great job for us. Or some left just in a lurch. Do I feel badly for that? No, I don’t feel badly at all. I’m not going to shed a single tear for any of those guys.

So there you have it – the Mysterious Anonymous Ex-Mythic Developer sucked at his/her job, left them hanging, and should go public because Mark just wants to make things right.

So, as a few of you probably know, I left Mythic… about three years ago. HEY! Maybe the Immortal God Emperor is talking about ME! Hmm. Let’s break this down.

 

 

  • Did leave Mythic in 2006, 2 1/2 years ago, as apparently did Mysterious Anonymous Ex-Mythic Developer (MAEMD). Hmm. This could be incriminating!
  • Did not actually work on Warhammer, ever. Not even for a picosecond. I did harass Paul Barnett in a Chinese restaurant once. But I’m pretty sure that does NOT earn you a spot on the credits.
  • Was not actually fired from Mythic. No, really! Although I hear the rumor mill since tells a different tale, which makes me quite amused. It’s hard to say WHAT that tale is though, because the most I ever hear about it is “YOU LEFT AND NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT”. But, regardless, office drama also does not get you a spot on the credits, no matter how funny.
  • Was a heretic in good standing, which means that under the Barnett Inquisition, I would have been burned AT THE STAKE while monks and executive producers would have chanted in Latin and PR filmed the whole thing for Youtube viral video distribution. Again, too cool for words, but still, didn’t actually happen.

So, short version: call off the Officio Assassinorum, it wasn’t me. (Which I’m pretty certain wasn’t ever seriously considered, but hey, it made for a funny blog post.) Plus, to be honest, when it comes to MMOs, credits just aren’t that big a deal. MobyGames is a joke (the only reason DAOC has ANY credits at all on there is because… um… I typed them in myself in 2003 so I could have SOMETHING credited there, back when I DID think it was a big deal) and everyone just uses LinkedIn anyway.

 

If you WOULD like to come out from the shadows and unmask yourself as a Secret Furious Ex-Mythic Uncredited Developer, feel free to do so in the comments! I mean, it would be a creditable thing to do.

I Remain The News For Lunch

Eric Schild at F13/Giant Realm interviewed me last night; the result was just too big for one site to hold.

Fullscreen version: http://www.giantrealm.com/gaming/interview-scott-jennings

Widescreen cut: http://forums.f13.net/index.php?topic=14160.0

Oh, it's ON like an AC0 Donkey Kong

McCain’s latest salvo at Obama:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement…

Someone needs to let Granddad McCain know that since he left the military in 1937, quite a few of today’s Generation Kill actually not only play Dungeons and Dragons – THEY PLAY MMOs. One of the things Sanya Weathers made a point of doing at Mythic (you know, when not disparaging McCain’s memories from her mom’s basement) was making sure that military DAOC players deployed to Iraq had all their subscription worries taken care of. You know, since they had other things on their mind and all, like bullets.

But, you know, it’s typical of the pro-McCain Sarsparilla and Goofy Golf crowd to disparage a fellow politican’s reputation from the comfort of Karl Rove’s basement.

Edit: Your VOICES HAVE BEEN HEARD from deep within Mom’s basement! Oh, and yeah, bring some Cheetos.

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.

Clearly, this means that McCain is planning on running a Monty Haul campaign if elected Dungeon Master. Why, he’ll just give out artifact-level gear like CANDY. Plus, if Goldfarb was a REAL hard core arr-peer, he clearly would have pandered to Warlocks. But no, we have to favor those Christian Coalition-friendly Priests instead, don’t we? God, if only we could get some fiscal conservatives from the Elitist Jerks board in charge. Next, the McCain camp will say that our troops in Afghanistan don’t NEED fire resist.

Barack Obama was not available for comment, since he was busy being Chaotic Awesome.

An Important NDA Announcement

As you may have seen from pretty much everywhere on the Interwebs, the Warhammer Online beta NDA has been lifted. Now that it has, I am finally authorized to announce, per express permission of Mark “Here To Fix Yer Gubbins” Jacobs:

I am not in the Warhammer Online beta.

Thank you for waiting until today for me to be able to announce this! In other vaguely Warhammer-related news, Shacknews reveals that only people who were NOT burned as heretics will have their names inscribed in the Book of Woe.

Bill Roper on Flagship's Endgame

Finally, 1UP nails the Flagship founder for an interview about his side of the drama surrounding Hellgate: Explosion.

Part of the challenge was that when we originally came up with the concept of doing the game, the whole idea of continuing content was pretty amorphous. How that was going to happen, who pays for that — we all kind of assumed that would come out of the revenue. The subscription money we did get, we all poured directly into keeping the game online, keeping it up and running. But the development demands far outstripped the revenues. There just wasn’t a good contemplation early on of how that would work. It wasn’t like: This is the budget that comes in every month; we’ll do whatever we can do with that. We just said [that] development will get done out of the revenues, and whoever pays for development, they get paid back out of the revenues.

Final Fantasy: A Restrospectivation

Final Fantasies One Through Three: don’t count. FF2 REALLY doesn’t count because it uses the worst use-based skill system EVER. You have to get beaten to gain hit points. This is not a message we want to be sharing with our children. These games have all been re-issued for every platform out there, because everyone wants to play twenty year old games on our new consoles. Final Fantasy Four: DARK KNIGHT BECOMES PRETTYMAN. They end up on the FREAKIN’ MOON. This used to be called Final Fantasy II (Final Fantasy I, remember, does not count). This is the first Final Fantasy most people my age ever played so we get all nostalgic about it SHUT UP. If you play FF4 play it on the DS the way God intended. It has cut scenes like this (on the original SNES all we got was some pixels yelling LALI-HO!) Final Fantasy Five: EXACTLY LIKE FINAL FANTASY FOUR but with actually a pretty cool class system. At the end of the game you end up in the Void, which looks mysteriously similar to the FREAKIN’ MOON. This was originally not released in the US in the SNES days because it was deemed too complex for gaijin to understand. I am not joking. The GBA version is the best. You can play a blue hair girl who waves at dragons. NO REALLY. Final Fantasy Six: Originally called Final Fantasy Three. Everyone older than 35 loves this one and geeks get into slap fights over which silly character is the coolest, mainly because it was the first real CRPG ever on a console that didn’t have you end up on the FREAKIN’ MOON. Plus at the end you fight GOD to the tune of an Emerson Lake and Palmer song. NO REALLY. Seriously, Final Fantasy Six is awesome and you should play it several times. Final Fantasy Seven: Originally called Final Fantasy Seven. Everyone older than 30 loves this one and geeks get into slap fights over which silly anime girlfriend they are secretly hot for (note: Tifa). This one defies previous convention by (a) being on a Playstation as opposed to a Super Nintendo and thus having hours of video and (b) having the FREAKIN’ MOON this time come to YOU. NO REALLY. But shots like this is why everyone loves FF7: Final Fantasy Eight: WAAAAAAAAAAAH I HAVE A GIRL THAT LOVES ME AND I AM SO EMO AND CONFLICTED AND FLASHBACKY AND THE OTHER GUY IS COOLER AND THERE’S THIS TEACHER WHO IS HOT FOR ME BUT SHE’S REALLY A STUDENT AND THE GAME SYSTEM IS RELIANT ON DRAWING SPELLS OUT OF YOUR ENEMY 100 TIMES FOR EACH SPELL AND JAPAN HATES YOU.

Final Fantasy Nine: Originally called WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING

Final Fantasy Ten: I think this the best in the series and if you disagree you should just STEP OFF NOW. A character development system that gives you very granular, constant, customizable progress, graphics that were stunning for the PS2, and you have to kill your father, but it’s cool because he totally wants you to. There is literally a character for everyone in this game, from spunky anime girls to earnest anime girls. Mine is Auron, because he’s just a badass who goes into battle with a huge sword and a jug of wine. Plus he doesn’t look 12.

Final Fantasy X-2: You know, this was actually not a bad game, once you got past things like graphic presentation, plot, and GIRRRL POWWWWWWWWER. OK, so it’s really hard to get past these things. But if you’ve been playing Final Fantasies since 1985, YOU LEARN TO. But this is the only Final Fantasy where there is not some WORLD SHATTERING EVIL that HAS TO BE STOPPED or at least CONFRONTED USING CAPITAL LETTERS. In FFX2 you just sorta bop around the world having happy adventures with your girlfriends.

Oh, and you’re a pop star. Thanks, Square. Just in case you didn’t pander QUITE enough.

Final Fantasy Eleven: Doesn’t actually count, because it turned into an MMO. However they have catgirls.


Final Fantasy Twelve: Turned into an MMO but still counts because you’re the only one playing it. It’s pretty good, in terms of game systems the equal of Final Fantasy Ten, in terms of graphics one of the best PS2 titles ever, but in terms of story, they ran out of story about 3/4 of the way through and it turns into HURRRR KILL BAD GUY NOW, which to be honest was the end game of every Final Fantasy ever, come to think of it. But still great graphics, great gameplay, and no battles on the FREAKIN’ MOON. Oh, and the coolest character is a goddamned pirate/pimp named Han Solo (not really) who has his own bunnygirl (really) named Chewbacca (not really).

And thus is the complete history of Final Fantasy, except for the 30 or so games I skipped. You might ask why I went to all this trouble… and I’m not really sure. I blame unemployment and long sessions of FF4 DS.