Funcom Lays Off 60, Flees Europe For Rich Canadian Bounties

It's cool, he's ready for the fierce Canadian winters

It's cool, he's ready for the fierce Canadian winters

Probably inevitable given the disappointment of Age of Conan’s launch. What’s interesting is Funcom’s attempt to become Canadian:

Funcom, which currently employs around 300 staff worldwide, is attempting to shift the bulk of its workforce to Canada to take advantage of a 37.5 per cent salary reimbursement from the state of Quebec, and with salaries generally lower there the company could stand to cut around half of its wage bill.

That would explain all those studios in Montreal…

Second Life Sued. Again. You Should Pay Attention This Time.

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against Linden Lab, Second Life developers, for essentially having poor customer service.

Specifically, two of the most well-known merchants within SL, Munchflower Zaius (Shannon Grei), who runs a boutique (pics within NSFW) that sells gothic-oriented skins and clothing, and Stroker Serpentine (Kevin Alderman), who sells, um, a lot of sex toys, complain that Linden Lab’s procedures for protecting merchants within SL against theft are failures, and it results in lost business. Which becomes srs bizness when you realize that Alderman has sold over $1 million worth of cybersex animations. Alderman’s view on the subject (as quoted by Massively):

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When public service announcements and nudity both fail, bring in the lawyers

Our intent is not to take down Second Life, nor create a division amongst the community. It is apparent to many of us that our concerns have gone largely ignored. Copybot, Builderbot, CryoLife [content theft exploits] et al are but symptoms of an ambivalent approach towards IP theft on behalf of Linden Lab. For years we have been promised better tools, more metadata, sticky licenses, aggressive response, verification, watermarks … ad nauseum. Seven years later and all we are given is a ‘Roadmap’.

The pirates know full well how to hedge their bets and leverage the DMCA in their favor. We are virtually defenseless unless we have the financial means to pursue expensive litigation. We do not expect miracles. We understand the nature of our chosen environment. Unfortunately, there is little to no deterrence under the current regime.

The wording here is important, since this lawsuit is essentially a political act. Alderman and Grei, both well-known community leaders within SL, have said, in the most direct way possible, that the community they are a part of is run so badly, legal redress is needed. Alderman even refers to the “regime”, as if the current governance of Linden Lab is something that is temporary and replaceable.

Like many lawsuits involving MMOs, this essentially says “You didn’t pay attention to us. PAY ATTENTION NOW.” In this case, the real problem is that Linden Lab is essentially being targeted for not investing enough on a police force and effective governance. This traditionally is not something that MMOs worry about, save at the last minute and with the least expense. Yet in such an environment, content creators, feeling million-dollar markets at risk, are threatened that they will be put out of business by exploits they have no power to combat. Alderman in particular has been aggressive about responding to these via the legal system (Grei joining him in the second suit), and this suit is the ultimate expression of that. There is also the not insignificant matter of Linden Lab profiting from Grei and Alderman’s work directly, through server rentals and commissions on advertising and direct sales – while also profiting from pirates who then turn around and resell their work through the same tools that Grei and Alderman use. So from a simple customer service standpoint, the solution would seem obvious – spend more money on customer service dedicated to copyright theft (which will be a thankless task) and develop tools that automate already extant procedures to address theft complaints. Simple, though painful since both will involve investment in profit sinks, not profit centers (thusly, refer back to MMOs worrying about this at the last minute and the least expense).

Yet there is another problem, and that is the political, not merely the technological. Alderman and Grei, by insisting that Linden Lab benefited from theft of their work and should be held accountable, are denying Linden Lab’s status as a neutral host of content. Given Second Life’s status as the most freewheeling, open and libertarian virtual world, that seems a dangerous assertion to press. Holding Linden Lab legally responsible for all the various misdeeds of its denizens means that Linden Lab, if sane, will promptly cut back its liability as quickly as possible.

Which, not to put a fine a point on things, will mean that there will no longer be a $1 million market for cybersex animations.

Well, That's Nice

Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, on how to retain valued employees:

The executive said that he has tried to instill into the company culture “skepticism, pessimism, and fear” of the global economic downturn, adding, “We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.”

Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, on how to create a healthy working environment:

“We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

Well, SIGN ME UP, partner!

Busy, But Not Too Busy To Be Bitchy About Games

So as I’m sure everyone noticed (or failed to, if you haven’t seen anything in your RSS reader) I’ve been neglecting this blog. This is 100% due to my day job going into overdrive; we have a pretty major milestone coming up (and in fact I’ll be giving AGDC a miss, though I’ll be cadging beers in the evening; if you have beers to cadge, hit me up!) and it has been keeping me focused.

However I did pick up Champions last week. I like superhero games – I played City of Heroes since it launched, and still do, on and off – even though I’m not really a comic book guy. Plus, I have a sort of history with Paragon (CoH’s current developer) and Cryptic before that, given that I worked at their publisher, worked for years with one of their lead writers/designers, and once had Jack Emmert lecture me at Gen Con about my Latin pronunciation while wearing a silver lamé cape.

So, I really wanted to like Champions. I even had a hero all ready to go.

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The Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. He specializes in dark, fell sorcery. And robots!

Unfortunately, there was a few things to harsh my buzz.

First, apparently the entire game was nerfed on launch day. It wasn’t technically a nerf unless you pre-ordered. I did pre-order, but apparently not soon enough to play during the pre-order, so I didn’t play in the blissful 3 days of pre-nerf nirvana. However there was, as you might expect, a bit of a community explosion over changing the balance of the entire game overnight. Or, to quote a community person who was the first to announce the news:

Good news! Defensive passives are getting a decrease in their effectiveness very soon. That’s all the detail I have for now.

This is quite possibly the most awesome post from a community person ever. “Guys! Guys! You’re going to be weaker and take more damage soon! Isn’t that great? Talk to you later!”

But, really, that didn’t bother me either, because I didn’t play during the pre-order phase, and the board explosions didn’t bother me because, well, I didn’t read the boards.

What did bother me was the character skill system. And my reaction to it I actually find kind of interesting. Normally I’m pretty hardcore about character builds. I like analyzing things to death – it’s why I constantly reroll new characters. Well, that and I get bored.

With Champions, I felt as though I wasn’t qualified to do that. It was too complex and opaque to me, despite most things having liberal tooltip explanations and the developers helpfully supplying a “danger room” where you can test new skill purchases for free. Thanks to the ridiculously expensive respec costs, I felt as though every decision I made about my character was final. And I resented it. Perhaps I was spoiled from WoW, where a talent respec cost maybe a day’s worth of daily quests. I didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing – which for a game like this, with a rich skill system like this is normal. Yet I felt like not knowing what I was doing was critical. I made characters which rapidly were unplayable. Kim, for existence. Turns out mixing robots and sorcery doesn’t work well. Guess he’s shelved. As was my fire blaster. As was my dual blades guy. I would plow through the tutorial, whose corny jokes and earnest Golden-Age-of-Comics demeanor wore more and more on me with each repetition, get to the first real zone, and fall flat on my face if I pulled more than one enemy. Clearly, this was not City of Heroes, where you plow through dozens of henchmen while laughing loudly. The game was letting me fail.

This is a necessary evil of a rich, classless skill system – the game has to let you fail. And it irritated me. Probably because of the punitive respec costs. I’m thinking that a cheap and available respec is a necessity for a game like this. Sure, you can fail, but the cost should be going to an instructor and saying “I’m sowwy” while pawing the dirt with your shoes, not shelving your character as Failure #12 after going through yet another session of Captain Stupendous intoning that you have to deactivate ALL the consoles!

The lack of content at release bugs me as well – it means that every character goes through the same content every time without fail – but realistically, that always gets fixed if the game gets successful. Content is easy. An interesting, yet essentially forgiving skills-based system? Not that easy. And Champions is almost there.

But not yet. And that frustration, at least for me, is a learning experience.