Today's Wacky Rumor: Microsoft In Talks To Acquire Linden Lab, Corner Vital "People Who Wear Cat Heads" Market

It all started, as most Second Life things do, with Woodbury University.

Specifically, with the dethroned Czarina of Woodbury, Jordan Bellino/”Tizzers Foxchase”, tweeting the following:

A little birdie told me that Microsoft may have silently offered to buy Linden Lab this week. #secondlife

At which point, the proper response is to shake your head and think “Oh, you kids!”

Then Tateru Nino weighed in. Ms. Nino, who recently was the Second Life reporter for Massively (but no longer no doubt to MASSIVE DRAMA or possibly a total lack of interest in Second Life drama amongst people looking for updates on the latest Free2Play title from Asia) posted the following on her blog:

People are talking about a rumour that Microsoft has made an offer on Linden Lab.

Funny as that might seem on the face of it, a small number of Linden Lab staff are today spreading the story that Linden Lab is now entertaining offers for sale, and that Microsoft has actually presented one.

For Microsoft’s part, I doubt that it could care less about Linden Lab, but might be willing to make an offer to stop certain competitors making that purchase.

As yet, there isn’t any confirmation from Linden Lab as to whether the information being given by its staff is correct.

Update: Linden Lab responded to my query, and has declined to proffer any confirmation or denial.

So, you know, given that Tateru Nino is actually something approaching a real reporter who asks people things, this could actually be happening, and we could have been told this first from someone whose chief claim to fame is stencilling “BAN PROK” in chalk on the walls of Linden Lab’s office. So, um, yeah. The only way this could get any weirder is if Derek Smart decides to toss in a bid. Which, you know, could still happen.

Update: ZDnet follows up on the Microsoft side (h/t Raevhen) with this nugget:

Microsoft isn’t commenting on the Linden Lab report, but I’ve been asking around and hear from my sources that Microsoft may have made overtures not only toward Linden Lab, but other social-gaming vendors lately. The word from my sources is the Softies are not simply talking partnerships; they’re talking outright purchase.

Well, then. Strange days.

Final Fantasy XIV: Triumph Of The Horsebirds

KWEH! KWEH! help i'm being held prisoner in an outsourcing studio in Guangdong KWEH!

As the latest in a series of fourteen LYING LYING titles, Final Fantasy XIV, is soft-launched, most North American gamers are reacting in this manner:

Something which goes almost unnoticed, though, is the poor quality of the English translation, with much of the game suffering from poor grammar, basic spelling mistakes, etc. Fairly par for the course, of course, for Asian games, and especially ones from Squaresoft. The truly interesting part, though? Apparently, the Japanese version ALSO suffers from poor grammar, basic spelling mistakes, and, in probably the most blasphemous act you can commit in Japan short of giving the Divine Emperor a wedgie, the iconic Chocobo is called… a horsebird.

Note: all further links in this article go to a site that has, um, NSFW advertising for things you typically think of when thinking of anime. I love the Internet SO VERY MUCH.

As Sankaku Complex, which has been summarizing the Japanese side of this story for American readers, notes:

Japanese players of Final Fantasy XIV soon noticed that their own version of the game dispensed completely with the “English” names in favour of names using Chinese characters exclusively.

Most noticeably, “Chocobo” (チョコボ – chokobo) was renamed to “馬鳥,” a meaningless word combining the character for “horse” with that for “bird.”

Chocobos thus became “horsebirds,” a phrase as ridiculous to Japanese ears as to western ones.

Curiously, some users also noticed that “index finger” was written in Chinese (食指) rather than Japanese (人差し指) – a very odd oversight indeed, unless it somehow transpired that the game was actually developed in China.

Soon suspicious users began to connect these changes with another major design change – the highly controversial “fatigue system,” which imposes severe penalties for players who play too long, as Square Enix sees it.

In fact, Chinese law requires all MMORPGs to have just such a “fatigue” system, in order to “protect” players from the addictive properties of these games.

For many, the coincidence of this exact feature appearing in the game alongside an announcement of a full Chinese release cannot be dismissed as coincidence. Soon Square Enix was being accused of making most of the game in China, for the Chinese.

Regarding this sudden change in naming, Square Enix’s Hiromichi Tanaka was at pains to deny it had anything to do with a Chinese version:

“Even in XI there were these Chinese-like Kanji names – it was just intended to build atmosphere. It’s just made-in-Japan Chinese for a Japanese audience, the Chinese version is probably translated completely differently I expect.”

Ah, it’s good to see that the MMO tradition of throwing community people to the lions without adequate briefings of what they comment on knows no cultural boundaries.

And as the game moved to release, Japanese players, again chronicled by Sankaku Complex, listed further suspicious oddities:

After making good its promise to remove “pseudo-Chinese” names, Square Enix seems once again to have inflamed the situation – the sloppy spelling mistakes introduced during the patch are being interpreted as evidence the job was not handled by native Japanese speakers.

“Chocobo” is misspelt “Chocopo”

Just whether this is any improvement over the previous “horsebird” is hard to judge.

“Physical Bonus” is misspelt “Physical Ponus”

“Telepo” is misspelt “Telebo”

“Support Desk” is misspelt “Subbort Desk”

In all cases the errors are caused by confusing the dots and circles which turn syllables like “ho” (ホ) into “bo” (ボ) and “po” (ポ). Most Japanese seem to consider it “absolutely impossible” for a native speaker to have made such an incredibly basic error, let alone so many times.

It’s fairly obvious that Squaresoft did indeed apparently contract much of FFXIV’s development to a Chinese outsourcing firm – a practice which is certainly not unknown to many other game developers. Whether or not they derived any productivity ponus from this remains to be seen.

Oh, COME ON.

GOG.com, the download service that specializes in ancient games old people like me like, admits that they are a bunch of liars.

First of all we’d like to apologize to everyone who felt deceived or harmed in any way by the closedown of GOG.com. As a small company we don’t have a huge marketing budget and this why we could not miss a chance to generate some buzz around an event as big as launching a brand new version of our website

I’m sure all the people who were unable to download the purchases they paid for are fine with that being because Gregor in Web Design wanted to show off his new Ajax library.

The game industry is widely viewed as lacking in professionalism, ethics, and simple maturity. Events such as this don’t help.

Plus, it’s just really *dumb*. When your entire business model is getting people to send you money for virtual things, you don’t hold a big event to point out “Hey, we can cut off access to your purchases with no notice, and for really profoundly stupid reasons!”

You Can Stop, We've Got Enough

SEE Global Entertainment and the completely and totally a real virtual world Project Entropia combine to bring you:

PLANET MICHAEL.

Other sites have brought you the shattering news that you will soon be able to join, and I quote,

an immersive virtual space themed after iconic visuals drawn from Michael’s music, his life and the global issues that concerned him. Entire continents will be created that will celebrate Michael’s unique genius in a way that underscores his place as the greatest artist of all time. Michael’s longtime fans will feel at home as they find themselves in places that seem familiar and yet unknown at the same time, and new generations will discover and experience Michael’s life in a way never before imagined. At its core, Planet Michael is a massive social gaming experience that will allow everyone, from the hardcore fan to the novice, to connect and engage in collaborative in-game activities with people worldwide.

Other MMO websites, shattered by the implications of Michael Jackson’s genius, stopped there. I didn’t. I went behind the headlines to bring you the true story – the world that you, YES YOU, will join in Planet Michael. A world without pity. A world that cannot be stopped.

A world where there is only war.

Players will command the struggle of the mighty Legions of the Rhythm Nation over the shards of Neo Vegas, site of the last concert given by Tom Jones IV in 2095, before the Motown Alliance reduced Earth to nuclear fire. YOU will fight in the never ending Funk War.

And you will command the ultimate weapon in the Funk War, the Mecha Jackson.

Until Planet Michael launches, nay, emerges from its cocoon, awake and in search of dark plunder, you will have to content yourself with this video preview, which you can only see on this website (and also YouTube) of the level 12 raid content soon to come in Planet Michael.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlpTFa-wGc4

Planet Michael: EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW

(note: I am still trying to confirm that Planet Michael will launch with open PVP.)

Open Warrants. Police Record. Fraud. BANNED FROM WIKIPEDIA.

All I can say about this.

In case you missed it the first time, David Allen’s entirely reasonable and not at all making him look like a crazy person jeremaiad against Derek Smart is back online, at least for now until the lawyers wake up again.

The reason I took the blog down was as a sign of good faith to support settlement discussions with QOL. Unfortunately, commitments were made over the near two week period that were not met. Since there is no sign the libel will be removed anytime soon, this overview will remain active as long as necessary.

YEAH! That’ll show ’em!

APB Closing Today

Welp, that’s all, folks.

Despite interest from 300 interested parties, none of a final shortlist of six were “comfortable with buying it as a live operation,” Les Able, spokesperson for Begbies Traynor, told our sister site GamesIndustry.biz this afternoon.

Able added that “staff had been told what the position is”, and the online multiplayer title is now expected to be shut down within the next 24 hours.

This may have already happened, as the eu.apb.com and na.apb.com websites are already offline. The online store is still up as of this writing for you to buy the game and in-game points, though that may not be the wisest of investments.

APB is the shortest-lived MMO ever, having launched on June 29, 80 days ago.

Ex-RTW technical lead Luke Halliwell on his blog yesterday blamed the community team for APB’s failure. Nope, not joking.

Stern-sounding codes of conduct were emailed around that, whatever their intent, in practice scared many developers away from interacting directly with our users. Not to worry, though, because our Community team was on the case! Except if a forum post was about a bug, because that wasn’t their area … bugs were for Customer Support. Who, naturally, didn’t read the forums … because that was Community’s job!

I can see how these rules make sense for big, established online games. Codes of conduct in-game to prevent developers abusing their inside position for in-game success. Codes of conduct on forums to prevent accidental PR disasters. Clear divisions between groups and processes for reporting bugs to ensure smooth handling of large volumes of data.

But these are all problems that successful games have. We had a different problem – engaging with our community and getting people to give a shit about our product – and all these rules and divisions just got in the way.

Actually, “getting people to give a shit about your product” is a bit more core an issue than finger-pointing over who gets to play forum warrior.

As my *fair*, *balanced*, and *not at all a pack of wild mongeese* community of readers has already noted, Halliwell’s followups are far less, um, fingerpointery and delve more into structural issues that plague most projects you shovel money into hoping delicious development candy comes out

When we received the initial $30m to develop MyWorld, management literally reverse-engineered a “hiring curve” (a graph of team size against time) from 3 parameters: the budget available, the desired launch date (set by the investors), and our internal figure for the maximum rate we were able to hire people at (this was the only good part of the plan – Dundee put the brakes on for us!). There are obviously far better ways to plan a project, and I could spend a whole post discussing just that, but for now I just want to focus in on the unquestioned assumption that we should set out to spend all the money.

This attitude infected our company culture at many levels. Almost everything we did, we sought to throw people at, and our hiring created inefficiencies all over the place.

Along with political turf wars…

Opposed to Red was a group that for the sake of argument we’ll call Blue, with diametrically opposed views. Quietly and subtly, perhaps without many in the organisation noticing, these two groups fought for the company’s culture. Ultimately the Blues were destroyed. While probably numerically greater, they held less org-chart power and were forced to work hard for even small concessions. And while the Red relished the meetings and political fighting, the Blue were passionate about getting on with real work, about making our product better, and for the most part gave up the fight to focus on that. The Red weren’t averse to dirty tricks either, such as paying a key Blue to leave (that’s org-chart power for you).

…and having a CEO who can control people with the power of his mind.

The Reality Distortion Field was a double-edged sword for us. I’m pretty sure it was a big part of us raising $100m. It also obviously contributed to our complacency. If anything ever reached crisis point, Dave was always, always able to convince people that everything would be ok. I think at times this prevented us from actually taking problems as seriously as we should have.

I don’t blame Dave for that though; it’s a brilliant skill to have and I don’t think he ever wielded it maliciously. We were the fools for not staying hungry.

Bobby Kotick Incredibly Grateful Mark Pincus Exists

"YOU! STOP CREATING THINGS! I DON'T PAY YOU TO BE PRODUCTIVE!"

An article in this week’s SF Weekly asks the burning question: is Farmville’s Zynga merely evil, or a black hole of vile darkness from which no ethics can escape?

In light of Zynga’s phenomenal rise, one former senior employee recalls arriving at the company eager to discover what new business practices were driving its success in a market where other popular Web 2.0 ventures struggled to make money. What was Zynga’s secret? Not long after starting work, he got an answer. It came directly from Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus at a meeting. And it wasn’t what he expected.

“I don’t f**king want innovation,” the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. “You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”

Workers at Zynga were fond of joking (albeit half-seriously) that their firm’s unofficial motto was an inversion of Google’s famous “Don’t Be Evil.”

“Zynga’s motto is ‘Do Evil,'” he says. “I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I’ve run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach. I’ve tried my best to make sure that friends don’t let friends work at Zynga.”

“We’ve never before seen this kind of deliberate unconcern for the aesthetics of the experience,” says Ian Bogost, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founding partner of Persuasive Games. He says Zynga’s market-driven approach to the development of simple but addictive applications is “like strip-mining. They don’t really care about the longevity of the form or the experience. … That sort of attitude is the sort of thing you usually hear about from oil companies or pharmaceuticals. You don’t really hear about it in arts and entertainment.”

One of the more common complaints among former Zynga employees is about Pincus’ distaste for original game design and indifference to his company’s products, beyond their ability to make money. “The biggest problem I had with him was that he didn’t know or care about the games being good — the bottom line was the only concern,” a former game designer says. “While I am all for games making money, I like to think there’s some quality there.”

Note to Mr. Pincus: at least no one said anything about your dog.

Edit: Just in case there wasn’t enough moustache-twirling in the house, Gawker brings word of Zynga’s secret whales program!

By setting up a non-refundable, bank-to-bank transfer program, as documented in the Zynga email we obtained and have reproduced below, the company can avoid giving a cut of the revenue to credit card companies and processors. More importantly, the program allows gaming addicts to feed their addictions more conveniently; on Facebook Zynga’s game stores can top out at $50 or $200 in virtual credit at a time, effectively turning away the company’s best customers.

Just as a note: if you spend $500 on Farmville, you might have a problem.

David Allen And Derek Smart Can't Stop Posting (Well, Maybe They Can)

Real games. Real posters. Judge Judy.

The blog post that prompted this entry was just replaced with the following: “Note: This blog has temporarily been removed in order to support an amicable resolution to the issue at hand.

Apparently the lawyers finally got involved and told everyone to PLAY NICE ALREADY and…

…so I’m removing my copious re-posting of the OH GOD PLEASE STOP bits, awaiting the day in the future when they reappear and I can properly mock them again.

So, next Tuesday?

In APB's Defense, Babies Are In Fact Magically Delicious

noooooo don't eat that baby

Arnold Hendrick (who as part of a long career designed a game you may have heard of if you’re of a certain age) has a long piece up on why APB failed. (Well, aside from the no one buying it thing.)

A game design is a “baby eater” if high-level players constantly defeat low-level players. APB is a classic example of this. Incoming “baby” players experience nothing but defeat as veterans tear them apart. Despite claiming that a special “threat” system would create “fair” matches, the actual system completely failed. Vastly unequal matches were commonplace in APB. This resulted in no positive word-of-mouth encouraging games to try APB. Instead, discouraged novices spread “bad vibes,” in the form of complaints about everything from real culprits (such as the matchmaking system) to irrelevant issues (a lack of “realistic” gun recoil).

In the final weeks before bankruptcy, Realtime Worlds desperately patched and “fixed” APB. Unfortunately these were minor tweaks to weaponry, outfitting and matchmaking adjustments that did nothing to prevent “baby eating.” Perhaps the senior RTW designers were so in love with the original concept that they couldn’t see the horrible reality. Perhaps there wasn’t the time and resources to make wholesale post-launch changes that fast. The inability of those designers to see the problem during beta was fatal.

MONGO EATS WORLD

I got this mail from, um, Microsoft.

Getting through the most challenging World of Warcraft dungeons, such as Icecrown Citadel and Ulduar, can take hours. Hours that could be spent advancing and finding that next orange drop. WoW players need a secret weapon to help them make more informed decisions when they need them the most maximize XP gains, get the best loot and become a legend of Azeroth. This secret weapon is now available.

Bing.com just launched the Top WoW Items visual search gallery, the unique weapon WoW players can use to find what they need fast and get back to the raid. The Bing visual search gallery reels in data from WoWHead.com’s player-sourced database and organizes it in a visually easy-to-navigate way. Other ways the visual search gallery helps players strengthen and speed up their WoW game include:
· More than 3,000 images of quests, raids and items to get all the right information.
· Easy filtering of information by zone, type of quest, required level, type of item and more for easy navigation.
· Details about loot drops at the end of each arduous raid to increase stats and complete quests.

In addition, the Bing visual search gallery will feature helpful content and commentary from the WoW blogging community. When a blogger, such as yourself, writes about any items within the gallery, a link back to that blog post will be featured on that item’s visual search page.

Go to the Bing visual search gallery to look for exactly what’s needed within moments to get back and conquer the raid. For more details, check out this Bing blog post.

NO. BAD CORPORATION. NO COOKIE.