August 2006

RMT Sucks! (This Blog Brought To You By Gold Farmers United)

There’s a couple of threads going on at Quarter to Three discussing Battlefield 2142, and specifically its alliance with IGA Advertising, and thus the ability to enjoy tasty Fanta ads while defending Earth from Zur and the Ko-Dan Armada or whatever.

In-game advertising is not a trend I’m particularly happy with. Specifically, when it’s used not as a means of defraying expenses, but as an additional revenue stream. With most games that have this “product placement”, the game itself isn’t any less expensive.

Anarchy Online, and now Planetside are both notable exceptions, having free-to-play modes and in-game advertising. In Anarchy Online’s case, paying subscribers aren’t displayed these ads, so there actually is something of a quid pro quo; an advertiser-supported version of the game without subscription fees. Planetside, on the other hand displays in-game ads to both paying and non-paying subscribers. And in both, the ads are sometimes wildly, wildly out of sync with their respective game worlds:

Now, I know that fighting for the suspension of disbelief is a dying creed in an online world where people argue about whether or not it’s worth going for a critical hit chance of 9% in lieu of a 10% chance to avoid stuns. But still, this bothers me on a very fundamental level, for two seperate yet somewhat related reasons.

The first reason, as I mentioned, is storytelling. Basically, once you have Motely Crue rocking your world, you’ve pretty much given up on any pretense of having your own story. You’ve sold it for a mess of pottage (and Motley Crue’s pottage? Pretty damned messy). You no longer care about a coherent user experience; you’ve sublet it out to a “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” ad campaign.

The second, and more important to my mind, is in service. People are paying for a game. They should not then become mineable revenue streams – they are customers who have paid for a service. They should not become commodities. Yet in selling out ad space within our games, we as game creators are commodifying our customers. We are saying that their worth is such that we’re willing to plop in an ad and make a few microcents more every time they log in. In so many words, we’re saying: Hey, we’re really greedy.

And it’s not just games. My XM radio (that I pay a subscription for) plays Cialis ads on supposedly ad-free stations. When I go see a movie, I have to sit through an ad I don’t want to see (for Coke or something similarly unrelated) before seeing the ads I do want to see (the “Coming Attractions” reel). We are becoming a commodified society. Every blank space is virgin territory for the marketers to move in and paint with an appeal for auto insurance quotes.

Which, ironically enough, is a large part of what I’m trying to take a vacation from by playing games. Go figure.

Fear And Loathing In DEDust

This is some kind of very clever parody of gaming journalism.

You know you’re in trouble when your gaming is interrupted by a scream of “come on you f**kers, who’s first?” Things generally go south from there if, when you turn around, you find a completely naked man with a giant erection standing in the middle of the room, beckoning for someone to come over and sit on his lap.

“What the f**k?” I said, turning to my opponent in a now paused game of Rise of Nations. He laughed and leaned towards me so that our crazed colleague couldn’t hear – quite unnecessary, as he was now loudly harassing someone at the far end of the room – and said, with that glint in his eye and half choked laughter in his throat, “we spiked his soup with sextasy.”

“What the f**k is sextasy?” I asked, ever the innocent farm boy.

“It’s E[ecstasy] and Viagra,” my opponent turned guru explained. “E can make you go limp, which is a bitch because it makes everything feel so much better. Mix E with Viagra, though, and you solve that problem.”

Yes, I am frequently accosted by large priapic men while playing real time strategy games.

Those ritalin junkies at Corpnews have more.\’c2\~

Blows Against The Empire

Industry analysts DFC Intelligence answer the question: is it even possible to compete with World of Warcraft any more?\’c2\~ (Hint: yes.)

The game has raised the bar for MMOG products, particularly in terms of revenue generation. However, there are some fundamental misconceptions about the game that are particularly problematic. In the end, it is a great game that has perhaps recalibrated investor expectations for MMOG products beyond what makes sense. There is a lot of supposedly new talk about the “World of Warcraft model”. To longtime industry observers, this talk is more retro (or even tired) than it is revolutionary. We have heard this tune before, only where the lyrics once featured EverQuest, now they sing World of Warcraft.

Achieve The Four Modernizations And Defeat Kel’Thuzad!

Xinhua, the People’s Republic of China’s official news agency, has news from the making of the sequel to Learn from Lei Feng Online (now just, regrettably, “Chinese Heroes”):

“We hope the game will teach players about Chinese ethics,” said Kou Xiaowei, an official with China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), main sponsor of the initiative.

However, gamers being treated in the Beijing Internet Addiction Treatment Center were skeptical about the games, which they said sounded “too simple” and even “comical.”

“The game sounds boring to me, it’s a turn-off,” said Wang Yuhang, a 14-year-old boy in the center. Eighty out of the 100 teenagers at the center are addicted to an American online game called the World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most popular in China.

According to the company’s financial report, on a typical evening in China there may be anywhere up to 630,000 gamers playing WoW simultaneously online in the country. While the American game reaps huge profits, “Chinese Heroes” remains blocked at the drawing board stage.

“Teenagers seek adventure and fulfillment in dramatic and skill-demanding games like WoW. If hero games do not focus on killing and domination, gamers will definitely not play them,” said Tao Ran, director of the center.

There’s just so many things wrong in so few paragraphs.

It’s A Good Thing They Nailed That Whole Watergate Thing…

…because when it comes to online gaming, the Washington Post is batting .000 on “having a clue”.

Remember “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, (Select) Start”? If you grew up playing the shoot-’em-up game “Contra” on your Nintendo Entertainment System, chances are that cheat is forever frozen in your brain., one of the most popular game-cheating sites, recently listed it atop its “top 10 most memorable cheats” in gaming history.

Says Jeff Veasey, an editor at GameFaqs: “I hate to admit it, but cheating is a part of playing games.”

But what constitutes cheating? Is cheating less objectionable when you don’t have to pay for it? As in, looking up a code on the Internet, where it’s free, versus dropping$16.99 for a copy of the strategy guide for “Madden NFL 2007”? When roaming the online “World of Warcraft,” is cheating warranted so long as the only one affected is you? For example, buying weapons on eBay instead of earning them in the game?

Yes, clearly there is NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER between buying a strategy guide and duping gold.

Can I write for one of the world’s leading newspapers? About something like, I don’t know, nuclear fission? I clearly know as much about that as the Post knows about my industry.

All bashing of that old whipping boy “mainstream media” aside, this article does have some worth in that it mirrors the clueless “wha…” of a large segment of the MMO userbase… they cheat on every other game they play, with no ill effect. Why should MMOs be different? (Hint: other people are involved.)

Current Terror Alert Code: RAGNAROS

Say you’re a guild leader in World of Warcraft. You have a girl in your guild. You talk a lot on Vent, one thing leads to another and what do you know, you’re on a plane to visit. These things happen.

When they happen, do NOT drop your iPod down the airplane toilet. Because you WILL, from there, inexorably fall down the rabbit hole

They asked me why I was visiting Canada. I was to visit a friend I met on World of Warcraft, Cara. They took down her name and what I could remember of her address. They asked me how we met.

“In an online game.”
“What online game?”
“Umm … World of Warcraft,” I responded meekly.
“What kind of game is this?”
“It’s a fantasy game … it takes place online.”
“Fantasy … like it’s got wizards and warlocks?”
“Well, it’s got warlocks.” (And they need to be nerfed.)

They asked me to describe my relation to Cara. I told them that people meet up in the game and go on adventures together, and that Cara and I were in a guild together that I was the leader of. They confused the concept of a guild with the game, however, and I had them believing that I was the Lord and Leader of all of WoW until I was able to correct them, and explain to them what a guild was.

So, when they put the pieces together; namely, that I was visiting a female person that I had met over a computer game, their next line of questioning went down an obvious path.

“So you and Cara are friends?”
“How long have you known her?”
“About 5 months I think? Maybe less.”
“Do you have a romantic relationship with Cara?”
“Do you want a romantic relationship with Cara?”
“OK, so … if you and Cara were drunk together, and she turned to you and said, ‘Tim, let’s go–‘”

I interrupted him. “Excuse me … what’s the point of these questions?” The detective hardened. “Let me make things clear. I ask questions. You answer them. Do we have an understanding?”

News coverage in the Canadian media here. An account from another passenger on the plane is here.

I Want My, I Want My IGE

Simon Carless of Gamasutra gives what, to date, is probably the most even-handed coverage of IGE, asking James Clarke, the company’s Shanghai-based COO, some pointed questions about what it’s like to be a parasite on a growing industry (oh, sorry, did I say that out loud?):

However, it’s obvious that IGE does not share that belief [that RMT is a violation of the rules and EULA of several online games they service], with COO Clarke commenting pointedly: “We very much stand behind the concept of in-game property being owned by the players”, and expressing “exceptionally high confidence” that this belief is true. Of course, U.S. and international courts have not ruled absolutely definitively on the matter, and indeed, Clarke claims that no companies have ever tried to challenge IGE legally over their behavior. But it’s clear that IGE continues to find enough suppliers to allow its business to grow, despite multiple MMOs banning users for ‘gold farming’.

I Must Give A Shoutout To The Man In Charge Of All Art

So, I will totally abuse my lofty bloggy perch and take you away from class vs. skill debates to point you in the direction of an interview with Mat Weathers, the person behind some of Mythic’s most stunning artwork (whatever you may think of Trials of Atlantis, the jaw-dropping artwork in places like the Halls of Ma’ati? All due to his attention to craft) and a close friend of mine who I with much regret had to leave behind. The interview (while misspelling his first name) does a great job of showcasing how he’s probably one of the most interesting and well spoken people I’ve met in the industry. Plus, he had the good sense to marry another of my close friends, Sanya Weathers, which certainly helped to simplify my social life.

Just to explain to you the gestalt of Mat. My first day at Mythic, I’m still shellshocked from driving to Virginia, being in a new place, being a new job, and being at a game company. So I’m not terribly… all there. And as I’m walking toward the office, there’s this really imposing guy (and mind you, anyone who strikes me as imposing? IS.) who yells at me, “DUDE!”

I look around. Who? Me?

“Dude!” he repeats, pointing at me. “Your CAR!”

I look at my car in a panic. It’s a big red Crown Victoria police refit, and as such has a huge suspension and is pretty high up off the ground.

“My… wha?”

“You’ve got to get your car LOWERED!”, he shouts gleefully. Sadly, this never happened, so he had to content himself with his child, namely a 1967 Chevy Nova (which appears in the photo for the article). He also writes incredibly funny movie reviews (the last one I saw casting most of a horror movie as creatures from the Monster Manual, complete with stats) which if he ever gets a web site up and running you’ll be able to read as well.

At any rate, there are many people behind these MMO beasts. So occasionally you may see random shoutouts like these, because like the players of the games we make, we’re all about the connections that we forge.