November 2008

Better Dating Through Epics

Geek goddess (dude, she was on BBSs!) Felicia Day of “The Guild” explains how to attract women like Felicia Day in WoW.

Your set pieces need to match because I like a guy with detail. You don’t want to look haphazard. I understand when you’re leveling you need to take what you can get, but there are always ways to refine the way you look. So tailor your look so it is not horrible-looking together with your set pieces and your equipment. And I would say if you’re wearing a pink princess shield, that’s probably not a turn on.

This is what I like to call “unhelpful encouragement.” And why is it unhelpful to encourage? As always, Penny Arcade has the answer:20080728

Everything Looks Better With A Chart

Adam Martin takes a detailed look at how to guesstimate MMO subscriber numbers.

I am a bit leery about this whole “gotta know how many subs MMO has!” long running discussion. Part of it is because I’m fairly engaged with the general MMO fanbase, who use MMO sub numbers solely as a weapon (if they like an MMO, big numbers mean they are right, if they dislike an MMO, small numbers mean they are right). And part of it is just trying to work in the same industry as Blizzard, with the unspoken, or all too often spoken demand of “hey, why don’t YOU get eleven quadjillion subscribers, anyway?”

I suppose I don’t really take the long view. In the end if an MMO makes enough back to pay the initial investment, keep everyone on salary and kick a bit back to the owners, oh, and is also, you know, a fun game, I consider it a success. But that’s a view that is increasingly out of fashion.

Jack Bauer Wouldn’t Have These Issues

Richard Bartle discusses a disturbing Wrath of the Lich King quest.

I don’t mind having torture in an MMO — it’s the kind of thing a designer can use to give interesting choices that say things to the players. However, I do mind its being placed there casually as a run-of-the-mill quest with no regard for the fact that it would ring alarm bells: this means either that the designer can’t see anything wrong with it, or that they’re actually in favour of it and are forcing it on the player base to make a point. Neither case is satisfactory.

What Bartle missed is that this isn’t actually the first quest where you have to inflict pain on people until they talk – most people will make a deathknight, and as part of their creation, get a mission (complete with specially crafted weapons) to interrogate soldiers until they give up intelligence.

Of course, as a deathknight, you’re supposed to be, well, evil. Right hand of the forces of darkness, etc. etc. So it’s justifiable in that context, and even works in concert with the other quests in this sequence which make a great effort to emphasize hey, you’re not a very nice person (of course setting in motion the inevitable redemption so that you can safely go forth and rid the Outland of hellboars alongside everyone else). But, clearly, that content was reused, and done so without a whole lot of thought. Hey, we have the ability to attach “interrogate NPC” flags to equipment now? Sweet, roll up 3 more quests!

Pretty much no matter how you treat this, issues happen. If you, as Bartle suggests, give some kind of “opt-out” reaction to enable an in-character revulsion to torture, you just stuck a deep political statement into a game where dwarves tool around on Harleys and one of the first NPCs you see as a deathknight is called “Siouxie the Banshee”. If you *don’t*, you just trivialized a deep political statement, or more damningly, shown you don’t really have an opinion on the subject.

Which is all very ironic considering that games like World of Warcraft are all about slaughtering millions of creatures so you can take their stuff and get more powerful so you can take more stuff from more creatures you slaughter. In that context poking people with a painstick before you slaughter them seems like a minor issue.

No, Wait… Bots: Our Last, Best Hope For The MMO Industry

Adam Martin, late of NCsoft Europe and currently thinking deep thoughts, in the midst of writing an article about the potential size of the online industry (hint: it’s pretty damned big) postulates an interesting theory: it’s not in the interests of MMO developers to know the size of their own player base.

On average, each of you reading this probably has something like 200-300 separate online identities. On average, each of you reading this probably BELIEVES you have something like 2-3 separate online identities. Factor of 100 difference (have fun counting them…).

Those virtual identities are the lifeblood of online services. They are countable, they are serviceable – and they are uniquely and individually chargeable (even when several of these identities may represent just one real-world human: if the identities are separate, then you can charge multiple times, and many people really do willingly pay several times over!)

One of the most popular digs on Mythic when I was there was that “buff bots” were never properly dealt with due to the financial incentive towards keeping them around. This wasn’t entirely true, but the bottom line does have a certain seductive allure, and it’s in the interest of an effective game designer to champion the long term view (rampant botting pisses your players off and shrinks your market) over the short term view (bots pay money just like the rest of us!)

Androgynous Angels: Our Last, Best Hope For The MMO Industry

The Korea Times reports on the state of the MMO market in Korea. Hint: it’s lookin’ grim.

The demise of ZerA touches off a sentimental response from Nexon and other Korean game publishers, as it had been anointed one of the “big three” from the class of 2006 ― along with Webzen’s “SUN” and HanbitSoft’s “Granado Espada.”

At the time of their releases, the trio shouldered hopes to expand an industry that looked to be just entering its peak. Nearly three nondescript years later, the games have been reduced to examples of what can go wrong.

The article goes on to proclaim NCsoft’s Aion the next big thing based on, well, Korea needing a next big thing.

“The local gaming industry hasn’t seen a mega hit like Linaege or World of Warcraft in recent years, which increases the chances for Aion to create an immediate following,” said Janice Lee, an analyst from Woori Investment and Securities.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an NCsoft news story without somebody talking smack about Tabula Rasa, would it?

NCsoft, the kingpin of the local gaming industry, also has its own demons that need exorcising. The company is now reluctantly discussing whether to pull the plug on “Tabula Rasa,” developed by famed game developer Richard Garriott and the product of a seven-year, 100 billion won ($69m) investment.

Tabula Rasa is now looking more and more like a monumental bust, earning less than four billion won ($2.7m) in the first-half of this year. NCsoft can ill-afford having another expensive project blow up in its face.

Bear in mind that the Korea Times specifically has a long history of declaring Tabula Rasa totally dead, dude. Then again, this isn’t really limited to the Korea Times lately. Then again, NCsoft’s announcement of NC West would seemingly back up a distancing from the Austin studio. Then again, they totally said that it was full steam ahead for Tabula Rasa. Then again, what the hell do I know?

PlayNoEvil hits on another aspect of the story: when Nexon closed ZerA, a free-to-play microtransaction title, they let players cash out their assets for Nexon cash. Not quite the same thing as a refund (since it simply means you spend that money on other Nexon games) but still an interesting precedent, backing up the inherent percieved value of F2P microtransactions.

Nihilum/SK Gaming Beat World of Warcraft Expansion, Go On To Establish Peace In Middle East, Save Madonna’s Marriage

gg hf

The question in all our minds right now is if we could do this, how soon until the rest of the top guilds in the world clear all the raid content that WOTLK has to offer? Did Blizzard miscalculate in the tuning of these encounters? Or is this Blizzard folding under the weight of a large casual player base that demands to be on equal footing with end-game raiders?

Early trenchant commentary comes from Quarter To Three:

I see one of the raid bosses dropped a rather large entitlement complex as loot.

Further analysis from the ironically named Elitist Jerks community:

No one will ever be satisfied. SSC/TK were available at TBC Launch and everyone thought it was a mistake in retrospect. The fact that the two top guilds in a unified effort cleared the ENTRY LEVEL RAIDS, once they hit 80, shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.


Their insinuation that this is a failure is pathetic. Lich King is not about hardcore end-game raiding, and never really has been; all the changes made have reinforced quite the opposite. This used to be their (SK/Nih) niche, and Blizzard toned it down. I’ll worry more about difficulty when we get past the Karazhan of LK. In fact, I’d be more worried if this took longer than 7 days.

It should also be noted that the penultimate raid (the one where you can kill the aforementioned Lich King who has been wrathing it up all over the place) is, in time honored MMO fashion, To Be Patched In Later. (Blizzard followed this same model the last time, of course.)


But the larger question SK/Nih/CombinedGuildTheyFormedBecauseTheyJustWeren’tUberEnoughAlready poses – “is Blizzard folding under the weight of a large casual player base that demands to be on equal footing with end-game raiders” – is fairly easily answered.

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we? Courtesy of those XML parsers at Wowjutsu, we have, out of guilds that have members with loot from Karazhan (the basic 10-man raiding dungeon that is so accessible even *I* can participate):

  • Black Temple, the “end-game” raid for Burning Crusade: 19%
  • Sunwell, the “post-max” raid patched in near the end of Burning Crusade’s life cycle: 5%

Gosh. It’s almost like the numbers are telling us something. What could it be? You think maybe Blizzard focused its efforts on the majority of the player base instead of 5%? Those horrible, horrible bastards, ignoring the Everquest 1 paradigm of aspirational content that the masses can worship less than 1% of the player base for completing!


Of course, if you REALLY beat down WoW like a red-headed stepchild and feel bored with the universe, other options do exist.