March 2011

Massive Cutbacks At SOE: Three Studios Closed, Huge Layoffs Elsewhere

The axe fell at the house Firiona Vie built today, as rum0rs have spread (many of which I can confirm anecdotally) that their Seattle studio (where the perpetually delayed The Agency title was in development) as well as their recently acquired collectible card gaming studios in Tuscon and Denver, have all been shuttered. Half of the Austin studio (which had just shipped DC Universe) and many employees at SOE’s headquarters in San Diego are said to have been let go as well.

My condolences for everyone looking for work in what are still lean times for the gaming industry.

Edit: Confirmation from SOE; 205 let go, The Agency cancelled.

EA Strikes Back At People Remaking A Twenty-Six Year Old Game They Gave Away Fourteen Years Ago

All shall bow before the virtue of Justice!

The various Ultima 4 (yes, the one made in 1985, before many of you were born) remakes floating around the web were hit by EA cease and desist letters this week despite EA, um, giving the game away for free.

The fact that EA seems to have no problem with people downloading the 1984 vintage version, yet cracking down on rewrites that people can, you know, actually run as a web based app may well be related to Paul Barnett’s subtly hinting (note: for Barnett, this is actually considered subtlety) at a Facebook-hosted reboot of the Ultima franchise.

World Of Canada Declares War On World Of Warcraft, Users Caught In Very, Very Slow Crossfire

As part of Rogers (Canada’s largest cable ISP) essentially declaring war on Bittorrent, Canadian World of Warcraft players discovered they weren’t immune, as it was discovered this weekend through an audit by Canada’s telecom regulator that Rogers classified the game they were playing as a bandwidth Weapon of Mass Consumption.

Thank you for your letters of February 23rd and 25th, 2011 regarding the impact of Rogers Internet traffic management practices (ITMP) on the interactive game called World of Warcraft.

Our tests have determined that there is a problem with our traffic management equipment that can interfere with World of Warcraft. We have been in contact with the game manufacturer and we have been working with our equipment supplier to overcome this problem.

We recently introduced a software modification to solve the problems our customers are experiencing with World of Warcraft. However, there have been recent changes to the game, which has created new problems. A second software modification to address these new issues will not be ready until June.

The problem, in a nutshell, is twofold.

First, Blizzard launched with a peer-to-peer update system using Bittorrent. While many people complained about this at the time (including myself, loudly), over the years Blizzard has refined their downloader/the Internet has caught up with the need to keep millions of WoW clients updated/people just accepted the fact that patch day downloads were awful. Eventually third party vendors such as Pando other MMOs (especially free to play ones) such as Lord of the Rings Online moved to peer-to-peer updating as well.  However, to ISPs examining traffic, Blizzard’s users were using a Bittorrent client. Because… well, they were!

Second, with the introduction of Cataclysm, Blizzard refined their peer-to-peer downloading system to the point that it was embedded within the client itself, allowing users to play while new content was being streamed to them. This in and of itself wasn’t new, but it meant that WoW players could potentially be running a peer-to-peer application – called World of Warcraft – the entire time they’re playing WoW. Which resulted in Rogers throttling ALL traffic used by the World of Warcraft client, to the point that Rogers customers were being advised in the WoW forums to use a VPN tunnel just so they can play the game.

Of course, you would think that ISPs would be aware that World of Warcraft is, by dint of being one of the if not the most popular internet online game, something that users might be a bit sensitive regarding. Then again, given that Rogers also regularly breaks the internet’s most popular VoIP client because apparently people have the temerity to actually use it, maybe they just don’t care.

So much for that stereotype of Canadians being well-mannered and civil, eh?

Blizzard To Successfully Monetize Guild Drama

I'm saaaaailing away.....

Now your ENTIRE GUILD can individually pay $25 to collectively pack up and move to another server where you’ll no longer have to look at THAT STUPID BASTARD/BITCH/TAMPERPROOF FOOD PRODUCT  that totally destroyed your guild by hitting on your raid leader/whining about loot distribution/wouldn’t respec out of shadow.

(Actually, this is kind of a good idea, if still, um, kinda evil. So I guess that makes it a True Neutral idea. Which means that only druids can activate the  Guild Transfer service. You read it here first.)

(Pic credit here)


Aww, our little hobby made the big time

From the Orange County Craigslist comes this:

I got my WoW account banned yesterday during the archaeology bot ban wave. I wasn’t a gold farmer or seller, never bought gold. I just botted archaeology because it’s a boring profession. I’m looking for a WoW Account Admin ( to unban my account for $1000 USD. No questions asked – your anonymity will be preserved.

This is a serious offer. I live locally and can meet you in person wherever you like with cash, PayPal you money as a gift (non-refundable and non-disputable by me), leave an envelope under a tree, or pay you in any other manner you prefer. You will definitely get your money if I get my account back. You will have my full information – name, address, everything. Email me and I will give you my phone number and we can talk.

Given that this has appeared on some high visibility sites now, I think it’s safe to say his account is going to remain banned for a while. Assuming, you know, it’s not a clever plot by Blizzard’s internal affairs team to flush someone out…

Speaking of money, Blizzard is about to print some more.

A Brief Primer On Geopolitics For Concerned Moviemakers

Successful leaders of totalitarian states wear good suits.

MGM has decided at the last minute that making a movie called “Red Dawn”  about China totally invading the US to death (instead of, you know, merely foreclosing) might not be a good idea if they were to have a successful release in a very important market!

Thus, the movie’s producers have made the extremely practical decision to turn every Chinese person in “Red Dawn” into a North Korean. No. I’m really not making this up at all.

The changes reportedly cost less than $1 million and involve changing an opening sequence summarizing the story’s fictional backdrop, re-editing two scenes and using digital technology to transform many Chinese symbols to Korean.

Apparently, someone really does believe that China and North Korea are just sort of interchangeable parts. I really can’t go into further detail without my head literally exploding in a cloud of racist American idiot-goo.

In the spirit of my previous helpful advice to Sarah Palin about where Russia actually is, and to hopefully educate the producers of “Red Dawn: ChineseKorean Boogaloo” and keep their heads from exploding into racist American idiot-goo as they rub Korean all over the China, here is a typical street scene in Pyongyang, North Korea:

And here is a typical street scene in Shanghai, China:

Here is a picture of  Shanghai at night:

And here is a picture of Pyongyang after dark:

Hopefully this will help you out with that whole switching-out-Chinese-ideograms-for-Korean-hangul thing. If you need to ask more, you could always consult John Milius, the original writer of Red Dawn, who insisted that the thought of China actually invading America was beyond the bounds of realism. Milius’ most recent writing credit is on Homefront, a game about a very realistic North Korean invasion of America.

Second Life Community: We REALLY Fear Change

It was good enough for me in 2004, it's good enough for me now, dammit.

Wagner James Au, one of the most relentless boosters for Second Life (he used to work for the maintainers, wrote a book on the subject and runs a long-running blog/news site) tells the collected user base of Second Life to dear god, just get over it already.

Virtual worlds the size and scope of Second Life need millions in annual revenue to survive, but Second Life’s existing revenue model, while currently successful, is not sustainable into the medium or long term. There are simply not enough people in the real world willing to pay hundreds of dollars a month for virtual land, and those who do now will slowly but inevitably leave for many and various reasons, making Second Life a candidate for lingering death from a thousand cuts.

The reason for this is because Second Life users like Second Life just the way it is, thank you, and kindly stop putting your Facebook in our Farmvilles. In fact, recent mishaps by Linden Lab (Second Life’s owner/maintainer) which I documented here essentially have turned the Second Life community into a battered spouse. “Just *stop hitting us* already! Leave us alone and let us do our thing, OK?” It got to the point that a casual mention of Second Life users maybe possibly looking into this newfangled Facebook thingy on their community site caused a frothing mass of panic and tears.

There’s a few points of failure here.

  • Failure of community management. Community management is a key part of keeping the users you already have, if not happy, at least not rioting in the streets. Yet Linden has gone through several community managers and several reorganizations in the past year and there hasn’t been a lot of outreach, at all, to the opinion shapers. What little has been done has been to the comfortable commentariat – like, well, the linked-above W. James Au – and not to the more irascible, rougher – and sometimes more noteworthy – opinion shapers. Why is there no one from Linden Lab posting on SLUniverse? Why is there no one from Linden Lab talking to Prokofy Neva? Part of community management, inherently, is talking to your community via outreach. And that doesn’t seem to be happening, and in its stead the community is shaping its own opinion outside of any input by Linden – and that isn’t particularly pleasant for Linden’s future growth.
  • Failure of implementation. The initiatives Linden’s done in the past year have not gone well, to put it kindly. The highest-profile – the much-hyped Viewer 2 revamp – has still only been adopted by a minority of users by most metrics. Things such as web-based clients have been announced with great fanfare, prototyped quietly, and then faded away without much notice. Other engineering improvements (such as the ability to import 3D meshes into the grid) have languished. It’s a fair question to ask what, particularly, is planned next, and it’s also a fair question for SL users to *fear* what is planned next, given recent history. Which leads into…
  • Failure of vision. Simply put, Second Life has been devolving from the mass media’s poster child for virtuality into a footnote. Linden doesn’t seem to have a plan for turning this around. To its great good fortune, its potential competitors have done even less well, but “hoping no one else looks in our direction” isn’t a particularly sound business strategy.

To turn this around, Linden needs a two-pronged strategy – one based at keeping their current (and at this point at least profitable) customer base happy, and one based at capturing the imagination of the media and users who have previously left/not been interested in Second Life.

The first is easy – well, that’s not particularly the right way to express it. Knowing what to do first is easy, actually iterating on it less so. What Second Life’s current users need more than anything else are small, easily added quality of life improvements. Nothing that changes how they use the service on a daily basis, but fixing what they already do. Community outreach is key to this – don’t assume you know what your users want. You don’t. Go ask. This is something that has served many MMOs well in customer retention; it’s not particularly undiscovered territory.

The second involves leveraging what Second Life already does well – the ability to be a platform for sometimes unhinged creativity – and moving that to a more accessible place. Be that Facebook, or the greater web, or whatever – but Viewer 3 (or maybe Viewer Reboot or whatever) needs to be *different*. Easier, more accessible, able to run on netbooks/iOS/whatever. And most importantly, not forced on the current user base, but concurrent to/alongside the now-hard-core-by-necessity user base. The beauty of client/server architecture, after all, is that you can have multiple clients. (which SL has already due to the open source nature of the Viewer publishing cycle).

But whatever is done, it needs to be communicated, and it needs to be communicated well, and that communication will be hard, and uncomfortable. Because, Linden, as even your best friends are telling you – you’re dying.

Lord British To Return To His Long Absent Throne, Possibly Look Around, Then Leave Again

Lord British, last seen in Ultima Online 3,647 days ago.

Do you have $3.8 million lying about? Richard Garriott wants to talk to YOU.

Lord British’s New Britannia (working title) will be a social networking game built around Garriott’s famous alter ego, which he wholly owns – as opposed to the Ultima universe, which Electronic Arts has the rights to.

Any actual description of “what a social networking game built around a guy who was in those Ultima games” entails was left as an exercise for someone (possibly the person(s) who get stuck with actually making Lord British’s New Britannia once the all important “Getting rights to the name”, “Getting $3.8 million in funding”, and “Turning my castle into a spaceship that can orbit the greater Austin area and rain down holy fire upon the just and the unjust” steps have been completed). However, Garriott had this solitary tidbit:

…the virtual world game is not just an ultra-light MMO shopped on social media. I think that would be a failure.

So, you know, it’ll have a lot of depth. He said so. Right there. Or it’ll be a failure. It’ll be one of those.

Meanwhile, nothing has been heard of a related project, SEE Entertainment’s Planet: Michael.