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I Feel A Disturbance In The Force, As If Several Servers Cried Out In Terror, And Then Were Silenced

SOE to close Star Wars Galaxies in December.

On December 15, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and LucasArts will end all services (MMO and Trading Card Game) for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). The shutdown of SWG is a very difficult decision, but SOE and LucasArts have mutually agreed that the end of 2011 is the appropriate time to end the game.

The launch of a different Star Wars-related MMO by a competitor in late 2011 is, no doubt, a coincidence.

Massively has more from John Smedley on SWG’s closure.

The decision to shut down SWG is first and foremost a business decision mutually agreed upon between SOE and LucasArts. LucasArts has a new game coming out, and the contract would be running out in 2012 anyway, so we feel like it’s the right time for the game to end.

SOE has taken flak for various problems in the game’s past — do you think the company will take a reputation hit for this decision, and are you prepared for that?

There’s really nothing we can do about it. We’ve taken some hard-knocks for SWG in years past with the NGE. We’ve apologized for it. It was a mistake, and not one we’re going to make as a company ever again. But we’re really proud of the great work that we’ve done over the years since then. I’m really proud of the game. It’s great. Is it going to bum people out that it’s over? Yes. Including us. Maybe even especially us.

How is the staff taking it?

Well, nobody’s losing his job or anything. They’re going to be transferred onto an undisclosed new project in Austin.

For now, I leave you with the best of SWG:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aqSp7Qji-M

And The Lamb Lies Down In A Crate On Broadway

Your frequently asked questions about the dude shipping himself cross-country while playing LotRO.

1: He has a friend driving him across the country on a truck, so no, it’s not just “sticking a tag on a box and mailing yourself Fed-Ex”.

2: Performance art would be my guess. Also the fact that bloggers like myself really can’t resist stupid stories like this.

3: Probably not a Warden since they’re pretty latency-dependent!

4: 7 days.

5: Yeah, it is pretty dumb

6: I’m pretty sure it’s not technically against the law to lock yourself in a crate for a week.

7: Yeah, I’d be worried about the hard drive, too.

8:

Always Bet On Poo

Always bet on Catholic schoolgirls.

Duke Nukem Forever is out. No, really! It only took 15 years. So now people can talk about the game as opposed to the development drama.

Surprisingly, a shooter that took 15 years to make about a foul-mouthed Schwarzenegger clone did not address the same target market as, say, Shadow of the Colossus or Braid. To quote Ars Technica:

In the first few moments of Duke Nukem Forever, your character pees in a urinal and then earns an achievement for reaching into a toilet and extracting a piece of human excrement. Why does the game reward you for doing this? I have no idea. It’s not part of a joke or important to the story; the designers of the game apparently feel that you would miss out by not holding some poo in your virtual hand.

So, this is not a game that is not going to make you feel deeply about life, unless to you life is poo (in which case, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft has entire quest lines that will bring you fulfillment). This is a game where… well, here, look at the cover.

WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING, PEOPLE. This is not subtle! Look, there’s a nuclear explosion, and Vegas, and aliens, and covering all of that is some big guy who is waiting patiently for you to give his pistol a blowjob. This is not Shakespeare! Well, except for the plays we don’t talk about. This is the very epitome of embarrassing low brow entertainment. This is, to put not too fine a point on it, the gaming equivalent of a strip club. Which is fine! The fact that strip clubs exist do not prevent you from going to a sushi bar for a nice dinner. It’s a big world, and they coexist peacefully. Plus, if you do want to go to a strip club (and I’m totally not judging you here, really) you’re not going to consult the reviews first. “Oh, I’m not going to Spearmint Rhino tonight, the review in Friday’s Times said it was loud and overrated.” NO! You just go! You just buy the game, and you play it, and you maybe giggle slightly nervously as you blow pregnant rape victims apart with your shotgun. You just DO, OK?

This is why reviewers exist, really. They exist to have FUN with games like these. Such as the above-mentioned Ars Technica review:

I have to install and play this piece of garbage on the PC to see how that version holds up, and make sure there’s nothing to be salvaged from the multiplayer.

Or Destructoid:

A festering irrelevance with nothing to offer the world.

Or Gamespot:

While much of Duke Nukem Forever is embarrassingly bad–the kind of game you point and laugh at–its biggest problem is that it’s so tedious…This game takes an icon and turns him into a laughingstock. Except, no one’s laughing.

Or the Escapist:

A deeply flawed game that I would have stopped playing after five minutes were it not a requirement of my job to play longer.

This is what reviewers pray for nightly. A game that is so awfully, joyously unreviewable that every drop of snark they can muster can just masterfully splatter all over the virtual page. Reviewers are grateful for things like this. Such as this review of the movie aimed at the identical target market for DNF, Sucker Punch.

The first is its complete failure to create any sort of meaningful narrative. To be blunt: This movie is dumb and doesn’t make sense and appears to have been written by sleeping frogs.

Now come on. Admit it. The reviewer loved writing this. I mean, you can’t use “appears to have been written by sleeping frogs” for, say, the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Sometimes a movie, or a game, is just so gloriously off the rails that you rejoice at being able to bust out the metaphors you never, ever get away with.

Which makes the hamfisted attempts at ‘damage control’ by Jim Redner, until-very-recently-2K’s public relations rep, even more odd.

too many went too far with their reviews…we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom

What? No! You don’t threaten people with access to content management publishing systems to stop using content management publishing systems! Much like DNF wallows in the joy of its own affection for poo, its PR team should wallow in the joy of the reviews that point out it’s poo. Link to them! Celebrate them! Give DukePoints to whomever uses the most spittle-flecked metaphors! You’re poo, you like poo, roll around in the poo and smile while you show everyone your poo!

And then, announce Duke Nukem Forever After. 2012 release.

A (Lack Of) Programming Note

I’ve gone ahead and switched the internal blog commenting system back on. The forums will stick around in their current woefully ignored state (I’ll probably need them for something else eventually) but I haven’t had the time to integrate them fully into WordPress as I planned to, so they tend to be more of a hindrance to commenting on things for all save the hardest of core.

We meant to do better, but it came out as always.” – Viktor Chernomyrdin, typically cheerful Russian politician

Call Of Booty: We’re So Money

"I just made $12 million while you were laughing at this picture."

Modern Warfare 3 to ship with a subscription service called Call of Duty: Elite. Well, then.

This is so industry-asploding money-printing what-were-movies-again big that some news sources you don’t expect to see linked to on my silly little blog dedicated to amusing EA executives commented on this. Such as, oh:

Wall Street Journal:

First of all, it’s important to keep something in mind: People don’t like to give up more of their money. This is just a general rule.

But in addition to the expected “gaming companies are greedy” comments, there is a lot of confusion about exactly what the new service will involve – and just what people will get for their money.

That disconnect is coming in large part because “Call of Duty” maker Activision doesn’t seem to have ironed out all the details yet. Activision executives told The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Wingfield that they haven’t yet figured out how much to charge for the service – although the Journal reports that it will likely be $7.99 or less. They have said parts of the service will be free, but there are conflicting reports about what exactly those free parts will include.

Forbes:

…like yet another company trying to overcapitalize on social networking BS, as I can speak for the majority of Call of Duty players when I say I don’t give a shit about the interests of the people I’m virtually shooting. And how can portions of a monthly paid subscription service be free? That sentence doesn’t even make sense.

The Guardian:

The driving force behind Elite is clear – the desire to gain revenue from the vast numbers of gamers who regularly play Call of Duty titles online for free. According to Activision, 20 million people play Call of Duty online every month – more than seven million every day.

This number represents a vast source of untapped income – and in an era of declining retail sales for games, identifying new streams of digital revenue is becoming vitally important. The problem is, attempting to install a subscription charge on online multiplayer activity would meet with massive resistance from gamers, who have always enjoyed free access to online functionality with shooter games.

Gamasutra (ok, I link to them all the time but it’s a good instanalysis):

While he’s something of a lightning rod among gamers, it’s worth noting that Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter was the first to forecast this service last year. And while he says he’s still sussing out the particulars, he doesn’t expect Activision to shove Elite down players’ throats out of the gate.

“I think Activision hopes to get up to 1 million subscribers this year,” says Pachter. “From there, they hope to get it up to 3 million next year, then up to 5 million. Over time, they’d like to migrate everyone over to it.”

One million subscribers isn’t exactly pocket change, but with a player base of 7 million users, it’s achievable – and it’s something that would be more than a blip on the company’s earnings.

“I think they’re in this for the long run,” he says. “For their next [fiscal] year, 1 million subscribers [to Elite] is about an added 3 cents per share. It’s meaningful, but who knows ultimately if they’ll end up with 1 million or 10 million.”

If those numbers do start to increase, look for the company to expand the Elite model to other notable franchises. And the most obvious places to do so are StarCraft and Bungie’s upcoming title.

So while the mainstream media ties itself up in knots over OMG WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, those of us who have followed the game industry follies for a while, including Activision treating the people who actually made Call of Duty a billion-dollar franchise with all the gratitude due the indentured servants they clearly believe them to be, this isn’t exactly a surprise. After all, here’s Bobby Kotick from a few years ago:

[The games we passed on] don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we’ll be working on them 10 years from now.

How do you exploit people playing your game online for free? Well, charge them, duh.

In Retrospect, I Guess We Shouldn’t Be Surprised

Guardian: Chinese labor camps using slave labor to farm for gold in WoW

“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”

Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.

But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real.

“If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.

There are several independent things that are very, very wrong about this.

Writing Words, LIKE A BOSS

Oh, hi, I have a blog still. (I’d feel more guilty about neglecting it if someone didn’t invent the RSS feed.)

Ryan Seabury, formerly of NetDevil and very small genitalia, found a really great way to hype his new social game company: inhale SCREW YOU GUYS I HATE MAKING MMOS BECAUSE THEY SUCK AND YOU SUCK AND DID I MENTION THE SUCKING THING BECAUSE TOTALLY THAT GOES IN THERE SOMEWHERE exhale.

So of course, I had to be grumpy and fight for the status quo, because I’m old and still worry about things like facts. Or something.

I simply realized there actually hadn’t been an “MMO game” to get out of for at least two, three years. It’s no longer a meaningful label. Point at any significant entertainment experience trending today, you won’t be able to find one without some kind of social feature layers and persistent aspects. No one cares if something is “single player” or “multi player” or “massively multiplayer” anymore. We have come to a point where the game concept trumps such insignificant bullet points, and global social connectivity is a given.

This is a vast oversimplification, unless you think Farmville is an MMO. Note: Farmville is not an MMO. Sorry, Terra Nova. I didn’t think someone who advertises themselves as an MMO designer would, you know, need this explained to them, but an MMO is specifically a game that derives its attraction from having hundreds of people interact in a persistent environment. Farmville fails this test because there isn’t any meaningful interpersonal interaction (aside from advertising for the greater glory of Zynga to all your friends, of course). World of Tanks, which I lately have been finding a lot of enjoyment in trying to blow up large tanks with smaller tanks and failing miserably, fails this test barely, in my opinion, because it’s essentially a session-based shooter with some character persistence – if you call World of Tanks an MMO, you have to call Modern Warfare 2 an MMO, too. And while Ryan may do so, I don’t. You don’t play MW2 for the levelling, you play it to shoot people in the face. Which, while multiplayer, isn’t massively multiplayer in that there are only so many people you can shoot in the face.

Now, at which point the number of face-shooting opportunities you have transcends multiplayer and moves into massively multiplayer is worthy of some discussion, and may have been the point Ryan was trying to make, except he then immediately descended into some random tangent about Megan Fox. I kind of get that, because she’s much cuter than a design doc, but it doesn’t really help with making your point. “Global social connectivity” isn’t a gameplay feature, it’s a buzzword. Bundling in a Facebook API does not magically make your game an MMO.

At NetDevil, we were never that interested in safe, cookie-cutter projects. We always tried to push some boundary, be it genre, technology, or creativity.  As a result, we watched business models completely vaporize and consumption styles totally shift during the course of each of our projects. With cycles this long and risky, you basically get one shot to succeed in half a decade. Ever been to Vegas?  Ever put all your weekend money on a single number in roulette? It’s kind of like that. Better have some backup bling to bet that big.

I think he’s trying to make a point here about game development being overly expensive and risk averse. I might be projecting, though, and really, I’m only guessing, especially because he then launches into:

Playing around is expensive when you lead teams of hundreds over many years. Playing on the same project, no matter how deep, for many years at a time, is exhausting creatively. I also felt I would like to ship more than four or five games in my entire career.

My long time business partners and founders of NetDevil, Scott Brown and Peter Grundy, reached similar conclusions. So we came together again to form END Games, with a new mission to turn our approaches upside down while leveraging all the expertise we’ve learned in a decade of making the most complex and technically demanding entertainment forms known to man.

So, basically, new company, leveraging synergy LIKE A BOSS. Got it.

And Ryan’s point four of three (no, really):

In fact I came to a realization the other day, almost everything I consume in entertainment comes at the recommendation of a friend or social network contact. I don’t channel surf anymore, I don’t bother reading game or movie reviews, I don’t look at the NY Times Bestseller list. Not saying that plenty of people don’t still do these things, but I don’t. It’s not as efficient or risk-free as letting people I know tell me what sucks and what rocks, and deciding based on what I know of their preferences.

Am I a consumer free at last from the tyranny of the retail distribution monoliths of the 20th century? Of course not. Somehow my social network is getting informed about new products and experiences, and the best of these make their way to me based on personal credibility. It seems like the marketing is just less direct and intrusive, albeit maybe a touch nefarious in some cases.

You still need to market, and the same people still own most of the important channels. Yes there’s a lot of noise-over-signal in the market place. But finally, after all these years of the industry moaning lack of innovation and sameness, there is noise! As a player, it’s like everyday you can find a new box of random toys to sift through and discover little gems in.

Noise is good. Don’t let the PR trend of the day scare you  Everyone pushing the message “it’s too hard for products to get noticed now” is selling something. Like a good dating network, artists are finding more compatible audiences quicker thanks to ubiquitous internet and technology and the nature of the idea of “network”. It may take time and patience and a little bit of money and sweat. Still, what a great opportunity to have some fun and try some ideas that would never clear production oversight in traditional development models!

So – to break this down: social networks changed everything for Ryan, Ryan never talked to his friends about movies before Facebook, Ryan figured out guerilla marketing, and Ryan’s new company is going to work on low budget Cow Clicker clones.

Our next title was built to answer the question “What is the simplest game construct possible?” We believe we found the bizarrely addictive answer in Click!, which will be playable on iOS devices as soon as Apple gets around to approving it, or maybe Android if they take too long.

OK, so I’ve been really snarkily harsh (you shouldn’t be surprised, it’s kind of what I do) and there are a couple of valid points lost in the free floating hype. Traditional game development is in an arms race of ever-escalating budgets that choke creativity, casual gaming does give the opportunity for game developers to Make! Money! Fast! (admittedly, usually by promptly selling their company to Zynga), and it is important for game developers on the edge of burnout to have private projects, game related or not, that they derive personal and professional satisfaction from.

Of course, just writing it as a paragraph like that doesn’t mean I can get Kotaku to hype my new social game company. LIKE A BOSS.