SOE Adds RMT To Vanguard, Vision In A Corner Weeping Softly

SOE continued its adding RMT components to its games last week with the addition of LiveGamer support to Vanguard.

Notably, unlike Everquest 2 where Station Exchange (now operated by LiveGamer) was limited to a few new servers, Vanguard players were told that it was being added to the entire game. This is similar to the Station Cash item shop which was added to all Everquest and Everquest 2 servers last year; the differences being while StationCash is an “item mall” where SOE sells low-impact items such as decorative clothing and XP boost potions, Live Gamer is a player-to-player items-for-cash arbitrage. It was pitched as ‘voluntary’ since, you know, no one is actually forcing you to buy anything!

The ensuing discussion was somewhat heated. An SOE-penned FAQ which resulted from the thread had probably the clearest defense of corporate-sponsored RMT ever put to virtual print:

As several people have pointed out in the discussion thread, Real Money Transactions between individuals and 3rd party sites have been happening since the early days of MMOs.  What you may not know is that there are significant costs to game companies that result from homegrown transactions or unsanctioned 3rd party web site sales in our games.  Personal trades go bad (fraud) and 3rd party sites scam people and strip accounts, it’s a fact that SOE Customer Service been dealing with here since day 1 of EverQuest.

What happens when unsanctioned transactions like these go south?  Customers petition for help and sometimes it can take hours for a GM to research and get everything back to the way it was.  By providing a safe, secure, and sanctioned way for these types of transactions to take place for those that wish to participate, SOE is reducing CS costs while providing a little more to the bottom line.

So there you have it, RMT is here because you people keep doing it, so you might as well get it all sanctioned-like and save us some time.

The irony, of course, is that Vanguard, before its launch, positioned itself as the haven of the EQ hard core, standing bravely athwart the ramparts of history, watching the waves of easier gameplay and gold farmers break across the bow. In fact, IGE (back when they were the Bad Guys And Still Somewhat Relevant To The Discussion) actually funded buyouts of Vanguard player-run sites as a pre-emptive strike against… well, it’s not really clear what, any more.

Warcraft Killed The Community Star

Rich Weil on why community seems to be the same ol’ okey doke after a decade:

Community relations is not a new phenomenon, it is merely young in the games industry. A kind of professional isolationism exists here that puts any kind of independent existence of OCR entities in peril. Quite honestly, for the reasons I’ve previously listed, there is almost no reason that all our functions could not be directly integrated into marketing, PR or any larger communications structure.

Sanya Weathers doesn’t want to agree, but does anyway:

Even the White House values the synthesis a good community specialist brings to the table. But in games, after a decade of hard work, a community weenie is someone you call when you realize your president should probably stop posting on message boards.

My take on it is pretty simple. World of Warcraft is showing that, once you reach a certain mass? Community management doesn’t particularly have a great effect on your game’s success.

 

Can you identify the name of the head of World of Warcraft’s community management team? No? I couldn’t either. The ones visible to the customer base – “Eyonix“, “Nethaera“, etc – are front-line CMs who are visible by dint of posting on WoW’s forums,  but do you know who heads the department? You know, the community manager for the most popular MMO on the planet, the man or woman who signs off on what’s communicated to WoW’s millions of players? Who talks down Mike Morhaine after he drinks a full quart of chocolate milk and decides to post on the Yahoo ATVI board at 3:42 AM?  It’d be a fairly visible post, I’d think. It is, after all, a very large community!

Well… I got nothing, either.

So I checked the credits. As best as I can tell, the head of World of Warcraft’s community team is Paul Della Bitta. Who also runs the WoW eSports initiative. I guess at Blizzard, community management doesn’t keep you busy all day.

And sorry, Rich, that’s why community is the same ol’ okey doke after a decade. Because everyone is looking at Blizzard for the template of how to print money. And Blizzard shows that once you get to the executive suite, community management isn’t really a full time job. Because, you all know, all you have to do is put up twelve billion forums and walk off, until your designers get bored and decide to play community manager. And it’s all good, because as long as the core game itself is fun, the community will just deal with it.

Necromonger Delenda Est

Vin Diesel (yes… that Vin Diesel) talks to Destructoid about his gaming studio’s secret project, Barca B.C., where you can… uh…

“The reason why it’s my dream game is because it is an MMO and — remember you said funds were not an issue in this scenario, this is obviously a hugely expensive game — but, it’s a massively multiplayer online game where you create an avatar that lives in the reality of Hannibal Barca, the Punic Wars and life 200 B.C,”

OK, no one is allowed to mock any of the ideas I come up with for MMOs ever again.

“When we talk about dream case scenarios, man, I would love to play as a Carthaginian soldier 200 years before Christ. Sailing around the Mediterranean, that’d be pretty damn cool. If you could add some historical elements to it, the better.”

(and, uh, that sounds really freakin’ cool.)

Second Life To Add Red Light District. No, Really, This Is Not A Joke.

Official notice. Short version: a new category of content (currently there is only two, “PG” and “Mature”) will be added, and users will have to verify they are an adult to access it.

Wagner James Au’s article (with interview with Linden Lab officials) amusingly denotes that most of what you or I would consider X-Rated isn’t, really.

I gave a specific example to Cyn and Roberts. One of the more popular roleplaying groups in SL is “Dark Den RP Group”, which by its own description, offers “Kidnap, auction and slavery RP”. Would that be designated as Adult? Surprisingly, both suggested it wouldn’t, since the wording is “not about sex and violence.”

How about “Capture” roleplay, generally associated with S/M sexuality? Again, they suggested, if sex wasn’t explicitly mentioned, it wouldn’t be defined as sexual.

Meanwhile, the official support page on the subject implies that most Resident skins (which include [NSFW LINK] photo-realistic nudity because, well, you know) would be flagged “Adult” under the new system. Responses from Linden Lab representatives on message boards have been, not surprisingly, contradictory on that point.

Which means that what this is really all about is corporate CYA. Linden Lab has to date made quite a tidy business off of creating a virtual world that has a squeaky clean public face and, thanks to a combination of libertarian lack of content filtering and the ability to create literally anything, a private face that, well, has people parsing what “capture roleplay” means. Or, as a commenter on the Massively coverage put it,

If you can’t find adult content in Second Life, your Internet must be out of pixels.

Considering that Linden Lab has been making mutterings about revamping adult content flagging for what seems like years now, it may be a while before any of this comes to fruition. Or, it could happen immediately!

Worlds.Com To Sue Blizzard, Linden Lab, Kathy Griffin, Lee Adama, The Kaiser, And Possibly Sony

In case you ever needed proof that the American legal system is so mentally retarded that drooling on oneself is a second-year law course, this case is your huckleberry.

Worlds.com CEO Thom Kidrin is putting the entire virtual worlds industry on notice: His company claims the idea of a scalable virtual world with thousands of users is its patented intellectual property, and Thom told us he intends to sue anyone who refuses to enter into licensing negotiations — including giants such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, a property of Activision Blizzard (ATVI).

Already, Korean gaming firm NCSoft, maker of City of Heroes and Guild Wars, has been sued by Worlds.  (In East Texas no less, a jurisdiction infamous in intellectual property circles for plaintiff-friendly rulings in patent cases.)

Thom told us if he succeeds in his litigation, he “absolutely” intends to pursue follow-up suits against industry leaders Second Life and WoW.

That’s right: Worlds.com (or more accurately, their ambulance chasing blackmailers masquerading as lawyers) are stepping up to challenge Blizzard Legal Strike Force: OTTER. This can only end well.

direwolfskindarkblackBlizzard’s lawyers have no comment at this time.

Or more likely, like other patent trolls throughout history, the Worlds.com legal team’s fondest wish is to cash in on a “no, really, go away” payout that would be, for Blizzard, a rounding error. Isn’t it awesome when innovation and success has a Stupid Legal System tax? Because, clearly, it’s easier to just sue random people with blatantly frivolous shakedowns than to actually, you know, update your own website with news other than your adventures in legalistic blackmail.

Microprose Founder Really Wants You To Know He Was In The Military

Massively has an interview with “Wild” Bill Stealey, co-founder of paeleo-PC game company Microprose whose entire catalog I purchased several times. Sadly Master of Magic was NOT MENTIONED.

However, something was:

Whether they were in my regiment when I was in the Army, or in my squadron, or my wing when I was in the Air Force, or the guys in the Air Force Academy; those are the kind of people I trust my life to. So those are the kind of people I want to hang out with.

I’m a retired military officer, five of the guys who are associated with this are all Air Force Academy graduates. We’re working with two Naval Academy graduates; we have a bunch of shooters from Fort Bragg coming in.

In the military we’d have the ready rooms, we’d have the squadron break room or we’d have the Officer’s Club, and this is like our little Officer’s Club to go hang out in.

Remember: service guarantees citizenship.

The Other Hammer Falls

Warhammer’s European distributor Goa announced the imminent closure of 20 servers. Interestingly, that leaves 23 European servers open compared to 16 in the US, indicating that the bulk of Warhammer’s subscribers may be in, well, the continent where Warhammer originated.

Mark Jacobs posted a “State of the Game” address today, which didn’t address the server closures but spoke more generally about his hopes for the game’s future.

The last six months have seen an awful lot of excitement and change here at the studio.  We’ve launched another successful MMORPG but this time in the face of the worst economic conditions that most of us have ever seen.  We’ve done some things that we are very proud of, some things we regret, and some things that we are very excited about going forward.  As I’ve said about Mythic throughout the years, we are not perfect but we will always try our best to create great games.

However, he did address the closures in a post on the VNBoards:

Over the last few months we’ve been telling people to transfer off the lower population servers. Over this same amount of time people have been asking/telling/begging us to merge servers. So, now that almost all the people transferred off those servers, we’ve done just that. And of course, when we do that, some people here say “OMG Fail!”

As I’ve already said, if WAR was a PvE game, we wouldn’t have closed those servers but since WAR is RvR-centric, leaving those servers open with their current population would not be a good idea. While these servers have been low population for quite a while once we told people to transfer off of them their population dropped too low for an RvR-centric game.

Oh, and as an FYI, once again our number of paying subs in NA went up again yesterday as did our PCU (even with backing out the trial accounts). These are undeniable facts, not spin.

Hammer Falls On Warhammer Servers

In case you didn’t get the hint the last time ‘voluntary’ ‘suggested’ ‘server transfers’ were announced, Mythic just announced that 40 of its 57 US/Oceanic servers are going away soon. For those of you who find math hard, that leaves 17 servers total (including 1 test server and 1 reserved for beta testers). No word yet on European servers (which account for another 43 servers and, like World of Warcraft, are effectively a different company for purposes of billing, server and community management).

It’s an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, you need a critical mass of players for a PvP-focused game – or for any MMO at all, really – to be at all fun. On the other hand, it’s really hard to spin this as in any way a mark of success when you are closing 2/3 of your servers. On the gripping hand, well, I suppose someone decided that there was a better use for all that hardware than keeping up servers everyone had already been encouraged to transfer off of and could no longer create characters on.

So, good news if you’re a current Warhammer player, good news if you’re a bitter ex-Warhammer player looking for axe-grinding grist, and good news if you’re another EA project that needs a server array. Those for whom this is bad news is left as an exercise for the curious reader.

Lrn2Play 101: Don’t Stand In The Glowy Crap

WoW Insider discovers a fundamental truth about WoW raiding.

And, c’mon. It’s been about half a decade and near 12 million subscribers. Once you’ve done Nethekurse or Zereketh, you should know that you’re not supposed to stand in pink, black, or red circles. Really, just don’t stand in stuff. Is that really such a deep and meaningful skill that you have to relearn “Don’t stand in stuff!” for Kel’Thuzad? So, if the Wrath raids aren’t demanding a gear-based progression (meaning, it’s all a gear check), then we should entertain the idea that we’ve gotten pretty good at not standing in stuff.

My deathknight would like to remind you that as he, too, can generate glowy crap on demand, Raiding 102 involves learning which glowy crap is which.

Note that “Don’t Stand In The Glowy Crap” is a PvE skill. PvPers should move on to considerably more advanced tactics, such as “Killing The Dude With The Thing“.