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.

When World Of Warcraft Fails, It Fails HARD

So, let’s see if we can get this all straight:

  • Wrath of the Lich King to launch tonight, one of the largest MMO releases ever with millions expected in sales the first week, and launch day events so large rumors are Blizzard is subsidizing mall openings so that Gamestops can stay open to do midnight events
  • As Burning Crusade last year, a patch is initially released to front load the usual teething pains from a major code upgrade
  • Players squirrel away an unbelievable amount of resources in order to be first out the gate to power up new trade skills, and in many cases stash them away in the in-game email system
  • During Tuesday’s maintenance period, the mail system crashes and all in-game mail from the past 2 weeks is lost causing wailing and gnashing of teeth
  • Said wailing and gnashing of teeth causes the official forums to crash and burn, and in some cases brought back up as read-only
  • The game servers remain down most of Tuesday and finally come back sans mail, but with an in-game email to everyone telling them their in-game email isn’t working (no, I’m not making that up)
  • Once the servers are up, a slight bug is discovered which allows players to purchase PvP epics for free
  • MASS CHAOS
  • Servers are back down today to fix, um, free epics
  • But hey, Wrath of the Lich King is coming out tonight, biggest MMO release ever!

Did I miss anything? Because when an MMO failure is so large even Prokofy Neva notices from deep within the SL bunker, you know it’s kinda a big deal.

Edit: Oh yeah, missed one minor thing: 7-11 broke the street date. So if you don’t want to wait for a midnight launch party, buy a copy now and wait for Blizzard to pop open the servers at 9PM Pacific. Assuming, you know, the servers haven’t melted into small puddles of liquid silicone.

It’s A Rare Day I Agree With Kotaku

…but hey, even a stopped watch is right twice a day.

Note to game developers: war is not TURBO XXXTREME NO RULES NO FEAR AWESOME. And previous Call of Duty titles (up to the magisterial Call of Duty 4, which is a fantastic epic both in its overt and less open messages) handled very well the respect required for making an entertainment product based on man’s bloodiest endeavor.

Whereas Activision has, with one demo movie, shown that they really, really do not get it.

Your Tax Dollars At Work, Part Eighty-Nine

US military to test emergent AI systems in commercial MMOs.

To test out the computer generated humans’ “humanity,” Parmentola and his researchers want to unleash some of their cyber Soldiers into so-called “massively multi-player online games” such as “World of Warcraft” or “Eve Online” – games frequented by thousands of super-competitive human players in teams of virtual characters fighting battles that can last for days.

“We want to use the massively multi-player online game as an experimental laboratory to see if they’re good enough to convince humans that they’re actually human,” he said.

Or failing that, they could totally grind for Aldor rep.