June 2006

Going Home Ag’n

The new EQ1 (yes, EQ1) servers “The Combine” and “The Sleeper” went up last Wednesday. They’re using a new “classic” ruleset where content from expansions must be unlocked by someone on the server. To open the planes, you have to down Nagafen and Vox, to open Kunark you have to whack Innoruuk, etc. It’s an interesting idea, especially for a game with as much content as EQ1 now has (I think Horizons was the first to have globally unlockable content, if you don’t count abortive attempts such as EQ1’s Waking the Sleeper quest).

What surprises me is how popular these servers are. I just popped on my baby necromancer and there were over 100 people on. Not on the server, in the Nektulos newbie zone. During lunch hour on a Friday. During prime time the newbie zones have been completely unplayable from the crush of people, with over 400 people reported in Greater Faydark alone. And this is the second server that was opened up.

Of course, this won’t last; SOE seems aware of this and is already talking about contingency plans to merge the two Progression servers once things calm down. And playing EQ1 again does remind me pretty fiercely how far the state of the art in make-little-XP-bar-move-from-left-to-right games has progressed; I miss some key innovations in DAOC, much less WOW when dorking around in EQ1. It’s an interesting and I dare say now necessary exercise for a designer.

Still, it’s fun to bop around killing snakes and rats as a necromancer in EQ1 again along with a community of hundreds of others, even if only for a while.

Crafty Thoughts

Recently, the EQ2 Blogger Cartel posted some interesting thoughts about crafting. Blackguard in particular pretty much nailed the various interplays between loot-centric and craft-centric systems, and how the two pressure groups tend to battle for dominance within games. My reaction to this: \’e2\’80\’9cHuh.\’e2\’80\’9d See, I\’e2\’80\’99m still thinking a bit more in terms of why than how.

Continue reading…

“The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Blue”

Here’s an interesting post: everything you know about community management is wrong.

This relationship is readily apparent in World of Warcraft. Every time there is a new patch, the users complain on the forums, and the Community Managers get fed up with the users, and the users think that therefore the devs don’t care about the users, etc. etc. The World of Warcraft forums are a good place to go if you’re feeling pretty good about life, and you decide you need that attitude adjusted.

Stardock and Penny Arcade (huh? When was Tycho’s last patch?) are held up as paragons of successful community management, mainly from getting rid of the middle man.

Putting aside for the moment that Blizzard’s community management isn’t exactly what I would hold up as the gold standard of MMO online community relations, this is a lot like the difference between Catholics and Protestants. Protestants believe that you should be able to talk to God without a lot of that froo-froo intercession mumbo-jumbo. Catholics, on the other hand, believe in a priesthood, and that priesthood can interpret between the divine mystery of faith and the mundane concerns of life.

Despite being a lapsed Catholic in real life, I tend to be a Catholic in terms of this discussion. Mainly because most MMO developers should never, ever, EVER talk to players directly. Good lord. You think community people piss off the player base? Never let them near the bitter programmer who’s been on a live team for over three years and views his subscriber base as a pack of ravenous mongoloid zombie hordes with attention deficit disorder. People who may be excellent programmers, artists, or designers may have really lousy people skills.

Even if the developer isn’t a frothy blend of ennui and hatred, the alternative is in many ways worse. Picture the guy who’s been plucked from the community of gamers and is LIVING HIS DREAM! He gets to WORK ON GAMES! WOOOH! And MMOS! HOOAH! It’s the big show, and every day… every FREAKING DAY he’s sitting in on a meeting planning out incredibly cool stuff that is going to ROCK YOUR WORLD OFF, and he just has to tell SOMEONE… and then the producer gets to deal with the community seeing yesterday’s brainstormed three bagger as a promise with the weight of Holy Writ.

And let’s not even talk about the coder who eats his own dog food and then talks to players, letting them know what side of a PVP game he plays on. Because it’s common knowledge that the ONLY REASON developers publish MMOs is so they can play favorites and win the game. That whole “money” thing is just a ruse.

MMOs are special. MMO communities are special. They require a special, deft hybrid form of public relations, rapid response, and disinterested ombudsman. That is what an online community relations team SHOULD be. Whether or not it is in practice can be an issue. But if you feel that your game isn’t giving you enough feedback on what you find important, it isn’t because community relations is an inherently bad idea; it’s because that team specifically is falling down on its job.

Or alternately, because you’re a whining git. It could go either way, really.

“I want my. I want my. I want my RMT.”

From Dan Rubenfield’s modest proposal:

If you run the game, your cost of goods for item sales will ALWAYS be lower than the gold farmers.

So you want to beat them and make cash on the side? Change the playing field. You sell the items. You sell the gold. They drop their prices? You drop yours. Make it easier and cheaper for these players who want to spend the money to buy from you instead of the third party.

I can already hear the cries \’e2\’80\’9cOHNOES. Sanctity of the Game!@!@ Purity of Economy!@!@ Money!=Accomplishment\’e2\’80\’9d.

You know what? Shut up.

Sure, all we have to do to put IGE out of business is to turn up the money spigot. All it takes is about 2 days work on a web application and sticking an API on the game server. Wallah, any time you want, generate in-game cash with the touch of a button!

What Rubenfield espouses isn’t RMT: as most understand it, RMT is player trading with player (or farmer, or arbitrage trader, or what have you.) It’s still understood that the money came from somewhere. It isn’t counterfeit currency (unless your game has a dupe, which it probably does); it was earned, by fair means or foul, by someone. Rubenfield instead espouses… well, let’s call it Darwinism. In the time honored tradition of failed governments anywhere, when faced with an economic challenge, let’s just print more money! It’s not like we can’t just create the stuff. It’s not like it has any inherent value — after all, those people who ARE buying gold/items through RMT are just wacky suckers, and we might as well soak them while the market holds, right?
It’ll destroy the game’s economy, of course. And it’ll – correctly – teach your players that for your game’s administration, everything is negotiable given enough currency. But hey, IGE won’t be selling much gold on your server, because they actually have to run through the motions of running bots with the latest sploits, while you have access to the best sploit of all: a SQL query tool.

The problem with unfettered Darwinism is that it violates the same trust that we then turn around and accuse IGE and their ilk of violating. Namely, taking decisions, in enlightened self-interest, in the interest of your game’s community. Simply becoming a better IGE doesn’t solve anything, except maybe your short term money flow. And it doesn’t really show an understanding for the alternate business models coming out of Asia and casual social spaces like Habbo Hotel; even in the rabid capitalism seen in that market, company-manufactured sales are used for intangibles and subscription replacements, not a farming-shortcut.

So, what Rubenfield proposes is sort of like achieving peace in the Middle East through nuclear strikes on Sweden. It’s certainly an interesting idea, definitely original, ultimately unhelpful and probably not what anyone had in mind.

(To play devil’s advocate, I’ll leave you with one way that Rubenfield’s point would work – making your game’s currency freely convertible, but pegged to a real-world equivalent, not a floating currency. 10 Quatloos = 10 cents, always, backed by the game company at any time. To my knowledge the only game that does this? Project: Entropia. See you on the sweat farm!)

And Their Screams Are The Music Singing Me To Sleep On Rainy Nights

In haste, so can’t comment yet (hint: project management? RANDOM VERY DIRTY WORDS) but Dan Rubenfield has some fun grenades to throw in response to the “OMG RMT BAD” post making the rounds.

But I have comments. Oh yes. Also, in response to some other posts, my Vision Statement on how to make player crafting in a virtual world not totally suck!

And yes, this is completely to publically shame myself into actually making a good post later.

Austin gets a LFW channel

If you’re in Austin and recently let go from an MMO company, the local IDGA chapter – and local employers – want to hear from you.

There are some employers around town who would like to snatch you up as soon as possible because of your previous work experience. We’ll be displaying the resumes on our website along with an announcement of this opportunity for other employers around town.

A Brief Geek Note

I bought this last week, mainly for work – someone at work brought one to a meeting back when I first started at NC and I immediately fell head over heels in lust. And there ain’t no lust like the lust of nerd lust because the nerd lust just don’t stop. HOOAH.

I’ve always liked PDAs, especially the ones that integrated handwriting recognition. Why? Because I’m a Star Trek nerd. I want a PADD. Well, these babies are PADDs with better form factor. And the handwriting recognition has progressed to a point where it will impress almost anyone who sees it now – I can just scribble a few lines in my own handwriting (which is well-nigh illegible), hit a button, and after a brief delay it’s transcribed. LIKE MAGIC! (Arthur C. Clarke variety)

Of course, the real question is: will it play World of Warcraft? Yes, at widescreen 1280 x 720 it runs very well – I missed having a mouse, and will probably plug one in at some point, but otherwise, it ran fine. In Windows XP. Installing Windows Vista (which I had to do, because, well, you know, it has “VISTA CAPABLE” stamped on the case), Vista ran fine, Office ran fine, OneNote ran fine – WoW meekly burped and said it couldn’t find a 3D card. OK then. Guess it’s not Vista Capable ENOUGH.

At any rate, I have to keep taking this to work and using it to take notes at meetings, and thus taming the huge heaps o’paper on my desk, because otherwise, I’ll have gone $1500 more into debt just so I can play WoW in my easy chair. Which, mind you, I am perfectly capable of doing.