June 2006

Rob Pardo Shatters Our Hopes And Dreams For “World of Blackthorne”

Amazingly, when you make the most popular game on the planet, you can pretty much set your own agenda. So despite Vivendi announcing that Blizzard was going to get right to work on cranking out the meat loaf…

Nothing in that rumor is true in regards to Blizzard. If I had to guess, there was some confusion between what Vivendi has planned for its game division versus what Blizzard has planned. While Blizzard is owned by Vivendi, their game division operates seperately from Blizzard.

Aww. (Source: WoW forums)

Two of the longer-running questions answered

Whenever MMO devs get together there’s always the standard questions.

“Where’s the alcohol?”
“Are you hiring?”
“How many users do you have now?”
“No, really, I’m not kidding, where’s the alcohol.”
“WTF is up with Blizzard, anyway? WoW cost like, 100 million dollars to make, right?”

Well, no one will tell me where the alcohol is, but we now have the answer to the last question, thanks to Schild of F13 who has a front page now and everything. According to Vivendi, WoW cost $63m (50m euros, at today’s exchange rate) over 4 1/2 years.

This is relevant, since Vivendi also dropped the bomb that Blizzard will be making MMOs now from every other franchise they have. Which answers question 2, “Are they working on World of Starcraft or just on crack?”. Anyway, no other sourcing at this time. So if World of Lost Vikings never comes out, blame Schild.

Hit and Run and Hit Again

Resurrecting an old flame: the “look, I don’t have time to pontificate deeply, but here’s some news” post.

China: World of Warcraft Hurt Me Deeply Tang Jun of Shanda, one of China’s major MMO publishers, is quoted in Pacific Epoch as saying that foreign developers “are not responsible toward Chinese gamers in their licensing strategy when they license the same product [line] to multiple operators.”, calling out The9’s problems with WoW in particular. I’m not sure what he’s talking about, except the persistent rumor that Blizzard was thinking of having someone else in China publish the WoW expansion as leverage against The9 during licensing talks. But as far as I know that has just been a rumor. I’d look more at the actual article in China Internet, but, well, you know.

They Come From The Land Of Lasers And Snow Meanwhile Eve seems to be doing very well in Chinaspace (it’s security level 1.0).

God Loves Curmudgeons Chris Crawford shakes cane at goddam kids, yells about how games suck. Note: second half of interview explains how his new devkit for interactive fiction will make them suck 1.4% less.

Another voice in the fray

As spotted on Raph’s blog, Matt Mihaly is blogging now.

Why should you care?


  • He’s one of the more outspoken voices in the dev community (his point-by-point napalming of the “Burning Down the House” GDC session on Terra Nova still cracks me up)
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  • His MUDs (or “text MMOs” as he prefers) are among the most innovative (and not coincidentally, popular and profitable) ones in the industry, pioneering such subjects as roleplayed contextual PVP, political systems that matter, and drug abuse
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  • Did I mention outspoken voice? Yeah.

Between him and Daniel James, another rogue innovator who began blogging this past month, we should be in for good times. It’s good to see more luminaries of the virtual world sphere stepping up and contributing to the ongoing dialogue.

It’s The Dancing, Stupid

From Cnet’s Dan Terdiman, an interview with the PARC PlayOn team, plaintively /auctioning their wares…

“When faced with the decision, ‘Do I put in another dungeon or do I improve the experience for (groups of players)?'” said Ducheneaut, publishers often say “‘I’ll put in another dungeon.’ I think that’s incredibly shortsighted.”

That’s because the PARC team–whose project and blog are called PlayOn–firmly believes there’s real money to be made in designing MMOs so that they make it substantially easier for players to not only slay beasts together, but also communicate and socialize.

The group acknowledges that it may be hard to convince publishers to change fundamental design principles of existing games in order to improve socialization. But should publishers do so, it may well make worthwhile the countless hours the team has spent collecting and analyzing data about the ways people play MMOs.

I suspect a more fundamental problem is that MMO publishers tend to keep people on staff inhouse who also spend countless hours collecting and analyzing data, which is then ignored and another expansion involving 15 dungeons is released into the wild, because that is what distributors look for when printing shiny boxes on store shelves.

Expansions == more content. That’s a given. Occasionally they have other things (Camelot traditionally introduced newer engine versions, for example, as NDL/Gamebryo became less and less bugridden) but publishing a CD or 4 and cramming a gig worth of models and textures on it is the most cost-effective way to (a) get those models and textures and thus an extended gameplay experience into the customer’s hands and (b) not incidentally, keep an ongoing development team paid.

Social experiences are important. Vitally important. Game-destroying if you don’t get them right. But they’re not the demesne of the expansion. They’re what you should have included in the first place, and if you didn’t get them right, your live team is working on pushing them to everyone, not just whomever paid for Expansion X.

“I think we can make a dollars-and-cents argument,” Ducheneaut said. “They can look at a new dungeon and how many extra players it’ll get them, and we can counter very easily, because now we have the numbers (showing the value of improved socialization tools) and you can translate that into money.”

This seems more like self-justification than an actual argument. If a game needs improved socialization tools, that is a core function of the game that is missing. Upselling it is a hideously bad idea. Socialization is, at the core, what these games are. If, for example, your game is missing a decent Looking for Group interface (using a purely hypothetical example) then trying to use “NEW LFG SYSTEM!” as an expansion bullet point is not only something that will spread ill will among your players, who rightfully expect that such a thing is what they originally paid for in the first place, but also won’t work when deployed because by limiting it to the subset of users who paid for the expansion, you’ve hard-capped the adoption of a social system. Which will kill it.

So why is this a problem?

And to Ducheneaut, it’s not all that surprising that MMO publishers would fall short on some of the socialization elements that could make their games and the environments in them seem more lifelike.

“It’s incredible the palette of skills you need to design these spaces in the right way,” he said.

Among the skills that would be helpful would be urban planning, sociology and politics, fields of expertise game companies are not brimming with.

Oh, that’s right. We’re dumb. Yep, I’ll cut em a check right now.

Blizzard settles out of court with eBay guide author

via Cnet:

The terms of the settlement do not provide for monetary compensation for Kopp, which he had originally sought. Instead, the companies agreed to withdraw their previous take-down notices and to drop their infringement claims. They also said they’d refrain from filing any future take-down notices against the same items Kopp had already disputed through counternotices.

Kopp, for his part, agreed to retain the book’s disclaimers about its unofficial nature and said he wouldn’t include links or instructions on how to locate “cheats” in the game.