Threat Condition VASHJ: No, Seriously, Guys

Every morning, I read the New York Times on my iPad, because I have become the yuppie I grew up hating and because my local paper is kind of awful. This morning, this article was on the front page:

Spies’ Dragnet Reaches a Playing Field of Elves and Trolls

Constant readers will remember that, as the meme goes, I wrote about this on my blog five years ago. No, really, I wrote about this on my blog five years ago. Mainly running with the concept of what a stupid idea this was. I had no idea.

No. Really. I had no idea.

[Cory Ondrejka, Second Life's CTO] visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement. It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”

No. Really. I had no idea.

In one 66-page document from 2007, part of the cache released by Mr. Snowden, the contracting giant SAIC promoted its ability to support “intelligence collection in the game space,” and warned that online games could be used by militant groups to recruit followers and could provide “terrorist organizations with a powerful platform to reach core target audiences.”

No. Really. I had no idea.

…so many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life, the document noted, that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions…

See, this is why I haven’t been updating my blog. The news is too stupid for me to parody.

A Brief Programming Note

- I am still here!

- Most of the discussion is on Broken Forum over here -> http://www.brokenforum.com/   Five out of three grognards agree: Broken Forum is great!

- I have (as of this week) joined the merry crew at Portalarium to work on Shroud of the Avatar. Yes, I now work for Richard Garriott. Yes, I am aware of all the irony.

This Is Not A Love Song

2000: I’m at E3. As it turns out, it was both my last E3 as a blogger, and my next to last E3 in general (the show went on hiatus shortly thereafter). E3 had just discovered what blogs were (though I don’t think the term itself had taken off yet) and had issued me a media pass based on my site having X number of readers. I was there with a few friends and we cackled occasionally at the irony of my using a silly rant site to wedge myself into the drink tickets usually soaked up by the more respectable chattering classes.

During one interview for an MMO about to release I ran into the head of the company outside their booth. He looks me up and down with a gaze that could make the wombs of virgins barren, and finally manages to spit out one word while staring at my chest: “Media”.

What an ass, I thought to myself all throughout the next hour’s carefully contrived smoke and mirrors show for a game that I didn’t particularly care about and had no intention of playing for a website readership that really didn’t want to read my recap of a game I didn’t care about and had no intention of playing. I’m not good enough for him? Fuck him. I’m just as much a writer as everyone else stumbling around the hall in a vodka-fueled haze, only I occasionally use cooler words.

But, what bothered me the most was that he was right. I wasn’t “media”, this wasn’t my career, I knew very well that all I did was post drunken Facebook rants a decade before Facebook actually existed. People didn’t come to my website looking for reviews or news, that was just a side effect to my daily snark on which GM was screwing which player (literally or figuratively depending on the day). I was, as I would sometimes yell at people at the top of my lungs, most definitely not a journalist. I was a ranter. Which, sadly, really did not catch on as a description. Blogger sounds better at parties.

It was popular, sure, and a lot of it was because I was doing not-journalism better than the supposed journalists. When everyone else just accepted free trips to studios to watch the dog and pony show for an hour and then indulge in preferred vices copiously on the publisher’s PR tab, I would occasionally actually talk to people and post what they had to say. It was new, I didn’t have an editor (actually I was kind of the editor for a lot of folks, though I usually did very little editing to the dismay of people who wanted more Lum and less Not-Lum), I didn’t have a gatekeeper, I just found Truth (or what I thought was truth, which really is the same thing when you’re intoxicated by the presence of an audience) and put it up for everyone to look at.

No one else seemed to be doing that, which alternately confused and astounded me, save some guy in a funny hat named Matt Drudge, who by 2000 was making his own headlines out of upending the journalists reposting spoon-fed press releases. I kind of liked him, even though our politics were a bit dissimilar (I still called myself a conservative in those days, this being pre-9/11, pre-Patriot Act, pre-bailout, pre-1%), because I could see the impish glee in his eyes when talking on a morning news show. I bet some politician probably sneered at him in the green room, too. Funny how that works.

2012: I’m at a cocktail party, feeling about as much like a fish out of water as one can be without gills, at a mansion that could be best described as fin-de-siecle Lifetime special, talking to a college student whose ambition in life is to be a cable news reporter. Not a newspaper reporter – print is dead. Everyone knows that. The real action is on CNN and Fox, but it frustrates her knowing that someone will most likely write what she has to say and whisper it in her ear in place of actual thought. I suggest that maybe she should aspire to be the producer doing the whispering but that doesn’t seem to go over very well. No, the real action is in blogging. That’s where reporting is happening now. That’s why they teach it in schools.

Wait, I interrupt. They teach blogging as coursework now?

Oh, of course, she says. The next day, still somewhat stunned at the thought, I find that yes, journalism schools do actually have you set up a blog as part of coursework.

I don’t think anyone would sneer at a name tag any more.

I am not merciful.

Not in a world where Sean Hannity interviews James O’Keefe about Andrew Breitbart’s legacy. Journalism is dying, and ranting has taken its place, because people are becoming Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus watching the gladiatorial games, demanding blood and circuses. It’s where the money is, it’s where the eyeballs are, it’s where the future is.

It’s not journalism. I am not a journalist, and I never was. I was (and to a lesser degree today still am) an opinion writer, which used to be understood as not the same thing.

Used to be.

The spark for this soapbox? A piece up on Gamasutra today, which should have been clearly noted as opinion, but which is posted as a “feature”, essentially ripping apart Star Wars: Old Republic’s free-to-play model. There’s some opinions I agree with, some I disagree with, but the whole thing is essentially a long rant about how Bioware killed the author’s baby. Said author, Simon Ludgate, is credited as an “MMO consultant”. Does such a thing actually exist? Do people need to pay ranters thousands of dollars to fly out, thoughtfully rub their chin after a demonstration, and say “yes, that is an MMO!” Because that sounds like a nifty gig, if not one with a really long-term future. Oh wait, it means he has a blog. OK, seems legit to me!

The core of his article, that a free to play player in SWTOR seeking to achieve parity with a subscriber, would have to pay $56 a month, is hilariously wrong. It’s poorly sourced, as he even notes himself breezily, before making it the entire subject the rest of his rant. And it’s a really bad rant, full of Internet slang that makes the whole thing look like it was ripped wholesale from a typical official MMO message board, complete with the author saying that Bioware should have instead implemented about 30 pie-in-the-sky features ignoring the fact that SWTOR’s team just went through massive layoffs and may have some limits in what is possible – something an “MMO consultant” with industry experience would, I assure you, be *entirely* too aware of. But of course, if you’re a ranter – er, sorry – blogger – er, wait – journalist, all things are possible, and the only reason Company X hasn’t implemented your shiny pony is because they hate you and are too busy rolling around in their own filthy money which they stole from YOU.

Which is fine. Not everyone can be Matt Taibbi. But Gamasutra hasn’t marked this as an opinion piece, but as a featured article. This is essentially Gamasutra’s editorial position on SWTOR’s monetization scheme – that SWTOR didn’t implement player housing, so it failed.

Am I biased? Of course. I play SWTOR and enjoy it. I know a good portion of the development team, past and present. I hope it succeeds because the Austin development community in general needs more successes. And I’ve been in the trenches myself on similar projects too many times.

Of course I’m biased. I am not a journalist.

And in game writing, neither is anyone else.

Democratic Party SUPPORTS Terrorist Attacks On Theramore! Vote GOP!

but… orcs actually
*like* Mitt Romney…

This one definitely goes in the oh-god-I-could-SO-not-make-this-up-file. Let’s hear it from the Maine Republican Party on one candidate for the state legislature, shall we?

Colleen Lachowicz, AKA Santiaga, is a gamer in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft(WoW), which takes place in the make-believe land Azeroth. Today, Colleen/Santiaga is an orc assassination rogue playing at level 85–the highest level one can attain.  She and the members of her “Wreck List Guild”—Colleen/Santiaga’s WoW online alliance—post comments to each other on liberal online forums including the Daily Kos, where they discuss politics, military policies, and WoW battle tactics.

Studies have found the average WoW gamer is 28, and spends 22.7 hours a week playing in Azeroth.

Note that the Maine GOP feels it necessary to remind everyone that the world of Azeroth does not actually exist, yet then continues to attack Lachowicz for anti-social behavior in said fantasy world.

You’re in Blizzard’s world! Bad Democrat! No cookie! (click to enlarge)

Other things the Maine GOP attack Colleen for include being a slacker, reading Daily Kos, using bad language, taking Eminem videos seriously, participating in Brewfest as an ogre, and having a uterus.

In case you were curious on if this was an official initiative or just some Tea Party crank yelling at clouds for being so gosh-darned high up in the sky? The Maine GOP site is having technical difficulties this morning, but I promise this was there last I checked:

Democratic Senate Candidate Colleen Lachowicz’s Disturbing Alter-Ego Revealed
…“These are some very bizarre and offensive comments, and they certainly raise questions about Lachowicz’s maturity and her ability to make serious decisions for the people of Senate District 25,” said Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen.

The Maine Republican Party will make an effort to give voters all of the information about candidate Lachowicz.  To that end, the party has established a website, www.colleensworld.com, where people can see Lachowicz’s online activity for themselves…

I think I can safely speak for everyone who reads this blog (which at this point consists mainly of other game developers and devoted inside baseball fans but STILL) that I firmly support a candidate for office like Colleen Lachowicz who actually is a connected and social member of society, whom, like millions of other happy and well-adjusted people, choose to be happy and well-adjusted by way of stabbing Internet Dragons in the face.

I’ve already contacted Ms. Lachowicz’s office asking for a link to really the only proper response: a link for donations to her campaign. Because, dammit, we NEED more mohawk Orc ladies representing us. Even if they’re not combat spec.

Edit: Her response to my request/this story:

Thanks for standing up to support me. While I cannot accept contributions personally (I am a publicly financed candidate), other organizations are raising money. For more information on how to donate, and learn about other ways to help the campaign, please head to my website here: http://www.colleenlachowicz.com/

I have no comment on Theramore at this time.

More coverage: Maine Online Sentinel, Kotaku, Wonkette

I Am Not Making Any Of This Up And Really Kind Of Wish I Were

9/11/2012: The US Consulate in Benghazi is overrun by heavily armed militants during a demonstration and several people are killed. Among them are the US Ambassador to Libya and one of his aides, Sean Smith, better known among Eve Online players as “Vile Rat”, chief diplomatic officer of Goonswarm.

While online Eve players (who previously were known chiefly for hating each other to the point of violence) united to commemorate Smith, the attack becomes a political football in the US Presidential campaign.

Glenn Beck figures out the real story behind Sean Smith’s death: Goonswarm Is Literally The CIA.

…and he noticed that they’re watching all three [exits]. What does he do? Nah, he doesn’t call the White House, he doesn’t call the State Department, the, uh, embasssy in Tripoli. He calls a gaming website. Which is the first thing I would do. I’m like, I gotta check with my pals on the gaming website. And he writes: “We’re in Benghazi. At a safehouse. If we get out of this one alive, I’ll let you know. There are people watching all three exits.”  Gang… he’s not telling his friendly gamers. He’s a CIA agent. He is telling people – this is where we are, help us! …

I don’t understand how anyone could ever even begin to…

Oh. Well, OK.

From George “the Mittani” Soros’ website comments:

Welp, guys. I’m going to have to find a new game to relay messages from. Glenn Beck is too smart for the ole CIA.

Longtime readers of this blog, of course, will know that I predicted this four years ago. I am still not making any of this up.

Sadly, Not A Gimmick To Reboot A Beloved Comic Series

NCsoft to close Paragon Studios and shut down City of Heroes due to “publishing restructuring”.

As a recent NCsoft employee it would be inappropriate for me to express my inchoate rage in writing. Suffice to say that I have nothing but pride and satisfaction for the time I spent supporting Paragon Studios, believe that to this day City of Heroes is the best MMO of its kind, that its most recent (and sadly not widely adopted) expansion pack truly made the game a great experience, and that roughly 80 very talented and very experienced MMO developers are currently on the job market.

You only have a limited time remaining to press the awesome button.

More on Funcom’s Secret World Woes And Why It’s All Your Fault

I guess we could have predicted the Illuminati were day traders.

Ryahl at TSWGuides (which TSW players are probably already familiar with as a site for build discussions) posts an in-depth analysis of why Funcom shot itself in the foot with The Secret World’s launch – covering both the missteps made in planning and pitching the game to investors post-Age of Conan failed launch, in a post-WoW, post SWTOR, and quite possibly post-subscription model environment, but also that, well…

The Secret World is NOT an easy game.  It’s challenging and complex in an industry where content is generally spoon fed.  To mine a quote, “no one has ever gone broke underestimating human intelligence.”… …It’s hard, it’s different and it’s innovative on a number of fronts.  Contrary to what fans will tell you on boards, that’s not always what they want.  They claim it, but they often buy what they know (risk aversion).  Games that break the mold usually have to grow into their business model, they don’t get to start that way.

 

The Secret World A Great Step Forward For MMOs, Funcom Somehow To Recover From This Failure

The Secret World kind of snuck out to the market in between all the loud explosions of SWTOR and 38 Studios collapsing and Guild Wars 2 ramping up to cover the world in fire or something. Which is a shame, because it’s pretty much everything MMO pundits have been looking for – a classless somewhat free-form advancement system where you can literally ‘respec’ between fights, with quests that actually reward out-of-the-box thinking (such as map coordinates in morse code, left for the player to decipher) set in a smart modern-day world of zombies, demons, snarky Illuminati and magic oral sex.

Yet, thanks in part to launching with some fairly broken quests, the final Metacritic listing wasn’t that good – based on a dozen reviews of that early fairly broken release such as this very low score by Tom Chick. And in today’s market, METACRITIC IS EVERYTHING.

As seen by this briefing by Funcom to stockholders:

While there are very positive reviews, there are as well mixed or average reviews from various press outlets, giving an aggregated score for The Secret World of 72 out of 100, which is to be considered low, and not in line with the positive feedback received during the beta phases from both press and players. Funcom is of course disappointed with achieving such a Metascore. A game like The Secret World, which is not based on a well-known brand, is normally dependent on positive press reviews to achieve successful initial sales, in addition – but not limited – to other factors like word of mouth.

Funcom has on several occasions presented two financial scenarios for the first 12 months following launch of the game; please refer to page 17 in the 1Q 2012 presentation *). Funcom does not consider it likely that either of them will be met.

This update, as you would expect, caused Funcom’s stock to tank.

(Update: and also the Funcom CFO to announce that layoffs of at least 10% of the workforce are incoming.)

For future reference: this is why we can’t have nice things.

Mark Pincus Just A Poor Boy Whose Intentions Are Good; Please Don’t Let Him Be Misunderstood

Similar: abuses employees in profane tirades, has nice cafeterias
Different: APPL valued at a bit more than ZNGA, not literally a force of pure evil*
* unless you’re Richard Stallman

In case you’re wondering why Mark Pincus of Zynga is compared to Steve Jobs so much (maybe you hear voices in your head, I won’t judge) Slate publishes a four part ‘interview’ with Pincus where Jacob Weisberg answers that burning question, while also remarking on just how awesome Pincus is, and how he can’t understand why people would ever have a poor opinion of the company. Pincus replies that it’s really just because he’s too busy
being concentrated awesome to care about what the peasantry thinks.

Stay tuned for Part II: “Gameplay is Overrated” and Part III: “The Stock Market is Gnarly”!

Change Your WoW Password

Blizzard joins the illustrious ranks of the hacked.

Even when you are in the business of fun, not every week ends up being fun. This week, our security team found an unauthorized and illegal access into our internal network here at Blizzard. We quickly took steps to close off this access and began working with law enforcement and security experts to investigate what happened.

At this time, we’ve found no evidence that financial information such as credit cards, billing addresses, or real names were compromised. Our investigation is ongoing, but so far nothing suggests that these pieces of information have been accessed.

We also know that cryptographically scrambled versions of Battle.net passwords (not actual passwords) for players on North American servers were taken. We use Secure Remote Password protocol (SRP) to protect these passwords, which is designed to make it extremely difficult to extract the actual password, and also means that each password would have to be deciphered individually. As a precaution, however, we recommend that players on North American servers change their password.