Deciphering the Message

And the Internet was once again safe!  Blizzard backs down!  But did they?  Let’s take a look at the message and see what it’s really saying:

Hello everyone,

I’d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games.

So far we have a standard greeting and then the first sentence and I’m already going to step in…  Once again, RealID is being framed as a tool to make the game better, which we all know (or should know) by now isn’t the real reason for it.  They want to build a social network they can leverage for advertising, just like everyone else, and clean forums, if that even happened, was just a side effect they trotted out for PR.  If they really desired to make the forums a better place, there are at least a dozen things they could have done other than revealing real names.  This sentence exists to set up the wall they are about to blame you from.

We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

And there it is.  Your feedback, your concerns, our forums, and they’ve decided at this time not to use real names.  Notice the clear marketing speech.  Real Names are still on the table, because that is the ultimate goal.  Our feedback and concerns have simply caused them to adjust the time table.  They’ll come back to real names later, when they’ve thought of a less explosive way to work it in.

It’s important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games.

Again with the framing.  This whole thing is about the forums, right?  Nothing else.  No social network, no advertising money, nothing.  All of this is for YOU, to make the forums awesome for YOU.  Please look at the right hand and ignore what the left one is doing.

We will still move forward with new forum features such as the ability to rate posts up or down, post highlighting based on rating, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

See?!?!  Forum stuff!  This was never about anything else, just forum stuff.  Oh, and we decided to implement a unique account ID system that doesn’t reveal your real name, which will give us all the accountability we needed over our current system of letting people troll with any character name they wanted and doesn’t let people find out where you live unless they want to spend a few days or weeks at it instead of 20 minutes.  To me, that someone can find my information on the Internet isn’t an issue, it’s out there, I know that.  To me, it’s a “heat of the moment thing”.  Say I go to the forum and read your post about “The most awesome hunter spec EVAR!!!!” and say, “You are being obtuse.  While this build certainly doesn’t suck, it is also clearly not the best build because it lacks…” and now you are pissed because I called you fat (I didn’t), I would like any revenge you suddenly plan about visiting my house and punching me in the face to show me who’s fat (again, no, obtuse, not obese) to take a while to execute, so that you have a change to realize (and maybe visit it might not be the best idea (because you are fat, and I’d kick your ass) rather than actually be in your car with the GPS telling you how to get to my house in less than half an hour.

I want to make sure it’s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II.

Our plans are separate… sure.  Except for the part where they are all tied to the same Real ID and the social network we are building.  The real point of this sentence cannot be fully understood until you read the rest of the paragraph.  So, shall we?

We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you’ll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.

Notice what is missing here?  I’ll give you a hint, it is the focus of this entire uproar.  That’s right, real names.  Yes, the forums won’t display your real name, but in order to use these other features of Real ID you have to have your real name revealed to others.  Maybe I’m an outlier, or maybe a lot of people are too new to MMOs and the concepts of RPGs, but I’ve been part of a community from EverQuest for going on eleven years now.  Originally it was all based around the game server and the IGN/Vault forum for that server, but around 8 years ago we moved off to a privately run message board due to some heavy handed over-moderation.  There are many people in this community I would call my friends.  I would happily use a system with them that allowed for cross-game and cross-realm chat and being able to see all each others characters and for a good sized chunk of those people I don’t know their real names (they could probably find mine, because, you know, my blog isn’t exactly a secret and my name is all over this thing).  We didn’t need real names to build friendships or a community.

Oh, and before I forget, see that last sentence?  Yeah, this isn’t over yet.  Real ID is going to continue to evolve and real names on the forums are being backed off of at this time.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters, ( ) and we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so passionately about our games. We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players, which has been a key to Blizzard’s success from the beginning.

And in closing, I want to point out that I almost believe him.  Until this move, I totally believed that Blizzard was run by and run for gamers.  They got us.  They delivered games only when they were ready.  But they aren’t alone anymore.  Activision owns them, and Bobby Kotick has said time and time again, he’s not in gaming for the games, he’s in gaming for the money.  The Blizzard that cared, to whom Every Voice Mattered, doesn’t exist anymore.  The honeymoon is over.  Knowing that Real ID is still there, that the social network and partnership with Facebook are still the plan, that real names are only off the table at this time, that’s why I don’t believe him.  This is just an appeal to the past, “Hey, remember when you loved us?  You should still love us!  We haven’t changed!  Except for some stuff, but I assure you, that stuff isn’t what matters.  What matters is that we make good games, and you love our games, and our games will keep being good… even if you have to jump through hoops and become a part of a giant marketing machine and social network to enjoy them.  We promise, it won’t hurt… most of you.  And hey, those are some good odds.”

For me, I’m still out.  Starcraft II pre-order cancelled.  Diablo III pre-order cancelled.  Cataclysm pre-order cancelled.  There is another shoe or two around here, and I’m going to wait for them to drop before I get back in bed with Blizzard.  That said, I’m still a fan of Blizzard at this time.

Illusions the Game

The first Round Table of 2009 is as follows:

Putting the Game Before the Book What would your favorite piece of literature look like if it had been created as a game first? In a time when bits of Dante’s Divine Comedy are being carved out and turned into a hack-n-slash game, I find myself longing for intelligently designed games–games with a strong literary component–not merely literary backdrops. So rather than challenge you to imagine the conversion of your favorite literature into games, I challenge you to supersede the source literature and imagine a game that might have tried to communicate the same themes, the same message, to its audience.

So, anyone who knows me well knows immediately what book I picked, but as fast as I picked that book I also ruled it out.  My first thoughts were of how impossible it would be to make a game that illustrates the same message.  I then spent several days trying to pick another book, another piece of literature, something else… but it was a fruitless search, and I knew that in the end I would have to accept the challenge and try to design a game with the idea that it existed in the same place as the book had the book not existed.  I racked my brain looking at computer games and card games and board games and schoolyard games and everything I could think of to craft my game out of, and it was then that I realized that it didn’t matter.

First, allow me to introduce you to the book, which I feel is one of the finest if not the finest piece of literature ever written, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach.  The story is about a man who decided to get away from the life he had and trying to figure out what live he wanted by getting in a biplane and taking up barnstorming (flying around, stopping at small towns and offering to take people up while you do turns and loops and whatnot for a small fee).  This man, Richard, has an unlikely meeting with another barnstormer, Donald, who is the Reluctant Messiah of the title.  Richard is a man escaping the world because of all the restrictions in it, and Donald is a man escaping the world because the people refuse to see it has no restrictions.  Donald teaches Richard that the world is nothing but illusions, that anything is possible and that the only limitations anyone has are the ones they insist upon themselves, and the only things that really matter are entertainment, learning and other people.

For our game, let me start by paraphrasing a quote often found on the back cover of the book:

Here is
a test to find
whether your mission in game
is finished:
If you’re playing,
it isn’t.

If Illusions were to be a card game, it would be like Mao, only it isn’t just the dealer who knows the rules and unveils them, everyone participates.  If Illusions were a schoolyard sport, it would be like Calvinball.  In fact, if you look around, other variations of the “make up the rules as you go along” game exist for pretty much any medium.  Even MMOs have their sandboxes (Second Life, etc), and even in more rigid MMOs (World of Warcraft, etc) the game itself has no defined end and it is up to the player to decide under which conditions they consider the game to be “finished”.

Of course, getting people to want to play a game that has no rules (but potentially has all rules) is tough.  Without the rules, most people won’t know what to do, and whether they realize it or not, their dislike of the “game” is probably tied to its similarity to “life”.  The game is what you make of it, as much as life is what you make of it… and that is the point.  In whatever form the game were to be presented, a player could easily make up a rule that allows them to instantly “win”, however the question isn’t whether or not they won but if they enjoyed it, if they got something out it.  Maybe by throwing down the “I win” card in the first round they do get something out of it, they smile, they laugh, and yet if they do it enough they might find that no one wants to play with them anymore, which itself is an opportunity for learning: if you want to play with other people, other people have to have the opportunity of winning.

As you make up and play with new rules, you discover how they affect you and those around you, and you can find which rules lead to the most fun in the game, for everyone, and those are the rules that you will end up keeping around.

Back in High School, a group of friends and I would play cards at lunch.  On days when people were angry at stuff we sometimes played Egyptian Ratscrew (though we used the F-word instead of “screw” because we were teenagers), but that could lead to much pain, so more often than not we played Mao (mentioned above).  And while one guy was the one who brought us the game and the initial set of rules, each dealer was allowed to craft their own set, as long as they named it (so that players could file rules learned under a heading for later play).  We had tons of fun making up rule sets and yelling at others when the rules that were made stunk (the lunch monitors had to drop by and ask us to quiet down at least once a day as we got into heated disputes).  In the end, the rules that stayed and made their way into every dealer’s set were the ones that made people laugh, even when they forgot the rule and got penalty cards.  By the time we crafted the master rule set that we settled on (called “Neo-Einteinian” if I recall correctly), players no longer cared if they won or lost the game, they just loved playing it, and to me that should be the goal of every game.

So, as you can see, I deviated from the stated purpose of this month’s Round Table as I didn’t actually design a game for my book, but I think that’s because the fundamental message of the book is actually the fundamental message of game design in general.  The creation of any game is an exercise in the game of Illusions.

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Crafting and Mini-games

I could swear I’ve posted about using mini-games for tradeskills before, but damned if I can’t find it. Not here, not on blogs I frequent, not on message boards I visit.

In any event, what I’ve posted before is that I don’t agree with either extreme. World of Warcraft’s click and create method is just so lifeless, no skill required at all. Then there are games like EQ2 which required you to “battle” your crafting every single time (no idea if this has changed, but that’s how it was when I last played).

What I think I would love to see is a system where a mini-game is used to set a “quality” bar, or several to set several bars, and then click and create to actually craft the items. Expertise in the mini-game would equate to better crafting, but once set you wouldn’t have to play over and over just to make items if you are happy with the items you are making.

Anyway, not going in to much depth here, just a broad stroke idea… thoughts?

In City of Heroes News…

.. the people on the official CoH Message Boards continued to discuss how cool the game is even though it doesn’t exist yet! They talk about the game disecting each frame of the admittedly damn cool gameplay movie. They roleplay. They create characters (most of them will end up bitching when someone steals their idea before they get their hands on a copy of the game). They form super teams.

Let me repeat… The game does not exist yet!

This isn’t a new thing. It’s happened with most games that have come out recently. See Dawn for an extreme case of people defending a game that will NEVER exist (I have my Beta account set up anyway so I can laugh at it properly). Mostly though, this kind of religious ferver just results in disappointment and general community divisions and hatred as people bicker and bitch about whether or not capes should be in the game.

I think the first sign of the coming apocalypse is any time two people argue about something where not only can neither of them win, but even if they could it wouldn’t matter because its not up to them to decide.