Tag Archive for Online

What I Read

I don’t maintain a blogroll here, or even links of any kind to other sites unless they are within posts.  However, in a fit of narcissism I decided that I would post a list of links to all the sites that are contained within my Google Reader.  So without further ado, presented here in alphabetical order, and in one giant ugly paragraph, is what I read:

.: Cedarstreet :., < witty title >, A Next-Gen-MMORPG, A Softer World, A Tree Falling in the Forest, Anyway Games, Applied Game Design, Basic Instructions, bbPress Blog, Bio Break, Brass Goggles, Brea Grant, Broken Toys, Clients From Hell, Coding Horror, Corvus & the IGDA, Crabapple Cove, Critical Distance, crowdSPRING Blog, Daily Dragon Online, daspetey, David Wellington, DESIGNER NOTES, Digital Diary Detailing Datamancer’s Deeds, Digital Gaming@Dragon*Con, Dinosaur Comics, DOGHOUSE, Don’t Fear the Mutant, Dragon*Con MMO, Dragon*ConTV, DragonCon, DreamHost Status, Eating Bees, Elder Game, Epic Slant, Ethos Incarnate, Experience Curve, Felicia Day, Fidgit, Fullbright, Fun in Games, Fun in Real Life, Game Design Concepts, Game Design Reviews, GARY WHITTA, Geek Girl in Training, Grim News, Grumpy Gamer, Hark, A Vagrant!, Heartless_ Gamer, I HAS PC, ihobo, indexed, International Game Developers Association Board, into survival., James Van Der Memes, Karnatos, Kieron Gillen’s Workblog, Kill Ten Rats, Killed in a Smiling Accident., Kung Fu Monkey, LevelCapped, Lost Garden, Man Bytes Blog, Middle and Up, MMOData.net, Mobhunter.com, Moo Tang Clan, Mumble, My Name Is Michael, National Novel Writing Month – Breaking News, Nerdist, Nerfbat, Netflix – New choices to watch instantly, Netflix Community Blog, Not Always Right | Funny & Stupid Customer Quotes, not much’a nothin’, On Beyond Zebra, One Of A Crowd, Online Games Are a Niche Market, Only a Game, Over00, PARA ABNORMAL – the comic, paulietoons, paulneuhaus.com, Penny Arcade, Picture’s Up, Play Like a Girl, Popnarcotic, PostSecret, Psychochild’s Blog, PvPonline, Quarter to Three, Radioactive State, Rands In Repose, Raph’s Website, Real Life Comics, Running With My Eyes Closed, Scott Hartsman – Off the Record, screen play, Script Frenzy – The Beat, Sexy Videogameland, Shakefire.com blogs, ShrinkGeek, ShutterDreams, Smed’s Blog, Stylish Corpse, Surviving The World, Symptom of a Greater Cure, T=Machine, Tami Baribeau, Teaching Game Design, Terra Nova, Texas State Word, That’s a Terrible Idea, The Ancient Gaming Noob, The Banstick, The Brainy Gamer, The Celtx Blog, The Common Sense Gamer, The GameDev Project, The Grouchy Gamer, The HoneyComb Engine, The Internet Crashed, The Mod Squad. Blog., The Oakstout, The Oatmeal – Comics, Quizzes, & Stories, The Office of Letters and Light, The Official DreamHost Blog!, The Psychology of Video Games, The Word of Notch, This Side… Down, Tish Tosh Tesh, Tobold’s MMORPG Blog, Twitter Blog, Undead Labs – News, Van Hemlock, We Fly Spitfires – MMORPG Blog, Welcome to Spinksville!, West Karana, WIL WHEATON dot NET: in exile, Wolfshead Online, WordPress Development Blog, Words from Ward, WorldIV, xkcd.com, You Got Red On You, You Might As Well Be Unemployed, zen habits, Zen of Design, Zombie Reporting Center

Make of this what you will.

Defining Failure

If you travel in the gaming blog circles, you might have heard about or even read a little anonymous diatribe about Warhammer Online.  And there are responses.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  And I’m sure there are more…  But really, I don’t want to talk about that.  Instead, let’s talk about what constitutes a failure in the MMO world.

I’ve seen a number of places, in comments on the above linked posts and all around the Internet that Warhammer “failed”.  However, they sold 1.2 million boxes, which I have to assume covered a good bit, if not all of the development costs.  We know they bled subscribers, and the last official numbers were that they had 300,000 subscribers as of March 2009.  They have cut back on servers, down to 9 (4 US, 2 UK, 2 German, 1 French) and are most certainly down below the reported 300k.  Still… if we can assume that the box sales and the first couple of months recouped the development investment, and if the current operating costs are below their subscription revenue, while the returns for the investors aren’t good, is an MMO operating in the black a failure?  I mean, they haven’t shut the game off yet, so I kinda have to assume they operate in the black, or damn close to it.  I could be wrong.

Clearly, the game did not perform as well as people would have hoped.  They didn’t make WoW-style money hats to wear while driving dump trucks of money to the bank, but did they lose money?  Is the game bleeding cash?  Each perspective on a game defines failure in different ways.  An investor, for example, will define failure as earning less money than other, less risky, options.  If he earned less on his cash than he would have just putting it in a savings account, then it’s an epic failure.  A publisher or game company probably defines success or failure on the affect the game has on both the bottom line AND the company reputation.  If a game is making money but the press keeps bringing the game up as being crap or failing, then overall the game is probably a failure since it might affect getting future investors to give you their money.

For me, as a player and a wanna-be developer, success means the game runs and I, as a player, can play it and we, as the developers, are still able to release more content.  Failure exists only when the game is in the red and we have to shut it off to keep from bankrupting everyone involved.

How many MMOs have truly failed?  Asheron’s Call 2, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, APB, Motor City Online, The Sims Online… Are there more bodies in the MMO graveyard?  How do you define failure?

What’s wrong with Free-to-Play?

The short answer: nothing.

Seriously though, as a person who likes to try out different games and hates have to cancel and resubscribe every time I jump, games without barriers to entry are awesome.  The latest rumble in the Internet is Turbine taking Lord of the Rings Online “free”.  As an observer of the MMO market, it isn’t hard to see why they might do this.  Some reports claim that Dungeons & Dragons Online experienced a 500% or more growth in revenue with their switch.  LotRO has always been a decently performing game, but if the switch gets them more players and more money while also making the game easier to try, well, more power to them.

And before people go off half-cocked calling them money grubbing or greedy, making games costs money.  DDO has had several content expansions since they went “free” and that is entirely due to the influx of money.  If companies don’t keep an eye on the bottom line, they can’t afford to make new stuff, and without new stuff people quit, which just leads to less new stuff.

To be honest, the only issue I have with the current trend of F2P games is that I feel the term is less and less accurate.  Sure, technically all these games are free to play, to a point.  But all of them have velvet ropes for subscription and/or item stores and more.  A better term, in my opinion, would be to call them “Pay What You Want” or “A La Carte” games.  The reason is that, for example, if DDOs 500% revenue growth is true, I doubt it is an even distribution.  Some players probably pay less now than they did when it was a subscription game, some pay nothing at all, while other players may be paying ten or twenty times more that the original subscription.

For me, I say, “Bring ’em on!”  Games with a low barrier for entry get my time and have a better chance of earning my money.  Heck, the game I spent the most on in the last year is Wizard 101 as I play through and buy content as I need it, playing and paying at my own pace.  I’ve been playing Puzzle Pirates for years and I’ve never invested a dime into it… but I’ve traded earned cash for bought cash (Pieces of Eight for Doubloons) that someone else had to buy, so my playing has earned them money.

I see nothing but win in this trend…  Games that are well designed are worth playing no matter the pricing structure.  Games that are blatant cash grabs will (should) have a short life.

Myst it by that much…

I’m a huge fan of the old Myst series of games.  Puzzles and story, no combat.  Awesome.

Back when I was heavier into GameTap, I finally got a chance to play Myst Online: Uru Live … for about two days because they were shutting it down.  Hence the title of this post…

Well, thanks to Massively I have discovered that it is coming back, again.  And it is free!

I’m definitely going to be checking it out.  I might even look into their Open Source project.

Murder of the First

Text MUDs really didn’t have much of a perspective because they didn’t have a camera.  You entered a room and were given a description of the room.  Anyone in the same room was “within reach” and to get out of reach you left the room.  Once games went graphical, the camera became a part of the game.  On one side you have Ultima Online which followed the Ultima top-down isometric, decidedly 3rd person.  On the other side you had EverQuest which owed its perspective to Doom and Quake and other 1st person shooters.  Later on, EQ would free up the camera so that people could play in 3rd person, but the game was designed such that you didn’t really gain much from it (unless you were pulling, in which case you could use the 3rd person camera to look around corners and behind other obstacles).  As MMOs have moved on, pretty much all of them have opted for the more tactical 3rd person view.  Pulled back, staring at the back of your character, giving you an almost omniscient view of the world.  It is very popular, in large part I suspect because it makes the game easier.  When you can see around yourself in 360 degrees so that nothing can surprise you, life is more… predictable.

While playing the Star Trek Online open beta, I found myself really enjoying the space combat.  The ground game was pretty much your typical bland MMO, like WoW or City of Heroes.  In fact, it is almost identical to Pirates of the Burning Sea.  But the space combat (much like the sea combat of PotBS) felt more much… alive.  Even though it was pretty awesome, it still felt like something was missing, and it wasn’t until a friendly discussion and an offhand comment that I put my finger on it.  A friend said, “I wish you could fight from the bridge.”  And I light went on in my brain.

What is missing from Star Trek Online, and was missing from PotBS, was a more 1st person view of the game.  STO’s space combat would be incredible if you played from the bridge, had to set the view screen, keep an eye on tactical items like scanners.

In my discussions with other folks about 1st vs 3rd person view, many of them cited PvP as being a reason for 3rd person.  You need to be able to see if someone is stalking up behind your guy.  And that discussion caused another light to go on.  In EQ, when I played primarily in 1st person, I was my character.  I was Ishiro Takagi, monk of Qeynos.  When I played WoW, where 3rd person is the default, I was controlling my character.  I was Jason, sitting at a computer controlling the actions of Ishiro, Alliance priest.  Possibly owing to its roots in RTS games, WoW plays like a giant RTS where you only get one unit.  The immersion is gone.

Stepping outside MMOs, in recent years I’ve been playing more console games.  Back in the day, before I discovered MMOs, I played a ton of 1st person shooters.  Before I started spending hours camping spawns in EverQuest, I was spending hours racing for flags and battling for control points in Team Fortress for Quake.  In the last couple of years, games like Gears of War, which everyone else seems to go nuts for, just leave me feeling empty, largely because the viewpoint of the game is watching over the shoulder of a guy, not being the guy.  I loved Dead Space, but there was a distance from the character, even though the integration of the UI into the game helped I still wasn’t in the head of the hero.  On the other hand, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are just so awesome.  No longer am I looking at the back of the hero, controlling him, I am the hero fighting my way through the hordes of the dead.

This is what is missing.  This is what makes it so easy to casually cancel my MMO subscriptions and never come back.  I never feel like I am in the game, just that I’m playing it.  Sure, I could play many of the games out there in 1st person, but they aren’t designed for 1st person, they are designed for 3rd and playing in 1st puts me at a disadvantage to every other player.  I hope more games consider locking in and designing for 1st person in the future.

What do you think?

Dragon*Con 2009: Day Three

Day three of Dragon*Con is usually when the cracks begin to show.  Its that second (or third) night of little to no sleep that leaves your feet shuffling a little more than walking, the enthusiasm is there but the expression of it has waned… and this is how I entered my first panel of the morning, “Oops!” – an apocalyptic track panel about things you need to know about surviving catastrophe.  I’ve gone to this panel every year that they’ve had it.  Its fun to listen to people who’ve done more research than you tell you stuff like “We all like to make fun of SPAM, but seriously, Hormel canned meats are something you need, and with the right dry spices and preparation it can be tasty… well, as tasty as SPAM gets.” and “Buying bottled water is good, but you have to rotate your stock because it will go bad.” and watching people furiously taking notes and the looks on their faces as the wisdom of these little nuggets sink in.  And for those that don’t go, here is the short version: In the case of any disaster, you are on your own for 72 hours, so you should always have food, water and supplies to last at least that long, if not longer.  Oh, and make sure your disaster recovery plans don’t rely on the things that will likely be lost in a disaster, like electricity.

Then there was a Champions Online panel… no developers, just fans talking about the beta and playing the game.  The kind of panel you just don’t get at other conventions.  I followed this with the “What’s wrong with WoW?” panel… the short version: Everything.  The long answer is that WoW does many things right, from a certain perspective, and if you are an MMO veteran who isn’t looking for the RPG version of whack-a-mole then WoW really isn’t for you.  The real long answer is… well… a series of posts that I might do later.

With no interesting panels for a couple hours, I took a lunch break and visited the dealers’ room.  Much like the Art Show and the Exhibiter Halls, I’ve been here before, a lot, and it is pretty much the same things every year.  But I made my way through the “5 for $25” shelves of graphic novels and didn’t find any I couldn’t live without.  Though, he did have a complete set of the huge leather bound looking Absolute Sandman series.  I wish I had that kind of cash to blow.

Back at the MMO track I settled in for an afternoon of SOE.  First, Free Realms… really, if you haven’t at least tried this game, I don’t know what to say.  It is free, it streams the client so you create an account, create a character and log in, the game downloads as needed and it does it very well.  Sure, its largely a collection of mini-games, but its fun.  I think it is anyway.  Second, The Agency.  The more I learn about this one, the more I like it.  It looks like an MMO version of the old Top Secret RPG.  You are an agent, you get skills, you do missions, you have other agents who help you out, you shoot stuff, you sneak in places, espionage…  it just looks cool.  Third, DC Universe Online.  You know, I really wanted to love City of Heroes, it had lots to like but in the end was too grindy.  When I saw Champions Online, I was excited, but from what I’ve read by the people who are playing, especially about how the graphics didn’t turn out to be the cell shaded awesomeness the screenshots originally portrayed, I’m not buying in yet and am waiting to here some ringing endorsements.  But from what I saw and learned about DCUO today, I’m really interested.  The physics of the game are just incredible.  As the example they used goes, you can freeze one bad guy in a block of ice, then pick him up and beat other bad guys with him.  That sounds like a comic book.

A smiled my way back to the Marriott then and attended a panel about upcoming post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows… not really a whole lot I didn’t know already, so nothing really exciting to report.  Book of Eli, Zombieland, The Road, V, Day One, Daybreakers… lots of things coming up I want to watch.

As the final night of Dragon*Con, it is also the final night of parties.  The Pirate Party is always a popular choice, though I imagine that many men choose it because of all the cleavage that comes with women dressing like pirates and wenches.  The highlight of this particular pirate party was watching one pirate make many frontal assaults upon the virtue on one wench, which she repeatedly rebuffed.  We also managed to catch the end of the Mad Scientists Ball where they had Tesla coils arcing toward a box within which they allowed ladies to dance.  Genius.  I didn’t make it to the SOE Party for the MMO track, and I wish I had… hopefully they will be back next year and do it again.

To wrap up the night, I spent it people watching in the Marriott.  Really, watching the other people, seeing the costumes that people create, is one of the best parts of the con.  It is so very inspiring.

Good night Dragon*Con, just one more day is left with you, but tonight was the last night.  Until next year…

Embrace Your Niche

If you have been keeping up with MMO news in the last couple months, I’m sure you’ve heard some part or some version of the saga of Perpetual. First they had Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising (you might still be able to find pre-order boxes on sale at Best Buy), then they got Star Trek Online, then they cancelled Gods & Heroes (if you find the pre-order boxes on sale at Best Buy, don’t buy them), then they lost the Star Trek license. I’m sure rumors will be plentiful about who is going to land that albatross in the coming weeks, until something gets announced for sure.

In the mean time, over at Elder Game, Eric, who worked on STO for Perpetual, gives out advice for whoever gets the license.

I couldn’t agree less. I mean, Eric is a game designer who has worked in the industry and I’m just some schlepp gamer (who also does happen to be a programmer, but only for data warehouses and time management software thus far), so obviously you should believe me, right?

Every point he makes is valid under the assumption that, as he says himself, your intent is to:

Make a game for WoW players who kinda liked Star Trek. That should be your target audience. Trust me, it’ll be fine.

And that’s where I diverge, and the reason I say I disagree with his points. If you follow me around the Internet reading the posts I make on message boards and comments I put on other people’s blogs, you’ll see that I have a gentle disdain for WoW. That feeling comes from the fact that I find the game to be highly polished but bland. I played WoW for 2 years and in that time I can honestly say I didn’t hate it, but I can also honestly say that I didn’t love it either. The game just sort of happened, and its that level of mild pleasure without displeasure that has helped WoW hit the numbers it has hit. And while it is wildly successful and Blizzard executives laugh as they frequently drive truckloads of cash to the bank, it isn’t the only way to do things.

Games like WoW are not inherently bad. In fact, to a degree they are good because they expand the market place, but not every title should or even can expand that market place. As much as people tout the polish of WoW as the key to its success, the reality is that it was and is a perfect storm of game and license. WoW has “9 million subscribers”, which isn’t entirely accurate because some of the asian countries don’t do traditional subscription models, and I’d wager less than half of those are in the US, maybe even the US and Europe. Asia has been big on Warcraft for a long time. But how big is Star Trek in Asia? Do they play Star Trek RTS games like they play Starcraft and Warcraft?

For me, I’d rather see whoever gets the Star Trek Online license embrace their niche and not make a WoW clone set in the Star Trek universe. And while I do agree with Eric that they’ll have trouble making a game that is true to the previous work and pleases all the fans, they shouldn’t just ignore them and make WoW. Can you imagine a game with player created and controlled capital ships, with a captain and officer crews, away teams and engineering staff? Star Trek Online shouldn’t aim for WoW… they should, in my humble opinion, aim for a mix of Puzzle Pirates and The Sims with some Dark Age of Camelot style RvR thrown in, and the only non playable race in the game should be the Borg because players, even chinese gold farmers, have too much personality to be Borg.

Update: Since I wrote this, Eric has gone on to elaborate his opinions. And it doesn’t change my opinions at all.

Money is Time

Most MMOs have a monthly fee. Since Ultima Online, it has pretty much been the rule. Sure, you get the occasional one like Guild Wars that is free or some of the newer ones where you can start for free but the game has a velvet rope you cannot cross without paying (or in the case of Puzzle Pirates, making trades with people who paid). The current threshold for monthly fees is $15.

Tobold asks “How much would you pay per hour of WoW?

It is a valid question, and one I’ve been thinking about recently. See, I just canceled my WoW account. Over the last couple of months, I have played very little. too much work, going to see movies, playing on the 360 and the Wii… it all adds up to not enough time to play WoW. But the problem isn’t just not being able to play WoW, it is that I was also maintaining accounts for City of Heroes/Villains and Lord of the Rings Online, and while paying $15 a month to not play WoW wouldn’t bother me horribly, paying $40 a month to not play 3 games begins to be a bit silly.

The way I see to fix that would be to switch to hourly charges. It would be nice if I didn’t have to pay to not play but could still keep my account active. And that comes from a purely lazy point of view. With my WoW account canceled, if the wife and I feel the urge to log in, we will first have to go reactivate accounts, and the time it takes to go to the web page, verify or enter credit card information, and then get back to the game… if we aren’t playing now because of a lack of interest, jumping through hoops to play isn’t going to help.

I would love to be able to maintain accounts in all the games out there, paying for only the time I play them and not having to actually cancel and reinstate my account every time I lose interest. Without a guaranteed monthly fee I probably would have bought Vanguard after I upgraded my PC. Without a guaranteed monthly fee, I probably would have bought EQ2. Many games have and probably will lose my box sale because I just can’t afford another monthly fee.

Now… on the other side of the coin… I understand why developers like that monthly fee. It is much easier to budget. “X” subscribed players times “Y” monthly fee equals “Z” incoming cash minus “A” service providing costs equals “P” profits, which can either be taken to the bank, or reinvested into the game, or into another game. If they had an hourly charge, you might have “X” players, but only 30% of them might play more than 50 hours a month, and another 30% might play less than 5. The player numbers and revenue wouldn’t be a nice smooth pretty graph, it would be covered in spikes for revenue and it would be a never ending climb to the stars for player accounts. (Hint: the “total residents” in that link does not equal “paying subscriber”.)

I think I would even be willing to settle for a minimal account management fee, of about $1 or $2 per game, with an hourly fee above that for the time that I play. But how much is too much per hour? Without any kind of fixed fee, I think Tobold is pretty close to dead on with 25 cents per hour. If they tacked on a small fixed fee for the account, 10 or 15 cents an hour would be more appropriate.

Either way, I would love to have more active games and more options to play, if only I could afford to keep them all.

Amazon vs Lord of the Rings Online

At the last possible moment… okay, not the last moment, but close… Saturday, I decided the wife and I would play Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. So, I threw a copy into the Amazon shopping cart, changed the quantity to two and placed my order. The reason I started by saying it was a close call was that the game released on Tuesday, and you had to order it before then as a pre-order to get the super cool Founder’s bonus stuff, most importantly the $9.99 a month rate. Since the normal rate would be $14.99, $5 a month times 2 is $120 a year savings.

If we end up playing for two years, I might kick myself for not taking the Lifetime subscription, but then again, if I paid $200 and then canceled after six month I’d kick myself. Damned if you do…

Back to my point though… we ordered our two copies of the game and then I went to the digital download section to claim our pre-order key… wait. Key? Singular? Shouldn’t I have two keys?

Why yes, yes I should.

So I call Amazon Customer Service… or rather, I go to the web page, enter my phone number and click the button to have their help desk (helpfully located in India) call me. The woman is nice enough, at least the broken formal English she is reading from her CS manual is nice enough. After many unsuccessful attempts to explain how the pre-order, account registration and all that is supposed to work, and trying to point out that I ordered two copies of the game but only got one key… to give a quick example, it went sorta like this:

Me: “I ordered two copies of the game, only got one pre-order key.”
Her: “Order shows one item.”
Me: “With a quantity of two.”
Her: “Not two, just one item on order.”
Me: “There is one item, with a quantity of two.”
Her: “Sir, your order has only one item. Digital downloads are given one per item.”
Me: “The item cost $50, my invoice is for $100 because I bought two.”
Her: “But there is only one line item.”
Me: “With a quantity of two.”

Finally, she grasps the concept… one item, quantity of two… and determines that she is not capable of resolving my issue. She says that I should have ordered the items at separate lines, then forwards my problem to another department, says they will email me the resolution, and hangs up.

Now, there are many things I am not, but one thing I am is a Web Programmer. You would think, if Amazon has an issue with providing digital content on multiple quantity single line items someone over there might be able to trap a flag and issue a warning to the user, or even not allow multiple quantities for items with digital content. A nice little pop up that says, “This item includes a digital download and product key, please add multiples to the cart separately.”

In any event, we are now waiting to hear from Amazon. They owe us a pre-order key, or they owe us $5 a month. Let’s see how long this takes to resolve…

Update: As bad as the first call was, my follow up 48 hours later was good. The woman was pleasant, contacted the department needed, got us all on the phone, got the issue reviewed and resolved, and she apologized for it taking a second call to get the work done. Apparently the first woman hadn’t actually forwarded my issue to the other department. All is good now.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Yeah. I bought Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.

I played around in the beta, and the game played well enough, looked good enough, and showed enough potential for more than just grinding raids and killing things that I decided to pick it up. I pre-ordered and it should arrive tomorrow.

At the very least I will be playing a human minstrel on the Silverlode server named Ishiro. That may change (name, class, race or server) but it is where I will start. Now to begin building my fellowship…