Archive for January, 2008

Defending the Interactive Whorehouse

Posted by Stropp on January 31, 2008

A couple of days ago I posted the story, Activist Gamers are Massively Effective. It covered the reaction of the gamer community to the beat up by Fox News on Mass Effect. Fox managed to find an author who hadn't played Mass Effect but had heard bad things about it, and got her to denounce the game publicly.

This had the effect of annoyed gamers heading to Amazon and voting her latest book all the way down. Ah, much fun and hilarity ensued. The author, Cooper Lawrence, then retracted her Fox News statements, saying that now she had seen the game, and any sex in it was no big deal.

Why the recap?

Ten Ton Hammer have linked to a web site called Loading Ready Run. These guys spend their spare time making videos, and have just released their own commentary on their site in the form of video satire. The video is called Max Effect, and it's well worth watching.

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson.

"It's funny because it's true."

How to Screw Your Loyal Players

Posted by Stropp on January 30, 2008

The developers of Shadowbane mustn't like their customers very much.

The latest patch to go to the test server, patch 22, has some fairly disturbing notes for the players of this free to play MMORPG.

The Shadowbane Team decided that it would be best for the longevity of the game to reset all server and character data and start from scratch.

There's a lot more to the patch notes, you can read them here, but the upshot is that everything the players have been working on since the game was released in 2003 will be erased. That's characters, their gear, every change  made to the world.shadowbane1

Of course this is all justified in the notes, there are a lot of fundamental changes that are being made. And it's reasonable for the developers to want to wipe the database. It's much easier to do.

While it could be done without the wipe, making sweeping changes to equipment is better done in conjunction with it.

I kinda remember the reaction to a similar action taken in a far more popular game and the results it had on subscriptions. Star Wars Galaxies anyone?

The developers admit that they can make these changes without resorting to a server wipe, but it is easier to wipe and start over. I'm not sure that's a good philosophy for a game dev. After all how would World of Warcraft players react if Blizzard implemented sweeping changes for Wrath of the Lich King by wiping all player data?

However, looking at the forums so far, the reactions seem to be mixed. Some players are lamenting the Shadowbane reboot, while others are heralding it as a move that will save the game by fixing all the problems that have occurred since launch. The question is how the non-forum using players will react to the wipe, and usually, the majority of players never even go near a forum, let alone post on it.

Shadowbane is a free game. So while they may lose some regulars, with a little promotion player levels will probably return to normal levels in no time. Still, I wonder how the remaining old timers will feel.

If by chance you're a Shadowbane player, I'd be interested in your opinion of this. Of course, I'm interested in your opinion even if you're not a Shadowbane player.

Activist Gamers are Massively Effective

Posted by Stropp on January 29, 2008

Okay. I've used the "Massively Effective" line before, this is the last time... maybe.

A few days ago now, a print media author by the name of Cooper Lawrence appeared on Fox News and had a go at Mass Effect. Ms Lawrence claimed that the game was full of pornography and full frontal nudity. Hmmm. I played it through and didn't see any of that. What was I doing wrong?!

The game community reacted to the show with predictable outrage. After all, the game does not contain any of the content that Cooper Lawrence claimed was there. At worst, the player was rewarded with a sex scene that even the FCC would have been hard pressed to find anything wrong.

It turned out later that she was told by some anonymous third party that the game contained obscene material. She actually hadn't played it at all.

cultofperfection What happened next was terribly interesting. A large number of gamers headed over to Amazon where Ms Lawrence's latest book is on sale and voted it down, leaving comments describing the book as a bunch of tripe (my paraphrase.) At this point Ms Lawrence retracted her statement saying:

I recognize that I mis-spoke. I really regret saying that, and now that I've seen the game and seen the sex scenes it's kind of a joke.

Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it's like pornography," she added. "But it's not like pornography. I've seen episodes of 'Lost' that are more sexually explicit.

I'll bet she regrets making those comments. After all those comments have probably cost her a lot of money. I don't think that I'm alone in using the Amazon rating system to decide if I'll buy a book. Even if I'm interested in a book description, lots of bad ratings stop me from going ahead and buying. Currently, Ms Lawrence's book The Cult of Perfection is rated at one star. She ain't gonna sell many of those.

So why is this interesting?

Gamers, until now, have been a pretty easy target. Old media like Fox News doesn't care about them because the average gamer isn't in their demographic. So Uncle Rupert's TV network can afford to do some muck raking to rake in the ratings. He's not going to lose any viewers.

While gamers have expressed their outrage at the unfair treatment they have received from old media, busybodies, and ever-so-outraged-in-an-election-year politicians determined to 'think of the children' I'm not sure I've seen gamer activism like this before.

helenlovejoy It also coincides with a recent report about a US parents group called the Parents Television Council who are very, very upset that the Entertainment Software Association will be making political donations. They're upset that the ESA will be 'buying clout.'

Okay. I'm not a huge fan that lets special interests bribe donate to politicians in order to curry favor, but let's face it, that's exactly what these parents groups have been doing for years.

This particular group, as I understand it, represents a fairly small percentage of the American population, but makes the largest proportion of complaints to the FCC each year. They're noisy, and it appears that they don't want anyone horning in on their racket. Sorry about the pun... no, not really.

Maybe they do realize actually how big the gamer community is. Recent reports have World of Warcraft passing ten million subscribers, and the WoW numbers are a drop in the bucket when it comes to everyone who plays computer games. Maybe, just maybe, the Parents Television Council realizes how noisy millions of gamers could become.

That's an awful lot of people to get offside.

Gamers have been treated pretty poorly by the traditional media, politicians, and groups with agendas for years. Maybe now the tide is turning. Cooper Lawrence and her book may be the first casualty in the new wave of gamer activism.

She won't be the last.

Mythos Interview with Max Schaefer

Posted by Stropp on January 28, 2008

A few weeks ago I received an eMail from Max Schaefer, who is the executive producer of Mythos, in response to a post I published requesting an invite to the Mythos beta. At the time, Max kindly provided a beta key to the game. As part of our conversation, I asked Max if he wouldn't mind doing an interview for Stropp's World to which he agreed.

Max is one of the original co-founders of Blizzard North, which developed the Diablo series of action RPG games. In 2003 Max resigned from Blizzard, along with a number of other employees including Bill Roper, to pursue new opportunities. The opportunity turned out to be the start up of a new game company called Flagship Studios.

Stropp: Hi Max, welcome to Stropp's World. Why did Flagship Studios decide to develop a Diablo style game?

Max: Originally, the purpose of the Mythos project was to make a small free game that would be a test-bed for the Hellgate: London network infrastructure. It didn't take long before we realized it was turning into a real project. We were fortunate enough to get Travis Baldree, who made Fate almost single-handedly, to lead up the project, and he and his team have made Mythos into not only a real game, but one that all of Flagship Studios is very proud of.

Stropp: Will Mythos have a story arc? Will there be larger story of the world told in the game?

Max: Mythos will have a history, a setting, and a lore, but not so much a "story" that you play out as you level. Instead, you will learn about the world of Uld, about why the various players are there, what happened in the past, and what challenges there are for the future. But in Mythos, you are the story - you write it with your character's exploits, and the interactions with all of the other players. We plan a very full suite of community-based gameplay features.

Stropp: I understand you are working on the up coming crafting system. Can you tell us how it works? And will the items that are crafted ultimately be useful, or will they be overtaken by loot drops and quest rewards?

Max: There are enough different types of desirable items in Mythos that crafting will give access to items and benefits that aren't simply more of what you find from loot drops and questing. The crafting system under development now has elements of a skill system hybridized into it, and we'll be releasing more and more information about it as we get closer to the Zone 3 push.

Stropp: How about PvP? Will this be included in Mythos? Can you give us any details?

Max: We'll be starting out with basic dueling, and also with a very exciting concept: the Shadow World. This is basically a copy of the entire game of Mythos, accessible through portals, that has PvP everywhere, all the time. It's very exciting the way it's turning out. Additionally, we plan other PvP and group vs. group modes like Capture the Flag-type games and other non-PK competitions.

Stropp: How is the beta progressing?

Max: It's going extremely well. The response from gamers has been fantastic, and we work closely with Beta testers to uncover bugs, and discover player preferences and issues. Travis and the team have a great relationship with the players, and are very motivated by the response so far.

Stropp: Mythos has been in beta for quite some time now. How close are you to a release date?

Max: The Alpha/Beta period has been fairly long, as we really did use it to test features for Hellgate: London. Therefore we opened it before we might have otherwise done so, but this has allowed us get more input from our players and spend more time iterating on the design based on real data. Our release date has not been set but I can tell you it will be this year.

Stropp: What are your plans for Mythos when it is released? Will you be regularly patching in content? Or will you be doing bigger expansions less frequently?

Max: We plan on regularly patching in content. Our plans for Mythos extend well beyond what we will be commercializing with, and the Seattle team is committed to expanding the universe for the foreseeable future. Since Mythos is a free download, we'll probably not do larger expansions, but just keep adding chunks of content that will be automatically patched in when players log on.

Stropp: How about new races or classes? Will we see any Frost Mages or Necromancers in Mythos?

Max: Not those specifically, but yes, both new races and classes are on the way.

Stropp: It's been previously announced that Mythos will be free to play. Can you tell us what revenue model you will be using? What incentives will there be for players to pay extra?

Max: We will be using an RMT model. Our goal is to provide a wonderful, robust free experience, but offer attractive options for people who are willing to pay to get extra luxuries, or enhance their adventuring. We don't want to simply sell the best items - even paying players will have to go kill monsters to find the best loot. Also, we plan to let players trade the in-game cash currency for items with non-paying players. This way, even the cash items will be available to free players, and we'll avoid splitting the community into the haves and have-nots.

Stropp: There's been quite a lot of discussion around the MMO blogging community recently about RMT. How do you intend to deal with third party gold and item sellers?

Max: It's very difficult to stop item selling. Instead, we are investigating actually allowing players to sell items though a secure in-game marketplace rather than resorting to Ebay. We don't think gold farming will be a huge issue in Mythos, however, since the RMT currency cannot be farmed, and the in-game gold doesn't buy you everything you need. Nevertheless, we stop gold farming whenever we can.

Stropp: Finally, is there anything else that you would like to tell us about Mythos?

Max: Mythos is all about good fun. We made it easy to approach - we expect many players will never have to look at a manual - and have aimed for a wide audience of gamers. At the same time, we want players to have a deep, rich game experience, the kind you don't usually get from free games. Basically, we want to bring AAA production values and depth to the casual game space. We don't expect to take over for giant epics like World of Warcraft, but rather to enhance such games with an alternative that's a bit lighter, a bit less time consuming, a bit easier to play, and is always just a free download away for everyone.

Stropp: Max, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Good luck with the rest of the beta.

Max: Thank you for the opportunity!

War What is it Good For? New MMOs Thats What

Posted by Stropp on January 24, 2008

Someone pushed the button labeled Do Not Push.

That started the chain of events that led to World War Three.

Now the Earth lies in ruins, mankind has been spanked, and the corporations are still telling us what to do. There's a rebellion in progress, and criminal factions to deal with, or join. And to top it off, we now have to fight all sorts of hideous mutant beasties. 

This is the premise of Earthrise a new MMO game announced by Bulgarian developer Masthead Studios. At least WWIII is good for something.

Earthrise screenshot Masthead have already put up the Earthrise website. Here's the overview.

Earthrise is a post apocalyptic science fiction MMORPG set in the distant future.
In the aftermath of the Third World War, mankind has managed to survive and build a new society: the prosperous city of Sal Vitas. Cloning, nanotechnology and quantum engineering are part of a new reality. Thanks to these technological advances, the human species has become immortal; each individual’s consciousness is stored in a data vault, ready to be uploaded into a cloned body as necessary. New energy sources have been discovered. There is a unified government that takes good care of those citizens who abide by its strict laws. Paradise, it appears, might really have come to Earth, and the people have embraced it.

But not everything is as perfect as it appears. By exercising full control over the cloning process, Sal Vitas' government decides who will live and who will not, playing the role of God on Earth. Insurgent forces have accused the city's rulers of crimes against humanity. Armed factions fight for resources and power within the new system. And from the waves of discontent, a rebellion has fomented and formed a shadow government: Noir.

Featuring a unique skill-based advancement system and player-driven economy, as well as extensive, meaningful player-vs.-player combat, Earthrise gives you innumerable choices to forge your destiny. Whether you're a noble soldier in the raging conflict between the Utopia and the rebellion, a criminal hiding from the law or a world-renowned engineer whose power extends into intricate trade and politics, your actions will echo throughout the game world.

From what I've seen so far this looks like it will be a very interesting game. The feature list looked familiar though. Nanotech, robotic companions, skill based, three factions; one corporate, one rebel, one neutral/criminal, pvp security zones, and deep crafting. Hmmm. What other SciFi MMO does this remind you of?

Why Anarchy Online of course.

That's not to say it's a bad thing. AO, was a very rich game with lots of possibilities. I shouldn't say 'was' though, since it's still going strong and in line for a major engine upgrade in the near future.

Earthrise will be a subscription based game and according to their FAQ will cost the same as comparable games. There's no hard date for the release yet, but the website is saying that it will be sometime in 2009. Early or late, no idea at this stage.

Earthrise will join Huxley, Fallen Earth, and the ellusive Fallout Online in the Post Apocalyptic MMO game market.

WoW! Ten Million

Posted by Stropp on January 23, 2008

Okay. So it's not exactly a breaking news item, but the figures are in. World of Warcraft has broken the ten million subscriber count. That's nearly half the population of Australia.

This number only includes current paying subscribers. It hasn't been padded out with players who left the game months ago, or players in the free trials, or unused prepay cards

The paid subscribers can be broken down as follows.

  • North America - 2.5 million.
  • Europe - 2 million.
  • Asia - 5.5 million.

It goes to show that World of Warcraft is, simply put, a great game.

I know that I've been somewhat critical of WoW in the past and, since I'm downright opinionated and sometimes curmudgeonly, I'll be critical in the future. Even now I think that there are things that Blizzard could be doing better with this game.

But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Blizzard sat down, mixed up a batch of MMO pudding tastiness, baked it up, stuck their thumb in it and pulled out a huge plumb of gaming success. The fact that there are ten million subscribers means that World of Warcraft is what they want.

Nothing all the nay-sayers say can change that.

It also means that many of the predictions of the demise of Azeroth are wrong.

This doesn't mean that WoW will be king of the hill forever. Things change, and often when it's least expected. World of Warcraft, despite its development budget, in some ways came out of nowhere.

Everquest at the time was the king with something like 400,000 subscribers. At that time I remember reading statements in the gaming press saying that 400,000 was likely the limit. MMO gaming was too niche they said. I even recall the goals for Star Wars Galaxies being set somewhere around the 450,000 mark.

In the same way it's premature to say that no-one will ever beat World of Warcraft. That time simply hasn't yet arrived. I believe that one day there will be a WoW beater, and it will arrive on the trail made by Blizzard.

Think about it. The whole MMO Gaming phenomenon is extremely young, not much older than ten years. MUDs have been around a lot longer of course, but games like Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Everquest, and Asheron's Call defined the genre we now enjoy. I'm not sure when M59 was released, but it was before UO which hit shelves in 1998.

The MMO genre has barely started and we are seeing huge audiences. We have barely scratched the surface of what can be done, or what can work in this type of gaming. What it will be like ten, twenty, or fifty years from now is anybodies guess.

Isn't it exciting?

In the meantime, World of Warcraft is going from strength to strength. Now the real question becomes, will they reach fifteen million subscribers?

Surreal Music Video

Posted by Stropp on January 22, 2008

Okay. So this post is going to be way, way, way off topic for this blog.

I did start with good intentions to write a post about MMO games. Honest. But before I started, I made the mistake of looking at a post from Smashing Magazine that had a list of  29 Brilliant Music Videos. Guess how I ended up spending the rest of my evening.

One of the reasons I read Smashing Magazine is to be inspired in the area of design, particularly blog and web design. They are an excellent resource if you are interested in improving your blog design.

After watching a few of these I decided to post them up here too. The ones I selected are mostly surreal in nature. I'm a big fan of surrealism. There's something about it that attracts my eyes and mind and gets me thinking about things.

So without further ado, here's the list. And by the way, some of these videos are probably not that safe for work though there is no overt nudity or the like. Some of them are deeply disturbing, for example the last video about the nipple creatures, Eye for an Eye by Unkle. Not safe for kids, unless your kids like nightmares.

I hope you enjoy these clips.

By Crom Delayed Again

Posted by Stropp on January 21, 2008

It seems like it was only a few days ago that Funcom announced March 25th as the release date for Age of Conan. It looks like the Barbarian gods weren't all that pleased because the date has once again been pushed back. Now to May 20, but still 2008.

By Crom Delayed Again

There are a few commentators saying that it's better to push the date back than release a buggy game, and I have to say that I agree with this sentiment. Anarchy Online was released by Funcom to a pretty ordinary launch. By ordinary, I mean disastrous. It took them a long time to recover from that, but in the end had a pretty good game that is still doing well.

Times have changed though. A bad launch back a few years ago didn't spell the end for a game because there wasn't as much competition. AO had time to recover. Compare to Vanguard which has improved since launch, but because of increased competition isn't recovering.

Funcom has also recently cut back on the number of classes. I also think this is a good thing. I know there were a lot of people hanging out to play those classes, but it's better to have something working now than having a half-arsed class that plays badly and takes a long time to fix,

The beauty of the MMO genre is the ability to add things like classes to the game at a later date. It's always possible that the removed features will make an appearance in the future. But for that to happen the game has to be successful at launch.

Let's hope that Funcom make the most of the additional months and get Age of Conan out the door with the minimum of problems.

Are You Subversive? Brazil Thinks So.

Posted by Stropp on January 21, 2008

There were a few reports this weekend about the banning in Brazil of two computer games. Those games were Everquest and Counterstrike. That's the first Everquest mind you.

Apparently a judge in one of the provinces managed to get a bee in his bonnet about these two games. This judge, Carlos Alberto Simoes, ruled:

that the games encouraged the subversion of public order, were an attack against the democratic state and the law and against public security.

What can you say about that?

traitor-1Never mind that this is Everquest 1 he is banning, which was released March 1999, and Counterstrike, originally a Half-Life mod released before EQ. Not sure of the exact date for CS. These two games have been played by thousands of players for the  better part of a decade.

Never mind that there are a bunch of games out there that in viciousness and realism make EQ and CS look like a child's bedtime stories by comparison.

Never mind that there are other forms of media that are quite legal that contain subversive themes and *gasp* challenge the citizenry to think about their world.

This particular judge appears to be a little out of touch with both his country and reality. I've never read stories about hordes of Counterstrike and Everquest players roaming the Brazilian countryside carrying out subversive acts against democracy. In all likelihood, these gamers were happily keeping out of trouble while indulging their favorite hobby.

Unfortunately, Brazil has a somewhat strange legal system where a judge can make a ruling in one province and have that ruling apply across the country. I'm wondering where the checks and balances are in the system to prevent a judicial wacko from implementing some really nasty laws.

Banning games is one thing. But this sort of system could lead to some widespread abuse of civil rights. The question becomes: When does the book burning start?

For now though, EQ and CS gamers in Brazil will have to resort to secretive and subversive means to hide themselves and their hobby from the video game police.

Bumping the January Poll

Posted by Stropp on January 18, 2008

I'm just giving the January poll, As A MMO Gamer I Am Currently, a bit of a bump.

So far there have been sixteen votes submitted, many thanks to those that have taken the time to vote, but I was hoping for a bit more than that.

You need to help me settle a bet with DM. Well, not really. There's no money riding on this, or indeed no wager at all. DM believed that a good portion of the readers of MMO blogs were not currently playing. I thought it would be good to find out in a poll.

So far the results aren't in his favor. But we need more data to be sure.

I've re-included the poll below, but the it doesn't always come through in the feed. If that's the case with you, I'd sure appreciate if you could take the time to visit the site and vote.