Archive for February, 2008
Posted by Stropp on
February 29, 2008
The CEO of Activision, Bobby Kotick, thinks that an investment of half a billion to a billion dollars would be required to develop a MMO that might stand a chance at unseating World of Warcraft.
We don’t think that even if we made the USD 500 million or billion-dollar investment to get a product out [to compete with WOW] that we would even be successful doing it.
I think he is missing the point.
Sure, lot’s of money is required to build a big AAA modern game. Even more is required to build a big modern AAA MMO game. There’s a lot of investment required in developing the software, and the art and sound assets. If you want a huge game like WoW, you need to spend a bundle on the hardware infrastructure. I’d wager at least a quarter of WoW’s 60 million dollar budget went on hardware and support infrastructure.
But, like I said, he’s missing the point.
Throwing a lot of money at something doesn’t mean it will be good. Remember Alexander, the monster budget movie about Alexander the Great?
The studio spent an insane amount of cash to produce a flop. How many big budget movies get panned by critics and moviegoers?
The same goes for games, music… everything.
To take on World of Warcraft, you don’t need a billion dollars. You need a game with the following.
- Good game mechanics.
- Lot’s of low end content.
- Lot’s of middle tier content.
- Lot’s of high end content.
- An understanding of what players want. (Which doesn’t mean an understanding of what players want in World of Warcraft.)
- Stable and scalable architecture.
- and some Luck.
Over the last twelve or so months, there have been several games released that could have made inroads into WoWs subscriber base. Unfortunately they lacked in some of the following points.
- Lord of the Rings Online. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about LotRO is the lack of high end content.
- Tabula Rasa. A fun SciFi game that also lacks high end content, and is also missing some of the features players expect.
- Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. While there was a lot of content, a way too early release meant the game wasn’t stable. Lots of subscribers left, never to return.
- Hellgate: London. Lots of potential there, but lots of bugs at release too.
With the recent Game Developers Conference there were a few big name game developers having a rant about how World of Warcraft is ruining things for everyone else. Come on people, sure WoW is big. Sure it’s going to take a bit to compete.
That doesn’t mean that:
- You cannot compete. Microsoft used this excuse to cancel Marvel Universe Online instead of being honest and telling us it just didn’t have the balls to try.
- You cannot look at another niche. Age of Conan and Warhammer are doing this.
Here’s the thing. World of Warcraft is currently filling it’s niche quite nicely. It’s a nice casual fantasy MMORPG. Blizzard didn’t expect it to be so successful. They got lucky.
Both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online are going for a different niche than World of Warcraft. Warhammer is aiming at the PvP-Realm vs Realm niche. Age of Conan is also going for the PvP, but is focusing on a mature rated audience. Neither of these areas are World of Warcraft territory, even though Blizzard is retooling for more PvP.
Who knows maybe this will ruin their formula and hurt them, allowing someone else to force open the door.
To the game developers. Stop thinking that money can solve your woes. Start getting creative. Maybe if you lower your budgets your games will get a bit more innovative.
At the very least, lower budgets mean your games will be far more successful with a smaller player base. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Posted by Stropp on
February 26, 2008
I never really looked at playing the Sims Online, the style of gameplay really wasn’t my cup of tea. The same can be said for Second Life, which I’ve never really considered to be a game in any case. Second Life is more an experiment in virtual worlds, not virtual game worlds.
As for the Sims Online, it never really did that well as I understand it. Like a lot of these sort of games, it’s marketed towards the player who enjoyed The Sims series of games, but never caught on like The Sims. Perhaps it was poor execution. Perhaps the players preferred the casual nature of the single player game.
So EA is giving The Sims Online a complete revamp and relaunching it as EA-Land.
First… do you mind if I’m a little cynical? Good, thanks… What sort of stupid name is that?
The idea of revamping TSO is novel, I’ll give them that, but they’re not really changing anything as I can see. There’s going to be a lot more land areas, about 100 time more; and the game becomes free with a subscription for extra content and land ownership. There’s also an improved economy fixing the broken economy in TSO.
These changes may even warrant a name change, but EA-Land… please. I’m at a loss as to why they’d include their corporate brand in the name. Hopefully it won’t start a trend. Here’s a few possibilities we’d all hate to see:
- World of Blizzard.
- Knights of the Old Bioware.
- 3DRealms Forever.
- Flagship: London.
- Grand Theft Rockstar.
EA-Land at least won’t have the same problem with flying penises as Second Life. Users will be able to create and upload custom content in a similar way to Second Life, but it will all have to be approved by EA. This will make sure user content is safe for everyone.
Now the question becomes, what market is EA trying to tap here?
It’s probably not the users who inhabit the anarchic world of Second Life. While SL has a lot of users, the 2D worlds of Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin have many times more users. I’ve heard reports that Habbo and Penguin have more subscribers than World of Warcraft. With a 3D interface, the existing Sims style, and the Second Life creativity with family safety in mind, EA-Land may be a hit in the preteen market.
I just wish they’d think of a better name, even Sims-Land is better.
Posted by Stropp on
February 25, 2008
For the first time in quite a while I pretty much spent the entire weekend playing games – apart from a little bit of television. I’ve been working on a number of projects lately which have drained time away from the games that I love. I was feeling a bit drained myself and figured some downtime was in order.
I picked up The Witcher late last week. I’d read a lot about it, pretty much all good, and had decided to pick up a copy in the next month or so. Instead, on the way home from work on Thursday evening, I dropped in to the game store and bought it.
The Witcher is a very impressive game. The combat was pretty unintuitive at first, but once I figured out how to fight, I picked it up pretty quickly. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, the music atmospheric, and the voice acting is well done. It’s shaping up to be a great experience except for one thing.
If you kill a guard, at some point a headhunter shows up when you exit a house with a warrant for your arrest. He’ll let you go if you give him a 1000 of the local currency, otherwise you have to fight. Since I had only 440 gold I had to fight. Bam. Down in one shot. Reload. Fight, manage to engage a few hits, only no damage. Bam Bam dead. Okay, now I make an offer of all my cash, no deal… fight bam bam… you guessed it dead.
Next stop, the forums. Here I find out the Headhunters are indestructible at all levels. The only way out it to pay them off or run away.
Since I didn’t have enough to pay him off, and since he was blocking my way, and since I couldn’t beat him, and since I had no idea when I killed the guard – the only option was to restart the game.
Back in the day, the game developer site Gamasutra had a regular column by a guy called Ernest Adams (I think) called Bad Game Developer – No Twinkie. In this column he put forward bad game design decisions that game developers make and which deserve being sent to bed without dessert. One of those game design sins is the hidden trap of doom (my term) which a player unknowingly steps into and effectively shuts any progress down.
A lot of these can simply be irreversible choices that gimp a character. I’ve previously encounter the ability to sell a quest item before it’s turned in thus preventing the completion of the quest. In this case CDProjekt (The Witcher developers) included a trap that stopped me dead.
Bad CDProjekt – No Twinkie!
Fortunately my weekend of gaming goodness didn’t stop there. I went over to some friends on Saturday night and played a board game. This was a game my friend downloaded from the web – it won awards apparently – and which my friend then built himself from bits and pieces.
It’s a hex based game of space colonization, a bit like the old 4X games like Master of Orion. The (4) players each take turns exploring, mining, and upgrading their planets and colonies until they get to a level where they can compete with each other.
It’s one of these games that takes ages to play. We ended up not finishing simply because it got too late. Lots of fun was had anyway – especially with silly comments like "It’s space Jim but not as we know it." Cliched I know, but fun.
And that’s not all.
After reading a number of blog posts about Everquest 2 and the latest updates, I got a bit nostalgic and logged back in. I purchased the Rise of Kunark expansion because I specifically wanted to have a look at the Sarnak.
After the inevitable download, I was ready to play. I created a Sarnak Shadownight called SSirius. Here he is, click on the image to enlarge it.
I have to say, playing this guy has been some of the most fun I’ve had with EQ2. The Sarnak quests on Timorous Deep are very well though out setting up a pretty decent story arc.
I’ve been told that the quests on Timorous Deep will take me right through to level 20.
And that’s another thing. It feel like I’ve been flying through the levels. After about ten hours of /played, I’ve already reached level 15. I reckon that’s the fastest I’ve progressed in Everquest 2. I’m not sure what happens after 20 though.
The setting for the Sarnak has something of an eastern feel to it. It also feels like an honor bound society where respect is shown. Something I haven’t noticed in the other evil races, especially those that start in Freeport.
And that was my thoroughly gaming packed weekend. How was yours?
Posted by Stropp on
February 25, 2008
Okay. I know I’m not always the fastest to pick up new things. There’s been a few TV shows that I absolutely love, that I didn’t watch until my friends had to sit me down and force me. Same with movies, and same with board games.
I’d heard a few comments around the blog community about The Guild, and hadn’t really taken a lot of notice. I was trawling through YouTube watching World of Warcraft Music Videos when I came across episode one. So I watched it, and then proceeded to watch each in turn.
All the episodes are posted up on YouTube, but I recommend going straight to WatchTheGuild.com. That’s the website for the show, and by going there you’ll help them out a bit.
The crew release an episode about once each month. The latest episode, seven has just been released in the last few days. Speaking of the crew, they’re all pretty much professional or semi-professional actors and comedians. It’s noticable. You can generally tell when non-actors try to act, and it’s not pretty – hilarious maybe, in a laugh-at-them-not-with-them sort of way.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen the guild yet, I recommend having a view. Provided of course you can laugh at the gaming stereotypes portrayed in The Guild. I can. It’s really funny.
Posted by Stropp on
February 25, 2008
Okay. Let me check the date. Nope, not April one. Hmmm.
The US Director of National Intelligence(?) has a project called the Reynard Project. A part of that project is to datamine virtual worlds like World of Warcraft to identify behavior. To quote the data mining report (pdf).
Reynard is a seedling effort to study the emerging phenomenon of social (particularly terrorist) dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games and their implications for the Intelligence Community.
- The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.
- If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project.
The report also states some of the activities that will be carried out, and the systems that will be implemented.
- Video Analysis and Content Extraction. This involves automatic image identification of various objects like faces and events.
- Tangram. This is a surveillance and threat warning system.
- Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination. This involves collating information from a number of different database to determine patterns of behavior. It will apparently involve collaboration with law enforcement agencies and Homeland security.
With the difficulty these guys seem to have identifying real terrorist threats, I’d have thought they might want to get their existing real world systems working before they started look for terrorists in World of Warcraft. The problem is that real human behavior is highly unpredictable. Even with all the social and cultural rules of society, there is enough legitimate anomalous behavior to confuse the pattern matching algorithms.
What happens when Warhammer comes online and players start to talk about attacking the other side? How will the threat warning systems monitoring the game respond to discussions of sneak attacks, and plans to take back territory?
It’s all rather laughable isn’t it?
Posted by Stropp on
February 19, 2008
The Register is running a story on the banning of credit card transactions to Blizzard.
The Halifax bank in the United Kingdom is putting a stop on credit card transactions that are used to pay for World of Warcraft subscriptions because of the massive use of stolen credit cards. Halifax has made it quite clear that they are not blaming Blizzard or its practices for the fraud.
All is not lost for Halifax WoW players though. All a player has to do is contact the bank to allow payments to Blizzard to go ahead.
It’s interesting the timing of this story. I remember reading an article about this the other day, though I’m not sure where. Iirc, it was an interview with John Smedley of Sony Online Entertainment. In the interview he made the comment that credit card fraud costs SOE a huge amount of money.
Every time a fraudulent transaction is made with a credit card, it costs the company on the receiving end of the transaction. Not only is the amount of the purchase refunded, the company is often hit with a fine. This happens to ordinary consumers too, if they bank a cheque that is fraudulent.
This wouldn’t matter that much to companies like Blizzard and SOE if the numbers of these transactions were small. But they’re not. It sounds like there are thousands of these transactions happening each month. It would have to be costing a packet.
So what’s the reason for all this fraud?
It can’t be ordinary players. As soon as the fraud was discovered, the account would be closed and probably deleted.
The problem is the gold sellers.
I’ve never been one to really worry about people buying gold. I know a lot of people consider it cheating, but I’ve never really thought it affects the non-gold-buying player base.
The problem isn’t so much the buyers. It’s the sellers.
Gold sellers are criminals. It’s as simple as that. Even if the individual gold selling company isn’t doing anything naughty, they’re still buying gold from people who are doing illegal and unethical activities. Some of these activities are:
- Using stolen credit cards to purchase and subscribe to the game.
- Using malware to steal passwords and access player accounts. The accounts are then stripped and the gear sold for gold.
- Using gold selling websites to install keyloggers. You buy the gold and they steal it right back from you, along with all your gear.
- Joining a guild and stealing the guild bank.
- Joining groups and ninjaing the drops.
Aside from that list of evil activities, how about the gold sellers themselves?
Well just look at the activities of the people behind IGE. That is if you are able to after their lawyers get through with you. A recent post by Scott Jennings at Broken Toys about the behind the scenes activities of IGE was taken down due to the bully boy tactics of IGEs legal team. In the article, now down unfortunately, there was quite a story about the corruption of the founders of IGE. It could have been a movie of the week.
With people like these, willing to employee the tactics listed above, is it any wonder that there is so much fraud?
And just like when you were a kid and someone in the group played up, you all got into trouble. Now every WoW player who banks with Halifax has to go to the trouble to allow payments to Blizzard.
All because of gold sellers.
Posted by Stropp on
February 18, 2008
I just came across this story on the Techcrunch blog. Techcrunch is a blog that deals with the internet tech industry.
You might remember about a year ago there was some buzz on the intarwebs about a start up called Rupture. Rupture was all about creating a social network for MMO gamers. I never tried to join the beta, so I’m not sure what features the social network had at the time. Though looking at the site now, it appears to be for all gamers, not just MMOers.
One of the big marketing points that they were going for was that Rupture was being headed up by Shawn Fanning. Mr Fanning, who has a bit of a history of Internet entrepreneurship, was also the creator of Napster. He’d made a bundle there, even though they were shut down by the MAFIIA, and was investing a chunk of that in this new venture.
At the time all this buzz about Rupture was going on, it was just going into the beta testing phase. As will many Web 2.0 companies, it’s been a long beta. Currently they are still in it.
And what’s more. They’ve been sold. At this stage no one knows who has bought Rupture. Techcrunch is busy shaking trees to find out who and how much. With the sale of another of his startups recently, Mr Fanning is having a rapturous month.
Hmmm. I wonder if the buyer is IGE.
Posted by Stropp on
February 18, 2008
A reader named Jakob has been following my Mythos reviews, and posted a comment with a few questions about the game.
Does the game scale to party size, particularly in instances?
I haven’t grouped up with anyone yet, so I can’t say for certain that instances scale. However, the instances I’ve run have a lot of mobs. The bosses, especially as I’ve increased in level, are reasonably tough and have taken a bit of kiting to bring down. One of them, a bear, must have taken at least ten or fifteen minutes. Coupled with long boss fights, the instances usually taking me forty-five minutes to an hour to clear. A group will be able to clean up an instance far faster than a single player.
For a bigger challenge there are elite maps that have a recommended party size of five. Normal instances recommend just one player. These should be much more challenging for a group.
What is the LFG Mechanism like?
There is a Party Finder dialog that is accessible by a button on the Chat interface. It seems to be pretty much standard fare for this sort of feature. The LFG dialog has a list of players looking for groups, and allows players to list themselves, or find a party.
There is also a LFG chat channel available, which I’ve seen a number of party requests on.
What is the ratio of persistent to instanced areas?
For each main town, for instance Stonehill, there are a number of persistent areas, farms, temples that are essentially mini-versions of the towns. There are a couple of vendors, several quest givers, and some other NPCs hanging about.
Other than that, all other areas are instanced. Apart from the clearings around cave or dungeon entrances these areas have lots of mobs just waiting to be killed.
Does the game offer the option of AI assistance, like henchmen in Guild Wars?
I haven’t seen any henchmen for hire yet, but to be fair I haven’t really been looking for them. As Jakob mentioned in another comment, there is mention of Hirelings being added in a recent patch.
If the intent of the game is to be free, what will the purchased content be?
I asked this question when I recently interviewed Max Schaefer. The idea is to sell luxuries to paying players. These won’t necessarily effect gameplay – though they may enhance adventuring, not sure what that means. The RMT model also won’t result in players not being able to enjoy the full game because they haven’t paid, unlike other games such as Dungeon Runners.
There could be some similarities to the subscription model used by Hellgate: London – they are both produced by Flagship Studios – which provides for additional storage space and some other features that also don’t affect gameplay. Though I’d have to say having lots of storage is almost essential to enjoy these sorts of games. Especially for an old hoarder like me.
Don’t forget, if you have any questions that you would like answered, about Mythos or MMO games in general, please ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find out.
Posted by Stropp on
February 15, 2008
The Game Informer web site has just put up a preview of its next months cover and is giving a bit of information about a new MMO by Cryptic.
In light of the disclosure during the week that Microsoft Gaming Studios has canceled Marvel Universe Online, this has answered a question that I was wondering about – What happened to all of Cryptic’s hard work on Marvel Universe Online?
The answer, it appears, is that Marvel Universe Online is being rebranded as Champions Online.
One of the notable things about the comments from Microsoft Game Studios was the complete lack of mention of Cryptic. The cancellation, it seems, was a mutual decision between MGS and Marvel. It’s odd because the original agreements for Marvel Universe Online were between Marvel and Cryptic. This was partly to prevent a lawsuit from Marvel because players were creating trademarked Marvel characters in City of Heroes.
There will be more info coming in the March edition of Game Informer when we’ll get the first look at Champions Online. The teaser also mentions that it will be available for both PC and the consoles, most likely the XBox 360. It sounds like there will also be player villains, perhaps from release.
Hopefully the next thing we’ll here from Cryptic is the status of Star Trek Online.
Posted by Stropp on
February 13, 2008
I’ve been a Weird Al fan for quite a number of years now. I love parody and satire and his versions of popular songs are just perfect. In most cases, Weird Al gets permission from the artist who performed the original song before he gives his take. In one case however, due to a miscommunication he didn’t get permission.
I was looking for some WoW Machinima tonight to post on the blog and I came across the World of Warcraft version of Amish Paradise. What’s great about it, is that it tries to follow the sequence in the original video clip.