April 2006

Korean government to weigh in on virtual item sales?

From the Koreagames.com weekly PDF newsletter comes this bit of news as part of a larger article on virtual item sales:

As incidents relating to game item trading practice often make headlines, Rep. Jeong Seong Ho of the ruling Uri party made an interesting proposal that the online game item market be brought into the open…

He apparently made this after a survey of 450 people on his website. In possibly related news, there are over 400 virtual item sales websites in Korea.

…In addition, Rep. Jeong commented, “I will propose a strategy after reviewing the proposal on an open trading platform for online game items. Regulating the trading practice may only promote more irregularities and side effects.”

The article goes on to describe a new alliance between Korean MMO publisher SunnyYNK and ItemBay, known to most US consumers chiefly for their use of spambots on World of Warcraft servers but apparently the largest virtual item trader in Korea, which brokered 360 billion won ($38 million) in sales in 2004, earning 20 billion won ($2.1 million) in commissions.

The magazine concludes by coming out and advocating governmental action:

It is about time that the pros and cons of open trading platforms for online game items were reviewed and incorporated into a relevant legal and regulatory framework.

As there are several sides to this complex issue, a more discreet approach is required. The potential impact that liberalization of game item transactions may have on society as a whole should be studied in more detail and with consistency.

The Sleeper is about to awake. Take cover.

Anyone with any corroboration of the above that can be hyperlinked from the web, please email me. And as always, the things I ramble about here have not been cleared by, or have any reflection on any of my past or present employers but are purely my own opinion.

Oooh, Blizzard, I Hate You So Much! Fix Our Servers Or I’ll Update My Myspace AGAIN!

World of Warcraft has server issues, customers don’t really care that much

In any case, with no shortage of massively multiplayer online games, such as “EverQuest,” “City of Heroes,” “Ultima Online” and others, on the market, some might wonder why angry WoW players don’t just walk away.

But some say WoW has reached its 6 million subscriber threshold–no other American massively multiplayer online game has even broken a million–because its game play is easier to grasp for mainstream players. And because there are few other practical options for many such players, they feel Blizzard should take the performance problems more seriously.

“The thing is, there is no other real alternative” to WoW, [Joi] Ito said. “So they sort of have a natural monopoly, and that’s why people are so mad, I think. They can’t vote with their feet. They just have to wait. And ‘Blizz’ has to realize that they have millions of hours of people’s time hostage and should feel that responsibility.”

Amazingly, Joi Ito is responsible for a great deal of money.

mySpace banz0red omg!

Corpus Christi community college locks out MySpace for eating too much bandwidth

I’m sad that this has a logical explanation. I saw a news graphic with “Myspace Banned” at lunch today; with no context I could only assume that someone, somewhere, had reacted to the current news meme that kids are logging into Myspace and immediately being molested by pedophiles. (It’s part of the Myspace admin page, I think. You have to click on the Pedophilia check box to block that.)

By the way, I ate at a tex-mex place that advertised: World Peace Through Tex-Mex on the lunch menus. So if we don’t have world peace now, it’s not my fault, because I ordered tacos.

Dodging Falling Dinosaurs

Every so often, Raph pops up and reminds us that yes, he does actually know what he’s talking about.

Go read; but don’t think he’s talking about the future. Most of what he’s describing (collapse of PC gaming distribution channels, the budgetary version of Mutual Assured Destruction) is the present.

About 15 years ago (dear Cthulhu I’m old) I used to dabble in video production. Back then, the “Big Iron” dominated that market too. Video production companies had huge investments in massive, mostly analog systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I helped set up an advertising agency that did the same thing, on a Macintosh that didn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars with a few Frankenstinian-level video editing addons and gewgaws. Where the “Big Iron” companies charged huge hourly fees for professional level video production, we cranked out the stuff for FREE – the real money, after all, was in placing the resulting exclusive ads that were produced.

Five years later our wacky Frankenstein project was the industry standard. Funny how things change.

(By the way, if you work on digital video today, pity our little Frankenbox – since hard drives of the day couldn’t import broadcast-quality video at 30fps, we had to get it digitized the hard way – one steenkin frame at a time. Took 14 hours for 20 minutes of footage, which saved out as a then-mindblowing “entire gigabyte!!1” of file storage. Nowadays my phone makes that look sad. My phone does better video. I have a PC hooked to my TV that digitizes video on the fly so I can watch the Daily Show when I feel like it. Things change.)

I’d (Not) Buy That For A Dollar

Bethesda recently released “The Orrery”, the second downloadable mini-content addon for Oblivion. The first was a “Pimp Yo’ Ride” horse armor texture; both were available for a little less than $2.

I was willing to give Bethesda the benefit of the doubt with the Horse Armor unlockable – it was an experiment in e-commerce and downloadable content (both of which I am all for – I love downloading things, I bought Half Life 2 through Steam, and I think Darkness Rising was Mythic’s smoothest expansion rollout ever). But from what I’ve seen, the Orrery was just a sad excuse for 2 more bucks. Essentially for your shekels, you get a fetch-and-carry quest and a new spell. In a game where you can create your own spells. I’m all a-quiver.

PC users can now feel all kinds of smug that they have some really kickass mods already, such as gameplay plugins that modify Oblivion’s levelling system, tweaks to monster spawning, and even the first glimpses of content that already blow Bethesda’s away. XBox 360 users don’t have any of that – they just get to be ticked off at the nickel and diming.

If this were a mystical world of make believe and I were Bethesda’s live team producer, RIGHT NOW I would be drafting up contracts for the best of the PC modders to get their stuff on XBox 360, now. Leave the PC mods free – they’re wackily easy to pirate anyway (someone had the Horse Armor mod up and advertising it on Bethesda’s own forum a few days after it came out) and proceed to mint large amounts of cash from XBox 360 users, who are already implicity trading flexibility for ease of use.

But charging $2 for maybe 15 minutes worth of content at best is not only lame from a user’s standpoint, from an industry standpoint it damages all of us. Oblivion has enough visibility to really damage the entire concept of pay-as-you-go downloadable content. Let’s hope that the next one Bethesda releases makes up for it.

For a reference in what makes a good downloadable module, see Bioware’s series of modules. They contracted with the best module makers in the NWN community, came up with some very good modules that have hours of gameplay, and charge $5 to $10 each for them. More than fair, and I suspect Bioware is making their investment back from it. That’s the model that should be emulated, not $2 for shiny horse armor.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Grind Part 1: It’s Who You Know

One of the benefits to my adding of random gewgaws on the blog last week was finally setting up Xfire to monitor my gaming box. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can see what I’ve been up to lately. Oh heck, I’ll save you the scroll: I’ve been playing World of Warcraft.

Specifically, I’ve been trying to catch up to my Uberwife, she of the many level 60s all in post-BWL gear. Her main dual wields a Perdition’s Blade and a Gutgore Ripper and her stat bonuses can only be described in imaginary numbers. Yet, in what can only be described as true love, she actually wants me to catch up to her so we can stare at CTRaid output together.

The problem, now, is that I am a permanewbie. As in, I constantly reroll. I *always* reroll. I am *never* happy with my avatar; I am always thinking that some other mystical combination of class and race and starting location and server will be the Magic Number Combination that will unlock the keys to happiness or something. The first game where I actually achieved maximum level (aside from Ultima Online, where you could cap out a character from breathing hard) was Dark Age of Camelot, and that only because guilds managed to get powerlevelling down to a science. Don’t ask what realm rank I achieved though, because you’ll only laugh. (Oh, OK. RR3, on a nightshade.)

However, my wife finally discovered something that would break the permanewbie conundrum – a secret concoction of bribery and guilt. Oddly enough, this is also what powers most marriages, so it works out rather well as a system. So she has been raining quest hellfire and damnation down upon my character, who is only peripherally along for the ride. Last weekend we finished up Felwood, did all of Winterspring, Sunken Temple (with some help) and all the necessary paperwork for Blackrock Depths.

My little character is now level 57. This is attracting no little attention. When our guild leader noticed, he blinked, and said over Vent, “wait a minute. Scott has a character over level 20?” My wife helpfully said that I was free to tell him to bite me. (I did, using Shakespeare).

So, I’m taking mental notes as I progress. I’ve always said, although more from observation than experience, that World of Warcraft’s endgame isn’t organic to the rest of the polished experience, but a grafted patchwork that causes people to hit a brick wall and halt all progress. So is that holding up to my personal experience? Well, yes and no.

No, because clearly I am advancing. However, I’m doing it with a support network worthy of Delta Force TEAM AWESOME. Most players of WoW are not married to someone equipped with the best gear in the game and willing to spend an awe-inspiring amout of time making sure you get your dinky little quests done. I’m also in a guild that is currently doing AQ40 regularly, so sneaking into Molten Core sometime and getting uberrific stuff probably won’t be an issue, since I’m given to understand most of what I need is being disenchanted anyway. So my World of Warcraft character is kind of the George W. Bush of Azeroth. He may like to think he’s getting through life on his own merits, but it helped when someone helpfully leaned on the King of Ironforge to get him out of Gnomeregan National Guard patrol duty.

My experience with what most people see as the game – pickup groups – has been, post level 40, unremittingly bad. People in “pugs” simply don’t know how to play. I mean, they’re so bad at the game that *I* know that they’re bad at the game. Without the social connections of knowing people who can help you bypass this, I never would have gotten through ANY instances save MAYBE Deadmines. I know, because, as mentioned, I didn’t clear Sunken Temple finally until this weekend, at 57. Note that Sunken Temple is aimed at high-40s players. I tried doing the dungeon with multiple pick up groups over a week and a half before swallowing my pride and finally asking my guild meekly for help, at which time four of them blew through the whole thing in about an hour. It’s an entirely different game.

Much of this I blame on WoW missing some key social tools (such as a working Looking for Group tool), but to be honest most games tend to ignore these tools when they exist anyway. But if I didn’t have the out-of-game social connection to this guild (aka “honey, if I make dinner tonight will you PLEASE get me Onyxia keyed?”) then I’m pretty sure my WoW career would have ended at level 30.

Tune in next week, when your erstwhile hero discovers the joy of BRD/BRS and other arcane abbreviations.

This Just In: Condoleeza Smells Nifty and Rumsfeld REALLY Likes You

Amazingly, the collective blogosphere actually seems to believe this SA thread.

Donald Rumsfeld needs to wear iced underwear because of some medical condition, and he has his secret service detail hold his spares. He was recently getting uncontrollable long-term erections and had to change up his medical treatments. The underwear and the erections is why he uses a standing desk, not because he is some super-man. He also wears nylon stockings, not because he’s gay, but to control some vascular problem with his legs which causes him intense pain.

Tom Ridge carries 20 credit cards with him at all times, each one with a very low limit. I have never heard of him using one, ever, but he has them. He also wears his socks inside-out, and will flip the fuck out and walk strangely if he is forced to wear them properly, because it drives him crazy. All of his socks must be laundered right side in and then turned inside out before they are returned to him. He gave specific instructions about handling his food, and not allowing his vegetables to touch any other food item on the plate. His utensils must be steamed over boiling water. He will not eat soup which hasn’t been boiled within the past 20 minutes or which he has not prepared himself. If any of these rules are violated, he flies into a rage, turns beet red, and will not eat a single thing. He has his personal attendants confirm over and over that the food is as he likes it. He also shaves his forearms and hands because he can’t stand the idea of body hair on his arms. He demands that his bedsheets are bleach white and changed fresh every night and he sleeps in a separate bed in a big, tight, body-length nylon sleeve, with a fan blowing over him at full power. He is terrified of animals which have fur or hair longer than one inch, and will not go near curly hair of any kind, even on people. At one time he ran from his office and demanded that someone look under everything for a rodent which did not and could not exist, then he had the entire place wiped down with disinfectant and vacuumed twice. While this was done he couldn’t even bear to look at the door, or come within 20 feet of his office. He was in hysterics.

Despite all of this craziness, there is nothing strange whatsoever about Condoleeza Rice. She is completely balanced and normal, if slightly robotic in her personal demeanor. She smells very nice at all times. She does, however, constantly check her investments online from her office when she thinks that nobody is looking, and she has slept at her desk on multiple occasions.