December 2006

Raph Koster Decloaks Off Starboard Bow

…and apparently decides that not enough game companies have Latin names.

Areae, Inc. is a company dedicated to taking the tired old virtual world and making it into something fresh and new. Something anyone can jump into. Something where anyone can find something fun to do or a game to play. Something where anyone can build their own place on the virtual frontier.

His new company’s email server immediately imploded from complaints about the NGE and stat loss for reds.

Angst Amongst The Gold Farms

Julian Dibbell, author and UO gold monger, was recently interviewed by the Escapist, and he wants you to know that you gamers hurt him deeply.

More than anything, he seems bemused by the occasional blast of negative attention paid to the industry he worked in and documented. “I’m certainly aware that RMT [real money trade] and people who actively engage in it are hated by a significant faction … of gamers and game developers,” he says. “I quote Mark Jacobs standing up at E3 in 2003 and saying that he hates the RMT market with ‘every bone in his body.’ So, there you go.

And more personally…

“I have an assignment from the New York Times Magazine to write about the Chinese gold farms. And I went to a few of them, and I actually pulled a shift at a leveling shop. And, you know, not a half hour into my shift playing as some European player’s gnome mage, I was spat upon,” via the game’s emote system, “by one of my fellow players.”

He says it was different during the time he was writing the book. “For one thing, I was working in Ultima Online, which has a different culture about this stuff, right? The gold, the RMT market has been tolerated there from the get-go. It was even kind of encouraged in the beginning. … For another thing, you know, it just kind of rolls off my back, to the extent that people do single us out for opprobrium.” Indeed, he seems like a very laid-back, affable guy that just happened to indulge in a trade that gets the MMOG industry spitting mad.

He also, apparently, thinks I don’t write very well.

He describes the arguments against the RMT industry as “often very crude. … They’re along the lines of, ‘Hey, I worked my way up to level 60, and then daddy’s little rich kid comes along and bought his way up to level 60, and that takes away the meaning of my achievement.’…

…let’s look at the metrics by which you’re measuring achievement. Everyone knows that MMOGs are tests of your ability to sit on your ass in a chair for a week, or whatever it takes to get to level 60. If someone has the will to do that, or the time to do that, more power to them. If somebody has the commitment to the game to plunk down $800 or $1,000, that’s a kind of crazed obsession, too. I’m perfectly willing to honor either way of measuring [that].

“And furthermore, it’s such a limiting view of the complexity and open-endedness of these games to say that it’s all about getting to level 60 or Warlord or whatever you get to before the other guy does. There’s so many ways to play these games and so many reasons to play these games that if you think that’s what the game is entirely about, that’s fine, but that doesn’t define it for everybody else who’s involved.”

When asked what developers could do to stop RMT:

[He] uses one example he’s gotten from the farmers themselves, such as “completely anonymous trades. [Make] the auction house the only way to trade, and [make it] completely anonymous, so there’s no mapping an eBay buyer onto an in-game player,” though he acknowledges that would be “breaking the socialization effect of the economy.”

So, destroy the village so we can save it. Gotcha. But the kicker:

“My impression is that the anti-RMT stuff is stronger in America than it is anywhere else, even more than Europe. … I think it has a lot to do with American culture’s kind of Horatio Alger individualist pretensions. You know, you come into the world and everybody starts off on equal footing, and you raise yourself up by your bootstraps, and nobody has family money to help them along.”

Paying money to gold farmers to short-circuit gameplay, of course, being so much more rational, worldly and European an attitude. Maybe it could be like a tax. Only, you know, not paid to the government. OK, so Russia’s in Europe, so the metaphor could still work. Sort of. Oh wait, I’m making crude anti-RMT arguments again, sorry!

The Numbers Game

Tobold and Abalieno have both gone off recently about WoW’s PvP revamp or more specifically, the lack thereof. To quote Tobold:

The first curious thing is that you don’t get your honor points immediately. Instead you get an “estimate”, which tends to be far too low, and then get your real honor points the next day. Imagine experience points worked that way! “We estimate you have gained experience for two more levels today, but come back tomorrow for the exact value and the actual reward.” I wondered, if honor points are given out on an absolute scale now, why would it take one day to calculate the honor points?

The answer of course, is that they’re not actually given out on a standard experience-point-style scale, as everyone assumed when they read the details on the WoW 2.0 PvP revamp, but still indexed based on total player participation. So, the reward for your PvP evening is still wholly dependent on how Englebert Frostshock, the prototypical 12 year old kid who spends his entire waking life pwning Warsong Gulch, spent his day. Amazingly, many players don’t want their personal success based on Englebert’s.

While it’s good to see the World of Warcraft designers experiment with things (since they, you know, can, being probably the only development team on the PLANET that doesn’t have someone asking to make their game more like World of Warcraft) the reward structure for PvP effort isn’t really a good place to start. I’m going to pull out a cliche here and say “As I clearly said in my blog months ago, this isn’t a good idea.” For bonus points, notice where I made the same mistake as everyone else and assumed they were moving to a flat reward system! Here, I’ll just repeat myself:

Relative reward systems are a horrible, horrible idea in MMOs. Not only is it horrible because it frustrates players for what to them are irrational reasons, it\’e2\’80\’99s horrible because it pits players against one another in a fundamental environmental way over something as core as character advancement. In most WoW servers, the highest level PvPers trade off so that each can have 1 week at the top so they can unlock their UberPants. But imagine the drama that would result if someone didn\’e2\’80\’99t.

So now you have the same problem – only even worse, because you don’t have the immediate feedback of “I am Rank 13, so I can ease off now.” You have the worst feature of a relative reward system – the penalty for greater player participation – combined with a broken feedback system. So you just don’t know if you did well or not. Until the great database gods behind Oz Da Gweat and Tewwible grind out their code and you find out that yes, you did actually earn enough points last night to purchase your UberPants.

It would be far easier to just award points based on total historical participation. Not that any game has ever done that which you could derive concrete examples from or anything. And clearly it would be far easier on WoW’s overstressed databases than trying to run historical analysis on every PvP player. Like most things that make little sense, this is pretty clearly based on someone’s religious convictions.

Again, there are things that it’s cool that WoW innovates on. But historically, PvP has not been one of them. And this latest revamp that’s not a revamp continues this storied tradition.

This Is Monday And This Is Your Hit and Run

Expect more of these reblogged quickies as work expects me to, you know, work, and stuff, making it difficult to budget more than 5 minutes for snark.

With Enough Generations Of Cloning The DNA Breaks Down: Nerfbat says “Stop cloning World of Warcraft“, then defines not cloning World of Warcraft as “cloning World of Warcraft, minus a few annoyances in the interface”. HRose and Raph both call him on it within minutes of each other. Transcontinental blogosphere GO!

It Won’t Work Until You Give It A Chance To LIVE!: The players of World of Warcraft discover the eternal dilemma of LFG systems: until a critical mass of people use them, no one uses them. Players bitch. Netheara bitches back. D-0ne bitches at Netheara. Meanwhile, the gnomes still have not retaken Gnomeregan and it is all your fault.

This Entry Was Phoned In

From Michael Neel in an earlier comment:

Scott – EQ2 has a free trial going (and game + all expansion packs for $40); FireFly MMO has been announced (and they will do by 2008 because they have a better systems) – and nothing from you\’e2\’80\’a6 seems like you\’e2\’80\’99re phoning it in =p

You’re right. But, in my defense, I do have a cool phone.

You Never Hear About This With Strategy Games

Users are reporting that the Nintendo Wii causes people to flail around and break random things.

Fear not, Zeldans, for Nintendo is ON THE CASE.

“We are investigating. Some people are getting a lot more excited than we\’e2\’80\’99d expected. We need to better communicate to people how to deal with Wii as a new form of entertainment.”

The message is clear. Stop being excited.

Now, see, if the Wii taught you discipline? This wouldn’t be happening.

Second Life As Popular As World Of Warcraft, Except For The Number Of People

Matt Mihaly gets credit for finding it, I’m just going to point and laugh.

“World of Warcraft touts a six million or larger active user base – but they shard their world off into smaller servers so you never see 16,000 people in the same place”, said Mr Miller.

“That’s unlike Second Life, where tonight you will see 16,000 people enjoying exactly the same world all able to communicate with each other, all attending the same live music event should they wish to.”

Bear in mind the quoted is Linden Labs’ VP of Technology. So he’s not being clueless – he’s lying through his teeth. SL’s capacity for events is around 75, or less since avatars that are, um, “fully functional” tend to stress out the server with their twiddly scripts. I discussed this earlier with the Mark Warner visit. Wagner James Au, Second Life’s unofficially official ambassador of fun, popped in the comments of that thread to say that the technical limit is around 100, or 200 if you cluster servers.

Note that all of these numbers are considerably less than 16,000. And even if you go with the 100 estimate, that is by far the lowest social capacity of ANY MMO ever released. Most MMOs tend to melt at around a few hundred users in the same space. World of Warcraft usually sees around a hundred or so in each of its main cities at peak hours.

Or maybe he’s just talking about single servers vs world shards. Most world shards cap out at 5,000 or so simultaneous connections (sometimes more depending on demand)… but that’s more to design considerations than hardware for most games. You don’t WANT 8,000 people in Ironforge, do you? And of course, Eve Online just posted 32,000 concurrent users. Which is, for those of you weak at math like Linden’s VP of Technology, roughly double Second Life’s concurrency. Clearly this means Eve Online is MORE popular than World of Warcraft. Told you they were hardcore.

That’s not to say that SL doesn’t do cool things. It does. And it’s a good start at where social MMOs should go. But given the amount of media love and concurrent scrutiny, slapping the market leader with your SL marketplace-purchased “attachment” should only be done if, you know, you can back your attachment up. With, you know. Facts.

(Of course the BBC took his statements credulously. Research is hard.)

Edit: You think I’m mad? Check out A Clockwork Mind, who makes my backlash look positively cooing:

I want to stop seeing stories about Second Life.\’c2\~ I want reputable journalists to stop making themselves look like brown-nosing paid spokesmen for something which is frankly a waste of everyone’s time except those who like to masturbate at the keyboard while looking at furries and little kids.

One day, Jack Thompson and the public at large are going to find about Second Life and when they do, every online environment is going to be in deep, deep trouble because of what Second Life has allowed, no, encouraged, to go on in their systems.

Second Life Must Die.