January 2007

Space/Game Development Is A Cruel Mistress

Hey, it’s a scandal du jour! Got sent the following two Eve-related links:

The Hax0rz (the “Reikoku” links are what are referred to below. The person who sent me this link gave me the dire warning: “Don’t register. Make sure your security’s up to date.” Apparently, the incriminating info was gathered from someone literally hax0ring guild message boards.)
The Devel0p3rz

Since I don’t play Eve I can’t comment much about the specifics (much of which is over my head anyway). And if there is some hanky panky going on with dev accounts giving access to blueprints (what seems to be the most toxic complaint), there would be quite enough logs to get someone very fired – which will happen away from the eyes of the public.

However, as someone who’s worked at a developer of PvP games, I can tell you there are three inerrant truths:

  • The players will demand that you play your own game.
  • The players will be incensed if they suspect you play your own game, because
  • The players will be convinced that you are playing the other side.

These are all such accepted truisms, they’ve been relayed to me in person when I talk to players (the “in person” is what usually filters out most of the forum-ish gibberish). “Oh, we KNOW you all play X”. Which I then try to use my Thoughtful Reasoning skill and point out that (a) at a company of over 100 people, there is no monolithic “we all play this side”, and (b) this isn’t just a *game* to the developers, it’s a *career*. You don’t jerk around your career so your toon gets +4 to precasting. It breaks the self-interest test. This usually convinces whom I’m talking to. Sometimes it doesn’t. Because to the players, Occam’s Razor dictates that if there are stupid and clueless “adjustments” coming down that benefit one side unduly, well, there’s a reason for it!

But your players will always be convinced of those three truisms. Which, actually, is a good thing. The fallout is far worse when they figure out you quit playing your own game years ago.

eBay: Some RMT Is More Equal Than Other RMT

CNet has word that, yes, eBay has banned all RMT auctions… except… wait for it….

Durzy told CNET News.com that the auction giant has decided to specifically exempt Linden Lab’s Second Life from the list of virtual worlds and online games whose auctions it will ban.

“If someone participates in Second Life and wants to sell something they own, we are not at this point proactively pulling those listings off the site,” Durzy said. “We think there is an open question about whether Second Life should be regarded as a game.”

games.slashdot has a raging comment thread already: some are saying it’s due to SL’s extremely liberal granting of ownership of avatar assets to their players. Others, such as Wagner James Au on Gigagamez, call shenanigans – isn’t the founder of eBay on Linden Labs’ board?

So for now, at least, on eBay, RMT for SL content and L$ is A-OK. And this is where things get interesting, because in 2004, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar became a major investor in Linden Lab. Did Omidyar have anything to do with this decision to let Second Life-based RMT slide?

“While Pierre is Chairman of the Board,” Durzy acknowledges, “he does not play a day-to-day role in the ongoing management of the eBay marketplace. This decision was made by our policy team.”

Of course, Ultima Online also explicitly allows RMT, and Ultima Online actions are being actively removed. Guess someone at EA Mythic fell behind on their investment portfolio.

As always, Ted Castronova is there with the punch line:

Castronova said another sign the RMT market has been deemed too risky is that IGE, which does millions and millions of dollars in annual business brokering virtual goods sales, has not been purchased.

“In the long run, blue-chip companies are always going to see this as a rogue market with no future,” he said.

This is significant, and illustrative. IGE’s investment efforts have always been to legitimize their business, whether through funding magazine advertisments, hiring public relations firms both overt and covert, sponsoring tradeshows, buying out community websites, or, most recently, setting up industry trade groups.

It didn’t work.

And as almost everyone involved notes, while IGE and its less adept at English-speaking brethren may see a brief pickup, what will eventually happen is that the gaming companies themselves will step in to pick up the slack. We’re seeing this already in Western games such as Ultima Online and Guild Wars, and SOE has also already announced a future “big project” that will fund itself solely by micropayments. Other companies may follow the lead of Linden Labs and (indirectly, through selling subscription cards for in-game currency) CCP and simply make their currency convertible.

In any event, we live in interesting times.

WTF Is Up With Google Ads

Internal stats for January: 382,351 pageviews.
Google Ads stats for January: 53,320 pageviews.

Uh, yeah. Not gonna have effectively unblockable gold farmer ads for $3.41 a month. Hell, if I’m going to give up my integrity, at least give me enough to buy a taco dinner. So if you’re easily amused, buy my footer. This guy did and apparently got a couple of new guildies out of it.

BTW, while I’m at this page, the top referrers for January, in order (where I got the stats from):

game.search-hp.com (I think it’s a Japanese gaming-specific search engine?)
bluegartrls.com (guild forum)
neogaf.com (general console-centric gaming forum)
dailykos.com (ancient Katrina:the Gathering link)

(No snarky searchwords, kinda busy today. Go forth and amuse thyself!)

Yep, eBay’s Out Of The MMO Business

And just to make this an RMT hat trick day today, Zonk at Slashdot has gotten confirmation from eBay that they are in fact as policy delisting all auctions for virtual property.

Mr. Hani Durzy, speaking for eBay, explained that the decision to pull these items was due to the ‘legal complexities’ surrounding virtual property. “For the overall health of the marketplace” the company felt that the proper course of action, after considerable contemplation, was to ban the sale of these items outright. While he couldn’t give me a specific date when the delistings began, he estimated that they’ve been coming down for about a month or so.

Trouble Amidst The Gold Fields?

While visiting the virtual-economy.org blog for yet another wacky SL story (“Sweden establishes an embassy in SL! OMG!“) I noted something interesting; some anonymous comments to a very old story about IGE’s acquisitions, that read as though they are sour grapes from persons recently let go.

Bear in mind this is just random anonymous comments, and thus could be just fantasy, but the level of detail is, if nothing else, easy enough for Real Journalists(tm) to confirm!

ige is not profitable. they bought the korean rmt platforms with investment money they got from goldman sachs. but now gs wants its money back because they discovered that ige did not fully disclose financials. ige is in the process of trying to sell allakhazam and thottbot to raise the money to pay them back. they are closing the office in california and relocating everything to china so they can’t be sued. another thing i heard is that they are hiring a new ceo and cfo and plan to offshore all their money and assets to china until they can sell what is left of the business in the usa. also that the guys running the company are trying to hide money from the investment that they got in swiss bank accounts and trying to change the name of the company. a lot of people have lost their jobs there in the last few weeks and they think there is something big going to happen in january or february because they closed the california office and told everyone there is no forwarding address.

Its not surprising IGE is going down. The two owners Yantis and Alan who were the brains of the business left beginning of last year (I wonder why) and now those people who are running it are jokers. I’m sure anyone who has dealt with them would agree. It will be interesting to see what trick IGE and goldman sachs will pull out this year with half their management team gone

Think Of Where The Expense Account Would Go

Today from Davos, we have this observation from Mitch Kapor of Linden Labs (courtesy of the UK Independent):

Mitch Kapor, the father of Lotus and chairman of Linden Lab – a $11m revenue company that is expected to double in size this year – thinks Second Life could help the world to reduce its carbon footprint if more chief executives followed Mr Palmisano’s example and used the virtual realm for corporate meetings instead of fly their directors around.

Also, the world’s hunger problem would be solved if instead of eating meats and grains, people would find mages in World of Warcraft and eat summoned muffins.

On the other hand, Ted Castronova, who is actually, you know, an economist and stuff, comments on the latest node in the ongoing SL Backlash: is it actually a ponzi scheme? Uh, no, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

I don’t think SL is going to enjoy the backlash that’s now coming, led by Mr. Harrison’s piece and Clay Shirky’s. Hype is such a dangerous marketing tool. A two-edged blade with rebound.

All in all, it’s disappointing. 2007 may become known as the virtual world crash. That was the year when all the serious people decided that everything they heard about virtual economies was crap, just because SL turned out to be more like Mayberry than Manhattan.

eBay Yanking RMT Auctions?

Hard to say, but this screenshot is making the rounds:


eBay’s proactively removing RMT auctions is huge in and of itself. However, there’s another side to this: note the MMO being referenced in the CS chat. Note that UO is one of the few MMOs that permit RMT, so eBay removing UO RMT auctions would be… pretty huge.

Previously, eBay’s official policy is that they would pull an auction at the original copyright holder’s request. Of course, this then mandated a race between an MMO’s CS department and the thousands of RMT dealers to see who could keep an auction up the longest. This back-and-forth is what instigated the Blacksnow vs Mythic lawsuit; Mythic asked eBay to pull Blacksnow’s RMT auctions, to which Blacksnow asserted was stomping on their business. (The whole sordid story is up here; it ended with Blacksnow disappearing into the midst to their legal team’s consternation.)

In any event, there are still hundreds of RMT auctions on eBay last I checked.

Discussion ongoing in the UO community here and here. Markee Dragon, a large UO gold seller/news site, claims to have been contacted by eBay here.