Monday, March 30, 2009

This is how easy it is to steal in EVE Online

Want to see how trivially easy it is to steal 200 billion ISK in EVE Online? Check out this thread. Often times theft is enabled by the stupidity of those who are stolen from. As is the case here. In fact it was through utter stupidity that Goonswarm won EVE as well.

There is an old saying that I used to hear in WoW. You can't spec out of stupid. Seems to be the case in EVE as well.

Do studios owe beta players anything?

Actually a very good question. Particularly in today's market where studios are using beta players to a much greater extent than ever before. Feelings can ride high when studios make drastic changes to game mechanics and classes at launch time. Especially with no warning.

So, what do studios owe their beta players?

Really? There can be only one?

In light of Tobold's and Syncaine's tet-e-tet over the past week regard "WoW Tourists" and what not, the subject regarding the chances of any new game to be "successful" in the current (and future) marketplace were discussed again yesterday on Tobold's open Sunday post. The subject seems to have struck a cord with many people lately and Tobold responded to yesterday's comments this morning.

WoW may still be the dominant game on the market, but if I simply take myself as an example--someone who was/is an avid WoW fan for the past four years--one has to wonder just how many people are longing for something else to play. Does the fact that WoW has over 11 million subscribers mean that all other studios need to shelve their MMOs? They don't seem to think so, judging by the number of them on the market right now as well as those that have been recently announced.

Success means different things to different people. To be successful to a gaming studio, the game must be profitable. Perhaps with an increasing player base over time. And success or failure isn't something that can or will be determined within the free play period after release. That doesn't mean that a game has to eclipse every other game on the market however. WoW did not attain 11 million subscribers over night, and I think it clear that no other game will be able to attain that within a short period of time either.

From a player perspective success or failure seems to be something they determine quite a bit more quickly, and has nothing what so ever to do with profitability. To a player the only thing that matters is entertainment, which itself is open to differing opinions. But taken as a whole, is the game fun? Does it have stamina? Those are the sorts of questions players ask themselves in very quick order, and ultimately make them decide to stay or to leave. And of course discussion on the game and players feelings will take place all over the Internet. It's intersting to note that development studios can often harm themselves much more than they can help themselves by standing on a soapbox at release time stating they sold 750,000 copies, when they have to admit later on they only retained 300,000 players. Particularly when you go on the record in an interview by stating you have to have "500,000 subscribers to be successful".

The questions are, is it possible to be successful in a post-WoW age? And is it possible an upcoming game will eventually unseat WoW as the leading MMO in the market? The answer to the first question is undoubtedly yes. There are many profitable MMOs already on the market which don't come anywhere close to even a million subscribers. Many of these companies don't release subscriber numbers, though we can infer anecdotally that their subscription numbers are stable enough, or even slightly increasing over time that they remain in operation.

The answer to the second question is "of course". Blizzard itself answers it well enough when they announced they are developing a second MMO. Consumers are finicky and Blizzard knows that eventually WoW will lose its appeal in the market place. They don't want to lose the subscriber base however, so they intend to market a second MMO to retain as much of that base as possible with the next best thing. But its important to remember how WoW became the dominant MMO on the market. At the time Everquest was in the lead. WoW was released at nearly the same time as Everquest 2 and according to SOE, beat out its product through Superior marketing. Marketing is a gimic to get consumers in the door, but it won't make you stay. People stayed because the game was better than what they'd had before. And that is what will have to happen for someone else to eventually unseat WoW as the dominant MMO of the future.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

MMOs do not exist in a vacuum

I don't think I have read a less-informed blog post in quite some time. Syncaine believes that WoW turned the entire MMO market on its ear--and continues to do so--with the aid of some miraculous happenstance; that those 700,000 people that tried and left WAR and went back to play WoW did so for some other reason than that they liked WoW better. Get that people, you aren't playing WoW because it's better. You're playing WoW because... well, we don't know why exactly.

Excuse my sarcasm, but the type of logic found in that post is nothing short of utterly ridiculous. if WAR had been determined to be the "better" game by the MMO consumer, they, and not WoW, would be atop the mountain right now. It is nothing more difficult to grasp as that. It's another version of supply and demand. WoW gives the most people what they want, and WAR doesn't.

Syncaine also believes that no game can overcome the "WoW factor" and will meet the same fate as WAR did. Which I also disagree with. Any well planned game that caters to the majority of the MMO market has every opportunity to dethrone WoW; including a second Blizzard MMO. A game doesn't have to start out of the gate with 11 million subscribers to be or become successful as he states though. Any newly released game is unlikely to dethrone WoW immediately. In fact, WoW didn't dethrone the other existing MMOs at the time either. It took time and consumer realization that WoW catered best to the various play styles the best. Blizzard solidified that fact with constant content updates.

The end result is this. In this world society of ours, where kids have the attention spans of gnats, it speaks volumes that a game like WoW not only beat out existing MMOs at the time of it's release; but that it also amassed an unheard of subscriber base. Which continues to increase to this day. If WoW wasn't doing it right, they wouldn't be the 800 lb gorilla. And as soon as someone else does it better than WoW, they in turn will take on that mantle. If not immediately, then over time.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Having been an avid Star Wars fan since 1977, I am always on the lookout for new and interesting Star Wars content. Particularly of the MMO variety, which is why I have been poking around the Bioware site lately. Whether I play TOR or not, however, will depend on a few issues. First and foremost, how will Bioware handle long term developmental issues? Hopefully much better than Sony did with SWG, which I dropped like a hot potato in March 2005 with the introduction of the horrendous first "Combat Upgrade". I want to see that Bioware has a well reasoned vision, with a developmental plan to unveil that vision in an entertaining way. And they they can enact that vision without the wildly destabilizing knee-jerk reactions we see in all too many MMOs these days.

Secondly, what kind of game will TOR be? Why buy the game and invest time into a character if I am not of some certitude that the game will actually be entertaining and will have some stamina? Unfortunately there isn't much information regarding what type of game TOR will be, though I'm interested enough to keep my eyes open for details on that score.

Generally there are MMOs which are player created content-centric, and there are MMOs which are more progression-centric. From information I've read it sounds like story-line elements will be a big part of the game, which means questing to me. Outside of that, there is scant information about the "end game". what will be the goal of the game? PVP warfare and manufacturing (player created content)? Or a more controlled, progression-centric element (raiding)?

Adventurine following those same footsteps?

Fresh on the heels of CCP being caught showing blatant favoritism in game friends, Adventurine seems to be following those same footsteps. Thanks to Broken Toys we're hearing about anecdotal evidence that GMs in Darkfall are as interested in ensuring their friends are as protected from the travails that trouble the other poor non-connected slobs, as CCP is in EVE.

I have intentionally ignored Darkfall because it clearly isn't my type of game. Intentionally bucking current MMO trends to be more casual player friendly, Darkfall was designed with some pretty brutal game mechanics that clearly favor PVP-centric players. Adventurine also is strictly rationing access to the game. Want to play? Better keep checking that website, because they only allow new players access to purchase the client irregularly and with no prior warning.

Under these circumstances reports of GM favoritism are particularly worrisome.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CCP caught with their hand in the cookie jar again

Oh what a tangled web we weave. For those who do not play EVE this might seem like a lot to do about nothing, but I can assure you it's more to do with principal and fairness than a name. Massively gives you the general gist of the hubbub, but not really any of the specifics. I replied to the article thusly:

I don't see anyone mentioning this yet, but the issue pertaining to the name change is about two things. First, that CCP is showing favoritism again; something a company needs to steadfastly remain apart from. Same issue arose in WoW with Blizzard Devs allowing their friends and guilds to jump from PVE to PVP servers when their policy publicly stated no one would be allowed to do that. People get really ticked off by that sort of thing, and this isn't the first time CCP has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar so to speak. What I think a lot of people are left asking is, what other favors have they done that they haven't been caught doing?

And secondly there is a particular game mechanic that was avoided in how CCP conducted the name change. Control of 0.0 space in EVE is a big deal. When an alliance wants to change its name they either have to create an entirely new alliance--incurring a rather large expense and loss of sovereignty over their existing space, or jump into another already existing alliance. Ex-BOB didn't want to do either in this case. They wanted to regain their old lost alliance name, not incur the rather large expense of starting a new alliance, and not lose their remaining sovereignty over their remaining systems.

CCP changed their existing alliance name and circumvented the game mechanics that would have cost the alliance the money and the loss of sovereignty. That's never been done for anyone else in the history of EVE, and on the very face of it, should show everyone the extraordinary lengths to which CCP was treating with ex-BOB.

Rules are their for a reason. When you start making exceptions for some--especially with CCPs track record with BOB, then you also have to make them for others. And in this case it really had very little to do with the name specifically, and everything to do with those game mechanics that everyone but ex-BOB was having to live with.

I forgot to add this. Keep in mind who actually conducted the name change, and circumvented the game mechanics for ex-BOB. A GM. And employee of CCP who has access to the data base and all the reporting tools would need to enact such things inside the game.

After a rather lengthy uproar on the official forums, with many threads being locked and deleted, CCP finally released a second statement regarding the incident indicating they would roll back the name change. The excuse they used was they hadn't known that the KenZoku alliance had actually been in existence previous to the incident which resulted in BOB having its alliance dissolved.

Does anyone serious believe this? Anyone with the power to make changes inside the game has the access required to look up anything they require. Either someone was extraordinarily incompetent, or extraordinarily prefabricating. They took several weeks to make a decision on the petition after all. You mean no one, in all that time, took the time to verify any of the facts of the petition? That in and of itself is worrisome.
If you are interested, you can read one of the original (and still remaining) posts in the official forums here. I warn you, it's full of emo and drama. CCP's first official response indicating they have in fact conducted previous name changes. And here is CCP's second official response indicating they would roll back the name change.

[EDIT] I wanted to specifically link this just in case you miss it linked to in the Massively articles. This explains the larger, previous revelation of CCP misconduct in EVE.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Blizzard imposes new rules on mod makers

Lum the Mad has posted something very interesting regarding apparent new rules Blizzard is now imposing on mod makers. Comments to his posting thus far I think ignore the larger possible implications to mod makers which I summarized in my reply:

I think there is an aspect to this discussion that people are forgetting. Blizzard now has a bigger stick to pursue people with, even if it isn’t as large as it could become. Copyright infringement (i.e. Glider case). Now Blizzard can do much more than ban someone who is hellbent on ignoring Blizzards impositions here. Now they can actually pursue someone in court, and win, based on the same flawed argument they used in the Glider case. It’s exactly the stage that computer industry analysts said could happen when the opined on the subject, and I think is something that we should worry about much more than we seem to be doing at the moment.

Blizzard would never pursue anyone, would they? In the immortal words of a great movie “go ahead, make my day”

I personally do not believe Blizzard has a right to tell anyone what they can do outside of the game. But I also know that because of the Glider case that Blizzard has a big stick to pummel people with if they ever chose to use it again. At least until the case has been fully vetted through the appeals process.

Friday, March 20, 2009


News is flowing about how Cryptic tried to poach some City of Heros players by using the official NCSoft/COH forum. Talk about some brass balls! I, myself, think it's kind of funny considering they are hardly the first to do so (i.e. BLIZZARD poaching EQ players to beta WoW), but usually companies are a little more subtle in doing so. Others are not so nearly amused about it as I.

EVE -- either the most, or the least casual MMO in existence

Is EVE a non-casual friendly game? I guess it depends on your outlook on such things, because I personally think EVE caters to the casual and non-casual alike. It's unique amongst the MMOs that I am aware of in that it features an entirely non-linear training system. There is no leveling and no level caps. Instead you pick and choose amongst several hundred skills, and train and all that you like, in any order that you choose. Trained skills "unlock" abilities and hardware for you to use.

Saylah laments on a point I think I have made previously in different words. That EVE is not a game of instant gratification. It's not a game of mindless entertainment. Amongst all the MMOs I have played or read about, this one actually requires you to research, think, and plan. So I can understand her point when she comments on lapses in play can make it seem very difficult to get back into it. I can see how you might feel something almost insurmountable is standing in your way. After all, I felt it myself when I came back to EVE in February after a year. I started a new character!

Still, I'm not sure I completely agree either. If you have concrete plans then you really have to have a concrete skill training plan to get you there. And time is not your friend. Long lapses only mean you have that longer to go before you can eventually do what it was you wanted to do in the first place. But that certainly doesn't change anything really. After all, you don't lose skills during lapses; you just don't make any additional headway down your training path. And whatever goods you had when you left EVE are still there when you come back.

I think the underlying problem that perpetuates these feelings is again, that it can take so long to get to anything substantial. For instance, I've been playing since February 16th and was finally able to get into my first real mining ship on Monday. It's the first real "starter" mining ship so there is still quite a bit to go before I can truly count myself amongst the serious miners in EVE. And I have a training plan to get me there, but for the next ship up in the line I'm looking at 54 more days. After that it'll take me an additional 32 days (86 days total) until I can get into the top mining ship. And there are many additional skills I could easily add to my training plan to make me better at this, or that. So that's just an example of the amounts of time involved in such things, and is by no means the best example. There are many single skills that by themselves, take weeks or even months to train.

Is EVE casual friendly? In many aspects yes. You can log in and putz around doing whatever you like with no one to stop you. Or you can log in and treat it like it's a job. Nothing you do will un-teather you from that training plan though. So it sort of depends on your point of view.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ignore the refridgerator. What about that money?

Yes I'm still a noobie, but I would still find it impossible to understand how anyone could spend a thousand dollars, let alone over $100k on a game. Yet the Mattani regales us this week with a story of just such a person in EVE Online. A person who was so undeterred in losing his entire initial investment that he spent even more in a renewed effort to attain his in game goals. I'm familiar with real money trading (RMT) in WOW and my older MMO Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) where people are known to buy in game currency for real money. Yet this goes beyond the pale of any of those stories. Even the player I knew in SWG who was instrumental in an item dupe exploit and ended up making about $50k from it in a year.

People are indeed crazy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Retriever has landed

I finally completed the skill training to be able to fly my Retriever mining barge last night. So about a month since I first started playing until I could get into a real mining ship. I probably could have gotten into it about a week earlier if I hadn't cross-trained into other areas, but I'm happy none-the-less that I'm finally making some progress toward my current end goals. From here on I should start making vastly more money in mining, and can finally start devoting most of my training toward combat related stuff. Unfortunately it's going to take me approximately 90 more days to get into the fully fitted Battle Cruiser I want.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Vin Diesel is getting his Barca on

Vin Diesel has been one of my more favored actors for the past few years, but I had no idea he was a gaming nerd. I personally haven't played Dungeons and Dragons in well over 20 years, but I used to love it. In fact you could say it was my obsession back in Junior High School and the first couple years of High School. Unfortunately the D&D MMO never appealed to me but I imagine Vin has probably checked it out a time or two.

Now I hear that he's working on a new MMO though. It's a little hard to judge the MMO based on the scant information provided in the interview but at least one MMO Blogger is already snickering at it. Personally I could see how something like that might be a great deal of fun, but it would have to offer top notch NPC AI, meaningful PVP that is effected by resources and strategic thinking.

Guess we need to wait and see what happens.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mythic closes 2/3's of WAR servers

There is just no way of sugar-coating this, though Mark Jacobs is attempting to. The fact that they are closing this number of servers--a major number of servers--can not but stand as testiment to how few people must have come back to WAR after the rollout of patch 1.2 last week.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

WAR? What is it good for?

A few days ago I decided to reactivate my WAR account and see what was what with the 1.2 patch. Don't get me wrong, WAR is a good game but I feel the same way now as I did last September when I was playing it. What is the purpose of the game? Long term, what is it I am supposed to be doing? Seriously, I wish someone would tell me. With WoW there is no question what you are meant to do in the end game. You either raid or PVP or some combination of the two. But as far as I can tell the end-game for WAR is about endless pvp grinding in order to control regions. And I guess, city raids.

It took very little time for me to recall just how messed up PVP is in WAR though. Even more than it is in WoW, in my opinion. Melee classes tear ranged classes a new one but in WAR, ranged classes have little to no escape abilities. I'm certainly no WAR PVP specialist, but in a nutshell that is the problem. If you want to be successful in PVP roll a melee class.

Alas, even though I think WAR is a fine game, it's just not for me. I think it's less polished than WoW is, and there is much less to do than there is in WoW. If I had only $15 to spend on an MMO each month I think I'd rather spend it on WoW than in WAR. Sorry Mythic.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

WoW Timeout

"Long time" readers of my blog will note I haven't really said anything about WoW in about three weeks. That would be because I haven't logged in to WoW but three times in that period, and that was for raids. Two of which ended up being canceled due to no-shows. I had mentioned previously how raid drama was causing some problems for my guild and it has really sapped my will to play the game at the moment. This isn't the first time I have gone through all that, and it's not something I greatly enjoy. So I've been casting about recently trying to figure out whether I wanted to continue playing WoW or find another game to play. I might eventually go back to WoW, but I realized last night that I am fine not playing WoW, which tells me quite a bit.

I've been playing WoW since March 2005 and I wouldn't be exagerating to say that I absolutely loved it. Part of the problem for me now though is that as an alt-a-holic I've leveled many characters and just don't have it in me to level another. With two level 80 characters at the moment, I don't even feel like leveling my real "main"--my Druid, who is my real pride and joy. He languishes at level 70. Why level yet another character--even one at 70--only to find oneself in the same mess you are in with the other two? The mess is called end-game and can be a political mudbath. Unless you are fine with running the same 5-man dungeons with PUGS day after day; running endless quests and dailies; and farming, then you have absolutely nothing to do other than raid or pvp. I love to raid, but the whole guild drama over it tends to dampen your enthusiasm after awhile. Unless of course you happened to have found a solid guild that gels and has no problem fielding a full raid team. I haven't had such luck myself.

Then of course there is the news of all the upcoming nerfs and changes to various class, including my favorite--the Druid. A very well written piece on WoWinsider yesterday summarized the problems Blizzard is currently having with the tanks and how Druids are getting the royal shaft yet again. Frankly it pisses me off because Druids weren't even viable until patch 1.8, which was implemented two years into the game. Then Druids underwent the larges single nerf in the history of the game shortly after BC went live. And there have been a slew of nerfs in WotLK as well. Including those incoming in patch 3.1. On top of that the mana regeneration changes (NERF) make me very unwilling to play a mana using class any longer. I used to love tanking on my Druid, but I don't even want to do that any longer. And that uncertainty about what I want to do with him is why he sat out of WotLK while I leveled a Shaman and a Death Knight to 80.

Outside of character specific differences, I have general differences with Blizzard how they have unfolded WoW over the last several months. I think they made a huge mistake unveiling the Death Knight as a class and the first "Hero Class". I said before, and I believe it even more now that they should have created sub-set classes for each of the existing classes instead. Druid --> Arch-Druid, etc. Introduction of the Death Knight as a separate class has caused all kinds of problems. For raid design, for PVP, and everything in between. And Blizzard has every indication of not knowing how to fix any of them. With each patch comes numerous class changes with no apparent long term goal in mind for any of them. They're simply trying one solution after another with all of them eroding the fun and ability out of the classes along the way.

And so I decided finally that I really need to step back from WoW for a while and see what else is out there. I've been playing EVE for the past three weeks but with all other player created content games it gets rather boring unless you find a niche in a well populated guild. I'm a noob who has a long way to go to get to anything exciting and I'm already well bored running vanilla level missions. And mining is a little too much for me when you have nothing else to do.

My wife and I are talking about trying WAR again though. So we'll log in to night and see how that goes. I haven't touched WAR since last September so I'm a little rusty and need to figure out what is what again. Guess we'll see how it goes. In the mean time, so long WoW.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Three weeks of EVE

I'm into my third week of EVE now and still trucking along. And still working on getting into a Retriever. I would probably already be into one if I hadn't waffled so much in the first week or so. You see, EVE is not a game for rummaging around without a plan. Because skill training is done in real-time. proper planning is everything, which just reinforces what I had said in previous posts about it taking much longer to get anywhere than people might be used to. My character is of a military background, yet I started leveling up skills I needed for mining first. Then I would waffle and skill up some military skills for some PVE fun, then go back to industrial skills. Because of all that I'm still 16 days from my fully fitted Retriever, after which I had planned on skilling up into a Thorax for a little more fun. I might just skip the Thorax though because I'm already flying a L1/L2 fitted mission running Vexor (Cruiser). I could invest a little more skill time and fit it with some gear for PVP and think I would do okay in group fights.

In comparison to the other MMOs I've played this is the one that requires the most investment to get to anything serious. Although not entirely analogous, skilling up into say a Battle Cruiser or a Covetor (mining barge) would be like hitting level 80 in WoW. If I had started leveling to 80 in WoW on February 16th when I started my two EVE characters I would have reach 80 already. Yet in Eve I'm probably around "level 40" right now. Unlike in WoW, you can actually sit in a station and skill up in EVE. You would only have to log in to start up new skills when you completed whatever you were formerly working on completed.

The only hitch with offline training in EVE is that the books cost money. As do the ships you eventually want to fly. So you either need to have a rich friend fund your laziness, or you need to do something in the days and weeks to earn money for that training and those ships. Which is why I decided to go the mining route initially, as well as run the odd mission here and there to break up the monotony. I've got all the money I need for my miner already. So I just need to wait out the next 15-16 days till I can fully fit the Retriever I'm working toward. I won't even get into the 110 days its going to take my hauler to train and fit the Orca he's working on right now.