Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Waiting for the Ball to Drop

By many standards, it has been an eventful year in my house:

  • The oldest Mini-Red is now able to legally drive and has begun receiving college literature.
  • The youngest Mini-Red has left elementary school behind for middle school.
  • The Mini-Red in the middle* reached the state finals of the National Geographic Bee.

And oh yeah, there were some games played, too.

When the year began, I had two main games --WoW and SWTOR-- and a couple of smaller games that I played in Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and Age of Conan. I was content to get my regular fix of Alterac Valley, and when the PvP Seasons would restart I'd play the other BGs before the arena players got too far ahead of the rest of the more relaxed (if there is such a thing) BG crowd. I'd only finished two class stories on SWTOR, and I really enjoyed the questing and flashpoints.

In a sense, my original WoW habit had broken into two games because of my dissatisfaction with the 5-mans and the dysfunctional questing progression in Cataclysm.

Mists was an okay expansion and better than the incomplete Cataclysm, but the emphasis on Dailies, Pet Battles, LFR, and Scenarios meant that the parts of the game that I liked best (BGs and 5-mans) got the short shrift.

The Mini-Reds started the year playing LOTRO with occasional forays into SWTOR. Blizzard's subscription design kept them out of WoW --I wasn't planning on forking over around $45/month just for them to play an hour or so a day (each) in Azeroth-- and given the toxic nature of some parts of WoW I wasn't planning on letting them play there anyway. When I get a crude come-on in the middle of Isle of Conquest, you know there's just enough creeps out there to not make it worth the risk.


What surprised me the most about 2014 was how some issues that had been lurking just under the surface finally exploded.

If you'd have asked me about the most problematic aspect of Gamer Culture in January of 2014, I'd have mentioned the crossover area into Hentai and the seedy underbelly of child porn that thrives there. People like DragonCon co-founder Ed Kramer, while not gamers themselves, have spread a taint over all of Geek Culture that isn't easily removed.

So what happened in 2014? Oh, not much, only an explosion in how women are treated in the gaming world.

You know, Gamergate. Among other things.

The fallout from Gamergate will take some years to completely process. While the Gamergaters themselves are a distinct minority, they have tainted an entire industry with their nearly insane zeal to protect their Boys' Club from 'the wimminz'. The hatred and bile that the Gamergaters spewed across the internet became an eerie echo to what happened when the anti-suffrage movement took on the Suffragettes.  Spinks has referenced this quote attributed to Rebecca West, but it still resonates with me: "Women, listening to anti-suffrage speeches, for the first time knew what many men really thought of them."

In the end, the Gamergate campaign has not achieved any of their goals --if you believe the goals they lived by as opposed to the often mocked goal of "ethics in gaming journalism"-- and if anything it has hardened the resolve of people to be more inclusive.


Other things happened in 2014, of course.

In our household, the biggest surprise was the rise of Marvel Heroes 2015.

It's no surprise that in a household of three Marvel fans that the F2P MMO-ish game Marvel Heroes** caught on. It's Diablo meets Marvel, without all of the messiness of who owns what property in movie studios. Apparently when Marvel Heroes launched, it was a bit of a dud, but over the past year plus it has really come along (as in fixed bugs and issues with gameplay) and gained a pretty decent following.

The first boss you meet. Oh hey, Black Cat. Wasn't expecting
you at a bank robbery. Not. At. All. (from Marvel Heroes Forums)

The gameplay is fast, the cutscenes are fantastic comic book drawings, and being able to see Storm in the same cutscene as Luke Cage and Spidey is just icing on the cake.

Oh, and the music is pretty good too:

(Alas, I couldn't find a link to the 6+ minutes worth of credits.)

Oh yeah, and the Mini-Reds started their own kinship in LOTRO, and it seems to be going well for them. They're now excited enough about the four person requirement for a guild in SWTOR that we're going to get one going on one of the NA servers (I get to be the Guild Master of the group).


As for me, my growing frustration in BGs has been well documented, and it eventually drove me away from WoW. Considering how much I'd stuck through on the game up until that point, it's a bit of a surprise that BGs were the breaking point, but really that's all I'd been doing in WoW by then.

What I find ironic is that I've been poking around the crew portion of Star Trek Online a lot recently, and everything I read about Garrisons sounds exactly like the missions and other things you can have your crew do as a mini-game in STO. People are comparing Garrisons to SWTOR's and Wildstar's housing, but they should really be comparing it to STO instead.


I guess you could say that I was eventually going to give up on WoW, but I certainly didn't expect to pick up Guild Wars 2 as a replacement.

Unlike WoW's movement toward solo play, GW2 continues to buck the trend and emphasize the social aspect of MMOs, and they do it organically through the regional events that people come out of the woodwork to do.

It's not a perfect fit for me, but then again I don't think any of the current crop of MMOs are.***


As the year ends, I have to admit there was a lot of shakeup in household's gaming. A long time stalwart has been removed and replaced with something I'd tried out a year ago but passed on. One game came from out of nowhere to take the Mini-Reds by storm (or is that Storm?), but they held onto their long time favorites.

And after a year of turmoil, maybe we as a gamer community can finally start to move forward constructively.

What does 2015 hold? I have absolutely no idea. About the only thing I can say is that the only constant is change. (Except for Blizzard creating a controversy by creating a "Doh!" moment; they seem to do those on average of once a year.)

I hope you haven't overindulged tonight; there's games to be played tomorrow!

*Note to self, contact FOX about a reboot of Malcolm in the Middle.

**I'll drop the "2015", even though it's implied.

***If I had to guess at a perfect game for me, it's Civ IV.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday Funny (Even has a Blizzard Reference!)

In light of the Sony hacking and the current down state of North Korea's internet, leave it to The Oatmeal to provide a succinct analysis of the differences between the Koreas:

F2P or P2W?

Blizzard gave bloggers and WoW players an early Christmas gift by providing a big developer post a few days ago.

There were a lot of goodies for people to read up on, but the one that seems to be causing a bit of a stir is the section that was titled "New Ways to Play":

"New Ways to Play
We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature."*

I'd posted my thoughts on a few other bloggers' commentaries, but I figured I'd summarize them here:

  • This sounds like movement in the F2P direction, but let's be realistic: WoW won't truly go F2P without replacing that lost income from somewhere. 10 million subs translates roughly into $150 million --depending on a lot of factors, of course-- and that's a LOT of money for Blizzard to replace. Even if you figure that the true number of regular WoW players who will stick with the game no matter what is much lower, say 2 million, that's still a variable amount between $30 million and $150 million.
  • Blizzard may say that they make games that they themselves would want to play --and their development staff may truly believe that, since I've seen no evidence otherwise-- but Activision/Blizzard is no longer part of a big conglomerate. They have investors to answer to every quarter, and until Warlords dropped they were starting to wonder whether Blizzard had lost its mojo. Now that Warlords is a success**, investors are now going to ask "What have you got for next quarter?" Suggesting a limited F2P option such as this one is going to bring up the inevitable "How much will Blizzard profit from this move?" To investors, this might simply be seen as a lose/lose scenario.
  • How will gold farming mutate to take advantage of this situation? Blizzard's devs will be the ones inevitably setting the exchange rate, so they'll be able to determine how much effort it would take to reap a return on investment. The seedy WoW Underworld of sweatshops won't go away, but Blizzard could make their ability to make a profit more difficult by exchange rate manipulation. If instead of a tradeable token, Blizzard decides to make any tokens Account Bound, the question then becomes whether a gold farming operation can offer enough gold for a monthly subscription at a rate less than the current WoW monthly sub rate.
  • While gold farming operations may be forced to adapt, the rewards for account hacking might just go up. There are a bunch of people who play the economic game in WoW, and going after their accounts would be a top priority for any WoW hacker. You don't even need to raid their account of gold, either, you just need to hack their account and mine data on their methods. Mimic their methods and reap a profit.  I can see the ads now: "Play WoW for free! Let us show you how!"
  • Will this system lead to a true pay-to-win environment? It just might, given that Blizzard would need to generate money from lost subs somewhere, and allowing people to buy LFR quality gear with their WoW Account would work. I'm not so sure that wrecking the raiding game is worth it, however.

The one thing that everybody seems to have overlooked in the great F2P/P2W discussion is this section of the post:

The new War Games skirmishes feature allows anyone to run an online tournament, and we’re excited to see even more community-run tournaments in 2015. We’ll of course be running tournaments with our eSports partners as well, and will release details as those plans are finalized. As you saw at the Arena World Championship, we’ve come up with an improved UI to help viewers better follow the action, but we’ve been working on a complete overhaul for next year—with the goal of making it widely available for use in player-run tournaments, partner tournaments, and online casting. We hope to be able to share more soon."*

I expect this to be the next big direction of professional online gaming that Blizzard will move.

When news programs such as CBS Sunday Morning cover online pro gaming***, you know that it is getting pretty huge. Blizzard already has made some inroads with Starcraft 2, but I expect this to open up Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin  (among others) to eSports.

If you thought that Blizz was responding too much to the needs of the PvP community, you ain't seen nothing yet.

*From, OP by Takralus. Edited by Xarishflar on 18/12/2014 19:13 GMT

**For the moment; MMO players are notoriously fickle, and have been even more these days than in prior years.

***They did kind of imply that the people who attended Blizzcon did so for the online tourneys, which isn't really the case. Aside from that, they did a pretty decent job of covering the basics. They could have gone on more about the money some of the top LoL players make --and their lifestyle-- but that they covered both LoL and Blizzcon in one breath has to make Activision/Blizzard VERY happy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bloggy X-Mas Day 15: The Reluctant Community

(Sorry this is an hour late; I was being social and working on Christmas cards.)

If you're my age, your first exposure to video games was a social one.

Typically, you were over at a friend's house or attending some family party or whatnot, and your hosts brought out the Pong game --or the Atari 2600, Intellivision, or Odyssey-- and everyone gathered around for a turn at playing Asteroids or Combat.*

MMOs tap into those halcyon days by utilizing the wonders of the internet to play with people from around the world. None of this is exactly new to anyone, of course, but it is important to remember that video games were, at their heart, a social endeavor.

We often forget about the positive social aspects to video games when buried deep in the latest Skyrim or Dragon Age game, or when we're being yelled at to "L2P NOOOOB!!!!1!!" in Arathi Basin. It is quite easy to forget about things beyond the bare bones social contract when you're trying to make your guild's raid team.*** Or when you slew the elite boss guarding the maguffin you need for a quest, and another player ninja steals the maguffin while you were otherwise occupied.

But we MMO players are a community.

There aren't that many of us out there. Sure, WoW has 10 million subscribers, and that sounds like a lot, but not when you consider there are over a billion people hooked up to the net in some form or another. Compared to the rest of the internet, we're a niche within the niche of video gaming.

It's that realization that we consciously seek out social gaming in some form or another that makes MMO gaming special. There are MOBAs and console networks, but those don't have the social interaction on the same level as an MMO has.

What do the following have in common:
  • Random Gen Chat discussions.
  • Guild goofing off nights.
  • PUGs with people who you get into great conversations with.
  • Dance-offs at random moments.
  • You're attempting to beat an elite boss, you're losing, and suddenly a random passerby jumps into the fray to assist.

The answer is something that all of us who play MMOs know:  they're all possible in MMO space. I've been there, and I've seen it happen.

MMOs offer the chance to be awesome, both in the story and between other players. For example, I'll never forget the following exchange (paraphrased) in Tatooine about two years ago:

Player X: Need an assist with [can't remember quest name]
Player Y: I can help. Invite me.
Player Z: Man, you're L50. What are you doing here?
Player Y: I PvP in about an hour or so, but before then I like to hang around low level areas and help out those who need it.

That. Is. Awesomeness.


Make no mistake, MMOs are just a game. We slay internet dragons with our friends. And, more importantly, they are a tool, really, that can foster relationships with others.

It's all about how we use that tool that determines the community we reside in.

Just remember the immortal words of Bill and Ted:  Be excellent to each other!

*In a way, it was a bit similar to how I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons; that was a social format too, with a friend introducing the game to me after school while playing over at his house.

**Given that a lot of people had only one television at the time, this meant that you had to work around evening TV shows.

***Office politics remind me a lot of some of the backstabbing that goes on in some of the more high drama guilds. When companies grade everyone on a curve, employees will be tempted to sabotage other employees' work just to make themselves look better.

****No, I can't remember the name of the blog, but I saw their stats.

EtA: Added the graphic.
EtA2: Corrected grammar on story.  Sheesh, how'd I miss that?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Miscellaneous Friday Ponderings

After having seen the trailer for Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, I wonder how long it'll be before we see cross bladed lightsabers in SWTOR. My guess is that it will make an appearance sometime next year in the Cartel Store.

Yeah... This.

Or maybe this one. (From Dorkly.)


From what I can tell, the WoW version of housing, Garrisons, is the pet battles of Warlords of Draenor. From what a local friend tells me, it's required if you want to do any crafting, but not as much for raiding at the moment. (She doesn't PvP, so that's an unknown for her there.) You set up shop in Draenor, and you pretty much go to town.

Does that mean that you'll have to start over in a new location with a new Garrison for the next expac, does the Garrison just migrate to the next expac's location (whatever it ends up being) like a gypsy caravan, or does it stay put, permanently set in Draenor?

By integrating Garrisons directly into Draenor, it seems that Blizzard is grounding them in such a way as to make them a permanent fixture of this expac.

Now, add the full Warlords leveling experience + one new expac, L1-105(or 110), and what becomes of the Warlords Garrison? Does Blizz move it out of Warlords entirely, like what they did with most of the Wrathgate event, or do they allow you to have a double dose of Garrison leveling (one in Warlords, one in the new expac)?

Yeah, it's nitpicking, but the design decisions do have a cost, and I would hope that Blizz didn't back themselves into a corner like they did with some design decisions with Cataclysm.


What happens in Gen Chat, stays in.... um.... nevermind.

This must have been one of the weirder weeks for Gen Chat topics.  Among the highlights were:

  • Which Spice Girl was the best one overall (don't look at me; I actively avoided the Spice Girls in the 90s).
  • Will "Han Shot First" be referenced as a joke in the new Star Wars movie?
  • Who was a better band: Doro or Rammstein?
  • What song had the most annoying lyrics?  (My vote: Careless Whisper, by Wham, although I could be talked into Girl You Know Its True by Milli Vanilli.)
Just when people thought Gen Chat was only good for racist and middle grade humor...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wanted: A Long Term Growth Plan

These are fun times for an MMO player.

Star Trek Online, LOTRO, SWTOR, WoW, GW2 and Neverwinter all have dropped major expacs (or continuing storylines) in the last few months.*

There were two major AAA releases this year: The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar.

But all I hear from my local friends is about League of Legends. Or Call of Duty. Or Dragon Age Inquisition. Or Assassin's Creed Unity**.

Of all my local friends and acquaintances, there's two people who are playing MMOs, and one is playing WoW while the other is playing Aion. In fact, I have more friends excited about the release of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition than anything MMO related.

This is a far cry from when I first took up WoW back in 2009, when I was occasionally surprised by who I knew who also played MMOs. The majority played WoW, to be sure, but some still liked EQ and other games. We didn't exactly swap war stories, but there was a shared experience that we could all comment on. It also confirmed the size of the playerbase that the WoW commercials of the era alluded to.

Now, it seems that the genre is more of a niche these days than before.

Sure, you've got WoW back to over 10 million subs (for the time being), but how much of that is cannibalization of other MMO player bases is an unknown.  I do know of several people who returned to WoW for Draenor (Deftig among them), but WoW doesn't seem to have quite the same mojo outside of the MMO niche than it once did.


I think it is telling that the television spots for Draenor are vastly different than what they were a few short expacs ago.

Hard to believe this is an oldie in YouTube years.

Fangs like that, and not one 
casting callback for True Blood.  Not one!

My wife, on seeing the Warlords trailer, asked me "Are they the good guys or the bad guys?"

I get her point. While both trailers emphasize ACTION!!, the more I watch the Warlords trailer***, the more I wonder whether the trailer is designed strictly for lapsed players as opposed to recruiting new ones.

Contrast these videos with tv spots for some other, newer games:

Didn't I see this during the Super Bowl?

Yes, that really is Kate Upton. Makes me wonder just how 
much she got paid to say "Come and play with me!"

Both of the newer games are for mobile devices, true, but both also are attempting to cast a wider net than the WoW commercials. They are aiming for growth and more players (and, in the case of Game of War: Fire Age, sex appeal so blatant that Evony would be jealous), and their tv spots have eschewed the serious grimdark in favor of whimsy.

They stole Blizzard's thunder by co-opting one of WoW's greatest strengths: its ability to not take itself seriously.

In 2007, WoW had ads with Ozzy, Verne Troyer, and William Shatner, full of sly humor and the "you can be anyone you want!" tagline. 2009 saw the WoW Mountain Dew tie-in with two women fighting it out in a grocery store.

Because you can't have enough William Shatner.

And really, you can't have enough Kaldorei 
and Orcs fighting it out in the local Mega Mart.

But now, there is no humor in Blizzard's WoW advertisements. It's all uber serious grimdark.

Last I checked, WoW itself still has plenty of humor in it. Why surrender your advantage to mobile games?


In the end, I guess you target your audience with what you think will work. Maximizing subscriptions is the game, and investors are a fickle "what have you done for me this quarter?" bunch. Blizzard wants their old subscribers back, and as far as I can tell they're succeeding.  But new blood in the MMO genre? Not so much.

I fear that we've reached a point where the MMO market isn't going to change much in size. MMOs will be marketed to those who already play or used to play extensively. New players aren't marketed to, and a lot of really good games will be overlooked because MMOs are no longer trendy.

This December should feel like Christmas morning with the abundance of really good games to choose from, so why does it feel like Jacob Marley needs to stop by?

*There's also a new release for Rift, but I don't play the game.

**I hear about Unity for all the wrong reasons, I might add. The bugginess of the Unity release is so bad it rivals the old Microprose Darklands game for buggy releases.

***You can't avoid the trailer right now on sports channels. It's about as ubiquitous as erectile dysfunction ads.