Tuesday, July 31, 2018

And Lo, the Gamers Descended Upon the Midwest

It's that time of year again....

GenCon Indy is back, and for those of us (like me this year, alas) who can't make it to the 51st edition of the gaming convention, you can still watch via some livestreams.

BoardGameGeek (boardgamegeek.com) and sister sites RPGGeek (rpggeek.com) and VideoGameGeek (videogamegeek.com) will be having all sorts of activity on their sites, as well as livestreaming at the Twitch Site BoardGameGeekTV (www.twitch.tv/boardgamegeektv). Here's a link to their tentative broadcast schedule.

If you want to watch some of the other goings on, such as the opening ceremonies and whatnot, there's GenCon's own Twitch pages at officialgencon (https://www.twitch.tv/officialgencon) and genconstudio https://www.twitch.tv/genconstudio). For the schedule, here's a link to GenCon's Live Streaming Stage page.

The geek site founded by Felicia Day, Geek and Sundry, is going to GenCon as well. Among the events they'll be hosting will be a Critical Role Live session on Friday, which will also be livestreamed on Geek and Sundry's Twitch page (www.twitch.tv/geekandsundry).

I'm just glad that I do work from home most days, so I can have GenCon coverage in the background while I'm working away and not have to worry about getting a visit from the network team complaining about me sucking up the bandwidth at the office.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

History Repeats Itself, Part Whatever

The latest kerfuffle to shake up the MMO world while I've been away was the firing of two GW2 employees after getting in a Twitter spat with a GW2 streamer.*

It's a bit more complicated than that, as Reddit, bots, and ArenaNet upper management got involved. Having the specter of the Gamergate Squad raising hell didn't exactly help, either. The net result, however, is very clear: upper management of ArenaNet sided with the customers and fired Jessica Price and Peter Fries within a day or two of the kerfuffle.

Given the crap that keeps showing up in my YouTube "suggested feed", you'd think that people are ready to start shooting over this incident. This is Gamergate all over again, with one side harassing and threatening Price and Fries (and yelling about how GW2's narrative sucked anyway) while the other side is yelling about how terrible ArenaNet behaved in throwing the employees under the bus after having said that they'd be supportive when Price was hired. It's gotten to the point where you can find out which side a website is on just by reading the titles of the articles and not have to refer to the content**.

I'll be up front in that I felt that Price and Fries were thrown under the bus by ArenaNet, because I've seen this sort of thing happen in the larger "non-gamer" world, so that saddens but doesn't shock me. However, I also feel that ArenaNet's behavior --specifically President Mike O'Brien-- shows just how much the gaming world is completely dependent upon streamers/bloggers/vloggers/etc for their business plan.


In the early 90's, I worked at Radio Shack, and one of the first things I learned while working there was that the dictum "the customer is always right" was a lie. The customer was not always right, and frequently the customer didn't know anything at all about what they wanted to do***. There were also plenty of times when somebody brought in an item as a "return", showing obvious signs of hard use and/or breakage, and when we refused the return the customer complained through corporate until a regional director told us to eat the return.

I mention that story because ArenaNet's behavior is entirely predicated on trying to keep as many people happy as possible because they can't afford to piss off one of the influencers in gaming space and wrecking their business plan.

Influencers, or rather influencer marketing, is the type of marketing that focuses on getting a few targeted customers --the influencers-- to rave about your product. Think of the influence that PewDiePie has by virtue of his 64 million subscribers to his YouTube account, and you can see why game companies would want to court PewDiePie for his (hopefully good) opinion of a game they're developing. If you can get an influencer to promote your game, you're getting what amounts to free advertising. If an influencer pans your game, that's bad press you can't afford to have.

In theory, this gives a company that free press and it builds goodwill between the company and the buying public. However, it also makes a company far more subservient to the whims of those influencers because of the outsized influence they have in many markets, gaming included. The ultimate influencer is, of course, Oprah Winfrey, who could turn a book hardly anybody was reading into a best seller just by a good word on her part.****

Remember how I mentioned that the customer is not always right? In this case, Deroir, the GW2 streamer and influencer, should have known better than to try to explain to a developer how to do her job. He may have thought he was having a discussion with give and take, but the tone came out as condescending to somebody who actually works in the industry. It would be like me trying to tell a brewer how to brew beer: I love beer, I know quite a bit about the brewing process, and I homebrewed beer for about 8 years. But that doesn't give me the level of expertise to go to brewmasters and contradict them when they talk about brewing beer.

And this doesn't even cover the mansplaining aspect of Deroir's response to Price's tweets.

At the same time, ArenaNet operated completely out of fear: fear that they'd upset one of their big influencers, that there was an EA level public relations disaster brewing, and that their business plan of utilizing influencers was about to blow up. So they threw Price and Fries --who came to Price's defense-- overboard.

To ArenaNet, the influencers were more important than their employees.

As for Price and Fries, they had to have thought in the back of their heads that this might be the end result of getting into a social media spat. I know I tend to keep just about all of my work related activities under wraps, and I tend to avoid dealing with social media --particularly Twitter-- as much as possible. Video game devs, however, are caught in a Catch-22: they're supposed to engage the wider community to engender "goodwill" and "interest"***** in the games they help to create, but frequently those sort of interactions can be insulting, sexist, and plain ol' mean. And you're supposed to grin and bear it. When you finally haul off and say what you really think --like what Price thought she would be allowed to say-- you're then called to the carpet for it.


Deroir and the cohort who joined in on the attacks on Price and Fries celebrated their victory, but I fear that in the long run they may have just changed gaming culture permanently. If you are a developer, why would you stick your neck out to interact with an influencer or the gaming community at large when you know that your company will never stick up for you in a dispute? If you are a gaming company, why would you want to risk the double edged sword of using influencer marketing if such a marketing strategy is so easily poisoned?

I'm sure that the Gamergate crowd is thinking that they can force game companies to return video games to being strictly a "boy's club", but my belief is that it will have a completely different effect. Game companies will become more shut in, letting a few carefully chosen PR or Project Manager personnel repeat talking points instead. While game companies can't stop streamers from streaming, they can keep their distance, which would be akin to giving streamers more of a cold shoulder than what they've come to expect.

I also believe the Blizzard portion of Activision Blizzard will remain the exception rather than the rule in keeping the doors wide open to their fans. The WoW fans are a notoriously fickle bunch --after all, I am one so I know something about that-- but they are also loyal to a fault.

The net result for this entire incident is that everybody lost. Even if you think your side won, that victory militarized the other side, and guaranteed the next fight will be even more vicious.

Alas, nobody is going to take the high road any more.

*To be honest, it all blew up right before I began travelling, but I wanted to wait and watch before deciding to comment. The last thing I needed was to start commenting while everything was hitting the fan.

**Or worse, the comment section.

***Once a guy came in looking to buy some new speakers to hook up to his stereo. After a few questions, I quickly discovered that the "stereo" in question was a cheap single unit that didn't even have any way to plug in external speakers. I told him that the speakers wouldn't work because he needed a way to hook them up to his stereo. The guy went away, and some hours later when I was off the clock he came back in and asked a coworker of mine if he could buy the speakers. "Sure," he said, happily ringing them up for a sale. The next morning at 10:05 AM the guy brought the speakers back saying he couldn't figure out how to use them. My coworker got the sale, and the return was on my numbers for the week, not his.

****I saw this in action when she promoted Graeter's, a (then) local chain of ice cream stores, on her television show. Graeter's was one of those gems that only the locals know about, and the quickest way to start an argument around town was to ask someone "Who do you like more, Graeter's or Aglamesis?" Well, the day Oprah promoted Graeter's on her show, our family went to our closest Graeter's for some ice cream. The staff at the store were absolutely bewildered because they were getting phone calls from far away as California to have Graeter's shipped to them, and when one of the customers in line mentioned they'd seen Oprah giving away pints of Graeter's on her show, everything made sense.

*****Did anybody have those two words in their buzzword bingo sheets? I hope somebody was able to yell "Bingo!" inappropriately while at work or something...

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What Happened to July?

Well, college visits happened.

Lots and lots of college visits.

But they're all finished now. 

I didn't think I'd be happy to get back to a regular work schedule, but after driving across multiple states, visiting multiple universities, and hearing a similar spiel from multiple admissions counselors/deans, yeah, I'm ready to get back to the grind.

However, gaming didn't simply stop while I was away from the blog. In fact, I started playing a non-MMO that if you'd have told me about a year ago I'd be playing, I'd think you were absolutely crazy: Stardew Valley.

I decided to buy the game on the gigantic mid-Summer Steam sale mainly based on the story behind the development of the game in Blood, Sweat, and Pixels*. If I bought a game I was going to play it (eventually), so I fired it up sometime in mid-July and tried it out for what I thought would be a couple of hours.

I'm presently now into Year Four of my first character, am married, and now have a kid.

"A couple of hours" my ass.

It is a strangely addictive game, where the storyline isn't exactly deep by any stretch, but due to the nature of the saves (it appears to only be able to save when you go to sleep each night) it can lure you into working "just another day" without realizing you're committing to an extra 10-30 minutes playing.

The nostalgia element is very strong as well, because even though I never played an NES or SNES or Nintendo 64, I recognize the design that Eric Barone was striving for. The gameplay was the most important part of the design, because any part of the game where there would have been a choice of gameplay vs. realism the design went for gameplay instead. Farming Simulator 2018 this isn't, and the game is actually better for it. It's kind of weird seeing a chick grow to an adult chicken over the course of a week of "game time", and especially weird going from "I'm pregnant" to "the kid is born" in almost as short a time.** Still, it works within the game because the entire design compresses the time into a manageable size of 28 day seasons; any longer and the attraction the game holds will fade, and any shorter and the game loses a sense of space.

Stardew Valley's not without its bugs. I occasionally click on a character that I can talk to and nothing pops up, and a couple of conversations --especially for those NPCs whom I've maxed out the "affection" meter-- seem to be missing some parts. That being said, as a game designed and implemented by one person, it's a tremendous achievement.

Stardew Valley is one of those games that I wish I'd have created. I don't get that feeling often, because I know how hard it is to code something as deceptively simple as a text only RPG game, but the siren call of Stardew Valley is that strong.

Eric Barone has created a helluva game, and he should rightly be praised for this achievement. But that leaves me with one question for Eric: When are Clint and Emily going to get together?

*Geez, I seem to be plugging that book a lot lately.

**I kind of have some experience in this area, given the three mini-Reds.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Brief Wave While Driving By

Between work, unexpected "renovations", and college visits, I have been playing some games.

Posting, not so much.

However, I wanted to drop in and say that Blizzard is now a contributing sponsor of Gen Con, and they'll be setting up a dedicated Hearthstone area in the Indy Convention Center. If there's any doubt that Gen Con Indy has re-established itself as one of the premier gaming conventions, Blizz' appearance leaves little doubt.*

Alas, I won't be able to attend Gen Con this year, and at the rate badges are selling it looks like the Gen Con Indy will be a sellout. But still, this is some cheery news for a Monday.

*I do wonder whether Blizz is looking at eventually doing more than just running Hearthstone, because I'm sure there's plenty of interest in seeing something from Blizzard east of the Rocky Mountains, and Gen Con Indy still has room to grow.