When you get a bunch of people together in a room, and ask them to identify “the best” of something, you’ll wish you spent your time looking at funny cat videos instead. There really is no “the best”, especially on the Internet, because everyone’s needs and wants are different, and as a consequence the things that fit their needs and wants will differ. Instead, we have to look at a larger picture, tally the columns from a set list of features, and declare the ones with the most votes as “the best”. Then we need to shut off the comments because we’re going to catch hell for our decisions.
But screw that: this is my blog, and here are my top examples of things that some games do that every game really should do.
5. Screw Combat
Listen, I’m under no illusions that a good amount of people — maybe the majority, maybe the SUPER majority — enjoy the hell out of hitting things with swords or shooting them with laser guns. Making combat THE reason and THE driver for these games goes way back into human history because in combat, there’s one clear winner, and one clear loser. It’s easy to determine when to give rewards, and when to give punishment, and as sad as it may sound, a lot of gamers need this kind of ambiguity to feel accomplished.
And while I’ve got your ear, we need to acknowledge that video games aren’t just niche hobbies any longer. Yeah, the “hardcore” squeal about the influx of “posers” who play casual games, but gaming isn’t a gated community any longer. With so many MMOs out there, and so many more gamers coming online every day, it’s time that developers started looking at non-combat systems as first class citizens that can stand on their own, without the need to engage in combat.
Crafting is the old standby because so long as a player can avoid combat, he can gather materials and work his magic. But crafting has lost it’s way, having become push-button simple, and requiring us to grind out copies of useless vendor trash ad nauseum. Housing used to be “a thing” until Blizzard decided it got in the way of killing things, and everyone else followed suit. And you would not BELIEVE how much time people put into dressing up their characters in The Secret World.
Best Examples: Everquest 2, The Secret World, Vanguard
4. Account Presence
Nothing bugs me more than having to re-build my friends list with every alt I make. Why are my characters treated as different accounts when I have to log in to access them all with ONE account? Just because I make a new character doesn’t mean I want to create new associations with totally new people, and leave my friends and guild members behind. And we have to face facts: people still mule, and so moving items between alts should be a lot easier than it generally is.
It’s really a weight off my shoulders when I log into a game with a new character and see all of my friends in the list, or even find that I’m already in my guild. It’s a lot less housekeeping that I have to while wading through the tutorial for the hojillionth time. Shared bank space is right up there as well.
Best Examples: Cryptic gets a gold star for porting friends and chat channels across GAMES, not just alts, and Guild Wars 2 for their account-centric guilding.
3. Make Guilds Matter
Guilds at their most basic implementation are private chat channels. Even in 2013, developers seem at a loss for what to do with guilds, if they even consider there to be a room for improvement at all.
People join with others in a guild for two reasons. First, they’re already friends, and want that private chat channel. Second, they want a regular stable of bodies at their beck and call. It’s easier to get people together when you have some kind of shared allegiance than it is to run with PUGs all the time. But guild mechanics have been almost as stagnant in the MMO space as crafting has.
We need to make BEING IN A GUILD matter. How about a real guild project? Not just “do what you would be doing anyway, and earn guild levels and buffs”. That’s not community. Maybe give guilds an instance where they have to work together to build and maintain their own guild hall and adventure zone. The more people you have in the guild, the harder the tasks get, but the bigger the reward. Guilds need a reason to BE a guild beyond huddling together for warmth.
Best Examples: None that I can really think of, although EverQuest 2′s guild halls are pretty impressive
2. Concurrent/Complimentary/Ah Fuck It Leveling
A sage once said that “time is nature’s way of preventing everything from happeneing at once”. Leveling, therefor, is gaming’s way of preventing everyone from having access to all content from day one. Levels are nice triggers that developers can use to tell a player “you’re not ready” or “you really should move on”. They’re also great ways for players to measure their progression
But levels striate the population. When areas are “level appropriate”, that means that everywhere you AREN”T is “level innapropriate”. If your friends are of lower level, or of higher level, playing together is pretty damn difficult. Some games have tried to put a bandage on this by allowing limited de- or up-leveling to match party members, but it’s not a solution. Most games are content to say “ah fuck it”, let players rolls alts, and form spoken leveling pacts with their friends and guild members. We can do better than this.
Best Examples: Guild Wars 2, EVE Online
1. ONE FUCKING SHARD!
We’ve been told for years that the reason people play MMOs is (or should be) for the social aspect, and yet in 2013, we still see games being released that divide the population by shards/servers. The best offenders (though still offenders) allow players to move or temporarily move to a friend’s server, but the worst offenders don’t offer anything of the sort (or make you pay for it).
There are several games which use one server/shard technology, or can fake it well enough that we don’t notice the difference. As complex as online multiplayer games are, you mean to tell me that this is one irritation that developers and engineers can’t eradicate?
Best Examples: EVE Online, Star Trek Online, The Secret World
I play mostly “multiplayer” games, which to me means that “multiple people are playing in the same space I am playing in.” This is usually in the form of MMOs, so I’m used to seeing and dealing with people running around me, doing the things that I do, and after the same things I’m after.
But I’m not dead to the single player experience. When I want to take my time, to get away from the pressure of keeping up with other people, I’ll play alone.
That’s not good enough for some people, though, who apparently believe that I am “doing it wrong”.
The notion of “always connected single player” is foreign to me. When playing with people, I would like to play with people. Playing a game which tells me what other people are doing — even if it doesn’t affect my isolated experience — has absolutely zero benefit to me. I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there who can’t stop being competitive, and who believe that unless you are competing with someone, somewhere, in some fashion, that you might as well not even bother, but that’s extremely narrow-minded and self-centered. No one needs to save single players from themselves; it’s literally trying to solve a problem that no one has, except those who trying to create a problem so they can forcibly shove the industry in a direction which serves their own ego.
I like Halo. I like shooters “OK”, and I’m not going to lift my pinky and stick my nose in the air to nitpick the plot or the execution of the series: I like the atmosphere, and it’s a fun game and a moving story, and the music is fantastic and contributes mightily to each offering. I give props to Bungie because the Halo series is really the only games I’ve finished with regularity (barring Halo: Reach, Halo 3: ODST, and 343′s Halo 4, which is outside the scope of this post).
Bungie has certainly earned their laurels. They’ve proven themselves to be on the positive side of competent, and while no product or producer is perfect, they know how to give people a good time. Now that they’re out from under the Halo shadow, and more importantly out from under Microsoft, they’ve turned their artful gaze towards something more ambitious in Destiny. The details are scarce at this point, but if you’ve got an interest in games and have a pulse, chances are you’ve seen the video documentary about it. That’s where I want to start.
* * *
After watching the video featuring Bungie talking heads, I sat back and tried to nail down why the video felt familiar. Like I said, there are very few studios who have enjoyed such excellence in sales, and who have generated a brand loyalty. In many respects, those factors excuse Bungie when tooting their own horn in this video as they praise their own efforts in making Halo a world-wide phenomenon, and in elevating Bungie to the level where it has it’s own stable of dedicated fans…
…oh yeah! The video reminded me of the series of videos that BioWare did…for Star Wars: The Old Republic! Remember how many Atta-Boy fist-bumps they awarded themselves for past performance? How little information those videos and interviews actually provided? How sure they sounded that their legacy was firmly established and nigh immutable, and how sure they seemed that their reputation would continue to rise with their next, far more ambitious offering?
Know, however, that I am insanely intrigued with Destiny, the same way I was intrigued with SW:TOR. Despite how the later turned out, many of us were in the same boat, and claiming otherwise through the benefit of hindsight will not absolve any of us. I will not say that Destiny is…destined…to go the same route as SW:TOR because even a coin has the same chance of landing heads up as it does tails up with each toss. Bungie is good, and they may pull off…whatever it is that Destiny shapes up to be.
So retain hope, but don’t hold fast to blind faith. Still, I’m personally worried that this unmitigated self-congratulation is both a glimpse into the soul of the company, and a potential warning that Bungie’s reputation has gone to their heads. Only time will tell.
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Destiny‘s reveal video bothered me because of the undercurrent of sheer, unmitigated hubris. Granted, when biting off a chunk as sizable as what Destiny might be, convincing yourself that it can be done is paramount, and I’m sure that the Bungie offices have a 50 foot high-water mark of adrenaline each and every day that helps them believe in what they’re doing.
The problem with hubris (aside from it’s inherent definition), is that it makes people do and say stupid things. Things which seem totally awesome from behind the wall of the fish-tank one swims in, but which look and sound absolutely asinine from other side of the glass.
Bungie mouthpiece Jason Jones continued the avalanche of self-satisfaction with this statement:
We did a bunch of ambitious things on Halo deliberately to reach out to people. We limited players to two weapons, we gave them recharging health, we automatically saved and restored the game — almost heretical things to first-person shooters at the time. We made the game run without a mouse and keyboard. And now nobody plays shooters the way they used to play them before Halo ’cause nobody wants to. – Destructoid :
In fairness, “the way they used to play them” is absolutely ambiguous, but the quote is offered in the context of the question of whether or not Destiny will see a PC release. Given other triggers in the statement, it’s being widely assumed that Jones is saying that “no one wants to play shooters on the PC because of the way we innovated with Halo,” or even the more succinct ”no one plays shooters on the PC.” That’s insanely broad, absolutely false, and horribly head-up-the-ass. It makes me want to not have anything to do with Destiny, or Bungie from here on in because as a someone who is a PC gamer first, and a non-gamer second (console gamer seventh, after smartphone, tablet, board game, and card game), he just insulted me directly by calling me — and other PC gamers — “nobodies”. We don’t matter to Bungie, and apparently don’t fit in their plans, despite the fact that many of us would be quite willing to do so.
Believe it or not, that’s not the point of this second half!
Instead, think about it: if you are interested in Destiny, you’ll need an Xbox or a PlayStation (sorry WiiU! Support group at St Catherine’s rec hall at 8PM!). I have both, so I’m still in the running, but what if you don’t? You’re basically S.O.L. unless you want to buy one now, on the tail end of this current console generation. In essence, Bungie is deciding for you where your loyalties need to be if you want a piece of this sweet, sweet Destiny pie.
OK, this is nothing new. If you wanted Halo, you needed an Xbox. If you wanted Uncharted, you needed a PS3. If you want Mario, you need a Nintendo machine. We’ve lived with it, accepted it, and we’ll have to continue living with it, but the problem is that it’s becoming more and more widespread.
It used to be that companies earned loyalty by making the best product on the market, and selling it for a fair price. When the competition comes out with a better product — and that used to be the only way to get people to switch from one product to another — each company had to double their efforts to make something even better! At the end of the day, the consumer wins because companies fought each other over merit while we reaped the benefits.
We’re now in the era of Cheap Tricks. Companies no longer have to compete for your constant attention because they have found a way to skirt anti-trust accusations and to allow us to willfully make ourselves hostages of our products. For the average consumer (and even for a lot of above-average consumers), once a decision has been made to buy into an ecosystem, the chances of leaving that ecosystem drop with every subsequent purchase.
How much money have you spent on apps for your smartphone? What happens if you switch to a different ecosystem? Those apps aren’t gone, technically, but they’re useless to you on your new device. Can you pull yourself away from the investment you not only made in the hardware, but the software as well? How about your Steam library? Steam’s not the only game in town for digital distribution, but many, many people have invested heavily in Steam over the the years. If Steam abandons Windows for Mac or Linux, will you abandon Steam…or WIndows? Don’t bother answering, I know what you’ll choose, because it would be ludicrous to turn your back on the thousands of dollars you willfully funneled through Valve.
People still like to frame these situations as choice. Smartphone users will swear up and down that their choice was informed and they made the right one based on knowledge alone. Folks jumped up and down with glee when Valve announced Linux support, despite the fact that their own sprawling libraries would be mothballed — possibly indefinitely – until (or more truthfully, if) those games could be retrofitted to work with Linux. Linux fans rejoiced: FINALLY, an end to the tyranny of Windows! But wait! Having Steam only on Windows, and having decades of game developers focusing almost exclusively on Windows, meant that we were forced to use Windows all these years! Don’t cry for Microsoft; they’re just as guilty.
So you see my point.
Content producers and gatekeepers are increasingly controlling what had been our choice, if we ever had choice at all. You may not like Linux or Mac, but all it takes is a nod from St. Newell, and Windows support vanishes like a mob snitch in the night. Supporters of other platforms might say good riddance, but it it can happen to one, it can happen to any, and we’re all poorer for having fewer choices in any and all walks of life, even if we never partake of them.
* * *
Bungie is just the latest company making decisions for us, but I think this is one of the few times that a company has come right out and backhanded a segment that would have gladly partaken of their product in exchange for the cash. In that regard, I can’t fathom the reason behind Jones’ statement. Is he actually hateful towards PC gaming? Or is Bungie so steeped in their own self-satisfaction that they are comfortable saying what they believe, and believe what they say?
I hope for everyone’s sake that it’s neither. I hope he and the folks in the video had a momentary head-rush that caused their euphoria, and that they come to realize that while their bro-fisting grandstanding will certainly garner them untold wealth and prosperity in a certain segment, they should also consider what the same prideful behavior did for BioWare. Every single developer is one self-assured success away from abject failure and shame, and I personally think it would do them much more good to focus on being as inclusive as possible, with significantly less high-octane hubris than they’ve started this project out with.
Traveling down the rabbit hole that is my feed reader this afternoon, I stumbled upon a post at Polygon regarding Jonathan Blow’s Twitter Blow-out (score one for puns!). It was a drive-by read, and I don’t know the context or anything, but it seems Mr. Blow (a Tarantino moniker if ever there was one) is upset about the quality of titles being elevated in the public perception, or something to that effect. The Polygon post mentions that ”[Far Cry 3] came in as the #4 goty here at Polygon”, so I don’t think it’s too much of a limb-going to assume that this is all about popular versus artistic.
Blow (as you probably know) is the maker of Braid, a popular side-scrolling platform that has won numerous awards and has garnered bother critical and popular acclaim. Good for Blow, and good for Braid. I didn’t care for it, but I’m sure that doesn’t dent the self-satisfaction that Senor Blow feels at his lofty regard in the industry.
But I care. And I really don’t care about Braid, or Blow’s opinions of what is and isn’t popular. Far Cry 3 may not be Shakespeare. It may not even be Weird Al, but people seem to like it, as evidenced by it’s sales numbers and the fact that I saw a lot of people in my spheres talking about it when it launched.
Who’s right? Who matters more? Does it matter who matters more? I think to some people, and in some cases, yes it does. It apparently matters to Johnny, who spent many letters expressing himself in artistic fashion, tilting at a windmill that most people couldn’t see — and one they probably wouldn’t see as a problem in the first place.
Critics are paid to criticize. We the consumers empower them through the application of sheer decision to be “experts” on a topic, and in so doing we elevate those people from nut-scratching, beer-drinking rank-and-file gamers to high-minded taste-makers who’s thumbs-up or thumbs-down can drive sales, pitch Metacritic scores, and open new offices or send other branches into Chapter 11. But then we turn around and tell them to kiss our asses. We like doing crazy shit in Far Cry 3 because it makes us laugh, and we end up having a good time doing it. We put the “Play” in PlayStation, while folks like Jonathan Blow want to put the “X” square across the Xbox because certain titles aren’t high-brow enough for their tastes.
Why do we give critics such power in the first place? Maybe because we want to be them. People listen to them; they get to have fun and be seen as an “authority figure”. Geeks are all about the knowledge, and the geeks who exhibit the most knowledge that is acknowledged by other geeks are the alpha geeks, earning the respect in the community for their insight and their position. If we didn’t listen to them, then why have those positions at all? Without those positions, what would geeks aspire to? That maybe a little heavy handed, and certainly isn’t universal, but when it comes down to it, what matters isn’t what the Jonathan Blows of the world think we should care about. It only matters whether or not we have fun doing what we’re doing, whether it’s playing some pretentious platformer, or launching goats off cliffs in runaway jeeps. I don’t think critics can tell us which one is really better, so it’s up to us to decide.
This article of admission is making its rounds this afternoon, so I’ll grab the lightning while it’s hot, or whatever…
The tl;dr version of is that if you saw a recent rumor about a possible Xbox/Surface mash-up called the “X-Surface”, then you’ve been had. Some dude lays out how he pulled a fast one on several “news” sites, and then watched “in horror” as the story spread like blood in the water. Naturally, my first reaction was “if he’s admitting to faking it…are we sure he’s not faking this?” But that’s merely the smoke and mirrors segment of the greater show, which is what this trick exposed.
Copy and paste “journalism” is on display, as the perpetrator claims that his original story, presented in a series of identical emails to several blogs, started showing up in what he called a “Chinese Whisper” format, which I guess means that the story appears intact on several websites, with only the most anemic of modifications. But really, there’s only so many ways you can report that “the car hit the old woman”, right?
This guy’s conceit is that he was
like most other gamers…sick of seeing endless rumours and speculation citing “anonymous sources” or “insiders” with no evidence, no proof, no guarantee that they’ve been fact-checked or can be relied on.
Well, I guess so, but then again, who cares? For one, if I have a news story, I can’t possibly account for every single blog out there when sending out a press release. At some point, there will be a cut-off, and anyone below that line will only have other sources above that line to feed from. Really, then, do those sources below the line matter? To some, yes, because it’s possible in this day and age that not everyone knows about or uses the same sources. One man’s wannabe website is another man’s primary source.
Second, although I take my gaming lifestyle seriously, I cannot recall any single point in my life where a rumor or contrived news story on a gaming blog wrecked my life, or even made it better. If I believe that the X-Surface is a real thing, so what? We’re not speculating as to whether or not there are hostages involved or a terrorist plot. Instead, I can talk about this with my friends, and we can wonder and marvel and brainstorm and speculate about how such a thing could be done, and what it would be used for, how much it would cost…basically, the exact same things that a research team would be doing in thinking up an actual X-Surface device. The only difference is nothing: our discussion yields no product, and this hoax yields no product. But one jackass gets to proclaim to have hoodwinked the masses and feel good about himself in the process, and the rest of us have a great water cooler discussion. I think that’s a win-win.
I think the only people who really care about this are this guy, because he must be rolling in self-esteem right now, and people who will jump on any chance to debate whether or not gaming blogs are “journalism”, which I hope is far fewer people than I’m sure it is, because the only good thing to come out of this was the last line of this dude’s self-congratulatory post:
TL;DR – Until Microsoft/Sony announce something: don’t believe even the most reputable gaming sites.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is the take home message. This guy shouldn’t need to pull this stunt for us to realize this, but just as my post isn’t going to cause a tectonic shift in anything, reading about, dreaming about, and discussing rumors, real or imagined, isn’t the worst sin that’s be committed in the world.
The Gaming Internet is filled with examples of players behaving badly, whether it’s gamers shouting at others, hurling insults, slurs, misogynistic comments, or excessive trash talking, or giving into temper tantrums resulting in team abandonment or even team sabotage as a way express a player’s displeasure at how the game is progressing. The game doesn’t even need to be competitive for this to happen, as anyone who’s run an excessive number of dungeons or raids with random folk can attest to.
Naturally, the more competitive the game or scenario, the higher the probability for bad behavior, which is why League of Legends operator Riot Games has instigated a unique “tribunal” system which allows the players to receive anonymous incident reports, and to suggest action. Should a player receive in excessive number of complaints, however, Riot reserves the right to ban the player for a period of time of their choosing. Surprisingly, this ban-hammer has been used not only against house-bound Summoners, but also against “pro” gamers.
Banning a player is strictly in the wheelhouse of the operator, but some people don’t agree that the operator should be allowed to “censor” their player base to the point of banning them from accessing the product that they have probably spent money on. In the case of pro-gamers, their high-profile participation has certainly done good things for the game itself in providing free advertising to those who watch the many live streams of eSports games. In essence, banning any loyal and paying customer is like biting the hand that feeds the game.
The end user license agreement is something we all know about, but which few people read. Whether or not it’s legally binding is a question for more specialized minds than mine, but I do believe that it’s been used in a few court cases that have favored the service operator. League of Legends EULA has an entire section devoted to “Code of Conduct” (Section 5), which specifically spells out the legal jargon on what Riot will not tolerate. This includes harassing, stalking, or threatening other players, and also and specifically:
Transmitting or communicating any content which, in the sole and exclusive discretion of Riot Games, is deemed offensive, including, but not limited to, language that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable; (Emphasis mine)
There is also a separate ”Summoner’s Code” which is a plain-language version of how to be a “good player” or, if you prefer, how not to get on Riot’s bad side.
Opponents of Riot’s “free-wheeling ban-hammer” claim that this is the Internet. People behave badly all over the place, and LoL is one of the few venues that takes such an extreme stance on player behavior, to the point where they’re an anomaly and not a rule. They’re not going to change people’s behavior, and they shouldn’t be the arbiters of how people behave when people behave like this all the time in other corners of the net. If they’re feeling particularly combatitive, they’ll throw in complaints of “censorship” for good measure. But you know what? Riot is correct in their stance and in their actions.
Regardless of whether or not the EULA is legally defensible, it spells out, up front, what Riot expects of the players, and what will happen if the players violate the terms of the EULA. You didn’t read the EULA when you installed the game? Irrelevant, from the operator’s point of view. Although these license agreements may be underhanded by some (companies know we don’t read them, and try and sneak stuff in there all the time), ignorance is no excuse for violating them. Much has been made of LoLs Summoner Code, their tribunal, and now, high profile consequences of violating the rules that the game operator has laid down. Just as we cannot exploit bugs in a game without the possibility of being banned (which is covered in their EULAs, by the way), outright anti-social behavior that exceeds the allowable threshold for what the operator reserves as their right to define, is an acceptable reason for a ban.
The thing is, this is really not about what’s in the EULA. This is as much a business decision as it is a punishment for those who break the rules. Taking away the toys of those who behave badly is an ancient parental practice for kids who misbehave. In this case, kids who misbehave cost Riot potential customers. I’ve played LoL, but always with friends, and against the AI because I decided that I would not willfully put myself in the potential situation where I’d be on the receiving end of someone else’s blackened version of “sportsmanship”. It’s not a guarantee that’d I’d run into someone who makes me regret my decision, but so long as the chance is there, I wouldn’t want to willfully ruin my own enjoyment, and so I have only dabbled in the game. Riot won’t get any money out of me because of the potential toxic environment, so it’s in their interest as a company that needs to earn money to pay the bills that keep the game up and running and their employees fed and clothed to ensure that their game is as accessible as possible for the widest audience possible.
And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Competition is not carte blanche to be a douchebag, and it’s not in Riot’s interest to allow a few players to drive a potential client base away. It doesn’t belong to those with “thick skins”, except in their own point of view that only those who can “take it” are entitled to play. The game belongs to Riot, and it’s not a gift to people who don’t know how to behave. I wish more companies took the approach that Riot has taken with their tribunal system, but I wish even more that people would stop using bad behavior to mark territory that clearly isn’t theirs to claim.
When I heard that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going free to whatever, I thought it would be a good deal. I liked the game OK, but not enough to pay for it. But with no strings attached? I could meet up with friends, and we could casual-though it. I have some friends who don’t leap at any MMO in a skirt, especially ones with subscriptions, so it’s always a selling point when one rips out the turnstiles to let the masses in.
But…I should have known that not everything was going to go over well. It actually started back when the initial tsunami of SWTOR announcements were being made. I watched a video of some developer on the project talking about crafting and trade skills. I like crafting and trade skills when they’re more than just the “have mats; have recipe; mash em together in mass production; profit!” that you see in 99.9% of the MMOs out there, and really hoped that SWTOR would break out of that mold. Anyhow, said-developer didn’t seem too excited about talking up the crafting, because he fobbed it off with the (para)phrase “we’ll have crafting, because other games have it”. So, basically it was admitted that we couldn’t expect anything special, because crafting was being added to fulfill an MMO bullet-point, and for apparently no other reason.
Then, of course, the much lauded “fourth pillar” turned out to be a rotten timber holding up a rather weighty roof upon which the SWTOR hype machine was grinding away. Looking under the hood, then, revealed something that didn’t have any more depth than the loved/reviled World of Warcraft. Less, actually. Removing this pillar left us with nothing more than a trash-mob tower-defense game. We already know that crafting wouldn’t add a dimension to it, so in the end, a lot of people decided that SWTOR wasn’t worth the monthly sub, and turned their backs.
As much as I might have wanted to check it out once it went free to whatever, I’ve now decided that no, I’m not going near it, thanks to one sentence in this quote from a post mentioned in an article on Rock, Paper Shotgun:
One of our golden rules is that the Free-to-Play experience should not cheapen the experience for paying subscribers.
I get it. Subscribers come first. They pay the bills and that’s what keeps the lights on and the developers fed. I am 100% OK with giving subscribers the buffet, while the rest of us have to deal with the dollar menu.
But then the sentiment gets worse, IMO:
If it turns out that the Free-to-Play conversion results in a degraded Warzone experience once we go live for subscribers, you can rest assured that we will quickly make adjustments to the system to ensure that subscribers have an optimal experience.
Emphasis mine. People like free things. Make something free, and yes, you’ll get all kinds of people coming out of nowhere who want a free piece of something free, for free, no strings attached. And with no strings comes no responsibility, right? The popular corollary that you hear from subs in a free to whatever game is that once something goes free, it goes to hell because the “Free players” are all scumbag parasites who have no respect for the game because they’re not paying for it.
I expect this from players, because many gamers are blatantly elitist when they feel that they have the upper hand on whatever drives their ego that day, but we’re getting this from a company spokesperson in a public forum. Reading between the lines, BioWare-slash-EA is planting a boot to the stomach of a population they’re hoping to attract (read: convert to subscribers of a game most of them left in the first place because they decided it wasn’t worth paying for) by putting them in their place as second-class citizens in no uncertain terms.
Free to whatever players may cheapen the experience for their subscribers…how? Already, BioWare doesn’t think much of filthy freeloaders that they want to convert. Somehow, these free to whatever players will degrade the experience, apparently by fleshing out the ghost-towns they call servers, and possibly becoming attached enough to pass through the pearly gates of privilege, where they stop being the enemy and magically become a pampered and revered customer. It’s not so much that I disagree with giving perks and priority to paying customers; I don’t. At all. I do, however, think that the people they have talking for this game are either not very good a PR, and shouldn’t be talking, or are barely able to conceal their arrogance, and disdain for potential customers and/or the genre that this game inhabits. There are certainly better ways to say what was quoted above that didn’t make it obvious that free to play SWTOR players should expect to get pissed on as a right of the company, and the paying subscribers.
Here’s some free advice: a free player who’s a dick will still be a dick if they start paying. Treating potential customers like moustache-twirling villains who are looking to blow up the train tracks of fun being ridden by paying customers is a sure way to prove that the SWTOR machine has just given up hope of being as relevant as their PR machine wanted us to believe they would be back in the early days of the game. Personally, I was wary when I was given the impression, through an off-hand remark, that the game-to-be would only be paying lip-service to some mechanics “because other games have them”. I’m not a game designer, but if I were, and I saw that as a reason for adding a mechanic, I’d punch the person who rationalized it thusly in their donut-insertion hole. Add to that the storytelling “experience” that was supposedly so revolutionary, but which turned out to be basically a thin veneer on an otherwise rotten frame. Finally, using language in a public statement that pulls no punches in telling the people you hope to convert to paying customers that you think they’re blood-sucking freeloaders beneath reproach is really phoning it in.
Wow…Uh…I really just want to back off my statement, and to apologize for this rant because I violated the #1 rule of blogging: Don’t take your first source’s word for it, especially if it’s a quote of a quote.
Apparently Tramell’s comment is correct. This actually had nothing to do with F2P players “ruining” the warzone experience, but rather that subs converting to F2P would mean that warzones wouldn’t pop frequently enough for remaining subscribers. The “degraded warzone experience” being referred to is that: a poorer experience overall, and not because of an influx of F2P players. In that, I apologize.
But I still feel that F2P players are generally given the short end of the stick in terms of “class”, and that the overall SWTOR experience and presentation have been astoundingly lackluster.
Failure is, honestly, when your best just wasn’t good enough. We could get all Covey on the point, with such gems like “if you don’t try, you’ve already failed” but we talk about video games around here, so when we talk “failure”, we’re usually talking about games that were released, but which didn’t do as well as..well…that’s part of the problem.
The only people for whom failure is really an issue are those who really need the game to do well: the people who made it. These products are what help put food on their table, clothes on their backs, and roofs over their heads, so believe me 1000% when I say that no developer wants to release a shoddy product. They know if they half-ass it and don’t manage to lose their job before the product ships, then their half-assery will cost their company revenue, which certainly affects them. Yes, poor business decisions are made to satisfy financial interests, and the Internet means that anything can be patched, but I’d bet you a doughnut that there’s not a developer alive who didn’t wring his or her hands in fear on a launch day even when they busted their asses and gave 2000%.
As consumers, we’re not privy to the facts. Facts are bits of provable information. Look at your right hand. Count your fingers. Now tell someone how many fingers you have. The show them you right hand. The number of fingers you tell them you have is a fact (unless you’re a dick and lied). Gamers buy products, but they don’t get facts about sales figures, subscriber numbers, why person X left company Y. Those things are company secrets and here’s a bit of trivia: they’re not “secret” because they want to keep them from their customers. Even so, that doesn’t stop many gamers from believing that they have facts, or stop them from trying to extrapolate facts from what little they actually know about a situation.
Thing is, no one extrapolates when a game is doing well. Who needs to make up numbers for World of Warcraft when it had 12 million subscribers? Instead, many gamers seem to delight in extrapolating a situation about the future viability of a product based on what they perceive to be fact, and that almost always includes some people who jump to claim that a game is a “failure”.
Why gleefully wish for failure? Why speak up at all? First of all, no comment dweller has anywhere near the complete picture needed to make such a assertion. Second, I have serious doubts that anyone who does make such an assertion is actually qualified to make such a statement, meaning I doubt that a company in trouble would hire that person to help turn the company around by identifying real and critical issues.
Failure of a game like an MMO leads to layoffs and studio closings. Saying “haha! What a failure!” is basically saying “haha! You lost your job”, which is about as cool as shoving a kitten into a wood chipper. In all honesty, I don’t believe that anyone thinks that far when they make happy failure noises, because it’s never really about “the game” and it’s performance. It’s all about them.
If a game fails in the forest, people hear it, so there’s no need to run through the wood shouting about it unless it’s the shouter who is seeking attention. Like I said earlier, no one gets any points for being right about success. When a game succeeds, everyone wins, and everyone is too busy having fun to care that anyone was right. But if someone claims early on that a game will fail…and it does…well, then they clearly know their shit, right? They’re the Gamer Nostradamus. They’ve got their finger on the pulse of the industry. People had better listen the next time they speak, because they’re doing the community a service by laying down the facts.
Ohhh…there’s that word again. Facts. Thing is, “calling it” is 99% dumb luck (emphasis on “dumb”) because out of all of the MMOs that exist in the world, how many have actually failed? Like, closed failed? The number is not zero, but if every game that had at least one person claim it was a failure had actually shut down, we wouldn’t have any…ANY…MMOs operational right now. Armchair theorists don’t have any kind of magical prognostication skills, or statistical analysis insight because they take Metacritic as gospel or feel smart because they read and understood a single, quarterly financial report; they’re just dumbasses who like to shout a lot for attention.
I’ll try and keep this brief.
There’s always been this idea that Google Plus (G+) is a “ghost town” because to the casual observer (i.e. the media), there’s not a lot of “public” posts being posted. The truth is that the point of G+ is that users only talk to people they want to talk to, unlike Facebook where the default is to flash your unappealing privates to your neighbors, your parents, prospective employers, random strangers, and what might have been your future soul mate.
Now we have to deal with the impending fallout of news that EA and something called a Wooga are pulling their games from G+. First, I think I speak for a lot of hardcore G+ users when I say, “G+ had games?” Second, which follows the first in more than numerical order, is that G+ users didn’t pick G+ to play games. They picked it because it’s full of targeted, meaningful con-ver-fucking-say-shun, which is so absent from Facebook that if Facebook didn’t have games to distract the easily distracted, it’d be up to it’s armpits in posts trawling for sympathy, drunken rants, homophobia, shitty inspirational quotes, and chain-letter inspired bullshit.
Oh, wait. Nevermind.
So the loss of EA from G+ is going to get spun by those with some phantom axe to grind against Google as a sign that their already “silent” social network is going to get silent…er, because the “two people using G+” won’t be able to play Bejeweled.
Seriously, anyone who writes something along those lines should lose their job and apply at McDonalds. But they probably have some embarrassing shit on Facebook that would disqualify them from even that low level of a job.
Sometimes I feel that there’s an uncomfortable alliance between people who work in the games industry, and the people who buy games. It’s a common feeling in any industry, when I think about it, as anyone who’s worked in retail, or customer service, or has produced a product can tell you. Having to deal with the public can be frustrating to the extreme when someone asks you for something that they expect you to understand from their pathetic articulations, or when a customer makes demands they have no right to make, and which you have no authority to fulfill. As consumers, we’re also annoyed with service people who seem to know nothing about their jobs, don’t even bother to hide their contempt for having to deal with the public, and who seem more interested in doing anything else aside from their job of serving the customer.
Games industry people and the consumers rarely interact directly. I say rarely to mean percentage wise, because thanks to forums and social networking, there’s viable bridges between producers and consumers that can lead to wonderful interactions. But they can also lead to horrible airing of grievances as well, which traditionally were limited to break-room bitch-sessions, or private conversations between friends.
It’s really a moot point to look at this from the developer point of view, because everyone knows what a bunch of assholes the consumer segment can be. Check out any forums, any social network, or any general chat channel in a multiplayer game and you’ll be smacked hard in the face with ignorance, venom, and spite directed at people who put their pants on one leg at a time (assuming they wear pants), who work for a paycheck like everyone else, and who really do want to make the best product that they can so they can be proud of what they’ve done. Many consumers don’t give a shit, and they take their diatribes to the web without a thought beyond their own selfish rage.
But I’ve seen this work in reverse as well. There’s a kind of creator-vs-consumer mentality in play for many people. It’s not just game development. It’s readers and authors. Viewers and move stars. Listeners and recording artists. The game industry is really a “black box” to many consumers, and like any product which elicits strong attachment in it’s users, there’s some level of hero-worship from many consumers towards industry folks, which no doubt can result in some inflated egos within the industry among those who may be susceptible to that kind of thing. But these particular examples are regular people who happen to be fortunate enough to work in an industry that is creative, high profile, and which many people credit as their preferred source of entertainment. It’s natural to have moments of “big headedness” knowing that there’s a massive amount of people out there who would love to be in your position, or even just to meet you. Nevermind that people in the gaming industry are some of the most intelligent motherfuckers that you’ll ever meet.
Which is why it really saddens me when I hear comments from folks in the games industry – directed at consumers, especially bloggers – that basically say “if you’ve never produced a game, you can’t have an opinion on how they’re designed.”
Now, OK. We know how the Internet works. Actually, it’s amazing it works at all. It’s like a megaphone that everyone has put his or her lips on, with absolutely zero filters or accountability. Anyone is free to spout off whatever they want, whenever they want, about whatever they want. Also, everyone is suddenly an expert. With Wikipedia and a never-ending archive, “information” is always just a Google search away. Forget that context is lost, most of that “information” is actually “opinion”, and that people have a habit of ingesting the portions that support their arguments and willfully jettison the rest. Consumers are not producers, true. Most of the time. But there’s really a lot wrong with telling someone that they can’t express their opinion – right or wrong – about a topic of interest to them when you’re on one side of the velvet rope, and they’re on the other:
- No one was born with the expertise they’re hiding behind. At some point, every one who claims a place of insider knowledge was on the outside looking in, and was probably engaging in the same armchair designer talk that they’re now condemning.
- People like to talk big to convince others that they know more than they do. It’s certainly not new, or limited to this example situation. The Internet just made it easier for people to do, and to hear.
- Consumers may not know what they want, but they know what they do not want, and while that sometimes comes out bass-ackwards (“here’s what SHOULD be done” instead of “I personally don’t like this…”), the message is the same: I am dissatisfied with a portion of/your entire product.
- People like to talk. They like to imagine. They like to engage in “what if?” scenarios without the confines of budgets or investors or design documents, the same way everyone fantasizes about winning the lottery, taking a great vacation, or The Ultimate Burrito.
The worst part about it, though, is that the logic is actually sound…if you accept that you can’t critique a book unless you’ve been published, can’t dissect a movie unless you’ve directed, and can’t comment about a song unless you’ve recorded. Which everyone does. All the time. Everywhere. About everything.
I can’t understand any ill-feelings towards the armchair community, especially since we all belong to one offshoot or another directed at some industry or another. Bloggers or posters who pine for impossible systems or claim that “it’s a quick fix” are underestimating out of ignorance, of course. But that’s not “their job”. Their job is to formulate an idea of a product that they would stop at nothing to possess. This personal Holy Grail will never be achievable, since their vision won’t be the same as someone else’s vision, but when a consumer is telling a producer “this is EXACTLY the type of thing that I would sell my soul to own”, I can’t think of a better situation for a producer to be in. It’s just a matter of reading between the lines culling the possible from the impossible, and a willingness to accept that while the customer isn’t always right, they still want to be your customer.