February 2007

Panic In The Streets Of Ironforge, Panic In The Streets Of Stormwind

In-game protests are nothing new. In World of Warcraft, everything old is new again. Since the WoW expansion, lots of people aren’t happy. In fact I think the only truly content class are Warlocks (note to self: watch for Warlock nerfs next month).


It’s somewhat ironic, really, that these protests almost always impact just the customer service staff, most of whom usually agree with whatever grievance the players have (since they almost always play the game themselves, it usually being a hiring requirement). So the CSRs have to spend time clearing out the hundreds of Tourette’s-afflicted level 1s, thus causing them to fall further behind on their queues. Meanwhile, the designers and producers who made the decisions the players are up in arms about, if they become aware of the in-game discontent, will usually see it as justification that the players can’t be trusted to actually make decisions. Look, they’re all running around naked and screaming obscenities and you want to listen to them? Don’t mind us, we’ll be reinforcing the boiling oil we keep up in the Ivory Tower of Solitude.

As developers, if your players are literally rioting in the streets, you’ve failed in multiple ways.

  • Your players don’t feel like they’re being listened to, and feel that antisocial behavior is a justified response. To them, it probably is. Aggro management is SERIOUS BUSINESS.
  • Your community people are being ignored, whether by the players, the developers, or both. My guess: both!
  • Your managers are going to pick that week to read a random board thread to keep up their street cred, and come charging into your office asking WTF you did now. Get ready to justify those nerfs!

I don’t think we’ll ever see again the likes of Abashi threatening people to be quiet or their tradeskill backpacks will be nerfed, but the lines of communication breaking down into virtual violence and very real drama seems to be always with us. In a way it’s a good sign – after all, if your players just sullenly assume you’re incompetent, they won’t bother to protest any more! But once things escalate to the level of gratuitous gnome nudity, you have issues — and despite how silly gnomish butt usually looks, they’re serious ones. Much like rioting is a sign of social disorder and breakdown in the real world. And for much the same reasons. Your broken windows have no less effect on the social environment for being virtual.

Targeted Marketing Gone Horribly Wrong

elvendegrees.jpgAs seen on Kotaku: Look Ma, that endless reputation grinding counted for something after all!

Although this is clearly just a come-on on the level of technical colleges that almost have real accreditation from something very close to a state agency, the Kotaku article’s comments include a link to Terra Novan Aaron Delwiche’s Trinity University coursework in eavesdropping on Night Elf cybering.

True fact: Before the whole web and MMO thing I used to edit video. Specifically for an advertising agency. Specifically for ads for those aforementioned technical colleges. My shining moment was when, for a half hour infomercial that was scheduled to show on some Fox affiliate in Iowa or something at 4AM, the head of the agency finally just couldn’t full up the time any more and threw the script at me and told me to write some. So I did!

Do you feel as though you are just a cog… a cog in a vast machine being ground down by the forces of life? Generic Technical College offers you hope. The hope of finally making something of yourself. And in so doing, you can help others, discover true meaning to your life, and be part of a wider world.

It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done. And the actor said the lines with no visible irony whatsoever.

Yes, But What Does This Ad Have To Do With Shadowbane?

Finally, a revenue model for the still-actually-up-and-running Shadowbane:

The Test Server has been updated with a new patch. This patch includes the first update of Ubisoft’s new revenue model which contains an advertisement video when you log onto the game, log out of the game, and during the teleportation from death (resurrection screen). The advertisement video will not show more than once every 10 minutes so if you die a few times in a row within 10 minutes, you’ll only view one on the first death and then not till your next death that is 10 minutes or more from the last viewing.

“Feeling a little fatigued after your untimely gank? Try Ireikei Energy Drinks!”

Note: saw this on F13… can’t find any official confirmation but it seems legit.

Nation States And The Social Ganker

This post was prompted by a thread on f13, which asked “is there any difference between open PvP and gang warfare?

It’s an interesting topic. Let’s look at it first from a purely game-specific level.

Ultima Online was pretty much full-on gang warfare, and I suspect the memory of which prompted this specific thread. There wasn’t a great deal of organization, and what organization was introduced (guilds, notoriety, order/chaos) tended to be ignored. PvP combat in UO could be broken down into either internecine gang warfare (two PvP guilds duking it out), vigilante action (PK and anti-PK guilds duking it out), or petty crime (PKs ganking helpless passers-by). (Note that this is my memory of UO circa 2000; I’m fairly certain it’s changed dramatically since.)

Everquest was, uh, broken PvP. If you remember, the original plan was to have PvP and non-PvP players on the same server, where PvP was an opt-in system that had you hand in a Tome of Discord and flag yourself eternally red. The problem was that flagging yourself PvP meant that you basically could not group with a non-PvP player (could not heal or buffs, accept heals or buffs, etc). Which meant that effectively, your character couldn’t actually play. Eventually, I’m fairly certain, resetting the status of players who mistakenly or were tricked into handing in that book as a “quest” became such a CS hassle that the entire system was scrapped. Asheron’s Call and Everquest both had “open PvP” servers which were popular, but also pretty clearly afterthoughts that would often be broken by patches to the “real” game.

Of course, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about social structures in the above paragraph, was there? That was intentional. With such a tangle of rules and bugs and strictures, any social structure was choked in its crib. AC Darktide had a pretty efficient social structure, but it was mainly gang warfare squared, with the XP chaining scheme helping to encourage a terminal mass of people joining the dominant gang.

Then you had the next iteration of games; Shadowbane and Dark Age of Camelot. Both took very different takes on PvP. Shadowbane tried to create a “guild vs guild” game where guilds would form into meta-groups of nations and fight over territory. In practice, the meta-groups never really took; the game crystalized into guild vs guild wars… again, gang wars by another name.

Dark Age of Camelot’s thesis was to ditch the open PvP model completely. Instead, DAOC channelled everyone into one of three sides and treat the other two sides as very smart NPCs. No trash talking, in fact, very little interaction between them at all. Personally, I think this is a very underestimated part of the equation. Without the social (or more appropriately antisocial) behavior in game, two very distinct and almost contradictory things happened; players in-game acted as opposing sides as designed – Britons would fight Elves on sight, Trolls would attack Highlanders, etc. And, interestingly enough, the interaction between the two migrated to message boards out of game. Even to this day, the VN board for a Camelot cluster is composed largely of “@CharacterName” messages aimed at trash talk or, more surprisingly and more often, compliments for the way a fight went the night before.

So, Camelot managed to avoid the ‘gang warfare’ symptoms to a large degree. People seeking out gang warfare – called “8v8s” in DAOCspeak, the moniker for a full group fighting another full group – were a part of the game, but not the majority. Most players could find gameplay by attaching themselves to what the “8v8s” would derisively call “the Zerg”, a somewhat self-explanatory term for the massive armies of loosely coordinated players looking to swarm over one another.

The next step up in PvP complexity released shortly after DAOC, but took some time to really get rolling. Eve Online is undoubtably one of the most punishing games you can play – it’s full PvP everywhere, even in the new player areas (you are protected by NPC police, but can still be blown out of the sky by a suicidally motivated PKer). But Eve iterated in many interesting ways – even more interestingly, not on the simple nation-zerg model of Dark Age of Camelot, but the virtual world model of Ultima Online – specifically, the depth of the economic model. Like UO, most everything of value in Eve is player crafted. And the game provides enough tools for economic manipulation that one could viably play the game as a day trader – not of goods back and forth, but literal commodities market manipulation.

The benefit here is sublime in its simplicity. A: Valuable goods need to be mined. B: You need to hold territory to mine those goods. C: There are no other rules. This swiftly led to D: The Carving Of The Map. Instead of relying on players to go to great lengths to defend the innocent, as UO asked, Eve asks you to, more simply, take what you want and hold it. Greed trumps altruism.

The Eve forums are far from civil most of the time (neither are the DAOC forums, really), but the passion is there regardless. Eve’s gameplay is still gang vs gang (note the meta-guild names like “Goonswarm” and “Band of Brothers” on the Eve map) – but the gangs got organized, they formed alliances, and they police their own neighborhood. Kind of like, you know, nations did.

And finally, the juggernaut, World of Warcraft. WoW’s PvP model is basically “DAOC, polished to a sheen, with instancing.” There, done, ship it. (Bitter? Moi? 😀 ) Not really open PvP, even on the PvP servers. But still accessible; and noticeably, World of Warcraft has far many more PvP servers than one would expect from the history of such things. Clearly, there’s a market for people who want to fight running battles in Stranglethorn Vale instead of killing 10 tiger cubs.

So, there’s the models extant today. What does that show us?

I personally believe that Eve shows what can happen with a mature endgame owned by the players. The trick is getting them to that point; something DAOC did remarkably well. But what will result, if done right, won’t really resemble gang warfare much at all. My off-the-cuff opinions on how to make that happen:

  • Lesson learned from Eve: a deep economy is critical to a deep PvP game. To the surprise of the Wolfpack guys, clearly people DO bake bread AND crush. (Sorry, everyone who didn’t get that. Long-running in-joke.) Economy gives you the skeleton of what to fight over.
  • Lesson learned from Camelot: limit the grief. (This goes against the lesson from Eve. But DAOC, and its descendant WoW, are a touch more popular.) Whatever you can do to “NPC-alize” enemy players, do so. Those truly motivated to exercise the art of the trashtalk will move it to the forums, where, in a win-win, it’s both content outside your game and easier for CS to manage/ignore.
  • Lesson learned from Counterstrike: skill-based PvP has it’s place. That place is not an MMO. The tyranny of a skill-based elite is only compounded by the permanence of the MMO. As seen with the popularity and success of the Camelot zergs, people can be successful as part of a massive team, but that success wears down if that team can be wiped off the map by 5 really super guys.
  • Lesson learned from World of Warcraft: item-centric PvP makes your game painful to balance. I can only imagine what gyrations the Blizzard PvP designers are going through trying to “load balance” arena matchups based on item loadouts. Plus, an item-centric game built on loot drops also tends to break your player-run deep economies – which violates the first lesson above. Item-centric PvP – bad touch.
  • Lesson learned from… well, my own delusions: context matters. It’s my belief that if you set up enough of a context within the game’s environment for nations to come together and fight for/against something, a core of your players will take it and run with it. This hasn’t really been tried yet – Shadowbane came close with its deep lore that the game systems tended to ignore.

What lessons would YOU add to make a PvP game more of a struggle of nations and less of a gangbang?

Talking Is Hard And Stuff

So I haven’t been posting on here as much recently, and much of what I’ve put up has been fairly content free. I feel vaguely guilty about it, and idly wonder if I should start posting pictures of my cat just to make the cycle complete.

The truth is that I’ve been writing a lot, but it has been for work. We’re getting set to move into pre-production, and I’m laying down as much framework as I can, as quickly as I can, for the legions of implementors to follow so that this crazy thing I’m working on can actually happen. Related to that I’ve also been practicing my presentation chops. Next week we have two important presentations in a row; the first a showing of our client to NCsoft during a company meeting (a five-minute “Hey, Look What I Can Do!”), and the second, what’s called a “greenlight” meeting. In other words – we need money to hire more people, please approve our budget for the next year. As part of that I get to talk in front of people – not my strength, but I’ve been practicing a lot. In fact my voice gave out today 2/3rds of the way through the design presentation practice today. Clearly, I talk too much!

We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback to this point, so it’s looking pretty good. Hopefully at some point I can start posting help wanted ads!

Guess That’ll Show Me

So I got an email from someone in Second Life saying “Hey, come listen to me DJ!”

I had just finished up work for the day, so said to myself, Hey, why not. Pixellated bad celtic music sounds about right for me right now.


This ban screen is even funnier when you realize I’m doing this from work.

Eve Blows Up

Joe Blancato, formerly of Waterthread and now all respectable and stuff for The Escapist, posts a detailed writeup connecting the dots with the Eve Online/Band of Brothers hoofrah

…including the confession of the developer responsible.

Regrettably, my actions inevitably led to a shadow of suspicion being cast on a number of my co-workers, as well as Reikoku and Band of Brothers. I wish to make it clear that I acted alone and my co-workers and corp/alliance mates have been cleared of any alleged wrongdoing.

As much as this is a confession it is also a request for your forgiveness for events of which I’m truly sorry.


More comments from the president of CCP, Hilmar Pettursson here.

The developers of this company will always play the games that they build here. Without being fully immersed in the player experience, perspective, and community, it is impossible to build, maintain, and expand online worlds with any degree of competency. And while that does expose us to some degree of risk, the rewards are incalculably higher. EVE has grown stronger every year since its inception; these bumps in the road are an inevitable part of the journey we must endure as a growing company; and we would not be here today if we opted to isolate ourselves from the player experience of EVE Online.

It is thus that we look forward to putting this matter firmly behind us, and move forward with our continued mission to improve and expand a world that we hold close to our hearts.

A brief perusal of the Eve boards gives us a probably unrepresentative sampling of the mood:

I ask CCP this now – is t20 still employed? If yes, why?

I honestly dont think its good enoug T20.
You knew you were breaking the rules.

As pointed out. CCP is hitting the bottom.

While t20 did something he shouldn’t have done, I really hope he doesn’t get fired. He’s been with the community for a long time.

It’s not like the BPO’s made some huge difference in terms of isk or advantage or anything. It’s wrong of course, but nothing staggering.

Is t20 going to be terminated and/or recieving any kind of punishment? Are all the players that are *not* devs that have been banned etc. going to recieve reparations since they have been proved correct?

It’s fine for him to sit there and beg forgiveness, but I’ll bet he’d be a lot sorrier if he had to go on the dole.

I’ve lost faith in the game now. I think you are lying through your teeth ccp, it’s obvious from the logs that CCP developers have shared information with RKK directors and yet you refute it.

No matter which way this all turns out, this has been a nightmare for CCP and Eve, and hopefully they will work through this and keep going. Eve’s innovations are too important to the genre and the industry as a whole to be entangled in this crap.

Doug Lowenstein Kicks All Y’all’s Asses

I have very little comment on this save rude noises of encouragement!

“How many people are on the Video Game Voters Network?” he asked the crowd, which responded with very very few raised hands. “That’s pathetic!” he yelled. “You go to a website, click a few keystrokes and that’s it. No one has bothered to take the time to do that, and it makes me sick. What is the problem? You can not expect this industry to grow and prosper if you’re not willing to take the time and effort to help it.”

Damn right! (It’s over here and yes, I joined some time ago.)

He also had a few words to the enthusiast games media. “I think there’s a lot of maturity that needs to happen in the gaming press. It’s not just because there’s a cozy relationship between the press and the industry they cover. That I find a little uncomfortable. But I think the games industry press needs a higher level of maturity and seriousness.”

Right on.

“It drives me crazy. You know who gives Jack Thompson more attention than anyone else? The games press. The games press legitimizes Jack Thompson. Everyone gets so upset that Jack Thompson has so much ability. I just,” he loses his composure, just for a second, “…I just think it’s nuts.”

Damn straight.

When the politicos start knocking wacky laws around, don’t say you weren’t warned!