This Just In, We’re All Doomed

Nice market you have there, I'll take that now.

A new market forecast from a global research firm puts the global MMO market at $8 billion this year, thanks largely to growth in China and Korea. Gamasutra, which unlike me could apparently afford the $2000 to read it, notes:

the MMORPG industry can be essentially considered as two regions, with Blizzard Entertainment dominating the “slowly growing” Western market, and publishers such as Shanda, Netease, Nexon, and NCsoft driving most of the MMORPG market’s growth in Asia.

Strategy Analytics believes MMORPGs in the Western market are showing signs of a slowdown due to competition with console video games and the rising popularity of social games. It also says that the traditional subscription model in many Western MMORPGs has “lost traction and growth momentum.”

It goes on to assert that future growth in the Western market will be spurred on by Asian companies entering the US market, because, you know, that never happened before.

“You, Sir, Are A Terrible Client”

I can maek art nao.

Jon Jones (whom I used to work with/heckle) takes apart a clueless article on how to hire exploit new artists, point by point.

This is HYSTERICAL to me. Have you considered that you have problems with artist turnover because 1) You hire only inexperienced, naive people you disrespect and underpay, and 2) You’re a really crappy manager that they want to escape from as quickly as they can?

Earth Eternal May Not Be That Eternal

Grumbles the Cow, after being laid off, set the barn on fire.

Another new MMO doesn’t make it out the door, as Earth Eternal, a browser-based free to play MMO involving animals NOT FURRIES SHUT UP YOU, which had been in open beta since last October, sent out a letter no one likes writing.

I had to lay off all of our staff except for two people (one of which is me) on Friday, and it’s likely that by this time next week neither of us will be with Sparkplay any more either. The simple fact is that we’ve run out of money.

Matt Mihaly, Sparkplay’s soon-to-be-ex-CEO, went on to say that Earth Eternal itself was up for sale as of right… now.

We’re putting it up for auction today and are reasonably confident that someone will buy it and keep it running. There is, however, the chance that nobody will want to take on the cost of running it. If that happens, Earth Eternal will go down when our internet and hosting provider pulls the plug for non-payment. It’s hard to tell when that could happen, but it’ll certainly be here at least another week, at minimum.

So, yeah, remember how I’m always going on about how MMOs needed to be lean, innovative, and closely targeted to avoid the thundering hooves of the WoW juggernaut? Earth Eternal was pretty much all of the above. How much of their collapse is due to the still-very-much-in-recession-thank-you economy, and how much because online gamers are saying with their dollars, yeah, we actually don’t want to play anything that isn’t World of Warcraft? Both answers are more than a little troubling.

Law And Order: Special ERP Unit

In the World of Warcraft, sexually based erotic roleplaying (ERP) is considered especially heinous. On the Moon Guard server, the dedicated game masters who investigate these vicious terms of service violations are members of an elite squad known as the Special ERP Unit.

These are their stories.

After the break, more with Law and Order: SEU and this week’s special guest, Britney Spears as Lauranthalassasaa Half-Vampire!

But now, a word from our sponsor.

Xfire Acquired By Former IGE Execs, Neglects To Keep People Who Made Xfire

Message that was sent globally to all logged-in Xfire users this afternoon (courtesy Geldonyetich in the comments on an earlier story):

Xfire was bought by new owners today. Most of the team that has built Xfire over the last six years is leaving. We enjoyed working for you for the last 127 releases and wish we could stay to create the next 127. Good bye, good luck, and game on. — The Xfire Team

Message that was on the Xfire web site shortly afterward:

That would presumably be Chris Kirmse, founder and lead engineer behind Xfire.

After a while, that notice was finally replaced with news on the new owners, namely Titan Platform, soon to rename itself XfireTitan’s team includes several IGE veterans, including John Maffei, who stewarded the ZAM media network’s divorce from IGE, Dave Christensen, who was with SOE briefly after his IGE tenure (a move which I yelled about incoherently) and Brock Pierce, IGE’s founder, who threatened to sue me until I posted a picture of a kitten.

TechCrunch, unlike the rest of us, actually committed acts of journalism and talked to some of the folks involved.

We’ve just confirmed with Titan Gaming CEO John Maffei that they have acquired Xfire – the deal was signed just a couple of hours ago – but have not been able to pin down the exact purchase price.

Given the timing, it looks like Chris Kirmse and whomever walked out the door with him waited until the deal was signed and then publically did everything but tell his userbase to go install Raptr now — which would lead one to think that this was not the happiest of acquisitions. In any event, one suspects that Maffei is far happier to talk to a website covering new media acquisitions than gaming journalists who might actually ask about prior experiences.

So, yeah, this is going to be AWESOME!

Kotick Can’t Seem To Pay Anyone, Really

When you're worth half a billion dollars, it's never a bad day to stop sniffing glue.

Bobby Kotick loses lawsuit over refusing to pay legal fees for a sexual harassment suit.

In his ruling the arbitrator described Kotick’s approach to the Madvig case as a “scorched earth defense” and cited numerous statements allegedly made by the Activision CEO during his dispute with the former flight attendant.

Describing a May 2007 meeting with Abu-Assal and Cove’s chief financial officer, the arbitrator wrote that “Mr. Kotick wanted to destroy the other side and not to pay Ms. Madvig anything…. Mr. Kotick realized this was not a good business proposition, but said ‘that he was worth one-half billion dollars and he didn’t mind spending some of it on attorneys’ fees.’”

Apparently, he then decided later that yes, he did actually mind.

In September 2007, Glaser and Kotick discussed what he and Gordon, who were paying the legal bills, owed the law firm, according to a court filing. The next month, Kotick sent a check for $200,000 along with a letter that said it was full settlement of the firm’s fees and costs. Glaser disagreed, claiming that the total owed was slightly more than $1 million.

Kotick also displays some of his previously noted ethics and charm.

At a settlement negotiation with Madvig and her attorneys later that month, as described by the arbitrator, “Mr. Kotick said ‘he would not be extorted and that he would ruin the Plaintiff and her attorney and see to it that Ms. Madvig would never work again.’”

(hat tip: @leighalexander)

Can Second Life Be Saved?

Yes, this is an actual screenshot from Second Life.

Second Life is going through strange days.

Well, stranger than usual.

Second Life’s neo-Utopian post-hippie prefix-spawning founder, Philip Rosedale, apparently got tired of the grinding whining that accompanies pretty much every online game product ever, and stepped aside so that he could work on cool stuff and not have all those suits harsh his buzz, man. In his place, the Internet’s last best hope for Cybertopia was managed by Mark Kingdon, whose prior experience in online gaming and virtual communities involved… marketing.

Yeah, this’ll end well.

Mr Kingdon’s arrival at the company shows that the online world created by Linden Lab is growing up and getting real.

He began growing up and getting real by meeting the somewhat leery and only partially obscene residents of Second Life as “M Linden“, thus proving his mastery of digital marketing by refusing to take the time to actually type in a full name.

M’s master plan for saving Second Life? Simple – turn it into Facebook. No, wait, stop me if you’ve heard this before. Second Life’s users, only some of whom were overweight men pretending to be fashionista women, reacted about as strongly as you’d expect.

The first step in this cunning master plan was Linden Lab’s acquisition of Avatars United. With this strategic play, Second Life, a client/server application with its own virtual currency that allowed you to create avatars, now supported the ability to… create web-based avatars somewhere else, which may or may not be related to your Second Life identity, with its own virtual currency which had nothing to do with Second Life’s existing currency, with even less usability than Facebook, and in general was a poorly written hack job. After a few weeks, Linden’s response was essentially, “let us never speak of this again”.

Instead, Kingdon and Linden moved, full speed ahead, towards producing a new client for Second Life. The goal of course, was to produce an interface that was accessible beyond Second Life’s current hardcore niche of users who absolutely are not overweight men pretending to be fashionista women. Now, if you gave me, a designer of hardcore games aimed at a niche group of users who pretty much completely are overweight men pretending to be blood elf dancers, this task to spec out, I’d give you the following list of requirements:

  • Web-based, using Flash, Java or some other ubiquitous platform to minimize installation headaches
  • Very, very low system requirements, running comfortably on netbooks and older machines
  • Minimal download times
  • A very, very simple user interface that passes the “Mac user/grandmother” test
  • Searching and directory features that guide new users quickly and easily into Second Life’s already extant vast economy
  • Ability to opt into embedding into/connecting with Facebook and future social networks

So, Linden Lab, who clearly knows far more than me about this metaverse reality stuff, rolled out Viewer 2! Which featured:

  • A large client, identical to Second Life’s already existing client
  • Punishing system requirements, identical to Second Life’s already existing client
  • Essentially requiring a fast broadband connection, identical to Second Life’s already existing client
  • No ability to connect with any social network at all, including the one Linden Lab bought for some odd reason a few months earlier
  • A user interface which most users found more difficult to use and more intimidating than Second Life’s already existing client
  • A new search engine which didn’t actually list most of Second Life’s already existing event listings and advertisings, killing Second Life’s already extant vast economy. Or… it would have if anyone actually used Viewer 2.

Shortly thereafter, Linden Lab lost most of Linden Lab and Mark Kingdom lost his M, replaced by Philip “Aw man, do I have to do this stuff AGAIN” Rosedale.

So, that’s the background. The ship of Linden state is listing pretty heavily to starboard.

Wagner James Au today weighs in with his take on how to save Second Life. Most of his suggestions are fairly apt, if not obvious (and if Linden is actually looking for MMO veterans, Austin is still a smoking crater of lost dreams and forlorn hopes!). But he does miss a couple of important points.

First off, Linden Lab doesn’t appear to know what its core business is. Hint: it’s server hosting.

Second Life is, essentially, a protocol. Everything content-related – game-y things, world-y things, people-with-cat-heads-meowing-things-you-really-don’t-want-to-hear things – all of them come from the users themselves. Linden Lab just puts up the servers, and people pay Linden money to  run them. They then presumably make that money back from other users, or run them as an odd hobby, or whatever. Linden doesn’t care – and Linden shouldn’t care. Their business is as Pakleds. They make things. That make us go.

Second, after the server hosting is there and done, the second neglected feature that is killing Second Life – customer service. Or rather, the lack thereof. I’m sure it will surprise few MMO watchers that much of Linden Lab’s recent bloodletting was in customer service. After all, CS doesn’t make you money. You just pay for CS agents and they sit there and talk to users and don’t make any money and what the hell, we got new Facebook clients to write!

Yet – Linden is a service provider. Service providers have to have good customer service. It’s a requirement. Without good customer service, everything else is irrelevant, because your new user experience will consist of your new users leaving your hermetically sealed new user zone and experiencing something akin to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but with slightly more overweight men pretending to be female fashionistas.  This is something that all successful online service providers eventually learn (Blizzard’s customer service team numbers in the thousands), and if Linden wishes to join their number, they need to learn that lesson.

Third, and most importantly, and what has apparently kept Linden Lab drowning in the ocean this past year – know your audience. I have it on reasonably good authority that Linden Lab’s perception of its current customer base is, roughly, overweight men pretending to be hot fashionista women. Guess what – that’s your audience. You don’t get a redo unless you make an entirely new product. You got lots of investor capital and media coverage based on all those overweight men pretending to be fashionistas. If you want to continue running a business that is profitable – you had best keep them happy. If they hate your new viewer and instead use an alternate third party viewer en masse – maybe this is a problem! If your business model consists of joining with a social network that emphasizes real identity as opposed to avatar anonymity, and a good portion of your user base is patronizing you specifically because they want that avatar anonymity – maybe this is a problem!

Sure, it makes you the laughing stock of Joel Stein, Something Awful and 4Chan. Gee. Given 1 million unique users a month, I’ll take a bunch of internet nerds laughing at me, too. Hint: some of them really, really want to be hot fashionistas.