December 1999

“FOLLOWING THE VAPOR TRAIL” or “HOW TO MAKE AN MRPG IN THREE DAYS.” [Author: delusion]

Step one: Graphics. Lots and lots of 3D Studio Max graphics. Movies are extra credit.

Step two: Promise them the world.

Step three: Lure legitimate sites into believing you.

Once this is done, move on to the point of this whole exercize, merchandising. Why bother creating a game at all when you can sell t-shirts and mouse pads? Sure does beat paying someone to do the hard part – you know, actually coding your game, creating artwork, pitching to a distributor, and …

…oh wait, please tell me you weren’t taking this seriously

EXPANDING THE RIGHTS OF PLAYERS [Author: myschyf]

Bannings, in the case of an exploit or a grief player, seem cut and dried. If one abuses the system one will receive the same in return. When someone has done something wrong or has been a general nuisance, we are glad to see the player leave and applaud the banning. I’m as guilty of this as anyone and simply because I’m writing this doesn’t mean that I’ve changed my position. If Verant, OSI, or any other game company wants to ban a grief player or an exploiter I’m all for it. But that doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t akin to vigilantism. In those circumstances if I could ban the player myself I would and so would many others. This, however, is an attack against the player and in supporting it I’m ignoring any complaints the player may have about due process or being warned or whatever. The game company may have every ‘right’ (i.e. it isn’t a government and held to governmental standards) but that doesn’t make their actions ethical. In some cases, though, we think this type of action, ethical or not, is justified. Isn’t that what vigilantes think?

Let us consider the Mystere incident because that case is a lot less clear. Granted there’s a lot more to any banning than ever gets out to the public. For the purposes of this argument, however, lets assume that everything that was presented by both Mystere and John Smedley was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The banning was entirely motivated by some angry parent, Verant’s fear of watchdog organizations, and Mystere was innocent of everything save posting some explicit stories on websites that were not owned by Verant and had no warning about explicit content. Yet he was banned and seemingly without any recourse to getting his characters back. Characters he had spent many hours and many dollars building. Where are his rights in all this? Just let the buyer beware and leave it at that? One can be banned at any time for anything and the only choice is blind acceptance?

Raph Koster covered some of this in his essay “Declaring the Rights of Players.” This is more about the rights of the player as a consumer or even as a human being — a human being subject to the same misinterpretation of rules and regulations (especially rules and regulations that are not documented anywhere or if they are only in the vaguest of CYA terms) as anyone else. Shouldn’t we, at the very least, have an open forum to appeal to when we are banned? I have to admit that, with as popular as banning has become, I’m a bit apprehensive sometimes. I watch every word I say in the game, I make sure none of my movements can be construed as harassment, if I played EQ I’d watch every word I wrote on the net. I’m careful of what boards I post on. I’m careful of who I allow to use my account — even if I trust the person not to mess with my account I now have to be assured that this person will not be caught exploiting, grief playing, macroing, or doing anything else that might get him or her banned, lest the IP s/he uses be traced to my account and I be banned as well. Hell I’m not this careful in real life! But in the realm of MMORPGs I’m placed in the precarious position of not only having to follow rules that are written, but of having to follow rules that are unwritten and rules that might be written once someone gets banned for breaking one of these future rules. Something is really wrong here.

At first I didn’t pay much attention to the moans and groans of those that were banned. I know, probably more than anyone who doesn’t actually work in the game industry, that game companies cannot talk about accounts that are banned and that those do get banned rarely tell the entire truth about their involvement in the actions that got them banned. Probably 90% of all bannings are deserved, maybe even more. But what about those that are not deserved? What about the hapless player who allows a friend that he knows outside of the game to acess his account, unaware that his friend got that castle from duping and is about to be banned? Or the person who buys a duped item on ebay? Or the person who writes a story that some people find distasteful. What recourse do these people have? Not very much really. We’ve all heard stories about people who were banned for harassment or using scatalogical language, only to find out that the person was goaded into losing his cool when the GM arrived. Without logging features, no administrator can find out who was really at fault and the GM’s only recourse is to ban the person for what was witnessed. I’ve been summarily carted off to jail by a GM who misunderstood what I said and who I was talking to. Fortunately I kept my cool during the incident even though I was burning mad at the time. I can only imagine the reaction of someone much younger who is not used to trying to keep a calm head in a difficult situation. It’s all well and good to say that someone should not have reacted as they did — but I know that, at least in my case, it was the GM that precipitated the reaction and I never should have been carted off to jail in the first place. I cannot be the only person this has happened to.

As I continue to applaud the banning of those that I think actually deserve it, I find myself ignoring the complaints of those that don’t. Recently, it has begun to bother me simply because I don’t see the game companies doing anything to stop this trend of banning as a solution to problems. As a matter of fact, they seem to be moving in the opposite direction as they find they can ban anyone they like for anything they like and the players, for lack of time and monetary resources, have no choice but to accept this. The banned player is guilty until proven innocent and usually that innocence is unprovable and hence the player is left without recourse. Even if the innocence is proveable, there is usually no one to appeal to. If there is an appeal system and the verdict is still unfavorable to the player, the player is usually not provided with any sort of documentation, the steps that led to the decision to ban, who was responsible for the ban, what documentation or other ‘evidence’ was looked at that provided justification for the ban. Poof! There goes upwards of 2000 hours of game time, a few hundred dollars, and perhaps an avenue that provided one with an enjoyable past time and friends to share that past time with.

But the problems that banning is a solution to still exist and banning people doesn’t solve the problem. It just makes players fearful. It creates this us vs. them mentality between the players and the game companies when all anyone really wants to do is work together and have a great game and lots of fun. I see all the bashing Verant is taking over thier actions and it sort of makes me sick. Not because it isn’t deserved — it may well be. But because so many people love EQ and really hate the company that produces it. I wonder what could be accomplished if everyone worked together and the players and game companies actually treated each other with a modicum of respect. That isn’t going to happen, though, as long as the solution to problems encountered with the player base is the game company equivalent of “off with his head!”

I know this genre of entertainment is in its infancy. It won’t be forever and sooner or later the game companies are going to have take some responsibility for the way they treat their customers and how they solve problems specific to this industry. Sooner or later, they will ban someone who didn’t deserve it and has the time, money and resources to not only prove it but to take the game company to court. I also can’t help thinking that sooner or later, a court will tell a game company that, no, you cannot just summarily strip someone of a 3-year-old character without providing proof that the person screwed up. That proof will probably have to be a bit better than someone with the player’s game name posting on a non-game-company board.

Games should be created with logging features that c
an
prove or disprove a person’s actions in game. Avenues of redress should be opened for players whose accounts are banned. Customer service departments should grow to accommodate the fact that some accounts will have to be banned, that some people who do not deserve the banning will be caught in the loop, that these people need to be treated with respect, and that players are not guilty until proven innocent. Bugs need to be fixed and when a game company learns of a bug it needs to be addressed then — not three to six months after its been widely exploited. Other solutions need to be created by people who actually work in the industry — not some crazy ranter on a website. Even though these solutions might be time-consuming and costly, this is still a glaring problem that needs to be addressed. If we have to pay more for the games in order to have this problem addressed, then so be it. It is not the player’s responsibility to figure out what he might be banned or punished for or even to prove his innocence. I understand that it is hard to provide this kind of service, however that does not release the game company from the responsibility of trying to do so.

UPDATE FROM VERANT ON PREVIOUS STORY [Author: lum]

Gordon “Abashi” Wrinn posted the following clarification to Verant’s EQ board regarding the bannings we referred to earlier:

I’m not sure where this came from. First, no one has been banned (yet). There are three player accounts that are currently suspended, but they all play from the same location, and correlate to information on the site and ICQ profiles related to the posters.

The action is being pursued because account warnings from our warning database were copied/pasted on the message boards there. Guides and GMs have access to that warning info, and the location where those three accounts post from is also the same location as the Guide.

I’m not sure who got the idea that the operators of that site provided us with IP addresses, but they haven’t. Of course if they are willing to provide the IP address of the person who posted the account warnings, it will be the final piece of information to correlate the data to 100% certainty. We already have “beyond a reasonable doubt”, and though I could establish that if I were to discuss specifics, we can’t do that as a matter of professionalism.

A_SONY_ATTORNEY HITS *YOU* FOR 32,767 POINTS OF DAMAGE! [Author: lum]

Apparently, Verant then decided to ban anyone who had posted to that thread, and actually claimed to people who had asked why they were banned that the message board’s hosts (gamerealm.com) had provided them with the IP addresses needed to implement the bans.

This was a surprise to said message board hosts, who posted a complete denial that they had cooperated with Verant in this manner.

As another user commented, They did not care that the one that was doing wrong was caught, they simply wanted someone to blame, and attacked.

As the users of the UO Prostitute message board can tell you, if you’re going to post to message boards, your account could be at risk.

Because, as you should know by now, the Internet is actually owned by Electronic Arts and Sony. It’s a joint operating agreement, I think.

PLAYSTATION 2 MADNESS [Author: myschyf]

These two aren’t the only guys infected with PS2 madness. According to an article in the Washington Post, some people are selling ‘expert advice’ on how to acquire a PS2 for the easy price of $79.00, a mere pittance when compared to the price of a PS2 on ebay. On a full page of listings for the PS2, prices range from $400 to $1,000.00.

There are long lines to get into Best Buy or Electronic Boutique. The lines started at 5am today. My colleague that wants the down payment on his truck will be camping out next Friday. The problem is that Sony only released 500,000 units and can only produce 100,000 per week after that. Christmas being right around the corner bumps up the demand even more. Sony only initially expected the demand to be 1.3 – 1.4 million units. However some analysts expect the demand to be as much as 4 million. Can you say Tickle Me Elmo? I knew you could.

THE SPIES OF VELIOUS, PART II [Author: lum]

Here’s the latest update from our stalwart violator of Verant’s NDA on the ongoing testing of the new EQ expansion:

One of the new planes is up. We call it the plane of WTF, lose your body. When you zone in all your buffs are stripped and a rez like effect is placed on you. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? Considering there are MoBs at the zone waiting to slaughter anyone who enters.

John said the mirrored zones would be fixed? They haven’t been.

Still no item drops and the zones are still sparsely populated.

It does look good graphically, but the DX 7.0 upgrade is causing the servers to lag out.

Wonder how that DirectX upgrade will affect the production servers when it goes in next patch…

SO, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT, ANYWAY? [Author: lum]

For example, most folks tend to expect decent service from their MMOG provider. Abashi addresses this somewhat:

To date there has not been an MMOG market leader that has had “good customer service” from the perspective of many of the people playing the game. Yet when these games are no longer the market leader, their customer service image somehow improves. Is this indicative of policy changes in regards to no longer being the market leader? I don’t think so. I think that overall the policies remain the same, and that those who are left once a game leaves the limelight have expectations more inline with what is considered realistic by the people playing the game.

This assumes that (a) Asheron’s Call was never a “market leader”, even though its customer service has been widely hailed as a standard to follow (a reasonable assumption, although even at #3 its subscriber figures are nothing to sneer at) and (b) Ultima Online’s crawl from the abyss of hideous customer service had nothing to do with their improving their own quality of service and everything to do with lowered expectations of their customers (an assumption I imagine Tyrant and Calandryll would beg to differ on).

What lessons could Verant learn from Turbine and Origin? Communication is good. Honest discussion of problems is good. Developer accessibility is good. Willingness to learn from prior mistakes is, well, required.

Blaming your problems in customer service on player expectations being too high? Bad.

Most of Abashi’s discussion, though, is pretty much on the right track. (Yes, we at Lum the Mad are agreeing with Gordon Wrinn on something. Sound the trumpets. Notify the press. Raise the dead.) In particular, player expectations in Everquest often hinge on risk vs. reward. The recent uberquests for the “Fiery Avenger class” weapons are a good case in point. I feel safe in commenting on these since there is approximately a 0.000% chance I will ever see one. And, what’s more, I’m OK with that. My style of play is not the style of play that the uberquests were attempting to meet. I have no patience for long camping, I have no patience for waiting on rare drops from rare spawns, oh hell, I have no patience, period.

It appears to my obviously jaundiced and permalowbie eyes that both Verant and a good portion of the vocal contingent that harries them are focused on the endgame. What do you expect when you hit level 50? Or level 60? Are you done? Do you eBay the character? Do you sit around North Freeport and shoot the shit? Do you *gasp* help lower level players? Or do you try to be the bestest of the bestest and get the mostest of all the loot so you can pile it in a great big shiny pile, point at it, and announce that you are uber to all within hearing range. Like Abashi said, it’s all about expectations. Including those of the designers themselves. Most of whom obviously are in the endgame, both of Everquest the game and Everquest the design process. They are focused not on the journey, but the reward.

If the reward is what you expect, what makes you happy, then you probably expect to get your appropriate uberweapon since that is the designated reward. Unfortunately, the uberweapon quests were designed specifically so that not everyone can get one. This goes contrary to the expectations of the player who looks for the reward. You’ve dangled this carrot in front of my face and when I try to eat it, you tell me that not everyone is supposed to have a carrot. This confuses me.

The main expection of an MMOG should not be competition unless that is in the core design of the MMOG (Shadowbane, for example). In a cooperative game such as Everquest, players should try to avoid the lobster syndrome. You know, when lobsters are being cooked in a pot, and some try to crawl out, other lobsters will pull them back in. Or in Everquest’s case, complain that the other lobsters are too powerful and their lobster class or lobster weapon or what have you needs nerfing. In a competitive game this would be a valid concern. In a cooperative game, theoretically, your friend being stronger makes you stronger.

However, in Everquest even cooperation is a competition. I’m speaking of the eternal Looking For Group. “Class politics” in other words. Where Druids are more popular than Clerics pre-30s because they heal just as well as clerics and do more besides. Post-30s the roles become reversed as Clerics finally mature. Those clerics and druids, who fulfill basically the same role in a group, compete for the privilege of cooperation. And it’s every player’s expectation (and the expectation of the game design itself) to be able to find a group. Thus class balance issues. Unfortunately it’s not all about lobsters, although sometimes it seems as though Verant thinks so.

FUN. YOU REMEMBER FUN, RIGHT? SURE YOU DO. [Author: lum]

I have played a halfling cleric to level 17 now and it seems as if Everquest is getting less and less enjoyable with every level. You camp one spawn for hours until you make a level or two and have to move to the next higher spawn. And with every level the time you need to spend camping the same spawn becomes longer and longer. And what do you get for that? ‘Improved’ versions of the same spells you already had plus some totally useless spells.

So what’s the point? Abashi, pinch-hitting for the still hiding under his desk Absor, replied that if this bored you, you should go adventure. Presumably this would be in, say, Baldur’s Gate 2 or something similar, since the only “adventures” in the land of Norrath lately involve the words “looking”, “for”, and “group”.

So what’s the point? In Ultima Online there’s a bit more to do, with pvp, crafts, and *gasp* roleplaying. But still, everyone eventually hits the point of “been there, done that”. From what I hear, Asheron’s Call is similar.

So what’s the point? Why do people still play these games, long after they’ve sucked every last gasp of newness and wonder from them?

Well, one answer is that they’re a member of a community – be it a guild, a group of friends, a pvp clan, what have you. Belonging is a powerful motivator. It’s hard to argue with that. I call this the “poker game” mentality – you don’t play poker because you’re fascinated with the cards, or blindsided by possible strategy variations, you play poker because it’s an excuse to get drunk with your friends and lose a lot of money.

Another answer, especially in Everquest, is the “race” to be the most you can possibly be. The highest level, the best equipment, et cetera. When Verant introduced the “uberweapons”, the supposedly best weapon each class can obtain, and it became painfully obvious that they all involved absolutely insane camping times (waiting for rare drops from gods for many). Quite a few players were EXCEEDINGLY pissed about this. This was basically telling them they would never win. They have to be able to get everything that the game offers or… well, what’s the point?

And, yet another answer, one that says entirely too much about those of us who play these games, is that some simply play because they are addicted. Literally. I’ve gotten email from one who is trying to intervene in his friends’ life. Their friend has dropped out of college, lost his job, everything. Just plays EQ. Nothing else matters. Push the bar, get the pellet, repeat ad inifitum. To some this is awfully seductive. You know, it’s harder in real life to figure out where the bar you push for the pellet is.

You might wonder where I’m going with this, and well, I’m sort of wondering myself. I don’t see myself personally as an addict (in fact I play these games far less than I write about them) and I certainly am not an ubergod 60th level necroweenie.

I’m just sort of wondering what’s the point.

AC’S LEAD DESIGNER SPEAKS OUT ON THAT DRESS THING [Author: lum]

I’m Eri Izawa, Lead Designer of Asheron’s Call continuing content. That includes the dress.

First off, I’m a woman. You know, not a guy.

Second off, I understand Lietgardis’ post. Do I get sick of seeing a certain clothing discrepancy in games? Hell yeah! Do I want to be surrounded by a sexually overcharged atmosphere in a game like AC? Nuh-uh.

Third off, would I wear that dress? My main character is a guy who wouldn’t dream of it. (Oh, you mean in RL?)

But that said, do I know people (men, women) who wear things that are less than completely conservative? Yes. Are they cool? Yes. Are they smart? Yes. Do they like having a choice of what they can wear? Yes. Do I want to give them the choice of what to wear in AC? Yes, within reason. (For example, at my dorm I once saw people wearing only blue paint dancing in the courtyard around a fire, but that’s another story.)

Let me be honest: the original intention for the dress was to make it but one option out of several styles, replete with color variations for serious and not-so-serious role-players. That’s still the intention. Granted, if suddenly AC permanently turns into a giant low-cut dress carnival I’ll have second thoughts, but (aside from those of you who are inspired by ridiculous scenarios in ‘net posts) I seriously doubt that is going to happen.

Yes, I do care a great deal about the social atmosphere in AC. There is a fine line between liberty and license in any community. Do we think this will ruin the community? No. Will we be watching? Yes.