March 2001

COMPILING AS FAST AS THEY CAN [Author: Lum the Mad]

Again as a surprise to many of you actually using the UO3D client, the client was judged sufficiently “done” enough to close the up-until-now-hyperactive UO3D Bug Report Board.

We would like to thank everyone who took the time to concisely report bugs during this beta period. Your input was invaluable to Ultima Online: Third Dawn.

Today’s lesson: tense is important. Your input was invaluable, mind you. But so’s the calendar, and, you know, there’s this thing called the financial quarter, and there’s this thing called UO3D that absolutely HAS to be on it, no matter how complete it may actually be. For as EA’s own 10K filing puts it,

In the near term, EA.com’s revenues to date have consisted primarily of revenues from sales of our online product Ultima Online, and we would be adversely affected if revenues from that product were to decline for any reason and not be replaced. We expect the online game market to become increasingly competitive, and it is possible that other producer’s current or future games could cause our revenue from Ultima Online to decline. In addition, popularity of Ultima Online could decline over time simply because of consumer preference for new game experiences.

We’ve seen this before, for god’s sake. When UO:R launched, the dev team pulled 24 hour days for weeks trying to get it ready for launch. They failed (mainly due to weather and other acts of god screwing up servers) and Origin wound up basically shipping empty boxes with “Upgrade to be patched in later” notes. Because they absolutely for god’s sake HAD TO GET IT OUT BY THE END OF THE QUARTER.

And they’re trying this time, too. Our spies within the Fortress of Solitude inform us that the next UO3D patch will fix all crashes, optimize the client to run well even on a Voodoo 2, does the dishes, kicks the dog, and kisses your wife goodnight. Will it work? Who knows. I know personally the pains of trying to kick out a complex product ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY BY A CERTAIN DATE. Projects don’t work that way. Programs are hard to write. This is why most people don’t write them. This is why shipping dates get delayed. Which normally you’d think would be an option here. BEST CASE SCENARIO: UO:Third Dawn comes in JUUUUUUST under the wire. Worst case scenario? Hey, they include the 2D client!

But remember all those posts about the economy going wham that you get annoyed that I keep making? Well, you know, it’s not called EA-dot-com for nothing. And right now the only thing actually making MONEY for EA-dot-com is Ultima-dot-Online.

Are you rooting for the plucky ex-ranters-turned-coders? Or simply hoping OSI finally collapses into a messy heap? It’s coming to a head, and it’s by now probably more exciting than the actual game itself.

“DIRECT HIT! WE HAVE ASS!” [Author: Lum the Mad]

You’re a game developer. (Admit it, some of you are, even if you just come to laugh at your competition.) You read all these annoying cloying know-it-all reviews from pinheaded weasel geeks that are intimidated by Visual Basic.

Well, now it’s payback time as Joystick101.org, a journal of gaming commentary (gee, that seems oddly familiar somehow) reviews Daily Radar!

My favorite review of Daily Radar, of course, has always been here.

*YANK* “NOW LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!” [Author: Lum the Mad]

Starting out, he circled the herd warily, pawing the dirt

Ok, I’ll answer the questions on the thread, even though I’ll get flamed, and people will still say we don’t respond, or care, or listen, or that I was defensive, or too blunt, or not blunt enough (sugar coating), etc., etc.

[excerpts follow]

…Chances of the boards in their current format surviving much longer, thanks to people like schmoe? Not good…

…Absor posts a lot, and does the best he can. He posts far more than any other official board I know of, and he doesn’t just say he’ll pass on info to the team — he actually carries on conversations, gives his opinions and perspectives, etc. I’m sorry if this isn’t enough for you, but well, it’s a heck of a lot more than other games do. As for me posting — I do it occasionally and I answer what I want to answer because, well, posting isn’t my job. It’s Saturday night right now and I’m at home and I’m posting and answering threads I feel like…

…What can I say — you don’t think we answer questions honestly. Seriously, then, why are you here? To heckle us then? To flame us? If so, seriously, go away. We work very hard on this game, and Absor works very hard to communicate with our customers. If you want to sit on a board run by us and accuse us of not being honest and never answering tough questions… well, it’s you who are not being honest and just trolling. And flames and trolling are NOT welcome here…

So, there you have it, I answered every question on this thread. I answered it bluntly, and truthfully. I responded even to trolls and flames, which most people would probably agree is a bad idea. I’m sure I will be criticized as being defensive and insulting to our paying customers.

But the thread asked for it, and I did what some of you wanted. Will it make a difference? Did communication between Verant get better?

*shrug*

Methinks no, and methinks there has to be a better way for us to communicate to our player base and for you all to communicate your ideas and feedback to us.

But then, after the herd pointed and laughed at the lion, in a full-throated howl of rage, he goes for the throat:

And you can call me a troller or whatever other names you want rather than responding to the points I made, but maybe you ought to think about whether you would have bothered responding to this thread and answered any questions at all if no one had flamed you. Consider that when you think about taking the board down, and consider the possibility that if you came here and answered threads such as the FIVE PART PVP THREAD that Absor, who works so diligently to do your job for you, has yet to respond to, this board might not have degenerated into a flame-fest of anger and frustration.

Yeah, that’s it. If only Absor would post more, the flaming would go away. Are you really serious? The flames and negativity exist because we don’t post ENOUGH? Actually, it appears to me that the more we post the more people believe their agendas might be listened too, and so they post even more, and then when each and every person isn’t not only personally responded to but each and every idea (no matter how contradictory) isn’t implemented, the negativity rises again. Did you ever consider why the vast majority of industries DON’T run forums like this?

I’m certain that if all I did was post here all day, there’d be just as much if not more negativity. The facts are, we can’t respond to everyone and we can’t implement every idea everybody has and we can’t change or enhance every aspect of the game everyone wants us to. We can do our best to listen, and to respond, and as I’ve posted, many great ideas have come from these boards, and many problems have been brought to light on these boards and summarily addressed.

But the fact is, when there were no official boards, there was less negativity. And then when there were official public boards, but we didn’t have official dev team people post on them, there was more negativity. And then when I came and posted occasionally, even though I had a lot of other job responsibilities, the negativity rose again. And then when I hired Abashi to post here full time, the negativity rose again. And then when I hired Absor to post here instead because players seemed to want a softer spoken, more player-advocate and less blunt community relations manager, the boards became even more negative.

And so, with all due respect, I find your assertion that things would be hunky-dory were Absor to respond to even more posts, or were we to hire 10 more community relations managers, to be absurd.

Consider also the fact that the mud wimping FAQ, which you, Smedley, and Abashi have all disparaged as simplistic and just plain wrong, predicted that it would come to this point between you and your customers should you nerf without just cause. Just a coincidence, though, I’m sure.

Is that what it says? And is that what we’ve objected to in regards to that article? And is that what we’re doing? Nerfing without ‘just cause’? Just to be big meanies, eh?

The article submits that if the people in charge of a MUD nerf in order to fix problems, that the MUD will eventually enter a ‘death spiral’. The fact is, this is empirically false for both MUDs and commercial MMOGs. In fact, the opposite is true: MUDs in which the people responsible for it have refused to fix problems tend to become ‘monty haul’ and they dwindle away. And the MUDs where the implementers have made hard choices and nerfed to protect the long-term health of the game have remained popular and populated for many, many years.

The article also advocates either ignoring balance problems or addressing balance problems by enhancing every other aspect of the game. Again, this just accelerates MUDflation, often creating a ‘monty haul’ scenario, in which the content of the game is devoured rapidly, after which the players leave. It also requires significantly more work on the part of the designers (instead of fixing the problem (nerfing), the entire rest of the game must be upgraded, which is not only a tremendous amount of work but also in and of itself prone to even more errors, etc.). And then, of course, even if the rest of the players were ‘upgraded’ in response to a balance error, the right thing to do would also be to upgrade the environment (i.e. all the mobs), which I suppose would be considered a stealth-nerf by the extreme anti-mud-wimping crowd.

So, yeah, the article is wrong in many ways (although it has some fine points in regards to managing player expectations). It’s unrealistic, and the disaster it predicts doesn’t in reality happen.

Whatever. Take the board down, if you think that that will fix things (just like you thought moderating it would); continue treating the symptom rather than the disease. And good bloody luck. Until you realize that the wishes of your customers should be the prime factor in your decision-making processes with regard to game development are concerned, the ill will you feel in this thread won’t go anywhere.

The wishes of the customer should absolutely be the prime factor in our decision making process, and they are. And the absolute, fundamental, and overriding wish of our customers as a whole is that EverQuest continue to be an entertaining, balanced, and fun game. And the decisions we make in regards to this game are ALWAYS made in an effort to keep this game healthy and entertaining. If the game isn’t fun, people will leave, and then we won’t be able to continue making these games, and we won’t have jobs.

But, you see, the customers themselves don’t speak in a unified voice. They quite often speak from their own perspective. Sometimes one customer will want something that another won’t want. And sometimes a customer will want something that, while benefiting them short term, would harm the game (and therefore the entertainment of many other customers) long-term.

We’re not making widgets here. We’re not creating a product that when given to a customer is in a vacuum. If a customer walks into a burger joint and wants their burger made a certain way, and the company complies, it doesn’t change the next burger given to the next customer. The products aren’t linked in that regard.

But if I go into the game and give a player something he wants, or implement a certain change, it quite often can and will affect other players. And so, when operating a game and service like this, the individual customer is NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. Rather, the customer base as a whole is right. And it’s our jobs to ascertain what the majority of our customers want.

And, I suppose, unfortunately, that until the majority of our customers realize this, then the ‘ill will’ you refer to won’t go away.

I’ll move back to Usenet, and EQ Vault, where perhaps you can ignore it more easily. But the end result, when the Next Big Thing comes out, will be equally gruesome for the game–which, believe it or not, I happen to like.

Ah, the ‘just wait until the Next Big Thing comes out’ apocalyptic threat of doom. Well, of course if a better game comes out, many people will leave. As well they should – life’s too short to play an inferior game. We’re going to do our damndest to make sure EQ remains the best at what it is supposed to be. And, I think rather than a mass exodus occurring when that messiah of MMORGs some people think is going to come out in their lifetimes, that there will slowly but surely be more and more choices in this new and emerging genre. And then, people will have more options, and be able to choose a game that is more specifically suited to their playstyle. And that fact, combined with hopefully players understanding more and more over time that MMOGs companies have to look out for the health of their game as a whole and that the collective customer is always right, not the individual, will lead to less negativity.

At least, I sure hope so.

So, let me sum up for you Aradune’s thought processes At This Hour:

  • The Trivial Combat code implemented with the Warrens (level-inappropriate parties are denied phat l3wt) is really cool, and won’t be implemented elsewhere. Unless it is. And it’s good for roleplaying.
  • Moderated chats are necessary, as proven by the fact that Aradune is studly enough to stick around and take unmoderated questions
  • Verant can still easily be whipped into a frothing lather by merely mentioning Tenarius’ Mudwimping Guide
  • The tenor of Whineplay is completely the players’ fault, and has nothing – NOTHING – whatsoever to do with the periodic From The Mountaintop pronouncements of Aradune, the bitter You’re-Lucky-This-Is-Only-My-Hobby moderating comments of Abashi, and the fleeing of Absor into a dark, comforting hole
  • Since the players can’t handle the little eensy bit of freedom that Whineplay affords them, and since no other company EVER thought of running a message board for their MMOG (really), they’ll probably be going away soon. But don’t worry, there really, really will be a way for the Silent Majority of EQ players to be heard.

My money’s on “1-900-EQ CARES”. Now THAT could open up some serious interactivity.

Or another poll. Take yer choice.

I WANT FREE STUFF. AND QUALITY. AND LOTS OF IT. AND A PONY. [Author: Lum the Mad]

The dot-BLAM continues. In the real world, your erstwhile writer is idly wondering if he’s getting the “We Sincerely Regret” letter Monday, or Tuesday. (Want a web programmer? Call now, while rates are low!) In the virtual world, ezBoard is begging for money.

“In response to diminishing online advertising revenues, ezboard has established a new revenue model that is based on the highly successful NPR public listeners campaigns,” says Vanchau Nguyen, ezboard’s founder and chief executive officer. “Community-Supported Communities is a ground-breaking platform for establishing user-based online community support.”

The ezboard Community-Supported CommunitiesTM model allows users to support their communities through semi-annual contributions of approximately $2 per month. Community supporters receive enhanced ezboard services, including no banner advertising, as well as public recognition for their contributions.

If ezBoard goes pay-for-play (which they’ve been telling their prospective investors for quite some time) the impact on the MMOG community will be significant. Some of the largest EQ communities are based on ezBoard, including the Druid’s Grove and the Safehouse. Not to mention, oh, almost every single guild for every online game out there (since, you know, setting up message boards of your own takes effort, money and more money. And you usually need one of these guys at some point.)

All that takes money. Money has to enter the system at some point. I’ve got a nagging, sneaking, frightening suspicion that the shock-the-monkey guys really can’t pay freight for the entire Internet. Someone has to pay for the servers so that you can post endlessly for no apparent rhyme nor reason. So who’ll pay the bill now? What the hell, maybe it’s Gary Coleman! No, wait, Megaputt! Hell, I don’t know. The People’s Liberation Army? Help me, Denise!

Tweety has a few things to say about that.

Damn it. I’ve now digressed so far I have no idea what my point was.

Well, I’m pretty sure she intended to have something to say. I think it involved getting paid. For ezBoard. Sponsored by eFront. Da dee da dah.

“GOOD CUSTOMERS. NICE CUSTOMERS. I’VE ALWAYS WANTED CUSTOMERS LIKE YOU.” [Author: Lum the Mad]

UO’s spin patrol announced some changes, as Paladin of the Third Mark Calandryll was moved from his post as Origin’s Community Manager to the UO design staff, to be replaced by former webmistress Leilo.

Meanwhile, UO: Third Dawn is done! Yeah, I didn’t know that either. It’s going live on the 27th, but it’s going to be ready on the 20th in Japan because they’re, like, in the future and stuff. So any of those bugs and godawful slowdowns you’re experiencing? Just your imagination. Bizarre dreams. Be sure to tell Leilo about your dreams, she likes email now. We’ll have a review of UO:Third Dawn once it’s on the store shelves, everyone is playing it, and we’re ready for everyone at Origin to hate us forever. Woo!

Something else I noticed while perusing the still-in-beta website for the now-complete UO:Third Dawn – unlike the original Ultima Online, which was rated “Mature” since you pinheads obviously can’t control yourselves in public, UO3D is rated “Teen”. This means obviously that once UO went into the third dimension, it jettisoned all that depravity, wickedness, profanity, and blood-spurting mongbat love. I know I feel like a better person already.

COMMUNITIES GREAT AND SMALL [Author: Lum the Mad]

Hey, you think about something to say, maybe. It was a shared connection. He talked about his attempts to wire up a home LAN, I talked about my interview with the Verant design team. All the while, I imagine, both of us just struck dumb for the lack of anything else to say. How do you fill in fifteen years’ worth of blank? “Um, hi. I was a weird kid. I know. I grew up. Sort of. I think.” I don’t know.

So I told him about the site (which only mildly bruised my ego – what, doesn’t every EQ player know about the-infamous-Lum-the-Mad?) and he tried to puzzle out exactly what the hell I was talking about. “You have JAPANESE on your poll?” “Um, yeah. It’s a joke. It says ‘Bring back past magic, you female dog.’ Long story.”

So why do we play games with hundreds, thousands, what will soon become millions of others? I mean, it’s much easier to get a good gaming experience from single player games. Much more coherent story, much better balance, most people are idiots. You know the drill.

But what takes precendence – why we put up with, well, everything, the whole sorry litany of human misadventure and stupidity – is because we’re looking for that disconnect, some way of linking with the people behind the screen, even if that’s the last thing we’ll ever admit to ourselves. We want something to our lives beyond the hit points and the phat lewt. We want connection beyond ourselves.

I tried to explain, but the words never came. I’m far better with typography than speech, you see. When talking I can only fumble and wait through the embarassed silence, whereas on a screen my fingers can dance and I can explain that yes, everything is better now, and I’ve sort of made something of myself, and I no longer am sort of blindly roaming the universe. It’s a lot easier to type than to say, believe me. Especially when you’re on cold medicine and trying to comprehend that you have a family again.

And while I was posting cynical update after wry commentary after daft stream of consciousness, my father was quietly levelling up, somewhere on Innoruuk, ever since Everquest launched, two years ago this week. And I was somehow, although I never knew it until today, closer than I could have ever guessed, even in such a banal way. Maybe the banality of it all makes it all the more real.

And the community – the people – the connection that I sought was there all along, in ways great and small, from the hundreds of people who write me on a daily basis to the one who had not a clue how close he was to someone who had fled, long ago.

That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we write what we write, say what we say. We’re all looking, and some days, we find.

Hi, Dad.

SCIENTISTS TO COMPUTERS : “YUO SUXXORS” [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

Perhaps I’ve spent too many hours of too many days up to my elbows in a computer case to really know how intimidating and confusing a computer can be to the average consumer. I got a small taste of that this past weekend when I purchased a Replay TV device and had to figure out a way to connect a VCR, a DVD, a Split Line Cable Box, and the Replay unit together and have one single remote control operate each component. I wadded my hair into my fists at one point. I found the manuals vague, the components cryptic, and the “support technicians” unmotivated. Currently, I still have to unplug and replug cables here and there when I want to watch a DVD.

At some point during the decade of the 1980s, we were supposed to introduce the Personal Computer to Joe Consumer, and toss rice as they blissfully drove off in a soapy balloon filled car. Instead, we placed them both in a coliseum and cheered at the gore and mayhem. At least, that’s what the speakers at this year’s Association for Computing Machinery Conference claim. One is hard pressed to find fault with their assessment. Little has changed in the past twenty years in the way we use computers, and the way computers assist us in our daily needs. I’m not talking about hot new video cards or furnace hot processors, but the basic functions that the ordinary home computer performs for the average consumer. ZDNet contributor Rachel Konrad quotes William Buxton, chief scientist for Alias Wavefront in her article today:

If Rip Van Wrinkle went to sleep in 1982 and woke up today, he’d be able to drive our modern computers with no problem because they’re essentially unchanged… There’d just be more crap on it.

The lion’s share of the blame was directed at financiers and those in the industry who have little to no concept of anything beyond shiny pebbles and the Bottom Line. Hence, instead of new innovative input devices, we get plum colored cases and monitors. Instead of direct-to-screen input as a successor to the ball mouse, we have dissolving menu trees.

A month ago I might have snorted and said, “bah. Computers aren’t that complex, people are just too lazy.” I try to remember that each time I want to watch a DVD at home and I have to reach over the television to swap a bushel of video cables around.

ASSORTED LINKS:

Ziff Davis Net Feature by Rachel Konrad

Association for Computing Machinery website

20 years later, we have 12 function keys.

The footmouse will save us!