April 2009


Feministing dislikes Noblegarden.

(I do too, but only because it’s really tedious.)

To be a bit more serious, they do have a valid point, and one that could have been minimized very easily with intelligent design (for example, requiring both players to trade an item to activate the bunny state). But Blizzard has shown time and again that not only do they tend to encourage their community to minimize social concerns, they also tend to respond childishly when those concerns are brought up.

And yet, hey, 12 million subscribers!

(One of whom apparently won the game. Whoops.)

“I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader?”

Bit of a tempest in the nascent Star Wars: Old Republic community boards today, when a player discovered that such words as “gay”, “lesbian” and “cryptofascist” were added to the obscenity filter. The forums nerd raged about this until the Bioware CM, Sean Dahlberg posted that the words were being filtered because

As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.


Thread closed.

The fine, fine moderate journalists at Kotaku thus immediately posted a story with the words “BIOWARE: THERE ARE NO GAYS IN STAR WARS” which caused the nerd rage to explode into a fury of POLITICAL nerd rage, ending only with Dahlberg apologizing directly to the player making the original post.


Well, isn’t that special. My take on all this:

  • This isn’t a tempest in a teapot, it’s a tempest in a thimble that may someday, possibly, hold a tea leaf. The “community” for SW:TOR doesn’t have a lot of actual game to discuss, so they talk about things like, oh, the political implication of words in your censor file. This is a pretty powerful argument that there’s no real reason to, you know, host forums for a game that is years from actually technically existing. The rabid fans who want to discuss their own personal views of how SW:TOR will implement womprat husbandry can do so on someone else’s dime. Kotaku wouldn’t have cared less if IGN added “lesbian” to their autocensor filter.
  • But say TOR was actually in beta, or up and running. My initial reaction is that there’s a suite of topics, mostly involving politics, religion, and the various convergences thereof, that simply aren’t appropriate for an official MMO discussion board. There are many topics that you just simply don’t want to worry about moderating. An intelligent moderation is key here – discussing LGBT-friendly guilds and issues raised from that (mostly involving 12 year olds saying “ghey” a lot) is on topic. Discussing your views on California’s Proposition 8 isn’t.  Real world politics is not a morass you want to dive into, because people with very valid opinions that differ violently from yours are still your paying customers. Note: simply adding words like “lesbian”, “gay”, “mormon” and “Arlen Spector” to your autocensor file does not count as  intelligent moderation.
  • Gay marraige is a third rail at the moment. The folks at Turbine (who have tended to be fairly liberal politically) punted on the issue for LOTRO by simply saying that it didn’t work with the license. Blizzard has been fairly conservative on the issue, to much distress. (Ironically, one of the guild names listed in that story as protesting Blizzard’s actions is a crystal clear TOS violation, or would be if anyone at Blizzard knew what it meant. Hint: it’s not Stonewall Champions!)  There is no good answer here. If you disallow same-sex marraige, you piss off a solid minority of your player base. If you allow same-sex marriage, you piss off a solid minority of your player base. If you disallow ANY marriage, you piss off a solid majority of your player base. So really, just do what you feel is right, since there’s no right answer here. I tend to the Sims solution – just let the players do what they want, and be completely agnostic about it. Which – not surprisingly – will piss off a solid minority of your player base.
  • You guys DO know Alec Guiness was bisexual, right?
  • Sanya Weathers thinks the issue is a bit simpler.

In case you’re wondering, I think that banning any kind of virtual relationship between avatars makes you look like a reactionary monkey. I also think that most in game relationships are between people who are male in the physical world. Finally, I think that if the Jedi council were real, they would think this entire discussion is for mental midgets without any awareness or comprehension of the serious issues endangering the citizens of the galaxy.

The REAL question of course, is which way Boba Fett swings. Because, you know, which ever way he does? That way is correct.


SOE Reboots Tomorrow

Years ago, John Smedley gave a keynote address at AGDC, which amounted to, in so many words, “the future of the MMO market is in Asia. And I’m going to bring it to America.” Tomorrow, the culmination of that launches, as Freerealms moves swiftly from open beta to release.

Have no idea what Freerealms is? Too busy getting your Noblegarden bunny ears or wiping in Ulduar? You’d probably better catch up. SOE is going all-in on Freerealms, and it shows. From a Disney-reminiscent friendly art style, to forgiving yet complex class-based gameplay systems, and even including a Pokemon-style CCG – Freerealms not only has younger teens bracketed with laser-beam accuracy, but is also polished to such a high degree, in both technology and design, that older players are raving about the game as well.

It’s a bet that’s likely to *hugely* pay off for SOE, and bring them back into contention as a top-tier MMO studio. Which is good not just for the folks at SOE, but for the MMO industry as a whole. Competition is a good thing, and to date every MMO that has launched into the teeth of Blizzard has been chewed up. Freerealms looks set to not only break that trend, but *shatter* it. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

Helpful Lum Is Helpful: Design Blogs And You

i want to make game it may be awesome or not i want to make game

Matthew Weigel’s awesome whiteboard haiku/commentary on game development

Do YOU want to make game? Then you probably blog about it! Cuppycake tried to be controversial and failed on the topic, because everyone agreed with her. (Aww, it’s OK. Just belittle a PvP game, that usually works for me.) It’s already created a fiesta of trackbacks, and instead of saying yet another “yeah, what they said”, I’ll chip in with my own experience.


See, I’m still fairly new at the whole game design thing. Sure, I’ve been wanting to do it approximately since I was 10, but that’s beside the point. So I do a lot of reading on the subject so that I don’t completely suck at it. Most of which are… well, game design blogs.

Use a blog reader. This may seem an obvious point, but the best blogs you find in this field are not going to be updated often, because the people who write them do other things besides blog. You know, like work on games. You WANT to read the stuff from the guy that never updates, ever, because she usually has something good to say when he does.

Don’t get deluded by star power. Resume != competence. And more importantly skill != writing ability. As Raph Koster noted in his comment on the subject, just because one is a good game designer, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are a good writer. And some of the best design discussions I’ve found have been written by amateur designers. Critical thinking and analysis is required here. It’s required for coming up with healthy game designs, too, so you need the practice.

Get outside your comfort discipline. There are great discussions of game theory and development on blogs that theoretically have nothing to do with design. Given that a good designer is also, most likely, going to work hand in glove with art, marketing, engineering, community, and production, an appreciation of their challenges is vital. A bad designer will write – or worse, not bother to write – documentation that exists in its own bold and creative space outside of any possibility of implementation. Don’t be a bad designer. It makes the coders laugh at us during lunch.

Don’t pretend Twitter and Facebook are relevant to your job. Unless you’re making a Facebook game (and I hope you’re pushing it out quick, because everyone else is). They’re social networking tools. Your job may well involve coming up with a coherent social network design, but be honest, you’re not playing Mafia Wars or obsessively following @ashtonkutcher to learn about how people process connections. It’s a time sink, not a resource. Be aware of this. (This blog you are currently reading, also 99% of the time counts as a time sink. Just so you know.)

MMO-specific message boards are actually relevant to your job. But they’re still time sinks. Enjoy the contradiction, and don’t get tangled up in flamewars on the political forums, because someone WILL throw your job in your face at some point. If you’re smart, you’ll make a completely anonymous account and use that for interacting on forums. You’re not smart.

Things You Should Read, Please:

  • Damion Schubert’s Design Doc Presentation. No, really, if you read ONE thing on the Internet about design, learn to write frakkin design docs. It’s the one bitch I constantly hear from experienced developers about inexperienced designers. I could just direct link it but instead I’ll send you to his site and you can view trying to find it as a test (note that if you fail, he also is one of the aforementioned good bloggers who never update because they’re busy on wanting to make game.)
  • Raph Koster writes about everything but lately he’s been writing about all the emergent games that everyone with WoW-lock have avoided paying any attention to. You could pay attention to them. Or you could be a dinosaur and wait for your extinction-level event. Your choice, really.
  • You probably are cloning World of Warcraft. Just admit it. And if you are, the best design discussions on what you’re cloning are over on Elitist Jerks (which despite its name is not particularly jerky, though it can be fairly elitist). Tobold’s blog is also a good place for player-centric commentary.
  • Daniel Cook’s blog isn’t very MMO centric. Read it anyway. Thinking about the why behind style and presentation is why that iPhone in your pocket is so ineffably awesome. (If you have a Blackberry you are dead to me.)

This list is pretty short. Partially it’s because I’m not including the literally dozens of blogs by clueful amateur designers, live team veterans, and industry analysis. And partially it’s because, well, there’s just not that many blogs specificaly focused on the how and why of game design. Well, that are very good, anyway.


(See, Cuppycake, THAT’S how you do it! 🙂  )

Don’t Sue Me, Bro

Just when you thought it was safe to read the web, Second Life is in the news again. This time they are being sued by Taser International (who make, you know, tasers) because SL users are creating tasers in game and using them in bizarre sadomasochistic rituals. Dear god in heaven, I am not making any of this up.

The kicker here is that Linden Lab, Second Life’s publisher, recently acquired the largest third-party item catalogue, XStreetSL, which thus means that you can purchase Taser-equipped chastity belts…

with textured particles sparks, electric shock sound, electrocution animation), for unruly/naughty subs/slaves…

directly from a Linden Lab affiliated company. Which, though XStreetSL is still a catalogue of user-generated content and not Linden-generated, still apparently convinced a laywer that Taser could sue damn near everyone. So that’ll show you. (Maybe it’s the “XStreetSL is now officially part of Second Life” line added to the logo after the Linden Lab purchase.) In particular, Taser seems to have popped a monocle at Taser-trademark copyright infringement and damage to the good name of Taser International in a SL roleplay area called “the Crack Den”, which is mainly for people who want to live a virtual life in GTA: San Andreas.

Wait… something looks familiar… let me go back to the Taser official web site:


Yeah, I can totally see where their corporate image is being besmirched here.

Just in case you haven’t read enough analysis about this totally justified and not frivolous at all lawsuit, here’s a couple more articles from the Intertubes.

I’d write more myself but I’m currently convulsing uncontrollably and wetting myself.

Internet Griefs Back

Copied from stopthecap.com which is being hammered for obvious reasons: netizens combined with congresscritters wanting to be netizens (or just look like them) scare off Time Warner’s planned bandwidth money grab. For now.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and I stood side by side this afternoon in front of Time Warner headquarters in Rochester to announce that Time Warner has shelved its broadband tiering nightmare.

“In the face of enormous community opposition and at Schumer’s urging, Time Warner will shelve the plan for all of their test markets,” Schumer wrote in a prepared statement.

StoptheCap! confirmed moments ago with the senator’s press secretary that this effectively ends tiered pricing in EVERY Time Warner market.


Been fairly busy fending off vultures this past week, but had to denote this one: George Will, in between bemoaning the American public for eschewing spats and top hats for comfortable jeans, had this witty rejoinder in today’s column:

Seventy-five percent of American “gamers” — people who play video games — are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote.

Gee whillickers, Mr. Will, we let women and brown people vote, too! Soon the Whigs may see their time in office threatened.

No, really. It’s actually an encouraging sign when the paragons of the old order recognize the threat of the new.

Vulture Culture

I still can’t tell you where I work. But apparently the carrion birds know.


Yes, that is a vulture. Yes, it just landed on our patio. Yes, I think this means we’re about to be dead or targeted for some sort of buyout.

A coworker took another picture: