June 2009

It Don’t Matter If You’re Orc Or Dwarf

Tired of always being on the losing side in BGs? Has Blizzard got a microtransaction page for you!

We wanted to give everyone a very early heads-up that, in response to player requests, we’re developing a new service for World of Warcraft that will allow players to change their faction from Alliance to Horde or Horde to Alliance. There’s still much work to do and many details to iron out, but the basic idea is that players will be able to use the service to transform an existing character into a roughly equivalent character of the opposing faction on the same realm.

Um… This Is Kinda A Big Deal

The People’s Republic of China bans real money trading.


“The virtual currency, which is converted into real money at a certain exchange rate, will only be allowed to trade in virtual goods and services provided by its issuer, not real goods and services.” it said.

China has the world’s largest population of Internet users, with 298 million people online as of the end of last year.

According to media reports, the virtual money trade topped several billion yuan last year after rising around 20 percent annually.

China being the largest MMO market in the world, and many Chinese MMOs being dependent on RMT for their income — this will have some ripples.

Hyperbole In Game Theory Part 117

In today’s episode of “Hyperbole in Game Theory”, Gevlon the Goblin comes to a horrifying realization!

The success of the completely unfair, M&S [Gevlonese for “morons and idiots”, aka everyone not Gevlon] catering, always-nerfed WoW over Starcraft, EVE, Darkfall is the ultimate proof that most people are just too stupid for a free-market system.

Well, there you have it. But wait, the explanation? It’s better.

Commenters use to write “you must give welfare to the real world poor or they revolt”. I found it silly and used to handle it with “make sure the cops have enough ammo”. I meant it literally. My guess was that the RL M&S who are too skilless to do any jobs, are a little minority, like 10%. Let the cops handle them, they won’t be missed.

Not anymore.

The problem is not that the useless M&S would starve. They wouldn’t be missed.

The problem is that in the current level of education and the cultural value of learning, the useful/useless boundary is simply too high. You cannot discard 20-30% of the population and you cannot let other 40-50% live in low wages. They won’t accept it and they are just too many to handle by cops.

Yes, there’s so many casuals in World of Warcraft that we just can’t shoot them all.

And God knows, I’ve wanted to.

Tune in next week for “Hyperbole in Game Theory”, when Blizzard’s nerfing Death Knight tanking is held responsible for the collapse of Latvia’s currency.

Darkfall: If You Bought It Once, Surely You’ll Buy It Again And Again

At the risk of my immortal soul being cast into torment, it’s time to briefly note events in the Darkfall megaverse. Mainly, WarDarkfall is coming to America! I know, we’re all excited. So excited, let’s queue up the Darkfall soundtrack! Remember, every time I post about Darkfall, you get an Ayumi Hamasaki video. It’s like multiple gifts that keep giving, really.


My own experience with Darkfall matched, well, my experience watching the above video – immediate recoiling, wait a minute, what the hell IS that thing, are they REALLY doing that, oh, I’m embarassed I watched that, ok, that was sort of cool, oh, it’s done, man, I need a drink, oh cool, there’s some in the fridge, ah, much better, hm, I wonder if I recorded the Daily Show last night, oh, hey, I’m still writing this blog entry.

Yes, writing about Darkfall is EXACTLY like that. If only playing Darkfall were as interesting.

And that’s really why there never was any followup to the epic Lum Wanders Darkfall Aimlessly To A J-Pop Beat series of posts – not because I wasn’t hardcore killer enough, or because I disliked the thought of being randomly ganked (which never happened, ever, by the way), or whatever – but because I just wasn’t that into it. It was the fatal “I could be playing something fun right now” moment. I could have gotten into a guild anonymously and continued to run in several directions swinging a sword in a dramatic overhand motion – but I didn’t really want to. And I’m not making any judgement about the dozens of people who *do* want to – it’s quite apparent from any posting mentioning the “D” word on the Internet that it has its loyal defenders. Which is fine – any game can develop a coterie, especially one as targeted-niche as Darkfall.

Those loyal defenders, at least, are once again to be tested. At least the ones in America.

The American server will launch on July 7th. Characters from the European server can be cloned and moved without their possessions 3 months after the American launch. Certain restrictions and charges will apply, to be announced at a later date. In the meanwhile if you want to play on the American server at launch you need to buy the American Darkfall client. More information on the American server will be available in a few days.

This is probably about the worst possible solution possible that Aventurine could have devised:

  • In a game based on guilds vs. guilds, guilds will be forced to decide, on a case by case basis between rerolling on a new server and participating in the land rush, waiting 3 months (because Aventurine has a track record of meeting announced dates, we can assume this will happen on schedule), or staying on the original server
  • Players have been demanding a new server to get a fresh start without the bug exploits that existed at launch, but will need to pay again for the privilege…
  • …and it won’t matter, because said exploit-levelled characters will just charcopy on over a few months later, anyway.

So, really, it’s perfect! Because in the grim world of Darkfall, if you’re not a bad enough dude to rescue the President, you need to just GTFO. What would be crippling missteps for other MMOs are just the daily news in Darkfall.

But then again, I’m probably just part of the Vast Carebear-Wing Conspiracy, which EVEN NOW is assaulting everything Darkfall stands for…

The current public forums will remain active for anyone to post in, but moderation will be stronger. This because we’re getting people from other communities with the sole intention of disrupting our forums. The Darkfall community has always been a source of good feedback, constructive criticism, and inspiration for the Darkfall developers and we’ll keep it that way by doing away with the non-constructive elements.

Yes, really, the ONLY problem with the Darkfall forum community are those annoying other communities. PURGE THE HERETICS.

Thank you for reading
The Darkfall Team

No, The Darkfall Team, thank YOU.

Australia To Protect Us All From Us All

According to Tateru Nino on Massively, Australia is set to filter out online gaming that their government disapproves of at the network level.

While Senator Conroy refers to ‘games’, this appears to just be the spoonful of sugar to make it easier to swallow. Does anyone think that virtual environments like Second Life will be exempt from the proposed network-blocking? We don’t. Some sources are reporting that environments like Second Life and games like Age of Conan or World of Warcraft are confirmed as being banned outright, but at this stage, nobody official has actually said that.

Except that, well, they have, in so many words.

Senator Conroy’s spokesman said the filter would cover “computer games such as web-based flash games and downloadable games, if a complaint is received and the content is determined by ACMA to be Refused Classification”. All games that exceed MA15+ are deemed to be RC.

The filtering could also block “the importation of physical copies of computer games sold over the internet which have been classified RC”, the spokesman said.

Note that MMOs are by their very user-generated nature (no one can really stop you from saying improper things on an online game, as anyone knows who’s played one for more than 40 seconds) difficult to submit for content rating. In the US, initially, games such as Ultima Online were rated “M” for Mature due to this; eventually a compromise was found where the game content supplied by the manufacturer was rated (almost always “T” for Teen) and a “Content may change in online play” qualifier clearly added. However, the rating system in Australia is different; among other problems they don’t even *have* an “M” rating; things that would be rated “M” just don’t get sold.

Mark Newton, an ISP engineer and internet filtering critic, said the move to extend the filtering to computer games would place a cloud over online-only games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, which aren’t classified in Australia due to their online nature.

He said the online distribution of such games has historically been exempt from customs controls on RC material because they have only ever covered physical articles.

“That exemption is the only reason why multi-player games with user-generated environments are possible in this country; without it, it’d only take one game user anywhere in the world to produce objectionable content in the game environment to make the Australian Government ban the game for everyone,” said Newton.

It’s good to see the Pacific Rim working together on how to be mindlessly paternalistic.

Outsized Personalities

So now that I’m home and can look up from wikis and playtests, some reflection on part of today’s news.

It’s probably no secret that Mark Jacobs and I have had our differences in the past – in particular, after some of my more critical writings about Mythic and Warhammer, it’s safe to say I’m not on his holiday card list. After a day of following various commentary on Mark’s departure around the darker corners of the Intarwebs, though, I think some things need to be noted publicly.

To say that Mark was an outsized personality does an injustice to outsized personalities. When I started at Mythic, I got an inkling of what I was in for when Mark grilled me over the phone – for three hours – before I started over an intemperate forum posting on my old site in a post about gay rights, to make sure that the newest addition to the Mythic family wasn’t an intolerant gay-basher. (Mythic was heads and tails above the gaming industry in hiring diversity, something I never appreciated enough until I left.)

In case I hadn’t gotten the message, it was reinforced when a week later, after I spent a night in a DAOC IRC channel enjoying the ego boost of being ‘a developah’, he showed up at my desk with a detailed, annotated chat log of the multitude of mistakes made, with the unspoken message that the new guy who was third tools programmer from the left probably didn’t have a lot of business doing community relations, no matter how much of an Internet badass he thought he was.

One of the most irritating mistakes the media makes when covering games is treating games as the personal project of their most visible namesake – World of Warcraft coming from Rob Pardo or Jeff Kaplan, Assassin’s Creed coming from Jade Raymond, or, in this entirely too risible snippet Old Man Murray found on IGN once upon a time:

“There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,” says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.

Except that in Mythic’s early days, it wouldn’t have been too far off. Mark wasn’t just a visible figurehead – in many ways Mythic was his. Mark wasn’t intimately involved in DAOC’s design or production (although I do remember him whiteboarding crafting systems a lot) but for him, Mythic was his family. He was immensely proud of how none of the original Mythic staffers had left for years. When Dark Age of Camelot shipped and was a commercial success, the ensuing bonuses (which I had just made it under the wire to qualify for) were generous – in my case a significant portion of my salary, and carried over long after DAOC was no longer as profitable. Because he saw them as his family.

It was a family he was very protective of, as I found out when I joined the merry band, and that aspect changed little over the years. Unfortunately, Mythic rapidly grew beyond the 25 or so that shipped DAOC, and as that family atmosphere changed, it was easy to see that Mark wasn’t happy about it. He would occasionally drop into my office and others as the years passed, either to trade insights on the industry or on entertainment in general (and for him, a Joss Whedon MMO would probably have been the perfect storm).

Then there was Imperator. Imperator was very much Mark’s project – he came up with the backstory, was deeply involved with the design, and was far more hands on in its production than I had seen him in years. Unfortunately, it didn’t work (something I later came to be very sympathetic with) and as the company smoothly shifted gears from Imperator to Warhammer, he took great pride in how almost everyone was able to keep their jobs in the process. Mythic was still his family, even if it was too large for him to actually know them all any more.

By that time, though, it was a family I didn’t want a part of any more. When I posted my initial farewell, I noted that my motivation for leaving was to move to Texas from northern Virginia. That was certainly true – I’m currently typing this from the living room of my house, and making that statement true in NoVA would have cost me about a half a million more than it did here. But it wasn’t the entire truth – Mythic had, by that time, grown to the point where it was no longer a family, but a company, and a company with the usual office politics, mismanagement, and frustrated career paths. In retrospect, if I worked for me, I would have fired me; as it was, Mythic was good enough to let me find my way out the door (even after, in one memorable Homer Simpsonesque moment, I arrived back to work from a job interview to find out someone at the company I interviewed at IMed a producer to ask what I was doing there. Whoops.)

And on my last day, after I was ordered to leave the building early – by Mark – I was asked to come back to talk – by Mark. He wanted to know why a family member was leaving. And so I told him, and mentioned in passing, given the then in-progress EA buyout to watch his back, that there were people there who did not have his best interests at heart.

Those people are still there. Mark isn’t. And while I wouldn’t work with them again – and most likely would have significant issues working with the lead designer of Warhammer and Imperator – the Mark of the DAOC launch team, I would have taken a bullet for. I’m pretty sure everyone involved feels the same.

But given the outsized personality that Mark is, I’m 100% sure that we have not heard the last of him, either in the near term (he does have a blog he seems to have forgotten about – and he certainly has more qualifications for drive-by pontification than nearly anyone else, including myself) or in the long term.

And I would hazard a guess that the Mark of Dragon’s Gate will be a far happier guy then the Mark of EA Mythic. And that’s what counts among family members.