Scott Jennings

SOE’s John Smedley: Subscription Model Dead

Oh $30 Internet Tank I love you so very much

Given that DC Online (day-job-pimping alert: and City of Heroes!) just went free to play, somewhat relevant!

There’s another large juggernaut coming out soon in Star Wars: The Old Republic from EA/Bioware. That’s a game that I think has a legitimate shot at a 2 million subscription user base and I believe they will stick with the subscription method. In my opinion this is going to be the last large scale MMO to use the traditional subscription business model. Why do I think that? Simply put, the world is moving on from this model and over time people aren’t going to accept this method. I’m sure I’m going to hear a lot about this statement. But I am positive I’m right.

I agree: SWOTR will be the last subscription MMO of consequence. Not having a free-to-play option limits your market too much. As an example: me! I occasionally play LOTRO, and feel no pressure not to come and go as whim strikes – but usually kick in a few bucks when I do. (Usually on a horse, because, hey, horses.) I doubt I would have ever actually bought World of Tanks (because really, it’s got one of the dumbest names in MMOs since the late much-lamented Yogurting) but this morning I just bought the best damn tank the People’s Republic of China has to offer.

Free-to-play works; for players and for developers. Now if we can just figure out how to get you people to stop talking about your genitalia on disposable accounts it’ll be golden.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

If nothing else, the images of avatars chilling while complaining about game companies are getting awfully photorealistic.

You have 14 Days. If after that time the Plane is not properly tuned, I am deleting my characters, and cancelling all of my accounts. The rest of my guild will follow suit, as will several other guilds and people that play Everquest.

To be brief, I did not work my ass off, jumping through your idiotic hoops with my friends and guildmates, so I could go to a zone where only groups of 18 could enjoy the content. EVEN if past these initial moronic events I can finally get my entire guild in to raid with me, F__K YOU GUYS. Seriously, F__K YOU.

I cannot believe this… right now I’m just so pissed off. I am sitting here in the Plane of Time, and 3/4 of my guild is just sitting around while a group of 18 is repeatedly trying to beat one of the mini ring encounters. Don’t you people have ANY F__KING DECENCY? SMEDLEY WHY DON’T YOU STOP COUNTING YOUR MONEY AND START ISSUING ORDERS?

The tragic irony of creating the ultimate cockblock encounter in the form of the Rathe which requires 80 people to defeat and then to limit encounters in the Plane of Time to 18.

14 Days…. after that this site will change from the most popular EQ fan site on the internet to the most popular World of Warcraft fan site on the internet. I’m done playing ball with you useless f__kers… it’s my turn.

Alex “Furor Planedefiler” Afrasiabi
Leader of “Fires of Heaven”, Everquest’s most notorious guild
May 9, 2003

…our interactions with CCP’s upper management in the aftermath of the Emergency Summit have shown us that the suits are not treating the needs of the players with the gravity they deserve; our willingness to negotiate in a chill way with the FiS [“Flying in Space”, aka the primary Eve Online game as opposed to “Walking in Stations”] teams (which has met with obvious success) is being misinterpreted as a sign of weakness and compliance by the suits.

So the gloves come off. There’s not much point for Goonswarm striving to ‘fix EVE’ by seizing control of the CSM [Council of Stellar Management, Eve’s player-elected representatives] and negotiating successfully with the FiS devs if the amount of resources allocated to FiS itself dwindles and the game continues to stagnate. In the coming weeks we are going to be making some extremely loud statements regarding the neglect of FiS, the failure of Incarna, and the need for CCP’s management to pull the game out of this stall. We need something new to do, not something new to wear.

This will not take the form of an incoherent threadnaught (though that certainly got results, last time) but we may seize control of the internet’s dynamic media – Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, and the gaming press as a whole for several news cycles.

We will not stand idly by as an alliance while our subscription money goes to waste, watching the game we pay to play spiraling into entropy due to the folly and neglect of CCP’s management. It is not yet time to start a fire, but get your gasoline ready.

Alex “The Mittani” Gianturco
Leader of “Goonswarm Federation”, Eve Online’s most notorious guild
September 3, 2011

So, given history’s inevitable cyclical nature, I suppose we should expect The Mittani to give up his promising career as a corporate attorney for life as a worldbuilder on The Old Republic shortly!

OMG OMG OMG OMG GIRLS YOU WONT BELIEVE THIS I ALMOST DATED A GAMER AND I *LIVED*

I thought he said he was a magician!

So, like, I made this OKCupid profile, OK, and sure, maybe I had one or two mindless flings from it DON’T JUDGE ME but then there was this one dude who totally played me, I mean he almost appeared to be like, this normal attractive person with a real job and stuff but then OMG he plays this GAME with CARDS and WIZARDS and MAGIC MISSILES and oh god it was so horrible. I did go out with him twice because he totally has his own wikipedia page which means he’s kind of famous right? But it’s in a BAD WAY and I just feel so dirty because now I probably have BASEMENT COOTIES or something.

I did get to write some crap about it for my day job and clock out early so I could load up on more Vegas bombs, though, so it’s all good in the hood, yo.

OK, I’ll stop. (Kiala did it far better anyway.)

So, what’s wrong with this piece? Let me count the ways.

  • The obvious “trendy urbanite is FAR too good for our geeky basement dwelling selves WE MUST UNITE IN RAGE” reaction. While this is the first reaction for many, it’s also the least valid. Because, really, guys?  The first geek wave (by which I mean my generation, hi) is in our mid-40s now. WE OWN EVERYTHING. We can take the paranoid nerd fury down to Defcon 4, it’s OK. Wil Wheaton has the most popular web site in the Universe, for crying out loud. WE WON. Plus a lot of us are girls, and really, this isn’t the Victorian era, we can date amongst our own kind and our kids won’t have hemophilia.
  • The author spent an entire article writing about how she didn’t like dating someone. And then she named the someone. I know things on the Internet aren’t really journalism and it doesn’t count because even trendy urbanites can install WordPress now, but really, at least *pretend* to have some ethics. It’s OK, you’ll still get hits because you’re a girl and mid-40s geeks own everything now. IT’S OK TO HAVE A SHRED OF ETHICS.
  • This was on Gizmodo…. why? Did the guy have a stolen iPhone 5? Was the woman using some kind of new media HTML5 version of OKCupid? Was Nick Denton bored that day?
  • This was… just really badly written. What was the author trying to say here? That people who play Magic are funny? That dorks exist on OKCupid? That she should Google her dates? That if any date ever Googles her they’re never going to call her back, ever? I’m kind of at a loss.
In closing:

NOT GEEK FRIENDLY

GEEK FRIENDLY

The Engine Was Just Sitting There!

Bioware Mythic announces Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, which was originally titled Warhammer Online: Battlegrounds And That’s It Because You Gits Have The Attention Span Of A Tsetse Fly And We Added A Third Side Because DAOC Battlegrounds Were Pretty Fun That Way And This Title Is Really Long We Should Change It.

So if you played Warhammer Online and thought “you know, I really liked the battlegrounds, but not enough to pay a monthly sub, but maybe enough to pay extra for a +4 Sword Of Swordening”, this is your thing.

My fervent hope is that the all-important “kill the dude with the thing” gameplay remains intact.

Blizzard Adding Player-RMT Services To Diablo III

Well, there you go.

With the Diablo III Auction House, players will have a fully-integrated marketplace that allows them to buy and sell items, gold, and components with real-world currency (tentatively divided into U.S. dollars and euros, among others) in their respective territories. According to him, it’s based on theWorld of Warcraft Auction House, but with refinements. Diablo III‘s iteration allows for auto-bidding and instant buyouts, smart searches based on class, a shared stash, and secure item transfers.

Pardo was swift to mention that it’s not an official “Blizzard Store,” but a clearinghouse for players to have an open market to facilitate the trading of in-game items with each other. Players will be anonymous during trades, and there will be restrictions on the buying and selling of goods with real-world currency for those who choose to play in Hardcore mode.

He then outlined initial details of transactions. There will be a fee for both item listings and sales. Should players accept in-game currency, their payment will go toward their Battle.net e-balance, which covers auction items, WoW subscriptions, and pets. Should players decide to cash out their items, a currently-unannounced third-party payment provider will handle the transaction and take a percentage of the sale. There won’t be any limits on item trading, but there will be a 24-hour cooling period before players can resell a purchased item.

And why are they doing this? According to Pardo, because, well, if they didn’t, you would.

“Players want this… We could take a harder stance, but with Diablo, we think [the Auction House] will end up being a good thing,” he said. The fact that in-game bartering and selling had “become a metagame of its own,” in his words, was another motivator for launching the new feature.

Left unspoken of course, is that with the arbitrage fees from Diablo III Blizzard will make enough money to fix the Greek debt crisis. I’m sure that was a very minor consideration, though.

As a game developer, I can see Blizzard’s logic behind this move. There’s obviously plenty of a market for RMT transactions, and in the long term a clear benefit over and above the strictly financial in channeling them into an outlet controllable by people who at least theoretically have the game’s best interests at heart. And given that it’s similar to a system I had designed for a free-to-play title, that makes it even more difficult to argue against!

But as a player – I have no interest to pay to win. At all. For me the ideal F2P experience is one offered by titles such as Lord of the Rings Online – one where I can play on or off at a whim, and occasionally dig into my wallet for conveniences such as a horse or such, but never feeling as though I was missing a huge chunk of the game play by keeping my wallet in my pocket. Explicitly pegging the in-game currency to a real-world analog (the implication of Diablo III’s announcement)  — well, that certainly is a fairly huge chunk of game play to bypass.

Is this a good decision? For Blizzard’s business, yes. For Blizzard’s design, yes. For Blizzard’s players? Probably not, though the actions of people who can’t resist the immediate gratification of RMT make it inevitable.

From a long term standpoint, I think this also makes it fairly clear that World of Warcraft and Starcraft II will be the last Blizzard titles that aren’t driven by RMT. Thanks, usual suspects!

Project Management And Industry Analysis Is Hard

After a hard day of pontificating on game industry crunch, Michael Pachter kicked this puppy.

Michael Pachter, NeoGAF’s greatest game industry analyst, has this to say about crunch (prompted by the Team Bondi and Rockstar complaints):

If you’re getting into the industry, you are going to work plenty of hours. I hear from lots of people on Twitter about these Team Bondi guys in Australia, [hearing complaints about how] they’re young and right out of school, well, don’t pick that as a profession then. If your complaint is you worked overtime and didn’t get paid for it, find another profession.

I just don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who say ‘I worked for such-and-such, and I didn’t get paid, and that’s not fair’. If you want to be an hourly employee, go build automobiles, and what will happen is they’ll close down your plant some day and you’ll be out of work.

My first reaction, like anyone who works in the video game industry, was “Oh. Michael Pachter. He’s either (a) wrong, (b) stating the incredibly obvious, or (c) both.”  But the problem here is that people actually pay attention to this person. Thus, they may actually believe him and think continuous crunch is normal and expected. So, in the ever-continuing compulsion of correcting people who are wrong on the Internet, I feel it necessary to actually correct some of the ridiculously glaring falsehoods in Pachter’s, er, ah, um, analysis.

So. Point by point:

  • The [Team Bondi staff] were asked to work crazy hours, I don’t know anybody in game development who calls it a 9-5 job. So that [complaint] doesn’t really resonate with me.

    That’s nice. But whether it “resonates” with you or not, expecting people to work 60 hour weeks on a regular basis is not normal. The 40 hour week exists for a reason. Really! This is not new!  And people have actually done studies about its effectiveness in the game industry! The longer you encourage your team to focus on the project to the exclusion of their lives, the worse work they will do. This has been proven, again, since the era of industrialization. This is not happy froofy hippie stuff. This is basic project management. The fact that many game companies utterly fail at basic project management does not make any less a tenet of basic project management.

  • I think [the point] that everyone is missing is that, if a game is good – and LA Noire was good – there will be a profit pool, and there will be bonuses.

    Really? Because that’s certainly news to the developers of the best-selling game ever made. But even when your publisher doesn’t make “screwing your developers” part of their business plan, in every large project, the top tier of developers – the leads, perhaps the superstar engine developers and the media-suckup designers and producers that are on Michael Pachter’s speed-dial – may have bonus packages as part of their compensation contract. Do you seriously believe that the line programmers and artists can count on profit sharing and bonuses, as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, being laid off three days after the game ships? And do you think they don’t crunch? In fact do you think that the media-whore producers on your speed-dial (who, by the way, are largely responsible for the atrocity of project management that results in crunch in the first place) do crunch?

  • Apparently there are people who don’t like McNamara, apparently there are people who think he is a tough boss. Making a game is not easy, it is a complicated process, managing the process is really hard. The LA Noire project was disrupted, and there were several false promises of finishing the game, and poor Brendan McNamara – who is probably going to be ‘rich Brendan McNamara’ – was put in the position to get his team to crunch and get it done more than once.

    OK, I’m really trying here to come up with something besides “Wow, Pachter, you’re really kind of a jerk”. And failing. I don’t know. There’s got to be something. Are we supposed to be feeling sympathy for the producer who put his team through hell so he personally could get rich while the people he was responsible for got completely screwed? Because I’m not really feeling it. Really, all I’m feeling is kind of the “Wow, Pachter, you’re really kind of a jerk” thing.

  • Sweatshops should have unions but games studios, which tend to pay people a lot of money, shouldn’t.

    Yes. Because other creative industries never do that sort of thing. Of course, if you’re Michael Pachter, you probably sympathize a lot more with, say, John Ricitello and Bobby Kotick than Joe down in QA. Even if your entire work as an analyst comes largely from Joe in QA’s posts on NeoGAF.

But really, I’m being too hard on poor Michael Pachter. First, because the man is making a living off of being an industry joke, and to be fair, he is doing a damned good job of his vocation. And second, because why should the game industry be any different from everywhere else?

What She Said

Sanya’s latest blog post deserves as wide an audience as possible: It Gets Better, And It Begins With Us

seriously, if you work with game communities, read it, k? thx bye

Reading hard? Here’s the gist:

Help me, fellow mods and CMs. (And help me, players, by reporting and not responding when you see it.) We’ve got to stop tolerating homophobia in our communities. I’m not saying we have to go and get gay married. You don’t even have to support an agenda of any kind. All you have to do is say that you will not permit one of your customers to call another one of your customers a faggot.

Here is my pledge:

If you’re young and LGBT, I want you to know that gaming is getting better. In any community that I run, you will not be called names if you choose to be open about your identity and orientation. I will not allow the use of homophobic slurs, either at you or near you. I will not work for an employer who does not have my back on this. My forums are a safe place where you are not “other.” You are not alone. You are, always and forever, one of us.

 

Eve Developers, Player Reps Meet, Issue Statements, No Monocles Harmed

CCP released a video of two very tired people who work and/or play on Internet Spaceships…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kat_uoAvnk

…along with two statements from them which were somewhat interesting.

CCP Zulu (aka Arnar Hrafn Gylfason, Eve’s senior producer)

The investment of money in EVE should not give you an unfair advantage over the investment of time. The CSM, under NDA, has been presented with CCP‘s plans for continued evolution of the business model and agrees that nothing they saw breaks this principle. CCP has committed to sharing their plans with the CSM on this front on an ongoing basis.

The Mittani (aka Alexander Gianturco, Eve’s senior politician)

We believe that the situation that has unfolded in the past week has been a perfect storm of CCP communication failures, poor planning and sheer bad luck.  Most of these issues, when dealt with in isolation, were reasonably simple to discuss and resolve, but combined they transformed a series of errors into the most significant crisis the EVE community has yet experienced.

Now it’s up to the players to determine if they quit shooting their lasers at statues and resume shooting them at one another.

Fear And Monocles

“There is a pretty overwhelming perception amongst EVE players that these changes are bad. I think they’re brilliant, but our players don’t. We’re going to face an uphill struggle, and the reason many of us never talk about this publically is that we’d be burned at the stake by the players.”

— Kristoffer Touborg, from the leaked “Fearless” internal CCP discussion pamphlet

Eve’s current woes are interesting for a number of reasons. Let’s run through them quickly.

First, the Eve playerbase feels both empowered and angry. They feel very much as though they should have a voice in how the game is run. CCP has not disagreed with this, and their “Council of Stellar Management” player advisory council is currently winging its way to Iceland, at CCP’s expense (and knowing the expense of last-minute airline reservations, more than cancelling any benefit from selling virtual monocles). We’ve seen player protests in MMOs before, but this is the first overt player riot – enabled in part by Eve’s own strengths of being a unitary server game so that if, say, someone decides it’s a good idea to shoot up a statue commemorating the in-game NPC leaders as a political gesture, it can get legs.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCHDMf6i3Vk

In-game political ownership, and a sense of that extending out of the game into the game’s corporate management, is not new to Eve – virtual worlds in general elicit that sense of ownership. (See the fury at Star Wars Galaxies’ NGE changes, or Prokofy Neva’s various writings demanding that Linden Lab not be permitted to run their own product without some sort of oversight). Part of the bargain of setting people loose to build your world for you – or more accurately, the social constructs that help build that world – is that those people tend to value their labor more than yours. And they should. Without the value added by its players, Eve is a spreadsheet simulator, Second Life is literally nothing whatsoever and Star Wars Galaxies is, well, post-NGE Star Wars Galaxies.

The NGE is illustrative here as well, in that, like that ill-fated attempt by SOE to move Star Wars Galaxies in a more mainstream direction, CCP appears to have plans for its MMOs that Eve players aren’t very interested in. Eve is a very hardcore, complicated, and most importantly, abstract game. The great majority of Eve players don’t care about monocles, they care about extracting 3% more efficiency out of their missile launcher speeds. The drama about $25 virtual shirts and $60 virtual monocles in the item store is amusing, the “walking in a small room in your spaceship” feature Incarna added to justify said item store is also amusing, but what enrages Eve players is the thought that they might have to pay $50 – or $5 – tomorrow to get that 3% missile launcher efficiency. Or worse, that someone else would. That was the part of the leaked internal discussion/propaganda leaflet that so enraged the Eve playerbase, where one member of the “point/counterpoint” discussion advocated exactly that. And that was why an Eve producer posting to the official blog finally said, point blank, in an attempt to calm the rioting, “there are no and never have been plans to sell “gold ammo”” (contradicting another section of said leaked document which said explicitly that ammunition sales were in fact under consideration).

Still, the fact remains – CCP introduced an item shop to Eve, a game which very vehemently did not need, nor want one. They patched in ambulatory avatars, in a game where most players ever appear only as abstract radar widgets, specifically to support that item shop. CCP is taking their game in places that their players do not want it to go. And the players know this. And they are angry.

To state the brutally obvious: this is not how to handle microtransactions. In fact, this is probably a textbook case in how NOT to handle microtransactions (a story that has been written already, actually). And in a hardcore abstract game such as Eve, I’m not sure microtransactions can even work, at least without alienating almost every player Eve currently has – in other words, an NGE-style extinction level event. And CCP is not a stupid company. They have one of the most successful independently-run MMOs in the market today. They effectively own the niche of PvP virtual worlds, to the point that fans are angry at the realization they have nowhere else to go.

The conspiracy theory one is tempted to indulge in, then, given that brutally obvious fact – is CCP, in fact, intentionally forcing an extinction level event? Do they want to alienate the hardcore playerbase that helped give the company the motto “harden the f*ck up”?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgvM7av1o1Q

As a possible reason for this: World of Tanks has over 3 million accounts, today announced a publishing deal to appear in retail stores, and sells ammo that blows up other tanks far better at 5 to 7 cents a shot. Clearly the revenue model works. At least for people who aren’t paying a subscription fee to a game that isn’t World of Tanks. And that last key point may be what CCP forgot in its Aurum rush.

I suspect CCP can still recover player good will and staunch the bleeding of what anecdotally are already a significant number of cancelled accounts – but it needs to be done quickly.

“The most visible example of another game introducing virtual goods sales is certainly LOTRO. It is worth pointing out though that they made almost everything microtransaction based and at the same time removed subscription fees. Because other games with very different communities and very different gameplay styles are able to do something it doesn’t mean we can do the same thing with the same levels of success.”

“More revenue is of course an aim, but making our customers feel like they are being “double billed” to be able to play on the same level as others is just a step too far.”

— John Turbefield, from the leaked “Fearless” internal CCP discussion pamphlet

 

There Ain’t No Drama Like Spaceship Drama Cause Spaceship Drama Don’t Stop (Now With 200% More Cats)

This week in Eve:

Incarna shipped! You can now walk in your spaceship. No one else can see you walk in your spaceship but yep you’re walking. So there you go.

The in-game clothing store also shipped. You can now spend $60 on a monocle. To be fair, it’s a really nice monocle and I think monocles cost about $60 in real life. Oh wait, sorry, I meant $6. So there you go.

Most players responded with “What was CCP thinking?” This being Eve, someone promptly leaked exactly what CCP was thinking. (hint: pretty much exactly what you think they were thinking)

The Eve player base responded with the calm demeanor you’d expect by, um, literally rioting. The devs responded with, uh, yeah.

People have been shocked by the price range in the NeX store, but you should remember that we are talking about clothes. Look at the clothes you are currently wearing in real life. Do you have any specific brands? Did you choose it because it was better quality than a no-name brand? Assume for a short while that you are wearing a pair of $1,000 jeans from some exclusive Japanese boutique shop. Why would you want to wear a pair of $1,000 jeans when you can get perfectly similar jeans for under $50? What do other people think about you when they see you wearing them? For some you will look like the sad culmination of vainness while others will admire you and think you are the coolest thing since sliced bread. Whichever it is, it is clear that by wearing clothes you are expressing yourself and that the price is one of the many dimensions that clothes possess to do that in addition to style and fit. You don’t need to buy expensive clothes. In fact you don’t need to buy any clothes. Whatever you choose to do reflects what you are and what you want others to think you are.

If you do not buy a $60 monocle A LOSER IS YOU. So there you go.

BREAKING BAD CEO EDIT: Apparently EveNews got their hands on an internal email sent out by CEO Hilmar Petturson to CCP employees regarding the rioting in the streets, er, spaceways? about Eve’s newfound love for macrotransactions (when microtransactions just aren’t big enough!). It’s important to note that there’s no confirmation Petturson actually wrote this. Because…

Naturally, we have caught the attention of the world. Only a few weeks ago we revealed more information about DUST 514 and now we have done it again by committing to our core purpose as a company by redefining assumptions. After 40 hours we have already sold 52 monocles, generating more revenue than any of the other items in the store.

That’s right, biyotches, CCP made THREE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. Truly, this amount of money from vanity store items is unprecedented in the MMO industry.

Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say.

Or, as Hilmar The Very Savvy Business Cat says…

But the best/worst part, that makes me really hope for Petturson’s sake that this is some clever troll of a forgery or possibly the work of a very drunk Icelandic summer pub crawl, is this line:

But we have done more, not only have we redefined the production quality one can apply to virtual worlds with the beautiful Incarna but we have also defined what it really means to make virtual reality more meaningful than real life when it comes to launching our new virtual goods currency, Aurum.

I…. what was that, Hilmar The Cat That Leverages Synergy?

So there you go. You go.