Monthly Archives: October 2006

October in Review

The Site

My goal for this site, or at least the minimum acceptable effort for me, was to have one original written piece a week plus one or two “Hey, look at this” or other short items.  I appear to have exceeded that goal for October without having to dip into the stand-by topics I keep handy in case of writer’s block.

Views per day on average this month were up thanks to being linked on a few different sites including:

  • VirginWorlds – A well known MMO news site
  • Mystic Worlds – Flights of fantasy in virtual worlds
  • Trot Line – Not much traffic from here, but I know him
  • mmoLog – A fine looking Polish gaming news blog

I do not know how I earned the honor of being listed on the Polish site, but I will take what I can get.  The only Polish I know is “piwo,” which means beer as I recall.  I’ll buy the author one should I ever meet him! (That goes for the other sites… except Gaff at Trot Line… he’s buying when I see him.)

Anyway, thank you for the links.

I do wish I would get a little more feedback on the site and what I write, but relative to the traffic (43 views per day average for October) I should be happy that I have gotten as much as I have.

Most Viewed Posts In October

EVEMon Utility
In Defense of Instancing
EVE Online Impressions
EVE Online Remembers
File Planet’s Best Friend
EVE Online – The Tutorial

The pattern here is posts related to EVE Online or posts that appeared in the News section on VirginWorlds. (Or both, in one case.)  EVE Online is easily the most popular search engine term that brings people to the site as well.  There is a hunger out there for EVE Online information.  It isn’t just me that is searching.  Put together an EVE Online fan site for noobs and your traffic will surprise you.

EVE Online

I have decided on a career path for no better reason than it sounds cool.  My training for the last couple of weeks has been directed towards getting me to Covert Ops.  I have no idea if this is very useful in the long term or if it is something corps are looking for. If I went by the recruiting channel, I would become a miner.  But mining does not sound very exciting and if I wanted to do something tedious, I would keep running missions. (Which is about all I am doing.)

I know that to really get into the game I need to join an active corp, but I have not had the time, so I keep working on skills and missions.  I am now past 1.6 million skill points and am about 20 days of training away from Covert Ops level III.

That is one good thing about EVE Online; you feel like you are accomplishing things even when you are off-line.  Once they get the skill training queue in the game, I will hardly ever have to log on!

EverQuest & EverQuest II

Station Access.  I have it, at least for the next month, so I had better use it.  I am going to run around Faydwer and take screen shots of key locations so I can compare them to Echoes of Faydwer when it comes out.  It was already pretty quiet out in EQ Faydwer a year ago when I was last exploring, so it will probably be completely dead with the new expansion out.

World of Warcraft

I have been playing WoW a lot less and been enjoying it a lot more.  The instance nights have been a lot of fun and I look forward to many more.  I end up playing much less because I do not want to level too fast and get the group out of balance.  Also, my alts will soon be coming into range of the rest of the group (well, maybe a little bit longer than soon) and I wouldn’t mind running some of them if we need them.

City of Heroes/City of Villains

I downloaded it because there was a 14-day free trial offer.  In all I played for probably less time than it took to download the game.

I wrote up my observations, but I found they could be distilled down to a sentence, “I never really liked super heroes.”  No need to bring the Silver Surfer, Howard the Duck, or the fact that I was never once a super hero for Halloween into the discussion.

Most of the time I spent with the game was in the character editor.  It is truly the be-all end-all of character creation tools, but even with all the options at my disposal, I could never manage to get a character I really liked, which probably says something about either myself or the editor.

Still, I wish the game wasn’t a monthly billable as I would probably keep it around to tinker with once in a while.

Coming up in November

More WoW instance run reporting and probably a stream of posts about my experiences in EQ and EQII, plus whatever sets me off at a given moment.  Suggestions for topics are welcome.

Two Weeks Too Soon

My impulse to play EQ2 came about two weeks too soon. 

The problem is that I do not have the Kingdom of the Sky expansion, so I cannot get past 60 in either adventure or trade levels and I cannot start working on Alternate Advancement experience. 

Of course, I could run down to Fry’s and, for $20, pick up a copy of Kingdom of the Sky and be on my merry way. 

Except, in two weeks or so (November 14th according to Echoes of Faydwer is going to be on the shelf for $40 and it will include Kingdom of the Sky.

Well, I have a lot of stuff I can work on figuring out over the next two weeks, such as:

-WTF do I do with all of these quests in my log?  My chars seem to average about 80 quests each.  I think I will dump all of the book quests (kill 10 of this, read book, kill 10 more, etc.), but else should I prune?

-WTF do I do with all these chemicals on my alchemist?  Anybody need some plantain solvent, a couple of stacks of T5 ink, or a ton of rare poison vials?  Should I vendor it all?

-WTF is loam, where does it come from, and why do all my alchemist recipes require it?

And, finally,

-Which one of my 6 characters am I going to delete so I can roll a new one for EoF? (This presumes me not keeping Station Access, which is a reasonable presumption.)

At least it is only two weeks to EoF.

A lot has changed since I stopped playing in January 2006.

Poor Impulse Control

In which the author provides proof that idle hands are indeed the Devil’s workshop.

Less than 48 hours after I posted my entry “I need a new plan” I was out proving I meant it.

Our WoW 5 person instance group missed last night.  We were down two people, so we took the night off. But I already had the time set aside, my wife was watching something on our one TV, so I sat down to figure out a plan B.

What I should have done was go to bed.  I spent the last few days helping move our test lab into a new building.  That along with moving my own office and keeping up with my actual job has been a bit of a chore.

What I could have done was play some EVE Online.  I have the skills to buy a cruiser now, but I cannot really afford to outfit it, so running some mission for cash would have been useful.

What I actually ended up doing was reactivating my EverQuest II account.

Gaff has been IM’ing me about EQ2.  He got back into our old guild, has been on a couple of raids, and actually got a couple of nice tier 7 pieces for his guardian.

So, sitting there on a Saturday night in my office looking at the EverQuest II icon on my desktop I thought, “Why not?”  I wanted to come back for Echoes of Faydwer anyway, to see Kelethin if nothing else.  So I got out the credit card and put myself back into EverQuest II for a month.

And EverQuest.

Right above the EQ2 icon on my desktop is EQ.  It was looking at me pitifully.  It was late.  I was nostalgic.  I signed up for Station Access.

Silly me.

I regret that already.  While EQ2 ran through its updates in about an hour and ran fine, EQ failed to come up after its update.  It is missing a DLL and suggests that I install again from scratch.  Even after the “full file scan” option, the d3dx9_30.dll was still missing in action.  I couldn’t find it on the drive myself, so EQ is down for the moment until I get around to installing EQ Platinum again. (I have the options for everything except Prophecy of Ro and Serpent’s Spine.)

Well, I will change my billing over to just EQ2 soon.  EQ hit me in a moment of weakness and it isn’t like I have so much free time that I can run off and explore Star Wars Galaxies or PlanetSide.

This will give me a lot more entries to write as I figure out how to play EQ2 again.  Eleven months away is a long time.

I wish they had my pre-paid dream plan.  I wish EoF was out.  I wish I had more time to play.

The MAME Machine at the Office

One of the interesting things about having a MAME machine at the office is I get to see what games my coworkers like to play. (The machine is around the corner from my office, so I actually hear what they are playing.) 

With a list of choices in the thousands these are the current favorites, in order of time played:

1- Joust
2- Asteroids
3- Gauntlet

We have an older crowd at the machine, so tend to stay with games from the early 1980s.  One younger guy does play Street Fighter once in a while, but not nearly as often as those three.

We are in the process of consolidating our offices with another division, so I will have to see if the games of choice change with the demographics.

Of course, the MAME cabinet was one of the first things up and running after the move.  We have priorities!

I Need A New Plan

A new billing plan, that is.

Why is $15 a month the standard billing plan for an MMO here in the US?  And why are the alternatives companies bring up so bad?  In-game advertising (Don’t get me up on the immersion breaking horse again! I will get all “more immersive than thou” on you!) and “pay more (much more) for better stuff for your character” schemes do not fly with me.  And, judging from the reaction to billing schemes from games like ArchLord, I am not alone.

Not that $15 a month is a bad idea.  If you are a company like Blizzard and have a popular game it gives you a nice predictable revenue stream and it really isn’t a bad deal if you play enough.  The problem is, what if you are not Blizzard?  What if you are not even Sony?

I think I am like most people.  I have time for one MMO.  Currently, that MMO is World of Warcraft.  I still subscribe to EVE-Online, but it is an exceptional case.  It does not need much attention to progress at my level.  I am mostly training, which can happen when I am offline, or running missions, which I can frequently do on my laptop while I am doing something else on my main CPU.

But if I had a WoW subscription and, say, an EQ2 subscription, I would cancel one of them.  There is no way I have the time in my life to play both of them and I have no intention paying for a game I am not playing.

So, with the $15 a month billing plan, you have to be the one game somebody wants to play when it comes to most people.  It is an exclusive arrangement.  You are the game or you are not getting any revenue at all.

So if you are a smaller gaming company, what do you do?

Well, Guild Wars has a model.  They charge full, new-game price for each expansion and let you play on their servers for free.

I have not seen any numbers on how this has worked out for them, but they do not seem to be interested in changing their model too much yet.  They have added in a few things, like the sale of additional character slots, but the sale of retail boxes still appears to be the main plan.  As long as they can keep those sales up to cover the cost of development plus the cost of their network, they are set.

Still, I haven’t seen anybody rushing to copy the Guild Wars model.

Then there is the hourly billing scheme.  This has the advantage that you pay only for what you use.  However, to the gaming company, this option probably looks pretty dim.  You lose predictability of income, you lose the nice, standardized billing scheme (($15, 1.5 million times please!), and to make it worthwhile to run a charge you probably have to have a minimum monthly fee, which gets you back to a point where people are not going to keep their accounts for casual gaming.

There is another option for hourly billing.  Pre-paid hourly plans.

As I have stated in past entries, I can be a bit of a cheapskate.  I rather like to think I just don’t like to waste money, but sometimes I go to far.  One of the areas where I hate to spend money is on my cell phone.  I need a cell phone, but I only need it about 10 minutes out of the month.  I used to fume that my cell phone bill would be $35 for 10 minutes of usage.

So, now I have a VirginMobile pre-paid cell phone, which was, when I got it a couple years back, the absolute cheapest route you can go and still have a fully functional cell phone.  Basically, I pay $80 a year for my phone (well, $20 every 90 days, so a little bit more, but not much).  I get charged by the minute for my air time, but the maximum charge is 25 cents a minute, which is considerably less than the effective rate per minute I was paying on a “normal” plan.

So my proposal, based on my pre-paid cell phone plan (call it the casual gamer package) is as follows:

-Per hour pricing to play.  Call it 25 cents an hour.
-A requirement that you list a credit card and expect to be charged a minimum of $10 every 3 months.
-You accumulate and never lose the amount you get charged.  You only lose that money through hourly play charges or when you cancel your account.
-If you exceed your balance, your card will automatically be charged another $10, but that resets the three month timer.
-You can, at any time, roll over your account into a flat-rate account ($15 a month presumably) and have any balance credited towards your monthly fee.

If that style account were available today for EQ2, I would opt in.  In fact, I would opt in for double the amount if I could have a Station Access account on that billing method, so I could go back and tinker with EQ, EQ2, and maybe try out SWG.

That style of account would also make other games more attractive to me.

Now, my numbers are just off the cuff, but I still think the plan has merit.  The company keeps a relatively predictable revenue stream, it gets an increase revenues, it limits the number of credit card transactions, it boosts subscription numbers, and it keeps goofballs like me involved with the game.

What have I missed?

The Inkwell Runs Dry

The first report I got back from Gaff in his new adventures in EverQuest II is that my major source of income is gone.

There is no more ink!

My main character back in EQII, a dwarf cleric named Nomu Stonemantle was also a level 60 alchemist.

He made a little money doing quests and a little money selling drops and a little money making skills for other players.

But he made a lot of money selling ink.  Ink of any kind.  Ink from any tier.

Nomu could not make enough ink to satisfy demand.  My guild-mates would call me to come out of that damn trade skill instance and heal.  But greedy dwarf that he was, he could hear the tinkle of gold coins and pressed on with ink production.

Well, okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it was a steady income.  Not great, but steady.  Enough to outfit him and 5 alts with equipment and mounts and still have 50 plat or so in the bank.

50 plat isn’t going to win anybody a spot on the Top 100 wealthiest on any server, but it was a nice nest egg.

And it is a good thing I still have it.  If I go back some day I will have to find an honest trade.

What to do?  Can you still get killed by the forge when blacksmithing?

Red Hat Mix Up

Completely off the subject of gaming.

This morning there was a headline in the newspaper about Oracle and open source software. Larry wants to wipe Red Hat off of the map it would seem.

My wife asked what “open source” software was. So I explained the basic concept and the potential revenue models. Since I could see the look in her eye when she grasped the whole “free” thing (she is a sales rep and knows that the commission on nothing is pretty darn small) I gave some samples of companies making money via open source.

Since it was part of the article, I started with Red Hat Linux.

My wife gaped at me and asked, “They have an operating system for women over 50?!?”

Then it was my turn to give that head tilted, confused doggy look.

After some awkward attempts to get back to where I was going, my wife helped me out. She was thinking of the Red Hat Society, which is a club for women over 50. I am not sure what it involves, only that it was part of a Simpsons episode once. (Last of the Red Hat Mamas, Season 17)

Hilarity ensued.

And, in an adjunct to that and in direct reference to the article in the paper that set this off, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs has a funny post on the subject here.

EverQuest Nostalgia Tour – Part II

How I ended up in Norrath

EverQuest was exactly the game I wanted at exactly the wrong time in my life.  When it came out I had been playing Toril MUD for about five years.  For people who played MUDs, EverQuest was great.

EverQuest was the direct translation of a MUD environment into the 3D graphical realm.  In fact, in some ways, it was literally a translation.  A number of the EverQuest creators played the same MUD as I did, including Brad McQuaid.  In fact, in his player character form Aradune he asked me if I wanted to be in the EQ beta… which sounds impressive, but it really isn’t.  I am sure I just satisfied the “seems to be on and play a lot” criteria as opposed to any actual merit on my part. (I think we were both in a group that had just done City of Brass when it happened.  I declined his offer though.  I generally don’t do betas for reasons that I will discuss in a future entry.)

But being asked to play in the EverQuest beta made me aware of the game.  Quite a few other people on Toril, including some close friends, did play in the beta, so I was kept up to date on the game.  The day it was available a group of us made the trip to Fry’s, bought the game, and went to our homes to play.

EverQuest had a very familiar feel to me when I started to play.  Similar races (just the Erudin were an addition), similar classes (with some variations in what races could play them… and the horribly named Anti-Paladin became the much cooler sounding Shadow Knight), races with their own home towns, and quite a bit of borrowed equipment.  In fact, until Kurnark came out, seeing the name of most pieces of equipment I would know the approximate stats because they were the same stats I had memorized playing Toril. (Obsidian scimitar? That must be +agi!)

EverQuest also had many new twists on things from the days of MUD’ing, things unique to a huge, 3D world. Death still meant exp loss (and maybe level loss if you hadn’t built up an exp buffer after you last levelled) and having to do a corpse recovery, but it also frequently meant a long, naked run back to your corpse.  If you could find your corpse. 

Travel, including that trip to your corpse, and locations had a new dimension altogether.  In a MUD you often know right where you are because of a room name or NPC.  You frequently know how to get from one place to another via a quick set of commands. (From Finn to Anna’s cottage is .nueuuedenensnn as I recall. I toss that out for my fellow Evermeet Elves!)  Travel is usually a quick blur of rooms and you can generally spam past aggros if you are just a bit lucky.

But if you died on the far side of West Karana and you were bound in Qeynos, you could have quite a trot.  And not only was it slow, it was dangerous.  You could not out run an aggro, so you had to thread your way carefully back.  Then when you got close, you had to find your corpse, loot it, and re-equip piece by piece.  That could be something of a hazard if you were fighting an aggro and died near its spawn point.

Still, the world was huge, new, and waiting for my friends and I. The “/corpse” command was only a few months away.  We were into it in a heartbeat, a small band wandering the world in search of adventure.

How I Left Norrath

But there were complications in my own life.  EverQuest went live a month after I asked my girlfriend to marry me.  In between that point and when I disposed of my EverQuest account we got married, I changed jobs, we bought a house, and we started trying for children.  All of this pushed me into the “casual gamer” demographic.  My friends began levelling up much more quickly than I did.  The time I spent online playing became more like work than fun as I tried to keep up with them.  EverQuest is not a solo friendly game, and when your friends are all out levelling you, the enjoyment begins to seeps out of the game.

Then came the killing blow to my EverQuest career.

I live in San Jose, the self-proclaimed capital of Silicon Valley, now the 10th largest city in the US.  After my wife and I were married,  we bought a house in an older neighborhood.  Our home is almost the same age I am, which is now past 40. (In California, that is an older neighborhood.)  But the area we are in is hardly rural or remote.  We are ten minutes from down town.  However, when we moved we found that our neighborhood lacked broadband access of any kind.  I could not even get ISDN, which we had at our condo, at the new location.  Even the phone lines were very noisy, so dial-up access was spotty at best.

So I gave up EverQuest.  It had gone from fun, to work, to painful.  I gave my account to a friend who wanted to two-box (and who eventually deleted all my characters!) and played a lot of Diablo II while the phone company worked on improving our local infrastructure.  I also played a lot of StarCraft and Age of Empires II at work.  We had regular Friday night games which not only scratched the multi-player itch but kept it alive.

Two years later, when DSL was finally available, my memories of EverQuest were mostly negative. I remembered it being a lot of work.  My impressions of the game were colored by reading the EverQuest forums over the time I was away. (Which is why I avoid forums now. I am susceptible to too much negativity.)  Articles on other sites, like this Slashdot article, played right into my negative memories.  My friends had almost all either become members of raiding guilds or had moved on to other games.  I had no interest playing any MMO, and especially not EverQuest.

Next Chapter: How this trend changed.

MegaWars III

I found a nice article on MegaWars III the other day.  MWIII was the CompuServe version of the GEnie game Stellar Emperor. (MWIII came first.)  The article is a good (better than my own) overview of the game.

My only nit with the article is that it refers to the games being different on the two services.  I played both games during the 1986-1989 time frame and I would disagree.  They were identical at that point.  The author may have been confusing Stellar Emperor with Stellar Warrior on GEnie, which was a simplified, ship combat version of the game which was not available on CompuServe or he may be referring to developments in the game past the time with which I am familiar.  I recall going back to GEnie in the early 1990s and finding Stellar Emperor had been changed quite a bit, but not for the better.  Perhaps CompuServe kept it in a more pure form until its demise.

The article, by Maury Markowitz, is available here.

[Edit: The original site is gone, but has been backed up at the Internet Archive.]

Between the two services, GEnie and CompuServe, I preferred playing on GEnie.  At first the pricing was better, but later on I had built up a network of friends on GEnie, and that is a big reason I play any online game.

The Official SOE Podcast #6

Alan “Brenlo” Crosby hosts this episode with Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske and Joel “Raijinn” Sasaki with Jason “Pex” Ryan reading the initial news segment.

They interview Tracy Seamster (Owlchick) “Design Goddess” of EQ2 and Coyote Sharptongue of Tentonhammer

They also schlep for the PS3, discuss the whole “Are forums valuable?” thing, read “top ten signs you are in a bad raid,” and go into “What are you playing?” with the team and beyond. (Several people say WoW or EVE-Online.)

Echoes of Faydwer dominates the show. If you are not into that, you may want to echo the first poster on the show announcement thread in the Planetside forums.

“Enough EQ crap”

The show duration is 1 hour exactly, which smacks of some strict toilet training.  It is available from the SOE PlanetSide site here as well as from iTunes.

(Thanks to the Planetside community relations people who actually pointed to the elusive show notes that are oft referred to but rarely linked.)