Category Archives: MMO Design

Things Shared in Lost Ark

As a title, Lost Ark continues to surprise me.  I realize it has been around for years in other markets, giving it time to have evolved, but it starts out so simply, looking more like an Asian themed Diablo III game than an evolved MMORPG.  And then, as you play through, you start running into more and more things.

So today’s Lost Ark topic is sharing.

Welcome to Lost Ark

How to deal with alts is an issue as old as online gaming.  I have told the tale of early EverQuest where, wanting to transfer some equipment to an alt and didn’t have anybody I truest online, so I moved the target alt to a quiet spot in Qeynos, logged them out, logged in the character with the item, went to the same spot, dropped the item on the ground… back in old EverQuest you could just drop stuff and it would be there in the game, on the ground… then logged that character out and the the receiving character back in to collect the item.  And that worked.

And alt issues pre-date that by years.  I remember wanting to transfer good drops to alts in Diablo a couple years before that.  And it was always a thing in TorilMUD, where they eventually had to modify the “no multi-boxing” rule to allow players to have two characters logged into an inn so they could trade items. (Inns were made silent rooms so you couldn’t log in and buff your little alt up, though I think they have since reverted that.)

And that doesn’t even get into the whole need to do everything again with every alt which used to plague online games.

Not that things didn’t get better over the years.  EverQuest II launched back in 2004 with shared bank slots that could be used to pass items and coin between characters on the same server.  World of Warcraft eventually made achievements, pets, and mounts a shared resource on the same account.  Things have evolved.

But Lost Ark seems to be taking this to a new level… or I haven’t played many recent MMORPGs… or both.

So, for openers, the game has shared storage for your characters on the same server.  Like I said, that was surprising and new back in 2004, but I am still happy to see it in titles as it is not ubiquitous.

Then there are shared mounts, which I figured out pretty quickly.  One of the first quests you do in Pridehome is the mount quest just outside the cathedral.  I picked a different color mount with my first three characters, then noticed that they all had access to all three mounts.

Likewise, pets are shared, though there is only one default pet and once you have it you don’t get the pet quest again on that server, which cause us some confusion at one point when trying to get the group on the same quest and I told people to get past the pet quest when we were all on our second or third character.

On an alt I suddenly noticed that they had a lot of silver very shortly after they got into Pridehome… like 100K silver.  I logged him out and in with another character and found that they shared the same balance.  No sending coins to alts as they share the same wallet.  All currencies seem to be shared.

I also noticed that when my run ahead character wore out one of his harvest tools, which gives you the paper doll on the UI.  But the paper doll appeared on the UI of an alt as well, because apparently your characters not only share crafting resources, but harvesting tools as well.

I am also pretty sure that you share a stronghold, though none of my alts are as far along as my highest level guy, so I am not sure yet.  We’ll see on that… and the boat as well.  I finally got my boat this weekend.  Still not quite sure what to do with it, but I have one!

Then there is the whole Roster thing, which I am still not sure about, but which looks to be an alternate xp advancement path that applies upgrades to all of your characters.  But what happens when you make somebody else a “roster friend?”  This is a step beyond friends, but I am not sure what it even means.

And then there are collections and the card catalog and the adventure tome and achievements and titles and rapport, all of which appear to be held in common with all of your characters on the server.

Sheet music.  That is one thing that isn’t shared, but it is also something that gets unlocked as you play through the story, so that is understandable.

So far, it seems to be working out.  I like it.  The only problem I have seen with it is with rapport, where a lower level character seems to be blocked from doing rapport interactions due to something my highest level character has done.

Five Bad EVE Online Ideas that will Never Die

EVE Online can be a divisive game.  People tend to love it or hate it, with the latter being the larger group if comment threads on gaming sites are any indication, though the largest group of all seems to be those who watch it from afar to be entertained.  And all three groups probably add up to fewer people that the active subscribed WoW population right now, though I suspect those numbers might have gotten a bit closer since the Shadowlands expansion.

And in such an environment, there are a wide range of ideas as to what the game should be, and everybody seems to have a plan that would improve the game and, naturally, boost player numbers because we all seem to believe that the majority of the universe shares our exact likes and dislikes and are shocked that these few outlier weirdos who see things differently from us seem to run all these games.  It is like some sort of conspiracy.

But there are a few ideas that seem to persist.  They pop back up again with a regularity that begins to grate if you’ve been around the community for a while.  Here are the ones I see that just won’t die the death they deserve.

1 – Walking in Stations

At the top of the list because CCP dabbled in this with Incarna. The company, after neglecting the core of EVE Online for a few years and plundering the efforts of the teams working on Dust 514 and World of Darkness, proudly launched what I heard one wag call “walking in a closet.”

Captain’s Quarters

I will admit that I was among those who thought the game needed avatar play when I started playing.  EVE Online has the curse of many vehicle games in that everybody is alone in the spaceship and you can’t wave or jump ceaselessly or dance on the mailbox in your underwear, which can give the game a sterile, impersonal feel.  Forza Horizon 5 has the same impersonal feel out in its shared world too.  Every car focused title does.  Are there people demanding “walking in Forza” as loudly as the walking in stations crowd does for EVE? (Seriously, are there?)

The problem here is that nothing in the core of the game is improved by having to walk around and I have yet to hear a suggestion from anybody that didn’t either make current functionality more awkward (e.g. you should have to walk to your agent in a station and speak to them face to face) or required CCP to essentially build a new game within EVE Online to accommodate avatar play.  That adds up to making things worse or development time spent away from the core of the game.

It has been made clear over the years that CCP struggles at times to keep up with the “flying in space” aspect of the game that is its core, so having them ignore that again for a multi-year stretch in order to build a feature of dubious value seems like a really bad business plan.

But people ask for this feature a couple of times a month on Reddit, though the request seems to rotate through the same small group of people.  And then there is Hilmar, who said they might bring it back at some point, which just cemented in my mind the fact that he might be head of the studio, but he has no clue about the game and just likes to say things that get attention.

Walking in stations is bad for EVE Online.  I will die on this hill.

2 – Dogfighter

This is the almost prototypical response from somebody who came to play EVE Online and happens to own a flight stick.  They go away disappointed that combat isn’t maneuver based, that they cannot used the tricks they developed playing X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter or whatever, often dropping by Reddit to announce their displeasure.  The reaction range between “this sucks” to long design documents about how the game should be rebuilt into a space flight sim.

But the core is always the same, that the combat is too simple, that you just press F1 and you’re done.

The first issue here is  the idea that every game must be built to meet their personal preferences.  If you want a space flight sim, I get that EVE Online isn’t for you.  But there are a lot of other options, so coming in and declaring that the game should be rewritten to meet your personal needs is a bit over the top don’t you think?  And that leaves aside the herculean effort that it would take to remake the game.  Get over yourself.

Second is that if you think combat in EVE Online is simple it is because you haven’t spent enough time with it.  Yes, you don’t have to get on somebody’s tail or calculate deflection in your head, but range and engagement envelopes and transversal and tracking and damage types and reload times and a host of other small details enter into each engagement.  That you are not thinking about this when you press F1 doesn’t mean it isn’t all in play, it is just likely to explain why your ship is a wreck and the other person has a fresh kill mark on his hull.

3 – Safe Space

There are a lot of flavors to this one, ranging from the idea that high sec should be completely safe (and sometimes that low sec should be like high sec is now) to being able to flag PvP on and off like you do in World of Warcraft to make yourself immune from all player attacks.

This seems to stem from people wanting to just be left alone to tinker with whatever space project they have going on.  And I get that.  It is a sandbox and some people want to play in their own corner where kicking over sand castles isn’t allowed.

The problem is that any safety will be exploited.  Any source of income that is unassailable will be overrun.  ISK per hour is a primary motivator for many, but the safety factor comes into it as well.

And you may ask who would even bother tracking down high sec alts, and I have an answer; all of us.  EVE Online has a rich history of wars in low or null sec finding their way into high sec.  In World War Bee there was a whole shadow war fought in and around Jita and Amarr with both sides trying to track down alts in NPC corps that were being used to ship supplies into the war zone.

So, leaving aside the usual argument about safety breaking the theme of the game, there are some more immediate ways in which it would break actual game play and the economy, and we don’t want to give CCP any more reason to go in and manipulate the in-game economy.  They are hamfisted enough going after imaginary problems, lets not make some real ones.

EVE Online is just a PvP game.  It has been since 2003 and that is the way it is going to be.  End of story, time to move on.

As an aside, I am always interested in how angry people get when another player blows up their ship, which glows white hot compare to the response to dying to an NPC.  I dream of an experiment where CCP mocks up a slightly different UI and tells an experimental audience that EVE is a single player game with advanced AI based on real world behavior in order to see if the anger is the same when your hauler gets blown up by a gang of suicide Catalysts if you believe them to be NPCs.

4 – Another Server

There are a few flavors of this one as well.  There are, of course, the people who just want a PvE server.  See above, plus I am not sure how sovereign null sec or faction warfare even work in the minds of those suggesting this, but there it is.

Others want EVE Classic.  They want to go back to the good old days, which correspond to the point in time when they were most enthusiastic about the game, or when some change in mechanics didn’t ruin things. (I still occasionally hear somebody angry about CCP adding in “warp to 0” as the thing that killed PvP, which was a change that happened in 2006 not long after I started playing.)  And, as somebody who is a big fan of the whole retro server idea, it is hard for me to not pine as well for some past fun.

The usual problems apply.  When would you set such a server?  What patch level?  What bug fixes do you retain and which are part of the flavor of the time?

But the enterprise will never get that far because CCP knows that two servers are not twice as good as one.  EVE Online needs a critical mass of players willing to take on the different roles in the ecosystem for it to function smoothly.  I am a bit sad I didn’t play at launch mostly because I wonder what the game was like with no established player market.  EVE can seem annoying because it feels like as soon as you decide what you want to do, you need to do six other things first to get ready.  But at least you don’t have to buy the blueprints for a hull, mine the ore, and build the ship.  The economy is the core lubricant that makes the game manageable.  Splitting the game into two servers threatens that.  The main fear for EVE is that someday the population will fall below a critical mass and the economy will fall into chaos.

So no second server will ever compete with Tranquility.

(And yes, I know there is a second server in mainland China.  But even now many players who used to play on that server are able to VPN into Tranquility to play with the rest of us.  In fact, one of the reason that the game turns in the concurrency numbers it still manages these days is because it has managed to attract many of the core players who fled the bad days of the Serenity server.)

5 – Better PvE

I am going to have to qualify this one because I don’t think any player, new or old, would have a real problem with something that led to a better PvE game in New Eden.  Better PvE isn’t a bad idea at its core.  But it is almost always expressed badly… and by badly, I mean people generally just demand better PvE and stop there, leaving what that even means to the interpretation of those hearing the demand.  Or, if they provide details, it generally describes much worse PvE.

Basically, it easy to say “better PvE,” but it is tough even describe it, much less make it happen.  What is better anyway?

Making it harder isn’t better.  If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that players want PvE that is just difficult enough to give them a sense of accomplishment without any real risk of them failing.

You can make things like missions interesting for the first run.  But they don’t stay interesting after a few passed.  You can then make more missions… I think CCP has more than six thousand missions of various types in the game… but they tend to fall into a few simple categories.  In the end, PvE quickly becomes a solved problem.  You can add more missions, but is that really better PvE?

CCP has seemingly had some luck with randomizing PvE in Abyssal pockets.  The mechanic requires you to commit your ship before you know the foes and puts a 20 minute timer on the mission.  If you don’t make it in time you lose your ship and your pod.  But even with randomness, if it is still a 90% solved problem (fly a Gila) and they have had to make the rewards worthwhile to keep people running them.  All those muliplasmids to modify ship modules keep a lot of players going back to get the one that will give them the right MWD or stasis webifier or hardener for a fit they have in mind.

But I still find Abyssal pockets boring.  In the end it is the same thing over and over and some variation in foes barely qualifies as interesting unless I get a bad draw and die.  And then it is annoyingly expensive.

I have yet to hear a viable idea from anybody that would make PvE more interesting in New Eden.  But I think that says more about the nature of PvE in general than anything about us or CCP.  There might be an idea out there, and maybe it will find the right ear some day.  But for now, just saying “better PvE” isn’t very helpful and the suggestions that come with it generally involve making it harder or making people go through more hoops, neither of which really meet the “better” bar.

Honorable mentions

Those are my five.  But those are not the only ones that rattle around, so I have a few honorable mentions that I want to tack onto the end of this post.

Things Were Better When…

This is the person who doesn’t want a new server, they just want CCP to roll back to some past feature state that was “more fun” for very specific definitions of the term.  They want it in the current game, and it can be anything from removing “warp to 0” to going back to Dominion sovereignty to giving titans AOE doomsday weapons that can blow up a whole subcap fleet in another system through a cyno… again.

The problem is that, for the most part, much of what has changed over the years has been changed for a reason.  We bitch about Aegis sovereignty, but we bitched about Dominion sovereignty before that, and people certainly bitched about the tower/moon sovereignty system that came before Dominion.

In the end, even if CCP went back and changed the sov system back or removed warp to 0, it wouldn’t recreate the game and the fun times you were having back when they were a thing.  Dunk Dinkle likes to say “nostalgia is a trap.”  As somebody who likes to remember the good times, I take umbrage with that at times.  We can’t ignore the past because all we are is what the past has made us up until this very moment.  But when we gaze too far abroad with our rose colored glasses or think that doing something we did ten or fifteen years ago will do more than just rekindle some fond memories, then I have to agree with Dunk.  I want to be young again too, but removing “warp to 0” won’t get me there.

Subscriptions only

This is a specific subset of the “Things were better when…” crowd who would like to roll back skill injectors, PLEX, and free to play.  All of these are viewed as bad to various degrees… though we have had PLEX in the game for well over half the life of the game at this point.  The first big PLEX loss was back in late 2010.

This just isn’t going to happen.  It probably can’t happen and keep the game being developed at its current pace.  I have been down this path before, but to put it simply, the price of a subscription remains locked in 2003 while the price of everything else has gone up over the last 19 years.

Also, people playing EVE Online… that peaked in 2013, before either free to play or skill injectors showed up, so there is scant chance that going subscription only will end up in any scenario besides “EVE Online now makes much less money.”

Yes, I hate the cash shop mentality of MMOs.  I just want to pay my flat fee and play the game.  But the reality is most everything now has some sort of free option, so demanding cash up front just limits your options as a game.  That is just the reality of the market now.

Breaking up corps and alliances

This is the go to solution for people who don’t like null sec or who are trying to solve the “n+1” problem of sovereignty warfare.  Are null sec battles growing too large for the servers?  Are big null sec alliances keeping you and you five friends from holding space?  Then just put a cap on corp or alliance sizes!  That will put everybody on an even playing field!

The suggestion rarely include a number at which organizations should be capped, just that 30K Goons is too many Goons and we need to put a stop to that right now.  But that doesn’t really matter as there is no correct answer.

Let us say that CCP picks 1,000 as the cap for an alliance or corp or combination thereof.  What happens next?  Two things.

First, we go back to the bad old days when null sec groups were very selective of members.  I know there are some who long for those days, the era of the small, elite PvP groups holding vast areas of space.  But organizations like Brave, Pandemic Horde, or KarmaFleet, which have been highways into null sec for new players, they dry up and die.  Everything goes back to needing to justify why you get a spot in an alliance rather than one of the CEO’s alts.

Second, we find out it doesn’t change much.  Unless CCP also disallows standings, EVE Online players have shown that they can create meta organizations that exist outside of the structure of the game.  There is no in-game mechanism specifically for coalitions, yet they exist and have existed for as long as null sec has been a thing.

The limit just ends up turning the null sec clock back to 2011 or so when small groups ran big rental empires and formed coalitions to defend their holdings.  As we have seen elsewhere in the game, when CCP enforces scarcity, players change their behavior in predictable ways.  Well, predictable to most people besides CCP.

Banning people you don’t like

This seems to be the knee jerk reaction to many issues in EVE Online, that CCP just needs to ban more people.  Botters (which is anybody who repeats a game play loop in a game with a lot of repetitive game play loops), gankers, cheaters, scammers, exploiters, bumpers, whales, ratters, miners, Alpha clones, people with more than n accounts, scary wormhole people, under cutters, specific nationalities, play styles you don’t like, Goons… there was practically a “Ban Goons” subculture at one point in the game… and mean people in general. Basically, whatever is annoying you, CCP should just ban them.

Here’s the thing… somebody probably wants to ban you and whatever you are doing as well.  Also, CCP would like to stay in business and have a viable video game that pays the salaries and keeps the servers running and up to date.  While the EULA and terms of service give CCP the right to ban your ass for anything they want, becoming the game that bans people is a good way to become a game mentioned in the history of MMOs rather than in the current stable of running MMOs.

Player made SKINs

This comes up every time somebody posts a pretty JPEG of a ship they colored up themselves.  Somebody will see this and declare that CCP should allow players to make ship SKINs.  And, superficially, this seems like a good idea.  More SKINs in the store, the better, right?  And many of us like pretty SKINs… or at least SKINs with obnoxiously bright colors.  And CCP at least strongly implied that we would be able to make SKINs back in 2016.

This falls apart on a couple fronts.

For openers, being able to make what looks like a nice SKIN on you PC isn’t likely to be at all comparable to what it takes to make one usable in the game.  There are probably a dozen players out there with the skill, knowledge, and motivation to make decent SKINs, but they still don’t have the tools that the CCP art team has in order to make something usable by the game.  Those are, no doubt, in-house developed tools and not suitable for distribution outside of their environment.

Second, dealing with user made content is a lot more work than you think.  There is a reason that companies that try to leverage user made content either shut it down eventually (Cryptic, Daybreak) or just give up any attempts at moderation (Roblox).

The thought that comes up a lot is that CCP could just let the community vote on SKINs.  But have you met us?  Enough people would upvote penis SKINs to make this completely unviable.  Also, it assumes that SKINs are like mods, and that the whole thing could be treated like Steam’s Workshop, with little or no supervision.  This is completely wrong.

That brings me to the next issue, which is that SKINs are part of the game.  They are in the build, part of the client, and nothing at all like a player mod.  That means CCP would need to spend a lot of time vetting every submission, testing it thoroughly and examining it for hidden images, words, and penises, because once it is in the game it gets pushed out and placed on every system that has the game installed.

Which brings me to the final point on this, which is whether or not all the work would be worth it.  I don’t think it would.  The hubris in this is that players would automatically make cooler, more popular, better selling SKINs than the CCP art team.  The reality of user created content is that 99% of it is garbage.  Game mods and things like Steam Workshop let people experiment and get better, but that allows players to opt-in.  But putting something in the game that everybody will see, that is a step well beyond.

And, in the end, I am not sure more SKINs are better anyway.  The in-game store is already a pain to use… something it shares with online storefronts every where, which pretty much require you to know what you want because simply browsing is an awful experience… so fewer, high quality SKINs seems to be the reasonable plan that CCP is trying to follow.  It is probably no coincidence that the best SKINs are the ones on a few hulls while the ones that try to cover a whole faction or every ship in the game tend to be a bit “meh.” (The Biosecurity Responder SKINs are the exception there.)

Anyway, that is a lot of words.  I guess this could have been “Ten Bad EVE Online Ideas” rather than five, since I just kept on going with the honorable mentions.  But the first five are really “never go there” ideas that CCP might consider, while the latter five I think we’re pretty safe from.

And I didn’t even get into blockchain, crypto, and NFTs.  Those are bad ideas as well, but I am waiting for Pearl Abyss to tell CCP to do them before I jump back on that thread.

It’s the End of the Metaverse as we Know It

It certainly feels that people talking about “the metaverse” have taken the universality aspect of of the “meta” prefix a bit too literally as the word “metaverse” is rapidly approaching the state where it means whatever the speaker thinks it mean in that moment.

Of course, we’ve been down that path before.  I remember when “MMO” meant a game with specific characteristics, like hundreds of people in a shared space.  Now it pretty much means any online game where six or more people can interact in some way.

There is the grand purist metaverse vision which says, as Bhagpuss so astutely put it, if there is more than one then it isn’t the metaverse.  That is the online ideal of sort, the place of Snow Crash and Ready Player One, where everybody goes or has a presence… though if you’ve read either, the actual real worlds they exist in are dystopian nightmares, so no wonder everybody is so keen to strap into their VR gear and get away from it all.

We’re probably never going to get there… or I hope we’re not… though we certainly seem to working hard on making the real world something to escape.

But this past week VentureBeat hosted a Summit on the whole Metaverse idea.

VentureBeat presents

It was preceded by a Facebook gaming summit… now Meta, but we still know who they really are… which has moved big towards the whole metaverse idea despite some skepticism within their own ranks, which I  covered previously.  While technically not directly part of the metaverse event, it covered a lot of the same ground, so it might well be counted as day zero of the whole thing.

Facebook has been on the metaverse idea for a while, as this now more than two year old trailer for their Horizon product indicates. (For some reason this ad was making the rounds this week as though it was new.)

At that point they were very much locked into the idea that VR would be the domain for the metaverse.  Also, legs were clearly not a thing.

However, on the first day of the summit, which was all Facebook, I listened to somebody from from the Oculus group tell the audience that the metaverse would need to be on every device, phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, as well as VR.

The same person also mentioned that when he joined Oculus, before they were acquired, everybody who signed on was given a copy of Ready Player One, which is somewhat telling I suppose.  In Snow Crash the metaverse seemed more like something the dispersed internet evolved into.  In Ready Player One it is run by an evil corporation.  So I guess they were already on board with being bought by Facebook before it happened.

A more disturbing trend to me has been the union of the concept of the metaverse and the crypto blockchain NFT demographic.  This has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with money.  Venture capitalists have found they can extract money from a crypto investment much faster than a traditional startup so have been pumping and dumping to their heart’s content.

Essentially, the word “metaverse” has become shorthand for “NFT vehicle”  for some so, while the Oculus guy didn’t mention them, Facebook is all in on the idea, while other speakers, such as Brendan Greene of PlayerUnknown fame, who helped establish the battle royale genre, spoke about his new project, Project Artemis, a world sized metaverse, which will be on board with the NFT train.

Because somehow over the objection of the developers who actually have to do the work, execs and finance people have seemingly embraced the NFT idea as the way to move assets between games in order to create a single metaverse out of everybody’s own pocket virtual world.

However, I will say that, for the most part, the summit wasn’t over-hyped on the whole crypto NFT thing.  There were certainly crypto proponents on the schedule and who sessions were about how this is going to be great once more people jump on the bandwagon.  But there was also some recognition that NFTs needed to win people over, something that had not happened yet, though I did hear one speaker go on about how if gamers weren’t going to get on board with NFTs then they would just find another demographic, leaving gamers behind.

I am not sure who else they are going to get to buy into it… well, I have a guess… but Ubisoft, which has literally bought into NFTs, is certainly finding gamers unwilling to invest in NFTs.  They feel that gamers just “don’t understand,” which is the most common crypto scammer talking point around.  We like to point out how bad Activision and EA are, but Ubisoft is literally the worst and has been for more than 20 years.

Honestly though, while I signed up for the whole event, I would guess that I checked in on maybe half of the sessions, and some of them weren’t all that interesting.  There was, for example, a pleasant man from Helsinki speaking about industrial applications for VR and the metaverse and I just took my headphones off and went on with something else.

The only session I was completely in for was the one featuring Raph Koster, who got the last 20 minute speaking slot at the end of the whole thing.  I teased him about that on Twitter, though he spun it as getting the last word.  Still, they gave some guy 30 minutes earlier in the day to talk some nonsense about The Matrix and promote his book, so I was feeling a little defensive of Raph’s place in the order of things.

But I need not have fretted even a bit.  Raph came in strong with that last session, with a short slide deck, which made him stand out from most of the presentations.  He was there to talk about how we even get to a metaverse, where you’re able to move from one world to another across vendors, a issue he framed as a social problem.  There are standards to be agreed upon and rights and ownership and all sorts of things that need to be sorted out before we start thinking about walking between WoW and Fortnite, which seemed to be the interoperability metaphor of the conference.

Many of the issues that need to be resolved have been under discussion for ages at this point.

He didn’t come up with any specific answers, but blockchain and crypto did not enter into it his talk, those not being solutions to any of the current problems facing the metaverse.

I did stick around for the post-game summary by the GameBeat staff, who were cool on the NFT idea, which surprised me a bit since their parent, VentureBeat, seems keen to cover all things crypto.  But, then their audience is more investors and VCs, and crypto is what investors want to head about now.  You have to give your audience what they want, even if they want garbage I suppose.

The whole thing is up on YouTube on VentureBeat’s channel if you are interested.

As noted, Raph is at the end of day two if you want to watch his 20 minutes. (Also, seeing Raph live, Playable Worlds might want to update the promo pic they use of him, which must be from 2006 given how much gray hair he has now.  Why not play up his age and experience rather than trying to keep him looking forever 35?)

The site also did decent summaries of some of the sessions on their site, which are a little more detailed that the presentations.  I’ll link to a few of the more interesting ones:

Those last two are interesting for specific definitions of the word, like if you want to hear the crypto side of things try to rationalize why the metaverse needs them.  I think that quote about leaving gamers behind is in that last session.

Not everything at the event was worth hearing, but it was the place to be if you wanted some insight into what the people… mostly money people… want to hear about.  The GamesBeat team kept things going, though occasionally the slipped up a bit.  I think they were about done with the event when this poll popped up.

Yes? No? Both? Neither?

So it goes.

And, while we’re on the topic of the metaverse, interoperability, and NFTs, I figure I should toss in a video that cam up last week.  It is 30 minutes of a developer going through the issues, one by one, about how NFTs don’t solve any of the problems that need to be solved for the metaverse.  It is just shy of 30 minutes, but it is pretty to the point.

I’ve seen all these points before, but it is nice to have them summed up in one video.  He also has a follow up video because the crypto bros came after him with the whole “but we want to be able own/trade independent of the developer” scenario, which he also picks apart pretty well.

However, if you really want to dig into the NFT/crypto thing and have two hours to spare, I highly recommend this video from Folding Ideas.

It is essentially a documentary look into where cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and NFTs came from, what they really are, how badly designed they really are, who is making money on them, and how the scam really works.  Spoiler:  It is all based on the greater fool theory.

I don’t think there was a lot shockingly new to me in that video, except for the cost, and the variability of cost, of blockchain transactions, which would make the whole thing a non-starter for any legitimate enterprise.

Seriously, you would have to be insane to use crypto for your business unless it is a scam.  Any CEO of a legitimate company that says they are seriously considering NFTs is throwing out a buzzword to boost their stock price or doesn’t understand how they actually work… though you cannot rule out both being the answer.

Anyway, the video did nicely tie together a lot of different threads and I felt it was well worth the time, so much so that I listened to it twice. (While doing some quests in EQII.)  Hat tip to Massively OP for linking to this video.

Addendum: If you prefer the written word to a two hour video, then there is David Rosenthal’s Stanford talk that he reproduced on his blog, which gets down into the details of crypto and how it goes so very wrong.

Facebook, the Metaverse, and John Carmack

The metaverse is honey pot trap for architecture astronauts.

-John Carmack, Consulting CTO for Oculus VR

The metaverse has been much discussed in our little corner of the world here in 2021, largely due to Raph Koster and his Riffs by Raph columns over on the Playable World site where he has been writing about virtual worlds, multiverses, and the potential for a metaverse.  While he is clearly selling a vision as much for investors as for us, his self-promotion contains plenty of valuable insight.

There has also been something of a wave of NFT and blockchain proponents hyping their favored tech as the key ingredient for some future metaverse, though they can hardly drag themselves away from destroying the planet and scamming people with the virtual goods version of the property flip scam to be taken seriously.  They are are just modern incarnations of those who would sell the Brooklyn Bridge or investment opportunities in perpetual motion machines.  George C. Parker would be very much at home among them.

Steam went so far as to ban all titles that have NFT or cryptocurrency ties. (Scott Hartsman has a Twitter thread about why Steam might not want the liability that comes with those titles.)  Epic went the other direction immediately because Tim Sweeney’s idea of an argument is the automatic gainsaying of whatever his opponent says.  But Tim Sweeney says a lot of things, and he carefully caveated his statement to give the Epic Store an out.

But the big bombshell this week was Mark Zukerberg announcing his intention to create the metaverse and being so invested in the idea that he has changed the name of his company to Meta.

The memes based on this image are quickly becoming meta

My gut reaction to a Facebook owned metaverse requiring me to strap their Oculus hardware to my face and let them watch and exploit everything I do in their Horizon virtual world sim is a pretty strong negative.

The pitch has been put together in this 20 minute video which features Zuckerberg himself explaining how he wants to co-opt the metaverse idea and make it something he controls.  He isn’t so much promoting a metaverse so much as a “Zuckerverse” where he’ll be king.

Part of me sees evil based on what Facebook has become, but part of me also sees somebody who peaked in their 20s with an astounding success, becoming a billionaire over night, who now wants to top that.  Oh, and I also see somebody who has no idea what real people want or need… and maybe a bit of distraction from the bad odor Facebook is in right now as well.  Lots going on here.

And I am one of those people who read Snow Crash in the late 90s and have been hearing about the idea of VR since the mid 80s, so I am still in the target zone for online world ideas.  But Facebook driving it… well, a lot of people were annoyed/dismayed when Facebook bought Oculus back in 2014, and we were only angry because Facebook hosted crappy spammy social games and harvested our data. (Some fun links in that post. I think the Raph Koster one might be the most on the money, which doesn’t surprise me.)

More interesting and refreshing though has been the take by John Carmack, Consulting CTO for Oculus, which Facebook owns (and which is also losing its name), who gave the keynote speech for Zuckerberg’s event.  He seems much less convinced that the metaverse is an achievable objective in the way that is being presented.  The video of his presentation is embedded below, dialed up to just where he begins to speak about the metaverse idea.  He is a strong proponent of the idea, but not so much of the path it is on, and is keenly aware of the complications it faces.

The “architecture astronauts” he mentions in the keynote, from the quote I have at the top of the post, are those who like the big picture ideas of the metaverse while skipping over the details of how to actually make those big picture ideas work.

Carmack is very much about those details and points out quite a few issues with the idea of an Oculus VR based metaverse, not the least being the problem of the headset itself.  He compares it to the ubiquity of our phones and the challenge of reaching that level with hardware that you have to strap to your face and which blots out the real world, not to mention the whole motion sickness thing.  I mean, he still seems all in on a Facebook metaverse, he just just comes across as skeptical that they’re going about it the right way.

Anyway, there is a bunch there to digest and news stories abound about the Facebook announcement, so use your favorite search engine to find them, though if you want the best headline to come out of this, Vice has you covered.

Ars Technica also has a summary of the Carmack keynote if you don’t want to watch it, though I think watching it has much more impact.  There is also a nice Twitter thread that brings up key Carmack statements which is a quick read.

As for Facebook changing its name to Meta… does anybody actually call Google “Alphabet” now?  And what happens to The Meta Show, the weekly EVE Online Twitch show?  Does this help it or hurt it?

We’ll see what this looks like a year from now.

Addendum:  The Meta Show rebrands in light of the changes over the past week.

Fountain Frank announces The Facebook Show

Which Games Hand Out Cash in the MMORPG Space?

I mention in Tuesday’s post about the Grand Heist update for EVE Online that CCP had launched a new login campaign that included an ISK reward for Omega accounts.

Grand Heist Login Rewards

Universal basic income arrives in New Eden!

This got a lot of attention and the usual suspects were quick to call out anybody who seemed to be complaining about it, to the point that there were literally more threads started complaining about people complaining than there were actual complaints in /r/eve.

But there was a lot of “WTF?” in the air all the same.  This was in part because CCP has spent the last couple of years turning down ISK faucets in the game and generally nerfing income, which makes them suddenly handing out ISK a bit… strange.

I mean, I think we all can agree that it was an abrupt change of direction without having to dig into the “why” aspect of the whole thing.

In addition, at least for me, the whole thing was kind of strange because I cannot recall any MMORPG that I have ever played that had a daily login reward that just straight up handed you the basic in-game currency.

I have been given cash shop cash, vouchers, gear, cosmetics, pets, mounts, toys, vendor trash, companions, and all sorts of other game related items.  But the main in-game currency?  Never.

CCP, which has been doing login rewards for a couple of years now, both in ongoing daily and special event related forms, has been pretty stringent on not even giving you something that could be sold in game for cash.  They have over the years made so that most items they give out are consumed on redemption.  You can’t trade that SKIN from the event, so you better redeem it on the right character!  And the items that are not are generally of little value.  I mean, I am sure somebody has found a way to make some ISK off of those 5 run Tech I blueprints that we keep getting handed, but I haven’t.  I generally stick them in my cargo to add to the flavor of my loss mails.

So with this I wondered, for example, if WoW has ever just given me some gold?  Has EverQuest or EverQuest II ever handed me some platinum coins for just logging in?  I don’t think so.

The closest I can come is LOTRO and their daily hobbit presents, which sometimes hands you a pile of coins that you can bring to the vendor for in-game currency.  And they still aren’t just handing you some actual currency, just something you can sell to an NPC.

But my horizons are pretty narrow these days.  Among the many legitimate complaints you can make about this blog is the fact that I am still playing mostly the same games… and sometimes even the same content… that I was writing about nearly fifteen years back.

So maybe this is a thing that just hasn’t landed in the few titles I spend time with yet.

And thus I ask the question: Is this a thing in your MMORPG?  Do you get handed in-game currency in the titles you play?

Somebody has to have seen this.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bhagpuss?

Inquiring minds want to know.

As for the “why” of things, CCP is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and stashed away on a volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic.  We can guess, but I’ve heard from former devs is that CCP is so isolated from the rest of the industry that they end up arriving at various points more due to accidental circumstance than by design, even in an industry where this often seems to be the norm.

So some will say it is because of the sagging player count or the shrinking economy or to cover for the fact that the company will be mostly on vacation for the next month or that Pearl Abyss made them do it.  But it could as well be their form of the rainbow covenant, the sign to all of us that the economic starvation era is really coming to an end.

Anyway, we’ll see where things head.

Proving Some Sort of Point about Video Game Pricing

I published a post about the $15 MMO subscription price… it feels like a while back because I wrote most of it in April and then didn’t get around to posting it until the middle of this month… that went on about Moore’s Law, software, and how the cost of everything in tech doesn’t really go down over time.  It is mostly just the capability of hardware versus price that keeps changing.  The same dollar buys you twice the computing power every other year.  It doesn’t affect the cost of food, gasoline, or rent.

The primary question in the whole thing was whether or not the $15 a month subscription price for MMORPGs… and, by extension, the $60 box price for AAA games… was really a reasonable expectation 20 years down the road from when they were set.

Daybreak subscriber prices

Raph Koster has opined on the cost of making video games for years and has data to back up what he says.  That linked post came from a discussion that started in the comment thread on a post on this blog.

Given the small, rather niche audience that this blog has, I was interested to see what responses, if any, I might get.  The responses were a bit nuanced, though I would say there was a bias towards not paying any more than the current $15 a month.

And then Massively OP picked up on my post and asked the question of the staff and their own wider audience and… well… I can see why Raph Koster said that studios don’t dare raise prices from the current set standards.

Seriously, the staff and most of the comments come across not just against any raise in price, but often insisted that we should be paying less.

A couple of reasonable souls allowed that the overall rate of inflation might justify something like $17-20, but most people were adamantly against any such thing, often for very subjective reasons, like feeling that this game or that isn’t delivering as much content as they once did.

Is it reasonable to expect, as example, Lord of the Rings Online to deliver as much content when they’ve gone from making $100 million back in 2013 to something around $14 million in 2020?

It doesn’t matter, people feel cheated, that they’re paying as much or more due to cash shops and are getting less for their money.

No need to put a bullet in price rise idea, it is clearly dead already.

Of course, as I opined in the thread, the video game industry hasn’t exactly done itself any favors.  The wealthy Bobby Kotick or Tim Sweeney are the poster boys for greed, making obscene amounts of money while keeping pay and benefits for the people who do the work well below what comparable ability would earn a person other tech segments.  When Kotick’s compensation is cut in half and still looks obscene, that says something… it says that video game companies are making plenty of money already, thank you very much.

And the fact that Steam added 10,263 games to its online store in 2020, a storefront long complained about by developers both due to the regular sales that have cut the average sales price for titles and the 30% tariff Valve takes off the top of every sale (something the rent seeking Tim Sweeney wants a cut of, which is the only reason he is battling with Valve, Google, and Apple… it certainly isn’t the concern for gamers he professes),  seems to indicate that there are a lot of developers out there that are just fine with the situation as it is.

I say that because, in a rational economic situation, self interest would drive some, if not most, of those developers to seek better paying jobs in industries where their talents would earn them considerably more in compensation.  But video games are emotional, a “dream job,” that people will sacrifice to pursue.  (Or is it the corrupt developer career path they are seeking?)

Then there is how consistently two-faced various companies have been about monetization in the face of their inability to raise box prices.  It is always fun to call out EA for saying dumb things like that their pseudo gambling lock boxes are ethical and fun surprise mechanics as they target children by advertising in a toy catalog, but the industry group that represents them tried to upstage the FTC hearing on industry practices by holding a press release where the promised, cross their heart hope to die, that the industry could regulate itself even as Activision patenting game matching algorithms that would pair cheapskates up with those who paid to win to get superior gear so that they would feel the need to spend in order to compete.  As I said previously, this is all a very strong approach to getting the industry regulated.

And so I suppose I cannot really blame the people commenting that they should be paying less for games.  The big players in the industry have cultivated an environment where the whole thing feels like… a business?

Wait, that can’t be right, can it?

How Long can the Fifteen Dollar Subscription Hold Out?

I remember, way way back in the day, a user review for EverQuest that was an all caps exercise in outrage over the fact that, on top of the purchase price for the game it required you to pay a fee every single month you wished to play.  It ended with a call to boycott the publisher of the game to put a stop to this complete rip-off of a business model.

I think EverQuest was $9.95 a month back then too.  It wasn’t even to the $15.00 mark we’ve come to accept as the norm.

Daybreak subscriber prices

But we’ve been at that $15.00 mark, with a discount for purchasing multiple months, since before the launch of World of Warcraft.  The fact that WoW adopted it pretty much set the price in stone.  I recall Mark Jacobs being soundly rebuked when he suggested that maybe Warhammer Online would cost more, a premium price for a premium game and all that.

We have been conditioned by Moore’s Law to expect tech items to cost less over time.  While the law itself specifically concerns itself with the number of transistors that can fit in a given space, the corollary effects include the iPhone 8 in my pocket outperforming a 1970s Cray supercomputer for a tiny fraction of the former’s original price.  We get better, cheaper hardware all the time.

And some of that has been reflected in other pricing.  It used to cost an hourly rate to log onto the online services of the 80s like GEnie and CompuServe.

GEnie Price “cut”

Now most people in urban and large suburban areas have access to some form of high speed internet and the web, while splattered liberally with ads, is mostly free.

But that is mostly hardware and bandwidth driven.  Software is different for many reasons, though the immaturity of software development methodology and the constant need to update due to security issues and defects has a lot to do with it.

The outsider view is that you write your code and, having written, move on.  The reality, which I can harp on about ad nauseum, is that a development group on a mature product can easily find itself spending most of its time dealing with problems that come up simply due to changes in the environment the code lives in.  Every product manage wants more new features to sell and hates to hear the dev team talking about the need to upgrade outdated libraries or other maintenance functions.

So we are in an unnatural situation when it comes to video game software, with their pricing stuck in time. (There was a good discussion of this in the comments on a post here a few years back.)  Triple-A titles are $60.  MMORPG subscriptions are $15 a month.  And so it has been for coming on to 20 years.

Enterprise and productivity markets have long since gone to annual licenses and even Microsoft wants you to rent Office365 from them rather than buy the hidden, but still available, stand-alone Office package. (And, having just moved an Office 2013 license from an old machine to a new one, let me tell you that they are keen to throw a lot of chairs in your way to get you to give up and get on board their rental bandwagon.  But I don’t think many of the products in the Microsoft Office bundle have change enough since the 90s to warrant a rental fee.  If I could still use Microsoft Word 5.1a, I would.)

But video games seem stuck.  Worse than stuck in the case of MMOs, where free to play has become the norm and only a few strong titles can afford to hold the line on requiring a subscription beyond what is essentially a demo period.  My headline is a lie in that the fifteen dollar subscription hasn’t held… but in the opposite way that I meant!

Stymied on the box price and subscription front, video game studios have ventured out in other directions.  So now we have cash shops and DLC and season passes and cosmetics and pets and mounts and character boosts and special servers and game time tokens and skill points and xp boosts and anniversary editions and premium editions and collector’s editions and even a $250 “friend’s and family” edition, all to eke out a bit more cash from the end users who inevitably shout “Greed!” and “Pay to Win” at the first hint that they might feel mildly incentivized to make one of those purchases.

It isn’t that I want to pay more for any of these games.  I have a kid in college, and education is one front where people haven’t been shy about raising prices.  And I have been notably prickly about some of those items listed myself.

But even though these games I play were launched in 2007, 2004, 2003, and even 1999, the people who work on them have to pay rent, buy food, medical care, and everything else here in 2021.  And stuff has not gotten cheaper.  It feels like eventually we hit one of those “you must pick two” scenarios where the options are:

  • Don’t pay more for games
  • Don’t have Pay to Win in your games
  • Your game stays in business

So I wonder when we’re going to have to pony up some more cash to pay.  Until then I try to temper my ire when companies do things they said they wouldn’t do or trot out packages or plans that seem ludicrous to me.  If they don’t pay the bill then there isn’t a game to be played.

The Allure of the Thin Client

For a couple of decades various companies have been trying to get us back to the thin client model of computing.  Oracle has suggested this loudly more than a few times and Google ponders it now and again, with things like Stadia being based on the idea.  Also, if you work for a big company I assure you that your IT department has wet dreams about taking away all your laptops and desktops and making you work on some sort of thin client appliance.  IT at my company keeps pushing Citrix virtual desktops as the solution to every problem.

I say “back to” because I am old enough to remember when dumb terminals and terminal emulators were a mainstay of computing.  In addition to my time spent in the computer lab in college, the online games I played back in the 80s and into the mid-90s, things like Stellar Emperor or Gemstone on GEnie, MegaWars III on CompuServe, and Sonjourn/Toril MUD, were all built on that model.

Star Trek in vt52 emulation

As personal computers came along and started growing in computing power, much of the heavy lifting was put on that end of the equation.  Air Warrior rendered its very primitive visuals on the player end, and shooters and action games like Marathon and Diablo made the user’s system do the graphical work while just data about inputs and positioning were shared.   This meant that in the low bandwidth of the time… I played Air Warrior on a 2400bps modem… the back and forth between client and server was kept to a minimum.

So the end user client became fat.  Eventually so much data was stored at the user end by the late 90s that EverQuest had a little test module app that let you run around a mini-zone to test your 3D card, but you could rename many of the game maps and run around the main, if empty, world if you knew what you were doing.  You couldn’t zone or do much, but if you wanted to explore it was a boon, and you were not even connected to Sony while you did it.  And that is the way that many MMORPGs and other online games went, keeping data on the server and letting the end user machine do the graphical work.

For video game developers there are many benefits to going with a thin client, of keeping all that data on their servers.

For starters, the downloads and patching at the user end are kept to a minimum.  This has often been viewed as a point of friction that keeps players from trying out new games.  The holy grail is for a player to just be able to play without any sort of download, something CCP has been experimenting with recently with EVE Online and their EVE Anywhere browser beta.  If you can just play the game on any computer, then your potential market is greatly expanded.

It also makes updates easy, since things only have to get pushed as far as the servers.  Very little need be pushed to the player’s machine.  New content just appears or is unlocked without a download.  You also get all your settings and configurations as you move from device to device.

It is also a major boon for security.  If all the key files are on the company’s secure servers, then secrets can be kept.  We are familiar with every new pet, item, mount, or NPC being spoiled for us in WoW by the race to datamine any pre-patch update.  And, of course, addons, illicit or benign, and hacks are kept at bay.  This all falls under Raph Koster’s admonishment that “the client is in the hands of the enemy.”  Overall the environment is more secure.

Finally, all the end user issues that come from the wide variety of PC configurations, a huge problem for many applications, are largely eliminated.  A thin client stops caring about processors and video cards and operating systems and the like.  Your game can theoretically run on somebody’s TV or refrigerator.

All in all there is a lot of upside.  Control! Security! Ease of access!

Sign me up today!

So why isn’t every new online game in a thin client in the cloud?

Since I used the word “cloud” there, I am going to take a moment to point out that cloud computing is not the same thing, or required for, a thin client, though when people who should know keep conflating the two things I get how you might be confused on that.  Thin clients are as old as computing.  See my reference to dumb terminals at the top of this post.  And cloud computing is, simply put, a scalable server architecture with redundancy built in… though, again, some things that get referred to as “the cloud” are better labeled “somebody else’s computer” and not used as examples of the technology.  Talking about cloud computing as though that means any remote computer is a simplification that renders the term meaningless.  If that is your frame, then every online game is “cloud” and there is nothing special about it.

Anyway, why is Google’s Stadia something of an outlier rather than the norm for the industry, at least when it comes to 3D rendered world-based games?  (Because you kind of have to count early RuneScape, Club Penguin, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures, Nation Geographic Adventures, and all those Cartoon Network games if you don’t put a barrier somewhere.  So I am speaking of high end games where some level of realistic graphic fidelity is a requirement.)

And maybe Stadia is a bad example in that it is attempting to be a virtual console that can play titles that were not otherwise designed for such an environment, but if you take it off the list we don’t have a lot of other big name examples.  Well, at least no successes.  A few companies have tried to do what Stadia is doing in the past and have ended up failing.  But given that it is common as shit unless you want render a ton of polygons, why isn’t already a common thing?

Part of the issue is likely due to the cost of the infrastructure.

The problem is that if you’re going to take over all the rendering functions of the remote device, you essentially have to do all the processing that the end user’s PC or console was going to do.  If you want to run that all yourself or you want to use somebody else’s data center, that still means a lot of extra hardware.  The company basically has to pay to run your client rather than letting you run it on your own hardware.

For example, EVE Online has a minimum system requirement of a 2.0 GHz dual core processor and a modest GPU.  If it went entirely thin client, if EVE Anywhere was the only way to access New Eden, you would have to have the equivalent of 20,000 minimum spec PCs in processing power on hand just about all the time, scaling up to 35,000 or even 40,000 at prime time on weekends.

You can probably get away with less processing power for most operations, but you would most assuredly want to put more processing power behind GPU support unless you want the whole game to run in potato mode for everybody all the time.

In a modern cloud architecture where you can bring capacity online easily and only pay for what you are using at a given time, you can keep the costs down somewhat, but everybody playing is incurring a cost, and somebody has to pay for it.  I don’t think it will be like my days back in college where your online account had an allocated budget to spend on processing time (which inevitably got squandered on Rogue), but the company is going to have to find some way to pay for using their processing power rather that your own.  Expect to pay more.

And, while the company saves on bandwidth when it comes to things like pushing patches to every client, the need to pipe high quality video at an appropriate resolution and quality will more than offset that.

Meanwhile, latency and connection quality issues will become a much more visible, something that Google’s Stadia demonstrated.  These are issues in current games like WoW, but you often don’t see it because the client with all the assets and world data will keep you walking, running, riding, or flying along while it tries to catch up after any data blip.  But if you lose connectivity for a bit and far end is only routing video to you, everything stutters or stops quite noticeably.  And even when the is able to get to you but the network traffic is slow, you’ll see your video quality degrade.

Also, if you live some place with restrictive bandwidth caps you’ll find streaming all that video might put you in danger of exceeding them.  You need high speed and lots of bandwidth to play a thin client game at the quality level you’re used to with an equivalent fat client title.  But you can play the thin client title on your refrigerator, so there is that.

But, if the game decides to take full advantage of the potential platform independence aspect of a thin client, if they’re going to support your high end desktop PC with the 34″ ultra wide screen monitor AND that refrigerator screen, there is likely going to have to be some sort of compromise on quality and UI.  So even if bandwidth and network hiccups aren’t dragging down your quality, the game itself, optimized to some happy medium, might not deliver the same satisfying, high definition experience that you would get if your own gaming rig was doing the work rather than some standardized system on a remote server.  Oh, and I keep using the term “thin client,” but for most uses you can substitute in “web browser,” though a light app is also possible. (Though with that comes the temptation to fatten it up.)

Finally, if the thin client game shuts down… see MetaPlace… you have nothing left but memories and credit card bills.  All of the major pirate /private server projects to restore online games that have been closed rely heavily on people being able to get a hold of a copy of the fat client.  All the graphics and a lot of the data is stored there, which is how so many of these rudimentary projects get stood up so quickly.  The world is in the client, you just need to get a system with the right responses going to get basic walking around the world functionality running.

The thin client idea is an attractive proposition for the dev side.  It simplifies a lot of things for them, gives them better security, and hands them all the control.  Done right in a cloud environment, it could even solve the first day server load issues if they can scale successfully.

But somebody is going to pay for the additional cost, your experience may be degraded if you do not have an ideal internet connection, if the studio wants to run their title across platforms and devices you may find the experience and interface less than you desire, and the whole thing becomes a virtual world that can disappear, never to be seen again, as fast as any virtual good.

Quote of the Day – The Passenger and the Sailor

A player-driven economy isn’t about the money. It’s about having every way to play the game serve a role in the ecosystem. It’s about all the wonderful and weird ways we choose to live and play, and how we find out that our silly hobbies are vital necessities to someone else.

Raph Koster – Player Driven Economies

Last week’s nothing ball of a vision message, which sounded like the intro to an actual presentation rather than a presentation on its own, left me wondering left me wondering if Raph had anything actually up his sleeve.  It is unlike him to be so empty of depth in a post.

But he is back, so maybe that past post was just the intro, and this time there is some actual meat to chew on. He jumps right in on his vision of an MMORPG player-driven economy.

Raph on the economy

Getting to the end of the post and that quote above brought Guy Kawasaki to mind and his book The Macintosh Way.  I still have a copy sitting on my book shelf, which I never managed to get him to sign even though he used to roll into the computer store I worked at for a while during a low spot early in my career.

The book is a tale of his time at Apple and after, and the vision of product development and marketing that came of his experiences.   When in comes to product, he was a proponent of DICE, products that are deep, indulgent, complete, and elegant.

It was an era when companies shipped complete products because they couldn’t assume you could update.  Imagine that!

But “deep” gets to what Raph is going for here, which is that a it should have appeal for a wide range of users, from the passenger to the sailor, as the metaphor in the book puts it.  And that range of users, or players, from casual to hardcore, should be able to provide something to the greater economy of the game and benefit from their contribution.

Seems solid enough and certainly evokes some of the Star Wars Galaxies player economy, which I have no doubt will rouse the keepers of that sacred flame.  That Bree, one of those keepers, used an image from SWG featuring the entertainer profession in the post about this over at MOP was no accident I am sure.

Raph loses me a bit when he writes “OK, enough lofty theory stuff. Let’s get concrete” and then presents a diagram of the macro economy he has planned, which has been obfuscated into a meaningless flow chart, then carries on as though he has delivered actual support to his assertion.

Playable Worlds and their unreadable macro economy chart

I get why he doesn’t want to show the details, but give me 30 minutes with Visio and I’ll crank out something that looks meaningful if you zoom out far enough too.  That chart is just as empty as his last post.

So it is all philosophy.  Not that philosophy is a bad thing, and Raph is very good at philosophy.  Have you read his book?  But the translation from philosophy to mechanics is another thing altogether.

And it is clear Raph, despite the earlier empty virtual world vision, is making a game.  But we knew that almost a year ago.  It will be a sandbox game, and not a “gankbox” (which, following the usage of the term, means no non-consensual PvP I guess, that being the only consistent defining metric of the term), but will have constructs in it that will give people purpose and frame the mysterious macro economy almost pictured above.

Overall, a more worthwhile read than the previous post, and you can lose quite some time diving into the linked post about trust relationships and game design, but it is all still just vision.  Vision can get people excited and keep people going, but execution is where the rubber meets the road.  And this is still the MMORPG genre, which has a history of being long on vision and short on execution.  Promises abound, delivery not so much.

Finally, in my experience over the years, any system that allows more casual play styles to thrive or be competitive or add value tend to be abused by the more hardcore end of the spectrum and end up being nerfed into oblivion.  So I remain skeptical.

Quote of the Day – Empty Vision

Yes, today’s world is a magical place. But our online alternatives have gotten kind of… mundane. Predictable. Kill some blues, collect some purples, fetch ten of whatever. They don’t have to be that way.

-Raph Koster, The Future of Online Worlds

I enjoy a good Raph Koster post.  He can bring a lot of insight into the history of online games, especially MUDs and MMORPGs.  So I was anticipating something good, something with some heft, something that would leave me thinking when I saw a new post pop up in my feed from his blog.

That turned out to just be a “go look at the thing I wrote elsewhere” post, directing people to a new item over at Playable Worlds, his current venture.  So I went and read that.

The future is somewhat vague

And it was a whole lot of nothing.

I mean sure, he invoked a some nice ideas, which I will sum up with bullet points that are the phrases he highlighted in the text:

  • We dreamt of living worlds
  • A lot of those big dreams did not come true
  • It’s time
  • yes, worlds can feel alive
  • fits into your life
  • it shouldn’t matter what device you have or how much time you have free
  • playable worlds

And in between those phrases is a lot of empty filler.

Seriously, I got to the final sentence of the whole thing…

We can dream big again, together. It’s time to turn those dreams back into playable worlds.

…and wondered where page two was.

The whole thing reads like the opening of an investor pitch or a GDC talk… throwing in the name of the company as the final words is almost too trite… that will then proceed to get into the meat of the topic.  But there is no meat.  That is all you get, a vision so nebulous that one hesitates to call it a vision.

Of course, the mere fact that he posted even that vaporous tidbit will get some people worked up.  This is Raph Koster, who has Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies on his resume, both of which stand out as special in the long line of online worlds.  Part of me gives him the benefit of the doubt just based on that.

But another part of me, the somewhat more abrasive and cynical part that has been nurtured by the industry over the last 20+ years, wants to shout out, “But what have you done for us lately?”

Because those two titles were also from a long time ago in the current technological timeline.  And, after leaving SOE in 2006, his sole public venture was MetaPlace, which had a similar open vision, and which shut down rather suddenly, taking with it any work that those who invested time with it had created.  And even that happened more than eleven years ago at this point.

It is almost a tech industry genre, the young designer with vision who has a huge impact early in their career, and then never has similar success afterwards and ends up on Fitzcarraldo-esque journey to relive and even top their youthful acclaim.  Their names alone generate interest and a following… think Richard Garriortt, Chris Roberts, Brad McQuaid, Mark Jacobs… and set expectations that their new vision, which is generally their early vision reinforced and revised upwards, will deliver.

The next time that pans out will be the first time so far as I can tell.  The jury is still out.

Of course, I might commend Raph for not going too deep or too grandiose with his vision, though it still feels too light to drum up any enthusiasm in my jaded heart.  At least he didn’t lay out a bunch of specifics that we will later hold against him when they fail to appear.  But I remain confident that we’ll find a way.

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