Tag Archives: A lot of words

Expert Systems in the Face of Failure

As I noted yesterday, if there is one thing you can count on from CCP, it is an overly grandiose and technically incorrect name for something mundane.

Last week CCP announced a new feature called “Expert Systems,” which I immediately summed up as “rent a skill,” as you’d be hard pressed to convince me it was anything else. (It was certainly nothing like an expert system.)

No expert that I know

It has been billed as a way for new players to try out skills they have not yet trained, which doesn’t sound awful on the surface.  The announcement, lacking in details though it was, did specifically mention the “magic 14” skills as part of the plan along with some industry stuff, but nothing about it was crystal clear.

The thing that got a lot of people riled up was the implication that this would be a paid service.  The gut reaction was “pay to win,” though “rent to be mediocre” might be more accurate, but the deeper issue on that front for me was the company having its hand out looking to make money from helping new players figure out the game.  That isn’t a good look.

Well, that and the whole thing seeming to add up a tepid and ineffectual compromise that won’t change anything, which got me back to the bigger problem of the new player experience and how it drives away pretty much everybody who tries the game.

We saw this chart back at EVE North in 2019, which was when CCP said they were making the new player experience a priority.

How many new players log back in as time passes

But we’ve seen charts like that in the past like this one from FanFest 2014.

New Player Trajectory – 2014 edition

CCP has been focused on the new player experience, the NPE, for a year and a half now, tweaking and making modest updates and generally trying to fix the issue without really doing anything too radical.

And it seems to have largely been a wasted effort so far.  CCP was given a golden opportunity during the pandemic to increase its user base.  Every month of the pandemic I have posted the revenue chart from SuperData which has indicated that revenues across the board have been up 15% for video games.  Even CCP has seen a bit of that surge, with the peak concurrent player count finally cresting above the 40K mark back in April as people sought indoor activities during the lockdown.

Hilmar himself was on a Venture Beat panel in late January where he said that EVE Online added 1.3 million new players in 2020. (This number gets mentioned again in the Expert Systems post.)  That was more that the previous few years combined, a gift to the company from the pandemic.

The question is, where did they go?  If CCP was running at the 4.4% long term retention rate their EVE North numbers suggested (which also didn’t seem bad compared to numbers I could find from comparable titles), that ought to have dumped another 57K players into New Eden.  That would be about a 20% boost over the approximate 300K monthly active users that Hilmar has mentioned in the past.

With that big of an influx of new players… so I am assuming they are not counting returning vets joining the war or looking for something to do during lockdown… the peak concurrent players online ought to be up enough for that surge to stand out.

But is it?  Looking at EVE Offline, it doesn’t seem to be.  After the great valley of the null sec blackout and Chaos Era, when CCP seemed keen to actively drive players away, the PCU climbs, sees a surge around April and May, then settles back down to about where it was pre-blackout.  Congratulations to CCP for flattening the curve?

Further evidence for CCP failing to capitalize on the jackpot scenario include the 2020 financial results from Pearl Abyss.  On the surface it looks like the EVE Online IP is growing.  But in we cannot forget that in Q2 2020 CCP was able to re-open the Serenity server in China and in Q3 EVE Echoes launched and attracted a couple million players on its own.  If you were to subtract those two items I suspect the EVE Online IP bit of the chart would be closer to flat.

And then there is the bottom line for the Pearl Abyss acquisition of CCP, which ended up with PA paying just $225 million of the potential $425 million price tag due to CCP missing performance goals, which I am sure included some revenue requirements.  Hilmar and some other big investors missed a payday there.

Fun times.

I don’t want to go all “EVE is dying” meme now.  But in the face of all of this, which stinks heavily of failure, the idea that CCP spent dev time to design and implement this new Expert Systems feature which allows new player to rent skills for some amount of currency in a game where skill injectors exist seems like a wasted effort.  It doesn’t feel like something that will move the needle at all on new player retention, in large part because it doesn’t feel like something that will impact a new player’s experience before they get frustrated or bored and log off.

I have bemoaned the fact that EVE Online is old and cranky and and has issues that will never be fixed because, after nearly 18 years, there just isn’t the time, money, or wherewithal to do it.  And I myself have been cranky about CCP in the past about things like selling skill points and the fact that when they say they won’t do something, that statement has a hidden expiration date of about a year.

But I try not to get too worked up about monetization.  This is a business and, frankly, the price we pay to play hasn’t changes in almost 18 years.  It was fifteen dollars a month in 2003, it remains fifteen dollars a month in 2021.  But I am going to bet somebody has gotten a pay raise or the rent has gone up or costs have otherwise risen in that time.  To balance that out you either have to make more money or have less staff.

So I am not irate like some about the real money aspect of this so much as being unable to see how this will make a lick of difference.  Software development is a zero sum game.  You only have so much time and resources, and if you waste them on things that don’t make the product better you cannot get that time back.

Now, maybe I am just not seeing the big picture here.  Maybe CCP has all the right data to hand and they know that this is a winning idea.  I’d like to be wrong in my assumptions and the announcement was vague enough for a lot of wiggle room as to how this will turn out.  Unfortunately, I have been party to way too many half assed, badly calculated products and features in my career to have a lot of confidence.

The real problem with software is that is written and designed by people who all have their own special collections of bad ideas.

Related:

Reflecting on a Year with Minecraft

In which I write a lot of words about a game… again.

As of today I have spent a full year playing Minecraft.  It was on Father’s Day last year that my daughter suggested we play together, a suggestion she has come to regret in that dismissive way that only teens can manage.

“Are you still playing that?” she says with that eye-rolling world weariness that she gives all such parental endeavors.  But I still remember our first little house in the game, and remind her of it.

A house on the hill

A house on the hill

A lot of time has passed in the world since.

According to Raptr I have spent more time playing Minecraft than any other game besides EVE Online and World of Warcraft.  Considering that I have been tracking with Raptr for five and a half years and I have only been playing Minecraft for one year, that says something.  My top five games on Raptr, as a percentage of time tracked, are:

  1. World of Warcraft 24.5%
  2. EVE Online 20%
  3. Minecraft 9%
  4. Rift 8%
  5. EverQuest II 7%

There are reasons that Minecraft has gone up the list so fast.  We’ll get to that.  But needless to say, I have spent some time with the game over the past year.  Bang for the buck, even with server hosting, has been pretty high.

And I have a pile of blog posts that follow what I have done, which I will just list out here as a retrospective, in case you want to catch up with the story so far.  In order from oldest to newest:

  1. Father’s Day Minecraft
  2. Further Exploration in Minecraft
  3. Minecraft and the Importance of Not Falling off of Things
  4. Minecraft and Bringing Light to Dark Places
  5. Sheep Stole My Mining Cart
  6. Minecraft and the Accumulation of Material
  7. Minecraft and the Gift of Fire
  8. Minecraft and the Hosted Life
  9. Paving the Nether
  10. Minecraft and Another Vision in the World
  11. Minecraft and Dungeon Making
  12. Major Minecraft Setback with NetherByte
  13. Don’t Throw Eggs at the Zombie Pigmen
  14. Minecraft – Our World
  15. Minecraft and a New Age of Exploration
  16. The Demise of NetherByte and the Portability of Worlds
  17. Into the Roof of the Nether
  18. So Close to Taming an Ocelot…
  19. The Barad-dûr in Minecraft – First Attempt
  20. Minecraft, Bases, and the Urge to Explore
  21. Minecraft – Under the Sea
  22. Minecraft and the Great Northern Road
  23. Finishing the Great Northern Road
  24. Minecraft and The Guardian Farm
  25. Prismarine Towers and Horse Field Dreams
  26. Minecraft – This is The End
  27. Our Automated Farms in Minecraft
  28. Upgrading to Minecraft 1.9
  29. Just Another Pig in the Wall
  30. The Move to Minecraft Realms
  31. Minecraft Rail Plans
  32. Collecting Tears…
  33. Finding the Northeast Passage in Minecraft
  34. One Hundred Million Copies of Minecraft
  35. Abandoned Mines and Prismarine Spans
  36. Minecraft 1.10 The Frostburn Update
  37. Minecraft and Closing the Rail Loop

So, after a year of this, I figured it was time to reflect on the game, the good bits and the bits that maybe aren’t so good… because I have to have that whole dichotomy thing I insist on bringing with me wherever I go.  Bear with me.

The Good

The game really scratches the whole “wordly” itch, something that used to be the domain of MMORPGs like EverQuest, Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft.  Your Minecraft world is a place to explore and live in.  That has, no doubt, reduced the time I have spent in what I would consider my more traditional domain, fantasy based MMORPGs.

In addition, the whole persistence aspect of the MMO genre is also covered.  We’re still working with the same world my daughter and I started a year ago today.  A work in progress.  It has been hosted at home and on three different hosting services so far, so not only does it persist, it is portable as well.

The multiplayer aspect is a big deal and, again scratches an itch that was otherwise the exclusive domain of the aforementioned MMORPGs.  That I was able to setup a server and have friends along to play in the same world was a big draw, one that keeps me coming back.  Going to see what other people have done in the world is a treat.

Then there is how each of us tackle the world.  Everybody has their own vision and things they like to do, and that makes looking in on everybody else all the more interesting.

And, of course, the variety of hosting options out there make sharing your world easy.

The sandbox nature, the ability to not just explore, but change the world factors in my enjoyment.  I spend most of my time either building things, or collecting resources to build things.  Crafting and farming enter into this as well.

There are still some nice things to find in game, like villages, desert temples, abandoned mines, dungeons, along with the whole nether and end experience that give you something to work with in the sandbox.

Survival mode provides the requisite friction to make building, exploring, and whatever seem… game like maybe?  If I set the world to creative mode and could just create things out of thin air and build whatever I wanted, flying around and placing blocks, I would have likely tired of the whole thing fairly quickly.

Which is not to disparage creative mode in general.  A lot of people like that, my daughter included, and that is great for them.  But for myself, in order to scratch that itch that video games satisfy, the environment has to impose constraints to work against.  In Minecraft survival mode that manifests itself in the day/night cycle, hostile mobs, the need to gather resources and move them to the site where I want to use them, the time it takes to travel places, and even little things like falling damage, food requirements, and the need to work around things in the environment like water and lava.  Certainly the possibility of death brings spice to things, but even things like item wear and inventory management forces you to adapt.

The requirement to collect raw materials is actually one of my favorite bits of the game.  I spend a lot of time mining in Minecraft.  Funny that.  I dig down to level 12, set up a central area with storage and an auto-furnace, and start throwing out shafts every third block.  I put on an audio book or a podcast and I can mine away for hours.  It can be quite relaxing… or exciting if I dig my way into something under ground.

There is a certain joy in the simplicity of the game, from graphics to actions.  I am not a fan of pixelated graphics for their own sake, but Minecraft has hit a happy balance for me.  The simple nature of the basic game “feels” in accord with the graphics.  The game itself is an odd mix of sophistication and doing things in what I might unfairly call “the easy way.”  The game graphically looks like something from a past era of video games, but in ways couldn’t exist outside of the current era.  Our world currently occupies about 1.2GB of drive space and requires fast internet to load and play effectively on the server.

So it looks like it could be from the 80s, but needs resources that have only become generally available… things like high speed internet and cheap 1TB hard drives… much more recently.  You couldn’t do this on an Apple ][ or a 486 Windows 3.1 PC or probably even that 400MHz Pentium II Windows 98 box with a TNT2 card I had around the turn of the century.  However, even with those requirements, its simplicity makes it feel happily retro.

Finally, there is the whole mod situation, which extends from simple client mods like texture packs, to handy additions like a mini-map, to server mods to change the very nature of the game.  There is a wide world of choices out there which I have yet to scratch the surface of at this point.  All I have really used is Minecraft Overviewer, which renders your world into Google Maps format so you can see it all.  I love this.  And it even has a UI now, so you don’t have to learn the command line if you don’t want.

The Downsides

The world in Minecraft can be a repetitive place.  For every interesting bit of scenery there is another plain or forest or desert or ocean that looks very much like the last one I saw.  Exploration can end up being very much a race to find something, anything interesting in a world of sameness.  I feel like I am most likely to get lost because any stretch of forest looks pretty much like any other, causing me to work out my frustration by setting things on fire.  Burn, forest, burn.  I’ll find another just like you over the next hill.

The downside of persistence is that sense of wanting to hang on to your work.  There are times when I want to just start another world, but then I look at all the work done on ours… and I don’t want to redo that.  I don’t even want to play on other worlds because if I want to play Minecraft, I want to spend the time improving our world… for specific definitions of “improving.”

Sharing your world with others is very cool, but actually doing things with other people can be annoying.  It can be surprisingly difficult to do simple things like travel overland together.  The whole first person view thing makes keeping and eye on other people a chore.  And, in this sandbox which is focused so much on building, we do tend to just build away on our own little projects.  I did get significant help on resources for the rail project from both Skronk and Aaron.  But you tend to let people do what they’re doing because it is their project.

Sharing is also… complicated.  Now and again I want more people to join in on what we have, but who can I really trust?  Who will be compatible and who will just come in and just blow up our stuff.  The joys of a destructible world!  Doubly so since a couple of us have our kids on the server now and again, so there are minors to protect, which lets out almost anybody who plays EVE Online as a possibility, because we’re all horrible people.

The weight of the sandbox nature of the game can be a burden.  When you have a project, all systems are go.  But when you have finished it… well, you have to come up with another project or else just potter around with what you have already setup.  And, frankly, pottering around mostly involves waiting; waiting for crops to grow, waiting for villagers to get something interesting up for trade, waiting for your automated production marvel to make the stuff it makes, or just waiting for the sun to come back up again.

I feel a bit of emptiness in some of my projects.  When my daughter and I first started, she built us a shelter that was just what we needed and no more.  It was pretty cramped.  Then she built the house we moved to, which was nice.  It had a few rooms, but there was something going in on each room.  Then I went and built a castle.  I had a vision of many rooms, each with a function.

However, as I completed the castle, I noticed that I really only used the room that I had setup initially to shelter in over night, plus some empty space around it where I put in chests for storage and built an auto furnace.  That and the automated farm on the roof are about all that the castle has in it.  The problem is that there is nothing to “do” in the castle.  I don’t need any rooms outside of the one where I sleep.  Likewise, in the area I refer to as The Kremlin, I have built several towers, a stable, and a large two story building, all of which are starkly empty inside because I still just sleep at night in the little room I dug in the side of the mountain when I first arrived.

Enaldi and Skronk have built the most amazing Italian town in our world.  Great buildings decorated inside and out.  They set it up with NPC villagers so that they go about their business around the town square.   It is the most wonderfully alive place in our world.  I love it.  But, in the end, there still isn’t anything to “do,” it is just decorative.  Enaldi and Skronk, to my knowledge, don’t log in to “play” in their creation.  They just add more to it.  Just building more and more can feel a little Sarah Winchester now and again.  (I live not far from her house.)

And, without that sense of function, I have stopped putting up large buildings for the most part.  Bridges I like, because they have a function.  But putting up a castle or the like doesn’t appeal to me now because they just end up feeling empty and lonely.  So I work out my anger by marring the landscape with giant public works projects.  I have seriously considered making the rail project double tracked.  Or maybe a six lane highway right through the middle of the continent.

Meanwhile, the friction which keeps the world interesting can also make it annoying at times.  The day/night cycle especially.   If you are on alone, you just hit a bed when the sun goes down and then the day begins anew.  But if other people are on and in the middle of something… nobody cares about day or night deep in a mine, nor when they are AFK waiting for their automated device to crank out some supplied… you have to coordinate or interrupt them or just deal with the night side of the cycle.  And, in the way of things, the day always feels too short because you’re getting things done, while the night feels like it goes on forever because you’re stuck inside or you’re fighting zombies, skeletons, and the seemingly endless supply of creepers the game loves to spawn.

I am unhappy with the behavior of water in the game.  Lava too, but I don’t want to create rivers of lava in the world.  Okay, that’s a lie, I would totally create rivers of lava as well if I could.  But working with water to create anything like a river just involves too many runs with a bucket.  I could just turn on creative mode and do that, but then there goes the magic of friction in the world.  And I want water to flow.  I want to drain lakes and flood mines.  Instead water just sits there or, at best, runs off for a few blocks, gets tired, and gives up.  It does make very nice waterfalls at times though.  I will give it that.

I have also had some poor experiences with hosting services.  There are so many to choose from and there is no real way to tell how things are going to work out.  Who knew NetherByte would fold up shop suddenly?  I suspect that our problems with MC Pro Hosting were related to them co-hosting us on an over taxed machine, so performance went to hell during peak hours.  I understand that problem, but for what we were paying I expected more.  Minecraft Realms has been good, and it is probably the simplest solution, certainly it is the one most integrated into the product, and the price is right, but you give up a lot of control options there.  So I remain vaguely dissatisfied on that front.

Finally, I have, to this point, spent exactly zero time with mods.  Part of that is because in my long history with video games I have developed a love/hate relationship with player developed mods and extensions to games.  I like them, but I have been burned enough times that I also try to keep them to a minimum.  Part of it is a desire not to screw up our world based on experiences related to the former.  Part of it is that it is nice just to be working with the simplest possible set of rules.  And, finally, since we now host on Minecraft Realms, we cannot have any server mods, and even if we could, they would all be broken right now because Realms is always running the latest release version.  There are still mods out there that haven’t been brought up to version 1.8 and we’re now at version 1.10.

Also, totally off the farm here, but I hate when versions don’t get zero padded and the plan is to change the digit count.  For me the sequence should be either this:

1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.0

or

1.07. 1.08, 1.09, 1.10

Where I grew up, 1.1 = 1.10.  But that might just be me.  I still like monospace fonts too.

Summary

If you are reading this and just love Minecraft beyond life itself, don’t take my comments too much to heart.  The day I cannot find something to complain about is probably the day I show up dead.

For me, understanding what I do not like about a game, and why, is as important as understanding what I do like.  No, I cannot just play the game.  It just isn’t in me.  And, I will add a the long standing policy here at TAGN is that I almost never bother to write about games I simply do not like, and certainly not at depth.  This is just a bit of my collected thoughts after a year of playing the game.

I logged in and played yesterday, I will likely log in and play again tomorrow or the next day.

MMO Blogesphere Feed – Version 3

This was going to be something for the top section of the month in review, but it ended up being a bit longer than I would like, so I’ll just complain about WordPress.com or something on the 30th.

So over there in the side bar on the right hand side of the blog, there is my latest attempt to create a unified feed for a small corner of the MMO blogesphere.  This is, of course, driven entirely from jealousy at the wonderful blog roll widget that people using Google’s Blogger platform have access to.  WordPress.com will never give us anything like this because, as I have been told by a designated representative of the organization, blog rolls are a thing of the past.

Such is life.

Now, there are any number of ways with a sufficient application of effort, technology, and/or money, I could enable a comparable feature on my own side bar.

Hell, I could just move to the Blogger platform.  Simple and done.  I just happen to like just about everything else about WordPress.com better than Blogger, up to and including the whole not being an insignificant part of Google and thus always in danger of being discarded for some new vision of the future or if Sergey is having a bad day.  WordPress.com and I disagree on any number of things, but being a blogging platform is their thing.  Plus my blog is too big to export at this point, so I am stuck with them unless I want to start again fresh.

Anyway, while I could throw money and ~effort~ at the problem, I am both cheap and lazy.  So I have sought out solutions that were both low effort and low cost through various iterations of the project.  The story so far…

Version 0

My original plan was just to stick the VirginWorlds feed in the side bar.  That was a fine solution back in the day.  Viva Brent!

But since about 2009 or so, when Brent wandered off with other priorities in his life, it has been less and less of an ideal.  The site is still up and running, and its accompanying feed is still in my side bar.  However, the site no longer gets updated with new blogs any more, so the feed itself tends to be dominated by Massively.  Not that I dislike Massively in general, but I want to promote my fellow bloggers and not a commercial site.  So I started looking for a way to add a new, more blogger focused feed.

Version 1

Back before the advent of Google+, Google Reader was a wonderful thing.  It was fast and simple, tied in with your Google account, and generally the standard across the board for online RSS readers.  The only reason not to use it was fear of the monster Google might become.

And among its many features was the ability to flag items from your reading list to be posted to an RSS feed.  And so I used the WordPress RSS feed widget to put that feed in my side bar, flagging new stories for inclusion every day.  This was probably a bit more “hands on” than I wanted… somewhat akin to the early days of VirginWorlds, when each link on the site represented a manual submission… but it worked.

The came Google+.

google-plus-logo-640

Google proceeded to wreck Google Reader in both form and function in a transparent effort to get people to stop using it in favor of Google+.  Amongst the feature casualties was the RSS output.  So while Google was busy kicking me off of Google+ for using a pseudonym (then quietly asking me to return) and generally annoying people by forcing integration with other services (Remember when your YouTube account HAD to be linked to Google+ for about a week? People were pissed.) they managed to alienate just enough Google Reader users to be able to claim the service was in decline and to shut it down.

Google Reader had fallen so low that when they finally turned it off, the resulting diaspora of users literally swamped all of the competing services to the point of making them unusable due to excess load.  I had to swap to Feedly at a too late date when The Old Reader staff threw their hands in the air at the onslaught and walked away. (They later returned, realizing that they could, you know, make money at this, but I had already moved to Feedly.)

Which is to say, it was still pretty damn popular.  Just not popular enough.  That was also the fate of Google+ which, when it did not eclipse Facebook (and dear Lord, Facebook only looks good when compared to Google+, which is simply awful when it comes to usability) was “De-emphasized” in favor of other initiatives.  Like finally closing down Orkut and figuring out exactly where the line is between “evil” and “not evil.”

Version 2

So, even before the end of Google Reader I was out looking for an alternative.  I tinkered with a few things, including Yahoo Pipes.  Pipes actually looked promising, but I could never get it to create output that would work correctly with the WordPress RSS widget.

Eventually I found a site called RSS Mix.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The service was free… so it met that requirement… and was relatively low maintenance.  Basically, you gave it a list of RSS feed URLs and it would mash all those together and give you an output URL for the combined RSS feed.  And it mostly worked.

It was a bit of a pain to maintain.  Every time I wanted to update the list of blog feeds to draw from I had to submit the whole list again for a new RSS feed, which meant keeping revisions on hand locally.

It also wasn’t terribly reliable.  About half the time I would hit the blog, the feed to fail to load.  That was irksome, but when it did load it did the job.  The service just wasn’t meant to be polled every time somebody showed up at the site, and the WordPress.com widget doesn’t keep a cached version or anything.  So a lot of the time people just saw this:

FeedDown

Then a few people began to note that something about the whole thing was causing ping-backs on Blogger based blogs, including one serious “stop doing that!” complaint, at which point I pulled the widget and started looking for a new solution.

Version 3

I played around with some different options.  Mail Chimp offers a free RSS consolidation feature.  However, it appears to be completely static.  It takes the URLs you hand it, makes a feed, and then never updates it.  Not terribly useful, but it was free so what do you expect.

Feedly sent out an update about a site called Zapier.  If you were a Feedly Pro subscribe, and I am, you could take advantage of the data integration tools that Zapier offered.  This included some RSS feed tools.  I got that to work, but to have more than a couple blogs in the feed I would have to subscribe to Zapier as well, which wanted monthly fee in the subscription MMO range.  That failed the cheapskate test.

Eventually I stumbled onto a site called IFTTT, which is short for “If This Then That.”  This was mentioned at one point as a service that could access Feedly Pro features.  It could take output from Feedly and turn it into something else, I just wasn’t sure what.

I signed up for an account, which was free and thus right in my price range, and started tinkering with it.  I couldn’t get it to output directly to anything in WordPress that seemed useful, at least not for a side bar widget, but I found that,  among the things it could output to, was a site called Pinboard.

Pinboard is described as a “social bookmarking” site, akin to what Delicious was at one time.  I had never used Delicious, but reading through the descriptions at Pinboard, it could take bookmark input and would turn it into an RSS feed output.  That sounded like the ticket.  However, in order to keep spam and such down, Pinboard charges an up front, one time fee to join the service.  It is based on how many people use the service already, basically you have to pay a penny for everybody who got there ahead of you.  My total to join was $10.46, which was well within the cheapskate budget if it worked out. (I suspect that they would change that pricing policy if a lot of people started showing up.  I think a $10 barrier to entry is fine, but if it had been $35 or $50, I might have walked on by.)

Between the three services, I was able to create a rule that takes updates from my MMO Blogs category in Feedly (making me glad I set up categories when I started using the service) and posts them to my Pinboard account.

FeedlyPinboard

And it basically worked.  Items showed up in Pinboard and they were tagged correctly so I could pull them from an RSS feed associated with that tag.  All I had to do was get the data being passed to work with the WordPress RSS widget.  That turned out to be the tricky bit.  It took a bit of trial and error to see what worked and what did not, something that went a bit slowly because I had to wait until somebody posted something new before the feed would update and pass along my changes.  Ideally I wanted something similar to what the Blogger side bar widget offered, with Blog Name, Post Name, and how long ago it was published.  Eventually, paring down the data being passed to the bare minimum, I got the WordPress widget to display what I wanted.

The IFTTT Recipe

The IFTTT Recipe

And I ended up with something that is mostly what I want.

It doesn’t put a nice little icon next to each blog title, the format or title and blog name differs depending on which service is being used, and the the published time is displayed as an absolute in Pacific Time rather than a friendly “2 hours ago” sort of way.  But it mostly works and, now that the one time expense is out of the way, it is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, it is flexible.  I can sort our who goes into the feed easily, by just moving things around in Feedly categories.  I moved some of the blogs that are in the VirginWorlds feed to a special “no feed” category, since I still have that feed in my side bar as well.  Trying to limit double exposure there, which mostly affects Syp and Tobold at this point.  I can create additional RSS feeds from my Feedly account.  I am looking into making one for EVE Online blogs for my other site and another for official game company feeds to put somewhere on the sidebar here. (There is currently an experimental version down at the very bottom of the side bar, if you scroll way down.)

So, mission accomplished!

Yeah, But Why Bother?

So all of that work… and all of those words… later, you might well ask why I deemed this important enough to pursue at all.

Yes, there was a certain amount of envy that Blogger based blogs had a feature that WordPress.com hosted bloggers lacked.  But that envy was based on the empirical observations that such a dynamic side bar widget actually attracts clicks.  Both the stats related to who sends traffic here and where people here click out to, a dynamic side bar widget attracts attention.  People will click on something that is both identified and visibly new or updated.

I can see from my own outbound traffic that almost nobody clicks on the static blogroll on a daily basis.  But with the new feed up in the side bar, I can see multiple clicks going to specific posts that have popped up and been displayed.

I did it because it is an effective way to send people to other blogs in our little community.

Gold is Where You Find It – Blogging and Community

If there is one offer I have heard repeatedly over the soon-to-be-seven years I have been blogging, it is the one where I am asked to join a community.  The offer inevitably requests that  I make this community my blogging platform, that I give up my independence.

Sometimes the offers are heartfelt and genuine from members of what I would consider my own “block” in the MMO blogesphere, for lack of a better analogy.  Certainly GAX Online, despite how it turned out, was an honest effort to try and bring some MMO people closer together.  Gary and Ryan invested a lot of time and effort in something that never quite got a life of its own.

Sometimes things have been more ad hoc, like Beau Hindman’s MMO gamer/blogger group on Ning, which likewise became more of a burden as time went along until he had to let it go.

There was a big push at one point in the name of “gamer social networking,” a concept that was never quite clear to me.  GAX Online was part of that, but there were certainly other groups out there.  Xfire and Raptr both aspire to take their game tracking and IM service into that realm.  I would be interested to know what percentage of their active users on either service ever posts or comments on their main sites.

And sometimes the offers are crass attempts to find people to create free content to drive ad revenue.  Not that I think such sites should be run as charities.

Certainly I never had a problem with services like Blog Top Sites and their business model, though I took down their tracker and stopped using the site eventually more out of a desire to clean up my side bar than anything else.  And I genuinely miss Massive Blips nearly three years later.  But they never asked for the serious buy-in of giving up my independence.

But a good chunk of the personal appeals are from site that want to be your blogging platform.  They always spell out the ill-defined benefit of greater exposure for your writing (my nothing blog usually has a better PageRank and Alexa numbers) while neglecting the fact that your writing will be placed outside of your control on an ad infested hell-hole of a site that likely to fold up the moment the kid running it figures out that it isn’t a path to easy money.

And all this time, I have never jumped in, not for the genuine nor the crass.

This has been in large part because of stubborn desire to maintain my independence.  And that has been mostly a desire to preserve my ability to post about whatever I feel like, to not feel constrained because I am on a site that is just about a single game or genre or whatever.  I want to be able to post about Pokemon events or dead cats or Memorial Day or whatever hell I feel like on a given day.  And I am not keen to give up control to somebody else who can lock me out or take down my work.  Granted, to be on the internet you are always at somebody’s mercy.  But I trust more in WordPress.com than most; more than I do in Google at this juncture, and certainly more than I do when it comes to some stranger cold calling me about their new community and platform.

However, that is not the only reason.

The other main reason is that I have never felt a lack of community.

Now, to a certain extent, I have been fortunate.  I wandered onto the scene at just the moment when Brent at VirginWorlds was coming into his MMO podcasting prime, was swept up in that moment of MMO enthusiasm, and became one of the blogs in orbit of his site.  Michael Zenke even put me in his “MMO blogs” addendum to the “Blogepelago” in the XKCD Online Communities cartoon from 2007.

Some still thrive...

Some still thrive…

Looking at the original cartoon, that was a long time ago in internet years.  But those bloggers and quite a few more were my community, my peers, my betters, my co-conspirators, my friends, my enemies, and quite a few states in between.  We commented on each others posts, or took offense and wrote scathing responses on our own blogs.  We appeared on podcasts together.  We played the occasional game together.  A few of us even met up in person now and again.  I have photographic proof from GDC 2010, GDC 2009, and GDC 2008 (which also shows my full range of facial hair options).

Dinner at Le Colonial

At GDC in 2010

Dinner at Le Colonial

The same place, GDC 2009

GDC 2008, more modest eats

Things have ebbed somewhat from the high point of the blogs clustered around VirginWorlds.  People have moved on.  Blogs have stopped being updated or have disappeared altogether.  Podcasts have faded.  And we have all grown a few years older and probably a couple pounds heavier.

Furthermore, there are more distractions and more options for community.  That XKCD cartoon from 2007 was redone in 2010.  During the intervening years we saw the rise of Facebook and Twitter.  They were barely things at all when I started blogging.  Tumblr has come along for a different style of blogging, while Google+ showed up to try and grab some of Facebook’s domination of frustrating interface design.  And I don’t even know what to say about live streaming, except to say that I do not get it.  Why would I want to watch you play a game rather than just playing it myself?  Sure, sometimes there is a big event worth watching… or Jita Cam (which is down… damn… will Freebooted idle cam suffice?)… but most of the time it strikes me as a “so what?” sort of venture.  But then I consistently write summaries of what I did in game.  Why would you read that rather than playing?

And all of this new stuff has drawn off people that seven years ago might have been reading or writing blogs.

Psychochild asked where the bloggers have gone. (A good posts that links to some other good posts on the subject.) Certainly in our little corner of the internet numbers have declined due to media fragmentation and burn out.  But bloggers still exist.  And new ones show up on the scene.  The mortality rate is high, certainly.  The New Blogger Initiative saw 110 blogs start, but only 30 were going a year later, numbers which matched up to my own survey of linking blogs from the a while back.  But new blood does show up.

And there is still a community of bloggers and commentors and readers who frequent our little cluster of blogs.

All of which makes me sigh in that oh-so-very-tired way when a doomsayer crawls out of the woodwork and attempts to set the narrative with a “join or die” style pronouncement about their idea of community.

This revolves around a bit of EVE Online drama… and what is EVE Online some days but a drama generation engine masquerading as an online game… wherein Marc Scaurus, who at a past time took over the operation of the the EVE Blog Pack and evebloggers.com decided to hand over the reigns.  He announced this a couple of weeks back, asking for volunteers to take over the two.  His own view was that the two might be past their prime and that he might not get any interest.  The EVE Blog Pack just turned five years old and evebloggers.com, a blog feed aggregation site for EVE related blogs, has likewise been around for a while, making them both children of the pre-social media blogging era.

Marc was wrong however, and actually had multiple candidates from which to choose, eventually picking Cyberin to take over. (Some words from the new host.)

The drama comes from a condition he set for the hand over, which was that past proprietors of either of the two services were ineligible to apply.  Alexia Morgan, the previous owner of evebloggers.com, wanted to get the site back and, when denied, began to spin a conspiracy theory about Marc actually planning to kill both services to the greater glory of his work at The Mittani.com.

Par for the course in the land of EVE.

But Alexia Morgan has a plan.  He has evebloggers.net (not to be confused with evebloggers.com!) which he plans to turn into an EVE Online blogging community.  And you’re welcome to be a part of it, as long as you do your blogging on his site and basically hand over control of and access to your work to him.

Did I mention that he HAD evebloggers.com and gave it up?

That is not a glowing recommendation in my book and part of the reason I was personally on board with Marc’s restriction on no past owners.

But there is more, which is all laid out pretty well in an interview over at Warp Drive Active.  And the key for me is Alexia Morgan’s apparent anger at and/or anxiety about independent blogs in the EVE Online community.  He clearly doesn’t like them and thinks they should all just surrender control to him in the name of community.  You are in or you are out.  If you are in, you are pro-community, and if you are out, well you are clearly anti-community.

Key quotes and reactions that pretty much mirror my own have been posted by Nosy Gamer and Marc Scaurus.  You should read both of those, along with the interview that prompted them, if this interests you.

For me, it mostly just indicates a misunderstanding of what community really is (exclusion, and telling independent bloggers to “go screw themselves,” certainly doesn’t enter into my idea of community) piled on top of my past experience with such ventures as detailed at the top of this post.  I would clearly be out, were I an EVE Online blogger.  (I don’t think my other blog really counts, being all pictures.)

And so it goes.  This might have been something worth getting worked up about had this been my first rodeo.

But it does get us back to an ongoing discussion about the place blogs hold in the community.  It is certainly true that some MMO companies, like SOE, used to pay much more attention to the blogesphere just five years back (I was even linked on EQ2Players.com a few times), though others, like Blizzard, never officially acknowledged that such a community existed outside of their control.  Even some MMO news sites like Massively, which used to reach out to the blogging community now and again, have now largely turned their backs on blogs.  But is that the end of things?

Where do you think blogs in general, and MMO gaming blogs in particular, are headed these days?  Has progress passed them by?  Are they relics of a bygone age?

Or have they just gone from being the latest “new” thing to being just part of the norm and have settled down?

And is there really a blogging community out there?  Am I just making that up in my head, or do you feel like you are a part of it as well?

Addendum – Some responses, indicating that our little blog cluster is still functioning.  Look, community!

Decisions and Inventory Management

I must agree.  I love that button.  I feel that pain all the more because I am playing Lord of the Rings Online at the moment, which makes vendoring items about twice as annoying as most other MMO I have experienced.  Meanwhile, Rift has put that button in the cash shop, so you can rid yourself of vendor trash wherever you may be.

Well… at least I agree at that instant, gut reaction, convenience level.  Long live the button!

Hell, as one person responded to that tweet, why have gray items at all?  If you want to reward players, just drop coin and be done with it.

But then I start thinking about how we got there in the first place, which seems to me to be a convergence of a couple of things.

First there is the reality of currency and the fact that wild animals rarely ever carry any at all.  If you want to give your players a currency reward for every kill, then you have to do it indirectly with item drops or explain why your wildlife feels the need to have coinage on them at all times… and how they carry it.

Granted, these sorts of drops do not necessarily have to be vendor trash.  LOTRO has turned those gray remains into quest items that generate a little experience and a small boost with the local faction, though in the end I still vendor them most of the time because I usually need cash more than faction.

I will call that the lesser reason for gray drops.  It could be worked around it in all sorts of ways if you set your mind to it.

Then there is what I think of as the greater reason, which is essentially to drive us crazy.

Well, not explicitly.  That is just a side effect for some.

It really is/was a way to put constraints around the game to force us to make choices rather than simply having things our own way.  This aspect has some deep roots.

Much meandering on that after the cut.

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