Tag Archives: Being Mildly Ranty

Quote of the Day – Why Just Play to Have Fun?

I realize that some people who “play to have fun” and who currently form the majority of players have voiced their reservations toward these new trends, and understandably so. However, I believe that there will be a certain number of people whose motivation is to “play to contribute,” by which I mean to help make the game more exciting.

-Yosuke Matsuda, President of Square Enix, 2022 New Years Letter

Welcome to the new year.  Things are already trending towards dumb.

That isn’t the usual self-indicting stupidity that I generally go for as the capstone in a quote of the day post, but that is only because Mr. Matsuda is attempting to conceal his message in a mist of gentle and encouraging words.

Square Enix

But in digesting the final few paragraphs of the Square Enix New Year’s letter, one can only end up with poop that spells out, “Fuck fun, show me the money!”

A little too much Bobby Kotick vibe in that?

And yes, Square Enix is a business and the president thereof has a fiduciary responsibility to guide the company in a way that realizes growth and profitability for the firm.  The question is really whether or not that responsibility requires him, as president, to jump on buzzwords that would upset what he admits is a majority of his players just to goose the stock price or accomplish whatever he had in mind when this was written.

I suppose if I believed in my heart of hearts that crypto, NFTs, blockchain, and pay to earn would deliver the gaming nirvana that the crypto bros would have you believe, I might let this pass.  But I have yet to see an argument in favor of introducing any of that to video games that doesn’t just amount to a crypto tax on something the companies could do on their own if it was actually a good idea.  I mean, I am pretty sure Raph Koster and Playable Worlds covers everything the crypto bros are promoting, yet have somehow managed not to bring blockchain into the picture because it adds nothing to the mix.

Seriously, does anybody think a company like Square Enix couldn’t roll up a pay to earn scheme or something that allowed users to get paid for content they generated that doesn’t require crypto connections to siphon off a piece of the profits?  Tracking something via blockchain is basically putting it on an expensive, slow database.  MySQL is free and your own server will cost less to run.

And that really gets to the heart of things.  Even if you look past the obvious scams, the overvaluation, the constant problems, and the environmental impact, the benefits beyond hype are non-existent.  Blockchain offers nothing that a dev studio couldn’t already do, nothing that hasn’t already been done, just at a greater costs with a loss of control over the product.

And the loss of control is the big hit.  How is your game going to play out if the crypto currency you use to drive it suddenly gets popular and now everything in your cash shop is too expensive for new players?  What are you going to do if the bottom falls out of the currency you went with and all of your new customers abandon ship having lost the money they threw in?  How are you going to handle scams and theft in your game if you cannot revert a transaction because the blockchain determines who owns a thing and you don’t control that?  Ask all those bored ape bros who have had their apes stolen… something that seems to occur daily… how happy they are about decentralization when it means nobody can address their problem.  What kind of customer service nightmares are you willing to endure to jump on this bandwagon?

It beggars belief that executives at legitimate companies have suddenly found themselves in a situation where they feel the need to at least pay lip service to patently bad ideas because otherwise they will look like they aren’t jumping on board the latest trend.  This is a pyramid scheme and it demands new people buy in so the people already invested can cash out and companies are at least saying they want their customers to be next in line to get swindled if it will just raise the stock price a bit.

But this one, this steps over a line that I hadn’t seen previously in that the President of Square Enix stood up and said that a majority of his customers won’t like this, but screw them, because we’ll just get better customers who will make us more money.  Does he assume that customers who show up because they are in it to get paid won’t jump ship the moment the gravy train ends?  Is he saying that they’ll stick around like the long term “play for fun” customers?  Because, in the end, these schemes always make many more losers than winners, and nobody is going to love your game if you promised them income for playing and it doesn’t appear.

Now, this New Year’s post, like so many recent pronouncements, is all just so much chin music until they actually put something into action, so there is the distinct possibility that cooler heads will prevail and won’t throw themselves into a technology mostly known for being a scam, but we shall see.  But putting current users on notice that the company might not see value in the play style of a majority of their customers seems like a bad sign all the same.

New Dawn heralds Permanent Scarcity in New Eden

The dev blog for New Dawn, the so-called “age of prosperity,” dropped a week back and the reaction has been… vigorous.

Prosperity Promised

Those digesting the dev blog came up with a number of issues, and the hits just keep coming as people try out New Dawn on the test server.

In the face of player backlash, including a protest in Jita that brought the system down to 10% time dilation as angry players shot the monument, CCP went to MMORPG.com, their current go-to site to tell their side of things, in order to proclaim their good intentions and to scold the players for being mean.

This from the company whose motto used to be HTFU.

I found the whole CCP line in that article rather irksome because even the most charitable read of the text has to send the message that the people deciding on game changes are completely disconnected from the players and have no idea what it is like to actually play the game.

Less charitable is that they are shading the truth to make themselves look less ignorant of the realities of the game for players.

The reality is probably somewhere in between, as there is evidence for both conclusions.

The  tale from CCP seems to be that this one particular Dev Blog was being taken way too hard by some of the player base.  The problem is that this view ignores the entire context of the anger, which has been built up over the last two years as CCP proceeded to nerf nearly every player income source.  In that time I think they only passed over wormhole ratting and incursions, the former now being the largest ISK faucet in New Eden.

So when they claim that the CSM didn’t tell them that this dev blog might piss people off or that they don’t understand why things are blowing up so badly right now, they are brushing off two years of context.  People were angry already.  The storm had built up, and then CCP held out hope back in July that scarcity would be ending in Q4.

What they didn’t do was define what that meant.  Even back then I was confused as to where they might go given that the team, led by CCP Rattati, was pretty clear that they felt that economy needed to be “fixed” and brought into a state they felt was sustainable.  I didn’t have much hope that ISK and ore would flow freely again.

But then, on the Tuesday before the dev blog, they did a post announcing its imminent arrival, unveiling the take line for the New Dawn quadrant, “The Age of Prosperity.”

In the article CCP half halfheartedly admits that maybe they could have been better on messaging, but the claim remains that they had no idea the dev blog would be this inflammatory.

But even on Tuesday I knew that unless there was some serious relaxation of scarcity that people would be pissed.  To promise and end of scarcity is one thing, but to promise and age of prosperity, that was setting an impossible expectation.

I left a comment on the post about the Tuesday announcement over at TNG that said:

I am not sure why they felt they needed an announcement for an announcement, but I expect that the phrase “new age of prosperity” is going to come back to bite them by the end of the week if they are not careful.

Guess what, it did.  And when I can predict something it is generally obvious in the extreme.

So when CCP goes on about the CSM only giving them a “premonition” (whatever the hell that means) that the reaction might not be positive, I have to wonder what sort of island they live on.  Oh, yeah, right, that volcanic one in the north Atlantic to which no news travels it seems.

And the update itself, as proposed, seems to be at best a “side-grade” from the current state of affairs.  The dev blog opened big with how resources were going to be doubled… doubled from the low ebb at the end of two years of nerfs, but at least that felt like a step in the right direction… only to get into the details about of waste and nerfs and time sink mechanics that tally up to almost no net change.

Scarcity is here to stay, CCP just wants to cement it in place behind game mechanics like waste and compression.

The crazy thing is that CCP thought we would like this.  One of the new features called out by players is the new compression mechanics, where a Rorqual pilot has to feed resources into a module and wait for them to compress, then do it again, and again, and again, that being the primary function of the most expensive mining ship in the game in New Dawn.

But the article paints something of a Bizarro world view from CCP about that change:

“Compression was intended to be one of the most interesting [additions,]” Snorri [CCP Rattati] stated. “It definitely wasn’t meant to be an oppressive thing.”

And yet as soon as players tried it on the test server, that was the reaction, that CCP was trying to punish Rorqual pilots, which brings us back to the “do they even play the game” question, which comes up quite a bit when CCP makes changes. (Or maybe those who do play can’t tell the boss they have a bad idea.)

CCP asserts in the article that of course they want feedback and of course they will iterate on the design and of course it won’t go live as it stands now.

But it is hard to take that seriously.  CCP has a long history of ignoring feedback and pushing things onto the live server even when problems are presented to them.  Even the problem that CCP sees in the Rorqual, the super mining capital ship, was one of their own making that they pushed into the game in spite of feedback.  Ayrth, then one of the Imperium CSM members, told CCP exactly what the Imperium would do, that we would go all in on Rorquals and mine Delve to an extent they clearly could not imagine.

We’re now doomed to perpetual scarcity, with Rorqual pilots enraged, because CCP couldn’t tell what was good for the economy back then.  So we should believe they are on the right path now?

And then there is CCP Rattati, the Director of Product for EVE Online.  One does not get that sort of position without holding strong views, without feeling like they know the right path forward.

For those familiar with WoW, he has become the Ion Hazzikostas of EVE Online.  He is driving the direction of the game, he holds very strong opinions as to where the game needs to go and how players should be playing, and while he gives a nod towards feedback, he has never once let it get in the way of his own vision. (And he has his own credibility issues.)

And it is hard to argue with the idea that the economy is a core feature to EVE Online, maybe the essential feature of the game, without which everything falls apart.  But I very much get a sense, especially with the talk about the game going on to outlive its creators, that his eye is very much on a generation of new players and the design is focused on how they will advance through the game.  I can very clearly see a new player progression path in all these mining changes, with waste and skills and ships lining up.

That makes him a bit of an inversion of Ion Hazzikostas, who is focused on an established core of end game raiders. CCP Rattati seems fine abandoning the established core of the game in favor of new players.  And new players are important to any game with a long term vision.  But I have yet to see a happy ending for a game that gives up on a large installed base in order to attract and build a new one.

We shall see.

I have no dog in the mining fight, my mining days being many years in the rear view mirror.  I stick around for wars and null sec politics and the story arc created by the players.  But New Eden, for all of its diverse play styles, is an integrated, interdependent unit that rests of the economy.  I hope we don’t end up wrecking that.


On Perks and Paying More

While I was away last week I saw a dev post come up in the EverQuest forums (I subscribe to the dev post feed in Feedly and, while it delivers a lot of garbage… you get every reply to a dev started topic… it does pop up something interesting now and then) about a new monetization scheme for the game.

Not being able to write about them at the time, I forwarded a link over to Bhagpuss who put together his own post about the idea.

As he noted straight off these “Perks,” as Daybreak has branded them, are not really perks at all.  “Perk” comes from “perquisite” and is generally something you’re entitled to already, not something for which you have to pay.

Poor naming choices aside, I was kind of interested to see another attempt to bring in more money for an older title, because I was on a bit earlier this year about how the price of just about everything has gone up over the last 15 years, and yet somehow we’re still paying $15 a month for subscriptions.

Daybreak subscriber prices

The response to that was… not positive if you were an MMO developer.  Massively OP picked up the idea and their staff responded mostly against the idea of subscriptions being more (that was back in May, but their answers didn’t change much when they did the same question yesterday), while the comments were vehemently against any such thing, with a theme of “I want more if I am going to pay more” appearing.

And I get that as a gut reaction, but any attempt to go deeper seems to get met by the “greedy developers” trope that is so common.  Think about the answer I would get from the family that runs the Thai restaurant down the road using the same argument.  Twenty years back a standard entree was $6.95, these days it is $17.95.  Should I expect to get more for the extra I am paying?  Are they greedy restaurateurs, pocketing that largess?

We know that isn’t how it works.

There are other factors of course.  MMOs do not exist in a void and, as I mentioned in my post, we have been conditioned over time by the idea that tech should get cheaper and not more expensive.  But even Moore’s Law has to adjust for inflation.  And these days a lot more things are demanding a subscription, from Microsoft Office to Netflix to XBox Live, all of which influence our sense of value.

So when the Perks announcement came along, I was interested to see how they would be received.  These were, after all, optional items that delivered extra value for the price, and very close to what the current darling MMORPG, FFXIV does with retainers.  So who could possibly object?

Everybody?  Is that the answer I am looking for?

I suppose the coverage of the plan didn’t help.  Over at Massively OP they opened with the greed dog whistle by asking, “How can Daybreak milk even more money out of subscribers?”

I mean, unless I am missing some positive connotation for “milking” in this situation.

The comments naturally follow that lead, with a lone outlier mentioning FFXIV.

Over at MMO Fallout the tone was less overtly hostiles, though sarcasm was clearly in evidence at the idea of a subscription on top of your subscription.

The utility, or lack thereof, was barely up for debate.  The news story was “greedy devs at it again.”

Which, as noted, is ironic not only because of FFXIV, but also because this would not be anywhere close to the first time that the company that was once SOE offered and extra subscription option for additional stuff.  Those with long memories may recall that EverQuest II has such an extra at launch, offering access to their special players site for $2.99 a month.  There were also a special GM driven events server that had an extra monthly toll to play on.  And Station Access, the one subscription plan for multiple games, started off life as an extra cost option that offered perks, including extra character slots, which were enough to prompt many of the people in our guild back then to pay the price even though they were not going to run off and play EverQuest or PlanetSide.

Fine, whatever.  If we won’t pay more for a subscription, or even tolerate the idea of optional extra subscriptions, then I’ll just assume everybody is happy with cash shop monetization.  That must be true, right?  People certainly are not out there clamoring for the return to a subscription only model in order to banish the horrors of cash shop monetization.

Oh, wait.

We won’t pay any more for a subscription, hate the cash shop, and complain that studios won’t risk millions to make something new, betting instead on franchises and sustaining already profitable titles.

We’ll see how that works out in the long term.  But I’ll be investing in popcorn futures when Playable Worlds announces the monetization scheme for their metaverse project.  The things Raph wrote about just yesterday don’t come for free.  There is a lot of upside to the thin client idea, but it has to do the processing that the server normally does plus the work you desktop does as well, and somebody will need to play the bill for both.

Of course, it is possible that people say they won’t pay more… until they have to.  It is hard to judge the price elasticity of subscriptions without somebody challenging the $15/month meta.  If a game could go to $20 a month and keep the same number of subscribers, they do it.  They’d also drop to $10 if they knew they would double their subscriber base.  But nobody is willing to bet their game on that just yet.

The Friday Bullet Point is GameStop

January is almost in the rear view mirror and it has already been a strange year.  I figured it was about time for me to grab some smaller items from the month and do a Friday bullet points post.  Obviously, GameStop was the top item for me.  But, after that, everything else sort of faded into insignificance.

  • The Revenge of GameStop

A year ago, in my predictions for 2020, I said that GameStop was headed for bankruptcy.  That seemed like a gimme prediction given the company’s situation.  But then came the pandemic and we all needed video games and the company revived.

Still, things were not looking great for storefront video game sales.  The company’s stock price (ticker: GME) was around $4.00 a share a year ago and had buoyed up close to $20 thanks to holiday sales.  And then, earlier this week it was past $450 a share.

Melvin Capital Management (MCM) decided to short the stock… basically a bet that the price would go down… when it was sitting in the high teens, which the Reddit group Wall Street Bets decided to go all in the other way, driving the price up to punish MCM, costing them a lot of money as they had to cover their position.

As if many were not convinced already that the stock market has simply become a casino for the wealthy, Robinhood, E*Trade, and TD Ameritrade, all of which cater to small investors, stopped allowing their users to trade GameStop (along with AMC, BlackBerry, Nokia, and a few others which was also seeing unexpected movement).  Robinhood denied it was a political move, claiming problems with margin exposure and reconciliation, and they are kind of a dicey edge case in the market, being already under investigation by the SEC and some states.

But TD Ameritrade E*Trade are not.  They’re really in the Wall Street club first, and no doubt this move was to defend the extremely wealthy… which includes themselves… as much as anything.  The casino gets upset if the suckers start costing them too much money and start changing the rules.  And there have already been calls for the SEC to control this sort of outsider behavior so that the peasants can’t rise up again.  Populist politicians on both sides of the divide are already looking to make hay out of this and there may be congressional hearings… because political donations from Wall Street are all important.

As a rule, small investors are only safe… or not at complete risk… investing in index funds, usually through their 401k retirement program, because Wall Street can charge a recurring maintenance fee and then use the money to prop up the stocks that benefit them the most.  The little guy is allowed to benefit, but only if Wall Street can make its money first.

And people may be cheering that MCM lost a bunch of money on this, but other big firms either sold off or got in with their shorts when the price was high and made money on the backs of the Redditors.  Meanwhile, individuals who saw GME prices taking off and jumped in later and who didn’t sell before the dive will lose out.  As always, Wall Street wins in the end and the small investors mostly lose.

In the end, none of this helps GameStop  the company even one iota. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find some senior execs and board members sold off part of their positions.)  The stock price only matters when the company offers new shares to the public.  This was all people trading shares the company had already sold, so the price… $4.00 or $400… doesn’t mean much to their daily operations.  The company is still in trouble.  This is all people trying to make money from nothing but perception… it is straight up gambling.

This sort of thing happens every so often.  The NPR podcast Planet Money did a story earlier in the year about Hertz Car Rentals when declared bankruptcy earlier this year… due to the fact that they had no cash reserves to speak of because they have spending all their money on stock buy backs which are what most benefit the CEO, board of directors, and Wall Street in the short term, so were completely unprepared for the pandemic downturn… and how their stock suddenly shot up because people were playing the market and wanted to make a quick buck.  The GameStop thing was only news because Wall Street lost control of the situation for a brief moment.

And yes, I am a bit cynical about Wall Street after watching them wreck the economy with sub-prime mortgages fifteen years back only to pay no price and get handed billions of dollars in quantitative easing so they could pay themselves bonuses while many suffered.

After the great depression of the 30s a lot of regulations were put in place to keep a titanic event like that from happening again.  For a brief time in history the stock market was what my finance professor described back in college, a way for company to raise money in order to expand or invest in the business.  That has long since been chipped away and we’re not so far from the days of Joseph Kennedy bilking small time investors.

Anyway, this seemed like something worth noting, even if it is only tangentially gaming related.  I’ll be interested to see where things stand in a year when I review this post.

For those interested in more details about GameStop:


Quote of the Day – CSM Candidate Red Flag Issue

I don’t care if CCP sells bullets that do a little more damage frankly.

-Matterall, CSM14 interview with Jin’taan (at ~17:40)

The CSM14 elections kick off on Monday, so the time for candidate research is coming to an end.  You’ll soon be able to to cast your vote… at least if you are part of the minority of players that bother.

Elections start on Monday

Of note, Jin’taan did a series of interviews with some of the candidates.  He served on the previous three CSMs and used his insight there to ask some pointed questions of the people he interviewed, keeping to the same questions for each interview and not releasing any of the interviews until he was done.  This added an element of surprise and some discomfort to those being interviewed and give some unfiltered insight into the candidates themselves.  We got to see past the bland electioneering statements and get into the candidates.

Overall, Jin’taan interviewed just six candidates that he found interesting.  They were:

I like the format and I wish Jin’taan had been able to interview more candidates, however we get what we get.

Each of the candidates stumbled now and again but mostly adapt to the situation in which they found themselves… except for Matterall.

Matterall seemed to push back on the questions.  That is okay, I suppose.  However, some of the questions from Jin’taan started with straight up statements that CSM members would be asked for direct feedback or to bring up specific issues and Matterall, unlike every other interviewee, didn’t want to go there.  (He didn’t even want to endorse any other candidate in the final question.  Mike Azariah, for example, took that moment to endorse Matterall, but Matterall had no kind words for anybody else.)

In the end I came away with the impression that what Matterall doesn’t want to be on the CSM, that what he really wants is to consult with CCP on marketing and avoid in-game issues altogether except in the most general, high level sense.

And I guess that is a platform of sorts, even if he seems to be stating up front he won’t be doing the job that will be expected of him.

But then there was the monetization question.  All of the candidates interviewed by Jin’taan went pretty quickly against CCP selling any sort of pay to win.  That seemed like the obvious response, as a couple even said.  As has been pointed out many times, any scent of pay to win in a PvP game can bring ruin to a game.  Games that have run with that at times, such as World of Tanks and their gold ammo, have found themselves better off discarding that sort of thing.

Well, all of the candidates except Matterall.

Matterall, as the quote at the top of this post indicates, was quite indifferent to the idea of pay to win.  I will expand his quote just to put in more context: [stumbles and things like “uh” not transcribed]

I know that monetization is a big deal to people. It’s not a big deal to me. If the game can make money by selling objects like Fortnite can and make however much gazillions of dollars they are making, I am all for it. I don’t see any problem with it. I think what they [CCP] have done generally in the past has been good, as far as a guideline, but this is not something I am passionate about. I don’t care if CCP sells bullets that do a little more damage frankly. I don’t see that as completely destabilizing the game. Because the game is not all about PvP. The game is about other things too.

He goes on to speak about things he would like to see… more books and such, and says he has every copy of EON Magazine… then starts to sound somewhat dismissive of cosmetic offerings.  I came away feeling like he didn’t care for ship SKINs or clothing items.

This segment of the interview had me muttering aloud as I listened to it because there was so much wrong there.

First, I dislike the comparison to Fortnite.  That seemed to be a lazy grab at the most popular title out there that is a genre apart from EVE Online.  But more so, if that is your example, a PvP game that sells only cosmetic gear, it seems like a very strange jump to go from that to selling gold ammo.  If you think that is what Fortnite does, go educate yourself.  And that comparison gets even weirder when he sounds so uninterested in cosmetic options.

Second, one of Matterall’s repeated campaign slogans is that he listens to everyone.  That seems to be something of an idle boast if he can blithely state that gold ammo isn’t a big deal.  Or maybe he does listen, but just doesn’t care.  Either way, if this is a hot button issue to you (it is to me, if only for the survival of the overall game) then Matterall would clearly not be representing you on the CSM.

Third, another of his campaign statements is about the unity of the game (you can find this over on his CSM Wire page for CSM 14), that he doesn’t like to break things up into null sec, high sec, faction warfare, and whatever.  As he writes, “those distinctions don’t make sense to me.”  But here we have him chopping off part of the game, PvP, which I would argue makes up a critical core of the game… you don’t have an industry game or a mining game or a hauling game unless people are buying replacement ships and modules due to losses… in a way that seems diametrically opposed to his stated position.  If you want to take a holistic view you cannot then set aside major parts of the game.

Fourth, his attraction to literature as a monetization option seems misplaced.  Not that I do not share his interest.  I have many back issues of EON Magazine and most of the books and what not.  The thing is, these are not, nor ever have been, a money making ventures for the game.  Things like that, and the EVE Online Store (about which I have written), are marketing.   They don’t make money, they promote the game.  Rare is the gaming company that turns a profit, or breaks even, on that sort of thing, and I feel like somebody who wants to go engage CCP about their marketing efforts ought to know that.

Finally, I think that Matterall, who has been playing since 2008 and who has done a couple of presentations at EVE Vegas about the game’s history, ought to be aware of what happened the last time CCP brought up the idea of gold ammo and cash shop ships.  While the event is erroneously called “Monoclegate” because the press likes a snappy term (with “gate” appended) for a headline, the backlash against CCP with the Incarna release was driven in large part by the leak of the Greed is Good internal publication that seemed to chart out a plan to monetize all the things, selling special ship and ammo and implants and whatever in the cash shop.

That did not turn out well for CCP and to be indifferent to that is a serious disqualifying factor to my mind.

Gold ammo – Artist concept

So there we go.  I’ve spent time talking with Matterall at EVE Vegas and we get along.  I don’t particularly want to bash him.  I was even inclined to slip him onto my ballot… not in first position, as he was asking, but somewhere… however now I cannot bring myself to put him on the list.  This interview changed my mind.  It was almost 30 minutes of empty rhetoric and high concept where the one concrete issue that came up he said it didn’t interest him.  That was only a couple minutes out of the interview, but it was the only part where the rubber met the road really, the only part where we had a glimpse of him being handed an actual topic of substance, and he didn’t have the moxie to go there because he didn’t really care.

Matterall, if you really do listen to everybody, listen to this:  I think you went far astray on this one.  You differentiated yourself, but not in a good way.

I hope, if you do managed to get elected after this faux pas, you are willing to do the job you’ve asked for and not just the bit you say that interests you.  My cynicism regarding CCP and its use of the CSM, reinforced by the recent Jester post-NDA AMA, leads me to believe that somebody trying to blaze their own path is likely doomed, if not to failure, then at least to irrelevance.

This naturally leads to something of a larger question about what qualifies somebody to be on the CSM?  Is having strong but more general opinions about internet spaceships, or the marketing thereof, enough?  Should being able to discuss and evaluate the often intricate mechanics of the game in a detailed and authoritative way the sole requirement?  Jin’taan and Jester both strongly imply that is really what CCP wants and, that if you fail at that, if you cannot engage at that level, you may as well stay home.  CCP has proven in the past that they control the discourse, that if they don’t want to listen that no member has any real agency within the confines of the CSM unless CCP grants it to them.  The only time that the CSM has successfully defied that was during the Incarna and Greed is Good imbroglio.

So do you vote for somebody you know will play by CCP’s rules and take the wins they can get, or do vote for somebody attempting to bring their own view of the role of the CSM and accept that it may well be a wasted vote?

Addendum: I was just early, Jin’taan has more interviews and two more just appeared.

On the monetization question, Olmeca Gold follows the safe line, being against in game items, as well as being worried about the skill points that CCP has been giving away.

Juris Doctor took the question and essentially argued in favor of what CCP already has (PLEX and skill injectors), which I guess is a position.  When pressed with a follow up to get him to actually answer the question, he went down a theoretical path about being able to buy alternate star gate routes in New Eden (Amarr to Jita or Dodixie to Pure Blind were given as examples) which sounds like a something ripe for exploitation, such that doubt CCP would ever embrace it.  So I’m not hot on Juris Doctor being on the CSM either. but at least he didn’t wave off gold ammo as something that didn’t matter.

Agnarr Server Success and the Nostalrius Question

It looks like Daybreak did manage to get their new EverQuest nostalgia server, named Agnarr for a raid boss of old, up and running and open to the public around their 2pm Pacific time target.

While I was at work, I make this assumption after the fact because there was already a thread up in the EverQuest forums by 2:01pm complaining about overcrowding.

Agnarr the Stormlord approves… I think…

Reading the forums there was apparently over a 4 hour queue to log into the server, problems with user creation, problems with disconnects, problems with zones crashing under load, and a problem with some starter zones being denuded of MOBs by the rush of new characters.  And, just to pile on, Massively OP reports there is even a duping situation on the server, something that can destroy a server economy.

Just another day at Daybreak where “dey break games” in the grand SOE tradition, right?

And there is certainly an element of that in the situation as the crew down in San Diego carries on the SOE habit of being unprepared as events carry the day.  Laugh at them, they’re used to it by now.

But the element that pervades every nostalgia server opening is overwhelming popularity.  Before the Agnarr server launcher, the most popular EverQuest server was Phinigel, also a progression server, followed a ways back by Firiona Vie, the RP preferred live server.

After Agnarr launched, looking in last night and this morning, Angnarr and Phinigel both have full server status indicators and Firiona Vie is out in third place.

Nostalgia sells, these servers are popular, they offer something people want and, more importantly, something people are willing to pay for.  You have to have a Daybreak All Access subscription to play on these servers, so everybody sitting in the queue trying to get on is a paying customer.

This is all the more interesting when you recall that just over two years back SOE blessed Project 1999, the EverQuest classic server emulation project, which you can totally play on for free.

Conclusions one might draw:

  • Nostalgia is popular
  • People are willing to pay for it
  • People want an official server

All of which brings my mind back to another MMO that stopped talking about subscription numbers because they were tanking so bad a while back, World of Warcraft.

Things are better now, or were better with the WoW Legion expansion at least until the end of Q1.

And yet Blizzard wants nothing to do with this nostalgia stuff.  A development team that probably has a larger head count than all of Daybreak combined won’t even glance in the direction of a special server.  Last year Blizzard were keen to shut down Nostalrius, the rogue WoW classic server emulation project, but had not plan to offer anything of the sort on their own, claiming to be unable to even manage what a small group of outside amateurs did.

Initially unmoved by the ensuing drama, Blizzard did eventually agree to meet with the Nostlrius team, listened to them politely, took their user data and code, said a few bland words, mumbled something about maybe a special server of some sort at some future date, then threw the whole thing in the trash bin and went back to working on their master plan to make unlocking flying in the Broken Isles a horrible grind.

In a situation where the burning question for the WoW team ought to be, “Do we have a wheel barrow big enough to hold all the money classic servers would bring in?” the team has stuck to their trifecta of responses, claiming that it would be too hard, nobody wants it, and that the current game is better in any case.

The first is offset by money.  Doing that difficult task would earn money that would make it worthwhile.  And I know it won’t be easy, something you assign to the summer intern, even if that was pretty much the Nostalrius level of effort.  Blizzard has quality standards that they would not want to compromise.   But this isn’t the impossible task that some are making it out to be.  We are not living in some dystopian fantasy future where mankind has lost the ability to make a pre-2007 World of Warcraft server.  While I hate to that guy, since I have been on the recieving end of this quip several times in my career, but it is only software.  When you have coded something once, doing it again is much easier because you solved all the real problems the first time around.

Again, The WoW team is huge, beyond 300 members last I heard, and yet they cannot do what the tiny EverQuest team does and put up a nostalgia server… and get an expansion out every year?  Yes, the two courses are not parallel.  The Daybreak team is a lot more keen to take risks, that they fall on their face before us as often as they do is evidence of that.  And, of course, the EQ team didn’t destroy their original content when pressed for an expansion idea, a fact that does make WoW’s path to nostalgia more difficult.  But a game that is still bringing in more than half a billion dollars a year has the budget to get past that.

The second is just bullshit.  The popularity of the Nostalrius server, the popularity of the EverQuest nostalgia servers, and the willingness of EverQuest fans to pay to play when a free alternative exists argues heavily in favor of any official WoW server offering being off the hook popular.  WoW and EQ share a common bond in that they were, in their times, the first and formative MMO experience for a lot of players.  The key difference is that while EQ peaked at 550K players, WoW peaked beyond 12 million.  That means there is a huge patch of fertile ground on which Blizzard could farm nostalgia.

And the third… the third just seems like ego… ego or fear.  If the current WoW team did roll out some sort of nostalgia flavored server and it turned out to be as hugely popular as I suspect it would, it would be, in the parlance of the genre, a slap in the face.  Nothing hurts like being the new guy and people loudly and exuberantly extolling the virtues of the old guy.  There has to be a strong desire to avoid that sort of public comparison on the team.  It would be bad for them if WoW fans voted with their wallets heavily in favor of the old stuff.  Better to claim it can’t be done.

However, while I argue in favor of some sort of special WoW server, I doubt we shall ever see such a thing.  Even as Blizzard is exploring the idea of farming nostalgia… there was the unsatisfying attempt to recreated Diablo in Diablo III along with the coming remastered versions of StarCraft, Diablo II, and Warcraft III… the WoW team doesn’t seem at all enamored with any such move towards the past.

Still, the ongoing popularity of EverQuest nostalgia does seem to be getting around.  Over at Trion, a team with some old SOE members, there is some talk about special servers for Rift.  I am not at all keen on the challenge server idea, but Trion rolling up an original content server with some special achievements and such might get me to install their launcher again.  Original Rift… vanilla Rift… had some of the tightest, well put together zones I have ever played through.

Anyway, if you’re keen for nostalgia in Norrath, you’re in luck yet again.  If you’re seeking other worlds, your mileage may vary.

Can Better PvE Save New Eden?

The search for the reason behind the declining PCU in EVE Online continues.

So far it has been blamed on the New Player Experience, summer, the age of the game, Goons (specifically for not behaving as demanded during the war, as opposed to the perennial “Goons are bad for the game” complaints) , and CCP investing in VR.  Now we have the latest champion in the PCU blame game, PvE, which you can see filtering out through the various EVE Online sites.

And, certainly, PvE in New Eden is pretty bad.

I do want to say up front that when I am speaking about PvE, I am referring to players shooting NPCs.  I do not mean mining, hauling, industry, or the market place, which I have seen people trying to lump under the PvE banner.  Those are all crafting, to use the standard MMORPG term.  Doing something to change them won’t make shooting NPCs any more fun.  PvE is, to my mind, undocking in your spaceship in order to shoot NPCs controlled by the game.

I have shot a lot of game controlled NPCs over the last decade.  I have run many a mission, shot up many an anomaly, and delivered many a package at the behest of NPC agents.  Go look at my NPC standings.  Those are not numbers you get from running a couple of missions or shooting a few NPCs.  That represents an investment of many hours playing PvE in New Eden.

Guns Blazing!

Me shooting NPCs circa 2007

So when somebody says that PvE in New Eden is “teh suck,” I can only agree.  Earlier this year, during the brief time frame of the 10,000 skill point daily, I started playing a new alt just to see how things were at the far end of the EVE Online experience.  I was not impressed.  The opportunities system struck me as much less engaging that past starter tutorials… it not being really much of a tutorial at all.  And after a couple of events you’re pushed off towards an agent where I managed to draw the mission To Avenge a Fallen Comrade, which I have surely run more than a hundred times over my career in New Eden.  I was not happy.

Shooting things in my wee frigate

Orbit and shoot, same as it ever was

So put me on the list of people who agree that we need better PvE.  I endorse that fully.

But will better PvE solve the PCU crisis?  I have trouble with that one.

To start with, in order to sell me on that, somebody has to account for the fact that EVE Online’s greatest period of growth, the time of the highest PCU counts, occurred when PvE was even worse than it is today.  Because that is an absolute fact; the game had growth and higher PCU counts with much worse PvE.

Seriously, I look at all of the improvements to PvE over my time in the game.  When I started you had belt ratting and level 1 through 4 missions.  Now the list includes:

  • Level 5 missions
  • Mining Missions
  • Incursions
  • Hacking
  • Anomalies
  • Escalations
  • Epic Story Arcs
  • Burner Missions
  • Sleepers
  • PvE Events (e.g. Operation Frostline)
  • Whatever people do in wormholes, including the new shattered versions

I’ve probably missed a few, or grouped some up.  But suffice to say, PvE has expanded over the years.

Smashing a Brutix during Operation Frostline

Smashing a Brutix during Operation Frostline

Plus, along the way, a some of these options got easier to find.  For several years, one of the most popular posts on the site was How to Find An Agent in EVE Online, because actually finding an agent was a non-obvious process.  That finally got fixed with Incarna, so at least I have something good to say about that expansion.

So you can argue “better PvE game would be better,” and I will agree.  But if you want to claim, “better PvE game will raise PCU” then you have to explain how subjectively worse, and objectively less rich, PvE coincided with growth and higher PCU counts.

And maybe somebody has a sound argument for that, but I have yet to see it.  Claims that it would attract new players seem unsupported, especially with the state of the NPE, which drives away more new players than anything else.

The second hurdle for me is what does “better” PvE look like?

Do not think, even for a moment, that this problem is somehow unique to EVE Online.

The assertion that PvE sucks, that quests/missions are boring, that killing ten rats over and over is horrible, and so on… that discussion is going on in every MMORPG that has PvE as a feature.  It has been for the life of the genre and I see no end in sight.

So I have seen people over the years ask for more engaging events, more challenging NPCs, smarter AI, better risk/reward balance, increased integration into a story line, and so on.

But I also know that the moment anything gets a little more difficult, people lose their heads and come out of the woodwork to complain.  One of the oft repeated responses from devs is that they could make NPCs much more intelligent, but nobody wants a boss mob that goes straight for the healer and ignores the tank.

So any improvement has to make things better, for the manifold definitions of “better,” while not making anything more difficult or less convenient.  And, as far as I can tell, this is to be achieved by people throwing words like “engaging” at CCP and demanding they make things better.

There was a panel in the web comic Concerned (which you should totally read) that sort of sums this state of affairs which, as I have noted, is not at all unique to EVE Online.

Every video game forum ever

Every video game forum ever

Yet the group making those demands are people already invested in the current system.  And catering to them would likely make them happier.  It would make me happier.  At least in the short term.  But PvE content also has something of an expiration date.  Things that players might find fun and challenging on the first pass are quickly optimized for, as efficiency rules the day.  We like the journey once, we want the reward every day.

Which, again, isn’t to say that CCP shouldn’t improve PvE in New Eden.  I am totally for that.  I even have a suggestion for them:  Do something about the complete randomization of missions when you speak to an agent.  I am tired of that.  I don’t want to have to fiddle with rejecting missions because I yet again drew Avenge a Fallen Comrade.  On the other hand, I am not sure that letting players pick the mission would be the right solution, as we’d all likely end up just picking the best ISK per hour mission after a bit of experimentation.

So, to sum up, I am very much for making PvE better in New Eden.  But is the current state of PvE the big problem with the PCU?  Will “fixing” PvE, for whatever value of you choose to assign to the term, going to revive growth?  You’ll have to try harder to convince me.

We go on about how different EVE Online is from competing MMORPGs, but it has many of the same issues as its MMORPG brethren.

Quote of the Day – Warning! Lark’s Vomit!

Well, I hardly think this is good enough. I think it would be more appropriate if the box bore a great red label “Warning! Lark’s Vomit!”

Inspector Praline of the Hygiene Squad, Crunchy Frog sketch

That isn’t actually the quote of the day, which has to do with ArcheAge and the way it installs (but does not uninstall) the ineffectual HackShield anti-cheating rootkit on your system.  That just sums up my reaction to the quote, which comes from a Massively exclusive… something.

I’m not sure what to call it.

It doesn’t look like an interview.  Certainly nobody from Trion is mentioned.  It looks more like Trion had a lawyer respond to some questions submitted by Massively.  For some reason the question revolved around the legality of installing HackShield.  Is the gist supposed to be that if a company can do something, they shouldn’t be called out for doing it?  Anyway, this was a bit of what was said:

Yes, the program is always installed completely legally and with permission of the user as goes everything else that comes as part of the “patch” that they choose to install in order to play the game. The Hackshield logo is also prominently displayed on-screen while the program is loading and users are fully aware that the program is installed, and is running upon launching ArcheAge.

As Inspector Praline put it, I hardly think this is good enough.  Telling me you’ve installed this sort of thing by prominently displaying the logo after the fact is a bullshit response.  When I installed ArcheAge, I would have mostly likely cancelled the install and went off to other things.  But I did not have that choice.  So I am going to suggest that Trion use this logo for ArchAge going forward:


And, should the user go forward, I would then have a warning come up with the installer BEFORE the install process has taken place.  Maybe something like this:


That would satisfy me, though maybe the Surgeon General isn’t the right go to person for network security.  Well that, and if the ArcheAge installer would actually uninstall HackShield, rather than leaving the service behind running on my system.

I can hear somebody out there asking why they should care.  Why shouldn’t Trion install this on their system?

Well, I might be more sympathetic to that point of view if they mentioned some tangible user benefit in installing HackShield. Does this, for example, enhance the security of my own account?  Or is this just a blanket admission that, again, the client is in the hands of the enemy and all users are presumed to be cheats.    Trion standing behind the software might buy some good will as well.  But Trion telling me they don’t like it, but changing it would have pushed out the ArcheAge release by 6+ months isn’t making me feel warm and fuzzy.

My personal beef starts with the fact that I did not sign up with HackSiheld’s creator, AhnLab, Inc., and have no standing or relationship with them, but Trion seems to be declining to take responsibility for anything AhnLab does, so where does that leave the end user?  SynCaine has been making SOE comparisons, but did SOE spent much time pointing fingers at the original developer when it came to games like Wizardry Online and Dragon’s Prophet?

Meanwhile ArcheAge seems to be experiencing more than its fair share of hacking these days.  This sort of thing happens to a certain extent with every online game, but if you control the anti-hacking aspect of the game, you can respond to this sort of thing quickly, before it destroys your economy.  That makes Trion’s statement that HackShield will stop the vast majority of hacking attempts ring a little hollow.  But how does one balance those two points of view?  Is Trion overselling HackShield (while still saying they don’t like it) or would ArcheAge be almost infinitely worse without it?  Or both?

And the software itself… I have a long dislike of this sort of thing, going all the way back to the early days of PunkBuster.  Letting a third party handle your anti-cheat protection adds up to abdicating control on that front, and while the claim is that false positives are rare, there isn’t much you can do when you are the one triggering such.  You can make comparisons to Blizzard and their Warden technology, but at least Blizzard owned Warden and could change it when they so desired. (And Warden would, you know, actually uninstall with WoW.)

Finally, there is the system security front, which I am a bit more paranoid about these days after my company had me take a few classes on that front.   Now I see attack vectors all over.  So just color me hyper-sensitive there.

Now most of that is just my personal subjective baggage.  I didn’t like HackShield after I read up on it, so I uninstalled ArcheAge and then used Google to help me figure out how to get HackShield off of my system.  Job done.  You are free to make your choice on that subject, balancing your own paranoia (or lack thereof) against your desire to play the game.  I will admit that I might be more forgiving if I was invested in playing the game.  It is easy to uninstall the game that didn’t interest you all that much in the first place.  It is likewise easy to overlook the flaws of a game in which you are completely invested.  (Day one EverQuest springs to mind.)

But I still feel that Trion claiming, because I agreed to something in their EULA which said they could do whatever they wanted, that they should be immune to criticism for not bothering to tell me that HackShield was being installed until after the fact, thus depriving me of the ability to make an informed choice until it was too late, is, as I noted above, a bullshit response.

Your lark’s vomit?  Do not want!

(insert your favorite do not want picture from the internet here)