Tag Archives: Cynicism

Extra Credits – Picking at the Lockbox Thing Some More

The whole lockbox thing continues to meander down the road, hoving in and out of view as various politicians try to hitch their name to some aspect of this debacle.  Again, you can thank EA and their gross mishandling of Star Wars Battlefront II for this being in the public eye.

And while those seeking government intervention were buoyed by the Don Quixote-like tilting at lockboxes via bad legislation of a single Hawaiian legislator, they seem to have missed the part where an actual US Senator reached out to the ESRB in order to get the industry to self-police the whole lockbox thing.  The ESRB itself is a creation of the ESA, the video game lobbying group, who will no doubt be throwing money at key politicians to make sure any legislation goes nowhere.  Like the sign in the background in Thank You for Smoking said, “The best damn government money can buy!” and asking the ESRB to self-police is essentially a politician with their hand out looking for campaign donations.  I have seen nothing so far to make me waver from my prediction at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile the team at Extra Credits devoted some time to the lockbox thing, taking what I would guess is a more industry insider view.

Building on their previous two episodes about why video games should cost more than $60 and why video games are so expensive to make, which I previously referenced, they espouse the view that lockboxes are, at their heart, a good thing.

They take the stance that lockboxes are not gambling, echoing my own past statements, that under the laws, as currently written, they do not meet the requirements to be considered as such lacking, as they do, a real world payout mechanism.

But they move a step farther by declaring the lack of a real world payout makes lockboxes completely unlike gambling in any emotional or psychological sense, not something at all that would feed on the compulsive nature weakness that some people have.  They back this up by mentioning a study that says it is totally not a thing, failing to link to or otherwise reference the study so you can’t check up on it.  And then they hedge a hell of a lot even after that, undermining their belief in this alleged study, by saying that more work needs to be done on the topic and that should it come to pass that lockboxes are similar to gambling psychologically, then that would be a red warning light for the industry or something.

It struck me a bit like somebody speaking about addiction without having any experience with somebody in its grip, with a bit of denial sprinkled on top.  Grandpa’s not an alcoholic, he just likes a drink or six in the evening to help shed the stress of the day.

Or perhaps it is the view of somebody with a vested interest in lockboxes.  You cannot watch that video and not think they see lockboxes as good for the industry, a way to get past the pricing barrier of $60 via the time honored tradition of making whales do the monetary heavy lifting.

They will allow that, if lockboxes were being marketed to children, that would be “evil.”  That is one of the aspects around lockboxes that the legislator in Hawaii is going after.  However, they don’t seem to think that is really a thing.

I suppose the value of the video is the industry insider aspect of it.  Lockboxes are pretty much a necessity in that mind set, a requirement to sustain their otherwise untenable business model.  They don’t think companies should be unleashing every trick in the book to make players feel the MUST buy in to play, but admit that some companies will go to far and that the industry should self-regulate.

Of course, with yet another school shooting in the US, the industry has a bigger issue as a predictable demographic seeks to blame violence in movies and video games for the tragedy.  Our president even suggested that perhaps a rating system for such entertainment would be appropriate.  Such are the times in which we live.

Addendum:

They have done a lockboxes part II video covering the legislation things:

This goes down the gambling path, decided that if they are gambling then virtual goods have real world value and so you could, in that world, never ban an abusive user who spent money on your game or close down a server because that would separate people from their legally obtain virtual goods with real world worth.  They also try to hold out an olive branch to the legislator in Hawaii who, in the mean time, proposed legislation that made them throw their hands in the air at the end.

They do, however, rightly call out EA for ruining things for other devs with Star Wars Battlefront II. 

CCP and Proposed Changes to CSM Elections

CCP announced yesterday that the minutes from the CSM12 Winter Summit are now available for your perusal.

CSM12 still rolling along

The minutes, as always, seem as much a tool to irritate as to inform.  That is just the nature of the beast.  The minutes are a brief record… in 77 pages… of people talking about EVE Online, do people actually doing anything about it.  And the CCP people often respond to ideas or questions in the same way, that they’ve discussed or thought about this or that, but never had time or never got to it.

Because there is the reality of software development; you always have more ideas than time and everything always takes longer than you think.  If, sitting on the outside looking in, you think something should be easy… like, say, remove the DUST514 references from the chat windows… it is probably because you lack the knowledge surrounding it.

So they are there, read them, mine out the few chunks of data, try to read the tea leaves that form the rest, and move on.  Exploding on the forums probably won’t help anything, but if it will make you feel better you can join in.

One item to which CCP decided attention to in their dev blog post was a proposed change up to the CSM elections.  As somebody who has never been a fan of the players electing a focus group… I called the whole thing the Galactic Student Council nearly a decade back… changes in the election process often strike me as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; the new layout may be nice, but it isn’t going to change the end result.

In the case of the CSM, popularity or being the candidate of an organized group, as opposed to deep game knowledge, wins.  And, of course, null sec is the most organized out of necessity, so guess who is pretty much guaranteed to secure at least half the seats?  So that we get anybody with deep knowledge of aspects of the game is as much chance as anything, though we don’t seem to have as many vanity candidates winning recently.  It seems that people eventually figured out what a “free trip to Iceland” really meant.

Not that I think deep knowledge could change things or “make” CCP do anything.  I like to imagine new, dewy-eyed and determined CSM members showing up in Iceland set to change things and walking away ashen faced like they just got a tour of Voronezh Meat Packing Plant #12.  As with sausages, it is probably best that you not look to hard at how software is made.

Anyway, I digress.

The changes being proposed are, as I read them:

  • Move the CSM elections to a point later in the year
  • Increase the amount of time for campaigns
  • Reduce the actual time spent voting
  • Announce the results sooner

The first point seems to come from the experience of the current CSM members who felt that after Fan Fest, when development starts to slow down a bit as summer vacations begin, would be a better time to bring new members on board.  I don’t think it is a CSM12 conspiracy to extend their own tenure for a couple months, but you never know.

The second, extending the time from when we know the official candidate list through until voting begins, seems to be rooted in the charming belief that the people who aren’t paying attention and who never vote might change their minds if only there was more time to try to distinguish between the huge grid of avatars from which they get to select.

The third point, reducing the actual duration of voting, seems to contradict the above, but really what it means is that CCP has data on actual voting as opposed to campaigning.  They say most people vote on the first day or the last day, basically those were were aching to vote and those who said, “Oh crap, I’d better vote!”  That seems to make sense, but I am sure somebody will cry “voter suppression” over the proposed change.

And then there are the results, which CCP knows pretty much straight away, but which they sit on for weeks and weeks so they can announce them at Fan Fest.  I guess we’ll just have to do without that particular aspect of Fan Fest which, as somebody who will only ever see Fan Fest over a live stream, works for me.

So sure.  Make the changes.  I strongly suspect that they won’t alter the expected outcome and will just give the same people who complain every year about the same things regarding the elections another bullet point or two for their list as we roll on into CSM 13.

Expansion Watch – A General Lack of Excitement

Normally I would say it was just me, content in my little gaming routine, that was feeling a lack of excitement about MMO expansions right now.

But after working for a good minute or two on the subject, I began to see some signs, and get a general sense, that I might not be alone on that front.  Certainly the game companies haven’t been doing much to light a fire.  And I say that while noting we are headed straight into the last quarter of the year when some companies traditionally ship, or at least announce, expansions.

This is what I have noted down so far.

EVE Online

CCP has been on the “about two a year” track for ages now.  Just look at the list up to June of this year.  Sometimes they slip one way or another, with their expansions running early or late.  And I am not sure if Revelations II should be counted as its own expansion or not.  But for the most part CCP has a system and it has worked.

Yet here we are into September and we just got Odyssey 1.1 with a whole pile of changes.  That seems awfully close to the margin when you want to start off rolling new features into the main code branch for integration and sanity checking reasons.  There is a hazard in changing things up too frequently.

On the flip side, CCP has not been very successful with the long wind-up for things.  See DUST 514.  And EVE expansions tend to have a pretty short cycle between announcement and go live.  So they may still be operating as normal.

EverQuest

The big news maker at SOE Live was EverQuest Next.  That was what everybody was talking/writing about.  But, somewhere amongst the sand art the talk of voxels was an announcement about the next EverQuest expansion.  The 20th expansion.  A big, fat hairy deal, making it to 20 expansions one would think.  And so this important milestone was named…

um…  where did I put those notes…

It was named Call of the Forsaken!  There is even an official title/logo/graphic thing, which puts it well ahead of the game compared to most other expansions at this point.

EQCotF

Given how much press it has been getting, that name might give the Chains of Eternity expansion a run for its money in the unintended irony department.

SOE has announced beta and pre-orders for the expansion, but as far as I can tell has not bothered to post a feature set or other details on the main EverQuest site.  I suspect that this is in part because the name of the expansion does not follow the standard naming format of “Something of Something,” which has lead to some internal rebellion by the web team.  Or they were part of the layoffs.

EverQuest II

Like its older brother, EverQuest II had an expansion announcement at SOE Live which was likewise completely overshadowed by EverQuest Next.  The new expansion, Tears of Veeshan, was announced in a hallway somewhere and hasn’t been heard from since as far as I can tell.  Unlike the EverQuest site, the EverQuest II web pages appear to have no mention of the expansion whatsoever.  Remember what I said about SOE and keeping excitement going?

The expansion is planned for November, so SOE has some time.  But it is starting to feel like past versions of Norrath are on the back burner while EverQuest Next hogs all the excitement by… uh… talking about whether female dwarves should have beards or not.  Jesus wept.

Guild Wars 2

No expansion for Guild Wars 2 has been announced or even discussed to my knowledge.  But when you are clearly making most of your revenue from selling boxes, and you have a history of selling boxes, it seems like you might want to get another box on the shelves at some point.

Lord of the Rings Online

At last, somebody who has an expansion in the works, who has announced it, and has followed up with… something.  They have a press release posted on their site at least.   And a logo.

LOTROHelmsDeep

And I guess they showed some stuff at PAX.  But if you were just me poking around on the web trying to find information about it, you might wonder if they were really serious.  Usually Turbine is out with the per-order incentives and such about now.  So far it seems pretty quiet for the Helm’s Deep expansion.

[Addendum – There is now an announcement for the expansion release date.]

Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR already had an expansion this year, Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  That came out six months back.  But now, if you are a subscriber, you get it for free.  I am not sure what that says about how well it was doing.  And I have to guess that, if you’re a subscriber, it means you really like the game, so you probably bought it already.  Well, They have a little something for your trouble at least.

World of Warcraft

Ha ha ha, I know.  They just released Mists of Pandaria like a year ago.  That is practically yesterday in World of Warcraft terms.  And they just gave us the Siege of Orgrimmar update with all sorts of new features.  Even Kihei was on her level 90 reaping the rain of loot that is the Timeless Isle at the moment.  I am sure that will be nerfed significantly before I get there, while all the best noodle cart locations will be taken.  Yes, we got noodle carts with the patch as well.  I am not making that up.  Go read the patch notes I linked there, you’ll see.

Anyway, will the new stuff in patch 5.4 be enough?  Can a patch, no matter how feature rich, have the same draw or get the same attention as a full blown expansion.  As much as expansions expose the ludicrous nature of the level based system, often stacking the shiniest new content as far out of reach of new players as possible, it is the sort of thing that will get people to buy boxes and resubscribe.  So I will be surprised/dismayed/annoyed if Blizzard does not announce something like a WoW expansion at BlizzCon this November.  Hints about character remodels are not enough.

As slow as they are, Blizzard did get a Diablo III expansion into the queue for next year, so there should be something.

Others

That is just the stuff that springs to mind.  Are there any other expansions that ought to be noted?

I figure that Final Fantasy XIV and Neverwinter are too new.  Trion is probably too busy with the free to play conversion and their own internal turmoil to have anything set for Rift. And who else is there that might ship an expansion?

I am not sure how well selling expansions mixes with free to play in any case.  LOTRO has kept it up, and SOE is trying.  But other players in the space seem to be just dropping semi-regular content updates in the hopes that they can tempt you into spending at the cash shop, or at least annoy you into returning to the subscription model that I suspect some free to play developers still secretly love.  Why else would you sell hot bars at your cash shop?

But expansions have been, in the past, a community focal point, a way to get both your current and former customers excited about your game again.  Only I am just not feeling it this season.

Am I alone in this?  Are things different this year?  Or is it just too early in the season?