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Malcanis Picks Winners

We can’t win against obsession. They care, we don’t. They win.

-Ford Prefect, Life, The Universe, and Everything

There are a lot of words here, so I’ll get to the point up front.

TL;DR – If your conspiracy theory is more easily explained by Malcanis, your conspiracy theory is probably wrong.

There, saved you 3,000 words.  Also, don’t take this all too seriously.  This was very much a stream of consciousness “blast it out in one go” sort of post.  More so than usual even.  Of course, in saying that I know people will take this as seriously as suits them.  Such is the way of the internet.

Malcanis’ Law.

If you play multiplayer games… online multiplayer games… and you are not aware of Malcanis’ Law, then let’s correct that right now. Here is the most common version.

Whenever a mechanics change is proposed on behalf of new players, that change is always to the overwhelming advantage of richer, older players.

Examples of it show up all the time, especially when you consider that “older players” is a category that includes not just age but skill, experience, depth of knowledge, and even a commitment to a game and its mechanics well beyond any new player. It explains why game companies do not do certain things and why, when they do, they do not turn out as expected.

Like any such “law” it is a general statement and applies to trends in a population rather than specific individuals. New players, after all, do not remain new players forever. Well, some do, certainly. We’ve all seen them. But many become the rich(er) and older players who then become the beneficiaries of change. Others become former players, but that is another story. But the law continues to apply even as individuals move from one group to another.

Sometimes the exchange doesn’t seem so bad.  Sometimes you just let the vets have their thing just to get something to new players. Blizzard giving a level boost out with the expansion gets new players into the current content and up with the bulk of the player base, the latter probably being more important than the former. It doesn’t make a new player a good player or given them much in the way of special insight into the game or how to play their class, but at least they are likely to be in the same area as their friend.

A veteran player with a character boost will quickly have a potential new alt with all of the account-wide advantages and the knowledge and gold to make that character a winner quickly enough. That isn’t an overwhelming advantage… I think Malcanis overstates that in the law… but it is clearly an advantage.

If you want a more egregious example of the law, we need only look at skill injectors in EVE Online.

EVE long had a perceived problem with its skill training system. Since it runs in real time, there was no quick way to gain skills. You had to fill up your queue… or pick a skill regularly in the days before there was a queue… and wait. You could optimize a bit with attributes and implants, but in the end time had to pass.

This meant, as an example, that somebody who started in 2003 was always going to have more skill points than somebody who, like myself, started in 2006, so long as we both stayed subscribed and actively training. Thus one oft heard complaint was that new players could never catch up, and as the years went along the perceived gap between new players and veterans only grew.

The solution to this problem was the aforementioned skill injectors. Now a new player could… by spending real world cash on PLEX since they certainly hadn’t earned enough ISK in game to pay for it that way… catch up with veteran players. And I am sure a few did.

Mostly though it wast the rich getting more powerful as a result. We saw IronBank use their casino ISK to max out all possible skills. What happened more commonly was that rich players were able to bypass the nearly two year training cycle for a titan alt. That was likely a greater limiting factor on the number of titans in the game than anything else by the time skill injectors rolled around. That the Imperium was able to field nearly 500 titans for the final Keepstar battle at X47 was largely due to skill injected alts.

Basically, to avoid Malcanis you have to make changes that are so crappy or so innocuous that they don’t really impact new players or old.  Something like Alpha clone skill injectors you have to buy daily and which only boost you up to the point of Omega skill training speed, which no vet would likely bother with.  But since we already have regular skill injectors, why would they?  They’d have to unsubscribe and go Alpha for no reason.

LOL! Drink a pot noob!

The thing about Malcanis is that it works both directions. The corollary to the law might well be that any mechanics change that is proposed to limit or retard richer, older players will harm new players even more so. There was an example of this in EverQuest II. Back in EverQuest there were complaints in the forums about twinking. Yes, there were complaints in the SOE forums about almost everything you can imagine, but the company seemed to listen to this complaint.

Twinking is using your high level friends or alts to power up a low level character in order to speed up leveling. Back in the day in EverQuest this was pretty common, something inherited from its DikuMUD origins. Gear wasn’t bound to a character and had no level restrictions, though sometimes a proc would only work if you were above a certain level. I recall Ghoulbane, an undead smiting paladin sword, having a level limitation on its proc, though the sword itself could be wielded by a level 1 pally. And, likewise, high level buffs that gave huge boosts to stats and hit points were free to be applied to low level players.

When EQII rolled around SOE seemed to have gone way out of its way to close off twinking. Gear had level restrictions. Buffs were of very short duration, scaled down to low level players, and in some cases could only be applied to people in your group. There was a formula that dictated the maximum level range of players in your group, so players too low in level would not gain experience. And then there was the whole encounter locking aspect of things. Gone were the days of happily buffing low level players. The only thing they missed initially was bind on equip gear, which they fixed as soon as that started to kill the market for player created items.

And this created the usual divide. Sure, at launch the difference between new players and veterans was paper thin, but it was telling. People entered the veteran class by showing up with friends, forming a guild, and grouping up to play. A regular group was a ticket to success, especially since a lot of the content past the fields in front of the opposing cities of Qeynos and Freeport were heavily skewed towards group play, which caused the minor gap to become a major one past level 20 or so for a lot of players.

While SOE eventually reversed course on nearly everything I just mentioned, this somewhat overt hostility to solo play and helping anybody who wasn’t near your level and in your group was another nail in the coffin for EQII once solo-friendly WoW launched later in the same month. (Why solo was, and remains, important is a whole different topic that I might have to revisit.)

So when I hear people suggest that the Monthly Economic Report indicates that sovereignty fees or structures ought to cost more, I know who can afford any price increase:  The rich can.  Goons can.  Raising those prices would only harm smaller organizations and put a limit on the ability of newer organizations to enter null sec.  And that was what Fozzie Sov and increased population density was all about, giving those sorts of groups that opportunity.

Because, of course Malcanis extends itself beyond players to groups as well. As noted in the EQII example, a situation existed where being a part of a group gave an advantage and went far towards setting up the optics of the veteran/new player, rich/poor, winner/loser split.

Malcanis favors those ready to take advantage of change, which brings me back to EVE Online. Gevlon, who once swore he was done talking about the game, cannot let go and has recently been back on his “CCP picks winners” excuse for leaving the game. Well, there was that and the fact that CCP Falcon made fun of him, but that was so mild and of absolutely no consequence as to sound crazy as any sort of excuse.

Anyway, his note of late was that citadels were a gift to Goons, proof that CCP favors them over other groups in the game.  This was a change from his original position, that citadels were a gift to whoever ran the trade citadels in Perimeter, but the base angle remained.  It is, as always, a corrupt developer story (the corrupt developer career path being a thing in his world view), his usual fall-back to explain the world when it isn’t working out as predicted. (I can hardly wait to see the tale he weaves when lockboxes aren’t universally banned this year. I expect a lot of explaining about what he really meant and how the Netherlands are essentially the whole world so he really was right.)

From my point of view, which is from within the Imperium and thus on the side of Goons, this theory looks more than a bit off. Certainly anybody who spends any time in the GSF forums will start to get a sense of the institutional paranoia Goons have about CCP. While they may be Lowtax’s chosen people, they certainly do not feel like Hilmar’s favorites. Some of this is just paranoia I am sure, but the relationship between Goons and CCP has been peppered by enough events over the years, from the T20 scandal (one of the rare cases of actual developer corruption, but did not favor Goons) to the “No Sions” rule for the CSM a couple of year back.

I don’t buy into it myself. CCP seems ready to ignore input and inflict pain on all comers at times, but the downtrodden under dog origins of Goons seems so essential to their identity in game that I doubt it will ever go away. To merely survive against the odds you see stacked against you is to win, and to actually win in that situation can be transcendent, even if it is founded in a fiction.

Were citadels a gift to Goons? They sure didn’t look like it when the hit. The Citadel expansion went live in late April of 2016. And where was the Imperium living then? In the Quafe Company Warehouse station in Saranen. I mean, we still held much of Pure Blind, and Vale of the Silent was technically not lost yet, but that was all well on its way to being lost. Circle of Two had betrayed us and swapped sides, SpaceMonkeys Alliance was spent and left the coalition to recover (only to fold up shop), FCON headed out the door without bothering to stop in Saranen, RAZOR looked to be on its way out, and membership in the surviving alliances was in decline. Darius Johnson, having somehow been given possession of the original GoonSwarm alliance was calling for “true Goons” to come fly with him, an offer which found few takers but which was exploited for propaganda value.

The North – April 28, 2016

And in the midst of that, while we were living in a low sec station and undocking daily to take the fights we could manage, citadels showed up. Soon there were three Fortizars and an Astrahus on grid with the Quafe Factory Warehouse station, all hostile, while in 93PI-4 there was an enemy Keepstar anchored so the Moneybadger Coalition could dock up their supercapitals just on gate away from Saranen, from which they could drop on the near portions of Black Rise as well as covering Pure Blind.

That was a hell of a gift for somebody. It sure didn’t seem like it was addressed to us though.

The war was lost. We obstinately held on until June before calling it quits, after which we began the migration to Delve. There we had a region to conquer, though the weakness of the locals meant there wasn’t much of a barrier to entry. The only worry was if the Moneybadger Coalition would live up to their promise to keep us from ever forming up again. As it turned out, that was mostly empty talk. The new north was too busy settling into their new territory to bother and thus only made a few minor attempts to thwart us in Delve before giving up to fight amongst themselves.

At that point pretty much all of the major null sec changes were in place. The regions had been upgraded so there was no more “bad sov” to avoid. Any system could be made a ratting and mining paradise with the right upgrades. Fozzie sov was in place.  And citadels were now the new thing, allowing groups to setup stations wherever, with the Keepstar variety allowing supers to dock up, allowing those alts to escape their space coffins.

While we had to police Querious and Fountain to keep hostiles at bay as well as dealing with the dread bomb threat from NPC Delve, much of the months after taking Delve were relatively peaceful. We were not at war and we weren’t keen to get into another one having been soundly beaten. Instead, the institutional paranoia served us well as the coalition began to work to stockpile ships, material, and ISK to defend our space lest our foes unite and come after us once again.

But nobody did. PL and NCDot turned on TEST and CO2 and threw them out of the north, while the rest of the sov holding victors settled into their new northern fiefdoms. So the Goon drive to restore its power was mostly unchecked. Soon we had our own Keepstar, then two, then many. They were a part of the game and we were going to use them. KarmaFleet expanded to become an even more essential part of GSF as the long insular Goons sought to expand the levee en masse option that Brave Newbies had championed and that Pandemic Horde used so effectively during the war. Ratting and mining was deemed important, both to raise defense levels of systems and to feed the expanding war machine of Delve, so incentives were offered including, for a while, PAP links for mining and ratting fleets. You could fill your monthly participation quota by making ISK.

Then there was the Monthly Economic Report which, as Ayrth put it, became one of the Imperium’s best recruiting tools. Come get rich with us in Delve! We were not only getting rich, but we were living out the “farms and fields” idea that had long been proposed for null sec. If you lived in your space you benefited. If you just held it but lived elsewhere you did not.

And yes, this is all a dramatic over simplification told from my own point of view, omitting various details, both pertinent and not. But the overall point survives even if you tell it from a completely Moneybadger perspective, call it World War Bee, and emphasize the failings of the losers.  The Imperium lost the war and won the peace.  That’s what the Monthly Economic Report tells me.

As an organization the Imperium was both prepared and motivated to adapt to the changes in the game and to take advantage of them in ways that almost no other null sec entity was. When external casinos were cut off as a source of wealth in the game, did those who depended on them change their ways? Last year, when moon mining went from a passive activity to the new active collection method now in place, how many other groups adapted as well?

The only old school revenue method left is rental space, which I am told NCDot does very well by. The lack of bad sov anymore means their rental base can be smaller… once a huge swathe of null sec… yet viable.

But overall Goons adapted to the changes, and worked very hard at it along the way, while other groups did not. So if you are putting forward the proposition that CCP picks winners, that they have chosen Goons to win EVE Online, whatever that means, it is pretty much on you to explain what CCP should have or could have done differently that would have changed the outcome.

  • Did Fozzie sov changes favor Goons? It sure doesn’t look like it.
  • Did null sec density changes favor Goons? They didn’t save us during the Casino War.
  • Did citadels favor Goons over others? Just saying it doesn’t make it so, you have to prove that their lack would have changed something.  Otherwise no.
  • Did removing casino wealth favor Goons over others?  Only over the groups that depended on it. Who will raise their hand and claim to be in one of those?
  • Did moon mining changes favor Goons? It seemed like we were doing fine mining moons the old fashioned way.  Goons had to change like everybody else.

That is four negatives and a semi-sorta for specific entities.

In the end, saying that CCP favors Goons sounds a lot like an excuse for those who would not put in the work and adapt to changes. But I guess “Well sure they won, they took advantage of the changes!” doesn’t sound as good.

Basically, it is all on Malcanis here.  The group willing and able to take advantage of the changes rather unsurprisingly came out on top.  That is what the rule always sums up to in the end.

And now there is a new war in the north and the Imperium is spending its accumulated wealth and putting hundreds of titans on the field.  Keepstars are dying and the combined losses overall reach into the trillions of ISK.  We’re throwing ISK and resources onto the fire of war.  I don’t know if we’re going to end up like the Serenity server in the end, where one group emerges as so dominant that null sec is effectively over.  But if EVE is dying at last, it won’t be because CCP picked the winner.

Follow on thoughts:

  • It would also be very much against CCP’s best interest for them to pick a winner, so why would they?
  • Not picking specific winners is different from not favoring specific play styles.  CCP’s vision is clearly that null sec is the end game and other areas suffer for it.
  • Null sec coalitions are inevitable.  There will always be a blue donut.  While there were a bunch of new groups in null with Fozzie Sov, eventually everybody had to find allies to survive.
  • While I poke at the Moneybadger Coalition for not following the Imperium to Delve to keep them down, it is remarkably difficult to suppress a group that otherwise holds together.  I am not sure it can actually be done.  Lots of groups have suffered catastrophic setbacks and returned to be a power.  Some examples of this are the Goons in the Great War, TEST after the Fountain War,  and CO2 after The Judge betrayed them and GigX was banned.
  • Real world analogies, especially WWII analogies, are always wrong.  New Eden isn’t the real world.  We don’t live there and, more importantly, we don’t die there.  We respawn and carry on.
  • If your comment on this post immediately jumps into RMT… then welcome back Dinsdale.  Haven’t seen you for a while.
  • If “Winning EVE” is leaving the game behind, is quitting and being unable to let go actually “Losing EVE?”

In Which I am Against Instanced Content for Once

Out of the blue SynCaine suddenly decided that he had the solution to the big null sec battle problem in EVE Online.  Having seen instanced PvP battles in Life is Feudal, he felt the need to propose null sec fights like the “million dollar battle” of some weeks back be instanced as well.

My experience from that battle

He was engaged with the idea sufficiently to post a second time about it to say how wonderful it would be because it would lead to more good press about the game, since big battles and bad people are about all that gets EVE Online in the news.

And I couldn’t disagree more with the idea of instance battles in New Eden.

I am, of course, a proponent of instancing in many cases.  I think instanced dungeons and raids are part of the formula that made World of Warcraft the success it has been and remains.

The whole open world dungeon thing came from the MUD days, when communities were small and social pressure could keep people from screwing around with zone runs.  Mostly.  I still remember in TorilMUD at its peak the devs having to essentially set up rules as to who had “dibs” on a given zone.  That was during a time when the player base could maybe support four or five correctly staffed zone groups (16 players each) and so there was some competition for the prime zones.  In the end though there was no need to instance.

That changed with EverQuest and the MMORPGs that followed in its wake.  I hear people talking about ideas like “server communities” being a thing and social pressure working in Norrath back in the day, but I was there and I don’t believe it.  Dunbar’s Number gives lie to the idea that you could “know” your server “community” of several thousand people.

EverQuest had the open dungeon thing for a while, but eventually went to instancing of some dungeon content in 2003 with the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion.  That, of course, killed EverQuest, sending it into immediate decline.

Oh, wait, no… EverQuest actually hit its peak after that and only went into decline when World of Warcraft showed up having essentially copied EverQuest while removing much of the suck.

Subscriptions – 150K to 1 million

So instancing PvE content like dungeons is fine in my book and solves a lot of problems, problems that kept coming up in the EverQuest retro servers until they went back and instanced some of the old raids as well.  Instancing wins in PvE.

Instancing in PvP though… that is a different beast altogether.

I mean, I guess it is okay for battleground and similar “match” based competitions where what you are doing is essentially outside of the game.  I wouldn’t suggest that something like the Alliance Tournament ought to take place live in New Eden with the rest of us.  The temptation to third party on it would be irresistible.

But the Alliance Tournament isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  PC Gamer isn’t putting up headlines about the winners or commenting on ship compositions.  It is, like many things in EVE Online, something that a niche group is into and the majority of the game barely notices.

And you could say that about big null sec battles as well.  As Neville Smit pointed out at a point in the past, 85% of the game doesn’t play in null sec, or didn’t when those numbers were pulled.  The difference is that big null sec battles are one of the places where EVE Online stands out from other games, something that does get PC Gamer and the like to write about.

My gut reaction to the idea that CCP should instance big battles is that the whole idea breaks the core philosophy of the game, that everything that happens in the game happens IN the game.  There is supposed to be no magic in New Eden.  No transport fairy moves you ships or modules or ore around, you have to schlep it yourself or pay somebody to move it.  When you lose a ship you have to go get a new one, you don’t just respawn with one. (Okay, rookies ships get handed to you, but within the context of the game it has a reason.)  And when you are out doing something, mining, hauling, running a mission, or shooting somebody’s ship, somebody else can show up and start shooting at you.

When you undock in New Eden, you are taking a risk.  That is part of the deal.

So the idea that you can undock and have a battle over an objective in null sec and are able to keep it private by locking out interlopers just breaks the game in my book.

I’ll grant that is just an opinion.

The Dude has me covered

I would even suggest that CCP would agree with that opinion.  But that doesn’t make it a concrete absolute in the universe.  So I won’t just stomp my feet and say “It’s wrong!”  There are other arguments against the idea.

The first is, of course, how would CCP even implement such a thing?  Saying that they should just instance those fights is like a line item from the product manager.  They drop that turd on your desk and leave you to figure out how to deal with it.

I won’t play the Blizzard “impossible” card, as they are wont to do, but this isn’t an easy change.  You have to setup an instanced battle via some automatic procedure that needs to happen for a specific set of circumstances (e.g. Keepstar final timer), which can successfully limit participation in the eventual battle to exactly the right number of exactly the right people, and doesn’t have an obvious exploit.

While it is an interesting topic to game out the options for… and there are many, from what objectives should trigger such battles, to whether or not the battles should be the same size for all objectives or scale based on the objective (or maybe scale based on the defender’s size?), to choosing between absolute number of ships (bring 1,000 titans!) or some sort of point system, who gets to fight and how they get flagged and who won’t get flagged, how does the structure itself figure in the calculations, whether reinforcements are allowed ever or never, how big is the battlefield, if there are other structures on grid in the system are they on grid in the battle, and probably many more that haven’t come to mind.  And each of these has to be explored to see how it will change group behaviors and whether or not there is an “I win” option for somebody.

Somebody will come along and say, “Just do x, y, and z” and think they’re done because there isn’t an obvious exploit in their vague statement.  But they are kidding themselves.  They are not done, not by a long shot.  You aren’t done until you work out the details, all the details, and then have gamed them out with enough scenarios to have some confidence in them.  And then, as we have seen many times before, the players will have at it and spot things you never considered.

And whatever it is then has to go on top of the current software, follow the specific set of rules for the battle, and not disrupt the every day game.  This all adds up to an incredibly deep and complex project… and all the more so since I haven’t even considered what technical limitations may be faced… and it will need a lot of development resources dedicated to it that could be working on other items.

Is the issue important enough to warrant that?  Given the whole “85%” thing I mentioned before, I am going to guess there would many voices declaring against the idea.  I’m not sure that even the null sec voices would be in favor of it if it meant sacrificing development on other things.

Furthermore, should CCP actually decided to commit to this, does the desired end result come to pass?  Will this actually end up with EVE Online having more battles that will get press coverage?

Here is another problem.  The reason for doing this is to limit the number of players able to participate in a battle.  But part of the reason that EVE gets coverage is because of the huge number of players involved in such battles.  If we trade ugly 4000-6000 player battles with time dilation and lag and disconnections for nice smooth reliable 2000 player battles, is the new situation newsworthy?

I am not sure they are.  Maybe you get one story about CCP testing their new battle architecture, but after that raw participation numbers are out the window.  There needs to be a lot of dead titans to make the news again.

And how does that change the null sec meta?  Currently in 0.0 space we are in a very egalitarian situation where line members get to show up en masse to fights.  If the seating is limited, who gets to show up and play?  Will leadership let in a Jackdaw fleet?  Or will it be a supers vs. supers battle where titans will eat all the capital and super carriers will take care of the sub caps,  so unless you fly one of those two you need not even apply?  Or will it just be titans with refits to handle sub caps and that is all?  Then there will be a push for 1,000 of the right titan fit optimally because in an even fight you have to find your edge somewhere.  And if you can’t compete in that game then you just lose the fight automatically to the few organizations that can.

I honestly think we’re better off with the current situation, as ugly as it is, where people pile on until the server breaks rather than having nice set battles in their own little space.  And I speak as somebody who knows full well what such ugly battles can be like.  I had my guns jammed at Z9PP-H before CCP fumbled the node, I was there all day for the big battle at 6VDT-H, I saw us kill the server at battles like HED-GP or KW-I6T, and I was even there at B-R5RB where access to the battle was being strictly controlled by the coalition lest we bring down the server yet again.

Battles like this are rare and as often as not are spontaneous affairs that may or may not fall within the instancing parameters.  CCP has better things on which to spend their limited resources. The results likely won’t be more headlines for the game.  And, frankly, if we play the N+1 game we get what we deserve, and I’m good with that.

The Corrupt Developer Career Path

In which we see how logic is useless with bad data.

This all started innocuously enough with Wolfshead angry about life as video game developer.  His ire, deflected momentarily from his usual target of Blizzard, was aimed at the video game industry itself and the fact that being a game dev can be a really crappy career choice.  The pay is low, the hours are long, job security is fleeting, and there is a long line of gullible young people willing to take your place if you try to buck the system.

This is not a new tale.  Having lived close enough to Electronic Arts for them to be covered by the local paper regularly, word of how shitty the video games industry can be is something I have been aware of since at least the late 1980s.

Fun created here… on an Orca graveyard!

Wolfshead called it an example of  the “worst excesses of capitalism,” by which I assume he means supply and demand.  Seems legit.  Oversupply usually lowers pay and working conditions while scarcity tends to raise them. That is the whole “invisible hand” that Adam Smith was going on about indicating that you should look for work elsewhere.  Sort of an invisible middle-finger.

Oddly though he also went off on progressives who run operations where life is not intolerable, which comes off a bit muddled and counter to his main point.  He rather ironically denigrates people who care about fair trade coffee, then turns around and says gamers need to demand better working conditions for developers.  Progressive ideals are fine when they benefit you I guess.  I expect him to follow up with a post calling for fair labor video games.

But the net message is that being a video game developer can suck.  Another brick in the wall that should block you from ever wanting to work in the video game industry.  You go down that path despite the reality, not because of it.

However Gevlon was having none of it, even doubling down when challenged.

In Gevlon’s world, nobody does anything without getting compensated.  Young developers don’t line up for crappy pay, long hours, and no job security simply for passion or to follow a dream.  That whole “do what you love” is bullshit.  If you go there, there has to be a payoff!  These young developers go into the video games industry intent on lining their pockets by becoming corrupt developers!

Artist concept of the decision process

This whole idea fails the sniff test almost immediately.  It smells like bullshit and defies the logic Gevlon himself lays out.

First, if money is actually the REAL motivator, as opposed to the dream of working in the wonderful fantasy world of video games, then there are a lot better ways to go about it than risking your career, future employment options, and possible legal and tax complications, by becoming a corrupt game developer.

A developer could, for example… and I realize this is a huge stretch… get a job elsewhere in software development.  There are many jobs in software available.  Most of them pay better than the video games industry.

Basically, ample other opportunities exist.  You do not go into video game development as an individual contributor with an eye towards making bank.  And doing so with the idea of essentially creating a criminal enterprise is absurd in the extreme.

It isn’t as though there are no corrupt devs.  Stories do surface now and again about somebody taking advantage of their position.  But those are more matters of opportunity rather than somebody’s career goal.  People are weak.  Oh, and their careers got ruined once they get caught.  Like a lot of segments of software development, video game development is a small community and word gets around even if you don’t make the front page of Kotaku.

That leads us to one of the key arguments against this corrupt developer proposition; the lack of news stories about this.

If being a corrupt developer was a career path people going into video game development were actually, consciously pursuing we should be seeing a lot more news about corrupt developers.  His argument pretty much needs this to be taken seriously.

Where are all the stories?  Please, post links in the comments if I am wrong, but I’ve got nothing.

We know all about Kickstarters taking your money and running and about game companies over promising and under delivering.  Players complain incessantly about price gouging by greedy companies  But the biggest developer “corruption” story of the last few years was an unsubstantiated allegation that a indy developer used personal contacts to get a better review.

The stories just aren’t out there and the only way you can explain that away is by turning the whole thing into a conspiracy where management and the industry are in on the corruption and we enter the realm of Dinsdale where players are paying off companies.  At that point companies are working against self-interest allowing corrupt devs, since even Gevlon insists that protecting the integrity of a game is vitally important and why would they share the booty with line devs in any case.

Well, that, and the fact that the number of game developer positions where being corrupt would get you paid is probably pretty limited in and of itself.  Further evidence that people don’t go into this industry with corruption in mind as a career goal.

The only real evidence that Gevlon can produce to support his theory is that bugs in code exist and some of them take longer to get fixed than he thinks they should.

That has an easy response.

Gevlon, as I have noted elsewhere, is an ignorant amateur outsider when it comes to software development in general, and all the more so when discussing the situation involving any particular video game, so his determination as to what should be easy to fix and how long it should take carries exactly zero weight.

This is not an insult, but a statement of fact.

I am an ignorant, amateur, outsider when it comes to treating cancer.  It seems like you should just be able to cut that shit out and be done with it.  Also, Jesus, doesn’t radiation give you cancer?  And the chemicals in chemotherapy were derived from mustard gas!  Why would you use that on people?

So if you see me hanging out the oncology department at your local hospital, feel free to discount any advice I might give you.

The difference between those two situations is that I know and admit that I am the ignorant amateur outsider and Gevlon does not.  He thinks his assessments are meaningful.

They are not.

Which leaves him with very little to support his hypothesis besides his idea that people don’t spend time doing things that do not bring them the greatest financial benefit.  At that point you have to start asking why he spends time blogging.  That is giving something away for free, something that has value.  Imagine the page views his posts would get from enraged fan boys on a site like Massively OP!  He doesn’t even run ads on his own site, so he fails by his own logic.

To summarize:

  • The alleged financial motivation to become a corrupt developer is nonsensical and counter productive; there are easier way to make more money and people do value things besides a paycheck.
  • Positions where being a corrupt game developer would pay off are extremely limited; real money trading has to be involved somehow.
  • No substantial external evidence exists that anybody is pursuing this career path in any numbers; where are the news stories?
  • The remaining evidence offered lacks credibility; Gevlon is not in a position to know and his own logic argues against him.

So while I would not deny that corrupt game developers may be out there, it seems more like something subject to occasional circumstances where opportunity arises and not a career path anybody set out on to offset the poor pay offered by their chosen industry.

The burden of proof lies on Gevlon to prove that that the situation is otherwise and so far he has failed completely on that front.

One Hundred Million Copies of Minecraft

The news popped up yesterday that Minecraft sales had exceeded 100 million copies.

Who buys which version where...

Who buys which version where…

The number, as of June 1st was actually a bit past 100 million.

Complete with delusions of sovereignty

Complete with delusions of sovereignty

Probably more surprising is that the game has sold, on average, 53K copies a day in 2016.  Not bad for a game getting to its fifth birthday.

Over on his blog SynCaine attributes this to the idea that good games simply do well.  That is underselling the achievement by a long shot.  For a cross platform title that puts Minecraft behind only Tetris, which has sold nearly 500 million copies in the last 30 years, appearing on platforms as diverse as programmable calculators, iPods, just about every gaming console ever, and whatever OS you happened to be running back in the day.

SynCaine then proceeds to bait the bear that is World of Warcraft, opining that if only Blizzard hadn’t started to make the game suck after The Burning Crusade the game would still be growing today.

This is a bad argument.  Or, at a minimum, an argument that doesn’t necessarily follow from Minecraft’s success.

To open with, the comparison appears to be subscribers versus total sales.  Total units sold would be more apt.  But we do not know how many copies of World of Warcraft Blizzard has sold.  Furthermore, even if we did, I would argue that for this measure, we should count not just copies of the base game, but also every copy of each expansion as a sale, at which point it isn’t hard to get to a number that surpasses Minecraft, at least on the back of a napkin.  WoW had already passed 100 million accounts created two and a half years ago.  (Complete with required infographic.) All of them may not have bought a copy of the game, but a lot of them bought a copy and an expansion or three.

The orc says, "Look at me!"

The orc says, “Look at me!”

WoW has been growing this whole time, if you just count people who have played as opposed to those currently subscribed.  After all, one item you can derive from that Mojang chart is that 66 million people who bought Minecraft don’t bother playing it on any given month even though it is free.

Then there is the whole pricing aspect, because WoW and every expansion has cost more than a copy of Minecraft, and then there is a subscription on top of that, something that chases some people off.

But there is really one key difference between the two games that will keep WoW from ever having a chance to do what Minecraft has done with such a small team.  You can leave aside things like price, expansions, subscriptions, and all that, because to my mind it comes down to one main item:

Mojang doesn’t make content.

They make the client and an open source version of the server… but all you need is the client… and have left nearly everything else to the community that has formed around the game.  It is all in the hands of the players.

Don’t like the default settings?  Change them!  There aren’t enough settings?  Run a third party version of the server!  Don’t like the looks or want some new feature?  There is probably a mod for that!  Don’t like the current version?  Set the client to run an old version!  Want somebody to host your server?  So many choices!  Play solo?  Check!  Play with friends on a closed server? Check!  Make an open server for anybody?  Check!  PvE?  Check!  PvP?  Check!  Creative mode?  Check!  Hardcore perma-death?  Covered!  Special maps?  All over the place!

And yes, not ALL of those options apply to the three versions of Minecraft.  Again, the PC Master Race gets the greater range of flexibility.  But even on the console version, the most limited of the three, Mojang still doesn’t make content.

Meanwhile Blizz needs to come up with new content every year… though they can only manage to do it every other year… and every new change or expansion alienates somebody from the installed base.  There was no perfect path forward that would please everybody.

And you can’t just set the client to run WoW 1.8.1 or some such because you liked how things were in 2006.  Meanwhile the market closed in as the flip side of everybody making what essentially became niche WoW clones means that the player base has other options when the current batch of content wears out.

Even League of Legends, which SynCaine also brings up, depends on Riot not screwing up balance too much and to make new variations of the game and to stage big events and the like to draw attention to the game.

Mojang has created a sandbox game that has achieved a life of its own.  Even the space-sim-sandbox of my heart, EVE Online, has to provide content for its players.  Minecraft just drops you in a fresh world and tells you to punch a tree.  You want something?  Go build it.  They don’t even care about a player economy.  Design it away?  It’s been done.

And they succeeded!

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, Mojang barely markets the game… and still they are selling 53K copies a day.  And then there is all the revenue from licensed products like shirts and foam picks and LEGO sets.  They have created something special here.  It is beyond being a game, it is practically an ecosystem.

Minecraft is one of those odd exceptions, beyond merely “good game sells well,” one of those games that was in the right time and place for success.  But then again, so was WoW.

CCP Continues to Confound Recognized Financial Expert

I am quite willing to bet you that CCP goes bankrupt in 2012. You might want to interpret their “great success” how ever you like, but financial reports don’t lie.

Tobold, October 2011

CCP continues to defy the predictions of financial expert Tobold Stalefoot.


Nosy gamer spotted an Icelandic news report on the company financials, a rough translation of which ended up over on Neville Smit’s blog.  The bottom line for for CCP in 2015 was:

The company yielded US$20.7 million profit last year…

According to CCP, the company’s profit, cash balance and financial position has never been stronger.

So they have that going for them.  Bankruptcy seems to be a much longer term goal of theirs than previously assumed.

In similar prognostication related news, the DICE awards have refused to relent to Tobold’s version of reality and Fallout 4 remains the DICE pick for 2015 Game of the Year.

The one time MMO gamer Tobold, whose expertise also extends into determinations on good versus evil, who is lying and who is telling the truth, fairness in the matter of pricing in relation to currency exchange rates, whether or not the hosts of Top Gear actually drive those cars, and dramatically quitting blogging only to return the next week, was unavailable for comment.

Addendum: An analysis of the CCP financials here.

Steam Tags… Not So Bad Really…

So the big brouhaha of the week seems to be the tag system introduce by Valve that allows players to tag games listed in Steam with whatever the hell they want.

Queue typical human behavior.  Trolling.  Bad attempts at humor.  Injections of obsessive behavior.

But after reading several posts that pretty much convinced me that the world was going to spontaneously combust due to the absolute horror of this feature and the uses to which it was being put, I actually went and looked at the store pages for all of the games in my library.

And the results were not all that bad.

The key here is that Steam, by default, only shows you a few of the most popular tags… usually 3 to 5 depending on how long they are… and as far as I can see, the most accurate tags are bubbling up to fill that position.  So, for example, SimCity 4 seems to be quite accurate when it comes to tags.


Yes, if you click on the little plus sign, you can see all of the tags people have added.  But even those are mostly accurate.  A couple editorialize… “last good one” is on the list… but I am not sure editorials are off limits or should be.  And all the games in my library look to be about on par.  Do I care that “one more turn” is one of the tags displayed for Civilization V? That is clearly an editorial, but seems totally appropriate to me.

Sure, some games seem to suffer from users being allowed to apply tags.  I wouldn’t be very happy if I was a developer on Call of Duty: Ghost.


But I would probably be even less happy that Steam also displays the Metacritic score.


In a world where big studio titles tend to be rated on a 70-100 scale, getting a 68 is already failing.

And for those who are concerned that these aren’t the tags they are looking for, I would point out that Steam has had genre tags for ages now.


So, if you already have that sort of thing in place, it seems like some editorializing might be appropriate in the user defined tags, which are marked as user defined tags.

Meanwhile, it would appear that Valve went through and cleaned out some of the more egregious and off topic tags that were polluting the system.  Holocaust denial is no longer a thing in user defined tags as far as I can tell.  Prison Architect is no longer tagged with “Not-a-rape Simulator.”

So it appears to me that Valve has decided to devote some resources to policing the tags, which seems reasonable.

I can see how the game studios are still mad about this.  It allows people to say negative things about their games!  Oh no!

Color me somewhat unconcerned on that front.

So worst idea ever?  Not really.  Crowd sourcing from idiots?  On the whole, no.  Whatever Tobold’s point was… as I mentioned above, Valve already had tags… handled… I think.  That Tumblr site devoted to bad Steam tags?  Taken down.  The world? Continues to turn.

Addendum:  And I forgot to mention, if you’re really worked up about a tag, you can report it.

What offends you?

What offends you?

Crowd sourcing goes both ways here it seems.

Quote of the Day – Whiny Old Timers are the Real Problem

The truth is, in any community, the veterans, the old hands, are the ones that are the biggest reason why the community doesn’t grow.

Harbinger Zero, post Adventures in Missing the Point (since removed)

And we have the case for insta-levels, spurred by various posts about the Lord of the Rings Online “Gift of the Valar” level 50 offer,  in which Harbinger Zero hurls anything not nailed down at people complaining about the idea.  He manages to complain about the use of loaded terms… he doesn’t like the word “scheme” for example… while raining down a torrent of abuse littered with similarly loaded terms… pot, I’d like to introduce you to the kettle.  His basic conclusion is that the current player base is the root problem.

“Innovate!” is the Mating Call of the Lazy Gamer

There was a cartoon that ran in the New Yorker years ago.  I wish I could find it.

The cartoon featured a man dressed up in a clown suit on a television studio set.  He was on a fully dressed sound stage with back drops.  There was a large studio audience.  Cameras were pointed at him.  Studio technicians were off on the side.  A boom mic hung above him.  Everything was in its place.

And on the cue card was the phrase “TELL A FUNNY JOKE.”

That seems to be what Tobold is up to today.  He is kvetching that game studios with revenue goals and investors and expectations and all the baggage of big business aren’t reading his cue card, which simply says, “INNOVATE.”

Well, that and the idea that the past is bad, which is why it is in the past.  Only fools put on rose colored glasses and bask in nostalgia or some rubbish.

So he doesn’t just want a funny joke, but he wants it to be a new joke as well.

But there are no new jokes.  There are only new contexts in which to tell them.

In entertainment, as in jokes, remakes, reboots, re-imagining, and telling the same damn story in a slightly different way is what sustains us.  Using old material was old hat when Shakespeare (or whoever) was cribbing his plots from the Greeks.

And the more familiar the story, the more of our dollar votes go towards it.  Avatar is where the money is, not Primer.  Or, if you want the “higher” arts, the music of Mozart or Beethoven get more performances and sell more albums than that of Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

The problem is that we’re not used to this being the case when it comes to video games.  The video games industry is pretty young.  It hasn’t just been a business in living memory, it became a business in my lifetime.

It went from a cottage industry of single person or very small development teams, when what ever they produced seemed new (though they borrowed heavily) because we had never seen such a thing on a computer before… or in some cases, even a computer… to the big business it is today in something like 40 years.

We are just reaching the point where remakes have become the norm.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I have my doubts that something like Wasteland 2 can deliver on its promise.  A lot of what made the original great was in the context of the time and the limitations of the hardware.  But it could still be a decent game.  On the other hand, I am quite happy that somebody is going to fix up Age of Empires II and bring a great game into the 21st century.

And it also doesn’t mean that there is no innovation.  There are plenty of developers trying to tell stories or create situations in new contexts that challenge and amuse us.  They just so rarely show up from big studios that looking for them there seems to be the real fools errand.  Games like Journey or Katamari Damancy will always be the exception on that front.

It is the so-called independent game studios that will likely foster any innovation we see.

If you are complaining about no innovation and ignoring them, then you didn’t really want any innovation in the first place I guess.  Heaven forbid you get off your ass and go find something new.

Addendum: And then later Tobold said we need to pay more for niche titles.  So I guess I win.

EverQuest: More Popular at Launch than WoW is Today…

But only if you use the Bizarro metrics.

For example, on Planet Tobold, it ISN’T how many who play your game that matters, but how many people DIDN’T play you game.

Taken to logical extremes, there are more than 7 billion people today who do NOT play World of Warcraft today.

However, back in 1999, when the first player logged into EverQuest, there were only 6 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory for SOE, putting it a whole billion “non-players” ahead of Blizzard!

But wait.  Back in 1987 when Air Warrior was finally rolling, it only had 5 billion people not playing it!

Who is the most successful online game now, bitches?

Meanwhile, SpaceWar, running way back in 1961 had a mere 3 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory in the unpopularity race!

And yes, I am stretching Tobold-logic to humorous extremes on purpose.  But even trying to work the negative player numbers in a serious manner… potential player populations, target populations, subscription rates, and what not… seems like building a castle in a swamp.

Of course, so does trying to measure how many people remember a game.  I suspect there are games out there that more people remember than actually played them.  But how do you even begin to measure that and, more importantly, how does that equated to success?

Being remembered certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

Nor does historical significance which, by definition, is an assessment of something that happened far enough in the past that  it has ceased to be contemporary and actual becomes history.  Real history, in the serious academic studies sense, only starts when those who were there to witness it… and thus have invested opinions about it… pass on and things that had to be held secret to protect governments and individuals alike are released to the public.

Which is to say that neither I nor Tobold can really make anything besides guesses now about how the future may view this era when it comes to MMOs and the like.

But when you’ve soured on a genre to the point that your agenda seems to be deny that any MMO with numbers south of 250K can possibly be a success merely because WoW exists and heap scorn on anybody who wants something different, I guess you have to take whatever crazy ammunition you can find.

I am certainly not saying WoW isn’t a success.  It is certainly what keeps Activision-Blizzard funded for the three quarters each year when they don’t ship a new Call of Duty game.   But success is not an absolute bar, now set so high by WoW that nobody can ever succeed again.  Mark Jacobs’ Camelot Unchained plans are not an automatic failure merely because he is targeting a small audience.  It is an experiment.  It has risks.  It has to live in the current MMO ecosystem.

But that alone doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Of course, even Mr. Jacobs isn’t above pulling out a silly metric himself now and again.

Tobold Prediction – CCP Bankrupt in 2012

Hey, it is Friday and Tobold has made a prediction for the 2012 MMO market over in the comment thread over at Hardcore Casual:

I am quite willing to bet you that CCP goes bankrupt in 2012. You might want to interpret their “great success” how ever you like, but financial reports don’t lie.

Yes, there was the whole Incarna debacle and the recent layoffs that brought with them a return to focus on EVE Online at the expense of the planned World of Darkness MMO.  But it is a long jump from there to bankruptcy.  Or is it?

Tobold elaborates further with his thoughts on the subject here, while SynCaine has his own view.

What do you think will happen to CCP in 2012?

I enabled the “other” field if you have a different vision of the future.  And, of course, feel free to justify your point of view in the comment thread for this post.