Tag Archives: Massively

Two Paths Forward – Blizzard Watch and Massively Overpowered

Just a week ago we were being hit with the official news that AOL was shutting down its “enthusiast sites” on the Joystiq domain, including Massively and WoW Insider.

But within hours of the farewell posts for both sites, plans were already in action by the form staff members of both sites to bring new versions of them to life.

The WoW Insider crew struck a lightning blow and had Blizzard Watch up and going almost right away, starting up the site with a subset of the original team while they firmed up recurring monthly financing via a Patreon campaign.  So far that campaign has passed the $13K mark and the site is coming together, though they have more work on that front.

The Massively side of the house has been more conservative.

MassivelyOverpoweredThey had a Twitter account and a podcast feed and a Google+ page and a Facebook page and a channel on Twitch up pretty quickly, but an actual web presence took a while longer.  And once they were up on the web, the presence was a placeholder for the future, not an immediate launch into coverage the way the Blizzard Watch crew went.

I am not the one doing the work or putting my neck out, but the web site and written coverage of the MMO genre is what Massively was about for me.  But I gather that they know their own demographic mix better than I, so perhaps a Twitch channel and a podcast were vital first steps.

Meanwhile, on the financing front, Massively Overpowered has decided to go with a Kickstarter campaign in order to build up a war chest to get the web site going.  They are going with a 28 day campaign that is looking to raise $50,000.  As it is explained as part of the Kickstarter pitch, they want to do this right.

To make Massively Overpowered both profitable and sustainable and replace the corporate infrastructure we’ve left behind, we need to do it the right way, all the way. We’ll be a company with legal and bookkeeping support. We’ll have a professional web designer and tech engineer. We’ll have scalable, high-traffic hosting that can handle the hit spikes you send our way. We’ll have an ad sales person who is actually a person and not an algorithm. We’ll have a website that doesn’t burn your eyes and widgets that actually work. And we’ll have writers who are actually paid what they deserve for their considerable efforts.

And there is certainly a logic to that and more of what is up on the Kickstarter page.  They want a sustainable funding plan, something that Patreaon might not deliver.  More than 2,500 people appear to be happy to kick in every month for Blizzard Watch today, but will they all be as enthusiastic six months or a year down the road.

Anyway, by the usual Wilhelm Kickstarter Tracking Metric(tm), the Massively Overpowered Kickstarter campaign looks like it will meet its goal handily having already come close to the halfway mark within the first few hours. (Watch on Kicktraq as things progress.)

So I guess I will have to keep reading MMORPG.com for a month or more while Massively Overpowered gets their foundations set.  And, while I am not pitting one against the other, I will be interested to see how each site moves forward as things settle down and the day to day need to make money and pay bills becomes reality.

WoW Insider Reborn as Blizzard Watch

Well, Massively and WoW Insider (and Joystiq itself) put up their farewell posts just hours ago at this point, but already plans are in motion for replacement sites featuring some of the same cast of characters.

Out of the gate first are some of the former WoW Insider team that has setup a new site called Blizzard Watch. (RSS Feed for the site.)

Blizzard Watch open for business

Blizzard Watch open for business

There is a big welcome post that sketches out plans for the site.

With a new site they have some new options.  They have laid out how things will be different given their new independence:

The key point is we’ll have more freedom. Freedom to change our structure when the situation necessitates it, the ability to fix our own technical problems without jumping through support hoops, and the freedom to have other types of content if we think they’ll be fun. We can choose which technologies we use in our content production rather than the media avenues provided by a parent company. We can generally be more agile. Free of our corporate shackles, we’ll be able to dive back into creating awesome content with renewed passion for what we do. Most importantly, we can cover all aspects of WoW and Blizzard games that you know and love without limitations.

Of course, there is the funding question as all of these writers will want to get paid.  They will be running ads as well as looking for funding through a Patreon campaign, which is currently doing very well.  So things look good for the sort of ongoing coverage of World of Warcraft and other Blizzard topics which we have become used to over the years.

Meanwhile, the crew formerly associated with Massively has not been sitting still.  They have not got a web site up, but a whole Massively Overpowered initiative is rolling out.  I’ll make a note when they get their site running, their RSS feed up, and their own funding under way.

On Departures from Our Corner of the Web

MMOs are a strange sub-genre of video games.  As noted this month… and just about every month… it is tough to even define what an MMO is.  People claim some things are MMOs that meet almost none of what I would consider the baseline requirements, while Smed was trying to tell us that H1Z1 wasn’t an MMO despite the fact that it seems to meet nearly all the criteria I would use to make that determination.

And how many video game sub-genres get this much focus?

If you want to find video game news sites, they are plentiful, as are sites that narrow that down to games on a specific platform.

Or, if you want to find a site that focuses on a specific title or series of games, that seems pretty doable.

But when you start talking about video-game subgenres… action RPGs or text adventures or turn-based strategy or simulations… the sites start to get a little niche.

MMOs though… MMOs are a little different.  We have had sites and magazines and columns in major publications dedicated to just our own favorite genre.

Michael Zenke's old column at 1Up.com

Michael Zenke’s old column at 1Up.com

I started this site at the height of what I would call the golden age of MMO blogging.  It was the VirginWorlds podcast era, a show that brought a lot of people together and was, in a way, emblematic of the time.  Brent could climb into the converted sauna that served as his recording studio and bang out about an hour of content once a week that would really cover all the important news we wanted to hear.

MMOs were all about success back then, they made lots of money, and the few oddball titles that got closed were clearly going down because of bad design or bad execution.  World of Warcraft, while already wildly distorting the measure of success in the genre, seemed to herald continued growth and endless possibilities.  People wanted to talk about them, argue over them, and most of all, hear about the next great thing that was sure to come.

And I think that all of this came about because MMOs are such a social video game genre.

A lot more people played FarmVille than any MMO, and a lot more probably play Candy Crush Saga.  But if you meet somebody else who plays one of those games, there generally isn’t a ton of excitement over it.

But if I meet somebody who plays an MMO that I play, it has to become “what server, what class, what level, do you know so-and-so, how about the next update/expansion they are talking about” and so on.  (And if I meet somebody who plays EVE Online, just go away for an hour or two, because we have to figure out how we are linked… and we always are in some odd way… in New Eden.)

And the social nature of our hobby has led us to have almost an over abundance of site covering MMOs.  We have MMORPG.com, Ten Ton Hammer, MMO Champion and Massively all trying to cover all aspects of the genre as well as a host of sites that drill down and concentrate of smaller aspects.  There is such an array of choices that I cut back the MMO news site feeds to what I considered the bare essentials.  The MMO news sites in my reader today are:

  • Massively – Nearly all things MMO
  • MMO Fallout – Filled in the corners for NCsoft and Jagex and a few other topics
  • WoW Insider – Everything I needed to know about WoW
  • EQ2 Wire – Everything anybody sane needs to know about EverQuest II
  • The Mittani and EVE News 24 – All EVE Online, with comedic juxtaposition

However, as we learned today, that list is getting the chopped by two very soon.

Rumors had already been floating around about how AOL was going to shut down Joystiq and all sites under the Joystiq domain, a domain that includes both Massively and WoW Insider.  (WoW Insider was WoW.com for a brief moment in time before AOL thought the domain was better off hosting a half-assed Groupon clone… which they later closed.)

MassivelyWoWInsiderLogosAnd so it goes.  Massively came on the scene towards the end of 2007 and was staffed by a lot of names familiar to me, like Michael Zenke and Mike Schramm… and other people not named “Mike.”

If you go back to the first snapshot of the site over at the Internet Archieve, it is fun to see what they opened up with; Tabula Rasa, Echoes of Faydwer for EQ2, EVE Online, whether or not there was going to be a Knights of the Old Republic based MMO, and, of course, Second Life!  I remember people complaining about there being too damn much Second Life coverage on Massively for the first year or so.  And, of course, the Welcome to Massively post, which laid out the intentions for the site.  The first paragraph:

This is it. The design is in place, our bloggers are trained and at the ready, and the password has been lifted from the site. Our brand new blog, Massively, is now live and ready for your perusal, your comments, your tips, and your eyeballs. Here, you’ll find breaking news about MMO games both upcoming and established, insightful and wisecracking commentary about your favorite worlds, tips on how to get all your characters in all those universes the best they can be, and the high level of quality you’ve come to expect from WoW Insider, Second Life Insider, Joystiq and the Fanboy network. This is Massively, and welcome to it.

That was still in the heyday of MMO blogs and for a couple of GDCs up in San Francisco, meeting up with Brent and a couple people from Massively and other members of our blogging circle would be something of a tradition. (pictures from 2008, 2009, 2010)

So it is a sad moment as we bid farewell to both Massively and WoW Insider.  But that is the nature of life and the web and blogging.  People show up for a season, we interact, and maybe they stay longer or maybe they move on… but we all move on eventually.  And so we remember two sites about to depart.  They will both go away on February 3rd… Tuesday… Patch day.

  • WoW Insider – November 2005 to February 2015
  • Massively – November 2007 to February 2015

Others in our little corner… and outside of it as well… are also writing about Massively and WoW Insider.

Now who is going to fix all my links to both sites so they hit the Internet Archive instead of whatever doubtless horrible site will end up in their place?

And who should be in my feed now?

And, finally, the only thing I am sure AOL will be remembered for.

Addendum: The farewell posts for Massively and WoW Insider are up.

The More Things Change… Oh, And Marketing 101

It was just over five years ago I was writing about a free to play first person shooter, Battlefield Heroes, causing a furor because they changed up the game by making things more favorable for people who paid versus those who played for free.

The hue and cry was… something.  We’re all familiar with the term “pay to win” at this point.  No lesser source than the generally respected Ars Technica ended their article on the topic with a dire statement about how this change might end the game.

Here we are today and there is something of an outcry because SOE just did something marginally similar by decreasing the effectiveness of a few implants in PlanetSide 2 in order to be able to put some Station Cash only implants into the game without making them too over powered.

People hate when you nerf stuff, and when you nerf stuff in favor of a cash shop item, people will rightly suspect that the move was motivated by money.  Also, pay to win.  Smed, being Smed, stood up and admitted as much, that they want to make money off of the game.

Unfortunately, Smed made a classic “land war in Asia” level PR mistake when he used somebody else’s terminology in his response.  And so Massively got to use the term “Money Grab” in its headline.  You take your click bait where you can get it. (But hey, look at Conner over at MMO Fallout who when with Smed’s real statement for the headline!)

Massively doesn’t actually include the tweet in its article, otherwise it might be clear that it was a direct response to somebody’s accusation… basically, echoing somebody else’s words.

But the quote is fair game as anything Smed says about the game in public is there for everybody to see.  He should have known better that to feed the press a line like that because, as has been demonstrated in the past, that will become the headline and will effectively deliver the opposite message.  People see the denial and will immediately think “PlanetSide 2 Money Grab!”

Live and learn.

As for the dire news five years back about Battlefield Heroes, the last I checked it was still up and running which, considering it is an EA game and they will close down anything that isn’t making enough money, says something.  There is an appropriate Mark Twain quote out there that I think fits the situation.

Meanwhile, the Ars Technica article with the dire prediction for the game is still up and available on their web site.  Because that is what journalists do, they stand by their work as it appeared in the moment.  Or, if they really screw up, they issue a correction.  They don’t, you know, delete their shit and hope nobody notices.  That is what hacks do.

And the world continues to turn.

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:

AAWarningHackShield

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:

AAsurgeongeneralswarning

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)

Quote of the Day – Defending SWTOR… Badly

Was this supposed to be sarcastic?

kuja1988a

That was my exact thought when reading the Massively Hyperspace Beacon post Six misconceptions about SWTOR free-to-play.

The post purports to defend the SWTOR free to play model from people who “make it out to be something that it’s not.”

And yet, for me, the article managed to damn the game through defensiveness and hair splitting to the point that I really had to question if the author was secretly trying to undermine the game while pretending to be a fan.  Was this SynCaine writing under a pseudonym?  The author seemed more keen to reinforce than debunk a couple of his assertions.  For anybody looking to play the game for the first time, the post is not much of an endorsement.

I certainly had some trouble reconciling that post with the words of SWTOR’s lead designer, who says he has gotten religion about free to play, and who recently wrote:

One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”

I guess you can still feel a little guilt for not telling your casual friends that the restrictions on free will come early and often and will seem at times like they are specifically designed to make the game frustrating to play unless you pay.

Not that such methods makes SWTOR unique in any way.  I seem to recall that at one point somebody from SOE came right out and said that their model was to drive people to subscribe if they really wanted to play. [citation needed]  And LOTRO, which I have been playing a lot this summer, sure seems to have its hand out all the time, reminding me there is a cash shop almost constantly.

It comes with the territory, and doubly so with a subscription game that has been retrofitted into the model.

I have rambled on about my ambivalence towards the free to play model as currently implemented in popular MMORPGs.  I can see the upside.  New players, for example, are the life’s blood of such games, and free to play seems to be the only way to keep them showing up.  But I can also see the cost, the fact that revenue generation always gets a primary focus.  So if your model is based on unlocks and cash shop companions, that becomes the top priority and anything beyond that shares whatever resources are left.

The free to play model is certainly here to stay.  I am just not sure if were “there” yet when it comes to the model maturing into something I am really happy with.  But that might be a futile hope.

Quote of the Day – Gaming Socialism!

From Massively:

“This whole concept of freemium play, in my opinion, is the most radical form of entertainment socialism since Obama got elected. You’ve got a whole bunch of one-percenters paying for a bunch of freeloaders.”

-Scott Dodson, Bobber Entertainment

I was not even sure what to do with that quote.  It was so wrong on so many levels that I immediately assumed it was made in jest and was only being reported as serious by people looking to stir the pot for page views.

And I was right.  He was playing a role on the panel at that point.

Nice job Massively!  A new Editor in Chief means a new editorial line?

Still, some of the discussion on the ethics panel at GDC Online, as reported elsewhere, does raise interesting questions.