Tag Archives: No Real Point

Road Trip with Mojo Nixon

We are into the third week of Blapril here and my weekly posts about it are coming later and later in the week.  I may have to work on that.

The Blapril commeth

This week is getting to know you week.

  • March 29th – April 4th – Blapril Prep Week
  • April 5th – April 11th – Topic Brainstorming Week
  • April 12th – April 18th – Getting to Know You Week
  • April 19th – April 25th – Developer/Creator Appreciation Week
  • April 26th – May 2nd – Staying Motivated Week
  • May 3rd – May 9th – Lessons Learned Week

As with so many things, I am perhaps a bit skeptical that there is anything I can write here that would end up with anybody reading this “knowing” me very well at all.  I can recite biographic facts, dates and times of specific events, games I’ve player, colors I favor, religious beliefs, or my astrological sign and leave you no more the wiser as to who I am really.

And that leaves aside the deeper philosophical question of who we really are in any case.  Do I even know me?  Who am I really?

I get annoyed when I go to family gatherings and my siblings seem so keen to dwell in the past.  Specifically, nothing that happened after high school ever seems to come up.  Not that I am against living in the past.  This blog is, in a way, a shrine to the past.  We are, it seems a product of the past, just the sum total of our experiences existing in that razor thin sense of the present.  It isn’t that they go to the past, but they pick such a mundane part of the past to bring up.

So rather than something formulaic or statistical, I am going to tell a story about a past event that popped into my mind earlier this week.  It was sparked by Mojo Nixon.  I saw somebody asking, “Where the hell’s my money?” online about the stimulus checks we’re alleged to be getting some day, which just happens to be the title of a Mojo Nixon song.  So I brought that up in iTunes (you can listen to it here on YouTube if you so wish) and started listening to it and the rest of the tracks on the Frenzy album.  And that sent me back to when I first heard one of his songs.

It was the summer of 1987.  Or maybe 1988.  Bill and Tony and I were headed south out of Silicon Valley… that name was still fresh and meaningful back then… towards LA for the Crossroads of the West Gun Show.  It took place at the Panoma fair grounds and was the largest guns, militaria, antiques, and collectables show west of the Rockies at the time.  The event was absolutely huge, spread out over multiple event halls, and my friend Bill was (and remains) a big military collectables guy, so was headed to the show to scout items, make deals, and meet potential sources.

I think I had some vacation time handy, so went along.  I am not sure how Tony got invited, or who Tony really was other than being some sort of Armenian royalty whose family fled the place when the Bolsheviks took over.  He had a Russified Caucasian last name, put in for gas, and was good company, so he was welcome enough.

For some reason I ended up driving us down to LA.  I had a fairly new Mazda 626 which had a decent stereo and a cassette deck… the idea of a CD player in a car was at the luxury end of the market, if at all at that point… and we were pushing various tapes in the deck as we made our way south.  I didn’t have a lot in the car.  I think we went through the Repo Man sound track, but  I tended to listen to books on tape in the car on long rides, which were fairly common as my girlfriend at the time was going to Chico State, a four hour drive north from home.

Tony had a tape though.  He had Bill put it in the stereo and Mojo Nixon came pouring out of the speakers with I Hate Banks.  I had never heard him… or heard of him… before, but for three twenty somethings on the road in the middle of nowhere it was about the perfect sound track.  I don’t think we played another tape on the trip.

Interstate 5 is four and six lanes of blacktop through the middle of nowhere for most of its run through California, interrupted only by a bad smell as you pass by Harris Ranch.  So a loud sound track is appreciated.  We rolled on through the summer heat, windows down, yelling along with Mojo.

It wasn’t until we hit LA that we ran into traffic.  The fairgrounds are off of the 10 in LA, which is a major artery in the congestion that is LA.  I seem to recall seeing my first car pool lane on that trip, down there on the 10, or maybe on the 210, which required three people per car to use.  There were three of us, so on we went.

We stayed at a Best Western near the fairgrounds.  I still have a postcard from it.  We checked in, put our stuff in the room, and went out into LA for the evening.  I have almost no memory of that evening, not due to drink but just the fading of time.  I do recall, however, that we wandered into a record store where I found a copy of Back from Samoa by the Angry Samoans on CD, which I purchased and still have.  There is maybe 20 minutes of music tops on that CD.  Short songs were the punk thing.

The next day we got up early and headed to the show.  This is also a bit of a blur, though I recall going by the booth that had on display a Walther PP pistol owned by Heinrich Himmler.  I am not sure it was even for sale, but it was the center piece of somebody’s booth.

We spent a lot of time digging through displays of wings and badges.  Bill’s current passion was pilot wings and he could spot the good from the bad.  This was at a time when a lot of WWII stuff was becoming collectible and, thus, valuable.  Things that were laying in heaps into the 70s were suddenly becoming interesting as the 50th anniversary of the start of the war approached.

The problem is, a lot of the stuff is faked up.  Less so back then, but it was still pretty common.  Now the odds of anything you run across being authentic are pretty small, but Bill was an expert at spotting anomalies that marked fakes or at least put authenticity in doubt.  And he had a nose for the real deal.  So we spent the day deep in the minutiae of the collectors, occasionally stopping to goggle at some big item, but mostly talking to dealers with wings, badges, and patches.  And Bill found some deals.  He always did.  I remember going over to his apartment one day and finding it full of WWI British uniforms.  RFC tunics with wings in golden thread and uniforms of various regiments with ribbons and buttons shined bright, and uniform caps to go with them all.  He’d gotten them at some auction and they were all about the house as he sorted them and found buyers.

After the show shut down we went back to the room for a rest.  I then went out to meet up with somebody I knew through Air Warrior and hang out.  We nerded about the game for a while and I flew a bit on his account, which is where I twitched to some of the differences in the clients.  One of the controversies of the game, which Kesmai denied for ages, was that aircraft on the Mac client were not as powerful as those on the IBM PC and clients which derived from it, being the Atari ST and Amiga versions.  But playing on his IBM machine it was immediately obvious to me that the planes were noticeably more powerful.  Later it came out that the method for calculating engine horsepower was much more generous on that code base and it eventually was fixed.  But those of us who flew on the Mac felt validated when the news finally came out, not to mention a little superior, having often held our own even when the deck was stacked against us.

I headed back to the motel at about 2am, which back up in Silicon Valley would have meant having the highway to myself.  But LA, even then, was busy around the clock and the freeway, while not rush hour full, was still packed like it was maybe a Saturday afternoon.

When I got back to the motel room it was clear that something had transpired while I was away.  To start with, Tony’s clothes were in the pool, as were all the screens from the windows of our room, and maybe those from a couple of other rooms.  I knew ours were in there because all the windows were open and all the screens were missing.  There was a bunch of paper in the toilet… not toilet paper, but note paper…, the bathroom window was cracked, and the bathroom door had apparently been kicked in as the door jamb was split.   Tony was lying on the floor under the little coffee table that was in our room while Bill was bundled up in the comforter from the bed laying across the foot of it.  He was there because the top half of the bed was wet.

To this day I do not know what they got up to while I was away.  There were some empty beer cans, some of which were also floating in the pool, but not enough to explain wild behavior.  I got Tony up and we fished his stuff and the screens and what not out of the pool and tried to put the room back in some sort of order.  Then I found a dry pillow and a corner of the room and got some sleep myself.

The next morning we got up kind of early… youth knows no end of energy… and quietly checked out of the motel and headed north, stopping at the traditional last point in LA, In-N-Out Burger.

Now there is an In-N-Out Burger a few miles from my house, but back then the last one was off the freeway by Magic Mountain and Knotts Berry Farm and it was the usual routine to stop and eat there on the way home.  So we got out and had our double-doubles or whatever.  It is hard to say what the real draw of the place is, save for simplicity of menu and quality of product and service.  I might pick Five Guys some of the time, given a choice, but In-N-Out can be damn good when you’re in a mood for it.

We ate up and walked out to the parking lot where I put the key in the lock of my blue Mazda 626 2-door and got in, Bill in the passenger seat and Tony in the back.  At that point there was a car alarm going off and Tony, still a bit blurry from the night before, asked if the child’s booster seat had been there on the trip down.

We were in the wrong car.

My Mazda was parked three spots further down the row.  But my key let us into the closer one, or seemed to.  It might have been left unlocked, due to it being equiped with a car alarm, which was what I had been hearing.  It was surprisingly muted from within the car, but as we unassed the wrong car it seemed very loud.

Oddly, this was not the only time I ended up with the wrong car in LA.  My girlfriend and I were down there a year or two later.  I drove her down to LAX because her year of study abroad was departing from there and not up north.  We stayed the night and the next day I went to go put her luggage in the trunk and, when I opened it up there was a huge bouquet of flowers in there, which sent her into tears.  That quickly stopped when I announced we had the wrong car and moved to one in the next aisle which had my stuff in the trunk and no flowers.

Back at In-N-Out we quickly made our way to the correct car and left as quickly as we could, heading north for home once more.  Mojo Nixon once again blared from the speakers as we headed through the central valley heat, zipping along at well beyond the newly posted 65 MPH speed limit.

All of which came bubbling back up into my conscious thought as I listened to Mojo Nixon sing Where the Hell’s My Money earlier this week.  Listening to his music… and I think I own most all of his albums… brings me back to a youthful state of mind full or irreverence and lacking in much of the responsibility that weighs on me today.

So do you know me any better after that?  What if I told you I took that quiz and my top match was Frodo Baggins?  Any better? Probably not.

All of that seems like an eternity ago and very recent at the same instant.  Time is strange, memory is flawed, and in that the past is all we really are.

Being a California child, automobiles enter into many of my youthful tales.  Other car stories I’ve written about here:

The “Bill” in the latter of those two is the same “Bill” in this story.  I might have to record another tale or two involving him.  Maybe our Friday the 13th adventure.  But that is for another time.

The Time Zones of New Eden

This isn’t a particularly insightful post, at least not is you’re really into EVE Online.  This is more of a reflection and maybe a bit of info for those who do not play or to somebody years down the road researching the game I suppose.

It is one of the quirks of there being one EVE Online server for the whole world that the time of day plays into what opportunities you have.

Okay, there is another server.  But the population on the Serenity server in China is small enough that it doesn’t really count.  The current count on the relaunched server is frankly tiny.  And the players in China have ways of slipping through the Great Firewall to play on Tranquility with the rest of the world in any case.

Anyway, there is a pretty consistent ebb and flow of population over the course of the average day on Tranquility, or TQ.  You can see it repeated ad nauseum on the charts over at EVE Offline, the same hills and valleys over and over.

A typical week in New Eden

The deepest valley in the day is down time, the daily restart of the server that hits at 11:00 UTC and kicks everybody offline for a few minutes most days, though it can be longer from time to time.

Since downtime hits at 3:00 am or 4:00 am local time for me, depending on whether or not we have daylight savings time in effect, I’ve never been up and awake and online when downtime has hit.  I’ve been logged in.  I left my ship drifting during B-R5RB and went to bed, getting logged out at downtime, but I was fast asleep.

That, however, is mid-morning for for those in Europe, early afternoon for the Russians, and passing midnight for those in Australia, with the former two already starting to ramp up the online population.  There is something of a daily ski jump in the chart every day before downtime.

From there things keep ramping up as the Euros get into their evening and day breaks in the US, peaking at around 20:00 UTC.  That is still a bit early for me on the west coast of the US, being about lunch time.  The Russians, then the Euros, start logging off as the US and Canada hit their prime time.  I’m usually not able to get on before 00:00 UTC, by which time all the sensible people in Europe have gone to bed.

The steep downward slope flattens just a bit as US prime time hits, but continues on down to the daily nadir around 06:00 UTC, when the population begins to ramp up again for another day.

Exciting though all of that is… sarcasm, sorry…the real impact is what it means for those playing the game at any given time.

And it just isn’t PvP.  Yes, if you want to blow other people’s ships, you’re better off logging in when the population is at its peak.  Likewise, if you want to stage a million dollar battle, it should probably be timed to commence in the evening European time to let the US players get in on it… though, honestly, experience says that a bunch of us in the US will call in sick or find a way to be home for these things if they are early in the day.

But the population count also has an impact all all sorts of PvE tasks.

If I am playing World of Warcraft, the current server population doesn’t have a lot of impact on me.  In part that is because I play on a US timezone server, so the population is likely to be peaking when I am on in any case.  But even if I have insomnia and log in way off-peak, unless I want to use the dungeon finder or queue up for a battleground.  And, even then, the fact that those work cross server means that I am not totally without hope of getting a group of the fellow sleepless together.  But running around doing quests in the open world isn’t much changed regardless of when I am on, give or take running into a few people out in the world.

In EVE there is the obvious effect that, when more people are online, there are also likely more people likely to be hunting you as you go about your business.  There are more gankers waiting for you in Niarja, more followers of James waiting to bump your mining ship, more gangs on gates while you’re trying to haul your PI or minerals back from low sec, and more scouts looking to get you while you’re running anomalies.

But it also affects you even when somebody isn’t looking to shoot you.  I’ve been out doing a bit of ratting with an alt after taking over a year off.  I’m back to running the much beloved Blood Raider’s Forsaken Hubs.  I have a post about that brewing, once I hit a particular milestone.

I make a point of doing that as far from peak hours as I can possibly manage.  That is, in part, for safety.  I’m usually tabbed out as my drones take care of the rats for me, so I pretty much never dock up when a hostile shows up in system and my response time when I get jumped can be comically slow.  Again, there is a tale behind that.  So being on when there are fewer hunters is probably a good thing.

But there is also a competitive need for that.  In a world where the easy and cheap solution to subcap ratting is a Vexor Navy Issue running forsaken hubs, there are only so many such sites to go around in a given system.  When I have tried to do a bit of ratting closer to peak hours it becomes a task finding a system where you can reliably land in a hub and not find somebody’s VNI already feasting on Blood Raiders.  You end up either having to watch the probe scanner to try and jump on a fresh pop or you have to find a system where there isn’t so much competition.

And, of course, the systems without so much competition tend to be pipe systems with lots of hostiles passing through looking for targets or those near NPC Delve where hunters stage.  I’ve actually fewer encounters hanging out in a pipe system, most likely because the hunters probably expect you to be more on your guard, but lots of non-blue traffic coming and going does put you on edge.

I recall, back in the day, that when I was running missions in high sec, that the population of the current mission hub I was hanging out in was also had an effect on how things played out.  There seemed to be a limit to the number of mission spaces the game would allocate in a given system, so at peak hours you could end up being sent out of system, often more than just a jump or two.  I recall one of the reasons for packing up and moving to Amarr space was being in a seemingly safe mission hub system only to have the agent assign me missions half a dozen jumps away in low sec.  At the time I was still figuring out how to deal with NPCs, so having players show up to shoot me discouraged taking those missions.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the point I set out to make.  That is the problem with just thinking about a topic and setting it to write before you’ve really nailed down where you want to go with it.  But I’ve used up my writing time and I’ve got nothing else on tap, so this is what you get.

Is One MMO Enough for a Studio?

CCP was on the cusp of becoming a respectable multi-MMO studio, but then it jettisoned World of Darkness and pledged undying loyalty to the EVE universe.

Syp, MMO studio report card: Where are our leaders?

Syp had a post a while back about MMO industry leadership that had a strongly implied and, to my mind, not well supported assumption about what such leadership amounts to.  Subscribers/customers wasn’t a factor.  Not to pick on Syp, but he does tend to see the negative in all things Blizzard, so he would have to either throw that out or say something nice about Blizz.  The latter may have stuck in his throat, thus leadership has nothing to do with audience size or the influence that goes with it.

Nor does it have anything to do with who is following whom, a simple definition of leadership.  That way lies madness… or Blizzard again.  Lots of people have been following Blizzard, adopting features haphazardly over time like EverQuest II, setting themselves up as alternatives with “WoW Plus” games like Rift at launch, or just copying chunks the game wholesale like Alganon.

No, not Azeroth!

Mentioning Azeroth acknowledges its leadership

Whether or not World of Warcraft being viewed as a leader… it is by outsiders if nobody else, and they seem to have all the money… has been good for MMOs over the last decade is an open sore of a topic.  Are the stifling aspects of Blizzard’s behemoth on the industry (go into any MMO beta and count the number of times somebody is essentially complaining in general chat that the game in question isn’t WoW) worth the players that WoW brought into the genre and who went on to play other titles?  So goes the debate.

No, the only aspects that seemed to count on his list was having multiple MMO titles in play and who was making new MMOs.

But are more MMOs better for a company or not?  And do more MMOs really mean leadership?

Perfect World Entertainment, which includes the perennially troubled Cryptic Studios and the “disappeared off the map for two years and not making a Torchlight MMO” Runic Games, has many MMO titles available.  However, aside from the output of Cryptic, their titles tend to be Asian imports that do not play well in the west.  And even the Cryptic titles are not all that strong.  Neverwinter has a following and some features of note, but I rarely hear much good about the rushed to market due to contractual requirements Star Trek Online and almost never hear anything at all about their “let’s remake City of Heroes” title, Champions Online.  Maybe PWE isn’t a good example, especially when they are pointing at their US operations as hurting their bottom line.

How about NCsoft?  Again, they have a range of MMO titles from their home studio in South Korea along with titles from ArenaNet and Carbine Studios.  Certainly GuildWars 2 is a strong candidate, though the financials indicate that the execs in Seoul will be forcing ANet to ship an expansion box to boost revenues.  And all focus at ANet is on GW2, with GuildWars left to run out its days unsupported.  WildStar though… I haven’t heard any good news there.  And when it comes down to it, NCsoft gets most of its revenue from South Korea, and largely from its 1998 title Lineage.  Meanwhile, it has closed a lot of MMOs, which could be bad news for Carbine if they don’t get their act together.  Is this the multi-MMO company model we want others to follow?

And then there is Funcom, which has shambled from disappointment to disappointment.  They launched LEGO Minifigures Online a little while back which, true to Funcom’s history, has failed to meet expectations.

Okay, maybe we should ignore all those foreigners and look at a US-centric company like Sony Online Entertainment.

I love SOE, but at times they seem to be the MMO studio embodiment of Murphy’s Law.  If they can do the wrong thing, they will, and in front of a live studio audience.  Granted, they do tend to fix things in the end and do the right thing, but sometimes getting there is painful to watch.  However, they are the US champion for a multi-MMO company, at least in terms of number of titles.  But has this made them better or just spread them too thin?

They have two flavors of EverQuest and a third on the way at some distant future date.  There is LandmarkMinecraft for people who don’t like pixels, and the engine on which the next EverQuest will someday ride… in progress.  They have PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1 (Zombie PlanetSide) in development.  And then there is the Asian import flavor of the month, previously Wizardry Online and currently Dragon’s Prophet.

That list of titles feels like too much stuff, and all the more so when you consider that SOE also cranks out an expansion for both EverQuest titles every year.  While those expansions mean revenue, SOE could be operating with as few as 50K subscribed players on EverQuest II and probably less still for EverQuest.  That is a big investment in the past while we wait for EverQuest Next.

Then there is Trion, which does a respectable job with Rift, which remains their best received title.  But Defiance has been problematic.  ArcheAge, which had the potential to be a big hit, has been mishandled. And then there is Trove, which seems to Minecraft for people who want bigger pixels and brighter colors.  Multiple MMOs hasn’t been a stellar success for Trion.

And, finally, on the US front there is Turbine which, inexplicably in hindsight given the size of the company, has the rights for Dungeons & Dragons AND Lord of the Rings and which has manage to turn both huge franchises into awkward niche titles.  Other than that they have Asheron’s Call, the distant third of the “big three” break-out MMOs from the end of the 90s, and Asheron’s Call 2, revived from the dead because… I still don’t know why.  I think it speaks volumes about Turbine’s outlook in that they are betting on a MOBA to save their flagging fortunes.

Stack those up against companies with just a single MMO.

Blizzard.  Do I need to say more about the very, very rich company in Anaheim?  One MMO has been very good to them.

CCP.  They seem to get into trouble only when they wander away from EVE Online.  When they focus on their main product, which in the past meant stealing resources from World of Darkness, things tend to go well for them.

EA.  Okay, EA has three MMOs, but they bought two of them and have farmed them out for another company to run, leaving them with just the BioWare MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was never a WoW-killer, and it has its problems (roll stock footage about subscriber retention and selling hotbars), but it makes money.  Not as much as EA would like, but that may be as much because Disney gets a cut as anything.  That is the rub with a licensed IP, they come with more overhead.

Zenimax.  The Elder Scroll Online might be the weak point in the single MMO theory.  I don’t know how the game is doing, other than things are still being fixed and that the console versions of the title, a big part of the plan, have been pushed out into 2015.

And then there are the MMO-ish niche titles of the future, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained.  Those are being made by small companies that can only afford to invest in a single game.  And while those titles are playing the nostalgia card for all it is worth, they are also potentially mapping out new paths in the MMO world as smaller titles are able to do.

All of which is just so much talk, punctuated with some admittedly unfair characterizations both of various companies and of Syp.  I am not saying that companies should run one or multiple MMOs.  Clearly some companies do well, or well enough, running multiple games, while others seem best suited to focusing on a single title.  But I wouldn’t categorize any company as not being a real MMO player just because they only have one such title.

What do you think?

A New Player in Azeroth!

When it comes to World of Warcraft, I can divide my friends and acquaintances into two groups:

  • Those interested in playing WoW
  • Those not interested in playing WoW

The former group is mostly made up of those who currently play the game, those on a break but who know they will come back for the next expansion, and those who once played and still have some interest in the game and who might come back some day.  The union between that group and the group made up of those who have played WoW would make for a Venn diagram that would almost completely overlap.  Being a member of that first group almost requires that you have already played WoW at some point.

The second group is more diverse.  It includes people who played WoW and didn’t like it, or who felt betrayed by some change along the line, as well as those who don’t like the MMO genre, or didn’t like some other game in the MMO genre and are thus soured on it forever (EverQuest being the primary source of those people), or people for whom video games are pretty much a game console only thing, or, of course, people who just don’t play video games.  Lots of those out there.

Basically, nearly ten years into the life of World of Warcraft, most anybody I know who is going to play WoW already has.  The pool of people who haven’t played WoW, but might at some point, has basically dried up.

Or so I thought.

The other day a friend mentioned that he and his wife had started playing WoW.  They downloaded the very limited Starter Edition, of which I wrote recently, rolled up trolls, and started in on Azeroth.  He reads the blog occasionally, so I’ll have to ask if that post planted a seed.

WoWStarterEdition

In hindsight, I suppose them picking the game up wasn’t a huge leap.  They play Diablo III and StarCraft 2, so have Battle.net accounts already and probably the Blizzard Launcher installed as well.  It is just a short step from there to having WoW installed.

And they are both MMO players.  He played EverQuest at launch with a big group of us from work way back in the day, though since then he and his wife have trended more towards free to play titles like Runes of Magic and Rappelz.  Their free time can be “bursty,” with stretches of not being able to log on being common, which tends to make a subscription game something of a drag.  You hate to pay if you aren’t going to play.

But the fact that they picked up WoW… so technically there are TWO new players in Azeroth… got me thinking again on the whole MMO lifecycle again.

At the start an MMO is nothing but new players, and new players drive the game and are its life’s blood.  You basically fizzle on the launch pad if that is not so.

Then at some point there is a transition, a time when the audience for a game is primarily people who have played the game.  New players are still important, but maintaining a loyal installed base becomes a primary mission.  EverQuest has been in that zone for about a decade.  WoW, while still seeking new players, is clearly past the tipping point and catering to the installed base, and keeping them subscribed is the primary business model.  It is certainly no coincidence that housing (of a sort, in the form of Garrisons) is coming now, as Blizzard probably hadn’t felt the need to play that card until Cataclysm.  Given their speed of development, it wasn’t going to happen for Mists of Pandaria, so Warlords of Draenor becomes the expansion where Blizzard finally responds to the realization that their business model needs people to settle down and live in Azeroth.  The game needs to be a bit stickier.  Dailies and faction and things like Timeless Isle aren’t quite enough if the content gaps are going to keep getting longer.

Of course, stickiness and people living settling down to live in a world is great for the game of choice, but is another problem with the genre.  I won’t play the fool and say that the potential market for MMOs is only n players big, as some have in the past.  The potential MMO audience is big and probably getting bigger.  But we also, as a group, tend to stick with our MMOs over time.  I remain interested in the next new game, but when it comes down to playing, I spend my time in WoW, which is about to turn 10 years old, and EVE Online, which is now past 11, as do a lot of people. (And I pine for EverQuest now and again, though so much time has elapsed that I probably will never really go back.  Maybe there is an expiration date on MMOs if you’re away too long.)

As a group, we don’t jump to the next game so much.  That Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Dark Age of Camelot remain viable, money-making enterprises in this day and age speaks to that as much as those of us who try the next new thing, only to return to the game we feel is home.  It isn’t that the genre doesn’t have a big enough audience, but that MMOs are like sponges.  They soak up players and hold onto them.  Even after all these years sitting in a corner, EverQuest is still moist, just to push the sponge metaphor a step too far.

Anyway, I was happy to hear about friends starting off playing WoW.  I was careful not to smother them with a burst of welcoming gifts.  When somebody is discovering a new world, it is often better to let them explore on their own rather than jumping out from behind a bush and shouting, “Come to this server! Join our guild! Have some free stuff from the guild bank! You should really go here and do this and kill that mob and get that drop and run this dungeon and blah blah blah…”  I’ve killed games for people doing that, and have had the same done to me.

So we shall see if a new seed grows in the game.

What do you think?  Do you know anybody who hasn’t played WoW who might still be interested in playing it nearly a decade into its life?

Addendum: Semi-related, something Noizy Gamer tweeted about WoW new player retention rates… from 2010.  70% of of players were not making it past level 10.  But then 70% of new players in F2P games seem to leave right away.

A Long History of Gear Obsession

Back in the mid-to-late 90s, back when I was playing TorilMUD, there was a point when a couple of people had been caught cheating… multi-boxing or exploiting game mechanics or some such… and the game had to come up with punishments for such transgressions.

The people who ran the at the time came up with a few levels of action, which included deletion of characters and banning people permanently.  But the for the first offense rumor had it… rumor, because while the staff had policies about this sort of thing, they were not documented for the player base, but the whole community was small enough that word got around about nearly everything if you knew who to ask… that the punishment involved a choice.

The choice was:

  • Removal of half your levels from your main character
  • Removal of all gear from your main character

And, of course, as we sat around in experience groups chatting about this and that while waiting for the zone to respawn, this topic came up and we declared which choice we would take.  Universally we opted for losing levels.  In fact, in exploring this topic, I think we were in favor of being busted down to level 1 if we were allowed to keep out gear.

All Slots Filled

Gear, circa 2000

Levels were replaceable, and in a game where there was experience loss on death… and level loss with enough deaths was a thing back then… working on experience and leveling up often continued for players at level cap.  We had all been through the leveling process.  We knew the ins and outs and could find groups.  Leveling up was work, but work we knew how to do.

Gear though… gear was a different story.  This was a time where gear commonly had class, race, or alignment restrictions, but level restrictions were almost unheard of.  And there was not such thing as attunement.  A rare item might be flagged as “no trade, and some items were “cursed,” which meant you could not drop them without somebody casting a spell on you, but most items could be traded to other players or handed off to low level alts.

Plus gear often made your character… or made you character viable.  If you had knocked my level 50 warrior back down to level 1 but left him with his gear, he would have torn his way back to level 40 in very little time solo.  While being able to solo was generally over by level 20 for a fresh character, and alt with good gear could easily go to 40 and possibly to the level cap at 50 with the right outfit.

Obtaining gear though… that was the hard part.

As I mentioned in a previous post, gear was available once per server boot.  If you wanted an item from a particular mob and somebody else had already killed it during the current boot, you would have to wait until the server crashed and restarted again. (Or until a kindly GM decided that the server had been up long enough and we needed a reboot to keep us all busy.)

While a good proportion of items were on a given mob every single time, some were random.  Of course, the better the item, the more likely it was to be random.

Then, to obtain the best items, you had to run zones, the TorilMUD version of raiding.  That meant getting together a group of 16 people of the right mix of classes, getting yourself included in that group, and spending anywhere from 1-8 hours taking down a zone. (No zone, to my recollection, took beyond 2 hours if done right, but mistakes happen.  I recall a City of Brass group that took 4 hours just getting to the zone because things went horribly wrong in the Plane of Fire.)

And, finally, once you had completed a given zone, you had to roll on items.  People would put in bids on a given item, numbers would be assigned to people, and a random roll would be done to determine who got the prized item.  So you could get in a group, go through a successful run, and still end up empty handed and waiting for a reboot so you could try again.

Of course, this doesn’t sound all that strange today.  Sure, bind of pick up, gear attunement, and level restrictions on gear have axed the whole twinking of alts to a certain degree.  But gear still rules, and there are still some twinking options, like heirloom gear in World of Warcraft.  Rare is the MMORPG where gear is not a major focus.  Sure, there is reputation, titles, mounts, pets, achievements and what have you, but gear does seem to drive people more than anything else.  I went to Timeless Isle not so much because I needed something new to do but because it was an efficient way to gear up at level cap.  I am past wanting to commit to raiding, but I still will seek out the best gear I can.

Have shovel, want mallet!

Have shovel, want mallet!

And what happens when an MMORPG doesn’t focus so much on gear?  We seem to bring our gear orientation with us all the same.  Darkfall didn’t specifically de-emphasize gear, but with full loot of PvP victims in place, people sought to protect their good gear by going out to battle in cheap drops.

Likewise, one of the main fears people have in EVE Online centers around loss.  People with a gear orientation coming into New Eden can be quite discouraged by the fact that when your ship explodes it is gone and you have to buy a new one.  The can often, abstractly, see the benefit of such a system.  Destruction of ships drives the market, makes industry viable, and basically keeps the player economy going despite the game being full of magic sources of in-game currency like most other MMOs.

And I must admit to letting out a resigned sigh when my own ship gets blown up.  I’ve gotten past attachment to individual ships.  You can always buy another just like it.  And the ISK thing isn’t a big deal, especially when you are eligible for reimbursement.  But actually getting a ship together if you don’t have a backup can be a pain.  If their aren’t some on contract, you end up having to head to a trade hub, buying what you need, and then shipping it to where you want to use it.  Again, an economic opportunity for some… shipping corps are a thing in EVE… but a bit of a pain if you want to do something but, instead, have to clone jump and spend a day in high sec buying parts and arranging transport.  That is just the way it works when you need a specific ship with just the right fit.

Because it all comes down to an obsession with gear in the end.

You Can Be Almost Space Famous…

In partial fulfillment of Blog Banter #55, which fame in EVE Online.

The specific topic statement is:

Write about somebody who is “space famous” and why you hate/admire them, somebody who isn’t space famous but you think should be or will be, or discuss space fame in general, what it means, how people end up so famous, is there a cost of being famous in EVE, and if so, is it worth the price?

That is a pretty wide net.  You can go most anywhere with that one.

Almost...

Almost…

When I proposed this topic to Kirthi Kodachi back in September (*cough*) I actually had somebody in mind to write about, with a post mentally sketched out.  And then time passed, other monthly topics were proposed, and since I never bothered to write down my notes my post disappeared to wherever thoughts and memories fade to when they are gone.  Does science know what happens to the things I forget?

Anyway, another reminder to always write things down now.  I tell myself I’ll remember, and I never do.

But here we are, my topic has been picked up for the blog banter this month, so I figured I had best have something to say about it.

EVE Online is currently involved in ones of its measures of space fame, the elections for the 9th Council of Stellar Management.  You have just one more day to vote if you are a subscriber.

CCP tries to put a lot of emphasis on the importance of the CSM, to the point that you might legitimately question why would they would trust something of value to the whims of the player base?

Players are notoriously selfish and short sighted, as customers of any business tends to be.  As Henry Ford was purported to have said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Other MMO companies have official player advocacy groups, but they have always been cherry picked by the companies involved.  Turbine has been asking people to volunteer for its DDO and LOTRO player councils but they pick who gets on. SOE has had at various points throughout its history some sort of guild council or player advisory group, always by invite only.  Blizzard has solicited the input of major raiding guilds over the years, but you had to be a major raiding guild that got their attention.

So why does CCP go with a player election?

Because they can.

Sure, there was incentive for CCP to have a player council that at least had the appearance of not being completely in their pocked in the wake of the T20 scandal. (An aspect from the origins of the CSM which turned to irony during the Ishokune Scorpions brouhaha last summer, when we saw that people who get free things from CCP are surprisingly unsympathetic to complaints from people not getting free things from CCP about other people getting free things from CCP.)

But it is the very nature of EVE Online that allows something like a player election.  The fact that the game really needs cooperation, which spawns corporations and alliances, builds bonds.  That it is a sandbox, where PvP is always an underlying aspect of what you do, makes your fellow player content, so you tend to know them or know who to avoid.  That travel can be long, annoying, and dangerous tends to keep people focused on “their” part of space, so they get to know their neighbors.

And the very difficult nature of the game, which seems disinclined to teach you anything beyond the most basic skills, means that new player have to seek the advice of others… both in-game and out… just to figure out how to get things don.

All of which leads to something like a community.

And I am not talking about the fractured mini-communities that spring up in a game like WoW, where you can pretty much ignore the people you do not like and live in a happy little bubble.  EVE Online is more like my neighborhood.  I know some of the neighbors well, some are good friends, some are wave-from-the-driveway acquaintances, and some are just jerks.  But they are all in my neighborhood so I make do, because I am not going to pack up my belongings, sell my house, and move to avoid a couple a block over that yells each other so loud that you can hear them with the windows closed or that guy with the circular saw that seems to think that 11pm on a weeknight is a good time to cut wood.  I have lived enough places to know that such things come with the living in any sort of community.

So, as I wrote before, when people talk about EVE Online having a horrible community, I often get the feeling that they are objecting to having a community at all.  And clearly some people like to espouse the ideal of community while being intolerant of actually having one, or having one that is anything beyond happy agreement on all points.  They don’t want any drama.  But frankly, drama is what happens when you put people together.  If you don’t have some drama, you probably don’t have a community.

And if you don’t want drama, that is fine.  Some people just want to play a game, hang with friends, and avoid all conflict.  This is recreation time, and sometimes you just want to relax.  But I am not sure you can go that route and then complain about a lack of community without looking like you don’t really know what community is.

Anyway, it is this stew pot of things that allows people to become known or famous in the EVE community.  And while there are people who are clearly infamous, I am not sure that is as cut and dried as some would make out.

The Mittani is space famous, primarily for being the leader of a large alliance in game.  You may not like him, but a lot of people do… or he would be running that alliance and accepted as the head of a coalition of alliances… so does that make him famous of infamous?

Likewise, you could make claims of fame or infamy for Gevlon.  He showed up in EVE Online and got noticed fairly quickly by injecting himself and his opinions into the community.  He rambled about doing various things, eventually deciding to become the nemesis of Goonswarm in high sec space.  I am not sure a lot of people like Gevlon… or that he cares really… but he has become a staple of the EVE community in something like a year of effort and is clearly space famous at this point.  Compare that to his years playing World of Warcraft, where I doubt he was known at all beyond a the blogging community and a small group of players on his server.  But why would he be?

In WoW you cannot really have an impact on other player if they do not want you to.  They can ignore you, move to a different zone or server or whatever.  EVE is much more like my neighborhood, for good or ill.  You get known for what you do, if you do anything at all.

And even in EVE, space fame doesn’t make you as famous as one might think.  There are always people moving into the game or who are fixated on their own little out-of-the-way corner of space who never really run across anybody else.  But the potential and ability to become space famous is one of the defining aspects of EVE Online, and all the more so because so much of what happens in the game depends on the actions of individuals which become the lore of the game.  You can become known to the community through your own efforts in a way you cannot in games like WoW or EverQuest or GuildWars 2 or whatever PvE focused game you choose name… or any randomly matched PvP game as well.

Which doesn’t make EVE Online better or worse than these other games, it just makes it different and gives it its own flavor.

Others bloggers writing about space fame in EVE Online for Blog Banter #55:

Quote of the Day – When You Have a F2P Hammer, Every Nail is a Microtransaction

The micro-transaction is so strong and it’s definitely a much better model. I think all companies have to transition over to that.

Tommy Palm of King.com, interview at IGN

IGN is becoming the place to talk about free to play and micro transactions.  And King.com, the new Zynga, certainly has reason to support that point of view.  They are making a lot of money and, true to Tommy’s word, you can “win” Candy Crush Saga without paying.  But they are also monetizing frustration, as has been pointed out by Laralyn McWilliams, which I am not sure gets them a lot of love.

Buy now or start over

Buy now or start over

People defend King.com by pointing out that a lot of people play through the whole game without paying or by noting how much money they make.  But I do not see many F2P advocates examining their monetization scheme (Laralyn McWilliams aside) and asking if that is the best approach.  The monetizing of frustration aside… which alone has kept me from giving a damn about any other game King.com has made… there is the question of buying progress.

Buying my way out of a level with their boosts… and as far as I can tell, there are no levels you cannot win on the first try if you have spent enough money… feels a bit like cheating.  It is like dealing out a hand of solitaire and then giving somebody $1.99 to tell you it is okay to re-arrange the cards so you win any given hand.  I would say that is, in essence, pay to win, except you are not actually playing against anybody but yourself, so I am sure somebody would take me to task.

So maybe it is more like pay to skip playing, in which case why bother playing?  That might explain why only 30% of players who beat Candy Crush Saga paid any money.  Where is the feeling of victory or the bragging rights if you paid your way through the tough bits?

Or to flip that around, I wonder how many of that 30% would admit to paying?  Sure, King.com knows they did, but would they tell their friends?

Anyway, you might excuse Tommy’s exuberance because of the corner of the market he is in and how much money his company is raking in.  They have likely spent more on TV ads for Candy Crush Saga than they did on actually developing the game initially.

But we also had David Georgeson talking about all games being free to play as well, and he definitely lives in a world where there is a lot of development expenses before you can start ringing up microtransaction dollars.

We’re effectively street performers: we go out there and sing and dance and if we do a good job, people throw coins into the hat. And I think that’s the way games should be, because paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not? You don’t get that money back.

-David Georgeson, busking out in front of IGN

This is, of course, the utopian ideal, the big upside to the whole free to play thing, the idea that you only shell out money for what you like.

And I can certainly find examples to support this idea.

I spent a lot of money… bought the collector’s edition and a lifetime sub… on Star Trek Online, which ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing.  A big fail on my part.

In comparison I spent no money at all on Neverwinter, which also ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing.  But at least it was only time invested.

Those, however, are both negative examples.  Games where I was better, or would have been better off, with free to play.

But when it comes to the whole persistent world MMO genre, of which I am a big fan, I do not have any real positive examples where a free to play game really sold me.  Sure, I have played a lot of Lord of the Rings Online, even after they went F2P, and I was enthusiastic about EverQuest II Extended when it first showed up.  But those were converts from the old subscription model into which I had invested and I have had my ups and downs with both.  I think I am done with EQII, and if I return to LOTRO again, it will be because of Middle-earth and despite the microtransaction in every window nature of their business model.

So, while I am okay with microtransactions in many forms… I have enjoyed games like World of Tanks and War Thunder, and I think the iOS version of LEGO Star Wars has a great model where you get the base game and a few levels for free, then can buy additional content if you like the game… it doesn’t seem to work for me in certain areas.  The money-where-my-mouth is proof is the persistent world MMOs I am currently playing, World of Warcraft and EVE Online.

Fortunately, as small as the world of game development may seem, it still encompasses a broad spectrum of opinions on many subjects.  So while some are gung-ho on F2P, others are sticking with older models.  The Elder Scrolls Online just launched as a subscription model MMO, and WildStar plans to later this year.  Maybe EverQuest Next or Landmark or something else will change my mind, but for now I seem happiest with the alleged outdated model.

There is no one true path, and I always wonder and people who make declarations in defiance of that.  The industry cannot even decide on DRM.  We have had industry voices wondering while companies bother, yet just this week Square Enix was saying that DRM is here to stay.

Meanwhile, I hope we’re all spending our dollars on things we actually enjoy playing.

MyDream is to do What to Minecraft?

First there was Minecraft, as it was good.

Minecraft

Or many people thought it was. It flourished and blossomed and jumped to different platforms and generally made Notch and his company quite a large pile of money.

It never really appealed to me, but I could still see the magic.  It was open and allowed you to do many, many things.  My daughter played it quite a bit, including on a PvP server.  I didn’t even know that was possible until she showed me.

Of course, where money flows, so do copy cats.  There were knock-offs like CastleMiner.  And, as time went by, bigger and more sophisticated players started into the market with their own spin on the Minecraft idea.  SOE’s Landmark is one and Trion’s Trove is another, both of which have a look and feel that sets them apart from mere clones of the original.

I know there are other examples out there, but since the genre really doesn’t do much for me, their names tend not to stick with me.  Fill in the blanks for me, because my writing things like, “And that one that people keep mentioning” doesn’t really work so well.

But even with all of that, there seemed to be room enough in the market.

Then, yesterday, I got a press release in my inbox… because PR people are a desperate sort and are happy when even when somebody so far down the food chain as myself mentions the product they are pushing… for a “Minecraft killer.”

Actually, it was (Minecraft killer), in parentheses, but it was right there in the subject line of the email.

And I actually groaned aloud upon reading that.

I groaned because I have lived through the age of the quest for the WoW killer.

Did I say “lived through?”  I meant “live in,” since if you Google “WoW killer” you will see that the quest is still alive and well and crushing souls.

Still, I had to wonder who would have the audacity to make such a claim.  So I went to the Kickstarter for MyDream (which I mentally read as “MyDream is to KILL Minecraft!!1”) to see who was standing up to slay the beast.

MyDream

To the company’s credit credit, the Kickstarter page doesn’t actually say “Minecraft killer” anywhere.  Neither does the actual press release.  I suspect that the injection of the phrase into the subject line came at the insistence of their PR person and does reflect the elevator pitch mentality of our society today, where you cannot describe something from the ground up, so you have to jump straight to associations like, “Think ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ meets ”Aliens!'” or some such.

And, reading through the Kickstarter, the whole thing sounds much more like SOE’s Landmark, which I would imagine is neither well known enough nor far enough along to have attracted a “killer” yet, than Minecraft, with a bit more emphasis on creating content.

Think Landmark meets Neverwinter’s Foundry… if you must.

A bit of it does seem a bit blue sky naive.  This in particular stuck out:

The MyDream team is currently working on a leveling system based on the novel idea helping others. We would like to eliminate hating, griefing and other forms of abuse that run rampant in other MMO’s. By creating a reputation system that promotes cooperative team play and honest rating of others, we assure a self-policing positive environment for all.

That sent my cynicism spiking off the meter… they assure this… while at the same time making me think, “Oh God, don’t put it like that, you’re practically daring people to prove that they can grief and otherwise behave badly!  You don’t know their power!  Don’t make eye contact!”

I suppose I am a product of my environment, which does include EVE Online.  But rare is the multiplayer game where I haven’t seen some amount of bad behavior exhibited simply because it could be done.

Anyway, I thought I would bring this up because… urm  uh… I’ve forgotten now.  I don’t plan on pledging or even playing.  Variety? Something about “Minecraft killer” possibly?  Or maybe because their office is just up the road in Palo Alto.  Go local devs.

Thinking on Free

The word “free” comes with quite a bit of baggage.  Just sticking to money, as opposed to freedom, rights, and so forth, the baggage is not always flattering.  I see things being offered as “free” all the time, usually falling into one of these categories (straight from my spam folder):

  • Buy one, get one free
  • Free with purchase
  • Free gift with paid subscription
  • Free if you order now
  • Free consultation
  • Free resort vacation

The first four are not free.  Nothing is “free” if you have to buy something to get it.  And of the latter two, a free consultation is likely nothing more than an extended sales pitch, while the final one on the list is free if you don’t count the time you need to spend at the hard sell presentation to get you to buy a time share condo.  The purpose of the exercise is to get you to buy, not to give you a vacation.

Basically, the word “free” is pretty much a red flag to me.  I am either not getting anything for free or it is just a lure to try and sell me something.

Sometimes it is okay.  At the grocery store, if something on the shopping list is “Buy X, Get Y Free,” then that amounts to a price break, so long as it isn’t something perishable that will likely go bad before we use it.

So, despite the fact that, at an intellectual level, I can accept the MMO free to play business model for what it is and can see that it is beneficial in some ways ( it has probably kept LOTRO alive a couple of years longer than it might have otherwise lasted) at another more emotional level, it still sits on the same plane as somebody trying to sell me a timeshare in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Cue rant about EverQuest II popping up the “upgrade to GOLD” dialog in the middle of combat.)

Does anybody use “free” as their prime marketing message and not suffer from this?  Can free be a business model without the intent to hit people up early and often for some money?

Free, Free, everywhere!

Free, Free, everywhere!

I like the Rift ad especially.  That they felt the need to add “No Trials. No Tricks. No Traps.” speaks volumes.  And I think, of F2P models, they do offer more for free than most.  Probably too much, truth be told.  But it is clear that they understand the stigma, while perpetuating it at the same time.

Of course, this might just be me.  There is a very strong “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” theme in my world view.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks back after reading a particularly asinine “how dare you expect to play for free” comment in some thread somewhere.  “Devs gotta eat, who are you to question them?” sort of stuff.  I should have saved that link… or maybe it was better that I did not.  Anyway, I started in but my head of steam dissipated quickly, as it tends to on this topic these days.

And then the European Commission announced that they were looking into the use of the word “free” when used with games that have in-app purchases, with an eye to it being misleading.  And while their focus seems to be more on mobile apps, if “free” becomes bad for in-app purchases on one platform, it is pretty easy to then extend it to others.

I thought this would lead to another round of free to play blog posts, but not much has come along.  Azuriel posits that basically nothing can ever be called free if the European Commission’s potential ruling comes to pass, at least in the EU.  Meanwhile, Green Armadillo seems to be more on my own wave length, that using the word “free” when you fully expect somebody to pay is misleading at some level.

I was also interested to learn in that post that League of Legends has apparently stopped marketing with the word “free.”  Good for them.  (Though I had to quickly update my collage of free, as I had an old “Play for Free” LoL image in it.)

I can be a cynic, the world having thus shaped me, and talk about money tends to bring out the worst in people… you can mess with a lot of things, but as soon as cash is involved, the lid tends to come right off… but I also have mixed feelings on this.  Who decides what the litmus test is to determine how “free” something has to be in order to claim to be “free?”  And there is something to be said for personal responsibility.

What do you think?  To be “free” or not to be “free?”

What You Get in the Absence of Actual Information…

In which I chase my tail in ever smaller circles.

Over the last seven years of blogging I have evolved something of a regular style and structure to my online musings.  There are a few standard posts I make, which I would sum up as:

  • I did a thing!  –  The general log of what I have done lately.  Generally things I want to remember;I moved a ship to Curse, I re-subscribed to WoW, I made it to the 21st hall in Moria.  Simple telling of a tale.  Probably the most common post on the blog.
  • The Instance Group did a thing!  –  A sub-set of the above, the ongoing tales of our group adventure.  Lately it has evolved into “The Instance Group did not do a thing.”
  • Remember that thing? – I pull out memories of some old game… Air Warrior, Stellar Emperor, TorilMUD… and try to assemble them into a coherent post.
  • A month passed with a lot of things – With 85 month in review posts already written, this is clearly part of the standard fare.
  • Things from my email – As you might suspect, something for days when I have nothing else to write about.
  • Quote of the Day – Somebody said something worth discussing.
  • Marking an event – A game shut down, an anniversary or other milestone has come, someone notable has passed.
  • I attempt something akin to a review – This never goes well.
  • Announcement of a new thing!  – A new game, patch, expansion, or feature is announced and I bring it up and try to figure out what it means to me.
  • A thing was announced, what does it really mean?  – Different from the above in the extent of information provided or how it links to the bigger picture are not stated outright, leading me in to speculation mode.

So that is ten standard-ish formats, with bit bucket, catch all, miscellaneous undeclared category to cover the remainders.

But it is that last one on the list that is often the most fun or interesting to write.  You take an announcement and whatever actual information is floating around on the web and you try to come up with a big… or at least bigger… picture assessment of what is going on.  It is a pretty standard format.  You see it on a lot of blogs.

I find it fun because it is the sort of thing I like to talk about.  But it is also pretty meaningless except as a discussion exercise because, as a complete outsider I (and most of my fellow bloggers) lack access to the whole story.  Key facts are missing and we are left to fill in the blanks.

For example, on Wednesday, I put up a post about Rift and the announced server merges.  It seemed to me that this was a sign that the post-F2P transition boom in popularity was over.

This was not unexpected.  It seems to be a standard phenomena when an MMO goes from monthly subscriptions to a F2P business model.  Once F2P hits there is a rush of new and returning players interested to see what is on offer, something I refer to as the “Happy Time.”  There is often a public statement about a revenue increase, which given that the business model transition was done for that reason, seems like a gimme.  Plus, the comparison often seems to be between low ebb of the previous model and the peak of the “Happy Time.”  You had best be able to multiply your revenue in that environment.

Eventually that settles down.  The company stops talking about revenue and players and such, unless they are a public company and it appears in the financial reports, and those of us outsiders are left to try to divine how things are going by inspecting goat entrails, reading tea leaves, and expressing disgust at the latest abomination being offered up in the cash shop.

I think the above scenario pretty much applies to Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more;  business model transition, immediate declaration of success with increases in revenue and players, and then not much more on the subject.  No big deal.  All those games are carrying on and I do not expect that any will fold up shop in the next year.

But with Rift there were other data points.  The game had shut down in Korea and is headed the same way in China.  The parent company, Trion, had been through layoffs and office closings.  Outside of Rift, the company only has Defiance as a going concern, which has been awfully quiet while the companion TV series has been in re-runs.  And on the horizon for Trion there is End of Nations, which seemed troubled in beta when I tried it, and ArcheAge, which looks to me, perhaps unfairly, like yet another attempt by an Asian MMO to conquer the West.

So my speculation was that Trion might not be around as an independent entity a year from now.  Given the information available to me, that didn’t seem exactly like a shot out of left field.  The key there is “the information available to me.”

Later, in a special guest star, walk-on appearance, Scott Hartsman, CEO of Trion, left a comment on the post correcting me on my server count and dropping a tasty morsel about Rift’s F2P performance, saying that Rift has had the most sustained success in a F2P transition “by the numbers.”

On one hand, this is a fresh new data point for me, and a fair comment from the person who must certainly know more than I on the subject.  The “Happy Time” might be over, but it is far from gloom and gray skies for Rift.  My relationship with the game is…complicated… but I don’t want the game to go away.  Some day our regular group will return and finish its run through the five person instances.

On the other hand, that comment just opens up a new can of “what the hell does that mean?”  What numbers?  Representing what?  Compared to whom?

Must have more information!  Stop me before I speculate again! (And will Rift then make Raptr’s yearly list?)

Following this up was a comment from another reader who, among other things, expressed a desire to get away from the sharded existence (against which I have railed in the past) that seems to be the norm for MMORPGs and to move towards a single server concept, even if it meant going with instanced versions of zones as Neverwinter is doing.

I could hardly disagree with that idea.

The odd thing about the comment though was that he did not suggest moving away from shards for the good of the community or for letting friends play together rather than being stuck in different versions of the world.  No, he seemed more interested in removing servers so that people like me wouldn’t report server merges as bad news.

With a single server, there are no merges!  Nothing to see here, please move along!

That seemed to be going down the path towards gaming companies making even less information available, which actually seems to invite more speculation about the health and well being of such games, not less.  After all, we will find a way.  We will look at Raptr reports or weekly Xfire numbers or the number of instances of a given zone on a Saturday night (Only 2 instances of the Frostfang Sea? The game is clearly dying!), and build fresh sand castles in the face of the storm.

Which brings me to what I suppose is the question of the day.

Is it better for companies like Trion or Turbine to keep the health of their games under wraps, dribbling out a tidbit now and again but otherwise letting speculation run wild without a retaining wall of fact?

Or is it better to be in the boat with NCSOFT, Blizzard, and EA who must, as part of their financial reporting requirements, pony up an assessment backed up with financial data every quarter?

Which is better… or worse?  Rift announcing the closure of 30% (22 to 15) of its servers in a single announcement or being able to track, quarter by quarter, WoW losing 36% of its subscribers (from “more than 12 million” to 7.7 million) since the Cataclysm peak?

Or should we… you know… just go play the damn games already?