Tag Archives: Rambling Detected

MMORPG Preservation and Reality

There was a bit of news last Friday when the Library of Congress announced that they would allow an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act so that institutions interesting in preserving online games, MMOs and the like, could do so.

An exception had been previously granted for stand alone video games no longer published or otherwise available, so this was something of an expansion of that initial ruling.  The Federal Register document is here for your perusal.

The document covers several rulings.  The one you are looking for is labeled as section 8, but is listed out between sections 5 and 7, so it was probably meant to be section 6 as there is another section 8, concerning 3D printing, after section 7.  Maybe this was an error… or maybe I just don’t understand how government documentation works.

This decision was greeted with almost universal acclaim in the niche genre that is fans of dead MMOs.  The Museum of Digital Art and Entertainment (The MADE for short or The Video Game Museum colloquially) over in Oakland, about a 40 minute drive from my home, was particularly effusive.  They were in the fight to make this happen, so were there to cheer once the ruling was announced.  They tweeted out a couple of messages on Twitter that got a frenzy of support over in the comments at Massively OP, this one especially:

I am going to quote that tweet here, just in case it spontaneously combusts out of sheer naivety:

Hey Twitter fans: please go track down people who could legally get us Star Wars Galaxy’s server code, and City of Heroes server code. If they agree to hand over the server code, we can bring those games back online legally.

That note contains the seeds of the problem being faced here.  If you take some time to leaf through the document I linked at the above, you might have run into a paragraph opening with this sentence:

The Acting Register found that the record supported granting an expansion in the relatively discrete circumstances where a preservation institution legally possesses a copy of a video game’s server code and the game’s local code.

Therein lies the rub.  To be within the law, and thus legally protected, a preservation institution like The MADE needs to obtain a copy of the server software legally.  So far as I can tell, the only way to do this is to get a copy directly from the companies who hold the rights to these games, and that seems an impractical and unlikely scenario for several reasons.

First, there is the question as to what sort of infrastructure such a server might require.

Yes, people who put together emulators of these servers do so on the cheap, using whatever is to hand, so you might think this is a non-issue.  But the official server software wasn’t designed to run on your desktop machine.  This isn’t an automatic pass.  This could be a problem because things as simple as the operating system and patch version required to the database connectivity expected to be in place.  The server software might not run as provided without the ecosystem it was made to run with.

The MADE likes to point out that they managed to get Habitat up and running, but that was not only a game from a simpler time, but they were given the source code to work with. I cannot see many MMORPGs doing that for reasons covered below.  Still, at least this is a technical issue, and enough time and effort could garner a solution.

Then there is figuring out who actually has the software and what shape it is in.

Let’s take Star Wars Galaxies as an example.  That shut down in mid-December 2011, almost seven years ago.  At that point it was run by Sony Online Entertainment, one small cog in the giant machine that is Sony.

Time to settle up with Jaba again

A little over three years after that SOE was bought and became Daybreak Game Company.  One might assume that all SOE games, past and current, went with that deal.  But I don’t know if that was actually so.  Given that SWG was a licensed IP, it might have been too complicated, too expensive, or simply not possible or desirable to let Daybreak have that.  It could be stowed away still with Sony.

And, once we figure out who has it,  we have to see if the software has been archived in a way that it can still be accessed.  The server software isn’t like the client, existing in the wild on hundreds of thousands of install disks.  This is likely tightly held, produce on demand software.  Somebody might need to run the build system to generate a copy.

Let me tell you a story about that sort of thing.

Midway through the first decade of the century a company I used to work for once had a formerly famous consumer film company call up and ask for a patch for the server software they bought from us nearly a decade back.  It was on IBM OS/2 and we had long since switched to Windows server.  But that was fine, we had kept the OS/2 build system machines in the lab.  Only when somebody decided to power the system on the drive on the main machine wouldn’t spin up.  And while we had archival backups stored off site, there wasn’t anybody around who could re-create the build system.  And that was all before we had to figure out the problem that company was having, update the code, and run a build.

Since the company calling us wasn’t current on their maintenance contract… we were surprised they were still running our software… we declined to put in the effort.  We probably could of done it, but the work required was not trivial.  Even with the company in question willing to pay us, we had more lucrative avenues to pursue.  Software development is as much choosing what to focus on as anything, since there are always more plans and ideas than there is time.

If we weren’t going to do it for money, we certainly weren’t going to do it for free, which is what organizations like The MADE will expect.  And no company is going to let outsiders troll through their company to look for such software, so finding it relies on a current insider getting permission from the company and using their own time to find things.  This isn’t impossible, but the candidates able to perform this task are probably few.

And, finally, there is the question who can legally provide the server software.

The above are both solvable problems, things that could be made to happen if the right people were to volunteer some time and effort.  Getting the right people to green light this sort of project though, that feels like the highest hurdle of all.

I am going to go ahead and declare Star Wars Galaxies lost to any preservation effort for the foreseeable future right up front based on this.  At a minimum you need Disney, who holds the rights to the IP, to go along with this, and I cannot see that happening.  Mickey Mouse doesn’t even get out of bed unless he’s getting paid.

So let’s look at City of Heroes instead.  This is easier.  NCsoft owns all the rights, so there is no problem dealing with IP problems.  There should be no issue here, right?

The final plea

No server software stands alone.  Even if the previous problems can be brushed aside, it is very likely that Cryptic, in developing City of Heroes, licensed third party libraries, utilities, and other assets in order to create the game.  That licensing likely doesn’t allow NCsoft to give the server software out, even for a good cause.

This, by the way, is part of the answer to every question about why companies don’t open source their games when they shut them down.  They cannot if they don’t own all the code.

In order to cover themselves, NCsoft would have to run down every third party aspect of the software and get the permission of the licensing entity.  My gut says that NCsoft isn’t going to do this and, if they did, that getting every single third party on board would not be easy.

But if you can get past all of that, then you can have an MMORPG in your museum.

And I don’t even want to delve into the question of which version of a game ought to be preserved.  The answer to that will only make people angry since it likely won’t be the launch version or the version from what you might believe to be the golden era of the game.  It will most likely be the final version available from the build system.

All of that ought to be enough to make you say “screw it” and just start working on an emulator.  That has to be easier, right?  You can do what you want with that.  Then you can put it up in your museum.

Well, there is a whole paragraph devoted to that in the ruling.

The Acting Register did not, however, recommend an exemption to allow for instances where the preservation institution lacks lawful possession of the server software. She found the record insufficient to support a finding that the recreation of video game server software as described by proponents is likely to be a fair use. A number of scenarios described by proponents do not involve preserving server software that is already in an institution’s collections, but instead appear to involve something more akin to reconstructing the remote server. She found that this activity distinguishes proponents’ request from the preservation activity at issue in the case law upon which they relied. Moreover, she noted, the reconstruction of a work implicates copyright owners’ exclusive right to prepare derivative works.

That sums up pretty much as, “No, you may not have cheezeburger.”  Recreating is not preserving.  You either get the real deal or you get nothing at all.

And so it goes.  The door has been opened ever so slightly for the preservation of MMOs, but there are still many problems in the way.

Finally I want to call out what I consider a disingenuous to the point of being nearly deceptive part of the tweet above from The MADE.  This phrasing irks me greatly:

…we can bring those games back online legally

Without the necessary context, always a problem on Twitter, one might assume that people will be able to fire up their clients and play their favorite shut down MMO if only The MADE can get the server code.  However, this is covered in the document linked at the top as well:

Video games in the form of computer programs embodied in physical or downloaded formats that have been lawfully acquired as complete games, that do not require access to an external computer server for gameplay, and that are no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace, solely for the purpose of preservation of the game in a playable form by an eligible library, archives, or museum, where such activities are carried out without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and the video game is not distributed or made available outside of the physical premises of the eligible library, archives, or museum.

The emphasis is my own.

So no, should any of this come to pass, you are not suddenly going to be able to play City of Heroes or Star Wars Galaxies or any other closed MMO.  This whole thing isn’t being done just so you can play a video game. Unless you’re willing to schlep on over to Oakland to visit The MADE in person, you won’t be able to see what has been preserved.

And even then, I wonder what a visitor will be allowed to do.  MMOs are strange beasts.  They aren’t like Donkey Kong with discreet interaction parameters and a “Game Over” state after which everything starts again fresh.  MMOs, at least the ones mentioned above, are MMORPGs, with an emphasis on the RPG part.  You go into the world and play a role, interact with things, accumulate items and wealth.   A story unfolds before you as you progress, and it doesn’t reset when you put down the controller and walk away.

How will a place like The MADE handle this sort of game?

Do you let every random person who walks in create a new character?  Do you have some template characters available for people to wander around with?  Do you let people wander around the world and die or do things that irrevocably change the nature of a character’s position in the world?  Do you store progress?  Do you wipe progress every night?

Probably the best case, within the law, scenario here is that a place like The MADE will get software that will let them setup a closed environment in their facility where the general public will get to see, maybe poke at, but probably not play in any depth, certain MMOs.  The only people likely allowed greater access will be press writing articles or academics doing research… and the occasional big donor or volunteer who will get to make a character and play.   The rest of us will just have to feel better that something has been preserved and move on with our lives.

Which is fine.  I can live with that.

But I suspect that many people expect a lot more out of these efforts.

Addendum: Endgame Viable used a couple comments I made on Twitter in his post on this.  This post is essentially an expansion by a couple thousand words on those two tweets.

Addendum 2: Ars Technica has a write up on this as well.

Rambling On About Being Acquired

In chatting with people and thinking on the Pearl Abyss acquisition of CCP, I starting browsing though my own memories of acquisitions.

A new addition to the logo page

Working in Silicon Valley, being bought is pretty much a way of life.  I have been through eight acquisitions directly in my career (plus working for two VC funded startups, which is like the worst aspects of being acquired only it never stops), watched a few more from close up, and have listened to friends recount their tales.

Generally a company acquires another for one of the following reasons:

  1. Customers – You are a competitor and we essentially want to get you out of the way
  2. Entering a Market – You’re in a market we want to be in and it is cheaper to buy you than do it ourselves
  3. Tech of Expertise – Occasionally true, but unless your company has some nice patents or is doing something Google is suddenly into, mostly not
  4. Brand – It can happen, though usually a secondary item
  5. Investment – Usually in one of four flavors:
    • Buy you, fix you, sell you for more or take you public to cash out
    • Buy you, fix you, keep you for the revenue
    • Buy you, strip you to bare bones, and milk your revenue (the CA model)
    • Buy you as a way to hide money, especially Russian money
  6. Synergy – This a bullshit word that means nothing when used during an acquisition announcement

I currently work for a company that has acquired a bunch of other companies over the years for the first two reasons, but the part I work in was acquired for the third reason, and the whole company has since been bought out by an investment group that seem set on one of the first two sections of reason five.  We share a building with a group that was acquired for the second reason and who then had to absorb another group that was hired for the first reason.

My last company was acquired three times for the first reason, and none of the companies could get our customers to leave our product for theirs.  Rather than lose the maintenance revenue, they kept is alive and even now I know somebody who is still supporting it.

And I had a good friend who worked for Palm (and got me a refurbed then-current PalmPilot Professional, to put a time stamp on that), saw the founders split off and form Handspring, watched Palm acquire Handspring which ended up with Handspring running Palm, after which he got sick of the whole company and went to work for HP.  HP then acquired Palm and basically sent him back to his old job in the building he left.  He quit that and went to another company and HP got out of the phone business, selling the Palm name to somebody who was going to revive the name for Android phones, but even that seemed to drift off.

Acquisitions are pretty much a constant.  There is even a Silicon Valley business model based on the idea of getting acquired, with Google being the dream buyer.

Being bought can suck.  After the first acquisition of my last company, which had been billed a as a “merger of equals,” the new CEO got up and made sure we knew it was no such thing, that we were those ones being bought and his company was in charge.  I was pretty sure that “merger of equals” was just another form of “synergy,” I was just surprised that he felt the need to discard the pretense and start treating us like shit on day one.  But that helped me feel all the better when, in the end, not one of our customers would move to their product and, after they spun us off to be acquired again, they themselves were acquired and disappeared.

And sometimes being bough can be okay.  As it turned out the company that bought our group actually wanted to tech we had, have adopted it, and continue to use it eight years down the road.

All of which brings me around to CCP and why they got acquired.

It certainly wasn’t for the first reason.  EVE Online players can’t simply be folded into Black Desert Online, and it wasn’t for the second reason as Pearl Abyss is already in the MMO market.  I don’t think internet spaceship MMOs is big enough to be a market on its own.

There could be tech or expertise reasons to buy CCP, but I suspect not.  Any tech would have to be abstract enough to be transferable, while expertise is difficult to pass along.  Likewise, I am not sure the CCP brand brings much to the table.  EVE Online gets more mainstream media coverage than a lot of games, but I am not sure how much the public retains.

And, while both companies have said a lot of synergy-like things, that is never a good enough reason to buy a company.  It is a nice to have, something that can make things work better, but as a stated reason it is BS.

So it seems like an investment.  EVE Online is undoubtedly a minor gold mine, as any MMO that can keep a six figure population is.  If CCP were able to focus on it, tend it, and keep it going it could pay off handsomely for years to come.  I suppose they could spiff up CCP and try to resell it, but it seem more like they bought a revenue stream.

And for CCP this should be a boon.  If the last fifteen years have shown us anything, it is that CCP has spent a lot of time and money trying to create another money earning product.  As a solo company, that no doubt felt like a survival imperative.  Now, however, as part of a larger company, they can just be the EVE Online division.

What I don’t think will happen is any sudden change to how EVE Online is run.  If you go to the AMA that CCP did in their forums yesterday you can see CCP Falcon repeating over and over that no changes are planned. (I recommend that you click on his avatar and click the filter button so you only see his posts, otherwise the whole thing is overwhelming.)  I do not doubt that.  The last thing that Pearl Abyss wants after spending $425 million on a company is to kill it by radically changing how things are done.  I am sure they are well aware of the Incarna and and “greed is good” debacle.

This could very well be a renaissance of sorts for EVE Online.  You’re never going to get avatars into the game.  Falcon was specific on that, so you can let that pipe dream go.  But CCP as part of Pearl Abyss and focused on EVE Online could mean good things.

Does that mean there will never be any changes?  Of course not.  During times like this people always want assurances that go out to infinity, and that just isn’t possible.  If CCP screws up, if EVE Online sees a big drop in revenue, if another company buys Pearl Abyss, or any number of other possibilities come up, the situation may change drastically.  But unless Pearl Abyss is just dumb, they’ll remain fairly hands off.  Some redundant positions will be eliminated.  That always happens.  But for the most part I would guess we’ll see business as usual.

Only time will tell.  But if you’re in a lather about a Black Desert Online pay to win cash shop appearing in New Eden any time soon, you’re kidding yourself.

Other speculation:

Blaugust and Editorial Policy

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

James Nicoll

Another Blaugust feature, but now I have completely parted ways with the suggested topics and am wandering aimlessly through strange locations.

Blaugust Reborn

For some reason I want to write about editorial policy.  But not in any particularly helpful way I am sure, which probably keeps this post in line with the editorial policy here at TAGN.

At one point the LEGO Group had issued a set of guidelines for anybody setting up a fan site on the web.  This was ages ago, in the late 90s if I recall right, when companies were still suspicious of the web and worried what letting a bunch of randos talk about their product might do to their ability to protect their trademarks and such.

The guidelines looked to be a variation on what was likely their internal brand guide, a sort of document that I have seen at many companies, that makes sure that the company name, logo, and products are all used in a consistent and appropriate manner.

So it was full of things like the fact that the name LEGO should always be in all caps and should have the registered trademark symbol after it in all cases and that the company logo should always use a certain set of colors and always be at the correct aspect ratio, never cropped or stretched, and that you should never refer to LEGO brand construction blocks as “LEGOs” and so forth.  It had a bit of a thuggish air about it, the implication that if you setup a LEGO fan site and did not comply with all of this that they might come shut you down.  And hell, Nintendo has done worse from time to time in the name of protecting their trademarks and such.

Wired wrote an article about the whole thing and, on reading it I asked an acquaintance who worked there why they wrote out the company name as “Lego” when the company had, if not politely, at least made itself clear that they preferred “LEGO,” which was, if not an acronym, the conjunction of two words mashed together.  He told me, in not so many words, “Lego doesn’t write out editorial guidelines, so we’ll call them whatever we feel like.”

I don’t know why this little tales has stuck with me over the years.  That print media has editorial guidelines about usage is hardly news to me.  I had professors in college rant about correct usage.  I’ve witnessed holy wars between adherents of The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook.

And “holy war” is the apt term, because either of those books, or any other pretender, is primarily a matter of belief as opposed to any objective fact.  The English language is chaotic and cannot be tamed.  But that chaos makes it a hell of a lot of fun at times.

So while this blog has a staff of exactly one person, that person fills all the roles.  I am writer, editor, publisher, and the person who empties the waste bin at night.  And as such I have, over the years, developed what I think of as my own set of editorial guidelines to which I attempt to adhere.

In the early days I wrote just to write and embraced the chaos.  But the accountant in me will ever show up and I began to organize a bit, working with categories and tags, because what is the use of writing something if you cannot find it again.

I also started in on what became recurring features, regular milestones on this journey through and around my video gaming life, the first of which was the month in review post.  That started as a whim but quickly evolved into a pillar of the site, at least for me.

My writing, the way I approach posts, evolved as well.  In the early days I wrote a lot of shorter posts.  In 2007 I wrote 490 posts that averaged 482 words each.  Last year I wrote 350 posts which had 932 words each on average.

I also started adopting some standards for how I refer to games.  At one point I decided that I needed to put game titles in italics.  Somewhere one of my English teachers probably sleeps a little more soundly.

I also decided to make sure that I wrote out the name of the game which I was writing about in full near the start of each post.  I have read many a post where the game in question is mentioned either as an unclear acronym or not mentioned at all, leaving me to wonder what the writer is going on about.  Sometimes I can guess from context, but not always, so I wanted to ensure that anybody who showed up here would not find themselves likewise vexed.

So I write out the full name, in italics, then use a short form after that, so World of Warcraft becomes WoW and EVE Online becomes EVE.

There are also bits of usage that are just because I like it that way.  I always capitalize EVE in EVE Online, mostly because that is the way CCP styles it.  On the other had Trion Worlds can spell out Rift in all caps from now until the end of time and I’ll never follow suit.  It just ain’t gonna happen.

And I always write out acronyms in all caps.  It irks me when the BBC writes out Nasa rather than NASA, like it was a word.

And none of it has to make any logical sense, as though much in the English language ever does.  It just has to please me.  And, likewise, what you do on your blog just has to please you, even if you don’t write out Nasa in all caps.

Malcanis Picks Winners

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

-Ford Prefect, Life, The Universe, and Everything

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

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

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

Malcanis’ Law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOL! Drink a pot noob!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North – April 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow on thoughts:

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

It Is Blaugust and What Should I Even Write About?

Blaugust is upon us.  We are off and running.  If you want to see everybody involved, I am trying to keep the list I made up to date on my first post about this year’s Blaugust.

Blaugust Reborn

And according to the organizing post this week is:

  • August 1st – August 7th – Topic Brainstorming Week – posts about ideas for topics that the participants can then mine for the rest of the month.

After a dozen years you might think I have a plan here, a guide as to how to crank out a post almost every single weekday for year after year, with enough ideas left over that I have to double up some days or move into the weekends.  According to my eleventh anniversary statistical nightmare post, I had written, on average, 1.097 posts per day over the life of the blog up to that point.

And I seem to be keeping on that track.  I wrote 34 posts just last month, 32 in June, 31 in May, and 32 in April.  You have to go back to March to find me slipping under one a day, and then I wrote 27, which is still more than my target of one every weekday.

So how do I manage this?

I’ve covered bits and pieces of this before, especially during the old Newbie Blogger Initiative, where I tried to dispense what little practical advice I could muster.  In a lot of ways blogging is a very personal thing and the topics I pick and the way I go about writing work for me but likely wouldn’t work for you.  Different experiences, different lives, different values, all sorts of things drive what we do.

But I will straight up say that one piece of advice I gave out during the 2015 NBI stands pretty true:

And Low standards. I cannot emphasize how much just wanting to write something, versus wanting to write something good, helps out.

A lot of days it is that simple.  I don’t want to write something epic or filled with deeper meaning or pithy quotable passages or that is headline news and gets thousands of page views or retweets.  I just want to jot down something about video games I am playing.  Some observation or change or marking or a current or past event.

There is a strong nostalgia thread in what I write, or a history thread if you prefer.  I am still cranking out posts about TorilMUD, an online game I started playing back in late 1993, which was almost 25 years ago on my calendar. (I actually have three more posts about TorilMUD in draft form, so we’re not done there yet.)

But in writing about that I often come across things I wish I could remember or had written down some place.  I wish I could remember, as an example, the start and end dates of the various iterations of the MUD.  So, to some extent, knowing that I am missing so much information on games I have played in the past drives me, and that is basically everything before late 2006.

There is the difficulty of finding some of that information.  Yes, WoW is pretty well documented.  I can find a screen shot of Captain Placeholder when I need it.   But there is this line in the late 90s, before digital cameras were everywhere and when disk space was at a premium compared to now, where information dries up pretty quickly.  And even more recent but smaller games can pass by without much coverage.  And none of that marks what I was doing at the time.  I need to do that, and to do that I must write!

So you might reasonably expect this blog to have a lot of very short posts.  I think one every weekday is too few for my state goal.  So how am I doing so far this year?

2018 Site Stats Through July 31

So I am writing about a post a day.  July 31 was the 212th day of the year.  But I am writing what many might consider longer posts.  An average of a thousand words each feels like a lot to me.  I will run on.

Sometimes I run on to capture details that I know I will want.  Often in my EVE Online posts about fleet operations I will mention things that happened in the fleet, like an argument breaking out over BBQ sauce, because that flavor… heh… my memories when I go back and read the post a year later.  Other times I run on in order to pile up a few things into a single post, so rather than three posts about World of Warcraft I might end up getting everything into one longer post.

Sometimes I wish I would just opt for shorter, single topic posts.  It makes going back to look for details easier at times.  But pushing things together also has value in at least establishing context and relationships between topics.

And, of course, I cheat a bit as well.  I have a structure to some of my posts.  There are posts that recur monthly, or even weekly in the case of Fantasy Movie League, which give me something to write about on a regular basis.  Knowing that on Wednesday I have a post already can be a help.  Knowing that the last day of every month will be the Month in Review posts is nice.  And that is one I can start working on in advance.  I already have the bulk of August in Review written, since those posts are mostly the looks back to what was going on a year, five years, and ten years ago.  And knowing that I am going to do a post about the New Eden Monthly Economic Report and SuperData’s digital sales charts fills in some of the gaps.  Some times it is nice to have a regular topic.  It is almost a day off.  And then things get busy and I have a dozen topics I want to write about and I end up doubling up on those days all the same.

Back in the early days of the blog, maybe through the first three years, I used to feel I had to play a lot of new MMOs in order to keep things interesting for both myself and the reader.  I played games simply to blog about them.  I am pretty sure that explains Warhammer Online.  Writing about a new game gives you lots of topics to delve into and also gets you more page view.  New is much more likely to attract people than old.  But with the old comes history and evolution over time.

Then there is the time factor.  Where does one find the time?  Again, I’ve already written on that.  People find the time to do the things they really want to do.  If you see somebody’s blog and say wistfully to yourself that you wish you had the time, you’re only kidding yourself.  I tell myself I wish I had the time for all sorts of things.  And I do have the time.  I just choose to spend the time elsewhere.  In the end that is how you know what is really important to you.  I spend time writing about video games, often more time that I spend playing them on a given day.

And here we are more than a thousand words into a post… again… and I haven’t even thrown out any actual concrete ideas about which one might write.  Typical me.  All theoretical, no practical.

Then again, by my own philosophy, I shouldn’t worry too much on what I should write about and focus more on writing something.  It is better to write something than nothing at all.  When in doubt, make a list or do some bullet points.

Or you could just do what Syp wrote, which is far more to the point.

Burn Jita 2018 Aftermath

In which I ramble about how Burn Jita went, you can scroll to the end for the pretty pictures.

Burn Jita has come and gone for another year.  Each round I seem to spend a little more time with it.  This time I was in for a bit each day over the three days of the event, sometimes at peak hours, sometimes when things were slow, just to see how things played out.

I remain impressed with how smoothly the whole thing runs these days.  Having gone through previous iterations in Jita (and once in Amarr) plus the general experience of MiniLuv, the high sec ganking arm of the Imperium, has led to a system that works despite the participants as much as because of them.

Back in the original Burn Jita in 2012 the gank ships were often things like Tornado battlecruisers which required a character committed to some training time.  That evolved into the current levee en mass approach with Coercer destroyers, handed out for free, used as the main source of firepower.

Gank fit Coercers on the move

Cheap, minimally fit, and flyable by an Alpha clone after a week of training, they are sacrificed by the hundreds and thousands for freighter kills.  At about 1.5 million ISK a copy, even sending a full fleet full of them at an empty freighter spins the ISK war is still in the favor of the attacker.  If cargo drops the op can generate a net profit.  MiniLuv’s day to day operations are a profit center for the coalition.

And one of the bright ideas that came up over the years was to encourage people create alts to fly in the event.  This doesn’t seem like all that big of a deal, but it has become clear to me over the years that people who live in null sec start to freak out about the complex set of rules that govern high sec space.  I lived in high sec for years and I couldn’t pass a quiz about the rules of sec status, criminal and suspect timers, who can shoot you when, kill rights, and whatever else governs the activities of people behaving badly in high sec.  Encouraging alts with the name BJBee <name/number> lets people off the hook from worrying about security status and what not, likely leading to higher participation overall.

And then there is how to tackle the issue of a couple hundred eager but ignorant capsuleers showing up without knowing what to do.  A post was put up in the forums with details instructions on how to get in the fleet, how to get your non-Imperium friend or alt into the fleet, how to get ships, what to do with your ship, what to do when you undock, when and how to shoot, and what to do after CONCORD blows up your ship.  The post was in the MOTD for every fleet and re-linked frequently when people had questions.

The fleets were organized into two wings.  Anybody joining the fleet dropped into the “Move Yourself” squad from which you were supposed to move yourself into a squad that matched your birth month.  There were squads for each month of the year.  The months were not significant but were just a way to get people to sort themselves out in a crude form of load balancing to assist in the distribution of ships.

To get ships you were to open a trade with your squad commander, who would then hand you five fit Coercers.  You would then jump in the ship, group the guns, load the laser crystals, and put the ECCM scrips in the sensor boosters, at which point you were ready to go.  When the FC said to undock, you would leave the station a float, using the invulnerability timer you have until everybody was out of their hangars, then the FC would warp everybody to an insta-undock point.

The Caldari police would start to appear after we landed, as we aligned to warp out to the next point.  The police were quick enough that I often took hits from them, and ever went into armor once.  However, they web and shoot, and webbing has the consequence of letting you warp off quicker once aligned, so few people were blown up there unless the FC was slow.

The next stop would be a gate if the target was in another system, a perch on grid with the target if that was the plan, or straight to the target if we were in a hurry.  Once headed to the target, the FC would call it out, tell people to overheat their modules and, on landing, lock up the target, approach it, and shoot.  For the runs I was on the target melted almost every time.  One Rhea jump freighter survives a first pass and another pilot, anxious to repel our attack, shot at one of the bumpers as we landed and got his wormhole bait Orca blown up by CONCORD.

After the latter our fleet was able to warp to a friendly citadel and tether up as the faction police crowded around and glared angrily at us.  (Except for that one neutral who couldn’t tether, they blew him up straight away.)  So another way tethering works against the game.  We got back to our station in Jita and docked up to await the next target.

Spot who didn’t tether

Basically, everything was structured to limit the amount of time the fleet was undocked and exposed to attack from either the local NPC faction police or third party players trying to defend freighters.  This was so effective that I didn’t even think about freighter defenders until Gevlon mentioned in a comment how people used to organize an anti-ganking effort back in the day.

As it turns out, people still do that.  There is an in-game channel named Anti-Ganking which you can join… if you’re not affiliated with the Imperium anyway… where people were busily trying to coordinate and shepherd freighters through Jita.  It has links to suggested fits and to anti-ganking sites and such and seemed reasonably active during the event.  I logged in with a neutral alt and joined the channel, and it told a sad tale for the defenders.  While they took the successful arrival or departure of any hauler as a success, almost every freighter they tried to defend from an actual attack ended up being reported as a dead freighter.  I did find the disdain they showed for the pilot of the Nomad jump freighter who got caught auto-piloting into Jita to be amusing however.  All sides seemed to agree that was a pretty dumb idea.

When things slowed down were dropping on obvious bait freighters, empty and buffed by reinforced bulkheads, sitting on the 4-4 undock and surrounded by defenders, and still blowing them up.  That was the tale told, why I had barely noticed any defenders.

I mostly saw people hanging around potential targets, waiting for us to drop on them so they could shoot us once we had the suspect timer up, padding their kill stats by claiming ships CONCORD was going to blow up anyway.  And, of course, people eager to scoop up any loot they could grab.  Mobile tractor units don’t defend freighters, but they were out in force.

Your loots, give them to me!

The most effective defenders I saw during the event was a small group of PL pilots in smart bomb fit battleships that were loitering around one of our insta-undock landing spots.

Watching us

Our FC got lazy and used the same spot a few times in a row so that we landed right on top of the battleships and lost most of a fleet of coercers.  But we all just ended up back in the station without suspect timers, so we re-shipped and undocked right away and still killed the target.

So maybe there were some big saves by the anti-ganking team, but the defenders sure seemed to be brushed aside, having little to no impact, when I was out and about.

While the main fleet was in one channel, while the scouts and bumpers and FCs were plugged into another set of coms at the same time, so the line members never got word of the target until we were on grid with it.  That made spying less than useful, and we had obvious spies in our midst.  There was an NCdot pilot out with us for a while.  He only got kicked when he started shooting us… but only after we were aggressed and going to die to CONCORD anyway.  More kill board padding I suppose.

Enough people turned out that when I peeked in on Friday there were two full fleets running operations against freighters, going out after every timer cool down, and an attempt to put together a third fleet to handle the overflow.

I might have marked this down to people not knowing about the event as there was no advance build-up to it.  But people were talking about Burn Jita in local in some obvious, difficult to miss ways, not to mention scams selling safe passes.  Friday was a target rich environment.

Lots of activity around Jita

Comparing Regions, The Forge Was Where Things Were Blowing Up

Saturday found the pickings getting a little more slim.  There was only one fleet running when I checked in during the evening, but it was full and going out regularly and hitting targets whenever suspect timers expired.  There was talk of a second fleet, but each fleet needs a certain amount of support in the form of scouts and bumpers and FCs and, compared to the Coercer flying F1 jockeys, those are a scarce resource.  Better to keep one full fleet going strong than divide the labor and have to less effective fleets.

Sunday evening when I logged in things had slowed down considerably.  It was already late on a work night for Europe and anybody who was going to figure out that Burn Jita was a thing already had heard and had taken steps to avoid it.  I was scoffed at in the previous post about the event for suggesting people take the weekend off if they wanted to avoid getting their hauler ganked, but that is literally the best response.  A Burn Jita without targets is a sad Burn Jita.  The way things stand, the only way to “win” is to deny them targets.

There were reports of people setting up courier contracts from Amarr to Jita with generous rewards… only payable on success of course… in order to generate some more gank targets.  I have no direct evidence that this actually worked, but people on coms claimed it was happening.

One entrepreneur I did see was a person collecting corpses and selling them in bulk contracts, no doubt for those looking to fill the corpse bays on their Blood Raider capital ships.

Corpses for Sale – Special Edition Mega Pack!

You could also find FC corpses if you were looking to fill out a special collection.  Of course, the character Frozen Corpse Trader turned out to be a Goon who had the foresight to set themselves up for this almost a month in advance.

Frozen Corpse Trader

Somebody suggested that this might be the most Goon thing ever, using Burn Jita as a way to collect corpses for resale.

And then at some point on Sunday night/Monday morning the last freighter was ganked and the event ended.  Ganking will now go back to mostly a profit driven activity in the usual locations rather than swarms dropping on any freighter than undocks.

I haven’t seen a final total for the amount of ISK destroyed over the course of Burn Jita.  There was apparently a problem with the killboard MiniLuv uses.  They couldn’t setup then event in it because nobody could remember the admin password and the person who owns the board doesn’t play anymore.  Somebody is no doubt doing a manual accounting.  We will see if it exceeds the 776B ISK reported blown up last year.

Over at zKillaboard they implemented an experimental tag called Ganked to try and track those sorts of kills.  It sort of works, but it isn’t perfect.  And, of course, it catches things game-wide.  Still, if you want to track suicide ganking it might be useful.

Reactions to the event, while muted relative to previous years, were predictable.  Amateur haulers railed against ganking even being a thing still while the pros either stayed away or chalked up their losses as part of the cost of doing business in New Eden.  One guy, who bought a bogus Burn Jita pass (always a scam people) and was subsequently ganked spent hours raging in Jita local which, of course, probably had the opposite effect he intended.  Meanwhile CCP Guard clarified CCP’s stance on the event.

To clarify, Burn Jita doesn’t violate rules. We balance Concord to provide a level of consequence and balance. There’s no known exploit to get around that. How ships are used in space is a matter of choice, both for those looking to cause mayhem and for those looking to avoid it.

On the ganking side, the particularly difficult or expensive ganks were celebrated.  The organizers were thanked for putting together tens of thousands of Coercers, handing them out, and then leading a bunch of amateurs around to see freighters explode over and over.  Screen shots from the event are everywhere.

In a surprisingly calm and serious discussion over in the EVE Online subreddit, the mechanics of suicide ganking were explored at the request of a hauler.  In that the mechanics of bumping were singled out pretty universally as the most broken part of the whole thing.  Other items were brought up, but that one seemed to not face much push back from any side.

Reading that reminded me that two years ago, as part of Blog Banter 74, I picked out the three minute maximum bump timer as the most important thing to come out of Fanfest in 2016.  At the time I wondered whether it would reduce suicide ganking or just create a new norm.

As it turns out, it was just a new norm.  Now you just need somebody a sacrificial warp scrambler/disruptor ship along with the bumper to stop their warp which, if I understand correctly, forces the freighter pilot to start the warp process all over again.  The freighter pilot is then stuck there getting bumped and unable to do anything.  That is decidedly unfun game play and something CCP should take another pass at.

Anyway, the space tourist in me went along for the Burn Jita ride as it provides some of the more spectacular scenes in the game.  I spent a lot of time with the UI turned off just watching things unfold… slowly, because time dilation was kicking in during kills which made each tableau all the more dramatic.

Screen shots for those who want a glimpse of what I saw and a comment section for those who want to complain about CCP letting this be a thing.

Spring is Coming Early for Rift Prime

In which we may again tread into how the seasons are measured.

A little over a month back Trion World’s put out their producer’s letter for Rift in which they were explicitly eyeing the seemingly evergreen fields of video game nostalgia with a mind towards making a few bucks on the idea.  Leave it to Trion to jump on the nostalgia bandwagon only after Blizzard began lumbering in that direction with WoW Classic.  We may not be in Azeroth anymore, but the influence of that world can always be felt across the genre.

Anyway, the plan was for something called Rift Prime, a nostalgia server set to follow the well trod path that EverQuest has been going down with increasing frequency over the last decade.  As with the well honed EverQuest model, the basic plan put forward back then would be a server with vanilla content (with some adjustment to the easier to access dials and switches to make the current state of play seem a bit more retro) that would unlock expansion content over time, and which would be available only to subscribers… excuse me, patrons… which would allow Trion to remove much of the cash shop gimmickry that otherwise pays the bills on the standard live servers.  All of this, and some other vague statements, were slated to become reality in “Spring of 2018” according to the producer’s letter.

While you may have noticed the rising tide of sarcasm up to this point, let me assure you I was, and remain, in full approval of this idea.  While I’d be interest to know whether the idea of Blizzard soon taking up every last seat on the nostalgia bus or the building backlash against lockboxes might have set Trion on this path, that is mostly idle curiosity.  That it is happening is the the real thing, the coin of the realm, and I am on board with it.

And spring seemed like a good time frame for me last month.  I was still enamored with Azeroth and pet battles and what not, and expected to remain so for another few months or so before tiring of it.  The launch could have been quite a while coming, as late as the front half of June, as we will recall from the Landmark Spring launch that came about on June 10, 2016.  Massively OP tried to make that something to complain about, but in the northern hemisphere summer is generally accepted to start on the solstice, not on June 1st.  A cabal of astrophysicists and calendar makers have made this a thing.  Trion just had to get there between March 20 and June 21st.

So when yesterday I saw the announcement that Rift Prime would launch on March 7, 2018, my second thought was, “That’s not spring!”

A springing tiger mount does not change that

I know that seems more than a bit pedantic, especially in California where is can get “spring-ish” in February, but I have been trained by years of working in software that an estimate like “spring” generally means as far into spring as you can get away with… like June 10th… the same way that “the middle of the month” means any day save the first or the last of a given month and “in a future release” means a point in time somewhere before the heat death of the universe.  Nothing is ever early.

This mattered to me because, as noted, I am still invested in WoW right now and I hate to dump a game I am enjoying for some new variable.  A bird in the hand is worth a pig in a poke and all that.  And few things can rain on playing another MMO than currently having fun playing WoW.

My first though was, “Oh, hey, that’s my birthday.”  I’m not sure if that is a sign or not.

Anyway, I am as ready as I can be I suppose.  After the producer’s letter I went and got the Glyph launcher, now considerably more trim since it let go of its Steam aspirations, figured out my login credentials, downloaded and patched Rift, then actually logged in.  So I am ready on that front.  I still need to buy my way into patron status… subscribe… to get access to Rift Prime, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

But do I want to play?

As mentioned, still being invested in WoW is an issue.  I’m on the downside of the usual WoW high and, while not ready to walk away just this minute, it wouldn’t be a tragedy if I did.  It might be better if I walked off still hungry for a bit more Azeroth.

Meanwhile, to get in on day one of a new server can be a special thing in and of itself.  And Rift’s world, or at least the initial content from launch, was made up of a set of very well designed zones that I really enjoyed the first time through… and the second and the third and the fourth time.  So I am good there.

Not everything will be as it was.  As the Rift Prime FAQ points out:

RIFT Prime will not be an exact copy of launch RIFT, and certain features that were added to RIFT to expand gameplay or improve quality of life will be available from day one. These include: Dimensions, Looking for Group, Looking for Raid, current Warfronts, and Wardrobes.

Instant adventures is off the table however.  That’s okay, IA was something of a “keep people busy while we get some new content out” sort of thing.

The server will also have level scaling for zones, so if you wander into a lower level zone you haven’t finished up, you’ll be scaled down to the level of the content.  No running about one-shotting everything.  Good as well.

There will be a cash shop, but it won’t offer gear or bags or lockboxes for the RMT currency.  There will just be cosmetics, mounts, and services available.  However, if you already have Rift Credits on your account… I have a bunch left from the F2P transition…  you won’t be able to use them.  There will be special Prime Credits for this server, though when the server closes any Prime Credits you have will become normal Rift Credits.

The FAQ says that they expect the server to run for at least a year, which after so much exposure to the mighty mountain of expansion unlocks that come with an EverQuest retro server, seems like a very short time horizon.  but Rift just doesn’t have that much to unlock.

And maybe a year is good.  Honestly, I am not interested in going into Storm Legion or beyond, the zone design there being the antithesis of the what I enjoyed about the launch zones.  So that would leave me playing for a few months before wandering off.  I don’t need a server to last more than a year to get what I am looking for.  And if it is a success, the shorter duration will likely lead to more such servers.

And, of course, Trion is selling a special Rift Primogenitor Pack in their web store for $30, which gets you the following:

  • 30 days of Patron access for the purchaser
  • 2 voucher codes for 15 days of Patron access each (30 days total). Invite your friends to play, apply it to your alts or use the time yourself!
  • A mount out of the ordinary: Armored White War Tiger
  • A title exclusive to Prime players: Primogenitor
  • Cloak of the Void
  • A new Prime portrait frame

Essentially, if you buy it all just for yourself, you’re getting two months of Patron access for about the same price as two months of Patron access, with a few goodies thrown in to sweeten the deal.

So I am leaning in favor of this.  I am not totally sold, but I have two weeks to decide.  And since I am crashing from my typing binge, I’ll close with a poll about this:

There is a poll above this line which, if you don’t see it, might have been eaten by ad block or Firefox or Russian troll bots.