Tag Archives: Rambling Friday

Line Member Blues

When it comes to life in EVE Online I am a tourist.  I have given up most of the ambitions I ever had about being good at anything in game or having some influence or impact.  I just log in to experience ops and see things get blown up and following the ongoing narrative that flows through the game.

There are ops that are exciting, and that goes for winning as well as losing.  A hard fight where you’re side comes off the worse but still inflicted some damage can feel like a victory.  You lost a ship?  So what.  You’ll lose more if you hang around.

There are ops when you get to blow up big stuff and run away before the locals respond.  I can see the allure of whaling and whenever Black Ops calls out for people to join them on a drop I log in if I can.

There are ops that don’t happen.  You log in, get in fleet, hang out for a bit, then get told to stand down.  Whatever was going to happen didn’t happen.  But you get a low effort PAP out of it, so you get something for your time.  It is better if you stand down quickly.  But I’ve sat on a titan or a black ops for an hour or more, tabbed out and doing something else, waiting for the FC to sing out that it was time to go and not felt mis-used when we have stood down without going.  It is the nature of the game.  If you want a guarantee of something to shoot at you can always go play World of Tanks.

And then there are ops that make you miserable.  I went on one of those earlier this week.

With the destruction of the Keepstars on Tuesday morning, most of the ihubs in Tribute being killed, and Dead Coalition having pretty much wiped out Tenal, focus for the Imperium has started to drift over into the Vale of the Silent, another region held by PanFam.

There was a ping for a very important op at 00:30 EVE time and, given that I was home alone, I figured I would go along.  The call was for Eagles, now called Salt Fleet because part of the gimmick to get people into Eagles was the coalition offering up a free Ghostbird SKIN for Eagles and Basilisks, which are both good looking SKINs and which led to the fleet name.   I jumped into game, got in my Eagle, and was ready to go.

However we were short of things.  Some of them were the usual roles, we needed more boosters and more logi and a couple other roles filled.  But there was also a call for people to fly entosis ships.  We got the “we’re not going anywhere until we have enough entosis ships” talk, and when they offered to hand out ships for entosis pilots to use, I figured I would step up.

I even double stepped up.  I logged my alt in and got him into fleet as well, and got two enotsis fit Drakes to fly.  I just had to hand them back at the end of the fleet if they lived.

I hadn’t done entosis in ages, and I couldn’t recall it being very exciting.  But I do try to fill roles that the fleet needs, which is why I fly logi most of the time.  If I help the fleet undock then all of us get to go out for what might be an adventure.

And we soon undocked, got on the titan, and bridged out to M-OEE8.  From there we slipped into low sec, then back into null sec via P3EN-E, which put us into the Vale of the Silent region.  There is also a Keepstar in that system, which is clearly on our list of targets.

In the entosis channel we were getting ourselves sorted.  I opened up the Google doc with the shared spreadsheet for tracking entosis nodes and put my name in the right column. (Legit spreadsheets in space.)  We flew in a few more systems then the FC told the entosis pilots to spread out to the various systems in the constellation.  As we grabbed systems and got setup one of the other pilots was called out and told not to entosis.  He was not in Goonswarm and this was a defending hack, which means that only those in GSF could participate.

Of course, that meant I couldn’t play either.

Denied this level of excitement

Being line members, we are told little to nothing about where we are headed or what the plan is.  There are enough spies around that I can see the sense of that.  However, if you’re setting up an entosis operation and you know that only people from a specific group can participate, it seems like something you should mention, or at least look into.  I mean, I had to trade with the person running the entosis opt.  We were all in a channel together and there were not that many of us.  A double check to make sure the right people are in the right roles doesn’t seem like a stretch.

Anyway, there would be no entosis lasering for me.  I flew both ships to a Fortizar we had dropped in the constellation and tethered up with the other guy to wait for the op to finish.

Things went quickly.  Nobody showed up to contest us, so after relatively few nodes the defenders had won and we were done.

Well, we were done with the entosis bit.  Since the area was quiet our FC took the Eagles around and began reinforcing various cyno jammers, jump gates, and other structures.   Meanwhile, the rest of the entosis ships, a dozen of us all together, tethered up on the Fortizar and sat around waiting.

As I mentioned above, waiting is nothing new.  But this was a particularly frustrating wait.  I had flown out with the fleet, both main and alt, for a role that I was not able to perform.  Once the entosis part of the operation was done our little band was essentially ignored while the rest of the fleet flew around shooting targets and… well… actually doing things.  And the number of things to be done was very open ended, so there was no ETA or such, just having to hear over coms that the were warping to another structure for another 20 minute reinforcement shoot.

And so we sat for over two hours.  If somebody had said, “Be back in two hours” I would have been good.  But no, we had to stay alert and listening to coms to figure out what was going on.  This was not helped at my end by it being the hottest day of the year so far (it hit 107, and was still in the high 90s as the sun set), my office being the hottest corner of the house, or the fact that one of the cats ate something they shouldn’t have and started throwing up all over the house.  Oh, and the paper towel roll in the kitchen had exactly three sheets left on it and it was the last one we had.  Also, nobody else would join up for a Drake conga line while we waited.

Two Drakes do not a conga line make

So I was salty and boiling, and not necessarily metaphorically, and my patience for being ignored and left to wait for an unspecified time frame was very much non-existent.  And I was not necessarily alone in that feeling.  The mood in the entosis channel was grim and a couple of people said that they had learned their lesson about volunteering for that.  Some people couldn’t stick around and just left.

I considered leaving as well.  If the two Drakes had been my ships I might have just blazed a trail for home despite intel reporting a couple of gangs roaming the route back.  Two high EHP entosis Drakes with RLMLs and ECM drones would make for some comedy moments if nothing else.  Plus they each had a cyno fit, so I could have called in a drop.  I knew there was a group on standby just for that.

But these were not my ships.  These ships were on loan.  And while I could afford to reimburse the person handing them out, that wasn’t the point.  On a deployment getting supplied can be a task in and of itself, so handing somebody the ISK doesn’t solve the full replacement problem.  Plus you just don’t go throw away ships people lend you.  I felt like I had to make a good faith attempt to get them home safely.  So I waited, listened to coms, and fumed.

This was the dark time of the op.  I couldn’t really stray far from my computer, I couldn’t watch a movie because there was still talking on coms, and a lot of it was from the command channel so being in the no chatter channel wasn’t helping, I was hot, I was bored, and I just wanted to get this whole thing done.

This is where you start questioning why you went on this op, why you are on this deployment, why you stay in your alliance, why you play this objectively unfun game at all.  I started planning to head back to Delve, haul the remains of my stuff to low sec… a process I started back in late 2017 when I was bored with the game… and just quit.  Fuck this game.

I tabbed out and played some RimWorld while I listened to the ongoing chatter as the rest of thee fleet moved from target to target, reinforcing various NC/PL structures so they couldn’t unanchor them and carry them off.  There were several fleets out doing this, including Zungen’s roaming fleet of Leshak battleships.

Eventually the FC called out that there were only three more targets before the fleet would head home, then two, then one, then, at last, the entosis crew was told to wake up and given a destination at which to meet up with the fleet.

Having something to do made me feel a bit better right away.  I was still surly, but could feel it ebbing away with activity.  We met up with the fleet on a gate and carried on with it.  The FC said we had a ride home waiting for us, that we just had to get through a couple of systems and a titan would be waiting to send us home.

My annoyance was peaked just a bit as we moved towards our ride.  We had to pass through one bubbled gate, and as we landed 80km off the of it the FC chided us to hurry, to turn on prop mods and get to the gate.

A defensively bubbled gate

Of course the entosis Drakes, the slowest ships in the fleet, had no prob mods fit.  We were going to sail leisurely through the bubbles no matter what the FC said, though at least somebody reminded him that we were not lagging behind on purpose.

The titan was in the next system.  We were bridged back onto the Keepstar where we started.  I docked up, contracted both Drakes back to the person who lent them out, and logged off.  Then I went to the store to buy more paper towels.

I was back by the next day though.  There are still more things to blow up in Tribute.

Watching a Raitaru explode the next day

And there are targets in the Vale of the Silent now as well.  That defensive entosis effort was to keep the ihub in P3EN-E in GSF hands.  There is a Keepstar in that system, and without an ihub in their possession the locals cannot put up a cyno jammer to keep our capitals out.  I imagine that we will be blowing that up some day soon.

And so it goes.  I got through my black moment and carried on, still keen enough to see things through another chapter in the ongoing story that is EVE Online.  Even bad moments make for tales once they are in the past.

But I am still going to sit on my hands and remain silent the next time they need volunteers for entosis operations.  Fuck that noise.

A Handy Guide to Criticizing Games You Do Not Like

Something from the drafts folder.  I’m not sure what set me to write this back in August, but I fixed it up a bit and set it free today.

You know what it is like, right? All these new games keep getting announced, Kickstarted, early accessized, launched, and ported to this platform or that to the point that you cannot keep track of them anymore. And how can you possibly shit all over some game you’ve barely looked into to keep it on encroaching on the games you love and have sworn to protect?

Well your worries are over as I have put together this helpful list of ways you can badmouth games you hardly even know anything about.

Compare it Unfavorably!

Find the best, most popular game that bears any resemblance to the game you want to put down… it doesn’t need to be an exact competitor, or even that close really…  and dig right in with how this new game isn’t the one you’ve picked out.  I mean Path of Exile, Pillars of Eternity, and Papers Please are all pretty much WoW anyway, right?

I call this the “It’s not WoW” method, because in the MMORPG genre you can put down anything by claiming it isn’t World of Warcraft.  No matter what you’re comparing it to you can always claim that WoW somehow does it better and faster while looking good and being more fun to boot.  It must be a really effective tactic given how much it comes up in general chat in every single MMORPG ever.

It’s been Done!

Is the object of your scorn an entry in an already established genre?  Then you’re all set by declaring it to be derivative, unoriginal crap that has been done better, faster, and cheaper already.  This is basically the flip side of the first entry, because on the MMORPG front you can dismiss just about anything as simply being another WoW.  The best thing about this claim is that the more crowded the genre is, the more likely that you’re actually on the mark with this one.  It is like a double win!

Graphical Style!

If it looks like shit it must be shit, right?  It doesn’t matter if you actually think the game in question looks like shit or not, somebody out there does and if you say this enough times then somebody will agree with you and BAM you’re there!

And even if it doesn’t look like shit you can always go on about how you don’t like retro or pixellated or stylized or realistic or colorful or dark or whatever art style is being used.  You can trash them all with ease.

The One Feature!

Struggling to find something bad to say overall?  Then just pick on one feature!  Does it have PvP?  Toxic!  Non-consensual PvP?  Griefing gankbox! A Cash shop?  Pay to win!  A shooter?  Aimbots and hacks!  An MMO?  WoW clone!  Involves colorful fantasy? WoW clone! Does it have quests? WoW clone! Can you wield a sword? WoW clone!  Is its name three words with “of” being the second? WoW clone! Levels? Grind! Factions? Grind! Crafting?  Grind!  Also, WoW clone for those as well.  Really, is there anything that isn’t a WoW clone these days?

A Missing Feature!

Did somebody make a game and forget to include something that you are sure must be a standard feature for all games in that genre?  Is there a shooter without a single player campaign?  An ARPG without local multiplayer support?  An RPG without modding?  A strategy game without play by mail?  An MMORPG without housing?  Let that obviously lazy developer know what you think!  This is a slap in the face!

Crowdfunding!

Is the game in question a crowdfunded venture?  Well, you’re work has probably been done for you then.  Even if it has shipped it was almost certainly late and did not deliver on all of its promises.  And if it hasn’t shipped it is probably both late and still asking for more money.  Make sure you let people know that “backers” is just another word for “suckers” and that the whole thing is certainly just a scam.

Developer Hate!

Don’t know enough about the game to even go after it?  Then go after the developer!  This is a slam dunk for any EA game, because we know they’ll fuck it up somehow.  But every dev has their weakness.  If the developer is popular, then the game has probably been dumbed down to appeal to non-gamers, which we all know to be a sin, and not worth $59.99 on Steam.  If it is an indie developer, then it is probably buggy as hell and not worth $4.99 on Steam.

If you want to get more specific, figure out any mistake or recurring trait of the studio in question, magnify it one hundred times, then project it on this new game.

For example, does Paradox Interactive have a new game?  Then it is probably an overwrought boring strategic sim with a confusing UI and an erratically bad AI that will force you to marry your adult son off to a six year old cousin just to secure your hold on power.

If the game comes from Blizzard then they have surely just stolen someone’s game idea, put colorful stylized graphics on it, simplified and watered it down so even your grandmother could play it, and put a $59.99 price tag on it.

Or if the game is from Riot then even running the tutorial would turn your sainted mother into a toxic, foul mouthed, misogynist douchebag.  Hah hah, just kidding.  You probably already love League of Legends, the only game Riot has ever made, will ever make, and need ever make.  Right amigo?

Objectively Not Fun!

Here is the big secret to game criticism.  Any game can be made to sound like it is no fun if you pull back and simplify it enough.  For example, with something like Diablo you can say, “So you just click on shit and that’s it?”  With an MMO like WoW you can say, “So you just press buttons and things die?” With a shooter like Call of Duty you ask, “So you just listen to some 13 year old swear at you while he kills you again with an aimbot?  Or with EVE Online you can ask, “So you just sit in your Rorqual watching your excavator drones and hoping not to get hot dropped?”

Then you follow that leading question with the big pronouncement, something like, “Games are supposed to be fun! How is this fun?” and bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve scored your point even if what you have asked is so off base as to be a complete mis-characterization of the game.  (Except for EVE Online, which has been scientifically proven to be not fun.)

Corrupt Developer!

Hah, just kidding!  That is the sort of outrageous lunacy, sheer tinfoil, unbelievably biased, and unhinged craziness that will do more to sink your complaints than help them.  There is no point going there if it is just going to undo your hard work.

Make Things Up!

Let’s face it, this new game is a threat.  It could take players away from your game, and your value as a human being is directly measured by how popular the games are that you play.  So don’t let reality stand in your way.  Say whatever comes to your mind.  It is probably true to some degree in any case, right?

Special Bonus: Concern Troll!

If you cannot bring yourself to straight up attack a game (why the hell not?), then there is another route you can take.  You can pretend to like the game.  You can even say you like it a lot, but that you’re sure it could be even better.  And then you can start suggesting features and improvements that are pretty much contrary to the theme and focus of the game.  Just take whatever the game does and suggest the opposite.  Is it PvE focused? Then it needs PvP! Or if it is PvP focused, then it really needs a PvE server.  Is it vehicle focused? Demand avatar game play!  And if it doesn’t have vehicles, demand those!  Or pick a random secondary feature like housing and post over and over again how the game needs this.

But be sure to restate that you are a fan of the game in question, but you fear it is dying or incomplete, so you are trying to help the developer by posting your suggestions over and over in any comment thread about the game.  Never fail to bring up your pet suggestion, ever!  Maybe, by sheer volume of words, the developer will eventually waste time and wreck their game by trying to implement your suggestion.

Things to Remember

  • The more often you say something on the internet, the more true it becomes.
  • You’re totally normal, so everybody else who is normal agrees with you, so you should make sure people know you pretty much speak for everyone in your statements.
  • Negativity is all people listen to anyway.  If you want to be heard you need to go negative early and often.
  • Reason and compromise diminish you as a person and taint your family out to four generations.
  • People disagreeing with you have no feelings and are probably bots or being paid to say what they’re saying in any case.
  • You cannot definitively rule out that you are just a brain in a jar and that this is a simulation being run to test you and your ability to defend your game of choice.

No Good Expansions*

*Some expansions excepted

A post somewhat sparked by what Kaylriene wrote, though I have been harboring bits and pieces of this for ages now.  Ready for a Friday ramble?  Here we go.

I suppose that EverQuest needs to take some of the heat on this.  Coming up to its 20th anniversary it already has 25 expansions past the base game that launched back in 1999.  While expansions and updates and sequels and such were clearly a thing long before EverQuest came along, the success of EverQuest in the then burgeoning MMORPG space made it a standard bearer and template for games that came later, including World of Warcraft.

EverQuest went more than a year before launching the first expansion for the game, Ruins of Kunark, which I sometimes refer to as “the only good expansion,” and then embarked on a quest to launch two expansions a year in order to keep the community engaged and happy with new content.

Maybe the only fully good MMO expansion ever

That kept that money machine printing, but brought with it a series of problems like keeping people up to date, rolling past expansions up into consolidated, all-in-one packages like EverQuest Platinum, and what often felt like an exchange of quality in the name of getting another expansion out.  And some expansions barely felt like expansions at all.

SOE eased up on that plan in 2007, opting to dial back to just one expansion a year for both EverQuest and EverQuest II, which also launched with similar expansion plans.

So, if nothing else, EverQuest solidified the norm that expansions are a requirement, something the players expect.  That we complain about Blizzard only being able to crank out a WoW expansion every other year is directly related to the pace set by SOE.  Sort of.

But the one thing we know about expansions, that we complain about yet never think all that deeply about, is how they undue what has come before.

An expansion to a live MMORPG, by its very nature, changes the overall game.  And change always alienates somebody.  As I have often said, every feature, every aspect, no matter how trivial or generally despised, is somebody’s favorite part of that game.

MMORPG players also represent a dichotomy.  If they’ve played through the current content, it is likely because they have enjoyed it as it was laid out.  They’ve reached the end, they’re happy, and they want more of the same.  Mostly.  Some played through and were unhappy about some things, but happy overall.  Ideally an expansion will give players more of what made them happy, plus adjusting the things that made people unhappy.

Adjusting, of course, will make other player unhappy, as you’re pretty much guaranteed to be changing somebody’s favorite thing.  And every expansion brings change to the world, on top of the usual restart of the gear and level grind which, as people often point out, replaces their top end raid gear with better quest drop greens almost immediately.

Just handing out more of the same when it comes to content can feel repetitive and uninspired, but changing things makes people angry, because change makes people angry.  But leaving everything as it is means people finish the content and eventually stop giving you money via their monthly subscription.  The theoretical best path forward is the one that engages the most people while angering the fewest.

I refer to Ruins of Kunark as the one good expansion because it seemed to thread the needle almost exactly right.  I delivered more of what people were into, more content, more levels, more races, more dragons, more gear, all without having a huge impact on the game as it already stood.

Ruins of Kunark isn’t really the “one good expansion,” if only because “good” is very subjective.  And there are other expansions I have enjoyed.  It is more that it represents an expansion that did more to expand the game than annoy the installed base.  But first expansions can be like that.  Or they used to be like that.  Desert of Flames was like that for EverQuest II in many ways, and certainly The Burning Crusade had that first expansion magic for WoW.  I’d even argue that WoW, ever more fortunate than one would expect, got a double dip at that well, as Wrath of the Lich King continued on and did very well without disrupting the apple cart.

Eventually though, expansions begin to work against the game.  There is always a core group that keeps up, both others fall behind.  For EverQuest, the every six month pace meant a lot of people falling behind.  Expansions also put a gap between new players and the bulk of the player base.  That’s not so bad after one expansion, but each new expansion makes it worse.  And then there are the changes that anger the core fan base.

That leads us to Cataclysm.  The team at SOE, in their attempt to crank out new content, often neglected the old.  If I go back to Qeynos today it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1999.  There are a few new items, some new vendors scattered about, and the new mechanics added in to the game over the years.  But I can still stand out in front of the gates and fight beetles, skeletons, kicking snakes, and the occasional Fippy Darkpaw.  Yes, they redid Freeport, much to the chagrin of many, and the Commonlands and the Desert of Ro, but they have mostly left the old world looking like it did back in the day.  Enough has changed over the years that can’t go back and relive the game as it was at launch, which brought out the Project 1999 effort, but at least  I can still go bask in the eerie green glow of the chessboard in Butcherblock if I want.

Cataclysm though… well, it had a number of strikes against it from the get go, not the least of which was following on after two successful and popular expansions, which together played out the Warcraft lore as we knew it.  So Cataclysm had to break new ground on the lore front.

Cataclysm also only offered us five additional levels, a break with the pattern so far.  We also didn’t get a new world or continent, with the five new leveling zones being integrated into the old world.  We also got flying in old Azeroth right away, a feature that can start an argument faster than most.  I suspect flying is something Blizzard regrets in hindsight, but once they gave it to us they had to keep on  finding ways to make us unlock it all over again.

But most of all, Cataclysm redid the old world.  Zones were redone, new quest lines were created, and the 1-60 leveling experience became a completely different beast.

Arguably, it is a better experience.  I have run all of the redone zones.  I have the achievements to prove it. (Another divisive feature.)  And the zones all now have a story through which you can progress rather than the, at times, haphazard quest hubs which had you killing and collecting and killing some more over and over, often without rhyme or reason.

To give J. Allen Brack his due, for a specific set of circumstances, you don’t want the old game.

The rework, which was also necessitated by the need to give us flying throughout Azeroth, save for in the Blood Elf and Draenei starter zones, was spoiled by a couple of things.  First, the level curve had been cut back, so that the pacing of the new zones was off.  You would easily end up with quests so low level that they went gray if you chased down every quest in a zone.  And second, the rework of the 1-60 instances made them all short and easy and the optimum path for leveling using the dungeon finder.  You could run three an hour easy, even queuing as DPS, so you could, and probably did, bypass all that reworked content.

But, bigger than that, at least over the long haul, the removal of the old content led to something we might now call the WoW Classic movement.  There was already a nascent force in action on that, since the first two expansions reworked classes and talents, so you couldn’t really play the old content the way you did in 2005.  Vanilla servers were already a thing.  But they became a much bigger deal when Blizzard changed the old world.

Overall though, Cataclysm wasn’t a bad expansion.  It took me a while to get to that conclusion, because I did not like it at first, to the point of walking away from the game for a year.

The new races were fine.  The 80-85 zones were good.  Val’shir might be the prettiest zone in the game.  It is like playing in the most beautiful aquarium ever.  (A pity about the motion sickness thing.)  I ran and enjoyed all of the instances, with the reworked Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub raids being particularly good.  Being at level and doing the content was a decent experience.  I still use my camel mount regularly in no-fly areas.  Regardless though, the changes burned.  They were divisive. Blizz pissed off a lot of the core player base, even if the whole thing ended up getting us WoW Classic.

I think, even if Blizz hadn’t done all of those changes… which I guess would have meant calling it something other than Cataclysm… that it would have been a let down of an expansion.  Having to follow on after TBC and WotLK was a big ask.  How do you follow up Ice Crown Citadel?

Mists of Pandaria revived things a bit, though I think that was as much by being a really solid expansion as it was that expectations were low after Cataclysm.  But Warlords of Draenor?  Doomed.  The expectations set by reviving the themes from TBC meant eventual disappointment.  Garrisons were not great.  They were not the housing people wanted.  They took people out of the world, just like Blizz said housing would, without being a place people cared about and could make their own.  But I think the fact that it wasn’t the return of Outland and the excitement of 2007 was what led to the eventual drop in subscriptions.  People realized there was no going back to their memories of the old game.

As every feature is somebody’s favorite feature, the thing that keeps them in the game, every expansion is somebody’s breaking point, the thing that gets them to walk away.  The more expansions that come along, the more people end up dropping out.  Or, if they don’t drop out, they return to play casually, as much out of habit as anything.  The investment in the game isn’t as deep.  You play for a bit, see the sights, do the tourist thing, get the achievements, then unsubscribe until the next expansion.

Eventually there is an equilibrium it seems.  EverQuest and EverQuest II seemed to have found it.  They still do an expansion every year that plays to the installed base, that gives them just enough of what they want… be they invested or tourist… to buy-in and spend some time with the game.

Basically, expansions are change, and change has a habit of breaking the bonds players have with your game.  However, if you sit still and have no expansions then people will leave over time anyway, so you cannot simply avoid expansions and change either.  It is probably better to move forward in the end, make the changes, earn a bit of extra money, and carry on.

Just don’t expect everybody to thank you for it.

Is Circle of Two Dead or Just Mostly Dead?

It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.

-Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

It is difficult to kill an alliance, or a corporation, or any player organization in New Eden.  You can blow up their ships, pod their pilots, take down their structures, have spies or traitors disband organization and steal their assets, and camp them into an NPC station and sit on them for weeks and they’ll just come back once you’ve tired of the whole thing.

Player groups, successful player groups, exist outside of the game.  A change of pixels on a screen doesn’t change what holds that group together.  Yes, not everybody will hang tough through bad times.  The opportunist and hangers on and uncommitted will defect when times get tough.  We have seen that time and again, an alliance or a coalition will suffer a staggering defeat, be erased from the sovereignty map, lose a significant percentage of its members, and yet somehow come back again.  I’ve been through that.  I made the trek with Jay Amazingness from the north to Delve after the Casino War to help carve out a new empire after our total defeat.

So when it was announced back at the beginning of last month that Circle of Two had decided disband, complete with a SoundCloud recording of the meeting, I was a bit skeptical.

Circle of Two

Over at INN they quickly had an obituary posted, summing up the tale of the fall of CO2 in something of a victory lap.  That’s going to be a bit awkward if we find out, as we did over the summer, that CO2 had enough left in it to stage a comeback.

Meanwhile, over at EN24, Seraph was back again on his coming up on three year attempt to rehabilitate CO2’s reputation by trying to argue that the Imperium actually betrayed CO2 and that everything CO2 ever did was totally justified.  It is a long winded and completely irrelevant piece, but it is apparently all he has since he keeps re-running it.  No doubt he hopes that if he says it enough times it might become true.

The problem there is that even were his spin agreed upon by all sides as objective fact, it would make no difference.  He would do better to ape Marc Antony in Julius Caesar than keep up with his hair splitting irrelevance because his words won’t win back a single system of sovereignty nor restore any of the Keepstars that has CO2 lost since that fateful day.

The optics of the day, the optics of the betrayal, the optics of which played out before hundreds of Imperium pilots, will not allow that.  In the midst of the fight, while the battle for the M-OEE8 was still going on, while Imperium forces were fighting for them, with more on the way, the leadership of CO2 sent a messenger… declining to stand up and say it themselves… to tell the Imperium leadership they were pulling out of the coalition.

I had rushed home from work early and was sitting on a titan in a fleet waiting to be bridged in to continue the fight when word started to filter down.  A post on Reddit first got passed around, but was dismissed as a troll.  Then there was an announcement from The Mittani about CO2 having decided to leave no matter what happened in the fight.  I was there on coms and people were angry that CO2 let us burn through the day while already half out the exit.

There can be no walking back that particular offense.  Not in the eyes of those who were there, and the word quickly spread through the ranks.

All of which I add to remind people that it didn’t have to be that way.  They could have said they were leaving before the fight.  They could have let a decent interval pass after the fight and said they didn’t want to carry on.  Other alliances left during the war.  The Imperium isn’t out hunting down RAZOR with a burning passion for leaving.

CO2 would have had to have been blind to not be able to see how this would play out, how this would anger line members and leadership of the Imperium alike.  They clearly didn’t think it mattered.  The tide was against the Imperium.  We had already pulled back into Saranen as the Moneybadger Coalition overwhelmed us.  GigX no doubt thought we would be destroyed.

He should have read my first paragraph.  He should have studied the history of the game.  Alliances have been smashed on the rocks of defeat many times, only to come back as strong if not stronger.  Instead, CO2 seemed anxious to join the winning side, to share in the spoils, and to get some of that soon-to-be-banned casino money.

Their respite was short lived.  Eight months later I was there to see CO2 lose their Keepstar in M-0EE8 as their erstwhile allies sent them packing for the south as well.  I was there as we camped their ratters in Impass in what was alleged to have been cover for the first planned internal betrayal of CO2.  It did not go off, but we still made their ratters and miners suffer.  I was there in the fleet on the stolen Keepstar after Judgement day, when The Judge switched side and betrayed CO2, an act that got GigX to threaten The Judge so flagrantly that CCP felt they had to ban GigX for life.

One of the enduring images from Judgement Day

At that point it seemed like the alliance was dead.  But then it came back again, appearing in the north where it found a couch to sleep on as it got itself back together.

Then there was the recent was in the north which saw a resurgent CO2, led by GigX (who wasn’t hiding his attempt to skirt his ban very well), drop into Fade.  That is a region with history, the place where the Casino War could have been said to have started, the home of SpaceMonkeys Alliance who were involved with the ISK being taken from the casino cartel, which got the casinos to hire mercenaries to camp them in their region until they paid back the ISK  It was there that CO2 popped up, on the periphery of the expanding Imperium.  They dropped a Keepstar and setup shop in that space and it was like waving a red flag before the bull of the Imperium.

They landed in Fade towards the end of May 2018, taking over from Pandemic Horde, which had moved east, away from the Imperium and into The Vale of the Silent.  Around the middle of June CO2 hit its post Judgement Day peak, with over 4,000 pilots in the alliance and some 70 odd corporations.

That ended badly for the north in general and CO2 in particular.  By the middle of July the Imperium was already trying to kill the Keepstar in DW-T2I.  That attempt failed, but the stage had been set and the outcome seemed inevitable.  Two months later, the Keepstar, just one among several to go, was destroyed. CO2 gave up Fade and retreated back under the cover of their one again allies in NCDot and PanFam.  GigX was banned yet again.  And there was the question as to what CO2 would do next.

Which brings us to the announcement of the alliance disbanding.

Once that came about I subscribed to the RSS feed over at DOTLAN EVE Maps for the alliance so that any changes would pop up in my reader. (Just click the Feed button.)  I was waiting to see if the alliance would actually close, would officially be no more.  The numbers have certainly been in decline. (If not in Deklein, right?)

CO2 Stats… also, the blank spots where DOTLAN was down

But as of my writing this, the Alliance still lives.  It has a little over 500 characters in it across 24 corporations.

Stats as of Dec 28, 2018

Most of the larger corporations spread out amongst the alliances in the north, with Pandemic Horde being a popular destination.  But there are still corporations lingering behind, like Moms of Doom, which now makes up almost 20% of the alliance.  However, the remainders don’t seem too active, though a few individuals still flying the flag are on the zkillboard.

So back to the question at hand, is Circle of Two dead?  Will it die eventually?  Or is there a revival in its future?  Does it have the sort of name and reputation that can bring people back to its banner?

Addendum: An odd move on the ticker a few hours after this post went live.

A Short Rant About the State of the MMORPG Market

This started as a response to a post over at Massively OP about the worst MMO trend of 2018.  However, a few paragraphs in I realized I wasn’t really on topic, focusing as I was on MMORPGs, since MMO pretty much means “online multiplayer” in today’s market, and I wasn’t keen to dump this much text into their comment section where about a dozen people might see it before it scrolls off the front page into oblivion.  Better to bring it over here where I can regret it again later.

So we’ll call this another end of 2018 post and I’ll run with what I had.

The most disappointing trend for me isn’t really a trend, but more the realization that MMORPGs are a trap for most studios, a tar ball that they find they’re stuck with once they have one. An MMORPG can bring in money, sometimes lots of money, but they have expensive infrastructures to maintain and they need a continuing stream of content to hold enough of an audience to keep them viable. They can eat up all the focus of a smaller studio, so they neglect or never start other projects because you have to keep feeding the monster or it will stop crapping out money.

But the population peaks, often very early these days, and then every content update pisses somebody off and they go away like it is a game of musical chairs and each patch is another point where the music stops. Or it would be like that if people wouldn’t also leave if you don’t patch often enough.  You can’t sit still or you will lose players and you can’t change anything or you will lose players.

Meanwhile MMORPGs have only gotten more expensive to make, which makes innovation a risk that few can afford. And then there is the target player base which complains about every game being a WoW clone and yet will also complain even more bitterly about anything that strays from the WoW formula.

And don’t even get me started on the false hope that is PvP.  It seems like a great idea, and a true money save, to just get the players to be the content.  In reality, anything beyond a tiny, consequence free instance of PvP in an MMORPG will be shunned or ignored.  Few developers who follow that path and go in on PvP are rewarded with any success and trying to move PvP out of its tiny corner is almost always a waste of development time.  Add in a capture the flag arena game… or a battle royale game these days… and move on.

The customers are no better, myself included.  The loud demographics that haunt any developer’s forums should serve as a warning, but if that is the only feedback you’re getting then where are you going to go?  There is always somebody agitating loudly for their favorite thing.  Some want PvP everywhere, others think your game will die if it doesn’t have player housing, another group hates walking and wants to fly everywhere, and somebody in the back seems to believe in time travel and that everything would be great if you could just teleport everybody back to 1999 or 2004 or 2007 or whenever they felt they were having the most fun playing your game.

And none of them has a fucking clue about the level of effort their one “simple” request entails.  But if you’re not doing exactly what they want or it is taking too long then you are “lazy” or “stupid” or both.

If players could keep their focus on actual game play issues it might not be so bad.  But they are on about how you charge money for this or that, with “greedy” or “cash grab” being favored terms.  They complain about how they just want to play the game and not worry about real world politics, a sentiment that is usually the opening salvo about how they’re bent out of shape that the CEO or some dev or some rumor indicates that the company has somehow transgressed the whiners personal stance on the topic of the day is; gamer gate, gender politics, overtime, unions, campaign donations, boarder walls, or whatever.  And then there are the truly loopy who see conspiracies, collusion, and corruption in the machinations of a studio that is really just trying to keep the lights on and the customers happy.

Add into the mix the players who see the genre as a zero sum game, so feel they need to constantly crap on every game that competes with their favorite.  The worry is that they might be right.

So we see studios going under, the weight of their MMORPGs around their necks pulling them down.  The revenues are no longer enough to keep them afloat, much less fund anything new, but they cannot let go because what else do they have?

Even Blizzard, long addicted to the huge income stream from WoW, once past a billion dollars per year, is in trouble now that the game is stumbling again. They don’t want to depend on WoW, but they haven’t made another game that has come anywhere close to the money WoW was bringing in at its peak.  And even their best, Overwatch, could only sustain its peak for a few months at a stretch and is now reported in serious decline.  Companies, like people, size themselves to match their income, and when it drops tough choices loom.

Someone in Blizzard at least recognized a bit of the problem, so we don’t see the company making any more MMORPGs.  But WoW was enough to distort the company and change investor expectations.  They can’t go back to selling stand alone games.  They have to keep WoW going or die, because there is no replacing it.

Game development is a bad business to start with. But at least with a stand alone game you can walk away to work on the next thing. An MMORPG never goes away, unless you have several and you have to make Sophie’s choice. Studios tied to MMORPGs die and other studios with less ambition buy the remains, put the games on life support, and try to milk the remains for some more cash. But only the unbalanced jump into the MMORPG market to create a new game and expecting happiness and success.

And so it goes.  Expect more studios to shut down operations, more games to be closed or put in maintenance mode by some third party game aggregator like Gamigo, and more loud complaining from players that if the studio had only listened to their completely uniformed opinion, then everything would have been fine.

Oh, and expect the usual level of optimism for every new MMORPG title announced because we also apparently never learn.

There, with that out of my system, let’s move on… or not.

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?”

No More Toys for Us

I remember the coming of the big Toys R Us store in Sunnyvale, over on El Camino Real near Mathilda Avenue.  It was, in a somewhat conservative time, a brash statement of color.

Something akin to what it looked like back in the day – Pic swiped from the internet

And, more importantly to me at the time, if was full of toys.

More recently they transformed the building into the bland beige store front style so common on strip malls across the country.  But for a while it stood out.  And it was haunted.

Of course, as a kid, it was a big deal even without the alleged ghost. (There is a post on Snopes about the haunting, a recurring story here in the valley, which had to get mentioned one last time when the location was set to close.)  But toy stores seemed to be a thing back then.  We not only had Toys R Us expanding into the valley, we also had a local chain, Kiddie World, with a couple of equally sizable locations, and later another big store… King Something’s Kingdom of Toys I think… it was over off of Interstate 880 with a big wooden soldier on the front of the building … along with smaller local retailers and the mall toy stores that eventually all became KB Toys.  And then there were the pseudo-toy stores, the hobby shops and the like, which grew in importance to me as time moved along.

I suppose it is in the nature of being a child, know where all the toy stores are and which retailer has a decent toy department and which does not.  I recall being disappointed with the one at Sears back in the day.

But even before the internet began to thin the heard of brick and mortar toy stores things were changing.  Silicon Valley was growing.  The population has more than doubled since that Toys R Us location opened.  Population pressures and a level of land scarcity (exacerbated by zoning laws favoring single family detached dwellings, leading the valley to be called a gang of suburbs in search of a city) began pushing up real estate prices, something reflected in retail rental costs, which killed off a lot of the small, independent toy stores.

Time, change, and competition send others packed.  That big toy store off 880 whose name eludes me was gone by the end of the 80s.  By the mid-90s Kiddie World, shrunk to a single location not too far down the road from the haunted Toys R Us, was trying to make its way by focusing on patio furniture and backyard play sets before it closed down.  And, as I mentioned, KB Toys scooped up the mall toy stores… at least before land value made having as many malls as we did economically nonviable.  And then even it fell over, as did the famous FAO Schwartz.

But Toys R Us seemed to be able to hang on and even thrive, scooping up fallen rivals and opening up Babies R Us in the late 90s, the go-to store for new parents.  Gift cards to Babies R Us were very welcome at baby showers and the like.  And in the age of Amazon the chain was able to strike a deal with wrecker of the status quo, even if Amazon reneged on the deal.

The chain was around for my daughter to grow up with.  Trips there were fun for the both of us.  There is something about being able to see and touch toys in person, to get their measure in reality, that surpasses any online purchasing experience.  The web is for buying, but stores are for browsing.  And Pokemon events.  Toys R Us used to host Pokemon download events, and my daughter and I attended more than a few of those.

However the internet kept pressure on the company while retail competitors like Target and WalMart.  Then they screwed up a couple of season of buying and were soon in deep trouble, needing to borrow more money for 2017 holiday season, a time of year which generates the lion’s share of their revenue.  That did not pay off and, having not turned a profit since 2013, the company was in serious trouble.

And so it goes.  Today, Friday, June 29, 2018, the last Toys R Us in the US is closing down.  It has been reported that their overseas subsidiaries will follow suit and the company will effectively disappear.  There is a farewell notice on their web site.

Farewell from Toys R Us

I am, at least theoretically, well past the need for a toy store, though I have persisted pretty well on the “don’t ever grow up” front.  As well as can be expected.

My daughter too is past toy stores for now, but she was sad as well when she heard the news.  She remembers going there when she was younger.  It was a memorable experience, a rite of childhood, being able to go to a big toy store.  And she has picked up some of my sense of nostalgia as she has realized that childhood doesn’t last forever.  The only constant in life is change.

And so one more facet of my life, of my daughter’s life, of the life of the valley, passes into memory.

Good-bye Geoffrey!

It will be a while… I hope… until grand kids are a concern.  I wonder what will fill the gap for them?  What will replace the toy store experience?  Or will video and virtual be all they know?