Tag Archives: Rambling Friday

WoW Se7en dot Oh My!

Oh, patch day, patch day, patch day, it was time for patch day.

The big primary digit patch day always contains its share of chaos, and all the more so for me because I adamantly refuse to read about upcoming changes and features in advance.  I hate to spoil the surprise.  So when Blizzard sent me an email notification about the WoW 7.0 patch asking if I was prepared, my answer was an unequivocal, “Um… no?”

Wait, I was supposed to be prepared? What am I, a boy scout?

Wait, I was supposed to be prepared? What am I, a boy scout?

On the first day of the reign of 7.0, I logged in for just a couple of minutes simply to verify that the patch was there… and to make some more hexweave cloth.

My big end of garrison plan was to invest everything into supplies to make hexweave bags.  My tailor will be sitting in his garrison for the next few week cranking out 30 slot bags because bag space is still a good thing.

The next night I logged in for a bit to check on my main and to see how things looked.  I still wasn’t able to face the addon apocalypse that accompanies all such major updates.  I try to keep addons to a minimum simply because their authors come and go and you can never be sure as to what addon will still be around after a year of no patches.

And even still, the Curse client only reported a few of my addons were 7.0 ready, which meant I was not ready to face the game.  Plus I had stuff to move in EVE Online.

Last night however, Curse told me I had a quorum when it came to updated addons, so I ventured into the game.

Unfortunately, some addons were less prepared than I was and I had to log back out and uncheck the box that makes WoW load out of date addons.  Here I ran into one of a few bugs.  I spent some time swapping between characters and, every time I logged out to character select, the game warned me about loading out of date addons.

Warning... over and over...

Warning… over and over…

The checkbox kept getting rechecked every time I logged out.  A minor but persistent annoyance, as you get two alerts for it and then have to open up the addons interface and uncheck the option yet again.

Then there was the class resets for 7.0.  Every single character that logged in was reminded about talents and such.

And this just keeps coming up...

And this just keeps coming up…

Basically, I have to figure out all the new class stuff for every single character.  I will probably push on this for a while, except for a couple of key characters.  For Vikund, my paladin, main, and oldest character, I did go to Icy Veins to read up on the talents so as not to make the “wrong” choice… because there is ALWAYS a wrong choice.  The “wrong” choices did surprise me at times.

There is a certain irony in facing this.  I came back to WoW about a month ago in order to get back into the swing of things, so as not to be completely lost when the expansion hit.  And then, blammo, I need to relearn all the classes from scratch anyway.  At least they dropped the 7.0 patch well in advance of the pre-Legion events.  We all have some time to get up to speed.

I pottered about the Garrison a bit as well, and the 7.0 transition seemed to have left a few bugs in its wake there.  I was, for example, offered the Mastering the Menagerie quest again immediately after completing it.  But you cannot complete it again.  Ah well.

But I probably spent most of my time tinkering with the new wardrobe/transmog system.  You have to focus on the most important things first, right?

My father used to say to me
“Nando, don’t be a schnook,
It’s not how you feel,
It’s how you look!”

-Billy Crystal, You Look Marvelous

As with most everything else in the patch, I knew a change was coming but wasn’t up on the details.

The first thing I noticed was that I got a series of achievement related to transmog upon logging in.  The joy of having many alts over many years and storing away a lot of useless but cool looking items meant that I hit the achievement goal for almost every gear slot.

I wanted to see the new stuff, so I opened up collections and went to the new appearance tab to see all that I had.

A captain's hat!

A captain’s hat!

I sorted through that for a bit, eventually figuring out that, while I could see lots of cool gear, I couldn’t actually DO anything with it from the collections interface.  We can see all our options from where ever we are, but if we want to actually change them we still have to go find that Transmog NPC and pay them some gold to update our look.

Yes, we don’t have to pay the void storage fee as well any more, but I am still not clear why Blizz feels they need to be as restrictive as this when it comes to appearance.  I look at how EverQuest II and LOTRO and Rift (and even EVE Online) and how they handle this sort of thing, and it just feels like Blizz has something against the whole idea.

Particularly irksome to me was the 20 gold charge to change my tabard appearance.

I never wear this tabard

I never wear this tabard

One of the things I was looking forward to was clearing all those tabards I have out of my bank to clear up storage space.  The appearance system certainly seemed to have scooped them all up and saved them all.  If I want to change my tabard appearance, the cost is 20g.  But I can avoid that by just going over to the bank and pull the actual tabard out and change it for free… and, being an engineer, I can bring up bank access anywhere, which makes it more convenient than transmog.  I just don’t get those 35 or so bank slots back.

Yeah, yeah, I don’t actually change my tabard all that often, but I got the impression at some point that tabards were going to be more like toys than transmog.  And the cheapskate in my will likely keep the tabards in my bank.  Better make more hexweave bags.

On checking, I found that the one main transmog achievement I missed out on had to do with shirts.  I haven’t been collecting shirts.

Missing some shirts...

Missing some shirts…

Nine shirts didn’t seem like much.  I figured I could head on over to the auction house and fill out that order and get the last achievement along with the meta achievement and title.  Of course, with shirts being a thing in the transmog system, some people were attempting to make some money off of the situation.

That is an expensive shirt

That is an expensive shirt

Fortunately, once I sorted by price, I found some more reasonably priced shirts in a much more reasonable price range.  I probably could have made a few of them with my tailor.  But, with only nine on the list, I was able to scoop those up, put them on (so their appearance got captured), and hey presto, I had the final achievement.

W7FabAchi

So I have the title “the Fabulous” going for me now.

And that was about all I had the time and patience for on a week night.  I logged on a bunch of characters, found many of them had stuff in their inventory that hadn’t been picked up the new system, so there was lots of putting thing on to get them captured.  I did tinker with a few looks for lower level characters.

My mid-60s warrior in red

My mid-60s warrior in red

With the weekend I will probably get out and figure out how to play at least one character again.  There is still time before the big intro event.  Onward to the Broken Isles.

One Hundred Million Copies of Minecraft

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

Who buys which version where...

Who buys which version where…

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

Complete with delusions of sovereignty

Complete with delusions of sovereignty

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

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

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

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

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

The orc says, "Look at me!"

The orc says, “Look at me!”

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

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

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

Mojang doesn’t make content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they succeeded!

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

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

Market Saturation and the Cash Shop

In which I prove I can be both cranky and cynical at the same time.

I seem to have two standard sort of Friday posts.  One is a set of succinct bullet points.  The other is a rambling wall of words that never quite gets to a real conclusion.  This is Friday post is the latter.  You have been warned.

So the topic du jour lately has been Black Something Online.  I honestly cannot remember as I write this, and I have probably read the name five dozen times over the last two weeks.  So I suppose you can add “jaded” to the my blogging super powers.  (The missing word is “Desert,” but I had to tab out and look Feedly to find it.  Black Desert Online.  I kept wanting to write Black Diamond Online.)

Anyway, since it is free to play, the cash shop became an issue… once everybody was done gushing about the character creator at least… though there is some contention as to what the actual issue is.  Is it that the cash shop is too expensive or that people are too cheap or that the whole thing lacks ethics or what?

I think only Bhagpuss has spent much time talking about actual game play, and even he seemed to be tiring a bit.

But game play isn’t where I want to go.  I want to join in on the cash shop fun.

Random internet picture captures the morality...

Random internet picture captures the morality…

I have my own view on cash shops and free to play, which I generally sum up as tired resignation.  They are the reality of the MMORPG market today.  What started as an attempt to by troubled titles like Anarchy Online, Silk Road Online, and eventually Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, to grab some sort of competitive advantage over their monthly  subscription based rivals quickly became the default method of operation.

Remember back during the pre-launch hype around Warhammer Online when Mark Jacobs said he was considering charging MORE than the then industry standard $14.99 a month for the game’s subscription?  Those not caught up in the hype dismissed the idea while even those who were looking forward to the game seemed to think that Mark had better have something pretty fucking special up his sleeve in order to that route.

He didn’t and that whole idea sank quietly into the swamp, foreshadowing the story of the game itself.

But that is sort of how things are today.  If somebody comes along and says they want to launch a fantasy MMORPG with a $14.99 a month subscription as the only option, you would be right to dismiss that as crazy talk.  The Edler Scrolls Online and WildStar certainly got schooled on that front, both admitting defeat in under a year.

Only three games seem to be good enough for that route, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online.  Basically, the new champion of the fanatsy MMO experience, the old favorite, and the odd-ball that doesn’t fit nicely into the genre.  And the latter two have the WoW Token and PLEX, so you can play for free so long as you can get somebody else to pay.

As a business model the “monthly subscription only” idea is nearly extinct.

But now the cash shop is the market default.  Free is no long a competitive advantage, it is now a requirement to even sit at the table.  Everybody is free.  Everybody has a cash shop.  And most MMORPGs seem to be able to eke out some sort of livelihood in that market… which is a problem in and of itself.

MMOs don’t die very easily.  They linger on and on.  They don’t necessarily attract new players or grow, but they figure out how to hold onto their core players and get them to cough up enough money to keep the servers on and development going.  EverQuest and EverQuest II still have expansions for their core base.  Star Wars: The Old Republic has gotten past hot bars and seems to be doing okay selling content… and the forcing people to subscribe to access it. (But a new Star Wars movie probably helped a lot as well.)  Hey man, whatever you have to do.  DDO still have levels to add and new classes to sell.  LOTRO has… erm… let me think about that… no more expansions… no more Euro data center… oh, yeah, Tolkien!

But the market has grown, there are a lot more MMOs out there than back in 2004 when WoW and EQII launched.  Go look at the list of games that launched back in 2004.  It feels like ancient history.  Battlefield: Vietnam! Half-Life 2!  Halo 2!  Katamari Damancy!  Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen… on the GameBoy Advance!

Imagine a market when you wanted to launch a new shooter but people wouldn’t stop playing something that went live 12 years ago?  And not just a few cranky hold outs on old hardware who couldn’t run your game even if they wanted to, but the mainstream of your market.  This is sort of what SWTOR launched into and for all of its faults, it was in large part fighting for market share of an audience that tends to stay fairly loyal to their favored game for years.

We’ve heard and dismissed past estimates of how big the potential MMO market is.  People thought it was 100,000 players big or 500,000 or a million or five million or whatever.  Those estimates turned out to be far too low.  But there was an effective upper limit out there somewhere, a hard stop where the genre simply ran out of players willing to commit the time and effort that MMOs demand.  I don’t know how big that number is, but it feels like it has stopped growing and may even have begun to shrink.

This was another Mark Jabobs thing, that the MMO market was going to be bigger than anybody thought… which was true enough.  But maybe not as true as he hoped, as he has gone from ironically saying “MMOs are a niche market” to making a niche title because the market isn’t all that big after all.

So in a genre where there are only so many people who will even hear about any new MMO coming out (MMOs are no longer news unless EVE Online has another big space battle or WoW launches an expansion), a subset of which would be willing to commit the time that an MMO requires, and where a good number of those players are already in a long term relationship with their favored MMO, any new title shows up has a steep hill to climb for success.

I am therefore not surprised that any new MMO that comes along goes straight for the cash shop antics that piss a lot of people off.  Any MMO that launches eventually has to buy into the trifecta of annoyance with over-priced items (to harvest whales), lock boxes or random card packs (to prey on those with poor self control), and constant reminders about the cash shop and sales and what is new and hot (to cajole the rest of us to buy and keep buying) because that is what it takes to survive and they don’t yet have the luxury of a core audience that would buy things like expansions.

What does surprise me is that anybody thinks they can wander into the MMO market with a game that is a rehash of WoW (2004)… which itself was just a rehash of EQ (1999)… with a few cosmetic differences (as I noted, most of the non-cash shop things I have seen about BDO has been about character models) and some slightly different game play (which is true to anybody besides the connoisseur) and expect market success.  It boggles the mind.

Of course, there is no doubt a message in the fact that the last few attempts have been Asian imports warmed over for the western market.  Nobody who has to pay salaries in US Dollars or Euros seems interested in going there from scratch.  (And just on cue, EverQuest Next has been cancelled.  More on that in another post.)

The right move seems to be to go niche, stay small, and build a following around a specific vision, as with Shroud of the Avatar, Project: Gorgon, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, or Star Citizen…  and then maybe gouge the whales on the real estate or spaceship market.  Even Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and its plan to farm the failed mechanics of the past seems to be a better plan in today’s MMO market than going for a release with broad appeal.

Of course, we have yet to see any of those titles… aside from Project: Gorgon, which may be the smallest of the lot… actually deliver on their vision in any substantial way yet.  We shall see if that ends up being a good path forward when… and if… those titles reach a salable product state.

So that was about a twelve hundred word stream of consciousness ramble.  But at least I linked out to a few people.  Hi blog neighbors!

I suppose I need a point of some sort to sum up now.  Let me see… here are a few.  Pick one you like.

(There is an oh-so-clever poll below this, which sometimes gets eaten by AdBlock, in case you don’t see it.)


I look forward to a few angry comments about completely tangential items that I brought up briefly along the way.  Early guesses include “BDO isn’t like WoW,” “LOTRO is doing great,” “Game X has changed/will change everything,” and something about Star Citizen.

Now when is WoW Legion going to ship?

My MMO Outlook for 2016

Here we are again with one of those end of the year posts I trot out every December.

This once hasn’t been as regular as some of the others, in part because it has become more difficult to write as time has moved on.

There was a time during the life of this blog where I was enamored to some degree with almost any new MMORPG on the horizon.  I remember the run up to Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Star Trek Online, and even Star Wars: The Old Republic as being exciting.

But as time wore on, I was overwhelmed by what I will call “the great sameness” of every new MMORPG.  They all differ some in details… graphics, classes, skills… but they all started to feel the same.  It turns out that killing ten rats doesn’t feel all that different no matter how you dress it up.

My post last year was essentially what I was already playing, EVE Online, World of Warcraft, and EverQuest II.  Why run after the false promise of a new experience when you’re already invested in one that isn’t all that different in the end?

And of those three I am only still playing EVE Online at the moment, that being the only one that doesn’t fit directly in the generic WoW-influence MMORPG role.  Minecraft has filled the void on that front, judging from my hours spent with it since June.

So it is tempting to just skip this post.  Do we really need another “burned out on MMORPGs” screed?

The thing is, some seeds planted in the last few years might actually come to fruition in 2016.  Kickstarters, long funded and past due, might actually deliver something in the coming year.  Here is what I think might be available… and yes, I know you can play bits and pieces of all of these right now, but among the things beaten out of me over the years is the desire to test somebody else’s product.  I want a shipping, ready for public consumption version of your game.

Shroud of the Avatar

ShroudoftheAvatar

Lord British attempts to bring back the wonder of the Ultima series in a sandbox-like, full 3D environment.

Attraction: I have fond memories of the first half of the Ultima series.  Seems like it might be an excellent place to explore.  I backed it on Kickstarter.  I already have it setup in Steam.

Worries:  Might be too cash shop focused and who knows what Mr. Garriott will glom onto as a good plan.  He has had some odd ideas over the years.

Camelot Unchained

CamelotUnchained_450pxMark Jacobs attempts to bring back the wonder of Dark Age of Camelot and some of the interesting bits of Warhamer Online, without all that mucking about with PvE levels and what not.

Attraction: While I never played DAoC, I do recall a few fun PvP moments in WAR.  Mark has owned up to lessons learned and has skin in the game, investing some of his own money.  And I backed it on Kickstarter.

Worries: PvP works best if you have a regular group and I will likely be showing up solo.  Also, recent history has shown some nifty large scale PvP ideas defeated by the players just forming an unstoppable zerg mob.

Project: Gorgon

ProjectGorgonLogo

Eric Heimberg and Sandra Powers make the MMORPG that they really want, quirky and a bit different and quite pretty… and you get used to the ill-fitting name after you have said it about five thousand times.

Attraction: Quirky, pretty, fun world to explore that might just be different enough to not make me sigh in boredom a few hours into playing.  And I backed all the Kickstarters, including the one that actually succeeded.

Worries: Quirky does have its limits, and where are you left when that wears off.  As a small budget project, will never be as polished as WoW or the like.  Not sure who will run off to play with me.

Star Citizen

Star_Citizen_logo

Chris Roberts promises to take every single cool feature from every space related game he has ever touched and meld them together into the most awesome persistent universe space game ever… and a single player campaign… and a first person shooter… and probably something else I missed.

Attraction: Love me some space games.  I  still log into EVE Online sometimes just to fly around and look at things.  Could be the game that steals me away from New Eden.  And I backed it post-Kickstarter, when it was at about the $20 million level of total funding.

Worries:  I don’t want to go all Derek Smart, but Chris Roberts has promised a whole lot of stuff.  I actually wish it was less.  That would make it more likely for 2016 if nothing else.  Also worried it will have an Elite: Dangerous level of difficulty just to do the most simple things, like undock and dock your ship.  Has very little traction amongst the people with whom I play regularly.

H1Z1

H1Z1logo

One of these things is not like the others… and kind of a long shot as well. Not an indie Kickstarter game like the previous four.  No, this is Daybreak’s attempt to leverage their work on PlanetSide 2 into something that will make some money.  And it has, selling a lot of early access copies.

Attraction:  It is actually pretty fun in a group.  Interesting combination of PvP, crafting, base building, and general survival.  And I own an early access copy.

Worries:  Daybreak will monetize it into oblivion, and they might have to based on the peak early access sales, lest Columbus Nova Prime be angered.  PvE version seems tedious while the esports aspects hold no interest for me.  It does need a regular group to be fun, and I am never great at making friends.  Suffers from all the usual PvP problems.

Other Candidates

I suppose I could put in a couple of comedy additions, like Landmark or EverQuest Next, but I strongly suspect neither will be much in 2016.  And then there is Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, which Brad McQuaid is still hanging on to.  Another one not for 2016 I would guess.  Crowfall, which I did not back, seems like it has its shit together, but I would call that yet another one for after 2016.

So I am going to stick with those five.  Which will be the winner in 2016?  And will any of them end my new MMO malaise?

 

Or are WoW Legion and the EVE Online Citadel expansion all I have to look forward to in 2016?

Meanwhile, if you want to see how previous versions of this mostly yearly post have fared, here are some links.  A bit of comedy to be mined in those.

 

To PLEX or not to PLEX, That is the Question

I have something of a philosophical question.

I mentioned more than a year back at this point that my other blog, EVE Online Pictures, had been accepted as an official fan site by CCP.  It is listed over on community page for the game.

Somewhere between Japan and Poland now...

Somewhere between Japan and Poland now…

Aside from that listing, one of the benefits of running an official fan site is that you get a free account.  So long as I remain in this program I will never unsubscribe from EVE Online because I am playing for free!  FREE!

Well, “free” as in not having to pay any money.  I still have to keep my site up and active.  But that isn’t such a big task.  I tell people I literally pay for my account by taking screen shots.  A pretty sweet deal, no?

Anyway, as I said a year back, you can consider me bought and paid for by CCP, though I doubt you could detect any difference in my posts since I got the whole fan site thing.

But there has been a change.  Fan sites were recently sent an update regarding the program that included this offer:

We are currently planning to change the rewards that we are currently offering to Fansites. Firstly, we are adding the option that will allow you to get PLEX rather than gametime. Anyone taking up this offer will be granted three PLEX per quarter (for a total of 12 PLEX per year). If you would like to take advantage of this offer, please email me or file a support ticket.

On the surface, this seems like a bad deal.  I would be trading an option where my account is free 365 days a year (366 on leap years!) for an option that gives me only 360 free days every 12 months.  I might have to pay for those extra 5 (or 6) days eventually!  Oh noes!

The thing is, as a human, I am not always a fully logical being.  Far from it.

For me, a subscription to a game I play actively is no big deal.  I just pay it, or put a credit card on auto-repeat and it gets paid automatically, and think no more about it until I stop playing.

Basically, in my world, subscriptions are easy, which makes them about the polar opposite of cash shop items.  Leaving aside immersion issues and not having anything worthwhile to buy, the biggest problem I have with free to play… or perhaps it is the biggest problem free to play games have with me… is simply getting me to buy the special in-game RMT currency, be it Station Cash, Turbine Points, or Aurum.

I think World of Tanks might be one of the few exceptions to that, and I didn’t buy much from them.

The only time I tend to accumulate and use an MMO’s RMT currency is when I opt-in for their subscription plan, and that plan includes a currency stipend.  This is how I ended up with a pile of Station Cash… which I think is now Daybreak Cash… and Turbine Points.  And while I have noted the problem I have with a lack of offerings in some games, I have ended up spending my Turbine Points in Lord of the Rings Online fairly freely.

So my theory is that if I went with the PLEX route, I would be more likely to do things I have considered from time to time, like buy ship skins or activate another account for a short time at need or consolidate characters from a couple of accounts onto a single account or enable multiple skill training queues, which might make the game more fun or interesting, because I can use the PLEX I have been given.  Or I can sell it on the market if I need some ISK, or I can just use the PLEX and cover 30 days of account time.  (See How to Use PLEX on the official site.)

I get more flexibility, and it will take a while for those five (or six) days to catch up to me anyway.

Like I said, this isn’t logical.  I could do these things by just putting up the cash, but my history says I will not do that.  But paying for a subscription?  I won’t think twice on that.

So, as I said above, to PLEX or not to PLEX?

The More Things Change… Oh, And Marketing 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live and learn.

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

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

And the world continues to turn.

MMO Blogesphere Feed – Version 3

This was going to be something for the top section of the month in review, but it ended up being a bit longer than I would like, so I’ll just complain about WordPress.com or something on the 30th.

So over there in the side bar on the right hand side of the blog, there is my latest attempt to create a unified feed for a small corner of the MMO blogesphere.  This is, of course, driven entirely from jealousy at the wonderful blog roll widget that people using Google’s Blogger platform have access to.  WordPress.com will never give us anything like this because, as I have been told by a designated representative of the organization, blog rolls are a thing of the past.

Such is life.

Now, there are any number of ways with a sufficient application of effort, technology, and/or money, I could enable a comparable feature on my own side bar.

Hell, I could just move to the Blogger platform.  Simple and done.  I just happen to like just about everything else about WordPress.com better than Blogger, up to and including the whole not being an insignificant part of Google and thus always in danger of being discarded for some new vision of the future or if Sergey is having a bad day.  WordPress.com and I disagree on any number of things, but being a blogging platform is their thing.  Plus my blog is too big to export at this point, so I am stuck with them unless I want to start again fresh.

Anyway, while I could throw money and ~effort~ at the problem, I am both cheap and lazy.  So I have sought out solutions that were both low effort and low cost through various iterations of the project.  The story so far…

Version 0

My original plan was just to stick the VirginWorlds feed in the side bar.  That was a fine solution back in the day.  Viva Brent!

But since about 2009 or so, when Brent wandered off with other priorities in his life, it has been less and less of an ideal.  The site is still up and running, and its accompanying feed is still in my side bar.  However, the site no longer gets updated with new blogs any more, so the feed itself tends to be dominated by Massively.  Not that I dislike Massively in general, but I want to promote my fellow bloggers and not a commercial site.  So I started looking for a way to add a new, more blogger focused feed.

Version 1

Back before the advent of Google+, Google Reader was a wonderful thing.  It was fast and simple, tied in with your Google account, and generally the standard across the board for online RSS readers.  The only reason not to use it was fear of the monster Google might become.

And among its many features was the ability to flag items from your reading list to be posted to an RSS feed.  And so I used the WordPress RSS feed widget to put that feed in my side bar, flagging new stories for inclusion every day.  This was probably a bit more “hands on” than I wanted… somewhat akin to the early days of VirginWorlds, when each link on the site represented a manual submission… but it worked.

The came Google+.

google-plus-logo-640

Google proceeded to wreck Google Reader in both form and function in a transparent effort to get people to stop using it in favor of Google+.  Amongst the feature casualties was the RSS output.  So while Google was busy kicking me off of Google+ for using a pseudonym (then quietly asking me to return) and generally annoying people by forcing integration with other services (Remember when your YouTube account HAD to be linked to Google+ for about a week? People were pissed.) they managed to alienate just enough Google Reader users to be able to claim the service was in decline and to shut it down.

Google Reader had fallen so low that when they finally turned it off, the resulting diaspora of users literally swamped all of the competing services to the point of making them unusable due to excess load.  I had to swap to Feedly at a too late date when The Old Reader staff threw their hands in the air at the onslaught and walked away. (They later returned, realizing that they could, you know, make money at this, but I had already moved to Feedly.)

Which is to say, it was still pretty damn popular.  Just not popular enough.  That was also the fate of Google+ which, when it did not eclipse Facebook (and dear Lord, Facebook only looks good when compared to Google+, which is simply awful when it comes to usability) was “De-emphasized” in favor of other initiatives.  Like finally closing down Orkut and figuring out exactly where the line is between “evil” and “not evil.”

Version 2

So, even before the end of Google Reader I was out looking for an alternative.  I tinkered with a few things, including Yahoo Pipes.  Pipes actually looked promising, but I could never get it to create output that would work correctly with the WordPress RSS widget.

Eventually I found a site called RSS Mix.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The service was free… so it met that requirement… and was relatively low maintenance.  Basically, you gave it a list of RSS feed URLs and it would mash all those together and give you an output URL for the combined RSS feed.  And it mostly worked.

It was a bit of a pain to maintain.  Every time I wanted to update the list of blog feeds to draw from I had to submit the whole list again for a new RSS feed, which meant keeping revisions on hand locally.

It also wasn’t terribly reliable.  About half the time I would hit the blog, the feed to fail to load.  That was irksome, but when it did load it did the job.  The service just wasn’t meant to be polled every time somebody showed up at the site, and the WordPress.com widget doesn’t keep a cached version or anything.  So a lot of the time people just saw this:

FeedDown

Then a few people began to note that something about the whole thing was causing ping-backs on Blogger based blogs, including one serious “stop doing that!” complaint, at which point I pulled the widget and started looking for a new solution.

Version 3

I played around with some different options.  Mail Chimp offers a free RSS consolidation feature.  However, it appears to be completely static.  It takes the URLs you hand it, makes a feed, and then never updates it.  Not terribly useful, but it was free so what do you expect.

Feedly sent out an update about a site called Zapier.  If you were a Feedly Pro subscribe, and I am, you could take advantage of the data integration tools that Zapier offered.  This included some RSS feed tools.  I got that to work, but to have more than a couple blogs in the feed I would have to subscribe to Zapier as well, which wanted monthly fee in the subscription MMO range.  That failed the cheapskate test.

Eventually I stumbled onto a site called IFTTT, which is short for “If This Then That.”  This was mentioned at one point as a service that could access Feedly Pro features.  It could take output from Feedly and turn it into something else, I just wasn’t sure what.

I signed up for an account, which was free and thus right in my price range, and started tinkering with it.  I couldn’t get it to output directly to anything in WordPress that seemed useful, at least not for a side bar widget, but I found that,  among the things it could output to, was a site called Pinboard.

Pinboard is described as a “social bookmarking” site, akin to what Delicious was at one time.  I had never used Delicious, but reading through the descriptions at Pinboard, it could take bookmark input and would turn it into an RSS feed output.  That sounded like the ticket.  However, in order to keep spam and such down, Pinboard charges an up front, one time fee to join the service.  It is based on how many people use the service already, basically you have to pay a penny for everybody who got there ahead of you.  My total to join was $10.46, which was well within the cheapskate budget if it worked out. (I suspect that they would change that pricing policy if a lot of people started showing up.  I think a $10 barrier to entry is fine, but if it had been $35 or $50, I might have walked on by.)

Between the three services, I was able to create a rule that takes updates from my MMO Blogs category in Feedly (making me glad I set up categories when I started using the service) and posts them to my Pinboard account.

FeedlyPinboard

And it basically worked.  Items showed up in Pinboard and they were tagged correctly so I could pull them from an RSS feed associated with that tag.  All I had to do was get the data being passed to work with the WordPress RSS widget.  That turned out to be the tricky bit.  It took a bit of trial and error to see what worked and what did not, something that went a bit slowly because I had to wait until somebody posted something new before the feed would update and pass along my changes.  Ideally I wanted something similar to what the Blogger side bar widget offered, with Blog Name, Post Name, and how long ago it was published.  Eventually, paring down the data being passed to the bare minimum, I got the WordPress widget to display what I wanted.

The IFTTT Recipe

The IFTTT Recipe

And I ended up with something that is mostly what I want.

It doesn’t put a nice little icon next to each blog title, the format or title and blog name differs depending on which service is being used, and the the published time is displayed as an absolute in Pacific Time rather than a friendly “2 hours ago” sort of way.  But it mostly works and, now that the one time expense is out of the way, it is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, it is flexible.  I can sort our who goes into the feed easily, by just moving things around in Feedly categories.  I moved some of the blogs that are in the VirginWorlds feed to a special “no feed” category, since I still have that feed in my side bar as well.  Trying to limit double exposure there, which mostly affects Syp and Tobold at this point.  I can create additional RSS feeds from my Feedly account.  I am looking into making one for EVE Online blogs for my other site and another for official game company feeds to put somewhere on the sidebar here. (There is currently an experimental version down at the very bottom of the side bar, if you scroll way down.)

So, mission accomplished!

Yeah, But Why Bother?

So all of that work… and all of those words… later, you might well ask why I deemed this important enough to pursue at all.

Yes, there was a certain amount of envy that Blogger based blogs had a feature that WordPress.com hosted bloggers lacked.  But that envy was based on the empirical observations that such a dynamic side bar widget actually attracts clicks.  Both the stats related to who sends traffic here and where people here click out to, a dynamic side bar widget attracts attention.  People will click on something that is both identified and visibly new or updated.

I can see from my own outbound traffic that almost nobody clicks on the static blogroll on a daily basis.  But with the new feed up in the side bar, I can see multiple clicks going to specific posts that have popped up and been displayed.

I did it because it is an effective way to send people to other blogs in our little community.