Tag Archives: Ranting

Expecting Too Much from New Eden

Last Tuesday afternoon, just after I got home from work, I brought up the launcher for EVE Online.  I did so by accident, as I meant to bring up the Blizzard launched to play WoW Classic.  But I let it patch and run up just to keep it current.

Then I looked at the online player count and was a bit surprised to find it below the 15K mark, and you know what came to my mind right away.

First known occurrence of “EVE is Dying”

I realize that a weekday afternoon, and one after a three day weekend in the US, isn’t necessarily a peak time, but 15K seemed pretty low.

For the past year or so I have come home in the afternoon to find the count between 20-22K most weekdays and, as I have written in the past, I generally consider low ebb later in the evenings, when the Euros have gone to bed and it is safer to move things around, to be about 18K players online.

I had heard The Mittani talking about diminishing peak numbers on consecutive Sundays since the start of the Chaos Era, but that seemed premature to me.  That was two weeks ago.  You could chart small declines, but I thought you really needed to get past the login bonuses and free SP event before the numbers would start to really be telling.

Well, here we are, Chaos Era in full swing, more nerfs on the way with the September update, and no promotions or events in progress.  So Goons are working on gloomy charts (with some add on charts in the comments), Nosy Gamer is having a look at NPC and player destruction that doesn’t bode well, the MER has NPC commodities as the new biggest ISK faucet, and my own anecdotal evidence all seem to add up to something being amiss, manifested in the concurrent player count numbers, which you can see over at EVE Offline.

I realize that CCP doesn’t mention concurrent player count anymore, preferring the trend towards daily and monthly active users, the darling metrics of the mobile domain where ads are often part of the revenue stream. (Have you seen Candy Crush Saga lately? There has been a pretty big swing towards “watch an ad video, get a booster!” in their model.)  But the concurrent player count feels more like the reality we play in, so a dip is not good news.

This has, naturally enough, led to a cottage industry over on /r/eve and in the forums and wherever else about what CCP needs to do to fix this.

What I find interesting is how many people can move straight from the stance that CCP is both slow and incompetent to a grand master plan for fixing EVE Online that pretty much demands that the company be both quick and excellent at their craft.

My poster child right now is this post, which is a master class in glossing over reality.  The premise is that CCP should add back walking in stations, shove whatever Project: Nova is right now into the mix, and try to turn the game into what Star Citizen aspires to be some day.

Leaving aside my myriad objections to avatar play in EVE Online (summed up as: You have to build a whole different game to support it), the very easy jokes to be made at the expense of Chris Roberts, and the completely half-assed, evidence free, changing horses mid-stream vision being espoused, what in the last sixteen years could lead anybody to believe that CCP has the capability of doing this in any time frame that doesn’t include the heat death of the universe as a benchmark measurement?

I remain convinced that people outside software development think that just because it is easy to describe something it must therefore be easy to develop.

That is not the way of the world.

Just last week I suggested that CCP wasn’t going to be able to fix the new player experience in any meaningful way that would have even the slightest impact on new player retention.  I mean, I wrote “point and laugh” as my possible response to whatever they come up with, but that was what I meant.  And I say that because of CCP’s history.

It is like when people say that CCP should make things like level 4 missions more fun… something else I have seen come up as part of this… and I again wonder what people think has been going on since 2003.  Do you think that CCP has not tried?  Also, your idea on how to do this is badly considered garbage that won’t work.  Just accept it.

The game is what it is, having grown and developed almost spasmodically over the last decade and a half.  It hangs together on social bonds, vengeance fantasies, pretty screen shots, angry memes, and the sunk cost fallacy, and anything that CCP could do to “fix” the game has a pretty good chance of upsetting that balance.  I swear the corporate motto ought to be, “We did not see that coming!”

Which isn’t to say that I don’t think CCP can do things to help the game along, and even make the NPE better.  There are lots of ways the game could be made better.  But what CCP needs to do is way down in the fundamentals, blocking and tackling level stuff.  There is no room for Jesus features any more as there are too many balls for CCP to keep in the air as it is.  That one labelled “faction warfare” rolled under the couch a couple of years ago.

But what you don’t do is mask things with uncertainty.  Chaos is not a viable business strategy unless you’re selling safety from it.  Rational people, when faced with chaos, tend to try and find a safe place to weather the storm.

Anyway, we’ll see what comes to pass.  I fear that the Chaos Era may have officially pushed me into the bitter vet status, so i’ll probably just go play some more WoW Classic.

Others on the Chaos Era:

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.

In Search of the Thousand Dollar Video Game

Last night Keen saw fit to retweet this gem, which is the sort of statement than makes me shake my head in dismay.

There it is again, the false comparison between lattes and video games, with a game dev angry that people are not paying enough for his product.  Even the go-to comic from The Oatmeal to cover this is more than five years old now. (Clicking on the image will bring you to the full comic, complete with the coffee comparison.)

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The argument here, salted with jealousy, seems to be that all luxury goods are equal, so your baseline for deciding where to spend you money should be solely factored on the value one gets in return.  In that world, the fleeting experience of a latte pales in comparison with the many hours of enjoyment a video game can bring.

Except, of course, that is specious at best and more akin to complete bullshit for most people.

The buying decision for a latte is never formulated as “What is the best value for my money today?”  In my experience the situation is more akin to, “I NEED coffee NOW!”

I don’t actually drink coffee, so I might not be the best person to make that assessment, but that is what it looks like from the outside.  I have seen developers get panicked and upset when they mislay their coffee mug and I am keenly aware how often we have to stop at Starbucks so my wife can get her favorite coffee beverage. (She prefers a “soy caramel macchiato,” which might as well be a magic incantation so far as I am concerned.)

Anyway, video games likely never come into the buying decision.  The latte experience is so different and so removed from video games that comparing the two is… well… I already used the words “specious” and “bullshit” didn’t I?  That.

So whining about people buying lattes instead of your video games is just a self-serving attempt to blame other people, including your customers, for your own problems in a cheap attempt to milk some guilt out of them.

And what are your problems if you’re a video game developer?  I think a lot of that has been covered elsewhere.  But then there is the video game market itself.

The video game market is overloaded with choices, most of which are uninspired imitations or direct knock-offs of worn-out concepts we’ve seen many times before hidden behind a series of horrible user interfaces that defy people to actually find the gems in the huge steaming stack of dung that is the video game market.

Imagine if Starbucks was run like Steam.

You’d have thousands of different lattes, each with a name that might or might not relate to what was actually in them, vaguely described, with mashed-up references to sub-genres of coffee drinks.  You would have to order them from a computer screen where you could only see 20 or so at a time.  Oh, and some of them aren’t compatible with your coffee cup, while others say they might be, but probably require you to upgrade your cup in order to enjoy them fully.

How is that for an analogy?  Let’s push it even further.

You can… slowly… look at latte reviews, but some of the positive ones are from people who were given a free latte, while some of the negative ones involve aspects outside of the latte experience.

Meanwhile, every previous latte you ever ordered from Starbucks is still available to you.  You can look in your latte library and see them all.  There are some in there you really liked, but probably a lot more that you barely even took a sip from.  Sure, you might be a bit tired of the ones you like, but they are reliable, certainly more palatable than most of your attempts to find a fresh new latte.

Oh, and then there is the Starbucks Summer Latte Sale and the Starbucks Winter Latte Sale, during which many lattes are marked down from 25-to-75%.  If you aren’t dying for that specific latte right now, you can wait and it will probably be cheaper.  Seems like a good idea, unless all of your friends are simply raving about some new latte.  You’ll buy that one right away.

I’m tempted to bring GameStop into the picture and examine the situation where you can return your latte for credit on a new latte, but I think I have pushed the envelope of absurdity far enough to make the point that comparing video games and lattes is an argument for the dim, desperate, or drunk.

While I too scoff at people putting down five bucks for a latte, connecting that to video game sales seems ludicrous.

Instead, they are a form of entertainment.  Video games are fun, not food.

As such, they compete with other forms of entertainment.  Here, the original tweet claims the entertainment value for video games should be $20 an hour.

That would make video games a pretty expensive form of entertainment.  My immediately to-hand similar comparisons:

  • Movies – $20-25 per person for 90-180 minutes of entertainment, including popcorn and a drink.
  • Books – $12 for a paperback, $30 for a new release hardback, 4+ hours of entertainment
  • Audiobook – Varies, but I just wrote about an $18 book that is more than 7 hours of entertainment
  • TV – Even being gouged by Comcast, probably close to a dollar an hour as much as our TV is on
  • Netflix – $12/month, used enough to be under a dollar an hour
  • On Demand – HD movie, 90-180 minutes, anywhere from $4-12, whole family can watch

At $20 an hour, the value proposition for video games doesn’t look so hot.  When you’re argument is undercut by Comcast, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Which is not to say I do not see the entertainment value in video games.  My Steam library runneth over, my history with them goes back more than 40 years, and I write a video game blog for Pete’s sake.  I love video games.

But if you think playing the bitter game dev, shaking your fist at your customers (and potential customers) and blaming them for not giving you what you feel you deserve, I have to say that you’re not doing yourself any favors.

And, after all of that, I have to admit that I did find a video game that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have paid over $1,000 to play.

It is called World of Warcraft.

I know I have spent more than that much, counting the base game, the expansions, subscription fees, and the occasional cash shop item.  Blizzard was just smart enough to not ask for all the money up front.

Of course, the Gods of Irony must be paid their due.  This shining example of a video game that many, many people are willing to spend that much money on… is the sort of game he disdains in a subsequent tweet.

So most gamers just give up and keep playing League of Legends or World of Warcraft and forget about trying to find anything new.

There is the problem.  It isn’t that we’re not willing to spend that much money on a video game.  It is that we’re not willing to spend that much money on the “right” video game.

I think somebody in the comments on the corrupt developer post made the music comparison.  A lot of people want to get into music, be a rock star, and live the lifestyle.  But there is only so much room at the top.  Likewise, in the video game business you get a few really successful games, and a few devs rich enough to afford to become space tourists, while the rest labor on, never achieving fame or fortune.

Anyway, cranky rant over.  I’ve been down this path before, more than once.  It is a pet peeve of mine.  Keen posted about this as well in his more optimistic tone.  You might prefer that.  I’m just too jaded to buy this sort of blame shifting.

Quote of the Day – The Problem is You Not Buying My Stuff

You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like. In order for creative games to be made, there needs to be a major culture shift. We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.

Aksel Junkilla, The mobile games market is an absolute mess, thanks to you

There is an almost physical sense of irony in reading a post in which the author complains about the entitlement of his audience and yet fails to notice his own sense thereof.  If we want good mobile games, we need to pay for them… starting with his game.

We’ve been down this path before here.  And as amusing as I find The Oatmeal on occasion, if you find you are borrowing an argument from a four year old web comic, maybe you should take a deeper look at your idea.

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

However, that is not his sole target.  The author, once he is done taking his potential customers to task turns on his fellow developers, calling on them to unite against the socio-economic menace that is Free to Play.  Only when that has been defeated will people be willing to pay what his game is actually worth.  He then points at the wondrous joy consumers used to feel parting with $40 for a Pokemon game and so on and so forth.

What a load of shit.

I actually expected him to go full Marx and declare that work has inherent value.  But he didn’t quite go that far.

And he certainly didn’t go after his real problem, which is low barrier to entry.  Nintendo can charge $40 for a Pokemon game because they invested in creating an ecosystem where not only do you have to pay that much for Pokemon, but you also have to spend $150 on hardware to play it as well.  To get in the App Store you just need to development kit, meet some basic criteria, and be ready to give Apple their cut.

I love when people… and developers especially… bitch and moan about Apple creating a walled garden with the App Store, and then go back to playing games on pretty much any console ever.

And a particularly sweet dumpling in this rich soup of irony is that this walled garden has pretty much failed to weed out crap.  It is, rather, a complete mess, with page after page of half-assed knock-offs and derivative shit.  And even when you aren’t mired knee-deep in crap, there are often still many options.

The other night my wife wanted a video poker app as a warm up for EVE Vegas.  Go to the App Store and search on video poker and tell me how many results you get, and how many nearly identical apps you find in the results.  And most of them were free.  So yeah, we didn’t buy a $4.99 app because it was not different in any discernible way (at least before purchase) from a number of free options.  So now my wife has a perfectly serviceable video poke app on her iPhone that looks just like the real thing in Vegas.  She only gets a limited amount of money to start with, and has to buy more if she runs out… that is the in-game purchase option… but she hasn’t run out yet.

There are things that certainly need to be fixed with the mobile market… problems that have been around since the App Store showed up, if the author had done his market research… but the fixing customers should be nothing more than afterthought on any list you can create if you want to live in the real world.

Complaining about customers isn’t a path to success.  As in any market with low barriers to entry, you have to stand out from the crowd, distinguish yourself from the pack, make some effort to prove to potential customers that you’re worth the price.  Plenty of mobile games out there have made money, and not just the free to play ones.  If yours wasn’t one… well, you can blame whoever you like and declare life isn’t fair while you’re at it.  But that won’t change reality.

(Hat tip to: What If…)

Addendum: Tim Cushing at TechDirt takes on this story and tears it apart.

Quote of the Day – If You’re Selling it, We’re Reviewing it

If I had paid money for H1Z1, I’d be pretty pissed off right now. Some players have already taken to demanding refunds. And I can’t blame them.

Polygon review of H1Z1

I laughed out loud when I saw that Polygon put up a review of H1Z1 on their site this morning.  But I have to admit that a review is a fitting response to Daybreak Game Company selling the game on Steam.  Not that Polygon hasn’t been on the H1Z1 beat already.

H1Z1Disaster

Yeah, yeah, cry me a river about that “Early Access” disclaimer.

I wouldn’t dream of endorsing a review of a product that was in alpha or beta and testing with volunteers.  But my view, and this is an opinion that I hold pretty strongly, is that once you are charging money and have a cash shop setup, trying to hide behind words like “Beta” (the long time Zynga ploy… do you want to be like Zynga?) or “Early Access” is a bullshit move.

The “Early Access” disclaimer has to compete with the pie-in-the-sky marketing vision about what the game might be some day way down the road when it is finished.

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about the reality of H1Z1 please… I hear it isn’t actually an MMO

A “fully transparent” approach to game design would require the equivalent of “Warning: Lark’s Vomit” on the Steam store page and the SOE web site. (Since there is no Daybreak web site yet.)

And Daybreak Game Company is out there with not one but two early access events, with Landmark having mucked about in some sort of limbo for over a year at this point.  And to echo the quote at the top of the page, after my free time in Landmark I was pretty happy I didn’t pay any money for it.  And don’t get me started on the irony of a company whose motto is “Free to Play Your Way” and has a subscription program called “All Access” that doesn’t actually give you access to all of their games.

Yeah, I am on a bit of a rant here over what is probably a pretty small item in the grand scheme of things.  And it would certainly be fair game to ask how I reconcile this with Kickstarter campaigns and pre-orders and whatever other industry practices I don’t seem to take issue with that share some similarities with early access.  My primary goal in all things of late is the finished game, something I even mentioned in the earlier post about Crowfall.  I already have a day job in software development, I don’t need/want to keep fretting about code when I get home at night.

And who knows, the whole early access thing might work out.  I’m just not convinced right now that paid early access is a good thing for the industry, and it is Smed’s handiwork with Landmark and H1Z1 that has pushed me in that direction.

Anyway, cheers to Polygon for having a policy about reviewing early access games so people know what they are getting for their money.  How do you feel about that?

Things I Hate About Twitter – The Babbling Company Feed

There are companies that do not get it.

Seriously, when I follow your company on Twitter, it is because I want to get updates about what your company is doing.

This is especially the case when the big name at your company invites people to follow with the promise of company information.

Okay, wow, cool, Richard Garriott‘s company, Portalarium is on Twitter.  They are going to tweet about their games in the works and more!  I’ll jump right on that and follow!

Only they are not really tweeting anything about their games.

Portalarium tweets since September 8th: 38

Portalarium tweets talking about Portalarium products: ~2

They actually tweeted this twice:

I submit that, technically, this is not really “about” their game at all, just a come-on to try and get people to download it and play.

I realize that some poor schmoe has been given the job of engaging with the community.  I realize this person must have a tough job, since apparently the company has given them nothing to talk about.  But this sort of crap is… well… crap!

We are not stuck in a god damn elevator together, you do not have to make conversation to pass the time.  If you have nothing to say, don’t say it!

Okay, yes, their twitter profile says, “Sharing interesting infobits on topics of interest to our company and employees and our industry!”  Which I guess makes Mr. Garriott the person to blame here.

And the fact that the main thing on the front page of their web site is the text:

Home of
Hall-of-Fame Game Designer,
Richard “Lord British” Garriott

along with what must be at least a 20 year old picture of gaming’s most famous space tourist should have probably tipped me off as to what I should expect.