Tag Archives: scams

The Trainwreck of 21st Century Lord British

Once, long ago in the history of the blog, I wrote a post about how people seemed to be picking on Richard “Lord British” Garriot de Cayeux, largely because the fashion at the time seemed to be to use the silly space suit picture of him whenever he came up in a news cycle.

#winning

Of course, he seemed to be headed towards self-parody with his own photographic choices, like this image used on his Portalarium site

The first image from Portalarium

I cannot explain that moment of sympathy.  It certainly evaporated quickly enough when just a few months later I wrote a post with the title The Madness of Lord British.

There was a lot going on in that post, with lots of links out (some dead, you may need the Wayback machine to find them) to his dubious behavior, strange ventures, and odd ideas, including comparing himself to Tolkien or declaring consoles dead or how he was even back then running his company remotely with some sort of wheelie robot video presence.

It was also the kickoff point for his “ultimate RPG,” something he went on about for some time, trying to wheedle permission to use the Ultima brand from EA by saying nice things about them in the press (but not by, you know, actually talking to EA, who were busy tarnishing the Ultima brand with some garbage called Ultima Forever.)

Then he tried to get into bed with Zynga because Farmville and Facebook games were in the middle of imploding.  He eventually left that behind and jumped onto Kickstarter and used that trend to fund Shroud of the Avatar based largely on his reputation, work, and goodwill left over from the Ultima series of the 1980s and 1990s.

The Kickstarter was a success in that it met its funding goal, but as we knew even then, for a project trying to be an MMO that is just a marketing campaign, a publicity stunt to try and bring in more funding from other sources.

There was an attempt to emulate Star Citizen‘s successful ongoing crowdfunding by selling virtual land and castles as well as actual blood and other Lord British related items.  That was modestly successful at best.

Shroud of the Avatar did eventually “ship” in March of 2018 after some time as an “early access” title, however it was rough to the point of primitive for a game in the second decade of the 21st century, a strange mixture of awkward design and poor aesthetics, that I described as “retroist hobbyism” for lack of a better term when I was playing it.

It wasn’t a failure, but it also wasn’t what many people expected or wanted to play.  Lord British walked away from the title before it was done, transferring it to Catnip Games, though it wasn’t really clear he was all that in involved for quite a while before that.  It carries on as a dubious, low key title, a disappointment to many who expected a revival of the Ultima series, with a small and defensive team trying to eke out a living from the title and its connection to Garriott.

When Lord British walked away from his then flailing “ultimate RPG” I figured that was his last hurrah.  As I commented elsewhere:

This is a man who had the wealth and status to rest on his laurels, consult, speak on panels, and otherwise be a developer emeritus of great regard.

He made video games, got rich and famous doing that, got even richer by selling out to EA, lived in a castle, and got to be a space tourist. He could have called it a day 20 years ago and just spent his time being Lord British for fans now and then and we would have envied him, we would have aspired to be him.

But, as with pro sports stars, if something has basically been your whole life, it is hard to walk away.  So he has carried on, trying to recreate the success of his youth and living off of the reputation that gained him.

And that has been his downfall.  I have no idea what he is like in person, but his public persona has been one of self aggrandizement… he set himself up as the “father of the online gaming industry” at AGDC in 2004 back when he was promoting Tabula Rasa, much to the chagrin of Mark Jacobs and others who had online titles in production long before people like Raph Koster helped make Ultima Online a thing.

He has a history of badmouthing EA for all the problems that occurred after he got richer by selling Origin Systems to them. (Except when he was briefly praising them.)  And he also blames NCsoft and the people there for the failure of Tabula Rasa. (There was an Ultima 8 and Tabula Rasa double blame feature.)

He believes he is the best game designer around, calling the ones he worked with in the past “lazy”  (remember, that includes Raph Koster), and takes all the credit for anything he has touched.  He only made an exception for Chris Roberts when it comes to game designers, and that was clearly because he wanted to draft off of Star Citizen‘s crowdfunding success, a cringe worthy “notice me senpai!” moment.

And all along the way he has been a font of bad advice.  He has a history of grabbing onto a trend in gaming and telling people that is the best way forward just as it tanks.

Still, I foolishly thought he was done, so was both surprised because of that… but not surprised because of his history… when I saw the announcement yesterday that he had thrown his hat into the ring and declared he is making a blockchain MMO.

This is doubly ironic in that this follows on UbiSoft backing away from its NFT schemes and CCP declaring that NFT stands for “Not For Tranquility” when it comes to EVE Online.  Even as gamers are pushing back hard against crypto monetization and studios are realizing that they are alienating their core customer base by attempting to embrace it, Richard “Lord British” Garriott de Cayeux has decided to open his mouth wide and piss straight into the wind.

Words fail me.

Well, except for expletives.  I had plenty of those.

I have, for the last 20 years, found a way to excuse everything he has done based on fond memories of games he coded himself back in the 1980s.

No more.

This is the most contemptible, tone deaf, obvious cash grab in an industry long accused of cash grabs.  This raises the bar on cash grabs.  For years to come I predict I will be saying, “Sure, this move by X was bad, but was it as bad as the Lord British blockchain MMO?”

I am not a fan of Star Citizen, but this announcement has made Chris Robert palatable by comparison.  I don’t believe CR will ever be able to deliver on all, or even most, of the promises he has made, but he is selling a dream and has something tangible in alpha and has managed not to get bored and wander off mid-project.  If you were to ask me if you should buy a spaceship in Star Citizen or give money to Lord British, I’d say knock yourself out with the spaceship.

With other celebrities, I might suspect that somebody had just promised them a dump truck full of money to use their name.  But here we have somebody who has had an independent existence of bad ideas over the last two decades, a history that looks like a series of attempts to cash in on his name and whatever the latest trend was.

He has shown us who he is enough times already to know that this is authentically him trying to get back in ahead of another trend hoping to recreate the fame and fortune of his youth.  I am sure he is using somebody else’s money, but I am equally sure he sees glory and riches for himself in this move.  He is not being used, he believes he is using the investors.

Lord British is dead to me from this point forward.  In the hierarchy of people and companies whom I have vowed never to give money to, anything associated with Richard “Lord British” Garriot de Cayeux is now at the top of the list.

Seriously, I am now willing to give EA the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their history with him.  It makes me think of the Churchill quote about the devil:

If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.

That is where Lord British stands with me today.  He has now shit on his reputation so thoroughly that he is beyond redemption in my eyes.  Everything he has touched since Ultima Online has been a trainwreck.

Other coverage:

It’s the End of the Metaverse as we Know It

It certainly feels that people talking about “the metaverse” have taken the universality aspect of of the “meta” prefix a bit too literally as the word “metaverse” is rapidly approaching the state where it means whatever the speaker thinks it mean in that moment.

Of course, we’ve been down that path before.  I remember when “MMO” meant a game with specific characteristics, like hundreds of people in a shared space.  Now it pretty much means any online game where six or more people can interact in some way.

There is the grand purist metaverse vision which says, as Bhagpuss so astutely put it, if there is more than one then it isn’t the metaverse.  That is the online ideal of sort, the place of Snow Crash and Ready Player One, where everybody goes or has a presence… though if you’ve read either, the actual real worlds they exist in are dystopian nightmares, so no wonder everybody is so keen to strap into their VR gear and get away from it all.

We’re probably never going to get there… or I hope we’re not… though we certainly seem to working hard on making the real world something to escape.

But this past week VentureBeat hosted a Summit on the whole Metaverse idea.

VentureBeat presents

It was preceded by a Facebook gaming summit… now Meta, but we still know who they really are… which has moved big towards the whole metaverse idea despite some skepticism within their own ranks, which I  covered previously.  While technically not directly part of the metaverse event, it covered a lot of the same ground, so it might well be counted as day zero of the whole thing.

Facebook has been on the metaverse idea for a while, as this now more than two year old trailer for their Horizon product indicates. (For some reason this ad was making the rounds this week as though it was new.)

At that point they were very much locked into the idea that VR would be the domain for the metaverse.  Also, legs were clearly not a thing.

However, on the first day of the summit, which was all Facebook, I listened to somebody from from the Oculus group tell the audience that the metaverse would need to be on every device, phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, as well as VR.

The same person also mentioned that when he joined Oculus, before they were acquired, everybody who signed on was given a copy of Ready Player One, which is somewhat telling I suppose.  In Snow Crash the metaverse seemed more like something the dispersed internet evolved into.  In Ready Player One it is run by an evil corporation.  So I guess they were already on board with being bought by Facebook before it happened.

A more disturbing trend to me has been the union of the concept of the metaverse and the crypto blockchain NFT demographic.  This has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with money.  Venture capitalists have found they can extract money from a crypto investment much faster than a traditional startup so have been pumping and dumping to their heart’s content.

Essentially, the word “metaverse” has become shorthand for “NFT vehicle”  for some so, while the Oculus guy didn’t mention them, Facebook is all in on the idea, while other speakers, such as Brendan Greene of PlayerUnknown fame, who helped establish the battle royale genre, spoke about his new project, Project Artemis, a world sized metaverse, which will be on board with the NFT train.

Because somehow over the objection of the developers who actually have to do the work, execs and finance people have seemingly embraced the NFT idea as the way to move assets between games in order to create a single metaverse out of everybody’s own pocket virtual world.

However, I will say that, for the most part, the summit wasn’t over-hyped on the whole crypto NFT thing.  There were certainly crypto proponents on the schedule and who sessions were about how this is going to be great once more people jump on the bandwagon.  But there was also some recognition that NFTs needed to win people over, something that had not happened yet, though I did hear one speaker go on about how if gamers weren’t going to get on board with NFTs then they would just find another demographic, leaving gamers behind.

I am not sure who else they are going to get to buy into it… well, I have a guess… but Ubisoft, which has literally bought into NFTs, is certainly finding gamers unwilling to invest in NFTs.  They feel that gamers just “don’t understand,” which is the most common crypto scammer talking point around.  We like to point out how bad Activision and EA are, but Ubisoft is literally the worst and has been for more than 20 years.

Honestly though, while I signed up for the whole event, I would guess that I checked in on maybe half of the sessions, and some of them weren’t all that interesting.  There was, for example, a pleasant man from Helsinki speaking about industrial applications for VR and the metaverse and I just took my headphones off and went on with something else.

The only session I was completely in for was the one featuring Raph Koster, who got the last 20 minute speaking slot at the end of the whole thing.  I teased him about that on Twitter, though he spun it as getting the last word.  Still, they gave some guy 30 minutes earlier in the day to talk some nonsense about The Matrix and promote his book, so I was feeling a little defensive of Raph’s place in the order of things.

But I need not have fretted even a bit.  Raph came in strong with that last session, with a short slide deck, which made him stand out from most of the presentations.  He was there to talk about how we even get to a metaverse, where you’re able to move from one world to another across vendors, a issue he framed as a social problem.  There are standards to be agreed upon and rights and ownership and all sorts of things that need to be sorted out before we start thinking about walking between WoW and Fortnite, which seemed to be the interoperability metaphor of the conference.

Many of the issues that need to be resolved have been under discussion for ages at this point.

He didn’t come up with any specific answers, but blockchain and crypto did not enter into it his talk, those not being solutions to any of the current problems facing the metaverse.

I did stick around for the post-game summary by the GameBeat staff, who were cool on the NFT idea, which surprised me a bit since their parent, VentureBeat, seems keen to cover all things crypto.  But, then their audience is more investors and VCs, and crypto is what investors want to head about now.  You have to give your audience what they want, even if they want garbage I suppose.

The whole thing is up on YouTube on VentureBeat’s channel if you are interested.

As noted, Raph is at the end of day two if you want to watch his 20 minutes. (Also, seeing Raph live, Playable Worlds might want to update the promo pic they use of him, which must be from 2006 given how much gray hair he has now.  Why not play up his age and experience rather than trying to keep him looking forever 35?)

The site also did decent summaries of some of the sessions on their site, which are a little more detailed that the presentations.  I’ll link to a few of the more interesting ones:

Those last two are interesting for specific definitions of the word, like if you want to hear the crypto side of things try to rationalize why the metaverse needs them.  I think that quote about leaving gamers behind is in that last session.

Not everything at the event was worth hearing, but it was the place to be if you wanted some insight into what the people… mostly money people… want to hear about.  The GamesBeat team kept things going, though occasionally the slipped up a bit.  I think they were about done with the event when this poll popped up.

Yes? No? Both? Neither?

So it goes.

And, while we’re on the topic of the metaverse, interoperability, and NFTs, I figure I should toss in a video that cam up last week.  It is 30 minutes of a developer going through the issues, one by one, about how NFTs don’t solve any of the problems that need to be solved for the metaverse.  It is just shy of 30 minutes, but it is pretty to the point.

I’ve seen all these points before, but it is nice to have them summed up in one video.  He also has a follow up video because the crypto bros came after him with the whole “but we want to be able own/trade independent of the developer” scenario, which he also picks apart pretty well.

However, if you really want to dig into the NFT/crypto thing and have two hours to spare, I highly recommend this video from Folding Ideas.

It is essentially a documentary look into where cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and NFTs came from, what they really are, how badly designed they really are, who is making money on them, and how the scam really works.  Spoiler:  It is all based on the greater fool theory.

I don’t think there was a lot shockingly new to me in that video, except for the cost, and the variability of cost, of blockchain transactions, which would make the whole thing a non-starter for any legitimate enterprise.

Seriously, you would have to be insane to use crypto for your business unless it is a scam.  Any CEO of a legitimate company that says they are seriously considering NFTs is throwing out a buzzword to boost their stock price or doesn’t understand how they actually work… though you cannot rule out both being the answer.

Anyway, the video did nicely tie together a lot of different threads and I felt it was well worth the time, so much so that I listened to it twice. (While doing some quests in EQII.)  Hat tip to Massively OP for linking to this video.

Addendum: If you prefer the written word to a two hour video, then there is David Rosenthal’s Stanford talk that he reproduced on his blog, which gets down into the details of crypto and how it goes so very wrong.

Blizzard Account Phishing Email

Proving again that World of Warcraft is big business, I got a phishing email this morning trying to get me to send all my account information to somebody in order to keep my account from being suspended.

HELLO!

It has come to our attention that you are trying to sell your personal World of Warcraft account(s).

As you may not be aware of, this conflicts with the EULA and Terms of Agreement.

If this proves to be true, your account can and will be disabled.

It will be ongoing for further investigation by Blizzard Entertainment’s employees.

If you wish to not get your account suspended you should immediately verify your account ownership.

You can confirm that you are the original owner of the account by replying to this email with:

Use the following template below to verify your account and information via email.

  • First and Surname
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Zip code
  • Phone number
  • Country
  • Account e-mail
  • Account name
  • Account password
  • Secret Question and Answer

Please enter the correct information

If you ignore this mail your account can and will be closed permanently.

Once we verify your account, we will reply to your e-mail informing you that we have dropped the investigation.

Regards,

Account Administration Team
Blizzard Entertainment

This follows the pattern of dozens of similar emails I have seen advising me that I needed to provide information for my eBay, PayPal, or financial institution account.

  • I’ve been accused of doing something that I am quite clearly not doing to provoke me into responding quickly without thinking.  The idea is to get you in the mood to quickly clear your good name.
  • I am asked for information to confirm that the account in question is mine.  This includes information that Blizzard always tells you that no Blizzard representative will ever ask you for.
  • I am asked to respond to an address, in this case the email reply-to address that looks close to valid.  This time it was “blizzard@mail-blizzard.com.”  The address actually displayed as “blizzard@blizzard.com” until I hit reply, and the reply-to was different.

Now getting an email like this isn’t exactly news.  As I said, I have seen dozens of variations of this sort of thing.  But I figured it was timely, what with Tobold also writing about account security, to just check and make sure that we all know NOT to respond to an email like this.

In my case, this email showed up in the in-box of an account which has no association with any of my Blizzard accounts, but one I use to create accounts on gaming sites where I may or may not return, so it is easy to remember with a standard password that is not very secure.

Blizzard, like any company that faces such account hacking threats, has a long page of information about various hacking and phishing threats, how you can help avoid them, and what you should do if you are a victim.

I personally did what Blizzard requested on the page, which was to forward the email with “show headers” enabled to “hacks@blizzard.com” so they are aware of yet another phishing attempt.

EVE Online Simple Trainer Trojan Horse

If, like me, you recieved this email:

Hello EVE Online community,

Gold Harvest Macro Solutions is proud to announce the retail launch of the Simple Trainer automated skill training macro for use with EVE Online! Simple Trainer will take any length skill plan for an unlimited number of characters and train it automatically. It has an easy to use interface that allows any user to create or upload their personalized skill training plan and begin training in minutes. No extensive setup is required to use Simple Trainer and you do not need to monitor it either. Simple Trainer will read and react to the information presented on the screen in a manner that will not get you or your account in trouble, so it is completely safe to use. Your account information is not necessary, but if used it is only stored locally and we stand by our promise of safety.

Be warned that the software being offered contains a Trojan Horse that will probably swipe information from your computer and send it off to the authors of the program.

Massively reports that this has been verified by CCP and they have put out a warning about this program.

Of course, I know you would never be tempted to use such a program, but somebody out there might.

The author of this scam can apparently be reached at andrew@simpleminer.com, just in case you were interested.