Gaming Massively

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Original IPs vs. Established IPs

Slashdot pointed me to an interesting article at Ten Ton Hammer all about storytelling and MMOs, specifically whether using an established IP is better or worse than developing your own. They interviewed a number of gaming companies, and came away with a mixed bag of results. Basically, PR is easier with an established IP, but working within an existing storyline is harder.

Interestingly, 38 Studios has the benefit of a known story teller, which is benefiting them as an established IP would.

Some things I felt related to the fact that gameplay still isn't innovative enough - lots of people cited Lord of the Rings as being problematic, and others noted that in several established IPs the most powerful characters were already established. I thought that focus on the 'epic battle where the big baddie is vanquished' missed other options for great storytelling - Gandalf, for example, may or may not have actually destroyed the Balrog (I can't remember if the book actually says unequivocally that the Balrog was destroyed) - the key was that he managed to walk away, and protect the others. Basically it's the escort quest, only without the silly parts of the escort quest that relate to bad AI.

It's interesting, actually, to think about - the one assumption was that storytelling should be excellent, but the good guys should always win. But some of the best stories (Empire Strikes Back, e.g.) involve the good guys getting their tuckus handed to them.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jumpgate delay

Ars Technica says that Jumpgate Evolution has been delayed. Hopefully this won't be a major delay. I'm always a little surprised when things have to be taken back and redesigned - it would seem like inveterate gamers (which many of the designers seem to also be) would notice if a game isn't working. But I imagine you get in the zone, and you need someone to say 'but this isn't fun' - which is what I thought focus groups were for. Given that they have been demoing at events, I would have expected someone to pick up on this before now. But at least they're going back and doing it right. Now let's hope there's still cash to burn.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mission Architect

I'm sure we all knew something like this was coming: Slashdot pointed me to an article in Wired about the abuse of the Mission Architect in City of Heroes. The forums appear to have exploded (a post trying to clarify what was going on had 350 pages of responses).

What should be clear is that manually policing these missions will never work. I don't know what will, honestly - scripts to detect certain behaviour, maybe? In the immortal words of whoever said it first, 'this is why we never have anything nice!'

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

where?

I was wondering if 38 Studios had any new developments (I'm quite excited about anything involving a writer like Salvatore), so I cruised on over to their site to see what was up. Looks like they've hired a UI designer from Blizzard, and some other details like that, but nothing really big. I also had a look at their jobs board, and while reading a posting noticed this little tidbit:
Based in Maynard, Massachusetts, the studio is a fun, energetic place to work, where the company mantra, "How cool would it be if . . . ?" infuses the team with a commitment to passion, integrity, and innovation.
Where they heck is Maynard, MA? Sadly, it's not as 'in the middle of nowhere' as I had hoped - looks like it a suburb of a suburb of Boston. Why had I hoped it was in the middle of nowhere, you ask? Because I'd like to imagine someday I might live near an MMO that I could work for. But since I make it a point to never live near big cities, and I've yet to have enough cash to live in a big city (Paris excepted, amusingly), I need to wait for an MMO to be headquartered somewhere rural. I've a sneaky suspicion I'll be waiting a while....

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glad I'm not

I suddenly realized, while reading the latest Age of Conan newsletter, that I'm really glad I'm not a game designer. I mean, I love speculating about the next big thing, and coming up with cool concepts, and all that, but to actually have my professional reputation be tied to the success or failure of one of my ideas? That would be (for a significant percentage of MMOs) really depressing. I mean, even if I made what I considered a great product, odds are it would go down in flames. And that would break your heart, I imagine. At least the first time - I'm sure after a few projects go down you just move on.

Since I already mentioned the new Conan newsletter, I should mention that they have apparently added a swanky new dungeon, and upgraded their PvP. My personal favourite, though, is the zombie pets - if I'm going to have a game with minions, I darned well better be able to have undead minions!

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

probably a bad sign...

Oh dear. Kill Ten Rats has pointed out that Ten Ton Hammer is running a pledge drive for workers at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, so they'll have cash for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that bodes ill for dev work on Stargate Worlds....

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Atari buys Cryptic

Whoa - didn't see this coming - Massively is reporting that Atari has apparently purchased Cryptic Studios.

Of course, Cryptic is responsible for the new Star Trek MMO (having acquired it themselves from elsewhere), and Champions Online, which I probably ought to look into - I've seen the name often enough, but haven't followed up. I'll do that now (why not?)

Oh right - it's the superhero MMO. Well, another superhero MMO, though this one is made more interesting by the possibility that it will be available on consoles as well as PCs. Not really my thing, but certainly people do play the genre, so we'll see what happens.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Stargate problems?

Massively is reporting that the makers of Stargate Worlds may be experiencing a cash flow issue (well, from the way I read the comments from Cheyenne Mountain, they definitely -are- having a problem). This news appears to have come out when a website, days-since-cheyenne-mountain-employees-have-been-paid.com was put up. I think you can probably figure out the subject matter of the website....

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gaming Populations

Massively pointed me to some exciting number crunching going on over at T-Machine. The lengthy post looks at ways of measuring user numbers for MMOs, given the general secrecy concerning the numbers. There's a nice chart showing game populations based on several methodologies.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Tabula Rasa, Player Ownership, and the Open Source question

So Tabula Rasa is going to be killed. There's something especially sad about watching a game you beta tested die (sounds like I may get to do it again with Conan before too long).

As always when a game is to be shut down, a wealth of articles proposing various ways of saving the game come out. This time is no exception, and I'll grab the one at massively as an example.

The usual idea with these things seems to be 'if players like the game enough to want to save it, they can all pool their money (which would have gone for subscriptions) and save it'. Of course, if every good idea only required cash, the world would be a much better place. To even begin to save the game, you would need people with particular skill sets to arrange the move to a player-owned game, and people with an entirely different set of skills to keep it going once the transfer had been made.

It's very difficult to separate the idea of 'player owned' from the idea of 'open source', not because they aren't different, but because they would behave so similarly. So, for example, with open source when you have a problem with the software, you generally go to the community and ask a question. There are three or four helpful people, three or four assholes, and several hundred people who might help if they knew anything at all about your question, but they don't.

Given what I've seen of MMO customer service, this part sounds workable, or possibly even better, than what you get with your paid service.

Of course, the trick with an MMO is that, in addition to supplying the software, the folks holding the game in trust have to supply some fairly hefty back-end hardware. This costs real-world money, and means that, despite the fact there is no longer a company to yell at, people would still have to cough up some maintenance fees (shall we call them 'subscription fees'?) And this is where I think things might break down.

On the other hand, there is the possibility of making this work, despite the high end hardware requirements. If you could get enough tech people interested in creating an open source gaming server platform, you might be able to have the servers supplied by the developers of the back-end. Additionally, because keeping costs in check would be such a high priority, the gaming servers would have a much higher incentive to be as efficient as possible. Whether the open source community could create a server platform that is more efficient than the gaming servers already on offer by commercial companies is debatable, experience would indicate that exposure to so many more developers would lead to a better platform than any closed source platform.

The other reason this might work is because you could open the server platform to other games. Creating a simple front end (or even a complex front end, though simple would be better) and allowing other games to access the same server technology (and hopefully, the same servers) would allow you to maximize server load, and hopefully thus use the equipment as efficiently as possible, and draw in the maximum number of paying players to keep the servers running.

If, as the massively article suggests, Tabula Rasa is breaking even, it might theoretically be possible to keep it running while transitions to a more sustainable business model took place. But the challenges of creating all the teams necessary to promote and develop the game (software and hardware) long-term are daunting, and I don't know if the gaming world is ready, or willing, to embrace the kind of changes that would be necessary to pull off a TR save.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Garriot leaving NCSoft

Slashdot is reporting that Richard Garriot has left NCSoft. That sounds like bad news for Tabula Rasa. Or maybe not - I never really got why people care about individuals - especially now that the game is launched. In fact, given the state it was launched in, this may be the best possible news....

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Free stuff, quid pro quos, et cetera

Eating Bees made an interesting post this week, detailing the rights and responsibilities, as she sees it, of game reporters / bloggers who come to events and get free stuff. Geek Critique offered up a reporter's response to her post, and she has now responded, as well as expanding on the original themes.

There's so much meat in the discussion these two are having. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, like when I used to roll with the serious blog academics. The initial post raises all the points about ethics that you might expect, and unfortunately probably doesn't help the bloggers who claim to be uninfluenced despite having received something for free (I'm thinking of Tobold here, e.g., and you should totally read his posts on the topic if you haven't), simply by creating the impression that there's a quid pro quo. The response, happily, addresses that.

I haven't given a lot of thought to the idea of community managers, because I've never worked in gaming (I don't know that I could - I have a very negative view of gaming companies' treatment of their employees, which may or may not be accurate), and I'm not a very serious gamer. But I think now I have a better idea of where they live in the whole circus that is this particular variant of the entertainment industry. And that is another reason why the posts are so darned interesting.

OK - I'm out of blather - get to reading their posts, already!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PAX

You know, I still can't wrap my head around the whole Penny Arcade Expo thing. The Penny Arcade phenomenon was crazy enough, but now the Expo is huge. Crazy big. I try to imagine what went through those guys' heads the day they realized they had become the gaming industry. I'm sure it's in the blog somewhere, but I'm not quite curious enough to wander through six years of posts a few at a time....

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Interview with Flagship Studio's founder

Massively has an excellent, long, interview with the founder of the company that did Hellgate: London, which is basically an extensive postmortem of the company. There were clearly some business/personality issues that ended up causing the company to fold, and Bill Roper lays them all out (or at least, lays out his side of the story). It's a fascinating read, well worth a look.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Time away

Well that was a busy week! I hardly even read anything. So going back to the reading, it seemed like Conan was on a massive PR spree. I'm sure you've already read enough about it at this point, so I'll point instead to the story that Turbine has picked up a bunch of cash - enough to do some interesting expansions, even. The story talks console, but I doubt it - at least not for LotRO - it doesn't fit, in my mind. Not that I've played the game, of course, so who am I to comment?

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

GDC is just too much

GDC is killing me! There's obviously a whole lot happening, but I'd much prefer to separate the wheat from the chaff than post about 348 new games, most of which will probably be rehashes of something else.

There was a discussion on the future of MMOs that I had high hopes for, but it let me down big time.

So overall, I'm going to wait and see what comes - so far I haven't seen anything that makes me jump up and down.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Indie games

Tom's Games, like everyone else this week, is at GDC, and they posted an article on the challenges of being an indie developer. It's not a new idea - good content in large volumes takes time, and staff, both of which cost money. But they cite a couple of interesting examples of small games that have been well received, but nevertheless presented challenges for their companies due to the scale involved.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Earth Eternal and VC

I don't really know anything about Earth Eternal, except that it will be based on a 'browser-based massively multiplayer 3D game platform'. I didn't realize the CEO of Sparkplay Media (the game's maker) kept a blog. Today I learned both, and a little bit about Venture Capital as well. It seems the company got some funding recently, and the CEO made an interesting post about his experience with VC funding, versus his expectations.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Raiding

Finally, finally, finally I'm at a level in WoW that I can actually run something with my guild. Tomorrow, if the spirits smile on me, I'll be in Zul'Gurub with 19 of my guildmates.

It's been an interesting, frustrating climb to level 58, and has shown me one of the major weaknesses of the game mechanics World of Warcraft uses: once people are done with a section of content, they're done pretty much forever. Even though, for example, Black Wing Mountain has fun content that is certainly replayable, people have moved on - they're in Outlands now, and for the most part they are not coming back.

I don't know what the solution is - others have suggested the only game that would be totally replayable is PvP, or that PvE stuff should scale (to each according to their abilities, if you will). I like the idea of a PvP where everyone is equal, so a guild could run it together, but I know there are other opinions on that. Either way, the company that solves the endgame problem will most assuredly be very successful.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

on holiday

I got crazy in the car while driving to our holiday destination, and fired up World of Warcraft using my mobile phone as the internet connection. I was able to check my mail, chat with some folks, and things like that, but the lag was listed as 5000 milliseconds, so I decided to skip heading out to do some quests. I'll be taking a couple of weeks break from playing, though I may still post if I see something noteworthy. Right now it looks like everyone is dragging out the old 'why are all the MMO games fantasy' from the closet where it was hidden with the Christmas decorations. I am personally of the opinion that it's a confluence of tradition with the fact that noone is doing a better game in another genre. Give it another ten years, then maybe there will be something interesting to say about it.

The other hot topic right now seems to be paying real money for in-game items, prompted by the startup company Live Gamer. The possibly-too-small-circle of gaming blogs apparently spent too much time in close proximity this holiday season, as tempers flared over the issue. The only thing I have to add is that Tobold is absolutely correct that money killed Magic: the Gathering, and it would not be at all difficult to imagine the same thing happening to any MMO.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

and more...

More on the Activision / Blizzard deal at, of all places, business week.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

holy cow

That's a lot of money:

Activision and Blizzard have said they will form "the world's most profitable games business" in a deal worth $18.8bn (£9.15bn).

The BBC has full details.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Star Trek craziness

Well, I never held much hope for it, but news that Star Trek's MMO has been purchased and repositioned is still something of a shock. It's funny how the most valuable IPs can be abused in this fashion - it's why I never expect any of them to do anything. Large players are only too happy to throw together any crap thing under the assumption it will sell regardless, and Star Trek has certainly been a victim of that. It's funny - Star Trek has, to my mind, one of the most well developed background stories, something I've asserted again and again was part of the key to success for an MMO. And yet I just can't believe anyone would make a good game out of it. Oh well. Still plenty of time for the new owners to prove me wrong.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

MS SQL? Really?

I'm always interested in the way an MMO gets put together, and while I don't read a lot of dev blogs I will pop over if one has something particularly interesting to say. Thus I found myself at Joe Ludwig's blog reading the post how to make MS SQL cry like a baby. I will confess - I'm an open source fanatic, and when MySQL can't get the job done I turn to Oracle. So it came as more than a little bit of a surprise to me that Pirates of the Burning Sea was running Microsoft. I would have said it couldn't be done, but they are obviously out to prove me wrong.

If you have survived my tech talk, here's an article on crafting in PotBS to help you unwind. I've been following this aspect of the game with some interest - I really like the idea that everything in-game can be built, though it makes striking a balance even more important - how do you prevent someone (or a cartel) from cornering the market on a key good? Of course, maybe there's a military option I haven't heard about....

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ubisoft

Not often I see gaming news in Le Monde, but an article today (Le français Ubisoft résiste à l'hégémonie américaine) talks about France's sole remaining player in the gaming world, Ubisoft. I tried to get a job with them at one point to work on Worlds of Myst or whatever it was called (Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, apparently), their foray into massive gaming.

The article does make a good point - for whatever reason, gaming right now is dominated by American companies. I wonder what sort of interesting developments we're missing because of this. As many people have noted previously, creating games, and especially massive games, has gotten very expensive. This tends to lead to consolidation. But why has all the consolidation taken company ownership to the US, I wonder?

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Monday, October 22, 2007

wildfires?

Is it ironic that the same day the BBC posts a story about how massive games make distributed business easier, Sony Online Entertainment support is shut down by wildfires - a distinctly local event. It would be interesting to see a business that makes massive games using massive games for their internal communications.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

consolidation

Ten Ton Hammer is reporting that Perpetual, a gaming studio responsible for some big name mmos, is being bought out. This may or may not pan out, but it does raise an interesting aspect of the massive game - it costs a lot of money. Some people have said (non MMO) games are uninteresting because of the budget - noone wants to take risks. It would be easy to extend this to MMOs, which many are saying are a bit bland these days. One way to reduce exposure to any single title, of course, would be to consolidate a bunch of them under one roof. Obviously SOE isn't a perfect example of this, but that isn't how it has to go. Right now if I were an investor, I wouldn't want to have my eggs in one game basket. I wonder if the direction this is headed is exactly where we are with the movie industry - a few gargantuan companies slogging it out with mediocre drivel. Let's hope not.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Bungie go bye-bye

Seems Microsoft and Bungie are going their separate ways, now that Halo 3 is out in the wild. I'll be interested to see what they do next.

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