DPS, Recount, and TheoryCrafting : How DPS Changed How We Play

DPS logo

 

MMOs have gone through many changes over the years, both good and bad. But there’s been at least one change that I think has left us worse than we were before–DPS. DPS (Damage-per-second for the uninitiated) has become the bane of the MMO genre.  We have become so obsessed with this one concept that it has changed the way MMOs are designed, consumed, and critiqued–and not to our benefit.   Now before you start foaming at the mouth – hear me out and let me explain myself.  Let’s look at beginning years, hopefully without the rose-colored glasses this time.

Continue reading “DPS, Recount, and TheoryCrafting : How DPS Changed How We Play”

EA Hosts LGBT Event

EA Rainbow Logo
EA Rainbow – I kinda love this image

As much of a debacle as EA can make of things, they can get a few things right too.  EA hosted an LGBT event called “Full Spectrum” to explore the role of LGBT representation in the video game industry.  The event had panels headed by Hilary Rosen, former CEO of the RIAA, which has it’s own sordid history.  Interestingly, she makes references to trying to “Silence Hip-hop,” and then says “Preaching doesn’t work.”  I’m really interested in the context of that statement, the Gamasutra article leaves it somewhat ambiguous.  The event also had several other industry veterans who’s who talking the issues of LGBT interests in the industry.

The general consensus seems to be that diversity in the workplace will help increase diversity in the games.  Currently, the white male protagonist dominates the leading roles in games almost exclusively, with a few nods to overly sexualized female characters.  The hope is that by increasing diversity amongst the developers, that will lead to increased diversity in games by taking away the exclusivity of the white male making games.  I’m not 100% sure I think that this will make a difference, but there’s also a chance.  As the article cites, BioWare as a company has been very encouraging of same-sex relationships, as they are possible (if limited) in most of their games.

As a gaymer myself, I think it would be interesting to have more varied options for same sex relationships.  In most games (though not all), same-sex relationships are generally between the player and the giant, glaring homosexual stereotype.  I really enjoyed the way that Guild Wars 2 handled same sex relationships — they just were.  There was no special pomp or circumstance around it, they just were as we expected them to be….just a thing.  In Dragon Age, I remember the one bisexual character, Zevran, who I felt was portrayed as maybe a little more promiscuous than necessary.  With that though comes the question of did they make promiscuous because he was gay (or bisexual), or was he promiscuous and they just tacked on the gay aspect?

Regardless, it’s great to see companies taking a step up to address sexuality in games…and well, basically everything that’s not a giant white guy killing everyone else.

 

Via: Gamasutra

Developer Created Content Just isn’t Cutting it Anymore

 

Over at MMORPG.com, I happened to see this great little video from Bill Murphy about developer created content.  If you want the watch the video, he makes some good points:

  1. Current MMO design is skewed toward gear grinding and PVP in the end game to give time for more developer created content
  2. Not everyone enjoys PVP or gear grinding
  3. Players consume content at a far faster rate than developer created content can ever hope to keep up with it.
  4. There has to be a better way

He also said something that really struck me–that developers keep treating content in MMOs like content in offline games.  It was really struck me because I have never considered that before–it was just…expected that content be delivered that way.

Now we are seeing with the advent of services like The Foundry in Star Trek Online and the upcoming Neverwinter Online, which allows players create their own content, missions and the like.  It reminds me a bit of the developing additional quests and missions in the Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 games.  The toolsets for the respective games were very powerful and allowed very complicated, nuanced story telling.  Ultimately, The Foundry creates developers out of players and let’s them create the story.  This is, in essence, Player Generated Content.  You take the players out of the game, give them to tools to add back into the game, and let them go.

But I want something more.

I want developers to go a step further than that–I want player interactions the extent beyond, “Chat, Trade, Kill.”  At it’s heart, there are few MMOs that have any sort of allgorithymic player interactions outside of that.  You can join guilds–but really within the game your interactions are still limited to “Chat, Trade, Kill.”

When Tera first launched, I was very excited about the political system.  But then I realized that the political system had a high barrier to entry which meant more of the same grind of kill kill kill to get to max level.  Then you had to have a guild to help you out, etc.  Even then, the system was pretty shallow in itself, basically taxing different districts of the world.  I was disappointed.

What I want is an MMO that has more to do that just hit things.  I want to be able to roll a character that’s a bard–but not a combat focused bard, I just want to walk around singing.  Or a real merchant trader who has to get goods from one place to another.  How about a shopkeeper, a tavern owner, a master craftsman?  There are thousand ways flush out a game beyond “Chat, Trade, Kill,” but as always, it’s a risk.  It’s not as easy to develop engaging gameplay that doesn’t boil down to “Poke this till a shiny falls out.”

More than that, I want these different pieces to all be able to interact beyond Chat, Trade, Stab dynamic.  I want to be able to set up a shop that NPCs and PCs buy things from. I want to build a tavern that players and NPCs can hangout in.  I want put a bounty on someone’s head.  I want to be able to rob someone.  I want to my character to make his story — not have his story told to him.  How cool would it be to try and plan a coup a city, but have to be careful where you talked about it because an NPC might overhear you and tell the king, and you end up in prison and have to figure out how to get out.

I want the content for the game to develop organically in how the game is plays.  The difference between what I’m saying here and The Foundry is that I don’t want to have to leave the game to develop content.  I want it to organically grow out of the game.  Does that mean that developer created content and systems like the Foundry are things of the past?  Absolutely not.  I think the three need to work in tandem to create a unique, dynamic environment with relationships that are deeper than “Chat, Trade, Stab.”

All in all, content in MMOs has come a long way from the days of vanilla WoWbut it still has along way to go too before something like the organic content creation can even be a thing.  Until then, we’ll have to content ourselves with Dynamic Events, The Foundry and other player generated content.

 

Utah Rep. Jim Matheson pens a Video Game Rating Bill

Utah Rep. Jim Matheson
Utah Rep. Jim Matheson

And now it’s 3 legislative hits against video games in 2 days.  Utah Rep. Jim Matheson penned another act to make it a criminal offense to sell any game rated by the ESRB as M or AO to anyone under the age of 17 and 18 respectively.  Additionally, it would make it a legal requirement that all games have an ESRB rating.  So, keeping in mind that the ESRB is voluntary system, that every game publisher abides by anyway (indie games are an entirely different beast), this seems un-needed and silly.  Its even more interesting to note that according to the FTC, the compliance with the age rating on video games is higher than compliance with the ratings for music and movies.  For those wondering, there’s no law mandating that movies have to be rated, or that music has to be rated — nor is there a law requirement the enforcement of the ratings.  Just saying…

And yet, this seems like an appropriate venue to spend taxpayer money to someone.  Similar laws have been struck down repeatedly in other states, and this one is strikingly similar to Brown vs. EMA which had a Supreme Court ruling such a law is unconstitutional.  It boggles the mind.  The chances of this bill becoming anything other than a money sink is slim to none.  But  at least it’s nice to know that people still blame video games for all the world’s wrongs, and come up with solutions that I don’t have a problem.

Via: The Escapist

More Video Game Violence Hooplah

Video Game Violence Controversy Spreads
Missouri Representative wants to Tax Violent games and Obama sics the CDC on violent games

Today isn’t really the best day for video games, specifically video game violence.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, video games have once again come into the spotlight as being the harbinger of doom, despite having no direct connections to Sandy Hook or any other violent crime.  Video Game violence has been on the minds of legislatures like Leland Yee and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who penned a law in 2010 that would make the sale of violent video games to minors a crime.  Luckily, the law was deemed unconstitutional in 2011 by the Supreme Court in Brown vs. EMA.

There have been numerous studies (way more than I care to post) about video game violence, with the most prevalent outcome being — no conclusive evidence for or against video game violence increasing violence in children.  But, that didn’t stop Missouri Representative Diane Franklin from submitting a bill that would put a tax on violent video games, and then use the money generated to treat exposure to violent video games.  The assumption is that video game violence is a known evil, that needs to dealt with.  Chances are that the bill won’t pass as similar bills in the past have all been overturned (See Brown Vs. EMA for cases).  I won’t rehash old arguments, but the phrase “chilling effect” comes to mind with taxes on certain classes of games.

Then, in almost the same breath, Obama asks the CDC to research the effects of violent media (including video games) on children, to determine the cause of this epidemic of violent children.  I can’t help but wonder what the drive is here, other than to maybe appease the masses and some of the more conservative politicians.  Anything study that does come out of the CDC on video game violence is years away at this point, and video games are often a “shoot from the hip” (pun intended) target – rarely a sticky one.  In all fairness, President Obama does seem to take a balanced approach and not an alarmist, sensationalist approach to video game violence.

 

Reference: House Bill No. 157 2013

Via: The Escapist and The Escapist  

 

New Sony Patent Targets Used Game Market

Lock Image

So this is a little bothersome.  The Escapist has an article about a new Sony patent application, if granted could make playing used games on future Sony consoles a thing of the past.  This new Sony patent essentially places an RF tag on a disk, which interacts with the console to create a unique DiskID-Console/AccountID that the system then stores as a legitimate combination.  In the future, if you were to sell the game to someplace like GameStop, another user would buying it and trying to play it would have an invalid DiskID-Console/AccountID combo, and be prevented from playing the game. Continue reading “New Sony Patent Targets Used Game Market”

In Response to Gabe Zicherman, on HuffPo

This was originally written as a comment, so I assume in here that you’ve read the post on HuffPo — linked here.  It’s short — I’ll wait.  

Done?  Good.  Moving on …. 

 

Couple things:

First off, Gabe is interesting to read, but in the games industry is generally considered to be more of a salesman, pushing his version of gamification on the world promising big returns. It should be noted that he is not well respected within the games industry as a whole outside of gamification niche he himself created. Continue reading “In Response to Gabe Zicherman, on HuffPo”

DevRage, NerdRage, and Used Games



from AltDevBlog

 Woah, lots of rage lately around the used games hooplah.  When it was leaked a few weeks ago that the so-named Xbox720 might not allow used games to played on the console in an effort to…do something.  I think. 

I want to quickly cover some of the topics around this used games issue and what it’s such a hot topic right now, and then give my own little opinion. 

So to start -the devs–or publisher–we’ll go easy and the Video Game Industry (VGI). So the VGI has this perception that the used game market is cutting huge profits away from it — the general argument being that because of the availability of the used game at a slightly reduced price, players will buy the used game instead of the new game.  On a used game sale, the VGI doesn’t see any of the money — only the retailer that sold the used copy sees the money.  So, to the VGI they lost a sale, and all associated revenue with that sale.

So, to combat this alleged loss of money, companies have been trying to leverage DRM to control used game sales–making certain content only available to first purchasers, making used game buyers pay a “nominal” fee for access to the whole game, or more recently ham-handed, making the console unable to run used games.

From the gamers perspective, games are pretty damn expensive.  Over on IndustryGamers, a poster makes the comment that not only does the used game business model provide gamers with cheaper games, it also allows  those who buy new games all the time to sell old games and get money for new games.  Ironically, it’s a bit of a self-sustaining cycle with damned-expensive games by enabling gamers to pay the damned-expensive prices. 

Now, I don’t want to tackle the pros/cons of each system, just generally speaking.  For the VGI, the idea that every used game sale would be a first-sale purchase is a fallacy.  They have no way of knowing what the conversion rates would be first-purchasers, so I don’t think they can use that an argument against used games. 

Conversely, gamers are a noisy bunch with a high sense of entitlement to just about everything, and a propensity to troll first, ask questions later.  It’s not really all that hard to see why the VGI talks about used gaming in the same breathe as piracy.  A gamer is amazingly methodical, logical, persistent, and implacable.  The Gamers are irrational, whiny, arrogant, entitled, rageful little things who think they know everything about everything … ever. 

So what does it all boil down to?  Well, the currently model isn’t working I think is the key here.  I think that in a few years, as digital distribution increases, this will become less and less of a problem — you can’t re-sell a digital copy of the game (right now).  Games are currently over-priced, and that in order to increase the scope of games (especially as we move to digital distribution models), the price point will need to be lowered, drastically. 

The VGI companies need to recognize that it’s impossible to estimate with any degree of certainty how much money they would have made in first-sale in the absence of the used game model.  They need to provide incentive for first-sale purchases, not punishment for second-sale purchases.  That’s a subtle but very important distinction.  The gamers need to realize that publishers need to make money to continue to produce games.  To do that, they need first sales (and obviously first sales have to exist to have second sales).  No one is a bad guy in this picture. 

Personally – man I hope the new Xbox plays used games.  Really.

My Response to Robin Kaminsky on Free-to-Play

This appears in the comments of section of Free-to-Play Is The ‘New Frontier of Western Game Development,’ says Former Activision VP — written by me.  Thought I’d re-post here cause I wrote a lot.  

Edit: Yah, totally forgot a title — whoops

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Alright – so I have a lot of problems with this article.  First off, it reeks of hype.  The arguments about emotional attachment stable economies — basically everything she attributes to the Free-to-Play model also applies to the console and traditional PC markets that she minimizes.  The emotional hooks, the hours of game-play that she cites as being solely the realm of free-to-play, stating in no uncertain terms that she sees the traditional market as flawed because no developer cares about their product after the initial purchase.

This view of the traditional market is over-simplified and in my opinion–flawed.  Gamers are a notoriously noisy and close knit community with long memories and a propensity for prejudices.  If a developer wants to be successful beyond the first game — they can’t treat the product as if they don’t care about the product after the sale–and I think you would be hard-pressed to find a traditional developer who treats their games as “done” after they are purchased.  Games would never be patched, new content would ever be developed for these games.  Similarly, if a developer really doesn’t care about the game beyond the initial sale, the product is likely to be a lot “hype” and not a lot of content — meaning that gamers will likely not purchase from that developer again in the future ion their investment in the game doesn’t pay off. T

Kaminsky’s problem here is that she views each game as an island – not as a part of a greater whole within the developer/gamer ecosystem.  No developer can succeed by pushing inferior products with lots of hype–especially in the game industry.  Reviewers are notoriously unforgiving, and many gamers take reviews as canon of a game’s playability and value.  Bad reviews of a game can spell doom for the developer.

Obviously there’s a ton going on here — way more than I can write in here that determines a game’s success, but the idea I’m trying to drive home is that Kaminsky is oversimplifying a vastly complicated and dynamic system with one that developers only need to care about first sale.

True, she pays homage to a few of the biggest names in gaming, such as Epic, Blizzard, etc  – but only mentions the juggernauts – none of the successful small – to mid sized devs who have created successful games, like Minecraft, for the Magicka games or Funcom just to name a few (Funcom is a debatable as to whether it’s mid-sized dev or not … it’s definitely on the upper edge).

Now on to actual Free-to-Play models – this is insanely difficult to do well, on this Kaminsky and I agree.  However, the primary difference is that Kaminsky defines the Free-to-Play model by the few successes (Such as Team Fortress 2), which in reality the shovelware far far exceeds the successful Free-to-Play models.  If we take a look for a second at a company like GluMobile, which I think that Kaminsky and I might actually disagree on their success.  GluMobile makes F2P games, most of which are somewhat successful.  One in particular is “BugVillage” which I already wrote about on my blog, but basically the game is borderline unplayable without paying.  In my utterly anecdotal experiences, and those of my colleagues, this is par for the course with F2P games.

 In my mind, a free-to-play game needs to be playable the free way, without purchases.  The purchases should augment the experience, not be required for the experience at all.  In the BugVillage review I wrote, I make the argument the ONLY way to enjoyably play the game was to pay a not-insignificant amount of money.  And this is EXACTLY why I think that the F2P model is near impossible to do well.

Finally, I have some ideaological issues with the majority of the F2P models–that being they are too focused on making money.  As with most things that attract mainstream attention, F2P models have become, with the help of new concepts like gamification, the next “get-rich quick” thing.  This has the effect of shifting the focus of creating a good game that people want to play, to using shady psychological techniques to urge people to play and pay without any real substance to justify the urge.  A good game will create lots of emotional connections and drive through engaging story, appropriate pacing, balanced game-play, and challenging game mechanics.

 Most F2P games, again I’ll use BugVillage as my case study, use game mechanics designed to be keep the gamer playing through underhanded psychological exploits.  In BugVillage, I played, creating my village and felt the urge to spend money to make things goes faster, or so I could get things quicker.  There was no story, no mechanic, no emotional tie-in other than my hate of waiting.   Even EA’s “The Sim’s Social” does this – just better.  They have quests with a slight storyline the drive the game forward, and the waiting within the Sims Social caps out at approximately an hour.  While annoying, I can easily occupy myself for an hour to go to do something else.  The game is playable without paying — and it’s engaging for a bit.  Now, I didn’t play for long because the game just doesn’t have the depth of play I need, but it was enjoyable for about a month of very light (approx. 10min) play time per day.

But ultimately (and traditional games are NOT exempt from this at all), there’s been a shift away from making good games, to making games that make money.  These two things are not at all mutually exclusive, there are plenty of good games that make lots of money.  I think the difference is that there’s a new focus on primarily making money, and making a game second.  This is a subtle distinction between wanting to make a game and make money; it’s also a distinction one that I’m not prepared to expound upon right now.

For the TL:DR crowd : free to play games are hard to do well, and the result of a lot of hype of people trying to get rich quick.  They can and have been done well, but I think of them as flavor of the month, and not a frontier of gaming.