Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3


So, I received a few comments on Part 1 and Part 2 that I was being entitled, elitist, pretty much a general asshole–all these things that I really wasn’t intending and definitely don’t think of myself as being when I was trying to talk about Accessibility in MMOs. My bad. So I decided to write a 3 part to this series to hopefully clear up some of the concepts that I didn’t do a good job of communicating the first time. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3”

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 2

Lich King
From Joystiq

Update 4/1/2013: So, it sounds like I might not have correctly conveyed me intent with this second half of the piece.  I’ll write a follow up that will hopefully clarify my thoughts, and make me look like less an elitist bastard.

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part series on Accessibility in MMOs – read Part One here.

What WoW attempted to do to offset the accessibility swathe was to  create different tiers of difficulty for gamers corresponding to how much effort they put into the game.  For the top tier there was Hard mode raiding, middle tier was regular raiding, middle lower tier was heroic dungeons (generally speaking, of course).  But this tiered approach misses the mark in that it still assumes the lowest common denominator.  You have to turn on the heroics in the dungeons, or the hard modes in the raids.  The core game play is still geared towards the player wants the lowest common denominator.  You have to essentially *ask* for things to be harder. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 2”

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 1

This is the first part of a two part series on Accessibility in MMOs, using World of Warcraft as the critical piece.  The second half of this piece will be published next week.

I stumbled across this video from Preach about the evolution of World of Warcraftand more importantly the concept of the Journey in MMOs.  Preach makes some valid points about the direction of WoW and accessibility in his video, and I don’t want to rehash them–you can just watch it, and I think you should.  So I’ll let you do that.

OK – I’m sure you heard a little bit of whining in there about accessibility and the evils therein.  I think preach oversimplifies the situation in WoW’s case because he doesn’t mention things like Deadly Boss Mods, QuestHelper, Carbonite as mods that make the game VASTLY easier than what it was before.  Last I checked, things like DBM and Omen and similar addons were required to raid.  Add in the fact that most of their betas are open, encounters well documented, and boss’s challenged hundreds if not thousands of times before the actual content even hits live servers and most players just have a cookie cutter model of following instructions.  Sites WoWhead, WowWiki, and Thottbot show every aspect of the game down to the most minute detail and are only a google search away. Is it really any wonder, even apart from increased accessibility, the players complain of the game “dumbing down” or too easy? Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 1”

Plague, Inc. Creator to Give Lectures at CDC


Plague, Inc Banner from Google Play
Plague, Inc Banner from Google Play

A few months ago I did a review of the mobile game, Plague, Inc. and it seems the game continues to impress not only me, but even the folks down at the CDC as the Plague, Inc. creator was invited to give a series of private lectures at the CDC (Center for Disease Control) on the mechanics in game.

Continue reading “Plague, Inc. Creator to Give Lectures at CDC”

EA Flubs SimCity Launch

Update 3/11/2013: Maxis releases a statement saying the SimCity problems are almost behind us.  EA has also ponied up and offered a free game to SimCity “Early Adopters.”  Having been able to play since Saturday with few issues, I think they might actually be getting their act together.

Update 3/8/2013: Amazon has resumed selling digital copies of the game, but keeps it’s warning up.  EA pulls all SimCity marketing materials from affiliates until further notice.  Wow.


If you’ve been paying attention to the internet, you probably know there was a release of a game 2 days ago, that has been pretty rough.  By pretty rough, I mean that EA flubbed the SimCity  launch…hard.  As in, a large amount of people weren’t even able to play the game kind of flubbed.  The issues are varied and despite the cries of the internet, all the exact causes aren’t known.  The generally accepted culprit are is the controversial “Always On” internet connection required by the game.  Essentially, your copy of a single player game must always be connected and in contact with the core SimCity servers.  EA spins this as a good thing, providing content and new depth of game play through the use of Regions where other players can connect to your city, and trade, as well as a slew of other features.  The internet generally holds that the impetus behind the “Always On” connection is to help prevent piracy through the DRM (Digital Rights Management) scheme.

Available Now - SimCity image for SimCity Launch
Irony, thy name is Maxis

The Saga of the SimCity Launch

Regardless of the reasons, EA didn’t adequately anticipate the demand of the SimCity Launch and servers were swamped, crashed and repeatedly kicked players off.  Players were unable to even play private games without any multiplayer elements because the game had to authenticate with the servers, where were down.  In backlash, players took to Facebook, Twitter, the official EA Forums and just about every other possible venue to vent their frustration and anger over the issues keeping them from playing the game.  At the time of this writing,   Amazon had the game as a One and a Half Star rating, and actually pulled the digital download version of the game to the issues, and processed refunds for it as a faulty product.

EA promised refunds for those who found the server issues to be too much, but I’ve heard of several cases where people were denied refunds after the announcement was made.  Customer support times were atrocious to call, Live chat was disabled on the website.  In what reads as a desperate move to save some face, EA actually turned off non-critical features just to get the servers up so people could play.  Let that sink in–they turned off parts of the game, so that other parts would work.  I mean, really?!  this is what the summation of the SimCity launch has become, “We gimped the game so bad, we had to gimp it in other ways just so you can play.”

The controversy around “Always On” DRM schemes started with the Diablo 3 launch where Blizzard announced the controversial plan for the single player game.  So controversial that some governments weren’t overly happy with the scheme.  The Diablo 3 is largely regarded as one of the most disastrous in recent gaming history, with users again unable to access the day for days, or weeks at a time.  Assuming EA would have taken a note from Diablo 3’s short comings, many purchased the game despite the Always On DRM scheme.  So many in fact that the disaster SimCity’s launch has largely eclipsed the Diablo 3 debacle, likely due to EA’s almost complete lack of planning or customer communication.

Cracked versions of the game started showing up on torrents for people to download mere hours after the game launched.  Interestingly, users with cracked versions of the game seem to be consistently enjoying their SimCity Launch, whereas those with legitimate copies of the game are repeatedly hindered with the inability to log into the game.  Officially, EA has yet to say anything about the launch but I think it’s clear that this will be known for a while as how not to launch a game.  As for far-reaching implications on game design and the future of SimCity, it’s unclear.

However, at the time of this writing, EA stock is still in the green.  I have to wonder if this trainwreck will have any impact there.


Via: The Escapist (and just about every other gaming outlet on the planet)

Developer Created Content Just isn’t Cutting it Anymore


Over at, 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.


Game Publishers Oppose DOMA

EA Rainbow
EA Rainbow from

Three game publishers oppose DOMA by signing the amicus curiae (friend of the court).  As the article on The Escapist says, EA’s reasons are both moral and pragmatic, citing both making same-sex couples second classes citizens, and couple that with the beaucratic nightmare that same-sex couples create for companies, along with the problems of crossing state lines and one state honoring a same-sex marriage, and the other not–it’s a mess.  It’s at once heartening to see some companies take a stand against such a clearly biased piece of legislation, but at the same time a little disheartening to that only 3 game industry companies made the effort.  Others that we might have expected have remained silent on the subject.  Still, it’s something.

The 3 publishers join just shy of 300 other US companies who also signed the Amicus curiae to have DOMA repealed.   DOMA’s controversial wording legally defines marriage as between a man and a woman, which as you can imagine makes same sex marriages challenging.  There are only a few states that allow same sex marriages, and many of same-sex opponents site DOMA as reasoning for not allowing same-sex marriages in their states.  Revoking the DOMA would go a long way to promoting true equality under the law in United States.

I know for this gaymer and his gaymer partner, the sooner that this ridiculous piece of legislation dies, the better.






Via: The Escapist

EA Seems Hellbent on Earning Gamer’s Wrath with Microtransactions

EA Crazy Logo

UPDATE 1: EA has since clarified it’s stance, saying that “Oh no, that’s not really what I meant.”  As to whether that’s the truth, or EA was trying to save face, who knows.  But between this and the SimCity Launch, EA needs all the positive press it can get.


EA seems hellbent on earning gamer’s wrath with microtransactions.  The CFO of EA last week made a statement that because of the success they’ve had, and saying that gamer’s are “enjoying and embracing,” the microtransaction model, they EA was going to be adding microtransactions to every game going forward.  The CFO made a few other comments about paying money to be “stronger,” but in the interest of remembering that anyone at the C-level in a company as big as EA has a very tenuous grip on reality as it is, I’m going to brush by that comment as “woefully uninformed” and leave it at that.

By this time, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that most people who care have heard about this, and most likely, raged about it.  I wanted to back up Cliffy a bit–doing this does not necessarily make EA evil because ultimately they are a company that needs to make money.  That’s how this works.  It does suck a little bit because what was once our niche activity that we felt were out for more than just money, we no longer have that illusion.  We can thank the internet for stealing that particular piece of innocence from us gamers because the unpleasant truth that games aren’t just for our enjoyment anymore has been paraded before us…again, and again and again.

Games need to make money.  Cliffy – he depended on you buy games to eat.  That developer working on Assassin’s Creed IV, he needs you to buy his games so that he can eat.  More than that, he needs you to spend money in the game, on onsie twosie transactions to keep food on his table.  It’s so easy to demonize EA and think they are just out to make money (not saying they aren’t out to make money …), but you have to also remember that there are tons of people who work on games who need to eat.  If you don’t pay, they don’t eat.  If it’s working for EA, if they are making money off of it they would be stupid to ignore it and not try to capitilize on it.  Do I like?  Not really. But do I understand it?  Hell ya I understand it.  Games are big business, and they need big profits to survive.  Just look at THQ (THWho?).  The reality of our world is that we can’t just play games for enjoyment.  Publishers and developers will do everything they can to part us from as much of our money as they can.  Because that’s just good business.   Morally good?  Well, the US has never been what any could call a bastion of morality, so I think we are pretty mired in moral ambiguity when it comes to morals in business.

If you really hate it, as so many others have said — vote with your wallet.  Business exists to make money.  If you don’t like this particular path, you have the choice of not paying.  In the end, that’s the most important thing to remember in all of this.  You always have a choice to play the game, and to play by the rules the developers set.


Via: EA

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