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MMOWTF: Behind the Madness

Just in case you can't get enough of my weekly published trash you can read all about the crap that never got it's own article. Enough hyperbole...read the blog.

Author: Danmann

MMOWTF Recap #9: 2006 MMOWTF AWARDS

Posted by Danmann Wednesday June 27 2007 at 12:42AM
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This weeks recap takes a look back to late last year when I was considering doing some kind of Year End Award crap when happened upon a thread with a video about Entropia Universe. The pure unadulterated lameness was sign from Hell that I should proceed with all due haste. SnaKey also gave me even more motivation with his hilarious gif

 

 

(BTW I'll be  getting in touch with you for some graphics for this year's awards)

 

I had originally hoped that the Awards could run parallel with the Reader's Choice Awards, but Dana wasn't too hot on promoting my 'Negative Awards' by giving them any sort of official backing so I was forced to count and record every single post/vote myself. To make things even crazier, a database failure 3 days or so before the due date wiped out the thread with all the votes. Luckily for us I had already counted every post up till an hour before the wipe. Even with the original thread's 200+ posts the replacement one still filled up pretty quickly.

 

In my next recap I'll go over my picks for the Awards last year and we can see how the winners have faired this year. On with the flashback!

 

 

                                       2006 MMOWTF AWARDS

 

 

This week I decided that our Readers Choice Awards needed a little something extra. Today I’m opening voting for the First Annual MMOWTF Awards. Unlike the other show in this tent, my categories are a bit different than your usual fare. Let’s face it, this past year has been pretty craptastic as far as MMORPGs go so I’m not exactly in the mood to jump for joy and praise the ‘Best of the Year’. Keeping with my usual pessimist theme, the MMOWTF awards are going to give you all a chance to point the finger at the bottom of the pile and hold our collective noses.

 

 

The rules are pretty simple: There are seven categories in total and you will be voting for the game that best fits the title. Since this is the ghetto version we don’t have fancy in-screen voting options so just place your picks in the Forum topic so it will be pretty obvious who wins. I’ll be giving out my picks in next week’s MMOWTF. Obviously a game can win multiple awards, but I designed the categories so it’s unlikely that even an interactive vomiting simulator would win them all. Let’s get started shall we?

 


Worst Graphics:

 The loser who takes home this award is the virtual cousin of that girl that always walked home alone and had to carry her own books. It seems MMOs are always behind other genres in this category, but it shouldn’t be to hard to pick the worst eyesore you’ve ever had to look at. To keep this fair let’s make sure the game is at least 3D and looks extremely bad even on the highest settings. Consider how the games’ avatars interact with the scenery and try to keep in mind when a game was made when making your decision as well since a recently released game with 1995 graphics should probably win over a game that was actually released back then.

 

 

Least Fun:

Some games make you wish you were at work instead of playing them. The title that takes this moldy cake should be so wretchedly boring or frustrating that you have wiped your hard drive at least once to be rid of it. MMOs aren’t the most action packed genre, but if you have ever actually fallen asleep or smashed your keyboard into pieces while fighting a monster or doing a quest then please nominate that game for us.

 

 

Most Desolate:

The game that you vote for here is the one with the most empty virtual world. Ever played a MMO that felt like a single player game? If you have ever wandered through empty streets in major cities or waited several days to find a group then it’s a pretty good bet that game deserves a nomination here. I would give strong consideration to a game whose population has dropped rapidly rather than a niche game that never had big numbers. Some games divide up their player base through several servers so make sure that you are actually playing on an open one before you cast your vote.

 

 

Worst Use of a Popular IP or License:

This award goes to the game that despite the backing and fanbase of a popular intellectual property, managed to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. I’m going to do my best to avoid dropping names and fudge the balloting, but it’s going to be hard. There are several possible candidates for this award, but try to give it to the one that completely betrayed the entire feeling of the original product. The winner should have not only made a mockery of the original, made it’s creator roll over in his/her grave, (or wish they were dead) but also make it nearly impossible for any future product based on the idea to succeed. Choose wisely.

 

 

Most Shameless Developer:

We all make mistakes, but the winner of this award will have actually brought the industry backwards and shame to their family for generations to come. The Developers are the guys who make the product we play so be careful to make a distinction between them and the producer who, in some cases, is a completely separate company. The guys who take this dishonor should do us all a favor and find a new line of work. We have a nice selection to choose from this year and it looks like no shortage in the foreseeable future.

 

 

Most Likely to be Cancelled in 2007:

Who is the next in line to get axed? Sometimes a game doesn’t have to be really horrible to get shut down. Sometimes the guys behind the scenes are smart enough to pull the plug before they get in over their heads. The game that wins this one could be hemorrhaging cash at a shocking rate or just happens to have producers with a quick hook. Whatever the reason, look into your crystal ball and vote the game most likely to go under, not necessarily the one that deserves it.

 

 

Biggest Stinker:

This is it, the big guacamole. The game that stood out in your mind as the worst game you have ever seen. Now if you were smart or cynical you probably never played it, but since this is the dark horse of gaming awards you can even vote on hearsay! Some of you will know instantly which game deserves this award while others will most likely need hypno-therapy to recall the grisly details of this game-that-should-not-be.

 

 

Now you probably need to go take a shower to get rid of that dirty feeling you have and I don’t blame you. These aren’t awards you feel good about giving out. I can only hope that by shining a rusted flashlight on these roaches we can keep the rest of them at bay, at least  until the battery runs out.

 

 

Now do your duty as a good opinionated gamer and mosey on over to the forums, place your vote for the worst of the year then laugh with your e-friends at the choices of your peers. I’ll see you next week with a armful of punk-cards to hand out.

 

- Dan Fortier

 

 

 

 

MMOWTF Recap #8: Teh Game

Posted by Danmann Saturday June 23 2007 at 4:05PM
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This little rant was perhaps one of my favorite ones to write. There are definately lots of gems in here depending on how you read it. Obviously the whole thing is just a gaint mock of expected features for most games. I was partially inspired by Distortion0  and his great thread about his most original game ever.


The GAME was somewhat aimed at certain casual players who expect to have everything served to them on a silver platter in any game they choose to play. The Filtering system though is great idea if someone could get it to work. There were a couple edits to my original work including the removal of the ™ from the title even though he left it in the rest of the article and chopping off 'Third World" from my comment about countries needing a dictator...wouldn't want to piss off  Ethiopia right?

Anyway..Let's take a look back at it shall we?

 

                            The GAME™

 

I’m sick of playing other peoples’ crappy online games. Everyone should be able to play one game that gives them exactly what they want. Whether you prefer instant gratification or a rewarding grind we should be able have the best part of all games in a single package. I decided the only way to make this a reality was do it myself. That’s right you heard me, I’m making my own game and it will appeal to everyone. It’s known simply as "The Greatest All-Player MMO Evah" (The GAME™) and I’m giving you, my biggest fans and critics, a sneak peak!

 

 

The problem with all other games, which we’ll just collectively call ‘Teh Suck’, is that they all favor a few certain types of players so that you have to jump from game to game just to find the one that suits you best only to have it go bankrupt or change completely. This is where The GAME™ comes in, because not only is it completely original, but it combines all your favorite elements into one beautiful package and has features that have never been in another game, let alone an MMORPG.

 

 

It seems like every MMO out there has the same old setting. In most games you can pick from either a Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or some odd hybrid of the two, but in The GAME™ I decided to create an entirely original universe to experience. The players can choose to be one of the hundreds of playable races ranging from the brooding Ovanmitts who have the innate ability to resist heat to the peaceful and helpful Kee’Chayns that can carry lots of useful items and even have a dangerous snap attack. Each of the races can be customized to an insane degree as well. For example, you can stretch and bend your avatar or even change their texture. Even the normally rectangular Remoat’Khantrol can be round or completely made of gelatin with our incredible character creation process. All the races have been thoroughly tested on paper and I can safely say they are all completely balanced.

 

 

Unlike most boring games that start out all players in a single ‘noob area’, in The GAME™ you can start in any of the thousands of colonized worlds! Your adventure can begin on the planet of I’hop in the Gran’ola sector of space which is a world made completely of hash browns and smothered by a cooled layer of pepperjack cheese. Explore the caverns of Bel’le’Buton which are beautiful but dangerous, being infested with the evil servants of Lynt. I’ve spent literally dozens of minutes detailing these worlds to be as realistic and original as possible so there will never be a dull moment.

 

 

Each of these fantastic worlds is seamless with no loading times allowing people who love to explore a chance to discover hidden ruins or make contact with lost civilizations. For those who prefer to not waste time traveling anywhere there are ‘instaporters’ every hundred feet that connect all the civilized worlds in the universe. Just simply select your destination and you’re off to any part of the galaxy. If that’s not instant enough, all players have a portable device that can teleport them to anyone on their friends list anywhere in the game with the click of a mouse. You’ll never be out of the action!

 

 

Taking the idea of making everyone happy a step further, I decided to throw a twist into the character advancement. Some people prefer a linear progression with simple and straightforward classes while others prefer to choose your own skills and make the kind of character they want outside of the boundaries of a rigid class-based system. In The GAME™ you can choose which advancement system you want and you can change your mind at any time! Staying true to my original design, I completely renamed the classes and skills so no one could claim I ripped off my ideas from anyone. For example, I combined Fighters, Nukers and Healers into one class, gave it stealth and named it the Corpsemaker. Don’t be intimidated by the thousands of choices in making a character, you can respec at anytime and all the options are explained in detail in the small-print instruction novel.

 

 

The real feature that is sure to win everyone over is the all powerful ‘Filter System’. Using completely new and untested technology, I’ve developed a way to have each player determine their perfect level of immersion. Similar to most ‘normal’ games that offer sliders and settings that maximize performance, my Filter System allows you unparalleled control of your online experience.

 

 

Using this revolutionary system, any player can choose to filter ANY aspect of the game at any time! Tired of being annoyed by those higher level jerks who keep stealing you kills and training mobs on you? Just filter em’ out! With a stunningly simple interface you can keep players, objects, monsters, even entire cities from affecting you at all! Of course unless they filter you out players can still see and interact with your character. A griefer can kill you, but unless you have him filtered in you won’t suffer any ill effects, while on his screen you die quickly. My bleeding edge then AI simulates your response allowing him to see you whine incessantly. You can even filter out all the other players and make it a giant single player game if you choose to...It’s the best of all worlds!

 

 

In The GAME™ I created a detailed faction system to allow players to gain prestige with the NPC and player created groups throughout the universe. By completing various tasks and quests for the different empires and groups you gain points that eventually allow you to purchase goods and services at a discounted price. At the highest levels of influence, entirely new areas are unlocked like the "Harem of Duke Flexible" and "The Tomb of King Tooeasy" who purportedly left his most epic treasures guarded by a bunch of grey mobs. For the overachiever in your guild the ‘Trials of Ownage’ allow players to even gain real world power, although I’m still in negotiations with the various Third World countries that need a new dictator, this feature is slated for a future expansion.

 

 

 

While most of these ideas are almost completely converted to paper from the Wendy’s napkins I scribbled them on, there is still plenty of time to see your ideas implemented before The GAME™ goes gold. Be part of the next big thing in gaming, if you have an idea or suggestion that would make it even better please submit it to me via the forum and I’ll make sure you don’t get the credit for it when it comes time to pay out royalties.

 

 

Till next time,

- Dan Fortier

 

MMOWTF Recap #7: Case of the Missing Rant

Posted by Danmann Thursday June 21 2007 at 1:31PM
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When I went back to look for this article on the Features>Column list it wasn't there! After a bit of checking I found it in the news forum back on page 40 something so no real mystery except how it went missing from the feature list. Besides a few goofy typos this one made it through the editorial ringer intact and ended up being one of my most balanced and useful articles (despite my best laid plans to the contrary)

 

Roll that beautiful bean footage!

 

 

             No No’s for MMOs

 

 

Sometimes you look at the debacles that have occurred over the course of the short history of MMO’s and you wonder: Do they ever learn? You would think that by looking back with hindsight at some of the mistakes that have been inflicted on us by shortsighted or incompetent developers that the next generation of publishers would have compiled a very comprehensive list of what not to do. Sadly, we see the same mistakes being repeated time and time again mixed in with a fresh batch of new blunders with every title released. Have no fear my fickle readers for I have created a short cheat sheet for all current and future designers called: No Nos for MMOs. Read and be enlightened!

 Number One: DON’T MAKE HUGE CHANGES TO YOUR GAME AFTER IT’S RELEASED.

 

This one is my biggest pet peeve of all. Making sweeping changes may seem like a good idea if your game isn’t doing so hot, but trust me, it’s bad news. First off, it makes it look like you didn’t spend anytime actually testing or designing the systems you are changing. You don’t want the customers doubting your competence when they are paying a monthly fee. Not only will the current group of players be less than thrilled, but playing Husker-Du with your code isn’t the best way to keep the game bug free. Keep in mind that the customers you lose aren’t going to be instantly replaced instantly with loyal new players who love your new changes either.

 

At first glance this might seem to be a thinly veiled swipe at Sony, but it’s really not, although what happened with NGE did draw a nose pinch and a slight head shake. My main beef with these kinds of changes is that it shows a lack of preparation and demonstrates a general whimsical approach to game design that doesn’t fit well with the MMORPG genre. Players expect a certain level of stability in their game and woe to anyone who takes away a gamer’s security blanket.

 

 Number Two: DON’T OVER PROMISE.

I’ve noticed a tendency in Developers to promise the world early on and it’s not always a bad thing to keep all you options open, but when your eyes get bigger than your budget, timetable or coding skills, you are going to find yourself in a sticky situation. Now of course 90 percent of the people attending your Dev Chats or reading your blogs won’t be around to pay for the final product if it gets that far, but if you don’t focus your efforts on the key features that define your game then you are going to end up wasting a lot of resources on unworkable designs.

 

The next time your fans ask you "Can I play an evil dragon with a rogue class?", think twice before you say "Why not?". Know your limits and keep your design goals realistic and you will be fine.

 

 Number Three: TALK TO YOUR TESTERS

 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but anyone who has beta tested several MMOs can tell you a few horror stories of designers that completely disregarded important and persistent warnings about issues that ended up as game breaking bugs. Remember that these people are testing your game for FREE. Make sure they have easy access to all the game files and patch notes and keep them informed on what aspects you need them to test. While many of them may have ulterior motives, they are a great source of feedback and a motivated group of testers will find thousands of bugs that you would never have found otherwise. If you ignore them, treat them like dirt you will find they will just stop helping or hide critical bugs from you to exploit later. Some are going to do it anyway but you definitely want to keep it to a minimum.

 

Generally speaking you want to have at least a couple people who are in constant contact with your testers and making them feel a part of the development process. They may be fickle or unobjective at times, but it’s a win-win situation if you play your cards right.

 

 

 NUMBER 4: DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET.

 

This one is quite simple: If you spend most of your time designing content for the max level folks instead of enhancing the overall game experience then you are only contributing to the power leveling problem. There are always going to be people that spend every waking hour playing your game and they will always be able to get bored of your new stuff faster then you can design it. Instead of catering exclusively to this, why not give players a reason to stop and smell the roses?

 

This isn’t about casual vs. hardcore either, if you make it possible to take part in PvP or group content throughout the game you will be much more likely to avoid the ‘endgame heavy’ development issues further down the road. Sure you might tick off the powerlevelers and your forums may have a few more "OMG where r the Tier 5 Mage Cloaks!!" posts, but it will save you more headaches in the end.

 

I think that’s enough good advice for a Monday. Until next week why don’t you earn yourself a few stars by contributing to this discussion. I’ll be watching.

 

- Dan Fortier

MMOWTF Recap #6

Posted by Danmann Wednesday June 20 2007 at 12:55AM
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Following my little PvP rant I typed out a throughly inoffensive yet newsworthy peice on the CCP/White Wolf merger. I probably could have played the devil's advocate and given all the reasons why it wouldn't be good idea, but I figured I'd cool my heels until another opportunity to inflict random literary carnage presented itself...which by the way, has yet to happen.

 

This edited version feaures a MAJOR difference at the end: Dana thought he'd be cute and put his own opinion in at the end regarding the 'Wii sweeping in to take over the market'. I don't like the Wii. I don't like Nintendo and no matter how many fucking units they sell I won't buy their fucking craptastic kiddie games EVER! Why do I hate Nintendo so you ask?

 

They refused to grow up with their first customers. I LOVED Nintendo when I was 12 and I got my first NES I loved my SNES even more and refused to play Sega or any of their other competitors. Once I started growing up and making my own game purchases and choosing which system I wanted with my own money NINTENDO WAS STILL MAKING GAMES FOR 12 YEAR OLDS! They refused to market products that I was interested in and instead turned their back on the generation of gamers they had helped create.

 

Instead they released the N64 with it's retarded controller and kid games like Banjo-Kazzooie and while Playstation was using CDs and marketing titles that voilence loving adults would enjoy like Legecy of Kain (the first one) and Twisted Metal. A philosphy they stand by to this day with their candy apple happy linup of cuddle crap they feed witth gusto to family minded parents who's their life now revolves around. God damn you Nintendo.

Anyway...On with the Recap

 

           Along came a merger

 

How could I pass up an opportunity like this? While mergers are becoming more and more common as we spiral toward Cyberpunk, the most recent amalgamation between Crowd Control Productions, (CCP, creators of EVE Online) and White Wolf, the second largest pen and paper RPG maker, made me stop and think. What other companies who might want a slice of a related industry would be looking to join forces with (or swallow whole) another company with a strong history and tools in the field? This week in MMOWTF I’m going to dig up some details behind this deal and speculate on the next big corporate fusion.

 

This whole business came out of left field, but it was all started when CCP contacted White Wolf at Gencon last year to get them to team up on the new EVE collectable card game. Apparently mums the word on the specifics of the deal but with White Wolf becoming a ‘wholly owned subsidiary’ and Hilmar Petursson becoming the CEO of the combined companies, it is pretty obvious who is running the show. If you would have told me yesterday that one of the foundations of pen and paper throughout the 1990's till today would be owned by a group of upstart MMO Devs from Iceland I’d have called you crazy. Now it’s a done deal...Wow.

 

Neither company has shown any indication of financial woes so at first glance this deal looks like a simple marriage of convenience for both parties. CCP just recently jumped into the card game business with their ‘Second Genesis’ collectable card game, which is a market White Wolf knows well. The press release also mentions the creation of a pen and paper RPG based on the EVE universe, but it remains to be seen which rule system the game will use. White Wolf can use their resources to bring EVE to an entirely new fanbase while rejuvenating their own product line which, as far as I’m concerned, has been going downhill with the new versions of their core settings.

 

On the other side of things, CCP can offer a lot of assistance and a wealth of experience in the online gaming arena. It looks as if they are planning to bring the World of Darkness into some form of MMO as well. Activision did a pretty good job in creating faithful conversion of Vampire with Redemption, so I’m curious to see how CCP fares without a proven terrestrial RPG engine to work with. Overall this merger will probably help both companies expand their products into new markets so I don’t see a downside. Good luck CCP/WW.

 

Considering how off the wall this deal seems we might as well open the floodgates of speculation and see what other crazy mergers might become a reality in the near future. Read at your own risk!

 

Avalon Hill/NCSoft - Yeah, I know AH was bought out by Hasbro a while back, but I can dream. Wouldn’t it be great to have one of the great historical wargame makers team up with the masters of the almighty treadmill? Imagine Stonewall Jackson giving you a quest like “plz kill ten yankees and I will give you some great loot!”, spending an hour getting a group of Allies together to go fighting Nazis only to have your machine gunner lag out or grinding for weeks on end  swinging your ‘nasty pointy thing w/panache’ (ala Tales of the Floating Vagabond) to get to level two. I’m glad we’ll never know what could have been.

 

Blizzard/Chaosium - Want to see one of the darkest RPGs ever turned into a cartoon wonderland? How about the Great Old Ones transformed into respawning  puppets for forty...er twenty five man raids? If so, then this merger is your dream come true! If anyone could suck the fun and terror out of being in Lovecraft’s sick imagination, it’s definitely Blizzard. Maybe they could package it together with a copy of Starcraft: Ghost 2008.

 

MindArk/Games Workshop - Who needs EA/Mythic when you can have the self declared kings of innovation cranking out your product? MindArk has been charging gamers real money for every single one of their possessions for years and not even Larry Probst can claim that. If you want to do a giant land grab in Bretonnia or wander through the empty streets of Nuln then I can’t think of anyone else better suited to the job. Want your Trollslayer to have pink spiky hair and lots of tattoos?  You better stop by the atm on the way to the barber fella.

 

Square-Enix/Palladium - Rifts was one of my favorite pen and paper RPG games when it came out and I can think of no better way to tarnish it’s memory then to let it be ‘Squared’. Before you know it the Coalition States would be riding Chocobos into battle and Moogles would have wiped out the Vampire kingdoms simply by virtue of their cuteness. Of course, Palladium could then counter by designing a Final Fantasy RPG based on their system so I could shoot Cloud and Sephiroth with a Wilks laser pistol. I can hardly wait.

 

Microsoft/Sony - Now obviously this is not a PnP/MMO pick but given the troubles that Sony  has had with the PS3 launch and their dwindling profit margin they could be ripe for the picking by monopoly-maker himself Bill Gates. I’m sure there is nothing the digital overlord would like more then to have a stranglehold on the console industry too. If you’re going to laugh at the thought like I did, do me a favor and knock on wood please.


OK folks, your trip on the MMOWTF express has concluded for the week, please exit the vehicle and don’t forget to pick up a gimmicky T-shirt at the vendor on your way out. The forum topic is now open so drop us a line. Till next week.

 

-Dan Fortier

 

 

MMOWTF Recap #5

Posted by Danmann Sunday June 17 2007 at 2:11PM
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This is the juicy one...The fifth published article came on the heels of some much liked material and even now is one of the most (un)popular articles I've ever written.  Some may take into account my knack for sarcasm on the fly and thought I was mocking gankers (which I was), but a lot of the content is very much true to my game style. I don't usually do a dance after killling someone, but I typically pick fights with characters I can easily beat although I avoid hardcore griefing tactics. I have a policy to never smack-talk although I do enjoy reading the cries for help and/or afterdeath rant of the person I killed quite a bit.

 

I don't feel sorry for the people I kill or the impact on their enjoyment of the game becuase I never break the rules. As I mention in the peice itself, I just use the tools the Devs gave me to have fun at others expense. What can I say? I'm a ganker at heart...

 

As a bonus for reading through this (ironicly) unaltered version of #5 I'll reprint my forum post I made after someone suggested I need to be in a Mental Instituion. Enjoy.

 

         Don’t Hate the Player...

 

Welcome back to another week of irresponsible and shortsighted insights. I’d like to start by getting something off my chest: I like killing people. I like killing people a LOT. The weaker and less able to defend themselves, the better I feel. In fact, I think I’d go so far as to say that the most fun I’ve ever had in a game were the times when I brutally butchered people who had absolutely no chance to fight back or even escape. It is my indulgence in this sick pleasure that really makes online games worth playing for me.

 

I find that the real joy in PvP games isn’t in simply beating your opponent, but in humiliating them afterwards by dancing, yelling and generally acting like a four year old with too much sugar after you tell him ‘No’. There are few things in life as great as zerging a non-combat specialized player with twice as many people and camping their corpse for a several hours afterward just to get them even more upset. Victory over a helpless opponent is all the more sweet when they send you hate mail and threaten to do horrible things if they ever find out where you live in real life.

 

The idea of being in a pitched battle with a chance of losing doesn’t hold any particular interest for me. If I wanted to play a game with forced equality I’d be playing an FPS. Letting silly things like honor and fair play influence your playing style is just a recipe for getting your ass handed to you. Catching enemies unaware, busy or unprepared is the meat and drink of the Art of War and as I see it, being victorious and ignoble is much better then being a noble loser. Morality and courage don’t have any place on the battlefield unless they help you win because might makes right, especially in MMOs.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing packet sniffers, duped items or other such implements of blatant cheatery. I’m just out to have fun and if that happens to involve using tactics others find cowardly or unfair then so be it. On small servers you can actually get quite a reputation for this style of play and the constant visits from GM’s are always amusing. However, in the great tradition of lowlifes and most celebrities I’m going to blame someone else.

 

Griefers are just using the tools the developers give them to cause trouble and enjoy themselves at the expense of others. Why else would a designer put a game mechanic that leaves items on your body when you die if they didn’t expect players to camp it? Why else would they put guards you can kill in a safe zone if they weren’t secretly hoping a big group would barge in and slaughter the civilians? Certain games that don’t invite this behavior make it obvious in their design. In Dark Age of Camelot can you run around in Jordhiem killing people? Obviously they decided that having a safe area even in a PvP game was something they wanted. Anyone who knows human nature shouldn’t be surprised at anything that happens in a online battleground.

 

There is no denying that Free-for-All killers are in the minority and games that have tried to exclusively cater to their mind set have either become a victim of their own success or are so buggy or unbalanced that they never developed a huge following. I like the idea of being responsible for your actions and letting players who wish to lead lifestyle of unremitting violence do so at the cost of being wanted. This kind of game mechanic actually enhances the thrill of being a mass murderer while providing some form of justice in the eyes of the victims.

 

Speaking of victims, there is special relationship between the PKer and Carebear that transcends love and hate. Their rivalry is made all the more intense by the mutual realization that they need each other. If we learned anything from Ultima Online’s Felucca exodus, It is that a balance between the two extremes needs to be kept. In a game without some form of PvP combat all you can look forward to is endless grinds and raids against the same predictable AI. While the two styles don’t meld well in traditional MMORPG games, the lack of either becomes an obvious detraction after a while. Variety is the spice of life and being able to pick your poison in a well designed game is something that has a universal appeal.

 

 

My message is simple, don’t hate the player, hate the game. Everyone has had a bit of fun at someone’s expense one time or another so what’s wrong with some anonymous virtual bullying? If you survived high school you should be able to handle it in an online game. Next time you’re in Rivervale,Yew or Tartoken don’t forget to watch your back because we’ll be there waiting.

 

I’m finished for now so if there something you want to say, but want to use a fake name, you are in luck...We have forums! Keep it warm until next week.

 

- Dan Fortier

 

A big thanks to the folks who suggested I needed some psychological counseling since I recently checked myself into McLean Hospital to get some help with my narcissism and my complusive killing disorder. Things were going great until me and my new friend Peter (He was in for sexual misconduct so I'm guessing he was a high level Priest) saw this n00b mage kid with some nice gear we wanted. We ganked him but the GMs in white clothes caught us and hit me with some kind of root spell that looked like a funny vest.

 

Some crazy carebear tried to mezz me with needle but I grabbed it and stabbed her with the special attack I'd been saving up the whole time. Now I have to dictate my posts and articles to the floating typewriter that visits me in my padded cell...Gratz guys!

 

When in doubt...Copy Me!

Posted by Danmann Saturday June 16 2007 at 12:13AM
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In addition to the usual recap of this week's topic I thought I'd share sometihng that pissed me off. When I started my MMOWTF column in October last year I wasn't sure if I could keep the title until the first one was published. Lo and Behold, in January some dude registers mmowtf.com and proceeds to start his own cookie cutter blog. Even better is that the MMO News feed on the right hand side usually shows my column in the links!

 

Keep the Blog bro, but at least give me credit for the name...

 

As far as this week's article goes I'd like to clarify a few of the points I made and perhaps explain the choice of title a bit.

 

- There was no real practical reason for the use if the Lovecraftian theme, but I worked better than "OMG NERF!!1" or some other inane title, plus I figured a few of the Call of Cthulhu junkies that frequent MMORPG.com would get a kick out of it. If you haven't read the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft...please do. You'll thank me after you buy that toupee.

 

While Balance in an MMO is a pipe dream based on subjectivity, the goal of the peice was to  point out that the solution to everyday problems in games (and in life) are not always easy to fix. Obviously a player will always assume that he can play his class worth a shit and will never take the blame for his failure in the game and it's just one of those random equations involved in the balancing process.

 

At least some attempt must be made to constantly strive to provide the most viable options for the most people since the alternive is just to force anyone with the slightest compititive bone into the current uber skillset. At least in a Rock-Paper-Sissors setup there are some kind of checks to overpowered characters.

 

Seeingas I'm usually the one putting the blame square on the Devs shoulders I figured I throw em a curveball this week...Check back in a couple days for the next Recap...

 

MMOWTF Recap #4

Posted by Danmann Tuesday June 12 2007 at 11:41PM
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Still grinding through ideas for this weeks article and I think I've settled on a topic: Nerfs. To keep you occupied till then I present MMOWTF#4 unedited. The major edits on this one were the removeal of a couple comments aimed at Funcom and Anarchy Online and it's lack of innovationcoupled with aslam on WoW.(Which might have put to rest the rumor of my WoW fanboy rumor) I'm not sure way he dropped the comments since the sentences don't make as much sence without the barbs, but how knows...maybe he was trying to protect me from myself....On with the flashbash!

 

                     ADULT MMORPGs: INNOVATION OR GIMMICK?

 

              It seems like every week something completely unexpected pops out at me that just screams "Turn me into this week’s article!" at the top of its nonexistent lungs. In this case, I was reading an interview on our beautiful site with David Perry who was giving us some details about his new ultra-violent MMO, 2 Moons, that will feature tons of adult content including profanity. I decided to find out more about it and another game that promises a bit of extreme content, Age of Conan, and take a look at the motivations behind creating this type of game.

 

The previous incarnation of the 2 Moons publisher, Acclaim, was famous for their mature content titles. Having released games like BMX XXX and video game conversions of franchises such as South Park and the WWF, they are not newcomers to producing these kind of titles. It comes as no shock then that they are very supportive of this venture. The game itself is a conversion of a Korean game called Dekaron which is billed as an extreme action game. It seems like the tempo of the game will be carried over and I can imagine that doing the English voice-overs for the profanity would be one of the many tasks in bringing this over to a Western audience.

 

I’m not sure what the effects of keeping kiddies out of the game will do for this title, but I salute them for their guts either way. I can only wish the 2 Moons team luck in their venture to gain a following here, since Korean games aren’t really my cup of tea. Perhaps a slash em’ up MMO will be more successful than the more grind oriented conversions of the past, because we definitely don’t need another RF Online.

 

Another title that claims to be pushing the boundaries for more violent content in MMOs is Age of Conan. Based on the stories of Robert Howard (a contemporary of HP Lovecraft) it features combat that will be "bloody, barbaric and brutal" including the ability to decapitate your opponents. The idea sounds great, but after decapitating hundreds of victims I can imagine even that would get stale. I’m happy to see someone looking to advance the boring click and wait system that have become the standard. It certainly is strange seeing Funcom going out of the box since their other MMO, Anarchy Online, was about as innovative as World of Borecraft.

 

Now obviously violence and profanity are nothing new to video games in general, but MMOs that take the adult route are a bit fewer and far between. This mostly due to the fact that unless the adult part of the content somehow enhances the game play, instead of just providing a reason to ban children from the game, then it’s not much use other than to alienate potential customers and publishing options.

 

There could be several different reasons behind a team of developers making the decision to take their game to the adult level: The first that springs to mind is shock value. The original Grand Theft Auto was a mediocre game at best without the mature subject matter, most of which took place only in your mind anyway. I can imagine a team looking to make their name known in the industry might be looking to tap the mythical untouched masses waiting for a truly great adult online game. I stopped believing in the tooth quite recently and a massive adult MMO market is just about as real as far as I’m concerned.

 

In the case of Age of Conan, I believe that the extreme combat options are probably just an attempt to give the game a grittier feel and less like the Everquest clone that AO was. Will the game get rated Mature and lose Funcom more fans than they will gain from the licence and more graphic game play? Not likely since the average age for gamers is steadily climbing and most people that would be interested in a Conan game would most likely be older than eighteen anyway. They have promised quite a bit and it remains to be seen if they can deliver the goods and bring PvP with purpose into the next generation of MMORPG titles.

 

Of course, none of this really addresses the central topic about adult content making or breaking a game in the modern era. There all sort of tricky issues that pop up when you start talking about excluding people under a certain age, one of the biggest is how to tell who is under the age limit. Obviously some form of token age verification would be employed but ultimately that wouldn’t be enough to keep a horde of teens from paying and logging in anyway. How responsible would the developers be for policing these underage offenders? Developers today have enough trouble combating exploiters and gold sellers let alone try and figure out if they are too young to play.

 

If you draw the line at nudity and foul language, what market are you really catering to? Being an American I can say that we are perhaps the most sensitive consumers as far as what we think of as ‘adult’. Most of the things that would keep a game off the shelves here in the states would be barely considered mature for some of our European friends, it’s just a difference in culture.

 

In a global marketplace with such a diverse customer base as MMOs you have to try and develop something you can easily use around the world or risk falling into the ‘niche of death’. Sure some of the most violent games have been created in the States, but for some reason we are considerably more sensitive to sexual references. A game that wants to avoid crippling controversy and gain a decent sales profile in our part of the world would have to tone down any kind of borderline pornography.

 

Ultimately though, a game has to be fun to play and have engaging content, adult or otherwise. If the adult content is just a smokescreen for a lack of depth or creativity in the game’s design then I doubt it would get any more attention than a roadside freak show. While I don’t want the genre to go Nintendo on us, we don’t need titles that are empty beyond their extreme settings and features. They don’t serve any purpose other than creating another generation of jaded gamers.

 

Now that I’m off my imaginary soapbox you can weigh in on the topic. Don’t be shy, wade into the forums and bust some heads extreme gamer style!

- Dan Fortier

 

MMOWTF Recap #3

Posted by Danmann Sunday June 10 2007 at 4:42PM
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My third offering was a bit more general in nature and a bit closer to home. I worked at an incoming call center for a cell company for several years and even with the high turnover rate and complete lack of employee standards the speed and resolution for problems was still much higher than CS for MMOs. 90% of issue are resolved right the on the call in 2-5 minutes vs 2-5 days if your lucky for most online customer services and the sad thing is I was probably paid the same or less than anyone doing CS for an MMO!

The main change this article had from the published version is the removal of the toungue-in-cheek comment about outsourcing to Canada (which they do a LOT) Which considering Dana lives in Canada is not that surprising. I was all in good fun I swear...On with the rehash!

                        

                             OMG CSR!!!1

 

It looks like it's about that time for me to drag my sorry carcass to the keyboard and plug out another uninspired eyesore. What shall we talk about this week? Customer Service you say? Sounds good. I’ll go first and tell you what I think, then you guys all chime in and tell me why I’m wrong.

 

It seems like designers are so focused on creating the game content, making it playable, and wowing us with their features that customer support not only takes a backseat, but was left at the last rest stop. They fill their staff with qualified artists, writers and coders and whoever can’t do anything else gets stuck listening to us cry about how some guy is using speed hax. Like the lead singers in a band they are the ones the audience sees the most, but are usually the least skilled. The paying customers get the really short end when they have to wait days for a legitimate petition to get answered.

 

Instead of providing a skilled group of professionals to throughly address customer concerns, the status quo is to pawn the job off on ‘Customer Service Specialists’ whose last job was Burger King’s drive-through or outsourced to Canadians...What’s that a-boot? Most successful companies that have large amount of clients who pay to use their service every month have huge centers full of agents to fix any problem they might have within minutes, so how are MMO players any different?

 

Anyone who took third grade math or has played EVE can tell you that ten to fifteen dollars a month is an awful lot of money to pay just to be treated like a kid with pink-eye. With the fat paychecks the top dogs in the industry take home they can definitely afford to put some more of that back into their Support teams who deal with their customer’s issues and raise, not just the quantity of the support, but the quality too.

 

 

Now that I got you all misty eyed and swaying your lighters, let’s change the focus a bit. How does this effect the smaller budget studios who work out of condos and eat Top Ramon every day? The biggest challenge for a team with light pockets is to make sure the people that play their games don’t regret throwing their money in the Blizzard/SOE pit while still providing the ongoing fixes and content to keep the game interesting. The problem is that, on small staffs, many of the team members have to do several jobs at once. Juggling class balancing, quest design, and skinning models for an expansion while trying to plow through a pile of CS reports is not a fate I would wish on anyone.

 

There are lots of interesting projects that are going to have to address this issue if they are lucky enough to get that far into development. Infinity: The Quest of Earth is good example of a game that has a lot of interesting concepts, but will the Dev team be able to handle all the bug reports and player issues for such an ambitious game while keeping the server up and running? I hope so, but generally most small teams realize they need a bit of help to solve all their players’ problems.

 

 

Some games attempt to relieve this burden somewhat by turning their ultra-fans into Gamemasters and Assistant GMs 3rd class and let them police the populace to a certain extent. The problem with this is that, while dedicated, most players don’t have the tact or neutrality to arbitrate all the millions of conflicts and problems so typical for the genre. They generally favor their friends or ignore repeated complaints about issues they don’t see as important. All in all, it will generally drive away the people not willing to submit to their policies. It’s sad when mass-reporting of your enemies for nonexistent or trivial violations just to get away with murder later on is considered a valid tactic.

 

Choosing to go the outsourcing route has its own pitfalls. At first glance an outside group of Customer Service professionals for hire to work as a buffer between you and your rabid customers might seem like a dream come true, but just like commercials with Fabio, it can turn into a nightmare. While you generally have to watch them less and get better results, not all companies can afford to take on a group of contractors to do their bidding. If you don’t give them the tools to properly moderate your game or run events you might as well be doing it yourself, but having to get strangers acclimated to your game and style is also a distraction.

 

The best solution is to actually have your Customer Support team in your employ. Sure it requires more cash than the other two methods since you actually have to pay the buggers a livable wage and throw in some perks to keep them happy, but at least you have direct control on their performance and work habits. Making sure they have something resembling people skills and didn’t come off the street would be a good policy. It would be at least several steps up from the current batch of circus monkeys and weekly article writers they are currently using. Throwing money and gaggle of middle management at a problem is so 1980's, but at least we, the customers, would be happier.

 

The sheer amount of fraudulent and bogus tickets that get thrown at designers every day further complicates things. From faked loss reports to the aforementioned pre-emptive spam to cloud exploits, it takes a truly competent team with strong organizational skills to sift the wheat from the chaff in a reasonable time frame. Strong props to the guys in the trenches who will brave that backlog every day and come away with their minds intact.

 

Now I don’t want to play a violin for the Devs who are crazy brave enough to try to make a successful MMO, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it, or at least they do now. Overall the customer support is a thankless and underfunded part of all game staffs and I’d hope to see more of our hard earned cash going to the people solving our problems every day instead of building shiny new instanced dungeons. Next time you see a man or woman in a GM avatar say thanks and drop em’ a copper.

 

That it for this week boys and fake-girls so twiddle your fingers until next Monday when I shove your cat in the microwave once again. Don’t forget to drop me a line in the forums with any snide comments or suggestions.

- Dan Fortier

MMOWTF Recap #2

Posted by Danmann Saturday June 9 2007 at 7:02PM
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The second article was inspired by the re-listing of Thrones of Chaos, which has since been re-removed. The peice didn't bother to give a history or the whole Mourning affair but was still a bit too kind considering the history of the project. The main difference in this version from the one that was released was a section near the middle where I compared the redressing of the game to the rebuilding a holocaust death-camp  ...which was then instantly edited by Dana in the final version. Here's #2:

 

                                           THRONES OF CHAOS RETURNS AGAIN

Yes, I’m back from the brink of oblivion to run some more fingernails down your chalkboard. This week I decided to shine a spotlight on a bit of news I found disturbing.

 

Recently here at MMORPG.com we added a new game called "Thrones of Chaos," which according to the new developers is based only on the concepts and engine of the original title known previously by several other names including ‘Mourning’. They stated that it was to avoid starting from scratch and building an engine from the ground up. They also promised to give all the people scammed in it’s last incarnation a free lifetime account as recompense for the actions of the previous team.

 

In our little corner of the gaming world there are few games that really break the mold. Rarely a game comes out that changes perceptions in the industry. World of Warcraft, for example, reminded us that there is a mass market for these types of games and that a MMO could worm its way into pop culture. Other titles such as Seed remind us that poor honest devs will most likely starve before making any profit from their game.

 

There are other games though that break the mold the wrong way though and after hearing about the return of the many-headed hydra once named ‘Mourning’ under a new name and new team I got the feeling in my stomach just like the last time I ate pickles and peaches washed down by milk and salt water. You know that kind of feeling, like something really bad is going to happen but you not sure what direction danger could come from. Paranoid delusions aside I think we need to have a bit closer look at this whole situation.

 

Now most of you read the press release and wondered the same thing as I: Why on earth would you purposefully choose a game with such a history? It would be like building a resort for Holocaust survivors on top of the ruins of some concentration camp . . . Sure you could convince them it’s not a death camp, offer them lifetime passes and assure them that it’s under new ownership, but would any of them actually come back? Probably not.

 

Now due to the fact that several other major gaming sites feature the title and the fact there is no hard evidence to prove that the same jokers are involved, it’s completely understandable that we would bring it back into the game’s list. Until they start up their old shenanigans again or do something blatantly illegal or unethical they probably will continue to get free press from most of the major sites. Not everyone will be happy about it, but that just the way the cookie crumbles when you eat in bed.

 

If things work out for the best and LoudAnt have somehow polished the proverbial turd then I would have no problem being the first to give them a big WTG. However, being the jaded gamer I am there is no way I can just throw out the history of the project and give them a clean slate. So before they get any laurels from me they will have to take the long road of backing up their words with action and making a game that works. If they start down the road to Scamville again though, I’m sure they will find themselves on a much shorter leash, at least from me. By the way, anyone know when Mafate 2.0 is coming out?

 

I’ll be back next week with something else to get me run out of town. Drop your thoughts in the forums before you go back to the grind!

- Dan Fortier

 

 

A look backward...

Posted by Danmann Saturday June 9 2007 at 2:06AM
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I thought it would be fun to revisit my column from the beginning...with a bit of a twist. I'm going to post all the past MMOWTF articles as they were originally written before the mighty editor ax fell upon them. I was saving these for a DVD down the road or something...but what the hell.

This first little peice sparked a fair amount of distaste becuase of it's unabashed bashing of Dark and Light. While the game definately deserved it I learned that a 600 word smacktalk fest is best left for the VN boards :) Without further ado here's #1

 

 

                                                            LESSONS NOT LEARNED

                  So there I was sitting at my PC, staring at the screen wondering how to start off my new weekly ‘article’. It should be something appropriate and it seemed like I should start things off with a bang. In the midst of this pondering this, my trusty Yahoo Instant Messenger cheerfully advised me that I had a new e-mail and thus this rant was born.

 

In my inbox was mail from my friends over at NP Cube, makers of Dark and Light. The introduction line reads:

"The Ganareth Tour will give newcomers to the world of Ganareth a taste of many of the world’s most addictive elements. It can be downloaded at no cost."

 

So...you’re like a crack dealer giving a new client a free hit to peak their interest in your product’s most addictive elements? The only difference here is that crack actually has a high where your product starts out on the downer and gets worse from there. I could go on, but you get the idea. It is like a episodic comedy that follows the exploits (pun intended) of a group of inexperienced coders and designers who keep trying to get their first online game right.

 

I only imagine how the meeting of their great minds came to the conclusion that this was their greatest hope of bringing back all their customers they lost by with their downright goofy tactics up till now. I guess they figured the only thing going for them was their engine and that besides being a free subscription for the moment, they also needed to showcase it away from pesky things like other players and class imbalance. Good luck with that guys...

 

In the history of disasters of cosmic proportions you have a fairly short list and although many disagree I find the MMO list to be far shorter still. Right up there with Mourning and Trammel would have to be the blood red moon called Dark and Light. It shines like a cancerous beacon for all future developers to see and use as a marker for when to turn around and go the other direction. If you don’t heed the baleful warning you risk not only going broke, but becoming synonymous with words like incompetence, inept and misleading.

 

Now you say to yourself why pick on these poor no-name Devs when there are lots of other guys to make fun of across the industry who make a living off of screwing up? Frankly I haven’t read a lot of ‘professional’ takes on the epic failure that Dark and Light has become and I thought that a few very important lessons need to be learned from it:

 

"Don’t take candy from strangers."

 

"Look both ways before crossing the street"

 

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." and most importantly "If you don’t know how to run an MMO please do yourself a favor and stop because all you will do is embarrass yourself and make fans of the genre less likely to take a chance on less well known projects and push them towards cloned grindfests...with elves"

 

Stay tuned next week for more ill-informed nonsense from me and don’t forget to throw in some abusive remarks you thought up while reading this.

- Dan Fortier

Conflicts of interest vs Devs that care about their game

Posted by Danmann Wednesday June 6 2007 at 2:48PM
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"No one can be free from bias, however hard they may try to compensate by applying professional standards of objectivity; for objectivity itself, subjectively appraised, must by nature be an unreliable yardstick" - Andrew Boyd

 

The recent allegations against CCP, creators of EVE (rigging in-game events and using their GM/Dev powers to further the interest of one player faction over another) caught my attention and I think it brings up a often unasked question: Should Devs be playing a their own game and if so, how involved in player politics can they be without creating a conflict of interest? Both sides of the question have merit, but this isn’t the news so I’m just going to tell you what I think as always.

 

For those of you who have participated in the early stages of testing or the ongoing testing of future content you might have heard the question raised from quite a different prospective; as in "What the fuck?!? Don’t these guys play their own game?" in response to a ongoing balance or game play issue. From a customer and QA testers prospective it might seem quite ridiculous to have to explain things to designers that anyone who has spent any time actually playing the game would know, but it’s an all too common occurrence that those at the top have little actual experience in the way things work at the ground level. That is not to say that designers are above playing the game they made, but I know from experience that when games are your job, they lose some appeal they might otherwise have had since anything you have to do is rarely as fun as what you want to do, even if they are the same thing.

 

I’m definitely of the opinion that Devs must play the game they create to have any sense of what changes need to be made and what choices must be made in order to help the game achieve it’s potential. There is no question in my mind that looking at a set of features from a design or marketing prospective is completely different, and sometimes conflicting, with the prospective that a player and customer will have on the decisions that will work best to help the game evolve in the long run. It’s often glaringly obvious when the design priorities are set by someone who has never even logged in, let alone encountered the same issues in the course of a normal game session and many changes to games might have been averted had the button pushers had a bit of game time under their belt.

 

There is an important difference however in enjoying the virtual world you create and continue to build and actively taking a hand in the course of it’s politics in the guise of a normal player. In a perfect world considerations like, greed, envy, bias and spite would have no bearing on a persons actions in game, but Devs are human just like us (Although sometimes I have my doubts about those guys from NP Cube) and despite everyone’s best intentions it’s impossible to not have a few examples of favoritism. The conflict of interest comes into play when you have people in positions of power in player factions with access to information that can be used to benefit their team. You can’t expect to have everyone operate on the honor system without someone stacking the deck: it’s the sad reality not just some kind of aberrant corruption of a perfect system.

 

Most developers aren’t that naive and so they take precautions such as monitoring employee accounts and restricting access to programs that aren’t required for their job, but really this is just another system that is open to abuse and favoritism. While it is critical that the Devs share in the ongoing game experience with the players to some degree, by doing so you open yourself to situations like the one CCP finds themselves in right now. Of course they can simply wield the mighty EULA like a blade and dismiss all charges without response. Instead they choose to address the concerns with an investigation. While some may consider it a forgone conclusion that they would find no wrongdoing, they have at least shown that they are able to admit when an employee is in the wrong in the past even if they only received a slap on the wrist.

 

Perhaps the best way to mitigate this kind of issue would be to allow those with out of game knowledge to only play on a separate server so that the effects of any kind of inappropriate rigging would only have a limited or negligible impact for your customers. While it doesn’t prevent Devs from creating an account on the sly anyway it does imply more serious repercussions for the offender. Most companies prevent their own employees or families and friends from winning any contest run by them so I don’t see how this would be an unreasonable compromise. The decision rests with each individual company and sometimes hard choices need to be made in order to protect your investment and maintain the integrity and customer support that most Devs work so hard to cultivate.

 

Ultimately players need to vote with their wallet instead of singing a sob story. I won’t ever play game that I feel cheats me out of my fair rewards, but for some players I guess it’s easier to be a victim than a martyr. It’s a shame to have real life things effect our games and hobbies since the goal is often to escape exactly that, but who said life is fair? Personally I rather have the Devs jump into the fray with or against me rather than make big decisions without a deep understanding of their game that only comes from hands-on play...I’m willing to roll with the consequences if they are.

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