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MMO Money Magazine

Writings on the business of fun: Virtual Worlds and Real Money Makes Online Gaming a Big Business. My economic view on the world of online games - without the hype.

Author: Inktomi

Looking Back at 2011

Posted by Inktomi Saturday December 31 2011 at 8:59PM
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The year in itself has been quoted from some as not a great year for gaming. I tend to disagree, I feel that overall this year has been good for me and many others in and out of the mmo genre.

Tripping the Rift.

March 2011, Trion Worlds released their much anticipated MMORPG - Rift. After numerous succesful and popular beta weekends, the game goes live to a very warm reception. 

Going Back to FFXI

May 2011-September 2011. I decided to revisit the stomping grounds where it all began. I returned to FFXI only to find it over-streamlined, solo friendly and mind-numbingly repetitve.

Another Blast from the past.

Played in the Hellgate (International) beta. It was fun, yeah, just as it was the first 4 times I cleared the game. Some interesting changes like a market and a better grouping system but it was still Flagships Swan Song.

Im-Mortal Online.

Played Mortal Online for one long and brutal month, its all I could muster. And I will tell you one thing about MO, the people that play that game are dedicated and very skilled at the game. However, the bugs and overall instability of the client forced me to shy away. I like to have my MMO with less crashes thanks.

Is greed good?

CCP had finally showed their hand and some interesting internal affair leaked onto the internet. To finally prove - In space NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM! But the shockwave of the leak as well as some badly worded response from CCP staff was felt far and wide. The result: The CSM member got a spot trip to lovely Iceland and the company (supposedly) is now more focused on its original cash cow, EVE Online. 

Good job guys. I parked my battleships and set sail for new lands.

Going off the grid.

At one point, think it was post MO, I got sick of the whole MMO genre and decided to re-mod Oblivion and Morrowind. The modding was the fun part, but I've been through the old content a few times. I enjoyed some new player mad content in anticipation of Bethesda's latest release: Skyrim

Was not disapointed.

But I will never watch the Spike TV VGA awards ever again.

Ever.

'nuff said.

As of now, I decided not to jump on the Star Wars bandwagon. I like to go where the masses are not and have been playing World of Warcraft.

As speaking to a friend who was braggardly explaining Star Wars and the companion system and WoW is so last year and blah, blah, blah. I listened as a good friend and just responded, "I fly around on a big red dragon and have a Tyrannasaurus Rex as a pet. Your arguement at the moment is completely invalid." And smiled.

Looking forward to 2012.

Until then...

Play safe,

Inktomi

World of Warcraft Reloaded: Up Close and Impersonal.

Posted by Inktomi Saturday December 17 2011 at 2:50AM
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Is that even possible?

Did I ever tell you I am a sucker for freebies? Well, I am the first one to tell you that I a must be on someone's marketing list. 
 
"The first one is free, the next one you pay for."
 
It has been a better of four years since I have logged into the World of Warcraft. In the anticipation of Blizzards next entry in the Diablo franchise I decided to get my Battle.net account in shape in case (fingers crossed) I might get a beta invite. Next thing I know an email from battle.net popped into my email offering me a free week of gametime. Free is for me, if it cost, get lost - Oh boy...they really had my attention! 
 
Downloading and updating went fast, smooth and without a hitch. I could actually have the game playable and not have to wait for the whole installation, it really felt like a pro operation from the start. It also made me smile a bit to finally log in a find my old tauren hunter sitting in Orgrimmar wearing what you might call "welfare epics." Orgrimmar was very different as I expected after 3 expansions and countless amounts of patched in content, with all the changes I felt as out of sorts today as I did as a level 1 noob in Thunder Bluff. But since Blizzard has made the game so user friendly ( and also have played countless clones ) it felt as if I was getting on the back of my old bike. It was time to get into the game and find out whats changed.
 
Blizzard has removed many of the things I remember from Vanilla Days and added so much more. The first thing I noticed and had upset me greatly was the fact that..WHERE THE HELL IS MY RHOK'DELAR, Longbow of the Ancient Keepers??!?!??!!? I frantically looked through my bank and my bags, switching back and fourth then I went to the wiki and say in bright red: This item is no longer available within the game. What...the...Why would you....AARRGHH! The hunter epic quest was the quest that separated boys from men and I put a lot of work into getting that bow. If you are not familiar with it it began with a quest gotten from the Ancient Petrified Leaf which was dropped of a Molten Core 40 man raid boss. 50/50 chance of dropping. Spanning across 2 continents a hunter had to defeat 4 demons alone without pets or outside help. All were very tough at the time and were located out in the open in contested areas. I was on a mean pvp server, so had to deal with a ton of griefing as well. 
 
Oh, well. I have since gotten over it, but still not happy. It was something that separated this class from all the others. I was happy though when I found out that I didn't have to carry around bags full of arrows. So I sold off these 20 stacks of ice-tipped arrows and cleared some space up. Most everything else was intact, so I pulled out my other epic bow and went back to work
 
I found not only a dungeon finder, but a raid finder in my UI. And on the topic of UI, with all the modifications out there for WoW, the UI is the most customizable one I have ever used in any game. This made me happy. But back to the finder tools: I fiddled around with the DF and found myself in a dungeon of my level with 4 other people I didn't know from other servers who ran through the dungeon by doing these HUGE PULLS! I had to quickly get back into high-pressure dungeon mode and picked up my slack quick. 
 
One of the things I had noticed was...no one talked to each other. No hi, no bye. Just pull trash-pull trash-tank and spank boss-need/greed-leave party. I have to admit that on one hand, not having to spam chat for groups and wait for a priest is a good thing. Althought the interpersonal part of putting parties together and running a dungeon was a big part of the socialization system within MMORPG's, the dungeon finder has removed that. But it  has given me a chance to meet other people from other servers, but no one says anything. I they had the option built in to just search for the server, it might have been a little better, not its not.
 
Strike two.
 
Digging into the newer content I found my way into the Outland areas. While the world seems big, many of the areas feel extrememly small and are set up as mini quest hubs. Odd. I've only seen two enemy players the whole time who was much higher level than me, they both nodded and went on his way. I haven't been griefed once so far and haven't been in any local groups for questing either. What is going on here? I know that there are over 4,000 players on the server and there has to be someone else around my level. Asking around I found out the real truth is that there is a huge level gap now, everyone who is playing is a serious wow player, they are all 85 and progressing through the games hardest endgame content. Apart from the lack of socialization, I was recruited quickly by some guild in Org, and no one really speaks in guild chat either. All the serious raid guilds are not recruiting or the raid group is full or a combination of the two. 
 
Possible strike three, but I am enjoying the game in spite of everything I just mentioned.
 
What really happened to WoW? Well, Blizzard had become so interested in satisfying the mainstream publics needs in making this game so user friendly that they removed some core social elements from the game. Sadly, as the new WoW is sharp looking and the way they structured the new hunter abilities makes the class even more fun to use, it feels very shallow and arcade-like. There is no lacking in the vanity and aesthetics department though. As I was looking into all of the new variety of pets and mounts made my head spin. Then I discovered that most of the cooler stuff in the game comes from grinding rep until you have exalted status with a faction. That is another conversation entirely.
 
For now...
Play safe,
Inktomi
Did I ever tell you I am a sucker for freebies? Well, I am the first one to tell you that I a must be on someone's marketing list. Ever hear the one - "The first one is free, the next one you pay for." They must have made that up with people like me in mind.
 
It has been a better of four years since I have logged into the World of Warcraft. In the anticipation of Blizzards next entry in the Diablo franchise I decided to get my Battle.net account in shape in case (fingers crossed) I might get a beta invite. Next thing I know an email from battle.net popped into my email offering me a free week of gametime. Free is for me, if it cost, get lost - Oh boy...they really had my attention! 
 
Downloading and updating went fast, smooth and without a hitch. I could actually have the game playable and not have to wait for the whole installation, it really felt like a pro operation from the start. It also made me smile a bit to finally log in a find my old tauren hunter sitting in Orgrimmar wearing what you might call "welfare epics." Orgrimmar was very different as I expected after 3 expansions and countless amounts of patched in content, with all the changes I felt as out of sorts today as I did as a level 1 noob in Thunder Bluff. But since Blizzard has made the game so user friendly ( and also have played countless clones ) it felt as if I was getting on the back of my old bike. It was time to get into the game and find out whats changed.
 
Blizzard has removed many of the things I remember from Vanilla Days and added so much more. The first thing I noticed and had upset me greatly was the fact that..
 
WHERE THE HELL IS MY RHOK'DELAR,
Longbow of the Ancient Keepers??!?!??!!?
 
 
I frantically looked through my bank and my bags, switching back and fourth then I went to the wiki and say in bright red: This item is no longer available within the game. What...the...Why would you....AARRGHH! The hunter epic quest was the quest that separated boys from men and I put a lot of work into getting that bow. If you are not familiar with it it began with a quest gotten from the Ancient Petrified Leaf which was dropped of a Molten Core 40 man raid boss. 50/50 chance of dropping. Spanning across 2 continents a hunter had to defeat 4 demons alone without pets or outside help. All were very tough at the time and were located out in the open in contested areas. I was on a mean pvp server, so had to deal with a ton of griefing as well. 
 
Oh, well. I have since gotten over it, but still not happy. It was something that separated this class from all the others. I was happy though when I found out that I didn't have to carry around bags full of arrows. So I sold off these 20 stacks of ice-tipped arrows and cleared some space up. Most everything else was intact, so I pulled out my other epic bow and went back to work
 
I found not only a dungeon finder, but a raid finder in my UI. And on the topic of UI, with all the modifications out there for WoW, the UI is the most customizable one I have ever used in any game. This made me happy. But back to the finder tools: I fiddled around with the DF and found myself in a dungeon of my level with 4 other people I didn't know from other servers who ran through the dungeon by doing these HUGE PULLS! I had to quickly get back into high-pressure dungeon mode and picked up my slack quick. 
 
One of the things I had noticed was...no one talked to each other. No hi, no bye. Just pull trash-pull trash-tank and spank boss-need/greed-leave party. I have to admit that on one hand, not having to spam chat for groups and wait for a priest is a good thing. Althought the interpersonal part of putting parties together and running a dungeon was a big part of the socialization system within MMORPG's, the dungeon finder has removed that. But it  has given me a chance to meet other people from other servers, but no one says anything. I they had the option built in to just search for the server, it might have been a little better, not its not.
 
Strike two.
 
Digging into the newer content I found my way into the Outland areas. While the world seems big, many of the areas feel extrememly small and are set up as mini quest hubs. Odd. I've only seen two enemy players the whole time who was much higher level than me, they both nodded and went on his way. I haven't been griefed once so far and haven't been in any local groups for questing either. What is going on here? I know that there are over 4,000 players on the server and there has to be someone else around my level. Asking around I found out the real truth is that there is a huge level gap now, everyone who is playing is a serious wow player, they are all 85 and progressing through the games hardest endgame content. Apart from the lack of socialization, I was recruited quickly by some guild in Org, and no one really speaks in guild chat either. All the serious raid guilds are not recruiting or the raid group is full or a combination of the two. 
 
Possible strike three, but I am still enjoying the game in spite of everything I just mentioned.
 
What really happened to WoW? Well, Blizzard has become so interested in satisfying the mainstream public needs in making this game so user friendly that they removed some core social elements from the game. Sadly, as the new WoW is sharp looking and the way they structured the new hunter abilities makes the class even more fun to use, it feels very shallow and arcade-like. There is no lacking in the vanity and aesthetics department though. As I was looking into all of the new variety of pets and mounts made my head spin. Then I discovered that most of the cooler stuff in the game comes from grinding rep until you have exalted status with a faction. That is another conversation entirely.
 
For now...
Play safe,
Inktomi
 

The Importance of Radiant A.I.

Posted by Inktomi Saturday December 10 2011 at 12:41AM
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A.I. is short for Artificial Intelligence, or as a textbook might define it as the study and design of intelligent agents. This technology has been around for longer than I thought. Doing some reading I had found that it dated back to the ancient Greeks during the Age of Antiquity pre-384 B.C. As time went on, A.I. was continuted to be studied and improved upon for the creation of intelligent robots, so much so that Isaac Asimov wrote his Robot series where he introducted the 3 Laws of Robotics.

A.I. is short for Artificial Intelligence, or as a textbook might define it as the study and design of intelligent agents. This technology has been around for longer than I thought. Doing some reading I had found that it dated back to the ancient Greeks during the Age of Antiquity pre-384 B.C. As time went on, A.I. was continuted to be studied and improved upon for the creation of intelligent robots, so much so that Isaac Asimov wrote his Robot series where he introducted the 3 Laws of Robotics in 1942.
 
 
 
I don't think that we are at the stage of worrying about robots hurting us, but computer programmers have been trying to implement the type of A.I. that WOULD hurt us. Here we have Bethesda, I am sure you are familiar with them. If you are here then you must be familiar with their Elder Scrolls series. Starting in Oblivion, they introduced a game mechanic called Radiant AI. Which is defined as the dynamic reaction to the player's actions by both NPC's and the game world. After Oblivion, Bethesda began further development of this programming in the Fallout series. However, Radiant AI wasn't perfect and could have used some improvement from the stage it was used in Oblivion. As you might see in the this video.
 
 
 
 
Now we have the fifth and latest edition of the Elder Scrolls, Skyrim. As you might have found out that Skyrims AI is rather more dynamic than its predecessors, more so than I have seen in many games. It is not enough that the NPC's walk around and are sometimes a pain to find, that's ok, it adds quite a bit more immersion. But are prone to make comments about you, your skills and equipment in passing. The feeling that everything you do has some type of meaning in the world of Skyrim is more apparent than ever. 
 
For example, I had just finished upgrading a weapon from it's already upgraded condition - not only did the Smith make a comment, but so did a guard and another passing NPC did as well. Some might call that faulty programming, but it made me stop and notice and in spite of its creepyness, it made me feel a little proud. So proud that I whipped it out and hit Lydia with it a few times, she will get over it. Also I could notice as I went further into the Companions questline, they began speaking to me different, not just in the words, but in the inflections they used, it was their ATTITUDE that changed. 
 
This is all not brand new and I can see how it might be imperfect at certain stages and the nonstop chatter can sometimes get downright annoying. But Radiant AI does offer a deeper amount of immersion into the virtual world of Skyrim. The way that it can be used in MMORPG's would give their gameworld a more dynamic feel to it as not as generic. Consider the option of having an NPC that will not buy your junk if you have a bad rep in the town. I know that withint the World of Warcraft their are roving NPC's, let give that more junction and have them wander between cities in making players need to search for them to either hand in or pick up a quest. Most AI I have felt in MMO's are gateways to getting further through the questline and in our modern MMO's reading quest text is a time waster and players rarely do, but some do.
 
Pick the one on the left!
 
I am interested to see how the AI in the new release of EA's Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to be. What I have been told from players of the beta is that it feels more dynamic than others and when you are in a cutscene and another player is making decisions, it almost feels like you're not talking to an NPC. This has to be seen rather than believed. Bioware has a unique way of delivering its storyline content to their players through the circular choice disk. In giving players more options in their decision making then you can feel more of a part of the story, rather than just breezing over quest text towards the next objective. 
 
Also how the additions of companions within SWTOR looks as an interesting option if these companions also carry unique AI and alignments. For instance, pick up a unique companion that has a very good disposition, make a few mean, evil or SITH decisions and they will start doubting you or eventually leave your charge. This is apparent in games such as Dragons Age, which I know for sure because I lost a few NPC's along the way. Now we have decision making with responsibility, how players with be accountable for their actions in an MMORPG will affect their gameplay. Not as easy as, kill some noobs and get a red label that everyone can kill you, but in the way that it may hurt them in personal ways, like in their wallet. If a player loses reputation within a town, have a bounty put on their head and the a town's powerful vigilante might come looking for them. That would add some spice wouldn't it.
 
AI within video games has come a long way, but I feel that it still has a long way to go. Call me spoiled, but as I log into an MMO and see the same generic looking NPC's sitting in the same generic positions all day erryday, it is a letdown. Being spoiled as playing games with dynamic content from Bioware and Bethesda is raising my bar of quality for my MMORPG's. I come to expect more impact for the decisions that I make, not just from the local NPC, but the game world as well. If I had some powerful tiger as my pet, as I did when I played World of Warcraft, why are other tigers attacking me? They should be bowing down to me and the king of the jungle by my side! Well, maybe not bow, but at least be a little less aggressive. 
 
This might cost a bit more programming along the way, and maybe not work as well within an online game as it would a single-player, but I am looking forward to the further development of Bethesda's Radiant AI system. A better AI would give the developers more content to create within the game as the games reaction to the player, and this would raise the immersion level overall. This also adds to my long, long list of qualities that I am looking for in my perfect MMORPG. I don't think it exists yet, but for now I will enjoy what I have.
 
Play safe,
Frank

Star Wars: The Old Critical Public

Posted by Inktomi Tuesday December 6 2011 at 9:30PM
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Soon we will see what I believe one of the largest releases of a new MMORPG that we haven't in some time. In two weeks Electronic Arts (EA) will release what is currently the most expensive MMORPG ever made. Star Wars:The Old Republic topped out well over $200 million in production fees and renowned financial analyst Michael Pachter sees little room for the games failure. Record numbers of over 2 million beta players and pre-orders are at a high. I have not had the opportunity to partake in beta, nor will I be there for this launch sadly so, but I will have my ear to the ground to hear what the critics and the public are saying. 
 
Know your critics.
 
So far its been a mixed bag of positives and negatives, some people love it and some people hate it creating a virtual breeding ground for arguments, debates and all out flame fests. Wading through all the the posts, videos and blogs I have heard one common thread: It feels like a single player game. This might be true, but then I have to take a good look at WHO is saying certain things, other than just WHAT. If it is a paid critic, I look at the website, sponsors past reviews from the critic so on and so forth. I am not quick to react with either agreement or disagreement. EA is not paying me to defend their game, it will defend itself.
 
I have no personal involvement or investment to the game or the Star Wars genre. I would like to see the game do well, simply because not many games really have done exceptionally well in this space. As quoted from Barry Kotick, Activision CEO "If you look at the history of the people investing in an MMO and achieving success, it's a small number." That maybe true, but many games have had long term success rates and haven't had to knock the ball out of the part off the starting pistol
 
The real show will be how SWTOR does over the long term. That long term performance will really be the gauge on how the game is doing, not by a score on metacritic, not be the score some reviewer who is paid handsomely will give it a good score because he got a beta invite, free copy of the game and a talking to by his editor, but by pure performance. We have seen read some reports that some reviewers were paid or even harrassed into giving games fixed scores, so I take everything I read with a grain of salt. Some people in the industry see this game garnering over 1 million subscriptions that will bring in over $250 million per year. I hope SWTOR does bring in more than that.
 
Wow Killer, Wow Killer!
 
"It's the next WoW killer!", some eager players might say. Well, maybe over the long term it may cost Blizzard a few subscriptions, but I doubt it will ever levy the fatal blow as some say or wish that SWTOR will. How would you kill something that can essentially live forever? Now World of Warcraft of itself, but the company, Blizzard has what it seems an unending supply of money and looking forward, a big lineup of blockbuster games to keep them healthy. 
 
Every time I see someone write: Its the next Wow Killer I tell ya! I smile to myself and keep reading onto the next post. The World of Warcraft still has one card up its sleeve: the option to adopt this wonderful new "freemium" model that so many other games have applied to old or struggling games. You can already play WoW for free for quite a bit as I understand, if they let this game roll under the free to play umbrella, you would see the subcriptions fly through the roof. I am already seeing a surge of new activity for NCSofts' Lineage 2. I am even playing it myself.
 
Find out for yourself.
 
I know that its easy to read a few posts, read a review from your favorite reviewer maybe even watch some gameplay via a stream or Youtube. Nothing will be sufficient to satisfy your own critical opinion except going in yourself and getting your hands dirty. Easy for me to say right? Hey man, SWTOR is a 60 dollar game, 15 dollar fees, I don't have that to throw around every time I wonder. You know what, me neither. I depend on buddy keys, beta invites and trial periods to get the confirmation that I need about a game. I might even have to wait it out for a bit as I am doing with SWTOR until the dust settles then I can possible give it a try. 
 
I do have my ear to the ground and listening for certain rumbling on SWTOR, but will be comfortable with taking a seat and watching the show. At any given time, if I have a chance to play it, I will let you all know. Even then, I would suggest take everything I say with a grain of salt and to try it out for yourselves. Everyone has different tastes.
 
Play safe,
 
FrankSoon we will see what I believe one of the largest releases of a new MMORPG that we haven't in some time. In two weeks Electronic Arts (EA) will release what is currently the most expensive MMORPG ever made. Star Wars:The Old Republic topped out well over $200 million in production fees and renowned financial analyst Michael Pachter sees little room for the games failure. Record numbers of over 2 million beta players and pre-orders are at a high. I have not had the opportunity to partake in beta, nor will I be there for this launch sadly so, but I will have my ear to the ground to hear what the critics and the public are saying. 
Know your critics.
 
 
 
So far its been a mixed bag of positives and negatives, some people love it and some people hate it creating a virtual breeding ground for arguments, debates and all out flame fests. Wading through all the the posts, videos and blogs I have heard one common thread: It feels like a single player game. This might be true, but then I have to take a good look at WHO is saying certain things, other than just WHAT. If it is a paid critic, I look at the website, sponsors past reviews from the critic so on and so forth. I am not quick to react with either agreement or disagreement. EA is not paying me to defend their game, it will defend itself.
 
I have no personal involvement or investment to the game or the Star Wars genre. I would like to see the game do well, simply because not many games really have done exceptionally well in this space. As quoted from Barry Kotick, Activision CEO "If you look at the history of the people investing in an MMO and achieving success, it's a small number." That maybe true, but many games have had long term success rates and haven't had to knock the ball out of the part off the starting pistol
 
The real show will be how SWTOR does over the long term. That long term performance will really be the gauge on how the game is doing, not by a score on metacritic, not be the score some reviewer who is paid handsomely will give it a good score because he got a beta invite, free copy of the game and a talking to by his editor, but by pure performance. We have seen read some reports that some reviewers were paid or even harrassed into giving games fixed scores, so I take everything I read with a grain of salt. Some people in the industry see this game garnering over 1 million subscriptions that will bring in over $250 million per year. I hope SWTOR does bring in more than that.
 
There will be no shortages of opinions on this game once it's released.
 
Wow Killer, Wow Killer!
 
"It's the next WoW killer!", some eager players might say. Well, maybe over the long term it may cost Blizzard a few subscriptions, but I doubt it will ever levy the fatal blow as some say or wish that SWTOR will. How would you kill something that can essentially live forever? Now World of Warcraft of itself, but the company, Blizzard has what it seems an unending supply of money and looking forward, a big lineup of blockbuster games to keep them healthy. 
 
Every time I see someone write: Its the next Wow Killer I tell ya! I smile to myself and keep reading onto the next post. The World of Warcraft still has one card up its sleeve: the option to adopt this wonderful new "freemium" model that so many other games have applied to old or struggling games. You can already play WoW for free for quite a bit as I understand, if they let this game roll under the free to play umbrella, you would see the subcriptions fly through the roof. I am already seeing a surge of new activity for NCSofts' Lineage 2. I am even playing it myself.
 
Find out for yourself.
 
I know that its easy to read a few posts, read a review from your favorite reviewer maybe even watch some gameplay via a stream or Youtube. Nothing will be sufficient to satisfy your own critical opinion except going in yourself and getting your hands dirty. Easy for me to say right? Hey man, SWTOR is a 60 dollar game, 15 dollar fees, I don't have that to throw around every time I wonder. You know what, me neither. I depend on buddy keys, beta invites and trial periods to get the confirmation that I need about a game. I might even have to wait it out for a bit as I am doing with SWTOR until the dust settles then I can possible give it a try. 
 
 
I do have my ear to the ground and listening for certain rumbling on SWTOR, but will be comfortable with taking a seat and watching the show. At any given time, if I have a chance to play it, I will let you all know. Even then, I would suggest take everything I say with a grain of salt and to try it out for yourselves. Everyone has different tastes.
 
Play safe,
 
Frank

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