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Battlefield Heroes: The Future of F2P Marketing

Posted by Ozzallos Monday June 29 2009 at 5:53PM
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Electronic Arts is a name that holds a special place in the hearts of gamers... And that place is normally a cold one, replete with spikes, poison dart traps and a plethora of 1d4 creatures eagerly awaiting the chance to express their opinions concerning the monolithic giant. EA's ability to mismanage patching is irritating. The companies skill at pissing off their own fanbases epic, and their inane copy protection scheme legendary.

On thing you cannot accuse them of is an inability to market and it shows in their their first free-to-play release, Battlefield Heroes. Since this isn't an MMORPG, I'm not going to bore you with the more mundane details, save a basic description-- It's a free to play cartoony FPS based on a free to play model, and don't forget the cash shop, kiddies. It's pretty standard fare for anybody who follows f2p gaming, save one crucial difference...

Execution.

No, literally. Standard f2p theory follows as such: You download a game, you create an account on their website and unless you really want to buy something, will never see that website again. In fact, most f2p websites are little more than banner ads hyping their special of the day. From a marketing standpoint, there is nothing to drive business back there unless you're a dedicated consumer of the product, which most free to play gamers aren't. From a personal standpoint, I try to avoid their homepages like the plague, hoping to avoid the eyeball spam and crude site designs. Some companies try to post their adverts in the pre launch splash screens, but even those can be circumvented.

EA is changing all of that simply by changing the way you launch the game. It's an easy process to follow, really. Allow the plug in to install on your browser, download the game and- here's the kicker -press the giant orange "Play Now!" button on their page. So what, you say? You cannot execute this game from your hard drive. Finding the executable and running it directly simply routes you out to their website, their adverts and the giant orange button. In a lot of ways, this is huge since it turns the average f2p website into something more than a one shot parcel of eyeball spam that can be avoided at will. EA has a special? Chances are you're going to see it. Hell, chances are you're going to bookmark their page if you even remotely like their game because that's the only place you can launch it from.

Say it with me-- Repeat traffic that has no choice but to at least glimps the items they are selling each and every time the game is launched. Ever walk into a Toy's R Us store and have to walk through the "buy me!" maze before actually getting into the store? Yeah, it's like that and it's only a matter of time before the amatures on the f2p train get a clue.

 

 

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Windows 7 and your MMO? Not So Fast.

Posted by Ozzallos Saturday June 20 2009 at 11:52PM
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So I've taken it upon myself to be a beacon in the night... A shining ray of hope in these troubled times. A defender of gaming and all that is right in this darkened world. I take these scars upon myself so you do not have to endure their pain.

Or I could just be curious.

My last entry noted that i was taking a test drive of Windows 7 and would be installing a few titles to see how they ran- if they ran at all. As promised, here's the after action report on a limited run of titles. To set the stage, my base system specs:

CPU: Intel Q6600 Quad Core 2.4 overclocked to 3.0ghz
Memory: 4gb DD2 RAM
GFX Card: Radeon 3850 512mb
OS: Windows 7 x64 6.1 Build 7100  (running Direct X 11)

OS Installation...

Couldn't have gone smoother. Windows 7 loaded up from the disk easily, detected all 3 hard drives and asked which one I wanted to install on. Gone were the old framework screens in favor of anti-aliased fonts and a mouse driven interface. Once up, 7 installed itself with minimum user babysitting, pausing only to confirm the timezone and internet connectivity before launching the desktop. All in all, it was a very painless process, and I was happy not to have had to push 'L' for 'Lost' at anytime during the installation.

Most mundane programs installed without any issues, though it should be noted that the older the program, the less likely it is to work. Some of it is obvious. My cherished copy of Total Annihilation will play, but won't install because of the x64bit architecture, the installer running as 16bit. Presumably if you're running the 32bit version of Windows 7, you won't encounter issues like this. other items simply won't be reconcilable, however. Old copies of Nero won't work (but the newest ones will), likewise Daemon disk utilities. Overall, it's not a surprise some stuff works, while other stuff simply will not. It's par for the course. Adobe CS 8 installed without issues, as did the entire Office 2k7 suite, as expected.

Windows 7 is also very helpful in aquiring your hardware drivers once it finds the internet, going out, identifying the cooresponding software and downloading it for you. Sometimes it will be a tad too helpful and you'll find yourself wrestling with Windows as it insists it's choice is better than yours. One nice little feature I appreciated- aside from the pretty gui and taskbar tweaks -is the ability to burn .iso files native from Windows to DVD, no special software required. Media Center is also now capable of playing the majority of my anime archive without the need to import software, such as VLC. Score.

But you're not here for the mundane installs. You're here for the games, so lets get down to it. Mind you, this isn't intended to be an all inclusive guide, nor do I have the time to load up every MMO to see how it played. Patching alone would be an epic time sink, so I chose a few that just happened to be lying around on my hardrive. Also, all of these worked on Vista x64, so theoretically they should work here as well.

The Games...

First, I tested Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. While it isn't an MMO, it was handy and nice for establishing a performance baseline. Installation proceeded without issue but ran into snags upon execution of the game itself, citing an 'inability to start because X3DAudio.dll is missing from my computer'. X3DAudio.dll is usually associated with Direct X and Windows 7 runs the new DX11, so I'm not sure where the incompatibility there lies.

Next came NeoSteam: The Shattered Continent, a free to play MMO. Again, the installation proceeds fine, but dies upon execution. X-Trap- the game's anti hack software -kills the game, reporting that 'some functions of the operating system have been corrupted'. Sure it has, Tex.

So far, not a promising start. Switching both apps over to XP compatibility mode fails to affect their ability to launch.

Moving right along, I slapped LUNA Online onto the the hard drive and was finally greeted with success. It was your typical installation in every way, and the game itself ran flawlessly; all settings maxed out like it had when I originally previewed the game here on MMORPG.com. Also successful was Ether Saga Online, another thoroughly average free to play MMO. Both performed exactly as they had on Vista x64, perhaps owing to the fact that they use nProtect and GameGuard respectively for their hack prevention.

Working our way up the free to play ladder I decided to give another old friend a try: Runes of Magic. I was especially interested to give this title a try since it's probably the closest thing to a subscription title by a second string company running under the free to play banner. Even though their code isn't the most efficient, Runes installed and loaded up without stumbling once. With the game up and running, I collected my 20 promotional diamonds and moved on.

Finally we come to the big dog, World of Warcraft. Any serious problem here won't bode well for MMO gaming on Windows 7, period. Issues with a mainline release such as Blizzard's probably indicates an intrinsic flaw that will surface in other major titles. After five metric asstons of installing and patching to WotLK (it's been nearly 6mo since I last touched it), I'm happy to report that Warcraft executes flawlessly. Everything loads up and plays exactly as it did on every system it's ever touched prior to this one. In away, I'd almost be surprised if a problem did surface, since Blizzard's code is traditionally tight; even supporting multi core systems such as mine.

The Verdict...

With that last bit of good news, we come to the question: Is 7 ready for prime time? Almost. If you choose to be an early adopter, expect the quirks, but given the shotgun test performed here there's a good chance your MMO will work once the dust settles. Worst comes to worst, it's already a solid release and I would expect any bugs to be ironed out in the release canidate later this year. Overall, I find myself liking Windows 7, cross platform OS debates aside. It's refined, more user friendly and definitely lighter on the cludge...

...Basically what Vista should have been in the first place.

Windows Lucky Number Sleven

Posted by Ozzallos Thursday June 18 2009 at 12:44PM
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I hate Vista. I really really do. So much so that I've taken the unprecedented step (for me) to try the Windows 7 beta on my laptop. If it doesn't 'splode there, maybe I'll transfer it to PanzerCat, my Quadcore 3ghz beast. It's already obvious that the Windows 7 is a more nimble OS then it predecessors and fairly powerful. I'm only a handful of days into my trial run, but I'm realizing somebody in Redmond, WA is a genius. 

A goddamn genius.

Normally those aren't words you would associate with a Windows product or even Microsoft at large. I would barely attribute them to Bill Gates even while readily acknowledging his business prowess. No, this genius isn't aimed at the operating system at all, but instead, its marketing. At this very moment, you can run on over to the Windows 7 beta page, a mostly intact version of the final release canidate. Anybody can, and for free no less. In fact, it will remain free for about a year as to allow them time to work out any remaining bugs and ease any transitions that may take place, and this is where the genius comes in.

After the year or so is up, Windows will auto-cripple itself, shutting down every two hours with a friendly reminder that beta is over and hey, a licensed copy would do you a world of good right about now. You now have two choices availible to you. First, crack the bitch, not that i would ever advocate such an action amiright? Second, simply buy a license. Or you can burn it all down and revert to a previous Windows/free OS. Now if you've been using the free beta for that long, my guess is you've made yourself at home... Documents, games, music, pr0n, etc. Blowing away 7 in favor of a different OS is probably going to be a pain in the nads. Likewise, finding a crack that will work is going to be an inconvenience at best, locking you out of key updates at worst; assuming you even have the technical expertise to apply said crack in the first place.

In short, Microsoft has probably positioned themselves for the best, most effective voluntary adoption of their OS to date, one where the easiest option may very well be to simply cough up the funds to continue life uninterrupted. In fact, it reminds me of all the free to play MMO open betas as of late... They're beta only in the fact that they're looking to advertise their product more than work out any bugs actually there. Even citing stress testing is a stretch at that point. Back to Windows lucky number Sleven, I wouldn't put it past somebody in the marketing arm of Microsoft to pull the same shit, especially effective just off the release of their attempt at Vista with everybody clamoring for something better. Windows 7 fills that bill. It's pretty and sleak and until about the end of this year, it's free to use. I'm even considering buying it short of it nuking my PC and I try never to buy an OS if I can help it. I would have stayed with XP, but my quad core needed something beefier and options at that altitude are limited.

But either way, my hat is off to you, Microsoft marketing dudes. I'll probably never know if this move to release public beta was intentional, but well played. I'll also try and fit in some gaming notes in my next entry, just to get a general feel for its MMO potential.

Force Users and Those Other Guys

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday June 14 2009 at 12:24PM
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Within the next few months- probably around Christmas -Blizzard Entertainment will take a hit, and that hit will be called Knights of the Old Republic.  Unlike other reviewers, I won't sugar coat their inevitable rise to power with assumption and baseless opinion. Even if KoTOR is merely an average game, players are desperate for something new. Conan didn't provide it, Warhammer was found lacking, and there has been nothing of merit from the f2p contingent. Starwars already has a massive fanbase pre-installed, so KoTOR will succeed on momentum alone, at least in the short term.

Long term? A lot of players would assume that it's a slam dunk given Bioware's success in the past, but then they're forgetting the Neverwinter Nights series. The name Bioware isn't a natural twenty to win and awesome as some would assume, but its hereitage is nonetheless potent. Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't express my concern for the juggernaut MMO threatening all it surveys, a concern that aims squarely at the class line up. The Starwars universe leans heavily toward ranged based combat. To point, the only dedicated melee class in KoTOR appears to be the Jedi and Sith, which leaves six other classes (or three per faction) as being something else, which brings me to my primary concern.

Ranged warfare in either of the previous Republic RPG titles wasn't that stellar. In fact it was down right stale to be honest. Specing a blaster user pretty much consisted of standing in one spot and, well, blasting until something dropped dead. Oh, you could chuck a grenade too. In short, it was probably the weakest experience in all of KoTOR, an otherwise solid title, and now six out of eight classes appear to be drifting in that direction for the upcoming MMO.

Not that I'm going to cry too much about it. I'll be rolling a sith or jedi anyway.

Nor did Critical Mass inspire me in that department. It's always been a pet peeve of mine in RPGs that let you aim, just not hit anything because of your low stats. Great Story. Beautiful game, just the whole "you can aim but not really" thing always turns me off, regardless of the title.

Bioware can probably get the story right. They've done it before, though they've also failed miserably at it too. Their best work was with Black Isle, but I'm sure the company will achieve the general feel right. They've won awards for their KoTOR universe, after all. But the classes. They scare me and are about the only thing keeping me from throwing my full backing into Bioware's first dip into the MMORPG realm. So far KoTOR is inspiring that epic feeling I got when I saw the first screens for Warcraft a whole year and a half before launch, but the only thing holding me back is the doubt. Bioware's taken a vacation from win since their console debut, let alone the glory days of Baldur's Gate. So far it feels like a lightsaber game, with everything else- including the other classes -merely revolving around that fact. The recently released trailer does nothing to dissuade that feeling either. It's lots of lightsaber with occasional shots of "those other guys."

Frankly, I hope it's the other way around. I hope I am wrong and they are able to break new and innovative ground for blaster users beyond their track record to date. Lacking innovation, I hope they fall back on something that works, and in my opinion, that won't be found in their previous titles. At least not from a mass appeal standpoint.

Here's hoping.

Your MMOs. Do Not Want.

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday June 3 2009 at 11:29PM
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Hey there. Thank you for coming to today's meeting. Some of you may be wondering exactly why we've asked you to take time out of your busy schedules to attend this meeting of MMO Masterminds Local 182. Actually, it's to discuss an on-going issue that continues to plague your industry, and we think it's time somebody set you straight.

Blizzard is still kicking your ass.

Really people. It's 2009. Five years since the launch of World of Warcraft and you still can't get it right. I mean, what's your excuse? How about you, Cutesy Asian Anime MMO? A few million in revenue got your tongue? And you, Ancient Chinese MMO? Don't look at Social MMO and Sports MMO help either; I'm talking to you. What's your problem anyway? And don't think I don't see you cowering in the corner there, Mister Futuristic Space MMO. I've got plenty of this for you too.

Look guys, there's only so many excuses you can come up with as to why your company is failing at the MMO, especially when your subscription base barely tops the population of Hawaii. I mean, there's no excuse for that. None. I know you have your fanboys, but Hawaii. They export coconuts, for God's sakes. Do you really want your mmo's chief export to be coconuts? No, I didn't think so, but fail is still fail and frankly, the players are getting fed up with your failure. Ten million active subscribers can't be wrong and some of you can't even clear 100k. Pathetic. But we're not here to focus on your glaring inadequacies... Well, actually, we are, but we're here to hopefully turn that trend around and focus on the win. Frankly I don't care about your excuses. You have the subscription base of a small island. World of Warcraft has an eight digit population. Ergo, you are doing something wrong.

Now I do have to note that raw population numbers aren't nessisarily the sole indicator of success, but I'm a simple man. Ten million players like Blizzard's product. Only a million and change like yours, if that. It's not light speed theory, guys. Blizzard is doing something right and you're not, no matter how much you want to justify it with complex mathamatics, player to dollar ratios and the like. Simply put, you suck; regardless of how vocal your little minority fanbase is. No matter how you define your success, that's nine million less players who prefer your MMO to theirs. Let that sink in for a minute... Nine million. Times $15.00. Per Month. And that's a downright conservative number since most of you in this room right now can't even get the basics right. Don't look at me like that, Asian Dating MMO. You know damn well who I'm talking about.

But seriously, I'm here to help. The first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem and before the end of the day, you will walk out of this room with the tools to win at MMOs without being a Warcraft clone. The work has literally already been done for you, so all you do is have to copy an already established model of success. Some people call that lazy. I call that "opportunistic". No, Ancient Chinese MMO, put your hand down. You can hate Blizzard all day long. You can claim Blizzard fanboys in your pants. You can weave complex scenarios as to where Blizzard has up front cash and you don't. Maybe two xpacs are in play. None of it matters. You're failing for a reason, so sit down, shut up and listen to some win for once. On that note, let's start with the number one reason as to why Blizzard has ten million subscribers and you don't.

1) Warcraft Makes it Easy.

Not all the time. Not 100% across the board. But Warcraft imposes as few artifical barriers as possible to player enjoyment. They make quests easy to find. They make them easy to understand. They tell you exactly what you are supposed to do and where to do it. Leveling up spells and techniques is easy. Forming parties is easy. Interaction with other players is easy. The game mechanics are simple to understand. PvE and PvP are easy. About the only complex thing about World of Warcraft is how to distribute talent points and even that isn't too difficult, yet adds considerable depth to the game. Case in point, virtually no MMO prior to Warcraft utilized such an obvious indicator as to when an NPC had a quest for you. These days players trip over exclamation points and question marks in nearly every MMO they play. Now some of you may think you're doing it right, but you aren't. If your MMO requires an auto pilot and waypoints to find an NPC or mob, you've already failed. Most of the time these are used to cover for vague quest descriptions, objectives and little in the way of textual direction.

Some of you make your spell/technique system unnecessarily complex. I'm here to say that while depth is a good thing, players aren't looking for that depth to be a pool of mud. Along those lines, Warcraft makes it easy to PvP. Going on a quest to get a "PvP certificate" fails. Imposing artificial level barriers to PvP also fails. I've seen those set as high as forty. How does warcraft handle it? They impose natural environmental barriers. If your level five character should make it past the level fifteen to twenty wolves and boars without dying, then congrats, you're ready for PvP. Chances are, you and your milewide aggro radius will never get the chance, however, thereby introducing the player to PvP naturally and without any complex system aside from factional boundries that protect the noobs. Even crafting is easy; easy enough to not cause undo stress, yet complex enough to reward the dedicated among us. There is no chance of failure. Few part-creation levels actually exist to produce an end product. Players aren't endlessly melting Aluminum to Aluminum bars to make Titanium which is used to make Freemium, then to Unobtanium and finally Pwnium, which is ultimately used as a widget part with chances to fail at every step of the process, resulting in partial or total loss of materials.

But this is fun, complex and rewarding to the player! Shut the hell up, Space MMO. It's so fun, complex and rewarding that nearly ten million- that's 10,000,000 -skipped your game for World of Warcraft. Let's move on.

2) Warcraft Makes it Creative.

The World of Warcraft designers do in ten polygons what it takes you to do in twenty to thirty. Not only can they do that, they do so creatively and with a five year old graphics engine, no less. It's called imagination and they went down to the local 7-11 on the corner and picked up a six pack before coding even started. Blizzard's creativity shows in nearly every square inch of their world. Click on an NPC and he just doesn't dump a wall of text in your face like your MMO. Most of the time it's an entertaining wall of text accompanied by a soundbite. And speaking of soundbites, have you ever clicked on the same NPC repeatedly? They gets downright snarky. Your NPCs don't do that, do they? In fact, we're lucky if we get anything beyond uninspired quest text that wouldn't know word wrap if it bit them on the ass.

Even at their most sparse, World of Warcraft's environments always offer the player something. They aren't a flat sheet of plexiglass, they are alive, filled with trees, animals and artifacts; usually set to a classic visual theme. Their NPCs and Mobs are stylized and artistic, as is the architecture of the surrounding structures... Not to mention the fact that you can walk into most of those structures as well. Last time I tried that with Cutesy Anime MMO over there, I ran smack into a wall with a .jpg texture for the doorway.

Most of you in this room fail at this very basic concept. Your NPCs are little more than cardboard cutouts, fit for little more than introducing the next conduit of XP accumulation. Your environments are bare and uninspiring. Your structures are polygon boxes with as little detail as you can get away. Half of you don't even have a light source in the sky, for Christ's sakes. Apparently your universe doesn't have little things, like THE SUN. Most of this is simple attention to detail... Embellishing that detail. And is it really so hard to invest in character animation with movement better than that of a plastic manikin? For those of you who missed our last class, this also means more than swinging a sword... It means parrying blade strikes, dodging opposing thrusts, jumping, etc. Nothing says "sloth" like combat that does nothing but pop numbers over your head until you or the mob are dead. Blizzard didn't have to make complex combat sequences, but they did and that is why they're still kicking your ass after four years.


3) Warcraft Makes it Immersive

Now look. I know it's hard listening to this. In fact, some of you still think you're full of win and awesome. Sure you are... it's just Blizzard is filled with ten million more subscribers of win and awesome than you are. No, you're not getting 'Easy' right. You're not getting 'Creativity' right and you're sure as hell not getting 'Immersion' right, either. Right along with Blizzard's attention to detail is their ability to immerse players in the world they have created. NPCs have rich, compelling dialogue. They quite literally laugh and cry for your entertainment, more often than not poking self depreciating humor at themselves and popular culture in the process. Villages and cities have populations that do more than just stand in front of blank storefronts. They roam the streets and even acknowledge your presence with enough renowned. Children wander. Vendors travel the darkened roads. In short, Blizzard knows their world isn't just about player vs player. It's about a living, breathing world that gamers want to explore, whereas they have no desire to explore yours whatsoever because it's a flat, uninspired polygon of fail.

Blizzard also has something none of you have... Lore. What? You have Lore? No you don't. You have a dry, pathetic history posted on your website right beside the 'top up cash' link. A company really trying to create Lore doesn't need that. Their world tells the story. The architecture speaks it. The NPCs tell it through their quests and interaction with you, sometimes just through their appearance alone. Your Lore? Please. I can write better fan fiction for your world than you actually invested in its creation. It's not hard to approach your universe as if you were writing a book, then allow that universe to explain itself. If you did your job, your MMO wouldn't need a history page that NOBODY WILL READ ANYWAY.

ZOMG! Warcraft had the Warcraft RTS Lore to build on! Sure, Cutsey Asian MMO. Keep telling yourself that. You're seriously delutional if you actually think even half of that 10 million ever touched a Blizzard product in their life before World of Warcraft, let alone was able to able to recite lore factoids from memory. One thing I can guarantee, however... Each and every goddamn one of them could recite the basic story by heart by level 60, and not because they had a webpage to reference or did hours of research. They knew it because they lived it. They lived Deadmines. They cursed through Molten Core. they bled through Onixya. Forgive the theatrics, but they did and have great stories coming away from it.

Not only did they live the world, but they got to do it with through reasonably customizable character. My character was three feet high and had a pink beehive for hairstyling. Hey Cutsey Asian MMO, how many styles can I choose with yours? Four? Ouch. Not only can I choose from a diverse range of visual attributes, but I can modify my character's skill set to emphasis strengths and weaknesses. Very few times have I actually stumbled across my own evil twin... In your MMO I stumble across a doppleganger, what? Every sixty seconds? The items I can equip are likewise wide and varied. Players are their own person and identity in Warcraft, not another faceless clone with narrow upgrade options. I mean seriously... What the hell were you thinking when you decided to restrict everybody to the same weapon and the same gear within the same level bracket? Lazy bastards looking to make a buck, that's what I'm betting you were thinking of... Or you're sadly incompetent, your choice. Hey, i can even control my character in warcraft, not point and click him to his destination and theirby removing the player from their immersion further. Seriously. You don't think point, click, park and spank is lame, but then, don't take my word for it. Your MMOs primary export is coconuts, remember?

Nor am I going to take lack of funds for an excuse, especially for you rat ass little free2play titles. You expect real dollars from players, you had better be prepared to invest them too. FROM DAY ONE. Sitting on your two servers and an absolute minimum of creative development while expecting to rake in cash off ignorant players will never succeed no matter how sneaky you think you are. In the end, the same applies to both commerce models, though. World of Warcraft chose to invest. They chose to hire talent. They chose to take the time to get it right. You? All you jokers chose to do is cut corners. You thought you knew what gamers wanted, mostly through your own lens of work vs profit or give vs take. I especially have no sympathy for f2p in that regard, but that's beside the point.

For those of you assembled in this room- the MMO masterminds -it doesn't matter if you believe the speaker or the simple truths he has laid out before you. You can refute his claims with arguements and counter arguments, yet the facts will remain. Until you people get serious... Until you stop rushing to be the next big thing... Until you stop cutting the corners... Until you stop treating your consumer base as merely a means to your profit end... Until you actually invest quality into your creation... Until then, you will always be the bitch of Blizzard and you deserve every ass kicking they'll hand out. It's not that you can't have ten million subscribers for yourself... There's definitely room in the market for another big thing. You're all just choosing to ignore the basic principles of supply and demand: What you are suppling is not in demand. It's that simple, and even if you choose to ignore this meandering diatribe, you're still failing. For a reason.

Figure it out.