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Running in the Special Olympics

Discussion of the Evolving Nature of the MMO Industry from an Outsider's Perspective

Author: PhatWOP

Whats In A Name or A IPWNj00 is just as dumb by any name pt. 2

Posted by PhatWOP Wednesday January 30 2008 at 9:31AM
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Hello again all,

I would like to continue our little discussion about naming today with two more very popular archetypes. My hope is that with some furhter anthropological exploration, we can determine more about these strange and exotic species.

Let's start with a group I call the Same Namers. Same Namers use the same name for their character's in every game. It doesn't matter what game it is, they have a set name for a "character" and that is simply what they use. So if Ragabon is their Warrior in WoW, it is also their Bounty Hunter in SWG, their Black Orc in WAR and so on. This group is the most mystifying to me and also the most stealthy of the namers. YOu have to either a) know them over several games or b) know them personally to even be aware of their habits. That's right, you too could currently be good friends or even guildmates with Same Namers and not even know it. This group is also made up of two major psychogrpahic profiles. The first type of person who inhabits this group doesn't particularly care about names at all. They play the game for some other reason besides "inhabiting the digital world". They care very little about Role-Playing and simply want to get at the crunch of the game. As such, they long ago decided on a vanillia name that serves their purposes well enough and they see no need to change.

Ironically, the second major part of this group is the exact opposite. The second part of this grouping has developed a Character. They are strong role-players and no matter the game they are playing THAT character. They also like the ability this constant name gives them to be recognized by friends and guildmates across multiple platforms. Perhaps this character originated outside of MMO's at a table-top game, perhaps it represents a deep-seeded part of the players real psychology that goes underexpressed in daily life. It's hard to say for sure. Whatever the true reason for this manifestation, they are playing that character. It could be a bad-ass warrior woman who takes no guff from her male counter-parts and has had to strugle for respect her whole life, or a mischevous roguish type that is a perrenial con-man with a heart of gold. Whatever the character, it's malleable enough that it can fit into any genre with very little coaxing. This species is definetly a herbivore, with standard day/night cycle rotations and a strong pack mentality.

Let us now move onto the second Species we will discuss today. The Name Copiers. They are a completely different species from the Same Namers. These are people who are named Leggolass, legolass, yodahh, Vadar, etc. Their are countless examples and the most interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it is not restricted to the IP's they are copying. Certainly you will see close approximations of the famous characters in LoTRO, but I saw all of these same fellowship copying names in DAoC and UO as well.

But what can we know about this group? This groups closest analogue is actually the 1337 d00d. These tend to be the kinder gentler form of that species. I do believe that this group actually tends to be on the younger side as it is easier for children to try to replicate their heroes and idols in a digital form without remorse or concern over the lack of creativity. This group is the true enemy of the funny name species. The funny name species believes that it has to strive to be original in every game and it wants more than anything to draw attention to itself for it's originality and humor. This group is exactly the opposite in that they end up drawing attention to themselves for their complete lack of creativity. This group is currently on the endangered species list ans naming policies in many MMOs are attempting to eradicate this tenacious species. Despite the efforts, the species lives on, adding secondary and/or nonsensical consanents and vowels at every opportunity.

Next time, in the final Blog on naming, I discussnaming policies in games and whether or not they can ever be successful.

Until next time, may you never find yourself in a group of Leggolass, Aragern, Lucc Skyrunner, Gramm the Punchy and Connnan.

What's In A Name or A IPWNj00 is just as dumb by any name Pt. 1

Posted by PhatWOP Monday January 28 2008 at 10:47AM
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I would like to speak today for a few brief moments on Naming.

In the real world, there are few things more important to our individual ideanties than our name. When we walk into a retail store, we see many employees surrounding us replete with bright blue, red or some-other-primary-color-that-alledgedly-makes-you-want-to-buy-stuff shirts and, most importantly, a name tag. When I call offices, the first thing the person says is usually "This is X Smith, thank you for calling." Our names are what we feel separate us from all of those around us, even if we have a more common moniker, something like a Chad Jones or Bob Smith, our name is still always uniquely ours.

So it would make sense if the same sensibilities applied to choosing the ID for our small digital self when we enter an MMO. Only now, the process is reversed. Instead of our name determining something about us and our personalty by hanging over our head as the sword of Damacles throughout our entire youth, now we determine the name and it has to speak ABOUT us. There are many common sayings that if I know a certain small aspect of a person (the car they drive, the job they have, the fast food restaurant they most often patronize, etc) I can extrapolate to know a great deal about that person. I would like to humbly add to that great list of hyperbole, MMO Names. I think few things are more instructive of the real person's greater personality than the name they choose for their digital self.

I think we can identify a couple major groups of name "species". All members of that name species will have similar characteristics and actions. Let's do some digital anthropology.

The first group is probably not th emost common, but it seems as such based on the annoyance you feel when you see them. The 1337 boi. The l337 kids will generally have names including numbers (if that games name system allows it) and a mix of small letters and CAPS iN tH3 wR0nG p14C3s (again, if allowed). In games with stricter naming policies, they will simply cut to the chase and name themselves somthing like "spitonu" or "pwnjoo". Most often these names also have the undertones of killing, maiming, destoying and/or otherwise "owning" you (but not in a slavery way). The most common assumption is that these are all 12 year old kids who don't have the maturity to act in line with the game in question. I think this is only half-true. The second type of person in this species are fully-grown adults who know that everyone thinks they are children, and use this as a cover to let their id's run wild. Protected by the annonimity of the internet and the stigma that there is no way a rational adult would act in such a fashion, they are free to travel the world, /spit'ing on whomever they choose. I think the defining feature of this group is they do not play well with members outside their species. They are definetly carnivores and tend to be nocturnal.

The second major group is the "comedy" name people. They play the game to laugh and escape. This is a large group and sadly, the group I most likely count myself among. I try to fit withing the flavor of the world if possible, but I want to be funny and that is often more important to me. I think this group tends to be achiever's with a sense of humor and are often detached from the lore of the world they are playing in. Role-Playing is also probably a low-prioity for tihs group as its hard to take a character named "Circus Freak" as my bearded female dwarf in EQ was, seriously. I had an undead rogue named Trenchfoot (I thought that was a nice win, it felt appropriate and funny) and a Ratonga Necro named Reapercheep in EQ2 (which btw, is the funny name I am most proud of in my 10+ years of playing MMOs). I would like to make a special shout-out here to another character I did not name but has stayed in my memory to this day. A wookie from SWG named Tu-Pacca. First off, that is one of the funniest names I have ever head, period. Secondly, Tu-Pacca's back story was something like "Tu-Pacca grew up on the rough streets of Corillia shooting chance cubes in the alleys". I think I honestly fell out of my chair when I saw that. I think the defning feature of this species is that they tend to want to get along with anyone who is funny and drama-lite (tm). They are omnivores and tend to have a normal Day-Night schedule.

That's all for this installment. Next time we look at two new and exciting species Name Repeaters (same name in every game) and Name Copiers (Legolass, Leggolas, Llegolass, etc).

Until next time,

May your name say only nice things about you.

Pulling up a chair at the Buffet

Posted by PhatWOP Friday January 25 2008 at 10:59AM
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Today I would like to discuss something I see discussed frequesntly here and on every MMO site I visit. No, not whether Britany Spears will ever regain child visitation rights. I want to discuss a Game's Features.

Undoubtedly, far more goes into a game than simply whether or not fishing is available, mounts, buying a house, etc.  The games are composed of challenge factor, community, support and far more. For this discussion though, I am going to limit myself to Features.

In my life as a Computer Salesman we called this F&B (Features and Benefits) - The Computer would have X Processor and Y amount of RAM. IN modern MMO's we talk about easy to use UI's, Quests throughout the game, housing systems, crafting systems, travel systems and we want it all.

The modern successful (read enough subscribers to justify roughly three years of existence and the possibility of at least one or more expansions) MMO's have all taken a buffet approach to the implementation of features. Each successive generation adding slightly more, a small innovation here, an ease of use tool there. All of these features quickly become part of the MMO vetrans expectations when examining any new game.

My question is as follows. Can this model be sustained in the long-term?

My answer. Not really. I'll tell you why I think that.

First through, we should have a basic list of what we are talking about.

Questing, Crafting, Mounts, Mounted Combat, Mail, Auction House, Banks, Housing, Guild Versions of all of these, Hobbies/Mini-Games (Fishing, etc), Talent Specializations (assuming a class based-system), Robust economy, Anti-Spam/Gold-Seller systems, PvP, Accomplishments (or titles, something to personalize), Robust character model generation (to personalize on a visual level) and a few mre I am sure I am forgetting.

Most successful MMO's (and I do not want to linger on that term too long and have this devolve into an argument about what is successful, let's simply leave it amorphous) are including some of these features and always have plans to incorporate the rest over a several year time period post-puanch. Things like in game maps, a simple and clean UI and varied and balanced skills have become so common place they are hardly features anymore (they are the silverware at the buffet to carry on the analogy).

Several of these features are HUGE undertakings. Crafting systems, to be really successful require hordes of code and in game support; Resources, recipes, facilities to craft, etc. That system alone could break a game if it doesn't have it and could take thousands of hours of programming time to implement. It should be noted how interdependent these features become. The crafting probably also relies on a functional economy and auction house (if you don't want a bunch of people standing around yelling in a global chat). These games already have a development time of at minimum three years, and we are seeing that become fast. All of the flagship titles of 2007 saw delays into 2008 (with all of them seeing even more delays recently). Why? Because they are all trying to be Buffets. They are all trying to incorporate as many features from the list above as they can, if not all of them. Add to this the fact that most of these games are based on existing IP's and require a gret deal of care as to not offend the fanboi's of the source material and gets even trickier.

Let me step back a moment. When you are considering taking a date, spouse, visiting sister (deep south only) out for a special meal, do you head to the local Hometown Buffet? No, of course not. You probably go to some overcosted specialized Italian restaurant or Japanese Fusion place. Why? Because these specialized restaurants do what they do very, very well and by offering a limited menu and charging a premium price, they are able to deliver a far higher quality level. The buffet just throws slop in a trough and lets the old people slowly gum their cardboard-esque food.

I believe in the next five (ten?) years you will see the same sort of evolution of the MMO industry. Smaller specialized (and dare I say premium priced?) MMO's will appear that promise extraordinary service and the highest possible experience of one type of or small sub-set of features. The larger Buffet MMO's will still exist, but they will be viewed as the buffet's now are viewed. A place to go to just shovel in mediocrity for people who don't care about quality.

Until Next time, Gum your fried chicken carefully.

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