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Gaming To Hell In A Handbasket

The trials, tribulations and musings of an MMO veteran trying to find the next holy grail.

Author: Strayfe

The War on Goldsellers

Posted by Strayfe Friday November 30 2007 at 2:42PM
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It's getting out out of hand.  It's becoming ridiculous.  Goldsellers, chinese farmers, RMT.  Whatever you want to call them, they own your game.  They own your gaming experience.  They own you. 

"But I never buy any gold, I hate goldsellers!", you say.

I hate them too.  I despise and loathe them down to their very core.  They own me too.  Even if you decided that you were going to sacrifice your first born before you buy gold, they still have a profound effect on your gaming environment.

They ruin your economy.  They ruin your public chat channels.  They harass new players and veterans alike.  They monopolize rare spawns.  They monopolize rare gear.  They work in concert to make absolutely sure that one or more of their number infiltrates every last little niche of your game.  And then they rape it.  They break laws, EULAs, and they don't care.  In fact, they factor the risk of getting banned in their business expenses.  They factor having to buy additional copies of games into their business expenses.

They are Gods walking Azeroth, or Telon, or Middle-earth, or Norrath, or Vana'diel, and any other world out there.  They do whatever they want, with absolute impunity from any efforts taken to stop them.  If you report one, and it gets banned, it will simply return a few minutes later and pick up where it left off.

They own game developers, and they will continue to do so until game developers fight back.  Not with half-ass chat filters, or task forces, but really fight back. 

Why do these parasites exist?

They exist because some gamers who play 2-3 hours a week errantly believe that they can and should have the same gear and gold as players who play 20-30 hours a week.  Earth to casual gamers.  Society doesn't work that way, and neither should MMORPGs.  You get out of something what you put into it.  You do NOT deserve what you do not earn.  You are not special because you have a family.  You are not special because you work.  You are not special because you "have a life".

I generally avoid extremist opinions.  The world is full of gray areas.  I don't debate religion or politics with people, because there is simply no right answer.  I will, however, give you my opinion on people who buy gold.  I will not apologize for my opinion.  No amount of circular reasoning, straw man, or ad hominem arguments will change my mind.  There is no defense for what you do. 

You are participating in a hobby like the rest of us.  You do not deserve to buy your way ahead of people who work hard toward their goals in game.  If you buy gold, you are a miserable, despicable, vapid waste of microscopic particles which somehow, improbably formed into a miserable, despicable, vapid human beingYou are a cheater.  A filthy cheater.  There is no excuse for what you do.

It absolutely shocks me that older gamers defend their gold buying ways by categorically listing their real-life pursuits. 

"Duh h'yuk, ya I buys some golds 'cuz you know... well, I gotsa family, I gotsa jawb... I gotsa GIRLFRENN!  I buys some golds 'cuz well.. ya know.. I just can not keep up wif people who PLAY 24-7... and.. uh.. I should.. be able to!"

No, no you shouldn't.  If I play basketball casually, I shouldn't be able to go to the store and buy a pair of shoes that will give me the endurance, skill and jumping ability of Michael Jordan. 

If you want to be successful at something, YOU WORK TOWARD IT.  Or you accept the fact that, even though you enjoy doing it, you don't have the time to dedicate to become as good or as successful at it as other people.  This is alright.  Plenty of people pursue hobbies because they enjoy them.  If you enjoy MMORPGs as a hobby, you are like me.  I do too.

If you want to be successful at your MMO, you should have to put forth the effort.  Everything else in life, and every other genre of game takes effort.  Want to be good at FPS?  Practice.  Want to be good at Tekken 5?  Practice.  Want to be good at graphic design?  Practice, learn, work toward it.

Now, having said that, here are three simple steps to eliminating goldsellers.  It won't happen overnight.  It will take time for them to realize that there is no longer any money to be made from selling gaming currency, and here's how to do it.

 

Step One - Eliminate public trial keys.  Require registration with a validated billing address for game cards.

Remove public trial offers on games, completely. 

Allow existing subscribers to officially refer their friends for a 14 day trial.  Keep a database of paying subscribers and all of their referrals.  If one of their referrals gets banned for goldselling activities during the trial, the person who referred them gets banned as well.  This will keep goldsellers from accessing the game easily, while the game still grows through word of mouth.

If the original referring account gets suspended or banned, every trial account associated with it will also get banned.  Obviously, if one of the trial accounts upgrades to a subscribing account, they will no longer be linked to the referring account.  Making people responsible for their referrals will cut down on goldsellers inviting goldsellers.  They will no longer be able to pop up again like roaches.

Game cards are the other offender.  They are an easy way for goldsellers to purchase game time anonymously. 

If the website doesn't have a credit card, or billing address on file, require a registration process in order to use game cards.  Lets say I go to the store, buy a copy of World of Warcraft, pick up a game card, and get everything set up.  I enter the code for the game card.  I get a note saying: "This account must be validated in order to use a game card.  Enter information."  Here, you would put in your billing address or home telephone number.  A letter would then be sent to you, or an automatic phone call generated with a validation code, which you would then input into your account.  After you validate the account, you would then be able to use game cards any time you want.

 

Step Two - Announce the war against goldsellers to your playerbase.  Dedicate 2-3 GMs to policing for ONLY goldsellers at all times.  Give GMs the tools to quickly and efficiently investigate and eliminate any offenders.

Have 2-3 GMs monitor all public chat channels at all times.  Obviously this is very tedious and boring, so it would be different GMs at any given time, but the idea is to make sure that any spamming related to goldselling in public channels immediately results in a ban.

Announce to your playerbase that goldselling will no longer be tolerated, and encourage them to start reporting at every opportunity.  Respond immediately (or ASAP) to reports.  Make your playerbase feel as though you care about them, and they will continue to report and fight goldsellers with you.

Give GMs a tool/interface that can flag players for "GM-screenshots" in order to deal with goldsellers sending whispers/private messages.  Basically, what this would do, is this:

When you report a goldseller, and get a response from a GM.  A GM would then activate a flag on the player allowing the player to take a single "GM screenshot" of the offending gold advertisement tell.  Said screenshot would then immediately upload to a server being monitored by the current on-duty anti-goldseller GMs, where the GM could instantly view it to determine the guilt of the accused.  This would allow screenshots to be used as evidence, since it would prevent players with photoshop skills from being able to doctor them in any way.

 

Step Three - Multi-tier banning

In step one, we cornered them, and eliminated their ability to breed.  In step two, we eliminated their ability to advertise.  In step three, we eliminate them, period.

When you ban a goldseller, BAN them, permanently.

Ban the account, ban the IP address, ban the credit card number, the validation number on their account, the E-mail associated with their account, the billing address associated with the credit card or game card validation, the phone number associated with the game card validation.

No goldseller is willing to move, get a new ISP, a new credit card, re-validate their account, and get a new phone number to continue their meager business, when the chance of them simply getting banned again is so high.

Using these three simple steps, we can finish goldsellers for good.  Who's with me?

 

 

Whence Cometh "The Grind" - A Tale of Two Formats

Posted by Strayfe Thursday November 29 2007 at 3:15PM
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I grind two mobs in the morning; I grind two mobs at night.

I grind two mobs in the afternoon; It makes me feel alright.

I grind two mobs in time of peace, and two in time of war;

I grind two mobs before I grind two mobs; and then I grind two more.

Um... yeah... but why?

Good question.

In order to comply with the unofficial rules concerning blogs on MMORPG.com, I began my blogging career by pointing out the obvious.  World of Warcraft is the top dog right now.  Other companies are trailing along in its wake, generating facsimiles thereof faster than it would take me to level from 1-60 after the most recent patch.

Today, I will attempt to explain how the RPG in MMORPG transformed from Role-Playing Game into Repetitive Pointless Grind.

You see... when a male MMO and a female MMO meet... oh, wait... wrong story.

*cough*

Anyway! 

The vast majority of MMOs take place on the PC.  The vast majority of story-driven, single player games take place on consoles.  What happens when worlds collide?

Way, way back in the 1950s,  1960s and 1970s, there was no such thing as the "personal computer".  Computers were gi-normous, taking up 237 rooms, and they communicated with humans through the use of punch cards, which required a masters degree from MIT to operate properly.  Well, it's fairly safe to say that you needed to be a reasonably sophisticated, record-breaking genius to operate one.

Computers spawned intelligent people in those days.

When computer games came along in the 1970s and 1980s, it would stand to reason - said intelligent people needed intelligent games to entertain them.  And thus the original contingent of PC RPGs was born.  Games such as Wizardry, Ultima, Dungeon... the old school games that your father, or maybe even grandfather can tell you about if he was nerdy enough.

In those days, RPGs were HARD.  I owned a 386 with the original Wizardry, and I remember being absolutely flabbergasted by that game.  I had to make my own maps with graph paper, write down facts in a bloody tablet of paper, and generally tear my hair out to get anywhere whatsoever.  Gaining a level was cause to declare a national holiday.

Thus, for a long time, PC RPGs evolved down that route, staying true to their immersion and difficulty.

Then came Mario.

Yes, I know Atari came before Mario.  I know all about the Magnavox machine, and all the other half-ass attempts at a console system, but lets face it, the console boom began with Mario and the NES.  Developed in Japan.

Many Nintendo games were focused more on being simple and fun.  Accessible.  Mario-ish.  Sure, there was still the occasional game that made you want to stab yourself with a letter opener, but for the most part, Nintendo games weren't horribly difficult. Then came the SNES and Sega Genesis, taking that a step further.  Then the Playstation, N64 and Saturn.  You get the picture.  The console systems were and are far cheaper, and far more easily accessible as entertainment than a gaming-quality PC.  Those of us who were born around the time the NES was released grew up with consoles first, and PCs later.

But Strayfe, what the hell are you talking about?  What does this have to do with the grind?

I'm getting to it.  That sort of impatience is a symptom of the console generation.  The gimme-now generation.  The ADD generation.

The Squaresoft generation.

Uh oh.  He done screwed up now.  NOBODY MESSES WITH MY SQUARESOFT BLARGGHLARBLARGH OOOGA BOOGA!!

To be frank, I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few of you quit reading after that comment.  Squaresoft is hailed as the face of RPGs.  The company that can do no wrong.  The company that brought RPGs to the mainstream.  They are.  To suggest that there could be anything wrong with Squaresoft is to draw the wrath of untold numbers of the most rabid fandom in gaming history.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry has heard of the Final Fantasy series.  The loveable characters.  The linear, take-you-by-the-hand storyline.  The mushy love stories.  The cutting-edge graphics.  Final Fantasy is an endearing series that I myself have thoroughly enjoyed for 15 years now.  When I sit down to play a console game, I look forward to those exact things I just pointed out.  The characters, storyline, love stories, cutting-edge graphics.  When I sit down to play a new Final Fantasy, I never expect any sort of immersion or worldbuilding.  I never expect to be able to roleplay, or to create my own character for the game.

PCs became popular.  PCs are everywhere.  PCs are 'normal' now.  Gaming became popular.  Gaming is everywhere.  Gaming is 'normal' now.

Games aren't just for nerds anymore.  There are now those who can simultaneously enjoy a rousing hour or two of gaming and still manage to sit in direct sunlight without melting.  Why?  Because gaming tropes don't apply anymore.  Final Fantasy appeals to a broad audience because of how basic it is.  Final Fantasy made Squaresoft a lot of money.

One of Final Fantasy's most prominent features? 

The Grind.

How many times have you sat down to play an FF game (or any recent console RPG), have been enjoying yourself immensely, only to run into "The Boss".

"The Boss" is that one giant monster that you suddenly can't beat.  Everything has been going fine, and now you can't get past "The Boss".  You try every strategy you can possibly think of, but "The Boss" keeps slaughtering your ragtag band of teenagers, again and again, and yet again.  So what can you do?

The Grind.

The Grind.  You kill two mobs before you kill two mobs and then you kill two more.  You do it to level your characters.  You do it because you have to in order to beat "The Boss".  You do it after you beat "The Boss".  Why?  So that when you run into the next incarnation of "The Boss", you can stomp on him too.  Suddenly, it makes sense to just sit there and grind out another 50 levels to get to max level.  Then nobody can stop you, right?  Right?  75 hours later, you're at max level.  No "The Boss" will stand a chance against you.

Congratulations, you've just participated in The Grind.

Fascinating, no?  But wait... there's more!

This has become an enduring tradition in all JRPGs.  You have levels, you have "The Boss".  Grinding became such a norm that companies began trying to compensate for it.  JRPGs began to make "The Super Boss", a Boss so difficult that even if you grind to max level it's still a challenge.  So how did gamers respond?  By grinding.  Unable to grind levels anymore, they began to grind skills, or magic... or abilities...

Or gear.

Or that, yes.  When you can't grind out levels anymore, your only option is to head out and snatch up the absolute best gear for every slot on every character.  Lets see "The Super Boss" stop you then, eh?

The biggest fans of Final Fantasy and JRPGs are obviously asian.  Thus the J in JRPG.  When PCs became more mainstream, when gaming became more mainstream on PC, when MMORPGs began to emerge from the ever-expanding pile of games, they jumped on the bandwagon too.

So, if a rabid fan of Final Fantasy, of "The Grind", "The Boss", and "The Super Boss" makes an MMORPG, what do you get?  Why, all the asian grindfests that everyone complains about on the General forums!  The free to play, standardized, bore-you-to-tears, single-minded MMORPGs, which espouse all the bad things from Final Fantasy and JRPGs while offering NONE of the good.

You see where I'm going with this?  Asians aren't the only fans of Final Fantasy/JRPGs.

Not at all.  Not by a long shot.  Final Fantasy is famous worldwide.  It's famous with console gamers.  JRPGs are famous with console gamers.  Console gamers are used to easy, repetitive, simple gameplay. 

PCs originally required a good bit of intelligence to operate.  PC games required the same intelligence, because anyone with a PC was assumed to be intelligent.  PCs are now more mainstream, becoming moreso every day.  More and more console gamers are also PC gamers now.  Game developers must try to satisfy both markets.  MMORPGs must try to satisfy both markets.

The original old school PC gamer market wants immersion, depth, roleplaying.  They want their characters to stand out.  They want to become part of the world.  They want to use their intelligence to become someone else.  They want meaningful PvP.  Meaningful interaction with the world.

The console gamer wants the simple gameplay that they're used to.  They want easy advancement.  They want an easy way to compare themself to other gamers.  They want "The Grind" so that they can beat "The Boss" and brag about it to their friends.  They want the "Super Boss", so they can have something else to grind for, to set them above the people who are only capable of max level.  They are achievers first and foremost.  They want something new to accomplish, another level, another power-up, another new weapon, another new opponent.  When they run out of ways to achieve, they put the game down.

Developers realize this.  Blizzard succeeded in making the first MMORPG to appeal to the console crowd.  In playing World of Warcraft, some of the console crowd has become exposed to those like-minded to the original PC group.  Those that want something more.  The two types of gamer will mix and match, some will change their views to one side, and some to the other.  Ultimately, the two types will mix, and then we can look forward to games targetting gamers, instead of games targetting just console gamers, or just PC gamers.  

Eventually, the consolers will tire of the MMOJRPG model and they'll look ahead to the future.  Until the integration of console gamers and PC gamers is complete, we can expect a divided community.  There's no reason to fight over it, no reason to argue with the other side.  When all is said and done, there won't be a division anymore.  It'll just be gamers, looking forward to games made for gamers.

And in that future, all gamers win.

World of Warcraft: So Good It Ruined A Genre

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday November 28 2007 at 6:23PM
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I hate WoW.  Not because I think it's a bad game, but because I think it's a good game.  At the same time, I will never play it again, because it's simply not for me any longer.  I'm past the linear by-the-book PvE dungeons, the boring, repetitive grinding, the mindless quests, and by far the most annoying aspect, the immature, GIMME-NOW community.  I am eager for something new.  Something entertaining.  I am a gamer.

We need new direction.  Gamers want change.  Gamers want innovation.  Gamers want to feel nostalgic again.  Instead, gamers get World of Warcraft.  Many, MANY times over.  We get World of Warcraft repackaged, with different art, different place and NPC names, and one or two new features.

We smile, and nod, and wait a few months for the next title on the horizon, only to find out that it too shall be World of Warcraft - only this time with better graphics.  I think somewhere deep down, even the die hard WoWbies are tired of it.

Sadly, this trend is set to continue for a good long while.  World of Warcraft showed game developers that an MMO could make a substantial amount of money.  As with all things in our capitalist society, people took notice.  Game developers stood up on their chairs and bellowed in a single collective voice, "Me too!"

Suddenly, almost overnight, nearly every game developer set to work on remaking World of Warcraft.  Driven by visions of multi-million dollar mansions, and a woman on each arm, the nerd community set their sights firmly on delusions of grandeur, oblivious to one thing:

Development takes time.  Trends change.

Fast forward to Christmas 2007.

In the last year, we've had several Worlds of Warcraft release.  People oooh'ed and ahhhh'ed as Sigil - ahem - SOE, released a buggy World of Vanguard, with really good graphics and less content.

Turbine followed up Asheron's Call and DDO with World of Tolkien, the roleplaying community's WoW, complete with epic, instanced questlines and more RPing tools than you can shake a stick at.

World of Tabula Rasa opted for a sci-fi spin on the old favorite.

Vanguard, Lord of the Rings Online and Tabula Rasa are all good games.

I will repeat that:

Vanguard, Lord of the Rings Online and Tabula Rasa are all good games.

Why are these games not as successful as World of Warcraft?  Simple.  Because they aren't World of Warcraft.

Think about it.  I try out a new hot dog stand down the street that I've heard about, Blizzard Dogs.  It's supposed to have awesome hot dogs, and hey, what do you know?  It does.  The hot dogs are cooked in a revolutionary manner, taste great, and are good for you.  The hot dog stand proceeds to do record breaking business.

Other hot dog stands take notice.  Their owners each head to the new stand, buy a hot dog, and deconstruct everything about it: the taste, the aftertaste, the texture, the ingredients, everything.  Having satisfied themselves that they can duplicate it, they each head back to their own businesses and perfect the recipe, each attempting to add a pinch of something new to make it unique.  Perhaps one serves their hot dog with onions.  Another one seasons theirs with pepper.  But essentially, they have succeeded admirably in cloning the original recipe.

The stands unveil their newest hot dog.  The people who have been eating at Blizzard Dogs for the past 3 years are looking for a new spin on an old hot dog.  They try the new hot dogs from the new stands, and... though they taste great, they can't help but feel as though something seems awfully familiar.  After 3-4 of the hot dogs, it hits them.  This is the same recipe as Blizzard Dogs!

Frustrated at the clones, customers head back to Blizzard Dogs.  Why?  Because they know the owners, and they have made friends with other customers who frequent there.

Get the picture?

*knocks on game developers' heads*  Hey, anyone home? 

Nobody is going to leave World of Warcraft to play World of Warcraft with Onions On Top

If they wanted to play World of Warcraft, they would play World of Warcraft.  They have friends there, they have guilds there.  They have characters there that they've played for years and have become attached to.  In order to draw subscribers away from World of Warcraft, you have to make something BETTER, not something the same.

Sadly, 2008 will see the release of World of Warhammer.  Customers everywhere who have been eagerly watching the refinement of this recipe are going to discover that Warhammer is destined to be nothing more than a giant replica of Alterac Valley in World of Warcraft.  It will probably be a good game, but it's not the holy grail.  It's World of Warcraft.

We can hope for the future though.  Age of Conan, Darkfall, Aion, Chronicles of Spellborn.  There are several games slated to make an attempt to become the next big thing.  We can hope that they succeed, and that the industry can come to realize this:

Gamers don't want clones.  Gamers want innovation.  If you create a copy of an existing game, you will fail.

EQ2 is not as successful as the original EQ.  Asheron's Call 2 was a monumental failure.  World of Warcraft 2-9 are not going to be as good as the original.  It's only too bad that developers didn't realize this back in 2004 and early 2005.