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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Goodbye, Mr Anderson; Hello, Superman! How SOE Ended Up With Both the Matrix and DC MMOs

Posted by UnSub Tuesday June 23 2009 at 2:35AM
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News that Sony is shutting down the Matrix Online (MxO) on July 31 shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone - MxO had reputedly been whittled down to a development staff of 1 full-time programmer (although SOE has 'pooled' resources that they can lend out within its title range to some extent) following the exit of Ben Chamberlain aka Rarebit, the most recognised face within the MxO team. For quite a while now this title had been listing with only a small (but dedicated) number of active players and surviving only thanks to the life support of SOE's Station Access Pass. But no more. MxO's time has come and it has served its purpose: to get the DC MMO licence.

Going back to 2005, SOE bought MxO off of Warner Brothers Interactive (WBI) following a series of mistakes and issues that MxO from a sure fire hit into a luke-warm fizzer. Arguably at the time of its launch the heat of the Matrix franchise had cooled dramatically, but WoW also launched prior to MxO and changed the face of the MMO industry completely. On top of this a number of development issues left the title feeling unpolished. Within four months of launching, WBI got MxO off its books and into the hands of SOE. Jason Hall was heading up WBI at the time and a movie studio directly developing a video game - and a MMO, no less - was seen as very risky.

I typed Neo vs Superman into Google and this was the best image I found. You've disappointed me yet again, internet.

I typed Neo vs Superman into Google and this was the best image I found. You've disappointed me yet again, internet.

So it was really nice of SOE to take MxO off of WBI's hands and make Hall's job a bit easier. Why did they do that? Because SOE wanted to develop a MMO based on DC Comics, who are owned by Warner Brothers. So the deal became MMO equivalent of dating the ugly girl in order to get to her beautiful sister - SOE took over MxO and stopped it looking like a total failure and in return they get to develop the DC MMO (now-titled DC Universe Online). At the time Marvel and Microsoft had just teamed up to create a MMO, which might not have been publicly announced but probably was known privately to SOE and WBI. A DC Comic-based MMO was bound to be popular, but following MxO's "success" I doubt there was much enthusiasm for trying to develop it in-house. Having SOE develop the DC MMO made the project less risky, plus the deal could be done for them to also take MxO and stop WBI looking so bad.

So SOE buys MxO, tries a little bit to see if it will grow, finds out that it doesn't and sticks it on life support until they can get DCUO well and truly off the ground. With development on DCUO in full swing and a lot of heat developing for that project, it is pretty unlikely that Warner Brothers is going to kill the contract at this point. Plus MxO closing now isn't anywhere near as embarrassing as it shutting down in the first 12 months of launch. Finally, Jason Hall is no longer with WBI and I'm sure everyone there would be quite happy if we forgot that MxO had ever existed.

So now is a good time for MxO to die, at least in the eyes of SOE (and probably WBI, who I'm sure were consulted just in case). I wouldn't be surprised if more struggling MMOs on the Station Pass also experience the kiss of death over the next twelve months, only to be replaced by newer (and hopefully better) MMOs.

Ferraro, Recruiters Hate WoW Players, Tattooed Double-D Breasts and a Question of Naive Trust

Posted by UnSub Thursday June 18 2009 at 3:07AM
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The MMO community is an odd group. We're cynical, dismissive, opinionated and incredibly demanding. At the same time we are also incredibly naive, lazy and a bunch of drama-loving gossips. It's a weird mix, and one that sees a lot of discussion created without ever bothering to go back to checking the facts.

For example, their was a minor scandal recently when it was revealed that Ferraro, a cute blonde woman running a Paladin information blog, was actually stealing pictures from another site, so probably wasn't a cute blonde woman after all. Then she said she was seven people, which was quickly questioned as being a highly suspicious claim and it being likely s/he was lying again. That it took 5 years for someone to uncover this wasn't a case of "no-one really car[ing]", but a case of taking things at face value. If no-one cared about identity (and gender), then this wouldn't have been the drama that it was. (Looking today, Ferraro's blog is back up with its Paladin guides.)

Remember back to last year and the news that recruiters weren't hiring WoW players? Perhaps you even saw it in the New York Times. That all came from one discussion between one person and his recruiter friend in Australia. Apparently some unnamed employers in the online media field have had some bad experiences with WoW players and don't want them hired... especially if they are so enamoured in WoW / online gaming that they include it in their resume and / or on their work clothes. It was a minor point of interest that the original poster thought worth commenting on when on their usual MMO forum, then Raph Koster picked it up and before common sense could catch up with the 'Create Entry' button MMO players on forums all over were commenting widely how stupid it was they might possibly not be employed for playing WoW. Which was never an issue, unless you were going for a job in the online media industry in Australia through this recruiter (and didn't know well enough that the correct answer to, "So, what are your hobbies?" doesn't include, "I dress up as a sexy Night Elf Hunter and pwn n00bs hard in Barrens' chat.").

Most recently there was the story that a Russian porn star was going to have an RMT site's URL tattooed across her large breasts for $500 000. It was posted across forums all over - particularly tinged with a 'is there anything RMT sites won't stoop to?' vibe, until a bit of common sense revealed that it was all a publicity stunt. And one that worked very well too, with MMO-related forums doing a lot of free advertising for the RMT company.

I mentioned DD breasts in the title, but this is the only picture in the article. Hmmm.

I mentioned DD breasts in the title, but this is the only picture in the article. Hmmm.

There have been other cases and I'm sure they will continue in the future. For all the commentary that the internet generation (such as it is) is savvy and digital natives - which should mean that they see through these kind of things easily - I don't see it happening. It doesn't take much - a cute face, a news story with sex or money involved, whatever - for someone to throw a link up on a forum and go, "What do you think about this?" that leads to obviously weak (if not outright wrong) information being flung all over the web.

People rarely click back to the original link - to check the context of the quote or story, to ensure that what they are being told is actually on target - but are instead quite content to take things at face value. And that's face value on an internet forum / blog site, which most normal people would admit should be considered to have as much informational integrity as the Iraqi Information Minister.

At this point, here's a question: did any of the links I included above actually link to the things I said they did? Did you check? Or did you take it at face value? I think I linked to the right articles, but perhaps I didn't. However, simply having the links there make what I say look a lot more authoritative.

MMO players trust text. It's a core part of both the internet and gameplay. However, just because it is written down, it doesn't mean we should take it at face value. And we should always, always check back to the original link before commenting on something.

CoH/V: Positron Gets It Right, Then Wrong. Again.

Posted by UnSub Thursday June 4 2009 at 12:07AM
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Hmm, I seem to be doing a lot of City of Heroes / Villains blogging recently - I'll change that in the near future.

However, as a final look at how Paragon Studios are managing to do the right and the wrong thing at the same time, it is definitely worth seeing how things ended up recently.

In the "doing the right thing" column, Matt Miller (aka Positron, lead developer of CoH/V) popped up again about the changes to the I14 badges and gave the reasons why they were changed. It is an interesting look at how designers work, with the key part being:

So I re-looked at badges, the system as a whole, for really the first time since they were implemented. While implementing them, I've always been focused on the Issue at hand, not at the system as a whole. With Synapse now in charge of the actual implementation I had a chance to look back and see the big picture.

In short, Positron reconsidered exactly what badges should be doing on the whole, rather than just following what had come before. He decided he didn't want badges to encourage farming or poor play, so those new badges that did came out. Positron admits it isn't ideal, but it was the fairest way for him to achieve his design goals.

Agree with him or not, it is always good for a developer to explain things to their player base.

Now, in the "doing the wrong thing" column, Paragon Studios did indeed follow up their threat of banning players who 'exploited' (in their eyes) the Mission Architect system. To do so they executed a ban script that banned accounts that contained offending characters. Unfortunately the ban script didn't have enough testing because it also resulted in players who never set foot in an MA mission being banned and their character deleted if they had a character level pacted with an offending character. There are also rumours of players who teamed with an MA-offending character in the same session but not doing MA missions being banned, but it is hard to verify because the CoH/V forum mods have been very quick to delete threads on the topic. If your account was wrongly banned and your character wrongly deleted appeals can be made to customer service staff, but obviously it is much better not to make such a huge blunder in the first place. 

So: CoH/V Issue 14 was meant to be the issue that provided an exciting new system (Mission Architect and its player created missions) and a big PR boost prior to Champions Online launching in September. The end result was a bit different: multiple post-launch changes to MA, poorly handled announcements and incorrect player bannings has seen this issue be more of a 'two steps forward, three steps back' for CoH/V.