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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

This ain't show business, or is it? (Doomsayer for December)

Posted by jesad Tuesday December 11 2007 at 2:51PM
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Years ago, as I have mentioned in previous entries, I worked as a QA tester for a legendary software company that was on it's way out.  Although these guys were good at what they did, and they were very good, the market for the kind of software they were creating had somewhat fallen out and they were struggling to find a new title to revitalize their sagging profits.  A good title, in any studio at that time, meant the difference between job security and pimping yourself out to the highest (or in some cases, any) bidder.  The idea, even then, and this was a good 7 or 8 years ago, being that if the studio could come up with a good enough product, that it would net the employee's of the company years of time in development with the added bonus of years more in patches, expansions, and sequels.  It was that old 80's mentality of milking something until it was bone dry and then still into annoyance, and loosely translated in the soon to be famous words of "Tony Stark" (see the Iron Man trailer) "...that's how dad did it, that's how America does it, and had worked out pretty well so far".

So one day, after weeks of the entire studio brainstorming on an idea for a new title, in the middle of killing some lunch hours playing this new game that had just come out, it hit me!  I called everyone, including the studio head, down to my cubicle and had them look at what I was seeing.  On my monitor screen was the, then very publicly accessible, server list for the game I had been playing called "Everquest".  "Do you see that?" I asked.  Every one of those accounts represents a software purchase and a residual $14.95 per month.  Of course, at the time, the game was new and there were TONS of people online.  "If you want to survive" I said, "This is the wave of the future."

Now I have done some dumb things in my life.  I am notorious for pulling from the pool of common thought that all creative people share and being so caught up in my ability to reach in there and pull something out that I do not pay attention to the ramifications of doing so, but fast forward 8 years later and it is painfully clear that I was not the only one guilty of doing so.

Who doesn't have a title running right now?

MMO's are coming and going so fast that it's becoming hard to tell if they are actually real titles or just something someone came up with and generated a stylish web banner for in order to fool people into putting their credit card numbers into someone else's database.  The ideas of creativity and professionalism have given way to C++, game engines, and patches and suddenly (or not so suddenly) there is truly no longer anything new under the sun.  As the business of making MMO's has grown the risk factors of doing anything differently or new have decreased to a point that the only thing that most of us can come up with now are ways to improve upon the old model.

I'm gonna go on a rant here for a minute so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to be subjected to it.

Is it because we are the generation that was taught evolution so thoroughly that we only know how to create sequels and upgrades of things that already exist, that we use tools that, while powerful and convenient, limit us to doing things in only the ways supported by the tool makers while those same tool makers, in tandem with their business major financers/lackeys, dictate to us how and what should be possible?  What ever happened to the garage band?  The underground rap?  The black and white comic or the hippie consciousness?  Is nothing sacred anymore?  Or are we all just looking for a way to make a dollar and get out? 

MMO's are becoming "flash in the pan" in their frequency.  On this site alone there are enough steady newcomers to keep any Prozac deficient gamer from being able to settle on any one title yet there is so little innovation from title to title that game company's barely have to do more than create a new GUI in order to say that they have done something new.  I am hard pressed to believe that there are enough gamers out there to support every title that is running right now, meanwhile, there are more "boy band" and "action movie" formulated new releases coming every day.

The other night I happened to catch the video game awards on Spike TV and was amazed as I sat there looking at the people in the audience wondering, since when did so many extremely beautiful women show up for a geek convention?!?!  That's when I realized...

Flash in the pan titles, formula created content, and (and this was the clincher) hot chicks! = Show business.  I get it now; you all just wanna be big rock stars!

But what about the other shoe?  The independent film, the concept album, the garage developer?  Never forget that the basis of our entire community spawned from the ultimate garage band of all time (Gates and Jobs) and that, even though one of them happened to be a businessman in geeks clothing, it was their risk, their rage against the machine, that made all of this possible.

I don't hate on anyone trying to make a buck.  Lord knows, with the way that things are set up right now, we all need to and then some.  But this is a call to all the guys who already have jobs paying the rent, who have already made their millions and are sitting in Florida sipping margarita's and fishing, and even those who are unemployed and struggling but who still have a love for the genre and who still have the talent, creativity, and skill, to band together and pull this thing out of the rut it is heading into with some fresh ideas and some new ways of doing things.  I call to you because it is you who are the least susceptible to corruption.  If you already have it, they can't entice you with any more, and if you never had it, you know that it will come (meaning money) and so you are our only hope against the tides of programmers, artists, producers, and etc... that are rowing these massive boats and responding to the whip cracks of CFO's to crank out yet another repetition.

I know I go a little deep on this and that I have made more than one doomsayer entry since I began this blog, and for that I apologize.  But in my guilt I realize how easy it is to be corrupted by even the simplest of things, attention, appreciation.  And in that realization I now end my 6-month run to impress you all with my writing ability and return the world I love.  The world of obscurity, subtle manipulation, and creativity that born me, and with high hopes that I might be able to join the fight in bringing about change to the genre of games that I "oh so love" to play.  It is time that I mix back into the masses and stop being the loud guy, for that is the only way that I think I am really going to be able to do more than preach, at least, that is how it is in my understanding.



How to sell your character or gold legally.

Posted by jesad Monday December 3 2007 at 6:44AM
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The other day my buddy came by to pick me up for one of our "middle of the night/early morning" supermarket runs.  These are the events that happen two or three times a month when he needs to run out of the house after hours for some reason (food, smokes, breakfast for the kids, whatever) and, since I live right around the corner happened to be online at the time, get swindled into going along for the ride.

At the store, after being followed around for half an hour by the night manager whom I am sure was convinced that we were there for some early morning shoplifting, I noted that he made it a point to avoid the automatic checkout when going to pay for his groceries.  Now he didn't have a lot of stuff, some bacon and eggs for the breakfast he had planned to make for the family, a can of coffee to sustain the energy levels of late night grinding and daytime employment, and some cat food his wife's cats, which he hates.  But in spite of this, and the urging of the checkout lady who I am sure did not want to open her cash register for us at that ungodly time of the morning, he still made it a point to have his items rang up and paid for in the traditional fashion.  His reasoning?

In his own words... (Minus the expletives)

"I don't mess with those things because they steal jobs from real people.  It's not like my food is getting any cheaper because of it and the store is still saving money big-time on the hours that they don't have to pay a human being to stand here and check out my food."

Now I'm no economist.  I also do not, nor have I ever, worked in the supermarket industry.  Still, I couldn't help but feel like there was a ring of truth behind his statement.  Are we supposed to believe that without the automated checkout machines in the stores, that our food would cost some astronomical price that we would be incapable of paying?  And even if that were so, would it not be better to be able to get a job (perhaps at the supermarket) in order to afford it if there were the case?  It's a debate but it drives home a point that I want to make about the MMO community and the developers and publishers of MMO games.

We have to stand for something.

For a long time now there has been a heated debate over the effects of gold and character selling on MMO titles and their patrons.  The publishers are against it for several good reasons.

A. The process shortens the life cycle of the title, which was created for the sole purpose of generating "long-term" sustained profits through a variety of tactics such as levels and diminishing returns.

B. It can often present a liability (in the case of the unscrupulous dealer who turns around and takes their account back or does not come through with the gold) that the players then expect the parent company to address via their own, paid, customer service representatives.

C. They don't get a cut.

D. It upsets the portion of the player base who has worked very hard to achieve that which another person has purchased with cash.

The community itself is divided against it as well for reasons of their own such as...

A. See reason D. from the previous section.

B. It makes progression at the higher levels much harder when several of your guild members have no idea how to play their characters.

C. Left unchecked it can end up drawing a class line where many who can not afford such activities may end up left out of endgame content simply because they can't keep up.

D. (And don't lie about this Americans) Most of that money is going out of the country.

Fairly good reasons by anyone's standards it is no wonder that the topic is of such a heated debate.  At the same time however, I would feel safe in betting that there is not one of us who has not said to their self or to someone else "it would be so cool if I could figure out a way to get paid for the time I waste playing these games".  I would even go so far to say that it is exactly because we can't do so, without fear of retribution or punishment, that many of us stop playing altogether.  After so many hours sitting in front of a computer paying for the ability to turn algebraic inequality formulas into equality ones using cartoon characters one simply can not justify the time.  And what do we do it for anyway?  It's surely not so we can log off on that final day wondering where the time, money, and other important things that we might have let lapse in the interim went.  We don't play so that we can log off on that final day wondering why we did it either.  We play for the fun!  The dang experience is supposed to be FUN!

So here's my pitch.

How much more fun would any of you reading this be having right now if, for the players, you could have the possibility of cashing in on the time you spend playing these games once you were finished.  And, for the developers, you could capitalize on what is currently an underground market that is possibly affiliating you with any number of unsavory characters?

One possible solution might be insurance.  Stay with me now.  What if, as a provider of the service, publishers set up systems that supported the open trade of goods and characters for the simple cost of renewing the subscription and any particulars that may be involved with the transaction at the point of sale?  What I mean is that instead of setting up your own auctions like EQ2 did and possibly ending up being accused of or held liable for the crooked practices of others, you simply added a feature to your login screens that would allow one player to complete a transaction with another player without you, or your customer service, having to get involved.

I'm thinking that it might go like this.  Player A wants to sell their character.  They publicize this using whatever channels they choose and work out the details of the transaction on their own.  They then enter the login feature and flag their character as being sold for $X amount of dollars which is where it will remain until the paying party enters valid payment information.  Upon receipt of this payment information the feature then forces the paying party to...

A. Change the name of the character (as to not allow the new player to sneak into guilds and whatnot in the guise of the other person).

B. Renew their subscription (as your cut) to help pay the cost of development and maintenance of such a feature.

C. Pay a set transaction fee.  For the cost of maintaining the "paypal-like" system that would be required to complete the transaction.

D. Send me $1 per transaction for thinking up such a good idea! (come on, it's only a dolla!)

Transactions for gold could be charged a percentage fee not to exceed anything stupid or unreasonable(as these would represent far more transactions) and you, the publisher, could pretty much wash your hands of the whole ugly mess.  Hey! If you were feeling really altruistic and really wanted it to work for everyone you could even code in a magelo-like interface that the purchaser could look at so that they could make sure that they were getting what was advertised when they bid on the character.

I'm not saying to try and go all the way and dictate the entire process.  I had to say that because I know that there is always some greedy fool who looks at things like this and says something like that out loud without realizing that the more you put your hands in it, the more you will be held accountable for anything that might go wrong.  All I am saying is that by facilitating this insurance plan you could not only build more industries out of this one you have going now, but afford many gamers, who otherwise might have to stop playing in order to take care of their real life priorities, the ability to keep on playing and having fun while simultaneously increasing the life cycle of the product by allowing people to enter the game at whatever point they wish instead of asking that age old question "Is it too late for me to catch up?". 

Heck, you could even cushion your profits by selling botting programs for those who would want to attempt such a thing full-time.  At the end of the day, if you make your games the right way, the real player will always have a higher quality character to sell anyway so, who cares?  At the very least you would be giving back to the community that supports you.

Most importantly though, this would allow the locals to do what the foreigners (no offense to you guys, gold farming was probably the best money making idea anyone in the industry had) have been doing for years now without the fear of being criminalized by the makers and often the players of the games that we all love to play.

Check it out.  I still use the automated checkout when I go to the supermarket.  You have to pick your battles and I am going to leave that particular one up to my boy and whoever else shares his sentiment as it is my belief that they are going to get you one way or another anyway.  Maybe I'll mature one day and see that light.  But on this topic, I can clearly see the writing that is on the wall and I can say for sure that if we don't get a handle on this issue sooner than later, pretty soon it is going to slide into that category of things that we all know is ultimately going to cause the MMO industry to eat itself.  At least, that is how it is in my understanding.



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