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Altay's Adventures

Been on the MMO scene since Ultima Online back in '98 and I'm here to share my stories!

Author: lordaltay

Buying and Selling Virtual Items

Posted by lordaltay Tuesday May 27 2008 at 12:39AM
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Usually we lose money by playing a MMORPG. We either pay a monthly subscription fee or have the option to purchase special items through a cash shop. But there are many who make money playing these games by selling in game currency or items for money in the real world. Today there are literally dozens of websites which are willing to purchase in game currency from players in order to resell it. Obviously by selling to a retailer, the player gets a lower price than if he were to sell it directly to another player, but the fact that so many sites exists makes the virtual market place much more reliable and liquid. It also shows how large the market as grown.

The virtual market has become so profitable that virtual sweatshops have sprung up in places like China where dozens of people are payed simply to farm virtual items in today's most popular games such as World ofWarcraft and Maple Story. Unfortunately, many of these "gold farmers", as they are styled, use bots and other third party programs to automate the process. The industrialization of the process has made it almost impossible for the average player to make any money playing the game legitimately.But while players cannot compete withbotting gold farmers, they can still make money by becoming traders. I personally made about $50 a day a few summers back playing Ultima Online. 90% of my time was spent at the bank of the capital city simply buying and selling rare items and powerful equipment.

While buying and selling virtual items is a reality in almost every major MMORPG, there are many players and developers who fiercely oppose it. Selling items or currency is technically illegal in every game but like any good black market, the virtual market is hard to follow or shut down. The argument against virtual trading is that it gives buyers an unfair advantage over those playing the game honestly. There can be no denying this, a player who pays $50 for a rare and powerful weapon does gain an advantage. But how does that necessarily spoil the game for other players? I personally enjoy facing foes that are better equipped then my self and in non PvP games, it doesn't make much difference at all.

Different companies have tried different techniques to combat the selling for virtual goods. Sony has allowed it, but only if its done through their website while others have made the most powerful items "bind" to the player who picks them up, making it impossible to sell to others. Recently,Ebay which was one of the largest sites to buy and sell virtual goods on has bowed to pressure from game developers by banned all auctions involving the buying and selling of virtual goods in MMORPGs.

I personally have no problem with the buying or selling of virtual goods. I've sold tons of currency and items in Ultima Online throughout the past 8 or so years but never really purchased items for my own use. Even in games where I was neither a buyer or seller, I never felt cheated or at a disadvantage by players who did. What are your thoughts on this issue? Does selling virtual items to other players for money ruin the experience for everyone else? Should it be banned? Regulated by the publisher? Post your views below.

Graphics: Cartoony or Realistic

Posted by lordaltay Monday May 26 2008 at 4:18PM
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There are two fundamental graphic styles in most MMORPG games and they are Realistic and Cartoony. Some of the most popular free to play games today are anime inspired and thus fit into the cartoony model. Games like Maple Story and Scions of Fate have millions of players worldwide and one of their most attractive features is their graphic style. Even popular Western pay to play games like World of Warcraft benefit from the cartoony style.

Realistic graphics are generally pursued by Western developers though they are becoming more common in Asia too. Voyage Century is a clear example of Asian developers taking an interest in realistic graphic styles. Published by IGG, Voyage Century has markedly different graphics than other more traditionally Asian IGG games such as Zu Online and Tales of Pirates.

The FPS genre has long been dominated by realistic styled games. Shooters are considered to be on the leading edge in terms of graphical capabilities and it often takes other genres years to catch up. Even in theMMO field, games like War Rock, Soldier Front, and GunZ are all realistic styled. Recently, however, many developers have seen the wisdom of trying something new. A good example is the new game under development by DICE, Battlefield Heroes. Known for their historically themed Battlefield series, DICE has decided to offer a free to play, third person shooter withcartoony graphics that draw inspiration from Team Fortress 2.

As a personal preference, I tend to favor cartoony graphics. These games tend have lower system requirements yet can still look impressive. Most realistic games limit their audience by setting their system requirements too high which I feel is one of the reasons for the general decline of PC gaming in relation to consoles. My preference does change depending on what genre we're talking about. ForRTS games I like realistic graphics over cartoony graphics.

Do you have a preference when it comes to graphic styles? Is it genre specific or game specific? Please share your thoughts with me by leaving a comment below!

Game Development 2.0

Posted by lordaltay Saturday May 24 2008 at 1:39PM
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By now everyone has heard the phrase Web 2.0 to describe the new phenomenon of user generated content on the Internet. Web 2.0 has brought us diverse new sites like Wikipedia and YouTube which are now mainstays of everyone's internet experience. Yet most would be surprised to hear that the same principle is now being used in game development.

Users have always had a large effect on how a game shapes up. Most MMO games go through several stages of beta tests where players offer their feedback and thoughts. This information is then used by the developers to add or alter content in time for the next phase of the beta testing. But this is a very passive form of input. Could users one day actually participate in the direct development of a game? Could fans actually help run the game?

Today there is an ambitious new project by Acclaim, the folks that brought us Bots, Dance Online, 2Moons, and 9Dragons. Styled "Project TopSecret1" this new Acclaim project is intended to be a racing MMO but the direction the game takes beyond that is to be dictated by the community. Over 34,000 people have signed up already to contribute design concepts and other material. Web 2.0 has shown that hundreds of thousands of people are willing to contribute to a project like Wikipedia for no compensation what so ever, but the people at Acclaim have upped the ante by offering the most amazing prize ever conceived in gaming history, here's a short blurb from ProjectTopSecret's FAQ 2:

One VERY LUCKY individual, a person who stands out significantly, will be chosen by David Perry to become the Director of a fully funded massively multiplayer online game, to be published by Acclaim.
The winner will work from their home office, will be required to respond to email and IMs every day, and will be testing builds. The winner will likely need to travel to meet the development team. Acclaim will cover the cost of that travel.
You can be any age, any gender and from any country. However speaking & writing good English will be important.
The new director will get royalties from their game, and despite being thrown in at the deep end, they will still be given David Perry’s cellphone number and so will have an experienced game developer able to help with any issues 24/7.

        ......

Is Project TopSecret one remarkable case or will user generated content overhaul the entire game development process the same way it has the Internet. Only time will tell but in the mean time I recommend everyone take a look at this strange new game.


 

1. http://topsecret.acclaim.com/
2. http://www.videogameteam.com/wiki/index.php?title=FAQ

Gender Bending in MMORPGs

Posted by lordaltay Friday May 23 2008 at 12:33AM
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Most MMORPGs, such as Maple Story, RF Online and many other others allow players to experience a fantasy world filled with Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and many other exotic races. These games also allow players to choose which gender their avatars will assume. While Playing as non-human races is considered unremarkable, playing as the opposite gender (termed gender bending) has always been a divisive issue. Current surveys show that 85% of MMORPG players are male and that males are up to 5x more likely to gender bend than females. This means, on average, at least half of all female avatars in a virtual world are played by men.

 

There are some very practical reasons why a man would prefer to play a female character online. For instance, it is widely known that others players are much more generous with items and in game guidance to female characters. Females who play a male character give up this gender specific advantage, which likely explains the far lower female gender bending tendency. It has also been noted that in third person MMORPGS many men prefer to spend their game hours staring at the back of a slim female body rather than a bulky man's. Many do not accept these utilitarian reasons alone as being the explanation for gender bending. Some suspect that there are darker and more psychological reasons why a man would dress in women's garb, virtually speaking that is.

 

That a man would want to play a female character is often evidence enough for many in the online community to label someone a homosexual. But surprisingly, feminist organizations see gender bending as another sign of female oppression. In most virtual worlds, female characters are scarcely clad and are blessed with what we shall term "bountiful assets." It is sexism on the men's part to want to control these polished pleasure bots, or so the feminist argument goes. There is certainly some small minority of men who use female characters to approach other men online but doesn't ultimate responsibility lie on the individual in defending himself against unsolicited advances online?


The issue has gone so far out of hand in some places that game publishers and governments decided they needed to step in. Recently in China Shanda Entertainment, a major developer of virtual worlds, issued a new rule that anyone wishing to create a female avatar must first prove their gender to the company via a webcam. Interestingly, women wishing to play a male character would not need to go through this procedure. Many players faced character deletion if their female avatars didn't have a female face to defend them on the webcam. Not surprisingly, players wore wigs and put on make up to fool the developers into letting them keep their avatars. Shanda may of found the perfect way to reverse gender bending trends between the sexes - by putting additional barriers in front of male gender benders and encouraging female gender bending. (by forcing women to "prove" their sex) Soon China may have the first virtual world where half the men are women!

The Age of Free Online Gaming

Posted by lordaltay Friday May 23 2008 at 12:32AM
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The age of free online gaming is now upon us. It is remarkable how much progress has been made in the free online gaming market in the past five or so years. Earlier this decade when people heard "free game" horrible images of freeware games made by college kids in their spare time came to mind, games that looked like early 1980s PC RPG betas. No longer. Today there are literally dozens of free to play games in almost every genre. Maple Story alone, a free to play 2D MMORPG released in 2003, now boasts over 56 million accounts worldwide1. Just in case you're wondering, that blows World of Warcraft with its 10 million users out of the water. While MMORPGs are the most common genre of free gaming, there are free games in every field. Shot Online and Albatross18 are both free golfing games with a level of depth rarely found in the retail golfing market. Games like GunZ: The Duel, Wolf Team, War Rock, and Soldier Front offer FPS experiences ranging from frag fests to tactical team coordinated matches. Its difficult to think of a genre that isn't covered. There are several excellent free racing games such as the simple yet realistic racer Project Torque. If you want something more immersing, look no further than the hybrid Racing/RPG game Drift City which has several fully explorable cities filled with side missions and places to explore with graphics similar to the retail Grand Theft Auto games. If you like to mix rocket launchers with your racers, the free market delivers; Upshift Strikeracer is all about rockets, mines, and other nasty weapons to blow the other players out of the race. Even traditional sports are covered. Freestyle Street Basketball is a simple yet addictive game where each match lasts five minutes, perfect for the casual player. If you're a soccer fan than try Kicks Online.

I've mentioned only a fraction of the free to play games available and it almost feels like a crime to have left out such great games as Fly For Fun, Exteel, Gunbound, and the dozens of other games now accessible by anyone with an Internet connection. Now, dear reader, you must be convinced that we are now entering the age of free gaming, but I have one more shock for you. This is only the beginning. Even as I write this there are dozens of top quality games in beta testing either here in America or in Japan and Korea. Beautiful games like Neosteam and a Gundam MMO are in the works. The list of free online games available and under construction is in the hundreds. Many former pay to play games have been liberated from their monthly fees. Archlord, RF Online, Savage, Anarchy Online, and Shadow Bane are now available to the masses for free. Surely this is a trend that will continue.

The next time you consider pulling out the credit card to activate a subscription or purchase a game online, think twice and give a free to play game a chance. You might be surprised by what you find. If you're looking for a resource site to read a bit about the best free games out there, I'd recommend MMOHub