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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

CoH/V: Optional In-Game Ads Now Live - WHOWANTSTOBUYAPONY?

Posted by UnSub Thursday June 26 2008 at 11:37PM
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Lighthouse (CoH/V's Community Relations Manager) announced that CoH/V's optional in-game advertising of real world products is now live. The only ad reported on the forums is of a shoe.

It's optional, so you can turn this system off and go back to the fake ads around CoH/V, but I plan to leave them on. They aren't intrusive and they put revenue back into CoH/V's development pocket. As far as in-game ads go, they are probably the best they are ever going to get... and yes, in-game advertising IS coming, have no doubt.

The Great PvP Swindle

Posted by UnSub Thursday June 26 2008 at 1:28AM
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You'd probably have to go a long way to find a designer looking to develop a AAA MMO for a wide audience that wouldn't consider putting some sort of direct PvP (i.e. player vs player) combat in their game. PvP has come to be a core system in the MMO genre, up there with character creation systems or chat systems - a MMO would appear incomplete without it. It's also a system that attracts a dedicated audience.

This is why, intentionally or not, MMOs are starting to rely on baiting and switching when it comes to PvP.

Here's how it goes:

You devote separate media releases / interviews to PvP issues. Media articles talk about how important PvP is to the game (which it might be and probably is when players get to the 'endgame') and how many options players will have. A few write-ups of the PvP system sound awesome - you can take over buildings! You can enslave kingdoms! You can carve your name on the face of the world!

All this information drags the MMOPvP player into a frenzy. Finally, THIS will be the MMO that gets PvP right. THIS will be the game that satisfies my PvP desires! So the PvP guilds / sub-groups get together and plan to play at launch. This is because this will probably be the easiest time to make their mark - everyone is a newb and all lands remain to be conquered (or in-game equivalent). I have no stats regarding this, but I'm sure PvP commentary helps drive MMO pre-orders upwards among the PvP groups, who in turn try to convince others to sign-on.

Those PvPers in beta might be able to shed some light on what the PvP is really like, but often such information is fractured - some like it, some hate it. Beta is also not a good testing ground for PvP, since there usually isn't the critical mass of players to really test things out and combat functions change regularly, so that what works in one build doesn't work in the next.

The MMO launches and the PvPers arrive to find... their beloved PvP is not what was promised. Sure, you might be able to PvP anywhere in the world, but in reality only about 30% of it is open to such behaviour due to player numbers or player distribution or in-game systems designed to protect non-PvP players. In order to play the PvP, lots of time is required in PvE to get levels and / or loot. At launch, often key PvP systems are still out of wack, untested because not enough people had the opportunity to play test them thoroughly.

The great PvP swindle is a bait and switch to draw players towards an unreleased title. For all the alleged importance that some just released (AoC) and to be released (WAR) titles appear to put on PvP, the reality of it is that PvE still makes up the preferred advancement mechanism and the majority of the game. PvP works at the 'endgame' when enough people get there, but it rarely works prior to that point outside of the odd duel or skirmish. It is also a system that takes time to balance out - early PvP often sees in-game balance issues and / or bugs used to gain advantage that require quashing for things to become fair (or less unfair as the case may be). PvP only comes into its own after the MMO has been released for a while.

I'm not a PvPer. Nor am I here to complain that AoC didn't live up to expectations in the PvP side of things. But I've seen this tactic apparently taking greater hold - to focus on the PvP side of the game and ignore the PvE aspects during pre-launch media releases / previews - and find it a bit misleading.

Grand Theft Auto Hot Coffee: Lawyers (Likely) To Drink The Milkshake

Posted by UnSub Wednesday June 25 2008 at 12:10AM
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According to the NY Times the class action lawsuit inspired by GTA:SA's Hot Coffee mod (you can do your own googling for that!) is close to being settled. The end result - the people in the suit will get a few dollars, the lawyers behind it get a good payday:

"Far bigger than the payout to plaintiffs will be the fees sought by the lawyers who brought the class action. Mr. Lesser and his colleagues at 10 other law firms have asked for more than $1.3 million — compared with less than $30,000 that Take-Two Interactive’s lawyers say it will spend to resolve the claims for $5 to $35 each (and, sometimes, a sanitized copy of the game).

“It doesn’t typically go that way,” said Mary J. Davis, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who has studied this type of litigation. To have legal fees dwarf a settlement payout, she continued, “is sort of backwards.”

The company and the plaintiffs lawyers both point out that the company has also agreed to make an $860,000 charitable contribution."

The full article is interesting, especially the back half that talks about parents being more interested in protecting their children from a mini-game they can't unlock during normal play but not caring so much about the violence in GTA.

Personally I don't care that the lawyers ended up with the cash here half as much as I care that Rockstar didn't fight against it harder and try to seek a legal ruling. Any game that can be impacted by mods - this includes MMOs - runs the risk of someone unlocking something they shouldn't and this kind of decision opens the door to the next time someone sees something that offends thine eyes (obviously not the copious blood and gore, but perhaps a stray nipple or undressed female character model) they'll run after the company, wallet open to collect the cash. It's a risk to Rockstar, sure, but if they - who make a lot of money off their adult-orientated games that they keep trying to pretend don't have the content they have - won't stand up and fight, no-one will.

Or someone will who doesn't have the money / resources they have and are more likely to lose, thus locking the rest of the industry into a legal finding they don't want.

And yes, I'm aware I'm abusing both beverage analogies and internet memes in the title. :-)

Sandbox vs Disneyland: Fight! Fight! Fight!

Posted by UnSub Wednesday June 18 2008 at 3:31AM
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I came across this post in another thread and it deserves special attention:

Sandbox, as defined by this thread:

  1. All the kids have to play in the same sandbox
  2. Kids go anywhere they like within the sandbox
  3. Kids can move or shape the sand (or throw it, make it into mud, etc.)
  4. There are a large set of toys that the parents have put in the sandbox
  5. Each kid gets the same set of toys (shovels, buckets, etc.) in the sandbox - they do not have to make an initial choice of what toys they will use, and they can change at any time
  6. Each kid can use the toys in any way they choose - they do not have to use one toy in order to earn the right to use another toy
  7. The toys work in the same way for every kid - Billy doesn't really have an epic toy of shoveling + 2
  8. Kids can make deals with other kids - through trades (I'll sell you this sandcastle I built!) or by social interactions (let's agree to work together to build this sandcastle that we can both enjoy!)
  9. Kids can beat up other kids and take any candy they might have (their parents do not care)
  10. The sandbox does not clean itself

Why there are no more sandboxes, as defined by this thread:

  1. Kids nowadays are going to Disneyworld
  2. Kids nowadays can't tell the difference between a sandbox and Disneyworld so they are lured away by the costumed characters and the sounds of other kids having fun
  3. The sandboxes weren't making enough money to compete with Disneyworld
  4. After kids "cut their teeth" at Disneyworld, maybe they will start to appreciate / look for a nice old sandbox
  5. It takes a special person to make a sandbox, parents nowadays aren't smart / creative enough
  6. It takes a special kid to play in a sandbox, kids nowadays aren't smart / creative enough
  7. They just don't make sandboxes like they used to (ah, the good old days!)
  8. The kids started crying about being beat up in the sandboxes, or the bullies ruin it for everyone
  9. The kids started whining about making the toys easier to use and ruined it for everyone
  10. The kids grew up and became more interested in the real world (opposite sex, job, money) so they don't have time for sandboxes
  11. There is a secret sandbox but its only for the smart and / or cool kids

I really haven't seen a better description of what a sandbox MMO should have, nor why more sandbox MMOs haven't been released, anywhere else.


The Cryptic Counter - Star Trek Online Announcement in 45 Days

Posted by UnSub Thursday June 12 2008 at 10:41PM
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On Cryptic Studios' official website a counter has been put up. It has 45 days on the clock and is counting backwards.

Expect Cryptic to launch the official site for Star Trek Online on that day (July 28). There have been suggestions that the image used as the background to the counter come directly from Perpetual Entertainment's work on the same title, which Cryptic would have picked up if they took the art when they (as is rumoured) picked up the STO license several months ago.

EDIT: I really should include a link to the original artwork (down a bit, just before the two big pictures).

Age of Conan: I was wrong!

Posted by UnSub Tuesday June 10 2008 at 4:31AM
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As someone who was invited to the Age of Conan technical beta testing for several months, yet could never log in due to a combination of bugs and timing issues, I was absolutely sure that AoC was going to be trainwreck merged with a car fire on launch.

I was wrong. Apparently Funcom have mastered the art of the magical launch day patch (or sold some souls to infernal deal makers) because AoC looks to be the most exciting MMO launched in a long time. I haven't bought a copy yet - I'm waiting for the first major content patches to go through - but it has been hard to resist picking up a copy.

So well done to Funcom. Suddenly The Secret World looks like it might have a shot at launching.