“Should Modders Get Paid” Is the Wrong Question

It’s New Blogger Initiative month, where people get together and encourage new people to start blogging. If you’re reading this and wanted to blog, go for it! Lots of people are out there to lend a hand right now. Belghast made a blog about it, and even mentioned “wayward bloggers”, or those of us who lost our way. I can probably fit into that group because I’m so erratic in when I feel like posting something.

Paid Mods Create A Shitstorm As If They Didn’t Already Exist

Well, everyone knows about this, right? Steam introduces paid mods, then pulls it only a few days later in the face of the Internet exploding as only it can. In some ways, I just feel like calling the whole thing #FirstWorldProblems and moving on, but it got me thinking.

For one thing, paid mods aren’t new. Anyone remember Zygor Guides? That was a paid mod for World of Warcraft that came out eons ago. It wasn’t particularly controversial, beyond people finding it goofy that anyone would pay for that. People did, though.

How about Cities: Skylines? Did you know that has paid mods? It does, in fact they cost the community $817 per building, and are made by a former Maxis employee who did art for SimCity. People don’t find that offensive either, in fact it was hailed as an inventive way to support modders. The key difference I suppose here is that because it’s a Paetron, the mod is actually free to individuals. A bunch of people banded together as a community and that is where it’s coming from, but it’s not actually “free”. Someone is paying for it.

How about Counterstrike? Team Fortress? Every MOBA that came after Defense of the Ancients? Those all started as mods. One of them created an entire genre, and that genre is worth huge money now. Mod makers that manage to make money aren’t new.

Then Valve came in, and things went pear shaped real fast.

“Should Modders Get Paid?” Is The Wrong Question

The whole problem with this argument is that people are asking the wrong questions, and talking about the wrong things. “Should modders get paid?” is a stupid question. For this recent example, we’re talking about an American based service in Steam, and American based game studio in Bethesda, and although the game has a worldwide audience, a lot of it is in America (so I’ll focus there).

America is a free capitalist economy (mostly). That means you have the right to go create something and try to sell it. Nobody is under any obligation to buy it. You have no right to get paid to make mods. Assuming you’re not breaking any laws or the game license agreements, you do have the right to try and charge for it, if you want. That’s the reality of the situation. Asking if someone should get paid is like asking if a musician should get paid. The answer is simply “if they can convince someone their work is worth paying for.”

Defense of the Ancients. Not worth paying for, according to lots of people, because it’s a mod.

I mean, if you’re saying “no, modders shouldn’t get paid”, think about that. You’re saying that Defense of the Ancients is something that nobody should have made money from, but DotA 2 is. Why? What’s the difference? DotA created the genre, and DotA 2 couldn’t exist without it. Tons of time, effort, skill, and love went into DotA, more so than a lot of other games that people consider it okay to charge for. Yet it’s not allowed to be monetized, while its sequel is? How does that make any sense at all?

That’s the problem with this whole question. It seems to assume that we’re talking about overly simplistic mods, rather than the high end mods that are essentially game upgrades or full games in themselves.

How Should We Pay Them?

The real question here is how to do this in a way that works for everyone, and this is where Valve failed in horrific fashion. In particular, Valve gave themselves a 30% cut, Bethesda a 45% cut, and the modder a 25% cut. If you pay $4 for a mod, the modder gets $1 and Bethesda (who did nothing), get almost double that.

That’s absurd. I know, people say that Bethesda created the game. So what? They were already paid for the game when you bought it to use the mod. They use all the mods as a marketing point to sell more copies of the game (as does Paradox with Cities: Skylines, and Blizzard with Warcraft 3 when stuff like DotA was massively prolonging the life of that game). They’re already making money because of mods, and there is no particular reason why they deserve a cut of someone elses work.

“But the modders are using their game!”

So what? If you create and show a Powerpoint presentation as a consultant, do you give Microsoft 45% of the consulting fee? No, of course not. That’d be stupid. Microsoft was already paid for the tool. They don’t get paid when you use Notepad, and they don’t get paid when Bethesda used Microsoft’s compiler (or whatever compiler they used) to build Skyrim. Black & Decker doesn’t get a cut of every job you do with a hammer, either. Those are tools. You pay for the tool, then you use it.

In the case of modding, Skyrim itself is a tool. It should be treated accordingly.

Anyway… Valve’s system was bad because modders got so little of the money (among many other reasons). The Paetron model used by some others is better in that regard, as the modder gets 95% of the amount you pay. The problem with that model is that it’s basically on donations, and lots of people get to use the mods without paying anything. That itself isn’t a perfect model, but it’s vastly superior in terms of dollar efficiency and has been used successfully.

There are ways to go about this without totally botching it up like Valve did, and I expect it’ll get figured out one day. People who create entirely new games as mods, or do other massive enhancements should have the ability to make some money by doing that, if people are willing to pay for it. Anything else is an entirely artificial divide where games made in some tools are more worthy of money than games made in other tools, because reasons… and that is entirely ridiculous.

Wildstar is definitely changing business models – for the better

I decided to go into FFXIV on my own, and thus far I’m very happy with that decision. It’s a great game as you get going in it, although one that doesn’t leave the strongest first impression. A lot of stuff unlocks as you get going and the game expands massively. It also has a certain ‘something’, I think it’s the longer global cooldown and generally slower feeling pace, but it’s relaxing and fun to play rather than stressful and exhausting. It’s a welcome change of pace.

Wildstar Is Definitely Switching Business Models

Things got off to a fast start this morning with the news that Wildstar’s boxed copies are being pulled off the shelves in Australia, exactly like what ESO did before it switched business models. Of course, that’s a rumor and doesn’t necessarily mean anything… right up until Wildstar unveiled the “mystery box promotion” the same day.

The mystery box promo lets you get special goodies for buying a boxed copy of the game. Only a boxed copy. Digital copies are excluded. Existing copies are excluded. This is a transparent attempt to earn some revenue by clearing physical inventory with randomized stuff for players who plunk down cash. The best reason to do that is right before you’re no longer going to have to plunk down cash, at which point that inventory becomes worthless. That is the only reason to make this physical boxes only and exclude digital sales.

On top of that, the Australia news is interesting. ESO did it a few weeks before their switch. What’s in a few weeks for Wildstar? NCSoft’s quarterly financials, where revenue data for Wildstar will be released.

NCSoft revenue graph
NCSoft revenue graph. Notice the Wildstar line is heading for zero with alarming speed. Thanks to MMORPG.com for the image.

Speaking of NCSoft’s quarterly financials, here’s a lovely graph from their last set. The Wildstar line is disastrously heading in the wrong direction.  This is simply not a trend that can be maintained for much longer, especially with NCSoft’s existing problem of dealing with a hostile major shareholder and potential takeover threat in Nexon. They simply can’t afford to keep throwing money at Wildstar endlessly in the hope that the audience for it suddenly turns around on its own.

Add it all up. The timing of these moves mean that in a few weeks when the new financials come out, they’ll be in a position to announce a business model change along with the new financial data. That will allow management to say that it’s trying to save the game, rather than simply letting it bleed to death.

That’s not an official announcement, but it’s only a matter of time before that announcement comes out.

It’s a Good Thing

The simple truth of the matter is that the subscription model for Wildstar didn’t work. It didn’t gain traction or an audience large enough to sustain an AAA game in todays market. There’s no shame in that, a LOT of games have failed to do it. How many subscription AAA MMO games have launched successfully in the last five years? It’s not a long list. The pool of people willing to pay a subscription and willing to leave from another game is limited, and competition is extremely fierce.

If you want Wildstar to survive, this is a good thing. On it’s current course as a subscription game with a small and quite possibly still declining playerbase, it’s only going to survive for so long as NCSoft keeps willing to eat losses. Once that patience ends, it’s dead. Growing out of it isn’t really realistic – Wildstar’s visibility on things like social media is low due to the lack of players. There simply aren’t enough enthusiastic players, bloggers, Youtubers, and so on to get the word out about all the new things they’re doing in patches.

A business model change gives Wildstar a chance to get back into the spotlight and get a lot of eyeballs on their improvements in the last few months. It lowers the barrier of entry to get people willing to give it another chance. Those are the people that Wildstar needs to reach in order to become a thriving game. You might oppose this on the grounds that the business model change could alter the game away from what you like about it… and maybe it will. But it doesn’t matter. The present course is a death sentence. People who actually want to keep playing Wildstar have to understand that if the game can’t turn a profit, it doesn’t matter how much you like it. Unprofitable games die in this market.

As Belghast and Liores both said back when ESO did this, someone has to pay for these games. The subscription market isn’t doing so in sufficient number (for a number of reasons, only some of which are within Carbine’s control), so the only alternative left is to switch and try to get money from other sources.

I hope it works out for them. I like the game, and my best friend loves it. I want it to do well. This way, it has a second chance to do so.

Dungeon Master Appreciation Month – Love Thy Players

It’s Dungeon Master Appreciation month. Wizards of the Coast has offered up a bunch of articles on that, including suggestions on how to show appreciation. I’m currently a DM, with players coming over every sunday and my campaign going into year three (and 100 sessions!). While it’s certainly cool to be appreciated, I don’t think doing something special is particularly required or expected.

Mess Up My Sandbox

I’ve created a lovely little sandbox world for my campaign to take place in. Then the players come along and totally mess it up. This being a tabletop game, there are no real limitations on what they can do, like in a video game. Any hair-brained scheme they can imagine, they can try and do. It leads to wildly unexpected outcomes when they decide to work with the mafia boss’ wife, unintended deaths because half the party decided to have tea mid combat, and plotlines being thrown out and becoming improv routines because I couldn’t possibly predict that they would decide to chase a silly little sub story for two sessions and get a party member arrested. And of course, the session where one player wanted to negotiate a peace treaty between warring factions, and I got every other player to put aside their characters and play a diplomat from a relevant world power instead so we could actually play out that negotiation.

Yes, all those things happened. My sandbox is a mess these days, with everybody out of place, characters missing, planned storylines abandoned, other ones scribbled into the notes after the fact so I’d remember what in the world just happened, and so on.

It’s delightful. When we have a moment together that people talk about weeks later, that’s all the appreciation I really want.

Love Thy Players

And that’s really it, for me. The whole idea of DM appreciation is weird to me. I wound up running this campaign because one I was playing in ended, another player made a suggestion and offered to buy a source book for someone willing to run it, and I had an idea for a story I wanted to see play out. Here we are.

I know that the DM does a lot of work to make a campaign happen, having done it for a couple of years. I’ve had to make maps of embassies so the players could try to kidnap someone (for the mob, who then ransomed that person back to the same embassy for a tidy profit). I’ve got a fictional tabloid newspaper full of stories about what’s going on in the world. There’s weekly updates. Ledgers on item shop sales. On and on it goes.

But without those players who give me their Sunday night for years at a time, what have I really got? Not much. All the time they gave me to tell my little story to them is a great present, and I’m very thankful for it.

At the risk of being cliched, that they keep finding time for me is the best form of appreciation they can show me…

But… Let Us Play Too!

Okay, there is one more thing they could do – Run A Game!

The only downside to all this time spent as a DM is that since I started, I haven’t been a player in any pen & paper game. I’m kind of antsy to get playing again, and pretty eager for someone to run a game that I can play in.

One thing we don’t have is an overabundance of people willing to DM. We can always use more. If you want to thank your DM but don’t know how? Try running a session or two where they can just be a player. Trust me, that is the nicest thing you can do for us!

Realistic Budgeting – A Feature Your Game Must Have

It’s winter in Canada, and that means snow. And cold. This year, it means both, at the same time, in a relentless assault that’s led to a state of emergency being declared in Saint John. When snow is causing a state of emergency in Canada, you know it’s a rough winter.

The problem with this particular weather is that it’s just been an onslaught with no breaks. There is at least one and potentially two more storms in the seven day forecast, one of which is another 40cm (that’s over a foot for my American friends). At the same time we’re getting bitter cold (-20C with windchills pushing into -30C), without the occasional thawing period that we usually get this time of year. The combination is enough that we’re running out of places to put the snow, it’s getting hard to see around corners on roads, pipes are freezing, and other similar problems. It’s messy. Locally, my snow banks are as tall as I am now, and that’s a problem when I have to shovel more snow over them later this week.

Realistic Budgets Are A Feature – Your Game Must Have It

Paraphrasing Joel Spolsky there when he was talking about “shipping” being a feature software must have. He was bang on. But a realistic budget is also a feature and you must have it. Why MMOs aren’t making enough money lately has been a hot topic with Elder Scrolls Online going free to play, and then Sony Online Entertainment being sold off. Is it really as simple as blaming the players for not being willing to subscribe? Or maybe we are reaping what we have sown? Do we have to pay somehow?

Well… yes, and no. It’s true that games need to make money to survive, and that publishers will try to find ways to do that if a sub model fails. It’s not at all true that these are poor suffering companies because the players are too mean to pay. That thinking totally ignores the cost side of the equation: absurd budgets.

Should We Even Make This Software?

In my life as a software developer, there are a couple main kinds of projects: For sale, and not for sale.

Not For Sale

Not for sale is easy. We’re making it for some reason, probably to fill a need internally. It will have a cost to develop, which we’ll call E (expenses). We’re going to do it because it’s going to either boost productivity somewhere, improve an ineffecient process, or allow us to do something we can’t do right now. All of those things tend to have a monetary value to the company, which we’ll call P.

In some cases, there is a commercial off the shelf product that can do what we want, available for some cost, along with training and support. We’ll call the total of that C.

We figure out if the software is even worth making by comparing P to E and C. If P > E, it’s worth our time to develop it. If P > C, it’s worth our time to buy something to do it. If both are true, we can compare E to C and figure out which way is best. If neither are true, then it’s not financially logical to do anything.

For Sale

For sale software is similar, except instead of benefit to the company, we’re looking at revenue (R). Unlike savings to the company for an internal efficiency project, we don’t usually know what revenue will actually be. We have to estimate it based on the size of the market, our ability to penetrate that market and take share from other companies, opportunities to grow the market, and so on. If we have a good revenue estimate, then we can figure out if it’s worth the risk of developing the product by comparing R and E (E now also includes advertising along with external user support and so on).

If the numbers don’t work, we shouldn’t make the product at all. If we don’t have the money to make the product in a way that can be profitable, we shouldn’t make the product at all. This tends to be easy to understand in the world of physical goods: If someone came to you and said they needed $5 million to make a new soft drink but it’s a good investment because the worldwide soft drink market is huge and thus they only need 2% of it… they’re delusional. How are they going to get 2% of that market away from Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and the other massive, entrenched, global players?

They’re not. I mean, it’s not impossible, but the vast majority of plays like this will fail spectacularly.

MMOs Have The Same Problem

This is also true in games, and MMOs in particular. FPS games at least have a shelf life, and the market has shown repeatedly that it will buy a new game when it’s bored with Call of Duty/Battlefield. Single Player RPGs run out of content, so there’s a market for new ones. On and on it goes.

MMOs don’t run out in the same way. Successful ones stick around and hold players a very long time, and those players are much harder to draw to another subscription game.  We’ve seen that play out time and time again – players try a new game, but most don’t stick around. AAA level MMOs a few months after launch tend to be somewhere in six figures for subscriptions. That’s the realistic expectation.

So if you’re spending $200 million (ESO’s rumored budget) to $500 million (to borrow Tobold’s number for SW:TOR) to build a MMO, what are your expectations for numbers? The only way to make a profit on a $500 million investment in a MMO is if you get WoW numbers.

Problem? WoW is an anomaly. It is an order of magnitude larger than everybody else. It sucks up most of the paying player base, and those players are extremely hard to suck away long-term, because Blizzard has a massive development budget and a very experienced team. If you budget your game on the basis that it will be more successful than every single other MMO ever created except WoW, you are delusional. There’s no other way to say it. This is not how corporations that seek reliable profit are run.

ESO turned to F2P because ESO is a medicore MMO, with an appropriately sized customer base for the game they actually created in the MMO market. That isn’t good enough, because their costs were astronomical for the size of the market, and that is entirely on them. Players have no obligation to buy something just because a company puts it out. That is not how a free market works.

The players have spoken pretty clearly. Millions of them are willing to pay for WoW. FFXIV is experiencing a strong rebirth and is doing well with paying customers as well. People will pay for what they want, but the market that will pay for MMO gameplay is only so big, and most of it is tied up in games already. For your game to be successful, you have to pull players away from those games, which is extremely difficult.

Given that, the revenue expectations for a lot of these games are absurd. In a world of sane corporate planning, some of these failing MMOs would never have been developed in the first place. That’s just what the size of the market dictates, and unless you really can do better than Blizzard, you should not expect your game to be bigger than all others that came before it.

After all, even Blizzard didn’t expect that.

Are Modern “MMOs” really MMOs?

My experiment with Final Fantasy XIV came to an abrupt halt when Rhiss and I tried it together. The whole idea was to get a game we could both play, as we have played MMOs as a duo since we met in Goldshire eons ago. So the plan was simple: group up, do some stuff for an evening, and see how it feels. Simple, right?

Well, no. Trial accounts can’t group with each other, so we couldn’t do it. Rhiss promptly lost interest and that was that. I liked the game and maybe one day when the timing is good I’ll just buy a couple copies and try again. I understand that restriction is probably just collateral damage from trial accounts not being able to form groups with paid accounts (to limit spam abuse), but still.

Is It Still A MMO If You Never Interact With Other People?

Earlier this week, the Aggronaut was talking about maintenance gaming (aka: logging in just to do chores to pay maintenance), and happened to mention that nobody ever leaves their garrisons in Warlords of Draenor. That prompted me to ask a simple question: “If nobody leaves their garrisons to play with other people, is it really a MMO?”

Turns out, the MMO Gypsy addressed the general issue back in 2011. Has anything changed since then?

Not really.

Single Player Game With Some Group Content

Themepark MMORPGs in particular are largely designed to be primarily single player affairs these days. Elder Scrolls Online essentially marks you as the “chosen one” in the intro zone, and you’re following a single player storyline doing single player quests for most of the game, and don’t really have a reason to interact with anybody at all, until you hit some group content. If you turned every other person you see in the outside world in ESO into a bot, would anybody notice?

Wildstar is the same thing, only you don’t start off as a chosen one. But still, the plot quests are all designed for single player play. The game’s outdoor content is so designed around it that if you quest in a group (as I always did), most of the combat is mind numbingly boring. I was playing an engineer tank and Rhiss was an esper healer, and we would just pull 7 or 8 things at a time so we’d have to stay awake, and that was in our DPS specs. In our actual tank & healer setups, we duoed most of the outdoor group content without difficulty. I’d throw out zone messages telling other people we were doing it in case some soloers needed to get the quest done, but we didn’t need them for anything.

The worst part was the story quests that were forced single player. Yes, this is marketed as an MMORPG, and the game flat out disallowed grouping for these quests. We then proceeded to do the exact same thing alone that we could have done together, and then had to figure out how to reconcile how the hell this narrative makes any kind of sense at all to a pair of roleplayers.

So, we’re playing a game where the first two letters are “Massively Multiplayer” and the last three are “Role Playing Game”, and we have a situation where it’s impossible to play multiplayer, and roleplaying the actual events doesn’t make sense because we somehow both became the “chosen one” and both did major story elements that are written in the singular, simultaneously, with the same NPCs.

Does that make sense to anybody at all?

Functionally speaking, you can play Wildstar exactly the same way you play Mass Effect 3: entirely singleplayer until you feel like doing some of the group content. That lasts right up until endgame, where suddenly it’s a totally different game that is entirely about instanced group play (so still not massive, but at least one of the Ms is true).

A Series of Unfortunate Evolutions

This goes on and on, but it really goes back to WoW, which perfected it. Over the years decisions were made that made the game more single player friendly, and other games in the genre followed suit.

Individually, those decisions all made sense. I played through a lot of them, and they were trying to solve real problems that players were having at the time. In the small picture, they were the right thing to do.

But in the big picture, the sum total of all those decisions together has turned your average MMO today into something where only the O is actually true. Consider:

  1. You play almost entirely alone. For levelling quest content in particular, other people are primarily in the way. Grouping rarely helps you. In fact, grouping lowers the difficulty so much that any kind of skill or even attention required to win fights goes away.
  2. Nothing anybody does really impacts anybody else long term. Sure, another player (who happens to be in the same area, on the same server/instance/phase) could mess with you in various ways, but that’s it. Whatever they do to the world state doesn’t impact your world state long term, and nothing you do to the world state impacts theirs. Especially with phasing and instancing, you’re playing in your own copy of the game world and not a single world.
  3. There’s a superficial economy that is kind of player driven but not really overly functional. The commodity exchange is how I mostly interacted with other people to do business in Wildstar, and again if you replaced the other people with AI I would not have noticed any difference.

You know what game I could have just been describing? Diablo 3, back when it had an auction house. It’s not a MMO, but only in the sense that the other people simply aren’t visible at all and thus can’t get in your way.  Otherwise, it’s actually better at encouraging group play than the levelling content in most MMOs these days, as grouping makes the game harder (unless someone vastly outgears everyone else) and the rewards better. There is more reason to group in Diablo than there is in these supposed “MMO” games. Let alone what passes for a “MMO” on Facebook and iOS, where the term is used for anything that has other players that you might fight at some point.

Genre Decline

It’s not exactly a secret that the MMO genre is not doing overly well. Successful launches have been few and far between for years, with a lot of disappointments and failures. New game launches are slowing down significantly, and the playerbase is stagnating. There’s lots of reasons for that, and I’m not sure the problem of most MMOs not actually being MMOs is even one of them. If that’s what people wanted, they’d probably be playing a game that’s closer to it (like Eve) rather than the “single player except on raid night” Warlords of Draenor. So maybe it’s not a problem.

Or maybe it is, and people just don’t realize it. I have a choice tonight of playing a MMO and continuing to level and do the quest content. I also have the choice of playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Both of them are offering me the same thing: single player storyline, combat, crafting, and quests. One of them is far, far better at delivering that. There’s even a multiplayer mode if I want to try my hand at it.

In that comparison, no MMO can possibly win. Bioware made an RPG of the year winner at what it does, competing on it’s home turf is not a winning strategy for a genre that’s meant to excel at something else. And that’s the whole problem – the strength of a MMO that should let it compete is those two Ms, but they’ve been neutered into nothingness in an attempt to make the game single player friendly.

I wonder how many other people out there are like me – wanting to play a real MMO, and not something that’s pretending to be a single player game?

A Realm Revisited – Dipping My Toe in Final Fantasy XIV Again

I know a lot of people who have lots of nice things to say about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Lots of people. It’s almost certainly the MMO that gets the most positive buzz from people I know, with WoW coming in second (and Wildstar third, largely because Rhiss loves it to death and I like a lot about it too). That kind of feedback was pushing against the forces keeping me from playing it, including time, Rhiss’ willingness to try it out, my money already being in another MMO… and my previous experience with Final Fantasy XIV.

Yes, I played the first version, in that farce of an open beta they had where they were actively not inviting feedback (so not really a beta at all). That game had without doubt the worst UI of any MMO I’d played, and was full of mistakes that were either amateur hour level, or showed a total disregard for anything the industry had done since WoW came into existence. It was also crash prone, the patcher didn’t work properly, performance sucked, etc, etc…

Nevertheless, eventually the positive feedback on the new release won out, and since I’m not in Wildstar right now, I figured I’d try the free trial. This blog post is on that.

My character talking to an NPC
A few years? Four, by my count

The Return – Shades Of The Original

I didn’t start off impressed.

First of all, I couldn’t get the free trial on my real email address because I had played that open beta for the previous release, back in 2010. I mean, seriously? Alright, I’ll use another email on a fake account. Installation went fine. First launch, I changed data centers to the one Rhiss had also created an experimental character on, and the game crashed.

Second time worked. So I started making a character. I got stuff like this:

ffxiv starting attributes

If it’s telling me the starting attributes for my race selection, I assume they matter in some way. Unfortunately, the game isn’t telling me what those things are. I can decipher four of them easily because they’re fairly standard ones that any tabletop RPG player would know (not that it’s good UX design to assume that knowledge), but what in the world are MND and PIE? One of those is food.

They could have just spelled these things out, and it would have been clearer, but alright. It’s a trial character, these things probably don’t matter a lot.

Then I got to pick a deity. Neat! That came with this:

ffxiv elemental attributes

Did they not learn anything from the UI problems last time around? What in the world are symbols, and what do those numbers do? I have absolutely no idea, to the point that I’m not sure why they are even showing them to me. Is this something for experienced players creating a second character? There’s nothing available on screen to tell me what I’m looking at. Sigh. Oh well, again, it probably doesn’t matter on a trial character.

Final step is picking a world. Rhiss made a test one on Diabolis yesterday, so I tried to do that, and this happened:

ffxiv realm select

I can’t make one on that server because it’s not allowed right now. It was allowed yesterday. So we already can’t play together and we’re just starting. This is really not the start I had in mind. Oh well, I’ll sort that out tomorrow, so I go in…

Damn, This Is Gorgeous!

When I get in, there’s an intro sequence. It’s longer than I’d like before I can do anything, but the dialog and interactions are doing a good job of making me feel like a person in the world and not the chosen one, so I approve. I do a couple of initial tutorial quests, then other people appear, and I see this:

ffxiv nice dress

Wow. Even on my three year old computer, this game is awesome looking. Performance is really good for me. It somehow both has much higher detail than Wildstar AND better framerates. The town looks great, the people looks great, the world looks great… Running around town trying to find things was a joy because everything is so easy on the eyes. That’ll probably fade in time, but wow.

I ran around doing some town fetch quests, then got sent outside to do some stuff. Most of the in game UI annoyances from the original release are gone, and I’m having a relatively painless time figuring out how to do things.  Out for some early combat I noticed that the pacing feels slow and deliberate, especially compared to the chaotic frenzy that Wildstar can turn into. I didn’t mind it, because it feels kind of like WoW and I enjoyed that for years. Plus I’m playing a Conjuror, so I can run around healing other people in the area for fun. One of them was fighting two things at once and I think I helped them out, they threw me a bow afterwards. It’s the little things.

The sound was also pretty good, with little touches like when combat kicked off and such. I ran into a FATE and that played like a rift from Rift. Cool, I liked that system a lot.

It’s Early, So We’ll See

These are pretty early impressions, considering I’m level four and haven’t really done anything. Overall I enjoyed it more than Rhiss did, especially when I was enjoying the world and not dealing with wonky stuff like the character creation issues. It sucks that we can’t group right now, and that it’d take a while to fix that once we find a server we can both get on because of how long the intro area is, but still.

I hope to be able to put more time into it and see how some other things work before the trial runs out. Given that I want to play again, so far the trial did it’s job of selling the game. What a vast improvement from the first time.

Gaming and Community – It’s a very bloggy holiday season!

It’s kind of ironic that a blog about gaming and community is late due to a communication snafu on my part, but here we are. Apologies to everyone, and especially Syl, because I really hate being late. This is me, when I’m late:

Crazy Twilight Sparkle

You can imagine how I felt when I realized I was today, and instead of having done it I was at work and couldn’t. I highly appreciate Syl’s patience. The blogging community sure is great!

Bloggy Xmas Title

I’ve been gaming for pretty much as long as I can remember, which is a very long time. How long? My first console was an Atari 2600. I played Colecovision, Tandy, and all the fun stuff from the past. I remember games on tape. I don’t miss that.

Back then, the community was a bunch of isolated community. Gaming was localized to an area, and the gamers tended to know each other because there simply wasn’t many people to game with yet. The adults didn’t take it seriously for the most part, it was a “kids thing”. That persisted through high school, although the size of the community grew with BBSes, the Internet, and a table in school dedicated to Battletech and Magic: The Gathering.

Today? I don’t think gaming as a community works.

Gaming Is A World

Today, gaming is more like a world. It’s pervasive. Thanks to the original kid gamers growing up and sticking with it, to mobile spreading it everywhere, these days virtually everyone is a gamer. If “D&D is satanism” was the start of a culture war, that war is over. We won. We won so completely that the majority are now with us, even if they don’t use the “gamer” label.

What was the result of that? Gamers mostly argue amongst themselves now. (See: GamerGate.) The interesting thing about that to me is that the same thing happened in the Brony community, at a much faster speed. In the first year of it’s existence, we were mostly figuring out what we were about, and defending ourselves from the outside world going “WTF?” The sense of community in that period was real and strong, because nothing strengthens a community like a common cause and the feeling of an outside force attacking you. Then the world got used to us, and the outside pressure vanished. Come season 3, there was a lot more infighting than in the past, simply because without the outside pressure forcing everyone to band together, the different community groups inside the greater Brony world became less willing to put up with the stuff they didn’t like about the other communities. This covered a bunch of issues, with one of the biggest ones being over what to do about adult fanfiction (known as “clop”), and how that community could coexist with the community who saw it as something to enjoy with their kids and thus a space where such things were intolerable. That’s not one community, that’s two communities trying to peacefully coexist in the same world.

Which is what the gamer world really is – a lot of communities that get along with varying degrees of success. The bad thing is that we get ugly fights that really serve no purpose. The good news is that it’s exactly what happens when anything goes mainstream. There’s nothing particularly wrong with “gamers” just because of that stuff. It’s what humans do when a bunch of communities are all interacting.

Those Communities Are Awesome

If you find the communities that suit your interests, they are awesome. They’re all people out to have fun, or beat a challenge, or unite to kill a raid boss, or win a tournament. They write detailed walkthroughs to help others get through games. They play games and record it to show others how the game works (then get lampooned on South Park). They drop out of the air to lend a hand because they see you got attacked by a bunch of Murloc adds and are in trouble. They hang around a Q&A site answering questions about obscure D&D variant rules. And yes, they even forgive you for a late blog post. 😉

Most of them are open and accepting of pretty much anybody who shares the same interests and fits the culture. If one group doesn’t suit you, there is almost certainly another one that does. This is a hobby that came of age in the Internet era and thrives on sharing, even when the community is for a single player game. Playing alone doesn’t mean you’re actually alone when you’re a gamer. If you have something to share, you have an outlet. If you want to see the creativity of others, you have places to look. If you want to lend a hand to those in need, gamers have spawned some incredible charity efforts. I’m looking at you, Humble Bundle. When that happens, gaming as a community reaches out to the real world community, and it’s awesome.

My Own Gamer Community

If I look around my life, I see an awful lot that I owe to the gaming communities:

  • I met my wife at a LARP, which itself is a pretty funny story of me both saving the town and being entirely oblivious.
  • I met my best friend in World of Warcraft, on Argent Dawn, in a tavern in Stormwind City. A decade later and we’ve reached the point where we play together more often than alone, and coop is a major selling feature on any game.
  • Seemingly half my friends are either met during games, or joined in games and became closer. I run a D&D campaign at my house, and that includes friends, friends of friends (who are now friends), and a coworker (who is now a friend). It’s amazing how all those different groups come together over dice at the table, united in a common cause of trying to foil whatever plot I want to inflict on them this week. We’re over two years and still going.
  • At the library games day or a convention, people who don’t know each other and have nothing else in common all get together to play new games and learn from each other. I love participating in those, especially when kids are welcome and I can help them discover games they like.

With all that it’s given me, I’m pretty proud to be a member of some part of the gamer community.

Attention Span Changes and Gaming

Still don’t have a name for this blog, but what the hey. I have stuff to write about, so I’ll sort out the name later. 🙂

Last weekend, I was invited out to a friend’s camp (which is a cottage with no running water and heated by a wood stove). For the three days I was there it was between 7-10 guys, all playing board games. People brought their own games, and there was a huge stack. I wish I’d gotten a photo of it. I noticed a pattern in the games that were payed.

Long Games Did Poorly

Friday night was dominated by big, long games. Games like Attack! and Zombicide, that have complex rules, lots of pieces, and are intended to last for a couple of hours. A few of these games got going.

None of them were finished.

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