Posts by Doyce
It’s a tried (tired?) and true pattern to release “best of” and “worst of” lists as the year comes to a close, and the MMO market is no exception. I have no intention of listing links to every 2010 list making its way onto the internet.
I will, however, link to the best one.
When the dust clears, I believe the 2010 Flushies, assembled and annotated by Syp on his personal site Bio Break will stand atop a heap of defeated contenders. He’s running the series all this week (and last), and has already covered such categories as Best Trailer, Dud of the Year, and the perpetrator of the worst Cash Shop Insanity.
I realized his insight needed to be shared when the latest post went up this morning and I found myself leaning toward the screen, as though I could read the words faster if I were simply closer to them. I’m sure not every reader will agree with every conclusion made, but I sincerely doubt that anyone will be able to argue with the reasons behind each decision, and that (in my mind) makes it an excellent summary of 2010.
Go forth. Read.
Yesterday, in North America, 136,000 people had something in common: they were all logged into MapleStory, an event that nearly doubled its previous concurrency record for North America, set in July 2009. The record number of players comes on the heels of Big Bang, a content update that implemented a complete game overhaul. (MapleStory has more than 7 million registered users in North America, and more than 95 million registered users worldwide.)
Earlier this month, MapleStory released the first and second phases of the three-part Big Bang update, which introduces revamped visuals, a completely rebuilt “Story”, a new town, and two new characters. The third and final phase of Big Bang drops in early 2011, introducing a new character class.
The folks over at World of Tanks — a team-based massively multiplayer online game dedicated to armored warfare in the mid-20th century — seem like the sort of people who wouldn’t have much to offer in the way of holiday cheer; it’s hard to deck the halls when you’re battling for world supremacy against all the armored steel produced in Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.
But looks can be deceiving, even when you’re looking at a motorized howitzer; it turns out the WoT team wanted to send the whole MMO community a little video Christmas card, and upgrade Santa’s sleigh in the process.
I don’t want to keep you from the holiday merriment and 40mm shells any longer: check out the video, and have a happy holiday.
Games industry research specialist Newzoo recently published their Total Consumer Spend 2010 report that shows a 66% increase in games played on social networks in the U.S. (oh Farmville, you dirty, filthy blockbuster) and a 27% rise in massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.
That’s not exactly a huge shock if you happen to be one of the people who make up the increase (or who were gaming online already), especially since our gaming is fueling the collapse of the economy. Obviously, video games are one of the few areas in which consumers continue to spend with confidence.
The report indicates that while MMOs and other social games are on the rise, not all virtual entertainment is a growth industry. The sale figures for games consoles like Xbox and PS3 fell significantly in 2010 – US consumers spent 29% less on console games than last year — a significant drop by anyone’s standards. Rather than investing in a console, gamers are turning to online games that have more social elements, and which are often free-to-play, whether you’re talking about MMOs or Facebook and Bebo. (Newzoo’s analysis also indicates that conversion of free to paying players has become the key success factor for most game companies, though they’re not showing the work that led to that conclusion until 2011.)
That’s the question asked in a recent article on Terra Nova, which offers some (very solid) arguments for the idea that our increasing interest and involvement in ‘virtual environments’ (using that term loosely enough to encompass sites like Facebook and Hulu, as well as more obvious examples) is actually affecting our ‘offline’ consumerism to the point where it starts to look like an economic downturn.
Let’s construe the notion of “virtual economy” quite broadly: If you receive an experience by yourself through a machine that runs on digital technology, without doing or buying anything physical (other than press a few buttons), it’s virtual. To [listen to a song on YouTube] is virtual; to go to a concert is real, to buy a CD and play it is real, to play your own instrument is real. The virtual transaction does not require the movement or alteration of anything physical. Not even physical money changes hands. The real transaction involves material being created, moved, consumed, all by human hands.
TV viewing is down among 18-34 year old males, and movie attendance is flat. Meanwhile, more and more time is being spent online or playing videogames. If you want to get 80 hours of fun watching movies, you need $1000. You can get the same fun from a game for $50. Spending time online or playing videogames simply involves less expenditure in the real economy.
The author goes on to make several more telling observations: why spend money on birthday cards when you can send most of your friends a virtual beer and best wishes via a free app on Facebook? Why buy and fill a bunch of photo albums to give friends and family (once one of my wife’s favorite gifts) when you can simply share a Collection on Flickr? How much less are we paying the phone company for ten-minute, long-distance phone calls that we’ve replaced with a couple @-replies on Twitter?
For that matter, consider this scenario: It’s the 1960s, and all of your friends that you currently spend time with online are actually your local friends and neighbors. Let’s assume that you’re seeing them face-to-face just as often as you currently interact with them virtually, and for approximately the same amount of time. How much more would you be spending on clothes? Food (both as a host/guest and eating out)? Entertainment? Gas?
Consider for a moment that, less than ten years ago, that sort of situation with that level of consumerism would have been the norm. Given that, it seems inevitable that our time online has a perceptible impact on the economy. Are we causing the recession? Certainly not, but there’s a good chance that virtual environments are one of the invisible, untrackable contributors. Did you spend more gold in Eriador or Azeroth than cash at your local movie theater this weekend? Me too.
The whole article is extremely thought-provoking and interesting, I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but in the meantime, tell me this: what offline activity have you mostly (or entirely) replaced with some online equivalent in the last year or two?
DC Universe Online (DCUO, of course) recently announced its line-up of voice talent for the key NPCs in the setting, and by pretty much any fan’s standards, it’s impressive.
Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman are both probably the most well-known and best-loved voices for those character’s in the current modern Batman animated productions; both have a strong fan following. Other members of the cast make us wonder if someone working for DCUO is a big Joss Whedon fan; the list includes Adam Baldwin (Chuck, Firefly) as Superman, Gina Torres (Firefly) as Wonder Woman, and James Marsters (Buffy, Angel) as Lex Luthor.
MMOs tend to be feast or famine when it comes to voice acting — some use almost none (City of Heroes comes to mind), while others voice every single bit of dialog and accompany it with matching text (such Wizard 101, a fact that has helped my daughter’s reading advancement immensely).
Everyone has their favorite voices in their favorite games, be they MMO or single-player. Most Blizzard fans quickly recognize the voice behind “stay awhile and listen” (I’ll always be partial to the way one of the Ogrimmar vendors said “blood and thunder”), and Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect megahits have lead many to wonder which character class or race will be voiced by Jennifer Hale (known to many as ‘female Shepherd’) in the upcoming Star Wars: the Old Republic. (As a Buffy fan, I’m glad Robin Sachs will be getting more work — Bioware uses him for so many characters that he ought to simply be put on the payroll.)
What voice actor or particular character in your favorite MMO helps you enjoy the game that much more? I’m partial to LotRO’s Gandalf (Harry Chase), as well as the more recent yet equally sonorous Second Watcher Heathstraw.
What about you? Share your favorites (and the game they’re from) in the comments!
Two days ago, hackers gained access to the servers at Gawker Media and, with it, access to the account information of over 200,000 registered users of the various sites that make up the snark-powered outlet.
Yesterday, those same users started to see their (online) lives devolve into chaos. Using the personal information recorded in each Gawker user’s file, the hackers were able to turn around and access entirely unrelated e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and even Paypal and bank accounts.
If you’re inclined, it’s easy to look around the internet today and locate a lot of pointing fingers, all trembling with various levels of rage or disapproval: Gawker’s IT staff made some entirely indefensible security decisions (storing the password information with no encryption); the users who saw their non-Gawker accounts accessed also practiced poor password security; et cetera, ad nauseum.
Now, Gawker has little or nothing to do with the MMO industry (and, like most topics, pays attention to it only long enough to write something snide and forgettable), but their mistake and the plight of their users are relevant to the MMO community, because it reminds us of an important fact: your password security is only as good as that other guy’s password security — as soon as you use a password to build an account with a new site (Twitter, Facebook, or maybe that new free-to-play MMO you want to check out), the security of that password is now in the hands of someone else, which means that it doesn’t (entirely) matter how careful you are; what matters is how careful everyone else is.
And, of course, not everyone else is careful.
So, in honor of the Gawker security debacle, we’re declaring this International Change Your Account Password Day, and reminding you of a couple key points of internet security.
Never Share a Computer Account, and Never Tell Anyone Your Password
It doesn’t matter how trustworthy your friend/sister/brother/bestie/*friend/S.O. may be; the fact is they might accidentally reveal your account password to someone, or they might get angry with you for any number of good or bad reasons and decide that doing something mean to one or all of your virtual selves might be just the way to get back at you.
Never Use the Same Password for More than One Account
This is one of the main reasons that so many Gawker users were compromised on sites that had nothing to do with Gawker — they used the same password on multiple sites. Do we do the same thing? Yes. Should we — must we — stop? Yes.
Never Write Down a Password
It’s tough; you need to use many different passwords, but at the same time, you’re not supposed to record them anywhere. We recommend a secure password-management tool, such as LastPass or Roboform.
Never Communicate a Password via Email or Instant Messaging
Remember: your password security is only as good as that other guy’s password security. It doesn’t matter if you keep your information secure if your friend’s email account gets hacked.
It’s time to Change your Password(s)
Regularly changing the passwords on your “key accounts” may be pointless, but making sure all those passwords are different definitely is not. We usually think of our email, home or work computers, and banking accounts when we think of “key accounts”, but let’s be honest: we are MMO players, and our characters (and their stuff) are important to us — why not protect them with the same basic care and intelligence as we would our Twitter account?
The end of the year is coming, and with it the chaos of the holidays. Take advantage of a quiet Tuesday, update your passwords, and make sure you won’t have any unpleasant surprises on January 1st.
Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online has popped to the top of MMO news many times, most recently due to its switch to a Free to Play model similar to the one that revitalized Dungeons and Dragons Online. That switch has been extremely profitable for Turbine, and the fans of the game (both newcomers as well as the game’s “lifers” and VIP account holders) have adopted a warily cautious attitude about the necessary changes that came with Free to Play.
“Money is nice,” say the masses, “but show us what you’re going to do with it. Are we going to see any of that new income going back into the game?”
This winter, LotRO’s developers are providing what might be the first real answer to that question, and it’s coming from a strange direction: the annual in-game Yule Festival will feature fairly predictable (if enjoyable) new seasonal content (snowball fights, new quests, eating contests, et cetera), and something that sounds altogether different: a one-act play in which the players can participate both as actors and audience. The play features flexible outcomes and a new rating system that meant the developers had to entirely abandon the standard MMO quest mechanics with which we are all so painfully familiar.
The Festival Theatre was built outside of the quest system in order to get past some of the limitations that would have restricted the event. While overall it was the right decision, it was most definitely a double-edged sword. The upside of going rogue was the freedom of choice and varied responses that make this event so unique; […] the downside being that all of the feedback the quest system provides had to be recreated.
To that end, players entering the Theatre will find helpful announcers and ushers willing to explain how the event operates. [They also] carry a full stock of Rotten Fruit and Flower Petals — two very important items for an audience member to keep on their person at all times.
The event is (mostly) controlled by a single, all-powerful NPC called “The Audience.” [Any readers with acting experience may have just cringed.] The Audience picks actors for the event, records what emotes have been chosen, tells NPC actors what lines to perform, and hands out rewards. It was a challenging project that took a significant time commitment from many members of Turbine’s staff, and that may be the first place where some of the new free-to-play revenue has been visibly reinvested in the game.
Behind the scenes, all of his logic is controlled through a script system. Because of its complex logic (and the fact that some of the features had never been attempted in LOTRO before) designers from across the company […] helped review, debug, and offer suggestions on its implementation.
The rating system for the play is noteworthy for rewarding both actors and audience members as well. Aside from the NPC “Audience”, the players who don’t get picked to play a part still have jobs to do — they’re the actual, critical audience, able to throw rotten fruit at bad actors (or a kinmate who needs a good tomato-to-the-face) and rose petals at the good ones. Turbine’s developers boast that the play will be highly repeatable content, thanks to the ‘choose your adventure’ style of the choices the actors get on stage that’s meant to ensure that no performance is ever exactly the same. True or not, this certainly sounds like a fresh new step in MMO content design, and we’re excited to see what Turbine (and others) are able to do with it in the future.
Halloween, 2010. Thousands upon thousands of brick-building fans stormed the worlds of Lego Universe as it opened its doors, starting off with only a basic minifigure and a damaged spaceship. Reviews of the game have been largely positive (representing multiple generations of Lego fans), and players seem happy with the detailed features and (of course) the opportunity to literally build the world around them, but until now there has been no word on the growth or size of the Lego Universe playerbase since the game’s launch.
And while there are still no hard numbers available on how many fans stayed around after that initial rush, it’s safe to say that the community is growing, since Lego Universe has just posted a job opening for a new community coordinator.
The CC’s primary role is to be an effective advocate for his/her own community. This is a two way street, as the role demands a good listener who can filter community voices into an understandable message that can be passed on to LEGO, but also a good implementer who can bring new game innovations to the community.
It’s an interesting description of a role that is often the most public, day-to-day face of any MMO. We all know the role of Community Coordinator can be a thankless one, but at the same time its hard to think of any MMO we’ve played in which the CCs for that community weren’t some of the most passionate supporters of the game. (They’d have to be, to put up with some of the abuse heaped on their shoulders.)
Lego’s obviously looking for someone like that for the new position. If you’re in the area (Colorado), and you love Lego, you might want to check out the full job description.
Since a certain shattering of a certain MMO world has greedily dominated center stage for the last few weeks, we thought it would be a good idea to mention the other huge, worldwide, multi-million-user MMO currently releasing a series of updates and changes are, dare we say it, cataclysmic in scope.
We’re talking, of course, about Maple Story, the 2-D, side-scrolling MMO from Nexon. The name of the release? Big Bang. The Nexon Global Development Team explains.
When we started out, our biggest focus was in creating new content so our players would always have something new to enjoy in MapleStory. That meant we added lots of new quests, new areas and even new classes to change up the game. Sometimes this meant restructuring the underlying game so that the new mechanics would work.
After a while we found that players felt like the experience was a bit disjointed. We spent a lot of time reviewing player trends and player feedback through various channels and found that what most people wanted was a smoother MapleStory that didn’t feel quite so patched together. That’s when we started planning and preparing the Big Bang. It’s creating a better looking, feeling, and playing MapleStory without losing the essence of the great gameplay and all the fun content we’ve created over the years.
The team went on to say that Maple Story players (Maplers) will first notice that existing content has been changed and rebalanced significantly, and that unnecessary and inconvenient game systems have been removed to streamline the play experience. The Big Bang update is so big, in fact, that it’s coming in three parts; yesterday’s update included graphic improvements, a simplified user interface, and redesigned and rebalanced skills. Most notably, however, the update included a drastically improved Experience Curve, and a world that’s been broken into pieces and put back together; neither task was easy:
The hardest aspect was reworking the map structure and completely revamping the level experience curve. Adjusting the map structure required us to modify and rebalance all the quests to match the new level ranges, and move and rebalance all the monsters to make sure there is always level appropriate content to enjoy and mobs to fight.