Jun 09

TSW Swag Sellout – Our Thanks To You

We’ve bought and received as donations a lot of swag (clothing/pets/etc) from The Secret World’s item store and party bags over the past years. We want to give back as best we can now.

The reports say that, as of June 26, when Secret World Legends (SWL) goes live, all item shop swag from TSW that will transfer to SWL will be snapshotted.  I’d suggest getting your collection set by June 23 (the day they’ve announced access for people who owned TSW), just in case.

In the next few days, I’ll be making every effort to put everything we have left in my various storage chars’ inventories up on the Auction House in TSW for 1 Pax each.  I’ll check in now and then to see if I have room for more things. Please get what you need, as close to ‘on us’ as we can manage.

We appreciate all you’ve done for The Secret World’s community, and we look forward to seeing you in the new Secret World Legends community, for more charity, more parties, more events, more streams, and more fun!

-Jenn

p.s. – I apologize in advance for scarves and mittens.  Think of it as Nostalgia!

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2017/06/09/tsw-swag-sellout-our-thanks-to-you/

Jun 05

Can You Relaunch A Community?

Can you relaunch a community when you relaunch a game? I sure hope so.

Some of us have found ourselves in an interesting place in the last year or so. A game community that we were very engaged in and promoted regularly had become your average toxic cesspool. Discontent and angst had floated to the top and strangled the oxygen of anyone left below. Anyone happy, excited, or impressed had gravitated away from the usual community channels (in-game chats and official forums) to safer climes, where they wouldn’t be pilloried for expressing anything positive.

TSW Cover Art

Where it all began…

This is particularly hard for a game streamer. If you want to continue to stream the games you like to the community that enjoys them, you need to find a way to navigate the waters safely without starting feuds in your chat, social media publicity, etc. It was extraordinarily hard for us in this case, because this community… Funcom’s The Secret World (TSW) community… was the crucible that had shaped us in social media and streaming.

For me, personally, this was the community that had convinced me a gaming community could be mature enough to disagree civilly and supportive and respectful enough of each other to help me break decades of bad experiences and actually engage. I was really attached to this game. I mean, really attached. Guys, my name isn’t actually Jennet. That’s my TSW character. That kind of attached. My kid calls me Jenn now. My mom isn’t confused if she accidentally gets e-mail from Jennison Edwards. Really. Really. Attached.

For our streaming group, it was the place most of us met. More importantly, it was the place that we first launched from in-game events to streaming, taking our Extra Life efforts into full-time streaming to share the game we all enjoyed so much.

It’s not like the community had become different from any other group of gamers shoved together to express their opinions online without censorship. There were the usual cries of, “fanboi,” if you liked anything and, “we are just giving constructive criticism,” if you called anything toxic. It’s no secret to the people being toxic that they were being toxic. We all know that. They know that. We know they know that. They know we know they…

If I have to lay blame (and I will let myself do that this once, publicly, because I am probably going to explode if I just keep it all in, as much as I hate focusing away from the positive), I’d lay it two places:

First, some people couldn’t part with the game when they weren’t having fun anymore. I have never seen a group of people more dedicated to hanging out and letting everyone know they’re miserable doing something, rather than moving on to do something they enjoy. I’d like to assume it is a measure of the love they had for the game that when they got natural burnout, they turned on the game like a jilted lover, baseball bat in hand, going for its windshield. These people either didn’t play and just came to the forums to make sure that if they weren’t having fun, no one else thought it was okay to have fun either… or they played and made liberal use of General chat, Sanctuary chat, and whatever other chats they could get into to let everyone know that the game and the company that made it were beneath them.

Second, Funcom erred way too much on the side of tolerance. By allowing the constant abuse of their primal “don’t be a jerk on the forums” rule, they ended up protecting only the free speech of the jerks. Of course, the jerks are the first ones to run to every possible media outlet and yell, “we’re being suppressed by The Man!” So, I get the theory behind tolerance. But when you protect the rights of some players to be abusive to your other players, to your development team, to your community staff, to your marketing department, and to anyone who suggests the game is fun for them… well, the people who like your game stop showing up to share that with each other in those places. The sense of community vanishes quickly. Those who try to stick it out develop an odd tone of desperation as they forge on against the shallow but very slimy and clingy tide of negativity.

That’s a dramatic oversimplification. I’ve watched all of this for so long from so many angles that I could probably squeak out a master’s thesis on cause and effect cycles in game communities. If anyone in their right mind thought that was worth a degree. Those are just the two biggest causes… or rather, perhaps, confirmations… that I could put a finger on. They didn’t necessarily cause the shift, but they allowed it to take root and made it nearly impossible to shift back.

We held out through that. We love the game (faults and all, the same way we love people), we love the streaming, and we’re completely aware that the toxic folks are an incredibly tiny percentage of the people who like to play The Secret World or watch people stream it. It just takes reminding sometimes that you’re doing it for those folks, not for the toxic ones. You have to be pretty firm with your chat and your events to make sure they’re available to share fun with people and don’t become adjunct platforms for angry soapboxing.

For us, the biggest problem was that there was no longer a centralized community platform to organize and advertise events and streams. We knew that most of our audience wouldn’t touch the forums with a 10 foot pole, let alone drift by to read about our plans. Turnout at events, both charity-oriented and in-game-specific, plummeted for us. We had to move away from the forums of the game that was supposedly the center of our focus. We found Twitter outside the TSW Twitterverse, Twitch community, Reddit, and (an alarming number of times) the checkout guys at the grocery. The bright side was that we expanded into a whole new group of streamers, audience, and online friends who shared many different games they loved. The greyer side for us was losing our ability to focus on Secret World and stay viable.

TSW Legends

Our future is dark… in a super-cool way!

Cue the game relaunch as Secret World Legends. The old forums went the way of the Tasmanian Tiger. They’re probably out there, but you have to know exactly where to find them to see them. The game’s not bringing on new people. The moderation has ended in the live forums. It’s turned into what one TSW player so aptly labelled (and so many of us were thinking it, so thanks for writing it) a circle jerk.

Classy, Jenn. I know. But it’s really a perfect analogy. It’s a bunch of people stroking each other’s anger, working each other up into an escalating rage. It’s a support group for Angst. Happynon? Joy Anonymous?

“Hi, my name is George, and I was happy here.”

“Hi, George. We can’t let you do that again. It’s for your own good, George.
Call your sponsor if you start to enjoy yourself at any point.”

This interim time before the next launch has become a difficult limbo for us. We’re streaming other games. We don’t care to stream, even accidentally, the angst that’s flowing on channels in the old game or drawn to chats on streams about it. We can’t stream the new game yet. Most of all, we don’t want anyone to think we aren’t still going to be very Secret World-centric when it becomes Secret World Legends. We will be there. We look forward to it. We will stream it. We will publicize the game, and we will publicize our charities in the game. We will run events, have a good time, and try to share all that with others who want to have a good time. We’re freaking excited about it, but we don’t have a good way to share that with you right now.

So this is where I want to reach out to all the other community groups that might be in the same boat we are. We can’t be alone. There are fan groups of all sorts from TSW. Gaming groups, streaming groups, cabals, roleplay groups, podcasts, Discord channels. I know you’re out there.

We’re the fans of Secret World, in all its iterations. We’re the ones who need to step up now and shape Community the way we’d like to see it in the new game. We can either let that community go to the angsty pseudo-experts and the haters who are out there to share discontent, or we can work to support the people who are having fun playing a game and want to find other people also having fun playing that game. We can celebrate instead of judge. We can encourage instead of deride. We can not be ashamed to stress the positive. It does not take away from any of our legitimacy to not point out every possible error, downside, or thing that could be better. Writing hit-piece blogs does not elevate anyone to “professional media.” The vast majority of us don’t get paid for this. We’re fan sites. We’re not required to be objective. Let’s face it, most professional game media is just a bunch of personal opinions and isn’t anything like objective either. That’s the nature of that beast. It is absolutely okay for us fan sites and cabals and small streams to get together and just promote something we find fun… promote having fun together while doing it.

We can take back this Community. We can find that place again where we can agree or disagree like adults if we get used to treating each other civilly and with respect. If we stop trying to find validation for every negative opinion we have and using the community to provide that validation.

If you’re not a fan, don’t run a fan site. If you don’t enjoy the game, don’t play it. Just let the rest of us do what we enjoy and share it again. This is a brand new start for this game, and a brand new chance for us. Let’s not blow it again.

Otterdown’s arms and stream are open to publicize your stuff. Let us share your publicity burden. Let us tell the world about your game events, your fan sites, your guide sites, your streams and your podcasts. Tell the world about each other. Game fandom has been grassroots since its birth. We can either complain about what the community has become and how it’s not fun to be a fan anymore… or we can be the fandom we’d like to be part of. Be a place we’re proud to support charities in. Be a community we’re proud to stream.

I believe in you.

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2017/06/05/can-you-relaunch-a-community/

Jan 22

Why Die-hard Fans May Be Making Games Die Hard

I was talking with a friend of mine today about why game fans seem cultishly willing to do anything to prolong the longevity of their old games… except pay for them. This particular friend happens to make games for a living. What they said made me think twice about the game industry, especially MMOs, and if there’s any hope for the sort of games we all say we expect and hope for. Ever. I thought I’d share:

[…]there’s a chunk there too, where it’s psychology
nobody ever remembers what they had to pay for
they remember what was free
so there’s now this constant comparison

“Well, X game was free, why isn’t this?”

or more accurately

X game had free content
Y game didn’t make you pay for XP boosts
Z game didn’t make you buy cosmetics

so your game better have free content with no XP boosts and free cosmetics.

It is the reason MMOs have to be so big too now

X game has awesome housing
Y game has great plot
Z game has sweet PvP

So your game better have good housing, a great plot, and awesome PvP

It seems to me that until we stop expecting each new game to be the best things left in our head of all the games we’ve ever played that we’re going to be disappointed. Rightfully so.

Our expectations are irrational. Like so many things in this world, we view games through the filter of a composite of all the things like them we’ve experienced. It’s not the last game we enjoyed that sets our expectations; it’s all the games we’ve enjoyed. It’s not that the things we demand are reasonable all piled together into one product; each of them were individually feasible and supportable in the various games where they existed. Throw them all together, and you give us all the perks with none of the costs.

Perfect, right? Sustainable or even produce-able? Never. If we want things that are completely made of all the little extras that games that pay for themselves can throw in, we’d better be ready to get the games made by people who don’t do it for a living. Get comfy with games made by people who have little or no training or experience, who are trying to do all the jobs themselves (or extract their artwork from starving students by way of promising ‘exposure’). The coders and world designers who are doing it for their own exposure. “If I can just get this to be popular, I can put it on my resume and get my foot in the door at an established game studio…”

…that will soon go out of business because no one’s willing to pay for their games if they’re not some impossible ideal and made of free perks.

Go us! We’re the best fans!

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2017/01/22/why-die-hard-fans-may-be-making-games-die-hard/

Oct 28

An Open Letter to Game Forum Denizens

Sometimes, the best way to move past something that bothers me but shouldn’t is to write about it.  To get it out of my system and move on.  It’s a bit like an emotional exorcism, and it’s incredibly therapeutic.  I get to throw off the shackles of polite silence, give a brief and impotent reality to what upsets me, and then firmly deny it a chance to put the shackles back on.  I go on without it.  It’s like a small rebirth for me, and the cost is no more than publicly committing words to virtual paper that none of you ever has to read.  In that vein, an open letter to game forum/chat channel denizens:

 

To Whom It May Concern,

I’m tired of forums that claim to be communities of people celebrating whatever game they’re playing really being communities of people who love bitching about that game.

The rest of us have gone on without you.

We’re still having fun. We don’t cease to exist because we undermine your argument, and we’re not a small number of outliers. We’re not a small enclave of fanboys or fangirls. We’re just the majority of the people who play games… because they’re fun for us.

We don’t take to the forums to breathe fire every time something offends us or we want something changed. We don’t make assumptions about how we Should Be Listened To because we speak loudly and use angry words. We don’t think every bug or system we disagree with in our games makes it Literally Unplayable. We, in fact, literally love playing games and know they’re all buggy and imperfect.

We seek each other out in game and out of game… because it’s fun to play together and talk to and be around each other. We’re the ones who turn off General chats because we don’t play games to listen to angry people be angry for attention instead of just turning off a game they’re not having fun with and going to do something else.

We’re not interested in your wanting us to be angry with you or for you. We’re not interested in your wanting us to be having a bad time because you are and our misery would support your point. We might even resent you a little when you’re intrusive about trying to sway us to your cause. We know it’s easy to shut off your input during our game time and our reading-about-our-games time, but we’re disappointed that we have to.

We’ve noticed there aren’t that many of you. We’re grateful for that. Our ignore lists aren’t nearly as hefty as you suggest they must be. We find this is because there just aren’t enough people we’re exposed to in any game who are there even when they’re unhappy, just typing away in chat or the forums about how terrible everything is and how the game devs hate their players. The vast majority of people we run into are playing games, trying to have a good time, and pursuing out-of-game media that talks about the games they enjoy.

We think it’s possible that your ignore lists are so full because you’re running into those of us who are so fed up with your trying to ruin our good time with conspiracy theories and pseudo-expertise that we’ve lost our cool and told you that, unkindly. We feel sorry for those of us who fall to that, because it means you’ve gotten to us. You’ve succeeded and ruined our good time for even a few moments. We don’t like to have our relaxation and recreation time co-opted by angry adults acting like infants. Sometimes, we’re even trying to get a little downtime from legitimately angry actual infants. We don’t think you rate high enough in our real priorities to merit taking that time for your own gripes.

We’re after information, not propaganda, when we go to game forums. We may be there because we want to register a viewpoint about something.  We aren’t there to defend our viewpoint against your refutation, and  we instantly regret our own failure when we take your bait to do so.  We’re reasonably confident you don’t make any of the games we enjoy.  We’re also not going to hound your viewpoint on the forums till it flees into the virtual abyss.  We’re confident our opinions stand on their own, simply and politely stated, and that yours would too if you gave them half a chance.

We don’t think you know as much as you tell us you know. Some of us even know you don’t. We restrict ourselves, for the most part, to wishing you had a little less hubris. We find it awkward to watch you be so defiantly wrong, knowing no one will officially correct you. We sometimes make the mistake of trying to explain this. We are slow sometimes to learn that our intercession for understanding is not welcome.  We’ve been known to lose our tempers, and while we’re not proud of it, we try to move on and back to just enjoying gaming as quickly as we can.  We don’t see the benefit to keeping anger alive while we let fun wither on the vine.

We aren’t comfortable with castigating how others do their job just because they make a product we consume. We think it’s best not to consume the product if we don’t enjoy it, not to bully the producers if they do not acknowledge a polite request for change. We are cognoscente that developers are people and even more cognoscente that we have absolutely no idea what really happens on any given day in any given game studio.

We think you’d be shocked if a stranger who’d once consumed a product you’d made or helped make or that was sold in a retail store you worked for or made by a company you worked for walked into your living room and told you how terrible you were at your own life and job.  We think you’d find it arrogant and intrusive, and we know if someone walked into our living rooms and did that, we might be tempted to do something unpleasant involving a baseball bat. We might even wish, sometimes, that game developers were allowed to have baseball bats, but we accept that this would significantly decrease the release rate and success of games. We enjoy games, so we are grateful devs forgo bats.

We regret the shackles and wounds your bitterness inflicts on game developers’ creativity and communication with their players. We wish we had more chances to interact with the people who make the games we enjoy. We wish they could release some of the things they cannot because of your inevitable fault-finding. We dislike that you make impossible or impractical so many things that would be fun in gaming without those who make their dislikes a matter of public emergency. We think you use bad press to leverage your own angst-of-the-day. We suspect you will likely forget what that angst was after a week or so, while we are left with game content restricted by those who must try to outguess what your next public pet peeves will be.

We suspect that sometimes you are lashing out at games as a surrogate for other things that hurt you that you are incapable of lashing out at.  We have trouble being sympathetic with our entertainment being your scapegoat.

We cringe inside whenever one of the games we love releases new content of any sort. We know that you will be combing it immediately to find fault. We know those of you who have been brave and wise enough not to be playing whatever game you weren’t having fun at will return, and that you will immediately flood our airwaves with your disappointment. We brace for it by turning off channels, holing up enclaves of people who do not find a crisis in every bug, and often by over-indulging in holiday food which is thankfully available during many of these times.

We find ourselves lost in the Catch22 of MMO holiday events: Events are about gaming community and community can ruin events. We know these events are made to bring communities together in celebration. We know they’re meant to sell fun, even if sometimes mindless fun. We are looking for, and even eager for, a reason to come together in games with others just to be happy for no real reason. We find this an excellent relief of all the reasons the rest of our lives give us to be unhappy for very real reasons. We also know that the very communities that go on the rest of the year having fun together will be riddled with those who come back for these holidays, full of the sort of ire and angst that are anathema to fun. We don’t want to hear the reasons we should not be having fun. We’re here for fun.

We are terrified of the release of in-game mysteries and puzzles, no matter how much we crave them.  We dread the people who have griped for months about not having puzzles to solve who will, if there is any delay or difficulty or brief disruption in the puzzle’s solving (or they want to be acknowledged as first), rip the answers from databases and present them to us. We don’t want them that way. We are here for the puzzle. We are here for the fun found in playing the game, not to beat it and leave.  We’re going to wring every extra second of suspense and immersion out of our puzzles that we can.

We can also search long files for references to things we are interested in.  We just don’t find it as praiseworthy or satisfying as actually playing a puzzle out.  (We also might, in some cases, know that running searches on a database someone downloads onto your computer for you is not hacking, so we’re hopeful that you’re not sacrificing our suspense to gain hacker cred.  We’re pretty sure the hackers know that too, if it helps.)

We play games because we want to experience them in the way the developers envisioned us experiencing them.  We think their vision is a big part of the quality of a game experience.  We’d like to be left to like or dislike their execution without having to involuntarily cheat every time we read a forum or look at an event channel.  Yes, even if there are bugs we have to wait to be patched out.

We might dread, a little, the people who only solve puzzles and complete quests to gain the accolade of their fellow gamers. We aren’t here to tell you how good you are. We don’t want our own puzzles and quests spoiled for us by your broadcasts of your success. We will be glad to issue a blanket statement that you are better than we are if that is what you need to enjoy your gaming experience, provided you do not expose us to details of why you are better than we are that will suck the enjoyment out of our activities.  We are looking for the community that wishes to come together for a solution they can all feel part of, not the community that wishes to be led to solutions by one or two vocal personalities.

We dread the people who come to MMO holiday events just to grind swag to make a virtual buck in the auction houses or to have bragging rights they expect us to feed with our awe for the rest of the year.  We mildly resent the people who want game cosmetics because it brings them joy but who are determined it is their right not to have to play the game in any substantial way to obtain it, especially if they also feel they should not have to support the game’s development at all by having to pay for a thing they do not have to play to get.  We don’t think we’re entitled to every cosmetic or lore or collectible or achievement in every game just because we show up once, and we’re not sure why you seem to.  We are sad that you discourage us from enjoying a cosmetic or a quest because they don’t suit you or they’re difficult to get. We are tired of being resented if we make an effort to obtain something and equally resented if we don’t.

We’re tired of being castigated as evil if we buy something from a shop to share and evil if we do not share things we buy from a shop. We don’t find people spitting on us and taunting us about our choices if we walk into a brick and mortar game store, and we wonder why you think anonymity makes it noble.

We are, at the heart of it, sad that the things you seem to enjoy require others to be distracted from or disengaged from the things that they enjoy. While we’d rather share fun with you, we accept that you don’t welcome this distraction from your own agenda. We’re reluctant to accept that you find more joy in making people angry and insulting game developers than in playing games. We don’t, as a rule, want to think that there are people who ballast their own self-confidence with that sort of behavior. We have to accept, though, that they’re all around us, and certainly not just in gaming communities. We have to accept that and return to having fun, because there is no solution to help you or fix you. We think you need to be helped or fixed, but the healthier among us realize that’s not our job.

We understand that you may really believe that you’re absolutely right and on the path of justice. We just aren’t going to pay attention and let you ruin our fun because you think that.

We hope you have a good holiday. Or game experience. Or livestreaming or viewing experience. Or forum experience.  Or chat channel experience. Or gaming community experience.  We hope you have a comforting and reassuring sense of Community, because that is what community is for. We just ask that you leave us out when you refer to Your Community. We’re not part of it. We are very much more than data points for you to make arguments with.

We have the greatest respect and admiration for those who do not enjoy a game we do and go to find something else they do enjoy without trying to convince us we shouldn’t be enjoying ourselves. We do not take it personally that you don’t enjoy something we do. We want to assure you that you don’t need to justify that to us and that we are truly grateful to those who don’t.  We all have many friends who do just this:  find what is fun fun for them, whether it is what is fun for us or not, and enjoy it without yelling at anyone about anything.  We treasure these friends, even when we don’t get to game with them often.

We’re just having fun playing games.

We think you might like it if you tried it, but we’re not going to insist.

Sincerely,

Jenn

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2016/10/28/an-open-letter-to-game-forum-denizens/

Oct 06

Raising a Potential Game Developer With Ovaries: Eating My Words & Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

My daughter joined a game development after-school club at her high school. You can imagine the Proud Mom action that got chez moi.

So, you can probably also imagine the dilemma I faced when she came home today and told me she was quitting the game development club to join the creative writing club that meets at the same time.

Proud Mom Take 2! I love writing, and I’m over-the-moon that she’s finally taking as much of an interest in her own writing as she does in reading. She’s a creative creature, artistic far beyond my reach, and I expect she would make a glorious writer someday if she turned her mind to it. It’s part of what she wanted to do with the game dev club. She wanted to be involved in the plots and storyboarding. My own little World Designer in training!

The joy of seeing her exploring her writing potential was tempered, though, with curiosity. Why had she bailed on the game dev club? She loves gaming. She’s more than fond of my friends who are game developers. She was hyped.

She’d had an idea for a game that actually made me stop and blink. It was a freakin’ good idea. She wanted to do a high school walking simulator exploring the differences in perception that people with schizophrenia live with. She’d been inspired by Funcom’s The Park and my personal experience of that game based on my own battle with postpartum depression. She wanted to see if she could immerse people in an idea of what people with schizophrenia go through. The club supervisor had even arranged to bring the school psychologist down to talk to her to give input. This is the kind of idea that people have for games that makes me just stare and think, “Well, okay, that’s an amazing outreach and a use of gaming I really respect.” She’s 15. She’s mine! Awwww yeah!

So, what happened?

Well, she didn’t feel like anyone was listening to her. The guys in the club all wanted to do a Roman Simulator. Something new, innovative, never done before. (I told her to go drop a copy of Caesar II on the desk and say, “K, done!” I admit it. I’d make a terrible Sports Mom.) I admit I despair of our high school kids at this school sometimes. You read about schools doing amazing social outreach. I think one of the other high schools in town had a science team making artificial limbs or eyes. (I’m not sure, it was something like that… it was one of those, “huh, high school… okay,” moments for me. You want to try to unzip their skin to see if they’re just post-docs wearing kid suits.) We’ve got some groups at our school that do, indeed, do great community outreach. The gaming crowd doesn’t seem to be among them. That tweaks me right in the Extra Life muscle. We call that muscle, “the heart.”

I empathize with her not wanting to do a project that she doesn’t find intriguing or think much of. I certainly empathize with wishing they’d do something more noble than, “Plebs are needed. Plebs are needed.” (Did anyone else play Caesar II?) But hey, it’s a bunch of kids who want to learn to make games. I’ve heard that a lot of game development programs at colleges aren’t really any more innovative or socially groundbreaking. Any start can be a good start in something you’re interested in. I also have to be honest and note that my daughter’s had a lot more matter-of-fact introduction to the game industry than the majority of her high school, given my streaming and blogging and my friends and I yakking about it all the time. We’re probably holding them to a much higher standard, because it is one of our family passions.

Before we could move on, though, one or two other details surfaced in the conversation. It went something like this:

“Well, the guys don’t really listen to me. They sort of sit there looking over my shoulder like ‘oh, wow, it’s a girl, doing gaming stuff.’ ”

Wait, what?

“No, really, they don’t know what they’re doing, they can’t figure out how to start, they can’t even settle on a project, and no one will listen to me or thinks my idea is worth talking about but the teachers.”

Go back to the girl part, child.

So, we discussed this. There’s one other girl in the group, and apparently she stands up for herself and they listen to her, but they don’t listen to my daughter. I got the weird feeling they watch her like some sort of zoo animal or mascot. She seemed to have the idea it was because she was more girl-ish. She referred to it as the stunned appreciation of guys seeing an actual girl gaming.

Wait, what?

Child, did no one tell you that your mother has been saying for more years than you’ve been alive that all you need to do to be accepted as a peer in a tech industry is to just do the job? I did the job. I went through things like this. But child, that was 20 years ago. Surely now… no one really does the ‘girl gamer’ thing anymore.

Don’t make a liar out of your mother, child.

Turns out, I’m wrong. Turns out that while it is not necessarily a hostile reaction to girl gamers among those young men in our area who wish to pursue game development, it certainly is a sort of assumption of the superiority of their experience and ideas.

Now, she didn’t tell them that she knows actual game developers who draw a paycheck for it. She didn’t tell them her mother streams gaming and blogs on the industry from time to time. She probably didn’t tell them I’d been a GUI programmer and database designer for years either. You don’t brag up your mom for cred in high school. You shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t be assumed that testicles provide an inherent superiority in game development ideas or talent.

So, I stand brutally corrected in my views. My daughter is not growing up in a generation where gender does not matter in opportunity. What is an oh-we’re-cool-fest for the guys at her school is a please-hear-me battle for her. What do I do?

I respect her decision to step out of the club and move on to a club that is going to foster a talent she has that can and will contribute to all of the other things she may pursue in her life. I can’t stress enough how much writing skills can further your goals… any goals.

Then I put my money, and more importantly my time, where my mouth is. If I tell her anyone can do this and women make games at least as good as men’s, and that they can and do have the same opportunities, I’d better be ready to deliver the goods.

I’m getting Unreal for us. We’re going to learn it. We’re going to unabashedly ask everyone I know for help learning it. And we’re going to make her game. That’s right, her own game. With blackjack and… er, valuable and educational social perspective. There’s no reason that you can’t have your first game project be something that means something.

I’m listening to her. My friends are listening to her. When they get out of high school, maybe the guys in the club will wish they had too.

Wish us luck!

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2016/10/06/raising-a-potential-game-developer-with-ovaries/

May 25

Gamers’ Issues With Issues – A Cost Analysis for the Imagination Challenged

Gamers often seem livid that the buy-to-play games they have purchased require them, eventually, to pay for new content.  It seems an affront that benefits should be provided to subscribers to encourage them to pay a monthly fee.   It’s a slap in the face that they put RNG cosmetic bags in a shop to increase cosmetics sales.  These gamers have spent their $40 a box, and that entitles them to years of entertainment!

The truth is, it really entitles them to years of playing exactly what was in the box when they bought it. And even then? It’s unlikely they paid anything close to the cost of making and delivering that to them. Even as a buying unit.

So, what’s the issue with paying for issues? Why are gamers always trying to convince everyone that they’re somehow entitled to any new perks, bells, or whistles that a game company comes up with to continue to make income? Why the long, poignant moans about how any attempt to sell things other than an issue/update is a cash grab?

The question is even more relevant in MMOs, where a failure to stay profitable means they sundown the game and no one gets to play anymore. It’s even more painful for smaller or independent companies. They come and go like mayflies. It gets brutal when you add the continuous server/maintenance/support expenses of an MMO, versus standalone game.

So, why the extras? Why is it all not just bundled into an issue? And why should you be grateful when an MMO takes time to work on quality of life or perk features that will be given free of charge to everyone playing? How about we just look at what it would cost, say, Imaginary NotFuncom, Inc. to put out an issue, versus what gets paid for it:

First of all, let’s assume an even smaller team than Real Actual Funcom probably has. (Sorry, everyone else in the company! You don’t need to eat every month, right?)

3 world designers
2 programmers
2 artist
1 writer

Then let’s assume they all make a tidy $50k a year. That is the US average income. I’m really hopeful that some of them make more than this, because that was a pretty low-end salary when I worked IT, but for some reason, people keep wanting to design games even though it really doesn’t put anyone in a Ferrari and Jimmy Choos.

Pretend it takes 2 months to get an issue out. (It’s usually more like 3, but this will make us, the consumers, look a little less cannibalistic.)

2 months of a $50k salary is $8,333.33 (33333333333…).

8 developers x $8,333.33 = $66,666.66

(TWO WHOLE BEASTS in that number! Confirmed: Dev stands for Devil!)

At ~$10/issue, this seems to be a mere 6,666.666666666 (the players of the beast!) individuals [who have not bought GM, we’ll assume they’re at the ‘getting it for free with my points’ stage by now, after 4 years] that need to either subscribe that month or buy the issue to pay those people.

The devil (our recurrent theme) is in the details here:

This assumes they have no oversight, no one who runs payroll (or hires people or processes insurance premiums…which they are not paying anyway with this money, so forget about those), no marketing because they do not pay marketers. They have no forums or community staff, because one must be rented and the other paid (I leave which up to your imagination). They cannot run the game servers during this time.  Kind of a bummer from the playing perspective… try drawing stick figures on post-it notes and  moving them around your monitor?  They can’t pay rent on an office, or meet power bills or water and sewage bills, so we’ll assume that everyone works at home on their personal laptops, with their private toilets. Probably best. That doesn’t pay for toilet paper, either. The version control system is a bunch of post-it notes on someone’s coffee table, but they’re out of post-it notes. Those freakin’ things are expensive!

There would be no Quality Assurance, so be assured there would be some problems with the quality. Unfortunately, you can’t call Customer Support to ask for fixes or help because they’re not getting paid either.  I’m afraid we’ll have to call the test server, Testdead, because it’s not actually in operation.

Are you starting to see why an MMO company has to sell things other than just their B2P game to stay afloat? Why they have to encourage subscriptions and offer perks to subscribers?  Please keep in mind that I low-balled all the employee estimations… number of people, time worked to get an issue out, and reasonable salary for the industry.  That means those estimations are low, even without all the other costs kept completely off the table.  Issue sales in The Secret World are not going to pay for all of this.

And before you suggest these developers get minimum wage, please remember that games are not government subsidized.  You, the consumer, demand that they be made by extremely talented people with a lot of necessary education.  All of them could probably be much more lucratively employed in any other industry in their field.

You want it all, and you want it now?  Wanting more is awesome. I imagine those developers love to hear that you love their work. Wanting no one to ever have to pay them again to work… not so awesome.

Anyhoo, perhaps just be reasonable and don’t make Cash Grab accusations that can drive people away and make it even more expensive in the long run… for you? If nothing else, let me appeal to your sense of wallet-clutching. There’s nothing wrong with not paying for something you don’t want or can’t afford.  I made it bold. Can you tell I mean it?  No one is saying you should buy fluff you don’t want just to support a game.  They are not a charity, they are a business.  Please allow them to operate as a business.  Telling others not buy content they might want in an attempt to get it for less or free using your media presence or your word-of-mouth power? At least you’ll enjoy a pretty sunset!

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2016/05/25/gamers-issues-with-issues-a-cost-analysis-for-the-imagination-challenged/

Apr 05

You and me could write a bad romance: Uproar over a transgender character in Baldur’s Gate

Please bear with my phrasing in this post. I strenuously avoid socially controversial topics usually and try to keep my blog commentary to gaming, game forums, and the gaming industry.  This does not mean I don’t have deep personal convictions about the rights of human beings and the world’s struggle to accept its own vast and glorious diversity.  These things are important to me, and I don’t want to convey something I don’t mean or be accidentally casual with ideas that inform people’s entire lives.  That, and if you’ve ever read anything I write, you know I can’t climb up the slippery banks to escape my stream of consciousness.


 

Crave article about negative reviews spawned by the inclusion of a transgender character in Baldur’s Gate: Seige of Dragonspear (BG:SD) has, in turn, spawned some interesting Twitter conversations in my feed and some even more interesting private conversations with my gamer friends.  In short, it caused thinking and consideration.  I believe that’s the best possible outcome for the efforts of what we have come to call Social Justice Warriors (SJWs).

I admittedly often shy away from the aggressive communication techniques endemic to SJWs. I personally find it seems to muddy the waters by provoking a defensive response in people inclined not to acknowledge or advocate for the causes in question.  I tend toward supporting less warlike warriors, with a perhaps naive hope that simply sharing the joys and difficulties of diverse lives will bring the rest of the world into a deeper understanding of each other, and acceptance and even celebration of each other will follow.

In this case, I actually got to see the efforts of an SJW (Amber Scott, writer on BG:SD) provoke a real discussion and some self-introspection and interesting thoughts about perception in games. Those are really just fancy words for people disagreeing without shouting insults at each other, while respecting each other’s opinions.  Bliss for me.  So, here I am, sharing, because I think this casts some interesting light on inclusivity in games.  More importantly, I feel that if I’m going to share my anecdotes that bias me against stereotypical SJW efforts then I also need to share my anecdotes where I admire the results.

First, I’ll do the obligatory background on myself.  Commentary must always be taken in light of the commentator’s filters, and since this is not professional or even hobby-related, but personal, I will include a brief on personal me.  I am not transgender.  I am what I believe would be referred to as cisFemale? I’m not skilled with the use of some of these terms, but this is how I’ve seen my friends refer to it. I was born female, and I identify as female.  I am a single mother.  As for my sexuality, you may refer to it as, “extremely intriguing and providing a lifetime’s worth of stories I have no intention of sharing with you.”  While I’m hardly understated in public, I’ve always considered it my business who I am attracted to and when and why.  For purposes of this, though, I’m going to say simply that I have not lived a gay or transgender lifestyle.  I have so many friends who do, and they have shared so much of it with me that I do not feel excluded from their joys and struggles, but I certainly don’t claim them as my own life experience.  I am an observer here.  And that, perhaps, is what makes this perspective so necessary… the perspective of myself, and of my straight friends, while considering the causes for this outrage about how a transgender character is presented in this particular game.

There was some discussion that, while having a transgender character included in a game should not cause this fuss and we all generally seemed to loathe the vitriol and exclusion, there might be some understanding found for what provoked it in the style of the writing.  The back-and-forthery on Twitter of some people I respect did come to the conclusion that understanding what caused the vitriol doesn’t in any way excuse it.  That was reassuring, because I admit, I worried briefly.

There was discussion, publicly and privately, about whether abrupt, overt, or un-subtle writing and character presentation in games justified a negative response, when it was regarding a character’s sexuality.  Tossed in there, of course, was discussion about whether provocation was actually the intent.  So, was it effective writing or clumsy writing, based on whether it was intended to get under people’s skin?  The gist of what I was reading and hearing seemed to suggest that characters should not be defined in games by their sexuality, since people in reality are not.  It’s only part of who any of us are, and it shouldn’t overwhelm someone in a game.  I got the impression that some people thought the only reason for including dialog was this was to provoke or force the issue.  To be too overt.  You shouldn’t be forced, in other words, to confront a character’s sexuality as part of their biographic dialogs.

That sounds really reasonable at first glance.  I dream of a world where we all accept each other as individuals and don’t have to sub-sort the data every time we consider our interactions with each other.  I don’t want to run filters of gender, skin color, sexuality, politics, or even food preference every time I interact with another human being (unless we’re figuring out where to go for lunch, in which case the latter is entirely permissible).  I want to deal with Bob (who is entirely fictional), not with Bob’s personal lifestyle resumé, every time I deal with them.  That’s my perfect world.  It’s not where we are, by a long shot, and I accept that.  I’m not sure we can even get there, but I’m eternally hopeful.  So, why would I not want that in games?

The answer is:  because I can place myself behind the eyes of some of my friends with different lifestyle resumés when they log into a video game.

I’m not a big fan of romancing game characters. I find it stilted and unrealistic. No matter how good the writing, the moment it goes beyond casual flirting, the language becomes something I can’t immerse in.  I wouldn’t say these things. I wouldn’t react this way.  It has to be canned for a general audience, and that plays to me as… well, canned. It’s just a limitation of the media.  I do understand the allure of messing with romance in games.  As a sort of a quest goal, it can be almost obsessively amusing, honestly.  I’m as guilty of figuring out my path through the bug romance of my SWTOR Agent or chasing someone around Pelican Town with a pizza over my head in Stardew as the next person.  In my case, though, it’s not because I relate to the romance of it at all.  It’s a puzzle to me, not a reflection of real life romance.  I think of it as a puzzle game where I’m trying to put together the puzzle pieces in a way that will reveal the best romantic story.  Perhaps because I find all that writing shallow in terms of how it resonates with me, I don’t find the writing for any particular sexuality more shallow or more overt.  If it expects the player to pick a response, then I find it throttled.

I can’t argue that my finding people attractive based on the individual, not on their gender, could inform my thoughts about not finding writing for any one gender or sexuality more shallow.  It’s absolutely true that I am just as likely to think a character’s backstory/personality sounds romantic whether or not I’m personally attracted to that character, though.  I think that’s a reasonably unbiased approach. I suppose I separate how romantic a storyline is or a character is from sexuality automatically, since I’m really unlikely to be attracted to any game character?  Okay, I’ve had some crushes… but in retrospect, that was almost exclusively to game characters who were not ones I was allowed to actively engage in romance with.   That’s a writing luxury that people writing for a game with coded romance don’t have.

One comment that caught my attention from a friend was a desire that game writing be less evocative of, “Hi, I’m gay!” The comment was from a straight man.  It needs to be noted that he had no problem with gay romance in games at all, but didn’t feel like that should be how you get to know a character. That you should get to know more about them and that should come up only if you were interested in pursuing that character in a romantic way.

That’s where a whole lot of things clicked for several of us (including the comment-er) at once.

There are games that are about LGBT romance. There are more all the time.  That’s a fantastic thing for my LGBT friends who have felt marginalized into having to try to engage in plots for years that only resonate on a romantic level for straight people.  I seriously question, though, how many people playing these titles were not already accepting of or even actively celebrating LGBT people.  How many straight people who are uncomfortable with the presence of differently gendered or differently sexual people in games pick up these titles?

When a straight person logs into a major video game (MMO or single-player/co-op) they have an expectation, if a subconscious one, that characters they meet will be straight unless told otherwise. Why? Because they have almost always have been.  We’re just starting to find a more realistic representation of gender and sexuality in games.  Throw race in there too if you want.  Throw any socially volatile difference in.  We’re just starting to nudge our virtual worlds toward a place like the real world I’d like to see, where there are no assumptions about characters (or people), because we don’t need them.  Dr. King’s, “Quality of Character,” writ large on worlds both virtual and real… that’s still just a dream.  The best dream, in my own opinion, but just a dream.  As long as anyone even notices that there’s a character in a game who mentions a different sexuality or gender identity, we’re not there yet.

And, because we’re not there, if we include interact-able romance, gender, and sexuality of any sort in a game, we have to clarify if that gender is not what we expect. And we expect straight, cis-gendered characters in games.

“Why can’t it just be like real life, where you just find out by whether you’re attracted to each other or not?”

My response was, “Is that real life for everyone?  Even if it tends to be, can you imagine trying to live real life as a gay person where there’re no gay clubs, no social groups, no way to know if you’re not only barking up the wrong tree but potentially facing physical abuse or attack if you pick a really wrong tree?” That’s video games. We’ve come a long way in the real world, but games haven’t.  There is no assumption of a gay NPC population in a large video game.   What if, in real life, you didn’t expect anyone to return your interest because they never had before?  That’s how I imagine my LGBT friends must feel looking at in-game romance in most games.  Who’d want to immerse in that?

LGBT characters in major video games are still the exception.  We’re still putting in tokens.  The only way to make it a normal for everyone is to call attention to them… perhaps awkwardly… until they become part of what we all expect.  Draw the eyes to a transgender character and yes, force the acceptance that this is part of the scenery.  Part of the virtual world.  It’s part of the real world, every single day.

My LBGT friends have logged into games their whole lives that present them, rather un-subtly, with romantic advances from people who are not right for them.  When straight, cis-gendered people are romanced badly by the appropriate gender for them in a video game, they can laugh, because inept, awkward, and badly written is amusing.  When they’re romanced by the wrong gender for them, or even just told overtly (after what, 3 dialog clicks?) that a character is not a gender or sexuality that they might find interesting… they blow up? How dare they have that presented to them? I refer you back to my LGBT friends… every day… every game… every time… for a very, very long time.

People called the writing lazy… a cheap effort to draw attention to something.  I think it’s hypocrisy to play that card in light of all the really lazy, cheap romance writing in video games. Sorry, video games. I love video game writers.  Seriously, they create wonderful worlds.  But when they’re constrained to automate romance for anyone where the player is allowed/expected to romance back, they’re facing an almost insurmountable hurdle in making things both interesting for as many as possible and realistic.  Let’s be fair, most people can’t get romantic lines believable in real life.  The only way I can see for authors to find subtlety and realism in writing game romance is to keep the player out of it.  I always find, “this is what a romance looks like,” far more believable in a game than, “the character you are envisioning yourself as feels and says these romantic things.”

As for the real cheap shot? The Gamergate reference?  Okay, I admit that you probably muddied the water there, Ms. Scott.  (For the record, the “Ms.” is meant as a respectful title, and I really do apologize if I use incorrect titles or pronouns at any point! I was not familiar with this game author before now.)  I’m not saying there’s not precedent.  There’s an old and honored tradition of taking cheap shot one-liners at familiar pop culture references in games.  There was just some discussion here-abouts of the old WoW PvP daily, “Magnets, how do they work?” (Is it still in game? I haven’t played for a while!)  It came up because someone (you know who you are!) used the phrase in chat because it was a meme, without realizing it was a reference to an Insane Clown Posse song.  One of my favorite mini-games in WoW is ‘spot the snide pop culture reference.’  You can’t take that away from me, just because this one in BG:SD hit a nerve!  I’d just pass along the advice that, when you’re doing something that’s really going to force some awareness and do some good, don’t give the people you’re forcing any ammo.  It’s a shame when your progress gets hampered because people who really need their viewpoints broadened can shut down behind a defense of, “You took a cheap shot at us!”  Because you did.

 

 

Many thanks to the amazing Lady Gaga for the title inspiration from her song, “Bad Romance”!

 

POST SCRIPT:

After talking to people responding to this blog, I’ve framed something else I think it’s important to add.  I don’t usually go with add-on edits, but this was a response to some impressions that were shared of this whole thing from transgender people, and whose input deserves extra consideration here if theirs doesn’t?

We were considering the feelings of transgender people who resent being portrayed this way.  They don’t launch into conversations with strangers about their gender identity. Why do they have to be portrayed this way in a game?

All I can say here is:  bear with the rest of us.

I grew up with feminism in the late 60s, the 70s, and the 80s.  It was an evolving thing, and there needed to be an essentially caricatured versions of what “liberated” women should look like as an example.  Why?  Because otherwise, those who had gone on for so long looking past women in those contexts could have gone on doing so.  Instead, they were forced to think about it and eventually to accept it as how life was for a lot of the world.

Feminism now… I have problems with.  I think it is loud and nasty and, perhaps, doing what others did in the past on the other side… looking past how things really are so it can define its own paradigm instead of responding to how the world really is.  It seems to be better to fight very public battles over things that you have to exaggerate than to simply admire the progress that’s been made and focus on the places that still need attention.  If you can’t admit progress because it undermines your arguments too much, shouldn’t you find real arguments?  I look at Malala and her realities, and then I look at the tech journalists and theirs, and I can’t help thinking that by focusing so much on the latter, we’re undermining needed focus on the former. Anyway, there’s that can of beans, because why not, Jenn, you’ve talked about everything else in public you said you wouldn’t, right?

So, I hope that LGBT people find themselves, eventually, in the place that I (an old feminist) do.  Cranky that a cause forces them to be portrayed in an unrealistic way because they are finally comfortable in their own situations.  Because society has stopped, for the most part, it’s harassment.  There will always be inequalities, but it is imperative to focus on real ones, and I hope those taper down for LGBT people as much as they have for women (in tech even) since the 70s.

For now? I can only apologize that the world is behind the times and needs the caricatures so they can’t cling to their blinders.  I do think it’s necessary.

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2016/04/05/you-and-me-could-write-a-bad-romance-uproar-over-a-transgender-character-in-baldurs-gate/

Mar 27

Ramblings on Crowd Funding Existing MMOs

There didn’t seem to be a better place to put my ramblings on crowd funding as relating to existing MMOs.  In this case, the topic was brought up on the The Secret World forums.  Specifically, this is a response to the ideas being discussed in this thread.  My thoughts on it move past just TSW, and I thought they were more appropriate to a blog (which I will link there) than they were to just that particular thread.

Really, what got me thinking again, was a comment that some sort of crowd sourced funding could be arranged on the sly to supplement a privately-owned MMO game (and IP) with an expansion in the style that some forum-users would prefer to the way that TSW releases/plans new content.  It made me wonder about how fairly practical adults (gamers with lives and jobs) can somehow detach themselves from the realities of other fairly practical adults (game designers, artists, and programmers who have chosen to work in the game industry… hence the ‘fairly’ practical >.>) when it comes to something they want for a hobby.  I find myself wondering where this mindset comes from in gaming that makes some of us feel that our games are somehow sacrosanct and should not be subject to the same limitations as any other product created and maintained by any other business.

I didn’t come up with an answer.  I came up with some stream of consciousness on how I felt about it.  I’m sharing. Lucky you!

/ramble.on

All the assets, up to and including the IP that it’s being suggested be supplemented ‘on the sly’ are the property of the corporation. These are the things the investors have invested in, and they are unlikely to be okay with anyone co-opting a small stake in that (and setting the precedent of doing so), because it essentially takes their private property that they’ve invested in to make money and gives it away. Sort of like saying, “I want to have enough stock to make decisions without actually buying enough stock to make decisions.” Perhaps you’d also like to make Pepsi Other on the side, that just sort of tastes like Pepsi and has their branding but you prefer the flavor of… and while you’re at it, you can just get some of the R&D people there to design it for you? It sounds a little bit like something they might lawyer up on, right?

And that’s optimistic in terms of what could be accomplished. All those other people you’re inviting into your informal board of crowdfunding directors to direct the production of an issue/expansion would be equally in control… or moreso if they put more money in. They might not want what you want. It might be, for example, stretch-goaled to the All Spiders Issue, when you’d been really hoping that never happened. So… even with optimism, I would expect some sort of disaster in taking it from idea to reality.

Games are products. I really think at some point gamers have to boost their mindset out of “games” being something created for a handful of friends in the minds of a GM sitting at a tabletop using some modified system someone else has written… and accept that this is a business now. Computers and video consoles took the amateur out of the picture. You can certainly still make amateur games for your friends (and some of them are tremendous fun and as a hobby project or a standalone, a huge hit), but to get quality, you need talented, trained people, to afford to purchase/refine/create a quality engine, and you need maintenance. (In the case of my tabletop gaming, the only maintenance the game engine needed was us getting them Mountain Dew from the fridge and remembering to order pizza every few hours.) The reason we get the quality we love so much is that people make a business and a career of it now. We can’t have both. People as talented as those we want to work on our personal projects need to have careers, not temp jobs.

Surely people have noticed how many studios (even the big studios) have huge teams on board when they are in production on a new title… the title hits, and then the layoffs hit shortly thereafter.  Those are people.  People who no longer have jobs.  People at least as committed to the making and enjoying of games as we, the players, are because they’ve made it their life’s work.  So often I see players speaking passionately of the games they love or hate, as if these things are great works of art that are the property of Humanity… and at the same time, they refer to the people who make them like they’re un-named production units in a sim game.  It gives me an odd feeling to hear people talk about the artists (fine artists, creative engineers, and all the people with the ability to meld imagination into a reality you can experience) who make these games the same way Caeser II told me to put more workers in a section of the city:  “Plebs are needed.  Plebs are needed.”

I can’t help thinking that if we encourage studios to do random, partly funded MMO projects (this really doesn’t apply to one-offs or stand-alone games, just MMOs) that suit individuals, rather than try their best to make multiple games that will have sustainable use but may not provide every single thing we enjoy, then we are fouling our own nests. After a while, how many of those people who get brought on for the most popular project ever, and then let go, will move on to an industry that will both pay them better and not lay them off randomly? A sustainable business? None of these suggestions to crowd fund an expansion can possibly take into account paying the individuals making it for more than the actual time spent making it. No one is going to keep ponying up their $50 every few months to fund salaries instead of single-contract payoffs. I know freelance artists, and I know how hard it is for them to even get paid. I can’t start to imagine someone bothering to get a computer engineering degree and then thinking the best move they can make for shelter, food, and family is to search the game industry for temporary contracts. I’m not saying they don’t do it anyway. I don’t understand artists, either (>.>) … but I know what’s available in computer fields, and at some point, everyone has to think about their own future.

I, personally, don’t want to go back to the days when everything to do with gaming was a half-done project that petered out when the developers lost interest or funding, the initial fan base wandered away to do something else and left the developers needing to get day jobs when they thought they’d had them, or personalities clashed and everyone took their creative balls and went home. It’s not my experience that even pen & paper publishers have ever been very concerned about whose dream gets smashed when they sell or discontinue a title. Surely I’m not the only one who’s watched the sheer number of “early release” titles on Steam now that never actually get released? So many of those have to be someone’s great idea just fading because they didn’t have the backing of practical, business-minded people but were able to go forward with crowd funding.

I firmly believe the gaming industry needs to stay grassroots in many places. The people who have really good game ideas should, absolutely, try to leverage this into an actual product, to keep the ideas fresh and evolving. This is far more easily done with one-off games, though, that do not have to maintain servers and will not have constant new content expected from them. That tends to involve a studio and a company with a degree of fiscal responsibility, not just a brilliant idea and some people willing to work on a shoestring to get it out there. Once a one-off, single user or local co-op game is out there, you can add to it as you have time (and often have a day job). Not so with an MMO.

If people want the MMO to continue to be viable, they’re going to have to accept that it is a perpetually imperfect product for any given individual that needs to reach the most people possible. The more unique, the smaller the niche, the smaller the funding pool. You can’t just step in and sidetrack that by making it more individual, to your taste, with temporary funding. (Or at least, I really hope you can’t, because I like MMOs.) With the Massively Multiplayer, you accept that you have to be part of a whole… you’re buying your yoodles in wholesale lots, so you have to buy a yoodle package that has yoodles that appeal to more than just you, because you need all those other yoodle-purchasers to help fund your own yoodle-purchase in the long term.

Anyway, I had some time on my hands today, and the comments in that thread got me thinking about why I disagree with them in principal so much, and this was some rambling as to why. I suspect that US politics has me thinking particularly hard about what happens when people blank out the realities of others and of social systems in favor of just wanting their personal desires met. This is an oddly salient microcosmic example of that for me. (One far more harmless to speculate about than world politics!)

It should probably be noted that I’m at least as intrigued by my own random use of single (‘) and double (“) quotes today as I am with anything else, so take this as what it is:  thinking out loud about how I wish things worked. I can’t tell anyone else how to think.  Unless I can crowd-fund your stream of consciousness… hmmm…

/ramble.dismount_with_flourish

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2016/03/27/ramblings-on-crowd-funding-existing-mmos/

Mar 25

When TSW & Stardew Valley Collide

Just thought I’d toss this on here. I’m having such a wonderful time playing Stardew Valley, and I can’t help noticing how much color my Secret World experiences bring to the story. The Filth is everywhere!

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Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2016/03/25/when-tsw-stardew-valley-collide/

Nov 25

Bag It & Tag It: Economics vs. Perception in The Secret World

bagworship400

The hot topic of debate in the forums for The Secret World (TSW) this week is the prevalence and drop rates of the grab bags (RNG bags) that they sell in the Item Store and in game for events. They also offer some bags only in the Item Store now on an ongoing basis. These latter bags contain new clothing items and pets, and they have a theme for each bag.

I began my foray into the threads on this topic with a strong concern about the decreased drop rate of the most desirable items in the latest set of event bags. I use the party bags (bags that you open that give trade-able swag items from a loot table to 20 people in your raid/vicinity) extensively for streams and community events. I have some reservation about using them anymore after the disappointing drop rates since they were changed. It was still very expensive, while less rewarding in terms of yoodles this Halloween. There were a lot more complaints about getting what amounted to trash items with each bag opened than delight at something a recipient had been hoping for. The common items are so prevalent, people are deleting them wholesale rather than bothering to put them in the Auction House or attempting to give them away. That’s not what this blog entry is about, though.

While the drop rate discussion was still fresh, another permanent Item Store-only bag was released, with a Professions theme. The bag contains a variety of clothing and pets related to civil service and service jobs (police, fire, paramedic, surgeon, airline attendant). These are, I believe, themes that have been widely requested on the forums in the past.

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Not unexpectedly, this led to a lot of discussion. Drop rates are being discussed. Publicizing drop rates is discussed. There’s also a delightful player thread inviting the community to suggest themes for future swag RNG bags.

Into each of these discussions, a number of people inserted the tired echo, “Just release the items individually and let us buy what we want.” These comments brought along their equally tired stepchildren, “RNG bags are a cash grab and get far more money out of us than selling individual items, so they will never go back.” This entourage concluded, as they always do, that RNG bags are greedy and evil and that the decision to move to this model could only be made from greed, not necessity.

While I would normally let them run with it and go do something productive, like my nails, I feel compelled to try to dispel some economic mythology here. Why? Because I’ve lived through the dry spell of swag in TSW and the darker times of more uncertainty about the future of the company, and I don’t want that to return because people actually buy into these particular party lines. What to do? Ramble about it! So, here goes nothing:

Switching back to single item purchases for clothing and pets in the store versus RNG bags is not an economic possibility. This is not about greed, it’s about loss. The TSW devs have explained this before in streams and interviews. They had single item/outfit/pet purchases in the Item Store for years. It was stated, clearly, that these items did not sell even enough in all but the most extreme cases to pay for the cost of making them. In short, it cost them more to pay people to design the item, incorporate it in the game, and include it in the store than they made on the majority of items.

It’s necessary, when considering this, to separate TSW from other MMOs with much larger companies backing them. While SW:TOR’s or RIFT’s or GuildWars 2’s motivations for RNG bags may not be as pure, Funcom is not in a position, from what we’ve seen in the business press lately, to have a loss leader. (A loss leader is a product sold under cost-of-production to lure you in to buy other products.) TSW’s team is constantly reiterating in Q&As that they are trying to apply a greatly reduced workforce to the projects that are the most widely appreciated.

I urge every person stating on the forums, “If you sold these individually, I would buy them in an instant,” to accept that they did, and you didn’t. Rather, enough of you didn’t. RNG bags are not a cash grab for more money. They are an attempt to make enough money to make offering this swag to TSW players a possibility. That’s right, there are two options here: RNG bags or nothing.

To try to see this in economic perspective is difficult. It requires the consumer to accept that a company may simply not be able to manufacture the goods they want and meet payroll. It forces consumers to step away from viewing the Company as an all-powerful overlord who attempts to extract their last penny from them in return for the things they so desperately want. There’s a great predisposition to view companies as evil. They are the haves. They have the game. We are the have-nots. We want the game. They are clearly asking us to pay or pay more for it out of avarice, not need, right? Applied to a small company with a creative product, this ends up villainizing their attempts to compensate their employees for making the product, to pay back creditors, and to remain solvent.

In the end, though, we, the consumers, don’t care.

We are, by necessity, a mercenary lot. We’re in control of our budgets, and these are entertainment expenses, not food and shelter. So, it’s best to look at it from the angle of, “How does it effect us?”

Step 1: Some of us want clothing and pet items in TSW.
Step 2: Trying to sell these items individually in the Item Store for years did not pay for itself. The well of items dried up because they could not afford to put people-hours into it.
Step 3: Someone at the company looked at other MMOs and RNG bag models and found a way to make offering swag for sale economically feasible.
Step 4: We can get the swag through RNG bags.

Reject this, and Step 5: The well dries up again.

There is no step 5 that involves the individual items suddenly becoming profitable again. No amount of wishing that enough other people wanted the same thing you did to make it happen will work. They tried, for years. That’s a lot of data.

For those (and I know you’re out there) who can’t wrap their head around the numbers, I’ll try to wrap up with that:

We’ll assume a purchasing base of 100 people for this example, just to have a number to start with. We’ll also assume t-shirts, because it’s a clothing item, and I’m too lazy to come up with a bunch of different ones.

Old model: 100 people. 4 t-shirts (A-D). 15 people bought t-shirt A, 3 people bought t-shirt B, 5 people bought t-shirt C, no one bought t-shirt D. There were 23 items purchased this way. There were enough of t-shirt A purchased to pay for the design of t-shirt A, but not to cover the design of t-shirts B-D, which didn’t cover their own cost-of-production. None of these things could be traded.

New model: There are 30 t-shirts (A-Eep!) in an RNG bag. The larger number of items they can make available is immediately likely to increase the number of people interested in at least one item. We’ll say 30 people at this point are interested in at least one item. They each buy more than one bag, trying to get the item they want personally. You now have 60 purchases, over 23. Each extra bag purchased helps pay for all the items inside it, and the numbers are exponential.

That risk factor is actually funding the availability of a much wider array of items. Or, in TSW’s case, any items at all. Add to that the stimulation of in-game economy (something to do in-game) and the availability on the Auction House of these trade-able items to people who haven’t even spent any money at all, and you have a much less demonic model than people are claiming. It’s just a model that relies on people who would make purchases to make them and trade with each other to get what they want. That’s actually more consumer-friendly than just jacking up the prices on individual items to what would actually be required to break even on them. You wouldn’t buy them at those prices.

Why can’t they take the RNG out of the bag? Just bundle everything and sell bundles to pay for the lot? Because that would not stimulate multiple purchases. It would still only stimulate people who wanted anything to make one purchase. They also couldn’t make those items trade-able in-game without crossing the direct-cash-to-game-cash line. It just doesn’t work on the same model. You still get only 30 purchases with the numbers we used in this scenario, and the pricing would have to remain prohibitive. Are you willing to buy every item in the store individually, and to get your friends to do that, to fund the creation of the few items you actually want? Didn’t think so. The numbers told them that.

Whatever you think of the RNG model, the alternative is nothing. So, please keep that in perspective when you make your choices. Then, of course, they are your choices. We are the consumers, and we drive a lot of things in business. We just can’t drive companies to work for us for free. Game developers are also consumers… at their homes, of food and shelter (and games). In this case? We drove them to this model. By not buying the individual items at a rate that paid for them.

See!? You really are in control!

Permanent link to this article: http://otterromp.com/2015/11/25/bag-it-tag-it-economics-vs-perception-in-the-secret-world/

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