March 2009

Darkfall Relentlessly Moving Through Ultima Online’s History – This Week, GM Scandals!

Keen has the write-up of GMs supposedly being selective with service based on who’s city you’re pwning. Fact? Rumor? YOU MAKE THE CALL (because I’m a horrible carebear who doesn’t own the game and should pray for death, so I can’t).

Aventurine continues to open its online shop at brief random intervals so that you (yes, YOU) may be allowed to buy Darkfall soon. Which is good, because some have already bought it twice.

Jeff Kaplan Does GDC, Explains How Not To Write Quests

Well, if you’re going to clone World of Warcraft, you could do worse than listen to the guys who cloned Everquest. Jeff Kaplan gave an opinionated talk that will probably have WoW players posting furiously for weeks.

“This is the worst quest in World of Warcraft,” he said. “I made it. It’s the Green Hills of Stranglethorn. Yeah, it teaches you to use the auction house. Or the cancellation page.”

“So I’m the asshole that wrote this quest. My philosophy was, I’m going to drop all these things around Stranglethorn, and it’s going to be a whole economy unto itself… It was horrible.”

“It was utterly stupid of me. The worst part… one of the things that taxes a player in a game like WOW is inventory management. Your base backpack that the game shipped with only has 16 slots in it. But basically at all times, players are making decisions. For a single quest to consume 19 spaces in your bags is just ridiculous.”

“So it’s a horrible quest, and I’m the only who made it, and somehow I am talking to you guys today.”

Most of Kaplan’s points boil down into the following:

  • People don’t like Lake Wintergrasp

You’ve played that shooter, that shooter that is fucking awesome… and then it’s got the one gimmick vehicle level, which you can tell they didn’t know what they were doing with vehicles, and it felt all floaty and things didn’t shoot right. The same mistake happened in World of Warcraft.

Lots of these vehicle quests, they’re more fun for the designer than they are for the player.

  • People don’t like delayed gratification

It’s a quest that starts at level 30, it spans 14 levels. And it ends with you having to kill Myzrael there, who’s a level 40 elite mob. So it’s basically like putting a brick wall in front of a player. Here you go, just bang your head against the wall for a while…

The reason that this is bad — it’s cool to have quest chains that span a lot of content, and feel kind of expansive and far-reaching. But the reason that this particular case is bad is because the player [loses trust] in the game.

  • People don’t like solving mysteries

We can unveil a mystery story, but at the end of the day, in the quest log it needs to say, ‘Go kill this dude, go get me this item.’ The mystery can’t be what to do [on the quest]. We wanted the action in WoW quests to be in the gameplay, not in figuring out what am I supposed to do.

  • People like choices. But they’re wrong.

…You show up to a quest hub, and your minimap is lit up like a Christmas tree with quest exclamation marks.

The weird thing is, if you ask our fans, they love this. This is to them a good quest hub… They go in and vacuum up the quests. But we’ve lost all control to guide them to a really fun experience.

  • People don’t like to read

I think it’s great to limit people in how much pure text they can force on the player. Because honestly… if you ever want a case study, just watch kids play it, and they’re just mashing the button. They don’t want to read anything.

Basically, and I’m speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back: we need to stop writing a fucking book in our game, because nobody wants to read it.

World of Warcraft has 12 million more subscribers than you do.

Barnett Does GDC, GDC Survives The Experience

Apparently, being a DIY punk involves giving a talk that has nothing to do with what you promised you’d talk about.

Game design theory is very complicated, he said, because people are overthinking the problem. “Theories in design are as timeless as the fashion of hats,” he said. The theories, he continued, are a means to sell a product and are nothing more than a series of catchphrases that get traction and are then sold to people. “This is because we don’t like chaos, we don’t like uncertainty,” he said. “So we look for earnest people with intelligent systems to sell. Prophets that can fortify our faith. It’s caustic, and it’s dangerous.”

Clearly, we need someone to struggle against the status quo of publishers who squelch innovation. Designers who aren’t afraid to advocate new ideas in the face of the conservative mainstream.

You know. Heretics!

Yes, But Do Panzer Elite Fallschirmjagers Enjoy Pina Coladas?

From the upcoming Company of Heroes megapatch:

– Timer tuned on Overwatch Cancel.
– Lieutenants area of effect bonuses had an unintended side effect of slaughtering retreating infantry. These values have been modified so that this does not happen anymore, but still maintaining the efficacy of the Lieutenant’s leadership bonuses.
– Lieutenants now enjoy long walks on the beach.
– British Churchill Tank Shock recharge timer increased from 60 to 75 seconds.

Kotaku Is Awesome

Apple, if this rumor is accurate, blazes new trails in screwing over developers.


  • According to comments here and on the Kotaku story, the agreement in question hasn’t changed.
  • The default EULA Apple supplies to its app vendors (which can be replaced) specifically denies refunds.
  • Also, iPhone developers who have processed refunds haven’t been levied a 100% chargeback, just the expected 70% chargeback.
  • More details here.
  • So, uh, yeah, Kotaku.)

Rights, Profit, Drama

The recent Blizzard add-on mess has brought up – in my mind anyway, as well as some others – some age-old questions about player rights in games through exposing a pretty core dichotomy in how people look at online games.

On the one side, you have the people who take Blizzard’s side, and if anything, think they don’t go far enough. World of Warcraft is Blizzard’s game, they added the ability to script the client, they can just easily take it away, and you people whine so much about it now they probably should. On the other side, you have people who see this as a software rights issue – the addons I write for World of Warcraft are mine, Blizzard has no right to tell me what I can and can’t write, and if I make some cash from my work it’s none of their business. Which, not surprisingly, segues into the rights of players versus the responsibilities of game developers – not exactly a new discussion.

My views on the subject, also unsurprisingly, have been shaded by almost a decade on the other side of the development fence, and a few decades of cynicism about basic human nature before that. Succinctly put, the governance of online games and worlds exist in a triangle of rights, profit, and drama.

Here, I can illustrate this triangle quite easily by using a snippet from this recent article.

Virtual world technology is intentionally designed to make humans act as though the virtual world is, at least in some respects, real. Thus, as a normative matter, when corporations choose to use technology intended to entice humans into acting as though they were safe in their own homes, or privately communicating with friends, the law ought to respect those expectations as it does in real life. I therefore argue that U.S. persons in virtual worlds possess a reasonable expectation of privacy, such that a search of their virtual homes and property should be subject to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

Your reaction to that paragraph depends on how you feel about rights vs. profit vs. drama.


Rights: Well, of course. He’s stating the obvious. Does your landlord in the real world, even though he owns your house and the land it’s on, have any right whatsoever to read your mail and pop in unexpectedly when you have a date? Why should virtual landlords have more rights than realspace landlords?

Profit: I can’t believe we’re even having this discussion. If I’m going to be threatened with lawsuits because of constitutional rights you have to my server, I’d have to be retarded to ever open my company up to such liability by making a server.  These are entertainment products, and we are being paid to create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone. There is no such thing as virtual civil rights, only EULAs. And if you somehow get the courts to disagree, we’ll take our balls and go make console games.

Drama: I KNEW IT I KNEW IT I WAS RIGHT I KNEW IT the company needs to give me my account back now.

When it comes to MMOs, a dark and bitter part of me doesn’t believe any of you should have any rights, because, well, drama. The people who complain about “rights” almost always, without fail, do so because drama happened. They did something to run afoul of the game administrators – usually, 0ne of the many thousands of ways people have crafted to be a raging dickhead to one another online – and then they turn into cyber civil libertarians, decrying the omnipotence of the “game gods” (note: any time you use the phrase “game gods” without irony, I’m going to assume you’re Prokofy Neva) and demanding their fundamental civil right to be online in your game where they can continue to be a raging dickhead.

The best example of civil libertarianism trumping customer service is the case of Peter Ludlow, who when banned from the Sims Online, supposedly for advertising his website ingame, promptly used his status as a member in good standing of academia to appeal his banning to the New York Times. (He then moved on to writing a Second Life tabloid. I’m not kidding.) You’ll note that EA, who ran Sims Online at the time, didn’t have a lot to say in response. This may be because they felt embarassed over banning someone for maintaining a website that made them look bad (not that I’d know anything about that). Or it may be because there was an actual reason to ban him and they were constrained due to privacy issues from actually saying anything about it, even when it made the New Frickin York Times, thus having Ludlow’s account of his banning being the only one on the record.

That’s not to say that online gaming companies are immune from banning people for squirrelly reasons (and even for supposedly open-and-shut cases of administrative abuse, there’s usually another side of the story). But gaming companies in general are in business to make a profit. This drives an obvious factor and one that isn’t as obvious at first glance to outside observers. The obvious factor is that banning players hurts a company’s profits because, well, one less customer. However, the collorary, which is somewhat unique to online games, is that there are players who by their presence drive off more income than they themselves bring in. Thus, the Profit motive trumps Rights and Drama – ban early and often, the “oderint dum metuant” school of customer service.

It’s not all a dystopic wasteland of corporate oppression, though. Game developers have been discussing the ethical implications of what rights players should have for quite a while now. Raph Koster’s “Declaration of the Rights of the Avatar” makes a pretty clear and reasoned argument for enabling as many rights for players as possible while still allowing developers to maintain their own games. And since most developers are also MMO users themselves, they’ve had enough encounters with the ‘oderint dum metuant’ game mastering school to know that it can be toxic to the long term health of the game by itself.

Which is good, because there’s not a lot of willingness to compromise between the proponents of Rights, Profit and Drama. The Rights advocates are usually dismissive of the fears Profit has, while being sniggeringly dismissive or blithly unaware (depending on their actual experience with virtual worlds) of the corrosive effects of Drama. Profit fears Rights – and more importantly, the possible governmental/legal intervention based on it – while its day to day frontline struggle with Drama fills its veterans with a distaste for the everyman veterans of police departments would envy. And Drama? Drama only cares about Drama, girlfriend.

Yet all three of these need to be balanced – and in fact, I’d even argue that without Drama you don’t have the community development necessary for an MMO to grow. And if nothing else, it might be an interesting thought experiment to look at contentious issues (such as the Blizzard addon foo-frah) through prisms of the triangle other than ones you might be used to.

Darkfall Improving, Now In 1999 Instead Of 1997

In Ultima Online’s Publish 13 notes Darkfall’s March 21 notes, Runesabre Tasos notes that availability is improving even though you still can’t technically buy the game, and then goes on to explain:

We have been permanently banning all accounts that we detect are using 3d party software exploits. Still, there are a few people who don’t understand this and continue installing and using these exploits. You will definitely be banned if you do this. No appeals and no excuses are accepted.

Macroing: We are working to address it at its source, but until then we need to enforce our policies. Before we do that we will appeal to players not actually playing the game to log off rather than leaving their character in-game. This will allow more people to be able to enjoy Darkfall instead of unmanned characters taking up server space. If you’re skilling up by not playing the game as it was intended, you will be kicked and repeated offenses will result in a ban.

In response, players have created flash movies involving OSI GMs running a PK guild Youtube movies involving Hitler running a PK guild.

Blizzard: No Charging For Addons

Announcement on the official forums

Which sucks for these guys. Also, apparently, for this guy, who plans to cease development of a mod which, though donation-ware, has supported him as a full time job. Possibly because his addon has more users than most MMOs.

Speculation is that this was sparked by Carbonite, the most popular for-pay addon, recently offering a free in-game ad-supported version, and some have pointed to a new terms of service that went live that includes a reference to in-game advertising through Massive’s in-game ad service.

Note that this is not, in and of itself, concrete proof that World of Warcraft is about to slap Mountain Dew billboards in Darnassus – the TOS above is actually for, which already sells advertising. Paul Sams of Blizzard has already clearly stated “Uh, we’re not THAT stupid” when Massive originally announced the contract; the reason why the TOS shows up in World of Warcraft now is due to Blizzard moving their account system to a unified structure under Still, given how insanely large the World of Warcraft market is… never say never… although many subscribers might . Even with a juggernaut like WoW, there is only so much that you can ‘monetize’ a player base before they revolt in disgust.

But, moving back to the original topic – what is motivating Blizzard’s addon crackdown? Probably a few reasons:

No more obfuscated code: the reasons of which would hopefully be clear. If an addon figures out how to exploit some bug in WoW’s LUA sandbox, it’s hard to replicate if you can’t see the code. Yet at the same time, without obfuscated code, selling addons is fairly pointless. Clearly, Blizzard decided addon safety trumps addon sales.

No more in-game advertising or donation solicitation: the reasons for which are somewhat less clear. It may have been that Blizzard wanted to shut down adware like Carbonite simply so that no player thinks Blizzard is selling ad space to, say, Transdneister Gold Farmers LLC. Perhaps they don’t particularly like the idea of addon users making money from a secondary market created by WoW. It’s difficult to say until we get a clear statement as to their intent, which hasn’t happened yet (but given QuestHelper’s high visibility, we may see shortly).

No more addons: the alarmist view seen in some of these discussions, that Blizzard simply wants to shut down addon development by making sure no one can collect donations. This is silly for a couple of reasons. First off, if Blizzard wanted to shut down addon development, they could simply remove the ability to load external addons in the next patch. It’s not that difficult. Second and most importantly, a lot of WoW’s value comes from those addons, and it’s an effective force multiplier in client development that later games have sought to emulate. Much of Blizzard’s live team patching of the client is ‘inspired’ by successful addons, such as MobHealth, ScrollingCombatText and Omen, all of which are now at various levels of implementation in the game’s basic client.

My view on the subject?

Prohibiting in-game advertising via addons is extremely justifiable. If anyone sells in-game advertising, it should be Blizzard itself. Not that they should. But for others to is pretty clearly skeevy, on a level with web sites that yoink news stories from RSS feeds and wrap ads around them pretending to provide their own content. (No link provided – I don’t feel like rewarding them with page views.)

Prohibiting direct sales of addons is somewhat dicey but justifiable, mainly due to what I wrote about code obfuscation. Still, simply making code obfuscation against the ToS would have the same effect and be less chilling.

Prohibiting in-game solicitations of donations isn’t as justifiable. It’s difficult to see what Blizzard gains by this, and it’s very easy to see what the player base loses. If the fear is that addons will become obnoxious with donation nags – this is a self-correcting problem.

Selling in-game ads in World of Warcraft is apocalyptically bad. To the degree that if they actually are planning on doing such a thing (which mind you, I don’t believe they are), I hope that Blizzard’s subscriber numbers fall at such an alarming rate that they immediately yank them back out. I am extremely tired of game companies selling advertising in games I already paid for ONCE. Selling advertising in games I pay for ON A MONTHLY BASIS is not acceptable. Period. End of sentence. There is no justification. None. If you don’t make enough off my subscription fee, raise the subscription fee. I will not pay a monthly fee to be a pair of eyeballs for you to make still more money off of.

Not that Blizzard has already done that or anything.