Time for some finite experiences

This is one of those navel gazing posts that no one will really care about but six months from now *I’ll* read it and laugh at my own weirdness.

I have a stormy relationship with MMOs. I love them right up until I hate them, at which point I quit them forever, which generally means a couple months at most. By then I will have forgotten that I hate them and remembered that I love them, and I’ll get excited for one and find I’m missing the unpredictability of being in a game with a lot of other people. So back I’ll go.

Over the past few months I’ve been hardcore into MMOs…too many of them. Landmark, ArcheAge, Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar. I’ve sort of cycled through them, unable to decide which one I wanted to play. Obviously trying to play 4 MMOs is incredibly stupid and something had to give, and it has.

E3 was this week and there are a number of games I’m interested in. But I’ve got a huge backlog of great games on my consoles and on Steam now. And I’m missing the satisfaction of finishing a game, crossing it off my list and then looking forward to the inevitable sequel.

At the same time MMOs have been disappointing me. The last two I’ve been playing (ESO and Wildstar) I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone and really tried to be social and haven’t had much luck. Most of my issues I think have to do with my reluctance to use voice chat. I’m happy to use voice chat for a purpose (a dungeon, a PvP outing) but the idea of jumping on just to ‘chat’ is not something I’m interested in. I don’t really like chatting in-person; I certainly don’t want to do it via VoIP. A lot of gamers SAY they’re introverts but I don’t think they know what that really means. Chatting with a group is exhausting to me and when I finally get done my day and can fire up a game at 9 or 10 PM I’m already pretty tired and the last thing I want to do is chat about cats or listen to dick jokes or whatever the hell people talk about when they’re gaming alone but in voice chat together.

That’s totally my baggage, not anyone else’s. But these two factors (excitement over new non-MMO games, and frustration with social in MMOs) have pushed me back to that ‘hating on MMOs’ place again.

So I’m diving into my backlog of single player and non-MMO MP games again. Tonight I started Bioshock Infinite on the PS3. After that I might try once again to finished Dragon Age: Origins in order to get ready for the new game coming out this fall. We’ll see.

Not that the blog is all that active to begin with, but if I’m playing old single player games I probably won’t have a lot to say here, so the blog will probably go even darker than normal. Though I probably will keep dabbling in Landmark since it is inherently non-social and is almost more a creativity tool than a game anyway.

Of course Destiny beta starts in July and I’m all over that. The nice thing about MP gaming on consoles is that people log in and actually PLAY TOGETHER which makes voice chatting relevant. Hope to see some of my friends in the Destiny beta!

It’s the end of gaming as we know it, and I feel fine

This post is based on intuition and feelings. I’m feeling pretty confident that I’m right but I have neither the time nor the energy to dig up citations. So consider it a rant.

I can’t help escape the feeling that gaming (whatever you imagine gaming as an entity to be) is charging full-bore into a brick wall and it’s going to crash pretty soon. I’m not sure what will result from this crash but I’m confident there’ll be some kind of rebirth.

So what’s driving this imminent disaster? Is it the corporate soul suckers at {insert major publisher name}? Nope. It’s the gaming mob, slathering for blood and reveling in whatever hurt they can find. And what drives the mob? So called ‘game journalists’ who hop from PR disaster to PR disaster, beating dead horses until they’re unrecognizable and gleefully chortling at the huge numbers of comments they get from outraged gamers.

In a perfect world, there’d be no PR disasters for them to hop to, but you may have noticed this world isn’t perfect. But there’s a different between reporting and wallowing. SimCity is an obvious recent example; I’m still seeing new posts about how “there’s no calculations being done in the cloud” or whatever. Yes, we heard you the first 3 times you wrote a post about this. Of course gamers come back in force decrying EA and praying for its downfall. So the blood sucking journos keep writing the same post to get more ad impressions.

I could rant about this all day. We hate EA. We hate Ubisoft. We hate Activision (though to be fair Bobby Kotick has been doing a lot better about not sticking his foot in his mouth lately and with our short attention span many of us have forgotten that we hate Ubisoft). In short we hate all the big publishers (Note: Valve is a huge retailer but not a very big publisher). But it’s OK, we have the Indies! And that’s true, we do…but if ALL we had were the indies how long would it take for you to get tired of chip-tunes and faux-8-bit graphics? I love the Indies but they don’t have the $$ to make a game on the scale of a Dishonored or a Borderlands 2.

So anyway yeah, I could rant about this all day but I won’t because I’ve decided something: I just don’t care anymore.

If gaming collapses under the vitriol of the fans, I’ll go back to reading books and watching sci-fi films without missing a beat. Though in truth I have SUCH a huge backlog of games now that if I never bought another one I’d still be playing for years.

And I’m finding that the less I talk about games on social networks, and the fewer gaming site posts I read, the more fun I have actually playing the games I have. Again, SimCity is a great example, but so is Fire Emblem. I LOVE that game but at one point I started reading boards and hearing about what a sell out Nintendo is because DLC is too expensive and thinly disguised pay to win and… at that point I shut the browser window. Ignorance, it turns out, is bliss.

Playing games in a vacuum turns out to be more more enjoyable than arguing about games with my friends.

But why do we even argue? Fanboyism to some extent. But also I think we want the games we love to do well so that they’ll be supported for a long time with patches, DLC, expansion packs and sequels. I’ve played and really enjoyed Defiance but my friends (some of them) shit all over it. Oakstout said something like “If I could teach my dog to play MMOs, Defiance would be the last game I let him play.” Which I’m pretty sure is an insult. And the game hasn’t even launched. Why talk about the game and give voices like that a platform to be heard (I appreciate the hypocrisy of my sharing that story here)? I want Defiance to do great so that I keep getting new content.

This weekend is PAX East and sadly we won’t be able to attend this year. But based on my experiences of the last 2 PAX Easts, the weekend will find tens of thousands of gamers gathering together and having a blast. Where is that angry mob we see online? Do those people just not attend PAX? I don’t think that’s the case…I think people who take the time to comment on gaming sites are exactly the people who’d devote a weekend to a show about gaming.

But y’know who isn’t there? Or at least doesn’t have a voice on the show floor? The gaming press. Instead of listening to the gaming press’s endless prattle about what’s wrong in gaming, the people at PAX are on the ground, seeing games, trying games, talking to other gamers in the presence of games, talking to game developers..just being there. And they remember something:

Games are supposed to be fun. No, correction: games ARE fun.

On the internet, we celebrate the failure of gaming companies and that just leads to a toxic environment. At PAX, we celebrate games and what we love about them.

From now on I’m going to focus on celebrating games. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s possible to do with others online. But that’s OK, all that time I save arguing, I’ll spend playing and enjoying the games I love. I’ll appreciate them while they’re still here because the gaming journalists will eventually roast the golden goose that is keeping them fed and housed.

Gaming will rise again and maybe the next time around we can focus more on the positive.

MMO companies need to improve customer support

In the past two weeks I’ve had two go-rounds with the tech support departments of two MMO companies, and both leave much to be desired.

Case 1: Turbine

On Sunday, December 6th, I tried to log a particular character into LOTRO and found that I could not. I got a message saying the character was still being saved. I tried rebooting and the problem persisted. Other characters could log in fine, so I logged an alt in and accessed the in-game help. I opened a ticket explaining the problem and asking for help. I continued playing around on the alt for an hour or two and then logged off.

I didn’t get back in game for a few days. When I did, I found a response to my in-game ticket, saying in-game support couldn’t help and I needed to go to the Turbine website and file a tech support ticket there. Before I did that, I searched the knowledge base, and found my problem listed. However the “solution” to the problem was just a link to the tech support forums. Searching Turbine’s forums is virtually impossible; they’re using a very poor forum package with extremely weak search capabilities and a ridiculously long ‘cooldown’ between searches (20 seconds). So when you search and find no results, you have to wait 20 seconds before you can search again. The search also doesn’t recognize phrases, it only searches on words. So it takes a lot of trial and error to find just the right words to search on that the search engine won’t spit back as too common, and in between each try you have to twiddle your thumbs waiting for the anti-spam cooldown to timeout.

Luckily someone on Twitter suggested I use Google to search the Turbine forums, bypassing their forum engine’s search altogether. I found many people who’d encountered the same problem I had, and the only official solution came from “Sapience” (Rick Heaton) telling people they needed to file a ticket in-game to get this cleared up!! Now his response was quite old, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured things had changed, because remember I’d done just that and been told in-game support couldn’t help.

So off I went to file an out-of-game support ticket. Upon submitting the ticket I was informed that responses usually take 1 to 2 WEEKS!!!!! That is beyond an unacceptable timeframe to get support for a service you’re paying a monthly subscription for. [Full disclosure: I’m a lifetime member so I’m not actually paying a subscription, but many players do].

As it turns out, on Saturday the 12th, my character became unstuck and I could log him in. However, I never got a response to the ticket I entered, so I have no idea if the problem was fixed deliberately or as a side-effect of some other server work being done.

I love Turbine’s games, and I semi-know and like some of their staff via Twitter. I hate to knock on the company but their tech support department *needs* to be improved. Maybe management needs to devote more resources to the tech support department. A 1-2 week turn-around suggests to me that the tech support team is severely under-manned.

I also noted, via Google searching, that they nuke a *lot* of threads in their forums, which means users can’t learn from each other’s experiences. I clicked on link after link to forum threads about my problem, only to find they’d been removed. So I have no idea if the players ever came up with a reliable solution to the problem.

Case 2: NCSoft

Today NCSoft sent out an email talking about their Wintersday Celebration and inviting players to come back. I installed the client (and props to them for offering it on their website so I didn’t have to go rummaging through the closet looking for CDs). I have 2 Guild Wars accounts: one with access to the original game, the other with access to Guild Wars, Factions and Nightfall. The first account logged in with no problems but when I tried to access the other, I got a pop up saying that the account “…may have been accessed by an unauthorized individual” and the account was locked. “please contact Support and one of our representatives will assist you.”

So I guess the account was hacked? OK, don’t care, just want to play. This isn’t a bank account, after all, it’s a stupid game.

I head to NCSoft’s tech support page. Fill out all the info, including my email address. Get to page two and it wants me to create an account. Fill in all that info and I get a message saying that email is already registered. Can’t go forward. I hit back, copy the description of my problem so I don’t have to type it in again, and click the Login button at the top of the page. This brings me to the account “NCsoft Account Management.” So yay, I’m logged in. I click on the Support tab and it takes me back to the form I started at…and I’m logged out again.

Click login, I go back to Account Management. Click support, and I’m logged out. For giggles I fill the form out again, hit page two and it asks me to create an account. Try to do so and it tells me I already have an account registered to this email. Well duh, I know, I was just logged into it.

I’m a web developer, so maybe this kind of shoddy, half-assed, craptacular website coding makes me crazier than it does other people.

In the end, I send them an email. 15 minutes later I get an email saying “An account was automatically created for you but you can’t login until your password has been set.” I have no idea what account they’re talking about; I have an NCSoft Master account, a Guild Wars account, and now a Guild Wars support account? Maybe? I click the link, set a password, and the email I’d sent in has been converted to a support ticket. Huh?

Finally I figure out how to use their tech support page. There are three tabs in the body of the page: Answers, Ask a Question, and My Stuff. When Answers fail, the next logical step is to go to Ask a Question. That’s wrong. If you go to My Stuff first, you’ll be able to create a Tech Support account, or log in if you already have one. Once you set up your account, then presumably you can go to Ask a Question and get help. Under no circumstances should you ever use the LOGIN button at the top of every page, because that is logging you into your NCSoft Account, not your NCSoft Support Account. I think?

This shouldn’t be so hard!!

C’mon, MMO publishers!! Start treating your customers with some respect. Start treating them like…well, like valued customers. We’re paying your salaries, after all!!

/rant off

PS3 haters are still out there

Full disclosure: I own a Sony PS3 (and an Xbox 360, and a Nintendo Wii, and a PC, and a Mac). Call me a fanboy if you will.

Today Syp put up a mocking post about Papa John’s Pizza getting a link on the PS3’s web browser’s default home page. He showed an ad for the service with the text:

Okay, this is sort of a redux of EverQuest 2’s infamous /pizza command, and it’s no less ridiculous than it was the first time. Who is so tethered to a game system and/or so ignorant of how a telephone works that they can’t order pizza without Sony’s assistance?

I’m trying to wrap my head around this comment. Syp doesn’t seem to object to people who are so tethered to their couch watching TV that they pick up a phone to order a pizza, or so tethered to a web browser on a PC that they order a pizza through it. But because the web browser happens to be on a device that plays games (y’know, like a PC does), then this becomes a ridiculous idea and anyone who uses it is ‘tethered to a game system and/or ignorant of how a phone works?’

Talk about hating with a very broad brush.

Or maybe he’s just hating because there’s an ad on the default home page?

Around our house, in addition to playing games on the PS3, watching blu-ray and dvd movies on the PS3, streaming video and music for our media server to the PS3, we also watch internet video on it (admittedly we did more of this before Hulu.com started blocking the PS3). So if we’re watching an episode of a show at NBC.Com and decide to order a pizza rather than cooking, we’re good if we get up and go to the PC in the other room and order it there, but if we open another window in the PS3’s browser and order it, we’re losers, apparently?

I avoid using the phone to order pizza because frankly there is often a language barrier between myself and the person on the other end of the line. When ordering online everything is clearly written/chosen from a menu. Credit card processed. It’s fast and accurate and I can even put the tip on the card, so all I need to do when the food is delivered is sign the credit card slip. I don’t see how its relevant what device the browser happens to be on… that’s the beauty of the web, isn’t it? That it’s more or less device agnostic?

Color me puzzled.

But I still love ya, Syp, even if you hate my beloved PS3!

Cryptic and the community

So yeah, I’m not yet able to let this go.

Since last night my irritation with the whole situation continues to grow. However I feel myself become less irritated with Cryptic, and more and more irritated with the blogging and forum-using community.

Here is the situation:

I spent $5 for a pre-order box at Best Buy. I took the box home. I created a Champions Online account. In the process of doing this, the web site popped up a “Take advantage of our Special Offer” interim page. The offer said I had to buy before Sept 1st, as this was a limited time offer. I clicked “Not now, thanks” feeling I’d like to at least sample the game before I made that decision, and in addition I saw no reason to fork over $200 ahead of time.

The Best Buy pre-order came with Early Access. I figured if the launch went well, I’d take advantage of the special offer comfortably in advance of the Sept. 1 deadline.

Following creating the account, I was sent an email, again soliciting me to take advantage of the special offer. It referred to the offer as “Limited.” This was moments after seeing it referred to as a limited time offer.

I assumed, since there was no physical component to this offer, that Limited referred to the Limited time.

Then, Monday night they announced, on their website, that they only had a limited quantity available. By the next morning they were gone. Monday night I was playing in the Open Beta Ending event; I never even saw the announcement until they were sold-out. I pause now to point out that they have a directed means of communicating with players: the launcher. We see that every time we start the game. They chose not to use that avenue to convey the “limited number” nature of the special deal.

I have since read that Cryptic announced that there were limited quantities of these deals in their forums. Have you been to their forums? They’re disgusting. No more disgusting than any other game’s forums, but I avoid gaming forums as much as possible since they are all vile places.

The fact remains that when Cryptic ‘pushed’ their marketing offers to me, they didn’t mention limited quantities. Just limited time. My bad for not accepting things at face value and digging through their forums in case they’d posted info there that they hadn’t bothered to ‘push’ to me.

OK, so that’s that.

I have a beef with Cryptic. I’m not saying they’re evil. I’m not hoping they go bankrupt. I don’t want Champions to fail and I’m not saying they’ve broken any laws. I personally disagree with the way they’ve handled the issue, and I would very much like for them to reconsider the decision to artificially limit what is a virtual product.

The only ‘leverage’ I have to work with is this blog (and let’s face it, Dragonchasers isn’t a force in the industry — if I get 10,000 visits a month I’m doing great) and my wallet.

So I’m doing the only thing I can do to dispute the decision: opting not to buy the game. And really, this is between me and Cryptic, as far as I’m concerned.

So what I don’t get, and what is really, really starting to annoy me, is people on the sidelines chiming in to take pot shots at me and other people in the same boat as I am. For the most part, this is happening in those wretched, vile forums (which I continue to monitor in case they do opt to re-open the offers.. apparently the forums are Cryptic’s primary way to communicate with their users), but there are bloggers jumping on the bandwagon too. (I’m still trying to puzzle out what Tipa meant by her comment “Did the game become less fun because of the ending of their pre-launch offer?” Was it a legit question? I’m honestly not sure if it was, but I accepted it as one, and answered her as honestly as I could in the comment section of her blog.

So my question is, if you weren’t interested in these special deals, or if you were interested and took advantage of them and are all set, then what is your interest in the situation? Why do you feel the need to snidely comment on something that has nothing to do with you? Does it just feel good rubbing salt in the wounds of people who are already frustrated to begin with? What do you, the bloggers and forum posters telling us we should have known better, or just “QQ more, crybaby,” hope to accomplish by your blog & forum posts?

I’ll reiterate what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m trying to convey to Cryptic that I feel strongly about their decision and have $250 that I’m ready to hand over to them if they decide to change their minds. If they don’t, I’m sure there are other developers who’ll be happy to sell me product.

Comments CLOSED on this post. I’m too angry to have a rational discussion about this topic at this point. (And yes, I realize how foolish it is to close topic on a post that I asked a question in…my questions were for the most part rhetorical.)

We now return you to your regularly scheduled ranting

OK so I’ve tried to leave the negative attitude at the door, but the pressure’s building up inside of me and I’m going to blow my top if I don’t rant soon.

So here goes!!!

Why can’t people just accept MMORPGs as a defined genre and stop trying to change them?

You don’t see FPS players complaining because the newest FPS has lots of guns and a targeting reticule. You don’t see driving game fans bitch because they can’t get out of their in-game cars and walk around. You don’t see sports game afficionados requesting an option to turn down the gravity in their games.

But MMORPG devs…they can’t catch a break. A new game comes out and people complain about some or all of the following:

  • The game has (too many) quests
  • The game has too much grinding [though grinding is almost never defined but seems to boil down to “there were moments I wasn’t riveted by what I was doing”]
  • The characters have levels or skills that require too much time to attain
  • The game world is too large and requires too much travel
  • The game world is too small and doesn’t feel immersive
  • The characters have the same old boring stats
  • There’s no player skill because success of actions depend on character stats, not player hand-to-eye coordination
  • The game is too shallow
  • The game is too complex & I don’t want to read all those scary words that tell me how to play

The list goes on and on and on, but many of the things people complain about are exactly the aspects that make these games MMORPGs (questing, stats, a big world to explore, stat-based actions).

May I not-so-humbly suggest that the people who are so tired with the staple aspects of MMORPGs…. STOP PLAYING THEM! There’re a ton of different game genres out there to play. If you’re sick of questing and exploring and planning out character progressions… go play a different kind of game. Play an online shooter, or one of the new MMORTS-type games. Dig out Planetside and play that. Get involved with one of the browser-based empire-building games. Jump into Burnout: Paradise and have a hoot driving around with your buddies.

Go somewhere, but just, please, stop peeing in our pool, because there are literally millions of gamers who like MMORPGs the way they are.

This rant was triggered by someone talking about Dust, the new console-based FPS announced by CCP. The comment said something like “Wow, this really makes Aion and Champions Online look like tired old retreads.”

WTF??? So a new *shooter* makes a couple of MMORPGs look old and tired? That’s like saying “My new BMW sure makes our living room couch look old and tired.” How are the two even remotely related, aside from being things you sit in or on? Dust and Aion are both games, and that’s about where their similarities end. Dust is a player-skill based shooter played on a gaming console, and Aion is a MMORPG played on a PC. They could hardly be less similar, so I see no value in comparing them.

MMORPG burnout does happen. Have the class to recognize it for what it is, and go play something else for a while, rather than miserably sticking around MMORPGs crapping all over everything that comes along.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer doesn’t want my money

So Angela and I have a subscription to Beckett Massive Online Gamer. Now before I don my Cape of Self-Righteous Ranting +2, I have to be totally upfront. We mostly subscribe because Stargrace writes for them, and secondarily for the free item codes they publish for various games (though rarely do we ever remember to actually use any of these codes).

The magazine definitely has problems. Timeliness being one of them (the May-June 2009 issue had a preview article of an upcoming game called Free Realms), typos being another, and the writing is pretty uneven. But y’know, I let that all pass and subscribed in spite of these issues because it felt like a real ‘fan’ kind of magazine. It felt like it was a magazine for people like me and my friends.

I was apparently wrong. Today, in the same May-June 2009 issue, I read this: “if you want to play solo, there are a lot of console games out there” in an article by Rebecca Bundy.

I do want to play solo, Ms. Bundy, so I guess I’ll go play a console game and stop subscribing to Beckett MOG, since clearly the editors are not interested in people like me reading their magazine. Just to be totally clear, I’m pointing my finger at the editors, not Ms. Bundy, who is entitled to her ignorant and bigoted opinion that everyone who plays MMOs should play them the same way she does [Update: I clarified this in the comments but will do so again. I’m not calling Ms. Bundy ignorant and bigoted in a general sense, but am saying within the microcosm of MMOs, her opinion that people who solo should go play something else IS ignorant and bigoted.]. But since the editor let that snarky remark stand, they must believe the same thing.

I’m so god-damned tired of being sniped at because I don’t feel the need to chain myself to 5 strangers when playing these games. Since when did being independent become a character flaw? It’s bad enough hearing it from bloggers; I don’t need to pay to read the same BS.

The folly of Cryptic

So let’s talk about all the weirdness going on with Champions Online.

Let me preface by saying that until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I’d be playing Champions Online on launch day. But then Cryptic started making really strange decisions.

First, they tied early-start to a specific retailer (Gamestop). Now, anyone who is a fan of video and computer games should NOT be purchasing games from Gamestop. That outfit is a fat, bloated leech sucking the lifeblood out of the game developer community. I don’t shop there if I can possibly help it (basically I’ll spend gift cards there if I get them). So that means no early access for me.

Not a huge deal, but a bit strange. I get that PC developers don’t have the same issues with Gamestop as console developers do. But where I live, the brick and mortar Gamestops don’t even stock PC games anymore.

Then there’s the Lifetime Membership issue. Cryptic’s Bill Roper used to have a little company called Flagship Studios, and they made a game called Hellgate: London, and they offered a lifetime membership to it. Roper was from Blizzard. I’d met the man, I knew how passionate he was about games (at least at one time). Even though Hellgate was kind of broken at launch, I forked over $140 for a lifetime membership, partially to show how much I believed in Roper. I just knew he’d pull the game together and I wanted to do what I could to help Flagship get that game fixed and awesome.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I would’ve been much, much better off had I bought $140 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets. Or $140 worth of horse manure. Or something.

But now here’s Roper’s next project and next Lifetime Membership offer. But this isn’t Roper’s company and it’s a much bigger team and anyway, everyone produces a dud at some point. So I actually consider this new offer. I also bought a Lifetime Membership to LOTRO and I’ve never regretted the decision in the slightest. Quite the contrary. So I’m thinking about my budget and if I can figure out a way to carve out $200 and be able to play CO indefinitely.

Assuming I like the game, of course. But wait…what? I have to buy the Lifetime Subscription BEFORE the game launches? Hey, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you, Cryptic. How about we trade? What a lack of confidence in their product this deadline broadcasts. This says to me “We don’t think you’ll want to buy this Lifetime Subscription once you’ve seen the game, so we’ll try to bribe you to purchase it pre-release with perks like access to the beta of a totally different game.” Huh? How in the world does that make any sense? “Buy a lifetime sub to this game and we’ll give you early access to another game in a few months.” So presumably you expect I’ll be SO BORED of Champions Online by this winter that I’ll be desperate to play another half-built game?

Less than a month from release, the NDA is still firmly in place. But Beta Keys went out today to pre-orderers and to Fileplanet Subscribers. I’m in the latter camp. I kept an eye on my email all day, assuming the alloted Fileplanet Keys would get snapped up quickly. And I scored one. Yay! Can’t wait to get home and download the client. But wait….what? I can’t actually PLAY the beta until the 17th of August? Then why make this big fuss about sending out the keys today? Downloading the client took all of 30 minutes from Fileplanet, so I don’t buy the ‘pre-load’ bullshit. Release the keys a couple days ahead of beta opening? Sure. But 12 days?
Once again I read a lack of confidence in this decision: “We want to wait as long as possible to let more people into the beta because we want to delay players realizing how bad our game is for as long as possible.” Or more generously, “We don’t want to give players time to hit high levels in beta and find out there’s no content up there.”

I don’t know who is running the marketing and/or sales divisions at Cryptic, but it almost feels like someone is deliberately sabotaging the hype of this game. Every new bit of information I read makes me less inclined to want to play it. It seems really evident that Cryptic has something to hide from us, the potential customers. Folks in the beta remain under an NDA gag-order, so they can’t tell us what’s going on, and the gates are barred from the rest of us getting in.

What’s really going on inside Champions Online?

Rebutting Wolfshead’s Rebuttal of Tipa’s Rebuttal

I think I have the nesting correct in that headline. 🙂

So the saga so far:

An anonymous game designer who goes by the handle ‘Wolfshead’ posted a fairly scathing critique of the first 15 minutes of EQ2. Tipa rebutted his post. And Wolfshead rebutted her rebuttal.

I was posted a few comments in response to Tipa’s post, and this morning posted a comment on Wolfshead’s blog. Comments there are moderated (as they are here) and s/he chose not to approve my comment. Which is fine — your blog, your prerogative. But my spidey-sense was tingling when I posted that comment and I had the forethought to keep a copy of it.

So here is that comment. Imagine it was in the comments section of Wolfshead’s last post. I’ve left it intact, poor phrasing included (I was rushing to post it before work). The only change I’ve made is to add italics to quotes from the original post:

The problem I have with you is, you make too many assumptions about
EQ2 players. For example:

I would like to challenge Tipa and others to put forth their
suggestions to help SOE make a better EQ2 newbie experience.

What makes you think she doesn’t? My significant other is a die-hard
EQ2 fan, and she is constantly giving feedback to the team via proper

You, once again, act as if your interests are altruistic, but any
potential new EQ2 player that read your ‘First 15 minutes’ would be
pushed to give up on the idea of trying the game; you make it sound
about as much fun as bamboo shoots shoved under the fingernails.

In my experience (I dabble in EQ2, but honestly never stay in it for
very long myself) the EQ2 community is pretty welcoming to new
players. I’ll admit I see that situation through the lens of my SO and
her guild and all the new EQ2 players in it.

But neither can you. You have no idea what SOE is doing back at its HQ.

You say:

Companies pay thousands of dollars in consulting fees to get into the
head space of their potential customers.

Well how do you know SOE hasn’t done that? Doesn’t continue to do it?
Some of the things you critique (eg, the background images at
character creation) were the way you suggest that should be (different
background for ‘evil’ characters) but SOE changed it so that all
characters are in front of the same background. Why did they toss out
the ‘evil’ artwork? Was it an arbitrary decision, or was it based on
market research and focus testing?

If you truly, honestly want to help SOE improve the game, then submit
feedback TO THEM. Don’t trash the game on your blog…all that really
helps is your page view count. And I know you’ll say you weren’t
trashing it, and maybe that wasn’t your intent, but that is definitely
the feeling one comes away with after reading your 15 minutes post.
You come across extremely arrogant and dismissive. I’m not saying you
*are* either of those things, but that’s how the post reads.

Since I posted that, Wolfshead has approved other comments, so I suppose I’ve hit a nerve. Redacted. SmakenDahed makes a good point…the other comments might be ‘auto-approved’ by virtue of them being previous posters. Update: Confirmed that this was indeed what was going on, so I fully retract the ‘hit a nerve’ statement.

Rebutting Neil Gaiman’s Entitlement post

So today Neil Gaiman wrote a post called Entitlement issues… in which he answers a reader’s question about whether or not it is realistic for that reader to feel let down [an odd way to phrase things, but I’m just using that readers’ words] by the slow progress that George R R Martin is making on the next Song of Ice and Fire book. The reader asks what responsibility Martin has to finish the story.

Gaiman’s response: “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.”

Teach that fan to respectfully ask a question, I guess. But anyway, Gaiman elaborates:

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

To which I say, bullshit.

Now, before I go any farther, I’m not hating on Martin. I’m addressing the issue in more theoretical terms here.

So anyway, yeah, Gaiman’s answer is bullshit. There is most definitely a social contract in place here. When I buy book 1 of a series, it is not a stand-alone story. I’m buying the first part of the story with the understanding that the rest of the story will be forthcoming. Without the rest of the story, the first book is just unfinished business. Essentially, when I buy book 1 I’m investing in the author, helping him pay the bills so he can continue to work on finishing the story. My $10 for Book 1 is a down payment on the $30 story I’m intending to buy (assuming it takes 3 volumes to tell the story).

If someone can genuinely convince me that this isn’t the case…that I can’t in good faith expect a half-told story I’ve paid money for to eventually be finished, then I’ll make sure never to buy part of a series until the entire series is completed. And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe these books shouldn’t be published until the whole tale is told. But publishers won’t do that. Why? Because they need us “investing” in the story in order to finance the rest of it being written.

Gaiman finishes his post by re-phrasing his first line like this: “George R. R. Martin is not working for you.”

Oh really? If Martin, or any author making his living from writing books, isn’t working for me, who is he working for? When he puts dinner down in front of his family, where did the money for that dinner ultimately come from? I don’t see many ads in the pages of the novels I’m reading. I don’t see any indication of a corporate sponsor. As far as I can see, the only source of revenue comes from the people buying the books. The customers. He is absolutely working for me. So is Mr. Gaiman, for that matter.

I write code for a living. Other people design buildings, or write soundtracks for movies, or create balanced and delicious menus for charity dinners, or build custom cabinets… many, many people use the creative sides of their minds in order to do their job. And pretty much all of them have commitments and deadlines and manage to make their deadlines, regardless of whether they’ve fallen into or out of love recently (see Gaiman’s post for that reference).

This idea that writing is some kind of holy behavior that can’t be tainted by being held to deadlines is, in my opinion, bullshit. And frankly, 99% of fiction authors can’t get away with missing deadlines, either.

And the idea the an author will sell you part 1 of a story and just decide “Naa, I’ve decided I’m not going to write the rest of that story. You can just make up your own ending.” and that we should be OK with that, is ludicrous. And the reality is, any author that regularly pulled such a stunt would soon find him or herself without a readership.

Again, I’m not hating on Martin. Because for people in all walks of life, shit sometimes happens. Contracts get broken, deadlines get missed in spite of our best intentions, we bite off more than we can chew and get into trouble [which seems to be where Martin is]. That’s part of being human and it happens to everyone. I feel for Martin. He must feel completely trapped at this point.

But I’ve also decided not to buy any more pieces of A Song of Fire & Ice until he finishes it, because I’m not sure he’ll be able and willing to finish it, at least not in my lifetime. My choosing not to purchase his most recent piece of the story isn’t malice on my part. That’s me investing wisely. I work hard for my money and I have to be choosy about where I spend it. My time is also valuable, and I prefer devoting it to complete stories, or stories that I’m confident will be completed.

So yes, there is a contract in place, and in spite of the best intentions on everyone’s part, sometimes the contract will be broken. When that happens, the people who had entered into the contract have every right to be disappointed, every right to feel let down. Telling a reader that he has no right to feel let down is astonishingly disrespectful, in my opinion.

Gaiman should keep in mind that we readers aren’t his bitch, either. Authors who work for us should be mindful of the fact that if you let us down enough times, we’re going to stop reading your work. And if we all stop reading your work, you’re going to have to find a new job.