Posted in Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft

Bargain Bin Posts Week: Forum Battle Round 1!

This was a weird little experiment I was messing with back in September 2009… I meant to get a lot more samples than just WoW and LOTRO, but kind of lost interest after doing these first two.

In a new limited series here at Bio Break, we’re going to put the official forums of various MMOs to the test, pitting them against each other in a bizarre battle royale.  My experiment was simply to go to the first page of a MMO’s general forum, scan through the first 25 posts, and take notes on what trends they were showing, how useful they seemed, and how far down into the gutter they’ve fallen.  So let’s see what we see!

World of Warcraft (link to their general discussion forum)

  • Number of CM-Approved Stickies: 11
  • Number of Non-Stickied Threads Where a Dev Comments: 1
  • Longest Non-Stickied Thread: “Varian Wrynn = Epic fail”, 14 pages (entire original post: “What an emo. Grats on rekindling conflict at the moment ripe with potential for creating peace.”)
  • Original Posts With Useful Content: 0
  • “I Quit” Posts: 0
  • Positive Topics: Expansion pack
  • Negative Topics: Game focused too much on guilds, shadow priests, game isn’t casual enough, auctioneer mod ruining economy, can’t level up through pvp as fast as pve, ganking, nerf DK, gnomes, bad PUGs, STV fishing tourney, AV’s NPCs
  • Misspelled Topics: 2
  • Judgment: WoW’s forums have been a cesspit of trolls, malcontents and whiners since just about forever, and the front page is a testiment to their neverending parade of complaints.  Little to no moderation seems to be present as well.

Lord of the Rings Online (link to their general discussion forum)

  • Number of CM-Approved Stickies: 5
  • Number of Non-Stickied Threads Where a Dev Comments: Unknown, not marked
  • Longest Non-Stickied Thread: “I Would Be Fired”, 12 pages (“I cannot imagine having the responsibility with several weeks notice of a shareholders meeting, and not only not being prepared, but not even showing up. This is the disrespect we were shown today with Turbine not posting their answers to the community’s questions.”)
  • Original Posts With Useful Content: 1
  • “I Quit” Posts: 0
  • Positive Topics: Trivia game, expansion interview, ad campaign, beautiful zones, microtransactions,
  • Negative Topics: Turbine SNAFU, gear nerfs, expansion disatisfaction, PR team
  • Misspelled Topics: 0
  • Judgment: LOTRO players are notorious for their level of maturity as a community, and that shows here.  Most all of these threads were simply questions or “what if?” speculations, with very little in terms of griping or sniping.  This feels like a forum where I’d be comfortable posting a question or a thought and not getting torn to pieces.
Posted in Picture of the Day

Picture of the Day

IMVU: Topical!  Exciting!  Slightly forbidden!

Idiotic Twilight reference aside, what really amused me about this ad is that it says “Find Your Bella” — not “Find Your Edward”.  So I’m guessing that this is marketed to guys, with the implied message of “Are you looking for a girl to bite to death during a solar eclipse?  IMVU is your place, as long as you have feathered hair and can pretend to be a brooding vampire!”

Also, you don’t need IMVU to find your Bella.  Hot Topic has you covered.

Posted in General

Why I Love My Wife

My wife is in charge of the family finances, mostly because she has a knack with budgeting and debt reduction that I lack.  We both agreed on a pretty straightforward budget that includes a bi-weekly “allowance” for each of us to use for non-family essentials (entertainment, lunches, etc.).

So today I go up and say, “I know you’re going to laugh at me, but could I get an advance on my next allowance to get Civilization V?”

She makes a face.  “No.  You want to know why?”

I sigh, ready for a lecture about our budget.  “Okay, why?”

“Because if you want it, it’s yours.  You don’t need to get an advance or anything.  Enjoy!”

And she gives me a kiss and trots away.

That is why I love my wife.

Posted in EVE Online

Bargain Bin Posts Week: EVE Online — The Hope For The Future Of MMORPGs?

Huh… here is an example of “I have no idea what happened.”  It’s a fully-written post that for some reason, never got published.  This topic’s been done before and since, but here’s my take:

Time to take a break from the Fallen Earth Love Fest (don’t forget to buy your t-shirt at the Bio Break store, only $19.99!) to look at a game that doesn’t get a lot of talk around these here parts: EVE Online.  Now my personal history with EVE is fairly anemic — I did a couple of free trials, and subbed for one month, but it just never took hold with me.  I found space to be too big, the activities too boring, and the game way too complex (even though they’ve been working hard at making it more accessible for newbies).

But what’s always intrigued me about EVE is that it has absolutely bucked the trend of MMOs in terms of subscribers.  Most online games release to as big of an audience as possible, and try to retain as many of them as possible from month two on, hopefully adding enough people to keep steady (or increase somewhat) as others drop away.  Because many online gamers have become restless, picky and more prone to pulling up stakes and wandering away than ever before (which is aided by more choices on the market than ever before), one a MMO has shot through its release month, a downhill slide is all but inevitable.  Sure, expansions, releases in other countries and surprise course changes (i.e. DDO) may put the subs on a severe uptick, but it’s mostly damage control.  MMOs tend to shrink over time.

Except for EVE, which has grown.  Grown every year since launch, in fact, hitting the 300,000 mark on May 6 of this year (starting at 244,000 in January).  300K is a very respectable number for a newly launched MMO, but for a six-year-old game that isn’t World of Warcraft?  It’s practically amazing.  As MMORPG said:

Regardless of what the future might hold for this game and its franchise, it has solidified its place in the MMO history books by defying the trend in MMO subscribers, especially for an independent project. Generally speaking, the number of subscribers that any given MMORPG sports is at or near its peak soon after launch. From there, it’s a question of retention, with the scale fluctuating slightly throughout the life of the game but generally trending in the downward direction.

With EVE Online, the opposite has been true. Each year, the game has grown in population (paid subscribers) from the year before so that six years after its launch, it is still a thriving MMO in a very difficult and competitive market.

My question is, how has EVE bucked this trend?  What’s their secret recipe?  And how might other MMOs learn from their gradual success, a game “with legs” as one might say?  I’m no expert, but here’s a few of the factors that might have helped:

1. EVE started small and was self-published

There’s no doubt that CCP has done amazing things with EVE, and it enjoys a luxury many MMOs do not — the independence from a publisher’s meddling hand.  Instead, EVE launched without the huge amount of hype and fanfare that we expect out of big-budget titles today, and it was all done in house.  50,000 players was all it needed to keep the dev team funded and working, and from a small but solid start it grew gradually — avoiding the dangers of day one overpopulation and crashed servers as well.

2. EVE continuously reinvented itself

EVE’s had a vast array of updates and expansions, several of which have overhauled the graphics (updated for 2009 sensibilities) and retuned the game to make it slightly more friendly and accessible to newcomers.

3. EVE’s players became their marketing team

CCP relied more on word-of-mouth to sell the game than massive ad campaigns, a strategy that seems to have worked.  If one was to judge a MMO solely based on the blogs that players created to discuss it, it’d be easy to assume that EVE was one of the top three titles in the world.  Players are absolutely rabid about this game, reveling in its brutal cutthroat world and no-nonsense complexity.  For many of the players, there’s simply nothing else like EVE on the market, and they’re fanatical in promoting it.

4. EVE had a monopoly on the space-scifi market

With Earth & Beyond out of the way years previous, and no other major space science fiction MMOs out there, it was EVE or… EVE for any players looking to fly their own ship around the galaxy.  Even with SWG’s Jump to Lightspeed expansion, EVE still dominated with depth and breadth of content.

Of course, after writing all this I did a bit of Googling, only to find out that both Massively and Kotaku wrote on this same subject, just without all the typos and hidden anagram swear words (kids, see if you can find them at home!).  So, I have learned a lesson as a blogger: don’t write on anything, because someone’s done it first.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

The Adventures of Sype: Wuv, True Wuv

Our representative caught up to the fabled Lore-master as he lounged about in Staddle, haranguing the locals while taking long droughts out of his bottle.

He squinted against the noon-day sun.  “No more cooking!” he warned as our courier approached.

The messenger shook his head silently and drew out a letter from his satchel.  “This is for you, Sype.”

“Reading?” the Lore-master sat motionless, refusing to take it.  “No reading after breakfast, lad.  It’s what constipates the bowels.  Spit it out and be done with ye.”

The boy shrugged and opened the seal, scanning the letter quickly.  “They have a new mission for you, one of utmost importance.”

Grey bushy eyebrows rose.  “Oh?  Indeed?  What is it — a dragon, perhaps?  Are they sacking that stupid fat hobbit and giving the One Ring to someone who can actually get something done?  Out with it!”

“You see,” the messenger paused.  “You see, there’s a lonely hobbit near here who needs companionship.”

Sype grabbed his staff and waved it threateningly.  “Go away, boy.  I’m not that desperate for cash.”

“And there’s this widow nearby he’s been courting…”

The old man stabbed at the ground where the messenger’s foot stood a moment before, sending a plume of dust into the air.  “So he’s a Peeping Tom stalker, so what?  Tell him to apply for a character position in one of Stephanie Meyer’s novels.”

“And the Committee wants you to facilitate their courtship by being a matchmaker.”

Sype was quiet for a minute, and then uttered five words that turned the messenger into a hedgehog.  The opened letter fluttered to the ground.

“I think I’ll name you ‘Werit’,” he said.  “Now, in my pocket you go, and let’s see if we can match you up with a hungry wolf.  Matchmaker, my patootie.”

He raised the bottle to his mouth, but lowered it without taking a drink as a thought popped into his mind.  “Hm,” he said.  “Hmm.  Love may be in the cards after all…”

* * *

From the Desk of Constable Bolger, Staddle Bounder Department

The 28th of September, 3018

At approx. 4:10 p.m., the widow Foghorn contacted SBD in a state of terrible anxiety.  An unknown assailant coated the front of her doorway with splashed pigs blood, and then used some of the blood to write by finger “IM COMING FOUR YOU ASPHODEL” on the nearby wall.

Upon further inspection, dog tracks were seen in the mud outside of the door coming from the direction of Eldo Swatmidge’s home.  We asked, and received, permission to inspect his home, and found a slaughtered pig in the back yard.  Suspect denies being involved, although witnesses claim that Mr. Swatmidge has been seen walking by the Foghorn residence multiple times every day.

Suspect placed under formal arrest and shipped off to Brockenborings for trial.  Having no nearby friends or family to take in his dog, SBD contacted animal control who unfortunately had to put down the distressed beast.

Widow is suffering from stress migraines and nervous tics.  Recommend a unit patrol around Foghorn’s farm for the next week just in case.

Posted in General

Bargain Bin Posts Week: The Three Audiences

This botched article is an example of an idea I that never really materialized, and I could never really get a handle on.  I was thinking of how difficult it was for developers to make games for a widely diverse range of players, and wondered if they lump us in simplistic categories.  On one hand, I like dissecting and analyzing things, but on the other, I don’t like to be shoved into a category and think I should resist doing that to others.  Anyway, here it is!

As the MMORPG genre continues to evolve and grow, three audiences for these titles are coming into their own as desired demographics who sometimes have wildly different playstyles and needs.  Not to peg anyone into just one of these categories, but here’s how I see it:

The Youth Audience

Here’s where a bulk of 6 to 18-year-olds reside: living at home with parents, dependent on them for income (unless you’re an industrious person and get a job, which I’m seeing a lot less of in teens around here lately).  They typically have access to a computer (sometimes their own, sometimes shared), and can invest a decent amount of time into a MMO on the whole.

This audience is generally less impressed with complexity and depth, and more on graphics, visuals and the coolness factor.   We’ve seen a huge uptick in developers trying to capture this market with kid- and family-friendly titles like Wizard101, Free Realms, FusionFall and pretty much every Facebook app on the planet.

The Hardcore Audience

This audience can range in age from 14 to well into the 30’s and above, as long as they have decent disposable income and copious amounts of free time.  The combination of those two factors create the spawning ground for a hardcore gamer who is able to put in more time into a MMO than any other market.  Here’s where a bulk of the raiders and vanguard players reside.

These gamers are content-devourers, chewing up whatever devs can make faster than it’s being made.  They’re pretty loyal to one title (where all of their time is poured in to becoming the best of the best), although some have so much free time that they can spread the love out between multiple games and excel in all of them.

The Grownup Casual Audience

This is the next destination for gamers who take on added interests and responsibilities in life — demanding jobs, marriage, kids, other hobbies — and yet who still love MMOs and play them fairly regularly.  They just can’t do so with the time and intensity of the first two audiences.  While they appreciate the complexity of more advanced games, they demand that those titles make allowances for the fac that not everyone can game 40 hours a week, or in 8 hour blocks of time.

These gamers value their limited time, and want to spend whatever time they’re logged in doing something fun and productive.  They might or might not reach the level cap, they might or might not raid, but it’s no longer the most important aspect of their MMO gameplay.  They value the social aspect more, and might be more prone to trying out different games without feeling as if they’re falling behind the pack.

Stereotypes: Love ‘Em!

Okay, those are all over-generalizations that have loosely-defined borders that overlap and spill into each other.  You might instantly want to rebut and tell me how you’re a combination of two or all three audiences, or how I forgot whatever, but putting you into a category wasn’t the point here.  The point is that developers see these three audiences as potential subscribers who all have different amounts of play time, money and interests.  They either craft these games specifically for one audience, or work extra hard to provide a little something for everyone.

Wizard101 is a terrific example of a game specifically made and marketed for the youth audience, but it then experienced a great cross-audience appeal with adults as well — and took advantage of that with their family subscription pricing.  Free Realms is a bit of the opposite — they wanted to capture the entire family market, young and old, but its focus on minigames and overly simplified MMO-ness has turned off a lot of adults I’ve talked to (although they’re certainly not hurting for players/subscribers, no sirree).

The paradigm for MMO audiences isn’t just hardcores vs. casuals, it’s hardcores, casuals, adults, youth, simple and complex.  People don’t fit neatly into a certain-sized hole, and while in the past MMORPG choices were so few that everyone either had to adapt to that style or simply not play, nowadays there’s literally a game for every level of interest, playtime, complexity and style.  Some of the newer MMOs deliberately cater to a more specific niche, refusing to generalize, while others see how successful MMOs are that offer a bit of something for everyone and do away with specialization.

I don’t think it’

Posted in World of Warcraft

Bargain Bin Posts Week: What If World of Warcraft was Delayed Until Late 2005?

I never did get this speculation column off the ground, but I’ve chewed on this particular topic quite a bit over the years.  What if Guild Wars and EQ2 didn’t have to compete with WoW in 2004, but had more time to establish themselves — not that they did poorly in the first place?  What if the industry didn’t have to react to WoW for another year — what games might have come out in that time period, and what older systems might have seen continued life?

Today I’m kicking off a new, somewhat irregular column here at Bio Break entitled “What If?”  In it, I’ll be engaging in speculation of the highest order to conjecture how MMO history might be different if something went a different way.  Consider it alternate gaming history, if you will.  It’s just for fun anyway.

So today’s What If? is one I’ve really wondered: What if World of Warcraft didn’t launch in 2004, but instead was delayed until late 2005?

It’s not terribly hard to imagine how and why this may have occurred.  After all, Blizzard was and is the king of “when it’s done” releases, and the development for WoW took years and years.  After spending $60 million on the project, they may have gotten jitters at some point in 2004, worried that they were lacking suitable end game content, and a bit jittery at the upcoming release of EverQuest 2.  So, after a long and heated board meeting, the powers that be at Blizzard decide to delay for one more year, to add more of that distinctive Blizzard polish and work on adding more end game locales and dungeons.

Posted in General

Bargain Bin Posts Week: Playing Against The System

I actually liked this article a lot when I rediscovered it.  Basically, I was taken in with this Cracked post that painted MMO systems in a bad — but pretty true — light, and formulated a strategy as to not be taken in by the “unfun” aspects of MMO addiction.

It’s no secret that, above and beyond other video games, MMOs are specifically designed to get you hooked and addicted to their games.  This article over at is both enlightening and disturbing as to how it happens, and even for those of us who have legitimately good reasons to enjoy MMOs should take a pause after reading this to reevaluate what we’re doing in the game and why.

Addiction aside, I agree with their assessment that the very definition of insanity is doing something you hate over and over again expecting different results (in this case, that it’ll suddenly start being “fun” once more).  We all-too-often get sucked into the systems of these games without realizing just how they’re manipulating us, and there grows the danger of doing things that aren’t fun but deluding yourself that either it is fun (and you’re just not seeing it) or that by doing that task, it’ll somehow lead you to fun things in the future.

I wrote an article a while back on how it becomes more and more difficult for veteran MMO players to enjoy their pastime and new games because they’ve long since started to see through the system and lost the joy in playing.  I guess I want to present a counterpart to that article saying that sometimes it’s necessary for us to at least understand the system how how these games pull us in and keep us playing, so that we can take a stand against the unfun aspects and free ourselves to enjoying these titles once more.

Step One: Realize How These Games Work

The above article to Cracked is as succinct as any to opening up the basic skeleton of how MMOs work and why they’re addictive, and no matter how much “meat” you may wrap around it, it’s still the same thing.

Step Two: Give Yourself Permission To Skip “Chores”

You don’t HAVE to do anything in a game.  I repeat, you don’t HAVE to do anything in a game.  Part of the joy of MMOs is that, by and large, you have the freedom to set your own goals and go about attaining them in your own way.  Sure, the game tries to direct you and nudge you in a direction (and sometimes hem you in), but if the reward of a task isn’t worth the dull effort, or if you feel like your activities are merely a chore, then just drop it.  Do something else.

Step Three: Re-Align Your Gaming Worldview From The Destination To The Journey

Here’s the truth behind MMORPGs: You will never, ever “win” the game.  You may master large chunks of it, you may consider yourself lord and master over the virtual universe, but there’s no end credit screen, no final denouement, no final stopping point except that of your own making.  The “end game” is a misnomer, because it’s not an “end” of any sort, except the cessation of leveling.  So I’d recommend getting out of your head the idea that you have to fervently work toward a great destination that, in reality, does not exist.

While some MMO players claim to love the end game and raiding and everything at the max level, I think if they’re truly honest with themselves, they’ll have to admit that the first time leveling up a characters through new zones and new content was the most fun they had in the game.

Step Four: Introduce Variety To Your Diet

There’s a lot to be said for sticking with one MMO — you can level cap characters, establish yourself in a guild, build relationships, and see quite a bit.  But sooner or later burnout will happen, and there won’t be anything new under the sun — unless you spread your gaming love around some.  Even when I have a main MMO, I try to spend an evening or two a week in a different game entirelly, just to add variety to my diet.

Step Five: Take Breaks

You don’t have to play all the time.  In fact, if you feel compelled to play and simply cannot take a break, then you have a serious problem and need to get help.  For the rest of us, it’s a good test of will and self-control to step back from gaming every so often, and just do something else.  I’ve gotten burned out on MMOs too many times, and now I will gladly put one down for a while — a week, a month, several months — until that feeling goes away and the excitement returns.  I think it’s quite healthy to not focus all of your spare leisure time on just one activity anyway, no matter what that might be.