Category Archives: Game Industry

Today in P2W: Gamers are getting older and that’s okay!

Today I came across this passionately one-sided opinion piece over at Massively OP which makes a somewhat poor case against the ever-rising pay-to-win model for videogames (yeah, am still reading about MMOs and stuff!). I admit it was a disagreement between Isarii and Scree on twitter that made me aware of its existence, so like every curious MMO blogger I was drawn to the drama – and there is always drama when players discuss pay to win.

Now before I address the Massively article, I’ll say this: I am personally not a fan of P2W games. I don’t play any and they tend not to interest me in the slightest. I gave Candy Crush 15 minutes of my life once, out of obscene curiosity and recoiled in disgust after the first of many enforced time locks popped up. That being said, I am not afraid of P2W games either; while their market share may be growing, I don’t believe them to be an imminent threat to more traditional games or gamers since they do not cater to that target audience. We all know that gaming as a whole is getting bigger and the really significant growth of the last few years belongs to social or “casual” as well as mobile gaming. – Geeky and niche MMO gaming? Not so much. Still, we have little to complain about compared to our humble beginnings. So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t fear P2W games any more than I fear that WoW has destroyed the MMO genre when really, WoW created its own market and if anything, helped other MMOs along (midterm copycat fails or not).

Of course one can take a moral approach and try analyze how (un-)ethical P2W models are. There may be merit in that discussion, although personally I am not prepared to have it (and my liberal stance on f2p is hardly news). Too often does it come down to players defending what they know versus what is new and still unfamiliar ground. Or worse, everyone starts sounding like a wanna-be psychologist and umm gaming addiction and save the children. There are some shades of grey, may-be, but essentially all videogame ventures and business models are looking to make the most money in the most effective way possible, triggers included. There have always been players at the shorter end of the stick of whatever business model. How exactly is this such a great “truth” we never heard of (in reference to the Massively article)? So while I understand some critics’ concerns and where they come from, I tend to agree with Scree on this one. The times they are a’changing and maybe we need to keep an open mind and try sound less like our at least proverbial grandparents.

olddaysbla

We’re getting older, oh noes!

My immediate reaction to the Massively piece was, passionate rant or not, that it’s incredibly condescending towards anyone within that “older gamer group with disposable income” who dares to play games differently and enjoy them differently. Jef Reheard even goes as far as saying that P2W players don’t actually play the games – no, they “pay their way through instead of playing it through”. This is also clearly not fun! That makes you wonder why the heck all these weirdos keep paying money for something that surely is objectively horrible but wait, there’s the answer to that as well: they are lab rats that act out of compulsion rather than umm, the righteous and sound enjoyment of the non-P2W advocate. Yep…that really is the gist of the article, I’m afraid. You got some jolly “no real gamersss”-disdain, mixed with the old “not fun”-trap and some pseudo-psychology spice to top it off and make this one unsavory cocktail to drink.

It’s no longer about the fun or the escapism of gaming; it’s about capturing a bite-sized piece of those bygone days when they had time to play, and of course it’s also about satisfying those psychological skinner box urges[…]

I snorted. And then I self-cringed too because I’ve had my share of “why achievements and instant gratification are destroying my MMO”-rants and malcontent on this here blog. I still hold to the journey is the reward (for_me). However in hindsight, and also really whilst writing, it’s apparent that dramatic rants were dramatic. I think us MMO explorer types can live alongside the achievers or killers just fine for the most part, heck some of us even like one another despite our different playstyles (<3)! And none of us have gone out of business.

But back to P2W: as a general rule, all panicky reasoning is bad reasoning. And sure, you might find P2W cheap or cheaty and that’s alright, but obviously there are many ways to find pleasure in games. I’ve played MMOs in the past just to dress up my characters and yes, buy exclusive clothes from an ingame store. Likewise, P2W-players do very much also play the games they invest in, duh – it’s not like they’re just paying money and then never spend any time on actual game play. They just play differently. Maybe they want to skip stuff they don’t consider fun (like grinding!), maybe their sessions are shorter. Either way, it seems reasonable there should be a market for such a customer. It also seems contradictory (and patronizing but let’s forget that) to say the model is dangerous for the weak of mind and spirit and then make a point out of how it’s a more mature and financially stable target audience that sinks money into P2W games like World of Tanks and ArchAge?

And gamers are OK with P2W in large part because they’re getting older and they’ve outgrown gaming. They have mortgages, multiple jobs, kids, and a dozen other excuses for circumventing game mechanics with real money.

Ah pardon moi! I did not realize gamers needed “legit excuses” for the way they play games at all. As far as I am concerned, an aging player base with more disposable incomes and diverse tastes in gaming is brilliant news for the videogame industry. We are entering uncharted waters still with the first generations of videogamers advancing through their middle age; this process is far from over. Games, genres, markets, business models: they are far from being fully explored or formed or finished. I’m not sorry for growing older or changing my spending ways – what a silly argument to even have.

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Many changes, handle it!

I’ll make it a simple summary: whatever rants declare (good old) gaming is dying or getting worse or going under for reason “XY” are wrought with fallacies. Cathartic at times maybe or endearing in their zeal, still wrong. Don’t trust them, don’t worry about it. The only truth is change. Games change. Audiences change. It all changes constantly. Sometimes you’ll like it better, sometimes you’ll like it worse. Most likely, it just means we’re getting more games and different games and more diverse, specialized markets and business models. We’ll see things come and go, over and over because such is the paradox of time (green is the new green!). And some games you really should avoid, ideally without preaching to others (too much).

Yesterday a still studying co-worker of mine showed me an interview he did with a 60-year old pharmacist who happens to train apprentices. The topic was “today’s youth” and communication, or something. It was basically an old fart talking about how young people cannot concentrate anymore, constantly use their mobile phones for wasteful activities and other weird things the old man (old because of his ways) clearly did not come close to grasp. He had zero understanding of this new generation he was supposed to teach, in fact he had no interest to learn about their world at all. It was a most tedious read for me, also because I have worked with young people and count myself among the digital age children. I fucking love the internet and over-sharing on twitter.

That’s why I am somewhat radically over the ever-fearful, judgmental whinging of fading generations, in all walks of life. I hope one day I’ll be a better old person (with a cool hat). There is a new world born every day and I am ready for the next adventure.

(…and I’ll still tag this post under ‘rants’ because :IRONY:)

On Rock Paper Shotgun and “that” Molyneux Interview

Over valentine’s weekend, the gamesphere was busy dissecting and criticizing what went down over at RPS recently when John Walker interviewed Peter Molyneux on the whole Godus debacle (for details check Aywren’s article) among other past failings. In the wake of the “ethics in game journalism debates” of last year, I was hoping to read more blogosphere opinions on the matter. Now, I will say this: I am for the most part a fan of Walker’s work at RPS and his often candid and brutally honest writing that hasn’t made him the most popular videogames journalist in the past. I hold neither grudge nor particular awe for Peter Molyneux who seems to be notoriously overselling games ever since the wane of the Populous fame and making petty, snidy remarks about more successful developers like Notch – which is what got me to unfollow him years ago on twitter. He is, as far as my interests are concerned, a somewhat silly figure but I’m not a Godus backer, so I don’t harbor any ill will against him for screwing with my money (also, some of that is a risk you’re taking with KS).

As for the interview itself, at some point I wasn’t sure I could continue because it’s so bloody long and extremely awkward. You can’t possibly not feel some degree of empathy for Molyneux who is starting to disintegrate halfway through, appearing less and less credible and informed about his own projects, until he arrives at the inevitable (sulky) conclusion that maybe he should not be giving press interviews anymore ever. And maybe he shouldn’t – it wouldn’t be the first time a genuinely enthusiastic and creative person isn’t fit for the whole business and marketing aspect of their enterprise. Anyone more PR savvy should have stopped giving an interview after being asked “are you a pathological liar?” and yet he did not, he walked right into it and once more, talked himself into another pickle for one and a half hours. If he’s not in fact pathological as Walker suggested, he is either too narcissistic to understand what’s happening or kindly put, a little out with the fairies.

So yeah, I kinda feel for his romantic optimism but I don’t feel sorry for Peter Molyneux – a man with lots of resources at his hands who doesn’t understand why “I really believed with all my heart this would be successful” (half of his defense paraphrased) doesn’t quite appease his crowdfunded investors. There needs to be a degree of transparency and accountability when you operate in the field of selling promises. I’d rather not imagine him working in investment banking.

And no doubt, John Walker delivered the most insistent and unwavering line of questioning in a developer interview I have ever read. He conducted the interview at eye level, emancipated from the type of crippled “fan interviews” we get to read all the time by grateful enthusiasts. As a professional, he was adamant to get his points addressed without much wiggle room. The opening question was an aggressive and ironical double bind because strictly speaking, if you’re not in fact a pathological liar, “yes I am” would be the best way to prove you are not. Given that this wasn’t a cross-examination of a witness in court, Walker came across as accusatory but hardly malicious. There are two sides to this debate and generally speaking as a consumer, I would want my advocates to be as thorough and unceremonious as John Walker. Accusations of him “kicking a puppy” in this interview are frankly ridiculous and not very respectful towards Peter Molyneux, who is not a victim.

Gamers need to check their softened up standards when it comes to the “heroes” of their hobby; do you want videogame journalists to seek accountability or stop and smile (as so many do) whenever it gets uncomfortable? In the games industry especially, the power balance between producer and consumer is still askew. Opinions welcome.

At Daybreak you shall know their True Colors

It took no more than 10 days for Columbus Nova, new owners of the late SOE, to announce their first layoffs at Daybreak consisting of former MMO staff members from Austin and San Diego studios, including figureheads such as director of development Dave Georgeson, lore expert Steve Danuser or CM Linda “Brasse” Carlson.

I am perplexed. There go knowledge authorities and community figures that have steered the hype train for this next generation of Everquest games and especially Landmark, for months and months. And sure, it takes many excellent people to develop MMOs but let’s not kid ourselves – when you remove the lead singer, drummer and lead guitarist of a band your fans have come to love and follow, you are basically leaving that audience with a corpse. And you don’t care.

If there was any trust left in me when I wrote about my EQN misgivings yesterday, it has been shattered with the layoffs of Dave G. and team, people who tirelessly engaged with the community on the forums and signalboosted Landmark builds on twitter ever since alpha. They all deserved so much better than this.

This is another dark day for MMO players. Anyone who believes this could be a potentially positive thing for Landmark and EQN’s development (because the guys calling the shots behind Daybreak have all these “awesome and fresh MMO ideas”?) will sadly come to regret it, I fear. Nobody who has earnest plans to continue a project and legacy like Everquest and gives a damn about the community would just lay off the know-how and trust owners of the franchise. Re-asses strategy? – Okay. Re-organize management level? – Okay. But the fact that core team members are not kept around to consult on further development is all you need to know.

I’ve been an unwilling herald of bad news lately and so be it: I foresee no future in which the EQN that we’ve got presented at SOE Live 2014 will come to completion. Daybreak will cut their losses and either really release EQN status whatever “in the near future” as announced, or this project will be shelved Titan style within another three to six months, maybe to be disemboweled and re-purposed. And by the gods of Norrath, I hope I am wrong!

So, should I still look forward to Everquest Next?

Chatting with comrades on teamspeak the other night, the topic of Everquest Next came up along with “vaporware” and equally unflattering comments. I admit, I really wanted to believe in EQN; SoE sure made their other upcoming MMO(RPG!) sound and look exciting before the launch of Landmark. And really, what is there left in the AAA-segment after EQN? THIS NEEDS TO BE A THING!

EQNlogo

That notorious green picture of many years.

I get how the Everquest veterans feel about this title however, which has become a running gag of sorts ever since the early days. One day, some day sure, there will be a next Everquest! And by now, I am not feeling it anymore either, I certainly don’t expect to see it launch this year and god knows what the whole acquisition by the grey men might mean for the future of these MMOs. All the more surprising therefore that official press statement, referrring to EQN’s more imminent launch:

“Sony Online Entertainment, newly rebranded as Daybreak, is a great addition to our existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company’s game portfolio through multi-platform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up, including the recently launched H1Z1 and the highly anticipated EverQuest Next to be released in the near future” [Jason Epstein, Senior Partner of Columbus Nova]

Now ‘near future’ is a vague enough term but it still suggests things happening in under a year or so. May be that a senior partner of an investment company with a career in venture capital doesn’t have a clue about MMO development speed, may be that it’s just the usual corporate marketing speech to appease the masses. Or maybe they really intend to release EQN on a set date in the near future no matter what, which would add another chapter on catastrophe to the great book of MMO mishaps.

Ever looking for an upside, I wish it was neither of these options; I wish that EQN was farther ahead in development than SoE let on until now and that they’ve just kept things quiet – which makes no sense whatsoever really and is not how they are typically handling their pre-launches.

Call it vaporware, call it getting the Titan vibes, what’s pretty clear to me by now is that holding out for EQN as the next great thing requires a considerable effort in wishful thinking.

Payment Models in MMOs: Yeah, Still Don’t Care

It’s the never-ending topic whenever games have a bad launch, a mid-term low, a one-year crisis: it’s the payment model’s fault. Tobold goes as far as saying it’s the players’ fault when investment companies with chilling grey websites acquire a videogame developer like Sony Online Entertainment. If players aren’t willing to pay for games, well that’s what happens.

When it comes to this particular topic, I am out of fucks to give. Either I am not a very representative MMO player or an awful lot of people have it wrong when it comes to the effect of payment models and the viability of MMOs. The very first podcast discussion I joined was Liores’ Cat Context episode 28, and to this day my opinion is largely the same:

I want to play good games. I am more than happy to pay for good games. I’ve paid subs in WoW, LOTRO, Rift, Wildstar and Final Fantasy, to name a few. I’ve bought into buy-to-play and free-to-play games; free-to-play is just another word for “I’ll buy dresses and mounts instead” and I am vastly disappointed when developers present me with a lackluster shop I can’t spend any money on. That is on them (and happens all the time).

As for pay-to-win, hardly an MMO exists that truly deserves that label. What pay-to-win definitely is not is paying for airdrops in H1Z1 that fall visibly and audibly from the sky, for everyone on the server to see and retrieve, with a minuscule chance for upgrades. H1Z1 airdrops are paid chaos – there is more P2W in buying a silly hat in GW2 that distracts the enemy in WvW.

It cannot be up to players to know which payment model is the right one for a given game and it cannot be up to players to finance MMOs of a particular payment model just to “make a statement”. Heck, players don’t know what they want or what’s needed half of the time. Don’t put that type of impossible responsibility on their shoulders. Want me to pay for your sub? – Make a great game! Want me to pay your box? – Make a great game! Want me to invest in your f2p? –

Make a great game!

Make a game I actually want to play and that doesn’t crash and burn within three months because you’ve epically miscalculated your budget. Thanks!

i-did-the-math-lolcat

lolcat knows her numbers!

Wot I Read: A New Golden Age of Videogaming

“Wot I Read” is a new category on MMO Gypsy because I needed another one! This is where I spotlight smart stuff written elsewhere and that needs to be passed on to my fellow bloggers and readers!

wotiread02

One of the very few online mags I read regularly on all things life, politics and culture, is the Montreal-founded VICE network which among many other things, features outstanding (sometimes highly risky) independent journalistic work in the field of video news reporting and cultural series on their youtube channel. While not dedicated to gaming in a big way, the Tech section of VICE regularly delivers commentary to popular events happening in the world of videogames, as well as musings on meta topics or the industry as a whole.

In the wake of the new year, videogame columnist Mike Diver whom I have come to appreciate greatly for past articles such as “The Importance of Aimlessness in Gaming” (yes!), shared his optimistic view of the industry’s future while putting our rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia under heavy scrutiny:

I’d argue that, right now, video games are at the cusp of a new transition, another positive shift in public perception. And that’s entirely down to the wonderful variety that the industry can offer to its audience—through myriad devices both games-exclusive and multipurpose, a fantastic array of game types and challenge levels to suit all. Gaming today is the healthiest it’s ever been, and if we’re going to assign the banner of “golden age” to any era in gaming history, now might be a good time to pin up the bunting and get a cake baked: 2015 could be amazing. [source: ‘We’re in the New Golden Age of Video Games’ by Mike Diver, VICE]

The entire article is a comprehensive and most earnest appreciation of this fantastic era of tech we live in. Needless to say I agree completely – gaming has never been more advanced and diverse than it is today, more widely accepted, independent or exciting in terms of technical possibilities. If there was ever a “golden age of video games” it is the one we live in right now and the one that is yet to come for future generations.

Games, in 2015, can and will mean many different things. Perhaps by the end of the year we’ll all be playing in blissful isolation, virtual reality headsets supplying all our sensory needs. Or we’ll be down the bar, playing Mario Kart between beers, a big screen showing competitive gaming after the soccer matches. But however we play this year, we should do so with eyes on the future. Mindless celebrations of dead technology will always hamstring the pursuit of new heights of artistry in an industry that, with the huge possibilities afforded by current hardware, is only limited by a lack of imagination. Dream golden dreams, and let’s leave the yellowing systems of our past where they belong: in the loft, beneath the guest bedding. [source: ‘We’re in the New Golden Age of Video Games’ by Mike Diver, VICE]

Other recent articles at VICE you might enjoy:

 

Gaming in 2014, Worrying Trends and Great Expectations!

One more for #listmas before it’s too late! Looking back on a year of gaming, I realize that 2014 was for the most part, a year of small releases for me or rather a year of indie gaming and digging through my steam backlog. There are no blockbuster titles to list, no Bioshock Infinite like last year and no new MMOs I enjoyed save one. If there’s something that has changed in 2014 for me personally, then that MMOs are more and more taking a backseat and not for lack of trying. Generally, there are three industry trends that have me concerned right now and that are expected to continue:

  • This era of the classic MMORPG and AAA-MMOs is over
  • Early Access gaming with a wide range of definitions is here to stay
  • Console exclusivity is back with a vengeance

While online coop and multi-player games are thriving at least, it is especially that third trend which is both surprising given the state of console gaming only two years ago and annoying in an age of digital gaming and connectivity. If you’re browsing 2015 previews on any major gaming site right now, you will find a large amount of releases exclusive to either XBOX One or PS4, not to mention the usual Nintendo IPs (which have always been insular). Heck, even franchises that were born on PC, such as Tomb Raider, are going console exclusive in 2015.

There was a window early into the turn of the millennium, when the rise of online gaming seemed to finally overcome the boundaries of systems; multi-platform titles were all the rage and had the gaming community united. Now, the future bodes ill for multi-platforming and anyone sticking to just PC. Certainly anyone with a smaller budget. Meh?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The stunning vistas of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

My “GOTYs” of 2014

I am putting “GOTY” in quotation marks because I don’t really have one best game of the year – much rather, these are the games I had most fun with in 2014 and that I poured the most hours into, in no specific order (and not necessarily 2014 releases either):

  • Wildstar; My MMO of the year for what its worth!
  • Warlords of Draenor; A pleasant surprise and fuzzy feels.
  • The Wolf Among Us; A must-play for any Fables and Telltale fans.
  • Papers, Please; You may call yourself queen of multi-tasking afterwards.
  • Cook, Serve, Delicious; I am wildly proud of my five star restaurant!
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter; A dark horse, original and very sad.
  • Child of Light; A beautiful, poetic, otherworldly journey despite Uplay.
  • Rayman Legends; The greatest classic J&R/platformer I have played since the 90ies.
  • Don’t Starve Together; Already lots of fun in coop despite being beta.
  • 7 Days to Die; A solid building and survival game (with zombies!), alpha.

I could also list some disappointments of the year, such as ESO or Destiny, but let’s not dwell on low lights and move straight to great expectations for 2015 – of which there are many!

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Fun and games in Don’t Starve Together

My Most Anticipated Games of 2015

I cannot recall the last time I looked forward to new releases as much before a new year! The line-ups for 2015 are packed and fingers crossed, we got an awesome year of new games ahead of us for every preference. Definitely on my radar in 2015 (mostly available on PC):

  1. The Witcher 3; NO WORDS! I am taking holidays for this one!
  2. The Division
  3. No Man’s Sky (eventually on PC)
  4. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  5. Black Desert
  6. Everquest Next(?)
  7. The Long Dark
  8. Evolve
  9. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)
  10. Minecraft Storymode
  11. Overwatch
  12. [Insert too many small indie/KS gems to name here]

With two MMOs still among my picks, I realize that I have never branched out as much in terms of genre as I do nowadays. I enjoy coop titles a great deal no matter the setting and look forward to more online multi-player in the future. This last quarter of 2014 has also re-lit my love for survival and building games, so along with classic exploration mode, I hope there will be some surprises on that front in 2015!

Not a bad way to start a new year! What are your most awaited games of 2015?
Oh and happy New Year, everybody!

The Year of Un-Deception: A 2014 Pre-Recap

As the articles on “2014 – the worst year for videogames” are piling up (gotta love sensationalist headlines), I am contemplating my personal year of gaming. I usually start preparing my best games of the year-post around this time, as well as a round-up of the greatest videogame soundtracks. I have no plans to deviate from this course at present and when it comes to the actual games at least, my 2014 really wasn’t half as bad as apparently some people’s. But more on that another time.

Of course it’s gamergate that has marked 2014 as a black year for gaming and on a more personal note, it has impacted on bloggers, podcasters and people I call friends from this here MMO blogosphere. This is something I eye with much concern because if there’s something that gaming needs more of, it’s the type of diverse and welcoming community that has been established within the micro-cosmos of my blogroll. I am down when my friends are down and especially when one of them is taking their leave. However on a very personal and direct level, I am still evaluating my own feelings in regards to how gamergate has affected me. And it’s almost chilling to admit that I don’t feel particularly anything over all the ugliness that has come to light since August 2014. It’s too familiar – so unlike this tiny blogging niche that I inhabit and which is special in so many ways.

Is this really the darkest year for gaming or is it not much rather the year where some rotten dams broke and a lot of taboos were finally (and in some places aggressively) challenged and put on the spot? Did parts of the gaming community get toxic all of a sudden or were they not much rather always a hostile place for anyone not bowing to the established, unspoken norm? What gamergate stands for is that greater societal issues which are very much alive in gaming too, have finally been given a prominent voice and are receiving mainstream attention (time they caught up). That is threatening and it’s only when a status quo is truly challenged when things get ugly. But this also means that things are finally in motion.

While speakers don’t realize it anymore in everyday language, the German word for “disappointed” has a rather intriguing, literal meaning: it’s to be “un-deceived”. If we feel disappointment, it is generally because we were let down on our expectations – our hopes, dreams, illusions maybe. In any case, there was a deception of some kind involved and quite often it’s a self-created one as much as the other way around. [source]

We keep reading about or preaching how change hurts but when we find ourselves in the middle, we can’t stand the heat. Societal change of any magnitude is tough and no eye will be left dry – no, not the advocate’s either. Yet, gamergate and all the disappointment and pain it has caused is preferable to illusions we may have allowed ourselves to live in and which lulled us in treacherous passivity. There is nothing worse than a false sense of security while the years go by with nothing truly improving.

So, this year we’ve established that gaming and gamers aren’t a better society than any other – tadaa? What is there to be had other than working with and from within our very own, tiny and handpicked communities anyway?

It always gets worse before it gets better

International media have recently exploded over police violence in the US against black citizens. It’s easy to get involved and upset over cases like Eric Garner’s because for once, they are getting attention and are being widely reported on. That doesn’t change the fact that this reality has been many people’s reality always – or that black men are disproportionally more often ending up in jail or getting killed resisting an arrest compared to white men, on any given day. This isn’t news, yet right now everyone is up in arms about it. The fact that there’s been demos and in some places not-so peaceful riots, well…you don’t get to choose the face of change. If riots seem ugly to you, think of the ugly reality some people deal with every day of their lives that drives them to such extreme and dangerous (for them as well) measures. I don’t condone violence but it’s hypocritical to shake your head over Ferguson when you probably never even knew about the place beforehand and about everything that pushed so many marginalized people to a breaking point. Condemning riots is the tone argument of the privileged. It is also a tool of maintaining the establishment when ironically, violence has so many way more harmful and insidious faces.

"Whatever you do, don't swear."

Whatever you do, don’t swear.

Social change isn’t about making you feel comfortable, it’s about changing things. This brings me back to gamergate and all the ways it’s been uncomfortable but also, all the ways it heralds progress if we manage to perceive it that way. I’ve said it on a related CMP podcast before, the fact that so many people have started to talk about gaming culture or in support of women in gaming this year, is bewildering in a fantastical way. And yes, it also brings the most toxic of our non-community to the table but they have always been there, driving individuals out of this hobby. Did we believe they would welcome more and more diverse forces claiming games for themselves with open arms?
Thankfully, gamegate has brought new allies to the table too and like Liore started vetting her twitter community more closely, mine has not just seen people removed over gamergate but many join as well. Things have been moving and becoming clearer.

On an recount of my gaming background on Gameskinny a while ago, I talked about how I was driven out of a male-dominated gaming forum I had been active in for a decade. The type of treatment and in some cases harassment (not detailed in the article) I’ve received over the years cannot be compared to what some female developers and journalists targeted by the 4chan gamergate crowd went through, but there are all too familiar parallels. I know perfectly well how it feels not to be accepted as a legit member of a community you are contributing to because of your gender. I know how it feels to be scared because the usual rules of online life versus offline don’t apply in your case. This has been my reality and many other female gamers’ always, just as it’s been the reality of women professionally involved in the games industry. It’s just that nobody ever talked (much) about it and the topic certainly didn’t make it into the Colbert Report.

Only when I discovered this small community of MMO bloggers I barely dare call myself a part of, for fear of finding this fragile butterfly shatter too, did I realize there is still a place for people like me – women like me, gamers like me.

You gave me hope and hope was a change. Now change gives me hope. So no, for me personally 2014 is far from the worst year in gaming; a tough year for sure but also a year of more discussion, critical debate and alliances than ever before. And if the “community” has gotten more polarized over it in the long run, that too is part of the process that leads to inevitable change. I live in a country whose relatively consensual and pragmatic way of handling a rare form of representative democracy is in fact not grounded in consensus but on polarities so far removed and so established, that they cannot deal with each other in any other way but with compromise. If radicalization is how it’s gonna be, best get it over with.

I believe in inevitable, bumpy progress. Most of all, I hope to see everyone who is, with an open heart and mind contributing to gaming culture, back in 2015! To my fellow bloggers, podcasters, streamers, commenters and twitterers: your voice matters, more than ever. The only way this 2014 could be the worst year in gaming is if niche communities like ours went quieter and lost faith in their power to reach kindred spirits and change the face of gaming for somebody out there. Somebody like me.

A good Friday to all of you – the un-deceived who are struggling, the un-altered set to alter and all those who will find their strength renewed. Thank you for being my company.

Returning to WoW: Everything is the same, everything is different

It is a mixed bag of feelings going back to an MMO you convinced yourself never to return to for lack of better judgement. An MMO you once called home and then were absent from for three years, maybe looking for closure. When I played WoW between 2004 and 2010, I did like so many of us in our mid-twenties, with passion and zeal and an exclusive all-or-nothing attitude. All or nothing, that also means quitting when you feel things ain’t going your way any longer.

Warlords of Draenor is nothing I had planned on; that too was a mixed bag of spontaneous curiosity, lack of content in new MMOs like Wildstar and winter is coming. And I made it very clear to myself: This time around, it will be about me taking my time re-discovering Azeroth in peace. I will sub for one month and find out if I still like this, no pressure. I will enjoy running around incognito after all this time, minding my own business.

Or something.

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Where do I go from here?

Everything is the same
WoD was off to a rocky start with DDoS attacks and massive server queues (how very vanilla!) making it impossible for many players to log in during the first week. After I spent launch day re-installing the game, it took another day before I managed briefly to log in for the first time in three years, finding my character standing in front of the Dark Portal, lagging horribly. After ten seconds of being unable to move like this, I got my first whisper from a very old guild mate from vanilla WoW: “SYL!”.

I disconnected right away. My game wasn’t stable and I really didn’t expect to be discovered so early into my return. But this is how it’s always been on my server – those who have been on Stormrage since 2004, the early guilds and raiders, they remember each other. And so many have come back for Draenor, it is bewildering. My friendlist shows names online I had never expected to read again. Already I find myself guilded once more in the very same raidguild I helped build in vanilla WoW, with almost its entire core and founding team back. A decade later it’s as if no time had passed at all. Sure, everyone’s gotten a bit older, some are married now and some have kids or better jobs. Everyone definitely agrees they won’t be raiding ever again but there’s much else to be enjoyed nowadays.

The player base has aged and so have Blizzard with them. Yet, on the surface everything about WoW feels and looks exactly as before. I spent my first week in Draenor getting used to and then charmed by the beauty of its dated graphics (especially in the old world) and cringing over its messy, gargantuan UI that has been so aptly compared to the old “Weasley’s house” in a conversation between Rowanblaze and Belghast. After I discovered void storage in combination with transmogging, I wasted another day on costumes until I finally felt prepared to see the world, which is why I ran straight into Elwynn Forest, love of my life. To my delight, it was not deserted and not any of the old zones I went to visit from there were either – Duskwood, Redridge, Burning Steppes, everywhere I went I saw players. After 10 years, there is still life in these old zones, I have no idea how that works.

As is tradition, I went to pay Ragnaros and Illidan my respects and announced my coming. They still dropped hunter loot mostly, so nothing has changed in that respect either. Even on the auction house, the same items that used to be expensive in vanilla are still on top of the list today (who would buy a Burning Brightwood Staff today is beyond me but I still want that blasted Greenwing Macaw!). So far, so familiar.

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Draenor is beautiful.

Everything is different
In their mushy Looking for Group documentary from this Blizzcon 2014, which has played no small part in bringing more WoW veterans back to Draenor, Chris Metzen talks about how WoW really has always been about two entities – the world and the player, and he couldn’t be more correct. The successes of this MMO are as much thanks to developers trusting their instincts as to a very passionate and creative player base that has an undying love for Azeroth. This huge and rich canvas of a world with its plethora of maps and music has been such a welcoming and ever more accessible home to players of every color and creed for years.

All the while, Blizzard have continued to re-invent themselves and I believe this is the secret of WoW’s long lasting success. With every expansion, they pushed further to offer something new to more people without dismissing the hard core entirely. Comparing WoD today to when I left three years ago, I can confirm that WoW is a changed game in so many ways, trying to keep up with increased standards, never daring to rest on its laurels. This is apparent in today’s casual and solo-friendly approach to grouping, dungeons and raids for one thing, with flexraids and bronze, silver and gold heroics. It’s the democratic spread of loot and gear models, combined with all the tier look-alikes available. It’s adding small stuff like treasure hunting similar (but more involved) to Rift, jumping puzzles like in GW2, pet battles à la Pokémon and a pseudo-housing system with private nodes, the way Wildstar has them (only in WoW, the Garrison is actually a lot more useful). The talent system has been simplified to match modern MMOs with more minimal action bars and while quests and loot aren’t FFA, important quest mobs are shared nowadays.

All of these changes and additions make WoW not just one of the most approachable MMOs today but the richest in terms of content diversity. Draenor is the pinnacle of that philosophy: jump in right away as a level 90 character, learn basic skills and talents from scratch by playing through the intro scenario (which for once ain’t in a cave!). Get some money and bags to start with and oh, we also boosted your professions so you can join for all these new quests! As for the Garrison, it might be the first example of useful ‘player housing’ with meaningful choices in over a decade.

The genius of Blizzard
In a competitive industry as this, Blizzard’s achievements are really twofold:

  1. Making a niche genre more accessible and creating their own faithful player base in the process.
  2. Continuously re-inventing themselves rather than resting on the laurels of vanilla WoW.

Some will say this is the mark of smart decision making and market observation over at Blizzard. However and without denying the aforementioned, another more simple answer also lies in the Looking for Group documentary where an aging core of lead designers and developers is still creating for a game “they themselves would like to play”, more casually now than in their late twenties. More mature too, giving more thoughts to their diverse target audience than before. It’s not just the players in WoW that have grown older.

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And so it’s the greatest irony of all that, while so many MMO developers raced to emulate what was essentially vanilla WoW’s successes, Blizzard themselves moved on and branched out, leaving their past to others. According to the latest news WoW is back to 10 million subscribers, something that is difficult to swallow when new and shiny titles like Wildstar are struggling to maintain an audience. But who is to compete with a ten-year old AAA-fantasy themed MMO this rich and loaded on diverse content? Comparing other titles to WoW is never fair.

To be continued
As for me and Draenor, two weeks in I admit that I am charmed once more by the world of Warcraft – more patiently this time, more laidback and happy to smell the roses on the way. There is so much to do and learn for me after three years and I am not rushed to get anywhere with anyone. Most of all, this explorer is enjoying the vistas of Draenor (and there are so many beautiful ones nowadays) and a soundtrack so reminiscent of our vanilla days. Yes, for now I believe I do like this again and that is all that matters.

So, why is Wildstar not doing better?

Yesterday, Rohan tried to put a finger on why Wildstar isn’t doing so well only 3 months into launch. Wildstar the great AAA-hope of 2014, the polished, cartoony WoW-esque holy trinity, theme-park MMO that appeared different yet similar enough to accommodate the mainstream. I agree with Rohan that WS has a higher difficulty level than WoW, although the leveling process never struck me as hard or tedious on my Esper. WS is packed with some fun quests and a very linear, well-paced progression to level 50. I’d happily place bets on FFXIV:ARR being grindier than WS, only FFXIV is so fortunate to have a faithful, asia-based community on top of all the western influx since revamp.

However, it’s true that WS dungeons are tough and by the looks, raids even tougher. Even if you’re not after the attunement, bronze runs are a tricky to pug. That said, I don’t think endgame is the problem either – at least WS has an endgame that poses a bit of challenge and brings guilds back to the table. What does GW2 have? No endgame, failing guilds and not even great housing. Somehow, there’s always something to complain about.

My veranda in Wildstar.

I’m not convinced anymore that WS would be faring better if endgame was toned down to accommodate pugging. What I will say is that like ANet before them, Carbine took their good time to fix long-standing player concerns as far as the UI, submenus and other optimization concerns went and they are still far from done in my book. I personally know three potential subbers that still cannot run WS smoothly on their machine and have therefore given up playing. Then there’s players like this one who believe Carbine aren’t doing such a great job in marketing their title to a wider audience – but how big an issue is this, really?

Maybe it’s just that simple: WS isn’t WoW just like none of them are. And we have crossed the notorious 3-month mark. The dwindling player base was to be expected. Today’s MMO market cannot reproduce the successes of WoW, not with titles that are “similar enough” and not with titles that are completely different or exactly the same. Even if you own a niche like EVE does, you need to content yourself with 500k subscriptions. And while some WoW attachment still lingers on and declines only gradually, the rest of the market must cope with grazers and players opting for f2p or b2p over subscriptions.

Wildstar is a fine game. It can’t be helped that it wasn’t released in 2004. We’ll see if mega-servers are a blessing or curse for its core community. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.