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Canada is Finally #1 at something besides Hockey..

I hate apologizing for lack of writing the past couple of weeks, truth be told I am so swamped with work. Which is a good thing in today’s economic climate I suppose.

Also, while reading a lot of other blogs I just haven’t had anything to add to the conversations (besides “yup, I agree”) and I haven’t been inspired by design or game changes to write anything about that either.

So instead, I am going to recopy a little interesting economic piece about Canada. The best part is that this was written in a USA mag. I wrote a little bit about Canada here and the current climate but loved reading the following article (which I will post in full after the break). We Canadians are typically the quieter nation about our accomplishments and this was a happy read.

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iBlog part 3

I apologize for not updating last week. It was partly because I was swamped while away on business, but also because I didn’t have anything of note to write about. One thing for certain is how incredible the drop in views and reads are when you don’t post. Justifiably so.

This is the third post I have written entirely in my iPhone (hence the title) so please excuse any justification and minor typos!

I have been playing a ton of Lego batman lately (wii). I have a 3 year old and we have played through the entire good side if the campaign and are just finishing up the 3rd Arkham Asylum campaign. I am not as much surprised about how much fun he us having (and how capable he is at playing and problem solving) as I am with my own joy with the game.

Truth be told, after he goes to bed I replay levels in free play mode and go for the extra unlocks – some of which can’t be done until certain costume sets and prior levels are completed.

The gameplay is pretty simple and geared towards fun and therein lies the beauty. Smash lots of Lego structures, beat up Lego bad guys, take broken pieces and build new structures to overcome environmental and puzzle roadblocks, and collect new suits for Batman and Robin to overcome other challenges. There us a Lego-bit-money collection scheme along the way that allows you to buy new suits, characters, and vehicles in between levels when back in the Batcave. There is also a metagame of collecting oft difficult special Lego pieces to build even more exclusive items (as mentioned previously, some are impossible to get on the first playthrough)

The simplicity in the graphics negates the slapstick violence (it looks exactly like you are playing with real Lego people) and Telltale games did a brilliant job with using expressions and grunts and groans to convey the storyline without using voice.

I’m not sure if my highly favorable review stems from the game itself or the interaction with my child and the game – it is the most complex of a title we have been able to play together. The nature of the game makes it highly interactive between ourselves (not just both staring at the screen) as a lot of titles require verbal coordination. “dad, you keep the bad guys off of me while I build this” and “dad, put on robin’s magnet suit so you can climb up that wall and build that ladder for me” to my favorite “dad, I’m scared of spiders – um going to hide behind this tree while you beat them up” (as if Batman would ever say that!!) we talk, laugh, solve problems together and work towards the collection and completion aspects of the game. We are having so much fun and play a little everyday together.

I spent 3 hours yesterday building a 600 Lego piece Indiana Jones set in the play room only to learn from my boy that Indy decided to blow up the cave instead of rescuing the idol. I went back into the room, saw the set in shambles and decided it’s time to buy the Indiana Jones Lego game fir the Wii, instead of rebuilding it.

Introduce a New Phase in the Development Cycle

Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats made a generic post that is an ultimate truth with MMOs. We all accept and are resigned to the fact that when an MMO launches it will be incomplete and buggy, and we will have to fight through the launch of a game with Rose Coloured Glasses until such time those things can be fixed. As evident in the responses to his article we as gamers just know it to be the case. While I agree with Zubon completely what way can we get around it besides outright denying it or plain accepting it? Developers already know their product won’t be up to snuff and often use questionable PR and Marketing techniques to avoid calling a spade a spade. Let’s start calling that spade the “Commercial Beta”.

Many MMO’ers plan on waiting for 6 months after a launch to start playing a game. That is the generic benchmark of how much time it will take a game to plow through launch issues, fix major bugs established at launch, and get a few good patches in to make a game. As gamers we are paying for the final beta stage. Developers should acknowledge that, embrace it, give it a title to meter expectations, and reward players who stick through it. The Commercial Beta phase should incentify early adopters to a game with a lower box cost, and lower monthly subscription fee until such time the game is more complete that it warrants full payment.

This could be a big win/win. Developers win because they can acknowledge their product is still in beta phase (albeit Commercial Beta) and it will give a little more lax room for player expectations as it is properly termed. They also will start getting a revenue stream to continue making changes. Players win because they receive a fairer value for their dollar for buying an incomplete product and pay less while changes are done, and also give a hand in shaping a game (that they obviously like, paying to beta and all) to be better positioned in the market to attract and retain a good player base after official launch. It also benefits the players because developers will have to make noteworthy changes and fixes to keep the player base after they go to “Official Launch”.

Once the game “Officially” Launches, box price goes to normal and so do sub fees. Commercial beta players get the benefit of the cheaper initial box, and in a nice world would keep the lower sub fee as well. People who stuck with it get rewarded, and people who want to try something new will finally know when the product is ready.

Of course we do this already, without the price breaks. Using some fun terminology and stretching out the development cycle with player incentives just seems like a smarter way to do it.

Cable Subscription VS MMO Subscription – Death Match!

Often I read people critical of the MMO subscription model on blogs and forums, and inevitably someone will chime in with the counterargument “I pay for my cable every month, and I don’t complain if I don’t watch that much tv”. The similarity of course is that both are a flat monthly fee for unlimited service use. As an analogy, it just doesn’t work, and it bugs me when people use it. The fun part of it all, is that anyone who makes that argument is actually AGAINST a subscription model and is a big fan of RMT transactions.

Here’s why.

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Image Motivation

I was reading an interesting article called “Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially”, which is basically a study by some prominent economists to understand what motivates people to invest time or money in charity work. The basic premise is that people do it to improve their image  – and the hypothesis is that paying someone to do charity work (ie: donating blood for dollars) can actually be a barrier if other people are aware a payment was being made for the gesture. An interesting read, especially if you like economics and how economists think (and always need to understand behavioural economics). The most interesting part of the study for me was that people gave more when they knew people would know the amount donated.

Of course, I have to go take perfectly good economic reasoning and apply it to MMO’s. Shame on me.

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Numbers Can Fool Us

Is WoW really a cultural phenomenon? Many people think so, spurting the “11.5 million subscriber mark“. Where does that number come from? I found it interesting that Blizzard stopped releasing where the subscribers came from in that press release.

When Blizzard announced they hit 10 million, they clearly stated 2M from Europe, 2.5M from North America, and 5.5 Million from Asia. When they announced 11M, they just did the total. Are they hiding the fact that numbers dropped in NA/Europe and picked up in Asia? Who knows. Now, from 10 – 11.5 million let’s extrapolate where that extra million came from, and take the guess it was even accross the board (even though I suspect the numbers are skewed more towards Asia). With the new 11M sub: 6.325M from Asia, 2.875M from NA, and 2.3M from Europe.

Let’s look at North America.

“2.875M” play WoW at top subscriber peaks during 2008.

41 Million Attended a Hockey Game.

Around 20 Million people watch Dancing with the Stars on any given week.

2 Million people eat at McDonald’s everyday in the UK only (I can just imagine what the NA stats are).

Cultural Phenomenon? Hardly. MMO Phenomenon? Absolutely!

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Missed Marketing Opportunity – Take 2

I had a birthday over the weekend. Actually scaled back working a bit to enjoy it, and what was planned as a nice quiet dinner out with my wife, followed by some quality couch time (with our little one spending the night at Nana’s) turned out to be a full blown surprise party. It was a ton of fun and I have no clue how my wife managed to organize the party without me finding out! Thanks to everyone who attended (both in person, and in spirit).

On my birthday my peripheral email address started pumping out some neat emails. I use an old email address for all my forums and MMO access to keep my other email addresses spam free. I am not sure how new of a thing this is, but I was pleasantly surprised to see several “happy birthday” notices from forums I am a member of. Warhammer Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and the 2K9 forums especially – as they are all people I wasn’t always the “nicest” to – both on the forums and here. Also, I don’t support WAR or POTBS through subscriptions, to be clear.

So it was nice to get the form email from them regardless. Birthday’s get a special emotional response from people. I thought about those emails, and immediately concluded how cool it would have been if they had given me a little present to boot. Hence the title of this post. More after the break.

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Italicized!

Sorry for the main page. Not sure how it got that way, will figure it out. If you can’t stand italics, just click on the blog post and it presents as normal. Somehow only my main page is completely italicized.

Must be from patch 3.0.8

Greatest Fantasy Movie Ever

The camera pans from a burning torch, and settles in on a group of weary adventurers. Their swords blood-stained, their armor indented with sword swings from fallen foes. Zoom in on a Dwarven Warrior wiping his blade.

“Okay. In the next room lies Grinto, the evil giant. We must be well prepared as he is a foe we have never conquered. Eat, drink, and take potions in preparations! The Will taste victory on this day!” The battle tested Warrior resheathes his blade and turns to his trusted advisor.

“PopRocks – have you studied this encounter?”

“Why yes, TankMASTER, I have. We will form 5 groups, each with 2 healers, 1 tank (or offtank) and 2 DPS. This is a standard tank and spank fight. But we must hurry! The foes we have just defeated will magically reappear unscathed in less than 5 minutes, and if we are defeated we will have to kill them again!”

“Thank you PopRocks. Is everyone ready?”

“Geez, Legolass – hit the ready check button already!”

“Alright. So it begins.”

The soldiers file into a large circular room, filled with the smell of death. In the center a 40′ giant stands – the evil Grinto! The adventurers split into five groups and position themselves around the giant in a pentagon pattern – seemingly unbeknowest to the beast. The beast watches and waits for the soldiers to be prepared.

“Ug, guyz, youse ready to rumble?”

“Yes, vile beast! Prepare to DIE!”

TankMASTER runs in, shield high, sword poised to strike. Grinto waits until TankMASTER is in striking range, and swings his enormous axe cutting TankMASTER in two. The top half of the Dwarf falls 5 feet away, blood gushing from the entrails, while the bottom half remains standing, somewhat defiant.

Pleased with how the battle has begun, Grinto turns his attention to the others.

“Uh, not so fast big and ugly!” TankMASTER is back in one piece, spitting out a bit of blood. “I won’t go down so  easily!” Grinto turns back to the Dwarf, swings his giant axe again and brings the dwarf to within an inch of his life as the blade nearly severs the head of the Dwarf. Almost instantly, balls of light hit the Dwarf, and his wounds dissappear. Grinto strikes again, and you can hear ribs crush as the axe impales the dwarf, yet almost instantly again, the wounds heal immediately as balls of light fall upon the dwarf. He continues to swing, bringing the Dwarf to the brink of death with each blow, but he is instantly fully healed after each!

Grinto understands. Those who are standing behind him in the cave must be casting some magics to keep the Dwarf alive. Grinto knows he must kill those first, before the Dwarf. He turns his attention to a small group of robed enemies huddled near the back of the cave, and begins to advance.

“Don’t make me plant a seed, grow a beanstalk, and come up there and show you who is boss!” taunts the patched up Dwarf. Enraged, Grinto ignores the healers and forces all of his attention back on the Dwarf, almost killing him with each swing, yet having him instantly revived. Surely if Grinto just keeps swinging at him, eventually he will die. He must! He insulted the legacy of Giants everywhere, and no matter how futile it may seem Grinto will only worry about killing the Dwarf. The Dwarf must die!

I’d buy two tickets to see that movie. Hopefully it is in 3D.

Tesh touches upon the holy Trinity (Tank, DPS, Healing) at his site (in the link above) and how it is time we moved away from it. I won’t paraphrase the excellent article but go give it a read – and the comments afterwards. This is yet another system that has just been carried through from early day MMO, no developer brave enough to break the mold. While completely silly, the short story above illustrates exactly what we do in MMO encounters. I think it is time that MMO mechanics, and the encounters built within them, played out more like a good fantasy movie battle instead of the rediculous scenario we currently get similar to above.

I understand that roles are created so people can find a niche – or class – they enjoy. I do think “healing” as a core MMO mechanic is outright rediculous – the act of making sure you have enough players casting healing spells fast enough to negate massive amounts of damage per swing is just so blatantly UN-fantasy like. Go watch your favourite Fantasy movie battle and count how many backline healers there are. Of course, some people like healing as their way to play MMO’s (My raiding mains in WoW were Resto Druid, and Resto Shaman, so count me among them!) so how can games evolve to play out more like a movie?

It’s simple, really. Have way more misses, parries, blocks and evades – instances where damage doesn’t come easily but when it does it is meaningful. Instead of direct heals, have a slew of in battle buffs (fit much more in line with lore) and have each class able to tank, do damage, or buff respectively that the entire encounter doesn’t hinge on the capability of the Main tank to hold threat effectively. Also tool them that the main tank can die, and the encounter isn’t a complete wipe. After a big battle, armor will need to be repaired (use it as a larger damage buffer) and out of fight “healing” can occur. I just realize how completely silly the mechanic is in comparison to epic battles on the silver screen.

WAR Population Stats

Wow, just WOW! (About WAR though, not WoW.)

Just found this post about Warhammer Online’s faction population balance. The crux of it?

 Average of All North American Servers 

 

 

Active Accounts Per Faction: 49% / 51%
Relative Average Exp. Earning Rate per Time Unit: 50% / 50%
Relative Average RP Earning Rate per Time Unit: 50% / 50%
Average Exp. Per Character: 50% / 50%
Average RP Per Character: 50% / 50%

Monolith

 

Active Accounts Per Faction: 44% / 56%
Relative Average Exp. Earning Rate per Time Unit: 50% / 50%
Relative Average RP Earning Rate per Time Unit: 50% / 50%
Average Exp. Per Character: 51% / 49%
Average RP Per Character: 51% / 49%
 
The servers are perfectly balanced. That is AMAZING. What are the chances?

Free Trials

The good Cap’n John shared his experience about taking a free trial in WoW and it made me think about my own trials and tribulations in the “free” realm. I do them often. Welcome back weekends I boot up old characters, muck around for a few hours. Friends send me buddy keys to try something out and I do the massive download and play a bit. The truth of the matter is not one of these free trials have ever led me to invest. Which leads me to the bigger question – “What is the point?”

In business having someone trial your product is typically a way to introduce, and hook, the consumer. Some do it with free product, some do it with incentive, some to it with scantily clad opposite sex promotion-folk. In modern day MMO land it seems as though free trials are just yet another standard mechanic an MMO “must” have. Give a download and give ten days. Everyone else in the industry is doing it so it must work. Looking at the implementations of free trials in the current market I can’t help but feel I am being giving a lake, a fishing pole, and a hook – but no bait to fish with.

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Non-Epic Fail, Content, and RMT – Oh My!

Last post I talked about having a peek at LOTRO again, the current darling of blognation. I was drawn to give it a shot because of the handy dandy free trial after their new expansion, Mines of Moira. I had no delusions of grandeur of seeing the new content, but rather was curious of the trickle down effect to what changes this game has gone through since it’s release. I was especially excited to try out their new Warden class – reminded me very much of the 300 spartans – shield and spear. I dl’ed the trial, signed up, and off I went.

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LOTRO – Worth a Second Look?

I had purchased the game when first released and played up to level 10ish but was immediately sucked back into WoW with the Burning Crusade expansion (I was a GM of a progression guild at the time. No time for two games!). Going through some old emails I found an old buddy key I had – that was never used, so thinking of firing it up for the 10 day trial and seeing how things are. Intersting thought there, Wow:BC coincided with LOTRO, WoW:WOTLK with WAR, so I am going to suppose that the next WoW expansion will be released some time around the Bioware KOTOR MMO launch. Anyway – getting off topic.

I have been bouncing around blogs not in my regular reading rotation and have read a lot of positive reports about how the game is carrying along. Curious if anyone out there (who reads this) is currently playing, and can recommend a server and some LOTRO tips to improve the (no doubt) 10 day solo experience while the rest of you run around the Mines of Moira. If you don’t mind giving me your in game name, so I can bother you with noobish questions along the way (and have someone to chat with in general, you know, MMO and all that) it would be greatly appreciated.

RMT – Food for Thought

Really, gaming subscriptions are just different ways to ‘eat’.

1) The Frozen Dinner: This sub option is any game that you pay for the box and pay nothing afterwards. The subscription cost is the cost of the box itself. The beauty of the Frozen Dinner is that if you can’t stand to eat another one you can sell it to the guy down the street, or trade it for a different Frozen Dinner flavour. Unfortunately you have to serve yourself.

2) The Buffet: Pay once for all you can eat. You get a set number of food choice items, but you can take as much (or as little) of each that you can fit into your belly. It’s all you can eat! Bad news is, you effectively pay 8x more than the chubby fella who takes 8 plates of food to your 1. I know that hardly seems like fair value, but what are you doing ordering buffet in the first place? Doesn’t the restaurant have a normal menu as well? This menu option is optimal for those who have a lot of time to hang around the restaurant. The more time, the more digestion, the more room for more courses.

3) A la Carte: Order what you want. What really satisfies you. The prices are clearly listed on the menu, so make sure you stay on budget. Eat as little, or as much, as you like. Don’t look at what the person at the table next to you is eating – your personal satisfaction has nothing to do with what he is ordering. Make your own choices and enjoy your meal. If you want, you can just sit around and drink water and eat free pretzels and peanuts – but do that long enough and you will be longing for the steak. That is actually a good thing, because restaurants can’t survive giving away pretzels forever.

All subscriptions are RMT, even the $14.99 a month ones. Why does A la Carte get such a bad rap?

I’m Sure There Is A Gaming Analogy Here Somewhere..

Regarding the current credit crunch, I did some digging and learned some lovely little nuggets about Canada.

Less than 25% of house loans in Canada are securitized (by someone else, other than the banks) meaning over 75% are on the the banks balance sheets, making the banks accountable. The higher risk sub prime mortgages account for right around 5% of the Canadian market (compared to more than 25% of the USA market). Canadian housing prices are forcasted to contract by only 10-15% (whereas the USA has already fallen by 24%, and expected to fully correct in the 35%-40% range).

Canada has the lowest debt relative to its GDP, and the only G7 country to enter into this recession with a budgetary surplus (with “free” health care to boot.)

All of this really points to lenders not shutting their doors to Canadian consumers and businesses, regardless of what is going on in the global market.

While the financial conservatism of Canadians will help us through these global tough times, I can’t help to still be remiss that we will have negative impact to us at all – I mean, we kept our house clean, why should we face the negative consequences of irresponsibility elsewhere?

KOTOR – A New Hope

I have bandied about my reservations on KOTOR MMO if it would be a subscription based platform, and took time to praise how it could be wonderful on the RMT platform, but actually haven’t discussed the game itself. How could I? There isn’t much known, afterall, and I refuse to get into speculation such as the already thousands of posts on official forums, as well as the several fansites already popping up. The speculation phase builds up the unrealistic expectations of the fan base before release, impending dissappointment ensues.

I have wholly stepped away from the MMO space for now, and have been testing different waters. The post release mega-game discount is just too hard to ignore. Bioshock for $20.00, and I just picked up Mass Effect for $30 on Steam. (Steam is now carrying a bunch of EA titles – yay!)

I am now on my third playthrough of Mass Effect, and my experiences have given me hope on what KOTOR MMO could indeed be – of course, keeping my mind in line with my first paragraph – I am just going to list what I like about Mass Effect and how the game design could mold nicely in the MMO sphere. After the break.

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Donde Esta La Cerveza Por Favor

It sounds much prettier than it looks written, with my bastardization of the language.

Taking the wife and child for 5 days to Mexico, leave at 3am to head to the airport. It is exciting as it will be my son’s first plane ride, first caribbean vacation, and first visit to the ocean.

We’ll be back for Christmas but wanted to wish everyone good gaming and a  and happy holidays. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. =)

As Always,

Isey

Working Title : Crap the Sack

So I have a game design idea. It is a basic dice game, a game we discovered on vacation one year in Jamaica. A bunch of very wealthy guys were sitting around a table gambling with each other on it and we quickly became friends because they, and we, all owned Omega watches. Anyway, we took the basic premise of that game and switched it around and it evolved over the past 8 years. It is a blast, and we all sit around laughing our heads off playing it for hours. We play it in bars, around campfires, anywhere, any time. The game defines us. It is officially called “Sh*t the Bed” but I figured I should tone down the title a bit since it would essentially be a family title.

Graphics needed are minimal, although there is a scoring and math system involved. I used to be quite the programmer – I was on my high school programming team and we went to the Nationals with Turing. (I know, reeks of nerd!). I have been out of the game for a long time, and ask you, who read this, what is a good, simple language to pick up for a simple project such as this? Flash? XBL? I shudder at the thought of C++ for such a simple premise, but figured I would put it out to the experts.

Something I always wanted to put into game form and could be a fun entry back into entry level programming.

Outpost Kaloki

As a PC gaming enthusiast, I have decided to spread my wings and try some new things. PC gaming has been made famous not only by the huge budgets and blockbuster titles, but also by little shops/guys in basements who put out some quality (yet often limited) titles. They grab people, make them have a ton of fun, and are a great move away from the $50 titles. I have spent so many years in MMO land, and big budget FPS land, that I nearly forgot the base of which makes PC gaming so special to begin with. A mini-review follows after the break.

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SWKOTORO – On the Defensive?

When I first read the Bioware’s Star Wars MMO based in the KOTOR universe (my apologies for making up yet another acronym for it) was going to be micro-transaction based – I rejoiced. I am still in rejoice mode. Doing the math, I spent about $1000 on WoW, between two accounts, two expansions, sub fees, etc. In fact that is probably higher than that. $1000 is a nice round number though.

For the life of me, I can’t think how I can possibly spend the same amount on a micro-transaction based MMO. Even one in the Star Wars Universe. Unless, of course, $1000 lets me be Darth Vadar.

I mentioned before how playing an MMO’s is much like entering into a marriage – it is a full commitment. If the time sinks don’t get you, the subscription fee does – heck, I am paying for it, better get good value from it! A Micro transaction MMO will allow me to enter into a much more mutually beneficial arrangement – I can date the MMO. Not only that, but if the dates get boring I can go on less dates. If I fall behind my friends in the dating scene, I can pay a little out of pocket to catch up. It really is a fantastic idea – one that will push developers to put out a high quality of product to entice people to play. One that will focus on fun, instead of focusing on sucking as much time out of you as possible to lengthen the almighty sub fee. One that will force you to pay $5 to get a cool outfit. I know that last line just sounded wrong – and of course it all depends on what you will be paying for – and then I had an ancillary thought. What if EA learned from their Warhammer mistake?

More after the break.

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Back from the Dead Zone

Miss me?

I was on a corporate retreat last week, except it was more of a strategy session (retreat sounds so “relaxing”) and little did we know the remote bunker we were hunkered down in had no cell – or email – service. Needless to say it was rediculously stressful. I found an area that gave me those two ‘essential’ services – a five mile drive on top of an old ski hill – and once a day I would fire up there, retrieve all messages and emails, bang off emergency replies as necessary, and go back into hiding. Unfortunately my ‘blog’ didn’t fall into the emergency (or essential) category.

It was a big eye opener on the dependency I have on my devices. I hadn’t been without them for years. A lot of my friends were claiming “how nice it would be” to get that “break”, but really all it did was pile up 400+ emails and 70+ messages that needed to be responded to when I got home. Not nice one bit.

I did get a break from gaming, and find myself even less excited to log into <insert MMO> here, and last night instead of taking a much needed “play games” break I just caught up on work and played little flash games. Non-commital stuff. I realize I enjoy dating my games much more than marrying them. Video game divorces cost a lot less than real ones (or so I hear).

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Blogdundancy

I have been introduced to so many exciting, fun, and new words since I started blogging. Blogosphere. Blognation. Bloggery. Blogkind. On and on. You could probably put the word ‘blog’ in front of any noun, verb, or adjective and create a fun new word. I could see how it would get a little redundant.

I noticed this as I expanded my blogbrary and started reaching out to be more participatory in blogs. I quickly learned the more you put out (reading, commenting) the more you received in return on your own blog. Not that I’m a blogwhore or anything, but a lot of the fun part of blogging is when people read – and make their own comments – on your thoughts. The rest of the fun part is just writing in general.

The not-so-startling trend I notice, after only a few months of blogging, is that already when I read other blogs I am thinking “I wrote about that 2 weeks ago”. Of course my own posts are probably met with a lot of the same with the longer travelled, more established blogs.  This brings me to a few thoughts on blogging – and gaming in general. After the break.

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