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Dragon Age : The Birdcage

Sorry, that was the most sensationalist title I could muster.

Can you spot the gay party member in this picture?

News this week, on the heels of Canada's Pride Week in Toronto, is that Dragon Age: Inquisition will have the first openly gay party member for the series - Dorian. The events aren't even close to being linked, just a happenstance coincidence (no doubt.)

I'm sure some hardcore gamer boys will be upset and it is somehow "in their faces" but I still say good job to Bioware. It takes some courage - not like the real courage it takes for gay people to come out to their friends, families, and communities - but courage nonetheless. Bioware has always been more open about same sex relationships in their games anyway. Time it was brought out of the closet (did they have closets in Dragon Age?)

My take is pretty consistent here when it comes to community. Look around you - do we all look, talk, think or love the same? Of course not. I want that diversity in any community I am a part of mostly because it is reflective of the real word. I support the human rights regardless of how they view themselves or how the world views them. Video games are growing up as both an entertainment and artistic medium and it makes sense to have diversity in our fictional worlds. I know it is offensive to some on "religious" or "moral" grounds, and gamers (in general) get a bad rap for their intolerance towards sexuality (and maturity..) but that is ok - they have the option to not use Dorian and I'm sure Dorian isn't going to spend battles hitting on the protagonist. He'll probably just fight, kill and maim like most other Dragon Age party members, while putting in a genuine effort to save the world from some menacing threat. Only with more style. (I had to say that - I mean, I barely used ANY stereotyping in these 500 words...). Sure, its a single player game so the sense of community isn't the same as say, an MMO, but it will continue the conversation and just maybe it will give an MMO developer the guts to try it next.

I'm curious what style of personality Dorian ends up having and looking forward to DA:3. On the heels of all the gender diversity in Warlords of Draenor discussion and even WildStar lacking strong female character develpment let's see how this conversation unfolds.  The video game industry does such a great job representing women to begin with that I can't possibly see any issues building out a believable and supportable gay character experience. (Do I need to note <mild yet obvious sarcasm> for that last line?)


MMO Loyalty

Loyalty (in MMO gaming terms) comes in several forms from consumer to the game. Here are three gamer type examples - there is a lot of in between, and parts of each, but for the most part most gaming is done in and around the three below examples. I am giving them names so we can continue to talk about them throughout the article.

Greg: This is my game, and I am playing it no matter what

Amanda: This is the game me and my friends play, and we are playing it together

Pat: This is my friends' game and I'm playing it to be with them.

They are ranked in general importance. You could argue Amanda is more valuable than Greg (because of the group of friends involved) but brand evangelists are the most important customer to have. Amanda will leave before Greg does, and Pat already has one foot out the door but is there to spend time with friends.

How does the gaming company treat each of these people? Let's have a look:

1) Exactly

2) The

3) Same

While loyalty (in MMO gaming terms) comes in several forms from consumer to the game itself, why isn't their loyalty and appreciation flowing from game to consumer? "Treat" is a pretty big generality. In game, there may tons of different "features" that attract each player and lots of things in game from raiding, to housing, to quests, PVP, role playing (etc.). These are things for gamers.

Why are they treated the same as customers? They aren't the same. They aren't motivated by the same things. They may share some motivations (enjoy gaming, MMOs, etc.) but let's take a closer look.

Greg, it turns out, is a University student and has a lot of free time. He plays 25+ hours a week, is on a hardcore raid team, and is a very active member of the community in forums and blogs and even has a podcast about the game! He has played for 39 months - since launch! He goes to MMOcon every year.

Amanda is an officer in a serious but fun based guild. She knows a lot about the game and helps recruit and get new people into the guild. She has been with the same guild a long time, and plays with the same people all the time. Gaming is all about the people for Amanda! She plays 15 hours a week.

Pat doesn't love the game but doesn't hate it either. Pat does have lots of gaming friends who all enjoy it, so Pat plays a few hours each week (around 5) to do the aspects Pat loves in the game but mostly to say hi to Pat's friends there.

They are all different. They all have different motivations, use the developer and game resources differently. They all have invested differently into the game and differently into the developer.

Yet, they are treated all the same.

Starbucks, who has some of the best customer service in the world, treats their heavy users differently. They also have one of the top loyalty programs in the world. If you go to Starbucks once a week you get a coffee and a great service experience.  Soon as you hit Gold Level status with Starbucks, you start getting free coffees after X number of visits, and instead of add on charges for syrups and what not, you get those for free too. You always get a free drink on your birthday and because they use purchase data and history they know your favorite drink and send you coupons and offers surrounding the type of experience you have shown to enjoy in the past. They also entice you with new and exciting things to try for a change! All of this is because Starbucks recognizes your contribution to their success as an organization and rewards you for your loyalty to their brand.

Why? Because there are how many coffee places in the world? Brands should be very thankful for consumers making the choice to visit them. It's not the same old marketplace it used to be. It is now about the customer, not the business itself. The business needs the customers more than the customers need the business - because there are so many options in every business.

I had a lot of fun in many subscription games and leaving was typically because hey - something new to try and I'm not getting the same feeling or joy from this game, for this price point. I know for sure I would have stayed longer in games at lower price points and found better justifications for paying and supporting the companies. WoW got 5+ years, two subs out of me - almost $2000 - and none of which funded additional development (had to buy my expansion packs...) and only a fraction of which paid for my bandwidth and resources (never needed CSM help, how much is 10 hours a week of bandwidth cost these days?) - in short, I was a very profitable player for them. I also built and maintained a guild - some of which, you could argue, wouldn't have played or enjoyed the game as much without my personal effort (and that of my guild team!) - point is, when you do the spinoff affect, I helped contribute  thousands of dollars to that game. It was fun, and some of the best gaming I had done (so I don't regret the "cost") but they could have had me longer and made more money off of me if they for once, appreciated the positive contributions I put into their game - both monetary and subsidiary.

Unfortunately MMOs don't look at their customers as individuals, per se. And this is a shame, because they have some of the best data in the world on their customers. Hell, they have the type of data every major company would pay huge dollars for - and they get it for free!

Starbucks, back to that example, would pay a lot of money to know exactly what their customers did in their stores. What seats were always picked first? (And why?) How long did people sit in them? What ELSE were they doing while sitting in their seats? Were they talking to friends? Working on a laptop? Texting?  What behaviors did they do, and most importantly, why? The reason why Starbucks would love this information in the first place, would be to make the experience better. If no one sits in 4 chairs, they would either make the chairs more comfortable, or but something else there to make everyone's experience better. It would give Starbucks the opportunity to improve for not only the bigger picture, but for the exact customer that comes in 4x a week. (there are many examples of this. Imagine if that customer went in 4 days a week, and always sat in the same chair? What if a team member recognized that, and one day when that customer went in, there was a sign on the chair saying "reserved for Kathy". Kathy would feel pretty good about that.)

MMOs are fortunate enough to know exactly what every player is doing at every moment in their game and they should leverage that to provide a more personal and engaging experience for their customers. There are many options in the MMO sphere like in life and what markets are realizing now is that personalization and customization are driving the best brands and most successful consumer markets. MMOs have all the information they need to provide next gen experiences and lead marketplaces in this regard. They just have to sort out how to make that work and how to engage and delight their customers. Not just with in game items and behaviors (although a good start) but also with how customers pay, access, and support (and get support from) the game outside of the game.

And here is a big hint - its not to treat everyone exactly the same.

I know it is challenging because of the scope and nature of number of players versus number of developers, but from my personal experiences in MMO gaming I am not a valued customer - I am just a number on a spreadsheet.

(End note: some community members in WoW have been memorialized for their contributions after death, etc. so kudos for that where it is due. I am talking a more frequent, common level however, to general customers - not just the extraordinary exceptional ones.)


The Sub Fee is the Bane of my MMO Gaming

I paid a lot of sub fee dollars to EQ, DAOC, and WoW, so please, don't get all uppity.

I have spoken about this a lot. I am currently paying WildStar a sub fee. I have been travelling for work, and very busy with home and family. I get it - that makes it "my fault" (somehow).

My highest character is level 10.

I want to support the company financially, but at this rate I am paying $5 an hour. That in itself is entirely reasonable for entertainment (depending on the type) but it just doesn't feel right. It's not equitable. I am subsidizing every other gamer who can make the time to pay their 18 cents an hour. I am just as important as a customer to Carbine, no? I don't mind welfare schemes when it has to do with survival and human decency, but I don't like welfare in my MMOs.

The time/value sub loss rate - people like me who end up changing their minds - would at my best guess be a bigger loss than having tiers of sub fees based on some playtime parameters. For instance, I'd pay $5 a month and be limited to 15 hours, for example, gladly. And if I went over those hours, my renewal rate could go up to $10. And if I went over 30 hours, it could go to $15. And if I went over 30 hours it would then just stay at $15 because that is a heavy user fee and unlimited play.

Look, suddenly, more people are happy.

I have paid insurance for so many years and have never made a claim. It's nice to have that safety though - knowing that if I needed a claim its there. Not the same feeling, paying an insurance premium in an MMO for hours you could use, if you had the time, but that you don't get to bank if you don't. Insurance is good in the real world, but I don't like insurance style premiums in my MMOs.

It's a fun game and I committed to two months - if I don't feel like I am getting the value (price isn't the problem..) then I'll leave and Carbine will get zilch.

Until they go F2P, of course.

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River – High Latency Life

I am shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden passing of one of our community members - Chris "River" Cavelle. Rivs authored High Latency Life and I personally thoroughly enjoyed interacting with him. I read him weekly and participated on his blog (and he here sometimes too.) He had an engaging style of blogging was quite firm in his opinions while being open to learning.

I never met Rivs in person but I still felt connected to him through our shared passion for blogging and the community that surrounds that. My thoughts are with his friends and family now. He is one of those guys that I always said "if I ever end up in his city, I'd invite him out for a beer".

I am sad, and feel like I lost a friend.

I will miss him.


Another Missed Opportunity

I woke up with an email from Arenanet this morning.

I was legitimately intrigued. GW2 is a game I bought, and I played up until level 40 - and burnt out because the solo leveling grind just wasn't fun for me. I loved the aesthetics, and most of the combat (the weapon swap LAS wasn't my thing) but it just didn't stick. When I started doing group content, the zerg like nature was chaotic, guaranteed to succeed, and it felt like my contributions didn't really mean anything. Still, it's nice to hear from them and nice that they are thinking of me. +1 GW2.

Anyway. Let's see what's new in GW2 to drag me back in!

The story journal seems interesting. With my newer playstyle from "hardcore" raider to lore hunter, that could gel. I did enjoy my personal story while levelling and I never understood how it tied into the bigger picture. OK. +2 there.

The Account Wardrobe isn't normally my thing - I'm so used to gear updating so fast in WoW and the transmog being a pain in the ass there.. however, I did hear that GW2 makes it pretty seamless and easy. I may give that a try. +3 GW2! You are winning me back!

Being a blogger and "in the know" (cough cough) I have heard some big mixed reviews here and while MEGA sells a lot of combos, not sure if it works for me. However, I could see how that sounds nice to the uninitiated (Bane voice) but I'm not giving GW2 points for this one. Still a nice +3 total running. Whatever could be next?

Wait. Whaaat? How is WildStar: Out Now! a benefit and a draw for me to come back to GW2? (seriously, it was continual, just cut and paste all of my cuts back together. Not a bar, no separation, right below the Mega Server without an additional space or line. Right at the bottom of "reasons to come back to GW2" is an advertisement for WildStar (which I am already playing, under the SAME EMAIL ADDRESS.) -10 GW2.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - for companies that are built on data and account information, do some actual work. I know it is far easier to send out one mass email but this is a huge missed opportunity. Companies that tend to be successful in this day and age learn to talk with their customers, not at their customers.

Talking about features that may or may not be important to me isn't likely to incent me back. If I am not playing, you have 0% chance for me to buy into your cash shop. So why not try this?

Dear %insertname%

It's been a while since you played GW2! We have been constantly improving our game and we want to know there have been some changes, but also want to know why you left. If you fill out the following, really short survey (we promise!) we'll put %x number of cash shop currency% that will be waiting for you when you log in!

1. Why did you quit GW2?

  • The grind was too much
  • The story was hard to follow
  • I didn't like my character and didn't want to start fresh

2. What would make you come back to GW2?

  • Extra XP to catch up
  • Some cash shop goodies
  • A Costume item!

Thanks for your input - we'll be back to you soon!

Those are just examples but you get the picture. I know that looks complex but hey, now all you have to do is plug in the responses, and send back a follow up email addressing some of their concerns (if they have any) and or some items to help them. This could all be automated as well. 10 XP potions costs you nothing to send to a person not playing. If those 10 XP potions gets them enjoying the game again, and maybe investing in the community (and/or cash shop) isn't that a win?

The best part is, you now have hard data on why people left your game, and/or at least people that aren't worth chasing anymore.



Spammy McSpamertons

Holy bejezzus.

(that PG enough?)

Spent a week working and not playing or blogging, came back to my blog with thousands of spam messages caught by askimet.

Anyone (much smarter than I?) care to explain how the nonesens-ish posts somehow create clickthroughs or traffic?

And how many Michael Kohrs bags need to be spammed anyway?

See, it's not just the important blogs getting spammed to all heck.

(PG again, see that?)

337 more came in in the time it took me to write this.


Guaging Success – WildStar Launch

WildStar head start drops tonight at 3am EST. Best of luck to their team and the players partaking in it. This will be interesting and fun to watch - there are a lot of eyes on WildStar.

This is also the first MMO launch I have been a part of since Warhammer Online (and we all know how that turned out!) I have pretty much played them all but typically wait 60 days - I enjoyed the WS beta that much and see the value in starting from launch day. I am looking to exploring Nexus and the secrets and treasures it has (code words for Kill Ten Rats and FedEx quests..) They have a lot of lore to chew on and I am excited to be a part of the story as it unfolds in all the theme park glory.

I won't be up at 3am to wait in queue but I'll see how it held up bright and early in the morning. For those who haven't seen it, this is a nice feature set video that showcases WS.


At bare minimum, extra writing material for me as I play!  I have relaxed expectations and refuse to hop on the hype train. WildStar wild have no long term measurable impact on World of Warcraft - and that is ok. Back on Warhammer's release I made a really silly prediction they would get 1,000,000 subs in year one (based off of the beta experience - which wasn't replicated once live) and sitting here today I am realizing the expectations should be more fair (not just for WildStar, for all MMO launches.)

Some ideas if we can agree:

  • A base population that is sustainable and profitable.
  • Population growth. (see: EVE Online). It doesn't matter if there are 100,000 users or 1,000,000 users - its a healthy sign if that increases over time. The pace of growth isn't that critical either. Doubling overnight doesn't matter if you are churning.
  • No major change in payment types (F2P conversions, cash shops, etc.)
  • An official forums that is raging with every Nerf left right and centre. A caring population is good, right? =)

The adventure begins! If you are playing, let me know what server. I still haven't decided that yet. A final side note:  I have been listening to the guys at WildStar Nation and they do a great job capturing WildStar with a pretty objective and levelheaded approach. It's a good source of material if you are looking to learn more about the game.

See you on Nexus!



Player Servers

Is SOE trying to be a company for the people suddenly?

The idea of separate server rulesets is not new in MMOs with PVP, RP, PVE and other combinations but they don't go far enough to offer real player choice. While not released (and just being discussed) I am liking the thought that SOE will give playing players a vote on specific rulesets - and they will create those servers to play on.

I still believe in taking it to the next level and allowing MMO players to rent (and pay for) servers with moddable rulesets.

This works well for FPS games and should for MMOs as well.Tesh and I bandied about the thought of it way back in 2008 and he on his blog in 2010.

First Person Shooter server rentals are good and hosts can customize map rotations, community rules, how many players per side (etc.) They are normally rented by clans or guilds and its great - the clan/guild provides the base community and the server populates (or not) based on their choices and base participation. Good servers with fair rules and fun communities tend to be busy. Even "asshole" style teabagfests find solid participation. Why?

Because servers attract different types of people that can play their favorite games the way they want to, and the way it is accepted by the particular community they agreed to join. The premise makes sense. Let people adjust the way they want it. Enough players will flock to what they want to play. Everyone is happy. Publishers get sub fees AND server rental fees, or some sort of combination.

The bullet points from my 2008 post are still valid. I'll rehash them here. They are WoW centric (and a bit snarky at the time written) but really, insert any MMO acronym and it still makes sense.

Keep public servers still, offer this as a secondary market. All private servers are still hosted and controlled by Blizzard and all core mechanics stay the same.

  • At any given time in your WoW career, 95% of the world is unavailable to you anyway. You are either too high of level, or too low, or haven't grinded X random raid boss 100 times to get the gear to go onto the next boss.
  • Could create a persistant world - Guild and individual housing? Why not? You don't need 20,000 plots of land per server. Since it is a smaller and more dedicated playerbase Blizzard could create the tools to impact the world and leave your mark. World events? You wait until you have your players online then fire them off - every player gets to experience it. Think guaranteed Gates of AQ event. How many got to participate in that? NPC's can remember you are the hero (as you would be in this realm) and not just chat tag %t "is a hero of the realm!" until the next person grinds the faction, or turns in the quest.
  • No Chuck Norris - unless you want that. The Chuck Norris type spammers (who stopped fitting on my ignore list 3 years ago) can all migrate to their own private server and spam away, patting each other on the back along the way, without annoying a single person.
  • End to Gold Farmers - Since I have to privately invite you to my server, and flag your account, no more fighting for resource nodes with thousands of bots and illegal farmers. Yes, you still have to go collect the items (preserving the ever so important time sink) but if you have to clear 6 mobs to get to a node, you don't have to worry about jerkoff_001 swooping in and stealing it right as you kill the last one.
  • Characters on private servers can be ported to other private servers (not public). If I have a private server, and decide to close it down, everyone on that server still keeps their characters, items, everything - and can go to a new one. Conversely, if we meet a new friend and want to invite them along into our private little happy world - they don't have to start from scratch if they have already been on a private server, they can port their characters over and play.
  • Wow isn't really an MMO anyway (once you exclude the inflated-broken AH) and is just a group experience. Why not give me the choice on who gets to play within that group experience?

We could add a lot to that list that are smart and fun ways to enjoy the games, such as vanilla rule sets (etc.) and activating expansions only if the server renters want to, and when they want to.

Why force people onto the same rules when no one can agree which ones are good? Besides a single shard game (such as EVE) are there really any valid arguments against smaller, more specific, tighter knit communities on more varied rulesets? Let's give up the entire running accepted illusion of "massively" and just let them be the multiplayer online games they really are.


Quote worth Quoting

I love reading Bio Break's quote of the day and read Syp's blog daily. Sometimes I find quotes on other blogs I really enjoy, so I may throw one up now and again. Here is one I read today!

"SOE has sent a message that H1Z1 isn’t just another Zombie-themed survival sim where the story ends when you get killed, looted, and teabagged"

-AstralEcho MMOBsession

AstralEcho is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative and what spoke to me about this quote is the accurate humour of it all. This is what seems to be the major complaint (and attraction) of DayZ, but also what is keeping away zombie enthusiasts such as Izlain and myself.

Have a great weekend!


Housing I Would Buy Into (or Rent/Lease)

Housing is all the craze and I'm loving the options. My first (and best) experience with housing in general was in DAOC. We had this nice, big, shiny Guild House! It had crafting, and portals, and trophies.. and was an awesome place where guildmates would spend downtime or whittle away at their trade skills. While there were limitations, it was something that was very cool, was ours, and it promoted spending time together in between the big battles.

I didn't do housing in any other game - WoW was my predominant after DAOC and doesn't have it, but I have heard good things about EQ2 housing, LOTRO, and even Vanguard (through Bhagpuss). I can't comment on those, but I *can* comment on WildStar housing, and ask some questions about WoW's upcoming Warlords expansion, and some general quirks and oddities about housing in general.

First off, WildStar housing is amazing. I can't believe the level of customization available. Everything scales, and a pistol prop can quickly become a couch if turned and sized correctly. Your starter plot of land has enough for 4 FABkits (preset style plugins) and two backdrops (larger slots) and I have used a garden (that you can plant seeds into that find around the world) a relic garden (relic is a tradeskill collection item - so they actually grow there and you can harvest) a kiddie pool (funny) a couple party kits with bbqs and the like, and my favorite so far is the Moonshine Stein. You literally get a challenge to produce booze within a set time frame, and doing so successfully gets you a neon beer sign (that you can then scale, twist, and hang to your delight). Yes, you can even drink the stuff and get drunk. There is a fun line of functionality and coolness to items you can place around your yard and inside your house. The best part is you find housing items just by questing and killing mobs. There is also a whole tradeskill (architecture) dedicated to building housing items, of which I did not get into. I wish I would have taken more pictures of my house before beta ended, and I look forward to building a new one come launch. The more items your house has, the greater the rested XP boost you get. So its form and function.

WoW's Garrisons look to be similar yet less customizable and more plug and play(ish). I only read the announcements and have not seen videos or followed it too closely, but both WS and WoW's housing suffers from? Separation of community.

Listen, these housing ideas are cool but all instanced. The fun part of building them are completely awesome I agree - but it just further segments the community. I get it - there isn't enough land in the world to make the housing - and there are some tools available (you can make your housing plot private, friends on, or public in WS) but its still segmentation. Why not make it easy? It isn't that hard to do.

First off, have GUILD housing. Guild houses can be far more extravagant than typical homes and all guild members automatically get access.

Secondly, soon as you build your own house it automatically goes in the same instance as the Guild House. Each guild member does.

Voila. Now, instead of housing, you have  community. A neighborhood even. A neighborhood tied around a commonality (which is how most communities - digital or otherwise - foster).

If you aren't guilded you build neighborhoods around "services" - crafting halls, transportation hubs, etc. You put some conveniences in that people want to be around, and draw them to that area and give them the opportunity to build their own communities. For even more fun you could build them around landmarks, statues, wonders of the world (planet) - anything to attract people around a certain area will give them the opportunity to build communities. The boat between continents in EQ, while crappy to wait for and too long of a trip, fostered an awful lot of friendships.

I know I am greatly simplifying a cause and effect but I also don't think this needs to be complicated. Aligning personal space within community space is just common sense, right?

Does any game that I haven't played do this better (or worse) than the ones I mentioned? I am genuinely fascinated to hear real experiences instead of feature set sheets!

Filed under: Blizzard, Carbine, SOE 2 Comments