Monday, June 27, 2011

It's Not Personal, It's Business...Part I

There's nothing wrong with somebody wanting to make money. All motive or context aside, there's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing wrong for a game maker wanting to make money on the game(s) he/she makes. The problem, I have observed, is with the consumer.

I've been thinking a lot lately, a lot more than writing, given that I've been unemployed for seven months now barely making rent. Some of you who may know my history of back trouble and my insurance company's absolute refusal to approve my much needed treatment (because, according to them, I don't match the criteria 100% that would merit the kind of treatment I seek...i.e. "It's a business decision, we need to save money where we can by enforcing our policies's nothing against you personally"). Anyway, where was I. Oh yes, so knowing my issues with my insurance company it may seem odd when I stand by a businesses right to, yes, make money and place that as priority.

I've witnessed and observed a lot, from childhood until now. I've gone to college and have many, many years as a financial professional under my belt, so I believe I'm quite quailified to speak on something such as business. Of course, even the college kid who took a Bus 101 course and 20 political science courses by a professor extolling the virtues of communism can also have an opinion, it's just that I think we'll disagree on some points.

Getting back on topic, I have noticed a general tone throughout the blogging community over the past year growing sentiments against game makers for not producing better gaming experiences due to their lust for money and wealth and power and money and more money. I actually have mixed feelings over the issue, for one I am a fairly new online gamer. I have a console game but don't even have it connected to the net because I refuse to buy a longer chord. So, generally speaking I can both understand the cry and hope of gamers for an experience more to their liking, but at the same time I can simpathize with game makers who wish to actually make game making

Where did you grow up? Was it hot in the summer? I grew up some in Utah (6 years from 2-8) but before and after that it was all New England all the time, both Maine and New Hampshire. I still consider myself a true New Englander. Anyway, it could get hot in both places, and in both places I took the opportunity with my brother and friends to capitalize on the heat and those who worked outside by establishing a lemondade stand. And yes, I sold lemonade to people, I did not give it away.


Because there was this cool arcade down the road, and by pulling in 5 bucks I was set for an entire weekend of arcade gaming. It was beautiful. I was also quite unaware of anyone in the local community or even nationally who protested against my lemonade stand and the fact that I sold it in exchange for real american coins.

There was another trend in my childhood that I would like to point out. The Playground. Now, if you wish to deny what I am about to tell you, be my guest. I can only assume it will be becuase you were a sheltered child that had no friends. So, here I go with my observation: Often while playing some game, whether it was made up or more well known and traditional, I often found myself on the losing end of a "new rule" that some other child made up in order to gain an advantage over me. Let's say I was make believe sword fighting, somebody would suddenly claim to be Darth Vader with a light saber and proceed to cut my sword in half, gain the advantage, kill me and claim victory. I hated that.

Of course I was free to change my mind and the rules of any game I wanted to if that's that choice I wished to make, but that wasn't my style...most of the time. I was a stick-in-the-mud-follow-the-rules type kid, so it would take somebody really pissing me off and taking advantage of me to push me to change the rules right back on them. But that usually led to both parties just getting pissed off and quit playing with each other. So what I'm saying is that I, and I would bet my life that you too, and many experiences where somebody changed or added a rule in a game you were playing that lessened the joy of your playtime, annoyed or frustrated you, or perhaps just pissed you off. Or maybe you were the kid who always changed the rules on others, and if that's the case then let me say now that I'll get you someday, so watch your back!!!

So how does childhood apply to what I'm beginning to talk about? Well I've observed that people don't change that much from childhood, and businesses both change the rules and have the rules changed on them continuously. Added to that the continually changing desires and expectations of gamers, I'm surprised that game developers can make anything worth playing. Well, no I'm not really surprised, but hyperbole seemed appropriate in the moment.

Governments change laws constantly that affect the business decisions of a company. Here are a few decisions that a business must consider depending on the law changes:

1) Business Structure
2) Personnel
3) Tax strategies
4) Location
5) In-House vs Outscourcing
6) Overall Strategy
7) Revenue markets/Opportunities
8) Threaths (including but not limited to Competition)
9) The list could go on and on but I'll stop here for now

New laws require a business to conform to new rules (Sarbanes-Oxley), but sometimes a business will be so innovative that they will create the new rules themselves. The automobile assembly line was an innovation that changed how car companies made cars. It effectively changed the rules of car-making to a level never before seen in the industry. Both the PC and gaming consoles changed how people played games, or what type of games people played. True, people still play board games today, I know there are quite a few I still love to play, but as Atari and others early in the industry discovered, the rules of what, when and how to play a game changed in what the world would consider a very short amount of time.

Expectations are a force in rule making. But notice, expectations are not as strong a factor, and as a result, I believe, the consumer is left to complain that progress isn't progressing as fast as they like. To make it worse, younger generations, meaning those 10-15 or more years younger than me, were not alive to experience the growth from Apple II games to today's incredibly detailed console games and MMO's. Their view on the pace of growth and advancement is far different than mine or those older than me. It feels that their expectations grow faster than an industry is capable of growing.

Of course a counter argument (of many) could be that the game developers today know what is wanted, have the knowledge and technology to make it happen, but simply refuse to out of either greed or fear or whatever. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt considering the evolution of gaming that I witnessed before my eyes. I'll give them a bit more time to figure things out.

Part I Conclusion
I would like to conclude today's discussion with this thought. Remember that at some time or another we are all or have been rule changers. We know it happens, and sometimes we don't allow for imperfection despite the knowledge that there is a complicated dance happening between the changers of our rules. Governemnts create rules through legislation and politics (be they corrupted or not). Businesses create rules through innovation and even sometimes greed, new thought expands technology, and yet there are some who use these tools for more philanthropic ends and others towards more selfish ends. Expectations changes the rules, although those changes are slower and lead to more dissatisfaction in the consumer.

Part II will focus more on the inner working of a business, the politics, the people, the realities of finance vs what the average person thinks of those finances. I hope you will join me next time, most likely this week, as I continue to wonder whether it's just business, or if it's truly personal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

MY Outlook on 1.3.a...NO, it's 3.1.6...Dangit, No, It's 4.2.YoMama

Whenever a new patch is on the horizon or even immediately upon us, it requires personal introspection to a degree previosly unattainable. No poppycock allowed in this corner, that is for absolute certain; I require absolute peace and quiet, and a cold root beer on a coaster (so I don't get those ringy things on my desk).

So, this week I read the patch notes, or what I believed to be the patch notes, and these are my conclusions.

1) I'm still quite as awesome today as I was the day I entered first grade. True, the girls don't all flock to me, but that's because of the barbed wire and electric fence surrounding my yard. When asked by my son who would win, Aragorn (of LOTR) or my Shaman I confidently stated that my Shaman would wipe his booty and like it. Yes, the patch notes did certainly confirm that my awesomeness can't be stopped.

2) WoW sort of plays like Pac-Man. I run around feeding on tiny bubbles/circles (questing), sometimes being buffed by larger circles (Heroism/Bloodlust/WhateverCrapSpellMagesStoleFromShamans) and occaisionally doing a nicely scripted dance with those pesky ghosts, sort of like a mix between Hiegan and Alterac Valley. In the end, after I've cleared the level it just resets and the wheel turns again and again (i.e. the next new awesome patch, or whatever).

3) There is no spoon.

4) I may be illiterate. It's true, I'm not actually writing this, I'm thinking it and it's manifesting itself on this page, right here and now. Amazing. So ultimately I'm not even sure that I read the patch notes, how could I if I can't even read.

5) I'm glad I play one of each class in the game, for when my Shadow Priest gets nerfed for doing "too much" PvE damage (I would have liked to have seen some of that come my way before getting rid of it, btw), I can always jump on some other toon and blow people's face off, like with my Black Arrow shooting Hunter. The results of my altitis is that I can't gear up anyone at level 85, but whatever, I'm not on that hamster wheel at this point in my career.

6) I'm so glad Blizzard pays me to play...Wait...What's that? I'm getting a message from my agent...he says that I pay Blizz. Then why am I paying you, you sniveling bloodsucking lawyer? You're fired!

7) Finally, after reading (or not) through the patch notes I know this: I'm still enjoying the little things, not taking really ANYTHING too seriously. I love yelling and screaming during BG's, it helps me release my inner rage. And I'm so glad that I've finished all the Hyjal quests on all my 85's before the patch hits, I'd hate to fall behind in the race that is imminent indeed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dare to Die Well

Aside from the obvious differences that exist between real life and the MMO's we play, one great difference is that in real life there is such a thing to "Dare to die well", while in MMO's the same behavior is called out as noobish or just plain stupid. Let me explain.

Hugo wrote of his fearless Friends of the ABC leader Enjorlas:

'Daring to die well always moves other men. As soon as Enjorlas folded his arms, accepting the end, the deafening clamor of the struggle died down in the room, and the chaos suddenly abated in a sort of sepulchral solemnity. It was as if the threatening of majesty of Enjorlas, disarmed and motionless, weighed on the tumult, and that, if only by the authority of his tranquil gaze, this young man, who alone had no wound, superb, cruel, dashing, indifferent as though invulnerable, was forcing that sinister mob to kill him with respect. His beauty, at that moment enhanced by his dignity, was resplendent, and, as though he could no more feel than be wouinded after the terrible twenty-four hours that had just elapsed, he was fresh and rosy. It was, perhaps, about him that a witness was speaking when he said later before the ensuing court-martial: "There was one insurgent I heard them call Apollo." A National Guard who was aiming at Enjorlas lowered his weapon, saying: "I feel like I'm about to shoot a flower."

Then a sergeant shouted: "Take aim!"
An officer intervened.
And addressing Enjorlas: "Would you like us to put a blindfold over your eyes?"


Fiction or not, the author makes the point that man can be majestic in the face of death, even inspire awe in his enemy, because "Daring to die well always moves other men."

In that story Enjorlas found himself alone, face to face with a multitude of enemies ready and anxious to end his life. He not only stood before death but threw himself in harms way in the first place.

Now, I make a distinction of an MMO player when I say daring to die well is not the same as to die intelligently. As a former raid healer, Shaman, I knew very well that if my death seemed imminent that there are better places to die than others. For example, running in front of the boss to die, planning to Reincarnate while the boss cleaves his way to victory is unintelligent. Finding a place away from add spawns, behind the boss, but in range of the tank(s) is better (again, given that death is unavoidable).

But as a healer I never charged the boss with my arms wide open, and in suprise and shock no boss ever stood in awe of my daring, my courage, nor my faith and dropped his club and whispered to himself "How could I ever hurt such a precious thing?" No, the raid bosses I fought with were pure evil, evidently, and were completely given over to the darkside. Otherwise I'm sure raiding would have been significantly easier.

No trash mob, no boss, no opposing faction player is going to care if you display courage when you decide, foolishly, to charge the Lumber Mill, alone, headlong into a group of 5 or more enemies. They will mercilessly strike you down without a second thought, and you will lose every time.

Death is a joke in MMO's, made moreso by the fact that no person is allowed to dare to die well. (Again, not intelligently, but bravely and courageously). There is no mercy, there is no enemy willing to offer you a blindfold, it's pure blood for blood and anything short of that is weakness.

The only person who cares about daring to die well is you, and the only other who recognizes it is your Id. That said, if you continue to feel like 1 on 5 is courageous or Healer vs Raid boss, by all means, be a hero to yourself. Your fellow raider may not appreciate the wipe.

I'm all for intelligent deaths in MMO's, it's good for you and everyone else you play with.

Until next time!