Monthly Archives: June 2010

To Be A WoW Killer

It comes up shockingly often. Someone or some post talking about such and such being a WoW killer. World of Warcraft is a game with 12 million players. Each of these players pays 13-15 dollars a month to play. Simple math leads us to believe that they make over 150 million dollars every month. It’s probably a bit less than that, but even so, it is a rather large pie that other companies would like to get in on.

Oh how they have tried. Turbine, Sony, Mythic, Cryptic, ArenaNet, NCSoft… They all want a piece of the WoW domination. They have all done fairly well in various aspects, but none have even come close to the level of WoW. The funny thing is, every time a new MMO comes out and every time a new company starts up, there is always someone who says “This is gonna be the WoW killer.” They said it about Guild Wars. They said it about City of Heroes. They said it about Warhammer. They said it about Age of Conan. And while all of these games share a measure of success, they are no where near WoW killers.

Some people point to gameplay. The gameplay needs to be better they say and so hope to kill WoW. The thing is, WoW covers a wide and varied set of gameplay. Don’t like farming dungeons? Do quests. Don’t like questing? Pvp. Don’t like Pvp? Try being an auction house mogul. WoW has nearly everything, and has 10 years worth of polish to it’s gameplay. Gameplay alone will not kill WoW. But it is vital that the game being made looks to WoW to see what has been cut, and what has been added.

Some people point to graphics and beauty. Graphics are important. But if your graphics are so powerful they fry video cards (I am looking at you Champions.) then your player base is cut. There is a reason WoW is designed to run on older machines. There is a reason thy focus on low poly high rez texture models. If it were graphic alone, Aion would be top of the pile.

Some people point to licenses. They say, well Warcraft was an established license. We need that too! To that I respond with Star Wars Galaxies. Not a WoW killer, with a much more recognizable license. True, I don’t think that license was handled well, but it was still far bigger than Warcraft with a much more rabid fanbase.

So how do I think you kill WoW? I don’t know the exact answer. I don’t have the magic potion to throw into your game and make it the WoW Killer. But I might know the question you have to answer:

How do you convince someone who has What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been to stop playing WoW and start playing your game?

Okay, that question is a bit specific, but it gets the point across. How do you convince someone to leave a game they have invested years in to come play yours? What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been is an achievement that takes a full year of WoW playing and determination to get. The reward is a large, beautiful mount that flies faster than all the other mounts in the game. It’s not easy, it’s not for the faint of heart, and it is a great badge of pride once you have it. But it took you a YEAR to get. So why would you leave it moldering on your WoW toons only yo go play another MMO, and have to start over from scratch?!?

I am a lifetime subscriber to Champions Online. I like Champions. I like the art style, I like the skills, I like the fact I don’t need a mount I can just FLY. I love the character creation too. I might even be convinced that visually, Champions is a prettier game. The super hero license appeals to my sense of fantasy. And the gameplay is solid and seems a bit more varied than WoW. But I only played Champions for about 3 weeks. Then I went back to WoW. I had this moment, while trying to get mats to make bigger bags in Champions where I went… I have done this. I have leveled this skill. I have leveled this character. I have done this exact thing before. All I have to do, is log out, and log back into WoW and this problem is solved.

The path of least resistance leads me back to WoW. Where my characters are already max level, have lots of gold, have maxed professions, have purple gear that makes them look awesome, and have the vanity items that makes people whisper me going “Where did you get that?” And even more WoW has my friends, who I don’t have to try to convince to come play another game with me.

Solve that problem, and you have solved how to make a WoW Killer. Of course, while you are solving that, people are earning more cool things, leveling more characters, getting more gear… and generally becoming more entrenched in WoW.

Re-Post: In olden days long gone…

I have always loved historical places and items. Just recently I ordered the Collector’s Edition of Beedle the Bard, by JK Rowling from Amazon.com. (Okay, okay, I didn’t order it recently, I ordered it in July the first day it was available.) The book itself is printed on thick textured paper, in a lovely font with sketches interspersing the pages and bound in leather with silver adornments. It even has a clasp, to keep the book closed. The book is tucked into a velvet pouch, and placed in a large protective case, which also holds a few prints of illustrations from the book. The more I looked at this book and it’s trappings the more I felt the price, $100, was completely worth it. This is a book I would treasure. This was a book I could gift to my children at a later time in my life. All of this got me to thinking, why don’t we make things like this anymore?

Even if I purchase a hard bound book, it is unlikely I would view it as a treasure to be passed on. It is merely a sturdier version of the paperback book. I looked to other “treasured items” I own. A wool blanket, purchased in Scotland, a silver jewelry box from a grandmother, a small porcelain angel purchased in Ireland for another grandmother… All of these things share common traits. They are lovely, detailed, authentic, and have a sense of history or memorial for someone or some event.

More recently I have gotten interested in blog sites that detail unique things, clothing, and houses. It is only after thinking about the book that I began to realize something that ties all these things together. No one makes stuff like this anymore. No one takes the time and effort to put detail and energy into their work and crafts anymore. Look at stuff from the 19th century. No one built a house without adding tons of detail like moldings, railings, wrought iron work, and making each piece look like a work of art. Why do we get excited when we go to old houses or locations like the Seminary? Because they are beautiful and interesting in ways our cookie cutter homes cannot hope to emulate. Cookie cutter is not bad, and is in fact necessary to save money and time thus allowing something to be affordable by the masses, but something is lost along the way. But we have created a disposable society, where things are tossed out and replaced. I suddenly have this vision of the future, where a whole section of history has been lost due to our lack of craftsmanship. Is less history passed on because we do not view it as worthwhile? In a generation will mother’s still pass on treasured items to daughters, or will they simply buy a new one for the daughter? These artifacts are not being created for our generation. I love the heirlooms of the past, but I cannot think of any I would pass on from my home.

The most creative object I have decorated and detailed was a Nerf Maverick. To my daughter: A $5 plastic gun I painted in an interesting manner. Not a crib carved by your father and painted by your mother. One of the very things that makes us human is our ability to create things that are lasting and worthwhile.

Here’s to bringing back the days of intricate detail and adornment. Make something worth keeping and passing on to future generations.

Some Websites that I look at that might be interesting:
http://thesteampunkhome.blogspot.com/2008/10/holly-blacks-hidden-library.html
http://www.gama-go.com/product.php?productid=16669&cat=260&page=1
http://lunchbagart.tumblr.com/
http://www.xylocopa.com/product/mad-science-alphabet-blocks

A Memory

I have recently been reading a great deal of books on writing. One of the most interesting things that struck me was the advice to read books that are similar to what you are writing. And even beyond that, read voraciously. The ever snarky part of my brain piped up with, “No sh*t Sherlock.” It is perfectly obvious that as a writer, one should always be reading. But then I suppose the writer of this book intended to cover all his bases and make sure that everyone knew this as well. I read to excess and exceptionally fast. It is easy for me to blast through a 300 page book in 3 or 4 hours. People are always amazed at how fast I read and yet manage to comprehend and remember everything I read. This is always the point where I look at them and tell them “Well, to be honest, I have had a great deal of practice.”

As a kid, I lived in a house where TV was not considered an important thing. Not to mention we lived so far out in the country we had a grand total of 6 channels, and 2 of them were frequently static-y or down if it was cloudy. My parents didn’t see the value in buying movies, so I probably had about 10-12 VHS tapes of various kinds, mostly Star Wars and Disney. But books were a different story. $6 for a paperback book that I could read over and over again was considered a frugal bargain and as such I quickly discovered that while I could never convince my mother to buy a movie or toy, I could always convince her to buy a book. Add this mentality to the fact that as a high school student I often stayed after school for drill team practice or band practice, after which I would walk to the public library, to have somewhere safe to do my homework, and they sold old books for 10 cents a piece and you have all the makings for a girl with her nose in a book most of the time.

The real point at which I became so enamored of reading and by it’s extension writing my own stories down was in the 4th grade. I remember the event quite well because it was one of the first points in my life I felt real frustration and excitement. Every week or so our well meaning teacher would take us to the library in our elementary school. Here she would attempt to teach us about research, decimal systems, and the value of reading. We would do our best to ignore her and hope to get on to the end of the day. In an attempt to convert us, she required us to check out a book every time we went to the library. The first day she instituted this policy many of us were quite annoyed, but dutifully searched the shelves for anything we might want to check out. Several students took the easy route and checked out something they had read. We were, after all, mildly intelligent and it was easy to see this spawning book report assignments.

I wandered down a shelf of books reading titles, not really interested in anything. I didn’t particularly like reading “grown-up” books, i.e. books not written by Seuss. Near the end of the row I sat down and started pulling out books to look at their covers. My mother always said “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” But I had nothing else to judge it by, so I judged away. I found one book with this rather nifty looking image of a wolf on the front. The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Sounded good enough for me to check out and tote around with me until we had to return it.

Ever the normal child I carried the book around, but didn’t actually read a word of it. To avoid the search for a new book, I continued to check it out over and over again. I can only assume the teacher believed me to be a slow reader, or the book to be a bit out of my vocabulary range. Then the unthinkable happened. For whatever reason we had downtime, despite trying I cannot remember what is was we were doing. We weren’t allowed to get up, or even to doodle or whatever. All we could do was read a book in between the something or other. So I pulled out my library book and read it pages for something to do other than stare at the same walls.

Imagine my surprise when the book was quite interesting. I became immersed in the world and deeply interested in what happened. However, before I could finish the book we were back in the library. With a far more suspicious teacher. She insisted that if we had checked out a book 2 or more times we could not check it out again. I was only a part of the way through The Grey King and had checked it out 6 times. It never occurred to me at the time to lie or even to go home and ask my mom to buy the book for me. All I knew was I *had* to keep the book and take it home that day. So I went up to the teacher and told her the truth. Yes, I had just picked a book randomly from the shelf. No, I had not been reading it. But I had started and it was pretty good so far. I wasn’t done and couldn’t I please just have it for one more week so I could finish it. I promise I will turn it in next week. Perhaps in her infinite wisdom she realize that this was indeed a turning point for me. Perhaps she hoped maybe even one good book would make a difference. Maybe she was so surprised I told the complete truth. If she remembered the event, I would certainly ask her now. Regardless, she acquiesced and let me check the book out one more time.

The Grey King was exceptional. At least to me. I thought it was the most wonderful book with a fascinating story, characters, and ending. I returned the book the next week, having finished it over the weekend. I immediately went back to that section of the shelves and touched the spine of what was now my favorite book. Though to be fair, it had no competition. In my childish mind, this was the section to pick another book from for the next week because clearly the shelves had given me such a wondrous treasure before. Next to it on the shelf was a book called The Dark is Rising. Sounds good to me, I thought and checked it out.

I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the author’s name was the same. I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the small print on the cover of The Grey King that plainly marked it as a series. But I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when the new book I had checked out was about the same characters! But it told the story of what happened before! How exciting for a 9 year old! It took less than a week for me to finish The Dark is Rising. Far wiser, I returned to the section and with a bit of assistance figured out it was a series of five books. Suddenly the librarian had to deal with a girl who previously had checked out the same book for 6 weeks just for show wanting to check out THREE books at once. The limit on checkouts was 2 at time. Bless her reading heart, she bent said rules and let me take home Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.

This was my snowflake. This was the tipping point. It lead to Coville, Keene, Lewis, Alexander, Raskin, Bradbury, and so many more. A snowflake that became a snowball that became an avalanche. For years I known for reading books every chance I got. At the dinner table, in the car, sitting at home, in class… In fact, by sixth grade I was so known for reading when I should have been paying attention I was the only person *not* allowed to have books at my desk.

Alan Wake – Day… Something

So I ranted quite strongly about Alan Wake. And I have not changed my mind. The game is simply too hard in it’s “normal” mode to appeal to novice players.

However, since then, I have seen my husband complete Alan Wake, and even further, gotten the strategy guide to further my own attempts. Knowledge is power, and knowing those four guys are coming up really helps in that I save my flares and shotguns until that point.

I like Alan Wake. It has everything a good game “should” have. An engaging (if not terribly original) story. A hero and characters we as players identify with. Good voice acting with decent writing and good dialog. Great and varied environments. A simple gameplay that is slowly complicated over the course of the game but never gets to the point that it feels like a different game is being played. Wonderful set dressing and side notes about the world and characters. And best of all, “Omg wtf was that? Did you see that? Did I see that? Was that supposed to happen? That was AWESOME.” moments.

Except it is missing one thing. An ending. The game has an ending and quite a stellar one in fact. The opening strains of “Space Oddity” was more than enough to set my heart at ease let me slump back on the couch with a sigh. But then the unthinkable happened. “Alan Wake’s journey in the darkness continues.” As it turns out, in an attempt to get players to hang onto the game, they are putting out DLC this summer to continue the story (and another even later after that). I like DLC, I am a proponent of logical non-greedy DLC. But to so clearly add it to a game that didn’t need it, and in doing so RUIN the ending of a game… I was more than annoyed.

Even if they shipped the game certain they would be creating a sequel, they didn’t need to give the player anymore than “It isn’t a lake, it’s an ocean.” A small breadcrumb that doesn’t break the story or set up the “next week” mentality. This is why we end up with endless numbered sequels and reboots of the same old thing. A game isn’t allowed to just be good and then be done. No we have to milk it for everything it is worth. It isn’t like there aren’t 50 million other horror stories or horror situations we could use this same world, same characters (side ones of course), and same gameplay to explore. No, we have to rehash the story that has already been completed so well.

My favorite part of Alan Wake:

Early in the second chapter Alan is walking down a road alongside a row of cabins, he is looking for a trail to go to a spot to meet the kidnapper. Of course, as an exploration game any good player stops and explores. Inside one of the cabins is a tv set, which switches on when Alan’s flashlight crosses it (as they all do). I had already seen this episode so I turned to explore the cabin while it played as I didn’t want to leave before it was done in case it mattered for the achievement. As I turned something big and dark rushed passed a window. My heart leapt. I gasped and prepared to battle one of the Taken. But as the tv sputtered on, nothing happened. No dark shade came through the door. No creepy voices. No more shadows over the window. So, being the courageous explorer I am, I went outside to explore. Nothing. Nothing around the cabin, inside it, under it, or even on top of it. Nothing. “It must have been a trick of my eyes.” I thought. But always the one to test, I reloaded and made my way back down to the cabin. I double checked the perimeter and then headed inside. Nothing. Flashing the tv I quickly turned back to the window. And the thick shadow washed across it. Once again I ran outside to see nothing. What had it been? What had I seen? What designer in their right MIND would put such a cool little one off so few players would likely NEVER see? Clearly a good one. /salute.

Multiplayer vs. Multiple Players

To be honest, I am not sure which name applies to which idea. For the sake of simplicity, let’s go with the idea of Multiplayer as the concept people are more familiar with. There are hundreds of examples, but I really want to focus on the concept of multiple players in a family or party type environment. So I choose Rock Band and Katamari Damacy.

The first, Rock Band, is what I would call a multiplayer game. There are a few people, each with a controller, playing the game and the success or failure is based entirely on the group. Each person focuses completely on doing their part, and doing it well. If one person fails, everyone fails. True, Rock Band is an exceptional game, and I have spent many hours singing slightly off tune, or whacking away at a plastic guitar, but when not one of the band members, more often I am relaxed, bored, and probably playing with my phone.

How is this different from Katamari Damacy? (Especially since anyone who has played this game will loudly proclaim, “It doesn’t even HAVE MULTIPLAYER. How can it be a multiplayer game?!?”)

It isn’t. But really, it is. More so than Rock Band or other such games. Why? Because as mesmerizing as the notes floating toward the bottom of the screen are, they really aren’t that interesting when seeing them for the 3rd or 4th time (or 100th). I like Rock Band, but if our band numbers five, Rock Band does not get put in the Xbox.

Katamari Damacy is a weird game in that while one person controls the ball and the game, everyone in the vicinity of the tv gets involved. “Turn that way! No! You’re too small! WHOA did you just pick up a CAR?!?” I once sat at a party where the only entertainment for up to 20 people, over the course of 6 hours, was a single game of Katamari. The controller was passed around a bit, though often passed back to the best player. But instructions, comments, and expletives were shouted with a frequency that rivaled a football game. Despite not holding a controller, or having any control over the game, everyone in the room was a part of it. Everyone got enjoyment and fun from this game, regardless of position or ability to affect the outcome.

Rock Band is a multiplayer game, but not one that allows for multiple (beyond the 4) players. Katamari, while a single player game, appeals to all players and as such ends up being a better party game.