Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Game’s the thing.

I was asked how I felt about how big a success Skylanders has been. How did I feel about it becoming a pop culture phenomenon.

Dazed? Unbelieving? Surprised? No single word could possibly describe the emotions I feel. Humbled. Awed. Ecstatic.

So instead, I will tell you a story.

As a kid, my mother and I played tons of video games. It was a family thing. But when the power would go out, we would bust out the board games and drag the whole family into a game of Monopoly. We occasionally played even when the power wasn’t out, but that was the only time everyone would play. Around the time I hit High School, Monopoly started creating all of these variations, generally licensed. Star Wars Monopoly, Nintendo Monopoly, Pokemon Monopoly, and so on. I LOVED IT. I bought at least a dozen different versions.

Me and my mom would cycle through them, playing all the different ones. We even came up with Uberopoly, a version that required NINE Monopoly boards, arranged in a grid, with special rules on passing Go, turning corners, moving to new boards, and the requirement that you had to have ALL of a color before you could claim a Monopoly. We played it for DAYS and had no idea who was even close to winning.

This year they are making a Skylanders Monopoly.

Does that one sentence sum it up? All the emotion and disbelief of how well our game has done. Right there, in one sentence.

It’s just not possible. It’s just unbelievable. World of Warcraft gets a Monopoly. Disney gets a Monopoly. Doctor Who gets a Monopoly.

A kid’s game for the Wii at the end of the console’s life cycle does not get a Monopoly. Except it does. When it becomes a worldwide phenomenon, sells 2.5 toys a SECOND, and makes over a billion dollars, it gets a Monopoly game.

And creates this huge ball of feeling inside me, that completely shuts down my brain, and makes me feel like… How can I top THIS? I am 30, and I am seriously asking the question, how do you top a game you worked on, becoming so big, you get your childhood all wrapped up in a licensed version of your work. Calling it a success seems superfluous at this point.

What do I do next? What is the encore?

Shocked. To the point of tears. I just sit here and think, I have the coolest job, working with the coolest people, on the coolest game ever.

I am sure Skylanders Monopoly will be the Monopoly I play with my son. “See, this is mommy’s game. This is your game.”

When /G goes silent

Last night, I did my usual evening routine. I put my kid to bed, I grabbed a beer, and I logged into WoW. I spawned in and typed my normal greeting: /guild Hey guys! How goes?

<You are not in a guild.>

Wait. What?

Sure enough, I was unguilded. No more Villainous tag under my name. What happened? I opened my friends list and pinged my RealId friend who had also been in our guild.

“What happened?”

“Oh hey, yeah, Spart logged on and just booted everyone today. We are trying to figure out what to do.”

I felt like the rug had been yanked out from under me. The floor disappeared as the floor on Lich King could vanish. I didn’t even have my friends on my friends list. Why would I? They were in my guild. Finding yourself un-guilded, unexpectedly, was bad enough. But the night it happened… that was worse.

In December, 2012, I got a whisper from a RealId friend asking if I was still working on the legendary staff from Firelands. I told him I was, and I was halfway through Stage 2. He asked if I wanted to go? “Does the pope wear a funny hat?” Of COURSE I do. So I jumped in. Turns out, this close knit group of friends ran old content most every night. Just for fun, achievements, and titles. After 3 weeks, I decided I should transfer servers. After all, these 9 people were helping me get a legendary staff, I should share the rewards, specifically, the mini-pet that the guild gets from the guild achievement for having someone with the staff.

$25 later, I was on a new server, leaving my 21 alts behind. (I have 9 level 85s, and 19 toons over level 70.) We rolled through all the old content. Everything from Ulduar drakes, to Sinestra, to ICC LK Heroic. It was great fun. Most of the guild were people who were friends in real life. Over the course of the two months, I progressed into Stage 3 of the quest and got a few dozen other achievements from other raids. Then, I realized, I was ONE clear from the Staff.

I pointed it out and everyone got excited. We actually PLANNED the night we would run Firelands, instead of just winging it like normal. That way, everyone who wanted the pet, and wanted to see the event could be present.

The night we planned to run Firelands – that was the night our GM logged on and booted everyone.

Heartbreak. I am sure everyone felt much the same way I did. We logged on, ready to have fun, ready to celebrate our guild doing something Legendary, and instead, we were met with abandonment and betrayal.

It’s just a game, but it felt shockingly similar to being laid off at work. The worst part was asking in TRADE CHAT if we had missed anyone in our guild.

I pinged my friend, and discussion was had about what we were going to do, but to be honest, most of us were just hurt. So we formed up a raid, and we only had 5 of our normal guildies. The others had disbursed. I almost cried. So close to the staff, and now so far. My triumphant night had been disbanded just like the guild. Our raid leader, contacted another guild, and asked if anyone would be willing to run Heroic Firelands. Five players stepped up. I cannot express the heroism of these 5 players. They all had Firelord. They had zero reason to help. They did anyway. They gave up 2 hours to help someone they had never met, never raided with. HEROES OF AZEROTH.

Silver linings and heroes aside, the night was still marred by the loss we had all suffered. A few people drifted to an alt guild. A few others ended up in alt bank guilds. Worst of all, the mini-pet I had transferred to allow people to get was no unavailable, to all of us. So now I am left trying to figure out how to guild hop between guilds to get all my new friends a pet.

Here I am, 24 hours later, and the one thing I can’t let go of… This should not happen. There IS a design solution to prevent someone booting everyone else in the guild and making off with a level 25 guild, with bank filled with mats, gold, and gear. Even if the guild had been okay with a dictatorship, most of us now aren’t. We don’t want someone else to be in charge. We want to be able to TRUST the person in charge. Our guild leader, he wasn’t just some guy. For most of the people in the guild, he was a REAL LIFE friend. He was a real life friend who got rejected by one of his other friends and decided he didn’t want to deal with it. He destroyed the guild because another guildie had flirted and then broke his heart. In return, he broke our hearts.

Why can’t we decided to have a guild that has a co-gm or council? Why can’t we chose our own leadership?

There has to be another way. Before the days of guild levels, it would be a simple matter of pestering a GM to restore our stuff and gold. But now, we have to start over or join another group. It’s like, hitting level 90, having your friend leave the game and suddenly you are level 1 again.

Once bitten, twice shy.

The Grumpy Cat says NO.

As a kid, we had a family computer. All games got installed on this computer and played in a public setting. We didn’t have that many games, but the ones we did have were awesome.

One of those games was SimCity. I don’t remember which version, but it was pre-2000, and on Windows 97, so it was in that era.

I loved SimCity. I loved building my town. I loved growing it out to a huge metropolis. I loved being told I needed to buy a bulletproof limo. (I have no idea why it always did that. I had a ton of roads.)

When the Sims hit, I was on board. 100%. I love that game. I bought the Sims. I bought the Sims 2, and all it’s stuff packs. I bought Sims 3. Loved it. I didn’t get any of the Sims 3 expansions after the first one because it required Origin, EAs answer to Steam.

So when I heard a new SimCity was being worked on, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait. City building at it’s finest.

Then I found out it would be always connected. I got a tad worried. It’s not the always connected that bothers me. I don’t pirate games, as making them has made me acutely aware that if you want someone to keep making awesome stuff you have to support them. Generally I play games connected to the internet. I have no problem with WoW requiring a connection all the time. BUT I also played Diablo 3. I played it as a single player game. I saw error 37 just like everyone else. I had connection issues. And that was Blizzard, who of all video game companies likely has the most experience with servers and connectivity. And they had *issues*. For DAYS. Well I thought, I won’t be getting this game day 1. (Look how RIGHT I was. The game is still unplayable 2 days later due to server issues.)

While discussing it on Twitter, something else occurred to me. I would have to install Origin to play the game. CURSE YOU EA. I HATE hate HATE games that require me to install a program, just to install a game. WHY? Why do I need this useless program on the outside? You are just adding bloat to my pc. DO NOT WANT. Hey PUBLISHERS. PAY ATTENTION. I accepted Steam. I don’t like it. I am not happy with it. But I deal with it because it allows me to get tons of games super cheap. I deal with it because it allows me to re-download games I already bought. I deal with it because over the past 10 years they have managed to make it a fairly decent program. It works fairly well in offline mode. But I still consider it a VIRUS on my computer. I deal with it because I have no other option.

But Origin… Origin is alot like Google+ trying to come along after Facebook (although the analogy doesn’t hold up when you consider that G+ is arguably better than Facebook). I already HAVE a third party program that I have to use for digital distribution. I already have a ton of games on it. I do NOT want another one. I would rather just use the one I already have. I would rather not have to use another program at all. What a novel idea!

I accepted Steam because I had to. I needed to use it for class and so I was forced to use it. I couldn’t NOT play Skyrim, so I kept accepting it. No offense EA, but ONE game is not enough to convince me to install your spyware virus program. At least Steam has games from all kinds of publishers. Your virus only lets me play EA games. I am NOT going to have one of these stupid programs for every publisher.

So I voted with my wallet. I didn’t buy Sim City 2013. I wanted to. I STILL want to. But I am not going to. I am NOT INSTALLING ORIGIN. If you want me to buy your games, you HAVE TO MAKE THEM ACCESSIBLE. Origin is NOT ACCESSIBLE. Think about all those Sims 3 expansions I could have purchased. And I would have. Think about that $60 sale you lost on Sim City 2013. I am not giving you one penny for a game on Origin. I am not going to do it. I want to. I want to give you my money and let you keep making Sims games. But I have to draw the line somewhere so here it is.

It occurs to me though, EA will never know. There is no good way to calculate how many sales they lost because of Always Connected and Origin. On my Twitter feed, it’s at least 5, with about 15 having bought the game. So that’s about 25% of people who WANT the game. Who have the money, and are willing to pay $60 for the game. But didn’t because of these stupid choices. But EA will never know.

Which hurts them more? Piracy or lost sales? Is it better to have 20k people pirate your game or 100k never buy it in the first place? Does Origin add enough value to the people who deal with it to make up for the lost sales from people like me? Is it really that hard to code a version that doesn’t require Origin and can be played offline?

How do I tell EA they lost multiple sales from me? How do I tell them I am not going to budge on this? How do I tell them I want to play their game but I won’t until they change their practices?