Thursday 26 November 2009

MMOs: Incentivising raids

I'm planning a series of posts looking at players' motives for wanting to raid.

Clearly the first thing that springs to mind is loot. But loot is a snake eating its own tail, the more you spoil players with Amazing Awesomeblades of Awesomeness the harder they become to impress.

I remember when epic armour was literally a traffic stopper in World Of Warcraft. Players used to stop running wherever they were running to and just stop and admire the armour or weapon. "/t Uberman hi, where did you get that sword pls?"

Moving on from that design let's look around. In Eve the top content includes very hard PVE such as soloing level 5 missions, wormhole exploration and hunting officer plexes in 0,0 space but the pervasive end game is PVP. Even those PVE activities are made daunting by the fact they take place in low sec or null sec so you're at risk of being ganked while PVEing. There are extreme solo challenges (and extremely competent soloers/small gangs) but the closest to raid type content has to be the battle for null sec space.

So how is that incentivised?

Well it is incredibly lucrative to hold good areas of null sec. The system is soon to be revamped but at the moment null sec gives you both passive income from moon mining and excellent PVE spawns for players you allow to operate in your systems.

But a huge part of the motivation is loyalty to your team and disdain for the other team. This is a much bigger factor than loot. It's a PVP game and players want their team to beat the enemy team.

In DDO raiding seems to be much more for a sense of accomplishment than for loot. It has many different dynamics than WoW raiding. Smaller raids mean that there isn't quite such a jump from group content to raid content. Going from 6 to 12 is nothing like going from 5 to 25. Small sizes mean less tolerance for incompetent players (which is both a good thing and a bad thing). DDO's relatively horizontal progression and difficulty settings (solo/normal/hard/elite and a new one just being introduced: epic) mean that a good raid leader can tailor the challenge to suit his group much more than in WoW.

The small community seems to really change the motivations. If there are 50 people at your level of ability on the server screwing up means more than just missing out on a drop.

So here are three elements of raid incentives to think about:
1) Loot
2) Clan building
3) Peer approval

I'm inviting comments on how raids can be designed to keep people interested and having fun in other ways than just the simple loot mudflation system. I'm not saying don't consider loot in your scheme but please do comment if you think you can see how an interesting raid system could be built in a MMO game.

Monday 23 November 2009

DDO: Designing a Dungeon Builder

"DDO Executive Producer - If we could do anything today with no limitations, I would love to add Dungeon Master tools to the game to empower our players to create new quests and areas of the game. It is a natural fit for Dungeons & Dragons and it would really unleash the creativity of our player community to get to expand the world and make it their own. In the long term, I envision opening up huge parts of our world of Eberron and filling it up with the best examples of the player-created content."

Lifting this quotation from Jacoby's excellent thread on the Beckett Massive Online article I'd like to ask folks  what we would like to see in a Dungeon Builder, a toolset that lets players create content.

(Disclaimer: this was mentioned by Fernando as a personal pipedream, it is not a feature the community has been "promised".)

First of all I'd like to look at player-created content in a wider MMO perspective.

One of the most notable successes in this department has been World Of Warcraft's use of its player base to make customisations to its User Interface. Thousands of unpaid programmers have produced tens of thousands of downloadable add-ons hosted at fan sites and tested by fans.

This is wonderful for the game developer because of the Darwinian sink or swim nature of the process. Some addons bomb or just don't work. But many are highly popular and are perceived by almost every player to be an improvement over the default UI. And some of these get incorporated by the developers into the game, improving the UI at zero cost and risk.

Even if Blizzard had hired a crack team of highly paid celebrity developers they could not have got better UI development out of them because the community selects and follows the best addons itself. If you launch something it may sink or swim, this system allows Blizzard to incorporate features which are already proven successes with no risk of failure.

Eve Online has a similar program of player UI coding and also involves players in game design direction with its Council of Stellar Management which is kind of like a Student's Union. No actual power but a very effective method of channeling feedback.

Now generally player-designed dungeons haven't worked in MMOs so far (I'm told Anarchy Online has a decent mission creator but I don't know enough about it to do any more than pass on the rumour).

City of Heroes/Villains tried earlier this year. The Mission Architect was extremely popular and some cancelled subscribers started playing again.

One of the first missions was called Meow and spawned a sub-genre of missions known in the game as meow missions. Basically they put a load of high exp low hit point mobs in a cluster at the start of the mission and players would zone in, blast them all down with area of effect damage, then zone out and reset. People got to very high levels super-fast doing these. The game developer reacted by mass bannings, the community was outraged and it all ended in tears.

Which brings us to the first design consideration - Achiever players will design and play exploit dungeons if the system allows for it.

(My personal suggestion would be that player-created content is uploaded at first with no rewards. No exp, no favour, no loot. Each month the developers will pick one from the player-created dungeons to win 5000 Turbine Points and be incorporated into the game).

Next I'd like to talk about Second Life. Second Life encourages player creation, in fact it isn't a standard game, it's a really just a vehicle for player-created content. To encourage this they give players copyright over their own creations. This recently resulted in a mess where a player sued the developer over a matter related to his Intellectual Property rights which were being ripped off by other players.

Legally that may create the headache where a MMO with different EULA treatment of intellectual property may create legal precedents that make it difficult to encourage player-created content in DDO. Of course any lawyer worth his salt should be able to distinguish between a case where the company assigns copyright to its players and a case where a company requires players to waive IP rights but still. This is probably something that should specifically pop up in the Dungeon Builder every time you open it so players can't possibly claim they couldn't be expected to know they were waiving their rights.

Next design consideration: ownership of the copyright. (I think WoW has shown that it's ok to tell everyone feel free to create but we still own it. People will still make stuff and no one has tried to sue Blizzard over add-on copyright).

Other design considerations
- pvp dungeons. capture the flag maps, king of the hill maps and so on. PvP functionality would be very popular I think.

- environment: tileset or design? Should the Dungeon Builder basically use a tileset like Waterworks so every dungeon is a series of sewer tunnels which lets things stay manageable or can the software and the game support more free-form design?

- who can make them? all of the player base? VIP only? (Personally, even as a non-VIP I'd suggest VIP only. This is an advanced feature that would benefit greatly from extensive DDO experience).

- lore considerations. What if a player creates a dungeon where you kill Jeets? Should there be some kind of restriction, possibly use the DDO NPC names database as a block list of unavailable names for quest NPCs and mobs. What if a player creates a dungeon where the purpose is to kill a mob named for another player? If someone made a Kill Mockduck dungeon where the end boss was a large and sinister duck with terrifying oratorical skills would that be funny or griefing?

- obscenity issues. If someone can conceivably draw a penis with the dungeon editor you can guarantee they will. How do we stop players using obscene text and imagery? Or does it even matter, after all we can't stop people being obscene if they choose to in chat channels, maybe this is no worse.

Anyway there's a lot to think about and hopefully we can put together a thread that may have some usefulness to the developers if they get a chance to pursue this dream.

Player-created content would be awesome!

Thursday 19 November 2009

WoW: Random thoughts on 3.3

Details of the Icecrown Citadel raid in patch 3.3 have been released. Some random thoughts

- it sounds awfully like Naxx in structure. 4 quarters, 3-4 bosses each. That's probably a good thing but I'm just wondering, if the architecture is basically similar, if sometimes you'll be raiding and you have to stop and ask which raid you're doing. Still it's sound as a concept and I much prefer the 4 quarters style of Naxx to the linear approach of Molten Core.

- it seems good lore-driven content again after the rather dubious (lore-wise) offerings they've given us in 3.2. I think it's helpful and immersive to feel like you're fighting a heroic nemesis as opposed to farming a recycled 2005 mob.

- staggering the release doesn't surprise me at all. I've noticed for some time that the 3 patches of wotlk don't actually fit the development cycle. If there's approx 18 months between expansions we should get one every 6 months. In fact we got 2 in the first 6 months. Unless they decide to do a 4th content patch they have to spin out 3.3 until Cataclysm is just about ready.

- every method of slowing players down has been hated by players. This cap on attempts on the end bosses is the latest in a long line of stalling methods which include fire resistance gear, reputation grinds, attunements, raid comp problems (eg 4 horsemen in Naxx 40 needing 8 tanks). While people don't like this one almost all of the other methods were even more hated.

They don't want you to finish the game. They certainly don't want you to finish 3.3 in December when Cataclysm still needs another 9-10 months.

- I actually like the incremental buff more than what it replaces (wholesale raid nerfing). The dumbing down of raids in patches has always been immensely unpopular and there's been a feeling among hardcore players that Blizzard has sold out to the casuals every time. At least they're stating up front that the casuals will be getting access over time. It's actually a far more honest approach.

- the zone wide buff will make farming and soloing in the Icecrown zone very effective.

- opting out of the buff is not in fact a gameplay feature. It is a Forum Wars feature disguised as a gameplay feature. If anyone complains about content being dumbed down forum warriors can say "just click the buff off dude" and shut them up.

If anyone actually does click the buff off in game they will be faced with the following conversation:

Guild Leader: why do you die all the time and do half the dps of anyone else even when not dead?
Gaming Purist: I clicked the buff off man, gaming should be a challenge.
Guild Leader: Good luck with your search for a new guild then, bye!

I still won't be re-installing WoW before the next expansion but I certainly plan to tourist this place once I get Cataclysm.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Blogging: dummies' guide anyone?

There's a few things I'm not happy about with my blog. I'd like to learn more about page design. My blogroll doesn't update fast enough. Commentors have copy paste issues if I forget to click back to Edit HTML from Compose mode after I post. I have no automatic flagging of new comments, so if someone comments on an old post I won't see it except by luck. Etc.

What I'd like to do is read through a good beginner's site or book.

Does anyone have any recommendations?

Sunday 15 November 2009

DDO: My first raid

I've been a little quiet the last few days. The reason is some RL friends started DDO and I've made a character or four on the new DDO server to play with them and have been playing my little socks off. My main character is a Bard called Lemmy who has reached the giddy heights of level 9 already.

Yesterday after doing a couple of runs with a very experienced player from our new guild he suggested doing a raid. In a "try anything once" spirit we agreed although not without a certain amount of trepidation. I was only level 8 at the time, I'm still very much a newbie, my friend is even newer and we would be doing it in a random pickup group.

The raid we did is free-to-play content called Tempest Spine. There are a number of traps but we made do without a Rogue since there didn't seem to be one around. Our raid leader did stipulate 2 healers and one of the wizards claimed that wizards are important but otherwise we didn't seem bothered by what class anyone was.

We found 12 people fairly quickly and everyone ran to the instance with some alacrity. It felt like people were keen.

We zoned in to a volcanic wasteland with rivers of lava crossing the landscape in every direction. Dotted here and there were fire elementals, which are generally pretty dangerous in this game. We buffed everyone with Resist Fire, cast Haste, and then rushed like lemmings through this outdoor section to the safety (sic) of the giant stronghold we had come to assault.

We had set the difficulty to Normal and mobs seemed fairly underpowered as long as we could bring our full force to bear. They still hit pretty hard though and anyone who got too far ahead of the group was left as a sticky mess on the floor. Traps were lethal, getting hit by one was pretty much an insta-kill.

The general feel was of comedy, a slight Benny Hill madness to the gameplay. This was partly caused by the stop-start nature of the Haste spell. Periodically we would all gather up and wait for something but if someone cast Haste which is the most sought-after buff and doesn't last long people would charge off so as not to waste it.

I was one of the people who could cast Haste and it was great fun dropping it on the group like giving a wind-up clockwork toy a nudge and seeing it frantically rush to the edge of the table like a mechanical lemming.

The group was extraordinarily good-natured with people passing off dying with a laugh. There were some very funny deaths over the course of the evening.

At one point someone said trap and we stopped just in front of the trap. Now in any large crowd there's always someone who hates to be stuck at the back unable to see what's happening. So there we were stopped just in front of the trap and someone shuffles forward to get a better view and Wham! He's a stone in someone's backpack.

We had a genuine Leeroy moment where we stopped before the last boss to sort out which player would hold the three runes we needed for the fight. It turned out we had only picked up two of them, having forgotten one downstairs. One of our tanks, deciding that his haste buff was ticking down at an alarming rate and having turned Voice off jumped through the portal of death to confront the last boss. My inner lemming urged me forward and I took a few steps towards the portal but suddenly thought "hang on!" I looked around and no one else was going in. "Ah!" I thought. At this point our heroic soloist died and someone asked if he had gone in. Much merriment and shouts of "Leeroy!" ensued.

The last boss was hilarious. He seems to be modelled on that childhood game Atishyou, atishyou, we all fall down. He blows people all over the place and fights on a smallish platform surrounded by a very long drop. He always seemed to aggro on someone who would run around in panic so the random knockbacks were chaos incarnate. After getting blown off the first time I actually managed to keep my back to a wall for most of the next two attempts. I still got blown to a wall overlooking the fight but I was able to jump down and pass it off as though I'd meant it like some complex Jacky Chan-style manoeuvre. It does feel a bit like being a dandelion seed.

Despite various calamities, the rune we forgot took best part of 30 minutes to recover, my healer friend released out when he died once then had to run solo through the raid to find us, we did the raid once on Normal, twice on Hard and had an absolute blast.

Some tips for new people:

1) Stick with the group. Stick like glue. It's a very confusing layout for new people.

2) Try to learn the layout.

3) Don't jump when you're running across lava. You take damage every time you enter the lava. Bunny hoppers will be melted!

4) If your group is not disarming the traps you need to time your leaps across them well.

5) Don't get ahead of the group when charging into packs of monsters. If there's a Firewall stand in it and let them come to you (in fact try to block chokepoints as the monsters will try to get at the Wizards behind you).

6) One room consists of a fairly tough fight then a sudden wave of very quick rust monster adds. Do not melee them with your precious Shiny Axe of Leetitude! It's a very evil encounter!

7) Try to keep your back to a wall for the last boss. Even if melee move to a place where if you get blown away from the boss you will hit a wall not a 200 foot drop.

8) Gather for buffs.

9) Haste does not always mean Go!

Good luck and I hope you have as much fun as we did!

Monday 9 November 2009

Games: Let my gamers be free

Today a number of blogs are trying to raise money for charity. This initiative, MBACD, has been organised by Ferrel of Epic Slant and Brian "Psychochild" Green of Psychochild's blog has hosted our mailing list. Thanks a lot to them both.

The charity I have chosen is Amnesty International.

To donate money follow this link:
Amnesty International Donate Now page

This charity fights for human rights. Whether it is civil liberties in a more progressed nation or a campaign to stop torture and political executions in repressive regimes.

They have fought campaigns in just about every nation in the world because the struggle for liberty needs to be constantly fought in every country.

It was with immense sadness that I read of the fight for freedom to play video games in Venezuela. Raph Koster reported this news and the original piece, written for Boing Boing is heart-rending.

Here are some excerpts from this shocking and appalling piece but please do follow the link and read the whole of Guido Núñez-Mujica's article.

This law makes selling video games to anybody actually worse than giving real guns or cigarettes to a minor, or even forcing him or her to work, as you get less jail time and lower fines if you do any of those things. 

These games are a cherished part of my life, they helped to shape my young mind, they gave me challenges and vastly improved my English, opening the door to a whole new world of literature, music and people from all around the world. What I have achieved, all my research, how I have been able to travel even though I'm always broke, the hard work I've done to convince people to fund a start up for cheap biotech for developing countries and regular folks, none of that would have been possible hadn't I learned English through video games.

Now, thanks to the tiny horizons of the cast of morons who govern me, thanks to the stupidity and ham-fisted authoritarianism of the local authorities, so beloved of so many liberals, my 7 year old brother's chances to do the same could be greatly impacted.

But I won't obey, I will be an outlaw gamer, and I vow to teach him as much as I can and as much as he is willing to learn, as early as possible. I refuse to give up my rights to a government that is commanded by Vuitton clad jerks asking sacrifices from us, I refuse to stop gaming because a bunch of control freaks tell me that I will become a killer and that the wonderful games that enriched my childhood are psycho factories.

If I get fined for writing this (Article 13, promoting the use of violent videogames), so be it. If I go to jail because I carry rooms in my hard drive or in an R4 card for my brother, next time I return to the country, so be it. But I'd rather go to jail than betray the gamer culture, partially responsible for making me the person I am today

Again the link to donate money to Amnesty International is

Amnesty International Donate Now page

It breaks my heart that we gamers need them now simply to play our games.

Do have a look at the other bloggers participating in the charity drive:

Ysharros - Stylish Corpse -
Spinks - Spinksville -
Psychochild - Psychochild's Blog -
Slurms - Multiplaying -
Ferrel - Epic Slant -

MMOs: The use of subscriber numbers as a statistic

Frank at Overly Positive has written a rather scathing post about The Silly Subscriber Number Worship.
Aiiane at Up Past Midnight also feels too much weight is given to subscriber numbers. Syncaine crows about Aion struggling while explaining how in his view subscriber numbers mould the games that get produced.

I think subscriber numbers are a reasonable indication of a good game.

Of course there are niches and one has to respect that a full loot pvp game or a permadeath mode only game are unlikely to get high numbers since they appeal to a small subset of the gaming public.

Still I think in general that the audience is discerning and good at filtering out what it likes from what it doesn't like.

The McDonalds analogy is flawed. There are genuine medical reasons why living on McDonalds food is bad; there are environmentalist issues arising from the company's ranching practices in the Amazon Basin, there are aesthetic issues regarding the look of high streets and there are social justice issues around low pay. So many people dislike McDonalds for reasons that aren't related to the product.

Subscriber numbers point to WoW being a better game than Warhammer, once seen as a potential "WoW-killer". Looking more specifically at that subset of the WoW-playing population who cancelled their WoW subs and bought Warhammer one sees that the majority went back to WoW. These are people capable of making choices about what they like. To assume they are all sheep or stupid or tourists is to denigrate them.

One can further analyse the game mechanics to see specific reasons why WAR failed to retain high numbers of players. It's a mass pvp game and didn't function very well. Keeps were takeable using weak points. RvR generally does not work well with two realms. You get the everyone joins the winning side bandwagon effect.

Next just as the presence of an observer distorts an experiment the mass of subscribers or lack of subscribers distorts the numbers. Most people want to play a game with tons of other people. It's sensible - why grind to level 80 in a game which only has 10k players and thus might get closed down by the time you max out?

My main caveat is that companies distort their numbers. WoW for instance counts every unopened gamecard they've ever sold as a "current subscriber" and counts people who pay 5 cents to play an hour in a Chinese cybercafe once as "current subscribers".

In any event now that WoW has lost the rights to operate in China it's unlikely we will ever see WoW numbers released voluntarily again. (People may be able to deduce numbers from company financial information they are legally required to submit). Most people think WoW has 11 million subscribers, in fact they may well have less that a million active subscriptions.

Some marketing people even scroll through all their available stats before dredging up some number that sounds good. Champions Online recently announced one million characters have been made in the character creator. What the hell does that have to do with anything? They may have ten thousand players. Or less. By all accounts the character creator is the best thing about the game so it's hardly surprising people are playing with it.

What's even more astonishing is that a number of bloggers and games journalists have divided it by four to suggest that Champions Online has 250K subscribers. Huh? Sorry guys if you take a figure that means nothing and divide it by four you still have a figure that means nothing, not a point of information.

It seems to me that if the only stat you care to reveal about your new game is something completely out of left field like people playing with the character generator your real stats must be shockingly bad. If CO actually had 250K subscribers they would be telling everyone. It's like claiming your game is a success because the /dance emote has been used a million times.

In conclusion once one gets past the deceptive methods generally behind any figure you get a ball park idea of which games are doing well. A game that is doing well is generally doing well because people enjoy playing it which may be a sign that you too would enjoy playing it if it's your style of game. Further a game with good numbers is protected from some of the calamities that strike games that are financially challenged: lack of extra new content, failure of game elements that require massive participation to work, lack of people to group with and so on.

Sunday 8 November 2009

WoW: some thoughts on game economics

The launch of the World of Warcraft item store with two minipets available has provoked a lot of discussion on various blogs.

I'd like to look at the bigger picture because some of the views I've seen seem misinformed or (frankly) naive.

Opinion has generally split into two camps whose beliefs are as follows:

Either: Blizzard owes us, man, they'd be nothing without us loyal customers, charging us money is biting the hand that feeds them

Or: Get real, they're a business run by android accountants, $0.001 more per head is the only thing they look at.

Both have a grain of truth but distort that element to get a position that is nonsensical.

First the "Blizzard owes us" viewpoint. Yes, customers make the company profitable and the company recognises this not only with respect to those of us who have contributed money in the past but also looking ahead to people who will continue to regularly buy their games in the future.

It goes to quite sophisticated lengths to keep people happy while increasing revenue. For example the controversial petshop is mitigated by the announcement that half of the proceeds for one of the pets will go to charity. This costs them money but increases goodwill. Blizzard clearly feel that goodwill is crucial to their business and that it's worth several thousand dollars. It's not all about wringing the last cent out of their customers, they clearly want to be liked despite raising the cost of the game for those people who don't want to miss out on a cool WoW feature.

Next, the blaming the accountants viewpoint. First off accountants generally don't run companies. Also they are people too and probably a high percentage of the accountants who work for games companies are games fans too (otherwise they'd be working in better paid accountancy roles in other industries, for example the financial sector). Next not all accountants are pencil-counting morons who will run profitable businesses into the ground by grubbing every cent they can at the price of customer good will. Just because their job is counting the cents does not mean they are devoid of common sense or any recognition of the other elements that make a business profitable.

By and large Blizzard has handled this introduction of an item store well.

They let their competitors go first. SOE introduced an item store to EQ2 amidst storms of protest a couple of years ago and then went further and introduced special RMT gold-buying servers. Eve has its plex system. Champions Online recently tested whether respecs would be a viable shop item and got a pretty resounding No from its player base. This is generally not an area where pushing the boundaries is rewarded.

They tested the waters with veiled item store like offers. You could get in-game items with the collectible card game, with the collectors' edition, with blizzcon tickets. This has been amazingly effective camouflage for a fundamental change in charging policy. People who have recently been upset by the item store pets get responses of "spectral tiger dude, it's been in the game for years". But it is different to have an in-game item shop. So it's very clever of them to muddy the waters.

They're giving 50% to charity! Or wait actually they're not. They're giving 50% of one of the two pets so about 25% to charity and only for slightly under 2 months. Plus their accountants will claim back a lot of tax (that's what accountants actually do btw for those out there who still think their job description is to destroy games companies and make fans cry). Still people in general are terrible with numbers and 50% sounds like a lot even though the net cost to Blizzard will almost certainly be under 1% of what the cash store takes in over its lifetime in WoW.

However the main thing is the pets are nice, gorgeous even, they aren't game-breaking or even capable of any gameplay impact if you don't have them (except for achievement completion and arguably achievements are fluff anyway) and the fans I'm sure will love them and buy them in great numbers.

They've made two mistakes though.

First, they've screwed the non-Americans.

Gordon of We Fly Spitfires explains it here.

It's astounding considering how careful they've been in so many regards of the goodwill of their fans that they screwed half of their premium price fanbase. Essentially they've ignored the real exchange rate and gone with an exchange rate of $1 = 1 euro and a rate close to $1 = £1.

People have suggested that it is reasonable because the dollar is weak. This is nonsense. Back before the Euro Europe had several terribly weak currencies like the Italian Lira and the Turkish currency and those countries were over-charged just as much as the rest of us.

Exchange rate is not value.

People have suggested it's a cultural thing, like Coca Cola being cheap in the US and expensive in Europe. I don't buy this because I think virtual game fluff is too young a commodity to have this kind of cultural identity.

I think rather that they decided to have a comparitively cheap price point in the US to keep their more vocal fans calm and are comfortable with a more expensive overseas price point which collects more revenue out of foreign fans.

Remember what I said about goodwill above? Goodwill is very important to Blizzard, they will get a lot of future sales simply because "it's a Blizzard game". For Blizzard a big part of goodwill is US goodwill. The US players are the people Blizzard developers meet at conventions, they are the people who post on the WoW forums that Blizzard developers read (a summary of the Euro WoW forums is compiled weekly and sent but that's obviously a much lower impact) and I think Americans in general are more expressive and quick to vocalise complaints than we Europeans who are descended from stock that decided to meekly submit to authority rather than brave the frontier life hundreds of years ago.

This is what I think of the price points: $10 is too cheap from a bean-counting point of view. Sale volumes would be almost identical if they charged US customers $20. £10 or 10 Euros is probably about right for Europeans - if they pushed it any higher I think sales would fall off sharply.

But the big advantage of making it cheap to Americans is that their most vocal, closest and most important fanbase can accept this change comfortably.

That's what I think they are doing.

The reason I think it's a mistake is that they are causing a big backlash of goodwill loss this side of the pond in exchange for a small amount of extra revenue.

Had they charged us £7/7 euros people would not have had any issue other than general discontent about being triple-dipped (ie we've bought the box, we've paid the subs and now we're getting microtransactions too? Meh).

But they're adding insult to injury by over-charging us. Because we're passive. Schmucks. Too spineless to object. After all, we're descended from the timid ones too scared to get on ships like the Mayflower, right?

Now that's not worth three quid. We're actually not spineless even though we generally don't complain. Unlike Americans who as a people will generally complain about something for a long time before ditching it, we tend to stifle our complaints for a limited time then say "stuff this" and leave. We are much less likely to complain but we are much more likely to up and leave.

For me Blizzard has been off my "must buy their game the day it comes out list" since November 2004. That was the month WoW did not launch in Europe. It eventually limped over the Atlantic three months late.

Treating customers differently is a fundamental cause of loss of goodwill. Treating customers unfairly for three lousy quid is just bad business.

The next mistake I think Blizzard has made with this making the pets transferrable. This makes them similar in some ways to plexes in Eve and diamonds in Runes of Magic in that people can spend dollars on an item they can sell to another player for gold, effectively legal gold-buying.

I don't have a problem with legalising gold-buying as such but I think it opens up two potential problems for WoW.

First the gold-buying mechanism is pinned to a highly volatile good. These pets will be cool for a few weeks then people will be just as impressed with a whelpling. So the first few sold will get a fair whack of change,. player speculators will then step in to try to flip, the price will soar, then once interest in owning these wanes at the same time as interest in using them to legally buy gold booms the market will crash and many speculators will dump their stockpiles.

Speculation is a huge part of this kind of tradeable in-game item, in Eve which is a much smaller game a recent dev blog revealed there are about 16 000 plexes (about $240K) being sat on by speculators.

So whatever your views on legalised gold-buying establishing a legal gold buying facility which will inevitably crash like it's 1929 is a terrible way to implement this feature.

My advice to readers is don't touch this market, even if you would like to legally buy gold except in one circumstance:

If you want a panda and don't mind waiting a month or two buy one for 50 gold or so after the market crashes instead of paying £10 now.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

WoW: new users figure - and it's so low!

"In a note to investors, Morgan Stanley analyst Richard Ji said World of Warcraft had experienced strong momentum since its launch, with nearly 1 million peak current users."

WoW is pretty famous in the blogosphere for having 11 million users. However Wolfshead pointed out not too long ago that there's a fair amount of creative counting behind that statistic (and we found even more loopholes in the statistical methodology in the comments).

Now Reuters has mentioned a new figure - WoW apparently peaked at nearly 1 million.

Reuters is a well respected news agency used by just about every major news paper and television news service.

It could be unreliable of course, earlier in the same piece Reuters describe WoW as "recently launched".

But it's very interesting isn't it?