Saturday 26 June 2010

EVE: PI strategy

I decided to use the various PI guides as a clue about what not to make. Most guides point you to the P3 products that can be produced using a single planet. These are:
Condensates (Gas)
Industrial Explosives (Temperate)
Robotics (Plasma)
Smartfab units (Lava)
Synthetic synapses (Ice)
Transcranial microcontrollers (Barren)
Ukomi Super Conductors (Storm)
Vaccines (Ocean)

Next I scouted around for a system. I used the DOTLAN Eve maps site to look for low traffic lowsec systems in my target area. I wanted to try lowsec, higher risk but higher rewards. My best defence is very low traffic. I also do my PI in a Mastodon Blockade Runner with an improved cloak and 2 extra warp core stabs. It needs at least 3 players to jam me to stop me warping to safety (unless I meet one of the very few players who fit multiple scramblers) and it has some shield tank. Basically it's tough enough that I don't have to go hide as soon as one player appears on Local.

I set the display in DOTLAN to show jumps in the last 24 hours then viewed a couple of regions looking at jumps per system. I found one with no stations, only 50 jumps in the last 24 hours, no player kills in the last 24 hours, 12 planets and 0.2 security status. I had wanted a sec below 0.4 as I'd like to set up a pos there too and I may as well put my pos somewhere I can moon mine. It's also a cul-de-sac.

OK, so what do I have to work with now that I've selected my system? It has plasma, oceanic, lava, barren and gas planets. I favour restricting all my activities to this one system as it will hopefully make me less noticeable.

With those planet types to work with these are the p3 products that require more than one planet type that can be built in my system:
Biotech Research Reports
Cryoprotectant Solutions
Guidance Systems

and these are the p4 products that can be made in my system:
Organic Mortar Applicators
Sterile conduit
Wetware mainframe

OK, so I have my overall plan - I'll build those p3 and p4 products and sell them. Later on I may look at building POS structures using what I produce plus products I buy on the open market but for now I'm aiming for production of p3 products that aren't on the beginner's guide to PI recommended list.

I build my transport ship at Jita and fly off. My destination is almost 40 jumps away but I can autopilot most of it afk while watching the World Cup. Just before I get to low sec I refresh my cloak procedure.

First open Local and look to see how many people are there and whether there's any smack. Local will continue to be a critical intel system.
Hold cloak and see what's there. Nothing visible doesn't mean it's safe.
Click the align button and as soon as my speedometer reads non-zero press F1 (cloak) once. I will now align while cloaked having given a tiny window to any possible gankers
Wait for speed to reach max
At max speed hover over the warp button then in very quick succession hit F1 to decloak then click the Warp To button

I reach my system without incident. There are two players there which is two too many really, my first priority has to be safety.

I warp to the sun and halfway there I bookmark a place. On landing I cloak and align back to the gate. Then I decloak and warp to my saved spot. I cloak. OK, great I now feel safe, even with other people around.

Time to check out the others. One guy is in what appears to be an industrial corporation and is 4 months old. The other guy is in the same corp and is 3 years old. I'm guessing other PIers although they could be miners. I'll have to be a little bit careful. While they may not be in gank ships my guess is they really won't want me around in this nice quiet little corner of space and they may have friends.

Still I can perfectly well scan the planets from my nice safe spot. I look at the plasma planet. I now realise that I need to plan out my production chains. OK here goes:

Biotech Research Reports
Micro Organisms > Bacteria, Base metals > Reactive metals > Nanites
Carbon compounds > Biofuels, Complex Organisms > Proteins > Livestock
Base metals > Reactive metals, Heavy metals > Toxic metals > Construction blocks

Cryoprotectant Solutions
Aqueous liquids > Water, Micro Organisms > Bacteria > Test cultures
Noble Gas > Oxygen, Ionic Solutions > Electrolytes > Synthetic Oil
Complex Organisms > Proteins, Micro Organisms > Bacteria > Fertiliser

Guidance Systems
Aqueous liquids > Water, Base Metals > Reactive Metals > Water-cooled CPU
Non-CS Crystals > Chiral Structures, Suspended Plasma > Plasmoids > Transmitter

Noble Metals > Precious Metals, Carbon Compunds > Biofuels > Biocells
Felsic Magma > Silicon, Reactive Gas > Oxidising Compound > Silicate glass

Aqueous liquids > Water, Base Metals > Reactive Metals > Water-cooled CPU
Aqueous liquids > Water, Ionic Solutions > Electrolytes > Coolant
Non-CS Crystals > Chiral Structures, Heavy metals > Toxic Metals > Consumer Electronics

OK, my first impression is a lot of this will come from my Plasma planet. That suggests that I want mainly extractors there and should look to process on the other planets.

Let's take a better look at that by expressing the above list using planet type instead of resource name (only planet types available in-system listed):

Biotech Research Reports
Barren or Ocean, Barren Gas Lava or Plasma > Nanites
Barren or Ocean, Ocean > Livestock
Barren Gas Lava or Plasma, Lava or Plasma > Construction blocks

Cryoprotectant Solutions
Barren Gas or Ocean, Barren or Ocean > Test cultures
Gas, Gas > Synthetic Oil
Ocean, Barren or Ocean > Fertiliser

Guidance Systems
Barren Gas or Ocean, Barren Gas Lava or Plasma > Water-cooled CPU
Lava or Plasma, Lava or Plasma > Transmitter

Barren Gas Lava or Plasma, Barren or Ocean > Biocells
Lava, Gas > Silicate glass

Barren Gas or Ocean, Barren Gas Lava or Plasma > Water-cooled CPU
Barren Gas or Ocean, Gas > Coolant
Lava or Plasma, Lava or Plasma > Consumer Electronics

This is giving us a picture now of the structure we will need to set up. Here's what it looks like when we narrow it down to P2s that can be produced on a single planet wherever possible:

Biotech Research Reports
Barren > Nanites
Ocean > Livestock
Lava or Plasma > Construction blocks

Cryoprotectant Solutions
Barren or Ocean > Test cultures
Gas > Synthetic Oil
Ocean > Fertiliser

Guidance Systems
Barren or Gas > Water-cooled CPU
Lava or Plasma > Transmitter

Barren > Biocells
Lava, Gas > Silicate glass

Barren or Gas > Water-cooled CPU
Gas > Coolant
Lava or Plasma > Consumer Electronics

So one P2 (Silicate glass) can't be made on a single planet out of the planets available. Here's a breakdown according to how many P2s can be produced on each of my 5 planet types

Barren 2-5
Gas* 2-5
Lava* 0-4
Ocean 1-3
Plasma 0-3
* silicate gas will be made on one of these with P1 resources imported from the other asterisked type.

Well well, first appearances were deceptive. Plasma is actually the least used with no P2s requiring plasma and only 3 for which the plasma planet is an option.

Let's do some allocating:
Barren - Biocells, Nanites, Water-cooled CPU
Gas - Coolant, Water-cooled CPU, Synthetic Oil
Lava - Silicate Glass (with imports from Gas), Construction Blocks
Ocean - Test cultures, Fertiliser, Livestock
Plasma - Consumer Electronics, Transmitter

Two planets, Plasma and Lava, have only 2 P2 products making them most suitable for P3 production, the capacity being more useful for extraction on the other planets.

I'll stop here, I hope that gives a good overview of the planning process. To follow:
- setting up the PI
- market analysis
- review at some point in the future of how it worked out

Monday 21 June 2010

MMOs: Acting styles

There's a huge factor in MMO success that goes largely unrecognised - the style in which the NPCs act.

I'm going to explain the two main different acting styles and then go on to give examples of how one style brings a MMO to life and the other makes it dull.

Let's start with a little history. In Shakespeare's time theatres were nothing like the polite and well-ordered places they are today. They were busier, they appealed to all members of the public, not just an intellectual minority, they were rowdy. Here's a short explanation.

To act effectively in that environment required eye-catching dramatic body language and booming voices with powerful projection.

Fast forward to the twentieth century and technology changed the ways in which actors could transmit story to audiences. Film and television focus completely on the actor with no distractions or background noise. Even theatres had become polite and quiet.

This led to the rise in popularity of method acting. Method acting is a naturalistic style that seeks to imitate the source. A method actor portraying a man digging a road wants to look exactly like a man digging a road. An old school actor would be trying to convey the feeling of digging roads: exaggerated shoves of the shovel, laboured sighs as he lifted a great load of earth, frequent mopping of the brow to convey the onerous and exhausting manual nature of his task.

Film and television critics have tended to support method acting. Old school acting techniques are called "hammy" and "overacted".

This has led to a bizarre blind spot in modern culture where many people believe that the best way to act is to accurately imitate rather than to entertain. Even when it's obvious that a commanding compelling majestic performance of emotional range is far more interesting to watch.

Spot the ham

Here are two cast photos. Both contain a member of the cast who is a veteran Shakespearean actor who uses old school techniques to add gravitas and emotional depth to somewhat trite sci fi plots.

Acting is where it's at, dumbass

Recent films like Avatar have stressed high tech effects over acting. For an example of just how unimportant effects are here's a clip from an old Doctor Who episode in which the Doctor and the Master confront an alien evil. See what they are battling so compellingly? It's a lava lamp.

You're drawn in by Jon Pertwee's tortured expressions and then Roger Delgado's convincing depiction of a man struggling across a room against great unseen forces. The programme doesn't need to show the forces, it just needs good actors.

The key to it is an actor who can project themselves so as to be interesting to watch. Many years ago long-running TV show Happy Days hired an actor to play a small role in one of its episodes. They got a man who was so fascinating to watch that audiences simply couldn't get enough of him and people are still fascinated by him whenever he appears.

On the set of 1976 film Marathon Man Dustin Hoffman was preparing for a scene in which he had to appear exhausted. Having stayed up all night he was setting off to run around the race track. Laurence Olivier asked him what he was doing. Hoffman replied I have to appear tired in my next scene. Olivier replied "Try acting."

What is old school acting and how is it done

Your goal is not to imitate it's to evoke. Exaggerated gestures, wild arm-waving, movement of the facial features, variance of the tone of voice are all elements. A person dying might fling their arms wide, scream, fall over, roll around. shout "I'm dying" and then slump dramatically. This isn't actually very like how people actually die, even when shot. You're conveying dying not mimicking it.

What's all this got to do with MMOs?

Simply that hammy acting works and method acting doesn't.

Warchief Thrall kneeling dramatically

Casilda, whore by night, method actor by day. So undemonstrative they had to physically tie her arms in place for this dramatic pose.

Ratongas - the Robin Williamses of EQ2.

Eve player - wooden.

Thursday 17 June 2010

SWTOR: What they say, What they mean.

Here's a handy translation guide for those of you following the SWTOR hype train.

This feature is very similar to WoW - This is a feature none of us give a shit about.

This is a feature we haven't talked about much yet - This is a feature we haven't worked on much yet.

We've added a 4th pillar to MMO gaming - We kinda glossed over the first three.

Player ship - Player house with a window showing stars outside.

Companion character - Shaggable healer pet. Presumably sparkly shaggable healer pets will be added at some stage for only $25 for a limited time only.

"the time we are dedicating to it will have a huge pay-off for the viewers" - and us (we hope).

cinematic trailer - the game we'd prefer to make but can't.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

AoC: Billing update

Funcom have now sorted out my billing issues previously mentioned including canceling an order I clicked by mistake when I thought I was re-entering my order for the expansion but in fact added an additional order for the Collector's Edition and crediting me with 5 free days for the time I was locked out of the game.

So while I'm not impressed with their billing system being set up to punish people who cancel automatic re-subscription (which surely anyone with any sense does?) top marks to their Customer Service team for efficiency.

Sunday 13 June 2010

DCUO: beating the naysayers

I'm following up my naysaying post on Sony's new superhero game, set to launch in November with some positive ideas on how the game can be steered to success.

DC Comics and Cartoons

One wonderful thing this game could do would be to take previous MMO relations with IP holders to the next step.

Generally games companies have simply licenced an IP, gaining permission to use it sometimes in somewhat grudging ways. So Lotro could use the Lords of the Ring story, but not stuff from the films nor could it use stuff from Silmarillion.

What I think DC should do is take the IP holder - MMO publisher relationship to the next level and make mutual promotion part of the business strategies of both businesses. You buy a comic, there's an ad for the game. You watch a cartoon, there's a competition to win a MMO minipet. Play the game and you can win free comics or DVDs for certain achievements. Even weave the storylines of new DC comics into the storyline of the MMO. Make them mutually supporting products so kids reading comics or watching cartoons are reminded about the MMO and MMO players are alerted in-game to upcoming graphic novel storylines.

This would be a wonderful, synergistic way for both lines of product to buttress the popularity of the other formats and would, I think, increase revenue for all concerned.

Consider free to play

Free to play Lotro and free to play Clone Wars Free Realms launch in the same month as DCUO. It has to be a big ask to use the traditional pricing model of box purchase plus monthly sub for DCUO. We may be nearing the end of the era in which you can launch a game with that pricing model.

The gameplay of DCUO seems to favour F2P. It's fast paced twitch. I think it would be great fun for a couple of hours but I think you'd get really tired of it playing it 8 hours straight like people play WoW and Eve. Not to mention for us older players the wrist pain.

Consider Station Access

DCUO should go straight into Station Access with no additional fees. Station Access is very attractive - SWG, Vanguard, EQ1, EQ2, Pirates of the Burning Sea - but it's not quite attractive enough to be an amazing deal. It costs approx 2 games worth for a set of games from which most people are only going to pick 2 anyway. However add DCUO without raising the price and suddenly Station Access is really worthwhile as many people will want to play DCUO plus a couple of those older games for the price of 2.

If SOE decide to adopt my earlier suggestion and use a DDO like F2P scheme put the sub version of DCUO in with the Station Pass.

The Station Pass is aging and needs fresh blood to give it value. Doing this also allows you to revitalise older SOE games that deserve a wider audience.

Consider a sub-title

I've gone on record earlier with what I think of DCUO as a brand. At least make it DCUO - Batman and Superman need you! to get your best known Unique Selling Points to your market.

Put Batman and Superman on the DCUO homepage

OK, even if you can't play them they're around somewhere aren't they? Last time I looked all the images on the site are of generic costumes, nothing that anyone who played Champions for 15 minutes hasn't already seen. Now there's a little purple Superman but he's barely noticeable because a) he's tiny and b) he's purple. The main character used as background is Poison Ivy who, frankly, no one gives a shit about. You have the best pair of caped heroes in the genre - use them!

Plan a second hype cycle

Plan an expansion of some kind for October 2011 and really hype it. That way you'll pick up the burned out WoW players who didn't give you a look on launch because you launched against Cataclysm.

Good Luck!

You'll need it. I really think the key is developing a partnership with DC. If when people read DC comics or watch DC cartoons they're reminded about your game you'll have a steady stream of new players.

Thursday 10 June 2010

AoC: Billing stupidness

My AoC account got frozen on Sunday shortly after I'd ordered the expansion. Now I'm generally sympathetic if accounts need to be frozen as I realise that companies need to fight fraud, however it wasn't the reason this time.

It was, quite frankly, utter stupidity.

This is the message I've just received:


The account is frozen due to the purchase stuck as pending. The charge
is stuck in pending because the account is set to canceled. I assume you
have set this to canceled so it would not automatically bill you when
subscription time came around.

To get this account unfrozen you need to log into your account
management page and reactivate the account allowing the payment to
finish processing.

If you have any further questions on this matter please feel free to
reply directly to this email.


and this was my reply:

I've reactivated the account. Please can you remove the transaction for the collector's edition of ROTGS which I accidentally clicked while trying to sort this out.

Please also can you pass on my feedback to the appropriate person that it's ridiculous to suspend paying customers who have, as you surmised, canceled to avoid automatic billing. It's completely normal in this market segment to do so and it's dreadful to penalise customers. Essentially you're refusing me access to a game which is paid for up to September on the grounds I might not renew in September.

Please can you also arrange to credit my account with extra days as I have missed from Sunday to Thursday through no fault of my own. Possibly beyond Thursday as my account is not yet unfrozen.

No matter how well you design your game if you can't get ancillary aspects like marketing and billing right too you're going to lose customers. I'm pessimistic about whether they'll sort this out entirely to my liking. F2P Lotro is going to be a genuine rival attraction to me because while I prefer the AoC setting I really don't like automatic credit card hits or a system that punishes you for trying to avoid them.

PS: I've just received an email back from them. It's simply my email, forwarded to me. It doesn't say this email was generated automatically or anything so presumably they were trying to forward it to someone else but used the wrong email address. My confidence in them is not high.

Sunday 6 June 2010

DCUO: destined to flop

Via Spinks I learned today that DCUO, the new superhero game is due out in November. It's launching at about the same time as WoW: Cataclysm, Star Wars Clone Wars MMO (using Free Realms) mechanics, and the free to play launch of Lords of the Rings Online.

That's an absolutely awful time for them to launch. Most MMOers like WoW enough to go back for an expansion, even if they didn't free Star Wars and free Lotro are strong draws.

But it's not just the timing that will hurt DCUO, it's the branding.

My Dad wrote adverts for many years. He’s now retired but we play a game when we watch adverts together. We try to spot adverts that are aimed at the person approving it not the buying public.

You see quite a lot of these adverts, elegant silver-haired men looking cool and suave. Then you think about the product and go hang on, why the hell are they trying to appeal to that demographic?

The reason of course is that the advert was written to appeal to the middle-aged man approving the advert, not the market they want to sell to.

A classic one is where you actually have the exec himself in the ad. They’re always terrible and off-putting but it’s very easy for a sycophantic ad man to sell it to the client that he’d look great on TV and get the account approved.

Victor Kiam: was not actually more appealing than George Clooney would have been even if the ad man said he would be.

Now consider DCUO.

To everyone at DC it’s an amazing brand, synonymous with wonderful stories and characters that they all know inside out. Just mentioning the letters DC makes them go warm and fuzzy and think , yeah, who wouldn’t play that?

To people outside DC it’s a terrible brand. It’s too lacking in distinction. A word like Blizzard is a lot easier to remember than two letters that might mean anything. Just ask someone what DC stands for without context. Washington DC? Don't Care? Letters are much less memorable and much less unique than words. Especially when players will pronounce your game Dick You.

Most crucially people don’t associate DC with what really sells – Batman and Superman. I had heard of DCUO for months and thought meh until Jon Shute mentioned who their characters are. I’m about as nerdy as can be, I own a lot of comics including DC ones and I didn’t know they had Batman and Superman. What’s more I didn’t even think about it – DC MMO? not interested, Batman MMO? oh that sounds cool.

The combination of the branding and the release date is going to kill them. And that’s even if they find a way to make playing in the Batman universe without being Batman fun which is a big ask.

And it's a great pity. I like Sony and am a fan of their games. I am sure DCUO will be a solid MMO on its own merits. But I can't see many people playing it.

Friday 4 June 2010

WoW: is it like McDonalds?

I know it’s popular to compare WoW with McDonald’s but I think a better comparison is Elvis.

When Elvis sprang to the attention of popular culture it utterly transformed rock music. Of course the old time MUD players insisted it was nothing new, that old black guys had been playing those tunes in smoky bars for decades. The lovers of classical MMOs insisted it wasn’t really music, just trash for the culturally naive. And everyone accused Elvis the Pelvis of immoral techniques like instancing and soloability.

In 50 years time people will look back at McDonalds and think why was that ever popular. But they’ll look back at WoW and think that was truly great.

MMO: marketing games during the next decade

There's a real art to game monetisation. There's very evidently an amount that people are perfectly happy to pay for each type of microtransaction but then no more. We've seen angry player criticism of a number of monetisations: Oblivion's horse barding came out when people weren't ready for $2.99 for a piece of fluff armour. Runes of Magic's $10 basic mount was indignantly protested by a section of the player base although enough of them accepted it to pave the way for WoW's very successful $25 mount. Left for Dead 2 suffered a player boycott. Champions Online charging for respecs got people cross, not because the charge was out of line with other microtransaction charges (cf account transfers) but because the idea of paying for respecs was new and strange.

There are some general rules then it's this - it's safe to copy what people have got used to in other games and even add a little bit. At one point a monthly sub of $15 was new strange and unwelcome. I quite happily played Diablo 2 when Ultima Online started because I didn't see what the $15 was for and didn't particularly want to pay it. However once I'd paid $15/month once on a game I loved then I had no longer a barrier to paying it for future games.

Monetising for children is an especially fine art. The sneakiest method I've heard of was one Jesse Schell mentioned at DICE. What the developer is doing is giving children free access but allowing them to accrue store points that can only be spent if they subscribe. The free game is fun enough to keep them playing but there's a growing treasury of store points that they can buy loads of cool things with if they can just persuade Mum to pay a sub. They can play as long as they like completely free forever and of course the longer they play the more desperate they will be to get Mum or Dad to pay. Insidious, eh?

Not all monetisation has to come from players. Advertisers, lead generation companies and marketing people are very interested in accessing game player bases. This is a particularly sensitive form of monetisation as DDO's offerwall fiasco demonstrated.

It really is an area where the industry is taking rather clumsy baby steps and companies are occasionally provoking outrage as they fumble their way through this new science. It doesn't help that some of the steps are just plain stupid (US Allods players rather objected to paying ten times what Russian Allods players pay - who knew?). As a result developers are proceeding with a great deal of caution and know very well that this caution is causing them to leave money on the table.

However the fact that the industry has moved from a paradigm of everyone knowing how much games cost because they all cost about the same to a paradigm where each game that is produced requires its own monetisation means that we are heading into a period of massive change.

I'm sure that most new MMOs won't have a pricing structure quite like any other game before it, each will be unique as companies continue to experiment and push. That doesn't necessarily mean giving away less for free - the notional nirvana is a game that is hugely accessible but draws people in to spending Magic: The Gathering level sums to play at the top level. (I spent about £5000 on Magic during the 18 months I played it).

Non-video games of course have many examples of games that most people simply can't afford. Polo requires you to turn up with your gear, stick and horse as well as paying the club fees which for my local club are £70 per player per hour. Playing cards in the casino is sufficiently expensive that for most of us it's only something we'll watch James Bond do.

And of course the more the industry chases the accessible yet expensive nirvana the more pressure will build up in the player base for something cheap and fun that doesn't shake them down every chance it gets.

It's going to be an interesting decade in games marketing.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Old-fashioned MMOs

Gordon inspired me to talk about old-fashioned MMOs one of which I visited in 2007. I thought my comment there was worth repeating here:

One of the worst experiences for me was trying DAOC in 2007. I had missed this game first time round and I thought it would make a great replacement for WoW after I'd burned out for the first time.

I pootled around doing some quests until I got one that sent me to a cave. North of the village. Now north of the village covered an area about half the size of The Barrens and I dutifully went off hunting. Couldn't find it. Logged off in disappointment.

Logged back on the next day feeling determined. Searched every inch of the north part of the zone for 3 hours. Would have found a freaking rabbit hole had it been in the north part of the zone. Logged off in disgust.

Logged on the next day. Decided to hunt for it online. Read strat sites for about an hour before finally getting a clue in the comments of some ancient wiki that pointed me to the solution.

You see when they used the word "North" what they actually meant was a compass direction about 1 degree above due West. Not N, not NW, not even WNW but WWWWWNWWWWW.

It was at that point I realised I could never play an old-fashioned MMO again.