Category Archives: Gaming and communities

The MMO blog to read right now

Looking at my unread counts in my RSS reader, it looks to me the MMO-related blogging has slowed down in the last couple months. (Except for those pesky “links for xxx” posts which I very much dislike. Daring Fireball does those right, one item per link.) I’m following around 150 feeds and I can actually keep up with the stuff now. In the light of less material coming out to read, I’m glad the quality seems to have up, at least on some blogs. Right now, the blog to read about MMOs seems to be T=Machine.

Yesterday Adam posted a wicked good piece on his view on why Tabula Rasa failed. And if you haven’t read his post on customer relationship management, from late December, that’s definitely worth the read.

Eagerly waiting for the next piece.

Package tracking excitement

I ordered a new SLR lens (the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8, a supposedly sweet piece of glass) after having sold some of the other lenses I had. I received an email from UPS on Monday morning about the package having been sent, so I went to their package tracking site and subscribed to notifications on the package’s progress towards me.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m finding getting the various reports about the package at least as exciting as questing in MMOs. :) There’s a reward at the end when I’ll get the shipment (On Time! Tomorrow!) but there’s Exceptions on the way, like the most recent THE PACKAGE WAS MISSORTED AT THE HUB. IT HAS BEEN REROUTED TO THE CORRECT DESTINATION SITE.

I know I can’t do anything about the package other than wait for the delivery notices, but for some odd reason that seems to be exciting enough that I’m obsessing over the package. Makes me wonder what the lesson here is in regards to building virtual excitement. Would sending virtual gifts and purchases be more exciting if the item was actually delivered to you in this trackable progressive manner, instead of immediately? It wouldn’t work for stuff you need fast, buy maybe it’d make total sense as a storytelling element of rare, exclusive items.

Why do people buy virtual goods?

Vili Lehdonvirta has published his excellent research paper on virtual good sales over at VERN. He identifies nine attributes for items that define metrics people are using to value the item, all of which make sense based on my knowledge on this area. Part of the research has been done in Habbo.

The couple things that are missing from this classification that spring to mind are:

  • Versatility, or how many different types of application does the item have in your world, and
  • Multiplicity, meaning whether it makes sense to own just one copy of this item, or does it’s value increase if you own it in multiples

Anyway, I recommend you read the paper. There’s still a couple more papers yet to come out from Vili this year, which are at least as interesting as this one. Can’t wait for those to come out, too! :)

PEGI – what I hadn't understood before

So, I asked PEGI about the WotLK 12+ rating based on it containing scenes where the player has to torture human-like characters, and shoot people in cages, some of whom beg for mercy before being killed by the player. Their stance is that the 12+ rating is correct, since the violence isn’t graphic enough, and that the victims don’t respond to the violence in a realistic manner. No blood – the violence doesn’t exist. I’m slightly confused on how lying dead in the ground after being shot is unrealistic, but maybe that’s just me. I was told I can continue the discussion by filing an official complaint, but I don’t think I want to go quite that far.

I guess by this logic one could create a text-based game where the primary objective of the game is to strangle bound people, have long descriptions of how the suffocation happens and get a 12+ by PEGI, since there is not graphics involved. The official PEGI literature uses word “depiction” to describe the game content, but PEGI interprets that as pure visualization. I can only assume the lingo has been carefully chosen for maximum approval by authorities, and the interpretation for the maximum benefit of the gaming industry.

What this means to me, is that when I get to the point of purchasing games to my daughter in a few year’s time, I won’t actually trust the PEGI system. While the visualization of violence and sex is something I think I’ll want to protect her from, I don’t want her to play games with torture either.

I work in the gaming industry and I love games. And I really like WoW, too. But I just sometimes get this feeling that a bit more honesty wouldn’t hurt anyone. And organizations which have been created within an industry in order to proactively prevent authorities from meddling with the industry tend to have issues with honesty, which seems to be the case here. Sigh.

My take on WoW torture quests

Richard Bartle blogged a while back about a WoW quest where the player has to torture an NPC, and how it upset him. Which raised a lot of (sad) comments from all over, so he had to reply in public.

Richard, I agree with you. The quest is sad, and I don’t think it fits in WoW very well. Sadder thing is, there’s more similar content in WotLK and some of it is ever worse.

Here’s a quest where the player is asked to experiment with a disease agent on a prisoner. Here’s another torture quest (during which you see prisoners to be tortured, and can’t free them). Here’s my personal favorite: a quest where the player is ordered to kill citizens captured by the enemy, as a punishment for being captured. The prisoners are in cages so they can’t escape and you’re supposed to shoot them in cold blood.

What’s Blizzard trying to teach people who play WoW? The comments in Wowhead make me feel a bit better, which range from “I hate Blizzard for doing these cruel quests” to “This quest killed me a little on the inside”.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, but what I’d love to see happen at Bliz is:

1) Have a discussion with the copywriters who wrote these quests, and talk about why the quests where done the way they were done. And if you have the guts, state this in public.

2) Allow for alternating storylines where you can complete a quest without doing this disturbing stuff.

What makes this discussion especially interesting is that WoW has PEGI rating of 11+ in Finland, and 12+ elsewhere. I doubt this would stay if someone actually told PEGI about these quests. And this goes to show how PEGI is broken.

Update: PEGI lists WotLK as 12+. I sent them a query about whether they think torture scenes are appropriate for 12 year olds, and got a quick reply:

“We have examined the game World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King and according to the PEGI system this game has been rated 12+ because of the depictions of non-realistic looking violence towards human-like or animal-like characters. Also in he scenes/ quest you describe the violence visualized is still non-realistic.”

I guess this begs a question on what is actually realistic, and what isn’t. PEGI’s interpretation seems to be that since you can opt to play a non-human character and there’s no blood, the scene is non-realistic. I’m slightly confused – I guess Reservoir Dogs torture scene was non-realistic as well, since the violence wasn’t actually visualized at all.

Update 2: PEGI’s questionnaire that’s aimed to make rating games easier states the following are indicators that a game should be rated 18+:

  • Depictions of gross violence, which includes torture, dismemberment, sadism and horrific depictions of death or injury towards human-like or animal-like characters.
  • Depictions of violence towards vulnerable or defenceless human-like characters

The explanation for the former suggest the torture should be somewhat graphic to count, and the latter is indicated to have merit on it’s own, be the violence graphic or not.

I guess my opinion on this is that it’s fine to have the scenes in WoW, but I don’t think the game’s content is suitable for the 12+ rating it’s been given. WotLK should have PEGI rating of 16+.

Finally I can spill the beans

As of today, Habbo is a dual currency economy. Credits are bought and used to purchase persistent value, and you can earn Pixels by doing Achievements and just hanging around online. We’re piloting the change in UK, and if it’s working fine, the other countries will get it at some point in the future (as usual).

The user feedback is of course mixed, but given the ratio of positive vs negative comments, I think we’ll get pretty good overall rating in the final evaluation of the release.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s participated in the GDC “Free to Play, Pay for Stuff” round tables – I’m fairly sure this would not have happened without those sessions. And of course, Daniel James and Matt Mihaly for graciously sharing so much of what they’ve done with virtual economies.

Unfortunately I can’t spill all the beans on this but rest assured what’s out now is not the whole system. There’s still a lot to work on, and most importantly a lot of user feedback to read. It seems I’ll be giving a post mortem of sorts about this in GDC, where I hope I can share a lot more than this. :)

Nielsen on Agile

Nielsen Norman group just published a 95-page report about Agile processes, and how design can work inside the flow. I haven’t had the time to read through the whole thing yet, but it seems the overall quality of the papers is pretty good. The report starts with a fairly long bit about agile scrum-style iterative processes and delves into the design bits only later, so even if you’re not actually using agile processes right now, the paper should fit you just fine.

I’m not getting a dime out of recommend the thing – the reason I’m pointing you there is that UX and Agile is not necessarily the easiest marriage in the world, and that I’d love to see more companies start using Scrum. I just watched the team give a sprint demo today back at the office, and it’s glaringly obvious people are happier now than what they were before we started using Scrum. And we’re getting more done, too! :)

Three decisions to make on virtual goods

Eric Ries, one of the IMVU founders, has posted an excellent piece on three key questions to ask yourself when thinking of virtual goods models:

  • User-generated content (UGC) or first-party content?
  • Subscription or a la carte payments?
  • Merchandising or gameplay?

I’m finding the amount of Habbo references interesting, but then I would assume that every virtual goods startup has used the service as a reference.

Two videos worth watching

First a short awesome clip of Little Big Planet gameplay where someone has constructed a working calculator out of more than 1600 parts in the game. Watch it to the end, so you’ll see the magnitude of the construction. Boggles my mind.

Second clip is an hour long, but worth watching if you do any design work which results in users making choices. The video shows a talk from Barry Schwartz and deals with the Paradox of Choice as he’s putting it – people get paralyzed of all the choice available nowadays, and end up choosing nothing as a result. My head is exploding with the amount of application this has in the design work I do, as well as explains a lot on why life feels a bit hard sometimes.

A simple game design example could be, this explains why choosing which quests to do in which order in WoW is so painful compared to installing an addon that tells you what to do next. Of course, I don’t do the quests in the order the addon tells me to most of the time, but having a reference point to compare my choice to makes it faster to decide what to do, and I get more satisfaction for not having to doubt my selection as much.(Apologies to those with RSS readers that don’t show video.)