Category Archives: Gaming and communities

Adventures of Snotbagel the Squig Herder

Couldn’t resist posting after Ben Zeigler reviewed WAR starting with the exact words I’d used to start my review. :)

I now have a level 12 Goblin Squig Herder in Warhammer Online.

What I’ve liked this far:

  • I love the sense of humor. And there’s lots of it in WAR, more than in other MMOs I’ve played
  • The achievements and related mechanisms like earning titles is very cool
  • Public Quests as means to gather influence that gives better loot is _so_ much nicer than having to do raids
  • Tome of Knowledge is awesome
  • The speed of progression has been pretty good, I’ve felt very little of the things I’ve been doing have been grinding
  • The Warhammer world seems to have achieved something I though was next to impossible – almost every player I’ve met has (accidentally?) chosen a name that somehow fits his in-game race/career, indicating they’ve all considered their “role” in the game to some extent, even if they’re not roleplayers at all. Dwarf names sound dwarven, and orcish dudes have generally appropriate names as well. I think this is very impressive.
  • The psychological effect of calling PvP RvR is awesome. I hate PvP, but love War’s RvR, and the game telling me I’ve been flagged for RvR doesn’t raise the PvP alert.

What doesn’t work:

  • As Ben is pointing out, I have real difficulty understanding the results of my actions in combat. Judging by how I’m scoring in the Public Quests, I’m pretty effective in combat compared to many other players, but I’m having issues understanding exactly why. I think I know what I’m doing right, but there’s too little indication of what the underlying game rules are that guide what happens based on my actions. This is resulting in myself finding it hard to form combat tactics, but also I don’t actually understand what equipment I should use, as I don’t really understand what the different bonuses do.
  • The game has issues with client/server synchronization. Two issues in particular I’m seeing are that my squig suddenly turns into a mode where it’s still following me, but I lose control of it completely (the UI disappears). Second one is when I run to hit an opponent at melee range, and the client tells me I’m not close enough to hit, even though my Goblin is drawn right next to the opponent. The latter happens surprisingly often, and is very irritating.
  • I’ve tried to create talismans, but getting the resources and just plain understanding how the crafting works is just too much. This means my inventory is cluttered by a ton of materials for making talismans that I can’t really use, but don’t want to destroy for fear of needing them. Also the talisman making balancing seems to be wrong right now, since getting access to items with better bonuses than ones from talismans seems to be much, much easier, than trying to use the crafting. In WoW, I could actually use leatherworking to get good stuff for my Hunter, but now the crafting seems to be pretty much useless.
  • I’m not sure what to think on the subject of the world feeling empty, or full. I’ve formed a lot more spontaneous parties in Warhammer than I’ve ever done in WoW, and generally it’s very easy to get a team formed for the public quests. However, most of the RvR areas are just empty, and something is causing the RvR scenario queue wait times to be so long that I’m effectively not able to participate in those at all.
  • Last but not least, GOA is improving but they still aren’t doing a good job. Their RSS feed for news has the same content for each headline. The website uses craptastic custom-made DHTML widgets in every place where possible, making the site hard to use. There’s no forums. There’s no decent manual, and no explanation of anything on the website. And interestingly half of the account management is still offline, so I can’t yet give them my billing information! I would have assumed the credit card charging processes would’ve been done prior to launch, and not after.

So – my current sentiment is, I love the game and will continue playing for at least some time to see some of the content closer to the end-game. I hope the bugs and balancing issues are worked out soon, and that my server gets a better balanced amount of players to both Order and Destruction sides soon.

(Ben’s comment on having the game run slow are odd. My MacBook Pro can run the game very well under XP, and that’s using a graphics card Mythic says might not work.)

I'm really enjoying WAR

I’m not writing a long piece now since I don’t know where to start. I just wanted to ping the readers I think the game is excellent – if you are considering ever playing an MMO or are getting bored of WoW, I really recommend checking Warhammer Online out.

I’ve found I enjoy playing WAR more than WoW, and the game has a ton of design jewels and ideas I’ve liked. Last night I got an achievement for having clicked myself a hundred times. It’s totally pointless, but who cares – it’s telling me a bit about what I’ve done in the game. And my current title in the game is “Run away!” from the achievement of having been killed 10 times by a monster.

Longer piece about the game will come at some point. Right now I’ll rather spend my time playing. :P

Why the web industry doesn't need to fear the games industry

Warhammer launch is today so I’m excitedly installing the game Amazon delivered right on time. The game has been described to be very innovative so I’m eagerly waiting for the experience. However, the process of getting in isn’t exactly smooth. I’m pretty sure the following would not be happening if we were discussing a web startup.

The installer uses 2 DVDs to install and it takes about half an hour or so. There is no expected time left timer, and the progress bar goes to 100% after about 10 minutes, so you’re left hanging for 20 minutes wondering if the installation is progressing, or not.

After installing the software, I try to fire it up to start patching while I setup the account. No can do, you can’t patch the game before you sign in. Wtf?

I had pre-registered an account on the WAR Europe site. But due to GOA imposing strange new requirements on the password, I had had to choose something I don’t regularly use, so I’ve of course forgotten the password. Now, get this, there is no process for forgotten passwords. You lose it, the account is gone. I could send in customer services request but I somehow think they won’t reply within the next couple days.

And you can’t even test passwords on the website. You can’t log into the account management as there is no account management. There is no user forum.

So off to creating a new account. Obviously the username and identity I’d like to use are locked by the previous registration so I have to invent new ones. Some fucker has thought it’s a good idea to implement form elements in the registration using fancy DHTML widgets that both look ugly and don’t work as expected so filling in the data is pain. The registration page is also chock full of elements that link to the front page of the site so single accidental click and off you go to start the process from scratch.

Once I managed to send in the registration, it took 10 minutes for the reg email to arrive to Gmail. After this I was allowed to type in the registration code in another form (that asks for the password twice and again requires me to accept the terms I’ve already accepted during installation and registration).

It then took about 5 minutes for the patcher to think my account is ok, but I had to restart it twice for the patching to actually start. And now that it’s started, the patch is 822 MB in size. On the first day? Come on, when were the disks printed?

I don’t think I’ll be playing the game today, since the patcher has progressed from 0% to 1% while writing this rant. I would assume the patch servers are choking with load and there’s probably a lot more people with the same issue.

So – GOA seems to think we’re somewhere in the early 90s when it comes to doing games websites. And Mythic, shame on you for the massive patch even before the game has launched.

Nintendo profit per employee in 2008: $1.6 million

Financial Times has a pretty incredible story on their site, where they say they’re estimating Nintendo is going to be make a profit of $1.6 million per employee.

This makes for an interesting data point in the PS3 vs 360 vs Wii discussion. Sony is saying they’re making a loss of $1.16 billion on PS3 hardware this year and I doubt MS is making a ton on their sales either. So while Wii is certainly the least capable of the boxes (as Bruce is quite happy to point out for some reason), it’s the machine that’s making the profit.

I’m extremely interested in seeing what Nintendo does next. I think whatever they do, it’ll either be a spectacular success, or spectacular failure. Probably depends a lot on what the aging designer thinks they should do next.

(Via Daring Fireball).

Warhammer Europe Beta is going… not well

So… Everyone is blogging about Warhammer open beta being an epic failure in Europe. Given that GOA doesn’t have a very good reputation and that they seem to be screwing around with the Warhammer launch, it’s not looking good. What’s particularly worrisome to me is the explanation of scaling server capacity up only as needed. From a customer perspective, I expect that’ll mean I’ll have to queue to play, and I can guarantee if that happens more then three times without giving me free move to a less burdened server, someone is in for a credit card chargeback.

The server issues coupled with Mythic not being sure if my laptop can actually run the game (GeForce 8600M GT with 512 MB VRAM, runs WoW at 60 fps or so), it starting to feel like Warhammer the game is going to be great, but the technical implementation of the client and server will prevent me from enjoying it. Which is very frustrating, since I really want to play the game, to the point where I’m willing to boot to XP to do it. And that’s saying a lot.

On the hardware requirements side, I have to confess I’m surprised at the minimum spec Mythic has chosen. The current wisdom seems to state one of the reasons WoW succeeded in the first place was the low barrier to entry with the hardware requirements. I don’t know the people in my guild that well, but I’m assuming most of them aren’t the kind of people who upgrade computers to run a game. In fact, very few of the people I ever talked to who play WoW are “hard core” enough to purchase gaming PC’s. People have been hopeful of WAR being the first significant WoW contender but given the game might not run well on many of the WoW player’s machines, this might be a big bump on WAR’s road.

Another interesting aspect that will also affect how well War market adoption is the lack of a Mac client. My personal impression is that Mac owners are more likely to be early adopters than PC owners, and definitely are more likely to recommend products they like to everyone they know. This in turn means that Mac users are more valuable for word of mouth marketing than PC users. This combined with the fact that WoW has lots of Mac players (statistic, anyone, please?) who either can’t play War at all (if no Windows is installed) or need to boot to XP meaning you can’t casually log in (which is totally counter to the Mythic claim of the game being casual-friendly) means WAR will lose a lot of potential early adopter marketing goodwill. And given people form their opinions rather quickly meaning you only get one chance to launch your game, losing the launch game is likely to result in mediocre market performance.

Of course, again, I wish this doesn’t happen. I really want to see WAR succeed. Anyway, I think I’ll wait for a bit and see if I should cancel my pre-order and wait for the dust to settle. If GOA doesn’t get their act together, I can always hit the US servers.

Thoughts on in-game advertising

One of the hot new ways to make money with games and virtual worlds is advertising. Or at least that’s what a lot of companies want all game developers to believe. If visit website of any of the in-game ad network providers such as IGA Worldwide or Double Fusion, they have a bunch of press releases out on more and more games including ads, and what a wonderful world has become to the developers.

Nielsen and IGA also published a study in June where they found 82% of gamers didn’t mind contextual ads in games. Curiously doesn’t have any more information about the study (contrary to the press release) so I don’t know what games and methodologies were used to get the result. I would assume if this was on a racing game, the game would probably feel more real with real ads, so getting such a good result would be quite natural. Had this been about slapping a Coke board on a building in Thunder Bluff, I doubt the score would have been in this league.

Now, it seems the current message being broadcasted to game developers is that putting ads into your game gives you free money. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Andrew Chen blogged an excellent piece about maximizing ad revenue a couple weeks back, which specifically deals with what websites can do to get more dough. If you’re doing bulk advertising (banners in any for, be it adwords or video streamed to a medium rectangle), bringing in serious money requires serious volumes, which, if you read Andrew’s posting, changes how you make the money on a given network.

Websites can tackle this by integrating multiple networks of choice, but I as far as I know (and I don’t know much), there aren’t enough of them for in-game advertising to allow for this to happen for games. With relatively little competition, the networks can require exclusive deals, and I’d be surprised if the CPM rates of the networks varied enough to call for this type of an optimization. Further, I’m not sure if too many game developers even think of this level of sophistication when integrating ads into a game, given that most websites don’t probably do this. Anyway, this probably means that the average developer who integrates into the current networks should not expect a fat check in the mail, no matter what anyone tells you.

Talking about economies of scale, part of the reason Google is so darn effective in the online advertising is that they can sell targeted advertising to anyone willing to spend any money at all in ads. Joe Bob’s Auto Garage from Oklahoma can decide to spend a hundred bucks on people searching for local auto dealers and it’s possible. With in-game ads, I doubt getting access to those dollars will come any time soon, which probably cuts off a very significant portion of businesses putting money into advertising. And if your ad dollars come from a small set of big companies, you won’t get a single ad in your game if they don’t happen to like the content. Modern online advertising has a long tail, and the way to cash that is by serving Google Adwords.

Coming to think of it, it might be worth starting a business that offered developers technology that offered compatibility with any in-game ad network and enabled the developers to change the integration on the fly, rather than relying on a single network. This could be the beginning of making smaller scale ad-funded games a lot more viable than today.

Now, even if advertising in games is it’s infancy, there’s movement ahead that might make in-game ads a lot more appealing and lucrative in the future. PlayNoEvil had an extremely interesting speculation about upcoming ad war between Google and Microsoft. Given that games can offer a lot deeper exposure than most websites, if there’ll be disturbances in the force on the web, advertisers might suddenly start to flock to media where ad-blockers and browser incompatibilities are nowhere to be seen. We live in interesting times!