Friday, July 30, 2010

The $20 subscription

When I started playing MMORPGs a decade ago, the monthly subscription did cost $9.95. With the years the typical monthly subscription rate rose to $15. So, adding a few years more of inflation, will we see the typical monthly subscription cost rise to $20? Maybe, but it could also be that we'll see a very different, and less obvious price increase.

How do game companies set the price for a MMORPG? If you think the monthly subscription rate has anything to do with what it cost to make and run the game, you are wrong. The price point is set to maximize revenue, using what an economist calls a demand curve. That curve shows for every possible price how many people would buy the product. For example, imagine there is one guy willing to pay $100 for a new game, plus 10 people willing to pay $10, and an additional 50 people willing to play only if it just costs $1. So how do we set the price? If we set the price to $1, all these 61 people will play, but we only get $61. If we set the price to $100, we only get 1 customer, but the revenue rises to $100. The optimum for a single price in this example is $10, because then we get 11 customers, for a total revenue of $110.

But is that the maximum we can get for our new game? No, the maximum would be if we could get everybody to play, each paying the maximum of what he is willing to pay. If we could get the 50 people paying $1 each, plus the 10 people paying $10 each, plus the 1 guy paying $100, we would make $250 instead of just $110. And this is where the Free2Play business model of MMORPGs comes in: If set up perfectly, everybody with any interest in the game will play it, paying as much money in the item shop as is his personal maximum expenditure for the game.

That isn't just economic theory. Turbine was quite open in reporting the results of switching Dungeons & Dragons Online from monthly subscription to Free2Play, stating they increased their revenue by 500%. So now they are trying the same trick with Lord of the Rings Online, and other companies are jumping on the bandwagon. And that is with games that had initially be designed for a monthly subscription business model; we could expect games designed from the bottom up directly for a Free2Play business model to capture the money customers are willing to spend even better.

Now of course the devil is in the detail of how to design the item shop of a Free2Play game, and there are certainly good and bad designs. But economic theory tells us that in spite of all the suspicion some people have against the Free2Play model, a perfectly designed Free2Play game not only makes more money than a perfectly designed monthly subscription game, it is also better for the players: Lots of players who wouldn't be able to afford the monthly subscription game at all could play the Free2Play game. Some people claim that Free2Play games would automatically designed to be more grindy and less fun, to get players to spend more, but it is obvious that if the game isn't inherently fun, players would just leave and play something else. It isn't as if we were forced to play a specific game, developers must always design a game for maximum fun regardless of business model, or lose customers.

So whether we will see the $20 monthly subscription MMORPG in the future isn't certain. The monthly subscription business model might be a dying breed, and in a decade there will be only Free2Play games left. Albeit unlikely, the Free2Play model also could disappear again for some reason, for example due to the tricky legal problem of virtual property. Or we could some sort of balance to establish themselves, with some games having a monthly subscription (going up with time), and others being Free2Play. There are even other pricing models possible. With the MMORPG overall market still growing, there is room not only for different games, but also for different business models.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How much does playing a MMORPG cost?

Playing a typical monthly-subscription MMORPG costs around $200 per year, including the cost of the game and expansions. If you played World of Warcraft for 5 years, you probably paid pretty much exactly $1,000 to Blizzard. But that is the easiest case of cost calculation, and it only represents the direct costs. Saying how much a Free2Play game costs is much more difficult, because the cost is variable, depending of what exactly you want to get out of the game. The more you pay, the more you get, obviously, although that still astonishes or even outrages some of the more naive players. And more and more games come out as Free2Play, or switch from monthly subscription to Free2Play, like Everquest 2 this week. Different Free2Play games have different payment options and plans, and figuring out how much you'll end up paying is about as impossible as figuring out your mobile phone payment plan. With iron discipline you can play for absolutely free, but if you don't watch yourself you might easily spend more for a "free" game than for a subscription game.

And then there are the indirect costs. How much did you pay over the last 5 years for computers and your internet connection? Probably more than the $1,000 I mentioned for 5 years of playing WoW. In most places the internet connection alone already costs more than the $15 per month of a monthly subscription MMORPG. But then of course playing a MMORPG is probably not the only thing you need your computer and internet connection for, and your monthly payment for the internet might be a "triple play" plan including telephone and digital TV. MMORPGs also usually don't require a lot of data transfer, so you don't really need high-speed internet to play a MMORPG, it only comes in handy on patch day. So many people chose not to count the cost of their computer and internet connection as "MMORPG cost".

That can change if a new game *requires* you to buy a new computer. The announced system requirements for Final Fantasy XIV for example are definitively on the high side, requiring at least an i7 CPU, 4 GB of memory (which, if completely true would mean you can't run FFXIV on a 32-bit operating system, because you need a 64-bit operating system to access more than 3 GB of memory), and a GeForce 460 GTX or better. The new computer I bought a year-and-a-half ago barely fulfils these requirements, so it'll probably require the next computer I'll probably buy next year before I can play FFXIV in high resolution.

I have to question the wisdom of Square Enix on this. Most MMORPG players don't mind paying those $200 per year for a good game, but might balk at spending an additional $1,000+ for a computer to run it, or at least several hundred dollars for upgrading their existing one. So not only will the overall price tag prevent some potential customers from actually buying the game, even worse, customer who *do* buy the game give most of their money to the computer shop and hardware companies, and not to the game developer.

In summary, how much playing a MMORPG costs is similar to the question of how much a car costs, in that there isn't really one true answer. You can pay between nothing at all (if you consider your computer and internet being "free") to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, if you attribute all the indirect costs to the game. The good news is that if you take the average cost of $200 per year, and the average amount people play of around 1,000 hours per year, the cost per hour of entertainment is pretty low.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Civilization for facebook

Did you know that there is official version of Civilization developed for facebook? I think that it one day it could be the best game on facebook. Official name of Civilization for facebook is Civilization Network and there is only very few info about this game. For games like Civilization is facebook absolutely ideal place. Imagine how you rule your nation in world with your friends and thousands other players. No one really knows when exactly will the Civilization Network be released. There should have been some beta testing of the game this June, but that apparently did not happen. Sid Meier said about the game earlier: "Ever since we finished Civilization Revolution last year, I've been looking at ways of expanding the Civ gameplay experience to include solo, competitive and cooperative play to take advantage of the uniqueness of social can coordinate your strategy to win great battles, share your technology to jump ahead of your rivals, lobby your family and friends to form your own government and win vital elections, manage and grow your cities to maximize production and happiness, spy on your enemies, and work with your friends to create the great Wonders of the World. Everything you enjoy in Civ in a fully persistent environment - you can play as much as you like, whenever you like, and it'll be free to play." Well, let's all hope that it is going to be so great game as it looks now.


Bola in Spain means ball and that is what this game in this review is all about. Bola is very likely the best facebook game that is about football. well there is only very few football games on the facebook and this one is something really different, because it actually have some graphics. I never knew that you can do in flash so complex 3d games so I wans almost shocked while I've seen this game on facebook for the first time. Real 3d football n flash on facebook? That is really great, unfortunately, this games has few really bad aspects in gamepley and even in management. The most funny part of football managers are definetely actions like buys players and building stadiums. Well, in Bola you can buld stadium and it is really good fun, you choose from hug variety of types of scaffolds. Well, what you cannot do in Bola and I really hope that that is going to be changed soon is buying players. You can buy speed for players, you can buy better abilities for your goal keeper, you can even buy coach, but for some crazy reason you cannot buy players in game that is football manager!!! At least gameplay is really good and definetely the best on facebook. You can really play the metches by controlling players like on real Fifa games, of course with worse graphics and much less available moves. There are also many errors in the game, no it is not lagging or anything like that, but you can sometimes score quite easily from places that are very far from goal, you can even score from the middle of the ground. Well, even it has many bad aspects, it is still the best football game on facebook and I would recommend it to anyone who likes football games.
Rating 8/10

Starfleet Commander

Hello everyone, today I have for you one game I really like and game that definetely belongs among the best facebook games. If you like sci-fi and if you are looking for the best facebook games, then you will probably like this one. In Starfleet Commander is your task something much more interesting than building some farm or playing with your pet, in this is your task to build galactic empire and crush your enemies with your fleet of galactic starhips. Even I really like this game, this game has many aspects, that could have been done better. I think that the biggest problem of this game is that it has really slow start and many players leaves the game before it gets really funny. It is also problems of this game that in the beginning this game might seem to someone as too complicated, but it is in fact quite simple. In this game you build some mines to get resources, with these resources you can either build more mines, or you can invest them to research of new technologies or you can start to build your fleet of ships you can use to attack other players and get their resources. In this game you can also join alliances, colonize planets and lot more. I don't like on this game that it does not have to much graphics, it is more like text based game with few pictures, but it i still my favourite game on facebook right now and if you like sci-fi games, you will probably also like this one that belongs among the best facebook games.
Rating: 7/10


FrontierVille is game that is without any doubt very similar to FarmVille, but I have to say that I like it more, because they have added few things to this game that you cannot find at FarmVille. Main purpose of the game is not just building a farm, the main purpose is to be pioneer of the American Old West. It is really good that this game has some story, even it is very shallow story, it is still better than nothing. The next good thing about FrontierVille is that you have there tasks and many of them and that makes the game much more funny than just planting without any further purpose. The story of this game is that you come to the American Old West and you have to build up place for your future family and then even whole small town. Unfortunately, this game has many some problems as FarmVille and that is that game is funny for one or two hours, but then you need to invest some real money for building the buildings or you have to ask your friends to send you everything you need to build the town and I'm sure that there are many players as me who doesn't want to spend money on such games or doesn't want to annoy their friends with huge amount of requests from all these games. Well, it is still quite good game with nice music and atmosphere of American Old West.
Rating: 6/10


Hello, FarmVille is game you probably know, because everybody knows FarmVille. FarmVille is in fact the most popular game on facebook. When it was on the top FarmVille played amazing 62 milion of active users. This game is something like simulation of life at the farm, but it is also of course quite childish as many games on facebook. It has the some problem as many games on facebook, because developers thinks that when they makes game based on flash it must be very simple and easy and that is exactly what FarmVille is. The only thing you can do at FarmVille is planting flowers, buying trees, livestock and sometime buildings. That is all, it can be fun for few days, but very soon this game is boring. Well, there is one good thing about FarmVille and that is that the game still develops so it is definetely better game now than it was about year before, but it is still game more for kids than for adults and if you are looking for some really quality games on facebook, FarmVille won't make you happy. As many games from Zynga, in FarmVille if you really want to enjoy the game, then you have to spend some real money and that is something what most people don't like.
Rating: 4/10

Welcome to the best facebook games

Hello, welcome to my site Best Facebook Games. Nowadays almost everyone has account on facebook and of course many people plays games on facebook, but there is one problem regarding facebook games and that is the way of finding new quality games. Games on facebook you can rate with giving stars, but that is all and that is definetely not good. There is just no big list of best facebook games and that is something I want to change, here on this site you can always find my favourite facebook games, because I've played huge amount of these games and I'm also still looking for some more.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Interactive storytelling

In Bioshock 1 the story starts with you arriving at a strange location, and receiving a request for help by radio, which gets you involved in the story. Later it turns out *SPOILER WARNING* that the guy who asked you for help was actually mind-controlling you with the key-phrase "would you kindly", and your character didn't have any choice whether to follow his request or not. I found that a brilliant plot element, because for once there was an explanation for something we actually experience in many games with a story: We don't get many choices which would really influence the story. Most of the time the main story elements are telling you what to do, and your choices are either to follow the story, or to stop playing. In Bioshock you only get to make a single decision (save or harvest the little sisters), and that decision doesn't change anything in the gameplay, it only affects the game over cutscene. Other games, like Dragon Age: Origins, give you only the decision to make in which order to do the various chapters of the story, and allow you some minor decisions which only affect the chapter you are in, and that in a minor way. Why don't games allow us more decisions that actually affect how the story progresses?

Imagine an interactive story where at the start you are asked to make a first decision, which controls in which of two completely separate and independent branches of the story you end up. Then, a while later, each of the branches would have another decision, again splitting up the story in different branches. It is easy to see that quickly you would get a lot of different possible stories, for example with 10 binary decisions you'd get 1,024 different stories. If all of these were completely different from each other, the game would have immense replay value, but every time you play it through you only see 0.1% of the game. Thus from the point of view of the developers of the game, such a system would be extremely inefficient. You'd need to program a thousand times more code than a linear game, and players certainly wouldn't be willing to pay a thousand times more.

Thus if the ideal decision tree looks like a tree with many branches, the real decision tree of existing games looks like a tree that has been severely pruned by an overactive gardener with a chainsaw. For example a story told by a quest series in a MMORPG only gives you at each step the decision to either accept or reject the next quest. If you reject any of the steps, the story simply stops, and you get no further reward. That being the obviously worse option, people just click accept, often without even reading the quest text. As the story is completely linear and doesn't allow any decisions by the players, the players rationally decide that they don't even need to know the story, but just need the short version of "kill 10 foozles" displayed in their quest tracker.

So if programming a story with lots of decision trees is ineffective, how can we possible arrive at games with interactive story-telling? The answer can be found in the stories that player actually tell about virtual worlds, for example on blogs. Nobody blogs about having helped NPC Farmer Brown with his problem of wolves eating his chickens by killing 10 wolves. Instead players blog about their interaction with other players, good or bad, from generous help from strangers to horrible pickup groups with ninja-looters. The more player interaction a game allows, the more interesting the stories that are told about it, which is why sandbox PvP games produce the most interesting (albeit often least pleasant) stories.

The current design of PvE in MMORPGs is completely static. 5 minutes after killing the wolves for Farmer Brown, the wolves are back, and Farmer Brown gives the same quest to the next player. Thus players have no impact on the virtual world, and their "decision" of whether to help Farmer Brown against the wolves is completely irrelevant and changes nothing. To allow interactive storytelling to happen, decisions need to have consequences. But of course we can't make a game where the decision of the first player to kill the wolves has the consequence that there are no more wolves for the other players to kill, because then there would be no game to play for the other players. The solution therefore must be some sort of dynamic situation with several possible states, for example a state in which farmland is small and beleaguered, and another state in which wildlife has been beaten back and farmland is large. When the wildlife side is strong, Farmer Brown would ask players to kill wolves, but if farmland is strong some druid NPC in the forest would give players quests to plant magical fast-growing trees on the farmland to grow the wildlife again. There could be many dynamic equilibria in such a game, and the decisions of players to help one side or another would actually have an effect on the virtual world, and thus be more memorable. Interactive stories would basically tell themselves, without each possibility having had to be individually programmed.

I do believe that MMORPGs as a genre are moving towards more dynamic PvE worlds, which will allow PvE stories to happen. Warhammer Online made a first step in that direction with public quests, and Guild Wars 2 announced to push that concept further, towards a virtual world which changes, and where the current state of the virtual world determines what adventures there are to do for the players.

The other half of the development is more possibilities for positive player interactions in PvE games. Giving players the possibility to positively affect each others gameplay in a PvE game, instead of the negative interaction already possible in PvP games, makes stories happen. Earlier games actually had some good systems, like the vassal and liege system of Asheron's Call, but those have not received sufficient credit and attention. If done well, systems which reward veteran players for helping new players not only create better player-to-player interaction and stories, but also vastly improve the new player experience of older games, and thus improve new player retention.

If these things happen, MMORPGs developing dynamic worlds influenced by the players, and improving player-to-player interactions, we might arrive at a point where those "massively multiplayer" games really deserve that label and don't play like massively parallel singleplayer games. And interaction between players will make interesting stories appear, without the need for mind-control.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Impact vs. time

Much has been written about the relative greater success of PvE games over PvP games, or why in a game offering both a majority of players remains in safe areas like UO Trammel or EVE empire space. The theories range from impact PvP being inherently "niche" to the idea that PvP just "hasn't been done right yet". But while spending my holiday mostly away from computers, I came up with a different explanation: What if it is simply a question of time?

On the larger time scale, consider my holiday: When I'll be back to World of Warcraft after an absence of 3 weeks, I'll be able to continue as if I hadn't been away at all. The PvE content is still there like it was before I left, and my guild isn't so hardcore as to kick out players for a few weeks of absence. Now if I was playing a PvE game with lots of politics, territorial conquest, and warfare between alliances, several weeks of absence would be a lot more noticeable. A lot of things can happen during 3 weeks in an impact PvP game, and the more you are involved, lets say as leader of an alliance, the harder would it be to just take 3 weeks off. You'd probably find your position usurped by another player, and the situation completely changed.

On the smaller time scale, PvE content is easier to consume in shorter sessions. If you have just half an hour to play, you can do a heroic dungeon in World of Warcraft nowadays. But setting up a big PvP battle takes a lot longer. If you want to play politics in an impact PvP game, you'd better be online a lot. And games of territorial conquest become somewhat silly when everbody logs off after the enemy territory is taken, allowing the enemy to take it back a short time later.

While the press usually reports about the extremes, the players who play 16+ hours a day, the average player is estimated to spend just 20 hours a week online, and casual players might just be playing an hour per day, and not every day. That works fine in the pseudo-static environment of PvE games, but playing little and on an unpredictable schedule is certainly a huge disadvantage for PvP. So maybe the smaller number of PvP players can simply be explained by the average player not having the time to really get involved enough in a PvP game to really make the desired impact.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The million-subscriber MMORPG

Some weeks ago Ayane from Moon over Endor posted a well-documented list of upcoming MMORPGs. I don't really keep up to date with the various announcements, as video games not always make it from announcement to release, so my interest in new games usually starts with the beta. But I must say that from what I read about upcoming games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, or Final Fantasy XIV, I'm cautiosly optimistic that we might approach the next phase of MMORPG market development: The phase where we get more than one million-subscriber MMORPG in the western market.

While right now several games claim to have over a million "players", most of these are Free2Play, and simply count everyone, even if they just created an account once, played for 5 minutes, and then uninstalled the game. Of the monthly subscription games only a few games even sold a million copies, and only World of Warcraft managed to hang onto over a million subscribers in the West for more than a year. That has led some people to say that WoW is a special case, and no future MMORPG will reach the million-subscriber level of success. I even have a bet going with syncaine, who claims not even Blizzard's next MMORPG will retain over a million subscribers after 6 months.

I believe that the MMORPG market is quietly growing. As mentioned previously, the apparent stagnation of World of Warcraft at somewhere around 11 million subscribers (of which an unknown number, probably above 5 million outside Asia), combined with still strong sales means that there is a growing army of ex-WoW-players. That means the potential market size is probably already larger than 10 million players in the USA and Europe. Thus a "next big thing" game capturing 10% of that market isn't really that outlandish.

What I believe will be the important factor for success is not this or that feature of a new game, but rather old-fashioned execution. The phase in which MMORPGs could afford to launch half-baked and full of bugs is definitively over, and I would claim that many of the spectacular failures in the past years had more to do with quality than with features. This is one reason why I am optimistic for the future. Not just for Blizzard's next MMO, which is still far out, but also for games like SWTOR, GW2, or FFXIV.

So will that get us some radically new gameplay? Well, yes, eventually, but that is more likely to be an even later phase. We *first* need to have a couple of million-subscriber games or similar financial successes for games without monthly subscriptions. Because a game with a million subscribers and a classic cost structure brings in about $200 million a year, and only if that is a level of success which appears possible will companies be willing to spend over $100 million on the development of a new game. Which is the kind of money needed to be competitive in terms of polish and looks as AAA-game. I think at first companies will play it safe, and SWTOR will be a lot like WoW with jedis and voice-overs. Only after the market has seen several big and successful games will newcomers feel the need to differentiate and design new sorts of gameplay that aren't based on levels, and quests, and static abilities on hotkeys. But innovation might be closer than we think, Guild Wars 2 has some interesting ideas on structuring the flow of the game differently than classic quests do, although of course GW2 isn't subscription-based and thus is a bit out of my million-subscriber game competition.

So I do think that MMORPGs still have a bright future. Only it will take some time to develop. But if I look how the genre has grown in the last decade, I'm quite optimistic of seeing further growth and a lot of interesting games in the next decade. In 2020 the million-subscriber MMORPG or games with a similar financial success but different business models will appear less exotic than they are now.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Story speed vs. speed of advancement

On holiday without a PC, I'm playing Disgaea on the PSP instead. Disgaea has a story that you access by doing a linear series of battles. But there is a twist: Your characters advance in power slower than the difficulty level of the set story battles goes up. In consequence you are forced to side-track, and either repeat old battle maps or play on the random battle maps of the "item world", which has the added advantage to "level up" your gear. That can be fun if you are mostly interested in character advancement, but might feel a bit grindy if you are mostly interested in following the story. In any case the game got me to think how other role-playing games manage the story speed versus the speed of advancement.

In early World of Warcraft there were some quest series which had the same issue as Disgaea: If you picked up the level-appropriate starting quest, the later quests of the series would be too hard for you once you got there, forcing you to do other stuff to level up before. By the time you could finish the quest series you had half forgotten what the story was about, not ideal. But nowadays in general World of Warcraft rather has the inverse problem: You level up so fast that you can't do all the content of a given level before it turns grey. Fortunately that is just a minor problem, few people are as completionist as to be bothered by that, and you can always play through the left out quests with an alt. Overall there aren't that many clashes in WoW between story speed and speed of advancement, because the story in WoW is such a weak element of the game. Actually the biggest problem you might run into is that if you don't have people to raid with, you advance to such a high level of power with epic gear in the endgame that there is only trivialy easy solo and small group content left.

Next year's Star Wars: The Old Republic promises to be more story-heavy, so I'm wondering how the speed of the story will work out there compared to the speed of your characters advancement. Will there actually be longer story lines in the game? And if yes, how does the game lead people through those story lines and makes sure the content is always level-appropriate?

I think that the defining feature of role-playing games, having character advancement, makes story-telling in these games more difficult. At the final showdown with the big boss battle you want the boss to be neither a push-over, nor unbeatable. Doing side-quests to become stronger is nearly always a possibility, but it breaks up the flow of the main story. Other games, lets say point-and-click adventures, don't have that problem, because they don't have character advancement, and can concentrate fully on the main story. On the other hand there is some indication that players don't all care about the main story anyway. Maybe role-playing games should change the way they tell stories and make the player character more central to how the story is told and chronicled. Players are likely to be more interested in their own advancement story than in saving yet another princess.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ashamed of being a gamer?

For obvious reasons Blizzard thinks that video games are a great thing, which might have contributed to their surprise when so many people people loudly protested against being "outed" as gamers through RealID. So, are we all ashamed of being gamers? There have been quite a lot of comments on the RealID threads in which people said they wouldn't want others, especially future employers, to be able to identify them as gamers through Google. You can always claim that you are only on Facebook to connect to old friends, but being highly visible on lets say the World of Warcraft forums pretty clearly attaches a "gamer" tag on your back.

One aspect of that is that video games, especially MMORPGs got a lot of bad press in the past. Those who don't know much about video games mostly think that games are for children, while the half-informed think of video game addiction and other bad headlines. Thus few people are willing to put video games as hobbies on their CV. That might be worrying a bit too much, I used to have "role-playing games" on my CV (that was before MMORPGs), and still got a good job, and can even make an interesting talking point during an interview. There are skills you can pick up in games that are actually job-relevant, for example team-work and leadership.

A more justified concern is if you want your real name to be visible in Google for professional reasons. Maybe you have a small business under your real name, or you publish scientific papers like me. Then of course you might want to keep your professional activities on top of a Google search, and not your epic discussion thread on why paladins should be nerfed. If I had done this blog under my real name, I would have completely crowded out my scientific publications from a Google search.

But that points us towards a more general reason for not wanting to be publicly known as gamer: Most of us consider some parts of our lives as private. There are subjects like politics, religion, or sexual preferences, which some people are proudly displaying, while many others avoid talking about them. That doesn't mean you are ashamed of them, but they might simply want to keep their convictions and private activities to themselves, instead of discussing them with everybody. Not all of us are extroverts. Some subjects are known to require a lot of explanation, or to provoke a lot of heated discussion, and so many people prefer simply to keep mum about them.

There is a lot of room between being ashamed of being a gamer, and wanting to shout it from every rooftop. I suspect that most of the people who were against RealID fell somewhere in that middle ground, and just wanted to keep their private lives private. And I do believe that Blizzard got the message. While some cynics commented that an integration of World of Warcraft and Facebook would still go ahead regardless of protests, I do believe that the details of such an integration are certainly under review. A lot can be done to address privacy concerns by using the correct opt-in and opt-out choices, and by tuning the thing in a way that game activities don't show up on Google. There is a reason why a Google search for you name doesn't lead to a page showing how many hours you spent playing Farmville.

So, how about you? Are you proud, neutral, or ashamed of being a gamer? Is it something you don't mind other people to know, or do you consider it a private activity you'd like to keep out of view?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Real Life review

Real Life (RL) is a rather controversial game, many people love it, but others can't stop complaining about it. So what I'll try in this post is to give a balanced review of Real Life for the average MMORPG player, some of which don't seem to be too familiar with it.

On the technical side, Real Life is astounding. Super-high resolution 3D graphics, more than photorealistic, and complete with full surround sound. Servers are up 24/7, and all maintenance is localized, thus Real Life never stops. But while the technology of Real Life is as modern as it could be, the game design is a bit old-fashioned and behind the curve: Ultra-harsh death penalty with permadeath, possible loss of equipment, and no quest system except for quests and errands you might receive from other players. Real Life is an ultra-hardcore sandbox game, and we all know the problems that this sort of game has.

While certainly realistic, the harsh death penalty makes players think twice before trying anything adventurous. Risk avoidance then leads to long stretches of the game where nothing much happens, which can be a bit boring. As a consequence Real Life is one of the few games where the crafting and tradeskill part of the game is more popular than the combat part of the game. Well, truth be told, combat in Real Life isn't much fun anyway. But in consequence many players spend a lot of time in RL doing player-given errands and quests, and that often involves grinding the same stuff over and over.

Real Life has no level system, instead your character progresses by learning skills and collecting gold and gear. The skill learning system has diminishing returns, so while learning new stuff early on is relatively easy, it takes more and more effort to advance further once your skill is already high. There are no classes either, although people have a habit of using their best skill as descriptor, so a guy who is good at the baking tradeskill might call himself a baker. While the system gives players the maximum freedom, it is somewhat unbalanced by the random starting conditions: Players start with a random selection of traits, talents, and heirloom items, and those who got lucky from the start have an advantage over those who started under less favorable conditions. Nevertheless, as Real Life is a full sandbox game, there are means to overcome even bad starting conditions given enough determination.

As there are no levels nor caps on the skills and gear you can accumulate in Real Life, there is some discussion about what the goal of RL actually is. There doesn't appear to be any end game in the classical sense. A lot of players think that getting their skills high, getting a lot of currency and gear, and ultimately taking part in the player housing system is the goal, and then follow that up by mentoring new players along the same path. Others are opting out of that system, and pursue different goal. As always in MMORPGs, that leads to players accusing each other of "playing it wrong", and complaining about the n00bs who should learn2play.

In spite of these flaws, I will spend the next three weeks concentrating on Real Life, and in consequence won't be able to play World of Warcraft. Even blogging will become extremely sporadic while I'll be playing RL, as I am taking part in a special holiday event which involves exploration of different zones. I recommend trying out Real Life, especially at this time of the year.

Blizzard backpedals

After the RealID story swapped over from gaming news to regular news like the BBC and the Washington Post, Blizzard decided that it was wiser to listen to their customers concerns. Thus they announced that real names will not be used on the Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft forums. Instead "you will be posting by your StarCraft II character name + character code", which assuming that the character code is unique, gives us all the advantages of being able to trace people's posts, without the disadvantages of revealing real names.

I do think that besides the bad PR, there was also a certain amount of account cancellations involved in that decision. I participated in that with a stupid trick, cancelling my now abandonded multiboxing account which would otherwise just have run out, citing RealID as reason for quitting. :) But by doing so I did notice that the EU account management site was sluggish and gave error messages, so that I only got the cancellation through on the third attempt. I don't assume the account site overload was caused by lots of people subscribing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Another theory of fun

Raph Koster worked in a leading position on both Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, wrote "A Theory of Fun for Game Design", and then founded Metaplace to build a virtual world platform which would allow users to build their own virtual worlds and post them on their blogs and sites. Well, Star Wars Galaxies had issues, and the Metaplace virtual world project went bust. So what did Raph do? He lets the Metaplace company quickly produce two Facebook games, and then sells the company to Playdom for an undisclosed number of millions of dollars.

From a business point of view I have to applaud the man, that was a really good move to turn game developer fame into a pile of cash. But as a sign of the times it is somewhat frightening. I didn't like Metaplace when I tried it in the beta, but the problem of it was that it was such a deep idea and brainy concept with endless possibilities that nobody ever got around to actually implement any fun gameplay into it. It was brilliant in theory and boring in practice. How do you get from there to "Island Life" and "My Vineyard", the complete theory behind which you can predict without having to actually play the game? These Facebook games only took a fraction of the time to develop than Metaplace did, and promptly got over a million players, more than Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and Metaplace together. And probably made Raph more money than any previous devlopment.

While Wolfshead posts another "back in the good ol' days everything was better" rants saying that Fun is for Children, Adventure is for Adults, undoubtedly thinking of UO, the guy who made UO and literally wrote the book on fun is now making Facebook games. I can't help but think that somewhere half way between intelligent virtual worlds lacking gameplay, and click-for-reward mindless Facebook games there must be a game that is *really* fun.

Now excuse me for half an hour, I have to program the "My BlogVille" Facebook game and sell it for a million.

The threat of RealID

Yet another thought on the RealID on forums story: Why does Blizzard assume that if RealIDs are published on the WoW forums, the quality of the forum posts will improve? What exactly would prevent you from posting a nasty and offending troll post on the WoW forums under your real name, if your name is sufficiently unique?

Obviously the real name does not in any way increase Blizzard's powers of forum moderation. Whatever name you used on the forums, Blizzard already knew your real name. Thus the hoped for effect is other players preventing the troll from posting. And how will they do that? Well, they still have absolutely no forum moderation powers. The only thing they gain is the knowledge of the troll's real name. And for that knowledge to be a threat sufficiently strong to prevent the troll from posting something offending on the forums, it must be possible for other players to hurt the troll by the use of his real name.

If, as some people say, there is no danger to you by your real name being shown on your posts, then how exactly would displaying that name diminish the troll posts? The threat of real life consequences are an inherent part of the RealID on forums plan. That real life consequence might be minor, like somebody sending the troll's mother a link to show her what language junior is using on the internet. But if there was no threat of real life consequences, then the RealID wouldn't diminish troll posts at all.

Thought for the day: Probability

There is just a one in a million chance that something really bad will happen as a result of some player of World of Warcraft having his name revealed. World of Warcraft has 11 million players. Do the math!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How to opt out of RealID

RealID is Blizzard's new "social network" feature on and games like Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft. Unfortunately there are some privacy concerns with it, like your real name being displayed on the forums, or addons you installed in WoW able to broadcast your name to other players. Thus you might want to turn it off. Which Blizzard made artificially difficult. As you simply won't find the option to turn RealID off by looking at your account management page on, here are the secret instructions on how to opt out of RealID:

The trick is to pretend that you are an responsible adult and your account is played by a child. Thus you need to visit Blizzard's parental control websitem either the US version or the EU version. Assuming you haven't set up parental controls before, you now need to click on "No - Set up Parental Controls Now". Then you have to enter you account name and password, plus the e-mail address from which you want to control the account as "parent". If you have an authenticator linked to the account, you'll have to enter that next.

Following this, you will get an e-mail, which you should archive carefully somewhere. It contains the link to the real parental controls. Click on the link. On that site RealID might already be disabled, but if it isn't, uncheck the "Enable RealID" box. Select you timezone in the dropdown box below, optionally request a weekly play time report, and don't forget to click on "Save Settings".

Voila, you have now turned off RealID. Good riddance!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blizzard is heading right towards their first privacy PR disaster

More and more news appear on Blizzard's RealID system, and things are starting to turn ugly: Blizzard announced that in the future all official forums would display your real name instead of your character name, and some clever hacks found out that addons can be programmed to display the real name of other WoW players without them having given you permission or friending you.

Protests are getting louder, Pangoria deleted his WoW posts on his blog in protest, and somebody even made a RealIDiots protest site. The countdown has started until something really bad happens, like somebody with a distinctive real name pissing somebody else off in game and then getting a visit from somebody armed with Google and a baseball bat. Or sexual harassment of girls whose cover of using a male character has been blown.

Social networks using real names can work, but the history of Facebook shows that one fundamental rule for these networks is that you can't have people signing up with some level of presumption of privacy, and then withdraw that privacy protection later. Thus it would be okay for Blizzard to lets say release their next MMO game with a RealID system and inform everybody that their real name will be used in that game. It is *not* okay to let people play for nearly 6 years under anonymity, and then strip that anonymity away. Even if the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory predicts that stripping people of their anonymity will make them behave better.

Blind auction system explained

Several people yesterday commented that they didn't know the blind auction system some MMORPGs like FFXI use, so here is a basic explanation of how it works, and why it is less susceptible to market manipulations:

When you look up an item on the auction house with a blind auction system, you don't get a list of all the different prices for which these items have been posted. Instead you get only the number of items available, and the prices of the last 5 sales or similar historical price data. To buy an item, you make a bid, basically stating how much you would be willing to pay for the item. If there is an item available for that price, you get it. If there are several available, you'll get the one from the seller who put it up for the lowest price. Easy.

But you pay your bid, not the sellers offer price. In fact you never even see the sellers' offer prices. In theory you could buy the cheapest item at the offer price by incrementally bidding up the price copper by copper until you hit the lowest item, but that would be a lot of work. In practice you'll fire off a low bid hoping to get lucky, and if that doesn't work you up your bid towards historical prices until you get to buy what you wanted.

As you can't see what other players put as price on their wares without buying them, it is also not possible to undercut the competition by 1 copper. And the player who puts up some copper ore for 10000 gold in the hope of manipulating auctioneer averages also has no luck in the blind auction house system. But the main advantage of the blind auction house system is that the prices you see are those of items that actually sold, which is a lot better than the WoW system in which you only see the price of items that didn't sell.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Glyph selling strategies

Advice on selling glyphs has been one of the staples of World of Warcraft economics blogs for the whole of Wrath of the Lich King. With typical prices for a Northrend herb around 1 gold, the cost to make any glyph in the game is less than 2 gold. But looking at the auction house will probably show some glyphs sold for 60 gold, a profit margin of over 3000%. Seems like a good business to be in. Or is it?

Digging a bit deeper shows signs of trouble: Using auctioneer it is easy to find out how many auctions there are in total, and how many glyph auctions there are, and the percentage of glyph auctions of the total market is astounding: On many servers more than a quarter of all auctions are for glyphs. On my server this weekend of 15,000 auctions in total, a whopping 5,000 were for glyphs. As an auction lasts a maximum of 48 hours, it is obvious that far over 90% of these auctions fail to sell. And the prices you see are those of the *unsold* glyphs. The prices of the sold glyphs are lower, and the market is a lot smaller. The average player simply doesn't switch around his glyphs all that often.

Thus while yes, you can potentially sell a glyph which did cost you 2 gold to make for 60 gold, this only happens if at the moment somebody needs that particular glyph (and doesn't mind the price) you happen to be the lowest seller. But as those thousands of glyph auctions suggest, there are plenty of other glyph sellers. And if you just posted several hundred glyphs and somebody else posts his same glyphs 5 minutes later, it is likely that you'll just get "auction expired" messages in your mailbox instead of mountains of gold. Your profits depend a lot more on the other glyph sellers than on demand, which is probably pretty similar on different servers. But as the number of glyph sellers on each server is different, the profit potential differs a lot as well.

That explains why the WoW economic blogs proclaiming to have found the absolutely best glyph selling strategy that is sure to make you rich quick all have a *different* strategy. They all simply tested their strategy only on *their* particular server market. The same strategy which makes you thousands of gold on one particular server might be a complete washout on another server. I tried various of these "get rich quick" strategies on my server, but with there being so much competition, nothing really worked convincingly. I made gold, sure, but at the cost of spending an hour per day emptying my mailbox and relisting all the glyph, with over 90% of them coming back unsold again and again. Regardless of whether I undercut the competition by 5 copper, or did radical undercutting to as low as was just marginally still profitable, somebody else always undercut me. And while other glyph sellers argue that they automated the mailbox emptying and glyph relisting to a point where it needs very little input and they can watch TV on the side, I still count that as one hour of lost time which prevents me from doing something which is actually fun.

I also think that Blizzard designed the glyph economy badly. The glyph undercutting wars clearly show up the weakness of the World of Warcraft auction house system: A blind auction system where you don't see the prices at which the competition listed their wares, like the one used in Final Fantasy XI, would work a lot better here. When Blizzard introduced a limit of 200 transactions per day for the new remote auction house system, I couldn't help but think that it would have been a good idea to also limit the players in the game to that number. 200 auctions per account per day is more than enough for the vast majority of players, and prevents a lot of abuses of the AH system.

So, what is the absolutely best and surest method to get rich through selling glyphs? It is simple: You produce all possible glyphs and undercut the current lowest seller by 1 copper. Then you constantly watch the auction house 24/7, and whenever somebody undercuts you, you cancel your auction and undercut him by another copper, repeatedly if necessary until he gives up. That way you are guaranteed to be always the lowest seller, capture a 100% market share, and will make thousands of gold per week. At least until you break down from exhaustion, because with that strategy you will never be able to leave the computer or actually play anything. Hmmm, sounds like a job for 3 Chinese guys working in shifts in a WoW sweat shop in Guangdong. Oh, you wanted a "get a lot of gold for just 1 hour per day" strategy? Well, I'd recommend fishing, gathering herbs or mining. Unless on your server there are particularly few glyph sellers, there is no glyph selling strategy which gives thousands of gold per week and where you need to log on only once per day for 1 hour.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Designing games for n00bs

I suck at first-person-shooter games. There is a long list of reasons for that, starting with having a not uncommon condition that some first-person view 3D games cause me video game motion sickness. That plus my preference for strategy and role-playing games meant I never played a lot of FPS games, so mostly I'm bad because of lack of practice. Being in my mid-40s, and thus ancient by FPS gamer standards, probably doesn't help either.

Nevertheless I spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening yesterday, playing Bioshock 1 for several hours. I simply turned the difficulty level to easy, and with Bioshock not being a hardcore shooter to start with, I had no problems, in spite of lack of skill. I do like exploring Rapture, and following the story of Jack being caught up in the battle between Ryan and Fontaine. And I do like the "role-playing" aspects of learning new plasmids and tonics. And as long as I play Bioshock when rested and fit, I don't even get motion sickness. Bioshock is a very n00b-friendly game. But people who are already good at first-person-shooters can crank up the difficulty level and still have fun.

That got me to wonder why not all video games are designed n00b-friendly. There are quite a lot of games which basically assume that you have played similar games before, so they are light on the tutorial part, and the difficulty level is more appropriate for veterans than for players new to the genre. And then of course multiplayer games, even if they are PvE, usually don't have a choice of difficulty settings.

There is a common definition of "expert" as somebody who has 10,000 hours of practice, which would make many of use experts in video games, at least for our favorite genres. It is inevitable that an expert will enjoy different things in a game than a n00b, and need a different level of challenge. But that causes a big problem for game design from a business point of view: The video game experts are more likely to have heard of a new game and buy it, but the n00bs are far more numerous. And of course there are lots of people somewhere in between as well.

I think it is a mistake to design games that only target just one of these groups. Extreme hardcore games only attract a small number of players, and extremely casual games can't hold players for long enough: While playing that casual game, players become more expert at it, and then become bored when there is no depth behind it. Thus for example Farmville player numbers are already declining fast. The perfect game has all the depth needed to keep an expert interested in it for a long time, but offers a good tutorial and not too steep learning curve for the new players.

And I think the ability to crank up the difficulty is essential, which is something that isn't very well solved in MMORPGs. More often than not in MMORPGs, the level of complexity and difficulty for solo content peaks shortly after the newbie zones, and remains flat until the level cap. People who want more complex gameplay need to switch from solo to group content, either PvE or PvP, which has a bunch of organizational problems, and leads to a lot of problems of players of very different skill levels being paired either with each other for PvE or against each other in PvP.

So although there are a lot of naysayers just proclaiming "that would never work" without any evidence, I would really like to see some MMORPG experiment with servers of different difficulty levels. I think both PvE and PvP would be better if players were a bit more seggregated by skill levels. There could even be a separate common server for new characters, where players would play through the early levels of the game, and finish with some sort of solo challenge, which would measure their skill and then propose them a difficulty level, a bit like Call of Duty Modern Warfare does. And while of course there will always be people who won't listen to that recommendation and either overestimate their abilities or prefer less challenge, I think overall that system could work very well to give everybody a game which is more fun, because it is more closely adapted to differences in individual skill levels.

Tall or small?

My druid in World of Warcraft, who is a tauren, is an engineer. And it turns out that the helicopter mount he can build doesn't scale with character size, thus he looks extremely funny, a big cow in a tiny cockpit. Other items in the game scale, so if you see a gnome and a tauren wielding the same weapon, the weapon will be in the appropriate size for the character. For reasons of game balance the run speed and jump height of every character in the game is exactly the same, but as we instinctively judge speed and height in comparison to our height, we often get the impression that smaller characters run faster and jump higher.

Besides the optical differences, there are a few real minor advantages to playing a small character. In PvP small characters are less visible, and less likely to be targeted by somebody using the mouse to target. Although of course tab targeting and the use of name plates can remove that advantage. Character size also makes a difference with doorways and such, a gnome can get through doors even when mounted, while a tauren needs to dismount his kodo before entering.

But as these advantages are tiny, players are free to choose their race and thus height by personal preference. I have a general preference for small races, and am looking forward to playing a goblin, as small races were a bit lacking on the Horde side. So what about you? Do you prefer playing a tall character or does your heart beat for the vertically challenged?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lacking an opinion on FFXIV

To avoid derailing a previous comment thread, I'm answering a reader's question on what I think about Final Fantasy XIV in this post instead. The truth is, I barely read up about FFXIV, and am not really well informed about the features it promises. Nevertheless this is a game I'd be willing to buy just based on trust, and my previous experience with FFXI.

I played the previous Final Fantasy MMORPG, numbered XI, for 5 months from end of 2003 to spring 2004. And there were a lot of things I really liked about it: The storytelling by cutscenes was in 2003 already there where EA Bioware hopes to get with SWTOR in 2011. I liked the "blind" auction house system, which is a lot less easy to manipulate than the WoW one. I liked the world, which wasn't so generic fantasy, but had more unique twists. I liked that my characters could switch from one class to another. I liked the international servers, and playing with groups of Japanese, using the automatic translator for communication. And I liked the control system with the gamepad, although I'm aware that many other players hated it.

Unfortunately in other aspects FFXI was way behind the curve of MMORPG development. It basically was a prettier Everquest, with forced grouping, harsh penalties for failure, and not very casual friendly at all. The simple act of login into the game was already a major hassle. But what ultimately killed FFXI for me was the group xp system, which was probably the worst design possible: XP of a group were determined by the level of the highest group member compared to the monster level. But if you were more than 2 levels below the level of the highest group member, the combat system was designed in a way to make you nearly useless to the group. Thus every group *had* to be within not more than 2 levels of each other. And the penalties were harsh: If the highest group member was one level higher, the xp for the whole group dropped by half. Thus Final Fantasy XI was the only game I ever played in which leveling in a group looked like this: Ding - Grats - Groupkick.

The narrow level requirement, combined with a lack of quick travel, plus the impossibility to solo after a point, had a lot of unintended negative consequences: To find a group you had to be in the most popular zones for a level range, for example the Valkurm Dunes. There were other zones of the same level, but as they were a bit less popular or harder to reach to start out, people couldn't find a group that easily there, and ended up moving to the dunes, in a vicious death spiral draining people out of all other possible zones. Thus every character class I had ended up leveling through exactly the same mobs in the same zones, until I just couldn't stand it any more.

And of course the age of harsh games with slow leveling, and forced grouping, was coming to an end in 2004. I hope Square Enix learned something, and makes Final Fantasy XIV more accessible than XI. The game is going to be released on September 30th, with preorders getting in on September 22nd, so I'll see soon enough. Some bloggers mischieveously suggested that Blizzard would try to deliberately sabotage FFXIV by bringing Cataclysm out in September. My guess is that Blizzard has enough internal constraints determining release dates, and wouldn't even consider FFXIV as a big enough threat for them to shift any date around. Nevertheless Cataclysm is most probably going to be released this fall, so September 30th is maybe not the most auspicious release date.

You're not alone, Larísa

Larísa from the Pink Pigtail Inn is a bit miffed for not having been invited to the Cataclysm alpha. Don't worry, Larísa, that is hardly a unique fate. I wasn't in the alpha either, nor did I get an invite to the beta yet. And if I got an invite, I couldn't use it before August, due to going on holidays without taking a computer.

The upside of being invited to an alpha or beta is being able to see the new game or expansion before most other players. But for a game like WoW the number of alpha / beta players is so huge, that you can get all information without an invite. There were numerous alpha leaks, and although the current Cataclysm beta is "closed", the NDA is already lifted, and just about every WoW site is full of information, screenshots, and videos.

There are some things that I would like to know about Cataclysm before its release, for example about the new skill cap on the old tradeskills, and to what level I would have to bring my alts to be able to max tradeskills (In WotLK a level 65 alt can learn tradeskills to the cap). But if I were in the beta, I wouldn't really play there all that many hours, for several reasons:

It is likely that Blizzard will take over a year from the release of Cataclysm to the release of the 4th expansion, and that I will run out of things to do during the Cataclysm expansion, as it happened in both previous expansions. Thus an earlier start basically means getting bored earlier, which is not something I endeavor to do.

I don't really like blogging about beta content, because obviously the game is not yet in its final state, and there is a lot of discussion wasted on features that won't happen like that in the release. Just look at everything written about the Path of the Titans, which then got cancelled.

Anything I do in the beta is being wiped at the end of beta, so I will have to do it again in the release version. It is inevitable that the second time around will be less fun, so if I, for example, level a goblin in the beta, I'll have less fun with the permanent goblin character I want to create. If I level a copy of one of my characters to 85, I'll just have to start over on release day, presumably faster, but less fun.

So while, yes, I would appreciate a beta invite, I'd probably just use it for a short look around. And as I wouldn't do much playing, my input as a beta *tester* would necessarily be limited. So if I don't get an invite, I wouldn't be terribly unhappy either.

Are you in the Cataclysm beta? What are you planning to do in the beta, if you are or get invited?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Player reputation systems

Saate sent me a link to a recent post of his in which he proposes a system which lets players give other players a score for maturity, and then apply a maturity filter to block out immature players. It is easy to see why one could think this would be a good idea, but there are a lot of pitfalls related to player-run reputation systems.

Being able to rate a player as immature or bad or anything other negative for everyone to see is something which will almost certainly be abused by some people. A group of people experiencing the same event will often end up with very different views of what happened and who is to blame. The classic example is assigning blame for a wipe in a group or raid, where the tank, the healer, and the dps all end up having very different opinions on who is to blame for the wipe. In caricature, the hunter got impatient and pulled, the tank lacked situational awareness and couldn't grab aggro on all mobs, the group wipes, and then everybody blames the healer. That, or some other permutation of events, happens all the time. Do we really want to give players angry after a wipe and blaming somebody else the power to leave a permanent black mark on somebody? Do we really want big guilds in which people are prevented from leaving because of a guild policy to blackball anyone who gquits?

Another possible abuse is the formation of virtual mafias, as it happened in The Sims Online. One day you get a visit from a gentleman with an offer you can't refuse: Pay up, or him and his 100 buddies are going to put a "bad player" mark on you, preventing you from ever finding a group again. And if there are "good player" marks players can give each other, how long until current gold farmers will start offering good reputation for cash?

Thus I think that the current system, where you have to remember bad players, or put them on ignore for only yourself, is the better one. Most of the things happening in a MMORPG are just storms in a water glass, short tiffs that don't really deserve a permanent record. If you open your ignore list, you probably don't remember what half of the people on that list did to you. There are up to 20,000 players on a WoW server, the human brain simply can't hold that much information to remember how mature or how good/bad players all of the players you came into contact with are. And that is before considering cross-server dungeons and battlegrounds, or name and server changes. I don't even use ignore very much, and then I regularly clear out my ignore list. Instead of needing a maturity filter, we should opt for the mature solution and just move on.


After I got 12 long comments in the previous thread from the same poster, out of a total of 25 comments (mine included), I turned comment display for that thread off as an anti-spam measure. Other readers were complaining that they couldn't get a word in any more.


100% of my readers are literate, that is they can understand the meaning of written words and phrases, and can write words and phrases to make arguments themselves. The percentage of people who are numerate, that is they fully understand the meaning of numbers and basic mathematics, and can make a coherent argument with numbers, is much lower. And as it is well known that many people are bad even at basic math, numbers and graphs are often used to mislead people, because there are countless ways to manipulate numbers and "support" false arguments. This misleading can be deliberate, or it can be that the person making the argument doesn't understand the numbers himself.

In the context of MMORPGs, the most false arguments are based on player numbers. For example yesterday Nils made arguments about Wrath of the Lich King based on this graph, or more specifically the 2009 - 2010 player numbers for World of Warcraft. His argument, that a visible kink in the curve tells us something happens, was cogent. Unfortunately the numbers displayed on the graph are certainly completely wrong, and made up by somebody. We simply don't know how many players World of Warcraft has worldwide right now, it could be any number from 7 to 14 million. Somebody took the last available data and used the generally held belief that WoW subscriptions have remained constant to invent the last data points. As it is absolutely certain and confirmed that during that period WoW for several month lost all Chinese players, and we can assume that the Chinese servers have suffered from the shutdown, and the fact that they are still running Burning Crusade, the straight line on the display can't possibly be true. Blizzard simply stopped giving out numbers, and people are just guessing.

A case where numbers are probably deliberately used to mislead people is the common practice of Free2Play games to release the total number of accounts ever created, instead of the number of active players, or the number of players who paid at least $1 to them in the last month. Thus in the past weeks a lot of games like Wizard 101 or Free Realms proudly reported having 10 or more million players. In fact they have 10 or more million accounts, most of which haven't been used for months, and 95% of which aren't paying anything (according to industry estimates). If World of Warcraft would report player numbers like that, they would count all previous players and trial accounts, and get up to some fantastic number of 50 to 100 million players.

Especially journalists are often bad with numbers, and thus come to completely wrong conclusions. That way they often conclude that Farmville is more successful than World of Warcraft, because 80 million is more than 11 million, or that Free2Play games are as successful as WoW, because they have about the same "number of players". Thus PC Gamer seriously asked Blizzard whether they planned on going Free2Play. And then turned the obvious diplomatic answer of "not anytime soon, maybe in the far future at the end of WoW's life cycle" into a sensationalist headline.

My recommendation on getting meaningful numbers is getting financial reports and SEC filings, instead of press releases and game magazine articles. Thanks to Sarbanes–Oxley threatening CEOs with up to 20 years in prison for lying on that sort of financial documents, the numbers tend to be as accurate as possible. And by looking how much money players spent on a game, you can more accurately determine how much they liked that game than you can by the total number of accounts created.

And even that only gives you information about mass market success, and not whether a game is "good" or "bad". For example I would say that A Tale in the Desert is a very good MMORPG, but as it targets the tiny niche of players who want actualy meaningful social interaction and immersion instead of artificial monster fights and ganking, ATITD will never make millions. It is good to be able to read numbers, but they can't tell you everything.

Internet upgrade

I've had a lot of contact with my internet / telephone provider over the last weeks. It started with them calling me once a week with telemarketing calls, where they were trying to persuade me to switch from my internet / telephone subscription to a "triple play" internet / telephone / TV subscription for the same monthly fee. Free router and decoder provided, and just a 50 Euro activation fee. At first I was reluctant, because the earlier "TV via ADSL" solutions on offer did not allow you to watch one channel and record another channel simultaneously. But after some reassurance that this was now possible, I finally agreed to switch to the triple play subscription.

Of course then a lot of things went wrong, which seems to be a universal rule for telephone / internet providers. They sent me a box for self-installation, and while I could watch TV, recording of TV programs on the hard disk didn't work. I went to the shop with the box, and they said the box they gave me had the wrong router, and exchanged it. Reinstalled, and nothing worked. I called customer support, and they said my line was faulty, so they'd send a technician. Technicians arrived, improved the quality of the line, but that didn't help at all with the recording. Thus they finally listened to my argument that if the hard disk recording didn't work, it might be the hard disk that was at fault, and gave me a new decoder. Isn't it wonderful if you get a box delivered with a router and a decoder and then have to exchange both of them against new pieces that actually work within a week?

Now the TV worked, but not in high definition. And the technician said something to the effect of "why are you still on ADSL, when you could have VDSL for the same price?". Well, nobody told me. My ADSL line had an effectively measured speed of 6 MBit/s, which is more than enough for World of Warcraft, but HD TV needs 8 MBit/s. So I had my internet connection switched over to VDSL. That of course resulted in me coming home one day and not having either internet nor TV, but the technician had warned me about that, and the solution was simply to unplug all machines and thus reboot the router and decoder. Half an hour later everything worked fine.

So now I have a measured 18 to 20 MBit/s internet speed, and the digital TV works also on HD. So instead of 35 channels via analog cable, I now have 180 channels of digital TV. Sweet! Only that I'll have less channels in a month, because you get unlimited access only for one month, and then part of the channels become subscription only. Fortunately the expensive subscription channels are football and porn, and I don't need those anyway (Not saying whether I do or don't watch porn, but paying 15 Euro per month for porn channels on digital TV delivered via internet cable means being too stupid to find porn on the internet). As I have the most expensive internet plan, I do get 10 Euro worth of monthly subscription for free, and the "Nature & Discovery Bundle" with several Discovery Channel channels, National Geographic, and History Channel in normal and HD is just 5 Euro. I'll let the wife choose another 5 Euro bundle with some special movie or TV series channels, and we're good. Mythbusters are great!