Archive for March, 2007

Sprechen Sie High Elf?

Posted: March 9, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2

In Everquest 2, the latest patch news indicates that the Koada’Dal language primer will now be readily available for Freeport citizens.  Considering how easy it was for Kelethin and Qeynos citizens to learn the language, this levels the playing field for evil characters looking to learn the language of the high elves.

What’s the big deal?  Well, for starters, you have to know Koada’Dal if you want to start up the new epic level quest line which was introduced with Update 32.  That put Qeynos and Kelethin players at a distinct advantage over their Freeport counterparts.  Oh sure, there was a bit of a quest that baddies could run to pick up the dialect, but that hardly seemed fair compared to efforts (or lack thereof) required by “good” players, who only had to pay 12 silver to a village merchant and *POOF* instant comprehension of high elven grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. 

I’m happy to see this change going in, but it again highlights one of those nagging issues I’ve had with Everquest 2 since it launched:  it’s just too easy/hard to learn beginning racial languages. 

If you want to learn a PC racial language, you buy a book for 12 silver.  That’s it.  Want to speak with Halflings in their native tongue?  Go to Baubleshire and drop 12 silver.  *POOF*  You now know how to say JumJum in “Stout”.  Want to learn how to curse out a Dark Elf?  Drop by Longshadow Alley and 12 silver later, you’re the talk of the Thexians.

All you need is a handful of coins and you can speak a dozen languages fluently within minutes.  That is, so long as the languages you want to speak are sold on merchants in your city of choice.  Playing a Fae?  Good luck every learning Oggish.  Playing an Iksar?  You better betray if you want to learn Dwarvish. 

Apparantly the brokers and fences can smuggle in virtually anything you can imagine…except language primers.  Oh sure, you can smuggle a case full of  master level spelsl for a shadowknights and assassins out of Qeynos…but a 12 silver language primer on the Fier’Dal language will tip off the customs agents every time, apparantly.

How immersive, right?

On top of that, all language skills are binary.  You either know them or you don’t.  There’s no grey area here.  You don’t occasionally misspeak or tell someone their mustache smells like cabbage.  No embarrassing faux pas to explain when you make disparaging comments about someone’s mother, when you really just wanted to find out where the nearest Tavern was at.

Welcome to Everquest without the questing.   

To be fair, other language quests existed that required questing…Aviak, Draconic, Magic.  I just personally wish that this idea had been applied to all languages.   What if the primer was only there to start a language quest, even something as simple as the racial starting heritage quests. 

But, what we have is what we have, right?  Or is it?

Would it be so unplausible to suggest altering the current system to allow more immersive language acquisitions across the board?  After all, didn’t this just occur with the Enemy Masteries?  It could add a little extra layer of immersion to the game, and at the same time offer up a bit of equality across the board (provided the quests themselves aren’t so impossible to acquire with bad factions).

In the meantime, it’s nice to see a seemingly minor issue like this getting any attention at all. 

Who’s Wagging Who?

Posted: March 8, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

A few days ago, Kathy Sierra made a great post on the Creating Passionate Users blog called “What tail is wagging the ‘user happiness’ dog?”.  I was reading this article for my primary profession, and started realizing the same basic ideas could apply fairly easily to game designs (or really, any project that involves customers/end users).

Every decision needs to have a customer-centric approach.  From possible decisions regarding a new zone or mechanic change, to determining whether or not a product is ready for release to how customer service petitions are handled.

Make the game’s concepts fun and you’ll build attention.  Make learning the game fun and you’ll build a playerbase.  Make the actual process of sitting down and playing the game fun and enjoyable and you’ll create impassioned fanatics. 

It’s not enough to just build it and hope they come.  You’ve got to sink your teeth into making it easier for them to come in the first place.  After all, as the old axiom states: “People are like electricity, they tend to follow the path of least resistance.”  Make that least resistant path the one that leads users to playing your game, or else the path may very lead to a competitor’s virtual playground.

It’s not enough to stop with solid maps, dungeons, and play mechanics with great graphics.  Every studio is out there trying to build a game around these ideas…and most studios are doing just fine at it.

How many games have a killer default UI, though?  How many games have an immersive tutorial that’s not intrusive or boring for replay?  How many games have extensive in-game knowledge bases that aren’t dry or difficult to trudge through.  How many games ship with a full color, easy-to-read user manual? 

When there is a problem in your game, is it easy to file a petition/help request?  Is the help quick and responsive?  Why are so many games built with the idea of being able to get right into the action and accomplish goals within 15-30 minutes…but customer service response times of hours or days are considered acceptable?  Building a great game only motivates players to stay so long as the game itself remains fun.  Building a great customer service system motivates players to stay with your brand

Make the game – every aspect of it, from design to business – customer oriented.  Don’t just put the words in an empty mission statement, but truly lead off every meeting by asking what can be done to make the customer’s experience better. 

Thinking of the customer as an afterthought, or as an expense is just wrong.  Looking at short term balance sheets and trying to solve playerbase churn only through design decisions and quirky new web features is only a misguided part of the solution.  Create the decisions based around making the entire customer experience enjoyable,  even when problems come up – especially when problems come up – and you’ll own the market. 

It sounds counterintuitive, but I truly believe that the company that figures out first and foremost how to absolutely nail customer service and social networking systems will build a fanatical playerbase of passionate, loyal customers.

Want to Work for SOE? Job Listings of the Week.

Posted: March 7, 2007 by Kendricke in Uncategorized

The link says Verant!

Want to work for Sony Online Entertaiment?  Here’s the San Diego jobs I’ve managed to parse from Monster.com’s listings:

I was checking the listings actually to try to find out “sekret sauce” type inf0z on whether or not SOE had lost/gained any new developers, etc.  Rumors have been rife lately on the subject, and I’m always on the lookout for more solid information.

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll post this sort of list weekly from now on just to keep everyone up to date on who or what SOE’s looking for.  In the meantime, I’ve put up links to both the San Diego and Seattle studio job listings in my links to the right.

Sony Unveils “Home”; Kotaku Vindicated

Posted: March 7, 2007 by Kendricke in Uncategorized

Per Reuters:

“Sony Corp. will unveil Wednesday “Home,” an online network for its new PlayStation 3, which supports streaming video and advertising and will host virtual characters in common areas and private rooms.”

What’s astounding to me is that Kotaku was dead on when they posted rumors of this announcement last week.  In fact, it would certainly seem that Sony knew Kotaku was dead on when they threatened to pull all contact from Kotaku if they ran the story.  Sure, Sony eventually made nice with Kotaku, but it still leaves a lot of concerns in my mind regarding the whole drama. 

After all that tempesting in teapots, it would seem that all Kotaku did was to post a rumor about a possible release…a rumor that ended up being pretty close to right on the money.

China Bans New Internet Cafes

Posted: March 6, 2007 by Kendricke in International

Internet addiction in China's burgeoning cybercafe industryAs reported by the AP:

BEIJING, China (AP) — China will not allow any new Internet cafes to open this year, state media reported on Tuesday.

Xinhua News Agency said 14 government departments, including the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information Industry, had issued a notice saying that “in 2007, local governments must not sanction the opening of new Internet bars.”

It said there are about 113,000 Internet cafes in China. Many are smoke-filled rooms with rows of computers set up for online gaming.

The Chinese government promotes Internet use for education and business but tries to block its public from seeing material online that is deemed subversive or pornographic…

Obviously this doesn’t outright close the existing internet cafes within the country, but it could be a first step toward a larger crackdown.

It’s not as if China feels that online gaming is perfectly fine.  China has started up clinics to combat the growing issue of “internet addiction”:

Dr Tao Ran, head of the clinic, said the scale of the problem in China was enormous:

“Every day in China, more than 20 million youngsters go online to play games and hit the chat rooms, and that means that internet addiction among young people is becoming a major issue here.

“And it’s only recently that the authorities have started to wake up to the seriousness of the problem with more articles in the papers highlighting the dangers of going online for too long,” he said.

Seems that Chinese officials aren’t too keen on seeing more and more of their young revolutionaries growing up to be bored American suburbanites.  Personally, I’d expect to see even harsher penalties levied in the future.

Green Monster Games becomes 38 Studios

Posted: March 6, 2007 by Kendricke in The Gaming Industry

MunchAs Ryan Shwayder announced over at Nerfbat, Green Monster Games is no more.  In its stead, there is now only 38 Studios

38 logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been mulling this idea ever since returning from Sony’s San Diego Summit.  It was a three day romp of media hype and interaction between SOE’s PR and players, casual bloggers, and news site admins. 

Shortly after returning home from sunny southern California, I started scrutinizing the event with a bit more hind sight.  I started wondering if I was approaching gaming news correctly.  Traffic has been ramping up significantly at eq2.warcry.com and we’ve managed to report on some news I thought was fairly significant. 

A big part of this has to do with our interactions with SOE directly.  We’re doing what we can to bring more news to the fore, and for the most part, SOE has been pretty forthcoming with interviews, previews, first looks, and other little tasty news bits.  My job would certainly be harder if we didn’t have that relationship with the folks over at SOE.

So, imagine my own concern when I read that “Sony Blackballs Kotaku“.  Say what?!   

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • Kotaku’s editor, Brian Crecente, comes across a rumor that Sony is thinking of unveiling a new technology which would likely be announced at this week’s Game Designer’s Conference (GDC).
  • Brian contacts sources at Sony to try to verify the information he does have.
  • Sony asks him “not to publish the story, first nicely, then not so much.”
  • Brian feels it’s important to run the story, and contacts Sony to tell them as much.  He mentions that not all news comes from official sources.
  • Sony responds by informing Brian that if he decides to run the story, Sony will cancel all appointments with Kotaku staff at the GDC; demand the return of the special debug PS3 they’d sent to Kotaku; and would basically no longer deal with Kotaku.
  • Brian decides to run the story anyway, citing the sources he does have as well as going to great lengths to point out it’s just a rumor.
  • Sony sends an email basically following through on the earlier threat.

Now, Brian Crecente isn’t your average gamer blogger.  He’s got a degree in journalism and another in English.  He spent 11 years covering the crime beat for the Rocky Mountain News.  He’s probably seen a threat or two in his time as a news hound. 

Now, this is where I start to get really concerned.  To be fair, SOE  is not SCEA…but SOE is jointly owned by SCEA (as of April 2006, SOE is actually SOE LLC, a joint venture of Sony Pictures Digital and Sony Computer Entertainment of America).  So, it’s certainly not outside the realm of credibility to believe that SOE could try similar tactics with other sites at some point in the future, right?

Do I really believe they’d do this?  No, but I’m a pretty trusting guy.  I’ve met these folks several times and feel I have a pretty good working relationship with most of them.  I speak to a lot of the PR team or developer team on a pretty regular basis.  But…didn’t Brian have a similar working relationship with his contacts at SCEA? 

Now, in the end, the it seems that Sony and Kotaku kissed and made up, and Kotaku definately came out of this smelling like roses.  However, the whole drama leaves a pretty bad aftertaste.  There’s a lot of questions here still unanswered – not the least of which is whether or not Sony would have reversed direction had Kotaku not taken the issue public? 

Did Sony change course based on the goodness of their past relationship with Kotaku, or did they cave to public pressure?  Has Kotaku truly come out on top here, or will Sony start privately reducing contact with them all the while publically saying the right things? 

It’s a tough nut, no matter how you try to crack it, but one thing’s for certain:  Sony didn’t need yet another PR black eye like this, especially right before the GDC.