Archive for July, 2009

The Comic-Con Phenomenon

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Kenan Thompson at the San Diego Comic-Con, Jul...
Image via Wikipedia

This weekend is geekdom’s well-known “nerd prom”, San Diego Comic-Con. Every year, tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the West Coast to partake in the country’s most well-known show on comics, games, sci-fi, and more.

I have to say, every year this show stays in existence (and grows, if the numbers are any indication) is really a validation of the power of geek fandom and media, something which I take it upon myself to opine on in idealized, sunny ways. The main reason is that honestly, for the better part of a year, geek fandom is relegated to a niche, superceded by the latest celebrity news from Hollywood, popular and catchy top 40 music, and all the other things in mainstream entertainment that dominate the headlines.

But for a short few days out of the year, geek media thrusts itself out of its shell and stands in the spotlight. It’s undeniable that shows like SDCC have grown and made leaps and bounds, and the entertainment industry has really had no choice but to recognize it. There’s a bit of Hollywood at Comic-Con, and celebrities that attend take to the sudden geek love (and hate) with varying levels of adaptability. Mainstream entertainment has to turn its eyes and attention to Comic-Con not just because of the potential marketing opportunity but also for the fact that more than ever, there’s just a ton of stuff to tickle the fancy of an increasingly discerning audience. Originality, honestly, has one of the greatest potentials to flourish and to be recognized among geek society, where shunning the social norms and ideas of what is “entertaining” is the modus operandi.

Geekery, prior to these shows really booming, was kept in basements and in comic book stores, shuttered away from prying eyes and sometimes even the product of ridicule. These days, shows like Comic-Con highlight a more modern geek – perhaps still a bit shuttered but armed with the tools of the new millennium which, among other things, enable geeks to find peers beyond their own direct social circles. This, of course, enables them to connect in various ways – with Comic-Con being one of them.

One of these days, I’ll make it back to Comic-Con. And I’m sure that when I do, it’ll be going as strong as ever.

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The Expectation of MMO Community Feedback

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To-do list book.
Image by koalazymonkey via Flickr

Over at MMORPG.com, Sanya Weathers of Eating Bees has a great article based upon something one of her friends found that was relevant to community management. In it, she specifically talks about feedback, how community teams get it, what kinds of metrics are taken, and what she feels are the steps developers can take to provide better recognition of that feedback.

This was an informational read and I definitely recommend you check it out, if nothing else, to gain insight into the three areas of feedback that developers and community teams take into account. It definitely piqued my interest on a variety of levels, but one in particular where she touched upon how the community typically feels about their own feedback:

The MMORPG.com forums are filled with people who are convinced to their marrow that feedback is not heard, not taken into account, and not wanted. No amount of personal testimony, no proof in the form of patch notes, will ever be enough, because the feedback sent by the person posting did not get a personal reply – and worse, the next set of patch notes included something 180 degrees away from that feedback.”

As someone who works on the other side of the fence in fansite community management, this paragraph in particular hit home with me. How many times have we seen threads on MMO forums where players feel like they were “ignored”, “slapped in the face”, or “not listened to”? These frustrations step from personal experience players have had with the title in question that has not been ideal or perfect. The fact that they are paying for what seems to be a level of service they aren’t satisfied with magnifies the problem when feedback they give doesn’t reflect itself in something specific in patch notes or in developer responses. I’d even go so far to say that some players are so angry they will resort to all kinds of textual rage in order to get their point across – mostly to feel better about feeling so awful.

I’ve never really felt that upset or that enraged over posts I make on random internet forums. Not surprisingly, my style of posting about MMOs and MMO feedback has by some respects sounded upbeat and optimistic. I think, however, that some people mistake the “c’est la vie” nature with which I post for unrealistic positive attitude, when in reality, I’m setting my own expectations. For example:

The MMO customer is (not) always right – I’ve seen so many people who post MMO feedback use quotes about how “the customer is always right”. Honestly, having been successful in an industry where customer service is essential, I can tell you that interpreting that literally is the biggest mistake lots of people make. The quote basically says that customers are infallible, which is totally and utterly false. Customers are people too, which means they bring with them their own biases, faults, and notions – and at times, they may be as wrong as a youtube video of a cat hanging halfway out of a car window on a highway.

The real, true meaning of the quote as it relates to customer service is “treat the customer as if they were always right“, which means it is pretty poor form to slap someone in the face with their own mistaken impression and you should be contrite no matter how ridiculous the feedback is. You should always post with the possibility of being proven wrong or mistaken, and having to admit it. More than hearing “no”, MMO players secretly dread being shown irrefutably that their wall of text is wrong and they need to fess up to it. It’s never been a big deal for me to be “right” on the Internet, mostly because no one’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes.

Your feedback may never be used – I’ve seen people type detailed breakdowns and missives about  how things can be fixed in games, but the inevitable rage and anger that results when said walls of text are not used or reflected in the next patch is immense. The impression players get when their efforts aren’t recognized directly is that the developers don’t listen – a myth Sanya dispells in her article – but I also think that players themselves need to not worry so much about having what they type be taken seriously.

I’ve made many posts that have been detailed, respectful, and logical, but before I sit down to type I have to come to terms with the fact that whatever I write may never actually be something that will be used. It sure seems like in that respect that typing feedback at all is a waste of time, but if developers have to check their egos at the door when taking in feedback that may be sometimes critical of a product they’ve put hours into, then players need to do the same with the value of their feedback.

IANAD (I am Not a Developer) – There’s a certain line to be drawn as an outside observer or player of a particular game. That line is the line between you being genuinely concerned about a product and you thinking you know better about the product than those who created it. While developers can and should be transparent about their processes, there is a certain element to the MMO development process that most posters have zero experience dealing with. When an MMO is down, or sometimes when it’s completely out, as a couple titles have suffered, it doesn’t always boil down to not listening to those few posters who think they know what is best for the game – it comes down to the developers themselves not executing the treatment of that feedback properly.

One piece of a puzzle - Players who get extremely frustrated and ranty about bad experiences with MMO feedback need to understand that player feedback is only one part of the overall feedback equation. While I do not have direct experience with what MMO community reps do, I have seen and heard enough anecdotal evidence to the effect that what players say is not the end-all be-all of making an MMO better. It is in fact one small bit in a multitude of factors, and the only analogy I can think of to depict what I think being a community rep for an MMO is like is that it’s like panning for gold in a river. You’re going to have to work hard, sift through a lot of rock, water, and silt, and eventually, you find something valuable to take back. I think if more people understood that their words weren’t supposed to be considered the center of the universe, but rather one speck inside of it, that there would be people less upset that they weren’t listened to by developers.

In the end, my attitude about MMO feedback is based not necessarily in being perpetually happy, but rather from practicality and a   sense of realism about what I’m doing. Games, and especially MMOs, are fun. Giving feedback about the things you try to have fun with is valuable. But being angry or upset that your efforts don’t get a personal note or a reflection in patch notes runs counter to that. If someone is so angry or so bitter that they are hurt by their feedback not being recognized, then they need to check up on why they ultimately play, which is to bring personal entertainment to themselves in one form or another. Believe it or not, any developer worth their salt is thinking the exact same thing.

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Overly Positive Thoughts: Gotta Friend ‘Em All!

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Pikachu balloon
Image by Ben+Sam via Flickr

You know, the other day I friended someone on Facebook I hadn’t talked to in years. By all evidence presented, he’s a pretty popular guy, and with good reason. He’s charismatic, knows how to network, and navigates social circles with ease.

But it wasn’t until I saw his Facebook that we could quantify just how popular he was. At this time of writing, this new friend of mine has 1,586 friends.

I gotta say, guys and gals, this man is an inspiration to me and my pathetically small 230+ friend count. We need more people who seek to hit up Facebook intent on making everyone on the Internet their friend.

Think about the networking opportunities. Adding everyone as a friend means that you’ll probably never have to use a search engine again. Why? Because you can just find a friend on Facebook that knows about what you’re looking for. Want to know about Victorian dress? Look up the 35 or so friends you made at the Ren Faire, just by begging them to “check your totally rad Ren Costume album”. Want to know about fission bombs? How about that bunch of physicists that you friended even though you stuffed them into a locker when you went to high school with them. The possibilities are endless.

What about sharing your most precious memories with everyone who will be sure to click on them in the midst of their other hundreds of obsessive status updates? That picture of you shaving your legs to wear a kilt to play bagpipes? Totally worth it to share. The application that allows you to send messages to your friends about how good you are at avoiding productivity at work? Have to be sure to write about it! You need friends for this stuff – because nothing replaces real, human interaction like a Superpoke to all of your friends, 5 times a day.

Collecting friends is the new Pokemon. Get into it – or get out – just not out of my friends list – I need more.

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You Know Geekery is Mainstream Part 2…

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The current login screen, as of the release of...
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…when a director actually agrees to work on a movie project for an MMO – in this case, World of Warcraft the movie.

While WoW has been the most pervasive into mainstream culture as of recent years (celebrity commercials and endorsements from soft drinks among their achievements), a movie is a whole other step in a new direction. This might seem like an annoyance to some people, but in the realm of making games more palatable to a larger audience, it’s not such a bad thing.

With Sam Raimi at the helm, can we expect to see Arthas mumble his way through a spell meant to save the world but instead unleashes the undead on the world? Can we see some wise old Tauren talking about how “with great power comes great responsibility”? One can only wonder.

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The Ever-Growing TOR Community

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 01:  Characters wieldin...
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Part of the way that you can tell how well the community is anticipating a title, especially if it’s an MMO, is the community interest behind it. You see blogs, fansites, podcasts, information resources and more drop in, increasing as the release of the game gets closer. Now, it’s no secret that sometimes there’s a dropoff, too. Some people put up sites, only to not update them or leave them hanging, while others get disllusioned with a title and remove their focus on it, killing the site in the process.

It’s pretty safe to say that as far as communities go, Star Wars: The Old Republic is off to a good start. Taking a look at the community creations forum on the official site, there are already a huge number of community sites out there and the demand for a fansite kit is so high that a developer had to post about it coming soon. 20-30 sites and blogs of varying types are already being actively updated, with more being added by the day.

Even though I command an extremely small readership and don’t cover TOR exclusively, it is nice to see that I and other sites out there can contribute to the community as it is laid at the foundation level. I have a side gig as a community manager at a major Warhammer Online fansite, and have always been interested in the nuances and mood of community on the internet. To see that there are not only so many sites dedicated to TOR but that they are all willing to work with one another is a heartening thing.

In the land of MMO community fansites, even though at times you see some drama, a community that can get along, collaborate, and organize is a good thing. Bioware is right on the money creating a forum where these folks can exchange links, talk about each other’s stuff, and post about things. I can only hope that like Mythic, they decide to reach out to the growing community with opportunities for marketing and spreading the buzz around. Having acknowledgment from the developer that your work is appreciated and recognized is always a nice boost, and can only help the game moving forward – even if, like TOR, not much is known about it in detail.

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You Know Geekery is Mainstream When…

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…comedians are joking about it in their routines. Conan O’Brien says:

“Experts say the video game industry has been dramatically hurt by the economic downturn. Which explains the popularity of the new Nintendo game, ‘Wii Job Interview.’”

(from Political Irony, via GamePolitics)

Hey, mainstream coverage is mainstream coverage, folks!

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The Long and (Especially) Short of WAR’s PTS

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Warhammer Online: Just Misunderstood
Image by Evan Sims via Flickr

Warhammer Online’s latest patch, 1.3.0b, seeks to begin the long and arduous process of correcting core problems in the game design, starting with a fix for Area of Effect spells. AoE’s been apparently an issue in WAR for quite some time, with the pinnacle of the current damage situation being “bomb groups” consisting of mostly AoE-specced damage dealers annihilating groups of players. The latest changes were pushed to the Public Test Server this past weekend, but after only 4 days, Mythic has pulled the plug and is preparing to yank the trigger on this round of tests. This has of course set off a bunch of worry and concern that bugs won’t be fixed and feedback won’t be listened to.

As always, this site likes to look a bit on the brighter side of such a short testing cycle. For one thing, AoE has been an issue in WAR for quite some time. It’s been a pain point for many players and in some cases it has caused them to unsubscribe in frustration. Along with the crowd control, AoE has been a sticking point for many of WAR’s subscribers, so the immediate action regarding its testing cycle might not be such a bad thing to get the ball rolling on some changes.

There’s also the notion that since this is a “lettered” patch and not a full-on major fix, that Mythic is taking the cautious, incremental approach to their balancing. While this means a lot of short term pain for players who might feel gimped until their class is looked at, it creates a better long-term environment in which things are a bit more in line with what was intended. Fewer things to fix mean a shorter testing cycle, as well as more time before release to address bugs uncovered. So while it may suck to be, say, a Magus in the environment of this change, continued feedback about the class should ensure that it will receive its turn in the sun in due time.

Lastly, and perhaps not least, WAR appears to be at a point where no matter how much they actually talk about something that is going to change or get better,  there’s players out there who believe it’s just lip service. To be honest, MMO players no matter how nice they are about playing a game respect results. If that means a faster testing cycle to stave off all the constant complaints about how there’s all talk and no action, then so be it.

Some people don’t like to “pay to beta test” but those are the kinds of people who probably don’t understand that all MMOs need public tests and testing processes from real players to make sure they aren’t seeing the forest for the trees. WAR’s PTS is no different in this regard, and however long or short it’s open for, I hope WAR’s players are taking advantage of it to provide the right kind of feedback to make the game better.

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Bioware’s TOR Viral Marketing Device

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virus
Image by twenty_questions via Flickr

So as if it wasn’t tantalizing enough that Bioware was releasing information about The Old Republic in small chunks and bits, now it appears that they have more than likely started a viral marketing campaign.

If you want the links and info, you can head on over to Moon Over Endor, as Ayane has a full breakdown of the mystery so far regarding “The Great Holocron” and what the ominous date of August 24th, 2009 is talking about. To summarize, it appears a bunch of mysterious transmissions, sent by a Jedi in possession of The Great Holocron, have surfaced. Apparently the object in question is so interesting there’s a reward out for it.

Ultimately, if this is indeed engineered by Bioware as a way to market the game (through a series of social networking meta-games), this is a nice little side diversion to keep fans busy while more info and details are being cooked up for TOR. There’s been a slew of speculation about what the date means, from the opening of public closed beta to the release of more class information or even a release date. I personally think considering the forums are asking for a declaration of allegience and the like that we’ll see something along the same lines as WAR’s pre-release version of Realm War, where Order and Destruction participated in a little side game.

Viral marketing has always been about generating buzz rather than releasing core details, so the people looking for some meat and potatoes with regards to the details surrounding TOR will probably not find it in the hunt for The Great Holocron. But for those looking for a bit more flavor and understanding, and who use the various social networking tools out there, this will be quite interesting, indeed.

That is, assuming this isn’t just a great ruse by normal users – in which case, the mission of popping up more talk regarding TOR is still accomplished.

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The Old Republic’s Proof of Voice Concept

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HK-47
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, yes – I know I’ve been posting lots of positive, sunny, optimistic things about voice work in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Perhaps some of my barely double-digit readership might be sick of it already. But trust me, this is a good one. Really!

A lot of people have seemed a bit skeptical of TOR’s voiceover focus, especially in light of the video documentary in which the full scope of the resources spent on this part of the game was shown. There’s plenty of argument about making sure the game works prior to making sure that it looks or in this case, sounds good. But I’ve always felt that the focus on voice, as much of a side benefit as it sounds, will probably bring more identity to TOR in a sea of MMOs that will be out by the time it releases.

Of course, actual proof will be in the pudding once things settle in with public beta as well as the release of the game. But until then, there is some proof out there as to the appeal of voiced characters – and its name is HK-47.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Knights of the Old Republic, HK-47 is a recruitable droid who joins your merry little band of misfits. While the various characters in KOTOR are pretty memorable for the most part, HK-47 stands head and shoulders above the others, for the simple reason of his sardonic wit and tireless devotion to his primary function. That function, by the way, is killing things. Assassination droids appear to be at a premium, making HK-47 an ideal and entertaining addition.

Really though, the thing that makes this character as iconic as a C3PO or R2-D2 is the voice and mannerisms. While the aforementioned droids from the Star Wars films were partly appealing due to their comic relief, HK-47 delivers this same background flavor to KOTOR. The difference is in the presentation, a mix of amoral and sarcastic tone that can only come out in the voice behind HK-47, starting with what he calls organic lifeforms:

Retraction: Did I say that out loud? While it is true you are a meatbag, I should refrain from addressing you as such.

Explanation: It’s just that… you have all these squishy parts, master. And all that water! How the constant sloshing doesn’t drive you mad, I have no idea…”

Or perhaps how he treats his primary function:

“Translation: 98% probability that members of the miniature organic’s tribe are being held by Sand People, master. Doubtless he wishes assistance…

Translation: 2% probability that the miniature organic is simply looking for trouble and needs to be blasted. That may be wishful thinking on my part, master.”

Really, as funny as the words are when written on the screen, they don’t really do them justice. That can only come from a voice and something we can hear as well as see on the screen. It’s true that there are going to be many NPCs in TOR, and quite a few of them are going to be forgettable, voice or not. But if we can remember, just a little bit how a quest was more interesting or more engaging because it was voiced and heard, rather than seen, then that’s only good for Bioware. The immersion that results from being in TOR’s universe can only help get players more invested in the product as it is played.

But don’t take my word for it – just hear what HK-47 has to say:

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Case of the Mondays Cure – Moon Games, Harry Potter’s Magic, and DRM Death

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Harvest Moon
Image by SugaShane via Flickr

Summer’s clearly past its halfway point, but that doesn’t mean you should feel down about yet another Monday working its way into your soul and beating it down with a blunt and sometimes spiky object. As always, Overly Positive is here to lift up your spirits with a bit of good news:

-Forty Years After the First Moon Landing, and the Games That Love it (the Toronto Star, via Kotaku): “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Those were the words uttered by those that first set foot on lunar land four decades ago. Kotaku’s dug up something written by a newspaper that talks about games that have moon references, or in some cases, whole levels. Yep, forty years ago, geek fantasies of traveling in space just gota little bit more feasible, so don’t give up hope – wet dreams about being a Jedi could be just around the corner.

-New Harry Potter Movie Launches, Sets New Opening Record of $396.7 Million (via MSN): Some people might think that Harry’s lost a bit of his magic over the years, but the new movie, “The Half-Blood Prince”, seemed to cut into that little notion just a touch – to the tune of nearly four hundred million, that is. The movie had the sixth biggest opening for a five day period in the US and Canada, and the previous record holder, Spider-Man 3, ended up making over nine hundred big ones. Will Harry Potter break a billion? We’ll see, but all indications look good.

-Star Fox Sequel on the way – Developed by Fans (via The Escapist): Those of you who yearn for the days of third-person space shooters will be happy to know that fans of the Star Fox series have decided to develop their own sequel to the series. It’s unclear whether this is going to be legally blocked in any way, but the game, titled Shadows of Lylat, will feature different Arwing types as well as “familiar faces” from the previous games. Sure, Star Fox is no Halo, but it has its own niche of fans and is firmly planted in a genre that could use more entries.

-DRM is Officially Dead, Says the RIAA (Torrentfreak, via Digg): The Recording Industry Association of America, the enemy of free-wheeling, music-downloading people everywhere since they took on Napster, appears to have come out to say “my bad”. Digital Rights Management, or DRM, has been a  constant pain point for consumers both legitimate and illegitimate, and segments of the industry who agree, most notably Apple, have provided DRM-free alternatives that have paid in dividends. So I suppose it’s no surprise when Jonathan Lamy, chief spokesperson for the RIAA, has to back down and declare DRM “dead” in the face of, well, empirical evidence and cold, hard cash. A victory for DRM fighters everywhere, indeed.

That’s all for now – now go forth, and enjoy your DRM-free, magic wand-less, non-Arwing commute – and don’t forget to buy up some of that lunar land if you can!

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