Thursday, February 13, 2014

I'm In Love with a German Film Star

This, in all things.

With tomorrow being That Love Day it seems particularly apposite to talk this morning about what fires the synapses into acts of spontaneous enamour. Gaming, after all, is supposed to be something to be approached with enthusiasm and passion, but for many of us can end up feeling like... well, a bit of a job. That impression has a lot to do with the way any game is thrown at us to begin with, and that is where our story starts, at inception. Here's a personal story about how the first impression of a game matters, and how if make your content for perhaps the wrong reasons, people will find you out.

Yes, it looks lovely.

I never 'did' Everquest the first time around, I was a bit busy freaking out about giving birth to my son back in 2000. However, I've been watching a number of people getting very excited about the EQ Landmark 'experience' currently being tested (most notably The Aggronaut) and will admit, my interest was piqued. Being able to design your own housing (in a Minecraft stylee) is an attractive proposition, and doing it in a fantasy 'scenario'... it presses a lot of my personal buttons. So, I decided to go investigate the options, and what I found was roughly akin to the time I fell for the blonde, blue-eyed boy in the Third Year of Secondary School only to discover he came with a caveat: if you were poor and plain, he wasn't interested.[*]


Let us be very clear here, I am *NOT* about to be critical of companies that make players stump up cash to play their games, because let's face it, that's what I'm doing right now and I have no complaints. Where my qualm lies is that I have a passion to play having seen my peers do just that, but not the cash... and if I wanted to dive in now, even buying the lowest 'pack' EQL has on offer wouldn't get me instant access, I'd be waiting until the end of March. When I think about it, about 20 quid to buy myself into what is effectively an Alpha client is not really any different than the cash I stumped up for Hex to be made or for Elite to go into production via Kickstarter. So why do those choices seem considerably more worthy than this, which immediately struck me as an exercise in opportunism? Is it because Sony could never justify trying to do what most independent publishers are often forced to in order to get the cash up front to actually make their poducts?

Whatever happens, this time I'll wait, because what situations like this demonstrate is that it doesn't matter what companies do, if you can't afford to play you won't, and in my case whenever 'free' Beta does actually arrive I'll take my chances, and it won't matter if all the 'good' spots are gone because if they are, I'll probably have lost my interest to begin with... if you make a game where only the best content can be bought, you will inevitably be on a hiding to nothing. I know how economics work, and this is NEVER a great way to found an economy. Trust me on this. Spending huge amounts of money on a game before you've sold it's also not the wisest of move, and the Elder Scrolls people know that too, which seems to be the other game so many of my blogging compadres are discussing right now. As Tobold put it so eloquently yesterday:

Maybe competence is more important in a game developer than just passion. 

You can easily forget that all the graphical lushness and ease of use allowing you to recreate the whole of Tolkien's works visually or an ocean liner in your game is all well and good, but if you are forced to insert cash every week to keep things just so or to maintain your dominance, your passion for a game isn't then just about your ability to play it, it also becomes dependant on your ability to afford it. Microtransactions aren't just in your mobile device's future, after all, everyone's getting in on the act. Convenience = payment, and this will continue to be the case as long as people have the money and are prepared to give it up for their addictions. [**] This is the cash that pays for all the people who make your game too (supposedly), even if most of us believe those extra dollars afford an opportunity to dispatch the Gaming Company's CEO Scuba Diving in the Maldives. Mismanagement costs a lot too, incompetence even more so, you just need to look at the banking sector to see how that's panned out. Ideally, what you want is a company that not only looks organised but maintains a level of passion that is easily and continually apparent, because you can then feel that your money isn't simply being well spent, its being put in the right places to begin with.

Music is one thing, but do you understand the
 meaning behind it?

Many people have asked me how I keep this up, how I post daily on Warcraft when many people were packing up their bags and leaving town, some for good. Well, this game has never let me down. It never expects me to give up the cash for anything important, and when the time came to start making extra money out of players it thought about the consequences. The people who will inevitably complain about the insertion of a Blizzard Shop button to the Character Screen when it appears in 5.4.7 next week do not grasp that the future, such as it is, depends on Blizzard towing the same line every other MMO will tread. If people WANT to pay for things, you give them the option, but it never becomes the default. When I pay my monthly sub, and I will continue to do so on two accounts, I'm not just paying to stay in the game. I pay for the CM's, for the in-game support, for the chance to talk to Devs on Twitter, for the Quality of Life I have come to expect from Blizzard. I am, in effect, paying for competence.

That's a subscription I have no issue in maintaining.

There are those who complain that Blizzard has its cake and eats it with the sub and the mounts and the pets, and soon with the 90's you'll be able to buy. Well, they only get dessert if people keep stumping up the cash and if the quality of service remains. As soon as it all drops off the World, the money will dry up really fast, and when I see people returning with new enthusiasm for a game that really should be covered in mould and smelling after a decade, something is clearly being done right. Of course there will be detractors, and actually that's no bad thing in the long run, because making noises and throwing rocks has the double advantage not simply of keeping everyone keen, but also of fostering a strong community spirit. As my good, dear friend @Grimmtooth constantly loves to remind me, this is a World of Whingers, and without the moaning the planet would simply become a Utopian Paradise, and we know NOBODY wants that.

These credits are probably lying.

I am still stupidly passionate about Warcraft, to the point of being told to 'calm down, dear, it's just an MMO' by many, many people. The thing is, it's MY MMO, that inspires me and pushes me forward and makes me think about the world in ways nothing else has adequately managed in my time on this Planet. If this one thing is capable of so much, then it needs to be looked after carefully, and managed in a way that I think Blizzard more than adequately understand, even though it may seem at times as if they don't really hear things that well at all. Nobody is perfect, and there is always room for manoeuvre. We universally understand that every day is a school day, after all. However, when all is said and done, these people have treated me with respect and kindness and they don't take my money unless I give it to them, and in the current gaming environment that is a VERY significant factor in proceedings.

As long as that continues, I suspect my passion will remain unabated.

[*] True Story.
[**] Whole new Blog post. Just saying.

1 comment:

Grimmtooth said...

Well, it may be "just an MMO" but there is no denying the bonds of friendship and camaraderie that are forged. The "community" word again, I'm afraid, with no apologies to the haters.

It was "just a BBS" 20 years ago, and I married one of the "imaginary" people living therein.

(Almost married yet another as well, but "that's another show".)