Bug Zapper: Turbine Edition

As you may have heard, Turbine is transitioning out of the MMO market and into mobile. I am somewhat surprised that mobile F2P is still a growing market, but maybe that is where the social media gaming money went after Zynga did its thing. Mobile devices are certainly a huge and still growing market, and you have many casual players in that space. It feels like a lot of people are competing for a few whales.

It makes me downright mad to see a studio that used to show such passion and talent for MMOs to be groveling for the scraps of mobile gaming.
Asheron’s Call, a game hovering on the edge of “not officially canceled” for a surprisingly long time (but certainly not under current development). Kill Ten Rats was effetively a LotRO fan blog for a while with all the active writers playing it. Ethic, chime in here if the dream lives on, but I’ve killed that goblin a hundred thousand times across a dozen games over more than a decade, and I can scarcely muster the energy to read about how it is being re-skinned as a different shade of orc in whatever the next WoW expansion is.

In the Western market, WoW is the juggernaut that carries on under inertia, able to print millions of dollars with any significant update but unable to further expand the market. EVE Online remains in a category by itself, seemingly quite sustainable within a comfortable range. Everyone else seems to be a hanger-on and/or niche market. I have nothing against niche games, and my dear love A Tale in the Desert is now up to its Seventh Telling under new management. Good for them. People love their games and create great communities, and they can keep going indefinitely so long as someone pays to keep the servers up. That is an advantage to players of smaller games: no big studio to decide that resources can be better invested elsewhere. You can even launch a new one of those like Project: Gorgon as a boutique game and get enough interest to make it worthwhile.

The title of this comes from the GU Comics running joke. MMO flies circle the bug zapper, and while LotRO lives to see another year, would you renew that contract in 2017? If Turbine is exiting the MMO space, wouldn’t you expect the MMOs to be sold to someone who wants that as their market segment?

But maybe your corner of the MMO space is vital. I imagine the Eastern market marches on? I cannot recall when I last logged into an MMO. I don’t know if I ever installed one on my new hard drive. My MMO era finished, and seeing Turbine do the same provides a sense of closure.

: Zubon

Books

Asheron’s Call had (technically has) in-game paper you could write on. You could get a single sheet or an entire book. This may sound weird to the modern MMO player, but it was important at the time.

RPers, lore-hounds, and fan fiction writers would write stories in them. Some might exist in a single copy, or amateur scriveners might copy from one book to another. There was a library near Hebian-To (and elsewhere, but Hebian-To was the active spot I knew on Morningthaw) where people would gather to read the official in-game stories or share their own. There was not such a thing as a bookshelf where you could contribute player-written lore, but people might drop books for others to find or stand about as librarians/booksellers.

Beyond RP, books were extremely useful because Asheron’s Call came out in 1999. In 1999 you did not have wikis, extensive spoiler sites, or even a second monitor to refer to while playing on the other. Even if you had a second monitor, as the previous sentence suggests, finding info was a different matter; Google was still a new thing at the time, founded in 1998. Having a book of locations and directions was really helpful, and getting a book of location coordinates from a guild leader patron was a huge boon for a new player.

Sometimes it does not feel that long ago, and sometimes I remember that some of our readers have never known a world without MMOs.

: Zubon

PK

And now gamer-linguist nerd crossover content that may not be for everyone. You are warned.

A discussion of the word for “nerd” in Chinese included a note about Chinese usage of the term “PK,” which is comparable to English “pwn” or “versus.” (I hope that usage converges, otherwise you need strong context to tell whether the word implies simply opposition or also the result of that opposition.) Excerpt:

5. As so often happens when words cross from one language to another language, it does not mean exactly the same thing in Chinese (“to thoroughly dominate; to beat” [in one-on-one or multiple competition]) that it means in English (“player killer”).

I note that the English usage is also ambiguous. In our MMO context, I am most familiar with “PK” as an abbreviation for any sort of PvP player, but my usage arises from starting MMOs with Asheron’s Call, where characters had a PK flag that indicated whether they were participating in PvP. Victor Mair suggests that Counter-Strike players use “PK” where I would use “TK” (“team killer”) or perhaps “griefer,” someone who intentionally shoots people on his/her own team rather than the enemy. Feel free to contribute from your own idiolect in the comments.

The researchers Victor Mair mentions in his post (Matt Smith and Brendan O’Kane) have graciously forwarded me their notes with permission to use them for posting. They track the term back to MUDs. This is your chance to be on the cutting edge of Chinese gamer linguistics and potentially contribute to research in its advancement. Are you excited? I’m excited.. Continue reading PK

Supply Creates Its Own Demand

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.
— Homer, The Odyssey, although I cannot find a translation online that uses that exact phrasing.

It is not a slippery slope argument to say, “Developing the capacity to X makes X much more likely.” Beyond the tautology that you cannot do X if you cannot do X, we find that humans are more likely to pursue options that are readily available. Once you have the ability to do something, you start finding occasions for it. This is a driver of progress and source of anguish.

Continue reading Supply Creates Its Own Demand

The Lessons of History

I often cite smaller games because people are unaware of them or vastly underinformed. So if you like Darkfall’s prowess system, you can go play that right now in Asheron’s Call 1. Seriously, that system existed in 1999, although games did not have achievements at the time. You could even be playing the PvP version on Darktide!

To explain from the comments on that post, AC1 never had level adjustments. Levels are (were) estimates of relative power, not like in most MMOs where you must fight within the range of a few levels or there will be massive penalties that mean instant death. Level 30 archers can (could) hunt level 100+ monsters just fine with the right preparation. Levels give you more skill options, but the rest of the xp/skill system work(ed) exactly as described: doing things gets you a pool of xp that you can spend on whichever skills and attributes you like.

AC1 did mix in a bit of use-based skills by giving extra “practice point” xp for skill use. This involved an interesting formula that rewarded you for doing increasingly difficult things (rather than repetition), but it may not even still be in the game, so I am not going to spout algebra just now.

: Zubon

Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, Google, and NCsoft

[Warning: there are some TV Tropes links in here.]

I have confessed to contributing to self-fulfilling prophecies: if you do not commit to something/one because s/he/it may not be around for long, s/he/it probably will not be around for long. So how do you invest yourself in something when the producers have a left a wake of unfinished and canceled projects?

Continue reading Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, Google, and NCsoft

…And Ye Shall Receive

In 2010, Ethic suggested that Tubrine bring back Asheron’s Call 2 under F2P. It’s not there yet, but there is a free beta available to Asheron’s Call 1 subscribers. Questions that spring to mind:

  1. Is any of the old AC2 team going to be on this project? A different set of developers yields a very different game. Granted, given the commercial success of the original, changes might not be a bad business idea.
  2. How do I go about reclaiming an Asheron’s Call account that has been lying fallow for perhaps a decade?

: Zubon
via Ethic via Massively

Interaction Options

Assassin’s Creed 3 lets you pet dogs. Asheron’s Call lets you tip cows (and even added a quest for it). Guild Wars 2 uses some animal and NPC interactions for its hearts, such as feeding cows or watering crops.

Every now and again, it’s nice to have options other than “kill them,” you know? You may not spend much time tipping cows or petting dogs, but just knowing the option is there makes the game a bit less of a murder simulator.

: Zubon

Every time I see the abbreviation for Assassin’s Creed 3, I think, “They’re making Asheron’s Call 3?!?!!”