Browser Versions

At IMGDC 2.0, Gordon Walton said (paraphrase) that Star Wars: The Old Republic should be the last MMO (or perhaps online game) made with a standalone client. His logic was that everyone has a web browser, and the web browser does not require a multi-GB download. As a developer, every barrier between your customer and the game costs you customers. (Back to that post from Gordon Walton: you, the self-identified “gamer,” will work hard for a bit of fun, but most paying customers will not.) As a player, I have lost interest in the time it takes to download, install, and learn how to play. As an observer, I would attribute some of the rise of flash and mobile games to the convenience of automated downloads, streamlined installation, and the business brilliance that is the modern app store.

Maybe it takes more than six years for that idea to spread, but there are definitely reasons why you might want a standalone client: the need for gigabytes of content, security controls, and (most importantly to me today) a uniform development platform. “Web browser” is not one thing. One of the drawbacks of developing for the PC (not consoles) is that PCs differ widely in terms of hardware and software, and web browsers create more levels of differences. Are you using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, or something else? Maybe still using Netscape Navigator? Which version are you using, both major and minor? There are dozens of different ways users could have that one thing configured, and your game needs to work in all of them, with every other hardware and software configuration that goes along with the browser. I can see why you might want to say, “Our client, our world, under our control.”

I spend some days playing tech support for an online system. Some users genuinely have a problem with our system. Others could not remember which password was for our system, remembered the password but had typos, forgot the password for their Windows logon, had trouble with an internet connection, had trouble with Internet Explorer, had trouble using a function that worked slightly differently in Internet Explorer and Chrome, or needed the finer points of using a mouse explained. And those are the questions I remember off-hand from one day. When you are supporting a product on the PC, you are supporting the entire PC. At a previous job, our FAQs included how to update browser settings and how to troubleshoot problems with printer settings. Their printer problems were not our fault, but they were our problem if we wanted customers to make full use of our site.

When you run a hotel, you also get to explain to people how to find your hotel. If they cannot get to your service, they cannot use your service. The construction down the road may not be your fault, but it is still a barrier between you and your customers.

: Zubon

Gaming Glee versus Gaming Hobby

I am continuing to find like Zubon that there are various shades of gaming. I want to focus on a highly-sought wavelength of gaming called “glee”. No, this is not the high school musical show type of fun. This is the high excitement caused by spontaneity and action that jaded adults and angsty teen rarely get anymore.

I have a table-top gaming group, and our default when no one is up to game-mastering a role-playing game is Magic the Gathering. We mostly play long games of multiplayer EDH (commander, 100-card no duplicates), but occasionally we change it up. I noticed last weekend that our EDH games feel like work, and we usually comfort ourselves at the end with the amount of “zany hijinks” that crossed the table. We always hate the winning/losing part of the game, but secretly each pray for death after the 7th or 8th turn.

A few weeks ago we decided to pull out our dusty 60-card decks to play a tournament with them. The catch was that a deck owner couldn’t play his own deck, and since we mostly played our own decks, we would be learning many decks on the fly. Winning and losing didn’t much matter anymore. We just played for the fun of it. It was missing from our Magic games for a long time, but I felt glee. That elated, uncaring happiness.

Continue reading Gaming Glee versus Gaming Hobby

Shopping By Customers

I recently read An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen. Much of the book is advice on finding quality ethnic food (and barbecue) at reasonable prices, whether in the US or in their home countries. Don’t eat in the tourist district, do eat where there are several restaurants of the same type in the neighborhood (until I visited DC, it never occurred to me that you could have a half-dozen Ethiopian restaurants on one block). Being an economist, his insights focus on where the restaurants have the right incentives and efficiencies. A place with great atmosphere is selling that, rather than the food; the tourist district does not worry about repeat customers; American shipping systems are great but really fresh seafood and produce is only available close to the source.

Yes, this is one of those extended metaphor posts that takes an example from another setting and applies it to gaming.

The simplest guide is to look at the customers. If the restaurant has the right people eating there, the food is probably good. Who are the right people? The ones with interests aligned with yours. Continue reading Shopping By Customers

Languished Thoughts

I am withering away waiting for the next Guild Wars 2 beta event. I have dreams of a dagger-charged necromancer or elementalist that I can’t wait to realize. Yet, the gaming world seems to be darkening as the light of the last Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event is receding. I am trying to shake the feeling as best as I can with Steam sales, and the like. Then I hear what is going on in the news.

Scarlet “MMO”

Except for the aforesaid exception, the MMO genre seems to be bleakening. With a gracious nod to Beau Hindman, I would say that this only seems to be the case for so-called “AAA” titles as F2P titles seem to flood across the land like a scute mob. Continue reading Languished Thoughts

[SWTOR] Return of the Jedis

My son and I are still happily playing Star Wars: The Old Republic with our Jedi characters. We have reached level 14. We’ve tried a few Heroic quests and a Flashpoint but most were a little too difficult for us at the level we attempted them. Regardless, there are a lot of quests to do and stories to play out and we are loving every minute of it. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game that I had fun with and was in no rush to finish. I feel no need to hurry up to catch up with friends, no big item hanging in front of me to rush towards. Just plain fun play.

Continue reading [SWTOR] Return of the Jedis

[SWTOR] The Duo Strikes Back

This past weekend was called “Weekend Pass” for Star Wars: The Old Republic, which granted new players a chance to try it out for 4 days without needing to spend any money. I took the opportunity to see how my favorite method of gaming (the duo) works in SWTOR. I enlisted my son to be my “other half”.

First we picked a server, easily done. Next we had to find classes that start on the same planet/area. New players might not realize that they would need to do this but as an old veteran of the MMO wars, I know how things work. Research showed us as follows:

Continue reading [SWTOR] The Duo Strikes Back

[SWTOR] A New Hope

I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic over the past weekend. While I was active in the beta test and developed many opinions about the game, I decided to try to ignore those and start fresh hoping for nothing more than a fun game. Once I put the quest to find some new miracle game that solves all design flaws ever made aside, I found out there is a fun game to be had here – at least so far.

Continue reading [SWTOR] A New Hope

[GW] Voice Acting

One significant improvement between the Guild Wars campaigns was the voice acting.

I haven’t heard much of Prophecies yet, but what I have suggests a need for better direction. It was as if they gave the voice actors individual lines to read without telling them what is going on, their motivation, etc. Maybe it improves; I am hitting Prophecies last. Factions was painful, and the subtitles were necessary. The voices themselves were not great, the voice acting and direction were random (not even following the emphasis listed in the subtitles), and then they added effects to the spirits’ voices to make them half-incomprehensible. Maybe there are some tropes of Asian cinema that they are faithfully reproducing, but after starting with how my character sounded in Nightfall, Factions just hurt every time … anyone came on screen.

But Nightfall is good, rather good. I enjoy both the voices and the acting. They are well-fitted to their parts, and not just because General Morgahn comes off as Morgan Freeman. Contrast the effects on the demons in Nightfall with the spirit envoys in Factions to show how to have the effect enhance the voice, not destroy it. Then we get to Eye of the North, and we have a range of good characters (not just Vekk). The quality of the lines in Nightfall was probably higher, but you must love Ogden (voice and lines) during the Norn arc. One simple bit I really liked was Jora, “Blood washes blood.” She says it three times in a short cutscene, but it has a different intonation each time. With the last one, she manages to imply hope, fatalism, and a suggestion that the wisdom of a thousand generations lies behind a three-word phrase.

Also, don’t you just love that scene between General Bayel and The Hunger in Nightfall?

: Zubon

It is much easier to find voice actor lists for shows than games.

[GW,SW:ToR] Inversion

Many of the design oddities I am citing in Guild Wars arise from its development path. It was not built as an MMO, but it has accumulated MMO elements over time, grafted interestingly but sometimes awkwardly onto its frame.

Everything I read about The Old Republic suggests that oddities arise from its developers. Without having played, my sense of the internet consensus is that this is a wonderful, brilliant, elegantly crafted single player game with excellent polish, story, and voice work. And that it completely lacks anything that attracts and retains MMO players except for having WoW-like gameplay.

Personally, I am quite happy with the notion of a game that has an intended finish rather than an eternal grind, but that has gotten about as far as possible from the old notion of an MMO as a virtual world, and it does not mesh well with a subscription model. But what do I know? I am not the target audience for “WoW with lightsabers,” and those are not my hundreds of millions of dollars invested.

: Zubon