Honesty From The Mmogoblogosphere

June 25, 2009

From a comment on Brad McQuaid’s being excited about the new Dream Theater album:

Talk bout Vanguard, or what you’ll be doing next.

Save this ‘New Dream Theater’ stuff for people who care about you as human. To us you are just a thing that will deliver us a game.

Well, that’s that, then!

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Customer Service Is Hard

June 9, 2009

SWG’s new community manager takes a different tack from what we’ve seen previously – managing threads by BEATING THEM INTO SUBMISSION! YAAR! CHOKE HOLD! NO TAP OUT! YAAAARGH!

No, really. Apparently one of his first acts was in making a Friday grab bag-style feature not about SWG, but about its associated collectible card game. The community was unhappy. But then, they were pacified with clear, calm, mature responses!

I feel shafted by many in this community. I am doing my job and I get all this flack about it?

troll my forums again and we’ll have an issue.

Opinion on the post is one thing but comments towards me, on something I had to do on my 3rd day on the job, is another.

I am offended too. That people will take all this time to do nothing but post all this negative text on my first FF. Give me a break. I have been here just over a week and not given a chance to do anything what so ever to make things better but keep spending my time replying to posts that I am sure were made for the previous TCG sets.

Please don’t see if I am all talk.

ahhhh.. you hurt me… I am…… I….. I am crying.. what ever. IT IS LOOT CARDS. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT for in GAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMME and that brings in new PLAYERSSSSSSSSSSS. and new players mean more members for guildddddddddddddddddssssssssssssss.. and I am am tired of reading all this about TCG and getting nothing done for events I wanted to do let alone badge ideas. Now I just want to make a badge with a crying smiley on it and blast it out on here.

I get it. You don’t like it. Attacking me got you on a list you would rather not be on with me. May as well go talk to yourself now.

to make it faster I right click and open quote on each post I want to reply on. I want to make sure I give that personal touch. It floods the thread too just like the trolls have done for too long. lol

Now I just want to dust off the ban button.. put away my project lists for FF’s events, badges, and other things I wanted to do and had in works ALREADY and just slam away at this thread until people get it that I am not any of the other CRM’s that were here before. That I love to have fun but once you get me POd it’s game on.

hmmm. Well.. is it? or is it not? If I am smiling while I type am I angry? LOLOLOL This is fun for me. Just a waste of time for you all that want something done for SWG

And that’s just his first week. Tune in next week when someone posts about gungans!


"I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader?"

April 28, 2009

Bit of a tempest in the nascent Star Wars: Old Republic community boards today, when a player discovered that such words as “gay”, “lesbian” and “cryptofascist” were added to the obscenity filter. The forums nerd raged about this until the Bioware CM, Sean Dahlberg posted that the words were being filtered because

As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.

Thread closed.

The fine, fine moderate journalists at Kotaku thus immediately posted a story with the words “BIOWARE: THERE ARE NO GAYS IN STAR WARS” which caused the nerd rage to explode into a fury of POLITICAL nerd rage, ending only with Dahlberg apologizing directly to the player making the original post.

Well, isn’t that special. My take on all this:

  • This isn’t a tempest in a teapot, it’s a tempest in a thimble that may someday, possibly, hold a tea leaf. The “community” for SW:TOR doesn’t have a lot of actual game to discuss, so they talk about things like, oh, the political implication of words in your censor file. This is a pretty powerful argument that there’s no real reason to, you know, host forums for a game that is years from actually technically existing. The rabid fans who want to discuss their own personal views of how SW:TOR will implement womprat husbandry can do so on someone else’s dime. Kotaku wouldn’t have cared less if IGN added “lesbian” to their autocensor filter.
  • But say TOR was actually in beta, or up and running. My initial reaction is that there’s a suite of topics, mostly involving politics, religion, and the various convergences thereof, that simply aren’t appropriate for an official MMO discussion board. There are many topics that you just simply don’t want to worry about moderating. An intelligent moderation is key here – discussing LGBT-friendly guilds and issues raised from that (mostly involving 12 year olds saying “ghey” a lot) is on topic. Discussing your views on California’s Proposition 8 isn’t.  Real world politics is not a morass you want to dive into, because people with very valid opinions that differ violently from yours are still your paying customers. Note: simply adding words like “lesbian”, “gay”, “mormon” and “Arlen Spector” to your autocensor file does not count as  intelligent moderation.
  • Gay marraige is a third rail at the moment. The folks at Turbine (who have tended to be fairly liberal politically) punted on the issue for LOTRO by simply saying that it didn’t work with the license. Blizzard has been fairly conservative on the issue, to much distress. (Ironically, one of the guild names listed in that story as protesting Blizzard’s actions is a crystal clear TOS violation, or would be if anyone at Blizzard knew what it meant. Hint: it’s not Stonewall Champions!)  There is no good answer here. If you disallow same-sex marraige, you piss off a solid minority of your player base. If you allow same-sex marriage, you piss off a solid minority of your player base. If you disallow ANY marriage, you piss off a solid majority of your player base. So really, just do what you feel is right, since there’s no right answer here. I tend to the Sims solution – just let the players do what they want, and be completely agnostic about it. Which – not surprisingly – will piss off a solid minority of your player base.
  • You guys DO know Alec Guiness was bisexual, right?
  • Sanya Weathers thinks the issue is a bit simpler.

In case you’re wondering, I think that banning any kind of virtual relationship between avatars makes you look like a reactionary monkey. I also think that most in game relationships are between people who are male in the physical world. Finally, I think that if the Jedi council were real, they would think this entire discussion is for mental midgets without any awareness or comprehension of the serious issues endangering the citizens of the galaxy.

The REAL question of course, is which way Boba Fett swings. Because, you know, which ever way he does? That way is correct.


Rights, Profit, Drama

March 23, 2009

The recent Blizzard add-on mess has brought up – in my mind anyway, as well as some others – some age-old questions about player rights in games through exposing a pretty core dichotomy in how people look at online games.

On the one side, you have the people who take Blizzard’s side, and if anything, think they don’t go far enough. World of Warcraft is Blizzard’s game, they added the ability to script the client, they can just easily take it away, and you people whine so much about it now they probably should. On the other side, you have people who see this as a software rights issue – the addons I write for World of Warcraft are mine, Blizzard has no right to tell me what I can and can’t write, and if I make some cash from my work it’s none of their business. Which, not surprisingly, segues into the rights of players versus the responsibilities of game developers – not exactly a new discussion.

My views on the subject, also unsurprisingly, have been shaded by almost a decade on the other side of the development fence, and a few decades of cynicism about basic human nature before that. Succinctly put, the governance of online games and worlds exist in a triangle of rights, profit, and drama.

Here, I can illustrate this triangle quite easily by using a snippet from this recent article.

Virtual world technology is intentionally designed to make humans act as though the virtual world is, at least in some respects, real. Thus, as a normative matter, when corporations choose to use technology intended to entice humans into acting as though they were safe in their own homes, or privately communicating with friends, the law ought to respect those expectations as it does in real life. I therefore argue that U.S. persons in virtual worlds possess a reasonable expectation of privacy, such that a search of their virtual homes and property should be subject to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

Your reaction to that paragraph depends on how you feel about rights vs. profit vs. drama.

Rights: Well, of course. He’s stating the obvious. Does your landlord in the real world, even though he owns your house and the land it’s on, have any right whatsoever to read your mail and pop in unexpectedly when you have a date? Why should virtual landlords have more rights than realspace landlords?

Profit: I can’t believe we’re even having this discussion. If I’m going to be threatened with lawsuits because of constitutional rights you have to my server, I’d have to be retarded to ever open my company up to such liability by making a server.  These are entertainment products, and we are being paid to create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone. There is no such thing as virtual civil rights, only EULAs. And if you somehow get the courts to disagree, we’ll take our balls and go make console games.

Drama: I KNEW IT I KNEW IT I WAS RIGHT I KNEW IT the company needs to give me my account back now.

When it comes to MMOs, a dark and bitter part of me doesn’t believe any of you should have any rights, because, well, drama. The people who complain about “rights” almost always, without fail, do so because drama happened. They did something to run afoul of the game administrators – usually, 0ne of the many thousands of ways people have crafted to be a raging dickhead to one another online – and then they turn into cyber civil libertarians, decrying the omnipotence of the “game gods” (note: any time you use the phrase “game gods” without irony, I’m going to assume you’re Prokofy Neva) and demanding their fundamental civil right to be online in your game where they can continue to be a raging dickhead.

The best example of civil libertarianism trumping customer service is the case of Peter Ludlow, who when banned from the Sims Online, supposedly for advertising his website ingame, promptly used his status as a member in good standing of academia to appeal his banning to the New York Times. (He then moved on to writing a Second Life tabloid. I’m not kidding.) You’ll note that EA, who ran Sims Online at the time, didn’t have a lot to say in response. This may be because they felt embarassed over banning someone for maintaining a website that made them look bad (not that I’d know anything about that). Or it may be because there was an actual reason to ban him and they were constrained due to privacy issues from actually saying anything about it, even when it made the New Frickin York Times, thus having Ludlow’s account of his banning being the only one on the record.

That’s not to say that online gaming companies are immune from banning people for squirrelly reasons (and even for supposedly open-and-shut cases of administrative abuse, there’s usually another side of the story). But gaming companies in general are in business to make a profit. This drives an obvious factor and one that isn’t as obvious at first glance to outside observers. The obvious factor is that banning players hurts a company’s profits because, well, one less customer. However, the collorary, which is somewhat unique to online games, is that there are players who by their presence drive off more income than they themselves bring in. Thus, the Profit motive trumps Rights and Drama – ban early and often, the “oderint dum metuant” school of customer service.

It’s not all a dystopic wasteland of corporate oppression, though. Game developers have been discussing the ethical implications of what rights players should have for quite a while now. Raph Koster’s “Declaration of the Rights of the Avatar” makes a pretty clear and reasoned argument for enabling as many rights for players as possible while still allowing developers to maintain their own games. And since most developers are also MMO users themselves, they’ve had enough encounters with the ‘oderint dum metuant’ game mastering school to know that it can be toxic to the long term health of the game by itself.

Which is good, because there’s not a lot of willingness to compromise between the proponents of Rights, Profit and Drama. The Rights advocates are usually dismissive of the fears Profit has, while being sniggeringly dismissive or blithly unaware (depending on their actual experience with virtual worlds) of the corrosive effects of Drama. Profit fears Rights – and more importantly, the possible governmental/legal intervention based on it – while its day to day frontline struggle with Drama fills its veterans with a distaste for the everyman veterans of police departments would envy. And Drama? Drama only cares about Drama, girlfriend.

Yet all three of these need to be balanced – and in fact, I’d even argue that without Drama you don’t have the community development necessary for an MMO to grow. And if nothing else, it might be an interesting thought experiment to look at contentious issues (such as the Blizzard addon foo-frah) through prisms of the triangle other than ones you might be used to.


Warcraft Killed The Community Star

March 13, 2009

Rich Weil on why community seems to be the same ol’ okey doke after a decade:

Community relations is not a new phenomenon, it is merely young in the games industry. A kind of professional isolationism exists here that puts any kind of independent existence of OCR entities in peril. Quite honestly, for the reasons I’ve previously listed, there is almost no reason that all our functions could not be directly integrated into marketing, PR or any larger communications structure.

Sanya Weathers doesn’t want to agree, but does anyway:

Even the White House values the synthesis a good community specialist brings to the table. But in games, after a decade of hard work, a community weenie is someone you call when you realize your president should probably stop posting on message boards.

My take on it is pretty simple. World of Warcraft is showing that, once you reach a certain mass? Community management doesn’t particularly have a great effect on your game’s success.

Can you identify the name of the head of World of Warcraft’s community management team? No? I couldn’t either. The ones visible to the customer base – “Eyonix“, “Nethaera“, etc – are front-line CMs who are visible by dint of posting on WoW’s forums,  but do you know who heads the department? You know, the community manager for the most popular MMO on the planet, the man or woman who signs off on what’s communicated to WoW’s millions of players? Who talks down Mike Morhaine after he drinks a full quart of chocolate milk and decides to post on the Yahoo ATVI board at 3:42 AM?  It’d be a fairly visible post, I’d think. It is, after all, a very large community!

Well… I got nothing, either.

So I checked the credits. As best as I can tell, the head of World of Warcraft’s community team is Paul Della Bitta. Who also runs the WoW eSports initiative. I guess at Blizzard, community management doesn’t keep you busy all day.

And sorry, Rich, that’s why community is the same ol’ okey doke after a decade. Because everyone is looking at Blizzard for the template of how to print money. And Blizzard shows that once you get to the executive suite, community management isn’t really a full time job. Because, you all know, all you have to do is put up twelve billion forums and walk off, until your designers get bored and decide to play community manager. And it’s all good, because as long as the core game itself is fun, the community will just deal with it.


I Was In The Room At The Time, And Yes, That Was A Good Answer!

February 16, 2009

Someone asked me “So what would you do if you had a forum with 5 million active posters?” and my immediate answer was “Shut it down.”


Never Say Never

December 5, 2008

According to Garthlik at Warhammer Alliance, Warhammer to get official forums for the new year.

Mark Jacobs, from May of 2008:

Never.

There, I said it (again). 🙂

I would rather hear William Shatner and Roseanne Barr singing a duet while having my fingernails pulled out one by one while sitting in a pool of molten lava than have Mythic’s own Official Forums for WAR.

How’s that for clarity?

Mark

That would explain why Garthlik’s post was called “The William Shatner and Roseanne Barr Christmas Album”.  (Note that this is still classified as rumor until Mythic makes some sort of announcement. Or, failing that, the faint cries of Roseanne Barr’s wassails can be heard in the distance.)