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The Soapbox

The Soapbox: A new mode of interaction

Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, PvE, Opinion, MMOFPS, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, MMORPG

Guild Wars 2
Video games are, by definition, an interactive medium. The entire point of playing a video game is that you get to explore the world, talk to the characters, slay the monsters, and reap the rewards. And you do all this with a keyboard and mouse or controller or futuristic headset or whatever. Players are in charge; players create their own experience.

Every video game ever released hinges on player interaction to tell its story. Without the player, a game's inhabitants are meaningless pixels guarding empty checkpoints, staggering through the woods with a groan, or walking in endless circles selling bread.

In order for a game to function, players must be able to interact with it. The only question is how.

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The Soapbox: On your deathbed, you will not regret gaming

World of Warcraft, Video, EVE Online, Culture, MMO Industry, Endgame, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Subscription, MMORPG

Game title image
In last week's edition of The Soapbox, Mike Foster reminded us that the grim specter of death comes to us all and asserted that when your time comes, "you will not wish you had spent more time gaming." Mike took the stance that gaming provides temporary joys that can't replace real-life experiences and that it's our inherent responsibility as human beings with finite lifespans to seek out those experiences. He argued that "gaming is a hobby and not a replacement for a life well-lived" and that it's not our gaming achievements but our real life ones that we'll proudly tell our grandchildren.

I think we can all agree that it's important to have offline hobbies and interests that help you keep active, but I take exception to the notion that we might regret time spent gaming on our deathbeds. Published data on the top five regrets of the dying actually seems to directly refute this idea, and my life experiences have shown the exact opposite of some of the points Mike makes. MMOs have given me some experiences that I'll probably treasure for a lifetime, and gaming as a hobby has provided me with much more than just temporary joys and escapism; it's helped me discover talents I didn't know I possessed, given me the push I needed to get a good education, led me to employment, and put me in contact with lifelong friends. On my deathbed, I'll probably wish I'd spent more time gaming rather than less.

In this opinion piece, I look at evidence that suggests we won't regret gaming on our deathbeds and make the case that gaming can be just as worthwhile as offline pursuits.

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The Soapbox: You will not wish you had spent more time gaming

World of Warcraft, Aion, EVE Online, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, MMORPG

Soabox: On Death
Spoiler alert: You are going to die. It's inescapable. Maybe you fall off a cliff. Maybe you grow old and fade peacefully into the nether. Maybe hawk-wolves pick the lock on your front door and attack while you're frying eggs and trying to remember what you had planned for the day. Maybe you sneeze on the subway and your head literally explodes, ruining the morning commute of dozens of office drones.

Whatever the cause and time, death is the inevitable conclusion to the story of your life. It can be neat, it can be messy, it can be expected, it can be a surprise, but it always comes. And no matter who you are, I'm willing to bet one thing about that cacophonous moment in which the world slows and you stare death in the face:

You will not wish you had spent more time raiding.

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The Soapbox: Tokens suck!

Economy, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

The Soapbox Tokens suck
A few weeks ago we reported on a somewhat silly article in which the author advocated that studios could and should charge players real money transaction fees to trade items. I didn't see a lot of people in favor of this idea, but I definitely agreed with one thing that he pointed out: MMOs have become increasingly anti-trade in practice.

It's not something that I've thought a lot about recently, but once this article triggered some introspection, I realized that the issue of trade (particularly relating to restrictions) has become a growing frustration of mine. My veteran characters in several MMOs are absolutely loaded -- with basic currency, that is (usually gold). And yet I am sitting on this Scrooge McDuck pile of wealth with no useful things to buy because (a) everything seems to take tokens these days and (b) so much of the good stuff in games is bind-to-character (or bind-to-account).

I started feeling fidgety and then I let out a grunt of frustration. Tokens, in a word, suck.

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The Soapbox: The soft launch scam

Betas, Business Models, MMO Industry, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Soapbox, Neverwinter, Crowdfunding

Neverwinter
Back in the golden days of video games, there was no such thing as a soft launch. Nintendo didn't send out test copies of Super Mario World to special "backers," and Sega didn't ship half-finished Sonic games with promises of further content updates. Games, for the most part, were played only after they were finished, printed, packaged, and shipped. Even on PC, beta testing was more of an earned honor exclusive to players that showed dedication to a title and its community.

Here in these modern times of Internets and always-ons, however, things are different. It would seem as though developers need only make enough game content to shoot a reasonably convincing trailer before the publishing team can begin collecting money by slapping a "BETA" sticker on the webpage and offering fans early access.

Over the last few years soft launches have become increasingly common -- especially for creators of online games. The line between "in testing" and "done" is becoming blurred, and publishers are reaping the benefits while players suffer.

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The Soapbox: How to run a successful Kickstarter campaign

Fantasy, Real-Life, Sci-Fi, Business Models, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Hands-On, Community Q&A, The Soapbox, Dev Diaries, Miscellaneous, Crowdfunding

The Soapbox How to run a successful Kickstarter campaign
The past few years have seen an absolute revolution in the games industry, with an explosion of studios securing funding through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. In a time when banks worldwide are tightening their belts, Kickstarter represents a lifeline for indie developers and a way for the bigger studios to work on their own projects free from the need for outside investors or publishers. But with the growing number of projects seeking funding each year, developers are facing stiff competition and the rising challenge of running a successful campaign.

Most developers don't release all of their stats or write up advice and insights following a successful crowdfunding campaign, and those who do are often lost on obscure blogs that don't appear when you Google for advice. But I'm in the unusual position of both being a games journalist and having successfully Kickstarted a small game project (unrelated to MMOs and my work on Massively). Six months ago, I ran a campaign for my new sci-fi 4X game Predestination, and in the process I learned some valuable lessons on what works and doesn't work on Kickstarter. We've since published the campaign stats and gone on to help a few other campaigns hit their goals.

In this article, I run down the lessons I learned the hard way during the Predestination Kickstarter campaign and give some advice for developers hoping to get funded.

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The Soapbox: Diablo III's auction house ruined the game

Fantasy, Culture, Economy, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Endgame, PvE, Opinion, Hands-On, The Soapbox, Diablo III, Buy-to-Play

The Soapbox Diablo III's Auction House ruined the game
After his departure from the Diablo III development team, Game Director Jay Wilson released a statement that the introduction of an auction house "really hurt the game." While players predicted doom the moment the Real Money Auction House was announced, Jay argued that the gold auction house was equally to blame for the game's fall from grace following its absolutely stellar launch sales. I don't normally agree with what Jay has to say on Diablo III, but in this case he does have a very valid point.

Diablo II was consistently popular for over a decade thanks to its immense replayability. At its core, D2 was a game about building new characters and gearing them up by any means necessary. Every enemy in the game was a loot pinata just waiting to be popped, and players farmed endlessly for a few sought-after unique items. You almost never found an item that was ideal for your particular class and build, but you could usually trade for what you needed via trade channels and forums.

Blizzard claimed that the auction house was intended just to streamline this process, but when Diablo III launched, it was clear that the entire game had been designed to make the auction house almost necessary for progress. The fault here lies not just with the concept of an auction house but with the game designers.

That's right: I'm here to argue not only that Jay Wilson was right about the auction house ruining Diablo III but also that it was his own damn fault.

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The Soapbox: MMOs are to kids what MUDs are to us

Business Models, Culture, Economy, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Consoles, Casual, The Soapbox

Vendetta Online on the iPad
I love MUDs. When I go through a several-hour long MUD session, I feel as if I took part in a greater story, and most of the fun was not based on stats or gear. MUDs let me escape into a world because they are about story first. I think I'm pretty rare, though. I can't find many other writers who seem to write about MUDs unless they are referencing them like some sort of relic from the past. The truth is that MUDs are still being loved, played, and enjoyed by thousands. Covering MUDs is as important as covering any other MMO. They're still part of the bigger picture.

I'm sure many of you reading this now could not care less about MUDs. You might have played one years ago, but generally they are seen as the cute elderly citizens of MMOdom. That's cool if that's how you feel, but now think about this: The new generation, kids between 13 and 20 years old, will look at many of our large PCs and 20 gig MMOs the same way modern gamers look at MUDs.

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The Soapbox: Your MMO is going to die, and that's OK

Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Sunsets, MMORPG

City of Heroes
There is no question about it: Bringing games online has fundamentally changed the way we play and interact with one another. Thanks to the web, we can share games with our friends from thousands of miles away. We can hang out with people who live in other countries and learn about human beings who exist in completely different realities. Playing MMOs is an incredible, unique experience that gives players an honest chance at turning their favorite personal hobby into a full-on social engagement.

For any of these experiences to be possible, a game must be connected to the web. Without a server humming away in someone's basement or the cold, dark corridors of an MMO developer's hushed office, the games we talk about here on Massively simply wouldn't exist. The side effect of this online requirement is that every online game, no matter how popular it may be at the moment, has a finite lifespan. Eventually, your favorite game is going to die.

This is a good thing. Here's why.

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The Soapbox: My lore problem

Fantasy, Lore, MMO Industry, Opinion, Roleplaying, Humor, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, MMORPG

Guild Wars 2
"In the distant forests of El'quen, a dark evil stirs. Marrowgore the Unhunter, imprisoned for a thousand years in Cauldron Lake by the Eye of Son'drak, has broken free. Now, he and his evil BoneSlurpers stage an all-out war on the United Provinces. You, a freshly christened hero known for valorous acts both on and off the battlefield, must take charge of the Sacred Axeblade of Loqtai, harness the power it contains, and send the Unhunter back to his watery prison.

"But first, can you get me nine wolf pelts?"

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The Soapbox: You can't go back again

World of Warcraft, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

The Soapbox You can't go back again
Returning to an old MMO love is a tradition for us vets, isn't it? I see people doing it a lot, and I'm certainly not immune to giving in to these whims. It usually starts out mild: hearing a friend talk about the game, remembering a good time you had in it, or seeing a big chunk of shiny new content come down the pike. Suddenly you've signed up again and logging in like you never left. It feels so familiar.

It feels so alien.

And that's when you realize: You really can't go back again.

It's a dreadful realization, one that makes you lunge for the clock and attempt to turn back time with a sheer force of will. Stages of grief set in: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes you work in "snack food binge" in there as well. Why, you wonder, can't this be just like last time? It's a game, so why can't you recapture the same magic?

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The Soapbox: Game developers actually are rockstars

Culture, Economy, MMO Industry, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Crowdfunding

Soapbox Game developers actually are rockstars
Shortly after this column series started, Massively's Shawn "Epic Beard" Schuster planted his feet on the wooden crate to tell us that game developers are not rockstars. And as much as it frightens me to disagree with him, I believe I have a moral obligation to let him know that he was wrong. Sure, his article pointed out that it takes a team to create a spectacular game and that the personalities of the gaming industry cannot do it by themselves. As he put it, even though Sid Meier didn't code all of Civilization and Richard Garriott didn't construct all of Tabula Rasa, their names sat proudly on the box. But just like rockstars, those two names and many more developers' names belong on the covers of their respective games.

Rockstars from Aerosmith to Beyonce are more than the faces on the covers of their albums. In college, I used to create CD covers for local recording artists, so I can tell you first-hand that even though there was only one name on the front, there were many names on the inside jacket, just as there are many names in game credits. So how exactly are game developers like superstar musicians? The analogy fits in nearly every single way.

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The Soapbox: Dispelling the 'easy' myth

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, EVE Online, Opinion, DC Universe Online, RIFT, TERA, The Soapbox

The Easy Myth
A few weeks ago, I took a nice long look at World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. Then I wrote about it. My impressions, like most things on the internet, were met with both ardent agreement and defiant protest. Everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to World of Warcraft -- some people love the game, some people hate it, and some give it a resounding "eh."

I don't mind people disagreeing with me. People react to games differently, and what works for me may not work for you. But there was one specific critique that rose, repeatedly, in the great debate raging in that article's comments section. A critique that, frankly, I cannot abide:

"World of Warcraft is too easy."

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The Soapbox: Be as bad as you like

Culture, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

Yes, there are many shades of this that can be toxic.
There are a lot of reasons I love MMOs, but one of the reasons is the fact that there are so many possible goals in any given game and so many different reasons to pursue them. Even in games with more limitations, you've still got a surfeit of character options, moreso than in almost any other genre. I love to roleplay a character who wouldn't normally be the main character of a story, explore what makes her tick, and give her space and the ability to be heroic and skilled as she deserves.

What I'm less enthusiastic about is when someone asks why in the world I'm playing a particular race and class combination because obviously my character is now sub-optimal.

There's an emphasis on optimization in most MMOs, a push to create the best possible version of a character in gameplay terms that I'm not entirely on-board with. It's one with comprehensible origins, but it's unfortunately taken on a lot of ugly dimensions that sometimes short-change what MMOs can be.

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The Soapbox: No sympathy for cheating

Bugs, Culture, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

Assuming no one can get through a test without cheating because you can't implies that you're the smartest person in the room.  Which is invalidated when you're not smart enough to figure out a way to do things without cheating.
Some years ago, a good friend of mine was chatting with me after he had received a three-day suspension from Final Fantasy XI. "I don't see why they suspended me," he said, with what I assume was an exaggerated shrug and a hang-dog expression. "I mean, I was using FleeTool, but I was just hacking my movement to be faster in cities. It's not like I was really cheating."

"So you were using a known cheating tool."

"Yeah, but just in the cities."

What followed were several sentences from my end filled with so much profanity that attempting to type them out here would make it look as if my vocabulary consisted almost solely of the word "redacted." He had been expecting some sympathy from me, some compassion for his plight. As it turned out, I didn't have any. If you get nailed for cheating, you deserve exactly what you get.

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