Monday, June 15, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things ...

... with sincere apologies to Harry Connick, Jr., and anybody else who ever recorded that song.

It's been a while since any of us posted here. Mostly because we are bitter and jaded on the MMO topic. Or too damn busy with real life. Or, thanks to being raised on a steady diet of MTV, we simply have no attention span. In my case, all of the above.

As of Game Update 10, I have recently rekindled my long-standing on/off relationship with Star Wars Galaxies and, it turns out, such conflict breeds creativity. In short, hate inspires. Lucky you.

When last I wrote, I made reference to my previous career in anti-consulting. Shortly thereafter I received this message from Krib:

Hey, Unagi, I need some advice on a stock. Company gives out free blowjob machines that also make bacon. Think I should invest?

Now, I love cured meat and hummers as much as the next guy, but handing that shit out gratis is a horribly unsustainable business model. So, I was happy to inform Krib that based on my track record he was sitting on a gold mine. Which explains the lack of activity around these parts, because if I was a suddenly nouveau-riche gamer with access to a bacon dispensing oral sex machine I wouldn't hang out here anymore either.

Bacon and blow jobs are two of the coolest things ever. Right up there with Coca Cola, peanut M&Ms, LEGOs and Star Wars. In fact, if I had to pick a top five of the greatest things of all time, I'm not sure which I'd drop. My first inclination would be to scratch the M&Ms, but they are peanuts and chocolate in a tasty candy shell that melts in your mouth and not in your hands - so clearly they must stay on mere grounds of confectionery feature density. I suppose I would just combine LEGOs and Star Wars into a single subclass of Star Wars LEGOs and squeeze them onto the list. My only real concern is what then to do with Teriyaki-flavored beef jerky, but bacon is already representing meat on the list and is a far more versatile food product so I think I'll stick with that.

So then the final list becomes:

  1. Coke
  2. Bacon
  3. Peanut M&Ms
  4. Blow jobs
  5. Star Wars LEGOs

And, finally getting back on topic for this particular site, it occurs to me that - while I am a pretty big fan of MMOs too - lately that has really been more of an infatuation with the theory and concept of the MMO rather than any particular instance of the idea's execution. I think I could make an exception for a LEGO-based MMO.

However, when I got wind this past spring of the upcoming LEGO Universe MMO, I must admit, my first reaction was to recall "Freeman Postulate #1" which states:

Time To Cock - The amount of time it takes a player to use player-created-content tools to create a penis. Measured in microseconds.

In the wake of last summer's Spore debacle, I don't even want to think about how LEGO-based content gets policed. But an online game in which I could design, build and deploy my own Star Wars shit would lead me to cover all my bases and further specify a Star Wars LEGO MMO as the fifth coolest thing in the history of all creation. I think I can commit to that. I can't wait to blast you out of orbit with my giant penis-shaped Mon Cal Cruiser.

Who's got a beta key?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've Got a Huge Pipe

Ahhhhh...the joy of new inspiration. Nothing makes a PC gamer's poky bits go all atwitter like a giant pipe and new hardware...and this week I find myself in the possession of both. The new pipe (encrusted with giant purple veins, much like The Swollen Glans, my favorite COH toon ever)... courtesy of Comcast Blast!, and it sings 25Mbps sweet nothings into my ear.

The hardware is courtesy of me. And NewEgg. And Fry's. And Central Computer. Maybe a little Best Buy in desperation. And I can't forget Steve at SFF Store. Oh, and even MotherboardPro (though the Mobo they sent me was defective, they were super awesome). It's an upgrade to a small form factor delight that I built over a year ago using the Silverstone SG01e case. Now it's got all the goodies (Core2Duo E8600, Asus P5E-VM HDMI mobo, Diamond Radeon HD 4870 X2, 4G of Geil RAM, Zalman CNPS 8000 CPU cooler, Western Digital Velociraptor 300G 10K RPM HD, and some other stuff). I'd post pictures of all the components, the build process, and the final package, but that would be gratuitous, no? I don't want to come off as a braggart.

So here I am with the biggest pipe available to the common man (SHUT THE FUCK UP FiOS and U-verse CUSTOMERS) and the most bleeding edge tiny PC I've ever built...but what to do with them?

Inspired by the University of Texas at Austin's MMO history preservation project, I decided that the only logical thing to do was download and install every MMO I've ever put a significant amount of time into. Simultaneously. Except for AutoAssualt, which has the dubious distinction of "fastest MMO plug ever pulled".

And they're all organized nicely on my toolbar, by publisher no less...the full list, in somewhat chronological order:
-Star Wars Galaxies
-Everquest II
-Saga of Ryzom
-EVE Online
-Guild Wars
-City of Heroes/City of Villians
-World of Warcraft
-Dungeons and Dragons Online
-Lord of the Rings Online
-Pirates of the Burning Sea
-Age of Conan
-Warhammer Online

Holy crap. The next question I'm going to have to ask myself once all this shit is downloaded is...what the fuck am I going to do with it? In case you're actually a developer and wondering how this post will help you...I don't know. But do the math on that list for me please. We'll just call it $50x14 (some games were cheaper, but some have expansions). That's $700. Now subscription fees. I'm not going to even speculate on that, because I have a bad habit of forgetting to cancel (YOU LOVE ME FOR IT), but it's a lot. I'm your target. What will my memory of these games be, sometimes years since the last time I played? Isn't that what you develop make an impact on my brain (and my wallet)?

What is their legacy? Stay tuned...

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Monday, August 4, 2008

An Antithesis: The Joy of Griefing

This is a somewhat pro-griefer argument. I thought I'd do an article acting as the antithesis to one of Krib's Five, for the lulz. ;-P

Regardless of whether you love 'em or hate 'em, I submit that griefers are a necessity to our gaming experience. Why? Things would be pretty dull without em.

Griefing has a love-hate relationship with the gamer. It is funny to some, and horrid to others. It's also relative, as most gamers probably have a personal criteria for what griefing is. Some see corpse camping as the consequence of not being careful, while others think such activities are a crime against humanity.

That being said, I would argue that the social dynamic between the griefer and the afflicted party are part of what makes things interesting and fun for an MMO in the big picture. In the short term, most of us think of griefing as an inconvenience, but in my opinion, it's all a part of the journey.

What if there were no griefers in our MMOs? I think many people would get bored because of the lack of player tension. I should specify that tension and conflict are the important undertones that griefers can provide.

When I look back to my SWG days on Bria, the Imperials were seen as the big bad wolf: the griefer faction of SWG. Guilds like LFD and FoE made their reputations on being assholes. FoE had their city take-over antics, and LFD bested most Rebel PVP groups in battles, and just by plainly not playing nice.

Hell, I remember there was a huge uproar and debate over 'video game rape' because two imperials and a coerced bantha were 'raping' a corpse in a cloner.

However, the Rebel faction would eventually bend their e-morals by doing meanie things like destroying turrets through exploiting turret range, by destroying a city, or by engaging in good old-fashioned corpse camping themselves.

In retrospect, it all added up into engaging drama. And it contributed to the creation of a strong and entertaining player community. Not to mention: some of it was really fucking funny.

Now, you might be thinking that I gotta be a griefer if I'm defending such a terrible class of gamer. Well, I guess you could say I am.

I've never really been a full-time griefer, but I've engaged in griefing now and again. Why? Because it's funny. It's funny especially if you get a response like this from people.

This goes back to a point Krib makes, which is essentially: don't feed the trolls. If you give them responses like the gem above, then griefing will always exist. And there's something to be said about those people too: the kind who take in-game drama, items, or actions too seriously, and who forget it's just a video game.

I grief because I take joy in poking fun at people who take gaming far too seriously. It's all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled's all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can't you see the funny side? (Brownie points for those who know the reference.)

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Monday, July 28, 2008

No More "WoW Killer" MMORPGs, Please

We've heard the phrase "WoW Killer" in reference to up and coming MMORPGs ever since the release of the retardedly successful MMO that spread the world of escapism via persistent online worlds to the masses.

While being a "WoW Killer" is certainly a lucrative prospect (what development or publishing company wouldn't want 62% or more of the MMORPG market share?), what has this goal given the gaming public?

Mediocre all-in-one attempts at dethroning the online giant. Penny Arcade inadvertently summed up the MMORPG industry with their E3 Press Conference Comic. Now replace Microsoft in the first frame with MMO marketers, Nintendo in the second frame with investors and community relationship managers, and Sony in the third frame with developers and you'll see an uncanny resemblance.

Here are a few games I've tried that attempted to take a slice of the pie from the King of MMOs:

  • City of Villains
  • Dark and Light
  • Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Age of Conan
Thankfully, there were a few atrocities that I was able to avoid thanks to my fellow gamers warning us in advance of how wasted our dollars & time would be if we purchased or played these products (The Matrix Online, Hellgate: London, RF Online, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea).

What do all of these games have in common? Well, besides mediocrity of course. They all tried to do too much. So much that they failed to deliver in any specific area. So seems to be the trend with MMORPGs these days. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in today's MMO development studios.

I'm a firm believer that every MMORPG that receives financial backing and development support starts off with a few great ideas. A series of innovations that lure investors into green-lighting multi-million dollar products that promise to deliver great results. Somewhere down the line, priorities change. The intended PvE only game (LotRO) is pressured into adding PvP content to capture additional market share. Or the hardcore grind-fest is pressured into being more casual-friendly (Vanguard). In Age of Conan's case, the Free For All hack-n-slash and massive Siege-O-Matic 6000 PvP game is pressured into being more PvE friendly, with PvE raiding content added into the mix. To achieve what? That's right, more market share.

The result of these all-in-wonders is a half-finished, bug-laden, polished turd.

What could have been a "unique and innovative combat system" (AoC) turns out to be a boring, uninspired twist on typical MMO mechanics, pressing up to 6 buttons to achieve what you got with one button press in prior games.

The "most amazing and interactive crafting system ever devised" (Vanguard) comes out as a half-assed puzzle game that inspires suicidal tendencies, not fun.

The "most in-depth character customization" and "exciting new PvP dynamics" (CoV) drowns in a sea of tedious grinding combined with consumable-laden frustration as you attempt to chase down Flash-wannabe #8793 and his mass-teleporting compatriots, hoping to gain a few brief seconds of fighting after a three hour long high-speed chase over the roof tops of what has become a very small gameworld once you started moving at 6000% of normal run speed.

All in all the result is more of the same crap we've seen before, just with a new skin on it.

Meet the New Boss

Same as the Old boss

The one developer who gets major kudos for sticking to their guns is CCCP. They found a solid niche audience, and they resisted the temptation of the masses. Sure, they only possess a 1.5% piece of that pie chart linked at the beginning of this post, but they clearly stand out amongst the other all-in-one clones and wannabes (WoW & Asian grind-fest MMORPGs excluded) as a victor. They found something they're good at, and found success with it.

What's the point? I hope more developers follow this mindset in the coming years so that we, the customers, can receive a product worth our money. The choice is in your hands, oh great and wise developers. Remember, the customer is the one who is going to make or break you, not your publisher. Don't listen to all of us. Listen to the ones who share your vision of the next great MMORPG, and you might stand a shot at creating it.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Old MMOs That Should Be Brought Back: Shattered Galaxy Edition

A quick note about the title. When I discuss games that "should be brought back," I don't necessarily mean that they are dead at this point. Hell, even 10Six still maintains a cult following. What I mean by the title is that these games should be brought back to the attention of MMO developers of today in terms of what they stood for and what could be learned from them. Will MMO developers will ever read this blog? Well, we can only hope.

The game I'm talking about today isn't close to being dead, probably, but it's not within the consciousness of the mainstream MMO gamer. Therefore, we can assume the game mechanics are probably not within the consciousness of the mainstream MMO developer.

The game? An oldie released by Nexon (now called KRU) back in 2001, Shattered Galaxy. What makes SG different from most is that it's another one of those games where a different game type is spliced with an MMO setting. In this case, SG is an MMORTS. Similar to 10Six, as previously talked about, but instead of using a first person view of the game world, SG utilizes the traditional RTS view and RTS style.

When a player first starts the game they start on the newbie planet "Relic" (there is another planet a player can inhabit called Morgana Prime). A player can create their own avatar and join a faction on Relic where they fight against the other factions that occupy the planet.

You don't fight with your avatar, but rather through a squad of units you bring into the fight (numbers ranging from 6-12). Each unit has a purpose. Some units are mine layers, and so players will bring in a whole squad of mine layers to lay mines for defensive and offensive purposes. Others will bring in anti-air, or anti-ground units. The fighting system is kind of a complicated "rock-paper-scissors" in that sense, since some units can only shoot at airborn units from the ground, or planes can only shoot/bomb things on the ground, or only shoot things in the air, etc.

The nice thing about this game is that theoretically there are no official archetypes or class roles in the game. Your "role" in the fight is based on what you bring into the fight--which can be a combination of anything. So in a very small sense, there is kind of a sandbox element in the game where you can choose what you feel like fighting with for any fight and not be restricted to the same thing every single fight. You can also modify individual units with buying different kinds of armor, technologies, and weaponry, so there's even a level of customization for the units themselves.

As is stands now there are unofficial "archetypes" in the game based solely on attribute designation, which if you care to, can learn about here. Basically there are four different attributes: tactics, clout, education and mechanical amplitude. Tactics gives you more units to put into your squad, clout gives you access to higher durability for units, education gives you access to better weaponry, and mechanical amplitude allows you to put more stuff into a unit chassis. With these in mind, one can see how people might spec into certain attributes more so than others.

There is also leveling in this game. The units and the character you play as both level, but what's important is the level of your units in the fight and how strong they are. There are checks and balaces, like the "Power Rating" to give newbies a fighting chance and to stop veteran players from becoming so strong that it's game breaking.

The whole premise of the game is essentially controlling territory. As this implies, it is mostly a PVP game, though there are some small PVE elements to the game that beyond newbie levels players usually ignore. There are four factions to a planet, and theoretically all four factions could fight each other.

In order to acquire or lose territory, one faction must beat another, or others in keeping the most PoC's (points of contention) during a 15 minute round. Take a look at the screenshot below this paragraph. Note the red pizza pie looking thing to the right. That's the PoC. You have to hold that poc for a certain amount of time before it's under your faction's control. That is what each team fights for. The attackers fight for positioning in order to take those PoCs and in the end take the territory. The defenders do the same thing, but if they totally destroy the enemy, that can win the round as well.

Given that the game is based on taking and holding territory, there were lots of interesting politics to go along with it.

Factions can also create peace treaties with one another. I remember back in my time playing it, I was still on the newbie planet playing on the Argus faction. We had an alliance with the faction on the other side of the faction. The name of that faction was Dulcinea, but we usually called them the "smurfs" because of their faction color being a light blue. We were generally called "barnies" or something to that effect because our color was purple. The other faction colors were gold and green, though I forget what we called them or what their official faction names were.

Back in beta, I remember that the factions were able to elect a leader for the faction, and the leader could elect a personal council. I remember begging to be on the council, and I did get on the council for Argus for some foreign affairs spot. It was interesting but I have very little memory of the politics since it's been years. Here are some more details you can read up on for faction politics. Other than electing an "Overlord," council and creating regiments, I doubt any of the other mechanics are in the game since apparently there's only enough people playing to fill the two previously mentioned planets.

What can be learned?

Beyond it being "different" as an MMORTS and the fact there are no player classes, one of the bigger concepts that this game makes good on is that the world doesn't control the player, the player controls the world. We can find hints of this in SWG, and in the previously mentioned game 10Six. This factor alone is what intrigued me about PotBS with the capturing and defending of ports. It's probably also why people are so fascinated with Eve politics. The lack of it is also the reason why I personally found Vanguard, EQ2, and WoW boring as hell: the worlds were static and unchanging, and the player simply existed within the confines. On the other hand, players having all the control doesn't necessarily hold a game up all by itself. Even SOE somehow found a way to ruin a good thing with enough revamps. Still, I'm willing to bet that the holy grail of MMOs that we hope to see one day will have have this element to contribute to its overall awesomeness.

If you want to look more into SG, go here. You can play it for free on a "basic" hero account with limitations. Even though it has limitations, you can play as long as you want. To get full access to all the benefits of the game, you still gotta pay up though.

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5 Things I Hate, Part 3: Jeffe Edition - Sterile Game Worlds

I'll keep this one short and simple, because I just got back from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and I'm friggin tired. I'm also a little inspired. Anyone who has seen it will speak of the awesomeness that is The Goblin Market...I wish I could find better pictures...if you skip to about 1:16 in the trailer here, you'll get a glimpse of it:

In many ways it felt like the first time I saw the Cantina scene in Star Wars (not going to link it, if you don't know what it is...well, there's nothing I can do for you)...or when China Mieville writes about Bellis Coldwine leaving New Crobuzon and ending up in Armada in The Scar (Mieville's world screaming for an MMO IMO, but that's a post for another day)...or when Richard Mayhew first gets dragged into London Below in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Here are little fragments of the world sitting underneath, over, or just beyond the big living breathing cityies. These worlds are all full of monsters and wilderness, but there's life...even some civilization...outside of the big cities as well as inside.

That's what the real world is like...outposts of civilization pockmarked around, above, and below wilderness and intrigue. A good game world should be the same way...big cities are good, but sometimes the best player interraction happens at the outposts. And no, 3 quest-givers standing on a dock don't count as an outpost. Anyone who has played it knows who my target is now: EQ2. I'd love to sit down and interview the original developers about the decision to have two main factional cities, and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of wasteland in between...with absolutely no life. It was the most sterile, inauthentic, immersion-breaking world ever. They were so proud of the city ecology too; the voice acting...the NPCs that moved around, helping make the city come alive...but once you left the walls of Qeynose or Freeport...nothing. Docks and questgivers. I guess they were trying to centralize the players a bit, but to me, it was a game-killing design decision. I hated that if I wanted to do anything other than kill monsters, I had to make my way back to Freeport (I was evil...go bad guys).

Here's the map of Antonica, with all the monster spawns and such:

That was a 20 minute trip on foot (you could take the bird and get to the next zone quicker); the sheer size of that one zone (or the Commonlands, if you were in Freeport) was staggering. But in that whole expanse, there wasn't one stopping point, one layover. No pubs. Nowhere to craft. No trainers. Nothing. Just fields and fields of nasties of varying levels. All the zones were like that.

I hate to admit it, but when I stopped playing EQ2 and moved over to WOW, that was one thing I loved about the world design in WOW...something that I think made the game very approachable to new players; every zone had at least one gathering spot where players could rest their feet and wipe the blood off of their swords. Those outposts were where we met up, swapped stories, started groups, emptied our bags, wrapped our heads around the lore of the game (though to this day I still remember absolutely nothing about the WOW lore...with the exception of the story of Gnomergan...which is totally awesome). It felt more like the world that I'm used to, and it made gameplay more fun.

Star Wars Galaxies went an extra step...each planet had a few cities or outposts (the more remote "adventure" planets had fewer), but then we were allowed to build our own outposts. Krib has written about sandboxes and city-building in almost all of his posts, and it certainly stuck with me fact...instanced player housing is probably going to be my next "5 things I hated".

So give us rest stops all along the way. Our journey is mighty. Our thirsts will need to be slaked. Repeatedly. Don't worry about spreading the player population out...if your game is good, it will be busy enough that you won't want everyone in Ironforge (or Theed) because of TEH DREADED L4G anyways. And give us a good reason to stop and rest. Takes some of the grind out of the grind.

First developer to put a massage station and a shoe-shine in an out of the way Tavern in a little town in the middle of the wilderness gets a round of expensive microbrewed ale from me. Irish Carbombs if sitting down and getting the massage gives you a short-duration buff of some sort, even if it's totally whimiscal. A bottle of Grey Goose if the shoe shine actually makes your shoes shiny. It's the little things folks. We do pay attention to them, in case you're wondering.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Remember The Dead

On Special Editions, Pre-Paid Subscriptions and Founder's Clubs

I was one of the twelve people that actually liked Hellgate: London enough to buy a Founder's subscription. Did I get my money's worth on that investment? Probably not. In fact, if you do the math, it's more like exactly not - by about half. Hellgate was yet another classic example of a great idea with a ham-fisted execution and a premature release - which seems to typify the management of MMO properties. Recent news swirling around the alleged collapse of Flagship Studios further begs one (one me, at least) to question the true value of "collector's editions" and pre-paid or lifetime MMO subscriptions.

Don't Listen to Me

A bit of background that should illustrate why I am not a financial advisor: In a previous career, I was an anti-consultant. That is to say, people paid me large amounts of money for my opinion and then did the exact opposite of what I recommended. I'm quite comfortable with that, as it was usually the correct course of action. Turns out I'm wrong a lot.

  • For instance, I thought was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard of. After all, who in their right mind would buy a book on the internet when you could hold the same item in your hand (and read it free over a cup of java) at the local Border's or Super Crown?
  • As another shining example, I thought eBay was the most inane business model ever. Online garage sales? What scam artist came up with that and what pack of retards funded him?
  • This whole blogging thing? When my buddy Greg started 'blogging back in 1997 (because in 1997 you still used the apostrophe) I told him it was cute but that nobody would ever care what he had for breakfast. So, naturally, when Rupert Murdoch laid out over half a billion dollars to acquire an online hive of perverts and cops pretending to be high school kids I thought he had gone batshit crazy.
I also genuinely, but for no rational basis that I can discern, believed that the NGE would lead to the renaissance of Star Wars Galaxies. The general theme has been that if I think you're an idiot you're going to be a billionaire and if I approve of your plan you are doomed. So, please - I beg of you - don't heed my opinion on anything.

Special Editions

Galaxies wasn't my first MMO, not by far. I played Ultima Online on and off for five years before SWG, though I can't say I actually enjoyed most of it. I played it because it was there. I also dabbled in Asheron's Call and Sega's highly underrated 10-Six. When SWG launched in 2003, I bought the limited Collector's Edition box (I did it for the goggles, lol).

Though no longer in the anti-consulting racket, I still make make a decent living - so the extra twenty bucks for the CE really wasn't that big a barrier for some cool IG swag. In fact, I kind of decided back then that if a CE was available for any game I was playing that I'd buy it. Because, it turns out, I am the target demographic that really, really wants those exclusive items. After all, any game worth playing is worth paying extra for the optional leather bound heirloom grade slipcase - especially if it's got phat lewtz I can strap to my avatar while I preen and strut around the game like a peacock as if to advertise the superiority of my intellect, income and mating potential.

If I had bothered getting into World of Warcraft at launch, I would have picked up it's limited edition box. But I didn't and it became the most wildly popular MMO in the history of all mankind, achieving a level of success never to be duplicated no matter how often imitated. On the other hand, I pre-ordered Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning from Amazon Prime and the developers are already managing expectations for a gimped launch. Spin it however you want, but do take heed.

I was going to get Age of Conan in order to pass the time until the W:AR launch, since I can't seem to figure out who I must fellate to get into the latter game's closed beta, but all of my acquaintances who rode AoC's rocket-sled of a grind to the top arrived there only to find the PvP endgame bugged beyond salvation and have already quit. I had enough of that crap in Galaxies to last me a lifetime and I figure the cash I saved by not playing AoC almost makes up for what I lost by paying for Hellgate up front.

Pre-paid Subscriptions

I started out month-to-month in SWG, but for some reason fifteen bucks per lunar cycle is a difficult turd to swallow. It averages out to around fifty cents a day, which won't even buy a cup of coffee anymore. It is certainly a value proposition if I'm going to play 4-8 hours a day every day which is what addictive personalities like me do. However, I also evidently have some kind of aberrant psychological condition that causes me to shun recurring monthly costs over the magical $9.99 mark. I eventually upgraded and paid up front for an annual sub because lowering the effective monthly price by pre-paying is a potent enticement for folks so afflicted.

Of course, the downside to pre-paying is running the risk that three to six months into your 12 mo. (or lifetime) subscription period you get a Combat Upgrade or an NGE pulled on you. That just leads to a lot of impotent rage and causes otherwise rational people to flame out with idle message board threats of class action lawsuits, arson and grievous bodily harm.

So, before you whip out that credit card to cover your next year's worth of intended game time, reconsider that "Game experience may change during online play" label on that beautiful special edition box in your hands. Sure, that's in the context of an ESRB disclaimer, but you can just as easily read that as: "We can change the game anytime we want and we've already got your cash, suckas!"

Whither the Founder's Club

When Turbine announced that Lord of the Rings Online would have the option for a $199 lifetime subscription for pre-orders, I pondered the wisdom of such a ploy and questioned whether I would have bought one for Galaxies had it been offered. I decided that I probably would have. SWG just passed it's 5-year anniversary and sixty months at $15 per is $900. Now, I haven't been an uninterrupted paying customer during that entire stretch, but that number makes me cringe nonetheless.

If I had paid SOE $200 at SWG's launch in 2003 and played all the way through, I'd have a net savings of seven hundred dollars. That's crazy! On the other hand, everyone I knew who signed up for LotRO quit within three to six months. If I'd bought that lifetime sub and subsequently quit when they did I'd have effectively paid between $33 and $66 for each of those months. That's just insane! I laid out $149 for the Hellgate Founder's offer. At the standard rate of $9.99, I would have had to play for fifteen months in order to break even. I knew that when I wrote the check, and I was skeptical then too. Instead, I got eight months out of it - which is an effective monthly rate of $18.75. I knew the risks involved. It was a gamble. I rolled the dice and got screwed. Am I bitter? Not really. A little wiser? Maybe.

The conspiracy theorist that dwells within me believes the notion of a "Founders Club" begs the question as to the developer's motivation in making such an offering. Any pre-paid lifetime subscription model ensures two things. First, it provides the developer with a skewed and front-loaded income stream, which may reflect internal cash flow problems and/or indicate a tacit acknowledgment that they intend to deliver a product that they don't expect will go the distance. Call this the "Distract Unagi with a shiny trinket then take his money and run" gambit (though cynical SWG players will recognize this maneuver as "Sacrifice support of the live game by using subscription fees to finance the next expansion"). Secondly, it incentivizes the Founder to stick around and endure a sub-par experience merely to justify his expense long after a month-to-month player might have walked away. This merely breeds spite, hooliganism and a misplaced sense of entitlement.


When considering the amount of money and commitment of time that developers ask players to part with, do we at some point cease being customers and become investors? Of course not. But that doesn't stop the disgruntled Founder from acting like T. Boone Pickens and demanding that the President, CEO and Lead Designer all owe him something. Maybe we are owed something. Maybe we are owed assurances that the game we are paying for and the company we are paying it to are both viable enough to allow us to see an equitable return on our subscription fees.

Is it time for an MMO Player's Bill of Rights? Perhaps, but that is a topic for another article. There is no easy solution to this problem. With the dust still settling at Flagship, assuming the rumors are even true, the short answer is that if a game with over a million paying subscribers can manage to tank eight months into it's live service then I probably won't be joining any more Founder's clubs - irrespective of keen swag, early access or promises of exclusive content.

TL;DR = Grab the special edition but pay as you go.

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