Saturday, May 3, 2014

My New Definition of Troll

A CoH group on Facebook suffered an uprising of over-bold trolls who required chastisement with a flaming Banhammer, and this triggered the usual drama wallowing and hand wringing among the troll groupies- those who enjoy the trolling but won't risk their own virtual hides by participating directly.  The trigger for this uproar was a thread urging everyone to let bygones be bygones and give Wildstar a try in spite of NCSoft's involvement.

You can imagine how well that went over.

During a brief exchange with the disgruntled (I proffered my usual comment on the definition of 'free speech'- which baffles so many- and the presence of many other CoH groups where the afflicted could seek asylum), someone proposed the usual semantic derail, who's appearance in these situations is as reliable as the sun rising in the east - WHAT IS A TROLL, really, and who among us is qualified to identify them!

My final comment included that useful illumination of the boundaries of free speech, shouting 'fire' in a crowded movie theater- the connection seemed obvious to me, as for many exiles (myself included) the name NCsoft remains anathema and its mention guarantees a wrathful reaction.

And one of the troll groupies, who is always, always on the fringes of these conflicts in whichever FB group they occur, replies "Actually, that's a bad example" and went on at length describing the various circumstances in which someone would be completely justified in shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater.

So, that's my new definition of troll- someone who's instinct is to shout 'FIRE', or, if lacking the courage of their convictions, someone who springs energetically to the defense of those who shout 'FIRE', striving mightily to justify their irresponsibility with hair splitting and obfuscation.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ten Years Strong

via the indispensable Doc Leo ( @leandrotlz):

pair with these bookend videos:

The devs observing the final moments of Paragon:

And this promo from the City of Titans crew, demonstrating that shutting down a game world cannot extinguish the spirit which animated it:

Unstoppable, indeed.

Fellow heroes and villains, I propose one toast to our ten years of shared history, and then let's drain the glass in honor of our bright future as a community.

Cheers, everyone.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

There's No 'Right Way' to Kill A Game

This story is making the rounds of the exile community, wherein a Microsoft executive says nice things about CoH:

"There's not a week that goes by I don't miss City of Heroes," Microsoft's Kevin Perry told GamesIndustry International at the Game Developers Conference last month. "It felt like an untimely death of a friend, a 'taken from us so soon' sort of thing."
Unfortunately, he followed that laudable sentiment with this laughable one, emphasis mine:

While Perry said that NCsoft handled the City of Heroes shutdown just fine, he added that the increasing popularity of the games-as-a-service approach is setting developers up for a litany of headaches on legal, technical, game design, and community management fronts when it eventually comes time to pull the plug on these games.
Which is just an industry insider not dissing other insiders- after all, one never knows on who's desk a future resume might land. Everyone who isn't a prospective employee realizes NC bungled the shutdown of CoH as badly as they could have short of tripping over the server cord during weekly maintenance & not bothering to plug it back in. And this points to a fundamental imbalance between game publishers and game players- at a certain point, the interests of the factions cease to align, and once that happens players have zero recourse.

A game that's Hot! and New! is one thing, a game that's showing its age is another, and a game that's positively geriatric by the 'Dog Years' standards of digital media is something else entirely.  Gamers are citizens of their online worlds and have a citizen's patriotic attachment, while the affection of publishers is a direct result of profitability.

As illustrated by another quote on efforts to preserve older IP:
"It's a hard business case to make," Perry admits. "There's not a business there. So it's the sort of thing where a museum may be the right pathway, or an educational institution might be the right pathway to do so. It's getting better, but it's not where it needs to be."

So when it's making lots of money, things are terrific, but the moment it stops then it's suddenly the responsibility of a museum or a school to take care of.

And as we've seen the first impulse of many companies deciding the fate of a title that's gotten gray around the muzzle is more

Well Jimmy, Spot can't get around like he used to so looks like we have to put him down


Thanks for the years of service, Spot, now Jimmy's going to take you home to live with him.  

The #SaveCoH coalition may not have saved our game or has any visible influence on NCSoft, but the echoes of its sustained, vocal fury are heard in his comments about "managing legacy IP" and how a bungled shutdown can "damage your brand".  If our vocal stand against publisher injustice helps future communities lobby for and preserve their games, it was a fight worth losing.

The whole post is a brief education in corporate priorities.

He misses CoH, yet NCSoft did nothing wrong.  He's very concerned that mishandling a closure can 'damage the brand', not the fact that closing down a shared online world renders entire communities homeless.  Giving players plenty of advance warning and allowing them to 'grieve in public' is as far as he's willing to go.

In short, killing a game is just a PR problem which you can get around with nimble footwork.

To that I say nonsense.

There is no "right" way to kill a game, any more than there's a "right" way to demolish an inhabited town.
When NCSoft issued CoH's death note the population was around fifty thousand-ish, which is roughly equivalent to the population of the town where I live. If anyone had plans to raze that community because we weren't profitable enough, there would be hell to pay.  But destroy a virtual community of the same size and it's just a PR problem.

The only 'right' here is having a system in place to bestow stewardship of the game world upon the players, to run as they will in a non-profit setting.  I'm sure this idea seems ridiculous to some suit in an office who views gamers as livestock to be milked until they become inconvenient, then shipped to the slaughterhouse, but it is the only morally correct way to handle the shutdown of any long-running MMO.

My last post lauded Turbine for their enlightened handling of the Asheron's Call sunset.
But such respectful handling ought not be left to the judgement of individual companies, but written into the EULA, a document which has heretofore only been used to bash players over the head.

Until such player protections are codified in a binding agreement, I'm done with traditional MMOs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Turbine's Enlightened Sunset

Turbine is ceasing development of Asheron's Call after a fifteen year run.
But that doesn't mean they're closing down the game- far from it.

Despite bringing a conclusion to its development, Turbine will continue to keep the game's servers open, with plans to work alongside community members to teach users how to run their own servers later this year.

Here's hoping the industry evolves so that this sort of developer conduct becomes the rule rather than a joyously unexpected exception.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Phantom Limb

I expect most are familiar with the phenomenon- those who lose a limb still feel its presence and attempt to use it, each such effort a stinging reminder of loss.

It'd been a good while since I'd received such a specific jolt from the loss of our game, but this morning my wife called to confirm she'd be off visiting friends for a few days.  My reflexive thought was 'WOO! PARAGON CITY HERE I COME', followed by a crushing wall of loss, a mental flash of the familiar starred launcher icon triggering an avalanche of memory.

It's getting better, I suppose- this is the first flare up in a couple of months.
But that carries its own burning sting, CoH being something I'd prefer not to forget, that I bitterly regret the loss of, fought to save and fervently hope for the revivification of, even in some alternate form.

It's satisfying that two of the Successor Projects are proceeding apace, Missing Worlds Media putting their Kickstarter money to good use licencing software & getting all their systems up to speed and Valiant Online using the head start of having developed their engine for another game to post a playable test build.

Whoever launches first, I've got my first non-Goat character ready to roll:
The Phantom Limb, a grim spectral avenger who was Phase Shifted when the cataclysm befell Paragon City & has finally managed to (mostly) reincorporate in a new, alternate dimensional City.

When life gives you lemons and all that.
Living in exile hasn't dampened my creative impulses one iota.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Player Forgets to Pay Station Rent, Space Armageddon Ensues

Oh, EVE Online!

Your 'spreadsheets in space' gameplay puts me in a coma even as the spectacular antics of your community make you by far my favorite MMO to read about:

What touched off this battle? A missed bill payment, basically.
"Earlier today an alliance in the N3 coalition missed a bill payment for the system where Pandemic Legion is staging and storing their fleets," writes EVE. "This missed bill caused sovereignty to drop across the system leaving the station vulnerable to capture. Seizing the opportunity, the CFC (Goonswarm Federation, Razor Alliance, Black Legion and the Initiative) and Russian Coalition (Solar Fleet, Darkness of Despair and Against ALL Authorities) captured the station."

Sheesh, and I got pissed when someone forgot to pay base rent and our zone teleporters went offline!

I'm trying to imagine the foaming lunacy of the base building community if things like this had been possible in CoH....and failing.  =P

Monday, January 27, 2014

SOE Prez Bats Eyelashes At, Shows Leg to SWG Exiles

As I mentioned in this post John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, took part in a Reddit AMA following the announced closure of four MMOs. I skimmed it and this stood out:
[–]Cranks0 If you could relaunch a shutdown title which one would you pick and what would you do differently this time? permalink [–]j_smedley[S] SWG. I would do everything differently. SWG PLAYERS - OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it... you can come home now.
So, this guy representing the company that first HUGELY screwed up the game and eventually shut it down due largely to that screwing up wants do-overs?


It would be hard to overstate the popularity of the Star Wars IP.
Owning those MMO rights is a liscence to print money, and I'm sure whatever they release will do massive launch numbers. As a game it's in another, uh, galaxy from CoH, an original property with no preexisting audience aside from a presumed affinity with generic "comic book fans". But SWG exiles and CoH exiles are on the same diaspora, along with every other orphaned community from a cancelled game. Many respondents in that thread expressed their excitement and joy at a potential homecoming, and I don't blame them.

 As contemptuous as I am of NC, if they hinted in a similar fashion at a CoH sequel I wouldn't be able to contain my excitement- that sort of irrational loyalty is a fundamental strand of the geek genome, which explains my nostalgic affection for AD&D even though I haven't played since the Player's Handbook looked like this-

 I hate NC as virulently as you can hate any faceless corporate entity, I wish them ill and will laugh when they go under.

 But....just like those anonymous SWG players, I'd come running back if they re-opened CoH or turned out a viable sequel, even knowing that things would, sooner or later, end up in the same place, with opaque corporate logic dictating the destruction of my world.


 Knowing I'm prone to these uncontrollable responses when it comes to games I love is the main reason I've sworn off corporate backed MMOs. Relationships with games are like relationships with people- it does no good to go on a date thinking you've got it all figured out and that it's just a casual thing so whatever. I mean, that's how I met my wife and it's been nearly 20 years since that first casual date. While you can safely have a one night stand (so to speak) with a single player game, which are essentially finished products by the time you play them, MMOs are constantly evolving, deepening and expanding, and that's what makes them seductive and potentially dangerous.

 The game we were playing at the end of CoH had very little in common with the game at launch other than surface cosmetics. A corporate MMO is like that archetypal Bad Girl who you know is no good, who just wants you for your money, but who only has to snap her fingers to make you come running.

 And the only viable defense against that sort of attachment is complete abstinence.