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For the ESO official launch, Zenimax put up an infographic full of silly little factoids such as the fact that there are apparently something like 5 x 10^58 possible character builds.

“Bah!” say the commenters over at Massively (who are, let’s face it the MMO gaming community’s Lowest Common Denominator… or would be if the Darkfall forums didn’t exist) “90% of those builds aren’t viable!”

Fair enough… I guess that only leaves 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 viable builds for me to try out then :D Just to be clear – that’s rather more than the USA’s national debt even if it was expressed in what Zimbabwe’s currency went for just before their government had to abandon actually having a currency of their own.

Anyway, I’m far more interested in the fact that 272 bathtubs of coffee being drunk during the production of the game. Given my experience in software development, that doesn’t sound like nearly enough coffee.

The final beta stress test weekend for The Elder Scrolls Online has been and gone. It brought a new version of the game that addressed issues (or at least perceived issues) from the last two – the tutorial has been streamlined and is skippable for any alts you may make, and the starter islands after the tutorial are now optional. NPCs now have collision detection, which makes the combat feel a bit more physical, and some of the bastard hard solo content has been tuned to be less frustrating to the average player. Unfortunately, the build still fell short of the level of polish that Rift, or even GW2, had at this stage. There were still some quests that were difficult to advance due to bugged-out or no-show NPCs. The UI would still get stuck in conversation mode and have to be reloaded to get back to the serious business of adventuring, and I saw a couple of keeps in Cyrodiil with invisible sections of wall (not sections that had been destroyed by siege engines – these walls were there, just completely transparent). None of the bugs were game-breaking, in that they could be worked around if the player has the will to, but you don’t really want to see that sort of bug when you’re about to go live and it creates a bad impression for players who haven’t made up their mind about the game yet.

I find this sort of thing because I DO like this game and I am willing to work around problems, but it annoys me when I have to do that and I fear that the game will suffer because a lack of polish drives too many players away. Zenimax have done the hard stuff really well – mass battles in Cyrodiil run incredibly smoothly compared to ones in DAoC (slideshow city) or GW2 (where culling was used to save performance, at the cost of people dying to invisible zergs). The landscapes are varied and full of points of interest, the quests are well-written, the voice acting is at least as good as SWTOR’s and possibly even a smidgen better, and then they go and screw it up because some sodding harpy won’t spawn for ages. I can forgive ESO a lot – I just wish I didn’t have to.

As an aside – if anyone asks why I like the game enough to put up with a few rough spots, THIS is why…

Back when I played Dark Age of Camelot, which of the three realms you chose to play on mattered. Albion, Hibernia and Midgard each had their own races, their own classes, and their own zones with a distinct aesthetic. Midgard had a Norse look with lots of snow and hardy, shaggy-bearded locals (and that was just the women). Hibernia was very… green and full of elven hippy crystal homoeopathy shit apart from the crude round huts that the Celts lived in. And Albion had knights and castles and OMG KNIGHTS AND CASTLES! enough to please any American who ever went to a RenFaire :) The realm you chose mattered – there were no server transfers and rerolling meant spending months levelling up all over again – and each of the three realms seemed to develop its own character and attract its own set of players. The saying went that “powergamers went to Midgard, kiddies went to Albion and hippies went to Hibernia”, or at least that was the way we phrased it in Hibernia. The Albs and Mids might have had their own views, but… pfft, damn foreigners, who cares what they think :p

Now we’ve got The Elder Scrolls Online, which also has a three faction set-up with their own homelands. This time the classes are common to all three, and it’s possible (if you pre-order) to play any race in any faction – however, I suspect the vast majority of characters will be in their “home” faction anyway, with just enough foreigners for flavour. The zones are different, however, so will they attract different sets of players? Or will the races available define the character of each faction?

Daggerfall Covenant has two of the three human races plus orcs, and their first major zone has the most ‘European’ terrain… they might be heir to Albion’s status as being the most “default fantasy land” which went a long way to explaining why the Albs had the highest population.

Ebonheart Pact get the Nords (go Skyrim!) and a double helping of fugly with the argonians (AKA the lizardmen) and the dark elves. Tamriel’s dark elves are not the most aesthetically pleasing of that ilk, and terrain-wise EP lands feel like a bait-and-switch because you get just a taste of a Skyrim starter island before getting dumped in a dark, swampy place full of weird overgrown mushrooms. EP probably will be the new Midgard, with a population that is 80% or more Ragnar Lothbrok wannabes. Because Skyrim, and also Vikings.

Aldmeri Dominion don’t get any humans, but arguably get three “pretty” races with two non-fugly flavours of elf plus the Spanish cat people, err, Khajiit (as an aside – every time I hear a khajiit NPC speak in game, all that goes through my mind is “Pray for mercy from Puss in Boots!”) Their starting land is probably the best choice for a vacation spot of the three as well. What with the elves and the lush homeland, I would be ready to call the Aldmeri as the new Hibbies, except that in DAoC Hibernia was the least populated of the three realms, whereas at least last weekend the AD had the population advantage in every PvP campaign as far as I could see.

For what it’s worth, the guild I’m hooking up with have settled on Ebonheart Pact, and faction wasn’t a deal-breaker for me so I’m happy to go with the flow. It should give me a chance to let out my inner Norseman, and Midgard was the one realm I didn’t really play seriously in DAoC. Looks like I’ll be mostly killing elves out on the battlefield, and that suits me just fine.

As an aside – I got to go out to Cyrodiil last beta weekend, and I had an absolute blast that was both reminiscent of my favourite DAoC memories and included some fun new twists. I took part in both keep assaults and keep defences, twanging away with a bow and setting up a siege engine as well as sallying (or sneaking past the besiegers in through) a postern gate. There was a milegate fight like I haven’t had since the glory days of DAoC, when after a rout we rallied at a choke point and tried to stand off the pursuing enemy force. One brutal, close-quarters fight later we had lost but the general consensus in chat was “That’s awesome, let’s do it again!” When the gamers on the LOSING side say that, there’s something very right with the game. Best of all, though, was a hilarious skirmish between about a dozen of us crouching stealthed in the long grass and a similar enemy force. Every so often one of us would spot one of them, pop up to attack, making nearby enemies pop up to hit THEM, which would get more people to pitch in… then after a few deaths everyone would be back down creeping around and looking for the next victim. Good times, and I’ll be back for more.

Wilhelm Arcturus, The Ancient Gaming Noob, put up a post recently about whether PVP is required for all MMOs and generated more than the usual amount of debate on a blog post – probably because, well, PvP. When I stuck in my initial tuppence worth, it was with the view that it’s not exactly essential but having it both shuts up a certain vocal minority and provides something extra to do for a majority of players, so on the whole it’s worth the investment for most games.

Syncaine has now weighed in, opining that for a themepark style game PvP provides a valuable form of filler content that can be low maintenance for the devs but highly repeatable. Now I usually read Syncaine’s posts and comments with a high level of scepticism simply because the two of us come from vastly differing views on which games we like and what constitutes a successful game. This time around though, we seem to be in agreement that PvP makes a good addition to a game as long as it doesn’t wreck the rest of the game in the process (by being something you must grind for rewards, or by driving balancing/design decisions that impact the PvE side). We seem to be agreeing that both of us like ESO as well. I’m not sure if this is a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day, one or both of us mellowing with age, a blindingly obvious universal truth or an omen of the coming apocalypse (actually, we can test that last one – if Tobold comes out in agreement with Syncaine… apocalypse).

I do have a further thought though. By and large, PvP has been useful filler content because it’s repeatable, and a game HAS to have repeatable content to keep players occupied – no developer could generate game content as fast as players can play through it. Recently though, we’ve seen games that put content creation tools in the hands of players (e.g. Neverwinter) and EQNext is promising emergent content from using Storybricks AI – in other words, a game world that is constantly generating its own content from the interaction of players and NPCs. Both of these approaches can yield a constant supply of new content for players to keep them satisfied without having either PvP or the carrot on a stick approach of adding daily grinds for rewards. Remember, for most players PvP isn’t a “must have” in and of itself, it’s just something else to do when they’ve dome everything else. It will be interesting to see if anyone can make an MMO that retains players without PvP some time soon.

A little while back, I mentioned that when judging games the key question to ask is whether you’re enjoying playing the game… and that that is a subjective judgement. Nobody else can tell you whether you find playing a game fun. However, we can tell you why we find a game fun (or not), which might help you make a decision about whether it meets your definition of fun. It might even help some of the denizens of the Internet realise that when it comes to fun, your mileage may vary and what they personally like isn’t necessarily so for others (hey, I live in hope…) The fact that Zenimax have finally dropped the NDA on The Elder Scrolls Online for those of us peons who don’t count as “real press”* gives me the perfect opportunity to lay out my criteria for a fun game with a topical example.

First of all, I crave Freedom. Freedom to make my character my own way, freedom to go explore (and take the consequences if I stick my nose in somewhere that’s too tough for me), freedom to do what I want in a game session. That means I don’t want straightjacket character builds, but instead the game should allow for as many set-ups as possible to be viable. Areas of the game world should not be walled off behind a “your level must be THIS high to enter” sign, and I don’t really want all of the quests organised into nice, neat quest hubs with vector quests between them so that it’s all perfectly optimised and runs smoothly as long as you do what you’re told and follow the golden levelling path without fail. ESO score: pretty good, on the whole. Character build is incredibly free – use any combination of skills that you’ve learned, pick up any weapon, wear whatever armour takes your fancy. Your class gives you three skill lines that are unique to the class, but that’s all, and it’s your choice how you use them. The first (tutorial) section is very much on rails, but that’s in the nature of tutorials. ESO’s tutorial is… well, some of the hate for it is overboard but it’s very much a tutorial like the ones for just about every other MMO. Learn to move, pick up a weapon, kill a basic mob, level up for the first time, get transported to the main game world. The worst I can say about it is that it’s a bit “meh” and uninspired; the best I can say is that it’s workmanlike and uninspired. Once you’re past that, though, you get a lot more freedom. The second zone has its own story and (at least in the case of the two alliances I tried) you get to choose not only what order you do the sub-quests but also whether or not to do each of them. Decisions you make will affect your relationships with various NPCs – I’m not sure to what extent that opens up or closes off other stories down the line, but it looks hopeful. I also like that quests tend to be objective-based rather than task lists “go rescue so-and-so” rather than “kill ten rats” and it’s up to me exactly how I carry out the rescue and what body count that entails. It’s not quite as open as GW2 with its whole “wander the worlds and see what events you chance upon” vibe, but it feels pretty free to me.

Next, I expect a certain level of Quality. The game client should be robust and as bug-free as possible, and things should look like they were put together by people who cared what they were doing. Sloppy typos or continuity errors in quest text drive me nuts, and so does poor voice acting. If you’re going to use voice artistes, get decent ones – I shudder every time I play a Neverwinter character through their (workmanlike) tutorial and I get to the dwarf who announces “I have a GGGRRRRUUUUESOME task for ye!” in what some bloody Yank fondly imagines is a Scottish accent. I’m open to different art styles, but I want the artwork to be a good example of whatever style they choose. And I want the writing to be of a professional standard – by which I mean, I would pay for this if it were a book on Amazon. I understand the constraints on plot that being part of a game impose, and I recognise that the writers may not have as much scope for characterisation as they’d like in a game, but the dialogue should sparkle (or at least not come across as stilted and clichéd). ESO score: middling. I encountered several bugs that forced me to restart the game in the beta weekend. On the other hand, this is the one area where the “it’s beta!” excuse is valid – those are exactly the sort of problems that you should be running down and squishing as you get close to release (as opposed to more structural issues with design, where if it’s not pretty much right by now you’re screwed). Voice acting was good (well, look at the cast they hired) and some of the dialogue made me smile. There were some moral dilemmas that genuinely had me thinking hard about which is the “right” answer. So, on the whole pleased as long as they do fix the bugs by April.

I really appreciate getting a good level of Visceral Satisfaction from using character abilities in the game. This is a hard one for me to define, and better to give examples, but it comes down to using abilities that feel right and give a sense of awesome in the game. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the animation and the sound and the general feel of using the ability making me want to go “Hell, YEAH!” A good case in point is my Sith Warrior in SWTOR using Force Choke. On paper, it’s a mediocre ability – it does no more damage than using my base attack over three seconds and builds less rage than the base attack over those three seconds, and yes it stuns the opponent for that time but it also immobilises me so that’s a wash. On the other hand – who am I kidding? I get to Vader the poor son of a bitch who dared draw a blaster on me! It looks right, and it sounds right, and it brings a smile to my face even if it doesn’t get me to the top of a DPS parse, so I tend to Force Choke whenever it’s off cooldown as long as doing so doesn’t severely screw my chances of winning the fight. ESO score: middling to unknown. I need to play more and try out a lot more abilities to see if there’s anything that truly grabs me.

I also want a sense of Heroism – I want to feel that it’s not a job, it’s an adventure. I’m playing MMOs for the escapism of being a Big Damn Hero (or Villain). I want to act bad-ass, and look bad-ass, and I want NPCs to salute, bow or piss their pants in fear once I’ve done something to earn it. I don’t want to dig through boar shit for some goblin in return for a handful of coins. I also don’t want to feel that I need to clock on, do my dailies and get my time card punched every day. I’ve spent years getting to a level where I function as a recognised expert in my real life job and don’t do the same monotonous grunt work very day… why on Earth would I want to play a game in my spare time that does make me do that? ESO score: pretty good so far. My characters felt competent, and the jobs they were asked to do were important ones (rescue civilians from an invasion, help bring down a corrupt local governor)

Finally, a good game should generate Engagement. Simply put, I should want to keep coming back. Maybe it’s to see what happens next (LotRO’s epic story did that through the Angmar and Moria eras) or to see what’s going on (GW2 maintains sense of not having seen everything there is to offer in an area for quite a while) or just because the activities here are fun in and of themselves and I’m back for more (DAoC RvR). Dailies or other content that needs grinding to earn tokens doesn’t cut it on this front – those make you feel obligated to come back to earn rewards rather than making you want to come back for the game’s own sake. ESO score: probably too soon to tell, but after playing in one weekend I’m looking forward to another and inclined to place a pre-order. Does that count?

* I’m not so much annoyed that “real press” got special access and were allowed to bloviate about the game before any of us guys who have pretensions and a blog with five hits per day were allowed to do so. I’m more pissed off that the output of some of those “real journalists” (naming no names) is considerably shallower and more amateurish than that of many of the bloggers. Consider this more a rant about the state of games journalism than one about Zenimax’s PR strategy.

Apropos nothing in particular (apart from maybe Syl’s post about armchair designers over three months ago – nothing like being current with the blogosphere!) some words I try to live by when thinking and chatting about games…

1. Forget labels. Are you enjoying yourself? Some gamers, or at least some bloggers, get caught up in dogmatic stances and judge games solely on whether they are sandboxes (whatever the hell that means), or on their business models, or on what type of PvP is or isn’t allowed. At the end of the day, though, games are entertainment and the real criterion for judging a game is whether I feel entertained playing it. Those other items might have some bearing on whether you enjoy the game, but seriously, are they really absolute deal breakers? Do you honestly believe that a buggy, unbalanced, amateurish sandbox game with full free-roaming ganking should be praised above and beyond a perfectly-executed, thrill ride of a polished theme park PvE game just because it’s a sandbox (or just because of the ganking?)

2. The answer to the question above is subjective. What I like isn’t necessarily what you like. What appeals to Tobold doesn’t always appeal to Syncaine but that doesn’t automatically mean either of them are absolutely wrong. I have my own criteria for whether I’m likely to enjoy a game. A game that doesn’t meet those criteria may not be for me, but may well be for others – both WoW (in its current form) and EVE are cases in point.

3. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, why are you here? It’s OK to recognise flaws in a game – ideally, whilst recognising that those “flaws” may just be features that appeal to other people more than you. I don’t ask that any discussion of a game ignore those flaws. However, if the flaws degrade your enjoyment of a game to the point at “this game is crap” … go play something else and just forget about this one. It will be better for all concerned. If the game really is a stinker (as opposed to just not appealing to you, personally) then most of the other players will do likewise, which is a far more effective signal to the developers than some embittered whinger hanging around the forums like the smell of week-old roadkill.

4. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a hater, fanboi or troll. However, some are. Those three terms are thrown about very loosely as a means of dismissing anyone whose opinion someone else agrees with. After all, it seems that many regular forum posters are so lacking in human empathy and/or simply so far up their own arses that anyone who disagrees with them must be completely wrong. Someone who criticises a feature or points out a flaw isn’t automatically a hater – that term is reserved for roadkill guy from point 3. Likewise, someone who actually likes a feature that you don’t isn’t automatically a “fanboi”, which can only describe someone who rabidly defends every single thing about the game and would do so whatever the devs did. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen such a creature in real life. And a troll is someone who deliberately makes controversial statements with the specific intent of causing an argument and outrage. Someone who happens to honestly disagree with you isn’t trolling. Even someone whose opinions are regularly at variance with the majority isn’t trolling. Someone who goes out of his way to stir arguments up, and who will always post to throw oil on troubled fires, however, is.

5. You get what you pay for. Games, especially MMOs, are expensive things to create and run, and I think it’s fair that the people who make them expect a reasonable return on the money and time they plowed into them. If they’ve made a wildly successful game that millions of people like to play, I would say it’s fair for them to make an unreasonable return on their money :) So I judge a game from the perspective of a customer who pays his way. In subscription games, that’s easy enough to do – I’m either getting sufficient entertainment for my monthly payment, or I’m not. For F2P games it’s a bit harder. I would still use the subscription game as a yardstick, though – look at what the F2P game would be like if you paid $10 to $15 per month, and decide if that game experience is worth your while. I’ve no sympathy for the free player who whines how horribly restrictive the game is if he won’t pay one red cent towards its upkeep and development. However, I also don’t appreciate greedy developers who give significant advantage to those paying well above a subscription rate – or to put it another way, I judge whether a game is “pay to win” based on comparing whales to those who pay a reasonable amount; I don’t regard restrictions on freeloaders in the same category.

6. Rule #2 notwithstanding, there IS such a thing as a bad game. Some things aren’t a matter of judgement. Auto assault had horribly bad net code that made my character rubber band all over the place when I got out of my car. Some games have clunky interfaces, dull gameplay, or severe balance issues to the point where picking the wrong class is a “gotcha” rather than a valid choice. Neverwinter has the worst voice acting I’ve heard in my life. These are things that are just plain out-and-out wrong, and not just matters of taste. It’s fair to call these out. But it’s also fair to call out critics who can’t tell the difference.

I’m not really a huge fan of the whole steampunk thing. I loved the old Space:1889 pen and paper RPG – or rather, I loved the setting, since Space:1889 is widely regarded as one of the best game settings ever linked to one of the worst game systems. Since then, however, the whole thing has taken off and become cliche. The couple of SF conventions I’ve been to over the last few years have been split between a bunch of wankers wearing pith helmets and goggles on the one hand, versus the disenfranchised hard SF types threatening a backlash against all the crappily written steampunk stories in which everybody is a gallant airship privateer captain and nobody seems to have to shovel the coal.

Steampunk has relentlessly invaded the fantasy genre, too. Most computer fantasy RPGs have steampunk elements. Sometimes they’re restricted to dwarves or tinker gnomes as they are in WoW. Other worlds, like Guild Wars 2′s Tyria, are on the cusp of a full-blown industrial revolution. There aren’t many games without a steam engine in sight somewhere. LotRO is probably the great exception, as Tolkien was too busy inventing the modern fantasy genre in the first place to think of mashing it up with Victoriana (plus there’s the whole middle Earth ethos of industry = orcs = evil)

Surprisingly given all of the above, I’m currently reading a steampunk novel that I’m really enjoying. The novel is The Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick, and it might help that the author is also the man who was behind the Space:1889 RPG and so is an original voice rather than one of the legion of slavish imitators. It also helps that his view of Victorian society is less rosy-tinted than some. I’m inspired enough to imagine what a Space:1889 Based MMO could be like – it could be made for a three faction set-up with the technologically advanced humans in conflict with the ancient and mystical Martians on one hand and the savage lizard men of Venus on the other. Put that one up on Kickstarter and I’ll chuck a few dollars in the pot. But only if you’ve got Frank Chadwick on board.

I think I may have mentioned that SWTOR suffers from an increased number of jerks trolling public chat channels these days. The problem is, of course, that when a game is free to play then some people they have less to lose if they court a ban. Normally I just ignore these people – not even bother hitting the ‘ignore’ button, I mean I simply don’t pay them any attention. However, the other day there was a guy giving a detailed explanation of all the ‘proof’ that the Holocaust never happened in Imperial Fleet general chat. That particular brand of idiocy hits close to home with me so I went to the effort of reporting him, and since I had the ticket open anyway I also reported a guy called Rectumravager who had been taking part in the debts for… Well, for pretty damned obvious reasons.

It’s a pity really. I have a small part of my mind, my inner eight year old, giggling like crazy at the thought of there being a Darth Rectumravager of the Sith Empire. However, the rest of me has grown up a bit more than that.

Well, I eventually managed to sort out my authenticator problems with SWTOR, while GW2 has definitely moved into a fallow phase for a while – the last couple of Living World updates didn’t really grab me, so I’ve spent more time working through Moria with my Burglar and getting stuck back into The Old Republic.

When I parked my SWTOR characters I had a Sith Assassin at what was then the level cap, who was mostly doing PvP matches in a darkness (tank) spec and PvP gear. I also had one each of the other three Empire archetypes at levels ranging from 20 to 26 along with sundry lower level alts, so all getting their class stories properly underway. At the point I left there was still no instance finder, the server merges were yet to get underway, the F2P conversion hadn’t happened and PvP matches were still restricted to three types… or rather, for Empire on Kellian Jarro, a steady diet of Huttball with the occasional sighting of the other game types due to population imbalance.

Now that I’m back – well, the servers have been merged down a much smaller number of bustling servers rather than a wide array of ghost towns. The unfortunate side effect of this is that almost all of my characters got renames forced upon them, so my Assassin is no longer Darth Seethe and if you see someone called Tremayne on The Red Eclipse server, it ain’t me. Instance finder can take a while to pop for a DPS, but I find I can count on at least one flashpoint run in an evening if I want it, and to be honest that’s usually my limit. I’ve overcome my fear of queuing as a healer after accidentally doing so with my Sith Sorcerer and making it through the experience unscathed – fortunately, when you’re level 16 and doing Hammer Station it really doesn’t matter how you’ve spent your handful of skill points. My Imperial Agent now has a hybrid healing/concealment spec that lets me get an instant group as a healer whenever I want it, whilst also performing OK in the melee damage role. PvP has added three new types of match (including arena) and allows Empire vs Empire fights in all of them as ‘war games’ so there’s more variety in what I get to play.

Free To Play has probably contributed to the number of asinine idiots trolling in fleet/capital world chat, but that’s what ignore is for. The F2P model seems fine to me, but then I’m coming from the perspective of someone who has an active subscription. The Cartel market unlocks can be traded in-game anyway, so if you’re bound and determined to play without giving EA any money then you can get out there, grind credits and trade them for what you want whilst those of us with subs can spend our complimentary Cartel coins on the stuff to trade to you – in other words, trading money for time in the same manner as GW2′s gold to gems conversion (except you sell the cash shop items instead of the cash shop currency).

Story wise, my Assassin is part-way through the Hutt Cartel content on Makeb, and up to the new level cap in an all new Madness spec (think bastard child of enhancement shaman and warlock in WoW terms), while my Agent has hit level 42 and is getting started on Act 3 of his story, and the Bounty Hunter is coming to the end of Act 2 on Hoth. I’m enjoying playing through all three stories. The one on Makeb is cool because the way your character is treated very much reflects your progress in your personal story to date. Unlike WoW, where my character went from being a hero who helped kill Ragnaros and Nefarian to being expected to dig through boar shit in Outland, there’s no doubt that my Sith Assassin is a major Dark Lord of the Empire with the rank and authority she’s earned, and NPCs crapping their pants in fear at her presence. Meanwhile I’m enjoying the twists and turns of the Imperial agent storyline, and if the Bounty Hunter story doesn’t match it for plot it excels in quality dialogue.

The thing which does strike me on my return, though, is that SWTOR feels like the product of two separate design directives. On the one hand, it is undeniably the result of someone saying “We want some of what WoW’s got. Take our licence and make a game like WoW”. On the other hand, though, there are elements that hark back to more old-school MMOs. The classes have a pleasingly complex array of abilities which means that they can do a lot more in the right hands than just ‘the optimal DPS rotation’. Flashpoints are designed with trash encounters that are much more easily handled by people who understand crowd control and kill order. I don’t think the lack of dungeon finder (at launch) and the absence of support for player-made add-ons is purely a result of laziness on the devs’ part either. While we may never see what this game would have been without a “WoW directive” there are enough pieces of it to keep me entertained for a while.

That last point may be the most important one. For all the debates we get into about PvP versus PvE, or sandboxes versus theme parks, or grinds and whatever the hell dynamic content really means – at the end of the day, MMOs may not be purely just games but they are a form of entertainment and so the acid test is “Am I not entertained?” At least for now, SWTOR is entertaining me. I’m not sure how long that will last, but while it does, the Dark Side calls to me…

Via Massively, I found this little gem of a blog post on Gamasutra from a former EVE GM. It contains some pretty good advice in terms of dealing with problems yourself where possible (if some guy’s being offensive in your custom channel, you can kick him yourself… not rocket science) and not giving out free fodder to the trolls. However, it also reveals where CCP draw the line on players making offensive comments.

Apparently, the line is drawn at making credible real-life threats – the exact point that the police would also get involved. Anything that would get you hauled in front of a judge will be actioned by a GM, anything less than that is apparently A-OK.

Really.

I can think of plenty of things that stop short of being Real Life Threats that I would find unacceptable. Personally, I suggest adopting the “punch on the nose” rule. Assume the person you’re addressing is in the same room as you, approximately the same physical size as you and not particularly mentally unstable. If you’re a sexist, misogynistic half-wit and the person you’re addressing is a girl, then assume her boyfriend meets the above criteria. Is what you are saying to that person likely to get you punched on the nose? If so, you crossed the line. People on the internet are still people, so the same standards we’ve evolved through a million years of human social interaction still apply. Violating those standards just because modern telecommunications means you can’t get the punch on the nose you deserve doesn’t make you “liberated” or a “netizen” – it means you’re a coward.

One quote from the article stood out for me. “Game companies are not the Political Correctness Police and cannot be expected to adjust every player’s rotten attitude”. Wrong. Quite apart from the common duty of all human beings to call out assholes for being assholes, it’s good business sense. However much they whine, however much they cry, very few internet feral man-children will actually quit a game they enjoy playing because they aren’t allowed to scream “all faggots should DIAF!”. You don’t even have to ban all that many of them before the rest get the message – once you’ve set a baseline of what behaviour is tolerated, you just have to deal with the occasional slow learner who insists on prodding at the boundaries. However, letting the man-children create an environment in which people can expect to be savaged “for the lulz” creates an environment which a lot of the more grown-up players decide they DON’T enjoy playing in… so they don’t. It’s not a smart decision for any business to let a few of their customers drive off a greater number of customers.

Compare and contrast ArenaNet, who set the tone from the get-go on what sort of language was acceptable. I know people who’ve stopped playing GW2 because they got bored, because the jumping puzzles got too much, because action combat wasn’t their cup of tea of because they were sick and tired of Scarlet. I don’t know any who were driven away or just plain disgusted by an endless barrage of hate speech and insults that would apparently be OK in EVE because they weren’t actual Real Life Threats.

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