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Hmmm, I think that by leaving things for three weeks or so the whole Liebster thing has gone away from the blogosphere, but I did say that I’d respond to the questions from Syl and Jeromai even though I have no plans to continue the chain – partly because I deeply dislike chain letters (of which this is a disguised version) and partly because just about anyone I would want to nominate has already been picked on. Still, some of the questions looked fun, so here goes – Syl’s questions first:

1. If you could learn a new language over night, which would it be? My father spoke about nine languages ranging from Lithuanian (his native tongue) through Russian, Polish, German and English. He told me that Russian was far the most expressive when it came to swearing and cursing, which sounds pretty useful to me.

2. What is the first MMO you’d want to visit in full VR mode? If we’re talking all five senses then definitely NOT something fantasy-based, as the smells of a pseudo-medieval setting are likely to be quite awful. Star Trek is too antiseptic a setting to be worth getting the full experience… maybe City of Heroes so I could grab a full sensory hot dog in Atlas Park before leaping buildings in a single bound.

3. If you got to invite a dead person over for tea and biscuits, who would it be? Alas, that’s too easy to answer – I’m just coming up on the first anniversary of my mother passing away, so we have news to catch up on.

4. What kind of biscuits would you serve? Bourbons. Or Jaffa cakes, if I’m allowed to stretch a point.

5. Who should go down first: House Lannister, House Frey or House Bolton? Lannister, because they should yield the most loot.

6. Justice means:
– a) everyone gets what they work for
– b) everyone gets the same
– c) everyone gets what they need

Ooh, I’d better be careful because I could probably write an enormous spiel about the difference between justice, fairness and equality. I tend to interpret “justice” as everyone gets what they deserve in return for their actions, no more and no less, and regard that as an uncomfortable proposition that needs to be leavened with mercy and compassion. Which means that what you get in the real world is usually less than perfect justice in that some get a better deal than they strictly deserve, but that’s the price that you pay for not being Gevlon.

7. If you could see one of your favorite games get a sequel, it would be….? Dark Age of Camelot. Wait a moment…

8. If a person were to split a pot of 1000$ between them and yourself on condition of you accepting their first offer, would you rather accept 100 bucks or both go empty? As I like to think of myself as being rational – if this is a one-time deal, I’ll take the $100 bucks. If this is the first in a series of such transactions, then I opt for nothing this time to signal that he’d better offer a more equitable deal next time around. Note how the words “just” and “fair” were not used in that response.

9. Which ingame MMO place/location do you consider a home to return to? Not sure if I[‘m attached to any place in any of my current games enough to regard it as “home”, nut I’m always happy to head over to Hoelbrak in GW2 and hang out enjoying monumental ice sculptures and listening to the Norn NPCs with their uncomplicated view of life.

10. Favorite midnight snack when nobody’s looking? Marks and Spencer’s honey roast ham flavoured crisps. And frankly I don’t care if anyone IS looking.

And then there’s the Jeromaic Inquisition…

•How much time do you spend gaming each day or each week? As much as I can get away with after discharging my duties as a responsible adult and a father. I usually manage a couple of hours on a typical weekday once the girls are in bed and my good lady is watching some TV programme I have no interest in whatsoever. I may get a few more hours on the weekend, depending on what we have planned. So maybe 20 hours per week.

•How many people do you roughly interact with while gaming, and what’s the extent of your interactions? I try not to roughly interact with anyone, except for consensual PvP :)

•What emotions do you enjoy experiencing while playing a game? Satisfaction when things go well, frustration when they don’t (which is my cue to go do something different), and the rare but precious moments of sheer joy.

•What are some of your favorite genres/settings/worlds to read about in a book? Military SF, space opera and ancient period historical.

•Are they any different from the genres/settings/worlds you might like in a game? (Be it a computer game or a tabletop RPG.) Like a great many nerds, I seem to prefer to read SF and play fantasy games. Which I guess helps explain the enduring appeal of Star Wars as it blends the two.

•What Warhammer 40k army would you choose (assuming unlimited budget)? I’ve never been a big Games Workshop fan, but I’d have to opt for Space Marines as I’m a traditionalist at heart.

•ASCII art, yea or nay? Nay. Once upon a time it was necessary as we didn’t have anything better. Now it’s just pretentious.

•Your favorite vegetable, and your most loathed one… I’m not an enormous fan of a great many vegetables, but I have a real problem with onions and their relatives – I can’t eat if I find myself biting down on chunks of onion, leek or anything of that ilk. It’s at least as much texture as taste, because I’ll eat a curry where the sauce contains onion puree, and it’s a real pain when buying ready prepared food because so many people seem to add onions of some sort to everything. Sweetcorn on the other hand I love, either on the cob or loose.

•Unlimited budget, pick one country in the world, that you haven’t been to, that you’d like to visit. I’ve a long-standing plan to visit Hawaii for my fiftieth birthday, just to have a Hawaii 5-0 birthday (which I then have to explain to my daughters). I’ve been to the mainland USA, but not out there yet.

•You cannot choose a human for your next MMO character. Would you pick a tall race or a short race first? (Width or muscularity, bestial features or lack thereof is up to you.) Depends entirely on the races available to choose from. I’m happy to go short provided they aren’t just a “cute” race – GW2 Asura are great fun.

•Wings or no wings? No wings. Wings are so last year. I reserve my right to change my answer if that question actually turned out to be an offer of barbecue hot wings however.

Just a quick post – I’m well aware that I have Liebster call-outs from Syl and Jeromai and I’ll try and get the answers to both sets of questions, and some of my own, up later this week.

However, I just wanted to post to mention that I’ve been talked into trying out Elite Dangerous, and assuming I stick with the game for a while I have a long term goal – the Fer-de-Lance ship that was added in today’s patch. Given that the sexy beast in the video below, the love child of a luxury yacht and a battlecruiser, happens to cost a shade over a hundred million credits, and I thought I’d done well making seventy thousand in an evening’s bounty hunting, it’s likely to be a very long term goal, but whooo daddy! Lookit them curves! Ahem, I think I meant to say that’s quite a fine ship and I’d be delighted to be the captain of one.

For what it’s worth, my initial impression of ED is that this is an unforgiving and very deep sandbox game made by space sim grognards for space sim grognards. It’s unlikely to have mass appeal (Star Citizen is probably going to be the accessible space game) but I can see how ED could be very rewarding for the right niche of players, who have patience, an abiding love of the genre, a decent joystick/throttle controller set-up (you don’t need to spend hundreds on top of the line flight-sim kit but I wouldn’t TRY to do this on just mouse and keyboard. My old £30 Cyborg joystick with built-in throttle works just fine) and the mind-set of learning to live in the game universe, not just jumping straight in to play a game. Oh yeah, and I frigging HATE the landing pad part of docking. It improves with practice, but my first attempt in the tutorial was a nightmare and after several evenings I’m still sliding back and forth across the landing pad and making horrible crunching sounds with the landing gear.

The big gaming news this week is that Blizzard are getting into trading gold for game time using something that’s similar, but not identical, to EVE’s PLEX – the WoW Token. These create a pseudo-market that let’s gold-rich players (i.e. time-rich, in most cases) trade their Azerothian gold pieces for subscription time bought with Earth dollars/pounds/euros/whatever by other players. Note that I say pseudo-market, because the prices are set by Blizzard rather than a free market, and because the price paid by player A for his token may not match the amount of gold player B receives for putting that token on the market. This is because player A pays the (Blizzard-set) rate at the moment he makes his purchase, but player B receives whatever the (Blizzard-set) rate was at the time he put the token on the market in the first place (but he has to wait until A comes along and buys it off the market before he gets his gold).

This isn’t a free market, or a free-floating exchange rate such as we have with PLEX or with trading dollars for euros. This is a controlled currency, as evidenced by the likes of Venezuela today, Zimbabwe before they gave up completely on having their own currency (for those who didn’t know – you can trade in Zimbabwe in US dollars, euros or several other currencies but not the Zimbabwean dollar, which was abolished after basically hyper-inflating itself out of existence), or as was used in the good old Soviet Union.

Apart from the greater or lesser unsavouriness of the currency-fixing regimes, this has several consequences. The first is that without a free exchange seeking an equilibrium point, we could well see either a glut or else rationing and/or queuing occur if Blizzard are too far out in setting their price. If they set it too low (say, at 10K gold), then we have lots of people trying to turn their gold into tokens and not many people willing to exchange $15-$20 for such a paltry amount of gold, resulting in the auction house goblins queuing up waiting for their turn to hand a few crumbs from their vast fortune over in return for 30 days of game time. If they set it too high (maybe 100k gold) then loads of players will be putting tokens on the market but not that many buyers will be found, resulting in a long wait to actually get gold back for those real world dollars you plunked down. How bad will this be? Depends how good Blizzard are at setting their prices and how responsive they are to shifts in supply and demand. Real world experience suggests that command economies have a lousy record of efficiency compared to free markets however.

Secondly, Blizzard will end up creating or destroying gold from the economy as they shift the price. If they put the ‘market’ rate up, then the guy buying a token pays more than the guy selling it receives, and gold vanishes from the economy. If they shift the rate down, then gold gets created with each transaction. Blizzard can do this because the Azerothian gold piece is actually a fiat currency – there are as many gold pieces in existence as Blizzard set their database to say there are, just as central banks for modern states can print as much money as they wish. It has the same consequences in WoW as it has in real life, however – debauch the currency and you’ll get more inflation. Note that Blizzard have actually eliminated a moderating mechanism, because speculators can’t bet on the market by buying tokens at a low price and re-selling at a higher one (which in a free market acts to moderate swings – see, all those bankers do provide some sort of useful service). Once you’ve bought a token, the only thing you can do with it is pay your subscription – there’s no option to re-sell it.

Thirdly, Blizzard have pretty much guaranteed that there will continue to be a black market in gold pieces, and possibly even stimulate it. There are always black markets in controlled currencies, usually offering a more realistic and less favourable exchange rate. In the case of WoW – the gold sellers won’t go out of business. They aren’t selling at their break-even price and will make losses if Blizzard undercut them. They’re currently charging all that the market can bear, and their limiting factor isn’t how much gold they can farm, it’s how many customers they can lure in. What they’ll do here is undercut Blizzard’s price (but still make a profit because the cost of producing gold pieces is negligible when you’re farming with a swarm of bots on accounts bought with stolen credit cards) and get increased sales from people who buy cheap illegal gold which they then convert to subscription time at the ‘official’ exchange rate. Net result – asshat players who don’t mind dealing with the scum of the MMO world get to play WoW for less than the actual subscription rate, whale players willing to turn their dollars into gold get more gold, everyone else watches the extra farmed gold feed into the economy and wonder why everything on the auction house is so darned expensive.

Now, I’m not predicting economic apocalypse here. All of these effects are real, but just how strong they are depends on how accurate and timely Blizzard are at adjusting the official exchange rate in line with what a free market would set. You can be reassured by looking at just how accurate and timely Blizz have always been with balancing classes and releasing new content.

Hmmm. Welcome to the apocalypse, kid.

EDIT: I’ve just discovered that not only is Scott Jennings actually still alive (or as much alive as the slave minions of Richard Garriott can be), he’s started posting on Broken Toys again and had much the same to say about this topic Can I just plead that everything here was original to me, at least, when I wrote it? :)

Still busy at work. Still playing Marvel Heroes. Still not really feeling the urge to board the Crowfall hype train. It’s buy to play… with an optional subscription and a cash shop. Pretty much covers all the bases there. It’s a PvP game… but you can choose just how ‘hardcore’ a form of PvP you play at. Which will probably result in PvPer holy wars on the game forums the likes of which the internet has not seen since at least last Tuesday, as the true believers brand everyone who plays the wrong sort of PvP with the ‘carebear’ heresy. The stretch goals so far include a female version of one of the character archetypes (ummm, yay for equality?) and mounts (which are pretty much a sine qua non core feature of any MMO that isn’t called Guild Wars 2). I can see why the usual suspects are getting excited about this one, but I can’t say I’m really feeling it myself. I wish them well, as I wish every new MMO well, but I can’t see myself getting too committed to this one for now.

On the plus side, Massively has risen, phoenix-like, as Massively Overpowered and have comfortably raised the Kickstarter pledges they were looking for. I can heave a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that I have somewhere to get my MMO news headlines and marvel at the comments as the subhuman mutant underbelly of the gaming community snap up the clickbait articles hook, line and sinker. Seriously, though – congrats to the Massively team, who anew now officially Overpowered, for managing to salvage something they evidently loved from the thrashing, dying carcass of a media leviathan.

And then there’s Marvel Heroes. There’s probably a good blog post or two in their business model, purely on the grounds that they’ve succeeded where many other F2P games have failed and got me to open my wallet voluntarily, and maybe I’ll do just that at some point. This is a game with a limited set of content but a LOT of scope for playing it through again on alts. That makes an interesting contrast with the approach of games like ESO, where the philosophy is “one character is all you ever really need”. I’m sitting on four level 60 heroes now (Loki, Psylocke, Rocket Raccoon and Gambit) with three more in the 50s (Winter Soldier, Thor and Iron Man) and plenty more in the teens to thirties, and appreciating the nuances and difference of approach with each one. Definitely a game that bears continued play… and if you’ll excuse, me I’m off to do just that.

Whew, I think I’m just about to sneak under the wire with my self-imposed one post per calendar month minimum target. My apologies for the hiatus, but I’ve been somewhat busy with a “promotion-in-title” at work and also getting sucked into Marvel Heroes. In fairness, mostly the Marvel Heroes.

The big news item I was going to write about is the not-entirely-unexpected announcement that The Elder Scrolls Online is moving off the subscription model and onto, not the usual free2play model, but a hybrid buy2play model. Guild Wars 2 has shown that you can thrive as a B2P MMO, but so far the only B2P conversion I can think of is The Secret World, which seems to be doing OK but hasn’t been accused of setting the world alight. I find ESO’s plan intriguing – future new content will be released as DLC, which you can either pay to unlock piecemeal or pay a subscription that means you have access to all of the DLC, but only for as long as you continue to subscribe. Let the sub lapse and you can only access the DLC you have paid for separately. Perversely, that means that carrying on a sub at the point of conversion isn’t so hot – there’s no DLC to get access to yet, although it also nets you an ongoing XP boost and a cash shop coin allowance. Once the game has been on the new model and there’s more DLC, subbing will become more attractive.

There’s also a cash shop of course, which will sell “convenience not advantage” (familiar phrase, that) with Zenimax clarifying that XP boosts count as convenience, not advantage because they don’t get you anywhere you couldn’t get without, they just get there faster. On the plus side, they’ve also promised not to indulge in the random lockbox crap that keeps filling up my inventory in Neverwinter, so thank you Zenimax.

However, the other big news item is that Massively is being shut down (along with its sister sites) by their AOL overlords. I may have suggested at times that some of Massively’s writers are click-baiting hacks and the commenters there are a rabid pack of half-witted trolls, but Massively is still my go-to MMO news site. And will be, until next Tuesday.

After that? To quote editor-in-chief Brianna Royce: “Many of you have asked us what’s next. As we’ve been alluding, we are considering striking out as a team on a site that isn’t beholden to indifferent corporate overlords. Those of you who are begging us to crowdfund might get a chance to put your money where your mouths are and help shape that idea.”

I’ll be interested to see what transpires, and I wish them all well. Even if I don’t have any crowdfunding money (damn you again, Marvel Heroes!) I’m happy to donate a click or two given the right bait :)

This post is part of the Bloggy XMAS Countdown, bringing you blog posts on the topic of games and community through December to Christmas Day. You can thank Syl at MMO Gypsy for the idea and the advent calendar, and the rest of us for being weak enough to fall under spell when she suggests stuff like this :)

A big part of Christmas, for many people, is a chance to get together not just with their immediate family and friends who live nearby, but also to see some people they may not see quite so often. Christmas and New Year (and Thanksgiving for those in North America) are opportunities to travel, catch up with relatives and meet up once again with old friends scattered far and wide by the winds of time. If you play MMOs, unless you’re the sort of curmudgeon who insists on playing everything as a massively single player online game, then you’ve got another network of friends – guildies, ex-guildies, people you know from around your server or banter with every day on the forums. But how many of them have you met in the flesh?

I’m not a huge one on gaming get-togethers. In over a dozen years playing MMOs I’ve only been to three, each one different and worthwhile in its own way. The first one was a server-wide gathering. Those of you who played Dark Age of Camelot back in the old days will remember how much ‘realm pride’ was a thing and server communities were close-knit, pulling together not just for the war against the other realms but for massive PvE content and day-to-day levelling and crafting as well. The rest of you are probably bored with hearing us old farts go on about it. But of all the realms, on all the servers, I suspect Hibernia on Prydwen may have had the closest. We had one overarching alliance for all the main guilds (albeit in a loose confederation, with at least one ‘man who would be king’ shouted down the freedom-loving rabble). We had our own forums, in lieu of any official ones, which because they were restricted to known and vouched-for realm-mates were remarkably free of trolls (although we did have some pretty heated disagreements). Pretty much everyone knew everyone (and we knew who we thought was a loot-whoring S.O.B.). So it seemed only right and proper to arrange a meet-up, and (Prydwen being an English language European server) London seemed the most central place to meet. Easy enough for me, although others came from far afield – all over the UK, and at least one from Norway. We met, we drank, we talked and even though we exchanged real names it still seemed natural to keep calling each other by our in-game names. After all, this is how we knew each other, and this is how we mattered to those people. The staff of Belgo must have wondered why that bunch of fifty or so people were yelling “HIBERNIA!!!” at the top of their voices whilst knocking back rounds of schnapps, but we didn’t care. We were pledging our allegiance to something we had in common – something real to us.

The second get-together was of my main World of Warcraft guild, back in the days before the Burning Crusade. The guild had started as a bunch of co-workers who later added various waifs and strays such as myself, so the guild had a very specific geographic centre in Southend, a coastal town east of London. Maybe not quite as easy to get to for me as the city, but certainly doable. What can I say? Like the last gathering we met, we drank (we’re British, heavy alcohol consumption is a standard part of our social ritual), we talked about the game and our guild-mates who couldn’t make it. Some of their ears might have been burning, but this was back when WoW raiding was still 40 man and actually relatively casual. The hunter who just sat there spamming Steady Shot was something to joke about over beer, not a deadly threat to our raid progression who had to be \gkicked forthwith. Again, we had something in common, with our war stories of the Molten Core and Blackwing’s Lair, and I recall a very pleasant evening, a very late taxi back to my hotel and a somewhat bleary-eyed journey home.

The final get-together was centred around a game rather than a specific guild or server. When the RIFT community team announced on their forums that they were in London and offering free beer and phat loot to anyone who could make it to a specific pub one evening, well, how could I refuse? All it was going to cost me was the time to travel across London on the Underground during evening rush hour (actually OK, maybe that does count as an epic quest) and the social embarrassment involved in walking into a room full of people who I don’t actually know, as at that point I was guildless and none of my real life friends were playing RIFT. Again – I’m English, social embarrassment is a big thing for us. But this didn’t matter once I got there, because people got to talking and guess what? We had something in common. So once again I met people, drank, talked games and left with a medium size RIFT T-shirt (thankfully, made of stretchy material) and the code for a Hooty pet owl that earned me a few admiring whispers in-game.

Insofar as there’s a moral to this rambling tale – spend Christmas with your loved ones. But in the New Year, think about maybe meeting up with some of the faces behind the avatars. Even if you’re an introvert (like myself) and don’t meet strangers all that easily – it’s not nearly as scary as it might seem, because you do actually know many of these people already. and even the ones you don’t know, you have something in common, and that’s really all you need to break the ice.

League of Legends has a developer post up giving their players a pat on the back for not being as toxic as is commonly believed. 95% of players have not received any disciplinary action in the last year. Way to go, you paragons of all that is right and good in humanity!

Oh, wait a second. That means one in twenty of your players IS such a jerk that their behaviour has attracted official sanction. You don’t have to play that many games before you’re pretty certain to run into one of these guys. Also, that one in twenty is actually the floor on any estimate of the actual jerk ratio, because it only counts the jerks who have actually been punished for their behaviour. That’s always a suspect measure, because if Riot Games want to show an ‘improvement’ in this figure, they can do so simply by not punishing people. It also doesn’t count unpleasant behaviour below the threshold for official action – and by all accounts, you can get pretty unpleasant without crossing that threshold.

So anyway, thumbs up, LoL players! Only one in twenty of you are such egregious dipshits that the devs actually bothered to punish you for it this year!

Syp has been taking a look at which MMO studios can lay claim to leading the industry over at Bio Break. Unfortunately, for good reasons or bad he left out the two who actually released new MMOs this year. Something of an oversight I think, especially since both of them tried to buck the F2P tide and sell us a subscription, and neither can be accused of being a derivative clone of (current state) WoW. Instead, Carbine tried to serve up a fusion of cutting-edge action MMO gameplay with old-school vanilla WoW big ass hardcore raiding, while Zenimax stepped away from the well-trodden path of MMO game mechanics to create something closer to the Skyrim experience without totally alienating the seasoned MMO player. Either of those, if it had succeeded and succeeded big, had the potential to lead future MMO games on a different path from the endless attempts to ‘refine’ World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, neither succeeded all that big.

Carbine are suffering from a really nasty case of ‘slipped halo’ effect at the moment. They had a hype train built up to full steam ahead, for which some responsibility lies with the players and some with Carbine themselves. Then the game landed and turned out to be fun, quirky (and sophomoric – but hey, movie box office receipts suggest that sophomoric sells just fine). However, it turned out NOT to be nearly as revolutionary as it pretended, nor ass inclusive as it should have been. Openly nailing your colours to the “hardcore or GTFO” mast may feel cool when you strike that pose, but it’s decidedly less cool to realise that you’ve told 95% of your player base to GTFO, especially when backtracking on the approach only serves to alienate the remaining 5%. Carbine aren’t aspiring to lead the industry right now – if anything, they’re struggling not to be held up as an object lesson to future developers. While Carbine may claim to have the support of NCSoft West that attitude could be little more than whistling past the graveyard if their Korean masters decide the game is underperforming. It’s probably impolite to mention the words Tabula Rasa within earshot of any Carbine employees…

Zenimax seem to be doing somewhat better, if only because the gamer community had lower expectations and in fact decided to hate the game, sight unseen, for not being their ideal of The One True Elder Scrolls Game regardless of how well their ideal would have actually worked out (pro tip – Skyrim is a single player game. Many things that are cool in single player games are somewhat less cool when some jerk with a mind of his own is in your virtual world). The public berating of ESO has died down as the usual suspects have moved on to crucifying Wildstar for murdering their favourite kittens, the player base seems to have fallen off much less of a cliff than Wildstar’s, and Zenimax are putting out a reasonable pipeline of updates. I think ESO has settled into the same sort of niche as SWTOR and RIFT – a comfortable player base whilst not being anywhere near challenging WoW’s dominance, enough to be profitable with a good-sized community of satisfied players even if they aren’t being raved about by the cool kids. Could ESO have been bigger? Probably, if only they’d sent their interns out to sleep with gaming journalists for better reviews at launch :) However, I don’t think it’s going to be seen as a stain on anyone’s resume.

Richard Bartle is musing on relative finger lengths and game controls over at his blog. His main point is that men have (slightly) longer ring fingers than index fingers on average, whereas women tend to have both fingers the same length, and whether this is a help or a hindrance when using WASD keys plus right hand on the mouse.

I’m pretty sure the good doctor is joking, and I’d like to file this under “does it really, honestly, make a difference?” except in the current toxic climate some bozo is either going to leap on it as an example of the patriarchal oppressive nature of game design (if the men have an edge) or else evidence that even with a biological advantage girls still suck at games so they should shut up and go make us a sandwich (if equal length digits prove superior).

For the record: my index finger is slightly longer than my ring finger on both hands, which bucks the trend for males; the fact that I resemble a werewolf at times implies there’s nothing much wrong with my levels of male hormones; and I’m a southpaw so I use the cursor keys as God intended instead of this WASD malarkey, and am eternally grateful that Razer FINALLY brought out a left-handed Naga MMO mouse.

Massively has a “thought provoking” discussion piece up entitled Where did all the MMO bars go? which kind of got me to scratching my head. I’m pretty certain that all of the MMOs I’ve played recently have featured drinking establishments:

ESO – yup, taverns everywhere. With cooking fires for us chefs. And bards. One of ESO’s many nice touches is that they had each of the bard songs recorded by several artists, so you can hear different performances in different places.

Wildstar – definitely has bars, at least on the Exile side (I haven’t really played Dominion). There are beered-up granoks all over Nexus.

Rift – has bars. There’s even one in Sanctum, capital city of the stick-up-their-immortal-butts, religious zealot Guardian faction.

Guild Wars 2 – human taverns, an asuran cantina in the depths of Rata Sum, moody charr dives where grizzled cat monsters gulp shots of whisky. Pretty much the entire Norn culture is one endless Octoberfest, the lucky bastards.

SWTOR – cantinas. With coin-operated jukeboxes. And hologram twi’lek dancers.

Neverwinter – even Cryptic’s stripped-down, instance heavy game, seen by some people as little more than a graphical UI for a cash shop, has taverns aplenty. Mind you, it’s D&D, every adventure HAS to start with a mysterious stranger in a tavern.

World of Tanks – OK, got me there. I did see a KV-1 brew up nicely when I hit it the other day, but I’m guessing that really doesn’t count.

Fortunately, the comment thread on the article picks up on the real issue – it’s not a lack of bars, it’s a lack of players in them. MMO spaces aren’t used as much to socialise as they used to because players socialise less. In part, because we don’t NEED to seek out others – auction houses have replaced the need to seek out crafters in person, dungeon finders have replaced the need to form a labour exchange to assemble adventuring groups. The other reason is that games have got more, well, more gamified. I used to log into DAoC or even vanilla WoW to hang out, and maybe look for something to do in the game world. The modern MMO expects and helps you to be active and productive for every second of your precious gaming time. Daily quests give you a checklist of things to complete, dungeon finders and PvP queues get you straight into the action (unless you’re yet another bloody DPS, of course) and quest flows are designed to take you efficiently through the PvE content without time to smell the roses, let alone sit back quaffing beer. Show me a player character granok kicking back with a brew in Thayd and I’ll show you a slacker who won’t hit his Elder Gem cap for the week.

I suspect some bars do see use – they’re roleplaying venues par excellence, but in the modern MMO the RP community tends to be ghettoised, so if you aren’t on the (official or unofficial) RP server you’re not going to see them. LotRO’s Prancing Pony attracts sightseers. And a certain inn found in one of WoW’s start zones is, of course, famous for attracting a regular if slightly specialist clientele. But ultimately, the bars are out there. It’s just that after a hard day’s work in the real world, it turns out we’re too busy to kick back with a virtual beer in a place where everyone knows your avatar’s name.


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