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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Just to be clear – the downfall of 38 Studios, while bad news for that company, isn’t a lesson for the games industry at large (except in that it might scare superficially-minded investors who go “that game company failed therefore game companies are a bad business to invest in” without bothering to look at WHY that company failed… but to be honest, you’re better off without a business partner that clueless). It is a lesson in how not to run a business, but the lesson is a simple one – do the maths (or math, if you’re a colonial). This isn’t a lesson that is restricted to the games industry. It’s one I learned at an early age from reading the works of Robert Heinlein, who always showed contempt for anyone who indulged in fuzzy thinking without working through the numbers. Judging from watching a lot of the hapless would-be entrepreneurs on The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den it’s a lesson that a scary number of people out for investment in their wonderful business ideas haven’t learned, but it really is THE fundamental of business. If the numbers work out, you make a profit. If they don’t, you make a tit of yourself. As Lord Sugar has been known to say, “basic business principles went out the window on this task. I don’t know what you were thinking!”

Unsubject over at Vicarious Existence has done a better job of crunching the numbers than I could which goes to show that 38 Studios and the state of Rhode Island had made a deal that looks awfully like a financial suicide pact. As in, if you agree to hiring a bloated payroll that will burn through cash at an astonishing rate, then we’ll give/lend you a huge pile of money that nonetheless isn’t nearly enough to actually meet that payroll for the length of time needed to complete the project. After a point, throwing extra bodies on a project doesn’t actually bring it in that much faster – just because it takes one woman nine months to produce a baby doesn’t mean that you can do it in one month if you put nine women on the task 🙂 The deal that 38 Studios signed up to could almost have been designed expressly for the purpose of pissing taxpayers’ money up the wall before creating a bankruptcy and more unemployed people than if they’d not done the deal in the first place. It was manifestly a deal made by people on both sides who did not do the maths – although in defence of the governor’s staff they are politicians, and many people in politics seem to have gone into that career expressly to piss taxpayers’ money up the wall, so we couldn’t really expect anything else.

It’s got nothing to do with whether Copernicus was going to be a sandbox or a theme park MMO, or if it would be solo-friendly or force grouping. Nothing the developers actually working on the game could have done would have saved it – well, apart from offering their labour for free for a couple of years, anyway. The game never got to the point of failing on its design or its merits, because it died before it got to the point of being seen by the outside world. 38 Studios could have been making a new brand of washing machine rather than an MMO for all the difference it would have made. It doesn’t matter what their product was going to be, because the company ran out of money long before they actually had a product. Because people who damned well should have known better Did Not Do The Bloody Maths.

Current state of the games in the Dark Tower of House Tremayne:

LotRO – I’ve been a lifetime subscriber since this game launched, but had left it lying fallow for over a year since I was lured away by RIFT. Recently I decided to get back into the game, and rather than hop back on to one of my three characters who were at the level cap when I left (before Isengard went and raised it) I thought I’d start afresh and see how things have changed whilst relearning how to play. After a false start with a Guardian (a class I already had at level 65) I got underway in earnest with a Burglar (which I also had at level 65, and I’d almost forgotten what an absolute joy that class is to play). Currently at level 32, chugging along nicely, and I’ve been very sparing so far with the enormous pile of Turbine Points that accumulated over my year away from the game.

RIFT – My go-to game for some no-nonsense fantasy action. I take a chilled approach to playing RIFT, logging in irregularly for a bit of instanced PvP or maybe a PuG dungeon run, or else just to solo a few quests, collect some artifacts or join the troops fighting a zone invasion. Having level 50s in all four callings means that whatever sort of fantasy character I want to play, I can do that and kick ass doing so. I also appreciate that while I don’t raid and don’t really want to raid, RIFT doesn’t make me feel like a second-class citizen for not being a raider.

SWTOR – my Sith Assassin is parked now she’s at level cap, apart from coming out for the odd PvP match. I’m still working through my Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent alts’ storylines, however, and expect to keep my sub going when those are done so I can do the Sith Warrior and Republic storylines. I like the story aspects of this game, it’s just a shame that Bioware aren’t pushing the story as endgame nearly as strongly as I wished that they would.

World of Tanks – still playing a few matches at least once a week, and deeply in love with the Tiger, which to my mind is the rapier of tanks: powerful yet nimble, and deadly in the hands of a skilled operator. If only I was that skilled… I also started trying out the new(-ish) French tank tree. To my mind, they seem to have underpowered engines, pop-gun armaments and quite a lot of armour, so basically they can’t hurt anything, are slow to advance and obviously don’t like getting hurt. Ideal for the French, really 😀

And then the games I’m not currently playing…

Guild Wars 2 Beta Stress Test Event – but only because they scheduled it while I was away on holiday with my family, damn it!

Star Trek Online – another game I have a lifetime subscription for, which I actually don’t regret buying, and dip into and out of. At the moment, since I hit the level cap with both my Federation and Klingon mains back in February, I’m dipped out but will be back at some point when the urge to captain a starship and fire spreads of photon torpedoes gets overwhelming.

Champions Online – same deal as Star Trek Online. Watching the Avengers movie gave me mild ‘go play a superhero’ urges but between the LotRO levelling project and the family holiday, I’ve not acted on them yet.

WoW – still out, despite the kind offer of a Scroll of Resurrection from a friend. Nothing I’ve seen tempts me back – my personal tastes and Blizzard’s design team are headed in very different directions.

Diablo 3 – not because I’m on some sort of anti-Blizzard crusade, mind you. I played and thoroughly enjoyed Diablos 1 and 2, and I’m sure I will have fun when I get around to playing D3, however it didn’t grab me enough to pre-order. I don’t have a lot of time available to play single player games with my MMO hit-list above, and to be honest Diablo’s online-only play means that it’s utterly useless the occasions when I DO turn to single-player games, which are when my home internet connection goes down or I’m stuck in a hotel room somewhere where I refuse to pay the extortionate rate for net access. Way to go Blizz, making a game with all the drawbacks of an MMO without any of the benefits. I almost certainly will play this game… but probably only after it hits the bargain bins, and then I’ll take great pleasure in beating it without twinking myself via the real money auction house.

Thoughts about EA’s recent announcement, in easy to read bullet point format because I’ve done WAY too much PowerPoint at work recently:

* A drop off of 400,000 is by no means good – but that’s 25% of a very large total. Age of Conan and Warhammer Online both had much steeper drop-offs by the four month mark, so it’s not fair to put SWTOR in the same category as those two games.

* That still leaves 1,300,000 subscribers – every other subscription game that isn’t WoW would kill to have that. People need to get their heads around the fact that WoW is a frakking outlier and not a useful point of comparison.

* A 25% drop-off, however, means that SWTOR is not on the trajectory of continued boundless growth that the frakking outlier was. It looks set to be second in terms of market share, but a distant second.

* Since EA have stated that the game would be profitable at 500k subscriptions, and it has over two and a half times that well after the point where the tourists usually go back to the frakking outlier, I think we can assume that the game has not “failed” in any reasonable business sense. It may, however, have failed to meet some people’s over-optimistic expectations of instantly vaulting up to the numbers that the frakking outlier took years to achieve… but I would never use the dreams of fools as a yardstick.

* There’s some confusion on exactly when the subscriber count was taken and whether the free month given out to a lot of (but not all) players has artificially inflated it. My own call is that I don’t think it matters that much – the free month would only affect the figures where a player had been subscribed for four months but was just about to cancel their sub. I’m sure there were some in that category – but my gut feel is that people are either gone from a game at the one or three month marks, or else likely to stick around for at least six months plus.

* Sod the subscription numbers, I’m still happily playing through the Imperial Agent and Bounty Hunter storylines on my alts. While I find the endgame lacking (not being a raider and only being up for so many warfront matches) I’ve still got months of casually playing through storylines before I run out. I will, however, run out. For players like me, Bioware’s best bet is to put out more story content instead of trying to make WoW with lightsabers.

First of all, I finally realised that my last post completely forgot to link the forum where new bloggers can sign up for all of the support and, apparently, link whoring on offer. The moral of this story is probably “don’t drink and blog” but that’s not the advice I’m going to give – probably because of how badly it would depopulate the blogosphere if anyone actually listened to it.

Instead, my advice is this: read, think, write, edit. Four words to being a blogger with a blog worth reading.

First of all – read. Read other blogs, of course – but also read game forums and also read stuff that isn’t game related at all. The more you read, the more likely you are to see something you want to respond to and write your own post about. The more widely you read, the better informed you’ll be and the more chance that what you have to say is interesting enough for people to come back to your blog. Even if you’re a hardcore Age of Conan PvPer and that’s all your blog is about, you might see something on a Rift blog that triggers a “how AoC does this and which way is better” story. Or you might go from reading about the battle of Cannae to an article on how to utterly crush an enemy guild in battle. Whatever – reading is the source of grist for your ideas mill, and if you don’t feed it you’ll run out of things to say all too quickly and your blog will wither away because you can’t think of anything to post. Go see what other people have to say, or pick up some interesting ideas, and you’ll be in the enviable position of having so many articles you want to write that you have to pick and choose.

Next – think. The best blogs are more like op-ed pieces than straight journalism. Few readers go to blogs to get news per se – there are plenty of news websites with pro or semi-pro staff who are far better at providing that. What a good blog does though is pick up the day’s news items and discuss them, trying to figure out what this actually means. To pick a topical example – the news is that Dominus has been cancelled. But what does that mean? Does it mean that it’s impossible to launch a small, plucky insurgent in an MMO market ruled by the big budget beasts? Does it mean that three faction RvR isn’t actually an idea that will work and all those old DAoC players should put away their rose-tinted glasses? Or does it mean that Guild Wars 2’s WvWvW is going to be so abso-frigging-lutely awesome that any potential competitor just curls up into a ball and dies after seeing it in a beta weekend? Whatever you think about the news (in this case, probably that all three of Tremayne’s suggestions are full of shit) – THAT’S what you want to write about.

And then – write. If you don’t write it down, then we don’t get to see it and you don’t have a blog, just some ideas in your head and maybe a vague intention to have a blog someday. Put fingers to keyboard and give us the benefit of that reading and thinking you’ve done. Keep the blog alive. You don’t have to be as prolific as Tobold with his four thousand posts, but at the minimum try to write something at LEAST once a month. It doesn’t have to be very long. Some of the best ideas can be expressed in a couple of sentences – or a single question, can ignite a great debate (either by being a very good question, or by trolling. Don’t do the latter).

Finally – edit. For the sake of your own reputation and that of your blog, do an editing pass both to clean up your writing and to make sure you actually mean to say what you’re actually saying on a public forum. For the first of these – while there are people posting on game forums who actually seem aggressively proud of their bad spelling and appalling grammar, on a blog your readers will expect stuff like punctuation and paragraphs and proper words. Most of the active people on forums seem to be there for the sake of their own post counts rather than any interest in what others have to say anyway, but if someone has come to your blog they probably genuinely want to read what you have to say. Don’t make it hard for them.

The second part of “edit” comes in if you are writing on an emotive or controversial topic. As they say, “post in haste, repent at leisure”. So once you’ve finished, don’t hit “Publish” immediately. Take a breather, then re-read what you’ve written. You might want to reword it in a more thoughtful way. You might want to delete the whole thing. Or you might stand by every word and publish it as it stands. Incendiary posts tend to get a “Hell, yeah!” from those who already agree with you and to turn off those who don’t. They aren’t conducive to ongoing, meaningful discussion. But on the other hand, sometimes you have to make a stand. Just make sure it’s when after some reflection you really do have to make a stand, and not on some pointless minor topic because of poor impulse control.

And that’s it – drink, read, think, write, edit. Five words to make you a more active and maybe even better blogger.

Wait – weren’t there only four words at the start of all this?

So, you’re thinking of joining the army of gaming bloggers? Good for you! Syp, lord and general of the Bio Break blog amongst his many other achievements, has marshalled a small army of existing bloggers to rally new volunteers for the war. And it is a war – a war against ignorance, a war against apathetic sheep gamers taking whatever they are spoon-fed by gaming companies, and a war against the hordes of forum troggs whose discourse never rises above the level of “LOL” and “+1” posts.

Ahem.

It’s possible I may have gotten a bit carried away there – I’ve just enjoyed an evening of free beer and whisky courtesy of some of my business colleagues and managers. My day job may be irredeemably steeped in evil, but it has its occasional compensations 🙂

Anyway – if you read a number of gaming blogs, you’re probably already aware of the New Blogger Initiative. If this is the only gaming blog you read, then I’m deeply touched but find that highly unlikely 🙂 The idea is that this month we want to encourage anyone out there with something to say – and in the thirty years since I was first initiated into geekery with the red box Basic D&D rules, I’ve NEVER met a gamer who didn’t have anything to say – to start a blog and say what they want, on the topics of their choice and their own terms, without some moth-breather replying with “TL;DR”. The beauty of having your own blog is that you get to moderate it – try to use that power for good rather than evil, but if all else fails feel free to use it whenever you think it’s called for. With the confidence that comes from knowing that if some asshole who gets in your face you can always kick them into the spam filter, there’s nothing to stop you creating a free account on Blogger or WordPress and typing away.

Think of something you want to say. Say it. It’s as easy and as liberating as that. Obviously, there’s all sorts of helpful advice you can get from your fellow bloggers, and over this month we’ll try and provide exactly that. But at the core, blogging is simply saying what you want to say.

Let’s hear your voice.