In Defense of Massively’s Existence

(Editor’s Note: after publishing this post news broke that AoL officially laid off people from Joystiq, WoW Insider, and Massively. I’m sorry to see it wasn’t just a rumor.)

I wasn’t going to write anything about the potential shutdown of Massively (along with sister sites Joystiq and WoW Insider) because nothing has been officially announced and I try to resist writing about unconfirmed rumors. However, this morning I read the extremely grudge-wanky post I Hope Massively Shuts Down over at Keen and Graev and … it inspired me to write a response.

I’m not a big reader of Massively, although I do keep an eye on their Twitter and RSS feeds. I visit the site particularly when I want to get a feeling for how popular or how divisive a game change is. You can learn a lot about the MMO player community just by scanning to see which articles get the most comments.

And I sometimes have issues with Massively’s articles. There have been times when I didn’t think one was particularly well written, or I just felt it was a little too “press release-y”. I have written the occasional post here in the past when I disagreed with an article or I didn’t think the logic held up.

All of that aside, let’s be perfectly clear here: The loss of Massively would be a huge loss for the MMO community.

Keen’s mega-jerky post — because it was, let’s be honest — argues that Massively is bad because it’s “mass media”. Which.. okay, it is. It’s owned by AoL, it’s very popular in the scheme of MMO sites, and it gets attention from publishers based on that. According to Keen, Massively’s popularity turned “hundreds of thousands of people into sheeple”. They write about things people want to read! Those bastards!

Except, the whole mass media pablum argument isn’t the full story. You only had to read the comments on any article about gender equality in MMOs to see Editor-in-Chief Brianna Royce wade into the fray and share potentially unpopular decisions. Massively has also been a HUGE supporter of smaller, indie MMOs. They championed Glitch, a game near and dear to my heart. They’ve written articles about Age of Wushu and A Tale in the Desert and Wurm Online and a ton of other small games that many of us would possibly otherwise have missed completely. And straight up, they’ve linked this blog and Cat Context at least once each, and have a long history of linking other members of the MMO blogging community. Massively is GOOD for amateur blogs.

(Don’t even get me started on Keen’s accusations of fake game journalists. Like, seriously. He accuses them of not even playing MMOs! Are they just pretending to be MMO players because they like the attention?)

Yes, Massively is a business and has to meet certain metrics to be considered successful, including, I assume, page views. And yes, I’m sure at times they’ve written bland stories about hugely popular games almost entirely for the traffic, because that is what professional content sites do to stay alive. Perhaps I am biased as someone who has a job forming words (in marketing! evil marketing!) but I think it’s pretty okay for someone to make a living from writing about games, and it’s also pretty okay for a company to make money from distributing that writing.

All in all Keen’s post reads like sour grapes to me. Perhaps he believes that the demise of Massively will somehow make his blog more precious and special, but the fact is it just reduces the legitimacy of our area of interest. I’m not a huge Massively fan, but it is a recognizable name that can get into E3 and other shows, highlight smaller games, and link back to the community.

MMO consumers are better off in an ecosystem where Massively exists, and to wave your hands and say that good people should lose their livelihood because Massively is (shock) a business that requires a appealing to a large audience to stay alive is short-sighted at best and downright mean at worst.

Introducing.. the TGEN Tribunal, Episode 1
Jan28

Introducing.. the TGEN Tribunal, Episode 1

Usually in this space you’d find the next episode of Cat Context, but there’s something a little different this week!

cropped headerwhitemed Introducing.. the TGEN Tribunal, Episode 1

Over the weekend members of The Gaming and Entertainment Network got together to hold our first Tribunal. It’s a quarterly podcast where folks from your favorite shows talk about games, movies, pop culture, and more!

As the hosts of this particular Tribunal, I chaired the discussion and Cat Context is distributing it. The guests were Brax from Beyond Bossfights, Roger from Contains Moderate Peril, Syl from Battle Bards, Kodra from Aggrochat, and Joseph from Massive Failure and Roleplay Domain.

Our topic this time was… podcasting! We talk about how we got started, share the different levels of post- and pre-production that we all have, and give advice for future podcasters. Plus, Brax explains just what the heck he was thinking by creating a podcast network in the first place!

I hope you enjoy the first TGEN Tribunal, and do check out our other shows on the network.

(Cat Context will be back in two weeks with its usual episode. :) )

Con Exhibitors, let’s talk about lady-shirts
Jan27

Con Exhibitors, let’s talk about lady-shirts

Convention season appears to be upon us! PAX South and MAGfest happened this past weekend, and my Twitter feed is full of talk about the upcoming Gen Con and PAX East.

One of the fun things for laypeople to do at conventions is collect a little swag, including the omnipresent t-shirt. It’s popular with good reason — con-goers get a piece of clothing to show off, and the company in turn gets some good advertising. Wearing a nerd shirt is pretty much the unofficial dress code of any game convention I’ve experienced.

And often, I want to wear your shirts! If I liked your game, or I like your company, or it has a particularly sweet design, then I will happily wear your branding around and help support the cause. For the most part though while my dude friends leave PAX Prime with an extra stack of t-shirts in their suitcase, I might have one. If you don’t have women’s sizes then I’m pretty out of luck, and you’ve missed an advertising opportunity.

shirts Con Exhibitors, lets talk about lady shirts

The next time you order shirts for your booth, please consider the following two points:

Don’t print on American Apparel t-shirts
I’m going to assume that blank American Apparel t-shirts are cheap, because they seem to by far be the most used brand for promotional screen prints. And while there are certainly ethical reasons to reconsider your shirt supplier, let’s focus on the practical here: they’re small. AA shirts are sized tiny, and made from a terribly unforgiving weave. A booth that offers AA shirts in Small through 2XL is actually offering a range of “really wee through maybe-Large”. I literally have a section in my clothing drawer dedicated to adorable shirts that I bought “in my size” at cons but ended up being in stupid tiny American Apparel sizes and thus can never be worn.

Have lady sizes
There’s a reason why “women’s cut” exists in shirts: women, particularly curvy ones, often just don’t fit well in a men’s cut shirt. They sit all wrong — the shoulders are baggy, the collar goes up weirdly high, the chest is too tight and then it’s all extra bunching cloth at the waist and hips. I’ve tried, oh, how I’ve tried, to just ignore it and wear a lovely shirt anyway but I can’t escape the feeling that it looks all wrong and then suddenly your game is being “advertised” by a disgruntled lady wearing an ill-fitting sack.

Anyone who has been to a PAX event lately knows that the crowd is roughly 50% women. If I do a demo of your game or meet some other requirement for a shirt and you tell me you only have men’s sizes, you know what I’ll do? I’ll take your shirt, I’ll try it on later, I’ll make a sad face, and then it goes into the sad face drawer where it will never be seen by another human being again. Don’t let your promo dollars end up in the sad face drawer, people.

(Amusingly enough the only promotional t-shirt I have obtained in five years of PAX Prime that came in a non-AA women’s cut was for.. Dungeons & Dragons. And I still wear that sucker today!)

I know, or at least suspect, that printing two different cuts of t-shirts will increase your overhead costs, but men’s shirts are not the “standard” or “one shape fits all”. They’re shirts that were cut for dudes. And that’s cool, but if you have ladies at your con and you’d like them to wear your shirts too, then please consider bringing some non-AA women’s sizes to your booth this year.

The Value of Playing for (No) Fun
Jan26

The Value of Playing for (No) Fun

Allow me to share a conversation that I had repeatedly over the past week.

Me: Oh my god I hate this Hexcells game so much it’s making me angry.
Him: Um, you should stop playing it then.
Me: I can’t do that! I’m almost finished.

Hexcells is essentially a fiendish update to the classic game Minesweeper, with more advanced ways of letting you know where the bombs are located and greater allowance for error. There are three games in the series: Hexcells, Hexcells Plus, and Hexcells Infinite. I found all three of them to be incredibly frustrating.

To be fair, the frustration frequently stemmed from my own abilities. Hexcells requires a spatial awareness that isn’t my strong suit, plus a good memory, plus a smidge of.. well not math exactly but more observational logic. Multiple times I found myself without an obvious next move either because of the board design or my own poor decision making, meaning that I would have to guess on a bomb location to continue. Sometimes I would confidently identify a bomb spot only to be wrong and not know where exactly I had screwed up. Occasionally I would blithely click and realize a micro-second later that I forgot to check that column over there and ugh, look before clicking Liore! On one board near the end I gave up and just started clicking around randomly, racking up a shame-inducing 15 errors before I was done. It was, at times, infuriating.

hexcells 414x500 The Value of Playing for (No) Fun

JUST STOP ALREADY

And I played through not one, not two, but three full games! What’s wrong with me?! Oddly enough, I think the sense of antagonism was a large part of what kept me going. Every time I finished a level smoothly or recleared it with zero mistakes, I felt damn good. Take that, stupid game! You thought you were so fancy with your tricky logic problems but I am a tiny god of hexagons now! Playing Hexcells often felt like a chore, but finishing it well felt proportionally fantastic.

I don’t encounter a lot of frustration in gameplay anymore in my post-raiding casual MMO schedule, but I remember the dark ages when we’d spend days and sometimes even weeks banging our heads against the same boss fight, dying over and over, trying to find the magical formula for success. (Kael’Thas, I’m looking at you.) And while there are many things about those days that I wouldn’t want to return to now, I think Hexcells was a nice reminder that the games I play don’t always have to be “fun”.

Sometimes games are difficult, and irritating, and exasperating, and while I appreciate that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea for some people pushing through that and coming out victorious on the other side makes for an entirely worthwhile gaming experience.

You Gotta Pay Somehow

In news that was somehow simultaneously both expected and unexpected, today The Elder Scrolls Online announced that they’ll be moving from a subscription payment model to buy-to-play. Subscribers will be given bonuses, but otherwise once you have the box you’re free to explore Tamriel.

The right honourable Belghast had some words to say on this topic:

And indeed, it will probably surprise no one that I totally agree. When publishers can’t guarantee a regular income, history shows that they often resort to increasingly desperate measures to extract cash from players. Or, to put it another way, if you’re not paying a subscription or making regular cash shop purchases, rest assured that the game will be shaped to make sure someone else is paying enough for the both of you. (Just ask LotRO players about the little coin symbols all over Middle Earth now.)

Take yesterday’s news about the Heroes of the Storm Founder’s Pack. For the first time ever, Blizzard is offering players a way to buy into a game’s beta. Now, Blizzard is known for having pretty technically complete betas, so I think the value of this offer is better than most. But let’s be honest — if players show that they’ll buy into a Blizzard beta for $40, the number of invites that are sent to people who opted in for free will drop dramatically. If this Founder’s Pack goes well, we’ll almost certainly see a buy-to-beta (or alpha) plan for Overwatch or whatever it ends up being called. And man, Blizzard would be fools to walk away from the money they’d make for a buy-to-beta plan for the next WoW expansion.

And there’s the rub: our behavior as consumers sends messages to publishers about how much we’re willing to put up with to play a game. The comedy of errors that is SoE’s buy-to-alpha packages might seem innocuous enough on their own, but who can say how much that affected Blizzard’s decision to dip their toes into the same waters?

I’m not saying that preferring B2P or F2P MMOs is always inherently bad, but it’s not like the publishers are running a charity. The loss of income from subscriptions will be forcibly made up for in other ways, and sometimes those ways will be bad news.

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