Over the weekend there was a beta stress test for an MMO. This MMO takes place in space. People who participated in this beta are not allowed to discuss what they saw under pain of not being invited to any more betas, and also the taint of being unprofessional.
I myself have nothing against a bit of professionalism, even in the more laid back world of blogging. Sometimes, though, I bet someone participates in a beta and finds the whole experience quite good and something they would recommend to friends, except there is one aspect that is so overwhelmingly terrible that it is hard to ignore.
Way back in February I wrote a post titled “Not Feelin’ the WildStar Character Models”. While many months have passed since that post was published (and a lot of people have disagreed with me since then), everything I have recently seen of WildStar has just furthered my concern, particularly with the lady characters.
See that bunnygirl? That’s one of the official shots of the Aurin, a race of animal people who love nature. Notice how she has a big bust, an irrationally tiny waist, and big hips (and one can assume a booty to match). Also notice how her neck is really really long, which is unrealistic but a legit stylistic choice.
So a bunnygirl race is pretty silly, but diversity and choice are good and that includes having a sex bomb option, right? But what if… the women of every race had the same proportions? What if the zombie ladies, and the robot ladies, and the rock ladies all also had the exaggerated hourglass figure and really long neck? And what if the female version of every single race waggled her butt while she ran? Why, that wouldn’t be very much diversity at all, would it?
I got a bit of pushback about the idea of similar character shapes when I wrote that post back in February, so let me give an example from a game that I am sure most of us have played at some point: WoW.
This cute lil’ gnome has a bust-line but is pretty boxy around the waist and has straight hips.
This pandaren lady has larger hips and a larger bottom, as well as being stockier overall than the gnome.
This draenei lady has a much larger bust than the other two, proportionally.
A game that seems quite good in both mechanics and lore is a pretty special thing, but that specialness would be severely impacted for me if I had no option but to play a sex bomb lady with a tiny waist who waggles when she runs. Playing such a game might feel as though little thought was put into the character models themselves, even if they have a neat backstory or environment. It certainly might feel as though the game devs had never even considered the lack of diversity in female models.
Those are the kinds of thoughts someone might have after playing a game in beta this past weekend, and I bet they would want to talk about it and maybe even spread the word that this game is really fun but could be a lot more appealing if the models were tweaked before launch.
When Chris Metzen said at Blizzcon that Aggra, Thrall’s space-wife and baby momma, would not be going to Draenor because “that honeymoon is over, it’s more of a boy’s trip,” you could almost hear the cries of thousands of women players shouting “WHAT?”.
I was discussing that comment over some beers yesterday and my drinking companion noted that Azeroth and other WoW worlds are very good at making mothers disappear after they produce an heir or two. Admittedly my knowledge of WoW lore is pretty superficial, coming entirely from WoW itself and none of the books or whatnot, but I suspect that’s the case for the majority of players.
For example, who is Anduin Wrynn’s mother? Amusingly enough, WoWWiki describes him as “the son of King Varian Wrynn” alone, as though he leaped fully formed from Varian’s brain like Athena. In fact Anduin’s mother is someone named Tiffin, who I have never heard of before now, and she died a long time ago.
So who is Arthas’ mother? We know that his father is King Terenas — he was in both the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic and made a special appearance in the final Lich King battle. Looking at WoWWiki again, apparently his mother was someone named Lianne and “her fate remains unknown”. Okay then.
(It’s notable that Arthas has a sister, named Calia, and her fate is also unknown! Apparently the Menethil family has a problem with misplacing its female members…?)
Who is Moira Bronzebeard’s mother? As far as I can tell she didn’t even die, she just never existed.
Finally, who is Thrall’s mother? Surprise, while Draka is the one mother I had even heard of before, she too died suddenly and tragically at a young age.
So as I see it, aside from Aggra we have two living mothers in WoW. One is Moira Thaurissan, who was either mind controlled into having a Dark Iron Dwarf baby or just kind of a bad person who abandoned her family for an evil dwarf lover. The other is… Onyxia. And we kill her in part for trying to protect her whelp babies.
So what’s the deal with mothers, you guys? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because the Blizzard people are running with the trope of mothers being killjoys. (That is also the reason that often the mom is dead in movies where kids go on epic journeys.) “Thrall, you can’t go master lightning powers until you finish your vegetables.” “Arthas, if you’re going to try and conquer the world from an icy tower at least wear a scarf.”
It’s a pretty limited view of the role a mother can play. The Game of Thrones series has something of a similar faux historical context (battling kingdoms, sword fights, moderate technology) and Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark are forces of nature in their own ways, both supporting their children and fighting their own fights.
Adding Aggra to the pantheon of Warcraft women who are merely baby incubators and toddler nannies (bets on her dying suddenly and tragically?) is not only frustrating, it’s just bad storytelling.
The Extra Life Marathon is over for another year, and it was great fun for a great cause! Myself and Ellyndrial seemed to handily stay up for the full 25 hours, particularly with the support of friends and guildies who kept us company on Mumble, in games, and in Twitch chat. I also gave out a whole bunch of games for Steam and Origin, which is always really fun for both me and the winners.
As for the highlights of the 25 hours of gaming, top of the list has to be Magica. I don’t even own the game, but it was free on Steam for the weekend and so a bunch of us figured we would give it a shot. It’s a little too twitchy for me to play on a permanent basis, but it was still a lot of fun and the action helped keep me awake.
If nothing else Magica has friendly fire and some amazing ways to “accidentally” explode your team mates, something which I always enjoy. I described the game later as “Diablo meets Typing of the Dead” which is somewhat accurate: there’s lots of click-to-move and strings of letters representing elements that combine to create complicated spells.
I also dropped $4 on arenas in Hearthstone at like 4am, which while fun was probably not the smartest investment. I am terrible at arenas while wide-awake and fully functional! I did get to play a ridiculously amusing combo of Ragnaros followed by Mind Control on the high value minion my opponent played to counter, but my best arena record remains 2-3. Yes, I really am that bad but I enjoy playing a lot (which is what counts) and I figure practice makes perfect.
Also you know you play too much Hearthstone when…. the Pandaria loading screen in WoW makes you automatically think “Mogu’shan Warden, 1/7, substandard taunt card.”.
Anyway, thanks to everyone who donated and who participated during the marathon in Twitch or Twitter. Overall the Extra Life folks raised over 3.8 million dollars for the Children’s Miracle Network, which is pretty great. I am already in for next year!
Hey, look over to the right. See that Extra Life donation bar? Gooooooooooooooooooal!
Yesterday I hit my fundraising target! Many many thanks to everyone who donated. Between myself and Ellyndrial, reppin’ as Team Totally Legit Publishing, we raised almost $1000 for the Children’s Hospitals of BC and Oakland. It is downright heartwarming.
To celebrate all this philanthropic joy, during Saturday’s 25 hour gaming marathon I have 25 games to give away! They include the following:
- Crysis 2
- Dead Space 3
- Medal of Honor
- Mirror’s Edge
- Command & Conquor: Red Alert 3
- The Sims 3
- Metro 2033
- Saints Row: The Third
- Titan Quest
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
- Assassin’s Creed 3
- Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery
- Dungeon Defenders + all DLC
- Beat Hazard
- Super Hexagon
- Battlefield 3
- Awesomenauts (+ Cluck Costume)
- English Country Tune
- Thomas Was Alone
- Little Inferno
- Dead Space
- Burnout Paradise: Ultimate Box
(Eagle eyes might notice that yes, I do buy extra copies of good Humble Bundles.)
I’m gonna give some games away over Twitter and some in the Twitch chat. I’ll be streaming all 25 hours, and if you have the time do stop by to make sure I’m still awake. The fun starts at 9am PST on Saturday morning.
And thanks, you guys, for being awesome. :)
I will end off this post with an amazing thing sent to me by Jonas of Foxy Gamer. It’s totally my new desktop, picturing Liore, smasher of things and hero to cats:
No matter what you’re up to this weekend, have a good one!
Hi! Did you know that the Extra Life Gaming Marathon for Children’s Miracle Hospitals is on November 2nd? And that I’m gonna do 24 hours of gaming again this year, even though it almost broke me last year? Every dollar counts for the kids, so if you’re able to donate I hope you’ll consider it. And if you’re not able to donate, you can help by spreading the word! (And huge thanks to those who have already donated.)
Need some more encouragement? I wanted to play with video editing, so over the weekend I made this 90 second pitch video.
On the most recent episode of the podcast Ellydrial and I had a fun talk with Syl about free-to-play, with me being the grump as usual and Syl being much more open to the idea. Our conversation inspired an interesting post by Belghast about his own slowly warming feelings towards F2P.
There was one point in all this that both mentioned: free-to-play is saving games. It seemed an interesting topic for a post about because I think it gets to the heart of why my first reaction is to dislike the model. I don’t know if I believe that free-to-play saves games. In fact, I’m not sure the games needed saving at all.
I’m sure some did, of course! It’s unfortunate that MMO companies in particular are so cagey about subscriber numbers and hard data is tough to find, but I’m certain that some games were in a do-or-die financial situation. I’m just not sure that it had to be the case. Plenty of companies are making the switch to F2P not so they can go from no money to profitable, but so they can go from profitable to very profitable. That is what companies are designed to do.
And where does this extra profit come from? Not from me! I’ve bought a minuscule amount of stuff from in-game cash shops. And perhaps not from most of my friends, who at least profess to spend very little money on virtual frills. But still SWTOR’s monthly revenue has doubled since going F2P even though the number of subscriptions has held firm. Clearly someone is buying all that cash store stuff.
Perhaps this person is a well-adjusted individual with a great job who refuses to spend a moment leveling without XP buffs. Or, historically more likely, they’re someone understandably tempted by the millions of dollars and hundreds of brilliant minds put to work to lure us into microtransactions.
They like the gambling element of in-game raffle tickets or they’re swayed by all the “buy credits and be awesome” advertising or they see “so-and-so found treasure in a lockbox” announcements every 5 minutes. Or they get frustrated by the super-slow leveling speed or being behind in power-ups. The game publisher NEEDS to keep the pressure on because the whole model depends on Player Over There paying for the rest of us.
It is entirely possible to run a non-exploitative F2P model, or at least minimally exploitative. I’m sure some games are doing it right now. But it’s certainly not in the company’s best interest to do so and it’s my fundamental nature to expect the worst when profit is on the line. I may not be funding my F2P game experience through the cash shop, but I know that someone else most certainly is.
I don’t trust EA or Activision or even NCSoft, and I don’t like giving them any additional power to muck up my game experience with micro-transactions. I much prefer the straight-forward, non-tricksy contract of “I give you $15, you give me 1 month of game”.
However, this seems like a pretty personal small-p-political stance. Although I might worry about Syl and Belghast’s relative good faith in the intentions of MMO publishers, it’s just a small difference in philosophy and at the end of the day all three are united in the same goal of happy games with happy communities.