The 2010 Real ID Debacle: being right is awesome

As some of you may personally remember, back in the summer of 2010 Blizzard tried to switch their World of Warcraft forums over to a “Real ID” system, where accounts would get tied to real, actual names that we players would use as our sole identifier. There was a huge backlash that eventually derailed the plan, but as I recall a fair percentage of the media coverage didn’t see the problem with crossing the streams between players’ real life and their orc.

Take, as an example, this quotation from a pretty dumbass article in TechCrunch about the whole thing:

Do you really think [the internet] is going to get away with harassing people who post on the new forums, a common complaint I’ve seen? “Now people will annoy me in real life!” That sounds like a one-way ticket to a lawsuit, courtesy of Activision Blizzard. Just because your name is “out there” doesn’t mean people are allowed to threaten you. Surely you recognize this?

Let’s fast forward just over two years, shall we?

“In Colleen’s online fantasy world, she gets away with crude, vicious and violent comments like the ones below. Maine needs a State Senator that lives in the real world, not in Colleen’s fantasy world.”

Oh yeah, dumbass article writers, no one would ever get harassed in real life because their real name was associated with a WoW character. I bet the Blizzard Activision law team is just raring to go on this one, too.

Of course Ms. Lachowicz chose to not remain a completely anonymous player (not that that means she deserves this nonsense), but isn’t it fortunate that the rest of us weren’t forced to make the same choice? Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and occasionally extremely satisfying.

NDAs are the bane of bloggers

I love getting in beta tests for games. Certainly a lot of the appeal is just playing a game for free before anyone else (although I do try to be diligent about bug reporting), but it also inflames my blogger senses. A good or bad beta has me itching to share my thoughts, post screenshot galleries, and make walkthrough videos.

Itching to do so, that is, before I read the NDA. Oh cruel non-disclosure agreement, why do you thwart me so? It makes me crazy sometimes that I have all this neat game information and I just have to sit on it.

I understand why beta tests come with NDAs of course, although I think companies can be a bit overprotective. You don’t want half-formed features getting out into public knowledge and causing undue anxiety with potential players, or bad reviews to hit before you’ve even finished the game, or maybe you just want to closely control the Public Relations process.

And some agreements are of course better than others. I still am not legally allowed to publish screenshots from the press beta weekend for Guild Wars 2 even though the game is out now and there really haven’t been any dramatic changes to the look of the game since beta. A few months ago I was in The Secret World closed beta under the NDA stipulation that I tell no one that there even was such a thing going on (now I’ve told you all! gasp!), and yet they occasionally sent me extra keys to pass on to friends. That lead to imagining some amusing conversations: “Here, take this key.” “Oh. What’s it for?” “… I can’t say and the beta may not even exist.”

And of course last weekend I had my first look at Storm Legion, RIFT’s upcoming beta, and with the release date just slightly over a month away it’s so sad that I am legally obligated to not tell you all how awesome it was. Well, okay.. I can tell you that it was awesome, but not WHY.

In fact I spent six hours yesterday going from absolutely no knowledge of video editing to turning my 22 minutes of meandering Storm Legion footage into 10 minutes of focused commentary on the new zones and questing mechanics. Six hours (I do so love a good make-work project) and I can’t show anyone yet! Arrgh, NDA!

Like I said, I understand why beta test NDAs exist, but it would be nice to have a little more wiggle room for smaller market bloggers, podcasters, and video makers particularly when a game is six weeks away or less. Help us help you, game industry. Also, send me more beta invites. *cough*

The Cure for the 3 Month MMO Lies With Us

There’s been a lot of soul searching in blog-land lately about the rise of the “3 month MMO”, the term coined last year by Keen to indicate “disposable” MMOs where people rush in, look at the shiny, and then rush back out again. To be fair some folks aren’t interested in a more longterm experience, and this suits them just fine. For others though, and traditionally in this niche market, the “3 month MMO” trend indicates a move away from the virtual worlds and communities that were once popular.

Fortunately, I have a solution for those who are looking for one! I am going to publish it here for the world to see, free, for you all. Ready?

STEP ONE. Find an MMO that you generally enjoy.
STEP TWO. Play it for more than three months.

Thanks for stopping by to read!

… Okay so to be fair those two steps skip over a lot of nuance, but it really can be that simple. No, you don’t have to love everything about the game. You don’t have to only play that MMO and eschew all other games. You don’t have to play every day, or only raid or not raid. However: if you miss the feeling of having a longterm home in a game, the answer is to make your longterm home in a game. Seriously.

I’m absolutely not saying that developers and publishers don’t have a hand in the fracturing of MMO communities, with their absurdly high barrier for “success” and concern for dollars over gameplay. But we players have also collectively contributed to the “3 month MMO” phenomenon by perpetually looking over the horizon at what’s coming, and not enjoying what’s here. I don’t think there has ever been the selection of MMOs that we have now, and no matter what your priorities are I suspect there is a game for everyone who wants to experience being part of a community.

Three months ago I wrote about being tired of feeling virtually homeless and deciding to set down some roots in the game I found the most appealing. Other games have launched since then and I’ve played a bit of almost all of them, but I stuck with my primary game even in the early days when it felt a little weird and I worried quite a bit about what “everyone else” was doing.

The results have been awesome for me, frankly. By treating RIFT as my “home game”, I’ve developed a much fonder relationship with it and with my character. I care about Mercredi the cleric, and that caring means I can log on and fish (and chat) for an hour and feel satisfaction from otherwise technically rewardless character development. I care about the world, and am more likely to climb to the top of a mountain because it’s there. I recognize names on my server, and my friends list has been growing. A few other guildies around me who also enjoyed RIFT recognized the new sense of permanence, and came along to make their homes there too.

Now I realize that this is just an anecdote, and everyone is different, but I truly believe in this advice! Don’t worry about the next game, don’t worry about how game X is bigger than yours, or whatever.

If you feel like you’re missing permanence and community in the current MMO market, pick your current favorite MMO and play it. For most of us, it honestly is that simple.

PS: This post was inspired by a comment Shintar made on another site. Thanks, Shintar!

Cat Context Episode 11: Jaina Proudmoore Don’t Need No Man

Pandas! Pandas! PANDAS! World of Warcraft’s latest expansion launched last week so we got together and talked about the good and the bad of Mists of Pandaria, including pet battles, scenarios, and that horribly addicting farm simulator. Also in this episode we smacktalk Tides of War, the new WoW novel about Jaina Proudmoore, agree that why Torchlight II is awesome even in the formidable shadow of Diablo III, and discuss why it turns out none of us are playing Guild Wars 2.

We shook it up this week and invited non-guildies to cohost! Fortunately the awesome Apple Cider (@applecidermage) and Rhyz (@meesterchristie) were on deck to help out with the fun.

Next week we have an exciting announcement about the podcast, and some PAX SWAG GIVEAWAYS!

Some links you might be interested in after listening:

* Apple Cider’s blog on games (and gender)
* Rhyz wrote a book of robot poetry which you can find here
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years


(Don’t forget to leave 5 stars!)

Hello, Old Friend (WoW)

Earlier this week Psychochild commented on a post that WoW was for all intents and purposes my ex, and that I was “lingering on a now broken long-term relationship that still tugs at your heart.” It’s a lovely analogy, and perfectly on point for me. WoW is that ex that I’m probably better off without but I’ll always miss what we had in the good days.

That being said, I heard that my ex had come back to town promising that things would be totally different now. They’ve changed and cleaned up their act, apparently, and maybe I would, you know, just wanna meet up for coffee or something, catch up on the old times… And that’s how I found myself in Pandaria last night.

The last time I had one of these dalliances was almost a year ago, and I simply logged off one day and never really felt the urge to get back on. When I logged in again yesterday.. oof, everything is a mess. My bags were full of junk and half-finished projects, the questlog stuffed with random things. Of course all the talent trees changed as well as the way specs are managed. My UI was borked. It was a little overwhelming.

However, Blizzard has added some pretty handy features for new and returning players, like the “What’s Changed” tab in the spec window, or the explanation of core skills in the spellbook. I respecced for Shadow last night since I plan to be questing, and despite the fact that I haven’t played Shadow probably since I levelled in Cataclysm (maybe before?) I was toodling right along in no time.

I’m not sure when they changed the combat style, but Shadow is pretty fun right now. I have a set 3 spells I open with, and then it’s basically mind flaying until any of a number of lovely procs happen. Multiple procs make for some pretty impressive-feeling burst damage, and the whole thing is quite satisfying at least during the short amount of time that I played. The new talent system is slightly confusing because at least half the choices just seemed to be fun, borderline cosmetic stuff while the other half had serious impact on how I played, but at least it’s easy to set up.

Pandaria itself is beautiful. I’m only at level 85.3 or something right now, but so far despite all the positive response I’m kind of meh on the questing. I’ve already seen a number of “Kill 10 X” quests, which are just underwhelming. For now the fun of proc-based burst damage is keeping me entertained while I tear through the land, but I’m hoping it picks up a bit.

Pet battles, on the other hand, are dangerous and I’m glad that WoW isn’t my main game because I am pretty sure I’d feel obligated to grind out a perfect team. Having never played Pokemon before I was really not sure how they would add any depth to the pet combat system, but it’s a lot of mixing and matching strengths and weaknesses and searching out new strong pets. It’s also really, really fun and I’ve already spent some time this morning looking over lists of blue-quality pets that I own to figure out a team.

Outside of the new Pandaria assets, the art in WoW is really really looking old. I feel like it’s “aged” years in only months thanks to comparisons to RIFT and Guild Wars 2 and other newish titles. There are litle things I think of as staples now that I really missed last night, like a “sell all junk” button or “open all mail”. Also, as someone who hasn’t played in a while I’m not sure I like flying mounts anymore. They just feel.. awkward. Invasive? I’m not sure.

For years I played other MMOs thinking that I wasn’t playing “for real” because of WoW, so it was a weird sensation to feel the reverse. Pandaria is beautiful and I think I can see why folks have been giving it such good reviews thus far. I’m likely going to keep playing it on a casual basis until Liore hits level 90 (I’d like to try healing some of the new instances), but I’m in a relationship with Telara now. If anything, seeing my “ex” again last night just drove that point home for me, and I’m okay with that.

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