“Because Money, That’s Why”

Last week I wrote about my disappointment over the initial Wildstar character options and their overuse of broad-chested guys and big-chested ladies (and ladybots). Someone suggested to me via Twitter that the reason we constantly see “hot chicks and cool dudes” as character models is that they’re the most economically successful choices. We, the gaming public, like to be sexy and cool in our video games.

No slight to the fellow on Twitter, but man, as a whole I’m starting to make a face whenever a current game development habit is defended purely for being the profitable option.

First, that response neatly removes all responsibility from the marketplace and places it all on the player. If we’re overwhelmingly offered the option to play generically sexy humanoids, to use an example from the Wildstar post, is it really surprising that people overwhelmingly play generically sexy humanoids? And what about marketing? Player preferences certainly seem less organic and democratic when you consider that close to a billion dollars* is spent each year by the game industry in the hopes of influencing our playtime decisions.

In fact, while games featuring only male protagonists sell 25% better than games with both male and female character options, on average the latter game will get a smaller marketing budget. Apparently having a female protagonist in an action game is “tough to justify”, but is this the will of the people, or a self-fufilling prophecy?

I also have concerns about money being a grand arbiter of game development and publishing because it seems like a slippery slope that historically we are not good at avoiding. Bioshock Infinite is downplaying both the character of Elizabeth and its unique retro steampunk vibe in its advertising to appeal more to the “frat boys” because that’s where the big money is apparently, and while on its surface that might not seem so bad it also seems to set a boundless precident.

When the driving question is “what will appeal to a larger market”, the answer can almost never end. What if the Bioshock Infinite folks took out a bit of story in the middle and put in another shooting level? What if they put Elizabeth in a bikini on the front cover? No wait, what if they got rid of Elizabeth completely and instead gave lead character Booker a posse of wise-cracking white dudes with big guns? Hey, the market gets what it wants, baby!

And exactly how small does a gamer market segment have to be to not earn the attention of developers and publishers, anyway? Perhaps generically pretty character models do statistically attract the most players, but at the same time approximately 32% of Guild Wars 2 characters are the tiny dog-faced Asura or weird giant cat Charr. Shortly after it launched, roughly 21% of WoW players played a decidedly unsexy gnome. Heck, Star Wars Galaxies had one human option and a bunch of weirdass aliens and it still hit 200k subscribers at its peak, which is not an amazing number but certainly not peanuts for 2004.

Developers and publishers can probably wring the most profit out of their game by avoiding innovation. So what? Once you factor in things like the industry’s own marketing efforts, the (lack of) availability of alternative options, and fact that games that offer something different have an existing audience and receive higher critical scores.. well, I don’t think “because money, that’s why” is a reasonable argument.

 

* That’s an estimate based on the fact that game marketers spent 824 million in 2008, the only hard number I could find.

Abridged Version of the Playstation 4 Announcement

I’m not much of a console person, but I watched a good bit of Sony’s Playstation 4 presentation on Wednesday because.. well, it was there. And I get really bored at work sometimes, okay?

Anyway, I probably should have waited because this 3 minute abridged version by “VideoGamerTV” is amazing and way more entertaining than the real thing. Enjoy the video, and have a great weekend!

Confessions of an MMO Anarchist, or why chaos is better than order in online societies

In a post from last Friday Mr. ThatAngryDwarf wrote about a conversation he had with myself and Arolaide on the Zombie Invasion in World of Warcraft. In his post he good-naturedly called me an MMO Anarchist, and after some consideration I think he’s right. In fact while reading his post I was somewhat struck by how my very strong “small-p-political” beliefs in social democracy and the common good often go right out the window as an MMO player. So what’s the deal, me?

One of the reasons I have gravitated to the MMO genre is because I find people to be fascinating. I’m endlessly interested in how social structures are formed in new games, or even just how two players will react to the same situation in totally different ways. Game mechanics are important, and certainly I’d be hard-pressed to keep playing a game with miserable mechanics, but it’s people interacting with each other that creates the real long term content.

This probably isn’t a very contentious line of thought until one starts to consider trolls and griefers. If MMOs ideally let people interact with each other freely, won’t some players be caught in the crossfire? Lowbies will be corpse camped to frustration, questers will be deterred from completing tasks by zombified players, someone will zip in and nab the resource node that you quite obviously wanted. These unpleasant events are not something I enjoy being a victim of and certainly not something I try to do myself, so surely I must be in favor of removing them through moderation or a change in mechanics? My answer is: no way, man!

Giving people the freedom to be kind or mean or greedy or charitable is how, in my opinion, great content is made. People, in all their chaotic glory, are the best content of all.

Don’t believe me? Look at some of the more memorable stories to come out of multiplayer games! There was the guy whose character was “kidnapped” in DayZ by a gang of armed bandits. I still remember the name of Biny, the gnome who infamously blew up a packed auction house in Ironforge with raid boss Baron Geddon’s Living Bomb debuff. There’s Fansy the Famous Bard who brought the fight to the “evil” guys on Everquest’s Sullon Zek server, or the guy who killed Lord British in Ultima Online, or pretty much every great story you’ve ever heard about EvE Online.

Every last one of these events is technically griefing. The culprits all interrupted people’s gameplay without their permission. Events like these are also part of the reason I started playing MMOs in the first place. Bollocks to a world and its players that always follows the rules — chaos can make things pretty exciting.

(I should mention that my appreciation of chaos goes exactly as far as the borders of a game. The minute the real world gets involved, whether it’s using slurs or divulging someone’s personal information or threatening to confront a player in person or whatever crazy thing, I’m back to being a fan of the hard line.)

MMOs are too static as it is, with worlds that remain basically the same for years between expansions. Giving players the freedom to be honest and terrible and surprising and delightful … that’s the real dynamic content of a virtual world.

Not Feelin’ the Wildstar Character Options
Feb19

Not Feelin’ the Wildstar Character Options

Wildstar has gotten a lot of press lately, and while I’m keeping an eye on the game there’s a lot that puts me off it too. One of the biggest concerns I have is about the character models we’ve seen so far. They’re just.. not.. interesting. Take a look:

Humans
Pretty standard. Chick, broad-chested dude. I never play humans in MMOs.. they just seem too mundane given the option of creatures and elves and things.
humans 500x356 Not Feelin the Wildstar Character Options

Granok
Eh, the stone lady is okay. Also, another broad-chested dude.
granok 500x356 Not Feelin the Wildstar Character Options

Aurin
Ah ha haha. Playboy Bunny. Broad-chested rabbit dude. This is the class your little brother will play.
aurin 500x356 Not Feelin the Wildstar Character Options

Cassian
Look, I will give Wildstar credit where it’s due — this woman looks like she’s ready to kick some ass. Also, older broad-chested dude with an enormous glass of wine!
cassian 500x356 Not Feelin the Wildstar Character Options

Drakin
Oh THERE’S the bikini plate. The demon guy is clearly Wildstar’s answer to WoW’s trolls. $10 says he talks with a weird accent.
drakin 500x356 Not Feelin the Wildstar Character Options

Mechari
So to be fair it’s from pre-game art but seriously. For what possible reason does this robot have giant metal robot boobs? I just.. I don’t.. I don’t understand. Anyway, last but not least we have a broad-chested robot.
mechari 500x356 Not Feelin the Wildstar Character Options

There are two races yet to be announced, so this is all still up in the air, but at this point I’m not really interested in what I see. All the models have really similar silhouettes, and at least in these examples virtually all of the organic characters are white. Otherwise, there are only minor differences: It’s humans, but with bunny ears! No, humans as robots! No, humans as.. evil humans!

I wanna get excited about Wildstar because I like being part of a good old fashioned groundswell, but so far the character models just aren’t helping.

(Thanks to Teerack of the Something Awful forum for putting these images together.)

Six Tips for Starting F2P TERA
Feb14

Six Tips for Starting F2P TERA

So why have I been playing TERA lately? It’s free, and kinda weird, and my elf is pretty. I guess I’m fairly easy to please, at least for a little while. As the latest AAA title to go free-to-play, TERA has seen a resurgence in the past couple of weeks. Want to check it out yourself? The following tips might help.

2013 02 11 14 00 30 TERA 500x290 Six Tips for Starting F2P TERA

TERA’s payment model is surprisingly playable. All content is free without restrictions, and the game never nags you about buying things. The new cash shop has the usual features for sale like extra bag slots and appearance changes, along with fancy costumes and weapon skins. “Founders”, or folks who paid money for the game previously, get to queue skip on busy servers.

Lost and confused? The quest log holds many answers. If you’re looking for a certain mob for a quest or an NPC, open your quest log (“L”) and click on any of the blue links in the description. You should see symbols pop up on your map telling you where to go.

You can also check the log to see where you are in a quest chain: future quests will be marked with “Not Yet Unlocked”, and clicking on them will show their pre-requisite quest.

2013 02 11 14 06 28 TERA 300x161 Six Tips for Starting F2P TERA

TERA Quest Log

Turn off Area chat. (Global chat is generally more reasonable.) Man, okay, so I know you have seen some version of this tip for just about every multiplayer online game ever, but I have never quite so sincerely meant it. If you want to know what you’d be missing, I have a summary below.

lOrd.420: I’m 14 and I learned how to swear damn hell shit bollocks
Juicer: I WILL FIGHT YOU IRL BRO DO YOU EVEN LIFT?
NiceGuy: um, it’s ephebophile, please

I am not even kidding. Save yourself, leave area chat. This brings us to…

Problematic shit! TERA’s got it. To be fair as Talarian pointed out in comments here the other day there are also hyper-sexualized male characters who are not traditional power fantasies.. although they have those, too. Basically while there is a wardrobe system that allows you to eventually attain some degree of pants, if you play TERA you have to be prepared for all the ladies to fight in heels and ride side-saddle. If that’s not your bag, I certainly understand.

2013 02 11 14 04 46 TERA Six Tips for Starting F2P TERA

creepy mobs!

Level 11 is a good level. At level 11 you can take a pegasus to the first major city. If you follow the breadcrumb quests from Newbie Island you’ll then get a free fast horse mount, and you can start learning professions from trainers. (Although you can begin harvesting almost immediately at level 1, and you get XP for it too.)

The mailbox is a dude. For some reason both sending and receiving mail is done through Banker characters, who have a little key symbol on your map. Talk to him and select the “Parcel Post” option.

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