Women in a Virtual World: a failed PAX panel postmortem

I didn’t mention it here at the time because I didn’t want to jinx it, but I submitted a PAX panel this year titled “Women in a Virtual World: How Gender Roles Affect Your Elf”. We didn’t get the panel, as it turns out, which I found really disappointing but .. well, life is like that sometimes I guess. (It might not be too surprising that my post “My Hobby is Stupid and So Am I” was written the day I got the rejection letter.)

The panel was oriented towards an audience of women. Men were certainly welcome to attend but it was women, I think, that would have gotten the most out of it. In fact, my goal with the panel was to not talk about men at all either as allies or potential agents of patriarchy, and the panel description opened with the lines, “It’s not about the men!” which I guess in retrospect was perhaps threatening. The idea was for women to talk about how external social issues (often that we put on ourselves) can creep into our virtual worlds, and how to deal with it. I basically wanted to make women feel good about playing MMORPGs.

To that end, I planned on talking about leading a hardcore raid guild. When I initially filled that role I found it challenging to not fall in to “girlfriend” or “mom” patterns because those were what I was familiar with going into the game. I’m a woman! I’m nuturing and supportive and oh my god if you stand in that fire one more time I am going to remove you from the raid. Women are not traditionally groomed by society for the “Dear Leader” role, so it was a challenge for me to figure out what I wanted it to mean.

I think our panel probably lacked game “celebrity” firepower compared to many of the entries, but I couldn’t ask for two better co-panelists. I have to give mad public props to the tireless Apple Cider and the fierce Arolaide for agreeing to my wacky scheme in the first place. In my initial vision Apple Cider was going to talk about “sassy plate” and how external forces can make women feel bad about how they dress their elf. Arolaide was going to take on “momgaming”, and the general societal expectation that once a woman has a child she is no longer entitled to her own hobbies because she is a mombot.

Like I said, the idea was to talk about things that can make women feel bad about playing MMOs, and simultaneously commiserate and discuss ways to handle it. I thought it was unique because it was addressing a female audience and was approaching things from a positive perspective rather than a negative one. (The latter is covered quite nicely by the usual “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” panel.)

So yeah, I was pretty bummed when we didn’t get it, but okay. I mean, I didn’t see the other submissions, and maybe ours just wasn’t right. C’est la vie.

But then I see this morning on Twitter that one of the accepted panels is about how to handle “wife aggro” (seriously, that’s in the title), and now I just feel kind of deflated. Wife aggro. Wife. Aggro. Not spouse aggro, but wife, because obviously gamers are all men (or in a same sex relationship but I suspect that’s not what Mr. Panelist had in mind) and women just don’t get it, amirite? Arolaide has already done a way better write up of why this is so irritating than I can, so go read it.

So, like, PAX dudes, you don’t have to take our panel about sisters doin’ it for themselves in MMOs, but could you at least not accept panels where women are othered right from the first five words? Sigh.

Pondering the Future of Appointment Gaming

For a long while after quitting WoW I laboured under the impression that if the Cats were to find a magical One True Game again, we’d all fall back into cooperative group gaming. In my mind this would be raiding, because that’s what I have experience with, but really any kind of group activity would count. What I realized lately, though, is that I’m probably one of the very few people who actually want this again. For the most part, my guildies and friends appear to be tired of what I call Appointment Gaming.

Perhaps it’s getting older, or burning out on MMOs, or just being bored from years of WoW, but whatever the reason most people think in the abstract that they want organized cooperative gaming, but when faced with the actuality of having to be online at a certain time every week they blanche. And while I am kind of ribbing those folks here, I don’t blame them for not being as in to Appointment Gaming now as they once were. Things change, and arguably judging by guildies, friends, game statistics, and fellow bloggers, this change is affecting the majority of MMO players.

However, if in general the MMO community is moving away from Appoinment Gaming, where does this leave guilds? The problem is that people still want socializing and cooperative group activities, but they want it on their schedule and they don’t want activities that require work outside of the activity itself (ie. gear grinding). To have this happen spontaneously, you need a certain number of people online at any given time. You need people to chat with, and people to form groups with, whether it’s for a dungeon or a PvP encounter or whatever.

A guild is going to need a LOT of people to keep this critical mass of folks online who are ready to group at any moment. Back in our 25-man raiding heyday you could find roughly 10 people on during non-raid prime time, and that required about 75 players. And that was when our recruitment was oriented around raiding — it’s a lot more difficult to recruit people with a platform of “we just, like, hang out sometimes and stuff” despite the fact that most people are just looking to hang out sometimes and stuff.

I dunno — it seems to me that non-appointment gaming doesn’t suit the small guild model. It’s hard to recruit for a guild with no organized events, it’s hard to have enough people online waiting to fill a group. It would, however, perfectly suit a game with a huge playerbase, preset events that don’t require much coordination, and a lack of emphasis on guild structure.

Which, upon reflection, is I suppose why I don’t like Guild Wars 2, and others do.

Subscription Games are Not Dead Yet

EA announced earlier today that SWTOR is going free-to-play! It’s caused a lot of hand-wringing in the MMO community, with people instantly declaring this the death knell of the subscription MMO. Frankly, it’s irritating me.

Why has it seemingly been decided that yes, the payment model is the problem with modern MMOs? I don’t get it. We seem to be ignoring the other obvious options for modern MMO design flaws:

  1. Stop expecting every MMO to be a 15 million player behemoth. WoW was a fluke. Don’t give your development a budget that requires even 5 million subscribers to be a success.
  2. Stop orienting new MMOs to the most casual of casual players, because they are fickle and will just migrate to the next big thing. That’s fine with a box game, but if you want a stable, faithful community then it’s time to again acknowledge stable, faithful players.
  3. Stop just trying to make a “better WoW”. Even Guild Wars 2 just seems to have sat down and said “how can we improve on WoW?”. Like, forget WoW! Figure out what you think would be legitimately fun in an MMO, and make that.

If someone made a, say, space sandbox with a goal of having 150,000 subscribers and an active community, my money says it would be successful. The payment model is not the flaw in modern MMOs, but big distributors sure would like us to think it is.

PS: Suddenly yesterday’s podcast on the free-to-play genre seems pretty prescient!

Cat Context Episode 7: The Best Defense is a Crazy Screaming Offense

This week on Cat Context we get serious about the free-to-play model! Is it actually what we consumers want? Does free-to-play make a game more or less attractive? Can the payment model support player innovation? We also talk about our experiences as newbies in League of Legends, and of course dish a bit on some of the other games we’re playing right now.

Cat Context is the podcast by Liore and members of the Machiavellis Cat Gaming Community. We sit down every two weeks for 30 minutes to talk about what’s new in MMOs and RPGs, what we’ve been playing lately, and what embarrassing stories we can share.

Our cohosts this week are return guests Ryven and Ellyndrial. Elly was a lot less shouty than we all anticipated, and I managed to cut out most of Ryven’s dirty jokes.

Some links you might be interested in after listening:

* Mobafire, home of game-saving League of Legends character guides.
* Vicarious Existence talks about MMO failures and successes
* The Psychology of Games blog post on Microsoft Points.
* Our Twitch.TV channel
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

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(Don’t forget to leave 5 stars!)

Feelin’ Twitch.tv

Hi! This is just a short post to say that Twitch.tv is the bomb and I have been having a blast with this whole streaming video thing.

A bunch of people are trying to learn League of Legends right now, so streaming stuff (and putting it on YouTube later) is a great way to help everyone talk about strategy after a game. I stream RIFT raid stuff on Tuesdays, and it’s super fun to go back and see us kill things, and a good resource for potential new raiders.

It’s slightly weird to talk to my computer while I’m sitting by myself in a room (and not on Mumble, natch) but I’m getting more used to it. Twitch.tv also facilitates moments like this, where adorable guildie and occasional podcast cohost Mangle tries to stay alive while singing Australian folk songs in DayZ:

And with that, my friends, I am reminded of what’s so great about games and the internet: people, music, and fuckin’ zombies. Have a great weekend. :)

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