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Column: MMOG Nation

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on VirginWorlds

November 16, 2006 11:14 AM |

VirginWorlds ['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is a look at the site VirginWorlds, and the man behind the keyboard, Brent.]

The last Citizen Spotlight focused on a commentator who put his most cynical foot forward. (His left, I think.) Today, I'm going to introduce you to a gent who is more BBC commentator than Keith Olbermann. The VirginWorlds blog, podcast, and newsfeed is an all-in-one package offering MMOG fans everything they need to stay informed on the latest the genre has to offer.

I had the pleasure of talking with Brent, the one-man show behind Virginworlds. He had some very thoughtful, lengthy responses to my simple questions. This look behind the scenes is accompanied by my two-cent tour of the site. I'll highlight the best blog entries, feature commentaries, and podcasts the site has to offer, for your browsing enjoyment. Read on, and find yourself exposed to more MMOG-related edification than an average Thursday warrants.

MMOG Nation: The Legitimate MMOG

November 9, 2006 6:00 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the mainstream legitimacy, or the lack thereof, seen by the Massive genre.]

Bill Gates at Xbox 1's Times Square Launch.World of Warcraft has sold a kabillion copies. Something like 1% of America is playing it, and pretty much everyone in South Korea. Great news for the Massive industry, and even better for gaming as a whole ... but why are games still not 'legitimate'? Brian "Psychochild" Green had the chance to debate that very question last weekend at the Project Horseshoe event in Texas. His ruminations on the question prompted an interesting discussion on his site, and one of the commenters linked to a fascinating IRC chat log that explores the issue in-depth.

But, to go back to WoW, where does that leave Massive games? Does a machine that makes money hats and a South Park episode make you socially relevant? Today I'm going to talk about why I don't think Massive games are 'legitimate' in America, why that isn't as true in other parts of the world, and a little bit about what I think needs to happen in order for the Massive genre to gain relevance in American society.

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on AFK Gamer

October 24, 2006 9:05 AM |

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column focuses on a single individual in the MMOG commentary blogosphere, a 'sidebar' column called Citizen Spotlight.]

- As an alternative to my usual commentary, this week (and again in the future) I'm going to be highlighting worthy blogs that deal with Massively Multiplayer games. While even folks not overly interested in the genre may have heard of the likes of Scott 'Lum' Jennings and Raph Koster, there is an entire ecosystem of smaller sites out there well worth investigating.

Today I'm going to highlight some of the best posts from the site AFK Gamer. Foton, the anonymous blogger behind the site, is a talented writer, a funny guy, and a very jaded game hag. Read on for links to the best of AFK Gamer, a short interview with the man himself, and a very worthwhile way to waste a Tuesday.

[Click through for more.]

MMOG Nation: When Men In Tights Fight

October 5, 2006 10:34 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the brewing MMOG fight between Marvel, DC, and City of Heroes.]

Like God of War's Ares, World of Warcraft is an unmistakable figure on the horizon. The rest of the Massive industry seems, for the most part, to be milling about in an unfocused manner at the feet of this genre giant. Last week at X06 we had the first real sign that, while the market is currently disoriented, it won't always be this way. The announcement of the Marvel/Cryptic/Microsoft alliance, and the possibilities of the Marvel Universe Online (MUO), sets the stage for a very interesting niche showdown. Sometime in the next few years, we'll be seeing a three way battle over the superhero Massive market ... and it's almost certain that one of the contenders will lose. Today I'm going to discuss the three contenders in the battle, give you a sense of the odds for and against each game, and describe why I think this particular tussle is a great sign for the MMOG player.

[Click through for more.]

MMOG Nation: 'When is a Game Not A Game?'

September 29, 2006 12:12 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the "world vs. game" debate in Massive design, and how that applies to Star Wars Galaxies.]

Trials of Obi-Wan CombatA rose by any other name may not smell as sweet, but most Massively Multiplayer titles available right now are games, whether they like it or not. Spaces like Second Life aside, there are very few 'virtual worlds' out there that can legitimately claim the title. In my mind, that's a good thing; we refer to them as Massively Multiplayer Online Games, MMOGs, or MMORPGs, for a reason. The example I point to most often when discussing this topic is Sony Online's Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). I'm harsh on the game for many reasons, but at the root of the problem is the fundamental question of identity. Galaxies launched trying to be a world, when what all the people logging in were looking for was a game. Today I'm going to talk about how SWG launched differing from more game-oriented and successful MMOGs, how the recent changes to the game illustrate the need for 'gamey-ness' in a Massive space, and why the concept of a 'virtual world' is inherently flawed in the first place.

[Click through for more...]

COLUMN: MMOG Nation - 'Resurrecting EverQuest'

August 31, 2006 12:12 AM |

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the 'relaunch' of the game EverQuest.]

SS DungeonNot too long ago, my feelings about Sony Online's Everquest (EQ) were mostly frustration and disappointment. Despite its position as a genre-defining title, the release of EverQuest 2 signaled to me that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) was no longer going to be focusing on the game. My assumption was that, with a shinier and more solo-friendly big brother around that the original would fall by the wayside. After a time I even began to become frustrated by the fact that Sony kept releasing expansions for the game. I felt that they were leading EQ players on, that they were short-changing EQ2, and that they were pouring effort into a no longer relevant title. I can now say categorically that I was wrong.

I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the upcoming expansion, Serpent's Spine, with EQ Lead Designer Travis McGeathy. I've seen the light. Today I'm going to look at EverQuest's past, the reason for my reversal of opinion, and where the game is going. Finally, I'll talk about why I think the direction Everquest is headed (and the revamp of Ultima Online) signals nothing but good things for the future of Massive gaming.

(Click through to read the full column!)

MMOG Nation: The Appeal of the Unseen

August 16, 2006 4:13 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about player expectations in advance of the launch of a MMOG's launch.]

Pirate Ship Last week, I spent some quality time among my adopted people. While playing videogames may have become an accepted part of American culture in recent years, I've been doing the hard stuff (Hunt the Wumpus, table-top RPGs, even tactical wargames) for a long, long time. Indianapolis, IN was the adopted home of the nerd last week, and along with my hearty band I braved the obstacles of gamer funk and three dollar sodas for the chance to reconnect with my roots. This year, as at the last few Gen Cons, several Massive developers had their wares on display. The Burning Crusade stood cheek-to-jowl with the World of Warcraft CCG in the Upper Deck booth, while Mythic was displaying that title's illegitimate lovechild across the hall.

The MMOG I was really there to see, though, was Pirates of the Burning Sea. Pirates is an upcoming massive title that weighs more on the side of Jack Sparrow than the YoHoHo experience you're hopefully already familiar with. Once the title is out of testing, players will sail the waters of the Caribbean, accomplishing many and sundry nefarious deeds. There are three Old World nations to tweak off, a whole bunch of rum to run, and almost two dozen ships to captain. It's a yarring good time ... but it set me to thinking about the realities of a Massive game pre-launch.

With development times measured in years and half-decades instead of quarters, nothing will break your heart as badly as a crappy Massive game. Today I'm going to be talking about the inflated expectations that long MMOG development times can build, why I think Pirates has fulfilled player expectations, and what future titles can do to ensure that high hopes stay grounded in reality.

(Click through to read the full column!)

MMOG Nation: Shadow of the Drow

August 3, 2006 4:01 PM |

Box! ['MMOG Nation' is a new regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the addition of the Drow race to Dungeons and Dragons Online.]

Adding content to a Massively Multiplayer title is par for the course. Ongoing storylines, additional zones, new classes, and new gameplay elements are all standard additions to make sure users feel as though they're getting their money's worth. New character races are also a fairly common addition. They tend to coincide with expansions, and often show off new technical capabilities of the game's engine. Everquest 2 is getting the 'Fey' in its upcoming Faydark expansion, World of Warcraft is debuting two new races with the 'Burning Crusade' expansion, and even Ultima Online eventually added an additional player race to the primarily human world.

At the end of June Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) added a new player race, too, but it's not an expansion tie-in. It's a poorly thought-out freebie given to players who accrue faction with some of the in-game organizations. It's also not just a new race; it's pandering to the sordid id of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) players everywhere. The release of the Drow race ties directly into the poorly considered backstory of DDO, and is just one of many signs that Turbine just doesn't get it. Today I'm going to talk about who the Drow are, where they fit into D&D and DDO, why Turbine has squandered a great campaign setting, and why this bodes ill for the future of Massive games.

(Click through to read the full, inaugural column from Mr. Zenke!)