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Column: MMOG Nation

MMOG Nation Citizen Spotlight: Aggro Me

April 13, 2007 3:28 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column focuses on the blogging efforts of an EverQuest 2 player.]

Aggro MeWorld of Warcraft's MMOG-glossary lists the definition of 'Aggro' as "This means the monsters are mad at you and you've 'activated' them to attack you. They are now in the motion of trying to reach and attack you." That fairly accurately sums up the writings on the blog Aggro Me, a now mostly-retired site that focused almost solely on the EverQuest 2 title developed by Sony Online Entertainment.

While for the most part his commentary ran to the esoterica of EQ2 patch notes and a weekly humor column, he was also fairly well known for some inflamatory statements made in the heat of the blogging moment. In particular, his scathing dismissal of the Penny Arcade comic early last year garnered a lot of attention on forums around the Internet. He also vigorously decried the concept of the SOE Station Exchange when it was originally launched, and expended a good deal of effort in examining its flaws and shortcomings.

Aggro was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, and so today we have a look behind the screen at the gent who has (for good or ill) done a fair bit of aggroing of his own in the last two years. We had a chance to talk about his past with Massive games, the reason his blog has been so quiet of late, and I've got a plethora of links to some of the best content the Aggro Me site has to offer. Read on for a look at a focused blogger, who has never been afraid to let you know about that chip on his shoulder.

MMOG Nation: How Stuffed Animals and Penguins Clobber World of Warcraft

April 3, 2007 3:42 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column examines the growing influence of youth-oriented virtual worlds.]

WebkinzImagine the fun of a Massively Multiplayer world inhabited by adorable penguins, cute fuzzy animals, or some of those incomprehensibly popular Disney television characters. A disturbing, post-apocalyptic vision of future gaming? To hear veteran Massive designer Raph Koster talk at GDC earlier this month, that's not the future: it's the present. At the Massive Games: Past, Present, and Future panel held on Wednesday of GDC week, Koster spent much of his available talking time discussing the successes of quirky online games aimed at kids, like Club Penguin and WebKinz. You think World of Warcraft is America's most popular online world, right? Club Penguin averages 1.6 million unique users a month. WoW may have 3 million subscribers in the states, but how many log in each month? The online gaming world is changing, and the new thing is new people: kids.

Today I'm going to do a quick rundown on the future of the youth-oriented Massive game. While subscription-based fantasy titles certainly have all the headlines, non-traditional games are quietly taking over the world. The increasing popularity of these titles raises a number of contradictory issues, and I certainly don't have any easy answers. Today we'll discuss a little bit about the business aspect of the market, some of the social issues these games raise, and what these titles mean for future entries into the Massive genre. Make sure to grab your fuzzy pet on the way out the door.

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on Van Hemlock

March 13, 2007 11:31 AM |

['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 behind the scenes at the MMOG blog Van Hemlock.]

Van HemlockSelf-styled as a 'virtual monster hunter', the author behind the site Van Hemlock offers up a regular dose of simple, honest game criticism. Other sites might see posts go up more often, but when Hemlock speaks it's almost always a good idea to listen. This wandering gamer has been posting for a little over two years now, and in that time has weighed on on everything from World of Warcraft to the depths of Eve Online's space.

Speaking directly and with little pretension, it's helpful to use Hemlock as a measuring stick for the interestingness of a game; if he doesn't have much to say on a particular title, odds are good there just isn't much there worth talking about. Hemlock was kind enough to sit down for a virtual chat, and I have some links to pass out touching on the major themes of his site. Read on for a look behind the scenes with this well-read and highly observant blogger.

MMOG Nation: Why Ebay Is Small Potatoes and Money Ruins Everything

February 8, 2007 3:41 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column rants about the SOE White Paper, RMT, and the future of real money in virtual worlds.]

World of Warcraft Auction HouseAt the end of last month, eBay confirmed that they intend to pull every auction for 'virtual artifacts' from their site. From WoW gold to Neopoints, Real Money Transfer (RMT) fans will have to look elsewhere for their goodies. While initially I found this a fascinating move, after having it pointed out to me that eBay has threatened this before (many times before, in fact) I had to re-evaluate. Worldwide, RMT is a multimillion (billion?) dollar business now. The success of World of Warcraft has made companies like IGE buckets of profit, while outfits like Second Life and Entropia are drawing the attention of non-gamers to the possibilities of virtual currency. The last time eBay threatened this, there hadn't been serious discussions of taxing your virtual property put forward by the U.S. government, and Sony Online wasn't running its own virtual sales service. With new information on SOE's business now out in the open, it's easy to see that the very few auctions processed by Ebay are chump change compared to organized, RMT-specific services.

So what? Well, the success of IGE and the Station Exchange will mean big changes for Massive games in the future. Like it or not RMT is so phenomenally profitable that increasingly, companies will be unable to ignore it as a component in their game design. Whether this results in designers intentionally making games dull or relying on RMT to make games grippy, things are going to have to change. Today I'll be mulling over the data from the Station Exchange white paper and theorizing on some ways the monetizing of play will change the next generation of Massive games.

MMOG Nation: If It's January It Must Be Time To Burn The Crusade

January 20, 2007 5:09 AM |

Box!['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column looks back and forward via the lens of World of Warcraft's new Burning Crusade expansion. Why aren't you playing right now?]

Since its 2004 release, World of Warcraft (WoW) has been the MMOG. Everyone either wants to play it, is playing it, or has played it. At this point, for good or for ill, WoW is the Massive gaming standard against which all other titles are measured. Last year marked the game's second anniversary, and Blizzard has marked the occasion by finally releasing the much-anticipated Burning Crusade (BC) expansion.

It raises the level cap from 60 to 70, and introduces an entire new extra-Azerothian realm which players can now sink their content-starved teeth into. 'The Outlands' not only expands the surface area of the game (by some 15-20 percent), it introduces hundreds upon hundreds of new quests, monsters, dungeons ... and all of it was unleashed on the world this past Tuesday.

Today I'm going to take a brief look at what this launch means for the game, and for Blizzard. I'm going to look at some reactions to the launch, and I'm going to look ahead a bit to theorize on what the future might hold for the 8 Million strong Massively Multiplayer Monster. I know this is kind of light material, but hey ... I've got to ding 62.

MMOG Nation: 2006 In Retrospect

January 12, 2007 5:04 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column looks back at 2006, and tries to give out credit and blame in equal measure.]

TrophyDespite 2006's expiration date already having past, it's the solemn duty of anyone with a column to reflect on what has come before. It's vitally important that we remember the best and worst moments of the previous year, so that when people screw up this year we can say we saw it coming. This year, of all years, it's even more important that we keep the past in mind. All three 'next-gen' consoles are now on the market, pundits are shouting from the rooftops about the 'revitalization' of PC Gaming, and there are at least two or three AAA Massive titles likely to be launched this year. At the end of this year, we'll be able to look back with 20/20 hindsight on what is sure to be a unique span of time in Massive Gaming. In the meantime, we can take that same look back on a year that ... well, wasn't that unique. Nothing huge launched, nothing big went under, and the only industry-shaking news was the 'death' of E3, something talked about at great length in many corners of the internet already. Just the same, there were some good times and some bad times this year that are worth noting. Read on for a listing of the tin badges I picked up at the corner store: the 2006 MMOG Nation awards.

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on The Cesspit

December 29, 2006 8:01 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column highlights the ongoing MMOG-related game design conversation happening at The Cesspit.]

The CesspitSo far, in the 'Citizen Spotlight' series I've interviewed two highly cogent World of Warcraft players and an astute news blogger. There's something about being a veteran of Massive games, though, that brings out the designer in everyone. Perhaps it's because of the very personal nature that players have with game worlds; it's hard not to have opinions on, say, a combat system after you've been intimately familiar for years at a stretch.

Likewise, the scope of a Massive game makes it hard for any one person to have a monopoly on understanding everything. These elements combine to make long-time players some of the most vocal 'backseat designers' in gaming. While there's no comparison to years of experience on the job, actually making games, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Rarely are game design related-opinions stated so forcefully as they are on the site simply named The Cesspit. Written by the blogger named Abalieno, the posts to the Cesspit site tackle all aspects of Massive game design. From the very high-level (“How to design a Fallout MMO game”) to the most specific of gripes (“I design a competent LFG tool”), the ideas coming from the Cesspit are always thought-provoking. He is a self-described logorrheic, and the few interview questions I shot Abalieno via email generated over 5,000 words in response.

I've edited down his responses to capture the core ideas, and have gone back through the last year of Cesspit posts to offer up the blog entries I found the most interesting. This was a challenge, as nearly every entry Abalieno offers up has some chewy thoughts at its center. Read on, and learn a little bit about what keeps the Cesspit in the RSS readers of enthusiastic gamers and veteran designers alike.

MMOG Nation: How They Are Going To Screw Up Firefly

December 15, 2006 7:07 AM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column tries to throw some cold water on the Browncoats reveling in the news of a Firefly MMOG.]

FireflyI'm sure I'm not the only person who was excited by last week's announcement that the tools-maker Multiverse is going to be tackling the Firefly license, and making a Massively Multiplayer game. In fact, I know I'm not. You may have already seen Kwip's 'blue-sky' musings on just such a title as recently as last month. He tells you what he'd like to see, and the reaction from the MMORPG.com boards tells you that there's a lot of interest in the project.

Well, much as it may seem differently from recent articles, I'm not one to see a good thing and embrace it wholly. In fact, I'm a pretty bitter, cynical guy when it comes to these things. To put it thusly: the Firefly MMOG is going to suck. It's going to suck hard, on toast, and leave the hearts and minds of thousands of Browncoats lying trampled, again, in the dirt. I'll tell you up front, I hope I'm wrong. I hope that, a few years from now, you and I are doing our level best to make a dishonest living on the edge of civilized space ... and having a great time doing it. Somehow, though, I don't think that's what will happen. Read on for all the reasons why this bird just won't fly.

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on Tobold's MMORPG Blog

December 8, 2006 1:21 AM |

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column shines a spotlight on the prolific poster at Tobold's MMORPG Blog.]

ToboldThere are bloggers ... and then there are bloggers. Tobold, of Tobold's MMORPG Blog, is witty, intelligent, and shockingly prolific. He's been playing World of Warcraft (WoW) since the game released in the EU, and by now he's commented on almost every aspect of the game you can imagine. Raiding, Guilds, DKP, class balance, economics ... he's interested in everything, and by proxy manages to make even the driest class-related issues seem interesting.

Today I have for you an aeration of the Tobold Blog. I've gone through, stirred up the soil, and have for you today just a small portion of the peaty goodness that this particular site has to offer. Tobold was also kind enough to answer an emailed set of interview questions, and he offers us an insight into the mind that drives his implacable blogging machine. Read on for a look at a blog, a blogger, and World of Warcraft's most readable player.

MMOG Nation: The Future of Ryzom

November 30, 2006 4:02 PM |

['MMOG Nation' is (trying to be) a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the recent announcement of Nevrax's receivership, and the possibility of an open source MMOG.]

RyzomYou may have heard of the game Ryzom before, but it was probably just in passing. Primarily popular in its home nation of France, the unique fantasy game never really caught on in the U.S. or other traditional MMOG markets because it's just ... so French.

People who pay attention to the Massive genre will most likely have heard of Ryzom because of the recent Ryzom Ring expansion. For the first time, developers invited players behind the desk, and gave them the tools to make their own adventures within the context of the game. It was a great idea, and drew a lot of attention.

Apparently, though, that attention was too little too late. The game's developer, Nevrax, is now in receivership, and the future of the game is in doubt. While the press release mentioned 'another company' that could take on the task of running the game, there's a much more intriguing possibility in the works. The Free Ryzom Campaign has undertaken an almost unimaginable task: They're going to try to buy the game and give it to the open source community. Today I'm going to talk a little bit about the project, explore the possibilities of what they're proposing, and ponder what this could mean for the future of Massive gaming.