Monday, March 7, 2011

Conquest Tactics Blog Live

To my massive readership on this blog, I wanted to proudly and shamelessly plug my other blog, my more official blog, the Conquest Tactics Blog.  Conquest Tactics is a strategy-based collectible card game that my company Zeitgeyser LLC has developed, and we're launching a revamped blog today.  You can check it out here!

Conquest Tactics will be launching in April, with products available online and in select retail shops.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Before WoW There Was Final Fantasy X

I have a confession to make, one that may help explain my blog’s title a bit: I’m not currently playing any MMO’s, and haven’t for a while.   I’ve had neither the money nor the consistent schedule of free time to invest in something like World of Warcraft or Rift.  What I have been playing most recently is Final Fantasy X, an incredible game whose innovations were ahead of their time.  Well, not the innovations themselves, but the attitude behind the innovations.

When it came out nearly a decade ago, Final Fantasy X was met with mixed feelings for some of its departures from the franchise’s established norms.  The Active Time Battle system that had been in place for the previous six installments was replaced with a turn based system.  The franchise (and genre) precedent of a party of 3-4 characters being fixed in battle was scrapped, and characters were allowed to be swapped in and out in the middle of a battle.  These changes were lauded by most but criticized by many of the FF faithful, who argued that the changes made FFX too easy, removing the challenge posed by the ATB and party limitations. Despite the criticism and concerns of oversimplification, Final Fantasy X went on to be one of the best selling installments of the series, even becoming the first (and only) installment to get a direct sequel.

So in essence, FFX shifted directions and moved the franchise towards streamlined gameplay without the arbitrary limitations of its genre cohorts, shifting slightly away from immersion in order to deliver a consistently fun play experience.  While panned as being oversimplified, too easy and less immersive, it went on to major success.  Sounds a lot like World of Warcraft to me!

This is the kind of development attitude I’d like to see from more studios: breaking down genre precedents to streamline the parts of gameplay that matter.  And the changes don’t even have to be revolutionary genre-shattering changes.  Something as simple as equipping new gear is simpler in FFX, where you are given the option to equip something immediately after buying it, instead of having to “click” through various menus to get to your inventory.  Games are about achieving a state of Flow as often as possible and sustaining it as effectively as possible, and this kind of development attitude only gets us closer to that perfect state of fun and Flow.

PS: I hate to admit this and so will most of you, but part of FFX’s draw is also the amazing set of visual effects for actions in combat, complemented perfectly with appropriate sounds.  I know we like to think we’re above such basic sensory titillation, but FFX proves us wonderfully wrong on that one

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On the Verge of a Renaissance

I saw this article this morning, which highlights the new frontier of electronic self publishing and the potential it has for amateur authors.  Aside from getting me excited about the prospect of reviving my own literary past, this article made me realize that we are standing on a precipice in media history, with a whole new world looming down below.

Twenty years ago life was simple.  If you wanted to send a message, you sent a letter.  If you wanted to read a book you read a book. If you wanted to play a video game, you bought a cartridge or floppy disk from Babbages. Now we have more divergent options than ever, and more widely accessible tools than ever.  If you want to send a message you can Tweet, email, Facebook message, Text, BBM, Skype, or Wuphf.  If you want to read a book you can download it to your Nook, Kindle, iPad, or Browser.  Want a game?  Buy one online, download one from the cloud, buy one on your phone, or play a ton of games for free on the internet.

These new distribution options have led to a revolution in market accessibility for amateur content creators.  A few years back we saw a wave of overnight wealth generated from Facebook games and iPhone games, brought on by the complete removal of previous barriers to entry.  We’re seeing the same thing now with books through the Kindle self publishing program, and may soon see it as a result of the fantastic (and cheap) tools provided by programs like Unity.  All of a sudden, anyone with passion and talent can break into their industry of choice overnight.

What does this mean for the long term prospects of these industries? I predict that as the tools for creation become more widely accessible and as barriers to entry drop, these markets will continue to be flooded with content, both good and bad, changing the very nature of the market.  Big studios will lose ground against more agile small developers working collaboratively.  Distribution services like Steam and iTunes will thrive as consumers struggle to sort through the sea of mediocrity (and large lakes of quality content) to find the right content for them.  More importantly, the mediums will shake off their years of stagnancy and mature (and maybe we’ll finally learn how to tell a story in a video game without letting it get in the way of gameplay!).

Overall, look for a more competitive market with larger selection, greater diversity of genres, evolved design, and a healthier outlook for the future.  Prepare yourself for a renaissance!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Road Paved with Good Intentions

So I started thinking about how an MMO could increase immersion by translating heroic game acts into real world Good.  The first thought that came to mind was allowing players to choose a charity, and the more they achieve each month in game, the larger the portion of their subscription fee that goes to that charity.  It would diminish the “evil Wall Street corporation” image of the game company, do some real good in the world, and encourage players to play more and do more because they were having a positive impact through their virtual heroics. Seemed alright on the surface, so I took the thought experiment a little further.

Imagine that the charity you are playing for is fighting child hunger and poverty, and for every dungeon boss you slay and level you gain and townsperson you save, enough money is donated from your subscription fee to feed and clothe one child for a day. A new expansion has just come out so you’re playing and slaying like mad, achieving so much that the majority of your subscription fee is going towards feeding starving children.

Then you run out of content.  You’ve maxed out your character, done everything in game you want to do, and are driven to keep playing by nothing more than guilt at the thought of taking your money away from the charity by freezing your subscription or underachieving. 

Troubling Question #1: Is it unethical of you to reduce your achievement level in the game (or cancel your subscription), knowing what that means for the children?

Interesting content wanes as the game company is unable to keep up with the players, and while total subscriptions dip, the overall level of achievement falls much further, so the level of donations drops and company revenue increases.  By making the game temporarily boring, the company has increased their share of subscription revenue and reduced the contribution to charity.

Troubling Question #2: Is it the game company’s ethical responsibility to maintain a flow of engaging content in order to maintain charity levels?

Troubling Question #3: If the company was donating at a certain level, and all that changes in the next month is how many imaginary dragons were slain in the game, is it unethical (or at least publicly frowned upon) to reduce the number of starving children that they feed and increase the amount of money they keep for themselves? Or is it simply good that they’re giving money at all?

I started this idea with good intentions, but quickly realized that it could get twisted in a bad direction and lead to a lot of bad feelings for all parties.  A shame, because at first I really thought I was on to something.

I want to get your answers to these questions and see what you think!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rift Optimism

We're less than a week away from the launch of Rift, and I have to say, despite bashing their advertising campaign, I'm actually pretty optimistic about this game's success.  This is the first time I've been optimistic about an MMO's launch since LOTRO, and the first non-franchise MMO I've ever had hope for.  So best of luck, Trion!  Fight the good fight, dodge the shadow of the WoW colossus, and try to convert as many tourists as you can.  I'm rooting for you!