Massively Multiplayer Mashup

  • EVE Online Television goes live; CCP hires economist to track in-game market

    EVE Online operators CCP and partner MMM Publishing this week launched EVE TV, a weekly on-demand broadcast aimed at providing news coverage and stories from within the world of EVE. The service can now be accessed at eve-online.tv.

    Anchors SpiralJunkie and StevieSG cover in-game news over the 30 minute broadcast, with the topics ranging from sucide ganking, to CCP misconduct allegations, to major corporate power-plays. Interviews vary from sit-down chats with EVE developers such as CCP president Hilmar Petursson, to Skype calls and instant-message discussions with every-day players of the game, leading to an uneven, semi-professional presentation. It all comes off like a low-budget, futuristic CNN, with spaceships battling in the background as the anchors display comments from politically-charged figures named M'buku rather than Clinton.

    Online content provider Jalipo runs the video hosting for the venture. Viewers must purchase credits in order to access the show, which come in packs of 500 for the price of $5. The first 30-minute broadcast costs a total of 126 credits at the 4.25 credits/minute rate for the lowest video quality level (250k).

    While the service may be worth paying for in the case of hardcore EVE fans, it's hard not to feel that CCP is missing an opportunity to win over gamers with this new form of propaganda. People love hearing stories from the multi-faceted world of EVE, but an involved, tactically-minded spaceship game can be a tough sell on paper. The lack of a free, smaller-sized broadcast to attract the attention of potential consumers seems a curious decision.

    In other EVE news, CCP has hired a professional economist to keep track of the game's economy. Dr. Eyjolfur Guomundsson of the University of Akureyri, Iceland will provide quarterly analysis on the economic state of the game, with factors such as inflation, market trends, and overall economic growth highlighted. CCP expects Dr. Guomundsson's research to not only inform players of economic indicators, but also provide valuable feedback for the game's development.

    "Economic information is the lifeblood of the game and I believe that, by ensuring everyone has access to the same data, we will enhance the player experience and facilitate economic stability in EVE," said Dr. Guomundsson. The doctor's first blog entry is now online at the EVE website.

  • LEGO Universe concept trailer unveiled

    NetDevil's upcoming LEGO Universe saw a concept trailer release this week. The movie consists of the same material shown to journalists at NetDevil's 10th anniversary celebration.

    Most notable of the revelations is that LEGO Universe will be developed as a full-fledged game, rather than merely focusing on providing an open-world building platform. The video depicts a LEGO character walking through a massive block-laden city, with monsters and vehicles motoring past. At the end of the trailer, the character does battle with some sort of flying bat, which proceeds to crush the LEGO-man with a giant mallet.

    LEGO Universe is being billed as child-safe. How then to keep the teeming inhabitants of LEGO cities from defiling the innocent, brightly-colored blockscape with obscenities? The answer may be that building within the world could turn out to be more constrictive than the online sandbox Blockland, which allows players to cooperatively lay brick in any style they please.

    Whatever the case, LEGO Universe is one to watch, if only for the nostalgic appeal of a world based on our favorite childhood building blocks (sorry Mega Bloks). The developers have plenty of time to get things right, with NetDevil hoping for a release in late 2008.

  • Funcom to sell Anarchy Online items for real-world cash

    Funcom is entering its aged sci-fi MMO Anarchy Online into the new world of virtual item sales starting this summer with "Funcom points." The points can be purchased from Funcom in 10 and 20 USD/EUR increments, and spent on in-game items such as jetbikes and hover boards. Paying subscribers to Anarchy Online will receive a fixed set of free monthly points, with those doling out fees under more lengthy subscription plans receiving an added bonus.

    "Selling virtual items and smaller content upgrades is now a prevalent MMO business model in Asia," said CEO of Funcom Trond Arne Aas. "This has yet to be fully explored in the west, but we believe that the time is now right to test a limited version of such a model. At the same time we remain committed to the overall evolution of the game, making sure that Anarchy Online will be a success for many years to come."

    Virtual item sales in MMOs such as Anarchy Online are becoming a hot topic in the gaming industry. Earlier this month, an online marketplace dubbed Gamer2Gamer was launched by Sparter, with the goal of facilitating the trade of virtual property earned in MMO titles for real world money.

    While both developers and players have gone so far as to file lawsuits against virtual property vendors, many companies have instead chosen to embrace the practice, seeing it as simply another stream of revenue. Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley, whose company runs the virtual item hub Sony Station Exchange, summed up the situation in an interview with Gamasutra: "If [the exchange of in-game items] is non-game impacting and just plain cool, I suspect people won't mind it... and if they get a tangible benefit out of it (not paying a sub-price for example) I think people will actually like it. The key is to design games in such a way that 'farming' just isn't possible or beneficial."

Continue reading for open beta offers, NCsoft developer chats, and minor news from around the virtual globes.

  • Afterworld MMO on the horizon?

    Brent Friedman's successful viral video series Afterworld may soon be headed to the Sony Station. After being picked up by Sony Pictures Television International in February, the Afterworld IP is being crafted into a mobile video game, and according to comments by Friedman at the Hollywood and Games Summit, the property is being actively considered by Sony as the basis for an MMO project.

    Afterworld is a series of slick animated episodes written by Friedman and three staff writers. Slow camera pans across mostly-still shots set the scene as a narrator drives the story forward. The series is slightly reminiscent of a Max Payne cutscene, albeit with 3D characters and high-resolution backdrops.

    "One thing we're looking at right now, and we've talked to Sony extensively about this is taking the universe we're creating, the map we're building, and the social network to build that into an MMO," said Friedman, according to Gamasutra. "There are going to be all sorts of cultures and tribes that are built out in the first season, and we'll have all sorts of different societies.

    "We're interested in turning it into a light MMO, where it's more like Second Life--less like fighting, more about discovery. And the idea is that each country has its own different map, which could add to this as well."

  • Sword of the New World opens beta

    A beta test for IMC Entertainment's 17th century-styled Sword of the New World: Granado Espada is now open to the public through early July. Access to the beta can be attained through registration on the game's website.

    Created by Ragnarok Online developer Hakkyu Kim, Sword of the New World features a multiple character management system that resembles traditional console RPG combat. Players can control up to three characters simultaneously, or assign various AI modes to two of the characters. Parties consist of five basic character archetypes: the fighter, musketeer, wizard, scout, and elementalist. Quests provide the majority of gameplay, and missions must be completed in order to visit new towns and unlock waypoints.

    Already released in Korea as simply Granado Espada, Sword of the New World will be officially released in North America and Europe later this summer. Check out some screenshots of the Korean version for a look at the game's style.

  • NCsoft welcomes you to the MMO house at Dev Corner

    Guild Wars and City of Heroes/Villains developer NCsoft has launched a new column on their PlayNC website titled "Dev Corner." The column will feature members of NCsoft development teams expressing their views on the state of the industry, as well as divulging the innerworkings of the company itself.

    Lead North American product developer Chris Mayer kicked things off with a brief review of NCsoft's progress in the increasingly cramped MMO market.

  • EverQuest II updated for 36th time

    Yesterday saw the release of Update 36 to Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II. The additions included the final chapter of the Swords of Destiny quest line, a new raid zone titled Felwithe Throne Room, and a dressing room window for the preview of garments and items.

    The new dressing room feature will function similiar to World of Warcraft's preview window, with a control-click displaying the item addition to your avatar's appearance. Items can be previewed via links, merchants, brokers, and recipe books, as well as during trades, the inspection of others, and in the commission window. Other changes to the game such as the ability to restart tradeskill professions and the removal of coin weight were also added.

Massively Minor Minutiae

- NetDevil plans a Jumpgate revival with new updates.

- Sony Online Entertainment is set to publish Flying Lab's Pirates of the Burning Sea.

- Turbine released a list of new spells for its upcoming Dungeons and Dragons Online Update 4.2.

- World of Warcraft 2v2 arena combat will be featured in the Championship Gaming Series World Championship.

- Guild Wars developers talk play-balancing in a State of the Game address.

Continue reading for my comments on the issue of farming and virtual profit centers.


Letter from the Editor:

It seems like everybody is farming these days.

A couple weeks ago I was playing Lego Star Wars II, force-smashing every crate in sight while hoping desperately for a life-heart to drop--despite the fact that it is impossible to truly die in the game. As I began lightsabering friend and foe alike out of blind frustration, it occurred to me that the concept of farming is as old as gaming itself.

Like Luke, most of us grew up as farmers. Whether we were resetting rooms for more blue rupees in Link to the Past, resetting the system for a chance at a better item from a Toad House, or repeatedly fishing for a certain weapon in the monster-rich plains of Final Fantasy VI, we've been exploiting games through dedicated repetition for years. So why is the practice now thought of with such disdain by even the most mild-mannered of MMO denizens?

The simple answer is, of course, that persistent worlds create an arena of fiercely competitive players. People will spend hours in the pursuit of items and wealth for an extra edge over their opponents, often numbly fighting the same enemies ad infinitum. In the frustration of a failed battle, it becomes easy to attribute these uber-players to stereotypes with negative connotations, such as the basement loner, or the kids with too much free time.

But much like life, competition comes in all forms, from all sorts of people. Most of us must be content with the idea that we will never be as powerful as some, although that simple maxim may come as little consolation after an anonymous paladin leaves you for dead on the arena floor, for the fifteenth time in the row.

We encounter real-world farmers every day. Maybe it's the guy who buys up 30 next-generation consoles and proudly auctions them off one by one, while you sit at home with your broken Atari. Or perhaps it's the girl who practices her flute every waking hour, always beating you out for first chair. How about the politician who spends all of his time at fundraisers, grabbing money from the same contributors over and over? What would Obama do in an MMO? Oh, we already know.

Beyond the annoyance of farmers out to beat you senseless, there are also farmers earning in a living in China, and they're not just growing rice anymore. With sales of farmed items from MMOs generating millions of dollars each year, developers are increasingly beginning to regulate the practice, either by way of lawsuits defending their properties, or through better game design. While the latter is preferable, more and more developers are finding a third, more profitable alternative: taxation.

Launched in 2005, the Sony Station Exchange allows for players to trade in-game items and currency from Sony's lineup of MMOs. Following Ebay's business model, the Sony Station Exchange culls a small fee from every item exchange that takes place, which has generated hundreds of thousands in revenue for Sony. Now the Korean government has announced it will attempt to directly tax the transaction of all virtual sales. With Funcom testing the waters by offering direct sales of items to customers, and even governments scurrying to get in on the business, will the new MMO motto be "If you can't beat them, pay up"?

Probably not. Developers such as Turbine's Jeffrey Steefel believe that MMO business models are destined for widespread support of currency exchange, and it is likely that future online worlds will be designed with the practice in mind. Combat systems with a degree of reflexive skill involved, such as SOE's upcoming The Agency, will undoubtedly alleviate much of the problem. Official support of item exchange also brings the added benefit of regulation. In the vein of iTunes, many players may accept developer-crafted exchange hubs in totality, cutting down on the trade of restricted items across third-party vendors.

The potential market size for virtual property sales may be difficult to predict, but one thing is for sure: farming is here to stay. In a genre where subscription sales are everything, repetition is a key component of profit. Complaining about farmers is as futile as complaining about headshots in Counter-Strike, or those kids who can play Tetris with their eyes closed. While skill-based games may seem more honorable, it also takes time to develop those skills--time which could have been spent farming. Either way, someone out there is going to kill you eventually. Why not go down with your real-world wallet intact?

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  • MMO