To Boldly Blog…

Planet Pasduil

If you like what I write, you might be interested to know that I’ve started a second blog.

Planet Pasduil will be a lot more varied in style and topic than Thinking Play, and I’ll probably be posting there much more often than here. Longer and more thoughtful pieces on games and related topics like fantasy fiction will stay here, and hopefully continue at about the same pace of a post or few per month.

On Planet Pasduil, you can expect to find things like…

  • Shout outs to interesting things on the web
  • Snippets of data I want to share or discuss
  • Quotes, photos or videos I liked
  • Short pieces on games
  • Short and long pieces on non-game topics
  • Personal observations on life, the universe and everything

My twitter timeline probably gives you a good idea of the kinds of things that might come up. Possibly topics like….

  • What I made of the Apple launches today

  • Charity giving

  • The irritations of life

  • The culture of sports fandom

  • Data dorkery

If you might like to read or chat about such things, please follow the new blog!

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Thinking Names

Rose_hip_02_ies

I’m not the best at naming things. I was going to call this post “A Blog By Any Other Name”, but then I saw Rowan got there ahead of me! Darn, that was a good one and now I’m stumped again! This of course is more or less what usually happens when I have to name anything, say a character or a blog. I ponder, I agonize, I reject a bunch of so-so ideas that occur to me, I come up with a good one somehow… then I find someone’s got there ahead of me anyway and I can’t have it!

Names are Important!

According to Shakespeare:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

No doubt he’s right, but what about a blog? Names are a big part of the first impressions of a blog, at least for me, and do affect how likely I am to read it, and what expectations I bring to my reading. It’s true that after I’ve gotten to know the blog the name won’t matter so much.

Ideally a blog’s name along with its design (fonts, pics, colors, layouts etc) will help to express the blog’s personality and topics. If the name and style chimes with me, that’s often a good indication that the content will too.

Let’s talk about some great names and why I like them:

  • Bio Break – It’s a common MMO term, so it clues me in that the blog is about MMOs and MMO culture. Also given what the term means it sounds like the blog doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is friendly and approachable.

  • Contains Moderate Peril – While I’m not familiar with the exact phrase it obviously comes from some rating system for movies or games or such, and you easily can imagine what kind of movies or games would contain moderate peril! Sounds like it’s going to be about genres that I like then. And the playfulness of the title leads me to think the posts will have a touch of humor too.

  • I Have Touched the Sky – I like the poetic phrase with its hint of sci-fi and fantasy. I scratch my head to figure out why it seems familar… then work out it comes from a Star Trek Original Series episode title. Anyone who likes TOS and that episode is probably going to be my kind of guy, and I want to check out what they have to say.

Since I like names of that kind, you might wonder why I didn’t choose something like that for my own blog. I wonder that myself, and I can’t remember! Probably I couldn’t think of anything I really liked along those lines. At least not anything that wasn’t already taken on WordPress.com. I do remember I had to pass up several ideas because of that, but I don’t now remember what those ideas were.

Thinking Play

I settled on Thinking Play for a number of reasons. Firstly I used to think a lot about the games I was playing, from what made them fun or not, to their communities and culture, to the business angles etc. The blog was going to be a place to put those thoughts into writing.

Second there is a kind of pun or set of multiple meanings there. Not only is it thinking about play, but the kind of play I like calls for enjoyable thought, so maybe the topic is actually “play that involves thinking”. On top of that, thinking tends to be fun for me, so thinking about anything is a kind of play. I also believe that playfulness is crucial for any kind of creative thinking, serious or otherwise. So the blog is also a playground for having fun with kicking around ideas. I don’t imagine anyone else picks up the various possible meanings I give to the blog title, but I like them.

Finally I wanted a fairly clear scope for the blog, but also a fairly broad one. My “playtime” is not all about MMOs or videogames, and I wanted to at least have a title that would allow me explore topics like for example gamification in life, or how grouping in MMOs compares to playing team sports. So “play” in a broad sense rather than just “games” was the idea.

If I had a do-over?

I’m pretty happy with the name I chose, but I do sometimes wonder about the scope of the blog and whether I should open it up to more topics and more styles of post. I might make a second blog to accommodate that.

Subs and Me

Visa-Mastercard-credit-cards

Free-to-play (F2P) versus subscriptions seems to be a perennial topic of discussion in the gaming blogosphere, generating a lot more heat than light usually. I’ve thought of writing about it before, and from many angles. Perhaps someday I’ll do a whole series on MMO pricing models, or do a piece trying to understand the psychology of how and why it gets the community so excited and makes it so divided. Given my posting frequency, perhaps most likely I won’t get round to either. Today, however, inspired by Braxwolf’s post No Time for Subs I’d like to talk about the topic from a purely personal point-of-view.

Subs aren’t for me

Subs aren’t for me, usually. The reasons why they’re not are to do with my own situation and my own personal quirks, and may or may not apply to anyone else. But thinking about those reasons might help us understand why some people love subs, some hate them, and both may have very valid reasons for feeling the way they do.

The future ain’t what it used to be

First thing to say is that I am talking about right now, not always. Right now, at this point in my life, I am rather cautious about subscribing to anything at all. Games, magazines, online services, club memberships… you name it, I’m not keen on subscribing to it! It was not ever thus, and maybe it won’t always be so.

One thing at play here is disposable income. I’ve had periods where I worked in large organizations, getting a large paycheck like clockwork every month, and having every expectation that nothing would change on that front in the foreseeable future. And my income was far in excess of my commitments and what paying for the necessities of life would entail, so basically $15 a month was almost nothing to me. Currently that’s not the case, money is a lot tighter, and the future is a good deal more unpredictable.

I am very bad at canceling

While the future might be less predictable, I’ve come to see that certain things about me are pretty predictable. For example I am very bad at canceling subscriptions to things that I no longer use. For a while I won’t cotton on to the fact that I no longer use that thing. And then I will tell myself I will use it more in future. And after a while of that I will realize I still don’t use it much, and decide maybe I should cancel the sub. Sometime after that I will get around to actually canceling. Maybe it’s just me and my foibles, but then again the same thing might apply to a lot of people. Behavioral Economics claims that people have a so-called Endowment Effect, which means they value stuff they own much more than they’d value it if they didn’t already own it. (It appears even to apply to some extreme cases like people with brain damage that can’t remember which of a set of Monet prints they were given, but still like the one they own now over one they preferred earlier but were not given.) Whatever the reason it is harder to let go of a sub to something that I don’t use any more and certainly would not sign up for now that it rationally should be. So I often end up paying for stuff for six months or more after I stopped getting any benefit from it.

… and my interests are changeable

Another thing that is predictable about me is that there is a good chance that I will lose interest in the thing that has aroused my current enthusiasm. I might be loving a game, imagining I will be playing it for years, and find that after three months of being really into it, my interest level drops off a cliff. Possible not to zero – that also is unlike me. But certainly to a level where paying $15 a month doesn’t make sense. (But, see preceding paragraph, with a high risk that if I had a $15 sub in place I’d end up down $90 or more before I got around to actually canceling.)

For all of the above reasons, I’m not inclined to sign up for any things that nibble bits out of my bank balance without my conscious and intentional say so. I will pay a bit extra to avoid those automatic monthly nibbles and retain control over payments.

My redeeming features

Meanwhile, I do have some redeeming qualities. While I may be terminally incapable of canceling subs promptly, I am strangely disciplined about not making impulse purchases. Sometimes you hear a fear that people have about cash shops and micro-transactions, that they’ll be nickel-and-dimed to death as all those small purchases add up to some monstrous total bill. They know themselves best, and for them that may be a big danger.

For me there is no such danger, and in fact MMO “cash” shops could not be better designed to prevent me from falling into that trap. Because they are not really cash shops at all. There is basically only one thing you can buy with actual real world money there, and that is the store currency, such as Turbine Points. There is nothing easier for me than to say “I am going to limit my cash shop spending to $X”, then wait for a sale on Turbine Points and buy $X worth, then use those points as my hard budget. Ideally I don’t even tell the MMO company my credit card info, but do one time Paypal transactions. Without the company having any billing authority it is extremely hard to impulsively run up bills.

Just me

Now all this is just me. It’s quite possible that someone could be the very opposite of me. They might have plenty of cash to spare, play all their games obsessively for long periods, be great at canceling subs they don’t need any more, and yet be lousy at controlling impulse buying. I can see why such a person might think subs are the only way to go, and regard cash shops as a devious trap designed to part them with all their money.

For me, I will consider a sub, but I will consider it very very carefully, and chances are high I will probably decide against it. Only if the thing is completely mind-blowing and way beyond any other alternative available to me am I likely to sub.

To Blog or not to Blog?

shakespeare-in-love

The Newbie Blogger Initiative is in full swing, and many people are writing excellent articles encouraging would-be bloggers to take the plunge. Call me a contrary soul, but that gets me wondering if blogging really is for everyone. To blog, or not to blog? Is the answer ever no?

The first thing to say is that if you’re someone who is thinking about starting a blog but feeling hesitant about it, your own reasons for hesitation are probably not good reasons at all!

Everyone is different and has their own hangups, self-doubts and all the rest of it. Some people might have qualms about their writing ability for example, while others might be worried about the technical side of things. Personally neither of those bothered me when I was wondering whether to start this blog. But what did concern me was whether I was really knowledgeable enough about gaming in general or any game in particular that anything I had to say would be of value. I certainly didn’t see myself as an uber player, and I imagined that even in my main game, LOTRO, most people would know at least as much about it as I do. Who was I to be starting a blog? There are blogs out there where people have published detailed guides to all the LOTRO skirmishes! There are people that have crunched numbers in spreadsheets to find out what skirmishes to do to maximize your rewards per minute! There are people who have lovingly detailed every steed available in the game! There are people who’ve spun epic works of fanfic about their MMO adventures! I am very far from being one of those kinds of people, so who am I to be starting a LOTRO blog?

Now if you knew me in real life.. if you knew me very well.. you’d see that kind of thinking is not confined to blogging. I mentioned hangups before, and this is one of mine. Surely I’d have to be much more senior and have had a much more stellar career to be going after job X? Or to apply to college Y? Surely I’d have to be so much more amazing than I am to ask out woman Z? Actually it turned out (eventually, finally, after overcoming the doubts, and with suitable encouragement) the answer was really: No.

Your hangups may differ in detail from mine, but probably you have plenty of them. If you’d like to blog, but you’re hesitating about doing it, ask yourself if the reasons for your hesitation are typical of you. Chances are they are not some well thought out objective reasons why this particular activity isn’t for you, but more likely personal gremlins that bedevil you whatever you’re thinking about doing, and don’t have much relation to reality.

To Blog

Let’s consider some specific concerns that people might have…

  • “I’m not that good of a writer” – Well, there are some excellent writers out there in the blogosphere, but there are plenty of average ones as well. There are all kinds of blogs and bloggers out there. There are people who post screenshots of their adventures, with short little notes on what they’ve been up to this week. There are people who tell you what’s on sale in the in-game store, and what they think is worth buying. Whatever you like to do, and whatever you feel your abilities are, there is going to be some kind of blog you could make that people will appreciate.

  • “I don’t have the time” – Luckily there is no rule about how much you have to write or how often! (I’ve labeled myself a Fewbie Blogger, because there are newbies with more posts published than me.) If you have aspirations to have a large readership then you’ll probably want to blog often. But you can have plenty of fun and plenty of readers with only a post a month, or even less. In betweens posts you can stay connected with the community by reading other people’s blogs, commenting, tweeting and such.

  • “I’m befuddled by the tech” – Some of the best blogs are the simplest. Get a free WordPress.com blog, start posting, and go from there.

  • “If I build it, will anyone come?” – During the NBI, yes! You’ll get visits from the links the sponsors give. You’ll get visits from your fellow newbies, who you’ll get to know. Without the support of the NBI, it could take some time to get more than a trickle of readers, and it would be very easy to get dispirited and give up before you got there. So the NBI is a great opportunity to get off to a flying start.

Not to Blog

So is there any reason to choose not to blog?

I can think of one very big one: Unrealistic expectations.

What are you looking for from blogging? If in the back of your mind you think there’s a chance of finding fame and fortune and influence, and that is what is really motivating you to consider blogging, you’d probably be wise to give it a miss.

If you just like the idea of expressing yourself for its own sake, and you’re happy blogging for fun and being part of a small community, you’re good to go!

Tales of Creativity and Play

One of the themes of this blog is that play is an important part of our lives, and playing matters more than many people think.

Here’s a TED video, from the Serious Play Conference of 2008. The main focus is on how playfulness is important for creativity, and it shares many examples of the use of play in designing better products and services.

MMO players might find the section on roleplay, starting at 19:40, especially interesting, though the whole video is well worth a watch. And fittingly it’s a fun watch as well.

MMO game companies and the gaming community might also want to think about the importance of a safe, non-judgmental environment for fostering playfulness. Worrying about what people will think of you isn’t conducive to play or creativity, but our game servers can sometimes be pretty judgmental places with trolling, one-upmanship and such.

Reflections on the NBI

NBI Logo

The Newbie Blogger Initiative (NBI) is the spark that led me to create this blog. Without it, I’d probably have been thinking the same thoughts that I now write here, but not putting them out there for people to read and discuss.

The NBI formally ran for the month of October, and comes to an end today, so now seems a good time to reflect on it. (I say “formally” because the NBI Forum will remain up, and I hope and believe the community that the NBI gave rise to will continue and grow.)

How the NBI Inspired Me

I’ve dabbled with blogging about various topics before, but it’s a long time since I had an active blog about anything. From time to time I thought about starting a blog about this or that, but it stayed as just a thought. And it never occurred to me to blog about games at all, even though I’ve been playing an MMO pretty extensively for a couple of years, and was a regular reader of at least a few game related blogs.

How did the NBI change all that? A few ways…

  • I was very impressed with the quality of the blogs I came across via the NBI, both the established “sponsor” blogs and the “newbie” ones. Here were a bunch of people who were interested in the same things as me, who had things to say that were worth reading, and seemed fun to hang out with.
  • There was good advice that helped with many of the decisions I’d have to make when starting. (Pen name or not? How often to write? How broad or narrow to make the blog? etc)
  • There was the prospect of at least a few people discovering the blog and reading it! It’s pretty discouraging when you take the trouble to write something and no-one even seems to see it, let alone respond to it. Normally it takes time to build a readership, but the early days are exactly when you need some encouragement and feedback. Without that, it’s hard to tell if there is any point in carrying on, whether you are doing something that will turn out to be very worthwhile eventually or you are doing something so wrong and hopeless that it’ll never have readers.
  • There was a time limit! The NBI was going to last a month only, and as anyone from psychologists studying procrastination to marketers planning a sales promotion will tell you, there’s not much like a limited window of opportunity to get people off their backsides and actually take action.

That’s what tipped me into starting a blog.

The NBI in Practice

So how did the NBI work out for me in practice? All good, with some surprises…

  • I wrote two posts before making my blog public. Thanks to links appearing on sponsor blogs, within a day I had a decent number of visitors, and some fascinating conversations going in comments.
  • Thanks to the advice of the veterans I kept to a comfortable pace for me, without feeling obligated to post more often. In fact I actively refrained from posting more, so as not to set unrealistic expectations, either for myself or for readers!
  • An unexpected benefit was that I found myself commenting on other people’s blogs much more than I used to, and feeling much more like a recognized member of the community. It feels like I’m on the way to making some new friends.
  • I came to realize that sometimes a comment on someone else’s post is as good or even a better way of adding your two cents worth on a given topic than writing a full post. There’s a lot of smart people out there thinking the same thoughts as I do, and there’s no need to go over the same ground which they’ve covered so well. Maybe I should figure out ways to show my comments elsewhere in this blog somehow. And find a good way to highlight other people’s posts when they say the things I’ve been thinking. Probably there are ways to do these things with widgets, reblogging, Twitter and such.
  • At the moment I have a lot more ideas for posts than I have time to write them. But following the advice, I am keeping a list of the ideas so I can use them in the future.

Summary

The NBI has been a success for me. It’s led me to actually start a blog for one thing, which is no small feat on its part! I also feel I’ve become a part of the game blogging community, and that I’ve set out on a path that is both enjoyable and sustainable.

Thanks to everyone that helped make the NBI what it is!

Thanks to Justin Olivetti for coming up with a fantastic idea and running the first initiative, and to Roger Edwards for reviving it in 2013. Many thanks to all the sponsors for their advice, encouragement and help. And last, but not least, thanks to my fellow NBI newbies for their fine blogs, and for creating a welcoming and fun community that makes blogging a pleasure.

Sometime I will write a post about my favorite NBI-spawned sites. In the meantime, thanks again, and I’ll see you in comment threads here and all over the web!

Is there still a stigma to gaming?

Recently some established gaming bloggers discussed the pros and cons of using real names versus screen names for their gaming blogs. (See Survival and Identity, Using a pseudonym and What’s in a Name?) They raised a lot of interesting points, but one major theme was whether there is any stigma nowadays to being identified as a gamer.

Here’s stand-up Dara O’Brien on the subject of gaming and how it’s perceived by some… (Note: Includes a bit of adult humor)…

The serious point is that while there are plenty of circles in which gaming is perfectly well accepted, there are others where it’s not much understood and people are likely to be judgmental based on stereotypes they’ve picked up. Times are changing, but they probably haven’t changed completely and everywhere yet.

The story of Colleen Lachowicz, a successful candidate for the Maine State Senate, cuts both ways. Her opponents tried to portray her as someone who “lives in a fantasy world”, which suggests there’s still plenty of stigma for them to work with. But whatever there was, it wasn’t enough to stop her winning the election.

An interview with Lachowicz and another about her unusual guild make for interesting reading. To some extent there’s a paradox in these interviews that while underlining that serious grownups play such games and there’s no shame to be attached to that, they also make a point of stressing not being “hardcore” and that the people in the guild aren’t “typical gamers”. Which maybe suggests that “typical” and “hardcore” players are viewed with disdain, perhaps even by those gamers that see themselves as non-typical.

Perhaps the thing is, none of us actually know if we’re what is typical, or if we’re exceptions.