Buy-to-Support?

In the world of MMOs I often hear about people buying things “to support the game”. It might be a Collector’s Edition of an expansion, it might be cosmetic or fun items, or it might even be a subscription.

What I find interesting about Buy-to-Support (B2S) is that it’s very seldom that I hear such sentiments about any other kind of product. I’ve seen The Guardian newspaper asking people to subscribe in order to support it, but I’ve yet to hear people ever discussing how they pay a sub to newspapers or magazines for that reason. Seldom doesn’t mean never though, and there are other examples where B2S comes up, though not with anything like the frequency I hear about it around MMOs.

Personally I think like this with bookshops. I enjoy visiting them, and browsing in them, and like the fact that they exist. I also know that their continuing existence
is not something I can take for granted. So while I know I can generally get books cheaper on Amazon and the like, and for that matter would often be fine with a much cheaper Kindle Edition anyway, I do from time to time buy a physical book in a physical bookshop.

But I am honest enough with myself that I know that my “noble” B2S purchase is not quite as selfless and well-thought out as I tell myself. Imagine a Gollum/Smeagol creature, with one part going: “We wants it! We wants it! We wants it now!” and the other chiming in with, “We could get it much cheaper on Amazon… but we can support this nice bookshop, yesss.”

I assume it’s not a revelation to anyone nowadays that out behavior is generally not as rational as we’d like to think, and the reasons we give for our actions are oftentimes just rationalizations of our fairly primitive urges.

Marketers know this too, better than us poor saps that don’t have to think about these things for a living. Walk down the aisles of a mainstream supermarket, and take a look at how the own-brand “basic” products are packaged. Most of the time everything about them is designed to make you feel “This is the poor man’s version.” It’s actually designed to put most people off from buying it.

No one wants to feel cheap, and no one wants to appear cheap or poor to others. Plenty of people go for the “middle option” in their purchases just on that basis, and sometimes the most expensive option is created mainly for the purpose of making the middle option look attractive by comparison.

Conversely plenty of people want to feel special, or to buy stuff that is some kind of a status symbol and impresses others.

All in all, I suspect that when people say they’re buying something to support a game, that is only a small part of what drove their decision.

How best to support?

If you do really want to support a game, what is the best way to go about it? Voting with your money certainly seems like a good idea in principle. Fredelas had a nice take on this, possibly meant humorously…

Any way in which you give money to a company is of course likely to help keep that company going. However where the money really ends up and what difference it makes can be rather hard to tell. If the company was in no danger of folding, the extra money may simply end up as more profits for its owners.

Perhaps it would be good to think about exactly what signal you want to send to the company. Whatever you buy is among other things a message to the company: “More like this please.” So buying store currency and spending it on precisely the things you most care about seems like a good idea.

If you have cash enough to spare, it might be most effective to buy codes and give them away, ideally to those who couldn’t afford to buy for themselves.

I don’t think our inner Gollums would be thrilled with this though!

“We wants shinies, and we wants them now!!! Gollum, gollum.”

LOTRO: Mixed feelings on Mordor

Mordor… we’re finally about to get there.

It’ll be a momentous occasion in the life of LOTRO, and something which at various times many of us doubted would ever happen. Not only was it a question of worrying if the game would last long enough to reach the Black Land, some of us wondered if we personally would make it to the end.

I myself am very much looking forward to seeing the conclusion of Tolkien’s story in the world of the game. Like with Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom and the downfall of Sauron, the rejoicing will be all the greater for the difficulties endured on the way. and the periods of despair lived through when the quest seemed utterly hopeless.

No wonder then that the announcement of the Mordor expansion led to a festive mood breaking out in the LOTRO community. However, recently matters have gotten a little more complicated.

To quote Ravanel:

Just like in 2012 and 2013, it looks like the player base will spend the last weeks before the release of a major expansion discussing its outrageous pricing rather than eagerly anticipating cool new content.

Ravanel Griffon: LOTRO’s Mordor pre-order deals put in perspective

If you have not yet done so, please do read Rav’s excellent analysis of the Mordor pricing, and how it compares to previous LOTRO expansions and to the pricing in other MMOs. She has a useful comparison table showing the pricing for all editions of the most recent LOTRO expansions. If anything that might even be understating how high the Mordor prices are, since if I recall correctly previous expansions included a 1,000 or more Turbine Points in the bundle, which I count as worth $10 in value.

Suffice it to so say that many are feeling that the pricing is greedy, and the feelgood factor that’s been prevalent in the LOTRO community this year is in danger of being undermined.

Personally I’m not sure if “greed” is the best interpretation, it might just be economic reality. MMO development probably costs pretty much the same whether the game has half a million regular players, or five million. So smaller games are always likely to have to charge more and yet provide less in return for it.

However I very much agree with Rav that if this is the case SSG would benefit from being a lot more open about the situation. They had built up a lot of goodwill from the community and there are lots of dedicated Tolkien fans in the playerbase. Simply asking for people who can afford it to help support the game by subbing or buying the collectors edition would probably work better than pretending it’s great value.

Mordor and Me

Speaking for myself, at this point I’m not sure which edition I will buy, or if I will even buy Mordor at all now. SSG has picked an interesting moment to up the ante with their pricing. Maybe they’re thinking that this is the big climax, and people will be willing to pay whatever it takes.

My thinking is a bit different. I’m assuming that I will be able to see out the end of the Tolkien storyline without even buying the Mordor expansion. It’s the Epic Quest line, which will presumably still be free-to-play, and will most likely be over and done without us even setting foot inside Mordor.

Whether I stick around in LOTRO after that was always an open question for me. Mordor itself is likely to very gloomy, not only in story and atmosphere but literally, in actual light levels. Previous experiences in Angmar and Moria tell me that I’m likely to tire of that pretty quickly.

As it happens, I have already been skipping the grindy parts of LOTRO in recent regions by just doing the Epic Quests, and often doing them overlevel and overpowered as well. That way I get to enjoy the world and the story, while avoiding too much tedious grind.

What SSG needed to do with someone like me at this tricky point was to make it a no-brainer to carry on playing the game, and stroll on into Mordor without a second thought. Instead Mordor pricing has given me pause, and made me think “Maybe I’ll just wait for a sale”. And that might well turn into me taking a long break from LOTRO, and then never getting around to buying it and playing it at all.

But perhaps it’s only fitting for us to be approaching Mordor with hesitation and forebodings!

The Great Pay-to-Win Debate: Roundup & Commentary

Simeon_Stylites_stepping_down

When I was pretty young I happened to come across the word “Stylite” in the dictionary. Mind-bogglingly enough a stylite is a member of an early Christian sect which used to live on top of pillars. I’m afraid my teen self couldn’t stop laughing for quite some time, and even now the concept brings a chuckle.

What does all this have to do with MMOs, I hear you ask? Well… it goes to show that people find worth, meaning and virtue in some rather strange activities. Much as people find meaning and worth in some rather strange MMO activities1, and consequently get excited about whether their exertions are devalued by the possibility of others by-passing them and reaching similar goals via the mere spending of money.

It is therefore in a spirit of religious tolerance and anthropological curiosity that we turn our minds to the great pay-to-win debate…

The Great Debate, Part 284

If you’ve been around the MMO blogosphere a while, you have seen this topic come around a number of times.

The current flurry of posts seems to have been kicked off by a piece on Massively OP, The Soapbox: Can MMOs eradicate pay-to-win?. This is a sample…

a quick perusal of the ArcheAge forums invariably turns up posts by thirtysomething I’m-too-busy-to-play types admonishing their anti-P2W counterparts for daring to suggest that games should be played through instead of paid through.

From my perspective, paying for your gear or any sort of character advancement is an extremely short-sighted way of approaching MMORPGs. But I’m seeing it accepted more and more often in games, on forums, and in the blogosphere, and it boggles my mind to see just how many people are falling in line.

Personally I have a good deal of sympathy with the idea (not a new one, but repeated in that post) that if people are willing to pay good money to not have to play some part of your game, that’s a pretty sad indictment of that part of the game. As I’ve said before, too many games contain too many elements that don’t really deserve to be called play at all.

Of course, not everyone likes the same things…I guess it’s understandable that not everyone wants to take part in every aspect of an MMO, and maybe considerate of the game designers to not force that on people. This is something that MMO Gypsy makes much of in Today in P2W: Gamers are getting older and that’s okay!

… obviously there are many ways to find pleasure in games. I’ve played MMOs in the past just to dress up my characters and yes, buy exclusive clothes from an ingame store. Likewise, P2W-players do very much also play the games they invest in, duh – it’s not like they’re just paying money and then never spend any time on actual game play. They just play differently.

Sadly though, the kind of things that come up in the context of the pay-to-win discussion are typically boring grinds that pretty much no-one actually likes, and which nevertheless make up 80-90% of the time spent “playing” in MMOs.

Yes, if people mostly want to skip the crappy 80% of your game to get to the enjoyable 20%, this is not exactly a ringing endorsement of what a great game you made.

What is winning anyway?

Liores (who coined the “Part 284” line I used above) has a lot of interesting things to say in her post The Eternal Payment Model Debate: part 284. A notable theme is the question of what “winning” means in MMOs anyway…

MMOs don’t have a consistent win condition. It varies wildly from game to game, and from player to player. Perhaps you feel that you’ve won an MMO by completing the hardest group content, or maybe you’re an ArcheAge player and you “win” by being dominant in PvP.

I like collecting cosmetic items, and I evaluate my gaming success by getting the “best” hats and mounts and such.

A similar point is made in a somewhat different way by Tobold

I think this is a case of everybody having a different win condition in a MMORPG, and many people wanting that *their* personal win condition doesn’t involve money.

This raises the question of why exactly do people care whether their own “win condition” involves money. There seem to be two separate aspects here…

  1. No-one can “win” without paying. e.g. You can’t get the best cosmetic hat or the finest PVP gear without paying, because it’s only in the cash shop.

  2. While you can “win” without paying, other people can get the same thing through purchases. e.g. The best gear drops in raids, but can also be bought.

Some people seem to object to (1) and I’m finding it hard to understand where they’re coming from. Maybe they think something that seems essential to them should be included with the sub or the box price or whatever, and it’s not fair to charge extra for it. Maybe they’re the type of people for whom the game doesn’t even really start until you’re geared up for endgame raiding.

Many more people seem to object to (2) though. Most of the Massively OP post is about skipping grind after all, and you do hear a lot of objections to insta-level items and suchlike. What is going on there? I don’t know for sure, but I can imagine various types of feelings that people might have…

  • “It’s not fair that I had to work so hard for X, when someone else can just buy it”

  • “My sense of achievement in getting X is ruined by the fact there’s an easy alternative way to get it”

  • “The kudos that should be mine because of what I’ve achieved is undermined because other people have all the outward appearances of what I have earned without any real achievement on their part”

My guess is that a lot of this stuff is wrapped up with people’s self-image and the qualities that they value in themselves. Some people seem to see virtue and character in manfully doing the grind, as the Stylites saw virtue in living on top of a pillar.

Personally I thoroughly dislike excessive grinding, and I can’t see a lot to be proud about for having done it. But neither am I willing to pay big bucks to avoid it. Bad news game designers: I have a ton of other fun and interesting things I can do with my time instead of playing your game if those are going to be the only options you offer me.


  1. Collecting hats? Hmm… 

Putting the “play” into “Free-to-play”

Kids play on beach - photo by Idban Secandri (flickr)

Kids play on the beach – photo by Idban Secandri (flickr)

It seems Nintendo’s CEO has been pondering the term “free-to-play” and thinks it would be better to use another phrase to describe the concept, especially as it applies to mobile games…

“I do not like to use the term ‘Free-to-play,'” Iwata said. “I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called ‘Free-to-play’ should be referred to more accurately as ‘Free-to-start.'”

Fixing free-to-play’s image problem

Well I’m always pleased if a business wants to describe its products more honestly, but I think there are several problems with his particular idea. Firstly we already have a perfectly good term that means “free-to-start”. Such things are called “a trial”, or if you must underline the freeness of it, a “free trial”. Trialability is a good quality for any product to have, and free trials are usually a good idea whether we’re talking about test driving a car, trying a free weekend of an MMO, being able to level to 20 for free, or whatever.

However free trials don’t have the appeal of free-to-play, at least when that is a fair description of what is on offer, and not just a bait-and-switch tactic. Would I use Gmail or WordPress.com if they were truly free-to-start as opposed to genuinely free-to-use? Almost certainly not. Whenever I see anything that has a free trial, a free month or some such, my first question is always: “Well how much would it cost me if I were to really keep using this thing?” Often that simple info is made rather hard to find, and at that point my interest in the thing ends. Even when the info is clearly and fairly presented I’m usually not going to bother to take advantage of a free trial in most cases.

“Free-to-start” might be a more well-meaning and honest description of what a company has in mind than “free-to-play”, but that’s like a baker truthfully describing their offering as “stale bread”. Thanks for not trying to fool us, but we actually wanted a fresh and tasty loaf, not just for you to use the right terminology for what you’re selling.

Of course there is such a thing as bad free-to-play, and there are plenty of examples. However there are good examples also, and what’s good about them turns on it actually being fair to describe them as “free”, and it being fair to describe what you can actually do for free as “play”.

Whether something is free is relatively simple to determine. Lying about something that is not really free and calling it free-to-play is going to be found out pretty quickly. At best you’ll have bitter customers who resent how you conned them to get them hooked on your game. At worst you won’t have any customers anyway because people aren’t stupid and they can figure out the con before they ever download your game.

Whether what people get to do in the free part of your game is even really “play” is a big question however. Defining the essence of play is fascinating and important, but also difficult to do, though many have tried and come up with good ideas. (For example The Definition of Play.)

I’m not going go into any formal definitions, but there are certain qualities that to my mind are fundamental to something being play and it being fun. For example…

  • You should be able to immerse yourself in it, get lost in the flow, lose all track of time while you’re doing it.

  • You should experience a sense of freedom and possibility. There are many different things you could do, many ways to approach what’s in front of you, many ways to explore, many ways to express yourself.

  • You should mostly be enjoying what you’re doing in the moment, doing it for it’s own sake, not doing it solely in order to attain some other goal or fulfill some obligation.

Well, when you consider such things, the problem with some F2P games is that they are sorely lacking in actual play. There are exceptions though, and they are the ones that when reviewers discuss them they use phrases like “a generous free-to-play model”.

Freemium works very well in many tech-based businesses, and it can work very well in games also. But it’s critical to freemium that the free service is satisfying in itself and provides core functionality and an experience that more than adequately meets the needs of most people who give it a try. In a game, that means people can have lots of fun with it, for free. If you’re not going to provide that, don’t bother calling it free at all.

Why I’m not playing LOTRO much

ScreenShot00933

I’m not playing LOTRO very much at the moment, and a piece on LOTRO Players got me thinking about why that might be. Brax’s post is in the form of fanfic, an in-character letter, and I commented in kind…

It may be the cursed power of Sauron. The closer I get to his realm the wearier I feel and the more it seems my will to fight on is sapped. The loss of many of our brave friends and cheery kinfolk weighs heavily also. But I yet hope to press forward in this quest, little by little perhaps, resting as I must to gather my strength.

I hear rumors that the scattered forces of the Free Peoples will soon be rallied into several great armies. If this be true it may prove a great boon, and will raise my spirits much. With such combined forces we may hope to battle on and perhaps even live to see the downfall of Sauron. Or if that proves finally to be beyond our resources, at least to make an end worthy of song.

On reflection I think the reasons why I’m not playing LOTRO so much these days are more varied and complicated than what is implied by that comment, though what I said there is an important part of the overall picture too.

I’m not playing MMOs, I’m doing other stuff!

One thing to start with is that unlike some people it’s not that I’ve switched to playing some other MMO. I’m spending a lot less time playing MMOs overall, and since LOTRO was my main game, it’s most noticeable there.

Reading books and watching boxsets has been taking up a lot of my leisure time since Christmas. I’ve also played a fair bit of chess, and I’ve dabbled in a MOOC or two as well. I hadn’t seen any of The Walking Dead or Downton Abbey before Christmas, and now I’m totally caught up with both series. That’s probably well over a hundred hours of spare time accounted for right there! And there were a few other shows where I caught up a season, or at least watched a few episodes.

Streaming video is a newish thing for me, and has that extra excitement that comes with finding a whole new toy box to explore. It was about a year ago I got a Chromecast and that made the whole streaming thing much more attractive. Over time I’ve discovered more shows and more streaming services.

The hobby lifecycle

Hobbies and interests tend to have a lifecycle with me. I guess it’s not unlike the lifecycle of a relationship. There might be an initial checking-it-out phase, followed by a falling-madly-in-love phase, which leads to wanting to spend as much time as possible with the totally amazing beloved. And that can last for quite some time, but in due course it goes to a more mellow phase where I retain much love and affection, yet don’t want to devote my whole existence to that one thing.

MMOs – and LOTRO specifically – were that new love for me three and a bit years ago. I still like them now, but not in quite the same way as in the first year or two, where the game was the activity of choice for many hours on most days. Meanwhile the new hotness is The Walking Dead, Agents of SHIELD and suchlike. But diving into great boxsets will have its lifecycle too I’m sure, and maybe then I’ll return to more intensive MMOing.

It’s not just me, it’s you too…

All of the above are reasons why I probably would have been playing less now regardless of whatever had happened with the game itself. However it’s not all just about me and my hobby lifecycle, a good deal of the change in my playing habits has to do with LOTRO itself.

People are very important of course, and the banter and friendship was a big part of what kept me coming back regularly. But friends and kinnies have their own hobby lifecycles, or they have changes in their real world circumstances etc. So over time there are less and less of the familiar faces around, and they’re around less often. What’s more some of the people that still do play regularly have done their own DIY server merger by re-rolling onto more populated servers. Now I’d join them, but the very fact that I’m not playing so much now makes it difficult to re-roll and level-up all over again. If LOTRO had something like the technology in other MMOs where I could hop to another server easily, it would be a big help to me.

The proliferation of changes to game mechanics also don’t help. I still haven’t properly figured out all the skill changes that came in with Helm’s Deep, and I’m largely clueless about essences. Add in lots of small changes throughout the game, like changes to housing storage, making various crafting materials obsolete etc, and it’s pretty hard to really get back in the game and feel totally at home without devoting masses of time to working out the differences. After Helm’s Deep I rapidly went from feeling proficient with quite a few classes to not knowing what the heck half the skills do exactly on most of them.

Then there’s the grindiness that can be excessive. I’m not sure that LOTRO is really that much worse than other MMOs in this regard, but I guess the more familiar you become with an MMO, the more the repetitiveness of combat may weigh on you. The worst case is when you have to kill many mobs, the kills are time consuming, and yet there is no stimulating challenge in the fights. Too many quests seem to land me in this scenario.

Monetization Catch-22

There are things Turbine could do to get someone like me back and more active in the game. Easy and free server transfer is one thing I already mentioned. Another would be ways to insta-level my alts, or otherwise bypass unwelcome grind.

However to the extent that LOTRO has anything like that, it’s all by spending rather big bucks in the cash shop. $50 for the Gift of the Valar to get half-way to the level cap for instance! Or I could get rest XP by subscribing, and buy various XP and deed boosts to cut the grind some.

The problem is that those things might seem worthwhile to someone who was already heavily playing the game, but at a point where I’m not playing much, spending that kind of money seems ridiculous to me. It’s a Catch-22 situation. You have to spend money to maybe make the game as fun as it used to be again, but if you’re not having that fun already, why would you spend lots more money on the game?

We may yet, Mr Frodo

Let’s not overdo the gloom here! I still have good friends who play plenty of LOTRO, and it wouldn’t be surprising if I got back into it with them sooner or later. I’ve had quite long breaks before, and gone back with relish afterwards. It seems that Turbine are working on plans for server mergers, and the option of a free server transfer could be a real blessing. There’s still plenty of good content that I’d enjoy doing, and if it were easier to get caught up and play with the people I’d like to hang out with, I’d be glad to do just that.

I have plenty of love for Tolkien and LOTRO, and one way or another I’m likely to be around to see the end of all things, whenever and wherever that comes.

MMO Writing: Pros vs Amateurs

merton-oxford

Lately there’s been much discussion of whether sites like Massively are really needed, or whether bloggers do the same job just as well, or perhaps even better.

Many of the points raised reflect the underlying differences that arise between professionals and amateurs in many fields, and also the differences between for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations. (Semi-pros are a very interesting case too!) Much comes down to the key resources of time and money, and how they impact the work done, or left undone.

Time is Money, Money is Time

Professionals can in general devote a lot more time to their work than amateurs can afford to do. At one extreme, a full-time journalist presumably would spend 40 hours a week or more keeping track of events in the field they cover and writing about them. That means that in principle they’re able to be well informed, respond to unfolding events in a timely fashion, and provide a breadth and depth of coverage and analysis that a single amateur would find impossible.

There are other benefits of being well-resourced that accrue to professionals. They can more easily justify expenses that are needed to do their work, whether it’s high-quality audio equipment, travel expenses, or whatever. Another type of expense are the costs in time and money of the various QA processes that generally apply to professional work: editing, internal reviews, signoffs etc.

But the advantages are not all on the side of the pros. Ultimately pros have to “cut their coat according to their cloth” – the amount of effort spent on doing a piece of work has to be in proportion to the revenue likely to be generated by doing it. This is one of the major problems facing many newspapers nowadays, as their advertising and subscription revenue falls, they don’t have the resources to keep up the volume and standard of work they used to do in the past.

An amateur isn’t constrained in the same way. If a talented and passionate amateur has the skills and the inclination they can put far more effort into creating a single post than a professional could justify.

The Power of Crowds?

The question then is whether collectively a bunch of talented and passionate amateurs can be a match for the professionals. Sometimes the answer is clearly a resounding yes. Think of game wikis or Wikipedia itself, or think of open source software like WordPress, which powers this blog.

But that is only sometimes! For each WordPress or Linux there are thousands of open source projects that never got anywhere, or which built something useful only to stop being updated when the key people got bored of them. And even highly successful open source projects are often woefully short of well-written user guides, well-designed user interfaces and the like.

Probably there are certain kinds of amateur work that people find rewarding, and only certain part of the work at that. There aren’t many people whose idea of a fun leisure activity is writing user guides or checking someone else’s spelling and grammar. The crowd leaves gaps in its coverage, and often comes up short on aspects of doing quality work that are not inherently enjoyable to address.

On top of that the enthusiasm and commitment of amateurs waxes and wanes over time, as does the amount of time they can devote to their hobby, and their ability to pay for it. We’ve seen it happen often in the MMO blogosphere as many of the very best blogs and podcasts, which we loved for years, are are no longer with us.

Death from Success

A problem that is pretty unique to hobbies that create internet content is that a person’s work can be too good to live. Unlike almost any other leisure activity I can think of, the costs of the hobby are not fully within the hobbyist’s own control, but depend on the volume of traffic to their sites. While most people actively try to grow their traffic and are proud when it does, ultimately it’s not something that they can ever fully control. Posts can go viral, sites can gain a high-ranking in Google, and leaps in popularity can appear out of the blue.

When a site has no revenue, or has revenue sources that do not scale in proportion to traffic, a sufficiently large increase in popularity can kill it. It sounds paradoxical, but essentially it’s no different than a store that makes a small loss on every item it sells. The more it sells the faster it goes bankrupt.

The problem is most noticeable with hobbyists that use paid platforms, but it can affect professional outlets as well if the structure of their costs and revenues is such that more traffic pushes up cost faster than revenue.

God and Mammon

The Bible famously has it that “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Or to put it in a non-religious way, there are inevitable conflicts between making money and other, more important values, that you might have.

Pros depend on their work for their livelihoods, and the need to make money can sometimes have a dubious effect on their work. In online journalism, they might be faced with either writing misleading click-baity headlines or failing to pull in enough traffic to keep their work funded. Even the most reputable and serious news organizations are now facing this dilemma. Similar things can happen with stirring up heated controversies rather than measured debate, or fueling hype over product launches rather than keeping a sense of perspective. In the worst cases they might be unduly influenced by advertisers, freebies, junkets etc. But even at the best of times there might be some pulling of punches in order to keep cordial working relationships with those they must cover.

The conflicts may be less acute when funding comes directly from readers, whether it’s via subscriptions, donations or whatever. However, as any non-profit knows, what will bring the donations flooding in and what most needs to be done are often very different things. For one thing, people will donate to help the victims of disasters, but it’s much harder to raise money to prevent the disaster from happening in the first place, or even for containing it its early stages. Which is just one example of the phenomenon that hot-button, media-friendly issues tend to win out over things that would make a vastly bigger difference with less money.

I was thrilled to see Massively Overpowered and Blizzard Watch hit their funding goals so quickly. But part of what fueled that I’d guess were the understandable emotional responses in the face of a sudden disaster: “Helps the victims”, “Save our friends”, “Stick it to the heartless corporation” etc. In the future, there might be harder choices for the sites to make, for example if they wanted to take a stance that would anger parts of their donor base.

There’s no easy way to square the need to bring in funds with other goals. This means there are important freedoms for amateurs and semi-professionals, who can afford to be less concerned about the financial consequences of their actions.

Concluding Thoughts

I guess the upshot of all this is that I think it’s very valuable to have a “mixed economy”. It’s good that there should be professionals, amateurs and semi-professionals. They all have strengths which compensate for potential weaknesses of the others, and as with many things a diverse ecosystem is a healthy one.

tolkien

Maybe some of you wondered about the image at the top of this post. Perhaps you never see any significance in the pictures I use anyway. Or perhaps you tried to figure out for a moment what connection this one had with the topic in hand. Maybe you spotted it!

That photo shows Merton College, Oxford, where Tolkien was a professor for a large part of his career. The point is that writing fantasy fiction was not his day job, and that fact in part helped him produced something unique and wonderful. No one who depended on writing for their livelihood could have spent so long building up a deep imaginative world or gestating a single novel. By the measure of words per day, his output was hopeless. And the length of time to complete a novel which he wasn’t sure would even be publishable would no doubt make an editor weep. Work of that type could only have been done by someone who had the luxury of not having to rely on it for their income.

Food for thought perhaps, in the amateurs vs pros debate.

Massively OP: The Bright Gleam of Victory

Last week Massively shutdown. This weekend the reborn Massively Overpowered got fully funded on Kickstarter within 48 hours.

Congratulations to all at MassivelyOP and the the wider MMO community that rallied round them!

I can sum up my feelings on the matter with a couple of quotes from Winston Churchill…

A Remarkable and Definite Victory

Now, however, we have a new experience. We have victory – a remarkable and definite victory. The bright gleam has caught the helmets of our soldiers, and warmed and cheered all our hearts.

Churchill November 10, 1942

The End of the Beginning

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Churchill, November 10, 1942

Hear the speech delivered in his uniquely powerful and humorous way here…

A Kickstarter for a blog is obviously not in the same category as The Battle of El Alamein. But in its smaller way it is a tremendously heartening and inspiring victory after a time of great adversity, yet as Churchill emphasized, only “perhaps the end of the beginning”.

Live long and prosper Massively OP. May the force be with you, and the hair on your toes never fall out!

Bloggy Christmas: Unexpected Parties

ScreenShot00491

Community.

The thought of it fills me with a warm and fuzzy glow, which makes it rather hard to think of what to say about it. It’s something pervasive and intangible, part of the atmosphere of life, but hard to home in on in concrete terms. Maybe it’s a little bit like the music that plays in our MMOs, something that provides a background that shapes and enriches our experience without our always being aware of its presence or importance.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to find any of that when I first started playing MMOs a little over three years ago.

Beginnings

I was a latecomer to MMOs for various reasons. For one thing, I wasn’t all that keen on paying recurring subscriptions; for another I’d heard the stories about people getting hooked on World of Warcraft and I could well imagine that could happen to me. But another reason, and the most relevant to the topic of community, is that I didn’t know anyone who played an MMO. Now that certainly seemed like a barrier to playing and enjoying a genre which as far as I knew required a lot of cooperative play over a period of months or years.

In time I gathered that MMOs were becoming more solo-friendly, and when I discovered that LOTRO had become free-to-play, being a big Tolkien fan I felt the time had come to go take a look.

When I started I wasn’t expecting to group much at all, nor to join a guild, let alone discover a community. I remember researching which classes were the most solo-friendly, and that if anything I avoided the busiest servers. It wasn’t that I had anything against grouping, I just assumed everyone was playing with their friends, and there’d be no particular place for me in their circles.

I did have my first taste of the LOTRO community though, even before I ever grouped. That was via Googling for information and coming across the wonderful, now shuttered, mmorsel for Lord of the Rings Online and Lotro-Wiki, which is thankfully still going strong! I got a sense that there were people out there who loved the game, enjoyed pondering it, and liked sharing their know-how. This was still a “read-only” experience however, I didn’t imagine even the possibility of interacting with these folks any more than I would imagine interacting with someone I saw on TV.

Groups and Kins

I can’t remember how I first found myself in a fellowship. Did someone invite me to group? Did I take the initiative? I don’t know any more, but I wasn’t long in LOTRO before I had a lot of fun playing in ad hoc duos with people who were going through the same areas as me. It probably helped that there were a number of designated group quests included in the Epic storyline, which naturally led people to find others if they could.

And of course, completely contrary to my expectations, I got a lot of random invites to join kinships. Since I was enjoying grouping when I could, it seemed a good idea to give one of these a try. Unfortunately my first kinship experience was not such a good one. The person that recruited me was nice enough, and so were many of the other members. But it was hard to really connect with an in-group who already knew each other so well, and on top of that there were a few members that were pretty childish and at times obnoxious. (Turned out that one actually was a teenager, so perhaps the childishness was understandable.) So after a short while I dropped out of that kin, and went back to my soloing and ad hoc grouping.

Eventually I lucked out. After ignoring lots more invites to kinships, one day I did respond to one. Maybe it was worded in a way I liked, I don’t know why I actually started chatting that time instead of ignoring it like all the other random invites. It was an enormous stroke of luck! I became part of a wonderful small kinship, hit it off with the others, and never looked back.

There’s not a lot more to say about that. Though I met them in-game, this is how I imagined people played MMOs, with a small group of good friends, enjoying the company and the laughs as much as the game itself.

Eventually I did have characters on other servers and in other – larger – kinships as well. Maybe I got better at picking which to join because I only ever had that one not-so-great experience in a kinship, and even that was not really so bad either.

To anyone that is hesitant about guilds and kinships, my advice is go try, and if at first you don’t succeed, don’t worry. Go try a few until you find one you love – it really makes a game.

Out of Game

ScreenShot00752

For a long time, “community” would have meant mostly my in-game community to me, my friends, my kinnies, the people I ran into in PUGs and so on. I did gradually become aware of a few blogs, especially when I went looking for information about various parts of the game. It was probably Pineleaf’s Skirmish Guides that first led me to Casual Stroll to Mordor (CSTM).

CSTM became the hub of the out-of-game LOTRO community for me. At first I’d visit to get info on the game, later I dropped by every day, and soon it became the place to discuss the game.

It’s hard to pay proper tribute to CSTM in the space I have here. Without it, I wonder if there even would be a true LOTRO community? Certainly any community that arose would have been very different than it was. Merric and Goldenstar were the couple who started the site and hosted the podcast. I’ve referred to them before as the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt of the LOTRO world, such is their superstardom! They helped bring the community into being not only through their own posts and podcasts but by providing a welcoming venue for others such as Pineleaf to get started. That created a critical mass so that there was plenty for everyone to talk about, and a lively and friendly place to hang out and discuss the game.

As with all things, time moves on, Merric and Goldenstar’s priorities changed and the CSTM site is no more. However because of the kick start it gave the community, its influence lives on. Many of the contributors to CSTM went on to create LOTRO Players, which now has a similarly important role as CSTM formerly did.

Perhaps this is the key thing about community: It has a life beyond that of any individual. We can all contribute in ways large and small, and our contributions become part of the evolving stream of community life. Some like Merric and Goldenstar make a huge and long-lasting contribution, so even after they’ve moved on we remember and salute them. I daresay it is one of the most satisfying and enduring accomplishments that a person can have.

Which brings us to another esteemed community member who has done much for us all, and is about to reduce his own participation.

Blogging, Podcasting, Twittering

Roger has not only created a thoroughly enjoyable podcast and blog, he has directly helped many of us get started in our own efforts. Without the Newbie Blogger Initiative of 2013, this blog would not exist, and nor would I be participating in Twitter today. Therefore without Roger’s drive and commitment to make the NBI 2013 and 2014 happen I wouldn’t have the delightful community that I have today, which is not only the people that I play with directly, but even more so the people I’m connected with via blogs, podcasts, Twitter, WordPress.com, and other networks, many of whom don’t even play the same games as I do.

This community is, as I said earlier, a little like the music playing in the background of our MMOs. Without it maybe life would go on much as it is, and would be pretty enjoyable regardless. Nonetheless its constant presence adds an extra layer of richness, enjoyment and sheer fun that would otherwise be lacking.

So many many thanks to Roger, to Merric and Goldenstar, and to all those who’ve helped create our community, to make it what it is today, and make it welcoming to all. Thanks also to everyone who participates in the community in ways large and small.

I couldn’t have foreseen any of this when I first decided to give LOTRO a try. My experience in the world of MMOs has truly been of a series of wonderful, delightful, and completely unexpected parties!

Happy Christmas to you all!

Roundup: The Bloggy Christmas Series 1-5

Bloggy Xmas

I’ve been looking for a place where all the Bloggy Christmas posts were collected together in a nice list and easy-to-click format. There probably is such a place, but I haven’t stumbled on it, so I thought I’d make my own collection of links, with a few taster snippets from the posts together with the odd comments of my own.

Originally I planned to cover all posts to date, and then keep the list updated as new ones came out. But it’s turned out that the way I liked presenting the list, that is really going to be too long for anyone’s comfort, so I’ll try to gather around ten posts per roundup. Here goes with Dec 1st to 5th…

  • Dec 1st… Telwyn at GamingSF: Gaming and Community
    “…there is some je ne sais quoi, some mix of ingredients that online gaming brings and I think community is a central part of that… Interactions with real players can often be fleeting or negative, but they can also be very positive and memorable”

  • Dec 1st… Ikralla at Grimoires of Supremacy: Community
    “I’m not the most social of people… Without World of Warcraft, without this little blog of mine, without that behemoth that is Twitter, I don’t think I’d have met (in a manner of speaking) so many awesome people.”

  • Dec 2nd… Talarian at Gamer by Design: A Family Like No Other
    “So getting into a guild that was LGBT friendly, and active about it, was immense for me. I could be myself without having to worry about what other people think. Folks to talk to in cases when I felt I had nobody else, really.”

  • Dec 2nd… Aywren at Signus.org: Self Discovery and Personal Growth in FFXIV
    “This game was pushing me out of my comfort zone, and I wasn’t giving up. I was succeeding!…I was also learning things about the community and other players. I discovered that there were other people who were new to the dungeons, who seemed relieved to hear me announce “Hey, this is my first time.” Many times I heard “Yeah, mine too.” Or “My first try on a tank. Please be gentle.”…These people weren’t those raging leetists that I feared. In fact, I saw very little of that at all… “

  • Dec 3rd… Tremayne at Tremayne’s Law: The Faces Behind the Avatars
    “Insofar as there’s a moral to this rambling tale… think about maybe meeting up with some of the faces behind the avatars…. it’s not nearly as scary as it might seem”

  • Dec 3rd… Izlain at Me, Myself and I: A Sense of Belonging
    “Just knowing that people read my opinions and care enough to comment or write retorts on their own blogs makes me feel like I belong to something greater, and that’s been my goal for a long time.”

  • Dec 4th… Scree at The Cynic Chronicles: How Gaming led me to my Wife
    “Gaming and the communities it created for me has been an enormous personal blessing to me… It gave me my best friend… It gave me a brother-in-law… It gave me happiness…Best of all, it gave me my wife.”

  • Dec 4th… Ranni at The Flaming Bard: Community is Family
    “When I think in terms of my ‘gaming community’ I think “My PEOPLE!”. People who get me, people who make me laugh, people who take an interest in the same things I do even outside of gaming. I’m included in this wonderful bunch of geeky gamers and it feels incredible”

  • Dec 5th… Asmiroth at Leo‘s Life: An Old Soul
    “With so many games available for our attention, the odds of a single community in a single game are long gone. The bonds last across games but you still need a mechanism to share stories. Blogs are an amazing way to do that.”

If you’ve not read the posts, there is much more to each of them than is conveyed by the short snippet that I chose to give a flavor of them. So do go ahead and read them!

Looking at the collection as a whole I’m struck my how much community has meant to everyone, and the sheer number of extraordinary stories people have to tell. Seeing them all in one place brings it home to me even more than reading them individually did.

There really is something magical about true community.

Survey: The State of LOTRO

ScreenShot00666

Following a couple of fairly gloomy posts on the present and future of LOTRO over at Contains Moderate Peril and Paste Magazine, I’ve been wondering what people generally think about the state of LOTRO. Personally I’m more upbeat than those posts, despite my post The Shadow of the Future back when Turbine announced layoffs in February.

To find out what people generally think, I thought I’d create a survey.

Part 1 – How much you’re playing now

Pick the category that applies best below…

Pick up to 4 reasons that fit best…

Part 2 – Your server

Pick up to 3 choices if you play on multiple servers…

Part 3 – How do you feel about the future?

Pick whichever is closest to your feelings…

Part 4 – What kind of player are you?

Choose whatever fits best…

Choose what fits best…

Choose as many as fit what you like…

Choose whatever fits best…

Please comment and share

Thanks for filling out the survey! If you want to expand on your answers, please do comment below. Also it would be great if you could share the survey so we can get lots of answers and find out what people are really doing and feeling.