I Wish I Weren’t Writing This Article- a SimCity Review from a Marketing Viewpoint

I didn’t sit down at my PC today planning to write this article, I actually had some pure leisure time in mind. However, I haven’t been able to do what I planned to do quite a bit this week as much as I’d hoped- play the latest version of SimCity, released Tuesday, March 5th. I’ve been able to play the game some, but as I’m going to get into, there’ve been some technical hiccups to say the least. In between bouts of trying to play and weeping softly at all the wasted time I’ve had a chance to monitor a lot of different channels of sentiment and also watch EA’s response with an involved but sort of dispassionate perspective. See, I buy games like these expecting to get screwed. It’s a lot like going to the casino- if you plan to lose you’ll probably have a pretty good time.

Roulette is FUN, who cares?

Before I get into what I’ve seen other people saying, and then into what EA’s response has been (pretty good, actually, considering) I want to explain what my personal experience has been. In a nutshell, the SimCity servers are lying whores:

 

lies

 

…but I still love them so, so much.

I preordered after applying to and playing in the second of two one-hour betas; I literally went to the page and ordered the deluxe digital download directly after playing it. D. Then, I played in the 4-hour “stress test” beta and realized the potential the whole game had- and that’s when I started getting really excited. I got the game early, Monday night because I live on the West Coast. I started stabbing the button at 9 PM and started downloading the unlocked game at 10:01. It took about 40 minutes to download and unpack, and I managed to get a good 2 hours in with the game before forcing myself to go to bed as I had work in the morning. It was only enough time to set up a region, claim a city, and noodle a little.

I went to work on Tuesday, then watched RAW from Monday night, then sat down at about 9 PM to play SimCity. A ha ha ha. I sat there for the next three hours Alt-tabbing between servers that were melting and several forums that were exploding. I didn’t get to play. I did manage to play Wednesday for about 3 hours, and Thursday for the same. I was completely locked out last night and as I write this on Saturday afternoon, I am also currently locked out.

Here’s what I know about SimCity in easy to digest bullet points:

1. This is not the SimCity you are used to. It’s much more dynamic, there are things to do beyond just “grow your city and make Simoleans until everything is   arcologies”, as fun as that was:

The disasters can’t be turned off (unless you want to disqualify yourself from leaderboards)- but there is a sandbox mode that I haven’t tried as it just seems very unsatisfying to consider.

 2. YES THE GOD DAMN CITIES ARE GOD DAMN SMALLER,WE KNOW, STOP POSTING IT. It’s a very deliberate decision EA made so that your dad’s laptop can also run SimCity, and not just your mechagodzilla of a gaming rig.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Cities are all part of a larger region now- and if you want to, you can set up a 16-city region and run ‘em all yourself, go nuts. I think          however, that would be missing the point because…

3. SimCity ’13 or whatever we end up calling it is essentially a multiplayer game at heart. Amidst the cries of “I can’t wait until they hack in offline single player” (impossible, the games are saved server-side) or “I’ll play it when someone cracks the DRM” (not going to happen, Diablo III for example is  almost a year old and hasn’t been cracked and won’t be cracked until the server code is leaked, same as SimCity) what’s being lost is that people are pissed that it’s not the                 same game. Wanting the game to be single player only, wanting to be able to save games, wreck your city, and go back again and start from before the disaster are things this game simply is not about.   It’s a reboot, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. The good news is, there are  still plenty of alternatives, including the last SimCity game which no one played until modders got their hands on it and made it not suck so bad. I, for one, can’t wait to unleash hordes of pollution and villainy on my neighbors in the region, then bulldoze, start again,  launch a rocket,build an arcology- and so on, and so forth.

4. They almost assuredly have teams that started working on DLC and/or expansion packs- I really hope it’s the latter- in parallel to the team working on the main game release. It’s going to be expensive to buy everything that comes with this game, as proven by the first DLC, which already represents an extra $30 to spend to “have everything”, if you didn’t get it for the discounted $20 by spending $80 on the deluxe version. This is not the whole game.

          5. This is a beautiful game. There’s no way around that one, I love to watch this game. These pictures don’t even do it justice, it is so pretty in motion.

 

 

6. The long term “endgame” of SimCity is the leaderboards.  The “Simulation” aspect of things isn’t something I am interested in particularly, min-maxing traffic through gaming the system by building huge cities with only one road, for example, doesn’t interest me. I’m more interested in building up huge regions with other friends and working together to take on the leaderboards.

7. This is a very fun game that’s not ready for prime time yet. Hold off a week on buying it. I’m really enjoying it;  I’m just tired of having to wait and roll the dice for 45 minutes to see if I get to play it or not. This is in spite of them supposedly doubling server capacity already- I haven’t noticed an appreciable difference in my ability to connect and now that it’s the weekend things are getting even worse.

So what are people so Angry about?

1. Always on DRM- you have to connect to EA’s servers to play the game. You can’t boot it up on a laptop on a Navy submarine, and you can’t use it to relax on a plane without paying for wifi. Does this suck? I’m not really bothered by it, I have a fast and consistent connection to play on, but that’s ignoring a lot of other people that don’t have one. It seems greedy and stupid but a retailer wouldn’t let thieves walk out the door without paying for merchandise, EA is not going to willingly let people pirate their games if they can help it by any means. I know it’s a  controversial opinion but DRM is something gamers brought upon themselves.

2. The servers are melting- the game is pretty much unplayable for a large portion of the people  that bought it. This is clearly the biggest issue, people paid anywhere from $45 to $80 for the game and can’t play it. The most common conclusion being drawn is that if the game simply had a one player offline mode- which is what a lot of people identify SimCity with, none of this nonsense would have happened. I’ve been around for some pretty big launches and it is getting irritating that companies are all “We didn’t know so many people wanted our product” when they know damn well how many people are going to play based on preorders. It’s hard not to think they aren’t just being greedy or stupid by not scaling up at first to meet demand.

Whaddya mean, people want to buy this thing we marketed and hyped the shit out of?

3. EA has flatly stated, “no refunds for Origin downloads”. This really pisses people off too because no one, anywhere, anytime said WE NEED ANOTHER DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SERVICE  and the service has frankly sucked like a Hoover since it was launched. It’s seen as another money grab by EA, an inefficient, buggy system when they easily could have adopted Steam, a system that has had time to mature and already does work.

4. There’s no single player, offline mode- this is less a reasonable consumer complaint, and more a “waah, my game changed” complaint. I’m not saying it’s not legit. I’m saying I have no sympathy for you if you bought a game unresearched and didn’t know what it was going to be in advance. There are 105 million results in Google’s index for “simcity review”- there’s something in there about the game, probably, somewere. Just a hunch.

The SimCity launch has been the perfect poop blizzard of poorly estimating consumer demand, a beloved franchise that changed a lot, and a seemingly soulless corporation greedily and clumsily implementing DRM ostensibly to help gamers, but ultimately perceived as “to fatten those margins”.

The other side of this coin is that as a marketer, it’s interesting for me to study a trainwreck like this from a PR/marketing/crisis management perspective. EA has done a lot of things right but I don’t know if A) there’s going to be any lasting damage or B) what the scale of said damage might be. At the time of this writing EA’s stock has not moved since the game’s release on Tuesday. I think what we’re seeing is digital Funzo trampling

If you get this reference you are as big a dork as I am.

I don’t think it bothers EA at all that there is so much demand for their game that it’s breaking their infrastructure- to your average stockholder, who doesn’t play games or give a crap about a server queue, that looks like you have a product that the consumer really really really wants to buy. And they’re right to think so, in spite of this fiasco the game remains the top selling PC game on Amazon. However, they have to respond. Here’s a brief summary of their response so far.

The company and its reps have been active on Twitter, as has Ocean Quigley, the Creative and Art Director for the title. Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis also posted on the official blog:

” You, the fans, are important to us. It’s why we got into games and it’s because of you that we  here at Maxis were able to complete our dream of making another SimCity. This has been an exciting week for us, but as you know there have been some bumps along the way. We want to shed light on one of the most significant issues that we are facing right now, as well as the steps we’re taking to resolve them so that we can provide you with an enjoyable experience.

 Server capacity is our biggest obstacle. We launched in North America on Tuesday and our servers filled up within a matter of hours. What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join. We added more servers to accommodate the launch in Australia and Japan, and then more yesterday to accommodate the launch in Europe. As of right now, we are adding even more servers which will be going live over the next three days. And, our plan is to continue to bring more servers online until we have enough to meet the demand, increase player capacity and let more people through the gates and into the game.

Earlier today, we released a patch that temporarily cut off some features including leaderboards, achievements and Cheetah Speed to reduce data stress on the servers and effectively free up space so that we can let more people into the game. These are great features that we’re proud of and we’ll turn them back on soon, but our number one priority is to bring stability to our servers. This update also resolved some of the bugs and issues that have been frustrating players. You can read all about it at http://forum.ea.com/eaforum/posts/list/9341807.page

We will be posting regularly to keep you up to speed on developments, so please check back for updates. We are committed to doing everything we can to deliver a stable and enjoyable experience and we thank you for your continued patience and support.”

EA has also added 8 additional servers and patched the game- but they aslo removed the fastest gameplay speed, cheetah, which messes with the way a lot of people play, and they removed features such as sorting on the Join Game screen as well.

In addition to getting on a sort of filtered Reddit-style AMA on Twitter today, Maxis SVP Lucy Bradshaw has also posted the following on the SimCity blog:

“Here’s a quick update on the problems we were experiencing with SimCity – and a little something extra for people who bought the game. The server issues which began at launch have improved significantly as we added more capacity. But some people are still experiencing response and stability problems that we’re working fast to address.

So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta. OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent. It’s working – the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically. The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent. So we’re close to fixed, but not quite there. I’m hoping to post another update this weekend to let everyone know that the launch issues are behind us.

Something Special for Your Trouble

The good news is that SimCity is a solid hit in all major markets. The consensus among critics and players is that this is fundamentally a great game. But this SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience. So we’re not going to rest until we’ve fixed the remaining server issues.  And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.

I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent. SimCity is a GREAT game and the people who made it are incredibly proud. Hang in there – we’ll be providing more updates throughout the weekend.”

So in summary, they have apologized, made changes to the product that will instantly help with sentiment towards the game and brand, are being responsive on social media, letting customers vent on their Facebook page, and ultimately will be offering a free product in the future.

EA is doing many things right, but they should have avoided this disaster in the first place. Companies have to start anticipating this demand, and leasing servers for overflow, or they will have complex PR issues such as these to deal with when similar titles are launched. EA was already voted the worst company in America, and SimCity is a game that everyone, not just gamers, knows and loves. This was a bad miscalculation but ultimately, I don’t think it will hurt EA at all. Until people stop buying these games en masse- and the marketing is just so good that it’s not going to happen- we’re all at their mercy.

I’m gonna go try to play again…*crosses fingers*…damn.

I hate you EA

Now what am I supposed to do- go outside?

Diablo 3 Launch Party Report and Initial Game Impressions- with Video

So unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you know by now that Blizzard’s Diablo III has been released. This is a huge thing, obviously- people have been waiting over a decade for the third iteration of Blizzard’s classic “click on stuff with your mouse until it dies” franchise. The game is going to make Blizzard a pile of money, especially since they have brought the ability to buy and sell items for real money, which of course they will see a small part of.

I was in the beta for Diablo III, thanks to an inside hookup I have with a producer friend at Blizzard. I played through the beta one time with one character, and then proceeded to share my early access with every single person that asked for it :) I didn’t want to spoil anything too great past the first boss- the Skeleton King- and so even though there are lots of people out there with 100 hours in (in a 90 minute beta!), I’m not the poopsocky type. I did get a Collector’s Edition of the game for $10 through my Blizzard pal, however, and who doesn’t love a good hookup?

Monday night my friend Pat and I went to the launch party for Diablo III in Irvine. It was a pretty sweet setup, with a big stage, lots of signage, and tons of Blizzard employees. We were all the way at the back near the press area, and security kept telling us to move along, but we had a pretty decent vantage point for the show:

You had to buy the game from GameStop on site to be let into the big holding pen where everyone was lining up in front of the stage they had set up. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me- I mean, I had the game at home sitting on my hard drive already, why would people line up for 4 hours to get a physical box unless they wanted it signed? Why do people buy physical boxes anyway? And with the collectibles market being what it is- namely, finished, now that eBay is here- I was frankly surprised that people would want to wait that long. Still, it was very interesting to watch the cross-section of people who excitedly approached the harried GameStop clerk to buy the game- old, young, male, female, black, white, asian, hipster, yuppie- Diablo III really seems to have kindled something in a lot of people. I know personally people who basically quit playing video games 5 years ago that are making an exception for Diablo III! The party featured giveaways including new PCs, copies of the game, shirts, and the like, as well as live sessions with game producers and artists, including a half hour live drawing session that culminated in the artist chucking the sketch into the crowd. They showed lots of videos and cinematics from D1, D2 and D3 throughout the night- but we left after they brought the cosplayers out.

This put me home at about 10:30, plenty of time to watch Monday Night RAW (which was horrible, for the record) before diving in.

However, I wasn’t able to dive right in. The servers for the US launch, much like the servers for the Australian, Asian and English launches, didn’t work properly or they simply didn’t anticipate half a million people all trying to log in at 12 AM (though I doubt that, the hype surrounding this game has been insane). So, I ended up twiddling my thumbs until about 1:30 AM, then I finally got in but played for only 20 minutes before I had to go to bed. A lot of people are screaming about WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT FOR SERVERS TO PLAY A ONE PLAYER GAME and to be fair, they have a point- but in 6 months no one will remember how bad the service was for the first 48 hours, so just chill out folks.

I have some friends who were able to play sporadically yesterday, I myself was kicked out after about an hour, and told that the servers would not be back up until midnight. What I did play was visceral and satisfying, classic Diablo- and it’s tough, too! I basically steamrolled all of act I only to get one shot by the first enemy in act II. All of the classic Diablo stuff is there- foreboding music, gritty visuals, the visceral punch of your character’s abilities. I’m just waiting for a period of server stability to get a couple characters going with some friends, but I have no doubt that we’ll all be playing D3 and its expansion packs for a long time to come. Check back in a few weeks for a more fleshed-out review. Thanks for reading! Bonus video coverage of the launch party:

Star Wars: The Old Republic- Endgame Impressions

So here’s my thoughts on The Old Republic’s endgame, now that I’ve been playing it for a few weeks. I hit max level on my first (and if history is any guide) only toon on February 11th, about 2 months after I’d started playing and with an ingame time of a little under 7 calendar days. I leveled my toon as a pure evil darkside sith Inquisitor, and my character is a Twi’lek (not that race makes a ton of difference). I mainly stayed away from PvP and I didn’t allow my guild to twink me through everything, I leveled pretty much solely through questing and grabbing a pug when a Flashpoint looked interesting. So what are you supposed to do at level 50, anyway? The short answer is, grind through the gear progression, pretty much like every other MMO. Specifically, you can:

Unlock and run dailies on Belsavis and Ilum

If you’re a player without a guild, this is the fastest way to start picking up some daily commendations, which you can turn in at the rate of 120 per piece of gear and 8 per equipment component (for upgrading weapons), to earn the first tier of PvE gear. Dailies are short missions (5-10 minutes each) that can be repeated once every 24 hours. Between Belsavis and Ilum, once you have unlocked the hubs and depending on how long it takes to find a group of 2-4 to complete some of the Heroic Dailies, as well as factoring in that at least one of them is still broken, you can earn enough Daily Commendations in about 5 days to buy a piece of T1 PvE gear. Multiply that times 9 slots and you could spend a month and a half getting yourself your first set of first tier of PvE gear. However, if you’ve made even a modest attempt to keep yourself geared, as long as you have good gear with level 50 or 51 implants you can start tackling the easier Hard Mode (haha) Flashpoints  such as Black Talon, which drop T2 PvE gear- you can essentially skip the first tier of PvE gear, if you want.  I also neglected to mention that you can make 7k credits or more per daily, meaning you can easily bank 200k a day just by doing dailies. Personally, I think the dailies get boring, I only get about 90 minutes on weeknights to play and dailies are what I usually do if I can’t find anything with my Guild or PvP. Besides, I am starting to get better gear than the dailies provide so even though it would be nice to have a full set…I don’t need it. It’s purely for the completionist in me or out of boredom that I do dailies any more- frankly, Skyrim is a better use of my scant gaming time, though I do enjoy doing the dailies as they are easy and a good way to meet new people.

Work on obtaining 3 tiers of gear for PvP- Centurion, Champion, and Battlemaster

Get in there and grind, soldier! There are dailies for PvP as well as weeklies, and with a certain number of wins (3) in a day (also 9 in a week), you get a gear bag, which will either contain a piece of champion gear or some Champion commendations and some Centurion commendations, which you can trade in for PvP gear on the Fleet. There are also dailies and weeklies for kills (30 and 130 each award a gear bag). Once you hit 60 Valor (PvP XP, essentially), you can instead choose to receive Battlemaster gear bags, which contain Battlemaster PvP gear. Gotta be level 60 to use those, though. I’ve not played a lot of PvP and so I can’t comment much- though I hear Sorcerors are overpowered and PvP is a mess of stunlocks, so my class will likely get nerfed- but I will say that the gear progression on PvP is super, SUPER RNG-based. If you get lucky you can pimp yourself out in a nice set of Champion gear fairly fast, if you’re unlucky you might open 10 bags in a row and not get a single piece. I don’t have a lot of motivation to play PvP for gear, frankly.

Work on obtaining 3 tiers of gear for PvE- Tionese, Columi and Rakata, Run Hard Mode flashpoints for gear, Run Operations for gear

Once you ding 50, you can start running Hard Mode flash points. The bosses of these drop tokens which are class specific- but not advanced class specific, so you still have a choice how to “spend” that drop- that you can turn into the vendors on fleet for Columi gear. Some of them drop pieces of Tionese gear as well. There are lists on the web of what order to start with, but you should definitely be able to do at least Black Talon as a fresh 50. After you are fairly well geared it’s time to start doing operations, which drop Columi gear and Rakata tokens, and then finally the end of end game is Hard/Nightmare mode Operations, which drop Rakata gear, the highest in the game (unless you count rare, crit-crafted gear that has an extra augment slot). There are currently 7 Flashpoints and 2 operations in the game, with one more of each coming in patch 1.2 (also a new PvP Warzone!)

Collect matrix cube shards to build your artifact and hunt holocrons to increase your stats

For the Pokemon “gotta catch em all” crowd, there are, scattered about the game, matrix cube shards that can be assembled into a powerful artifact, and holocrons that contain + stats to attributes. The most impressive of these is the nearly impossible to obtain (without Ventrilo and the Internet) +10 to all attributes Holocron, which resides on the central meeting place for the two factions. This is most fun with a bunch of buddies and some beers on Ventrilo, and is a great way to see a lot of scenic vistas, and it’s also a great way to satisfy compulsive min/maxers on the Inspect screen. BIG PROPS to my Guild, WTS Deathsticks, PST, on Nadd’s Sarcophagus; I think all officers and many other 50’s have obtained the +10 to All ‘cron through teamwork and copious yelling on Vent.

Reverse Engineer all your crafting recipes/Play the Galactic Trade Network

This should be pretty obvious- and it gets expensive. Gotta spend that 200k a day you make running dailies every day on something, right?

 

So what do I personally think of the endgame of TOR? Compared to the other MMO’s I’ve played (Guild Wars, EVE Online, TOR), there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do outside of gear progression and PvP. Bioware really, really, really really wants you to roll alts, lots of alts, see all 8 stories alts. I was home sick from work with a 103 degree fever and so I actually got to see the Guild Summit from Austin and every answer was  IT’S COMING IN 1.2 or WE’D LOVE TO DO THAT IN THE FUTURE. Frankly, 1.2 needs to add a ton to the game- I personally am waiting to see what the “Events Team” has been working on (supposedly, Bioware-run, gamewide events that affect everyone, think of the Rifts in Rift) to hang on to a lot of subscriptions, with Guild Wars 2 supposedly breaking a lot of paradigms and entering public beta. I really like Star Wars but here’s what  my daily play time (outside of Wednesday night Guild Nights, where we do have a ton of fun) looks like:

Log in.

Go to Fleet and pick up my dailies and/or weeklies if I need them.

Shop for materials and set up some crafting.

Ping general to see if anyone needs a Healer for a HM Flashpoint. Get bored spamming after 5 minutes, leave and go to Belsavis. Alternatively, shut down TOR and go play Skyrim.

Run Belsavis dailies, if it’s a cool group, continue to Ilum dailies. If I’m bored, switch to Skyrim.

Log off (it’s been 2 hours) OR:

Head to the Ilum PvP area and see if there are any Reps there to fight for my Ilum dailies- oh, wait, Ilum is so broken that they are scrapping it with more details coming later THIS YEAR. So there’s even LESS Ilum PvP than there used to be :(

Queue for Warzones. If it’s anything else but peak time, expect to wait 10-15 minutes with a 90% possibility of getting Huttball. Again. Get bored, log out, play Skyrim.


See what I mean? It gets old after a while. And once those 2 operations go down on Nightmare mode…I worry what will be left. Still and all though, I’m having a lot of fun and don’t feel like the $110 I’ve invested so far has been wasted. Will I re-up my sub? Depends on whether or not 1.2 comes out when they say it will, some time in April. Until then at least, I’m on Nadd’s Sarcophagus and I’m always looking to run a hard mode FP with ya!

 

 

 

Bioware’s The Old Republic- Impressions at Midway

So a few weeks ago, giddy with a week’s early access and a week off of work to play, I wrote up my initial impressions of The Old Republic, the new MMO based on the Star Wars Universe from Bioware. I’ve had a chance to play up to level 32 now, and I realize I still haven’t seen the whole game but I have seen a lot more! I haven’t played another game since I logged into TOR, and many of my guild mates are approaching 50, so I’ve seen a lot more. Here’s some of what I’ve seen:

I finally got my space ship. I didn’t get to pick, the game will assign you a ship based on your class. Inside the ship are a conference room, bedroom, storage area and bridge. It’s also where your companions hang out when they aren’t standing by your side, questing away. In addition to the aforementioned, the ship is how you get around from planet to planet, using the galaxy map. It’s sort of an unsatisfying experience- you enter your ship from its hangar on whatever planet you’re on and see a cutscene of your vessel leaving the atmosphere, then you are on your ship. You pick a location from the galaxy map, pay the fuel cost and hit the button- at which point the ship turns slightly to the proper angle, kicks into hyperspace for a few moments, slows, and drops you in orbit at the new location. You then exit your ship to another cutscene. I must say that this process makes changing planets pretty laborious as the cutscenes are the same every time- but you can skip them with the spacebar, just like the dialogue in quests.

Your ship is also the means by which you participate in “space combat”- which to me, is fun, but to others, has been called massively unsatisfying as there is no multiplayer or true space combat- you are taken through an on-rails sequence whereby the game flies the ship for you with minor corrections so you don’t smash into asteroids while you shoot blaster bolts and missiles at enemies, through geometry that allows the bolts to clip straight through, so there’s virtually no challenge. As long as you’ve ground out enough credits to buy the space ship upgrades appropriate to the current mission, it’s pretty easy. All of that said, I like the space combat and think it’s the most appealing portion of the game graphically, but I can definitely see how the on-rails and lack-of-multiplayer nature of what is essentially a minigame at this point would put people off. My bet’s on “full-fledged space combat is coming in an expansion, but they didn’t dare launch without it and so we got this”.

I finally got my speeder! It’s expensive, at 40k credits to train when you hit level 25. I have to say that I’m very glad to have purchased the collector’s edition, as the STAP that comes with it is pretty cool looking, and I’ve heard the other starter speeders described as looking like everything from a pimped-out wheelchair to a sorry Segway substitute. Getting on the speeder increases speed by 90%, a blessing for planets like Tatooine, where more than half of your play time will be taken up traversing the dunes between mission locations. There are also higher level speeders that grant up to a 110% movement speed bonus (for a million plus credits) as well as special speeders for being an Evil Bastard or a Goody Two Shoes. Being an Inquisitor, it’s nice because I can pop static field before I get on my speeder and it’s much harder to get knocked off for about 30 seconds. Additionally, mounting and dismounting your speeder restores all of your companions’ health. So far, the STAP is the only reason I’m not kicking myself for buying the worthless Digital Deluxe edition.

Speaking of companions, I’ve got three of them now! I didn’t realize this when I wrote my first post, but the way you craft in TOR is to send your companions on missions for you. Collect stuff in the field and then when you click on the companion interface, you can send them on missions to craft, or, depending on profession, come back with supplies or even increase your Light Side/Dark Side rating. I took Biochemistry, Bioanalysis and Diplomacy as my skills, and I still haven’t fully committed to crafting as it seems like a huge money sink, but I like the idea that I can craft WHILE I play, instead of having it be a zero sum game of spending time on either/or. Can’t wait to buy some better recipes and start playing the GTN (Galactic Trade Network- TOR’s version of an auction house)!

I finally got my last name for finishing Act I and I have to say I am very much enjoying playing a murderous puppy-kicking Sith. It makes the conversation choices a little boring, as I usually just always pick whatever is the most evil, but it’s also a departure for me- in games I almost always play a paragon of virtue, or I just go with what I personally would do in a given game situation, were it real. However, I’m trying with all my might to reach Dark V as I really like the gear that requires it, and I think the way my toon looks as her face cracks and eyes turn red is awesome. I always play the good guys but I’m having a ton of fun roleplaying a bad guy- and the story resolution to act I was supremely satisfying, at least as a Sith Inqusitor. Let’s just say…some people get what they have coming to them :)

A word of warning- I stayed on Balmorra, my third planet, way, WAY too long and essentially outlevelled most of Nar Shadda, Alderaan and Tatooine. I am sort of a completionist, wanting to do every  mission on every planet, but that did me no good- I haven’t changed headgear in at least 10 levels, for example. That led to me doing only class quests on Nar Shadda, Alderaan and Tatooine, but I’m heartened by the folks telling me that when I level alts, some of them will start on those planets. What a great way to see everything!

I’ll be back in a few weeks with high level and PVP impressions. Thanks for reading! I’m Eitodda Nurr in game, by the way, playing on Nadd’s Sarcophagus if you want to hit me up.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet

So, Friday night, I laid down and passed out at about 8 PM, intending to only take a short nap.  My wife came in and tried to wake me up but apparently that wasn’t gonna happen.  I’m even stubborn in my sleep!  About 2:30 AM I heard my daughter coughing and when I woke up, I knew I was up, that was it- I only get about 6 hours of sleep on a good night and my body was just ready to be awake.  Luckily, my good friend, Seattle artist Nikki Burch (she’s really good, pay her to draw you something!), was also online, as she’s wont to be late at night.  We got into an IM conversation that got me thinking about my history with the Internet, and I thought it might interest regular readers to hear how I ended up doing what I’m doing, when I certainly didn’t plan to end up in this field or even this state! So, Nikki, thanks for the inspiration.  I would have just played Battlefield or something if we hadn’t talked :).  This is gonna be a long one, twice as long as normal, so get a cup of whatever and settle in.  Personal stories incoming!

Growing up, I had 3 younger brothers.  We lived in Grosse Pointe Woods, which is a very shi shi suburb of Detroit, even though our family didn’t really have the means or the pedigree to be there.  We’d moved there after my parents got sick of driving the 3 hour round trip twice a day from Port Huron so that we could attend a very exclusive school my next youngest brother and I had partial scholarships for.  Point being, we didn’t have a lot of money for entertainment type stuff- but I do remember my parents buying an Apple IIc for Christmas of 1984.  I’d been lucky to have been exposed to computers starting in first grade- hey, this was the early 80’s and all this stuff was still new.  Right away, I was fascinated with writing basic programs that could ask for an answer and return a response based on the User’s input.  Then, the games came.  First, we started out with “educational games”- I still remember a pilot-able red blood cell named Arby Sea from some inside-the-body adventure game whose name escapes me.  Now, my cousins had always had Nintendo from the get go, and my brothers and I would beg our parents to stay the night at their house, 45 minutes away in Brighton, so we could play Punch-Out, Pro Wrestling (Starman was the shit!) and Top Gun. My parents hated it though, and thought gaming was a waste of time.  However, with the easy ability to copy programs on the IIc, I was able to try out classic games like Hard Hat Mack, Conan the Barbarian, Spy vs. Spy, and California Games- are there any other hacky sack simulators on the market, even now? I even remember the old Commodore 64 command to start playing Beach Head with my buddy Dave- *,8,1. Oh, and can any of us forget the Konami Code? I know you’re remembering it in your head right now, ya geek!

 

The Konami Code

 

We sort of lost interest in the IIc as we were exposed to more and more powerful computers in school. I remember taking a “computer graphics” class where clone stamping the eyeball part of a picture of a face and then dragging around the screen could actually get you points on an assignment.  I remember doing graphic images of Stonehenge at night and a pool table with the balls in motion that would embarass me mightily now- I think my mom still has those in her living room in their green frames, almost 20 years later.  I had a CAD class taught by the football coach that only required one drawing a semester.  I finished the drawing the third day and promptly looked for ways to start getting in trouble, and it just so happend that the students at my school had hacked the fledgling network to include not only some fairly disturbing (to a 9th grader) porno but also a playable copy of Out Of This World.  So, from then on, I was playing Out Of This World 5 days a week in 3rd period, and that was it. I was hooked.

 

Out of This World

 

The Internet didn’t really start to come into mainstream fruition in America’s rube belt, the Michigan-Ohio-Kentucky corridor, until I was a senior in high school, around 1994.  Now, my family didn’t even get cable TV until I was 16, so there was no way we were going to get AOL or whatever that thing was.  In addition, there was a concurrent severing of the marital estate happening and if you think a family of 6 is probably pretty poor, wait until the parents get divorced.  There was never enough money for anything;  however, I do remember using Prodigy and Netscape Navigator to access BBS and message boards from friends’ houses, and they started trying to teach us to use the Internet to do research at school, too- but they were out of their league.  The kids knew more than the teachers did, and they usually still do.

My first ever email address was irwinfra@pilot.telnet.msu.edu, assigned to me by Michigan State University in 1994.  Lookit that monster!  My noobishness at the time is evident, as that same year I made my first every Yahoo! email address- using the username “irwinfra”.  I’ve never updated it, because it’s nearly 20 years old and I have a soft spot in my heart for Yahoo!, even if their new email interface is atrocious and the company continues to slide.  My first experiences on the Internet were applying for financial aid, emailing professors and TA’s and doing chemistry homework on their online system.  Then I moved off campus, and Starcraft happened.

 

Starcraft

 

I should explain my living situation at the time- I lived in a house with 12 students who’d come to the States from Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Japan.  Naturally, they took frequent trips to Toronto- it’s apparently a hub of Asian culture on the East coast, or it was, at least- and would come back with modded Playstations that could play discs that had 200 different fighting games and whose .iso’s were free to download, and I would be completely agog that anything like that existed.  They knew a lot more about Starcraft and PvP gaming than I did- though I’d had a lot of exposure to things like Command and Conquer and Civilization II in the dorms, until they throttled gaming bandwidth- and were able to set up a LAN that allowed us to play huge 4v4 games that would go on in spite of class, Thursday night drinking, girls, dates, homework, whatever- it didn’t matter. Between Starcraft and Ocarina of Time’s water dungeon level, I probably ended up staying in school a whole extra semester than was necessary.  I know for a FACT that that damn stone you have to remember to swim under after you flood the temple with water owes me 6 credit hours’ worth of tuition.

 

Water Temple

 

I still wasn’t using the ‘Net socially, however, until I finished school and moved back to the southeast part of the state, this time to Detroit.  I landed in some weird roommate and money situations where I didn’t have much of an entertainment budget and so I turned to the Internet- what the hell was a message board, anyway?  The turning point was Kevin Smith’s magnum opus, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back- there’s a message board referenced in that movie called ‘moviepoopshoot.com’.  The site has gone through several revisions now, first becoming Quick Stop Entertainment and now A Site Called Fred. Anyhow, I decided to see if moviepoopshoot.com was a Real Thing, and lo and behold, it was.  This was my first true online community where there was actually a core group of 20-30 regulars and it really FELT like a community- there was a mod that actually did something- what’ s up Chris Ryall- and regulars, a pecking order and power structure, special rules for ingrained members, etc. etc.  You know, all of the stuff that makes a message board simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst things ever?

As it happened, one of the other posters on the board, Denyse, who I had never seen and knew only by handle, was going to be in Chicago for a recruiting drive.  I had already met one of the other dudes on the board, as he lived in Michigan as well, so we made plans to drive to Chicago and meet Denyse and two of the other girls from the board who were going to be there. I didn’t know this at the time, but this was an utterly cold-blooded ambush.  My now wife needed to see if I had three heads or any other weird deformities.  I’m not a huge believer in true love- Denyse, sorry honey, if you’re reading this- but this was the closest damn thing possible.  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed about this kind of thing, so after several clueless hours it dawned on me that maybe she liked me?  We stayed up most of the night talking and laughing, and three days later I was flying to California using her frequent flier miles, to stay for a week.  Then, she flew to Detroit two weekends in a row, I flew back to CA for another week and met her friends (I was a teacher at the time, and on summer vacation), she came back to Michigan- and then we realized we were out of frequent flier miles.  We decided one of us needed to move, and I decided that Orange County, California had better job prospects than Detroit.  WOW, WHAT INCREDIBLE FORESIGHT, RIGHT?

 

Detroit's unemployment rate

 

I packed all of my stuff into a cargo container and shipped it.  I shipped my 2 cats on a flight, Denyse picked them up and took them home (where they promptly hissed at and hid from her- which they are still doing, 7 years later), then she got on a plane and flew to Detroit.  We had breakfast with my family and then drove back to CA, leaving Detroit at 8 AM Friday and getting into the OC (don’t call it that) at about 5 PM on Sunday, after sticking to Denyse’s absolutely brutal driving pace.  I remember wanting to stop and Denyse stating over and over “30 more miles, 30 more miles”- and then it was 6 hours later and we were still in the car.  She’s such a trooper. Love you babe!  Anyway, after a year spent living together making sure we weren’t going to kill each other over hairs in the sink or something, I proposed at our good friends Dan and Tracy’s annual Halloween bash, and she accepted.  I had reached the end of the Internet, there was nothing left; I mean, after you meet your spouse, anything else you can do online is going to pale in comparison, right?

Nope.

In the meantime, there had been some drama on the moviepoopshoot forums, I acted like a big baby over some stupid things that happened and actually left the boards and the ‘Net for a while, only using my connection to the world to play Everquest and Age of Mythology. Luckily, the relationships I built with friends I met there transcended that board, and many of those moviepoopshoot.com denizens are still in touch.  I had sworn off of social media as a silly waste of time, and I didn’t give myself any credit either-  my obsession with checking the forums first thing in the morning, or first thing after work had had me thinking that I couldn’t handle an environment where no one really took it seriously- because I take everything seriously! Just because you “meet” someone on the Internet doesn’t mean they aren’t real!    My life is living proof.  Here’s a picture that our awesome friend Tracy got us for our wedding, drawn by Movie Poop Shot’s resident cartoonist at the time, Bryan Lynch, who made this, that proves it:

 

denyse and fran

 

I had already taught middle and high school science and computers, and had learned to have a stage presence (teaching is acting) and of course nearly- nearly- limitless patience.  I actually got to use that Communications degree (don’t laugh too loud, please) for the first time, giving training sessions to first 3 executives, and then 400 plumbers, all on the same day. That taught me the rush that comes from really giving a good speech or presentation.  I rediscovered my interest in social media when working for a small job board, GoJobs.com, a few jobs into my second career after teaching school, which started as a trainer.  My boss at the time, Jonathan Duarte, basically encouraged me to learn as much as I could about SEO, which led me to my current path, which led me to be more social than I ever would have planned to or wanted to be.  I never in my life thought I’d be writing a blog- my gosh, the ego needed!- but here we are.  I never thought I’d join another message board, but I’ve found a home with a good one I dare not link to- most of you know what it is already, anyway.  I never EVER thought I’d need a Twitter or be so excited to get an early invite to Google Plus.  I’ve rediscovered the social side of the Internet, and I’m glad, because it’s here to stay.  How long will it be until we’re all connected to the Internet and each other with implants that attach directly to our brain stem?

 

Motoko Kusanagi

Trust me, I’m not just a perv what likes anime.  This image is relevant.  It’s coming.  It’s gonna suck, but it’s gonna be awesome too.

 

Zynga’s Looming IPO- the MBA Gamer’s Perspective

Zynga logo

Zynga to file for IPO?

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts from my friend and compatriot, Brian DeWolf. Welcome Brian!

LinkedIn, Pandora, Groupon, Skype, Kayak, and now Zynga. All these companies have filed for IPOs and many have already had theirs. Earlier this year we saw LinkedIn shoot up over $100 after its IPO at $45 within the first day, and eventually it settled in at over $80. Groupon filed and it is currently in a structure of something similar to a pyramid scheme; using its revenue from the next partner’s up front investment to pay off the previous one.

As early as tomorrow, social media gaming giant Zynga will throw its hat into the mix. Reports are saying that they will attempt to raise $1.5 to $2 Billion from the IPO. This move could take the company to a valuation of $20 Billion. Assuming it does reach this point, Zynga would be the 175th largest company on Wall Street. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are reportedly helping the fund.

I am a little torn on this; there a couple of competing opinions within myself: one being the gamer, most relatable to a little kid who is essentially still a teenager who laughs at ridiculously stupid fart and antomy jokes; the other being the savvy business-minded MBA who has recently broken into becoming an “adult”. The gamers perspective says this is a wonderful opportunity for a gaming company. There has been a lot of crackdown on the gaming industry over the last decade and it has gone through a couple of recessions. While Zynga is a social game company, and I consider myself somewhat of a core gamer involved in FPS, MMO, RTS, and many more genres, this does pose something of a significant boost to the industry as a whole.  If Zynga can get off the ground and become a successfully publicly traded company, following the likes of, say, Activision Blizzard, then the future for all other small start up game companies is very bright. This could show the industry that the current model for success is not the only model, and there are other ways to produce, monetize, and develop games and that there are other people besides the core gamers out there.

For the business minded me, there are some red flags going up. Here is a company that is worth approximately $9 Billion, on a good day, and after this one move they could be valued at $20 Billion, that’s billion with a “B”. LinkedIn just posted its first year of profits and immediately when it went public their valuation shot through the roof, and Groupon has never posted positive returns. This is beginning to look like something that is way too top heavy to support itself.

It is always a difficult proposition to evaluate something that has no real tangible good. If you have a steel manufacturer, you can see their books and what everything is worth, if there is a computer company again everything is laid out for you, but what happens when you are trying to value something that has no real presence beside a code written in 1s and 0s? Can you honestly say that those numbers, that “on” or “off”, can really be worth that much money?

I just don’t buy into that thinking. One can fall into the group think mentality way too quickly when a company like this goes public. You think, “Well if this titan in the finance industry is saying they are worth this much, then they must be, BUY!” I guess I just don’t take things at that face value. While this company might take this funding and grow exponentially and invest it well into itself, the safer, more likely bet is that it might be a bit shakier than that.Lets hope they do this right and this is the shock the game industry needs to get out of the music industry mentality of publishers taking all the money. Produce and distribute your own games, it works too! Outlook: Cautious. I would recommend investing until the price doubles then get the eff out.