Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great Expectations: in-game stores

People are strange. In particular, people's reactions to in-game stores are strange. In-game microtransactions seem to bring out very mixed and contradictory feelings in people, and at the same time seems to blind them to the fact they're contradicting themselves.

Some things Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson said in one of his early interviews after joining the EQ2 team expressed a truth of in-game stores in general that I think is often overlooked.  In this interview with Zam, he said:
"I'm a big fan of microtransactions. As a player, I'm a fan of them. And the reason I'm a fan of them is if the content isn't good, then the developer doesn't make any money."
"It's just basically choosing how you spend your money, whether or not it's entertainment that's of value to you. 'Cause it's completely optional; none of this stuff is required, if you don't want to pay for it you don't have to."
Now, it's true that there are some games where the purchased items grant actual in-game power so could be considered essential, but for many games that's not the case.  For many games, including the one I work on, it's entirely possible to never buy a single item from the in-game store and be at no disadvantage whatsoever within the game. It's totally optional. And yet, here are two things I frequently see people say about these kinds of items in these kinds of games:

1. They proclaim that the existence of an in-game store is horrible and, they will never use it; and they ask, often in the same sentence, why all the items in it suck so much, saying they're so terrible, they don't want any of them, why can't the designers do better.

2. Sometimes, if a new item comes out in a game I play that I think is pretty neat, I will link it on Facebook or on twitter. And often, a bitter sounding person will reply along these lines: "well *I* sure won't be buying it, because it doesn't have (X) / isn't (Y)". 

These both confuse me.  

In #1, the person seems to be confused about what they actually want.  If they really dislike in-game stores in general and don't want them to exist, then they should be rejoicing if the items in them are completely undesirable, because then nobody will buy them and the store may be abandoned.  And if they really don't ever want to use an in-game store then it seems rather masochistic to be complaining the items aren't something they would want to buy.  It sounds as if the #1 type of person actually does want to buy things, and dislikes the store primarily because it's not selling the items that person wants to purchase.

In #2, while this might be a true statement, I'm always puzzled why someone would even bother to post it. The implication seems to be that the game designers were expecting every single person to love and buy it, that the company thinks they should want to buy it. Well no, not if you don't like it. That's like if I linked a photo of a pizza and said it is now available if anybody wants some, and someone replied that they only like hamburgers so they won't be eating my pizza, which would be much better if it were a hamburger instead and clearly the cooks must be stupid to make pizza. Well, yes, if you don't like pizza then don't eat it. This seems pretty obvious, good plan. Well done for figuring that out, but why even bother posting bitterly back about it? And why does everything have to be hamburgers, when there may well be people out there who do like pizza?

That's the beauty of completely optional and nonessential content, isn't it? If you don't like it, don't buy it.  If I walk into a clothing store I certainly don't buy every item in it; I usually don't even like most of them. That doesn't mean I'm going to run up to the sales clerk and hold up a pair of jeans, bitterly shouting that I would have bought them if they'd also had 4 additional pockets but they don't so I'm not going to.  Stores offer a wide selection of items that will appeal to a wide variety of people. Very few people will like everything, and it's probably better that way too or we'd all end up looking identical if we all had exactly the same tastes!  I think pretty much everyone understands this when they walk into a clothing store, so it remains a bit of a mystery to me why some people seem to get so bitter when not every single item in a game's in-game store appeals to them personally.

Anyway, no real deep & meaningful conclusion here or anything, just an interesting thing I've noticed when I watch people talking about in-game shops in computer games.  I am slowly developing a few theories as I watch.  Anybody else care to speculate on why folks don't have the same expectations of the in-game stores as they do of real world ones?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

New position! aka, WWSJD?

So, apparently it's been far too long since I updated this blog; and the reason for that is that just when I thought work was already flat out busy, I accepted a new position, and it got suddenly EVEN BUSIER.

So here's a quick catch up.

If you're even bothering to read this blog then you probably already know that since May 2007 I've been a game designer on the EQII team, in charge of the tradeskill system among other things.  The "other things" have varied and slowly grown over time, but tradeskills has been my consistent main focus.  As tradeskill designer for EQII I've shipped 4 expansions (Rise of Kunark, The Shadow Odyssey, The Sentinel's Fate, and Destiny of Velious, plus EQII Extended); and during this time I've worked under four Producers for the EQII team: Gallenite, Froesch, Brenlo, and now SmokeJumper.

However, work is about learning and growing, and four years doing pretty much the same thing is a long time, for me at least! Not that I don't love the tradeskill system in EQII, because I certainly still do; but the tradeskill system itself (or any game system really) benefits from different perspectives and different opinions, and having the same person making all the decisions forever and ever would not be a good thing, ultimately, either for the game or for the person.

So, when I was offered the opportunity back in April to try a new role, I decided that both I and the tradeskill system would benefit from fresh perspectives and challenges.  The new role is Associate Producer, still on the EQII team, and it was announced in this interview with Paul "Frizznik" Carrico, who's taking over the tradeskill duties in my place. Frizznik certainly won't think about tradeskills in the exact same way I do, and he'll see different priorities than I did, but I think that overall that can only be a good change to keep the tradeskill system from getting stale.

During the years I've been on the EQII team we've had a number of wonderful Associate Producers helping the various Producers, but during Brenlo's time the last of them left the team for various reasons (one to become the new producer for FreeRealms, in fact) so for the past year we've had none: just SmokeJumper handling it all on his own.

As was also announced recently, Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson is now stepping into a more senior role as Executive Producer overseeing the entire EverQuest franchise, not just EQII as before.  To quote from that link:

Smokejumper: I'm still very much attached to EQII and work closely with the leads on that project. We recently promoted Emily "Domino" Taylor to become the Associate Producer on EQII, specifically to shore up the fact that I would have less time in each day to spend on EQII. So far, it's been working very well. The team didn't skip a beat during the transition, and in fact, things are probably better now than they were previously because we're able to split up the tasks and I can focus more on the game's quality and business direction.

So, that's me now: mini-SmokeJumper, and keeping remarkably busy because of it. I'd already been working fairly closely with him on a number of projects, but since the official changeover in April, it's been pretty much non-stop. I don't know how he was managing on his own.

I also recently joined the EQ2talk podcast to talk with Dellmon and Aliscious about my new role, the future of tradeskills, EQ2, and everything related. You can have a listen here.  I'm a terrible public speaker, alas.

So, that pretty much catches up to the present time, and doesn't really excuse the lack of posts, but possibly helps explain the busy-ness lately that's been keeping me from posting much. As I think I mentioned in the EQ2talk podcast, I'm enjoying working with SmokeJumper so far; he's a good guy to work for and there's clearly such a lot I can learn from him that I'm trying to figure out some way to arrange some kind of mind meld machine to download it all!

In more general EQII news, we recently had another Game Update, and I helped (in a small way) our AV team to make a pretty cool video, which you can see here:

This week while I man (or possibly woman) the fort back here in San Diego, SmokeJumper is up in LA showing off EverQuest II at E3: if you're going to be there, definitely check out the Sony booth, where they're demonstrating their new 3D laptops with EverQuest II's spectacular 3D aerial races.  I'd never seen EQII in 3D before and I'm really not a fan of 3D technology, but I have to say I was just blown away by how good it looks.  Wow.  It really is pretty amazing looking.

Also coming up soon is SOE's own Fan Faire event. Preliminary schedule and details can be found on the official fan faire site.  Just a month to go now!  I'll be there, and I'll be looking forward to seeing some of the "regulars" again as well as meeting new faces. Fan Faire is always such a lot of fun.

And I think that pretty much catches me up to date with the news; I'll try to think of some more interesting things to post in the future.  I expect to continue to post on this blog as I think of interesting things to say, but possibly not so much about EQ2 tradeskills specifically. In the mean time, happy June, and happy tradeskilling!

Recent G.I.R.L. blogs

Things I've been writing elsewhere while I wasn't writing here!

G.I.R.L. Talk with Tiffany Chu
G.I.R.L. Talk with Jennifer Chan
G.I.R.L. Talk with Judy Tyrer