Educate the gaming masses!

For a few years, I had been a forum moderator for a forum with a few hundred members (at peak times… not online at the same time, though!). We had members from all over the world, aged 13 to 50-something. We allowed all sorts of discussions to happen on the forum. We did have heated debates about politics and religion (fascinating to watch at times with people being so different like us and at a post 9-11 time). Being a moderator taught me a lot and hearing from others now, years after the forum had its prime time, how they saw me back then taught me even more. Some of the younger members were intimidated by me because I was always so reasonable and level-headed. But what I took away from this experience – and the point of this whole rant – is that explaining and communicating is quite often the best way to handle a problem.

There were rules on the forum. When somebody broke a rule, I sent them a private message informing them about the fact. I always pointed them to the rules and added an explanation why we have this rule. Did I have to? Nope. I could’ve just told them off. But I wanted them to understand why we did something in a certain way. “No, you cannot write in 1337” often led to people feeling provoked to do exactly that and go against what I had said. When I added the explanation that we have people from all over the world whose native tongue isn’t English and that writing like this makes reading and understanding what they want to tell us difficult or even impossible for some usually led them to understand and respect the rule. Later on, I even saw some of the “early troublemakers” turn towards new members and explain to them the rules and why we have them. Always brought a little tear to my eye seeing how they had ‘grown up’ to be responsible community members and how my behaviour (and that of the other moderators) could influence others and, consequently, our whole community.

Now, on to something less happy. I guess lots of us have been there when ArenaNet announced the Collector’s Edition and their game’s prices. We’ve seen it a lot of times before: The dollar sign just gets exchanged with the Euro sign et voilà, the European price. The Collector’s Edition costs $150 and €150. The latter translates to $200. ArenaNet isn’t the first nor the only company to do the pricing this way and as always, there was an outcry. The only reason I’ve ever seen mentioned when companies explained their pricing was “it’s European taxes. They’re higher!” – but how much higher do the taxes have to be for such a difference? We only have 19% VAT so that never made any sense to me.

And then I saw a link to a post on Steam by Double Fine Productions. After having read the posting, it became much clearer. I never knew that in the US you don’t have to pay VAT for online purchases. Nobody ever explained that to me. It still doesn’t explain the whole difference but it gets a lot closer, at least! And it did calm me down and stop me from sulking so much. ;) – By the way, in case anybody is wondering: Yes, I want the Collector’s Edition. But that’s not difficult to decide because I’ll get it as a present. ;)

Back to the topic of educating the masses… Another rather good example is Star Trek Online. Ever since they went free to play, their server (you only have one big server and aren’t divided like you are in games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic etc.) has had problems and kept crashing every few days. Naturally, players don’t like this behaviour. So they explained what the issue is. Now I don’t understand too much about all this stuff. But I get the part with “trying to find where the bug is” and adding code to get logs (had to do that with my thesis where I had a web-based training and when the students watched an animation, I was supposed to get time stamps on when they do what – pause, play etc. – and that had worked during all tests I’d done but when it went live, it sometimes didn’t work. Turned out that simply uploading the whole course fixed the issue. We still don’t know what it was but at least, it was fixed! ^^). I wasn’t among those flaming or even ranting when STO’s server crashed again. But I, too, was wondering why it took them so long to “upgrade the server” or do whatever necessary, so it could handle the load.

Oh, and because this just came in and fits rather well: ArenaNet released another blog entry on a rather controversial topic – Mike O’Brien on Microtransactions in Guild Wars 2. So far, they have positively surprised me with the way they have communicated about their design decisions and I hope we will always get such in-depth postings even after the game’s release. ;) In today’s post, there are explanations in there for why they’ve made the decision to allow the sale of gems which are bought with real money and I can only hope it works. Namely: The goal would be to reduce the incentive for gold farmers. You all do know that gold farmers are the ones responsible for hacking your friends’ accounts and stealing all the items they had? Making them jump through a few hoops before they get their account restored (depending on the game and quality of support)? Blizzard actually wrote a nice article about this issue some time ago: Purchased gold comes at every player’s expense. Sorry for only linking to it indirectly. I can’t find the original website anymore. So Waybackmachine has to do. But I remember telling a friend about this after she had told me that she sees no harm in spending money on gold so she could get things faster in game when she doesn’t have as much time as others to actually play the game because she has to go work in order to earn money. I told her about hackers and that this is where the gold she bought could have come from. She hadn’t known until then!

I know that those games aren’t made for a few hundred people like our community was. It is much more difficult and time-consuming. You can’t send every forum poster a private message with details and explanations about what they did wrong and why it’s wrong. Also, our forum wasn’t there to earn money for its owner. Those gaming companies, however, need to earn money in order to afford their staff, offices, etc. ;) And with that probably come lawyers, marketing, PR who all want to have a say in what the company can or can’t talk about in detail or even mention to its customers. Although I really wish they could be a bit more open especially when it comes to decisions that cause outrages (like the US-EU pricing usually does). Educate us, please! Explain to us why you’re doing things the way you do them. It might not stop all people from hating, flaming, trolling. But it might make a few understand.

Bookahneer’s Geekwatch (“What to play until GW2 releases”-edition)

Before we start with today’s Geekwatch, there’s some news about ArenaNet’s community managers: We apparently now have community managers tweeting during EU time and Rubi Bayer has joined as new community manager (she was previously working for Massively). It’s great to see them “expanding” and hopefully this means that Guild Wars 2 is closer than we dare to hope at the moment! ;) The funny thing is that I haven’t really noticed not having CMs tweet or report during EU times because Seattle is conveniently located timezone-wise. Or they just waited for all their big announcement until us EU folks were up anyway. Because so far, announcements came at some point during our afternoon or evening. Still, now we get to hear from them during our morning hours as well, maybe? ;)

But let’s continue with the actual posting. Today’s Geekwatch is about “free” games. And with “free”, I mean games that used to cost a monthly fee and which don’t anymore… to a certain extent at least. More and more seem to be converting nowadays which is great if you just want to check out game or two or if you want to bridge the time until Guild Wars 2 comes out.

Let’s start with MMOs that went f2p some time ago. You can just go to their official website, download the client and start playing:

Lord of the Rings Online went f2p quite some time ago. I’d recommend this if you’re a Tolkien fan (or just liked the films ^^). You get the starting areas plus a few after that for free (I know Lone-Lands are free now but I’m not sure about others). All other areas won’t have quests for you unless you buy those quest packs. You can still grind your way up to max level, though. The game’s “real money shop” now also offers armour with stats which is one of several reasons why I’ve fallen out of love with the game recently. Still, it is a pretty game and I love looking at the game’s screenshots. They also have interesting classes with good and fun mechanics. And I love the cosmetic system which lets you dress your character in one way while the character wears ugly armor with good stats on it. ;) If you want to read more about the game, go to this entry where I’ve previously compared Rift, WoW and Lotro.

Everquest II is a game I’ve just recently discovered for myself. And I was probably one of the last people to do so. ;) It’s definitely an “old game”. It was released in 2004 and it’s showing its age. Then again, the amount of stuff you get for free is great. The downside is that you can’t play all races or all classes for free. That’s kind of sad and made me actually spend money so I could play my cute little rat. But the housing in the game makes up for it. So much freedom (compared to Lotro which is the only other MMO I’ve ever really played that had housing) when it comes to how you want to decorate your house. Also, all quests are free. You just don’t get the last expansions – but you need to buy those in Lotro as well. ;)

Star Trek Online joined the f2p group this week. You get less character slots than subscribers (as in Lotro and EQ2 as well). STO is outstanding when it comes to the character creation (compared to Lotro an EQ2). Also, they have space combat which the other two, obviously, don’t have. As I said above with Lotro and Tolkien: If you’re a Star Trek fan, it’s worth checking out! The restrictions you get compared to subscribers also aren’t bad at all.

Champions Online, DCUO and City of Heroes: I’ll just throw those in because they’re all superhero MMOs and it seems they’re such a niche, they all go f2p one day. ;) City of Heroes is the oldest one, DCUO the newest. I liked the character creation in Champions Online the most (one thing Cryptic – the developers behind STO and Champions Online – can do very well is character customization, apparently ^^).

Aion EU will go free to play soonish. There’s no definite date yet as far as I know but it was said to become free to play in February. Once that happens, the game will not be published by NCSoft anymore. They will hand over the game to Gameforge. Important to note is that this is only the European version of Aion. The US American one stays with NCSoft (at least, as far as we know) and will still require a monthly sub. Still, if you’re interested in the game, why not check out the EU version once you can do so? As it’s not switched over to f2p, we can’t say much about the real money shop yet.

Guild Wars – Oh come on, you know I had to throw this in here now, didn’t you? ;) This is NOT a real free-to-play game. You actually have to buy the game first. But once you own it, you can play without any monthly subs. And I’ve seen all three campaigns plus the addon for 30€. So that’s not too bad. If you want to start playing the game and you don’t want to buy the complete edition (with all three campaigns – and either with or without the addon, depends on the version), I’d recommend “Nightfall” as I found this tutorial the best to follow. If you’re just interested in the world 250 years before Guild Wars 2, then you want to check out “Prophecies” (and later the addon “Eye of the North”). Stay away from Factions at the beginning because it’s not newbie-friendly (I felt lost in there and that was after I’d started a character in Nightfall and knew the basics ^^). It’s also not a real MMO. I guess “cooperative RPG” might fit better. Still, if you haven’t played it yet and are waiting for Guild Wars 2, why not check out its past? :)

World of Warcraft (European version), Warhammer Online and Rift Lite are still subscription-based. But all three games offer “unlimited trials”. Which means that you can play a portion of the game for free and don’t have a time limit. WoW and Rift both give you 20 levels of gameplay. Once you’ve reached level 20 with your character, you can’t advance it any further unless you pay. In WAR, it’s the first 10 levels, I think.

11 games to choose from. Even if each of those only entertained you for a month, this could last until the very end of 2012. And we know that GW2 will be released this year… ;)

Edit: I was just reminded that there’s also Fallen Earth. Now I know that I can’t list every single game that exists but this list should’ve been one of games that I at least tried out (and liked ^^) and I even played Fallen Earth for a few weeks (which is… well… a bit more than just trying it out)! The crafting is what makes this game stand out as the best items are craftable. Also, it’s set in a kind of post-apocalyptic USA (or very tiny parts of it). There also weren’t any bad restrictions. I just found the combat itself a bit clunky. Still, it’s nice to have a non-standard settings for once.

Naming and customizing your characters

Star Trek Online Paera
I showed my STO character to my colleague (believe it or not, we actually do work in between chatting about games, I just don’t blog about our work here ^^) and told her how much time I spent on her… probably about an hour all in all (though that did include looking up which traits might be good for her class). My colleague usually doesn’t spend much time on thinking about how her characters look in games (she’s a console player, so we’re not talking about MMOs here) and which name she gives them. I, on the other hand, spend more time in the character creation screen than anywhere else when I try out a new game (and in a lot of cases, I’ve quit the game after playing it for 5 minutes but at least, I had fun creating a character first ;) ).

We wondered whether the difference comes from playing an offline-single player versus an online-multiplayer game. After all, my character is what others will see from me: The way it looks (here I have to think of all the female STO characters with huge boobs and the tiniest mini skirts they could find) and the name you give to the character (couple the look with the great-sounding name Bi’atch) is what people will have as their first impression of you. If you play offline and only for yourself, it doesn’t matter which name you give your character or what it looks like. Or, at least, it’s a matter of aesthetics and immersion but only to yourself! Nobody else will see the character or interact with them. You won’t have to “be somebody” to anybody else.

Having said that, I’ve had one silly name in an MMO so far (that I remember right now). That one was in World of Warcraft. A male tauren called “Kuhlio” (you pronounce it “Coolio”). “Kuh” is the German word for “cow”. I was giggling and very happy to find out that nobody on the server had thought about that name before. I never played this character, though, and before my account expired (again… again… again…), I deleted the character because it felt like a namesave that I don’t care about. So maybe somebody else has claimed it in the meantime. ;)

Star Trek Online Paera
Whenever I can, I call my main character “Paeroka”. I do feel odd doing so by now, though. I always find it silly to name characters after myself. However, it’s the other way around with Paeroka, in fact. I first had a character “Paeroka” in a story for National Novel Writing Month. A story I will one day finish writing. It stopped at 44.000 words (and me having a high fever and being too weak to lift a finger to continue typing, so I had to give up on the last day of November). I liked the name so much that I decided to call myself after this character (who’s very cool in combination with her instruction master, Ysra). In fact, almost all of my character names come from names I’ve first used in one of my stories (all unfinished and all written in German – so, thankfully, you won’t have to actually read any of them here ;) ). I’ve loved writing ever since I was a little kid and started school. So those character names have a special meaning for me and I wouldn’t ever dare giving my serious characters silly names. And I am annoyed whenever I see such silly names in games (well, names like “Kuhlio” are on the border of “too much”. But names like “Ikillyou” or “Darkshadowrouge” (sic! ^^) are plain annoying and stupid if you ask me) and wish there’d be stricter rules against having them. However, I do not care in the slightest if you’re using such names in your offline games. That’s got nothing to do with me, after all. ;)

All of this does make me wonder, however, how Guild Wars 2 will handle that. The latest information I got was that they haven’t decided anything yet. But they did once say that we can use the names we’ve had in Guild Wars again. So our current GW characters should, theoretically, serve as namesaves so far. And I’d really love to be able to have two names for your character right from the start. Now everybody can name their Sylvari “Woody” and just slap a different surname onto it.

The whole character creation is a different story again. As I said above, it does leave first impressions. Weaker ones than names, at least in my case. But just look at Aion and the amount of horrible characters. Tiny little children-like bodies with huge distorted heads. Ugh. And the difference between the smallest possible characters and the largest possible ones is atrocious. It just doesn’t look like those characters are from the same game world. You can see one example in the picture on the left. While I love the freedom that the character creation in Aion gives you, I dislike the absolute freedom with the different… let’s call them “design aesthetics”.

And to bring up Guild Wars 2 again, I loved when they said that they want to give you freedom but not do something like Aion. They have a certain visual aesthetic that they want to go with and they’ll force their players to uphold this aesthetic. I’m perfectly fine with that! Especially as they’ve now decided to let you choose your character’s eye colour independently from the way your character’s nose looks etc. Back at GamesCom 2011, you had premade faces that you could choose which I was rather disappointed with. I can live with premade faces (like nose, chin etc.) because I can hardly ever get them right proportionally. But I do want to choose the eye colour! My characters almost always have green eyes. So there. ;)

And last but not least, as this post started with Star Trek Online, I’m going to close it with that game: The character creation is fantastic! Not only can you spend hours creating your character, you can also save it for later use and you can change your visuals in game for no fee (well, in game currency but no “real money”). Of course, there’s again the question of immersion. Why does my character suddenly look totally different? But that’s okay in my case. They’re aliens from planets almost nobody’s heard of. So it’s natural for them to change the way they look. ;) I didn’t like the way Paera (up on the left) looks anymore, so I changed it to what you can see on the right (slightly above). But… I’m still not happy. *sigh* Thankfully, as she’s “alien”, she has tons of features and sliders to choose from (and she can get away completely from the half-Klingon look if I want to)! So I expect her to look different again sometime soon. Even I don’t need immersion all of the time. ;)

Bookahneer’s Geekwatch (January 14, 2012)

Welcome to today’s Bookahneer’s Geekwatch! The place about miscellaneous interesting news related to gaming (will most likely include at least one piece about Guild Wars 2 ^^).The first Bookahneer’s Geekwatch this year starts with some Guild Wars 2 “news”. Tivac, a web developer at ArenaNet, answered a few questions in several forums. The summary can be found on Reddit. The first closed beta phase is over.

Then there was an interview with Angel Leigh McCoy who’s a writer and game designer for Guild Wars 2. I’ll just leave the most important quotation here although the rest of the interview is also interesting if you want to know more about her and her work.
“What I can tell you is that we’re currently in Closed Beta and planning has begun for an Open Beta. It’s all extremely exciting, and the game is coming along smashingly. It really is like magic when it all starts coming together and you see what an enormous accomplishment you’ve contributed to.”

Last but not least, GuildWars Insider has an interview with Ree Soesbee. I love seeing her talk about the game (though here, you either have a transcript of the interview or you can listen to it). Her eyes start to shine brighter than her hair (I love her hair colour ^^). It’s just great seeing people talk with such passion!


Now, on to something less fun. Turbine disappoints me once again. The story can be found on Massively: Lotro will soon start selling (low level) gear in their real-money-shop that has stats on it. Even though they said that they’re not going to do that! It’s the principle here more than anything that annoys me. And the explanation is that they had feedback from players saying that there’s not enough low level armor in the AH and they want more options. As I commented on Massively: Why not add more rewards for tasks, skirmishes, quests, etc.? Why not look at why the AH economy is the way it is and do something to promote it? Why is the only solution nowadays putting something into their shop? Ah yes, money. -.- If only I could see it getting reinvested into the game. I’d even have an idea: Hire more voice actors. ;) Casual Stroll to Mordor has a poll about the players’ reception. Participate if you care about this topic. Maybe Turbine will have a look at it.


SOE has partnered with ProSiebenSat.1 to distribute their games exclusively in Europe. “Their games” include Everquest, Everquest 2, the upcoming new Everquest, DCUO and others. But I didn’t see Vanguard in that list. Here is the announcement from the other side (that is, from ProSiebenSat.1). Not much is known so far. There are lots of questions and worries, of course. I also saw the rumour that this means IP bans for European players. We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, obviously. But I really dislike the lack of answers and information here. You can’t make such an announcement and not have any more information ready for your players!


And the last things for today: Star Trek Online will officially go free to play on January 17. Here is the feature matrix. Former subscribers were already allowed back in. I created a new character and have been enjoying myself, even though I haven’t done much yet. Unfortunately, free players can’t access player-made missions (the foundry) at the moment. I hope they’ll fix this soon because I really liked those.

The European version of Aion will go free to play soon as well. For that, NCSoft gives the game to Gameforge. Look here for its feature matrix.

All in all, I guess we have lots of games to choose from without having to pay while waiting for Guild Wars 2. No need to play any other MMOs that still require you to pay every month. *coughcough* ;)

Star Trek Online: TaH pagh taHbe’

The announcement I have been waiting for ever since Champions Online went f2p finally arrived (some days ago. Hadn’t had the time to ramble about it earlier ^^): STO will go f2p as well. Cryptic has also added further details by now. The one thing that’s probably the most important: What do you get for free? It looks pretty reasonable to me. In fact, I think it might sound a little too good, actually. Why should I pay a monthly fee? ;)

If you’re wondering why Klingon content gets pushed back to when you’ve reached level 25 with your Federation character: They apparently want to redo the Klingon content and I assume it’s not a good idea to have a zillion new f2p-players hop onto Klingon side to find out it’s not really good. ;) There’s a new Q&A with the game’s executive producer Dan Stahl who’s also answering a few questions about upcoming changes.

I started playing in May but quit again about 1 1/2 months later. I liked it but in my opinion, it’s not worth a monthly fee. I loved the character design, though. So that is one of its big plusses. But character design alone doesn’t make a good game, right? So what does Star Trek Online have to offer apart from that?

There is space combat and then there’s ground combat. I played before they changed ground combat. So I can’t talk about how it’s now. I didn’t mind it before the change, though, and from what I’ve read, it’s become better. So if you ask me, it can’t be bad now. ;) Space combat was… nice! You have your ship and fly through space. Usually, I’m prone to motion sickness (or simulation sickness as it’s called in video games, I think). But here, that’s not an issue (Star Wars Galaxies, on the other hand, led to me being very, very sick for more than an hour after watching 5 minutes of its space combat): You can zoom out pretty far and you’re moving rather slowly. That might be negative for other people who want fast and action-packed combat. I love the look and feel of flying through space with your ship. And I love how you can even change bits and pieces of your ship’s design and its colours. That’s all very important to me. The missions themselves, while being fun, get boring pretty fast. The biggest issue I had was the repetitiveness of them. I always felt like they consisted of the same thing: Get into a sector around a planet, kill the 1 – 3 spaceships that approach, move your spaceship a bit further, kill the next 1 – 3 spaceships. Rinse and repeat. *yawn* It’s fun once in a while but I found myself not being able to do more than one mission a day. Then it didn’t take long and I spent days not logging on at all. Then I did one mission and exited the game again.

What I expected of the game was lots of diplomatic missions, lots of exploring planets and all that. So essentially, doing what the crews on the TV series are doing. Not shooting at ships over and over and over again. The most fun I had was doing one player-made mission… now THAT is an area where STO shines. Players can create missions and you can also rate and comment on them (which again helps you as a player to pick the best ones and leave out the still-bugged ones). I played through one (forgot its name) that had almost no fighting in it. Instead, there was a focus on story. That was beautiful! I also loved a regular (that is, done by Cryptic and not a player) quest series on Memory Alpha surrounding a male Ferengi and his two brothers. No fighting there either (well, unless you count them bickering at each other, of course ^^). I really wish the quests/missions consisted mostly of doing stuff like this and less of fighting. Yes, I really want to play an MMO where I’m not forced to fight and kill all of the time and can still advance my character. Is that really too much to ask for? ;)

As mentioned in my character creation blog entry, another highlight was finding a tribble! What I want to do once the game’s free to play is try to breed them!

I know I’ve probably listed a lot of bad things about the game and not so many good things. I do not think the game’s worth a monthly fee! Which is also why I quit the game again after less than two months playing it. I do, however, think that they didn’t do a bad job and want to spend more time in the universe. I’m a “moderate” Star Wars fan (watched all the reruns of The Original Series and got into the Next Generation a few years ago. I’ve seen most of the movies but not any of the other TV series) and I loved seeing the world in an MMO setting. I just wish that apart from stuff like tribbles, Ferengi etc. I’d get more of a “Star Trek” feeling. Less fighting, more exploring, please! Getting to play this game once in a while (maybe once or twice a month, for example) sounds really good to me and that’s why I’m absolutely happy about the change.

While playing the game, I was also annoyed to see so many things behind a “paywall”. I am paying a monthly fee, why do you want additional money all of the time? That’s a thing that really annoyed me. I already didn’t like it with World of Warcraft. But there, I didn’t even realise there’s stuff I can’t get in the game because I’d have to visit their web store to see the non-combat pets and mounts. In STO, on the other hand, I saw it constantly every time I wanted to customize something (just so we’re clear: They didn’t ask for money for content. Only for customization. Like TOS-uniforms, for example)… right there in the game’s interface! Without a monthly fee, I think that’s perfectly alright. I am not paying every month anymore and then I’m open for paying for stuff like that, especially if it’s nothing game-breaking that makes me more powerful. ;)

So, in conclusion, I’m happy about the change and if you’re a Star Trek fan (even if it’s just a little bit ;) ), then you might want to check the game out once it goes free to play. They have some very nice things in the game but not enough to make me play every day or even most of my gaming time. It’s just right up my sleeve for playing once in a while, though.