Posts Tagged ‘massively.com’

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Gaming Journalism vs. Real Journalism vs. Media Journalism

January 13, 2010

So there seems to be this interesting wave going through the blogging community regarding the state of gaming journalism.  It seems to be the usual “gaming journalists aren’t real journalists because they have opinions” tomfoolery that seems to rise and fall every once in a while.  It’s not the first time that this subject has come up, and it certainly won’t be the last.

But sitting down to think about it got me on an interesting train of thought — one where I actually began to think about gaming journalism against topics like “real journalism,” aka, news, and journalism that focuses explicitly on media forms.  Not “the media” mind you… journalism that centers on the entertainment industry or perhaps books.

Now, mind you, I’m in a very lucky position.  I have training as a “real journalist” thanks to my college writing track and I work for a MMO news website where we take pride in our integrity and, for the most part, post our news articles (not our op-ed columns) without bias.  We say what happens, we try to make it interesting to read, and that’s it.

Yet, even with our stances, you wouldn’t believe how many times we’re accused of being opinionated in our news posts, or how many times we’re yelled at by a reader for “manipulating” them with yellow journalism.  And that leads me to the problem that separates our news from other media outlets — fanboyism.

Make no mistake — we’re a culture founded on being competitive.  Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to World of Warcraft and beyond, we love trying to one up one another.  We’ve always taken our competitions to more meta-grounds, such as our irrational need to proclaim one game as “vastly superior” to another.  (See: World of Warcraft vs. Aion vs. Warhammer vs. Whatever Floats Your Boat.  The odd need to proclaim a game as shit.)  I personally thinks that this taints our view of our media in two ways: from the staff side and from the reader side.

Let me, first of all, back up Brian “PsychoChild” Green‘s assessment of my sister site — Joystiq.  When they wrote up their notice that Near Death Studios was going under, their post was a little caustic for a rote news article.  (Especially when you compare it to Massively’s coverage, and we’re sister sites.)  Obviously Randy Nelson was using Joystiq’s standard style of being slight cheeky and acidic in every post, but it seems to resonate harshly in this article.  These are the times when fanboyism is very clear and very unwelcome in a journalistic style.  Now, I can’t fault Randy… what he wrote is simply the site’s style and he stuck to it.  It works for them and it gains them readers, but it does certainly taint the idea of rote journalism for the rest of us.

However, the side that people aren’t noting or talking about is the stupid shit I have to listen to every day when we at Massively try to do our jobs professionally and to a more neutral standard.  When we talk about all of the games that surround us, we get accused of being biased simply because we talked about X game.  If we talk about a smaller game, obviously we’re being paid off by a developer to talk about it, such as when we cover Eskil Steenberg’s Love.  Other times, if we cover a story that negatively affects a company, we’re being the big evil media site who’s out to smash the little guy.

Honestly, when I and the rest of the staff pick up a story, we do it because we believe it to be newsworthy and of interest to our target audience.  The two key tenants of our target audience.  Hell, we even make sure that we’re trying to talk about all games in the industry, even the ones that people don’t exactly love to death.  Why?  Because that’s what being fair means — we give page space to everyone.  Is it always equal page space?  No, because not all games generate news at an equal rate. Yet, because our audience reacts with a very competitive edge and hates to see anyone offend their game of choice, we are accused of “assumed bias.”

In short, what I’m saying is that the nature of our very culture taints how we read our news.  Because of how opinionated we get as a culture, when others talk rationally, we see that as opinionated out of a defensive mechanism.  It’s really unfortunate.

As to comparing our journalism to physical news coverage or entertainment news, it’s extremely hard.  Physical news coverage doesn’t have the same level of opinion contained within it.  You can’t say, “Man, I loved it when they covered that presidential election.  That presidential election was the best sequel ever.”  People don’t have that same type of reaction to the news.  News happens, you talk about it to others, and that’s that.  You can’t undo what actually happened.  (You can spin it, however… and that’s what so many “real media” outlets are being accused of nowadays — heavy spin.)

As to entertainment news, once again, we don’t have that same type of rivalry with movie companies.  You usually don’t say, “Shit!  Guillermo Del Toro is way more badass than Peter Jackson!” or “Lord of the Rings really kicked Harry Potters ass.  Harry Potter shouldn’t even be in the fantasy genre.  Who the fuck subscribes to that shit anymore?”  What happens is that people go out, view the movie, form an opinion if they liked it or not, and go on their way.  Case closed.  They don’t compare and contrast (even the critics) nearly as much as we do in the gaming industry.  We, in the industry, feel that every freakin’ game needs to be compared to some other game in that genre and how it’s either X much better or X much worse.  And I’m not saying we do it as critics… players do this every single day without even thinking about it.  We’re all freakin’ critics around here.  Competitive critics who have to be right.

But even the entertainment news has problems… how many times do we call them “Rag Magazines” when they pry into the personal lives of actors and actresses?  How much is that media industry stained with useless gossip that most people brush off as petty?

So let me finish out with this clear cut statement — stop fucking comparing game journalism to other forms of journalism, as if you’re putting other forms of journalism on a pedestal.  They all have their problems and it all comes down to people, as a group, calling every form of media “opinionated and biased.”  Someone says the gaming media is tainted with opinion and bias.  Someone else says mainstream media is full of spin and mistruths.  And someone else calls entertainment media a bunch of petty star chasers or unreliable critics.

Guess what everyone?  All this tells us is that we’re all opinionated and we’re all biased. Whoops.

~Sera

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So I’m actually enjoying Second Life…

July 9, 2009

…so much so that I’m actually making it into my column tomorrow.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore everyone with how I wander from sim to sim or how awesome my new RP group is.  It’s going to be more utilitarian than that.

Gamers seem to approach virtual worlds, like Metaplace and Second Life, with the wrong ideas in mind.  They seem to think they’re going to be getting into some crazy game, when really they’re entering into a virtual space for socialization and exploration.  Basically, if you’re not of the latter two types, virtual worlds just might be a living hell for you.  Combat and achievement players (although achievement players could still find goals to accomplish in virtual worlds if they looked for them) will probably really detest these spaces.

But me?  I like exploring and socializing.  Plus, when you find the right programmers or the right sim, you’ll actually find combat as well.  Is it fluid combat?  No, it’s not going to win awards or anything, but it’s not the worst combat I’ve seen in games.  Heck, I get to do flips in the air while I swing my scythe in Second Life.  That has to count for some awesomeness.

But, I shouldn’t let too much out of the bag.  Tomorrow’s column is going to be some tips on how to enjoy yourselves in Second Life, even if you found it to be a bit annoying on the first run though.  Reader beware, however, as I know more than a few of you will feel that Second Life just isn’t your cup of tea… then you’ll relegate yourself to complaining about how wrong I am about my tips.

If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t enjoy it.  My tips simply aren’t going to change that.  But if you didn’t give it much of a chance for the first time through… you’ll probably find something to take away from tomorrow’s column.

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That’s right, I’m totally being bribed by developers

May 1, 2009

I guess this is just my little beef, but I have to come out with it on my website.

I hate it when commenters say I or Massively are being bribed by developers to promote their products.

No, your daft little conspiracy theories on why we gave a good game a good grade are completely in your own little insane mind.  John Smedley is, in fact, not sending me piles of money via UPS.

You know what, if he was sending me all of the money that people keep saying he’s sending me, I wouldn’t give a damn.  I’d be rolling in it laughing and I wouldn’t be attempting to make my paycheck last from month to month.  But GUESS WHAT GUYS, I live in an apartment and can barely afford television.  Woo hoo!

So I want to leave you with a fun little tidbit of information — something that’s not advertised outside of the Joystiq network all too often, yet I think it should be recognized.

The writers of WoW Insider, Massively, and Joystiq (aka, the Joystiq Network) cannot accept any gifts over 20 dollars.  Now some of you are probably saying, “All right, who gives a crap?” to your computer monitors right now, but this is a pretty big caveat.

Do you guys know how IGN, Kotaku, and other sites get some of their writers to interview developers?  The developers pay to fly them out.  The developers offer hotel rooms, airfare, and sometimes food to make sure that writers get to their press events.  Developers do send thank you gifts and other items to writers as a token of appreciation for all the coverage that they get.  The company does not pay for writers to be flown out to small events thrown by developers.

We here at the Joystiq network don’t do that in order to maintain neutrality.  I’ve personally turned down some nice travel packages offered to me by gaming companies, thank you very much.  I don’t take bribes, and any opinion I offer on Massively.com is my own.

If you don’t like it, sorry, but I’m not being bribed to say what I think.

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Keen says what I said a month ago, Syncaine takes offense, I simply theorize and find a way to “aid” Darkfall

April 18, 2009

I hate to be the person who goes, “I told you so,” in arguments, but I believe that I need to do it in this situation.

I motherf$&%ing told you so a month ago.  But all y’all thought I was a giant jerk who couldn’t see the light of Darkfall‘s sandbox.  People were so busy bashing me for being a “Darkfall hater” that they were too blind to see that I really did play the game, enjoyed parts of it, but critiqued portions of the fundamental game that didn’t hold up to the main objective.

What was that line that I printed when Darkfall was launched?  Where was it?  Oh, was it this one?

While combat is pretty nifty and lag free, the monster AI is pretty awesome, and the exploration factor is phenominal, this game has huge incentive problems.

Once again, I don’t want to be the jerk of the blog, but I’m just kinda pissed that I got trounced on for saying the same thing Keen did just because I said it a month earlier, and because I represent the “big, bad, corporate MMO site.”  Keen has now said, and I quote:

For a game that is built around being a faster pace action oriented game, everything leads players to play at a slower pace.  I can travel from one side of the map to the other, but why would I?  There is no destination, purpose, or incentive.

Sound familiar?  (Btw, before you comment, please get Keen’s entire perspective by reading his post.  I think I got a good cut here, but I don’t want to take his thoughts out of context.)  Ok, on a less acidic note, I’m agreeing with Keen’s perspective on the game.  I don’t hate Darkfall and I’ve always said it has potential, but Aventurine needs to step it up.  Sadly, their track record doesn’t provide much indication that they will.

On the other side of the Internetz, Syncaine, the author of Hardcore Casual, freaked out a bit more than I thought he would on the subject.  Usually I find myself loving Syncaine’s posts, but I finally found one that I didn’t really agree with.

In short, he blames Keen’s problems on the fact that he’s in a giant alliance.  He thinks Keen should take the bull by the horns and go out and do things, rather than “relying on the game’s rules.”  It’s a heated post, in my opinion, and I don’t think Syncaine wished for it to come out like that, but who am I to say what Syncaine’s real opinion is.

When push comes to shove, however, I think Keen and Syncaine are both right in their own ways.  The difference is that I think Keen is getting to the heart of the matter while Syn is beating around the bush.  Players need reasons to beat the hell out of one another.

Syn brings up ad-hoc skirmishes — one of my favorite things about the sandbox design.  If you do it right, you actually lure players into exhibiting types of behavior.  They don’t realize it, but the best sandboxes are those structured to provide “toys” to attract people.  Dungeons, declared territory, points of interest — these are the things that should lure players there and then spark conflict.  How that conflict ends and proceeds is up to the player, hence the concept of sandbox.  The developer provides the tools, however subtle, and the player finishes the story.

The sandbox is not “make up shit so you have fun.”  Players should not actively have to consider “what can I do that’s fun?”  They should be able to see their own goals and forge on ahead.  For example, “There’s a mine with rare loot in it over the next hill.  I should get some of that.”  There’s the goal.  The developer never wrote the goal down for the player, or told the player that that is the goal.  The player found a point of interest (the mine) and has chosen to get a reward from it (the rare ore.)  How the player conducts themselves is now in the player’s hands.  Other people may interfere or may cooperate or may simply not engage, and that’s the nature of the sandbox.

Keen has gotten to the heart of that by saying, “there should be incentive, like rare ore in a neutral town.”  Because Darkfall provides everything everywhere, there’s no drive to go out and put your stuff at risk.  No rare items to fight over, unlike Darkfall’s sister game, EVE Online.  EVE provides areas with really awesome resources.  What happens in those areas?  Everybody wants them.  Conflict sparks, the sandbox is filled, and players have a good time without having to go out and actively seek “a good time.”  Players who don’t have the resources want it so they can use it, and players with the resource fortify their resource with weapons made from other resources.  It’s a giant wonderful circle of spending.

Syncaine wants people to go out and be more active.  That’s what Keen and I want; we want people to get out and be active.  Activity sparks opportunity.  But if you already have everything, as Keen’s alliance may have, then what do you need to be active for?  You have it all.  You have your resources, your building your weapons, your defending what you have because you don’t want to lose it.  Too many people are in that state in Darkfall, which now leads to sit, stare, and bitch.

If you have a city, have people mining, foresting, and herbing, have a crafter and have guards… what more do you need?  You have the ability to make what you need with all of that.  EVE made sure that wasn’t possible.  Whoops, Aventurine.

So, lastly, I’ll leave you with my idea.  One that would most likely spark some conflict, because Keen brought this up on Syncaine’s post.  Keen said that he has 12+ people in his clan on all the time, and it’s no fun going out and having 12 vs. 1 battles.  I agree.  The situation is not fun and the rewards are probably not worth it.   You go out, kill the guy, and you probably have better stuff than he does.  You take it, it goes into your bank, it does nothing.

But what if you could de-craft an item.  Disassemble it into component parts.  Now, that chainmail that no one’s going to use could be disassembled into a few things of metal.  Metal that you could put towards your bigger objectives, like a siege engine.  What would a little change like that cause?

My bet would be that there would be a rise in conflict.  I, basically, just turned all players into mobile crafting nodes.  Groups would go out looking for blood because they could add to their war coffer in a productive way.  This means larger groups would clash in ad-hoc combat.  I would go so far to bet that even commerce would go up, as a crafter could sell his items to a guild and the guild could disassemble them for their own needs.  Crafter gets his rank ups, guild gets some resources.

Would you get 5 metal from a piece of armor that used 5 metal to make?  Of course not, you need dimishing returns, but you all get my drift on this.  It’s not rocket science to provide incentive.

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How I really feel about Darkfall

February 20, 2009

Many of you probably saw my “hands-on with Darkfall” preview/review on Massively.com, which attempted to sum up my journey with the game, including both the positive and negative aspects of the upcoming PvP-centric MMO.

While I tried to get everything I could into that article, I really felt that my main opinion of the game was too harsh for mainstream media.  And it’s not because I don’t like PvP (I enjoy it very much) or because I’m a carebear (I made 3 characters, one ended up being an outlaw just so I could try the outlaw system) but because the game just ends up getting dull.

People talk about how “once you get into PvP with this game, it never gets dull.”  Well, um, yes it does.  It gets dull really quickly.  When you have to run 10 minutes to find someone, kill them, enjoy the kill, and then run another 10 minutes to find another person, there’s a problem with that.

When fights boil down to who can run in the most awkward patterns and click the mouse button the fastest… yes, there’s a problem with that.

The problem is that there is nothing to do in this game BESIDES PvP.  Sure, PvP can be fun, and I know that.  I killed a few people, got revenge on a few murderers, and I really did enjoy the taste I got of the PvP.  But a game cannot solely be about PvP, otherwise it will quickly become predictable.

Cities are one of Darkfall’s attempts to make PvP unpredictable, and it was a good idea at the time.  Being able to go out and capture a city, build it up, and then defend it is a neat idea.  But here’s the part where it all falls apart — why should I build the city?

Owning a city, as I said, gives no tangible benefits past a new spawn point and being able to PK anyone in your city and not get caught by guards (because you own the guards).  These aren’t like EVE’s starbases, which can be upgraded to produce new products, or used to mine moons for really rare components.  They can’t be used to levy taxes or control townspeople like Lineage II.  They don’t open access to dungeons like Atlantica Online.

Darkfall’s cities are boring, mundane, pieces of stone that make you a gigantic target.  Going to the trouble of building one is just too much trouble for so little gain.

Oh, and when I talk about quests and the poor questing system of Darkfall, I’m not trying to be a damn carebear and relegate myself to controlled storylines.  I’m trying to find reward in going out and exploring the world.  I’m trying to give people that incentive to go out and risk things, because that provides LOADS more opportunity for PvP.  They create places where you know players will be, and where you know you can attack to gain new loot and gear.  PvPers, don’t call me a carebear when I’m looking out for your style of gameplay.

Right now, running around in the wilderness is exactly that — running around the wilderness.  It’s boring unless you get into PvP, and PvP can’t stay exciting and fresh forever when you get sent so far away or have the trouble of finding someone to thrash.  Battles will quickly end, opponents will quickly find themselves humiliated and leave because they don’t want to spend hours of their time attempting to work back to where they once were, and then you’ll be standing alone, the king of nothing and opponent to no one.

These aren’t unfixable problems.  Patch in a few things, take a look at spawn times and estimated run times, and you can even things out.  But until that happens… Darkfall can surmised in a few sentences.

Kill friend.  Grab stuff.  Repeat until you get bored and go play Team Fortress 2.

Don’t bitch and say I’m wrong.  Once you play the game for too long, you’ll know it.