Now lets stick the scapegoats on a pike, then set them on fire

Since IainC is a nice guy and helped me behind the scenes on a couple of occasions, I’ll spend some words on what is going on.

Lum has a piece on the specifics (Warhammer Euro open beta not starting exactly well), I agree wholeheartedly with that, so won’t repeat.

It seems instead that Mark Jacobs found his scapegoat:

3) I have read IanC’s post on the situation and I have just communicated to GOA my thoughts on it. I’ll simply say this, I do not agree with what he said, I do not support what he said and his comments were, in my opinion, way out of line.

Now I hope that “communicated to GOA my thoughts” doesn’t correspond to “FIRE HIM, FIRE HIM NOW!”, because I really don’t see how a community manager is responsible of a database server not working well. Especially a community manager that wasn’t there that day.

In particular he’s probably the most dedicated CM they have, as he posts frequently all over the internet (including, quite a feat) and seems overall a nice guy that does the job well (frequent updates, clarity, helpful).

But what is even more incredible is that MJ is blaming him for saying THE EXACT THING he just posted on the blog. But he is Mark Jacobs, and obviously does not fear that someone steps in his office and fires him.

This is the blamed passage written by IainC:

I wasn’t at work yesterday, Magnus was the man on the scene covering the situation, but I did keep a close eye on forums and was in contact with the guys in the office. A lot of what was said yesterday here and on other forums was entirely out of line. Of course you were disappointed and criticism is certainly warranted but frankly many of the posts made about the situation were borderline sociopathic. If having delayed access to a beta test really drives you to such depths of anger and fury that you felt compelled to make the death threats, racial slurs and other deeply unpleasant posts then – and there is no polite way to put this – there is something wrong with you.

And this is what MJ wrote himself:

Why do some people feel it is okay to threaten, curse, abuse and be downright hostile to other people over a game, especially in this case when it is only over access to a game that is still in testing (Open Beta Test = Not Yet Ready For Prime Time Players)? While I’ve become quite cynical over the decades, I still find myself amazed at times at certain people’s reactions to stuff like this. I don’t mind when people get upset but to treat other people in such a callous, mean and immature manner is really a bit much.

Now I know that there’s this stupid, but motivated, rule that wants Community Mangers not being able to say WHAT PASSES ON EVERYONE ELSE’S MIND, but I really don’t see what’s the sense in MJ’s remark. He SURELY agrees and supports what IainC said, since he wrote exactly the same on his blog.

A matter of form:

However, as a Community Manager telling the players that were disappointed about not getting into a game because of the errors of your company were “borderline sociopathic” is as over the line as some of the comments that were posted here and other places. Saying that some of the players were “way out of line” is one thing but the “borderling sociopathic” bit is quite another.

Ghislaine (CEO of GOA) did something that she has never done before for GOA and we are in constant touch with them about what happened yesterday, today and what we need to do to straighten things out before launch. I would hate to see those efforts be tarnished in any way by an ill-conceived and ill-considered post by any member of that team.

It’s not the first time we see a CM blowing up because of the pressure, it surely isn’t justifiable as it’s part of the job, but let’s not be *completely hypocrite*. That part of IainC post could have been spared, as you really can’t be surprised at some reactions if you aren’t an internet noob. But I also do understand the intent that drove those words (bring back the discussion within civil bounds).

It was a misstep of form, not of merit, and putting the blame on that is about being simply hypocrite and just find a scapegoat to burn only because you need one handy.

What went wrong was responsibility of the engineers who are supposed to make the thing work and anticipate stress issues. JUST THEM. But of course you can’t blame or fire them, because in a 3rd party company they are the only ones who really are indispensable. So let’s blame the Community Managers, because they are disposable. Easily replaced. And you can burn them publicly so that the players can cheer up, so that you can demonstrate how seriously we are taking things.

The truth is that the real errors were made days ago.

Those errors were about the overconfidence and lack of humility in the way things were presented. And these were errors of BOTH the engineers for being caught off-guard, and the Community Managers for passing over that overconfidence without blinking.

It’s indispensable for every business that the REAL problems are recognized and acknowledged. Not the wrong, but handy for public display, ones.

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A couple of reminders on Warhammer Online

What I said about the game’s future development being hard to foresee still applies. Mythic went with a smart strategy by previewing the game in small chunks. They show some little bits of the game just to entice, then wipe the characters and take down the servers again. They show just enough to test the stability and make you want more, but without spoiling it all.

It’s very hard to understand how the game will do in the longer term. There are issues of factional balance and overall RvR flow, there are issues of character growth. Most of these remain completely hidden at the moment and this situation would encourage a prudent approach to the game.

What I suggest, though, is contradictory. If you want to play this game, do not wait. Play at release. Despite the bugs, servers going down and all sort of problems, the most fun in a MMOs, especially a “social” one like Warhammer, comes from being there with everyone else and enjoy the rush. Get over the bugs, have some patience, but do not wait.

The best tip is to start when everyone else does and try to keep up. Don’t level too fast, don’t level too slow. Find a server that is well populated because waiting in a queue can be preferable of getting stuck in Public Quests or RvR due to the lack of players.

I don’t expect Warhammer will do a big splash. Despite the feedback is much, much better than the one preceding Age of Conan’s release, the amount of “noise” and interest doesn’t seem as high. For the kind of game it is, the potential is in a slower growth, over time. A better retention overall. Piercing through the release of WotLK is the biggest challenge for this game.

The problem, again, is that this potential slow growth is crippled by the game design itself. Because if from a side the game promotes the socialization and collaborative gameplay like no other MMO in the market (and so that slow growth in subscriptions I expect), from the other it cripples it because as the playerbase moves through the content and levels the new players will find a game that is a lot less welcoming and vibrant.

Warhammer’s biggest strength and biggest weakness in one.

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Mythic’s designers DO NOT GET IT!

This is first and LAST. The proof that I could start here and rant for the next years. Instead it is going to be the last. I promise I’ll never rant again about Mythic’s design. EVER. After this.

I patched the client for the second preview weekend. Despite the beta center, where, quoting, “Please note this page is where all important information and announcements will be posted”, and where all servers are shown as “down” (despite being all up), and where the last message is still from the 20 August and completely wrong.

But beside all this. Beside the fact that the unresponsive combat is the first issue reported everywhere and acknowledged as so.

They fucking added a sound when you press an hotkey. Kinda like I suggested. Problem is that it’s USELESS.

It plays when the action FAILS. It plays when you press an hotkey corresponding to an EMPTY slot.


Who’s the one behind this awesome design decision? Who’s the genius?

This is another blatant example of how, Warhammer as any other MMOs released recently, they just try to copy WoW without having a clue about WHY things work that way. They just copy without knowing what they are copying, and the results suck.

/rant off, forever.

Day after edit: I was drunk when I wrote that.

Besides, it’s really true they only listen to who’s louder. I didn’t notice anyone on forums pointing out the same problem I did.

Of course players aren’t game designers, they won’t perceive exactly where the problem originates and why. They’ll end just saying that the combat feels sluggish. When instead the sluggishness is due to the UI giving incorrect, non-discrete feedback.

This is why game designers actually exist and are paid for, and do not seem to be doing their job at this moment.

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Books at my door – Late August edition – part 2

These arrived a couple of weeks ago, I just didn’t post about them.

Who cares about the books I’m buying? I know, I know. But it’s useful to keep track of things for me, and always very good suggestions for potential readers.

Lexicon Urthus – Michael Andre-Driussi
This is actually a book about a book, re-released recently. Specifically the series of two(four) books by Gene Wolfe (+ Urh of the New Sun). The series known under the name of “The Book of the New Sun”, and whose first chapter I already read and commented.

This book was recommended on some forums and I absolutely love when a book goes outside its boundaries and creates its own mythology and speculation. While I don’t exactly like the style of this one (as these speculations aren’t so significant and mostly an exercise in wit and knowledge) I’m still curious to follow all the tracks. I’m only slightly deluded because I’m more interested in some critical thoughts and flowing commentary, while this is mostly a dictionary (as it says) that doesn’t really go too deep. It just stays on the level of what’s explicit in the book, without adding speculations or hypothesis. There are also another couple of books similar to this one, so there may be something closer to what I want. Still, it makes for an useful guide when I’ll have time to continue my reading.

Cordelia’s Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold
I don’t know much about this series, nor the author. I know that it is another recommended read, in the non-hard science fiction, and considered a classic. The Vorkosigan Saga, another huge one, spanning a number of books and with a not so easy to follow continuity. This book is the one suggested to start with but things are mixed up as the publication order doesn’t follow at all the continuity. The stories themselves should be readable as standalone, but readers will always try to find the ideal reading order.

The wikipedia can help to get oriented. This one is an omnibus containing two stories, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Published by Baen it has 600 pages in total and densely written, with afterwords from the author and an useful chronology of events at the end. While it is suggested to start the saga with those and read them in order, it is interesting to consider that the first of the two stories included was published in 1986 and the second in 1991 and even won the Hugo. With more books being published between those years but that do not fit chronologically in there.

If you want a huge space-opera, well written and with wars and romance mixed together, this may be a good choice.

Kushiel’s Dart – Jacqueline Carey
Another one to go in the reading pile and that is rather well known. Two trilogies set in the same world, with more to follow. This one is the first, considered the best, but also all the other books have a very good reputation and keep the quality all about the same level.

Far from traditional fantasy, this is a secondary world modeled after medieval Europe. A mix of political intrigue, romance and eroticism that received a lot of praises and one of the very few that isn’t considered junk despite those traits usually lead to no good. From the few pages I read it seem to have a beautiful, flowing prose, written in first person, and it surely tries to charm right away. In its own sub-genre this is probably the best by a fair margin.

The Warrior-Prophet – R. Scott Bakker
The Thousandfold Thought – R. Scott Bakker
These to complete my collection, as I was able to buy the first one, used, a while ago. This time I went for the hard to find US Hardcover because they have those beautiful covers that the new edition have replaced with much less inspired versions. The books actually look lovely without the jackets. Solid books looking like books. Well crafted. I’m happy to finally have all three of them in the format I wanted.

Last two volumes in the Prince of Nothing trilogy. Scott Bakker is right next to Erikson as the current most relevant and ambitious writer in the epic fantasy genre and truly deserving the title. Those who do not like Erikson’s writing style usually love Bakker and the series is considered one of the very best, beautifully written and for adults instead of teenagers, as long you can digest the philosophizing. I’ve also read that the series has some of the best badass villains ever.

The author is currently at work on a tetralogy set in the same world, whose first book should be out sometime next year and has one of the very best covers I’ve ever seen. I simply love a cover of a book that looks like a *book*. Without the usual stupid image of a character striking a pose targeted at teenagers. This one looks magnificent, included the colors. I worry that from now to release someone complains and gets to change it.

I’ve read some comments saying that it doesn’t stand out on a bookshop shelve and I *completely* disagree. It stands apart by having a wonderful art direction and being different from 99% of the ugly stuff there’s on the shelves. It’s intriguing, in the worse case. That’s a book that I take in my hands even if I have no idea what it is about.

In the meantime I continue reading The Steel Remains, about halfway through it. There were some scenes that got an impact on me, so I’m digging it more and more. Keep turning the pages.

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Two quotes on game design

I like to match apples and oranges, then realize they are both fruit.

In practice, it mainly shows that there are no good or bad ideas: only good and bad executions.

If there’s an over-arching theme of our development, it’s that we, like many other developers, believe that ultimate success in this industry comes from iteration. You have to build, evaluate (and have others evaluate) and be prepared to throw things away and rebuild.

This matches my ideal of the core of game design: observation.

And consequently, be out and discuss things openly, encourage feedback and so on.

No ivory tower of supreme knowledge and genius.