Wednesday, November 12, 2014

PR Nightmares (and they're not Rifts)

For the past few weeks I’ve been silent, and what I have posted has been about Trion Worlds’s inaction on the part of the customer support, community management, and in general public relations teams to try to keep the customerbase of Rift updated on the issue that occurred three weeks ago.  Now it may seem like a long time to hold a grudge, but truth be told it’s no longer a grudge about the rollback, but rather the lack of Trion to actually take the complaints seriously, and to treat the paying players (really, all the players) as something of a money faucet.  Generally speaking, the anger at this point that is still simmering amongst the Faeblight denizens is that the company does not care, and looking back on many of the posts and what-not, I have to echo this sentiment.

Before I go into the actual posting, I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Turbine for their quick response today when the Dungeons and Dragons Online authentication server issue happened.  In under an hour the server was restarted, and the players were kept updated as to the cause, the status, and the final resolution in a timely manner.  Not once did anyone feel like there was an issue that they were being ignored or kept in the dark, and Turbine’s Twitter, Facebook, and forums kept the players in the loop.  Dungeons and Dragons Online doesn’t look as pretty as Rift, it doesn’t play as well as Rift, and in general feels like a lower-quality game than Rift; however, Turbine has continuously shown a good customer support team when it comes to PR (their in-game support is a bit lacking).

Now, I’m going to go into the root cause of the issue, but I’m going to touch on some secondary issues as well.  Let’s get those secondary issues out of the way first.

Rollbacks happen

Yes, they do.  Unfortunately, sometimes servers shit the bed and hardware problems occur.  There is very little that companies can do to prevent this: it comes with age and the like.  Server maintenance and downtime generally focuses on the software side, and that can help mitigate the problems that can appear when hardware problems happen.  I don’t think anyone is ever going to complain about scheduled downtime, because it’s a necessity in MMOs (CCP Games has recently begun doing minor updates and patchwork without bringing the Tranquility server offline for daily maintenance, but this is not the norm).

I ended up asking around and doing some research to find out what could have theoretically happened to the servers that would cause the need for a 25-hour-plus rollback of the servers, and the people I talked to were dumbfounded.  After all, it is simply something that doesn’t happen unless you have a huge clusterfuck happen, the starts align, and a virgin has been sacrificed by a competitor to Aule.  Properly maintained, software and databases don’t implode like they did, especially if you have multiple redundancies in effect to do so.  What happened to the databases for Rift (specifically, the Faeblight server) appears to show the redundancies and multiple “save points” on different servers does not exist.  And since we are told Faeblight is not on any type of architecture different than the rest of the game, that can only lead one to believe that safeguard is not being used for any shard in Rift.  That is a dangerous gamble, as we saw with the rollback: you risk hours—if not days—of information when something goes wrong.

So, how often do rollbacks happen?  Minor ones are actually more common than people think: usually it’s only minutes or hours at a time (more the former than the latter), and while specific amounts are unknown, it’s safe to say that each game has rollbacks of different servers at least every month because of :reasons:.  Major ones—rather, ones that require 6+ hours of rolling back—are nigh unheard of.  Not once that I can think of has there been a need for a game company to rollback servers for more than three hours, otherwise there would have been a huge uproar on the internet about incompetence when it was picked up on.

Now given, there were rumors of a five-hour rollback in 2013 when it came to Star Wars: The Old Republic.  In truth, I haven’t found any actual corroboration from EA/Bioware concerning it, but given that SWTOR is a half-assed game thanks to the efforts of EA, and how shifty the company is, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Just to make sure I was correct in not knowing of any major rollbacks with regards to WoW, I asked a friend of mine who works with their customer service department.  She can’t recall any, and as she put it, “If that ever happened to Blizzard, it would be everywhere.”

We can all agree.

Reimbursement Not Required

One of the more common claims by apologists is that the company does not have to give you anything.  By a strict reading of the EULA/ToS, you’re correct: the company is not bound legally or otherwise to provide you with any type of reimbursement for a failure of the game.  In fact, should the game die a day after you pay for a year-long subscription, the company doesn’t even have to give you a refund, pro-rated or otherwise (though good business practice is to do so, especially if your company has more than one game.  It gives the consumer a sense of honesty, and customers like being able to trust a company).

The problem is that in the past, Trion has done admirably with regards to reimbursing people for mistakes.  When the chat server issue was prevalent earlier this year, every player received three bundles of +160% vials, and they got these if they made new characters for a specific frame of time.  Likewise, when Patron-status players found their “patron buffs” not working for a handful of days (three, I think) each one got a stack of seven bundles, and once again new characters made during a specific timeframe on those accounts also received the same number of bundles.  So it truly is no wonder that the players not only of Faeblight, but the other affected servers as well as the playerbase-at-large expected better than what we got.

What the players got was a temporary 48-hour buff to non-quest experience gain, and 750 credits if you either (a) spent credits during the affected time, or (b) were a “paying customer”.  That, unfortunately, didn’t stack, so you didn’t get 1,500 credits if you filled out both parts of the criteria, and many Patrons pointed out that the buff didn’t affect them.  More to the point, this buff was during a set time, meaning many players couldn’t take advantage of it.  Also, since the credits were given unequally, it was impossible to determine what a “paying customer” was, as some Patrons received the credits and others didn’t; some people who bought Collectors Editions of Nightmare Tide received the credits, and some didn’t.  it made for unequal treatment, and the question of “What constitutes a paying customer’?” was never answered by a Trion employee.

Now you can imagine why after this was announced a week after the rollback had occurred, and the playerbase had been kept in the dark about what was allegedly going on, that said playerbase would rightly be angry.  It may seem like entitlement, but the playerbase had become accustomed to being given a very good reimbursement when something went wrong.  To many of us, this seemed like a slap in the face.

So then, what is the problem?

This is one of those questions that everyone will have a multitude of answers for.  The two chief concerns are Trion’s lack of communication during the entire ordeal, and Trion’s lack of giving a shit when the players say something.  This has not exactly been something new, as it has been happening for some time prior to this event.  For example, on 09 August Daglar responded to criticism of the proposed auction house changes with the following:

“I never want to see someone leave the game over a change, however the nature of the game is change.  We will make changes, sometimes ones that seem moronic to specific players (or even most players) that have the potential to make people stop playing.  We will make changes none the less.”

This was widely touted as Daglar saying that even if the majority of players disagreed with the changes, if he would want to continue on even at the expense of lost revenue he would push on.  I can see where people get that, but I also see that, while poorly worded, Daglar is saying that they cannot allow a vocal group to dictate the direction of the game.

The problem being that Daglar admitted in that very post that even if a majority of players found the change to be counterintuitive or “moronic”, he’d still go along with it.  Because fuck you, it’s his game to be the executive producer of, not yours you unwashed heathen.

Now, this is the beginning, as far as I’m concerned, of a very frightening trend.  But even going back further, my own experience with Trion’s customer service/GM group has been lackluster.  As I posted to my YouTube account, I had a ticket in on people who had been harassing me consistently for over a month.  Even after getting in touch with Ocho, the Community Manager most frequently seen, nothing happened.  As Ocho told me that he would talk to Daglar et al. about my problem, I thought things would be fine.  Two weeks after I finished my chat with Ocho (and a full four weeks after my ticket was initially submitted), I eventually updated the thread I had created, explaining my frustration with Trion’s lack of customer service or taking harassment complaints seriously (my ticket had had a GM copy-paste a form response to my ticket about a week prior with no response after I responded to it).  I had been in the process of editing a YouTube video I had done on Trion’s failure to take such things seriously when a GM magically contacted me in-game to talk about what had been happening.  In true form, they hadn’t read a thing from my ticket, despite it being stupid amounts of specific (listing dates, times, locations, and chat channels that the harassment had taken place in; specifically, the constant use of the term “pedophile” to describe me was mentioned).

That has, however, been a problem with free-to-play games: they put public relations on the back burner a lot of the time, and instead focus on the here-and-now.  Only when things explode and they need damage control do you see how competent your PR/community teams are.

I keep harping back to 2012, when the EvE online “Monoclegate” scandal broke.  This is for a specific set of reasons.  Chief among them is that it’s very simple for me to recall accurately, because I was at the forefront of the protests.  But it also served as a terrific primer on what not to do when it comes to PR, and how a gaming company—even one as big as Blizzard Entertainment—can make huge mistakes, and mistakes snowball, they don’t add up.

The initial thread started pretty much told us that CCP Pann, the CM they sent in to play early damage control, was simply biding time until the company could come up with a response they thought we wanted to hear.  At this point, the players were not happy, and CCP Pann disappeared, ostensibly because her daughter had gotten sick and she needed to be rushed to the hospital (I can neither confirm nor deny this is the actual excuse, and if it is not true it is a poor excuse when you realize someone is out of their depth.  More to the point, a few months later CCP Pann was among the people from the community team fired after Monoclegate happened, and the CEO blamed the players in interviews for “having” to fire them).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trion to do Damage Control

As I said previously, I would update my initial posting concerning the Rift server rollbacks a week ago.  However, there has been nothing to update with until today.  The biggest thing is that there was no response or dialogue, no communication between Trion and the players.  As such, everyone was left in the dark as to what was going on.  Previously, I posted Daglar’s initial posting, which said that they were in talks about additional compensation for Faeblight in particular.  However, all the players received were any credits they may have spent during the time between the rollback start location and the unexpected downtime, and an additional 750 credits for paying subscribers.  Let me quote Daglar:

We've awarded back credits to users who spent credits, and additional credits to paying users for the downtime. I've unstuck the thread at this point in time. We also applied global benefits to the affects servers - a particularly large bonus to Faeblight as well.

This is not a monocle gate situation - this was an unfortunate hardware failure, and we could have kept the servers down for another 24+ hours attempting to recover the data. I made the call to get the servers back up so people could actually play as opposed to avoiding a rollback, but not allowing folks to play for at a minimum, another 24 hours.


Now, let me explain what this means.  It means that if you were a paying subscriber—I specifically say were because I know a lot of people have cancelled their subscriptions since the rollback and before this blog posting—you should have received 750 credits.  If you didn’t, you’re SOL.  If you’re not a subscriber, you’re SOL.

But you got that nifty 50% bonus to make up for the hours upon hours of playtime you lost.  Oh, and it only applied to kills, not quests.

You didn’t get enough to purchase even one +160% EXP potion.  You didn’t get anything worth mentioning, not even the loyalty associated with purchasing the credits.  Faeblight lost 56 hours of time—24 hours from the rollback, 12 from the downtime, and the additional 24 hours having to re-grind what we had already lost.  This puts us, as a server, out of contention for the majority of firsts associated with leveling and the like.

I’m going to be honest, it’s bullshit.  This is the type of customer service that has caused companies to fold before.  I’ll go into that later.

I will be keeping this post short because I’m livid and I want to make the post covering this bullshit a proper one, complete with facts and the like.  That requires me to take the time to do that.  But I will leave you with this picture validating that Daglar has sent it to me.

EDIT  Some people have said that Daglar didn't confirm that is all we'd be getting.  However, several minutes ago Daglar posted to the thread itself.

The official compensation was 750 credits for paying players, in addition to massive exp and token boosts for the entirety of the server. If you were a paying user during this time period that appears to have been erroneously missed, please contact customer support.

As stated in the original post, it was most certainly my decision to get the servers back up in the most timely fashion possible. We could have continued data recovery processes for Faeblight for multiple additional days - which would be multiple additional days of downtime. It was completely my call to return servers to a playable state and apply a rollback to Faeblight.


Congratulations everyone, you'll see nothing more.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mists of Panderia 2: Electric Boogaloo

Has Rift’s new expansion died before it lived?

Sit back kids, and grab something to eat or drink.  This bitchfest is going to be long.

It feels like the expansion, Nightmare Tide, is an attempt to recreate the Mists of Panderia expansion for World of Warcraft, complete with a shitton of farming.  Trion appears to have pushed a “quantity over quality” mentality, thinking to overload the players at the beginning of the experience with the sheer amount of “stuff to do”, and to give them something to push for.  But if they had paid attention to Mists of Panderia itself, they’d have realized that the players—both hardcore and casual, and everyone in between—do not like that mentality.  It’s nice to know that we don’t have to push ourselves to get into things, and to burn out before we even begin raiding.

First, a few facts about the first seven months after Mists came out.

-         1.)  World of Warcraft saw a 54% reduction in overall revenue between September 2012 and April 2013.  Now given, Mists sold millions of copies in September and that would certainly cause inflated numbers, but it is still not an insignificant drop in subscription numbers.
      2.) Coupled with this fact, World of Warcraft lost 1.3-million subscribers during this time period, or a loss of 14% of the playerbasev.  By September 2013 it had lost 25% of the playerbase, and Blizzard-Activision admitted they did not see it stalling anytime soon (to date, it has been staunched slightly).  It was also around this time that Blizzard did a huge mass banning of the bot farms located primarily in Europe and southeast Asia.

The next part is speculative, really supported by the threads that appeared on the forums for World of Warcraft, but also what many commentators in the gaming community mentioned about Mists of Panderia, but also Cataclysm’s end.

Mists of Panderia pushed the quantity-over-quality aspect of gaming hard.  Dailies were so abundant and damn-near mandatory that raiders had no choice: it was far worse than even Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm for enchanting and the like.  It was long, boring, and tedious, and players felt disenfranchised.  The leveling was absolute crap, and many progression raiders simply stopped raiding, myself among them.  It really began to feel like a grind every time you logged in, and when you feel like there’s no end in sight for two or three weeks in a row, you start to simply lose the will to log in.  I logged in because I had to: there were responsibilities inherent to my position, and I couldn’t simply ignore them.  After about two months of playtime, I had trained up the assistant raid leader to do my job, then told the guild I was leaving, and I didn’t know if, or when, I’d be returning.  I haven’t regretted this decision since, because it was simply not fun.  No one, not even the raid leader for a progression guild, should feel like they have to log in and view it as a chore instead of a hobby.  And if you honestly believe that there is a minority of people who feel that way, going simply be the data that can be extrapolated it is not the case: in 2013 even Blizzard admitted that the loss of paying subscriptions did not appear to be abating, and probably would not for the foreseeable future.

It should be noted that about this time, Ghostcrawler left the company (and thus the WoW Development Team) and the Warlords of Draenor expansion was announced.  Many more cynical players have said that it simply appears to be an attempt to placate the playerbase and bring them back in because of the failings of Cataclysm and Mists of Panderia, and I’ll admit to falling into that category.  Time will tell, but for now I have not preordered the expansion (the first one I have not done so) and I do not plan to buy it.

Now, Rift is a themepark MMO, referred to often as a “WoW clone” even though that isn’t fair: it brought quite a few nifty gameplay changes to the genre, but it still feels rather like a WoW clone at times, sure.  And to keep up with the feel, it appears Trion decided that the Mists of Panderia mindset was a good thing to emulate, thinking imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.  It isn’t the case, and it’s not just because Mists was so critically panned and negative.  To begin with, let’s look at the monetary costs associated with purchasing and getting into the game itself:

-          1.) New Souls (the talents) cost 4,500 credits in the store, which means you’re probably going ot drop $50.00 on credits because of sheer value.  To get something similar in terms of what you need to purchase it, you would have to buy four REX (the RMT version, much like a PLEX in EvE Online), or credits in some form to get to that point.  Either way, you’re hitting $40.00 with that, so you might as well just spend the extra ten if you can handle it.  This price, also, is assuming you’ve spent $15.00 on a subscription for the month, meaning you’re actually spending a minimum of $55.00 to do this; I am not, however, factoring in the subscription price for this.
      2.) The “physical” expansion costs $25.00 at a minimum, and I’ll go into this in a bit.  However, most people will purchase the $50.00 expansion simply to get the “Instant Level 60” boost that can be sold for in-game currency.  At this current time, it is selling for 3,200 platinum on my shard (Faeblight).  More to the point, purchasing this version (or the next tier, which is $149,99) does not give you those souls, meaning you have to pay an extra $40.00 to purchase that.  In essence, to obtain everything from what would normally come from purchasing such things you would be paying the equivalent to two expansion packs.

Now let’s keep in mind, Trion opens the entire leveling and gaming experience to everyone, even the players who don’t spend a nickel on the game the entire time they play.  As a free-to-play game, that’s how it should be done (Star Wars: The Old Republic should freaking take note here, considering how badly it has done since Day 1): you should give the players that much and put special things into purchases made with money.  No one is faulting them for launching “collector’s edition” versions of the game, and more power to you if you decide to help keep the game going, ladies and gents.  In all honesty, had I had the disposable income I probably would have dropped the $50.00 on the second tier version just to show my support.  Now, I’m not so sure I would, but that’s just me.

The most important thing right now, however, is the massive amounts of lack-of-clear-planning that appears to go on.  Itemization, for example, is complete crap.  Let’s give you an example of what I mean (sorry for the quality, you'll need to zoom in by clicking on the picture itself).  Now ,the stats on the item aren't bad at all, probably where they want epics to be to begin with.  Until, that is, you hit the Hit Rating: +53 hit.  That is the same amount of Hit found on epic-quality gear prior to entering raids in the previous expansion, and hit requirements did not remain the same with this expansion: to get into experts in the Storm Legion expansion it required 300 Hit, which one could easily do simply with crafted gear; for Nightmare Tide it requires 800 Hit, and the gear you will get will put you just at that base minimum, meaning this epic will not be used.  In short this epic will not see any type of play, relegating it to "less-than-trash" status.  No epic should ever be at that level.

Also on the topic of gear, several items that have been labeled "Bind on Equip" have simply become bound as soon as they are retrieved from a cache or box.  I'm not sure if that's a coding error or what, but it certainly seemed a bit iffy.

Next, on to questing.  There are no quest hubs, but that has generally been true throughout Rift's gameplay so I can't fault them for staying on-point with this.  Running form Point A to Point B can be tedious, but their liberal use of Porticulums for fast travel between destinations you've previously visited certainly helps to take a bite out of the strain generated by that.  but running from Point to to Point B, then to Point C and on to Point D only to return to a spot halfway between A and B is annoying, especially when it happens constantly.  You still have large expanses between those waypoints generally, and so you spend a lot of time getting to positions and less time doing the quests.

But that's okay, there's a lot of shit asking for your sword in their throat, and I'll be damned if I don't oblige!

The classes received "masteries" which are a set of four different "talents" that you can select between at each level.  Now, between fights you can switch from one mastery talent to the next without having to buy something like in WoW, but they don't really appear to be anything new.  Each class has it's own set of masteries, so there's no real variety for them: some are goign to be used, and others are just too broken that you don't look at it.  I can't fault them for doing this, though: World of Warcraft decided with Mists to nuke talent trees altogether, roll the spells and abilities into leveling itself and at certain levels (multiplications of level 15) you could put a point into a set of "talents" that would theoretically have benefits and drawbacks associated with them, allowing for you to be better in some instances and worse in others.  For Rift there are a lot of talent tress to work on, and adding five points into each would be tedious work, I will give them that.  But this game has been touted as one in which there is a lot more customizeability (spell check says that's not a word, but it can bite me) even when compared to Elder Scrolls Online, and in order to keep that they will have to work on the trees.  if it's a stopgap in order to allow them more time to work on refining the trees, I'd prefer they told us that.  As it stands, this is silly at best and downright lazy at worst.

The new capital city—Margle Palace—just seems like they threw together random schemes and backgrounds.  It is not aesthetically-pleasing, and it's not something that appears to be well-planned.  I mean, it seriously looks like an architect was not involved.  It isn't centralized like the other cities (Meridian is a fringe case, I'll grant you that).  It is too much like old Orgrimmar or Stormwind: not localized.  That drove people insane by the thousands, if not millions.  There's going to need to be a huge revamp of that city, otherwise people are going ot keep Tempest Bay as their destination when they hearth.

Now, with the exception of the itemization issue I can get over that,  It's simply stuff that can be fixed, as can what I'm about to write about that has really upset me.  The newest currency is called Void Stones.  Now, they're being used for everything in this expansion: buying Nightmare Rift lures costs Planarite and Void Stones, for example.  That is, of course, assuming you don't want to spend credits to do so (and yes, 9 credits is nothing, but that is not the point.  I simply have one question:

Who the fuck was in charge of this?

If you want to purchase gear upgrades like with Infinity Stones, you have to use Void Stones.  Fine, you're keeping with tradition.  But who thought it would be a good idea for dailies not to offer them, and more importantly to fucking cap them at a weekly amount?  Now given, not many people are going to take the days-on-end to farm up 35,000 stones (the weekly cap); however, I am assuming you intend to add ways to get a shitton of them in short amounts of time, meaning that people will go over cap very quickly.  I can only pray for this, because otherwise I will not give a damn about them, and neither will anyone else.

Two new slots (earrings) require 100,000 Void Stones each.  Much of the gear now requires a new "attunement", also requiring 100,000 Void Stones.

Per character, mind you.  Keep that in mind.

So with a 35,000 stone weekly cap, that is going to require a grand total of eight weeks (or two months for those of you who can do the maths in your head) to get those items.  Per character.  Hardcore progression raiders will be forced to get those slots and what-not in order to not gimp themselves and push for their server- and world-firsts.  This means they aren't purchasing Nightmare Lures.  They aren't going to spend 10,500 Void Stones to purchase the WoW equivalent of "dungeon gear" (oh, and that's for the cheapest items).  Sure, you're pushing them to purchase from the players and hoping to drive the economy, but you're also forcing them to do one thing to get geared.  you should have multiple avenues to do that, but there simply isn't.

Now, all of this can be bypassed by paying $25.00 for the expansion.  Well-played: it puts money into the hands of the company for "future development", which I am honestly assuming is simply being put on Trove and ArcheAge at this point, and that's not even working.  CCP Games learned the hard way that you can't focus on new ordeals and sacrifice on the old ones: their two new games have all but died in the case of one, and the second is done, with the team who had been working on it being laid off.

And I'll admit, that cap is high, because no one is going to spend the time to farm that many stones when it doesn't even appear in dailies!  So I guess in a way the cap is arbitrary, but that also means that the two months I talked about earlier is similarly arbitrary because no one will get to it.

And Daglar has been hesitant to actually talk about it, at all!

Now, I'll admit that I relatively enjoyed the leveling experiences (until level 64, which was a bitch in itself; now, imagine having to do it twice because Trion can't remember to back up your server's data on redundant drives!).  And I'm thoroughly enjoying the Minion idea (which seriously, you need to find a way to add that to the mobile app).  I think the stamina needs to regenerate faster, but I can live with it.  I'm also enjoying the streamlined profession leveling, as it's simply easier to farm mats now, and I can live with that, seriously.

Trion can fix this stuff that people have been complaining about.  It is early-enough in the expansion to get players to enjoy the game again, because right now players are annoyed.  First impressions are important, but if you work on fixing some of the stuff that people have mentioned (and not just myself, mind you: hundreds of people have developed threads on these topics) it will go a long way towards helping to repair whatever hit your reputation took.

But what do I know?  I've just been playing MMOs for over a decade, beta tested many of them, and have been writing for Joystiq for over five years.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Trion To Make Sense

You ever played a game in which there was a massive hardware failure, and the only way to make sure everyone’s account was safe was to roll the entire shard back over 24 hours?  This happened to the Tranquility server in 2012.  CCP Games’s response was a full rollback of about 24 hours, but as compensation to the players they immediately gave everyone who logged in a pretty sizeable amount of skill points.  Now given, in EvE Online, “character level” is measured in skill points, and characters can generally be given skill points equal to a specific formula to help balance out what may have been lost in the rollback.  Of course, this also means that ships lost are replaced, and anything you may have bought or found during the time between the rollback start and when it was rolled back to is lost.  That can be both good and bad, depending on how much Bob and RNGesus love you.

Now, let’s assume that a game’s expansion launched during the week.  Let’s pretend it was on a Wednesday that it launched.  The launch was pretty good: no massive issues except a slightly longer-than-anticipated downtime, and a couple of per-usual hotfixes.  No massive server lag spikes, no issues with questing.  It’s pretty good, and you’re thinking it’s doing really well.

Thursday rolls around.  People have taken these two days off to enjoy the new expansion and explore/level, as gamers are wont to do when a new expansion drops.  Once again, plenty of issues that were expected don’t show up, and you’re feeling really great.

Okay, now let’s put a name to this game: Rift.  The expansion that came out is called Nightmare Tide.

At 0400 Pacific Standard Time on Friday, three servers went down.  The official reason for this was some key databases for the Laethys, Wolfsbane, and Faeblight servers had become corrupted, and so the servers were taken down to facilitate the transfer of data to new databases.  No ETA for when it would be fixed, but we didn’t’ find out the reasoning until four hours after the problems began and the servers went down, and we were told they didn’t know what was causing the issue (rather, they were vague on the cause).

At 1200 PST, Laethys came back online, a full eight hours after it went down.  Wolfsbane followed 25 minutes later.  Faeblight remained offline.  During this time, a hotfix was announced.  However, Laethys and Wolfsbane found themselves rolled back after they came back up, but only to an hour at maximum from when they went down (so at most they were rolled back to 0300 PST on Friday, so people lost nine hours of playtime, though only one of it was actually played).  Faeblight was not so well off: the server was rolled back to 0300 Thursday morning.

That’s a 25 hour rollback, for those keeping track.

Now some people will point out that players on Faeblight didn’t actually lose 25 hours’ worth of gameplay.  After all, no one at that point is going to play that much on a single day.  We need time to rest and what-not.  And you’re correct, we did not.  But I want to explain it like this.

Three servers lost a total of nine hours minimum compared to the rest of the shards out there.  They were down, and so that is time at the beginning of an expansion in which those players are not playing, and getting ready to raid.  For progression raiding guilds—even in games outside World of Warcraft—that’s a big thing.  Sure, the individual server may be at an equal footing for server firsts, but can you imagine if <Ensidia>’s server dropped like that?  Could you imagine the shitstorm that would be caused, and Blizzard’s responses to get them back into contention (we’ve seen Blizzard previously coddle their favorite guild, allowing them to bypass mechanics and exploit for world firsts)?  Trion may not have the same issue in that guilds aren’t vying for world firsts for real-world money, but it still causes headaches for them in that it shows ineptitude on the part of the technicians.

Quite literally, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.  Technicians do not talk to GMs (Game Masters, the in-game fixers of problems) do not talk to CMs (Community Managers, who handle social media and forums).  I did a video a few months back in which I had reported some players to Trion about harassment that went beyond any type of trolling.  I had gotten in touch with Ocho, a member of the CM team who promised he would talk to the GMs.  A month later, the head GM (Daglar) contacted me literally five minutes after I had finished the initial video to talk to me about the problem.  It took a month to get on that, and that was after I had talked to a CM, whom Daglar said he never heard from.  So someone was lying, or just dropped the ball.  I would have been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I had been a royal pain the ass with the issue: forum thread that I had updated two weeks and four weeks after the initial ticket-and-canned-answer fiasco, so it was a sign, to me, that they didn’t actually care.  But that is a topic for another posting.

The point is, here the GMs hadn’t talked to the technicians, and it took six hours to find out what the fuck had happened.  Just fucking think about that: the players didn’t know why it had happened, and given most of us probably didn’t care about the why as much as we cared about the how, as in “How do you plan to fix this?”  And we probably don’t care about how they plan to prevent this from happening in the future, because those of us on Faeblight feel completely cheated.

So let’s go back to the problem right now.  The server as a whole is a minimum of forty-eight hours behind every other server.  I say “minimum” because I’m really not taking into account the nine hours we had offlined alongside Laethys and Wolfsbane.  That really affects the morale of the players, who have routinely felt that Trion does not care as long as they are making money.  Now given, I’ve had far more positive experiences in this game than negative, but that doesn’t absolve them of blame when they fuck up big time.  A hardware failure may not be completely their fault, but the corruption of a database so severely that it requires you to go back twenty-five hours in order to restart everything screams negligence (and that’s according to some database analysts, who have said this to Daglar et al. on the forums).

Faeblight was called “venerable” by Daglar, which means two different things: highly respected, or old and antiquated.  Faeblight, being one of the few original launch servers remaining, is probably on the old architecture for the game, so it wasn’t ungraded with the other servers.  It also means that it isn’t backed up like the others (which appear to be once every hour).  That says that those of us playing on Faeblight can probably expect to have this happen again, and the same results will happen.

Players have lost credits they spent, which the company claims they will reimburse (and after the fiasco with Guild Wars II, I believe it will be).  They’ve lost currency, and they’ve lost items that were expensive, or powerful (we’re talking relic-level treasure boxes, epic-level BoE gear, etc.).  They’ve lost experience they gained.  But that can all be retrieved in short order, once people (including myself) get over the shock of what appears to be such a monumental failure in thinking.  More importantly, however, the people on Faeblight (and to a lesser extent Wolfsbane and Laethys) lost time.  Time is a precious commodity, and is the most expensive thing each and every one of us has.  Time is money is a common saying, and it’s true: the server is two days behind as a collective, which hurts us for progression raiding and the like.

But the most important thing Faeblight denizens have lost is trust: we’ve lost trust in the capabilities of Trion to successfully keep the server going.  It may not seem like much, but something as simple as properly backing up the database would have done far more to calm us.  As-is, the players feel slighted, and it’s going to take far more than a title, cosmetic pet, mount, or packaging of +160% EXP packages to alleviate that feeling.

As of this writing, Trion’s head GM Daglar has said that for reimbursement they are putting up an experience boosting event on Faeblight.  However, Patrons (that is, paying subscribers) are not seeing this bonus applied to them, thus alienating the people giving a consistent income further.  Try as the free-to-play crowd might to say that we aren’t special, we are a far more consistent income than the people who spend money to buy credits, because that is a one-time thing normally.  You simply can’t count on that every month, where-as we are generally paying for months upon months in a row.  Many of us have also received 750 free credits to spend in the store as we see fit, which is the equivalent to buying $5.00 worth of credits.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.  You may not be able to buy us completely, but you can definitely make us feel better with reimbursement that is commensurate with the level of fuck-up presented.  I’m not saying that we should all get a million credits, but something as simple as some special vials that might last four hours and over +400% EXP gain, as well as everyone on Faeblight affected by this server issue receiving a free 3-day Patron pass to make up for the time we are missing out on because we have to redo what we already did would go a logn way to showing us we care.  And that’s just for starters.

The EULA might say we can’t expect anything from Trion, and in fact Trion doesn’t have to give us anything as compensation, but companies have tried that before, and the negative publicity alone has caused them endless amounts of headaches.  I fully expect Trion will try to repair the damage, but the repairing needs to happen sooner rather than later, and it needs to be seen as something serious.  If Trion does that and restores the faith of the playerbase—because players on other shards are certainly watching this, understanding it could happen to them—they will have a lot more loyal customers, and the media will pick up on it.

I will update as more information becomes available.

Head GM Daglar's Public Response

Edit At the beginning of the post I mentioned that CCP Games rolled the Tranquility server back 24 hours.  This was incorrect.  At the time, the Tranquility server was under a concentrated DDoS attack that kept the server down for a period of 18+ hours, which meant that during this time skills were not training.  As such, CCP reimbursed players a specified formula of skill points in order to apologize for this issue and worked to resolve the problem.  CCP did not roll the server back.

Gamergate: Why Movements are Bullshit Now

No greater friend, no worse enemy.

That is one of the sayings when it comes to United States Marines: we are so loyal to those we care about that we will bend over backwards and then some in order to help them out; at the same time, we’ll do everything in our power (legally and otherwise) to “destroy” a perceived enemy.  It’s been a saying that I remember hearing for over a decade, and General James “Maddog” Mattis, possibly the greatest general the Marine Corps has had since Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, both of whom take a larger-than-life presence in Marine Corps history/lore, quoted it when speaking to Marines and sailors in Iraq.  We are truly the most steadfast and true friends you can ever have, and many times that goes for our sister services as well.

As a gamer, I obviously have female guildmates and the like that I play with, and am thus also protective of.  As I stated in my last posting, I recognize and understand the hardships that female gamers go through.  It’s simply part of the fact that over 80% of the playerbase in almost every game is male, and also socially-awkward.  When a being with tits shows up on Ventrilo, you can hear the collective boners popping up, and you pray to whatever deity you worship that nothing else pops into your head.  My guild master in Rift is a woman, and she’s someone every person in the guild would kill a motherfucker to protect her.  It’s not because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s someone who gives a shit about all of us.  Sure, being viewed as a sister and thus everyone wanting to be a big brother certainly helps her as well, but she’s got a husband so no one is under any impression they have a chance.  Simply put, we’re protective and that’s that.

The problem now is that you have those same subsects of humanity that are using someone’s gender against them.  I only became aware of this today when I saw an article on “gamers” who dox’d Felicia Day (“DOX”ing” someone means you release their personal details—such as address and telephone number—on the internet for anyone to find), and was only marginally aware of what is being dubbed “Gamergate” prior to this.

For those who don’t know, “Gamergate” revolves around two camps of the gaming community and is largely based around perceptions of misogyny and sexism in the gaming community, as well (and to a lesser extent now) as journalistic integrity and ethics when it comes to people who review video games as a whole.  It started in August 2014 when an ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, an “indie game designer” posted that she had had romantic relations with a Kotaku journalist, and the perception was that because of this it had an influence that was easily a conflict of interest.  Now, it came out that the allegations were unfounded, but the damage was done and Ms. Quinn found herself inundated with a deluge of harassing e-mails and the like, threatening violence and rape against her.

Once again, this is not a political piece, and I don’t want people to view it as such.  But this is what has been happening with a social media network generation that knows “everything” and can help propagate the lies without doing any fact-checking.  And while many of us may not be willing to (or even expected to) actually check the facts, it is still preferential to the alternative, such as rioting in the streets because a white officer shot a black man and everyone’s claiming it was an execution, only to have the evidence of the case come out over months that that narrative was unfounded and patently untrue.

The rampant misogyny and sexism would be fine if it was just words and jokes.  But the problem is this vociferous fringe group has gone beyond that, issuing threats of rape and murder against female journalists and gamers who they believe are stepping “out of line” with their viewpoints.  Felicia Day was one such person to be subjected to this type of vitriol, and it runs counter to everything that the majority of gamers actually believe.  We are not here to denigrate women—the game companies do that well enough with the female avatars running around in plate string bikinis.  Sure, we all say sexist and misogynistic jokes and what-not, and we might say stupid shit but the vast majority of us do not mean it.  This subsect, while they may think what they write, will never act on it.  Here’s why.

I’ll go back to my opening statement.  Marines (and most servicemembers) are the best friends you can have.  If you’re in a pickle, we’ll do our best to help you.  More to the point, we’re stupidly protective of our female friends and relatives.  I have been present when my friend Erica wanted to move out of her abusive boyfriend’s house.  She was afraid he’d beat the everloving manshit out of her, and probably hurt her daughter as well.  She asked me to come along to help her move her shit out, and I did.  I didn’t say anything.  I simply followed her, helped her move, and that was it.  Sure, he said shit, but he wasn’t actually going to follow through while someone was there.  One, it’s a witness.  Two, he’s never had to actually fight for his life (and yes, he would have been doing that had he acted).  And my friends know that if shit happens and it can be validated, I have a network of servicemembers through the United States and Canada, as well as friends in Israel, England, and Ireland whom I can turn to in order to make a point.  If you fuck with me or mine, I fuck with you.  And while we may bend the rules a bit, it will never be to the point that they won’t find your body, and if you press charges, you’d be surprised how many juries clear us on all charges because we’re veterans, and because you’re a fucking cunt and we have evidence of it.

But this vitriol is aimed at women, and has been.  Feminist Anita Sarkeesian canceled a speech at the University of Utah after receiving death threats from the fringe group of gamers, and Utah’s concealed carry laws meant that the campus couldn’t guarantee her safety.  Felicia Day had threats of rape and murder launched against her.  Yet when former NFL star Chris Kluwe called these same people “basement-dwelling, cheetos-huffing [sic], poopsock-smelling douchepistols” nothing happened to him, despite him being a much softer target in terms of publicity and the like.  It is stupidly easy to find his information, after all.

Women are simply seen as much safer targets to take out criticism and anger on.  They’re not as likely to actually find out where you live, come to your home and murder you in your sleep.  As such, these people (and I am using that term very loosely here) feel that they are in a much safer place with regards to being able to act like badasses.  Making a bunch of threats you will never be expected to carry out makes one a man on the internet, and the community understands that even if they also ridicule you.

Sure, you have instances of gamers being dox’d, along with the name, work location, and school locations of children.  You have the threats of violence against your family if you don’t do what they want.  This happened a few years ago in EvE Online, when a group of Russian players decided to release that information to the public, with the very real and clear threat against the families of the players part of Goonswarm Federation, the player-run alliance made up of Something Awful forums denizens after there had been talks of invading and capturing space owned by said Russians.  But this is by-and-large not the norm, because people understand this is a game, and even the most sane, hardcore gamer will tell you that much.  It is legitimately not worth going to prison because you don’t like what someone says.

I have plenty of disagreements with gamers and game companies.  I’ve voiced them, and been quite vociferous.  I have submitted a letter of no confidence that was signed by players against the CEO of CCP Games, even if it was several years ago.  I have not, however, threatened to hunt down someone I have had problems with and threaten to kill him and his family.  I’ve seen those threats made in-game, and the companies tend to react accordingly (enjoy your ban).

And what’s more, this fringe group has received more publicity from other media outlets simply because of how outrageous they have acted, and because of that its cast a net of complete and utter inability for people to differentiate between the “good guys” in the movement and the “bad guys”.  Now given, this stems more from the media enjoying sensationalized stories of people acting like cunts, because it sells papers.  But what started out as a decent movement—fighting against the corruption or biased “reporting” of media outlets is something we should all want, whether we care about the news or not—has become synonymous with a rape culture and the stereotypical gamer: the type that hides in mommy’s basement, unwilling to leave and run their own lives (as Mr. Kluwe pointed out).

Is it important to distinguish between the two camps?  Absolutely.  But it’s really not going to happen in the media because it does sell copies.  Period.  Ratings go up.  Sold copies go up.  In either situation the bottom line is affected positively, and that means that Gamergate has a negative stigma associated with it.  The group of journalists that want to demonize something like this will just lump the fringe group in with the main one; the group that wants to protect and point out their grievances will not be heard, and so it’s now important to belittle and shame that fringe group.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll work: you have to have a sense of shame in order to feel it.  These are the people you bring behind a bar and put a bullet in their head, because they offer nothing of value to the movement, and really nothing of value to humanity as a whole.

Am I afraid of being DOX’d and having someone show up in my house to kill me?  No.  I know they’re cowards, but more to the point I have on me at all times a FN57 pistol, which has a notch in the handgrip.  It’s killed before and it’ll do so again if I need it to.  But as I said, they’re cowards, and it won’t come to that point.  Plus I have a penis, so that automatically protects me from them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Gaymer" culture

I want to preface this blog posting with the following:

I do not want this blog to be viewed as some sort of political tool.  Realizing this is my first blog posting, it is also going to touch on something that is by-and-large political in nature and I respect this fact.  I am not advocating one way or another concerning gay marriage, equality, or the like.  I fully support and endorse equality in all things, regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or what-have-you.  I'm an EEO kinda' guy anyways, and I treat everyone alike: just like shit (thank you, Commander Richard Marcinko!).  My opinions will be stated on some topics, but please do not read into them as anything more than a stated opinion.

In all seriousness, this is just me rambling about something I have started to see crop up lately in terms of people expecting certain things, at the same time being ready to denigrate other players who ask a question or don't fall in-line with the thought process.

Maybe it’s because I’m a heterosexual, and that has limited my ability to actually view things in a different light.  I consider myself an actually “enlightened” person, and while many times on the political scale I may be more conservative than liberal, I do support gay marriage, among other things.  But it seems like there’s a continuing presence in that there is a need to force the LGBT “agenda” on everyone, to the point that it becomes almost more annoying and “preachy” than the ultra-conservative, ignorant fuckers we see running around, spouting the anti-gay-marriage crap.  I have gay friends: two gay, three “bisexual”, all female: two I can confirm are legitimate and have been since high school; the third I am under no illusions about that she does it for attention, as she has done so since high school, once again.  That doesn't mean I care any less about them as I write this piece, and I even asked for their opinions on this subject, since I do like the concept of being inclusive.

Now, I don’t want this to be a political piece.  This is more to do with the rationale behind the need to draw attention to someone’s sexual orientation, especially in a video game.  I don’t know you, I will probably never meet you.  The same is true for the hundred—if not thousands—of people that are similar in nature to my outlook.  We don’t know you, and really all we are ever going to know about you nine-times-out-of-ten is if you’re a good person or not.  Sure, on a roleplaying server more often than not the lesbian characters show up, because it’s men playing female ‘toons and wanting to be able to ERP, but having a straight female ‘toon makes them feel gay.  Fine, whatever.  I’m not going to judge you, and the majority of people aren’t going to judge you, either, unless you pass yourself off as a lesbian in real life, or the person is just trolling roleplayers to begin with.  That’s just how it is.

Back to the topic-at-hand: is it necessary to point out that you are part of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender—just in case people needed that to be expounded upon) community?  In my honest opinion, it shouldn't need to be, and I’ll explain my reasoning in a bit.  Now, this all stems from a person on my server in Rift that has been advertising their guild as a “gaymer” guild, and is LGBT-friendly.  I have no problems with the community, but the way it’s presented in many contexts is my issue.  More often than not I have witnessed these people who draw attention to this fact flaunt it, and not just a little bit of “I’m gay”, because it is seriously no big fucking deal.  These people ram it in your face, doing the equivalent of “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it”, and then demand you accept them for who they are.

Seriously, wouldn’t you be a bit pissed if someone was in your face, screaming about their sexual orientation or what-have-you, and then demand you accept them for who they are?  At the very least, wouldn’t their constant need for validation and the like annoy the hell out of you?  I’m a patient man, I’m not very tolerant in that I don’t tolerate bullshit from people.  When you push my buttons enough, you’ll know it, and it will be quite blunt.  Tact and diplomacy only seem to work to a point, and with many of these people it seems they want to force you to respond so they can start playing the victim card.  Now given, that is just speculation and I’ll admit freely to that; but it certainly seems the common act is just that tactic.

I’m not saying that we should run all the gays off the server.  As one person jokingly put it, “If God wanted gays to play video games, he’d have put it in the Bible!”  Facetious as it is, there are people who act like that out there, and we generally ignore those people, don’t we?  In the interest of keeping what little peace we have in-game and not causing unnecessary drama, we keep such information out of the game.

We know there’s a subset of female gamers out there who use the fact they have tits in real life to get gear and the like.  There’s stories out there of women in EvE Online and World of Warcraft who have abused the fact they are in a minority to get what they want: they play politics, turn people against one another and destroy alliances or guilds.  Or they use their “feminine charms” to acquire gear in raids they either haven’t worked for, or it’s not their turn to get.  They make a mockery of loot systems and generally give female gamers a bad name; and of course, many players rightly ridicule them, because it makes those players  who are insecure feel even worse, and gives the wider female gaming community more of a bad reputation.  A great case-in-point: recently the alliance (in EvE Online) Easily Excited fell apart, because a female officer tried to use her gender to play politics.  The alliance as a whole fell apart because the drama got so bad that it caused a complete breakdown in communication and trust in the senior leadership.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues facing female gamers: recently, Finland banned females from competing in the Hearthstone tournament because they wanted to promote e-sports as a valid sports form.  And while I believe that to be a terrible idea—it does smack of sexism—I also can’t stop it.  I can draw attention to this fact, but I can’t stop it from happening, simple as that.  As a journalist—even an internet journalist—I can and do ask questions, and I simply want to make people aware of these stories as they pop up.  I am not supporting the decision, I am not supporting the thought process.  With that being said, I am not a politically correct person in the slightest, and I am very much a misogynist when it comes to joking.  One of my favorite jokes is,

“If a man and a woman get into a car accident, who’s at fault?  The man, because he shouldn’t be driving in the kitchen to begin with!”

Yeah, it’s fucking misogynistic as hell, and it’ll piss off the feminazis no problem.  But I’m not pandering to them, just like I don’t pander or cater to any other group.  I prefer to keep shit like I see it, and be honest with my opinions.  It won’t always be something you agree with.  It won’t always be worded in the best way, but it’s an opinion, and as much as I try to validate it and back it up with fact, it is simply my thoughts, nothing more.

Enough on that, though.

As I said, this came up because we have a guild master on my server (Faeblight) advertising his guild as “LGBT friendly”.  And so I decided I’d ask a simple question: why is it that something that is out-of-game is necessary to be noted in-game for your guild?

I understand almost every guild tries to fill a niche: PvP and raiding guilds, leveling guilds, roleplaying guilds, etc.  But it seems like there’s a growing group out there that is specifically looking to capitalize on an out-of-game group of people for the guild.  In World of Warcrat on the Sentinels server, we had the guild <Sisters of Passion>, which was supposed to be an all-female guild.  In truth, while it had some females it also had many males playing female ‘toons, simply there to roleplay lesbian sex scenes.  We all knew it, even though they denied it.  No one gave two shits about it being a female guild, it was the fact that they kept telling everyone that they were an all-female guild when it wasn’t true caused a lot of friction, especially when they began raiding.  We’d hear about how the “girls” were beating everyone—despite the fact <Acies> was always ahead of them in progression—and how we should be ashamed, counting on political correctness and fears of being referred to as a misogynist from calling out the bullshit.  And they were wrong.  I’ll be honest, I don’t know what happened to them after I left the server, but I know they weren’t there a year later when I showed up to say hi to my old server.

That’s the thing, though: when you push something such as an “all-female guild” or the like, and you cause drama via this fact, you are also a person who is probably going to play the victim card when you find yourself in a hole you’ve dug.

That sort of happened here.  I asked this question and the GM ignored me.  Fine, that’s okay.  But then a player named Arawulf jumped in.  He began with the usual tactic of being defensive, demanding to know why it should matter.  Even as I explained that it was a question intended to elicit information for my own ability to understand the mindset, he continued to deride it as “hostile” and “homophobic”.

Let me get this straight: asking a question to understand someone’s mentality is now homophobic?  This is no different than when people asked why blacks were voting for Barack Obama and some replied with, “Because he’s black.”  When people wanted a further explanation as to why that mattered, those same people screamed racism in order to shut the conversation down.  It isn’t a chance for them to rationally explain themselves.  Many people who act like this are not used ot being asked to elaborate, and so they panic and scream “racism”, “bigotry”, or the like simply to shut down the conversation.

It normally works, too, because those labels have power behind them in today’s culture.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on me.  I’m not one to simply lay over and say, “Well I don’t want to be seen as a racist!”.  I pride myself on journalistic integrity, even if it’s not exactly working for The New York Times.  I do hold myself to a standard and etiquette, and as such I continue to ask for facts.  I want to know what makes you think something like that when all I asked was a simple question.  Of course, he continued on the same line of attack until two others chipped in, one claiming to be gay and wanting an answer to the question.  At this point, Arawulf logged for whatever reason.  Fine , don’t answer the question.  He followed the same style as those before him who try to shut down a debate or conversation by screaming “bigot”.

There are two types of people who will shit on you for being anything but heterosexual: the people who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to be little shits, and the people who legitimately don’t like homosexuals for whatever reason.  When they pop up, the players seem to rally to defend them when it’s deserved.  Two guilds were run off servers in World of Warcraft for being horribly anti-homosexual, to the point they almost caused a gay player in their guild to commit suicide.  Gamers tend to be protective of other gamers despite the bullshit that you hear about on the news.  EvE Online is a place of terrible people, but the gamers come together to protect people who are unjustly accused of being whatever.  The same is true in every other MMO.  We tend to drive those ignorant fucks off servers/shards, and we defend people who deserve it.  But the truth is, the people most affected are the ones who are incredibly sensitive to begin with.  The people who feel the need to proclaim their sexual orientation, or their gender in a game where it shouldn’t fucking matter are the same ones that cry when an off-color joke is made.  They don’t laugh along with everyone else, they don’t try to turn the tables and tell their own joke.  They simply cry, scream <insert racism/bigotry/homophobia/Islamophobia here>, and then act like they are completely in the right.  And the sad thing is that these people tend to blow things far out of proportion and exaggerate what actually happened in order to either make the story more interesting, or to garner more sympathy.  Many times these people cause the drama that offended them, and they play the victim card, expecting people will feel bad and support them because they’re a “minority”.  Then, when people get all the facts and don’t support them, there will inevitably be a locked thread on the forums about how the game fosters a homophobic community, or racism runs rampant, or what-have-you.

There are legitimate concerns for those who aren’t straight males in video games.  But when you identify yourself and cause drama over it, it’s no one else’s fault but your own.  If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.  Or better yet, don’t bring your personal life into video games to begin with.  It only causes more problems for you, and many times for others around you.  You can’t fault people for wanting to remove the drama, and many times the drama will be removed, and you won’t like the collective agreement on the source of that drama.