Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

GamerGate Bomb Threat

Hey, whoever phoned in a bomb threat to the GamerGate meetup in Washington, DC: you’re an asshole.  Seriously.  Stop it.

On the Topic of an Utter Lack of Self Awareness

Over the weekend, the Boston Magazine (edit: whoops, not the Globe) did an article which paints rather convincingly the image that GamerGate Firestarter Eron Gjoni is, in fact, the ex-boyfriend from hell. You know, as if ‘directing an international hate mob onto his exes’ girlfriend with malice and glee’ wasn’t enough.

Over the past several months, Gjoni has been working on a sequel to “The Zoe Post.” When I spoke to him in February, he had created a quick-and-dirty follow-up, which he described as “a full unminced explanation of why” he wrote the original, perhaps packed with even more of Quinn’s private information, and God knows what else. He was worried that he’d get thrown in jail for violating the restraining order, and so had set the sequel, like a time bomb, “to auto-publish if I don’t disable it 24 hours after any court date.”

Helpful tip: lots of people have had their hearts broken.  Lots of people have dated people who they think are crazy, evil, or otherwise bad news.  However, if you find yourself planning to do something like the above, willfully ignoring a restraining order, you are the bad guy.  Period.   Of course Eron doesn’t see it that way.  Eron is offended that the writer doesn’t seem to care that the Zoe Post is provably true (according to Eron) – look at the Facebook logs!  Dear Eron: that’s actually not the relevant part of the story.  The fact that Eron did not try to deny anything in the article having to do with the malice he wrote the original Zoe Post, nor the plans he outlined above, establishes that Eron is completely oblivious to the effects of his actions.  And, for example, why a court was utterly justified in their actions against him.

In related news, I wrote last week that the Honey Badgers were kicked out of the Calgary Expo.  They are now trying to fundraise so they can sue the Calgary Expo for their removal.  Funny thing, though, is that their affiliated men’s group, A Voice For Men, has NO PROBLEM kicking out elements they find disruptive from their own conference.  As pointed out by We Hunted the Mammoth:

They keep saying, “No feminist better try coming here!” Local police have dispatched four officers, and the conference attendees have deputized even more security from their own ranks. “Security” wears black polo shirts, and there are a lot of black polo shirts, but since the line is slow, security decides to sweep us all in with a request to return for a “check.” Nobody does. Only one feminist later attempts entry, an activist who goes by the handle “Dark Horse Swore.” The black shirts eighty-six her.

Hypocrisy is nothing new to any game-related discussion, but those following this odorous hashtag really do take the cake with the completeness of their projection and lack of self-awareness.  To wit, take a look at this graphic that was being passed around today on twitter, which is basically a full primer of the hypocrisy that is what is left of the very tiny GamerGate fringe group.  A response to the points on the graphic.

1. (SJWs say) “You disagree with me?  I will destroy your livelihood then”
Said the group who attempted to end the careers of Ben Kuchera, Nathan Greyson, Leigh Alexander, Sam Biddle among many other journalists, as well as try to engineer the firings or trying to organize boycotts against game developers who have spoken against their point of view, including myself, David Gaider, and CJ Kershner.

2. (SJWs say) “Please show support and donate to my Patreon.”
Here’s the Honey Badgers asking for money for their legal defense for the right to invade a private organization’s group for the express purposes of disrupting it.  Here’s Eron asking for money for the legal defense of his god-given right to continue launching hate mobs at his ex-girlfriend.  Here’s the Patreon for the Sarkeesian effect.  Here’s Liana K’s patreon.  Here’s Sargon of Akkad’s.   I actually don’t care about ANY of this – I find that kickstarter and Patreon are perfectly acceptable ways for people who have ideas that are not necessarily mass market to find an audience and make a living.  I do find the hypocrisy of attacking one side or the other for it.

3. (SJWs are) Openly racist.
The evidence cited here is pretty cherrypicked and thin.  Much thinner than, say, how the White Supremacists of Stormfront see kinship with gamergaters and see it as a recruiting opportunity.  Or KingOfPol going into full-on Holocaust Denialism in a GamerGate-themed podcast.  Or that bloke on the Sarkeesian Effect spouting racist shit between begging people for money.   I know, I know, these guys are rare nutballs who don’t speak for all gamergators.  Funny how that logic applies on THAT side of the table.

 4. (SJWs say) Sexism against men doesn’t exist.
A nice equivalent here is listening to gamergators try to say that sexism and threats of women in the games industry does not exist.  Such as when they accused Anita of not ACTUALLY calling the cops,  or when they accused Brianna of not feeling so threatened she felt the need to flee her home, or when they pretty much accused Zoe of making everything up.

 5. (SJWs say) It’s okay when I do it!
Oh, where to begin.  With how GamerGate excuses the extreme polemics of Milo, as well as disgraced former game journalists like Pinsof, because they happen to agree with them?  Or how they happily make black lists of media sites and game companies to avoid or boycott, but then get the vapors if anyone on the other side says the word ‘blacklist’?  Or how they hammer on the press for making even minute mistakes, but have no problems themselves leaping to conclusions and using Encyclopedia Dramatica for a source?

6. (SJWs say) <Unpopular groups> don’t deserve free speech.
This is the group that is literally rooting for the demise of sites like Polygon and Rock Paper Scissors because those sites have politics that they disagree with.  This is the group who decided that maybe Jack Thompson, who actually DOES want to ban some video games, may have a point, solely because he disagrees with Anita, who merely wants to culturally critique them and see them improve.  The people arguing for greater feminist representation in vidya games aren’t arguing for an end of video games, but there are definitely gamergaters who are arguing for an end to anything that may be considered academic or cultural criticism of video games — because lordy me, a game designer might actually read one of these and listen!

7. (SJWs) Won’t allow open discourse.
Hahahahahahaha!  This is the gang that attempts to effectively shut down social media for anyone who attempts to disagree with them via dogpiling , and openly cheer when they manage to do so so viciously that the stated individual flees Twitter or, in some cases the industry.  Gamergate doesn’t even allow much open discourse INSIDE THEIR OWN GROUP, as people who find themselves deciding to not toe the party line quickly find themselves torn to shreds.

8. (SJWs) use ‘internalised’ unironically.
Okay, you got me on this one.  Seriously, who gives a fuck?  I could make an entire fucking bingo card of stupid catchphrases that KotakuInAction uses unironically or otherwise incorrectly.





On Charging for Mods

This week, Valve released their pitch to allow mod creators to, in conjunction with the people who created the original game, sell their mods on Steam.  The whole thing erupted into quite a ‘thing’ on the internet, prompting Gaben to come placate the masses, and in general put me into the uncomfortable position of generally agreeing with Milo and Brad Wardell,.  So that’s weird.  But hey, at least the same article points out that Mark Kern is wrong.

Brad’s points not withstanding, when I think about mods, I think about game events that unleashed real, marketable change on the entirety of the games industry.  Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of LMCTF for Quake (among many others), Curse Add-on Management for WoW, DotA for Warcraft 3, and Team Fortress (1) for Half-Life.  In many cases, mods are as popular (if not more) than the base game.

One of the things that bugs me deeply is the team that had the idea for DOTA aren’t the ones that got rich off of it.  That honor went to Riot, who released the excellent if not entirely original League of Legends off of the core mod’s design.  Meanwhile, most mod creators, even if they are downloaded millions of times, are thankful they can turn that into a bullet point on a resume to get an entry level job.

It’s a sucky position for mod creators.  Many times mods amount to XPack quality of content that extend the life of their base games for years – they are vital in some game communities – and yet, mod creators rarely get anything for their passion other than an ‘attaboy’.  We would see more good mods if the mod creators got some revenue that reduced pressure on them to maintain a day job.

From that thread:

Considering valve is a company that owes many of its early games to mods, do you think that if you had to pay 5 dollars for the original Counter Strike, or Dota mod, would they have ever taken off?

Depends on so many things.  This includes the pricing, whether or not there was a free variant you could play, etc.  But it also includes the fact that Valve and Blizzard are more inclined to support and market mods that earn them a revenue stream.

Mods should remain free, yo!

And most probably will.

Why should Bethesda and Valve get such large cuts of the profits?

Well, because Bethesda spent about $85 million dollars creating the artwork, engine and dev tools for the game that is central to the mod.  And Valve is providing an invaluable service in distributing the mods cheaply and easily.

Valve should let players donate what they want, including $0!

Valve has announced that that is part of their plans.

What if some mods suck?

You have 24 hours to turn around and ask for a refund.  The refund will go into your steam wallet.  Don’t pretend you’re not going to find something on Steam to spend your wallet on.

No, I mean, some of these mods REALLY suck.

In that case, you really want an integrated download system that allows for players to rank and comment on mods so you can review them before downloading.  You know, one kind of like Steam.  At any rate, half-baked stuff is no stranger to PC gaming.  Early Access remains highly controversial, yet some love it, while many (probably most) others have learned that anything on that part of Steam is caveat emptor.

At any rate, selling mods IS NOT NEW.  Wardell’s company has done it for years.  Second Life has done it for years.  Nexus has done it for a while now.  Why people choose to get worked up because one of the most trustworthy names in the market has come along and said they want to extend that level of trustworthiness to a new arena is one I find kind of baffling.


Professional Victims at the Calgary Expo

It’s everyone’s most favoritest example of rank hypocrisy on the net nowadays: a group of GamerGate sympathists lie about their organizations motives to get floor space at the Calgary Expo, hide the fact that they belong to an organization that sells T-shirts with rape jokes and that they’re affiliated with one of the scummiest MRA websites on the web, immediately start selling paraphenalia related to a hashtag that many gamers, especially women, feel is threatening or offensive due largely to the hashtag’s origins in harassing female professionals to the point of national notoriety, and then start going to panels on Feminism in order to grab the mic time in order to talk about how they feel feminism is a sham. Just as a note – if you do one of these things, maybe you’re fine.  Two, you’re on thin ice.  All five, and you’re way beyond the hat trick of being misogynistic jerks.  People who run conventions have shit to do, and they don’t have time to worry if whether or not MAYBE you’re going to cross the line.  Good for the Calgary Expo for trying to keep that shit clean.

You can read the widely cited account on the Mary Sue, but for my druthers the best writeup is the frequently excellent Amanda Marcotte.

Here’s a question: If geeks and nerds are fantastic as they are and should be allowed to carry on, why would you deliberately lie about who you are in an effort to disrupt a convention? Disrupting the convention and trying to ruin it for the participants shows that they do not believe that geeks and nerds are fine and should be left alone. On the contrary, they are clearly offended that geeks are having geeky discussions about feminism and representation in comics and other nerdy endeavors, and they want to shut that discussion down. Harassing people, by definition, is not leaving them alone.

Silly Amanda.  It’s the OLD geeks and nerds – you know the ones who are mad at Mortal Kombat for getting female body types to be down to the point where they’d at least be reasonable for playboy models.  All those new ones – you know the ones who have lady parts, would like slightly fewer half-baked rape references – these are the ones who aren’t TRUE geeks and nerds, those are a problem.  Clearly, despite the fact that comic book stores are still dominated by male heroes and male-leaning entertainment by about a 9 to 1 ratio, attempts to have a panel that talks about correcting this MUST BE STOPPED.

If you want to commemorate this historic moment in the march towards the rights of reactionary internet goons to harass the fuck out of women online so severely they flee geekdom, YOU TOO can purchase a t-shirt and express your pride!  And if you believe in these standards, I hope you wear it, as it makes it much easier to figure out who to avoid at cons.

But of course, the real thing that amuses is that, according to the Mary Sue article, the Honey Badgers fully expected to get kicked out.  They got kicked out  Then started merchandising that shit ASAP.  This is, for those not paying attention, exactly the sort of ‘professional victimhood’ that they like to claim feminists they disagree with, such as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, are up to.  This is like pure resin hypocrisy, one that seems lost on the ‘masses’ of the fringe movement.

As for the GooberGrape masses who have reached Lot’s Wife levels of saltiness about the topic in the last week, feel free to start up your own convention, because clearly GDC and CalgaryExpo will not be the first who will ask you to at the very least keep your very crappy attitudes towards other con goers to yourself.  Feel free to include blackjack and hookers.  Because you’ll need some sort of entertainment, as most game companies and press will choose to maintain a wide berth.  Hey, that might be why your previous attempts to create your own outlets didn’t pan out.

Jenn of Hardwire is more sympathetic to the kicked out, and tries to go more in-depth into the allegations.

That isn’t the type of behavior one would expect from an entity touting to be for equality under an #ExpoEquality campaign.

Yeah, it sure is a mystery.  Look, there’s no shortage of jerks and assholes with unconventional politics – on ALL sides of the spectrum – at a major con.  And let’s face it, no comic con is going to be a beacon of feminism – hell, the artist signing areas of these things typically is one massive cheesecake factory for eager nerds wanting half-naked harley quinns to plaster on the wall (man, do con-goers love harley quinn).  To get kicked out, you have to be percieved to be a major risk of disruption.  People who raise red flags are going to be on a short leash.

And if you proudly fly the GG banner, that’s a big ass red flag.

J’Accuse Heroes Charge

I’ve written about Heroes Charge before, and the accusations swirling around them.  This is a relatively big deal because Heroes Charge is flirting with becoming a runaway hit.  Well, today, Lilith studios released proof that Heroes Charge copied their codebase somehow, including a hidden copyright screen.

Those who want to see the original’s gameplay in action can see it here.

Followup on the Monetization Talk

As a followup to my GDC talk, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with me for an extended interview.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Remember when I mentioned there was a rumor that budding megahit Heroes’ Charge was getting some angry attention from a company that claimed that they stole the design from them, complete with art?  Stuff has happened since then.  In particular, Ucool has been sued by the makers of the original game, which goes by the name Soul Clash in the states .  

This has resulted in Blizzard suing the original game makers for stealing their art.  No word if Games Workshop will continue the daisy chain backwards.

Just a Couple More Tidbits on Blocklists

Welp, I was hoping that the last post would be my last word on blocklists.  However, there’ve been a couple relevant and interesting bits to share.  First off, notorious libertarian legal snarkmeister Popehat has given his opinion about Why Mean Blockbots Probably Aren’t Defamatory. He does close with a couple of caveats.

I speak here of the rule of law, not the rule of feels. I understand many people feel as though BlockBot designations are defamatory. So they have that going for them, which is nice.

Meanwhile, the team that did The Block Bot (this is the Athiesm+ blockbot, not Randi’s GG blockbot) announced that Blockbot will undergo a significant rewrite, to help it deal with it’s unexpected popularity.

In this developmental stage, the following features for this new platform are being discussed:

  • Facilitating the formation of more than one blocking team.
  • Allowing users to opt-in or opt-out of individual blocker’s blocks.
  • Creating clear policies for adding and removing blockers and admins.
  • Handling appeals more consistently.
  • Expanding users’ block-list choices.
  • Soliciting feedback from users more effectively.
  • Providing a more robust system for users to suggest blocks.

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins (who is on the Atheism+ blocklist because, well, he’s been Richard Dawkins on twitter lately) is not impressed.

Crowfall’s Key Innovation and Why MMO PVP Fans Should Support Them

As of this writing, Crowfall has three days remaining on its Kickstarter, and has reached most of its financial objectives.  However, they are very close to some very cool stretch goals, including Oculus Rift support.  Click here to see the Kickstarter, and if you want to help out, act now before the Kickstarter ends!

It’s fashionable to point out disclaimers of prior relationships for articles like these.  In the case of Crowfall, I share this information proudly.  I’m old friends and colleagues of both of Artcraft Entertainment’s principals (as well as multiple other people at the studio).  Gordon Walton is one of the smartest, most influential leaders in the Massively Multiplayer space, and likely the best mentor and boss I’ve ever had.  Todd Coleman is fresh off of his stint working at Kings Isle (where he was the design id behind the very lucrative Wizard 101), and he’s as driven, insightful and laser-focused a Creative Director as you’re ever likely to find in the MMO space. He is exactly the sort of person you want corralling a crazy MMO startup into reality.  Put simply, the pedigree of the studio leadership alone should be enough to convince you to go back Crowfall if you love competitive Player vs. Player MMOs and truly next-gen thinking in the MMO space.

But I don’t want to talk about that.  I want to talk about what they’re actually going to build.

I worked with Coleman on Shadowbane as part of Wolfpack Studios.  I joined the company shortly before they shipped the game (to be honest, too late to impact much one way or the other), and I continued there working on Shadowbane and various other products until the game went Free to Play.  I joined up because it was a crazy ambitious vision for an MMO  – a game about building massive cities, and then going to war and burning them down.  It was a damned exciting vision.  I frequently joked that it was either going to be a ‘thing’, or it was going to be well worth having front-row seats to the results.

Shadowbane shipped to fervent excitement by the fans.  The day we shipped, googling ‘Shadowbane’ got more results than ‘Star Wars Galaxies’, despite us having virtual no marketing beyond board warrioring.  The idea behind Shadowbane is a gloriously big one, and judging by the success of Crowfall’s kickstarter so far, is one that still has resonance today.

Shadowbane did not stick the landing on their launch.  Technical issues marred the release – mostly due to the inexperience of the team, a problem that Crowfall should avoid – and it took some time to get the game stable enough to actually see how that core vision bore out.  And what we found was that the vision for the game was fun and exciting, but had a very interesting fatal flaw.  And that is that it never ended.

Shadowbane PvP was completely freeform – no precreated ‘sides’.  Instead, each warring faction was a completely player-created guild – often merging into alliances.  And the problem is that typically, one of the alliances would get so big and dominant that they’d completely steamroll over any new guild that started up.  Because your city tied to your success, steamrolling another guild’s city increased the gap, making it easier for the leaders to maintain control overall. The dominant alliance would typically become so dominant that peace would reign uncontested.  Which, if you’re making an MMO based upon the vigors of war, is a disaster.

The most interesting fallout to this, academically, was that one time a server got so bored having nobody to kill that the Alliance leaders decided arbitrarily to ban a player class.  For a week, all Thieves were Kill On Sight.  Which is cool in an emergent gameplay sort of way, but also reveals how the game was fundamentally sick.

The players got it too.  We frequently would have better logins on days we launched a new server than on the days we put up major patches.  Shadowbane players LOVE to have a fresh Risk map to start dropping castles onto.  When I left, we talked frequently about whether or not it was feasible to make worlds with a shelf life the core to the game’s design.    After I left, Shadowbane wiped the servers to kickstart a clean map feel again.  Outsiders were aghast, but the cheering of the playerbase was vocal and emphatic.

Shadowbane was not the first game to deal with this problem.  The first to do it well was World War II online, which had a similar problem where the game servers would end up locked in a situation where one side (the germans – It was always the germans) would have the other pinned into a miserable no-win situation.  WW2OL solved the problem a simple and elegant way – declaring a winner, and resetting the map.  Some observers were concerned that this would result in ‘taking away’ some of the earnings of the victors, or ruin the game by destroying the sense of persistence, but this proved not to be the case.  The winners were happy enough to get the bragging rights of victory, and the losers were just happy to have hope again.

Crowfall is not Shadowbane 2, but it is clearly deeply influenced by Coleman’s first game.  As such, I found the fact that Crowfall’s Kickstarter video spent most of their time discussing their fresh map solution – (“eternal heroes, dying world”) a true indication of the fact that these guys are shooting for next generation thinking about MMO gameplay far and beyond simply cloning WoW.

The ambitions built around these disposable worlds are a lot of fun.  Worlds are fully destructable, which means that the difference between a pristine new land and one ravaged by warfare will be made clear.  Also, the physics of the worlds can completely deviate from one another – the idea that some worlds may offer better resources, or have stronger rules of magic, for example, become possible.

Will it work?  There are no guaruntees.  It is a bold, ambitious, and breathtakingly exciting vision for a fantasy MMO – and yet at the same time one built upon solid design thinking and the hard crucible of experience.

Go check it out.


As of this writing, Crowfall has three days remaining on its Kickstarter, and has reached most of its financial objectives.  However, they are very close to some very cool stretch goals, including Oculus Rift support.  Click here to see the Kickstarter, and if you want to help out, act now before the Kickstarter ends!

Fallout of the Block Bot Post

Update (10:53): Katherine Cross has also written excellently on the issue (as she is prone to do), and Scott Jennings points out that Mark’s insistence to right to reply does not extend to enabling the comments on his blog.


Mark Kern has, after some prodding by the internet at large in the wake of my article yesterday, finally gotten his own blog, and his very first post is a response to my blog post.

First off, thanks to @ZenofDesign for agreeing to post a link to my rebuttal to his article about me. This is only fair and I’m glad to see that he is sharing it with his readers.

Sure, Mark!

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