Zen Of Design

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

Category: Industry Musings (page 1 of 6)

Smedley vs. Lizard Squad

Speaking of unspeakable and horrific harassment, this week the member of Lizard Squad that authorities managed to get their hands on got sentenced for his part of their activities, which included that Christmas where none of us could play on XBox Live.

For whatever reason, this group has decided in particular to target John Smedley, former president of SOE (now Daybreak studios), which is responsible for Everquest, Planetside and H1Z1.  The shitstorm he’s endured is probably the most significant gaming shitstorm this side of Zoe Quinn.

“[The arrested kid] was the guy that brought down my flight with a bomb threat,” wrote Smedley, who was onboard an American Airlines flight last August that was forced to make an emergency landing due to a security threat. “I’ve heard the entire recording where he convinced an airline customer service agent there was a bomb on the plane. He also in conjunction with others has sent me pictures of my father’s grave with nasty stuff on it. I’ve had my entire credit history put out on the internet including my SSN and my families [sic] info. We’ve had multiple social networks and other things hacked and had my family members called.”

Smedley also said he has been ‘swatted’ multiple times—when police are fooled into thinking there’s an emergency at a victim’s house, and often activate their swat teams—and has been the victim of serious financial fraud from hackers, presumably Lizard Squad.

“I’ve … had over 50 false credit applications submitted in my name and had to deal with the ramifications of what happens to your credit when this kind of thing happens. It’s not good,” he said. “And to top it all off they decided to submit false tax returns.”

The kid caught participating in all of this was charged with 50,000 counts of cybercrime in his home in Finland.  For this, the kid recieved 2 years of a suspended sentence.  That’s right, no jail time, at least not yet. 51000th time is the charm?

For John’s part, he’s looking at potentially seeking other remedies, mostly suing the little scamp’s parents into bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, these instances of targetting devs are just getting more common, as evidenced by  the Bungie exec that got swatted last year.  The anonymity, and lack of seriousness that people take these crimes, is at this time truly disheartening, and that won’t change until both laws and technology catch up.  Still, I have a feeling that 10-15 years from now, we’ll look back at the Wild West of today’s internet in total awe of it’s barbaric nature.

No, Virginia, Gamergate isn’t Going To Destroy Christmas

I like Oliver Campbell.  As far as #GamerGaters go, he’s a moderate, reasonable guy, and he comes at the topic of ethics in games journalism with relative experience and logic for a consumer movement that frequently has no idea what ethical journalism looks like.  That being said, every now and then, he says something extremely silly.

Killing Christmas is kind of a favorite fever dream  for the far end of GamerGate, with some treating it as some sort of End Boss like event (GamerGaters like game analogies, unsurprisingly).  A similar sentiment was echoed by the short-lived Operation Krampus, a cause they abandoned  around the time that they realized they’d declared so many media outlets boycotted that Krampus would effectively mean that Game Publishers could only give review copies to Return of Kings.

Anyway, this is just me talking here, but I find Oliver’s future pretty far-fetched.  Why?

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Little Green Footballs Has Something To Say About GamerGate

I think Little Green Footballs was exploring what Milo is up to nowadays.

Reclaiming ‘Gamer’ and Defending Our Tribe

In the movie Office Space (a film that should be required viewing for anyone who work in games), the unfortunately-named Michael Bolton is asked why he doesn’t go by ‘Mike’ if he resents sharing the name with the famous grammy-award winning singer. His response was simple and eloquent. “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

This comes to mind after reading last week’s flood of people attempting to disavow themselves from the ‘gamer’ identity or declare it dead.  Screw that.  Most gamers don’t suck.  Most gamers are pretty awesome.  A tiny handful of gamers suck.  Why should we be the ones who change?

I am a gamer. I am a proud gamer. I have been for years of my life. So much so that I’ve dedicated my life to making games, writing about games, and speaking about making better games. And I love gamers. I love going to SWTOR Cantina events, to Magic Gamedays, to ArmadilloCon, BoardGameGeek.con, to E3, and to PAX, and seeing all sorts of gamers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds come together because we love games. And good games are social. So you see people talking, teaching and sharing with each other, because it makes the games better, and it makes the communities that play them better.

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How UO Changed The Culture of MMOs

There are those who think that perhaps Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian are lying about the campaigns of terror, hacking, and bullying that they are currently encountering (and thanks to Tadhg Kelly for inventing the term Gamergate Truthers to describe them – it’s easier to say in polite company than fuckwads).  I daresay that anybody who has ever set foot in the Customer Service department of a major MMO for more than five minutes has pretty much no doubts whatsoever.  Because those guys see it all.  Every day.

It used to be worse.  Much worse.  My first MUD, CarnageMUD, had to ban several players for attempting to hack, bully or keylog other players.  Meridian 59 was worse, but it wasn’t until Ultima Online that we really saw how dark things could be.

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Our Growing Fuckwad Culture Problem

I am not a perfect ally of the progressive/feminist forces inside the game community.  I started to list out examples at the start of this post, and then realized I had a wall of text that would undoubtedly derail the conversation that needs to happen (on the bright side, I apparently have quite a backlog of good blog material).  However, there are some clear examples.

First, I think that Penny Arcade and PAX have generally gotten a raw deal.  Second, I think that costumes and armor in comic books and video games are not meant to protect the character or be functional or realistic, but to create a strong, unique, marketable character and aspirational fantasy, and I love Bayonetta equally as much as the new Batgirl.  Third, I think that describing our video game culture as a ‘rape culture’ is incendiary, inaccurate, and ultimately counterproductive.  There is scant evidence that our mass media and video games cause more real life sexual violence towards women – in fact, sexual assault rates have decreased steadily since 1993 (you know, the year Doom came out) and are currently at 20 year lows.

Now that we’ve established that I’m not your typical social justice warrior, I feel nevertheless compelled to point out that our Fuckwad Culture is currently off the rails.

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What’s Wrong with Game Journalism?

Here’s a good example:  SimCity launched with technical problems, to be sure, but what offended many people was that the game was designed to be online-only, not just technically but also for some game features to work. It was a clear case where the game design didn’t match player expectations, which is always unfortunate, and in this case, that design was instrumental to the overall architecture of the game. Last March, the SimCity team announced that fixing this would be difficult to do.  They now have announced that they are finally wrapping up this change to allow for single-player mode.

Which prompted this headline: “EA continues race to the bottom with unexplained SimCity offline reversal.”  Yes, that’s the headline for Maxis COURSE CORRECTING THEMSELVES AND GIVING THE PLAYERS WHAT THEY WANT. Continue reading

Free 2 Play is Not a Cancer (Unless It Is)

Sometime ago, someone sent me this article, in which a Free-to-Play designer described how he is not a ‘cancer’ on the games industry.  I read it, but I didn’t fully agree with it, but it took me a little while to figure out what’s wrong with it.

This is it:

You see, game development is a business and businesses in a capitalist society are ruled by market forces….But games like those published by Electronic Arts are paid for by the people who own stock in the company. At the end of the day, these investors do not care about artistic integrity, Metacritic score or DRM solutions, they only care about stock price and return on investment

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Penny Arcade is Still Mostly A Force For Good

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: it’s pretty much criminally stupid to put out a t-shirt of what effectively has become the spirit animal of the worst mouthbreathing misogynistic trolls on the Internet, and then act surprised when it becomes a thing.  That’s not nearly as stupid as publically saying you regret taking it down.  So there’s that, and I won’t defend it.

That being said, I love PAX.  It is currently the best game show available, largely because it was organized by gamers, for gamers, and the event therefore feels like a real and genuine love affair with gaming, completely unlike the publisher-driven plastic-coated circle-jerk that is E3. The gaming is great, the independent games portion is a feast for people like me, and the convention has a hundred little subcommunities that are all welcoming and affirm your love for gaming.  I will continue to love PAX.  Despite the fact that it no longer is cool to do so. Continue reading

Candy Crush Not As Unbeatable As You Might Suppose

Candy Crush Saga is used frequently as an example of Free 2 Play gone awry.  Critics argue that Candy Crush Saga is insidiously designed to force monetization, which can be the only reason why the game has 15 million players, and why King Games is now estimated to be worth $500 million dollars.  As Ramin Shokrizade points out on Gamasutra:

Another novel way to use a progress gate is to make it look transparent, but to use it as the partition between the skill game and the money game. Candy Crush Saga employs this technique artfully. In that game there is a “river” that costs a very small amount of money to cross. The skill game comes before the river. A player may spend to cross the river, believing that the previous skill game was enjoyable (it was for me) and looking to pay to extend the skill game. No such guarantee is given of course, King just presents a river and does not tell you what is on the other side. The money game is on the other side, and as the first payment is always the hardest, those that cross the river are already prequalified as spenders. Thus the difficulty ramps up to punishing levels on the far side of the river, necessitating boosts for all but the most pain tolerant players.

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