Saturday, March 14, 2009

Resident Evil Racism - Part 2

Because my post originated in the comments section of the Huffington Post article, I didn't have room to say absolutely everything I wanted.
A hornet's nest

I have a fervent belief in the freedom of speech and how it applies to all forms of media, including video games. I think Capcom could have saved themselves a lot of trouble, at least in the US, by not having a Resident Evil game set in Africa. It may have also saved them trouble if the hero doing all the shotgun blasting is always the same race as the zombie targets. I admit, I would be more comfortable with those solutions. I do NOT believe that they should have to make those sorts of changes if they feel their game...the director's artistic better as is. That's their call, not anyone else's.


Resident Evil Racism

The following is a response to this article:
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Racism is a concern to everyone with any sense. That said, Resident Evil 5 is a game with the same plot as RE 1-4. A government agent character has to fight his way through an army of infected Zombie-people. The last installment, which I enjoyed, had our hero mowing down legions of undead Spanish peasants.

It's a zombie type horror game, and as such lots of extremely bad things happen to formerly alive, formerly innocent people. Once they become monsters, what exactly should the game have happen? Is Africa just off the table for the setting of a zombie game? Should Capcom abandon the white main character of the franchise because the setting is Africa?

The RE series are extremely violent, R-rated type games. While I wouldn't let my 7 year old play them (or watch me play them), I refuse to let others dictate to me what is and is not ok for me. I'm extremely liberal pacifist who happens to enjoy First Person Shooter video games. Sometimes it's aliens, sometimes its futuristic distopian cyber-soldiers, often times its Nazis (it's always okay to kill Nazis, they don't have feelings), and in this case is zombified people who happen to be African because that's where story is set. I don't think that makes me a bad person. I just want to play good games. I don't think it makes the people who made any of these games bad people. They're just trying to make good games.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Want vs Need

When I worked for Wizards of the Coast, handling support for Magic: The Gathering, there was a common belief that we released too many card-sets, too rapidly. The cries were frequently forms of "You are forcing me buy too many cards, I can't keep up."

The key word..."forcing"

Even the lightest application of reason concludes that we weren't forcing anyone to do anything. Entertainment products are not a "need", they are a "want", and as such optional. We weren't selling insulin to diabetics, we were selling slips of cardboard to teenagers.

That said, the hobby game industry was the beneficiary (and possibly the originator) of what we called the Repeat Purchase Model. For hobby games, it started with Role Playing Games. You purchased the basic set, books, or whatever, and the fans were treated to extremely regular releases of technically optional, but frequently essential, supplementary material. While fans frequently grumbled about the amount they felt obligated to buy, lack of such material was considered the death of the game.

The Repeat Purchase Model was advanced into hyperdrive by the invention of the Collectible Card Game. Now a single product could be sold over and over again to a single customer. Profits could be made from casual customers and fortunes made from a relatively limited number of fanatics. By establishing a culture where the newest cards replaced, rather than supplemented, the oldest, players were compelled to keep buying lest their investment be compromised. They didn't necessarily want to buy more cards, but if they wanted to keep playing, it was required spending. A Want was transformed into a Need.

The culture that created this system was to some extent accidental. When Magic was new, the game was not perfected and the cards contained errors and flaws that would not come to light until much later. Newer editions fixed, or attempted to fix, these problems through text and rules revisions. Tournament play addressed these problems by limiting what cards would be allowed in the most heavily supported formats. Eventually, older cards and card sets were deemed to be fun, but flawed. Players that did not have access to them felt slighted when playing against those who did. Using old cards was, and is, an offense just short of cheating.

While the culture started off semi-accidentally, it has been embraced by both manufacturers and players as the status-quo. It is now expected that the first editions of a card game will likely be flawed and eventually supplanted by newer, better versions. New cards will replace old. New rules will replace old.

This culture is not without its downside. Players who feel coerced into making purchases do so cognizant of what's going on. They may be spending money now, but the product must deliver EVERY TIME or else they'll get off the merry-go-round, doubtful to return. Once off, the ride is spinning far to quickly to jump back on again with any ease. There's always a new ride (Online MMO's, anyone?) to replace the old one.

With any product, including Virtual World subscriptions, of which I am trying to apply these lessons and theories, the goal is not to make a want feel like a need. There is a backlash when a purchase is made and the perceived need falls short of expectations. Also, its hard to feel good about purchasing something you need.

Wants, on the other hand, are all about feeling good. The customer (or fanatic) is making the choice for themselves. If the product falls short of expectations, as they do from time to time, there is less backlash when the decision to buy is owned by the customer, rather than projected to the publisher.

Virtual Worlds, like Collectible Cards, are entertainment products. They are about fun, and good feelings. Coercion is not the correct tactic. Enticement is.

Want > Need


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Less is More (4k Games) is cool. 60+ games, all under 4k. Sure, they wouldn't play on my Commodore Vic-20, circa 1984, but don't hold that against them.

4bsolution. Collect the glowy things. One of the prettier games, hence the photo.

Programming with such strict restraints is a fascinating, and entertaining, exercise. Each designer needs to focus on what is essential to the game's appeal, disregarding all else. Simple can be extraordinarily fun, as anyone who's played with a ball can attest.

Well Done!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Dominion Chat Police

Lets accept the Club Penguin numbers that say 4% of all virtual world players make some sort of purchase. Let's also take into account that after two weeks, the odds of a player making a purchase drop by 50%. Very rough statistics, but I believe them.

So, how does that impact how I should treat free-account bad actors? What is the risk to the bottom line if those players simply vanish?

Free customers bring value to the site in three ways:
  1. They become paying customers
  2. They refer other players who become paying customers
  3. They add value to the site through participation in the community.
Lets say I get a report that PlayerX is leaving threatening messages. Without even confirming the validity of the report I can look up Player X's account info. I learn that:

Value possibility 1: Paying Customer. Player X has been playing for three months, and made no purchases. At this point there is a 1 in 50 chance something will happen turning him/her into a paying customer. 1 in 50 is not enough to give the player the benefit of the doubt.

Value possibility 2: Refer a Paying Customer. Player X has used the 'Invite Friends' promotion to refer one player to the site Assuming the reference is real. PlayerX has brought PlayerY to the site. PlayerY played six days, two months ago, for free. Didnt' refer anyone. There are other types of references, of course, but I have no evidence that PlayerX is a 'sneezer'.

Value possibility 3: Contribute to the community. PlayerX has generated one complaint from another player. You can assume that for every complaint, there's more people impacted, maybe a few, maybe dozens, maybe hundreds. How valuable are these players compared to PlayerX? Player X's contribution, based on limited evidence, is already a net-negative.

I don't make it a habit of deactivating accounts based on single accusations of wrong-doing, but if I did, I doubt I'd go far wrong provided I keep in mind what sort of customer is likely valuable, and which sort is not. What makes a player valuable?
  • If the player has made any sort of purchase, of course.
  • If the player has referred other active players or paying customers.
  • If the player has ligitimately contributed to the community (hard to measure, but if I could, I would.)
Also, my opinion is that most of the people who fall into one or more of the 'valuable player' categories above, don't have complaints made against them, with the exception of the occasional feud. Those player care about the community enough to take care of it. They usually provide solutions, not problems.