For those I am about to dissapoint…

I make no apologies: The 6 month torture of Geoffrey “DocDoom” Evans has come to an end. No, he’s still here. No, he’s not been demoted, transferred, relocated, transgendered or endangered.

Last Sunday, Doc turned up at my house to see if I wanted to go for a bite to eat, but I’d just eaten (note: when cooking frozen Mexican dinners, don’t be sparing with the microwave seconds). I’d been getting a few questions about RDP stuff (which I keep as far away from as I can) but mostly people asking about when the vehicle ranks would change.

Since I avoid RDP like a hooker with the plague and a gov. issued biohaz t-shirt, I couldn’t answer the questions, I asked Doc about this. When I wrote the code and modified the database to make the vehicle levels dynamic, I gave Doc a little web-tool for setting the next cycle rank for each vehicle, and I think its tied in with Ramp’s RDP cycle planning tools too.

Apparently, though, I’d never actually plugged this in. So last Thursday, I sat down, looked at the code, modified the cycle-execution perl script to transfer the “next cycle” ranks to “current cycle” column and added the code to notify the host of a vehicle data change.

So much time chasing my tail on CTHLs and working on big thing like brigades and toes… It’s nice to get something small done (Is it me or is this becoming a theme for me lately?). And the rdp script shows my fear and loathing in how elegantly the output data is presented.

The game servers were designed with a decidedly closed perspective. Nobody controls the game but the game. RDP was one of our first big breaks from that, and so I consider the RDP stuff to be a minefield. So the emailed feedback is a little more pleasant than the usual “Done” type notification.

Even though it’s only a small amount of code, its the sort of thing that has every opportunity to create a catastrophe. Naturally it got some testing (the snapshot is from the final testing using live data copied to the beta server). But all the same, once it goes live there is the chance that something “isn’t exactly the same”.

And it’s always gratifying when code, even such a small piece, works straight off the fingers. (It’s about 60-80 lines of code total) It’s been running and doing its thing since last week, and although Doc is going to continue monitoring it well into the next campaign, that’s pretty much the last RDP issue dragging him into the office at wild and crazy hours.

Hoorah for automation (that doesn’t go horribly wrong).

Now he can spend more time in the forums — hopefully with the benefit of many many more regular hours of sleep :)

RMT: the scary place (apparently)

Definitely an option thats underconsidered and unduly resisted… But there’s a lack of sensible questions being asked on this topic.

a) Why do people care whether items are gained by achievement or cash?
b) Should they care?
c) What makes it such a mass-growth industry acquring and selling these items?
d) What are our options?

If your players play your game for a sense of achievement they can draw from progressing through your rule set, then bowing to RMT is guaranteed disaster, like allowing a player to buy additional pieces or squares on a chess board.

You can’t just jump in and start selling items unless the entire of your design can answer “No” to question b. Your RMT-haters will leave, your farmers will leave, and RMT-lovers won’t arrive in droves because paying additional money to you (the developer) has a tainted vibe of feeding the man and the design doesn’t do anything to really attract them if it’s still Old School.

There is real scope for some new answers to question d), and taking the RMT line yourselves is one that has room for exploration – cf Project Entropia. But it’s not everyone’s answer.

I think the real meat lies in question (c). I think game designers continue to focus on episodic, progression-as-achievement oriented content that has to be delivered to you on a schedule and that tries to prevent you viewing-out-of-sequence.

That defines a target audience. In non-interactive fiction, it’s acceptable, but we have translated it wholesale into our multiplayer interactive fiction and assumed its the gold rush.

Around the edges of that target audience are people who could go either way. If there’s a way to skip to the content that they feel like seeing, a way to set the backstory to their encounter with Lady Vox such that instead of wearing leather pants they are wearing Augerberdine Mithril Greaves of Posing, and as long as it’s not going to leave them short of a beer … Well it’s not like they’re spending their money on anything like the gym or golf or something. Sure, I’ll pay you $10 for gold it would take me 3 months to accumulate myself.

So I think Dan’s decree is only half the story (*).

Developers: If you don’t want RMT in your game, design it out or shut up. Recognize that a monster that spawns every 8 hours and drops an item people would pay $500 for is an ATM. And if that’s not the functionality you intended, review your design.

Players: If you don’t want RMT in the games you play, get ready to pay for it – either in compromises to design changes that take it out of the game, or in a loss of the “massive” part of your multiplayer game, or in an increase in subscription fee to pay for the extra policing and management required to keep RMT out of the same-old game.

Or shut up.

I say that’s half the story, Dan follows it up with a second article on the topic. Ok – it seems we’re on a similar page: make content linearly progressive and you’ll get people willing to fast forward with hard cash. Making it expansive is definitely a working alternative, don’t write it off just because SWG flopped. SWG alluded to more depth in its expansiveness which proved to be false. That may have been player expectations (e.g. projecting the flowering of an EQ character from 1 to 60 onto an SWG musician would lead you to be very dissapointed).

It works in WoW – people just don’t notice it as much because it’s hidden in the way player’s just roll up a new character to get at different content or a different take on it. (Yes, SWG should have done that from the start too to complement the expansive-not-progressive nature).

To be honest, I think Dan gets to sounding a little too much like all games should just sell items. I think he’s missing that amongst the existing customerbase of MMO consumers RMT is a majority complaint. Fact is, there are probably untapped customers who would balance it out. But that just comes back to designing games to be either item-sale or item-gain, and doing it with the knowledge that if you make your NPCs into mobile ATMs then you are making and item-sale system.

If you do go item-sale, and deliberately build a game like Project Entropia where items are purchased with real world money, you do have a whole new bunch of concerns. How is the law going to deal with posession issues? Can the police turn up and raid your hardware to investigate property theft? Do you have to build a leasing contract and only lease the items characters hold to the players?

Uh oh

Thanks for doing your shopping online at Albertsons.com. In an effort to focus our attention on our in-store shopping experience, this service will no longer be available in your area as of July 21st. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you. 

Bugger, I may actually have to learn to drive.

Every time I’ve had groceries delivered, someone from my complex has stopped me in the next day or two and asked me about it. They’ve invariably been interested in getting their shopping delivered too. It’s just so damn convenient, especially if (like many of them) you’ve got a fairly long commute to/from work, and its nice to be able to get home, wash some dishes, have your groceries arrive, unpack them and cook dinner.

But next time I’d bump into them they’d tell me how difficult they found the website.

It was so nearly there. It’s got great concepts and a couple of very excellent features, but what it lacks is in the final follow through. I have shopped albertsons on the following browsers: IE6 XP, IE7 XP, IE7 Vista, IE6 w2000, Firefox XP, Firefox 2000, Firefox Linux, Konqueror Linux, Netscape Linux. All of them run into the same set of bugs. The one time I talked to someone in Albertsons support, she spent 10 minutes going through, essentially, their BS list of things that might make the customer go away. “Nope, I’ve tried that”, “I don’t have any cookies, I *just* installed vista, this is my first visit to the site with this system, there are no cookies. This is the first site I’ve visited”, “This machine doesn’t have a firewall”, “This is a Linux machine that doesn’t have a registry to corrupt”.

I think in the end tho, all those little errors and – probably a very poor choice of hire to lead the marketing of the service – are what makes it not just a not-great experience to shop with but an absolutely terrible site to have to use. If I was driving, I’d have quit using it after the 3rd week, despite being an online storewhore.