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Nathan Evrard's blog

2:55 PM on 08.28.2012

Guild Wars 2 Leveling System Is Spot On

The much anticipated release of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 is finally here. The game has been in development for years and promises to make a big impact in the world of massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMO’s). The game includes many MMO tropes such as leveling, crafting, and both player vs player (PVP) and player vs environment (PVE) content.

What sets the game apart from other games in the market space is the way in which it approaches these things. The most important differences lie in the character leveling aspect of the game. There are three key areas to focus on; the leveling curve, the event system (no more quests), and the dynamic level adjustment system.

Leveling Curve

As anyone who has ever played an MMO knows leveling is at the crux of the game. Guild Wars 2 is no different in this aspect. There is however, a difference in how long reaching these levels will take you. Traditionally in games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) the amount of experience required to gain a level would raise exponentially over time.

An example of this in WoW the time it would take you to go from level 89 to 90 would be roughly equivalent to the time it took you to get from level 1-82. That’s a massive amount of time required to reach the maximum level. In Guild Wars 2 they have introduced a kinder and gentler leveling curve. The goal is to provide a sense of accomplishment to players even if they are casual gamers. Having spent days playing Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) just trying to get half of a level helps me appreciate this change.

Dynamic Events

Traditionally MMO’s have based leveling on the completion of quests. These are generally tasks assigned to you from non player characters (NPC’s) in the game world. They may ask you to bring a letter to someone, clean the bad guys out of a camp, or most boring of all ask you to kill x amount of something.

More recent MMO’s such as Rift have started to embrace new ways to level. The introduction of world events and instant adventures in games allows players to join forces with others to complete certain tasks. Guild Wars 2 eschews the quest system entirely in favor of the aforementioned event system with some additional tweaks.

In Guild Wars 2 dynamic events actually have an effect on the game world. If you fail to stop an attack on a city then that city will be useless to the player base for a time. This is in contrast to the classic quest system as it actually has consequences. The end result of dynamic events is easy grouping and playing with a purpose.

Dynamic Level Adjustment

The introduction of world events and instant adventures provides great opportunities for advancement but they also offer one big problem. As a result of participating in these, especially in Rift, you can out level an area. This essentially means that your character is too powerful to gain any useful experience from finishing quests or battling creatures in the area. This forces the player to move on to the next area and miss out on interesting side stories that would otherwise enrich the world.

Guild Wars 2 obviously recognizes this and has found a rather simple but awesome solution in the way of dynamic level adjustment. This simple feature may be the most important aspect in the entire game as it will encourage players to finish as much of the game as possible not matter what level they are.
The way it works is straight forward. Assume you have a player that is level 60 and you want to venture with your friends in a level 20 area. Upon entering the area the game will reduce your attributes and stats to that of a level 21 character and allow you to earn xp at a regular rate (level cap +1).

This leveling works the other way also when participating in PvP. Anytime someone enters a marked PvP zone they will automatically be given level 80 attributes even if they are only level 20. It’s still not recommended to enter these battlegrounds at such a low level because you will not have the skills or armor available that higher level players will have. It is still great to have the option though.

Guild Wars 2 has taken the time to look at the problems that face MMO gamers today and have put forth quite an effort to provide solutions. All the reasons mentioned above plus no monthly subscription has made the game a must buy for myself and countless other fans of the genre. Now get out there and help save Tyria!

Cross Post from Video Game Mojo   read

2:25 PM on 08.27.2012

Electronic Arts Growing Digital Revenue

Electronic Arts (EA) released their quarterly financial statements for quarter (Q1) of 2012 earlier this month. Along with the straight up financial data they also provide a presentation that highlights some of the areas where they are doing well and some of the avenues they are pursuing for growth. Their overall plan is dedicated to what they call three strategic pillars. They emphasize Brands, Platform, and Talent.

For the sake of this particular article Platform is key because it is the area that focuses on making the brand digital. Now, let’s take a look at some of the numbers pertaining to digital sales. The first financial area of note pertains to sales by platform.

A quick breakdown of their sales by platform in Q1 shows that PC numbers account for about 45% of sales with year over year (YOY) growth at 62% while tablets and smart phones are at 16% with YOY growth of 86%. The tablet and smart phone numbers are indicative of the general shift in consumer behavior. Electronic Arts didn’t create the demand for this market but they have taken advantage of it.

The next breakdown comes in the area that refers to type of digital sales for Q1. These include full games, DLC, ads, and mobile. DLC accounts for an impressive 40% in this category which resulted in an 87% YOY increase. The smallest number to be found comes from full releases which only accounted for 10% of sales and has seen very little growth over the last couple of years.

The final and most interesting part of the report details growth by specific games. FIFA 12 and Battlefield 3 lead the way in terms of digital revenue for the company. FIFA 12 is on pace for about $161 million in digital sales compared with only $79 from FIFA 11, an increase of over 100%. My guess would be that FIFA Ultimate Team is the main reason. However the digital release of Euro 2012 probably helped quite a bit also.

The Battlefield series is a bit more difficult to compare across generations as they are all very different games. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 accounted for $66 million in digital sales last year while Battlefield 3 is on pace for over $180 million.

The one additional metric that they throw in is Free to Play (F2P) growth. In Q1 the average weekly revenue was $6.3 million compared to $.4 million three years ago.

Interestingly to me is that the Madden series isn’t listed as measurement. Perhaps with the upcoming release of Madden NFL 13 we will see the game make a big bang with growing Madden Ultimate Team revenues. Other omissions are breakdown for Origin and specific platforms such as Facebook. Perhaps going forward all of these will be dissected more.

Overall when all is said and done it seems pretty clear that digital is the future for Electronic Arts. Rumors about NBA Live 13 will be available on Xbox Live, if at all seem to point to this possibility. NBA Live would provide a good test for EA as there will be nothing to lose on the title. Also one of EA’s bosses, Frank Gibeau, basically came straight out and said it.

"We're going to be a 100% digital company, period. It's going to be there some day. It's inevitable"

Cross Post From and   read

2:25 PM on 08.24.2012

Why I Play As Fem Shep

When games come around that offer me a choice between male and female characters it seems more often than not that my choice is to play a female. When asked why my initial answer is because if my time is going to spent staring at my characters backside it may as well be something worth looking at. But that was never truly the real answer. No, the genuine answer escaped me until somewhat recently.

The answer is quite simple, male protagonists are a dime a dozen in video games today. Grand Theft Auto has always had a male lead with Niko Bellic playing the role in GTA IV. Read Dead Redemption had perhaps my favorite lead character in John Marston, and it also had his not so awesome son to take his place. And the recently released Sleeping Dogs has Wei Shen, the badass character not the professor from the University of Minnesota. Other games such as Dead Space, Halo, and every single COD clone also have a strong male presence at the helm.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule. Joanna Dark from Perfect Dark is one along with Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider franchise. Overall though female leads are quite rare. To make matters even worse women are generally meant to be saved in video games and are often the crux of the whole story. Take a look at Princess Peach for an older example.

It is with this in mind that the idea of a female character appeals to me. Games such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Dragons Dogma all center around a “chosen” one overcoming the odds to save the world against impossible odds. By choosing a female hero it feels as though the odds are truly stacked against you. Every time someone doubts my in game ability it seems like a direct challenge that is to be overcome by my Fem Shep.

For some reason having a male Shepard somehow feels like cheating though that is clearly not the case. Like it or not, we still live in a male dominated society when it comes to war and competition. This mindset seems to flow into the game worlds with which we are presented. As far as I’m concerned that is fine with me. It simply provides a greater sense of accomplishment for me when my female protagonist finally slays the dragon to save the world.   read

3:14 PM on 08.23.2012

In Video Games Ignorance Is Bliss

One of my fondest gaming memories as a child was learning about the Konami code. It was the first real cheat code that me and my friends were aware of. Every time Contra was booted we would enter the code and listen for the reassuring sound that accompanied it. The result was that we had thirty lives in which to beat the game.

This was pretty much the extent of cheats that we had in games with the exception of the monthly issue of GamePro which would provide a handful of other useful secrets such as this Pro Tip: "To defeat the Cyberdemon, shoot at it until it dies." This really helped me as I tended to stop shooting at it and waited patiently for it to off itself.

Of course the world of gaming is quite different today as every game has a wiki or FAQ available with minutes of its launch. This can come in handy when stuck on some seemingly impossible mission or when searching for the final collectable on a vast map. This accessibility can also prove as a crutch at times for many players, me included.

Recently, while playing through Arkham City, I found myself looking at an FAQ anytime a mission foiled me a couple of times. It just seemed like a waste of time to constantly try only to fail again. The end result was me getting through the game quicker but also becoming more annoyed with myself for my lack of persistence in game.

It is almost always more satisfying to finally best a challenge by ourselves with no outside help. Dragon’s Dogma was one game where this came through for me. My first battle with a Chimera left me wondering what my party had done wrong. However, when I finally put the right group together and killed that beast it was one of the most satisfying moments in recent gaming memory for me.

Currently Sleeping Dogs has been my gaming addiction and it is my goal to avoid using online help at all costs. And up to this point it has been successful. The main reason for this is that the world of Hong Kong, both virtual or in real life, is completely new to me and the wonder associated with discovery is really the most important part of this game. Once the main story is completed I may visit GameFAQ’s to find anything that has been missed but only time will tell.

What are your thoughts on using game guides or FAQ’s to complete games?   read

1:53 PM on 08.17.2012

My First Cock Fight

Sleeping Dogs is the latest in a long line of Open World games and it carries on the tradition quite well. The game is set in a virtual version of Hong Kong and as with its predecessors includes plenty of stuff to do outside the main story arc. And as with other games such as Grand Theft Auto (GTA), Saints Row (SR), and Red Dead Redemption (RDR) it is often the side distractions that really make the games enjoyable.

Sleeping Dogs is really no different in this regard as it provides plenty of side missions to keep the player busy. There are statues to be collected and returned, briefcases to be plundered, and cars that need to be brought to the chop shop. There is one distraction in particular that has piqued my curiosity more than any others.

In Sleeping Dogs you can watch and bet on cock fights. This is interesting to me for several reasons. For starters, no game has ever allowed me to do this before. There may be games out there where this is an option but this is my in game introduction to the spectacle. Secondly, the inclusion of the cock fights has really helped the immersion. And on top of that, one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld revolves around cock fighting.

My first trip to the fighting grounds involved a broken GPS that insisted my location was in the middle of a Freeway. This seemed quite illogical to me given the illegal nature of the activity. After driving around for a bit I found the entrance to shady arena. There was a gentleman standing there who was taking bets on the upcoming fight so I approached him.

Before placing my wager the two contestants showed me their birds and both insisted that theirs was the better of the two. My first bet was placed on the beastly looking black bird which proceeded to let me down. Not to be deterred I placed another bet, this time again on the new black bird. Alas, it was not meant to be. This bird was just as much of a pansy as the other and proceeded to go down in about thirty seconds.

After that I headed back to the market to find a new bed for my apartment. What more can be said, these side distractions can be addicting. Maybe next time Little Jerry Seinfeld will be at the cock fights and he can win me some money.   read

3:14 PM on 08.15.2012

5 Reasons Selling Virtual Goods Is Tricky

Ever since online worlds came into existence there have been people trying to figure out how to work the system to make real world money. Historically very few games have offered official ways to make money in game. The ones that have however certainly provide for genuine opportunities to succeed if you have the time and devotion.

Perhaps the best examples of legally making money in online games come from the world of Second Life (SL). The world of SL is almost entirely user created and allows for people to buy and sell virtual goods for Lindens which can be converted to real money. The most famous example of this in game economy is one Anshe Chung. Anshe became the first SL millionaire in 2006 by buying and selling virtual land.

The introduction of Diablo III’s real money auction house (RMAH) a couple of months ago has provided a new generation of gamer with a straightforward way to convert game time into real world earnings. It is still early in the cycle of Diablo III but users are already reporting modest incomes from the game.

In instances where there is no officially sanctioned channel to make money players have been resourceful and found numerous ways in which to make the games pay. In the past it was not uncommon to find World of Warcraft (WoW) characters for sale on the auction site Ebay. These characters would consistently sell for hundreds of dollars with a purported record sale of around $9,000.

Ultima Online is one of the oldest graphical massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG,MMO) out there. In as such it has seen its fair share of virtual entrepreneurs looking to make real world cash. Items such as armor, weapons, and even castles have provided sources of income for numerous players for 15 years.

In his book, Play Money, author Julian Dibbell describes in detail his quest to make millions selling virtual loot with Ultima Online as his primary source of income. He describes camping out waiting for land to go on sale and tracking daily auctions among other things. When all is said and done he was on pace to make about $47,000 per year. That’s a pretty good chunk of change for most people.
With all this money to be made what is stopping you from becoming the next virtual goods millionaire? To put it mildly, there are some very important factors to consider if you choose pursue a career dealing in virtual goods.

1. Time Investment

Let’s get straight to the crux of the situation. Making money whether it is in computer games or in the real world requires time. The first step of course is research. One has to find the right game to work with and then the right items to buy and sell. Also, you have to take into affect variables such as timing and overall market conditions. In Mr. Dibbell’s case he could make far more than $47,000 per year by utilizing his time on his freelance writing work. If you are serious about making money this way then you cannot treat it as a part time hobby.

2. Low Barrier To Entry

This item is both a positive and a negative. A barrier to entry is simply anything that would keep someone from entering a specific market. For example, if someone wanted to sell a new cola a large barrier to entry would be advertising cost to get the name out there. With the RMAH of Diablo III there are very few barriers. All you need is a copy of the game and a authenticator. On the plus side this means that anyone can do it, even you. On the down side, this means that anyone can do it. Even if you are more efficient and offer better service people still have to wade through all of the offers to find you.

3. Never Ending Supply and Demand

In both the real world and virtual worlds economies run on the basic idea of supply and demand. Generally speaking, more demand equals higher prices as does low supply. This works well in a world where goods take time to create and supply is limited by raw materials and capacity. In virtual worlds such as Lord of The Rings Online (LOTRO) raw materials have a never ending supply.

Think firewood as an example. You can only cut down the tree in your back yard once before it is depleted. In LOTRO that same tree can be chopped up an unlimited amount of time assuming you have the patience. The end result is a glut of raw goods that essentially keeps prices low on all but the rarest of items.

4. Cost of Production

In economics the cost of production theory of value states that items have a value that is commensurate with the factors of production. The three major factors are labor, capitol, and land. In the case of MMO’s both labor and land are all but taken out of the equation because all of the land is available to anyone and the labor cost generally consists of equipping an axe and pushing a button. By eliminating two of the major factors involved it drastically reduces the cost of goods sold.

5. Legal Issues

This is the grey area that can make doing any type of online business risky, not just virtual goods. For starters, those that sell virtual goods or characters outside of game worlds are often in direct conflict with the end user license agreement (EULA) that they agree to with a company before even playing the game. This can result in permanent bans and loss of all in game monies and assets. Marc Bragg can attest to this firsthand as he lost between $4,000 and $6,000 in assets as a result of a banning from by Second Life owner Linden Labs.

Other complications can arise from technical glitches or legal issues pertaining to jurisdiction. Blizzard’s rmah in Diablo III has reports of errors costing players hundreds of dollars in real world currency with no real solution provided. As far as locality is concerned it is important to remember that games can be hosted in say the United States while the product seller can be located in Africa and the buyer can reside Russia. This can make it very difficult to seek a remedy for anyone that is wronged during an online transaction.

There have been many reasons listed as to why it can be difficult to make real money dealing in virtual goods. And all of these reasons should be taken to heart when considering this type of venture. However, it is important to note that these challenges can be overcome with foresight and perseverance. As Mark Twain once quipped, “It usually takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech.”   read

3:35 PM on 08.12.2012

Video Games As Art (An Essay)

“Video games will never be art” (Ebert, 2010). When famous movie critic Roger Ebert originally made this statement on his blog back in April of 2010 it caused a huge uproar and more importantly started a very philosophical debate about the subject at hand. He received over 4,000 comments on his posting, mostly negative, and as a result of the backlash he rewrote the blog to better defend his position. But why was there such a backlash about his comment to begin with?

There are various reasons why Ebert’s statements caused such an outcry. First and foremost Roger Ebert, though a prestigious and world renowned movie reviewer, has never played a video game. The simple fact that his argument came from an ignorant point of view doomed his argument from the start. Would it be fair for someone to say that Picasso was a poor painter without ever having looked at any of his art work? The answer is obvious but it serves to provide an example for the reader to relate to.

However, there is another much more important matter that is presented by Ebert. Are video games art? Even though he may not be qualified to make that decision it opens up the debate for those who are familiar with video games to make arguments both for and against it. That being said there are many factors to consider.

During our time in Art History II we have studied and viewed various movements and eras in the history of art. If there is one thing that we need to take away from this class it is simply that art will always be taking new forms and be expressed in different ways. Historically it was not uncommon for one art style to dominate an entire period. Examples include the Gothic style, The Baroque style, and the Rococo style.

As we progressed through the years we find more and more art forms coexisting and new styles emerging much more often. More recent examples of art styles include Surrealism, Expressionism, and Pop Art. All of these styles were once considered new and unusual before becoming accepted styles. Given this information we can now begin to look at video games as a potential art form.

We need to start out with what may be the simplest yet most difficult question to answer. What is art? Defining art is perhaps the most important and difficult aspect of this argument. As we have seen throughout our journey in Art History II art can take on many forms and shapes and will continue to evolve.

There are many different definitions for art that can be found. defines art as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance” (2010). Princeton University defines art simply as “the creation of beautiful or significant things” (2010). Both of these definitions are rather plain and give us no real specific answer as to the question of what is art. Perhaps the most comprehensive definition of art, and therefore most useful for this argument, comes from philosopher Berys Gaut:

"the presence of which ordinary judgment counts toward something's being a work of art, and the absence of which counts against its being art: (1) possessing positive aesthetic properties, such as being beautiful, graceful, or elegant… ; (2) being expressive of emotion; (3) being intellectually challenging…; (4) being formally complex and coherent; (5) having a capacity to convey complex meanings; (6) exhibiting an individual point of view; (7) being an exercise of creative imagination (being original); (8) being an artifact or performance which is the product of a high degree of skill; (9) belonging to an established artistic form (music, painting, film, etc.); and (10) being the product of an intention to make a work of art" (2010).

Gaut asserts that not all parts of the definition need to be met for a subject to be considered art but rather that a large number of criteria are met. It should also be noted for the purpose of this paper that film and music are both included in Gaut’s definition of an established artistic form. Therefore we already see that Gaut has set forth examples of art forms that don’t simply revolve around painting or sculpture.

Perhaps the simplest way to see if video games fit into the description of art would be to pick a particular game and see how it fits the description as set forth by Gaut. Grant Tavinor author of the book The Art of Videogames does just that. In his example he uses a video game called Bioshock. The basic premise behind the game is that it takes place in the 1950’s and after surviving a plane crash you discover an underwater city called Rapture. The game has beautiful scenery and is done in an art deco style. The story involves you emotionally as you have to decide the fate of some of those you encounter while trying to discover the mystery surrounding the city itself.

Tavinor explains that from his perspective Bioshock fits nine out of the ten criteria as set forth by Gaut in his definition of art. The only criterion it does not meet is that it does not belong to an established art form. Should Bioshock not be considered art simply because it is not already considered an art form? That seems like a silly approach to take and when all is said and done Bioshock certainly does fit the definition of art.

Another great example in regards to recent video game is one titled Red Dead Redemption (RDR). The setting for RDR is the western United States and Mexico during the early 1900’s. Much like Bioshock the world of RDR is rendered beautifully though in RDR it is geared more towards a realistic setting. There are breathtaking vistas to be seen throughout the wild west along with some truly wonderful sunsets and night skies

In this game you are John Marsten and have been blackmailed by the United States Marshall’s Service to kill your old gang partners. As you progress you unravel more of the back story and really grow an emotional attachment to Mr. Marsten. Of course there are plenty of other things to do in the game world besides taking down the bad guys. It doesn’t shame me to say that several hours of my time in the game have been spent picking flowers. Just like Bioshock this game meets nine out of ten of Gaut’s criteria for art.

Perhaps an even more apt example for video games as art involves a game titled Assassin’s Creed II. The story in simple terms is that you play most of the game as an assassin in renaissance Italy. Walking around the unbelievably beautiful cities in Italy feels like taking a trip back in time. Part of the game involves updating your manor with beautiful pictures of the time including Ideal City by Piero Della Francesca and Battista and Federico by Battista Sforza among many others.

This leads me to my next proposition. If a print or copy of a famous work such as Ideal City is considered art then could we not also consider an exact digital copy in a game to be art also? When you look at the comparison there is no doubt that it takes much more time and skill to create a digital copy than to simply create a print.

Of course some would argue that even if you accept video games as art not all games should qualify. Should pong be considered a work of art? Many people who do think video games are art, including Grant Tavinor, would not consider pong art. If we do accept video games as art then couldn’t we just consider games such as pong to be poor art? In the accepted world of art there are plenty of examples of works that are debatable as to whether or not they fit in as art.

There are many forms of questionable art that we accept in today’s world. A New York artist names Justin Gignac actually sells garbage from the streets of New York City as art. To some people items such as this are considered art. As one commenter noted about his trash in a cube; “I bought one of these cubes… It gives the trash an air of curiosity and excitment.” Another one of his works was an exhibit titled Blindfolded Holiday Gift Wrapping. It consisted of artists who would gift wrap your presents while blindfolded.

People are not the only artists out there that straddle the line between what is art and what isn’t. In England the artists Van Snout and Bottabelli create and sell paintings for charity. What makes these artists special is that they are two miniature pigs. There artwork sells for about twenty five dollars apiece and resembles something similar to a Jackson Pollock painting, which in itself is interesting.

There are also current accepted art forms that were not always well received. Photography is a rather new invention that has only really been viewed as an art form for perhaps a hundred years or so. That is despite the fact that “modern” cameras have existed since the early 1800’s. Movies are another form of modern art that was once viewed simply as a novelty. Despite the slow start of motion pictures we now have dozens of different awards shows and thousands of critics that are geared solely to the art of film. Sure there are plenty of bad movies out there but that should not be held against film as it is still an art form.

There are countless other stories out there of strange artists doing strange things including music albums that are nothing but silence. What does this tell us about how we view art? Simply that all art is subjective. What one person may see as trash another person may see as a beautiful expression of our world. Even if people do not view video games as beautiful it is important to accept that they are beautiful and emotional to many people.

Works Cited
"Art | Define Art at" | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Web. 01 Aug. 2010. <>.

Ebert, Roger. "Video Games Can Never Be Art." Sun Times Blog. 16 Apr. 2010. Web. 1 Aug. 2010. <>.

Lanchester, John. "LRB • John Lanchester • Is It Art?" LRB • Vol. 32 No. 15 • 5 August 2010. 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Aug. 2010. <>.

"New York City Rubbish Art." Art News Blog. 20 May 2007. Web. 01 Aug. 2010. <>.

"Pigasso: The Little Oinks Making a Splash in the Art World | Mail Online." Home | Mail Online. 04 June 2007. Web. 01 Aug. 2010. <>.

Tavinor, Grant. "Video Games and the Philosophy of Art." Kotaku, the Gamers Guide. 29 Apr. 2010. Web. 01 Aug. 2010. <>.   read

3:23 PM on 08.10.2012

Eve Online and DAYZ Tell Their Own Stories

There are tens of thousands of people who play both of these games on a daily basis. But what exactly makes these games so interesting?

Despite being two entirely different games they have plenty of similarities that make them both fantastic in their own right. Both Eve and DAYZ take place in persistent online worlds where people interact with other players from around the world. Both games take hours upon hours of patience before you can really begin to appreciate them. And both games are entirely too time consuming to be of any real interest to me gameplay wise.

The most important part of these games lies outside of the game world. Despite me having no interest in playing either one it is easy for me spend hours on end reading about the amazing things that take place inside these games. The patience and persistence of the players has given rise to hundreds if not thousands of amazing stories that can only be achieved in games such as these.

The linear progression of most games means that all players will have similar stories with very minor differences. The open nature of both DAYZ and EVE ensures that there will always be new and exciting things going on the game worlds. Whether it is tracking the latest actions of Goonswarm or reading about the unselfish Dr. who roams Chernarus, these games will remain the best I’ve never played for a long time.   read

4:06 PM on 08.08.2012

Marvel Super Hero Squad: Bridging The Age Gap

“Uncle Nate, come here and watch me fly!” That was my nephew Noah, who is 6 years old, excitedly introducing me into the world of Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Online. He was playing as Falcon though he really had no idea as to his characters name, nor did he really care. After showing me how he could fly he then proceeded to beat up little flying space ships for which he received tickets. When I asked him if he ever beat up people he told me that he had promised not to hurt anyone.

As days went by he would randomly show me other things about the game when I visited. One day he showed me his other characters which included Thing, Ms. Marvel, and Cyclops and told me that it was his goal to unlock Spiderman who costs 600 gold. Another day he showed me all the different areas you can visit in game which includes Asgard, The Daily Bugle, The Baxter Building, and Villainville which he thinks is an awful place.

It was all somewhat interesting to me in a passing way but it really was just another game that kids play. That all changed one day when he logged into the game to find out that some of his hard earned gold had disappeared. He immediately broke down and began to cry because all of his hard work had been lost. He was genuinely upset and almost inconsolable. Anyone who has played an MMO knows the frustration of losing hours of progress because of a server reset (I’m looking at you Rift). My sister had tried to help him figure out what had happened by she had no clue nor did I.

It became apparent to me that there was only one way to tackle the problem. I would have to create an account and play the game myself to figure out how to help Noah get his Spider Man. After a couple of minutes of set up Molten Opaque Raider was born and ready to roll. In the interest of safety the game doesn’t allow players to create their own names but rather lets one choose from randomly generated names.

As my instincts told me the game was relatively straight forward and simply involved walking around clicking on stuff to collect silver, tickets, and XP. Jaded MMO players would call this game a grind, and it kind of is. It turns out however that there more than meets the eye and Noah had only been playing most basic parts of the game all along.

The game offers instanced missions that are fought against bad guys and provide boss battles at the end. There are even daily missions that allow teams of four to conquer the bad guys together. When Noah first saw me playing through one of these he was amazed as he had no idea these things existed. He quickly figured out how they work and now spends much of his time replaying the same missions over and over.

Another very interesting part of the game is a built in turn based card game that features all of the Marvel heroes and villains. This game is surprisingly in depth and booster packs can either be won or purchased which allow for the building of custom decks. The first time Noah played the daily card battle against the ai he had won quite handedly. The same did not hold true for me as after four games my record was 0-4.

It turns out there are only a couple of ways to earn gold directly in game. You can of course buy it in the cash shop if you wish. However those wanting to take the free route have to collect tickets which can be used to spin a large game wheel. You also get rewards for logging in on consecutive days which eventually gives you a 5 gold a day bonus. Without paying for the game it will easily take over a month to collect the required gold to purchase Spider-Man. A little searching has revealed that there is one character that can be bought with a large amount of silver which can only be collected in game. “The silver guy with the board” as Noah refers to him.

Amazingly, this game is simple enough to be enjoyed by a 6 year old and it provides enough depth to keep the older kids engaged also. Now, it’s not an uncommon sight to see him and me sitting side by side defeating the villains that threaten to destroy the world. “I’m in the middle of a mission!” He will yell, when his parents call him for dinner. And pretty soon the Silver Surfer and Spider-Man will be there too.   read

2:32 PM on 08.07.2012

3 Keys To Successful Online Stores

The rise of Free to Play (F2P) games has allowed individuals like myself who have short gaming attention spans to try out various games with no inherent risk involved. This is great as there are many good games out there that would not be on my radar if they had a large initial price tag attached to them.

Of the many games that have gotten some of my time over the last several months there are three in particular that are very enjoyable and have similar cash shops. The game are Super Monday Night Combat (SMNC is a MOBA type game), Tribes:Ascend (Billed as the worlds fastest shooter), and Blacklight:Retribution (A semi futuristic first person shooter).

All of these games offer pretty good balance even for those individuals who choose not to spend any money. However as a company, you want to encourage the cheapskates such as myself to actually part with some of our hard earned money. This is where the games begin to differentiate themselves.

Both SMNC and Tribes have publishers that really seem to understand how the psyche of consumers works while Perfect World, the publishers of Blacklight, seem to somewhat miss the point. Let’s start by pointing out that price in itself is not necessarily the most important factor to consider with purchases. And that’s a good thing for SMNC fans as it can cost $250 to buy all of the content at once.

There are three basic tenants that should be followed with any in game cash shop to encourage spending by players. These are Bundles, Sales, and Bonuses.


With bundles consumers feel as though they are getting more for their money. Just take a look at McDonald’s extra value meal to get an idea how this works. People will gladly spend in excess of $6 per meal even though much of that cost covers the fries and soda which are inherently cheap to produce. Cable companies also seem to truly embrace the bundle with their triple play packages that include cable, internet, and phone service.

In regards to the games mentioned above, SMNC really has a handle on the bundle thing. The game allows you to purchase individual characters, vanity items, and taunts for varying prices. Many of their items can cost in excess of $7 each. An example of their deals would include four characters valued at $5 each plus three taunts valued at $3 each bundled together for $20 thus saving the buyer $9. Of course saving is a relative term but that is the point. People like to feel like they are getting something for nothing.

Tribes also offers bundles that can include deals on weapon packs and skins. Blacklight on the other hand has no current bundles available for sale of any kind.


It has been proven that consumers love sales even if they aren’t getting a great price. Just ask JC Penny who saw a 40% loss in sales after switching from “sales” to a static low price model. This is another area where SMNC and Tribes both shine. SMNC has weekly sales where you can purchase bundles, characters, and skins for drastically reduced prices. Tribes also has daily sales on weapons allowing for more buying power from the players. Generally speaking, the limited time frame for sales encourages individuals to make a purchase that they may otherwise put off for another time.

As with bundles, sales are another area where Blacklight seems to miss the boat. There are no sales of any kind and this really keeps people from spending the in game currency or “zen” that they purchase.


The best way for a company to make money is to convince people to purchase your currency even if they never spend it. Think of gift cards in the real world. The folks at Barnes and Noble are more than happy to sell you a gift card for $50 because you will either not spend the money at all or spend in excess of the gift card value.

Free to play games tend to abide by this same rule. In Tribes you can purchase in game Gold with real money to use on purchases in game. A quick look at the current gold prices shows that $10 will buy you 800 gold at a cost of 1.3 cents each while $50 will buy you 7,500 gold at a cost of .7 cents. They even break it down for easy consumption by saying that the $50 deal gives you 3,500 gold with a bonus of 4,000 gold. What a deal!

Keeping up with the current theme, Blacklight doesn’t offer any bonuses for buying in bulk. 100 zen will cost you $1 and 1,000 zen will cost you $10. There is absolutely no incentive to purchase zen in bulk. This is unfortunate because as it stands it leaves players to scrutinize and justify every single purchase they will make in game.

The goal of this particular article was to highlight some of the basic tenants for a successful cash shop by comparing three free to play games with similar business models. Of these three games Blacklight is the one that I will spend most of my time playing. I would love to support the game by purchasing some in game currency but they haven’t even attempted to make me feel like there is any value in my purchase. Hopefully Perfect World will make some changes to the way the system works as it would be a shame to see them lose money on what is perhaps the best shooter on the market today, paid games included.

What are your thoughts on how various pricing models work?   read

1:58 PM on 08.06.2012

The Free To Play Business Model

The world of online gaming has seen a recent shift in the way business is done. The best example of this comes from the world of massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGS or MMO) for short. MMO's are games that are played entirely online in a persistent world shared by thousands of other players. The games allow players to interact and complete quests and defeat monsters either alone or together.

From a business perspective these games are financially risky. For starters, the development of MMO's is both time consuming and costly. The best known MMO, World of Warcraft (WoW) took over 4 years to develop and cost in excess of $60 million dollars to launch. Once the game is launched companies then spend millions of dollars per year for server and maintenance costs. Blizzard Entertainment spends about $50 million per year on WoW.

The traditional way for MMO's to make money involves the payment of a monthly subscription fee by users. These fees usually run $14.99 per month and require an initial purchase of the game itself. There are also discounts for long terms subscriptions and many games offer lifelong subscriptions for a flat fee around $300. The benefit to this approach is a steady stream of income from invested players that have spent hundreds of hours playing the game. The downside is a high barrier to entry. Many individuals simply don't like the idea of spending $50 on a game and then paying another $15 per month for the privilege to keep playing.

This isn't much of an issue for established games such as WoW which boasts over 9 million active users. Other games however can struggle to gain traction in the ever growing MMO market. Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) was launched on December 20th of 2011 and had 1.7 million subscribers but in less than a year that number has dwindled so low that Electronic Arts, the games publisher, will only state that the game has over 500,000 subscribers.

When a well established intellectual property (IP) such as Star Wars can't be successful in the MMO market publishers need to ask why and find alternative ways to make money. The why part of the problem can be traced to two major points. The glut of games on the market and the insistence on new games to strictly follow the WoW formula.

In the past four years over 60 new MMO's have been released in some form or another. Given the sheer number of competitors it is difficult for new IP's to stand out. For most people, given the time and monetary investment there is no real option to play more than one intense MMO per month.

The launch of SWTOR reportedly cost in excess of $100 million. This is the reason why so many publishers don't want to stray away from WoW's proven formula. As with any other company publishers of these games are risk averse. Furthermore, the few games that try to go away from this formula are seen as niche games and often have trouble convincing people to try them. Funcom's new entry The Secret World has attempted to stray from the formula a bit and has seen extremely mixed reviews as a result.

Recently the publishers of both MMO's and other online games have started to embrace a new pricing structure that does away with the monthly subscription fees. This new model is referred to as Free To Play (F2P) or Freemium. While both terms are different the specifics are too intricate to get into for the purpose of this article (However this article at Massively speaks a bit to the subject).

Generally speaking these games make money off of micro transactions using an in game store of sorts. Items can be cosmetic or unlock new ares for the player to explore. Publishers need to be careful to avoid a pay to win (P2W) situation in their games. These P2W game sell items such as better weapons or upgraded armor that is not available to the players who choose not to spend money thus giving them an inherent advantage. Battlefield Play4Free is a good example of this dynamic. While most items can be obtained with in game currency, the games best weapons can only be purchased with real money.

Instead of hitting users with one large fee, F2P games essentially nickel and dime players for more money in the long run. This is good for both consumers and publishers. For players, it kind of works like a la carte cable as opposed to cable packages. And the model really does work. In 2010 Turbine, publisher of LOTRO, changed from a pay to play model to the F2P model. The change resulted in an increase in users and a revenue jump of 100%. It comes as no surprise then that other games have followed suit. Games such as DC Universe Online, Age of Conan, and Champions Online have all successfully made the switch.

It seems pretty clear that F2P will become more common moving forward. This is a welcome change as it allows players to try out and enjoy multiple titles at the same time. Likewise, publishers no longer have to worry about competing for your attention as much as they do with subscription fees.   read

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