Author Archives: David J Edery

Don’t Step On My Long Tail

Digital distribution and eCommerce are at the heart of what I do for a living. And nowhere is the Long Tail more at home than at the junction point of digital distribution and eCommerce. Someday, when greater volumes of content are featured on XBLA, it should turn into a perfect Long Tail paradise, right?

Well, that’s what I’m hoping for. But there are a few potential issues that muddy the waters. Some of them are issues facing all community-centric online systems. Some of them are specific to video game services. I’ll give you a couple of examples, and hopefully you can give me some ideas in return!

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Travian Under the Microscope

I’ve been meaning to write about a web-based MMO called Travian for a long time. Travian is, to my mind, the very embodiment of the phrase “so close, and yet so far.” It has all the basic components of a perfect low-budget MMO, but a few maddening design flaws make the game basically unplayable (in the long term) for most people. The following is a very long deconstruction of the game. If you’re interested in MMOs, read on. If not, it’s safe to skip this post. ;-)

Travian in a nutshell

In a nutshell, Travian is a pseudo-real-time massive multiplayer strategy game. You build towns and armies, and use your armies to conquer and pillage other towns. I say “pseudo-real-time” because, while the game operates in real-time and you can take action whenever you wish, each action requires a variable but substantial amount of time to complete. (For example, building a granary might take 20 minutes in the real world; upgrading it might take several hours. And while you’re building your granary, you can’t build anything else. Likewise, sending your army on a raid could take as little as 30 minutes or as long as a day.) There is real genius in this — it preserves the feeling of a real-time game while effectively preventing people with tons of spare time from overwhelming competing players. The eleven-year-old who wants to can obsess over the world map and communicate with allies to his heart’s content, while the forty-year-old parent with twenty minutes to spare can quickly take his turns and tune out till the next day.

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Virtual Voice

Real-time communication in modern MMORPGs is a funny thing. With rare exception, it tends to resemble anything but “role-playing”. MMO user text generally consists of acronyms (LOL, ROFL, etc), poor grammar, and a million little references to the outside world (“hang on, my dog is barking.”) Speech is, in some ways, even worse — nothing like the screech of a petulant 10-year-old (or the sound of a toilet flushing in the background) to disturb the illusion of fantasy.

Outside the context of self-policed, dedicated role-playing servers, this may be impossible to “fix”. I put “fix” in quotes because it’s unclear that this is a problem of any real significance — it’s quite possible that the majority of potential players really don’t miss the opportunity to role-play more deeply, even in the “perfect” environment for it. But my gut tells me that, at a bare minimum, there’s room for something more than what’s available today.

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Gamasutra Interview

Gamasutra just published an interview with me. Any complaints about my responses? ;-)

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Some great news: researchers have found that people who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved their vision by 20%. And here I was, worrying about my eyes! SCE’s UK … Continue reading

MMORPGs: For Love or Money?

Lots of interesting news this past week about real money transactions (RMT) in MMORPGs. I’ll get into specifics shortly, but first, I encourage you to view the following information through this lens: are traditional MMORPGs first and foremost a game, or first and foremost a social networking service? (And assuming you think the distinction is even meaningful, what bearing does your answer have on RMT, user-generated content, cross-cultural communication, and “virtual property rights” in these games?)

For-profit power-leveling

First, from Raph Koster’s blog, a look at the power-leveling industry. As Raph points out, the average market value of a WoW level is $8, and an hour of WoW play is worth under 75 cents. Clearly not enough to turn most US citizens into WoW entrepreneurs, but certainly enough to keep inspiring “level farms” in China. What I found more interesting was a comment by Raph outside the article:

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The times/locations for my GDC sessions were just announced. I hope some of you will have the opportunity to attend and say hello afterwards.  :-) Session: Sharing Control Time/Location: 10:30am Friday, March 9, 2007, Room: 41 Session Description: This year’s … Continue reading

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Bravo to Linden Labs for recognizing an opportunity to build goodwill and actually benefit from unthreatening parody exposure (the Get a First Life campaign). Far too many companies would have instinctively reacted with lawyers and threats. Henry writes a very … Continue reading

Gray Market

While in Beijing, I visited the “gray market” in order to learn more about video game piracy in China. I’m not sure what I expected… something between an official street market in New York and those guys near Times Square who try to sell you DVD ripoffs (and who pack up their stuff the instant they spot a cop.) I couldn’t have been farther off the mark.

The gray market in Beijing is nothing less than a clean, very commercial, very visible shopping complex. It’s brimming with small stores (one might call them fancy “stalls”), each staffed by several people. The stores have no visible brand, advertising, or sales strategy to differentiate themselves from one another. They don’t need to — there are more than enough customers to go around.

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Xbox / India link updated with correct URL. I’m batting what… one broken link every other post? Bah. eBay is delisting auctions for virtual objects. The stated rationale is notable: they’re effectively declaring that game players don’t have inherent ownership … Continue reading