Thursday, September 15, 2022

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Thanks to my current obsession with Noah's Heart, it's been a while since I last logged into... well, anything else. I am still subscribed to Daybreak All Access, though, and my annual renewal is due soon, so I thought I probably ought at least to drop by to collect my monthly stipend of 500DBC. 

As it turned out, although today's the day the next handout arrives (It's the fifteenth of the month for me although I'm not clear on whether that's a universal or if it's tied to the day I paid my last sub.), when I logged in it was still too early in the morning to collect it. All Daybreak titles operate on PDT, what with the studio being in San Diego, and as I write this it's just gone one in the morning in California.

When someone over there wakes up and unlocks the imaginary safe (I have a vague idea it happens at 9am PDT) my DBC stash will break 27k. This raises an interesting philosophical point, somewhat akin to the old "tree falling in a forest" koan: if you have money that you never spend, is it really money? Especially when it isn't even real money in the first place.

Here's a link to an article in The New Yorker. It's by Anne Wiener, the author of Uncanny Valley: A Memoir, which I've just added to my Amazon wishlist on the strength of it. 

The piece is called Money in the Metaverse and it's one of the better - and better-researched - takes on why so many rich people are so keen to sell us on their concept of the future. It doesn't really tell us anything we didn't already know but the way she puts it all together is instructive and some of the quotes she pulls out are blood-curdling.  

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing but if you have virtual crops to water or pets to feed and just don't have time for long-form prose, the tl:dr is it's going to make those rich people even richer and help them keep the rest of us where they think we should be: down.

I jest, of course. If you're six paragraphs into this post you self-evidently do have time to read. Chances are you also have time to write. It's an odd thing about mmorpg players; they have to be more than averagely literate. There's a deal of reading and writing involved.

Even though voice has been an option since the near-earliest days - I remember people arguing in /ooc about which VOIP package was better back when I was hanging out in Lake of Ill Omen around the turn of the millennium - I'd bet even now, a couple of decades later, most conversation in most mmorpgs happens in text. Players either don't talk at all (most of them) or they talk a lot, or so it's always seemed.

Certainly that's always been the case on official company forums, where it used to be said that one per cent posted, nine per cent read and everyone else didn't even know the game they were playing had forums. All of this, random as it may seem, came to mind this morning when I was logging into EQII

As I've mentioned once or twice, these days the Daybreak Launcher has a very useful News section. EQII patches and loads faster than most games I play but there's still usually time to scan the latest headlines and click on anything that looks interesting. It's where I get most of my EQII information these days since none of the feeds I set up in Feedly ever seem to work. 

This morning one particular headline caught my eye: terse in the extreme, it read, simply, Forum Guidelines. Odd. Surely we already have those? Why are they suddenly back in the news? 

I'll get to the "why" in a moment. Let's cover the "what" first. Here's the full forum post from Angeliana, Senior Community Manager. 

I found it an interesting read in its own right, not just from the perspective of an EQII player and occasional forum-user. I'd be interested to know exactly what's been changed from the previous iteration, although obviously not so interested as to actually go find the old version and make a line-by-line comparison.

Whatever the details, I'm pretty sure the new rules have been tightened significantly. There's very little wiggle-room here for rules lawyers, of which the EverQuest games have always had far too many. As well as clarifying exactly what constitutes an offence under the rules, there's also no doubt about the penalties, which range from closure and removal of threads to suspensions and bans.

Of particular note are the specific examples relating to cheating, which now cannot be mentioned on the forums at all, let alone discussed: "If you wish to report cheating, please contact Customer Service, or privately contact the community team." No more posting the details of an exploit while claiming you're only doing it to draw attention to the problem. 

Similar blanket bans apply to things like personal attacks, illegal activities and trolling. Suggesting someone should lose their job, a common response to just about any update, is now specifically forbidden. Generic abuse of groups is as unacceptable as direct attacks on individuals, meaning you can't call out the company either. 

The harshest sanctions are very properly reserved for "Attacks specifically regarding race, religion, political affiliation, physical or mental attributes, or sexual orientation", which are "grounds for immediate suspension or banning", as they well should be, although I am a little surprised to see "political affiliation" on that list. Has that ever been an actual issue, I wonder?

Perhaps the most significant line in the whole post is this definition: "Trolling can include: Non-constructive feedback or comments."  Granted, it's framed as a conditional but even so it's a very strict interpretation of the concept. 

It doesn't mean a complete shutdown of all criticism; as it says at the top of the post, "Disagreements with others are acceptable but must be expressed in a reasonable and polite manner." It would certainly make you think twice before hitting "Submit" on yet another rant about how summoners are broken, all the same.

The whole thing takes the tone of a no-nonsense teacher, restating the ground rules after coming back to the classroom and finding everyone rolling around on the ground, fighting. Whether it'll have any effect remains to be seen.

As to why it's happening right now, I have my suspicions. As we've seen, Daybreak's portfolio brings in roughly three-quarters of all EG7's revenue. There are no more acquisitions planned and future plans seem to revolve around growing the current titles. 

Most of the work will necessarily go towards managing the installed base but if there's to be any hope of attracting interest from outside the core group of existing players, it's crucial the games maintain a clean, professional, successful image. That means busy-looking servers but also good word of mouth. Few things create a worse first impression on discovering a new game than hearing it being trash-talked by the people already playing.

The EQII forums have been a cesspit for that kind of self-hatred on occasion. There's always someone ready to jump into any positive thread to derail it with their jaundiced take on everything they think is wrong with the game. It makes you wonder why some people play at all.

And there's some history here. When EverQuest was the most successful mmorpg in the western hemisphere and player numbers were growing faster than the servers could handle, the forums became so toxic SOE had to close them down completely. The fear was the flood of curious newbies would drain to a trickle as they came to check out the amazing new game they'd heard about only to find it was apparently a broken, buggy mess no-one in their right mind would play, even on a bet.

The official EQ forums went offline for weeks and when they came back the rules were severe and the moderation draconian. It took a few years before things loosened up again, by which time World of Warcraft had all the players and all the problems and no-one was googling "Is EverQuest any good?" any more.

If I take anything at all from this unexpected restatement of the ground rules it's that at least someone at DBG is paying attention to the forums at last. For far too long the boards have been like the back room of a members' only club, where the same handful of old soaks come back again and again to bicker and fight and tell each other how the world ought to be run and how much better a job they could do than all these kids nowadays.

It also underscores the refreshed commitment to the future of the existing games, as does the ongoing renovation and smartening of all the portals, from the launcher to the website. How realistic it is to build a successful future on a clutch of ageing games is something we'll find out only if it happens but it seems someone's at least trying to make the most of the options available.

Just so long as no-one in the boardroom gets a bee in their bonnet about crypto or NFTs, we should be fine. But that would never happen in a responsible, reputable games company, would it?


  1. although I am a little surprised to see "political affiliation" on that list. Has that ever been an actual issue, I wonder

    In the era of the Orange One, it is now. "Owning the libs" is now blood sport in an era where people show up armed in front of FBI offices because of the raid on Mar-a-lago.

    1. Oh, yes, of course! I didn't even think of that. I forgot just how tribal it's all getting these days.

  2. That's a great article, thanks for sharing!

    I kinda miss the times when those 10% of players still used gaming forums.

    1. Yeah, I thought it was one of the best summaries of the whole crypto/nft/metaverse "project" I'd seen.

      As for forums, in the same EQII forum post there's a link to the new rules for the EQII Discord but I didn't follow it. I knew if I did I'd have to incorporate what I found into the post and it was long enough already. I'll need to go read it some time though. Even with the older fanbases, Discord seems to be slowly taking over and it's certainly where the devs prefer to communicate these days.

  3. I remember brief intervals in my misspent youth when server time sometimes mattered more than real time. Then again, I scarcely needed to sleep at all back then.

    As to the metaverse, apart from being quite explicitly the next expansion of the crypto pyramid scheme, it may well be an early ancestor of the wirehead for those of us deemed surplus to requirements. And the scary part is that if it had caught up with me during one of the aforementioned intervals... I might not have even minded so much.

    1. I'm not willing to cede the metaverse to the crew currently trying to hijack the concept. The true metaverse is the inevitable evolution of the flat web we have now. As usual, the hype long precedes the required technology, which clearly has nothing to do with crypto, blockchain or any of the rest. No-one is going to care about the accounting processes behind it other than the accountants.

      It's interesting that no-one seems to talk about "the internet of things" anymore, even though it's all around us and ever-growing. It's when things cease to be newsworthy that you really have to worry!


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide