Review-Preview: Stick it to The Man!

Today, I would like to announce my new YouTube channel, GBNPlays. I’ve actually been interested in this for quite a while but only recently decided to make the plunge and learn video editing. I have all of the pieces in order and can begin putting out videos as quickly as I can capture and upload them. In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t mean I am going to stop writing (ha!) or start focusing on single player games and Let’s Plays. This is still an MMO blog, first and foremost, but I spend so much time playing different games that it makes sense to share some other commentary.

This week I am sharing what I call a Review-Preview, which is essentially me playing a game during the review process and sharing some commentary. So a short, possibly one-off Let’s Play, in essence. The game is really something special.

Welcome to Stick it to The Man, the PSN darling turned Steam convert. I am enamored with this game. Think Tim Burton meets Little Big Planet meets Tearaway with excellent writing and even better voice acting. Everything in the world, except for its wonderfully creepy character art, is made of cardboard. Our protagonist, Ray, finds himself under a military airplane brought down because, well, cardboard and rain don’t mix very well. Little does anyone know that the alien on board has made its way into Ray’s brain and is using him as a host, providing him with a spaghetti arm flailing from his head.

The arm is the game’s secret weapon. Ray can use it to read minds and interact with the game world. While there is some light platforming, the real mechanics come from using the arm to peel back layers of the world, pick up stickers, and place them to solve puzzles. It is, in many ways, like the best sort of adventure game: funny, memorable, and genuinely compelling.

If you could take a moment to subscribe, I sure would appreciate it. If not, just enjoy the video :-)

I plan on recording a lot of MMO specific videos, too. Stay tuned for more!

 

How Technology Has Changed Gaming Outside of the Home

It used to be that you would have to go to an arcade or some kind of gaming tournament if you were looking to have a video game-related experience outside of your home. Because if you didn’t decide to take on either of those options, you were basically stuck with playing against your friends and family or, if you had the capabilities, virtual opponents on your computer. The tides changed for multiplayer gaming when consoles were able to connect to the web. Like the Sega Dreamcast, for example, which despite Sega ending production in 2001 apparently refuses to ever die. A big reason for that is the online community that was established with games such as the wildly popular Phantasy Star Online.

Fast-forward more than a decade later and you’d be hard-pressed to find a console gamer who doesn’t spend half their time battling opponents online. That’s even more evident given the new games in the Call of Duty, Battlefield, Madden, NBA2K, and Grand Theft Auto franchises. That’s especially true with the fastest-selling game of all time aka Grand Theft Auto V, partially because Rockstar just only recently launched the online option that will surely be expanded in the coming months. That doesn’t even take into account console MMORPGS such as the PlayStation and PC-only DC Universe Online and multi-platform, massively hyped Destiny.

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While all of these options are certainly welcome and changing the gaming culture as we know it, there have been other technological advances that are just as important to multiplayer gaming. It’s a world that’s become even more competitive and social thanks to mobile apps that allow you to interact with other players just like you would if you were in front of your television. Apps such as My Xbox Live, Xbox SmartGlass, and the PlayStation App all allow you to use your phone just like it was the home screen of your Xbox One or PlayStation 3. Let’s say, for example, that you bought one of the newly released iPhone5s and wanted to keep in touch with the players that you routinely game with away from your console. Well, these apps allow you to do exactly that in addition to other features like changing your avatar and using the phone as a remote control device for your console. They’re not perfect, of course, as looking at the reviews shows that there are often connectivity issues and other problems. But they are also in their infancy, so just give it time if you’re experiencing any trouble with your personal app.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how these apps and the online components of consoles will continue to change and progress in the coming years. For example, will gamers have the ability to make changes to their actual online characters by using an app tied to the game on their phone? That kind of integration could make the experience that much more intuitive and immersive, basically allowing you to remain “in” the game’s world no matter where you are. Or will the mobile world simply stick to those aforementioned apps while trying to corner the market on gaming? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Author Bio: Kevin Gannon is a recent college graduate with an English degree and a strong passion for journalism. You can usually find him writing about music, technology, and video games, along with how those topics can often intersect.

Shifting Review Scores

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If you pay any attention to the mainstream gaming press, you’ve probably heard about the mess that is Battlefield 4. Ever since the game released on next-gen consoles, there has been a constant crap-storm of commentary: How could DICE release a game in this state? It’s not worth buying! Go get your money back! All of this underlined by the softly spoken acknowledgement that, when it works, this is one of the best shooters of the year. The initial review scores reflected the game in a much better state than we find it currently; played at “review events,” Metacritic reported scores of 83 for PC, 86 for PS4, and an average of 81 for the three Xbox One reviews. In light of the problems, many outlets have added addendums to their initial reviews. Polygon is taking another approach of updating their review scores over time. It have a problem with this approach and just what it implies about games journalism today.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Review scores are the answer for players who really don’t want to read. They want a quick yes or no and way to compare to other options on the market. They’re useful in that way. In a general sense, I believe the sites like Metacritic are pretty accurate in how they represent the general appeal of a game. If one review gives it a ten and another a 4, there’s a question, but when half a dozen do the same, I feel pretty confident that issues getting raised over and over again are probably a real thing. There is a financial appeal to this market. Reviews, as disclosed by journalists on many a podcast, draw in the most readers. Readers mean more pageviews and ad impressions. Review scores are the revenue generating Instant Answer to reader’s questions and so they dominate the gaming press.

But we live in a time when static scores really don’t make much sense.  In 2013, the world is online and connected. Developers release patches and content drops regularly that change the core game and address many of the concerns reviewers raise. In that sense, it makes sense to update a review score. In the same way, if a game crumbles once it is available to the public, the experience becomes demonstrably worse. Common sense says that it should drop.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is at best a band-aid for the larger problem and at worst a doorway to lazy reviewing. The issues with Battlefield 4 and, earlier this year, SimCity, represent how misguided the review climate is. We have seen, over and over and over again, games crumbling under the load of their launch window. Bugs crop up. Lag cripples any ability to play. Patches and patches go out with the expected thankfulness for our patience. Even if these things had never occurred, isn’t it reasonable to expect that game reviews should be conducted under the conditions they will actually be played?

Online games like SimCity and Battlefield 4 should never have been reviewed pre-release. It is irresponsible and far too trusting of the publishers. But in the games business, having your review up even a day after launch means substantially fewer views for your site, substantially fewer ad impressions, and substantially less money. There is pressure coming from the top down to have these reviews published on or before launch day. For some games without online components that makes sense. For an increasing number, it feels a lot more like rush jobs shedding credibility.

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Given all of this, you’re probably wondering why, I would have a problem with Polygon updating their review scores over time.  The answer here is simple: Repeatedly updating a score only proves that you see the problem and are unwilling to actually fix it. If you’re mission is to perform a critical assessment, invalidating your culminating thought — the score — only invalidates all of the writing that came before it. That’s not fair, and not even totally accurate if the average reader actually reads, but most do not. They skip to the bottom and what they find is that a trusted source got it wrong.

What’s more, you will find far less consideration for cross-platform differences. Once these reviews go out, their earning potential immediately begins to decline, so to expect paid reviewers to re-assess each game on every platform is unrealistic from a business standpoint.  If you look to Polygon’s review of Battlefied 4, you will find that the initial review covered the PC version and was updated to say that the console releases matched a month later. The next update, coming just five days after console players converged en masse, and more than a month after PC players had been doing the same the whole time, the scores for every platform were dropped to a 4.0. This came after numerous reports of the console editions being plagued with problems and EA servers riddled with lag spikes — a game-changing issue which does not exist on PC due to servers being rented by players. In short, the final update dropped the score of the PC version in line with the far more damaged console editions.

This is problematic as it clearly indicates that the same care was not taken with the re-review. As a player who has spent many hours exclusively with the PC edition, I can tell you that Battlefield 4 is not a crippled game. It crashes too often, about once every couple hours, but that is actually less than when the game received a 7.5. There are fewer bugs, as well. As I hear the experiences console players are having, I cringe for them but that is not the game I have been playing since the end of November. Battlefield 4 performs well, especially for how hard it pushes my machine, and I have been increasingly more pleased.

But who can blame the reviewer for looking on the forum, hearing that, yes, there are issues, and yes, the China Rising expansion pack did cause some people to crash (not all), and assuming that the situation was as dire. The same impetus on the reviewer is absent; the review is already written.

Which can also be said for re-reviewing in a positive way. SimCity is largely a repaired game today. The issues that plagued it are almost entirely absent. Systems have been restored. Life is good, especially with the new expansion pack. Yet Polygon’s review, first a 9.5, then an 8.0, then a 4.0, has settled on a 6.5. In academic terms, it went from an A+ to a D+ while still fundamentally being the same game.

I am much more in favor of reviews receiving written updates, which, in fairness, Polygon also does. Written addendums leave the initial conclusions intact. They trust the reader to make their own judgment and don’t rely on a number to summarize the 1500 words before it.

And perhaps that’s what the real issue is here. Online games are evolving beyond launch day numbers. Titles which live and breathe change are not suited to numerical scores when many of the criticisms are naturally fixed over time. If sites really intend to be fair to the men and women who make these games, then the process needs to change, either by extending it out or getting rid of scores entirely. Allow readers to think and draw their own conclusions. Or at the very least, stand by your initial assessment and let readers see a paragraph or two in update. Not a loose, damning number that encourages readers to write a game off without even reading the text you did write.

Taking Questions for Scott Hartsman Tomorrow (12/12)

Online-Rollenspiel-Rift-Planes-of-Telara-Scott-Hartsman-673x720-74df8308b104dcdaHi Guys,

We will be interviewing Scott Hartsman, CEO of Trion Worlds, on MMORPG.com‘s Game On: ESP Edition podcast tomorrow. I have a set of interview questions lined up but would love to gather some of yours as well. If you have a question you would like us to consider, please leave it in a comment below. I can’t guarantee it will make the cut but I can guarantee I’ll consider it. Please leave you question no later than 6PM EST.

 

What are Games Worth?

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Syl recently published an excellent post asking how we defined the value of our video games. Her discussion was drawn from Episode 30 of our Game On podcast. Our conversation there stemmed from the recent supporter packs offered for Trove by Trion Worlds. The general consensus was that, be it Trove, Star Citizen, or any number of Kickstarters that let you donate thousands of dollars, anyone paying that much was bound to be disappointed. Games, even the “perfect” game, would be bound to disappoint with that much pressure stacked on their back. I share this background because it’s relevant to Syl’s topic and my response today: How do we — I — define the value of my games?

On the show I mentioned that I rarely pay more than $45-48 for a video game. Dealzon, a discount aggregate, has become my best friend when it comes to new release titles. This site is proof positive that competition works to the benefit of gamers. Case and point, I pre-ordered and bought on release day the four biggest games of the season — BF4, AC4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Batman: Arkham Origins — none of which from Steam.  Each was in this $45 to $48 range except Batman which was only $37.50. Net savings: $36 and $50 if I had bought locally. Almost enough to buy another game!

I have done this for more than a year, so when I see a AAA game priced for full retail, it’s not even a consideration. If there are no discounts to be had that’s another case but it is such a rarity that it has never been an issue in the launch window. But would I pay $60 if I absolutely had to? You bet. That is the occasional reality of being a gamer. Now, new release games represent two scopes of value for me: the entertainment value of the game itself and the entertainment value of being part of the zeitgeist. Let’s call these Scope 1 and Scope 2.

For Scope 1, the value proposition of the game really comes down to standout qualities. Does the game have exceptional gameplay or an incredible story? Does it have something I can’t get anywhere else, even if it’s three hours long? If the answer is yes, I can feel comfortable buying that. Long campaigns mean nothing to me if they don’t keep me interested. Even so, I would still question buying one of these games off discount. That’s where the second scope comes in.

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Scope 2 represents the community. I love being a part of the conversation surrounding new games, even if that’s just reading and relating online. If something comes out and is being talked about on all of the podcasts and blogs, I’m much more likely to want to be a part of that. It’s a very meta type of gaming but is hugely influential to my value proposition. I have bought many a game just because other people liked it and their enthusiasm was infectious. Sometimes it bites me and I find out that the whatever game it was just doesn’t click (Glitch, for example), but at least I can say I tried and stay up with the times.

Indie games are a tricky part of this discussion. My rule of thumb is not to buy them until they are $10 or less for two reasons: 1) most of them get there by the next Steam sale of Humble Bundle, and 2) they can be incredibly niche and bite-sized. But how about the $39.99 wannabes who offer “AAA experiences” for budget prices? I have reviewed enough to know that’s usually not true. I don’t mean to be insulting but a $40 game studio pretending to be Bethesda is going to fall short. There are exceptions (Telltale is a good example) but to be honest, I value these games far less than a good $15 indies.

Lastly, we have MMOs, my favorite of favorite genres. I think it’s a testament to how much the industry has shifted it is harder to convince me to buy a full-priced box here than almost anywhere else. We live in an age where you spend $50 at launch just to have the same thing given away for free six months later. That’s not cool with me, even if it means the developers have an easier time developing content. Get some tact, MMO guys. That kind of stuff reeks of double dipping and has soured me on buying in at launch unless I’m already sold.

And even though subscriptions offer the best value per game, I need a whole lot of convincing to hit subscribe in the first place. I value quality gameplay but in the last few years that has proliferated. If you’re going to ask $15 a month, you had better be delivering something I can’t get somewhere else. A different coat of polish is simply not enough. You had also better be prepared to communicate like the dickens and be producing content at a steady clip. MMOs can no longer survive on being good, they need to be better. That’s a tall order for a newly launched game.

So that about sums it up. How I value games. Maybe I’m a bit spoiled, but today, the only time I’m paying full price is if I have to: if there is no discount to be had or just when I need one to join the conversation.

Remembering Fun

Positivity means rainbow ponies!

I decided to go back to World of Warcraft.

Just kidding! But that does make a good first line to a return post, doesn’t it?

Since the last time I posted on this blog, something I intend to rectify beginning now, I’ve spent a good amount of time considering our attitudes as gamers. Now, we’re as varied as the ocean is deep, so this isn’t meant to be a wholesale generalization, but I think we get into ourselves into cycles of negativity that are downright poisonous in the name of feedback. Writing for MMORPG has shown me that in the comments section. Reading some blogs reinforces it. There’s no question that we love this genre, so why do so many people insist on tearing it down?

Writing about what we don’t like is easy. We’ve all done it at some point or another. When a developer crosses that red line and barbecues your favorite game, we’re hurt and need to vent. No harm done. I notice that a lot of us, though, especially the ones who have been around a while, tend to be extremely critical. 30 days after launch and 200 hours later the game is “out” of content? My gosh, it’s almost like these games take time to develop!  Or how about these developers putting patches in for the other guy? I’m waiting on my raid/battleground/hotfix people! Bananas.

My question is this: if you’re always posting in the negative why are you still around? These games are actually pretty cool!

I had a conversation with a friend about World of Warcraft. Now, this is a girl with multiple max level characters and a /played over 1500 hours. She told me how the game was wrecked, how Blizzard had destroyed it, and precisely how bad of a game it really was. Since she left WoW, that’s been the theme for every MMO to follow. After spending dozens, if not hundreds of hours playing the thing. I don’t get that people! Not one bit.  And not to offend this fair dame, but I’d say you lose the right to call a game bad after its entertained you for 100 hours. Or 1000. If we go by sheer hours, WoW might be the most entertaining game ever made. Tell that to Mr. Darkfall.

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We have a tendency to squeeze ideas so tight that we forget to have fun. We focus on what should be, what could be, and what was. We ignore that the old games we talk about still exist and are no longer good enough for us. Games like Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and EverQuest have received “modernizing” patches, but come on, is anyone really going back there to play? But you know, many of us have our roots there. Fun, joyous roots many of us wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’ll be honest, how I played MMOs has changed drastically over the last two years. I even wondered if they were for me for a while. But I also squeeze ideas, like the potential of connected worlds. I love that this community is passionate and that so many people present themselves with intelligence, wit, and charm. You guys are stinkin’ awesome. I even like theorycrafting and armchair design. The epic journey of progressing through an MMO has been a metaphor for my being a part of this community. I can’t see souring or looking back on this genre as anything other than a foothold for my online life and a place to share with friends.

As a return post, what I really want to share is this: this is an incredible genre with a lot to love. That’s why we’re here. Trolling people with blog posts and inflammatory comments really just highlights how out of touch you’ve become. It’s great to talk about the problems and postulate on how the latest games are being designed but I really want to remember what it is that brings us all here. Fun. Not the serious business of gaming. The world will not implode if Star Citizen or Wildstar fail, I promise, and we will have something awesome here.

We’re good apples. We have a good core. One that has provided thousands of hours of enjoyment. How can anyone say that’s bad?

It’s good to be back.

Bloggers disappearing and why I’m one of them. But not really.

In light of the recent conversation about the state of MMO blogs, I thought it was about time I popped in and reminded you that I’m not dead. See? LA DEE DA DEE DA! Now that you know I’m not a zombie, I think it’s about time for an update!

To get to the topic presented in the post title, when I read Wilhelm’s recent post, I felt a little guilty for contributing to the perception that MMO blogging is somehow on the decline. I don’t think that’s the case at all, but I can see where it would come from. A lot of the veteran bloggers have disappeared or moved to social media. Content consumers are radically shifting their focus over to Twitch, YouTube Let’s Plays, and podcasts. It is a changing landscape and blogs are the old guard that was and is and ever shall be.

That last part is important. MMO players are an opinionated, devoted bunch. Our games are deep and we like to sink into them. I don’t worry about MMO blogs disappearing because when we’re not playing them it’s damn fun to get into the mental gymnastics of theoreticals and what-ifs and adventure journals. It’s a vicarious means of play. I don’t keep track of daily page views much any more because I don’t update as often as I used to. Look to the right, though. My subscribers are higher than they’ve ever been. My blogroll is longer than it’s ever been, and needs to be updated with at least a dozen others I’ve added to my RSS reader since my last update. Every week day, there are no less than 10 MMO-related blog posts to read. We may not all know and interact with each other as much as we once did, but the scene itself is stronger than it ever was. Even in the Warhammer era when I and many others got started.

Why did I make the jump to bigger sites and columns instead of staying independent? Maybe I value independence a little less, especially when I can pay my car insurance doing what I’d spent years doing for free. For my part, I hit a point where I needed to assess how I was spending my time. I enjoy blogging. I will always do it. But is it benefiting my family? Am I contributing to my own personal growth? No on both counts. You could argue that engaging in discussion an open thought is character building, but that’s not what I mean. My writing skills haven’t improved as a result of this blog in a long time. I can crank out a paper quicker than your average grad student, sure, but voice and mechanics aren’t going anywhere. I benefit from working with an editor like MMORPG’s amazing Bill Murphy. Just as importantly, it’s nice to be published and to have your name out there.  I’m under no illusions that I’m someone anyone anywhere knows and that’s fine with me. But I would like to get a body of writing work under my belt so that if I want to sell an article, I have the experience to do that.

And I got into this for conversations. Writing at different outlets opens the doors for meaningful interaction with fellow fans. I like that.

The moves I have made have been good for me. I’m producing more content than I have in the last year and it’s not just limited to writing. Ferrel’s and my podcast was picked up by MMORPG not long ago and has allowed us to talk to some really wonderful guests. I’ll be interviewing RIFT’s Bill Fisher in just over an hour. That excites me. I’ve spent so long thinking about MMOs that being able to have a conversation with key people who make them, and then realizing they’re just people — gamers like us — is fulfilling every time. I even like the business side of it: emailing marketing people, coordinating with fellow writers, the works. It’s the next level of what I started here.

Things have happened in the last year that I never expected nor sought out when I started writing about video games almost five years ago. The forward movement has been fantastic and really fulfilling.

And I owe every single bit of it to the MMO blogging community. If it wasn’t for other writers like Syp, and Spinks, and Wilhelm, I never would have even begun nor continued when the going got tough.

And on that note,  I’m happy to announce that I’ve been brought on to write at ZAM. If you’ve ever been to WoWhead (and who hasn’t) then you know the company. I will be doing a weekly column titled Experience Points as well as covering some news. They are a fantastic team and I am overjoyed to be a part of it.

So for my part, I’m not going anywhere. This blog will stay hosted and it will stay updated, even if less frequently than before. I just hope you guys continue to follow me into the new wilds of different websites. This is where you can find my writing:

And of course, Game On: Epic Slant Press Edition. The podcast from a couple of MMO bloggers/blog readers like yourself that happens to have industry support (we’re so lucky with that — still amazes and humbles me).

Gaming For the Greater Good: ingenious charity projects which have changed our world

It feels like the video game industry – and, more importantly, its consumers – have just about cast off the shackles of social stigma. Mainly owing to the explosion of mainstream gaming, it’s no longer commonly seen as a pursuit of the lonely nerd (or violent psychopath in the making).

The act of making a good game is finally being considered the art that it is. Not only are more people enjoying them, but it’s no longer a niche pipe dream to study it for career purposes, as evidenced by the increased enrolment at NYFA’s game design school.

Of course, we’ve still got a long way to go to address gender inequality and representation within the industry, but for the most part it’s finally being recognized as no less innocuous than enjoying movies. With the rise of MMO gaming in particular, it has even grown to become a hyper-social art form.

But what the diminishing number of detractors fail to acknowledge is that gamers, on the whole, are a very charitable lot. Not only is this industry an economic behemoth, but it also generates a hell of a lot of money for good causes around the world…

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… and here are some of the (frankly ingenious) ways are going about it. There are many others, of course, which we may not have heard of; do let us know of your favorite fundraising ideas or projects in the comments below if you don’t see them covered here.

Taking a Very Long Walk

Did you know that one in every three videos uploaded to YouTube feature footage of people playing Minecraft?

Okay, that was entirely made up but it certainly seems that way sometimes. Minecraft videos have become such a large genre in their own right that some of the more charming and eclectic personalities have managed to turn it into a full-time job.

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One person who wasn’t expecting such success was Kurtjmac. He set out walking West towards the edge of the Minecraft map; while practically infinite in every direction, there is a point at which a natural barrier springs up as physics break down. These ‘Far Lands’ are so far away that it’ll take Kurt roughly twenty years (at current video upload rate) to reach them.

He started out unknown, and became a hero. After two years of walking, Kurt has amassed over 200,000 subscribers – early into the series, Far Lands or Bust, he capitalized on the growing popularity to solicit donations for Child’s Play charity.

He has now reached well over $100,000 in donations. He continues to walk as you read this.

App Developers Join the Movement

The founder of the Global Gaming Initiative, itself a fine cause, started up a self-funded app game studio two years ago regardless of having no prior development expertise.

Its debut title, Sidekick Cycle, is due for release any day now. The game is a downhill racer, with the protagonists delivering bicycles to African children who otherwise have to walk hours in order to attend school…

… and the kicker is, 50% of all sales from the $0.99 game will go to buying bicycles for real-life African children in the same situation. For every 387 copies sold, a new bicycle is purchased.

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It’s a smart way of helping a great cause, and before anyone balks at the 50% figure, consider that Apple will take 30% of the iOS sales and what little is left probably won’t even cover development expenditure.

Virtual Economy Comes Good

While developers CCP could be arguably accused of getting the most out of their paying subscribers, it’s undeniable that EVE: Online is a damned good space MMO.

They also can’t be faulted for their fundraising efforts over the years.

While the in-game economy of EVE can be dauntingly complex for the beginner, the PLEX for Good initiative is very straight-forward: players are able to purchase a PLEX license (a tradable item good for 30 days of game time) and assigns it to the designated charity player account, run by CCP. The developers then convert the fee paid for the license into real money and give it directly to the Red Cross while shouldering all fees (such as VAT and payment processing) themselves.

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To date the scheme has raised over $108,000 through virtual charitable donations, with $44,000 alone being raised for those affected by the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan when the scheme was first unveiled.

Its’a Me!

The idea behind Mario Marathon is a simple one – a team of folk play through every game in the Super Mario canon, livestreaming as they go and not stopping until all the games are done or the donations dry up.

Marathon-style play is not a unique concept, but what makes this annual fundraiser notable is the level of support it has garnered.

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As of 2012, the team have raised over a quarter of a million dollars for Child’s Play. Just think about that: $348,207 over the just four events, going to help sick kids around the world. At the time of writing, the 2013 event is just about to start and since every year tops the last it’s anyone’s guess how much more will be added to the running total this time around.

Turning Rage into Aid

Just over a year ago, you couldn’t go anywhere in the gaming community without seeing indignant rage over the conclusion of the Mass Effect franchise. Quite rightly, too, since it did amount to a short-changing over what was otherwise a compelling series.

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Some clever fans saw this as their opportunity to do a world of good, and the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ charity drive was formed. Not only did it raise $80,000 for Child’s Play by similarly displeased fans, but it also became one of the driving forces behind BioWare getting their act together and addressing the issue with the Extended Cut release.

The only sad note to the tale is that the Retake Mass Effect campaign was forcibly closed due to fan confusion (who thought their donations were in part funding a re-release). Who knows how much it would have ultimately risen if the drive were handled better.

Site Hacked, Probably Through Spam Comments, Fixed Now.

In case you happened to find this blog looking for something to help you pee easier, let me clarify things a little bit. We don’t actually sell prescription drugs here. Sorry. I do have a cautionary tale for you.

See, for the past few months I’ve noticed a Google search of “gamebynight” turned up a description with common comment spam. Not the whole, just a couple words mentioning cheap prescriptions. It was weird but not knowing any better, I assumed Google’s search bots had picked up on a spam comment. Looking at the site itself, nothing was amiss. Google’s problem, right? Wrong.

What actually happened is my site was hacked. Don’t worry, no one signs up for jack squat here, so you’re not at risk. Still, it made for a long night.

I got what’s called the Pharma Hack. Apparently, this bit of nastiness exploits a vulnerability in WordPress to inject snippets of comment spam into Google’s search returns while changing nothing on the site itself. To find it, one has to locate and delete certain files in plugins and themes. If you’re like me and have tried a lot of both over the years, you can probably relate to the amount of build up I had. Using the guide linked above (published in 2011), I searched and found nothing they said I should find, yet this web scanner reported two infections within my about page and the entire MMORPG category.

On top of just plugins and themes, the exploit is also known to generate infected database entries. That’s the nuts and bolts behind the site, in case you’re unfamiliar. Kind of like your computer’s registry and just as dangerous to touch. Thankfully, my exploit hadn’t gotten that far.

Not finding any of the easily identifiable files, I began searching the commonly exploited files in my plugins, themes, and WordPress installation. After a half hour or so of scouring and finding nothing, I gave up and took the other option: I cleaned house and deleted everything. Every plugin and every theme (including the one you’re seeing now) was wiped out. Every image had its permissions changed. All of that build up was taken out. I scanned again and came up clean.

The question is, how did it happen and it’s the most troubling part about the whole thing. Nobody seems to know for sure. It’s an exploit, that’s the only thing we’re sure of right now, and, ironically, most often roots itself in the Akismet spam filter folder (does anyone know of a good alternative?). But how does it get access to the server and database in the first place? My computer is clean, so it’s not a keylogger or password based.

Some theories pin it on a (yet unknown) vulnerability in the comments. I think this is probably close to the truth. The spam being injected in my site description was almost verbatim the kind of crap that passes Akismet’s spam filter. This is troubling. As if it wasn’t bad enough that our sites are accosted by drug spam dozens of times each day, now we’re at risk of getting our search results poisoned. All to drop a link no one in their right mind would click.

If you own a WordPress blog, always make sure to update it. I wasn’t always the quickest updater but I wasn’t terrible either. One, two weeks tops. This was a royal pain in the ass to clear up. The fact that the removal guides were totally non-applicable to my situation tells me that the hack is still being updated. With any luck, the WordPress team has patched it out already, but let my trouble be a learning experience. Probably a good idea to give your site a scan at the link above.

Reflections on Our Interview With Mark Jacobs

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So here’s big news I thought I shared but didn’t. MMO Radio was picked up by MMORPG.com just over a month ago and rebranded Game On: Epic Slant Press Edition. (And we get to maintain creative control!). That makes us the official podcast for the site, which is quite a bump from what either Adam or I expected when we got started. It’s also taken some getting used to, having that much more accountability, but it’s been for the better and I’m loving it. One of the best aspects to the move is having more accessibility to developers than we’ve ever, or probably could ever, have had before. Enter this last Sunday when Mark Jacobs, now of City State Entertainment, stopped by to talk a bit about Camelot Unchained.

I was saddened that I couldn’t be there and it actually reflects just how new this “greater accessibility” thing is to me. I emailed my awesome editor on Saturday asking if Mark might be willing to join us. I’m used to week-plus turnaround times, and we record Sunday, so I was thinking it would be a few days at best. Within 12 hours, we got the email back that Mark would be happy to join us. I couldn’t be there but Adam did an outstanding job on short notice. Good work, buddy!

I couldn’t have asked the interview to go any better. Mark was a great guest and didn’t seem reserved in the slightest. He talked about crafting, building, sieges, endgame, horizontal progression and more. The man even commented on launch cows from a catapult. Some listeners might expect that frankness with just over two days left in the Kickstarter, but I didn’t.

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A lot of interesting information came out of the talk, too. For example, the role of builders in the siege process. Fear not, crafters, it sounds like your efforts will be could be the linchpin for successful sieges. I loved hearing about how pivotal they will be, that crafters will be their own class, and that the preparations for war won’t be limited to just armor. Crafters will play a central role in building siege gear, upgrading fortresses, and repairing each cog in the war machine. The more I listened, the more excited I got. This could be the game that finally elevates crafters to the role we’ve always wanted them to be in: important, valued, and able to make a name for themselves both on the war field and off.

I also found Mark’s discussion of endgame and horizontal progression enlightening. We all know that vertical endgame’s exist and thrive for a reason and Mark knows it to. He’s seems set to make sure we feel the same satisfaction in progress even without different ranks of Fireball to attain. He also says a lot that’s enthusing for keeping the battles raging, even without PvE spawns to fight over. Resource collection sounds like it will be an important part — but we knew that much. Listen to how he describes it, the position of experience he shares from, and tell me that he’s not prepared to design around the issues we’ve been voicing. That’s reassuring.

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I’m also beyond the point of condemning the man for Warhammer Online, even though some players refuse to let it go. He fell on that sword when the time came and he owns his responsibilities — more than, really, because to hear him describe it, the buck stopped with him. It takes a level of humility to stand before audiences time and again and own his mistakes. In the last section of the show, Adam asks him what he would take or change from his prior development experiences. His answer was great: embracing the small team at CSE like he did at Mythic, designing for the audience and staying reasonable, and not over-shooting just to under-deliver. Their philosophy is poised to create a game that does what it sets out to very well and, if that building video is any indication, pretty creatively too.

Another note: What happens if they don’t make their funding? I was particularly curious about this one since a lot of people seem to be banking their hopes on Camelot Unchained. I was rather surprised to hear Mark frankly say that he may have to re-assess the amount of interest there actually is in this kind of game. If they hit ~1.9M, they’ll almost certainly re-launch their campaign with lesser funding goals. That’s great. I plan on playing the game primarily because it’s bucking a lot of industry trends and could really prove something to the major players out there (WoW is impossible), but I worry that the game not seeing daylight could prove a different, more harmful message.

If you haven’t yet and the game appeals to you in the slightest, consider pledging. They need your support. Even if they don’t make goal this time around, your donation (which may won’t get collected if they don’t hit 2M) could ensure the game comes back for round two.

And hey, if you listen to the show and like it, please drop us a line on the page or leave a review. We’re coming onto the iTunes feed after it’s been live for a few years, so your reviews will honestly help us get the word out.

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