Friday, December 21, 2012

An Open Letter to MMO Developers

An Open Letter to MMO Developers
– by David Matthews 2

This is an open request to Massive Multimedia Online Role-Playing Game developers and their corporate managers:

Stop trying to kill World of Warcraft!

That may sound a little confusing, so bear with me while I clarify.

I keep hearing the phrase “WOW-Killer” from reviewers and developers as though the purpose of any MMO program is to utterly destroy World of Warcraft (aka “WOW”).  I know it’s more of a competitive mindset and a somewhat lofty goal to be able to knock the biggest name in MMORPG off its pedestal.  But if that is truly your goal, then in all likelihood you will fail at it.

Is it impossible to defeat the Elite Boss of MMOs?  No.  Warcraft can be beat.  But it’s not going to be beat by a company that is fixated on just doing that.

The MMO market is in a bit of a transition right now.  The old subscription-based model worked when the economy was capable of keeping people employed with a steady income.  But those days are over with and the Great Recession really stripped a lot of income away from the very users that would otherwise be paying for a regular subscription.  Today the trend is the hybrid of subscription along with free-to-play and pay-for-features.  Free-to-play gets the users to start playing the game, and to allow normal subscribers to keep playing the game should the economy force them to drop their subscription for a limited time.  And pay-for-features allows MMO developers to figure out which features are really popular with the user-base.

So that’s really what the MMO developers and their corporate managers need to focus on first and foremost: survival.  You’re not going to be able to beat Warcraft if you’re not still standing after they fall.

Another thing that self-professed “WOW-Killer” companies fail to do is they fail to advertise that their MMO even exists. 

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, but I can tell you that their latest expansion is called “Mists of Panderia”.  How do I know this?  Because Blizzard Entertainment spends big money into letting people know about it.  It’s on the TV and in magazines.  You go to your local big-box superstore and you’ll find it displayed in their electronics section.  In fact, you’ll probably find it easier than you would the latest Microsoft operating system or the newest anti-virus security suite.

Yes, Blizzard Entertainment spends the money for Vern Troyer and Mr. T and William Shatner to talk about the joy of being gamers.  T can even brag about his “Mohawk Grenade” and claiming to know something about being a programmer.  It’s funny.  But the question to those other companies that claim to want to beat Warcraft is this: where’s your TV spot?  Oh, and “YouTube” is not an acceptable answer.

You want to beat Warcraft?  There is the venue that you’ll need to play in to do it.  If you’re not willing to pony up the money for that kind of advertising, then don’t even start trying to claim to be able to compete with them, much less beat them.

Then there’s this: how can you “beat” Warcraft if your MMO is just like it?

Take a look at your MMO.  Can you describe it without you making any comparisons to Warcraft?  If the person you’re describing this to responds with “So it’s like Warcraft but…”, then you’ve failed.

“It’s a fantasy world of swords and sorcery where you develop your skills and relationships through team activities.”  Sorry, but that’s Warcraft.

“It’s a fantasy galaxy of lasers and blast-cannons where you advance in rank and create your army through team activities.”  Sorry, but that’s Warcraft in space.

“It’s a fantasy city of capes and cowls, where heroes develop their powers and organize into super-legions with other heroes.”  Sorry, but that’s Warcraft with capes.

Take a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO.  One MMO reviewer came to the realization that the whole player interface was pretty much ripped off from Warcraft.  In fact, he even showed the screens of the two games and showed how SWTOR mirrored Warcraft’s activities.

I’m going to go on a limb and make a prediction here: the MMO that replaces Warcraft on the top of the heap will be something that is so different that people won’t make comparisons to Warcraft.

The last way that you can beat World of Warcraft is this: by not continually competing against it. 

The now-defunct City of Heroes MMO earned a huge support base because the developers didn’t try to compete against Warcraft.  Rather, the developers at Paragon Studios worked to make their MMO to be the best possible in the superhero genre, so when all other superhero MMOs came out, from Champions Online to DC Universe Online to the future Marvel MMOs, those MMOs were compared to City of Heroes instead of Warcraft.  The MMO was bringing in over two million dollars a year in steady income with almost no advertising whatsoever.  That’s all from the steady user-base.  And when NCSoft made the mistake of shutting that game down, the whole MMO world knew about it, and even their competition showed their respect and appreciation for the game. 

And, really, the biggest threat for World of Warcraft is not the competition, but rather it is the corporate hands that feed them.  Paragon Studios and City of Heroes found out about that all-too-well with their own parent company, and, one day, the people behind World of Warcraft will realize it with Blizzard.

Maybe there’s a new MMO that people are flocking to.  Maybe the gold-farming spammers have overwhelmed the servers.  Maybe there’s a team of game griefers that make the experience too troubling for the others.  Maybe the developers make the mistake of not listening to the users and come up with things that nobody wants to pay for.  Maybe Blizzard has another MMO that they want to re-focus their corporate love.  Maybe the Blizzard bean-counters will simply declare the game unsustainable.  Whatever the reason, at some point the Blizzard execs will make the inevitable decision to shut down World of Warcraft, and then whichever MMOs are still around will be able to compete for the title of “King of the MMO Mountain”.

So the name of the game for MMO developers that really want to beat World of Warcraft is this: don’t try to be like Warcraft.  Be your own MMO.  Support and promote it.  Earn the respect and support of your user-base by making it the best in its own genre.  And when Warcraft does itself in, you’ll be in position to be the new measuring stick.

David Matthews 2 is a freelance writer living in Georgia.  He has been around computers in one form or another since the 1980’s. 

This article may be distributed freely only so long as it is reprinted in its entirety, with all proper credit given to the author.

2012 – Get Brutal Productions

Monday, December 03, 2012

What is Microsoft Doing?

(The following is reprinted from "Brutally Honest" with permission of the author)

What is Microsoft Doing?
– by David Matthews 2

When it comes to Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system, I have one simple question…


That one question encompasses a whole bunch of other questions such as… Why now?  Why shove us into a new operating system that abandons pretty much everything we’ve been taught to adapt to with Windows 7?  Why should we care about upgrading?  What is it about Windows 8 that will make us want to abandon what we’ve been doing with the previous versions of Windows?

Instead of getting answers, we get slick mindless ads for their “Surface” tablets.  We hear about “live tiles” on the Windows cellphones.  We watch a little girl painting stuff that eventually gets printed up and posted on a bedroom wall while she talks to her father via Skype.  We see people dancing and prancing and doing acrobatics and pretending to be cool.

What is not being sold is why current Windows users should upgrade or even be excited about Windows 8.

There are many reasons why the push for Windows 8 at this time is just plain wrong, with timing being the first reason why.

It was only three years since Windows 7 came out, which was supposed to be better than Windows Vista, which was supposed to be better than Windows XP and Windows XP Media Center Edition.  And now that people are getting used to Windows 7, we’re being told that we now have to completely scrap everything we know about Windows and embrace the new “Live Tiles” concept with the big ugly boxes that you’re supposed to scroll on through with a flick of a finger… if the ads are to be believed.  (For the record, I’ve tried it.  It’s not to be believed.)

So people that have gotten used to XP get barely used to Vista, get shoved Windows 7 down their throats, and then three years later are told to scrap all of that for Windows 8.  Why?  Because some slick advertising campaign featuring leaping lunatics says it’s “cool”?

Timing also plays a key role when it comes to the business user… and that’s supposed to be important because Microsoft has always been known as the company that favors businesses with programs like the Microsoft Office suite.  Corporations do not embrace sudden change like Microsoft does, especially when that change affects their own operations.

I’ll give you an example: suppose you’re in a company that uses a specific proprietary program to function.  This program has worked for all the previous operating systems without too much difficulty… until Windows 7 comes along.  Windows 7 has a different kind of authentication security that doesn’t recognize the certificate from previous versions.  This means that your long-running proprietary program that your business relies on as part of its economic survival no longer works for computers that are running on Windows 7.  That company will not upgrade their computers if those computers cannot use that proprietary program.  It will destroy their company.  So now the company’s IT department have to find a way to either craft a new authentication certificate to recognize that proprietary program, or they have to completely redesign their proprietary program specifically for Windows 7 and then thoroughly test this program to make sure that it works.  All of that takes time.  We are talking months; not hours or days.  And now, while the IT people are still trying to get their company’s proprietary programs to work on Windows 7, here comes Windows 8.

There are companies that still use earlier operating systems for that very reason, and they are not going to rush to upgrade to anything that endangers their own operations.  That is a business fact of life that Microsoft needs to accept if they still want the business crowd.

Money is another reason why this is a bad time to shove a new operating system down our collective gullets.  America is still trying to get out of the Great Recession, something that our own government refuses to acknowledge is still going on, and that means that a lot of people don’t have the money to replace all of their computers just so they can use that new operating system.

Upgrade, you say?  That depends on whether or not their computer can handle it.  Here’s a hint: if your computer is still running on Windows XP, then it will not handle Windows 8 without spending a lot of money on hardware upgrades. 

Another established fact of life is that every new operating system requires more and more resources from that computer.  More hard drive space, more RAM, faster CPU speeds, and updated drivers for all of those peripherals, and not all of those things are readily available.  If Intel or NVidia or AVG decide to sunset a certain graphics card, then there will be no new drivers for that card.  In many cases, it would be cheaper to simply buy a new computer than to upgrade the one that you have, and if money is an issue, then neither option is viable.

This is why a lot of people are still using old computers with Windows XP or Vista on them.  Being stuck in the Great Recession means having to make do with what you have, and to hell with Moore’s Law.

Speaking of security, one of the new complaints about Windows 8 is that many of the major gaming companies are finding themselves shut out from all of the techno-pop celebrations.  If you play Worlds of Warcraft or Diablo 3, for instance, the developers of those programs have said that Windows 8 is a “catastrophe”.

Time for a little history lesson.  Remember when Bill Gates ran Microsoft in the 1990’s?  One of the things that he did that set Microsoft apart from Apple was that he pretty much handed out certifications to whoever wanted to develop programs for Windows.  Good programs, bad programs, mindless games, office applications, financial software, publishing aids, it didn’t matter.  It was far easier to develop those programs for Windows that it did for Apple, and that allowed Windows to become the dominant operating system.  You could walk into any computer store and find rows after rows of Windows programs, and then you’d be lucky if you saw only one rack set aside for programs designed for Apple.  Apple set their own bar too high to be competitive.

Now fast-forward to today: if you’re an online gamer and you’re being told by the developers of your favorite MMO that they cannot support your favorite program being used on Windows 8, do you really think that you’re going to be in a rush to upgrade your computer to that new operating system?  I didn’t think so.  Especially if you’re spending money on a regular subscription to that game.  All of the leaping lunatics dancing to techno-pop music will not change that fact.

Bear in mind that I understand where Microsoft is going with Windows 8.  I do.  Let’s get brutally honest here… Microsoft is trying to develop a sense of portability, just like Apple.  They want to be able to have your PC, tablet, cellphone, and Xbox game system all connected, so you can do common functions like check your email or watch a movie or play a game anywhere from any device.  So you can take a picture with your cellphone and send it to your other applications, or order a movie through Netflix on Xbox and then watch it on your tablet or cellphone.  That’s what the whole business with “Cloud” was about a few years ago; they’re just taking those things to the next step.

But just because I understand where they are going, that doesn’t mean that I agree with the method.  Windows 8 essentially turns your computer and tablet PC into glorified cellphones.  This is especially the case with the new cellphone-like applications that Windows 8 users will be able to acquire.

One may even argue that Windows 8 could be used to eliminate the personal computer altogether, since the operating system is designed to be used primarily by the touch-screen interfaces seen in tablet PCs and cellphones, instead of the traditional hands-off monitors and mouse-cursor peripherals of the desktop PCs.  One only has to look at the computer stores pushing laptops instead of desktop computers to see where the trend is heading.  I would hope that this is not the case, though, as there is still a use for the personal computer for the end-user.

The executives at Microsoft need to understand that they did not become the 800-pound gorilla that they are now by trying to be like Apple.  They became the major corporation that they are now because they reached out and encouraged development.  They didn’t shove things down our throats and told us to simply accept it. 

In other words, they out-did Apple by not behaving like Apple.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Flying and Tech

Flying and Tech
- by David Matthews 2

Over the past ten years, there have been two things that have been on the steady increase… airport security and personal technology.

Airport security has had to go on the increase because of the ever-present fear of terrorism. This has required passengers to be inconvenienced as they take off their shoes, their coats, their belts, and also take special considerations to make sure that their personal technology doesn’t get damaged from those same enhanced security measures.

Quite recently, this author had to take a trip to Oklahoma City to visit with a radio station that I work with. Having been taken to the airport extremely early to avoid hassles with security and the various check-in times, not to mention having my return flight delayed six hours due to weather, I had the opportunity to check out some of the provisions that the airports in Atlanta and Oklahoma City have for personal technology. The two airports that I visited were Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, and the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. (Fortunately these were both direct flights, so there were no layovers.)


As far as security goes, despite the media hype about pat-downs and body scanning, both airports I visited were using enhanced device-detection equipment, but not the “see through your clothes” scanners. This still required the removal of your coat and shoes, but it also meant removing my belt, watch, ring, and emptying my pockets of everything, even my wallet, pocket change, and plastic comb.

Most of the equipment I brought with me was in my computer carrying case or in my pocket. This consisted of my laptop computer, cellphone, Bluetooth earpiece, and a thumb drive for my data. Additional equipment, such as my plug-in electric razor and the chargers for my cellphone and earpiece, were checked in with my luggage.

When going through the security line, they provide a series of plastic bins for you to put in all of the items that have to be screen separately. Sensitive equipment like laptops and cellphones are not scanned for obvious reasons, and you are required to take your laptop out of the case. A good suggestion for travelers is to put all of your sensitive equipment (including thumb drives) in the same bin to keep them all together. Make sure this is the very first bin (or bins) scanned. And make sure you keep an eye on it after you go through it yourself to make sure that you recover everything you scanned. Due to the large volume of people that have to go through the system, it is very easy to forget something in the rush, and in both flights I heard announcements of personal belongings left behind.

Unfortunately, while both airports made accommodations for the large volume going INTO the security screening area, they fell painfully short in providing accommodations for passengers LEAVING the same area.

WiFi Access

Both airports offered wireless network access for “convenience”. While this sounds like a good service for people with laptops, when I searched the networks at Will Rogers Airport, it was listed as “unsecured”. This is not good for Internet users, and in fact some recent news stories have suggested that hackers have been taking advantage of airports providing this service to go after your personal laptop information.

Unfortunately any kind of security improvements that would make this service usable could easily be countermanded by the quest to keep the airport “safe”. So it is best to not take them up on this offer.

Kiosk Service

Another service that I saw at both airports was a kiosk for Internet access. This wouldn’t be too bad for a quick access for news or sports scores, but when it comes to personal email, even web-based email services, this would be extremely risky.

First, there is no way to make sure that your personal information wouldn’t be collected, and one should presume that with a public service like this, there would be NO privacy whatsoever.

Second, these kiosks aren’t free. They do want you to pay for the service, which means putting in your credit or debit card in there, and that is risky as well. Besides, most airports have free TV service that provide basic news, weather, and sports scores, and let’s not forget the mainstay of an airport - the newspaper stand. So there really is no need to use the kiosk for those reasons.

Tech Store

One feature that Hartsfield had at the airport terminals was a specialty store for the tech-friendly traveler. Here one could get battery chargers, replacement earphones, spare portable hard drives, and pretty much anything else that you would need for your cellphone, laptop, PDA, Blackberry, or iPhone that you may have forgotten about or got lost in your travels.

This is actually one of the better ideas for airports to include along with the array of fast-food franchises, book-and-memento stores, and the terminal bar to get people drunk before their flights. With more and more tech-friendly travelers bringing their equipment with them on the plane, there exists a great opportunity for merchants if they know how to market it right.

The one thing that I noticed, though, was the high-dollar value on some of the devices for sale. While I could see travelers getting a spare battery or some thumb drives for their laptop, I really don’t see them getting video projectors at an airport.

Tech-Friendly Areas

Finally we get to the biggest part of the airport experience… waiting around. Whether it is because you had to arrive incredibly early to avoid the traffic, or if you were forced to wait while your flight was on hold due to the weather (and I had to endure both), the terminal gate at both airports were FAR from friendly for passengers waiting for their flights.

Sadly, airport gates were never really designed for people who had to wait for any length of time. Every gate at every airport that I’ve been to have all been identical in terms of the same padded bleacher seats, an occasional table, and absolutely no place for a traveler to plug in a laptop. That’s good if your wait time before boarding was maybe ten or fifteen minutes. NOT if you’re held over for two hours.

That means if you want to set your laptop down and work on that project you need to finish, you have to go to one of the food courts or airport lounges so you can use their tables. Either that or try to find some way to get comfortable with the laptop on your lap… which, despite its name, is not always easy to do. Even then you’re at the mercy of your laptop’s battery.

Fortunately, Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport has tech-friendly stations at their food court area in the middle of their terminals. These are bar-style eating areas with power strips running down the middle of the counter; perfect places for you to charge up your cellphone or to use your laptop without running down the battery.

Hopefully other airports can follow Hartsfield’s example in this regard, especially given the demand being made for travelers to check in earlier and earlier, plus the additional time needed to get through security. They don’t necessarily have to revamp their terminals, but to have someplace where people could sit down, plug in their electronics, and work while they wait to board their flights would certainly make the experience tolerable.


David Matthews 2 is a freelance writer living in the greater Atlanta area. He is a longtime computer user and has been involved with computers since the 1980’s. This article can be distributed freely provided that it is unaltered and all proper credit is given to the author.

2010 – Get Brutal Productions

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


9am ET: McAfee sends an update to their security suite.

Not long afterward, users of Windows XP get a message saying McAfee found a critical virus and needs to reboot to remove it.

And BOOM there goes your computer!

Well, thankfully not mine.

McAfee officials were red-faced to explain how they overlooked the fact that their latest virus update would declare a crucial element of the Windows XP operating system a virus, and that removing that crucial element would force XP users into a continual reboot-and-crash scenario. Even after tens of thousands of irate McAfee customers sounded off, McAfee officials claimed that evening that they had "no idea" of the impact of their "modest mistake".

The digital fail only affected computers that used the Microsoft Windows XP SP3 operating system. The same operating system that Microsoft has been trying to force into oblivion for several years. But that still doesn't change the fact that THOUSANDS of computer users who pay for their security service were without their computers, and some of those users could not afford to be without those computers. We're talking government agencies that suddenly had to back to the 1970's, or else shut down their computer-aided services.

Even their own website blog didn't even TRY to sound apologetic for what happened, acting instead as though it was a minor inconvenience to a vast minority of computer users.

This is a huge mistake for McAfee, and not just in terms of public relations. Police departments, jails, colleges, even hospitals were affected by this gross shutdown. The deputy chief of information in the District of Columbia has now put McAfee on his blacklist. These people will probably not continue using McAfee in the near future.

It is precisely this kind of corporate indifference that Americans have come to despise, no matter the company or how essential their services are. McAfee's money isn't just in immediate software sales, but in long-term SUBSCRIPTION sales. If people cannot feel they can trust McAfee, they WILL find some other service. That is a fact of business that McAfee executives need to realize and immediately address.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The new Windows...

Windows 7: should you upgrade? Should you rush right out and get it? Should you even be buying a computer right now?

I'll talk about that this Saturday on my weekly show "Brutally Honest" on ShockNet Radio.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

MMOs are broken? Really?

SyFy's Fidgit writer Tom Chick penned a column back in January talking about five reasons why he believed that the Multiplayer Online games are, in his words, "broken". Of course Tom used World of Warcraft for his visual features... I prefer City of Heroes.

But as a writer myself and the manager of my own MMO blog, here is my take on this whole subject...

(5) Subscription Fees.

How can this be a sign the MMO world is "broken"? Seriously. This is the fuel that feeds the fire that is MMOPRG. The companies that invest in these programs, that house the servers, that make the changes that people want and need and appreciate, they don't do these things out of the goodness of their hearts. They're in it to get paid.

(4) Aggro

This is a problem? Okay, so we have different classes and different categories for characters and you have to come up with a way to differentiate them to a computer.

You know what one of the most prolific discussions are in the CoH message boards? What kind of category Batman would fall under. He's a scrapper, okay, but he does have some stealth abilities, which is a stalker trait (villain category). He's a fighter and a martial artist, but are his reflexes "ninja" reflexes or are they "willpower" reflexes?

Don't want aggro? Simple: get rid of the classifications, archetypes, roles, whatever it is that differentiates types of characters. Just create characters and then mix-and-match types of powers. I understand that DC Universe Online will be doing just that.

(3) Button Lock

Yes I hate waiting around for a power to "recycle" too! Punch - wait 5 - punch - wait 5-punch... it gets annoying at first. Then you develop more powers and then you create combinations. Punch-jab-kick-jab-roundhouse-punch-jab-roundhouse-knockout-punch. Once you get used to it things just move.

You want a solution? I have one. Instead of "locking" a power until it fully charges, how about being able to use it depending on how long you recycle it? So the first punch is at 100%. If you wait another 5 seconds it will be back at 100%. If you punch immediately afterward it's at 20% power. If you wait 2 seconds it's at 40%. If you wait 3 it's at 60%. At 4 it's at 80%. That's what the human body does. Of course that requires another level of programming to make it all work.

(2) Static Worlds

This is an eternal problem for City of Heroes players too. Take, for instance, the Rikti invasions. Wave after wave of alien ships bomb the city, blow up streets, and yet the monuments are undamaged. The buildings that were standing before are still standing afterward. The cars are still running and the people are still walking. There are no rescue operations after the invasions to free trapped citizens in burning buildings or from cars damaged from the bombs. Giant monsters can go rumbling about and then five minutes later there is no sign that they ever were there. Now that is one GREAT city maintenance job!

There IS a solution for this, but it would require additional programming.

(1) You can't play with the people you want to play with.

I'll one-up this. See the girl on the above image? That's a player-created character. The male character on the left of her is a non-player character (hence the yellow ring at his feet). Rather than having him just stand there giving out missions, why can't she team-up with him? He's got the experience.

When it comes to other players, City of Heroes has one-upped the original author's complaint with their super-sidekicking feature, which elevates or hinders all team members to the level needed for the mission. But how about bringing in those legendary heroes or villains to work WITH you?

On the plus side, DC Universe Online is supposed to allow you to work side-by-side with their legendary characters. I hope this will really be the case whenever they go live with it.

Now I DO have an issue that the author didn't mention...

(0) Dice-Roll

Okay, so my character has immobilized a thug. The thug cannot move. Why is it I cannot hit that thug each and every time from point-blank range if the thug cannot move?

The problem is that games like City of Heroes are still based on the old Dungeons-and-Dragons rules, which meant that you rolled dice and then your attack depended on chance. But the real world is not that random. If you immobilize a person, they cannot move. If you attack them at point-blank range, then you should ALWAYS be able to hit that person.

MMOPRGs have obviously grown from the days of the old Ultima game, and even from the original paper-and-dice incarnations, but clearly there is plenty of work that needs to be done before they can resemble the intricacies of the real world.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Blast From the Past

How times have changed!

Once upon a time this USED to be the hottest thing on the market. This was before the days of the Macintosh and back when Microsoft was just another version of the DOS operating system.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the hottest thing in 1988... the COMMODORE AMIGA.

And under $1000 back then? That WAS cheap!