It Takes a Village to Break a Game

May 1, 2009

With the WAR blogging community experiencing rapidly declining numbers and a general sense of burnout, I’ve found that many of my fellow bloggers who are still standing are beginning to feel worried.  I can’t say for certain what these folks are feeling, but they’ve at least expressed disappointment at seeing so many bloggers throw in the towel, concern for the state of the game if the community’s disinterest is an indication, and worry that they might start to see the benefits to leaving the community as well.  Those bloggers who haven’t decisively shut down their blogs have at least let their posting schedule lapse.  Only a few bloggers in the WAR community continue blogging on a regular basis, and they are the ones who express concern.

Image included because looking at a picture of my dog, Pavarti, chatting with the neighbor's pup is MUCH better than viewing some random stock photo.

Image included because looking at a picture of my dog, Pavarti, chatting with the neighbor's pup is MUCH better than viewing some random stock photo.

Whenever a big personality in a community leaves, it’s common for the community to experience a lot of confusion and worry as a result.  In World of Warcraft, this was typically represented by large raiding guilds disbanding, or popular server figures quitting the game.  Sure, there were players who saw these events as the catalyst for their turn in the spotlight, but the events led other players to question their own dedication to the game.  I think the declining moment for the WAR community was when Syp, now the author of Bio Break, decided to stop blogging about WAR at his WAAAGH blog.  Syp’s reasons were understandable — chief among them being that he was weeks away from becoming a father — and he promised readers that he would continue blogging about WAR at his new home, a promise he kept.  Ultimately, though, one the underlying reasons for Syp’s departure from the WAR blogging community was that he was playing WAR less than usual, and it seems like he is now playing the game even less, preferring instead to play Lord of the Rings Online and (as far as I know) the Champions Online beta.

I supported Syp’s decision to leave WAR blogging and move to writing on his side blog full time, but it made my devotion to WAR feel a little shaky.  As in my WoW example, I’m sure there were some bloggers who saw Syp’s departure as a means for them to garner more traffic, but I personally saw it as a statement about the state of WAR.  If one of the most dedicated and prolific WAR bloggers was leaving the community, what did that mean for the game?  Ultimately I stuck with WAR for a while longer, in spite of whatever doubts I experienced because of Syp’s departure, but it wasn’t long before I started spending less and less time playing WAR and, as a result, less and less time blogging about it.

But Syp was only one blogger among several.  Despite his status as an icon within the community, his move was an aberration — one lone blogger leaving the community for a less focused blogging career.  It wasn’t until the last two weeks, when several WAR bloggers and I all threw in the towel within days of each other, that the community started to look like it was on shaky ground.  If Syp’s move inspired some doubt in the community, what kind of reaction will the remaining WAR bloggers (and those who are just now joining the community) exhibit in the wake of these new losses?

The WAR community always seemed like something of a fluke.  Before the game launched, there were probably five to ten blogs devoted solely to WAR coverage.  That was a pretty reasonable number (though possibly somewhat high for a game that hadn’t been released yet).  Once the game launched there might have been a few added to the community, but otherwise it stayed pretty low.  It wasn’t until January’s Age of Blogging initiative — widely hyped on all the fansites and even the WAR newsletter — that the community swelled.  I never took a count, myself, but I read others estimate that the amount of WAR blogs was, at its peak, hovering around 100.

For a game with less than a million subscribers…it just seems unprecedented.  It’s hard to determine how many blogs are out there for other games, though I did my best.  A quick Google search provided me with less than 10 results for City of Heroes-specific blogs, and a Blogged search returned 580 results for “World of Warcraft blogs.”  Proportionately, many more WAR players extended their devotion to the game to blogging than WoW players did.  A lot could be said about WoW being more immersive than WAR (meaning that less WoW players are interested in taking time away from their play session to write about a game they’d rather just play), but that’s not really what I’m getting at.

More accurately, I’m trying to point out that the high number of WAR blogs was unusual for a game.  Is it because blogs are much more ubiquitous now, and therefore more likely to be used as a means of covering new games than before?  Is it because there was so much WAR coverage on blogs prior to the game’s launch that many WAR players had already been following blogs and were therefore more inclined to see the benefits of starting their own?  Both of those are possible explanations, among other reasons I’m sure.

To look that the larger picture, though, if the huge blogging community for WAR is unusual, if it’s not indicative of the game’s success or failure, then will the declining number of blogs have any effect on the game’s popularity?  With such an enormous fan community, one would imagine that a decrease in that community’s numbers would certainly portend something negative for the game.  Or not?  City of Heroes, like I said, has less than 10 dedicated bloggers, yet it just celebrated its fifth birthday this week.  We will just have to wait and see if the shrinking blogging community will have any influence on the game’s subscription numbers.  I posed this question in Warhammer Alliance’s podcast pre-show thread, hoping that the staff will consider passing it along to their next guest, Mythic’s Community Coordinator Andy Belford.  I’ll be interested to see what he (and you, my readers) think about the subject.

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Burnt Out Bloggers

April 22, 2009

A number of my fellow bloggers in the Warhammer Online community are shutting down their blogs.  Many are heading for other games while some say they’ll continue to keep WAR on their radar but will not play enough to blog about it.  At this point I’m feeling pretty similar, not much of a surprise considering I started this blog a few weeks ago knowing I would get to this stage eventually.  I haven’t logged onto WAR to actually play (I’ve gotten on to take screenshots for posts, give a guildmate some items, etc.) in at least three weeks.  I thought that perhaps the new live event would get me excited again, but at this point I’m too interested in City of Heroes to give WAR another shot.  I’m not sure what the fate of my WAR blog is.  I’d like to keep it up for a while longer, but if I am not playing the game I don’t see how it’s possible.  I’ve already done a few too many posts comparing WAR to CoX, something that my readers have tolerated so far but might not enjoy if it continued any longer.

I’ve seen a lot of theories about why the WAR community is dropping off so quickly.  Aside from the most obvious reason — that the game is no longer appealing enough to write about — some of the theories include the notion that MMO players are no longer monogamous with their subscription habits or that the MMO offerings of the past year have been somewhat disappointing in comparison to the dominant game of the past few years, World of Warcraft.  I think it’s very likely that a large number of people are part of the former category, and that gamers are no longer committing to a single game and are instead holding multiple subscriptions at a time.  For me personally, I find that WAR just doesn’t have the things I want in an MMO.

A large part of the excitement and anticipation I felt for WAR’s launch was that I wanted a game that could excite me the way WoW did.  I, along with many other gamers, really believed that WAR could be a WoW-killer.  Instead, WAR feels more like protein powder to WoW’s steak: all the nutritional value is there, but it’s a flavorless, odorless powder compared to a delectable cut of meat (odd that I bring in the steak analogy, when I don’t even eat red meat usually).  To further the analogy, WoW provides players with the naughty, guilt-ridden portions of the steak as well — the fat, the calories, etc., that in WoW’s case translate to things like fluff items, vanity costumes, and more refined systems.  WAR can give players a nutritional experience, but it doesn’t have the extra bits that make it juicy and delicious.

Enough about food, though, and enough about WoW.  I’m not going back to WoW, at least not in the foreseeable future.  I’m really enjoying City of Heroes so far, and I hope to maintain that enjoyment for a while.  I don’t plan on blogging about CoX extensively (though of course I’ll mention it on occasion) because I worry that my negative feelings about WAR were deepened by the critical eye I used to examine the game as a blogger.  Three times a week I wrote about WAR, discussing the aspects of it that I liked and criticizing those I didn’t.  I fantasized about ways of improving the game, whether through implementing new systems or borrowing features from other MMOs.  I think it’s entirely possible that the knowledge that those improvements would never come about soured me on the game experience.  As time went on and I needed more and more topics to blog about, I started looking out for things about the game that bugged me or that needed to be changed.  Had I not looked so closely at the game’s flaws, perhaps I would have been content to play it longer.

Critically examining my hobbies tends to take all the enjoyment out of them for me.  I guess I thought I could avoid that fate with WAR blogging, but it was probably inevitable.  When I played WoW and raided consistently, all it took was an afternoon of pondering what I was spending my time on to make me never want to raid again.  MMOs are inherently silly time sinks, but so long as we don’t think about that fact, gamers usually continue to enjoy them.  Similar moments happened to me for other hobbies as the one I experienced with raiding.  What was I getting out of making custom greeting cards, of watching cable television, of painting ornaments?  I enjoyed those pastimes, but when I considered the time and money spent on the experiences compared to the value of the result, I found I couldn’t enjoy them any longer.  Fortunately my gaming hobby has avoided the trap somewhat.  Sure, killing 100 foozles to get to the next level seems pointless, but somehow, once I have recognized the pointlessness and said “good riddance” to a game forever, I am able to recapture the enjoyment after a short break.  Could a short break be what I need to get excited about WAR again?  I hope so, but I’m just not sure.  In the meantime I’m going to continue playing CoX, continue blogging (though, again, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with Girl IRL), and see where it takes me.  You’ll come along for the ride, right?  Great!


Annoyed IRL

April 7, 2009

I get a lot of shit from the MMO community sometimes for my blog name.  No, not this one, but the one belonging to my WAR blog, Girl IRL.  There are, from my experience, three opinions about the name Girl IRL, expressed by members of the blogging community.

  1. No opinion — my blog name escapes this person’s notice, or they just don’t care about blog names.  (For the record, I am a part of this group when it comes to other sites’ names.  I don’t really care about blog names and pay more attention to content.)
  2. Positive opinion — this person likes my blog name for whatever reason.  Usually those belonging to this group continue emphasizing my gender when they refer to me or the blog, i.e. “Jennifer is a girl gamer whose female perspective is a great opportunity for us to understand what women experience in the gaming world.”
  3. Negative opinion — those belonging to this group hate my blog name.  Many dislike it because they believe that I’m some kind of attention whore, flaunting my gender in an effort to get more site views or readers.  Others are annoyed by the blog name because they think that the combination of my gender and my hobbies is nothing novel or interesting and that my pointing out of those two facts is, like, soooo 2003.

I honestly wish more people belonged to group number one.  I hate naming things.  I also hate seeing what other people name things.  Character names, book titles, blog names, whatever — I find naming to be a very awkward tradition.  I had an incredibly hard time deciding what to name my WAR blog.  In the game, I have no allegiance to a specific side (Order or Destruction), career, race, or character.  There were no naming opportunities there.  I’m also not terribly clever when it comes to word play or puns, meaning a cute, snappy name was out of reach for me.

It ultimately came down to a matter of identity.  Who am I?  A lady who plays WAR and likes to blog about it.  Multiple name ideas sprung from this, and I repeatedly searched to see if they were already taken.  “That’s What She Said”?  Taken.  “She Said So”?  Nope.  I thought about “Femme de Guerre”, a take on “Woman of War”, the name of a feature I did with Warhammer Vault before the game launched.  I decided against it, though, afraid that readers might think I was writing a blog in French.  When “Girl IRL” finally popped into my brain, I loved it.  Not only did it identify who I was as a blogger — a girl in real life — it had a small element of word play, as “irl” is seen in both the word “girl” and the abbreviation for “in real life”.  For someone who is terrible at naming, it seemed like a stroke of genius.

I resent the fact that negative readers think I’m trying to get attention.  I’ve tried to explain many times that my blog name is merely a representation of who I am.  This explanation doesn’t get me anywhere with people who belong to the major stereotype for gamers: 18-35 year old white men.  I admit that I am pointing out my inherent difference from most of the blogging community, but I’m not doing it to get attention or love letters or cyber invites or whatever these negative readers might believe.

If I was attempting to “cash in”, as it were, on my gender, don’t you suppose I would employ language or aesthetics that are typically ascribed to female stereotypes?  Wouldn’t I cover my blog in pink wallpaper and glittery animated images, and flirt with my readers?  A “girly” blog is one I would expect to see signed with a cutesy “Girl IRL out!” at the end of each post, or a wealth of emoticons littering the text.  That’s obviously not how every woman behaves (or maintains a blog), but it seems like those who get angry with me for calling my blog “Girl IRL” are expecting something of the like.

The fact is, sexism and gender stereotypes are completely unavoidable in our society.  I can hardly stand to write this post, as I consider the implications of what women might think of my words, what men might think.  Some Americans like to think that racism is over now that we’ve elected Barack Obama — that the country has acknowledged that African Americans can achieve the highest office in the land, and therefore have nothing more to complain about — but most Americans know that, sadly, racism is still as present as always.  There is a similar notion that sexism no longer exists because there are more females in the workplace than ever before, that somehow all the problems of the pre-feminist era have been solved by simply allowing women to work.  I hope that most Americans don’t take stock with this notion, that they recognize the continued presence of sexism in our culture, perpetrated by both men and women.

Girl IRL and Girl Unplugged, however, are not sites meant to address sexism.  They are not meant to address gender in any real way.  I made Girl IRL because I wanted to blog about my favorite game.  I didn’t do it to present the perspective of all women in the gaming community.  I also didn’t do it because I meant to imply that my perspective, as a female gamer, is any different from that of a male gamer.  My identity as a woman is stronger than any other identity I have: gamer, blogger, writer, student, American, whatever.  I consider myself a woman before anything, and therefore proclaim it in my blog’s name.  If anyone has a problem with it, fine.  But don’t go accusing me of trying to flaunt my gender as an effort to lure you onto my blog.  Girl IRL is a warning more than an invitation.  It means I have a strong sense of identity and I won’t alter it to please anyone.