The Naked Gamer: Extra Life

The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!

While most of us have gotten over our weekend of late nights gaming sessions and our infection of Mondayitis (which will just flare-up next week anyway), there are probably still a few fatigued gamers around. These valiant gamers will be daydreaming of sleep while stifling that lingering yawn and trying to survive their work/school day.

This is because on the 20th of October, gamers gathered (either physically or virtually) from around the world to play non-stop for 24 hours. Whether they were PC or console gamers, whether they played on their phone or through web browser, none of that mattered. All that did matter was playing computer games and helping children.

Extra Life is a charity event that started in 2008 and its current goal is to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia (Sydney). Even if your local children’s hospital isn’t part of this network, you can still organise for your donations to go to them instead. It is really is win-win for everyone – we get an excuse to challenge ourselves playing computer games and our children’s hospitals get more money.

Unfortunately this year, I didn’t participate. As much as I really wanted to, I couldn’t get a team together and I didn’t know any other teams to join. So instead I donated and have been spreading the word about this awesome charity event. Plus, there is always next year.

I know the biggest criticism I’ve heard is that it’s not exactly healthy to stay up for 24 hours, sitting on your bot-bot, probably consuming bad food and drink to raise money for sick children. Sure, if you put it like that then it is a bit ironic. However, the world is how you see it and I choose to see this as us gamers, doing something we love and pushing ourselves for one day out of the whole year in order to put our 1337 powers to good. It’s not like you even have to do the 24 hours in one sitting – while obviously it’s more fun and awesome that way, if you need more than one session then that’s fine.

If you can find a team of great people, staying up so late isn’t that hard. On the first day of Tera release I was up at 3am when the servers went live and didn’t go to sleep till 4am the next day, all without realising it. I really didn’t plan or mean to, it just happened. I was having so much fun with my guild that the time just flew by. Plus, I really did just have to do one last dungeon before bed, I promise.

Another criticism I hear is how exactly is playing computer games classed as anything charitable. While it is true that playing computer games will never be classed as volunteer work, it doesn’t mean we can’t raise money while doing it. There isn’t anything wrong with having some fun and helping out those that need it.

We as gamers have a chance to put our favourite hobby to good use, so I say take it. It seems really hard to argue that raising money legally for Children’s Hospital is a bad thing. Anything we can do to help sick children and help bring the gaming community together can’t really be so horrible, right?

So I hope to see you all next year during the Extra Life Charity Event. Let’s use those thumbs to help save some children!

The Naked Gamer: It’s A Secret

The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!

I recently read an interview with Martin Bruusgaard, ex-lead designer for The Secret World, on Penny Arcade. While I enjoyed the interview, there was one quote that stood out to me which I just couldn’t agree with.

“This may be a radical thing to say, but I think it would have helped if we actually had levels in the game. I’m sort of ashamed to say it, but I think that might’ve made things feel more familiar when it comes to players tracking their own progression and telling how strong they are, and knowing where to go. I think people got lost because they don’t have this number telling them how strong they are,” Bruusgaard said.

I feel it’s selling the players a bit short that the concept of an obvious progress indicator like a level is required to track our personal growth. The Secret World has quite a few progression benchmarks already, like the level of our weapons, our ever increasing skill level, and there are even faction rankings. I really don’t think it would have made much different if they did put some mystery numbers above everyone’s head.

This leads me to something I have always wanted to say to every game developer out there: there is nothing wrong with your game. There really isn’t. All games have their good points and their bad points, and there is nothing wrong with that. Sure there are nasties like bugs, down-time and other issues which aren’t fantastic, but they can’t change how awesome your game really is.

That does mean though that there are problems elsewhere. One of those problem I think is marketing and I’m not talking paid advertising here. There is something companies have been using for years and it’s completely free and perfect for MMOs: word of mouth.

I actually avoid MMO adverts –  I grew tired of hearing buzz words like ‘revolutionary’, ‘first ever’ and ‘dynamic’. A MMO needs to be able to sell itself and using as many fancy words as possible will only bring hype and then disappointment. When selling an MMO it’s not about selling boxes, it’s about selling subscriptions. Even free to play games aren’t immune from this. You need your player base to keep playing the game so they keep buying your product whether it’s a subscription, expansions, item cash store or  anything else to keep money coming in.

I know whenever I think about how I first heard of the games I’m interested in, it wasn’t advertisements. I think about the gaming news sites I visit, the gaming communities I’m involved in and my friends. Normally it starts with some sort of official announcement of a new game in development. Then the gaming news sites will start spreading it around. Then the gaming communities will start talking about it and finally your friend mentions this cool new game they heard about over that well-earned Friday night beer.

It does seem sometimes that publishers don’t really think about their target audience. It seems most publishers like to target existing MMO players, but is this really effective? MMOs are as different from each other as any other game – just because you play one doesn’t mean you will be interested in another. When I started playing The Secret World, the thing that hit me was nostalgia for games like Tex Murphy and Dog Day. The fact that it was an MMO and I’ve played MMOs previously really seemed inconsequential.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The Secret World might have had a disappointing start but it did have a great launch and a lot going for itself. Now the game seems to be getting out there more and appears to be gaining momentum.

I just wish it didn’t start out as such a secret.

The Naked Gamer: Panda Tears

The Naked Gamer

The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!

I’m a very emotional person. I recently read The Book Thief and there were tears towards the end. I’m unashamed to say that it’s not the first time I’ve cried over a book or movie. So while I normally don’t have any problem connecting with something fictional, I’ve never been able to feel this same way towards digital worlds and characters.

Therefore when I almost cried during the recent World of Warcraft expansion, it wasn’t something I was expecting. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into what happened, but anyone who has finished The Jade Forest probably knows what I am talking about. When watching that cut scene, I found myself involuntary yelling No! in a long drawn out fading screech that left my lungs empty. I waved my hands in front of the screen as if I could somehow stop the inevitable from happening. Unfortunately I couldn’t. When the cut scene finished, my heart sank in a way it never has before. I was left just sitting there for a long time staring at my little hunter with my mouth open, unsure how to continue.

I feel that Blizzard has done some things right in the newest World of Warcraft expansion and storytelling is pretty close to the top of the list. They’ve taken the style of Cataclysm, where the story is told as you progress through the zone, but kicked it up quite a few notches. Mist of Pandaria sees a really heartfelt fable delivered in a way where you are a part of it simply by playing. You can’t miss it even if you skip reading the quest text. You can’t even ignore it while you rush to the finish the rest of the content. It’s just there, gently leading you through the beautiful world towards the big teary finale.

In other games I’ve played, these sorts of story moments tend to just suddenly appear and before I can realise what’s going on it’s over. Because of this, I have been unable to appreciate their full meaning or even their true dire consequences. Or the story is so separate from the general game flow that it can be easily ignored or missed, leaving me to have to go backwards or forwards to continue. That is if I really want to.

There has been a lot of debate over the last few years about linear progression and its role in theme park MMOs. It tends to be considered a feature from the bygone days and something future games should be moving away from. However, in order to tell a story, there must be a start, middle and an end. It may seem better to give players the chance to go wherever they want but it doesn’t help the story to force them back into an old area or even into the next zone just to be able to find out what happens next.

If an MMO needs to continue with questing from hub to hub in order to tell a brilliant story that can bring me to tears, then please future MMOs, never change.