Experienced Points: Housecall

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 13, 2009

Filed under: Column 14 comments

My work at Activeworlds for the past 14 years has given me somewhat of an insider’s perspective on the online virtual worlds business, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of them come and go. There, The Palace, Worlds Chat, and a dozen others have leaped onto the stage with dreams of becoming the Google of 3D, and ended up becoming the Webvan of 3D. (Second Life is still in business, though. Good for them.) It’s killing me to see Sony come onto the scene and make all those same mistakes again, and I thought I’d offer them a couple of million dollars worth of free advice. Hopefully this makes for an interesting read.


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14 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Housecall

  1. Julian says:

    Very interesting, really. I knew nothing about PlayStation Home before this. I had heard the name once before and assumed it was some sort of homepage for the PS3’s browser which showed the latest demos and whatnot. Shows how little I know about the new consoles.
    I believe your system may be just what it takes to make people who own both a 360 and a PS3 to go for the PS3 version of a cross-platform game. Instead of getting a higher Gamerscore because it makes your e-penis feel bigger, you’d be going for a more tangible goal. “Oh, if I get this next trophy I can buy that cowboy hat (or whatever)”

  2. OddlucK says:

    Your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Wait, I actually kinda already do. Huh.

    Anyway, being one who hates the idea of ponying up real cash for virtual property directly, I would be exactly the kind of gamer you’re discussing. Spend points earned to get a new hat to cover my digital bald-spot? Sure. Send someone $1.50 for it? Nah.

    This does bring to question your opinions on the whole Achievement system(s). Are you fer it or agin’ it?

  3. Yar Kramer says:

    Interesting you mentioned SecondLife there, Shamus. I’m not really sure if it would have any effect on me, since the PS3 costs more than, um, than I will make in a week once I get this temporary job at Wal-Mart I’m after (I’m probably sticking with the PC for the long haul). I’m just not a multiplayer kind of guy.

    The thing about SecondLife is that there is no intrinsic “gameplay” component. Everything there, you either have to make yourself, dig out of “freebie bins,” or buy with in-game currency — which, in turn, you only get, more or less, by paying real money. It’s interesting to see that it is still doing pretty well, since (and this is just the perspective of “not a multiplayer kind of guy,” mind you) there isn’t really any point to it other than “for its own sake.” I guess the “everything is user-made” kind of carries the whole crowd, really.

  4. GreyDuck says:

    Oh gods, Palace.

    They came to us (being Portland OR’s “SportsRadio somethingAM The Fan” back when it wasn’t, er, quite called that or on the frequency it inhabits now. Let’s call it, “many years ago.” I probably still have two or three CDs with “license keys” printed on them…

  5. LintMan says:

    Wow, I didn’t know that Sony actually expected you to pay real cash for their virtual goods. $1.50 for a virtual shirt? In the immortal words of Strongbad: “Holy Crap!” Now that’s a jumbo cast-iron set of balls they got there.

    Anything that advances the trend of software companies nickel and diming gamers to pay for teeny tiny bits of content annoys the hell out of me: EA charging for cheat codes to one of its games, Oblivion’s horse armor, etc. If Spore’s release wasn’t so controversial, I bet EA would already be selling individual creature parts, etc.

    I have nothing against paying for added content in an expansion pack, if there is gameplay value there, but I refuse to be nickel and dimed. This is one of two or three trends that companies like EA and Sony are pushing that will likely cause me to quit gaming. (Probably to my benefit – perhaps I should cheer them on so I can eventually be free).

    Shamus, your idea to offer the stuff based on some sort of game-earned points is far far better and doesn’t feel like the affront to my sensibilities that asking for cash does. But I bet your logic won’t be able to overcome their greed. “We can sell this virtual shirt for a 1000000000% profit, or we can use it to make our faltering platform better? We’ll take the profit!”

  6. ima420r says:

    I haven’t read the article, I can’t access the link from work (BLOCKED: GAMING CATEGORY), but I have read the comments here.

    The trend of charging money for virtual goods is ridiculous. M$ has mentioned charging for avatar clothing and accessories, the day a game is released there is DLC to unlock characters or add outfits, you can bid on ebay for a weapon for your WoW character… it’s getting to be too much. I’ve even heard of the US government wanting to charge taxes for virtual goods… taxes for 0s and 1s.

    I guess I wouldn’t mind spending money on digital items if it was free for me to access them. I still have to pay an internet fee every month, plus I pay M$ to use the intrawebs with my 360 (they don’t even have a browser for me to use on my system).

    I know the people who run the companies want to make money, they need to or they will go out of business, but come on. Charging for your online persona to have a shirt or making me pay to change a line of code that makes something that is already on my game disc to become available to me? I’ll save my nickels and dimes, thank you very much.

  7. Henebry says:

    Brilliant analysis. I bet you didn’t realize, back when you were exploring and reviewing WoW that you were learning anything from what you witnessed in Goldshire. Reading back through your blog entries from that period, you didn’t seem to be getting anything from the experience apart from a pair of seared eyeballs.

    I didn’t know until now that you were employed by a virtual world company. Indeed, you’ve always kept your work projects close to the vest. It must be two years since you mentioned a game project you were working on, but then refused to go into details since the product wasn’t yet ready for launch. And since then you’ve not said word one about that project “” not that I’ve noticed anyway. Is this a question of professional ethics? Shyness?

    At some point some enterprising game company will realize the value of having you publicly associate yourself with their product.

    1. Shamus says:

      Henebry: The indie project is still awaiting release. I don’t know the source of the delay. My work ended months ago, and I’ll talk about it more once the game goes public. (Fingers crossed.)

  8. HeadHunter says:

    It’s a sad fact that people feel threatened by outspoken individuals. Sad, because it means that they quickly dismiss sensible critique as “negative” instead of searching for the useful advice and wisdom such messages bring.

    You’ve got a lot of great ideas, not only in this article but in others I’ve read. These are ideas that would be beneficial not only to gaming and gamers, but to game developers and publishers.

    If only the suits and bean counters would LISTEN, the games industry would be stronger and healthier for it.

  9. It occurs to me that if they wanted to use your ideas and promote the community even more, they could make it so that you get “random draws” of avatar features and you could trade them with other community members.

  10. Patrick the Malcontent says:

    Your articles suck.
    Your comics suck.
    You suck.
    You are also a total homo.
    Can I borrow your Xbox? I’ll tell mom the truth about the 20 bucks she lost from her purse in the 4th grade. You did know that I blamed you for that right?

  11. Patrick the Malcontent says:

    Seriously though, The solution is quite simple. Get “PS3” money for accomplishing in game activities that allows you too purchase clothes in PS Home.

    Did you beat MGS4 on Big Boss difficulty? You get an exclusive Octocamo suit! Sexy!

    Finish all the secret jumps in GTA4? Get a russian kosak outfit!

    Achieve Hall of Fame status in Madden 09 Superstar mode?
    You get to have a troupe of minature John maddens follow you around eating donuts. Press the X button and they hurl their delicious custard filled delights at a Fanboy that says your comic sucks!

    All of these things can be tracked on your hardrive, so long as you keep the saved game data. This will add just the right amount of nerd bravado that attracts the thousands of teenage sociophobes that drives any online economy. Think of the guy pretentiously strutting around in his Egyptian robes for beating Prince of Persia without ever falling in under an hour. The online guys pretending to be hot underage girls will totally want me!!

  12. That’s all a pretty decent idea. I’d never pay real money for Home content (I haven’t signed in in a while…I wonder if my account still has the stuff I ‘bought’ for free in the closed beta…like…my second house!) but it would be pretty neat to have unlockable free stuff. I would certainly be more likely to use it if I could meet up with a random person, strike up an interesting conversation, then go directly to playing a game multiplayer that we both had.

    (So says a 100% actual real life honest to goodness FEMALE that uses a female avatar on Home…and pays for it by having to endure morons hitting on my digital self and then asking me if I’m really a girl. And people wonder why I usually use male avatars for things…)

    ETA: Patrick the Malcontent– it would be a little too easy to get free stuff for unlocking stuff in games that way–I DLed a MGS4 save with all the stuff unlocked after I played it because I know I’m never going to be good enough to beat it on a very difficult setting, or probably ever play MGO. I do that because I like to *enjoy* all the content in my games, and I don’t feel like I should be penalized for my inability to play a game on super-duper-extra-ZOMG-death difficulty to do it (or be forced to play multiplayer if I don’t want…MGO is different, but so many games have multiplayer ‘tacked on’ when they don’t need it and then lock goodies up in the multiplayer, it drives me crazy). If I honestly think I can get all the goodies myself, I’ll do it, but with MGS4, there’s no way. I imagine that this could cause problems for unlocking things in Home. However, the trophies, and just owning and installing the game, that should work to unlock stuff.

    1. Shamus says:

      Context: Patrick the Malcontent is my real-life brother, and that’s how we interact. (When we’re getting along.) Just so nobody thinks I’m letting strangers come in here and act all goofy.

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