My Crystal Ball

Posted by Daeity On Friday, January 28, 2011

A little bit of light humor here, triggered by the recent announcement of a new Zombie TV series. =]

If you recall, back in early November, I made a light-hearted blog entry post-dated to the future (March 26, 2011).

It turns out that a lot of what I wrote about is coming true. =]

- The cost of the game was going to be $59.99 (the main purpose of the post was because THQ's CEO complained that the standard price of $59.99 was too much for games, and that they were going to change.)
- Homefront was going to sell around 4 million copies.
- The PC version would get pushed back.
- There would (will) be a UK expansion pack.
- Cataclysm would sell about 3 million copies.
- A major WoW nerf following Christmas sales.
- Another new zombie-based TV series would be in the works due to the success of The Walking Dead (which first premiered the week earlier).
- And homefront DLC with zombies (ie, an announcement of the future release).

Not bad so far.

The CW is developing a zombie apocalypse series entitled "The Awakening" and NBC is developing "Zombies vs. Vampires".

The PC version hasn't been delayed _yet_, but as you recall they're having a lot of issues finishing off the game. Lots of overtime and stressed workers. It hasn't been pushed back yet.. they might still, or release it with bugs and patch later (to meet commitments). For now, March 8 is still the official release date for all 3 platforms (PC, PS3 & X360).

(UPDATE: IT GOT DELAYED!)

Now I'm just waiting for launch day to see their sales figures, expansion pack info, and maybe a mention of a Homefront DLC with zombies. =]

In other "spooky" news,

- I nailed that Active Subscription Count estimation using Blizzard's own geography based subscriber statistics. That was a nice vindication.

- I anticipated something really big happening within Take Two in November and just two days before they announced major "restructuring" and the TTWO CEO stepping down, etc. I also anticipated even more layoffs by TTWO, which has just happened (publicly) in the UK with more coming. There were even some silly stock trader enthusiasts from some Yahoo Finance forum that called b.s. on all of that.. I wonder how much money they lost by not watching the signs? =]

- And then there was a post where I talked about the "Insane in the Membrane" title and the return of the Zulian Tiger & Qiraji Battle Tank. I forgot all about that actually, until someone recently reminded me. Those were several months before the official announcements and before anyone else knew. Although.. those weren't really predictions.. I received more of a confirmation from a source. =] (The new Zulian Tiger isn't out yet - but there's still a plan for it by the way.)

I'm not sure if I missed anything else. I usually forget what I've written about and just move on to new posts. Often I need to go back over old posts to remember. =]

- Oh right! This isn't really a prediction, but if you had wisely followed my Gold Making Guides on collecting rare recipes from opposite factions, you would now be proud owners of the most expensive cooking recipes known to man. =] They're easily selling for 10-20k each now, and they'll be selling as high as Dirge's Epic Recipe eventually. I have about 100 recipes (that are impossible to get post-Cataclysm) that will easily sell for 100-250k gold in a year or so. =]

Sometimes I scare myself.

* UPDATE (03/16/2011):

LOL - They're dropping the price of Homefront from $60 to about $40 on the second day of release. They should have done this from the beginning, but many game studios use inflated prices to give the perception of quality.

Looks like they not going to even go over 1M sales on the first day, even after all of that hype. The game leak (almost 2 weeks early) and various information reveals (e.g. single player campaign length) certainly didn't help. Piracy can't be blamed here though, it was all about quality. During the first 24 hours, they sold 375,000 copies in North America alone.. normally the other countries would sell at least the same amount or more, but since it launched in NA first gamers are seeing all of the bad single-player reviews (which is why it's always a good idea to launch worldwide simultaneously). Multiplayer is looking pretty good though, and it should do well in the long run.

Blizzard and PayPal: A Love Story

Posted by Daeity On

So, it was just "announced" that Blizzard and PayPal are now in bed together. (Technically, Markeedragon talked about it back on the 20th, but it's now making the rounds on other news sites.)

They will be walking together hand-in-hand fighting those dangerous virtual gold sellers. Take note, though, that they're targeting gold sellers & merchants, not gold buyers. They have no idea who buys gold except for those (who were caught) within the World of Warcraft.

But, there are two things very interesting with this whole situation:

1. Blizzard and PayPal are calling it an "intellectual properties violation" and that it "infringes upon the intellectual property rights" of Blizzard for the sale of virtual merchandise. We all know, of course, that it's not illegal (for the moment) to buy or sell virtual currency or commodities.

This is more about the wording, though. PayPal isn't saying it's illegal.. "violate" could just as easily have been swapped out with "annoys", "pisses off our partner", or "hurts Blizzard's feelings." But, those just don't sound as intimidating.

2. How did they find out and confirm the PayPal IDs of the gold sellers if they're not publicly advertised?

There was only one way they could do it: registered an account on various gold seller websites, and bought WoW gold from them. =]

So, Blizzard violated their own internal and external policies, the World of Warcraft Terms of Use, Gaming Policies, and even violated their own intellectual property (which is also now PayPal's policy).

A little hypocritical don't you think? Maybe I should change the headline to "Blizzard Buys WoW Gold!". I wonder if Blizzard's PayPal account is going to get banned now.. =]

In order to keep this up too, Blizzard will need to continue buying virtual gold from sellers as well (although right now, they just targeted the biggest suppliers). They can't just tell PayPal to ban certain PayPal IDs (email accounts) that are posted on webpages or forums for example. They'll need to confirm in-game that the person is indeed selling gold (ie, setup a sting operation.) Otherwise, social engineers and troublemakers could just create fake gold seller webpages, post PayPal email addresses, and get them banned.

Anyways.. this might not have as big of an impact that Blizzard is expecting. Gold Merchants have many payment alternatives at their disposal and this was just a bad business decision made on the part of PayPal. Unless, of course, there were other (more invisible) factors at work that "encouraged" PayPal to change their stance on the matter.

This is very good news for PayPal's competitors though. =]

After all, this new process will not impact the market demand for virtual currency.

So, if there are any smart online payment intermediaries out there that compete with PayPal, they should get into communication with these companies immediately. (If you work for a PayPal competitor, talk to management right away as these businesses will be looking for a new service provider and they transact tens-of-millions per year.) =]

This may also open up a new market for independents and smaller sellers. Since BlizzPal is targeting the larger gold sellers, we might see a shift in power or a distribution of power to many sellers.

I'm curious how this will effect gold prices. The big gold sellers might drop prices (a lot) so that they can offload their stocked gold as quickly as possible. Then once the dust settles, gold prices might end up being higher then they've ever been in years (same demand, but more difficult, more risk involved for the sellers, more independents, etc). Should be fun.

* UPDATE:

Apparently, the infringement notices are targeted at gold seller websites (that use PayPal) and not the individual PayPal accounts themselves. So, I guess Blizzard hasn't been confirming anything - but rather just telling PayPal to check their own accounts to see who owns the website and ban them? (Or maybe there's a combination of both.)

What I do know is that there have been multiple waves of these threats from PayPal over the past 2 months and they have mailed big and small sellers alike. Many PayPal accounts have already been banned, while the larger gold sellers are attempting to stall for as long as possible.

Since this has been going on since December, I wonder if it's one of the reasons why gold prices fell so dramatically after the Cataclysm expansion pack..

Nintendo: The 3DS is Unhackable.

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Here we go again..

Nintendo has made the bold statement that the new 3DS is unhackable, foolproof, and that piracy is now a thing of the past.

Where have we heard this before?

Microsoft made the same claim about the original XBOX, however it was broken within a week. Microsoft also said that NTFS and Windows 2000 were uncrackable. Regarding their XBOX 360, they simply said that it would be "as difficult as possible to hack." Smart choice of words.

Infineon's chip was proclaimed to be "unhackable". The Laserlock STAR DRM was also claimed to have been "uncrackable" by the manufacturer.

Did you know that Blizzard once made that "unhackable" claim too? On May 30th, 2000 when speaking about Diablo 2, Blizzard stated that "The game can basically be considered unhackable." =]

The PS3 and PSP have been (historically) described as "unhackable" only by users, and I haven't been able to find any evidence of Sony making the claim themselves. A very wise decision.

Why Do Paid Services Cost So Much?

Posted by Daeity On Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recently, I saw a funny post on the WoW Forums where a user asked Blizzard why their paid services cost so much.

He made an interesting point: on the PTRs, faction changes, server transfers, and customizations were completely free for all players, the process is very quick, and it doesn't seem to take up that many resources. So why are paid services so expensive if it's such an easy task?

Check out Blizzard's response. There's nothing like getting an answer from Customer Service in a confusing and condescending tone.

If you got a little lost while trying to read that, don't feel bad. Customer Service professionals are "supposed" to be trained in proper communication with customers - but apparently, Nephadne wasn't. So here's a translation from asshole-into-English for you:
_______________________________________________________
Question:
Why do paid services like faction changes and migrations cost so much if you're already doing it for free?

Answer:
As I understand it, you want to know why paid factions like faction changes and migrations cost so much if we're already doing it for free.

Unfortunately, I'm totally the wrong person to answer this. But, I'll answer anyways.

The reason for this is because these services are non-essential and therefore SHOULD carry a hefty charge.

If that sounds fucked up to you, please remember that it cost us a lot of money to put these automated systems in place.

It also costs a lot of money to maintain them.

Once again, because these services are only for cosmetic or for personal preference reasons - that's why they cost so much.

_______________________________________________________

Other people know better though, especially those who have worked as Database Administrators.

Populating information across multiple databases or servers is not a very difficult operation, nor is it very expensive or challenging to setup. After all, that's the entire purpose of databases and how they were designed from the ground up! Blizzard makes it sound like a "QUERY" is a very difficult and expensive process.

All of their automated mechanisms are already in place and they HAVE been in place for several years now. They probably even recuperated all of their "development costs" on the first day that the paid service was made available.

Funny how they also said that the services were non-essential and only for personal preference alone. (Character Re-Customizations cost $15, Transfers cost $25, Faction Changes cost $30, Name Changes cost $10, etc.)

I agree that Character Re-customizations are mostly for preference reasons. But what if you want to change your character to make it more intimidating in PVP (a very useful tool), or changing race/gender combinations so that you're harder to target?

What if you're being stalked by another player? Or constantly grieved or harassed? Transfers and Name Changes then become essential services.

Faction Changes? Those are VERY essential if you actually want to progress in the game or collect Honor Points. Realms are so imbalanced, that this becomes an essential service for those trying to join Dungeons or Battlegrounds (or want to avoid 2-3 hour waits, whereas opposite factions wait 5-10 minutes.)

Blizzard claims that only non-essential services are paid.. does that mean that essential services should be free? =]

So why do the paid services cost so much? Quite frankly, they're good marketing numbers. The prices are _just_ high enough so that people who can afford them will pay for the service. And those who can't afford them will just pay Blizzard over a longer period by their time invested in leveling new characters on new realms.

It's also set pretty high so that it seems like it's a premium service which is very expensive for Blizzard to maintain. If you're paying the same amount that you paid for the Cataclysm expansion pack, that must mean that the service is VERY special indeed.

It actually reminds me a little of this scene from "The Invention of Lying". When Edward Norton (the cop) is asked why his bribes were so high, he responds: "I feel like when I set the price up higher, it takes it out of the realm of petty crime and helps me preserve my sense of personal integrity."

It's not just Blizzard Paid Services that does this though, it's a standard practice everywhere and you can apply this to almost any service or product. (If you work in a certain industry, you'll know how much something _really_ costs to manufacture or service.)

Many services are overpriced and given the illusion that their services are worth the price, or because they are unique or special. It's the primary reason why cartels were created too - if you goto a competitor, they'll have the same prices too. Gasoline, food, automotive mechanics, web design, applications development, technical support, etc. Hell, even DVRs (for security systems) would cost $50,000 from vendors - but if you knew what you were doing, you could buy the equipment for less than $800 and install yourself.

Don't Talk About RIFT On Blizzard Forums!

Posted by Daeity On Saturday, January 22, 2011

Apparently, Blizzard has been deleting threads and banning players from WoW Forums when the subject of RIFT (in a positive light) comes up.

So whatever you do, even if it's related to WoW in some way, don't talk about RIFT! They'll ban you for that too.

This shouldn't come as a big surprise though, they did the same thing when AION first came out.

Proper Guide to Blizzard Forum Discussion:

- Even though you pay $15 per month for the privilege of posting in their forums, you may only talk about subjects that they tell you to talk about.
- Such topics and general discussions may only be about how amazing and glorious Blizzard is.
- In Off-Topic Forums, you may only post about Blizzard games and Blizzard topics.
- Free.. speech? What's that? This is BLIZZARD'S forum, they can limit and censor you as much as please. And yes, it is indeed pleasurable.

E3 2002: A Little Bit of WoW History

Posted by Daeity On Friday, January 21, 2011

While I was looking up some old Blizzard news announcements, I came across this old article from IGN. It's always interesting to see these old posts detailing the future of games. =]

It talked about various things that Blizzard had planned before beta testing began.. so, unfortunately, I can't really add these items to that WoW Nostalgia post.

Anyways, check it out:

- Warriors had defense skills that were limited buffs (no stances).
- Warriors had an ability called "Slice and Dice" that granted additional damage when using swords.
- Shamans had an armor spell called Rockskin and could cast grasping roots (which grows roots from the ground to snare enemies).
- Shamans had a spell called "Immolation" for setting enemies on fire and burning slowly.
- Mages had a spell called "Fire Shield" that did damage to attacking players. (Although this never made it, the similar Molten Armor was later introduced in TBC.)
- There were core skills, secondary skills, and trade abilities. Secondary skills allowed Warriors, for example, to have first-aid, sneaking, thief abilities, etc. I wonder what other secondary skills they had considered?
- Core skills was basically weapon training (and possibly spells or certain skills like "Taming") by the way.
- This was interesting: "We do know there will be two continents however, Azeroth and Calendor." They even italicized "do", meaning that Blizzard confirmed to them that the two continents would be called Azeroth and Calendor. They might have misheard Kalimdor as Calendor (or maybe that was the original spelling?). Eastern Kingdoms was once known as Azotha, but in the Warcraft 3 manual Azeroth is a continent, not the planet.

Very interesting indeed. =]

Here are some other interesting details collected during that time (From E3 2002 Previews, the June 2003 issue of GMR, and forum posts).

- There will be over 100 dungeons in World of Warcraft. (Also confirmed by gamesdomain.com who had a private preview by Blizzard.)
- World of Warcraft ended up having 36 total dungeons by the way. BC had 26 dungeons by the end and WOTLK 29. Cataclysm launched with 10 new dungeons (and there are 2 new ones to be released later this year).
- Gnolls were changed to Gnomes as the playable race. (Textures were re-purposed for NPCs.)
- Entertainment on public transportation, like gambling.
- Mounts provide a bonus to armor when travelling, but could "not be used in combat yet". That feature was supposed to be implemented in the future.
- There were supposed to be hundreds of secondary skills (the only ones known at the time were First Aid, Thief (aka Pickpocketing), Lockpicking, and Sneaking which could be obtained by any class.)
- Players accumulate Special Points (SP) to unlock secondary skills.
- Druids could shapeshift into "unobtrusive animals" that are native to the area, such as a small rabbit. Basically, they could become "Critters" to stay hidden in plain sight. =]
- Mages could summon Fire and/or Air elementals.
- Blizzard stated that servers could support 2000-4000 players.
- World of Warcraft budget was about $40-50 million, was being worked on by 60 people over a 3 year period. (Good to know information to separate development costs from all other costs.)

And finally: when asked about possible new races: "There will be playable evil races, very evil races in fact".

I'm not sure what they had planned. Maybe they were just referring to the Undead race, or Horde in general? It's hard to say.. I wouldn't really consider the Horde evil, considering the amount of lore painting them as honorable and misunderstood warriors. If any race was considered evil, it would have to be the Human race considering all of their actions (and how they followed the order's of Azeroth's most evil villain for years). But that's a debate for another day. =]

* UPDATES:

- Confirmation from Warcry that "Calendor" was a typo - they meant to write Kalimdor. Azeroth was still called a continent however.
- Apparently, the Cathedral in Stormwind was to be used for virtual weddings, and Blizzard had plans to rent the space and to buy/send out invitations for players. (Early plans for paid services perhaps?) =]
- Another old mention of monthly content updates "created by an ongoing live development team that continuously designs new lands, quests, and monsters."
- Blizzard planned to have dynamic quests assigned to NPCs on the fly.
- Another funny one: "Every drop can be either used, worn, or used in crafting. Of course some things will be better than others, but there won't be any junk."
- Oh, and of course: Player Housing. =]

WOW Subscriber Counts by Geography

Posted by Daeity On Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blizzard has been pretty quiet about subscription counts from each country, but there was a time when they officially released subscriber figures. These numbers are based on Blizzard's definition of a "subscriber" by the way and are quite interesting to say the least.

In January 2007, when subscription counts totaled 8 million worldwide (Source):

China: 3.5 million
North America: 2.0 million
Europe: 1.5 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million


In January 2008, when subscription counts totaled 10 million worldwide (Source):

China: 4.5 million
North America: 2.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million


You can find other posts on Gamasutra with earlier subscription figures too, but it appears that Blizzard stopped revealing extra subscription count information in 2008.

Based on their growth trends, I think it's safe to say that these estimated projections are fairly accurate for Blizzard's latest (October 2010) 12 million subscriber count:

China: 5.5 million
North America: 3.0 million
Europe: 2.5 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million


That's pretty interesting. Keep in mind though that "subscriber" counts don't necessarily mean active players. In China, for example, most players have multiple prepaid cards and accounts (since the game itself is free).

Did you want to hear something really spooky?

Six months ago, I worked on estimating the number of subscribers in China versus worldwide figures. I had previously estimated that "At a rate of $15 per month, that means that there are 6.0 million players" outside of China.

So, out of 11.5 million worldwide, it's about 5.5 million Chinese subscriptions and 6.0 million in NA/EU/Other.

And based on official figures provided by Blizzard, it's about 5.5 million Chinese subscriptions and 6.0 million in NA/EU/Other.

Nice.

It appears that my estimated subscription information has been confirmed by Blizzard themselves. =]

What's even more cool is that I can use the information from their 8 and 10 million subscriber figures to calculate even more interesting stuff about Blizzard's financials. More on that to come later though.

DCUO "Monthly Updates" Promised by SOE

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The President of Sony Online Entertainment (John Smedley) has just announced that DCUO users will be getting content updates every month.

President of Sony Online Entertainment John Smedley said that if you decide to play DC Universe Online, you won't have to worry about any additional costs besides your regular monthly fee. Smedley told Eurogamer that they will be offering free monthly upgrades of additional content and weekly patches if things need to be fixed right away, instead of big DLC packages you have to purchase additionally. The new content for PC and PS3 will launch within a day or two of each other, even though it takes longer for updates to be approved on the PS3 platform. (They'll hold all the PC upgrades until the equivalent one is ready.)

"But the plans are about a month out you can start expecting major pieces of content and major new features to come in," he said. "We'll be adding all kinds of cool stuff. We're not quite ready to reveal what our after-launch plans are yet. Needless to say we have a lot of content we're in QA on that players haven't seen yet."

This echoes what DCUO Game Director Chris Cao's told Techland about seeing tons more feats and other weapons in the near future. Smedley said that the monthly fee made the company feel obligated to provide free constant upgrades and new features.
There will be "major pieces of content" and "major new features" (in addition to standard patches/fixes) implemented every month apparently.

EVERY MONTH? Where have we heard THAT before? Oh right.. Blizzard Entertainment said the same thing about World of Warcraft (except add "major content updates", "new weapons" and "new quests".)

Sony mentioned that they already have a "lot of content" currently in QA (considering the current state of the game, I fully expect so), which is all well and good.. but do they have enough content to last the next "five, ten years" that they want to run the game? Doubtful.

There's no way they'll be able to keep up with the game's demands. This is just another example of a company getting really excited about something.. but they never properly planned ahead and simply lack the foresight. Well, the management team anyways - I suspect that they didn't consult the development team before making this announcement. =]

Once Blizzard realized their mistake back in 2004-2005, they quietly removed all instances of the "major content updates every month" statement from their webpage and forums. That was actually one of the big selling points for me at the time too. Shortly after though (when they ran out of content), the updates came once every 3 months, then every 6 months, and then they became paid Expansion Packs. How very disappointing.. =[

I can see the same problem happening with DCUO.

The other problem is that once the novelty of the game wears off, Sony will be reducing their support staff which in turn effects development time of said content. They haven't released any sales figures yet (which is interesting in itself), but I'm not really interested in that anyways - what does interest me is retention rate. And based on what I've seen (it's not a very deep MMO), retention rate will probably be around 1-3 months on average.

(Note: Back in 2008 before DC Universe Online was announced, John Smedley believed that this PS3 MMO game would be the WoW killer.)

* UPDATE (01/21/11):

Worldwide sales figures estimates have been released courtesy of vgchartz.com.

During the first week: PS3 sold 150,764 copies and the PC version sold 45,267 copies.

No wonder Sony didn't release their sales figures! SOE President John Smedley stated that "The game is sold out in a lot of stores." Well, yeah.. the stores that only carried 3 copies.

They did, however, take a good piece of advice from the Blizzard Bible: "We're adding more servers to keep up with the growth." Even though there was no growth or need for extra servers.

By comparison, first week sales of Age of Conan were more than 500,000 units, AION sold somewhere between 400,000 and 700,000 copies during their first week, and Warhammer Online sold more than 500,000 units. It seems that 500k is the magic number for newly hyped MMORPG's.

* UPDATE (01/25/11):

Another confirmation that significant content will be released every month. Sony is also defending their high subscription fee.

Apparently, this "monthly content paid service" is really being pushed hard. The rest of the article didn't sound very good though.. it's only been a week, and Sony is already trying to defend the game.
We understand we're asking a lot and the equation I always give to people is that it's similar to DLC - if you were getting DLC from Red Dead Redemption every month, I'd probably sign up for that because I buy every piece of DLC they throw at me.

We haven't had an opportunity to prove ourselves to the players on that content delivery.
There was also mention that F2P is very unlikely.

* UPDATE (02/03/11):

FYI - if you're interested in latest maintenance announcements, server restarts and patch notes, they can all be found HERE.

No word on when the next content patch will hit, so far it's just been maintenance and bug fixes. But Sony promised once a month, so there _should_ be new stuff (dungeons, quests, gear) by the end of February. "Should" being the operative word.

* UPDATE (02/19/11):

Sony has set the first benchmark for their promised monthly content updates. Here's what they've implemented, and you should be expecting the same level of content each and every month:
New Batcave Raid – 8 players will have the opportunity to infiltrate and retake Batman's Inner Sanctum, which has been overrun by OMAC and the Dark Knight's own corrupted technology. Fight along side Batman against Brother Eye!
New Appearance Items – Earn a Harlequin Clown suit or a Cherub disguise through a variety of holiday activities.
Goddess of Love Alert – Join up with three others to decide the epic battle between Devotion and Scorn once and for all.
New Races – Can you catch Catwoman as she leaps across buildings in Gotham City?
New Collections - All new collection sets will allow players to continue finding these hidden items.
New Themed Missions – Enjoy various missions that will challenge the player in combat, jumping, and much more.
A New Bane Duo – Another Duo has been added for your enjoyment! Pair up with another player and take on Bane for a chance at great loot.
New PvP Ring Event – Available on both PvP and PvE servers, Heroes and villains race to either save or steal valuable bags of diamonds from armored vans.
An Auction House - Players may now buy and sell tradeable items on a Broker in The Watchtower and Hall of Doom.
New Armor – Make your way to the Gotham Museum and help Catwoman to receive pieces of brand new Mayan armor!
So basically: new raids, new races, new collections, new missions, new events, and new items/gear/appearances... every month. We'll see.

Yikes! Data Breach Notification!

Posted by Daeity On Friday, January 14, 2011

In an older post, I stressed that Blizzard was not required by any law to notify users of internal data breaches. Many misinformed players, Blizzard employees and fans used this false information as the logical reasoning and proof as to why Blizzard's internal databases "have never been broken into" or account information stolen.

To be clear: Blizzard (nor any other gaming company) is not required by law to notify anyone of anything.

Here's a little excerpt I wrote at the time:

Now, if something very bad were to happen, then yes - a large announcement would be made.
Well, it just happened with Runes of Magic. =]

Here's a link to the news article.

Basically, a hacker obtained login/personal data from their account database and is now holding the information "hostage" until Frogster/RoM Team changes the "forum communication practices and technical aspects of Runes of Magic operation".

The only reason that the company is releasing this information NOW is because it's been made public and they're being "held hostage." The data breach actually occurred back in 2007 by the way. They sat on this data breach information for 4 years before telling anyone and probably would have continued to do so until the hostage situation was made public.

Still think this hasn't happened anywhere else? It's actually more common then you think, and I'm not just talking video games.

Psychological Copy Protection

Posted by Daeity On Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's sad to see the constant scrambling to fight crackers and improve copy protection measures. The battle has been going on for decades and yet businesses have yet to learn that you can't stop illegal copying. With next-generation copy protection measures come next-generation cracking tools. It's a useless cycle and they're just wasting money trying to find "the next big thing." *cough* StarForce *cough*

Copy protection methods have always used the some old approaches: memory checksums, data/hardware checks, decrypting data after activation, dongles, obfuscated code, activation codes (serial/registration), etc.

But the problem with those approaches is that they're too obvious and right out in the open. Simply put, it's like hitting a brick wall - it's right in front of you, crackers know where it is, and they can start to work away at it. When debugging code, programmers need to know when a process occurs so that they can trace it. They're not going to trace the entire gaming code, it would simply take too much time.

But what if they (or the user) didn't know that there was any copy protection in place? Or when copy protection algorithms were "activated"?

I've always been interested in the more entertaining and creative forms of copy protection out there.

One of my favorites was MOTHER 2 / EarthBound. It had some standard stuff (e.g. data checksums, piracy warnings) of course, but the "pirated ROM" would allow players to play for several hours without the user ever knowing that copy protection schemes were actually still in place. =]

There were so many ROMs out there too, it was hard to tell if you had the "real" cracked version or not. The only way to tell is to play through the game and look for certain signs (if you knew what to look for) or wait for special events to occur during the game (at critical points, generic crash/freezes are caused and all saved games are deleted.)

That's just awesome. =]

This approach is a good example of what you want to take advantage of, but without the piracy warnings (as they stick out) and other obvious "signs" that exist during the beginning of the game. You don't want the cracker or player to know that there's copy protection in place, or what version they're even using.

Recently, Ubisoft incorporated an "amazing new copy protection approach" into the NDS version of "Michael Jackson: The Experience". Illegal copies would show no notes played, the game would freeze when paused, and vuvuzela's would be blasting over the music.

This is actually an old copy protection method, in fact, and it's just another "brick wall" that prevents you from playing right away, and thus making it easier for crackers to detect, trace and disable the copy protection measures.

In that same Wired article about Ubisoft's novel approach, there's a quote by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata: Battling pirates “has been like a game of cat-and-mouse"

If you want to seriously fix this problem, stop being the predictable mouse and stop trying to be the cat.

What you should be is a fucking ninja/pirate hybrid and engage in subtlety, confusion, obscurity, dirty tricks, and deception. Is this really a battle, or just a game?

So, here's my recommendation for developers/publishers (using a RPG as an example):

Part 1

- Announce that the game will not have an annoying DRM, no activation will be required, that it doesn't need to be online all the time to play, etc. There's no need to make a big deal about this either.
- Alteratively, you could put standard copy protection in place, announce that there's copy protection but ensure that you don't pay too much for it as it's really just a red herring so that crackers bypass it and release their pirated version. Going the copy protection route will come in handy later actually however, but this will make more sense in Part 3.
- You want players to be on your side, not supporting pirates.
- Realize that there's no point in DRM - it will just be broken on the first day. Instead, focus on making a great game since that's where the majority of your revenue will come from.
- Keep the retail cost of the game low.
- Talk to people who do pirate your game, work with them to make your game better, get them involved in your game and future games. If they're involved in the project, they'll support you and probably buy all of your future games. Especially if they know you personally.

Part 2

- Over half the battle is controlling information and perception.
- Release several different versions of the "pirated version" on torrent websites (and P2P/FTP/etc) under various real, independent or anonymous group names. Use a private VPN, get randomized source IPs going.
- Those pirated versions should be crippled out right, or simply stop functioning early in the game (freezing/crashes). These would be special pre-fabricated versions of the game (ie, not the full game.)
- Spread false information on forums/websites that you've heard reports of these pirated versions containing a new type of virus, can damage your PC, have keyloggers that target MMORPG's, etc. (Game publishers already send out these types of warnings for pirated games in general already anyways.)
- Keep in mind that most players who pirate aren't technically savvy, and they'll just download the first game/MP3 they see (or download multiple copies if they're not sure.) Help them waste their bandwidth, would be nice too if they're capped on a monthly basis.
- Fill up torrents and forum posts with so much misinformation (even good old "it's being tracked by the FBI"), that you'll discourage users from downloading the game or they'll want to wait.
- If the game is amazing and highly sought after, many will just go out and buy the game rather than taking the risk of downloading the "dangerous pirated copy" or wasting more bandwidth.
- Since you'll have a lot of time to prepare, your outsourced employees (ie, plants) can build up a trusted name for themselves on various forums or release websites.

Part 3

Okay, this is where things get interesting.

- The real game will be investigated/cracked by various groups, they will test play it (not a FULL play through mind you), and then release it quickly (they might be in competition with other cracking groups, sometimes the programmers are lazy, they believe that it was cracked successfully, etc.)
- You don't want your hidden DRM measures to take effect early in the game. Instead, wait until the player is nice and comfortable first before you hit them with it. When it happens, it won't be obvious either. (Much like EarthBound, players didn't even know that they were using the "bait" pirated ROM until it was too late.)
- After an hour or two of playing (or longer/keep it random), reward the player with an epic item drop for example, and then "crash" the game shortly afterwords. Save games should get corrupted in the process too.
- You don't want the player to be angry at your game or the developer, you want to instead redirect their rage to someone else. The game should be rewarding the player, but when things go wrong - blame the pirated copy.
- When the game crashes, it should be a standard Windows error page casting blame on "RZR1911.DLL" or "CRACK.DLL". That's an excellent way to convince players that the crack was responsible for the crash and their loss of time.. it wasn't poor coding in the game.
- Also incorporate other random crashes with unique error codes, so that when they (Google) search the message they're brought to a forum that explains that only pirated versions cause those crashes and that they don't occur with retail versions. Also explain the dangers to their PC from using this specific pirated game.
- You want to start causing doubt in the user's mind and these pirated copies should be scaring players.. "is this really safe to run on my PC?" Random exception faults, fake freezes, BSOD's, driver failures, corrupted save files, reinstalls required - this is all because by the cracking groups.. it can't possibly be something that's built into the software as a form of copy protection. =]
- Of course, cracking groups will start releasing "updates" to fix the issue. But you should be doing the same. Also, since they don't know where the copy protection begins and ends, they will be releasing crack-fix upon crack-fix upon crack-fix once they are discovered.
- There's going to be so much misinformation out there, players won't be able to tell whether they have the real version or not. The anticipation alone of having to play for 3 hours, then having a random crash (and lost saved games) is not worth the amount of stress. You want players to mistrust the pirate community, not the game developer. (Yes - I understand the irony of it all. But this is war, irony be damned.)
- These groups might also start making news announcements about this type of copy protection - but the damage will have been already done. Most of the downloaders rarely read these news items on their official pages anyways. As the game developer you can simply state that their "band aid solutions" and "poor skills" are responsible for the current state of the game and that it's ruining the experience for players (and hence should buy the real game and avoid the inferior or possible infected pirated versions). =]
- At later stages of the game (ie, points where it's been patched by cracking groups), you could start taking different approaches - like checks, changes to difficulty, invisible changes to player stats, random boss cheats (e.g sudden smack down), etc.

Basically, stop making it easy for crackers - make them seriously work for it using means that they're not used to. They've been spoiled for far too long.

While they're hard at work creating countermeasures, you'll be gathering more "converts".

And instead of trying to find the next "best" form of DRM, just start using a little conditioned response, some psychology, control of information, red herrings and confusion (keep the crackers busy), and putting your DRM out in the open. No one should even know if there's any copy protection in place. Let players get into the game after a couple hours first (consider it a demo) as that's where it will hurt them the most. But, make sure they blame someone else and not the game.

Just a thought.

* UPDATE (02/15/2011):

So, someone on Reddit just discovered those clever copy protection methods in EarthBound, which brought up a little conversation on other games doing the same.

I didn't even know about these, but they were pretty cool to read and confirmed just how effective this kind of DRM is.

Here's an interesting article on Spyro the Dragon 3. Get this: it took 2 months to crack fully. =]

The Spyro copy protection methods took place after playing for long periods of time, and the crackers kept assuming that they removed the DRM each time. However, the glitches and piracy warnings were made obvious to the user - so the crackers knew WHEN (well.. where) to remove the DRM. Imagine if they never knew when/where to remove the DRM though? (Like what I've been talking about.) =]

The trick is to make random and undetectable copy protection, and play with their heads a little bit.

Another cool (more recent) one is Batman: Arkham Asylum. When the main copy protection was removed, there was still a small tweak made - pirated copies would not allow Batman to fly/glide, making the game impossible to progress.

I'm surprised developers don't do this more often.

From The Dirty Tricks Dept.™ - Find Out a WoW Player's Alt Names

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, January 12, 2011

There are lots of ways to do this.. these approaches can take a lot of time of course and some strategies will require that you level characters to approximately their same level. On the flip side, if you want to avoid detection - pay attention to these methods so that you don't accidentally reveal your own alt's names.

Currently, there aren't any WoW Addons that can automatically search names and find alt character names. However, it is a very logical process and there's no reason why an addon couldn't be created that does this (census scripts practically do this already). The reason that there is no "Alt-Tracking addon" is for obvious reasons: there's little need for it and it could be used for nefarious purposes.

Note: I'm going to assume that the reason you're reading this post is because you don't know who they are, you're not actual friends with them, you can't interact with them in the real world, and you don't want them knowing that you're trying to find their alt names.

Starting Out

You'll be using "Add Friend" A LOT starting with their main character (or known alts).

As you build up a list of possible suspects, you'll be tracking their logon/logoff activities until you're 100% certain. Get a pad of paper too.

Keep in mind that a player can have 2-3 characters logged in simultaneously (it's a way to throw off players tracking you) on the same account simply by launching multiple WoW instances. However, there's an approx. 20-30 second delay before the last account gets disconnected. (You may already be aware of this technique for self-buffing your own characters.)

If you know you're being tracked, you can actually keep 2 of your characters "logged in" indefinitely by switching back-and-forth between two WoW.exe instances and logging into your 2 characters every 20 seconds or so. It's very annoying and difficult to tell if they're actually monitoring you though. =]

Real ID

The easiest method, but it's very difficult if you don't want them knowing anything about you. If you can befriend them, and they have Real ID enabled (voluntary activity) then you will have access to their "real name", email address, and all alt character names. Problem is, they'll have full access to your information as well.

If you have a fake WoW account setup, and become really good friends with them, you might be able to convince them to enable Real ID (describe the benefits) to get access to their account details.

Their Character Name

Look for common trends in their name, and use it as a search pattern for other character names once they log off.

Add the possible suspects into your friends lists and see if they logoff/login at the same intervals.

If they have a character named Sinbank, for example, chances are they have an alt with "Sin" in the name.

All of their character names might be 2, 3 or 4 characters long in length for example.

They might favor a certain alt-code in their character name.

All of their characters might have the same subtext: tbone, dogbone, bonesdude, boneym, etc.

All of their characters might be references to the same TV series, movie or novel (Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings references).

All of their character names might have another common trend - like Guild Names (if they created multiple guilds for bank slots), they might be verbs (e.g. jump, shoot, destroy), they might all be related to ego (e.g. godly, godlike, amazing, beautiful, awesome), etc.

Trade Chat

If they have an ego and they're active trade chat users, they can't help but compliment themselves. Watch trade chat (after they log off) and see if someone else continues the conversation or agrees with "that last poster."

If they're in competition with another player, they'll log into an alt and insult the prices of their competitor. "There are better prices on AH." - Meaning their alt or main.

If you know what products they're selling on the AH and they're the lowest sellers, wait about 20 seconds after they logoff and starting posting competitive pricing on Trade Chat (use your disposable toon called ___bank). You might be able to lure them into responding or insulting your prices - or they might even try to buy them from you using their alt. Either way, ignore everyone - but add their names and track them later.

The Battle.net Forums

This is similar to Trade Chat conversations. Use wowarmory.com to find all of their forum posts, and see if any other characters respond to their posts in a positive light. Sometimes players will respond to their own posts under an alt's name to defend themselves. Also, sometimes they forget to change their posting character and will accidentally *BUMP* their own posts.

Their Guild

Use WoWArmory to find out character names that are in their guild. It's very difficult to go through each name to find a likely suspect (unless they have similar character names), it's easier just to find someone in the guild that can invite you and work your way into the guild.

Private message them with your disposable or alt character and join the guild. Hopefully, they won't have strict recruiting policies. Alternatively, you can become friends with their recruiters. There are many techniques to get into a guild, but I'm sure there are plenty of other sources out there. It will take a while to write them all up.

Monitor character names that login/logout based on your target's login/logout trends. If they have any alts in that same guild, you'll immediately discover their names.

If they don't have any alts in the guild, make friends with various players (e.g. help them with professions, farming, providing mats/gold/crafting services, power level their alts, etc.)

After a couple days, start asking questions during periods when you know the player is offline. Ask, "Didn't x have an alt with enchanting? I need a bunch of stuff done and they needed to level it I think". Or, "I'm trying to get a hold of x, does he have any alts online?" etc etc. Get creative. =] Usually someone in the guild will know some of their alt names.

Who They Party With

Monitor who they party with and which dungeons they frequent. Chances are that the same group of players will bring in their alt characters for leveling or farming.

Like I said, your list of friends is going to get really big. You will want to know WHO they frequently associate with, and monitor their activities as well. =]

You might see their level 85 best friend care-bearing a level 55 (with maxed professions) through dungeons or quests. That's a very good suspect.

What They're Wearing

If you get a confirmed list of alt-character names (or best friends), inspect their gear and see if any of the items were crafted by other players. Then, add those players to your Friends List and start the process of elimination again. Players with multiple toons that craft will make their own gear for their own characters and friends, especially if they're trying to save money (e.g. active AH users.)

This is one highly effective method to getting their alt names. Their main, however, will probably be equipped in dungeon-drops, which doesn't help you.

Bait Their Alts/Main Into PVP

It's pretty easy to locate players if you're on the same faction, so use this to your advantage to kill their alts over-and-over. Eventually, they'll login with other toons (or their main) to camp you.

Obviously, this works best with stealth classes since you can safely watch their corpses while hidden (until their other toons show up.)

Since you're not on the same faction (and probably don't want to spend the time logging in and out to see what they're up to), you can still create a macro to determine whether they're logged in or not.

Simply use /invite *enemy player name*

It will either say 'You can't invite them' (meaning they're online) or 'Player Cannot Be Found' (meaning they're offline.)

While We're On That Note: AH PVP

If you're a big AH user and want to eliminate the competition (or simply make life difficult for them), create yourself a high-leveled toon from the opposite faction. A rogue works well.

After you log off, and they log back in to undercut your prices - kill the Auctioneers with your character and vanish. Rinse and repeat whichever Auction House your competitor visits too.

It's also nice if they've just hearthed back to town (you'll know their schedule by now) and they're still flagged for PVP. They'll be so busy with Auction Profit Master running that they won't notice you killing them. They're very easy targets.. not only will you feel better, but while they're corpse-running or waiting for their auctioneers to respawn - that just means more sales for you. =]

Watch the Auction House

Watch all items on the Auction House that their main and known alts post. Find out who crafted them. (They might craft items, but have one single account as the AH poster for example. It's an easy way to find out alt names.)

If they're posting PVP sets that were crafted by other player names, chances are that those are his/her alts.

Watch what they buy/sell on the Auction House, find out as much about their professions as possible. If they're constantly buying out herbs, but they don't have an associated profession, chances are that they have an alt who is a Scribe or Alchemist.

(If they're only buying Azshara and Heartblossom herbs, chances are that they have a 80+ toon who is an Alchemist/Enchanter.)

Once you know the type of mat/item they're primarily interested in, my favorite activity is to post bait items (ie, a honey pot) on the Auction House right after they log out. Wait about 20 minutes to see if someone else quickly snags them up. If their main logs back in, remove the items from auction. And then repeat after they log off again. =]

The other option is to post competing items (undercut) right after the log off for a MUCH better price (you need the user to buy them all out rather than just undercut you). This works really well with Inscription, especially since you'll make a little profit if his/her alts buy them all out. Once again, pull the items when the main logs back in.

Sell Them Services

Once you've established the types of mats they need to buy (e.g. herbs for inks, leather/minerals for crafting, enchants, etc.) offer to be a regular provider for their needs. Create a level 1 character named "Funbank" or "xyzbank", and whisper them saying "Hey you bought a bunch of my herbs the other day.. if you want, I can keep getting them for you and COD them." Establish a fixed rate, and then ask if you should mail directly to them or one of their alts (that does the milling process for example.)

You don't even need to get them anything, just delete your throw-away toon if you wanted.

Or, you could sell them mats that you buy off the AH for cheaper prices, to gain their trust over time. It's also a good icebreaker conversation to get introduced to them, and then at a later date you can start getting more information about them and their other alts.

For example, joining their guild through them, or asking if they have any crafters to help you out (e.g. "Thanks for buying my stuff! Do you have any enchanters that need to level up btw? I have a bunch of (soulbound) gear that needs enchants." or "Can you craft this item?" then when you get the item, you'll see who crafted it.) There are a lot of ways to get them to log into their alts to help you out with something, if it's worth their while.

Creatures of Habit

This works surprisingly well depending on their professions. All players are creatures of habit, and whatever they do on one toon they'll repeat on all of their others.

They might frequent the same spot in Orgrimmar for example, hang out with the same people, frequent the same vendor or Inn. You have to follow them and visually monitor what they do to get an idea of their patterns. They might even login/logoff in the same area with their main and alts. If you see one character logoff next to a mailbox and another one log in - add them as a friend. =]

If you know they have a crafting profession on another toon, hang out next to the trainer / goods vendor / blacksmith / etc and see if a character logs in (or travels to the area) as soon as the main player logs off.

My other favorite process is to watch Jessica Sellers (Ink Trader) in Dalaran. There are hardly any people in Dalaran, and when a player (who posts Glyphs/Cards) logs off and I see a new player login just outside the Scribe shop - there's a 99.9% probability it's their alt. I've caught TONS of players this way and made some amazing discoveries from my competitors. =]

* Update: Relevant training video attached.

Daeity Blog FAQ's

Posted by Daeity On

When I'm not really researching anything, I'll check Google search history of incoming visitors to get a better idea of the type of stuff people are interested in (but can't find answers anywhere else.)

Mainstream news and information webpages all post the same old regurgitated garbage (plus it's hard to trust some of their information or reviews since the news website's parent company owns a stake in the game developers/publishers that they're writing about ). I like the idea of a small blog on the fringe that archives obscure or hard-to-find information. =]

Anyhow..

Here's a list of search criteria and responses. I'll keep adding to this page whenever I get the chance too.

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Q: "how does WoW count active accounts for its number"

A: Here is Blizzard's official statement:

World of Warcraft’s Subscriber Definition

World of Warcraft® subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.
So, it's based on any account that has a paid subscription fee, a first month's subscription, have an active prepaid card, or Game Room players who have accessed the game over the past 30 days.

- A paid subscription fee would include subscriptions that stay active until the end of the month (whether they are being played or not), at which point they become expired or cancelled. If your account gets banned and you purchase a new account during the same month, you had already paid for that first account's month, so it counts as two active subscriptions. (Note: it's estimated that at least 100,000 accounts per month are banned.)
- A first month's subscription is very common, Blizzard even revealed that only 30% of new WoW players make it past level 10. You can also imagine that many of the "first month subscription" accounts are farming/gold trading accounts that are banned (and subsequently recreated) quite frequently.
- "Active Pre-Paid Cards" are very tricky. Pre-paid cards purchased in North America and Europe never expire. You can purchase a card as a gift, and it can sit idle for an entire year without ever being used. Blizzard shouldn't count those as active prepaid cards, though, they would only be considered "active" once the user registers the code online.
- When they say "expired prepaid cards", they mean cards where the time on them has been used up already. (Since the cards don't have a time limit / future expiry date.)
- Pre-paid cards in China also never expire, and you can keep adding time to the card. Many Chinese WOW players have multiple accounts and prepaid cards since the game is free, and it's inexpensive to pay the hourly fees.
- The largest WoW subscriber base is in China (more than NA/Europe combined), and when you consider the massive number of unused pre-paid cards, the number of pre-paid cards per user, and the number of WoW accounts per user, it can completely skew what you define as the total number of worldwide subscribers. It's all about the definition. Blizzard's definition of "active subscribers" is 12 million, but if your definition means "real players", that number might be closer to 4-6 million for example.

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Q: "will blizzard ban you for cross faction transferring gold"

A: Nope, feel free to do as much Cross-Faction trading as you want. But watch out for Neutral Auction House "snipers". Some users have bots monitoring the Neutral AH scanning expensive items and quickly buying them.

Install Auctioneer and make sure to enable the Quick Buyout feature. As soon as you post the item, just buy it out quickly on the second account. If you do it within 3 seconds, you won't have to worry about being sniped.

Sniping is perfectly legitimate, but botting is not. Test them out using bait items (ie, gems) and see if it's an automated activity (ie, sniping over several hours) and report them.

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Q: "wow ban whole account or char"

A: The entire account gets banned.. it might be temporary or permanent (Blizzard will send you an email to identify which). If it gets perma-banned, feel free to create a new account with the same IP address, computer, and billing information.. Blizzard doesn't care.

If you're using multiple accounts for botting/exploitation, however, you'll want to keep information unique on each account.

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Q: "finding out if a player has alts on wow"

A: I've created a new post about that activity: link.

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Q: "if i bu the digital cata do i have to install classic"

A: Yes. You need all of the previous expansion packs to play Cataclysm. The Digital Cataclysm download is actually just the 4.0 patch, so you would already have it installed if you had TBC and WOTLK. You really just need the buy the expansion pack to unlock new content/features for your account.

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Q: "when do we know when new realms are coming up in World of Warcraft"

A: New realms as part of "Cataclysm growth" would include the months up to around May 2011. When WOTLK was released in November 2008, new realms were created in January and March of the following year. If there are no new realms by Feb/Mar, it's a strong sign of declining subscriptions.

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Q: "when you buy cataclysm do you get game time"

A: No. You have to purchase the expansion pack and purchase additional game time to continue.

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Q: "does the digital upgrade to burning crusade include a month subscription?"

A: Nope, same with Cataclysm. The expansion packs never included a free month's subscription unfortunately.

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Q: "where's my free month with cataclysm?"

A: Sorry, you don't get a free month with Cataclysm. =[

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Q: "death knight overpowered cataclysm"

A: Yup, but they'll be nerfed within a few months after Christmas. Blizzard did the same thing with WOTLK after Christmas/New Years sales dwindled.

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Q: "why hasn't free wow servers upgraded to the new patch?"

A: Cataclysm is still very new - it launched just last month. Have patience.. it might take another few months (there are very few programmers developing those private servers). Even regular content updates can have a 2-4 month lag.

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Q: "does blizzard look at your ip when gold buying?"

A: They can see your IP, but they really don't care. If you get banned, just create a new account from the same IP address. Gold selling/buying in WoW is actually pretty safe - it's when people REPORT you (or associated accounts) that accounts get banned.

If you're transferring gold with a gold farming account, you might get banned by association if someone has reported them for exploitation, botting, or farming.

Blizzard's wants to provide a pleasant customer service experience, so most of their activities are in response to complaints (not proactive monitoring and policing). They don't go out looking for trouble, unless it's affecting someone's game-play experience.

The only other thing they have is place is automated software detection (Warden) and server side metrics. Reporting is far more effective however.

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Q: "do first day sales include preorders?"

A: Yes, Blizzard incorporated preorders into their last Expansion Pack sales figures as well. Cataclysm "first day sales" also included Digital Downloads and the first 3 days of sales in NA/Europe/Asia/etc.

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Q: "what happens if blizzard catches you botting?"

A: You might get a temporary or permanent ban. Botting is pretty safe as long as no one catches and reports you. If you're botting, you should always be sitting near the computer to monitor (ie, whispers, other players in the area).

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Q: "what happens to my characters if i get banned wow"

A: If it's a permanent ban, they're all gone for good. You can create a new account though with the same billing information, Blizzard just banned that one account. You can appeal the decision (low probability) - mmowned.com has some strategies on getting accounts unbanned. It really just depends on who you talk to though.

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Q: "why doesnt blizzard ban botters"

A: Blizzard does ban botters quite frequently, but you have to REPORT THEM. Blizzard doesn't pro-actively police WoW (they don't have enough resources available) and they rely on players reporting the activity.

Once you create a support ticket, it will typically take 2-4 days before anyone even READS the ticket. Once they read the ticket, it gets sent into another queue. It might take a week or two before they even investigate the account. They will monitor the player for a short amount of time (as there are MANY other accounts that need investigation), and come back to them later if they don't see any botting/exploitation.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of FALSE botting reports too. Invisible node theft, for example, might just be a normal player in a different phase.

Blizzard can tell right away if a player is botting/cheating though (player statistics for example reveal a lot), but they need to be caught red-handed when botting (sometimes they make mistakes though, but it's rare). Once that happens, Blizzard's judgement is swift and decisive.

It's just like racial epithets in Trade Chat - it's completely against policy and Blizzard WILL ban players for this type of activity, but it HAS TO BE REPORTED!

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Q: "alchemy specializations 4.0.1 removed"

A: The icon's were removed in 4.0.1, but the specializations still existed. (I can confirm that transmutations still worked back then, even though "Transmutation Specialist" wasn't in my spell book anymore.)

In the latest patch, though, your alchemy specialization should be fully visible in your Professions tab.

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Q: "percentage of WOW player races"

A: You can find that kind of census information for NA/EU on Warcraftrealms.com.

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Q: "starcraft 2 13 million digital sales"

A: SC2 sold 1.8 million copies on the first day (excluding Korea). Figures include both Pre-Sales, Retail, and Digital Purchases.

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Q: "is there a way to keep your real id friends from knowing your on"

A: Unfortunately, no. Simply remove them as Real ID friends and give them a really good excuse so that they're not offended.

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Q: "world of warcraft player figures inaccurate"

A: Yeah, no kidding. Look at my earlier posts of actual WoW subs.

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Q: "world of warcraft retention rate"

A: Blizzard stated that only 30% of new World of Warcraft players make it past level 10.

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Q: "will blizzard ban for sending large amounts of gold"

A: Depends on the amount, but it has been known to happen. For example, purchasing a 150,000G item on the Auction House can result in a ban. It depends on the investigator and sometimes it's just for large "unusual" purchases that are outside of norms. Other times, it's for purchasing an item from an account linked to gold farming/selling (but it's impossible for you to know this.) I wouldn't recommend transferring more than 50k gold at a time if it's for a friend.

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Q: "I bought cataclysm from blizzard can I install it in 2nd pc"

A: Yes, you can install it on multiple PCs and login with your account on any one of them. You can also login to your WoW account from a friend's PC (or an internet cafe), since they'll all be running the same updated version. (Be wary of key-loggers on the PCs that you use however.)

After you install World of Warcraft, all of the Expansion Packs, and the latest patches, you can should make a backup of the entire WOW Install Folder. You can make WOW portable, and even copy this folder to anywhere you want and run it. You never need to reinstall WOW and you can save yourself hours of work.

You can also copy the WOW folder to a USB Portable Harddrive, and run WOW from the harddrive (full resolution, no issues). That way, your WOW install (and all plugins/interface configurations) can be "on the go" with you wherever you go.

Not So Free-to-Play

Posted by Daeity On Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Champion's Online has finally announced their F2P launch date, which is the near the end of this month (January 25, 2011).

I think it's really cool that they're going "F2P" and I hope that more games do the same.. but I wish that game developers would take a different approach to their revenue generating methodologies (and change their definition of "Free-to-Play").

Say, for example, you download a new stand-alone game. You can play it for the first few levels, but the rest of the content (or should I say the majority of the content) is locked down for paying customers only. Paid customers also have access to more features, can unlock extra account slots (or alternatively, they have the "Save" feature enabled), can unlock new character classes, have access to larger inventory bags, better gear, and better character stats. Non-paying customers may also frequently get bombarded with "Buy Now!" or "Upgrade Now!" ads. That's called a limited demo.. just like the old DOS shareware days.

Most F2P MMO's follow the same pattern: sell big features and game altering items online. The more money a player spends - the more powerful they are over other players. We humans just want to be better than everyone else.

There must be a way for a F2P game to really be Free-to-Play where nothing is locked down, non-paying customers have full access to the entire game, and yet the business still earns a substantial recurring profit. (Even though Guild Wars has already demonstrated that you can make quite a bit of revenue by just selling Expansion Packs.)

Examples that generate revenue and yet also allow full content might include:

- Ad-targeting (which is always an option) if you can get the right relationships with other companies. Advertising also depends on the type of game (consider a virtual world where you can purchase real-world products.)
- Vanity pets, items, or character abilities (eg, dances) work well as demonstrated by Blizzard. Especially if some of the proceeds are donated to charity.
- Special (non-game breaking) features like physical appearance changes (very cool effects like bright glowing eyes or character voices) and paid services such as character renaming, pet renaming, customized spell effects, class/race/build changes, server transfers, etc.
- Selling real estate for real world currency (prime examples include Second Life and Entropia).
- Merchandising (if game lore can build up a strong following) or novels/fiction (publishing deals for fan fiction).
- Donations (risky)
- A guild system where guilds are initially limited but they can be unlocked (inexpensive monthly fee - say $3.99) to access additional services and special Guild Perks. What's nice about this model is that all members of the guild can donate pennies each to maintain the guild.
- Collecting demographic information, selling useful survey and polling data for marketing purposes or scientific research. If you have a constant supply of over 1 million people from around the world, you can collect quite a bit of useful (non-personal) information from them.
- Turn in-game minigames into a crowd sourcing application similar to Amazon's Mechanical Turk. There's a lot of unexplored potential here.

Or how about this: instead of targeting our need to be better than everyone else (we all want to be God after all), how about targeting human laziness instead?

- Leave the game fully open (no locked down content), but meet the Free vs Paid customers somewhere in the middle.
- Everything is available to all players, however make it easier for paid customers to level or receive special drops.
- Paid customers can purchase a special "lucky buff" that increases the chances of extremely rare items dropping for example. Free players can still obtain the same item, however it takes longer and is much more difficult.
- Paid customers can purchase an "experience buff" to level faster. (Technically, Blizzard already did this.) =]
- It's "fair" in that the same content and items are available to everyone, but lazy players can purchase services to reach goals faster whereas free-players need to work harder to receive the same rewards.
- Other options include Auctions, Player Trades/Selling, and Gold/Item Trading/Selling
- "Make Your Own Spells" paid service where players can create "new" spells combining existing spell mechanics and old/new spell visual effects.

Those are just some of the ideas off the top of my head. If I think of anything else, I'll update the post.

In other news, RIFT will be coming out soon too. I never really followed the game too much until just recently (a friend is in the beta, and I checked it out). Initially, I had assumed that it was going to be F2P or at least really inexpensive considering the competition - but apparently it isn't. They're following the "standard monthly fee" of $14.99. Ugh. That might have worked for WoW since they launched before the recession after all, but that $14.99 price tag looks more-and-more expensive every day. =]

I think it would be neat for a MMORPG publisher to do a little experimentation in this field. Make a great game, plan for a game to be F2P, but release the game with a $4.99 per month subscription fee instead and just see what happens. If things don't work out, simply switch back to Plan A. It will give them some great insight into customer mentality, and they can use that data for determining the cost of their next big game (that might have been planned all along). There's some data that you just can't get reliably from random focus groups, surveys and polls.

Anyways.. back to RIFT. After playing the game, I'm getting a really bad feeling from it. It's the same vibe I got from Darkspore.. you know that feeling where there's a lot of hype about something, you watch/play it, you're left disappointed, and you just know it's just not going to do well? It's the same feeling I got from watching THE CAPE yesterday too. (Even though I could already tell by the title that it was going to bomb, the first episode confirmed that it's going to flop badly.) Unless there are some significant changes made, you know it's going to fail. So, with that in mind, I really hope that Trion Worlds listens to their customers and implements recommended changes.. it can still be saved. If things don't go well, they may just reduce the monthly fee or change it to the standard F2P model.

Whenever any game moves from standard payment models to F2P - even partial F2P like the first 10-40 levels are "free to play", it's typically a very bad sign.. a death knell if you will. =] I'm positive that World of Warcraft will one day change to this model (e.g. a partial F2P) and then start reducing it's monthly fees a year or two after that.

(Note: RIFT reminded me a lot of Allods Online actually, except that Allods is already a F2P game. It's a standard clone, but you might want to give it a shot if you're bored.)

Other than that, I haven't had a chance to play DC Universe Online yet, but based on the gameplay I've seen, I'm getting the same bad feeling that they'll be merging servers sometime soon (the "death cry" of massive subscriber losses), lowering prices, and that it might need to become another F2P candidate. =]

Cataclysm Sales: No Surprises There

Posted by Daeity On Monday, January 10, 2011

Blizzard has just made their official announcement regarding first month sales.

Just as a reminder from my previous post, though, there's a little caveat with their official announcement:

...setting a new record for monthly PC-game sales.*

*Based on internal company records and reports from key distribution partners. Includes digital distribution.
Now.. it's not really a PC game, is it? It's cheaper DLC or an "unlock" code really (since players don't actually need the DVD or even the download since it's just the old 4.0 patch), so you can't really compare it to any other game releases of the year.

The "PC game" also "sold through more than 4.7 million copies as of its first month of release, setting a new record for monthly PC-game sales.* Basically, what that means is that Blizzard's "first month" actually means 3+ months of sales.

Blizzard was supposed to make at least 5-6 million sales in the first (real) month according to expert analysts. So, it looks like their revenue for the quarter will fall short of the anticipated $600 million mark.

Cataclysm sales numbers are definitely no where close to the more successful TBC and WOTLK expansion packs. Although Blizzard has been putting on a strong game face, sources tell me that they were actually disappointed by the sales - much more was anticipated for their revival attempt of WoW.

To help put things into perspective, here's a breakdown of their expansion pack sales:

The Burning Crusade (incl. Pre-Sales)
2.4 million in first 24 hours
3.5 million in first month

Wrath of the Lich King (incl. Pre-Sales)
2.8 million in first 24 hours
4.0 million in first month

Cataclysm (incl. Pre-Sales and Digital Downloads)
3.3 million in first 24 hours
4.7 million in first month

Since Cataclysm is a special case (players able to purchase and install the retail on Nov. 3rd) and if you ignore Blizzard's fine print, sales figures were actually:

Cataclysm (incl. Pre-Sales)
2.2 million in first 24 hours *
3.3 million in first month
4.7 million by second month

* It's probably even less than 2.2, I would estimate maybe 1.5 - 2.0 million based on average sales trends.

Take it for what you will, though.. all I know is that expert analysts were predicting 6 million sales on the first day, Blizzard said it was 3.3 million, and I'm guessing that it was less than 2 million.

WoW had already peaked a couple years ago, plateaued, and now it's slowly meandering downwards. I don't think they'll be able to pull off the same kind of "record shattering" announcement for their next expansion pack since they have already taken advantage of the Digital Download-skewed "24 hour sales" numbers.

(Well.. there are some ways to do it actually. One way is to extend Digital Downloads to more than 1 month before launch and really push promotions. The second way is to reduce the cost of the expansion pack. The third way to to have multiple "opening days" in different geographies - for example, release the game in the largest (subscriber) geography a few days before the smaller ones. That way you can include several days of sales up-to-and-including the "opening day" of the smaller geographies.)

I think Diablo 3 is going to do phenomenally well though, and it probably will shatter PC game sales (it's a much better comparison too, since it's actually a stand alone game and not paid content). And then there's the next gen MMO.. that's going to do really well too - I just hope they don't inflate subscription counts like they did with WoW. I like it when companies listen to their customers and are more honest and transparent with game sales and the development process.

Long Lost Games: A.I. Alien Intelligence

Posted by Daeity On Friday, January 7, 2011

Back in 1995-96, Flatline Studios, LLC. pitched a game demo to Interplay and they were signed on to do a title which was eventually called AI: Alien Intelligence. Unfortunately, Interplay shelved the title after their unsuccessful IPO (and Flatline's 2 years of development). It was cancelled in 1999 just prior to the retail release.

Flatline consisted of about 20 employees at the time and they were responsible for all aspects of development (video, sound, coding, gameplay, cinematics, etc.) They were royally screwed over in the deal, and the company died after AI was shelved.

Being an avid Starcraft player, I was really looking forwards to the game back in 1998. It was a very ambitious project for it's time and it had the potential to succeed Blizzard's Starcraft. If history played a little different, we might all be playing "World of Alien Intelligence" right now. =]

So, imagine this scenario: It's about one year after Starcraft is first released and another Sci-Fi RTS arises. It has superior graphics, cinematics and sound. You can manage units on multiple planets throughout a universe (which you can also explore) and you can also travel between (ie, trade with), colonize, or conquer other (un)inhabited planets. All of this is in realtime Starcraft-style but with simultaneous land and space combat.. and even planetary bombardment. Oh yeah.

Not only that, but throw in:

- Massive technology research trees (150 levels of tech that you could develop or steal.)
- Six alien species (with their own characteristics, technologies, play styles, and combat strategies.)
- More advanced NPC A.I.
- Over 10,000 ship designs
- A playing field that spans multiple star systems.
- Diplomacy, trade and resource management (4X features).
- Non-linear sandbox-style gameplay in an realtime game universe (more of an epic feel rather than linear missions).
- Superior multiplayer support (LAN, Modem, Serial, and TCP/IP Internet).

(Historical Note: Starcraft 1 provided no method to play TCP/IP games over the internet other than through Battle.net which was extremely slow and unstable at the time. Many players couldn't even access Battle.net due to lack of internet connectivity (school, university netorks, LAN parties). There were also other major problems with Battle.net such as substantial cheating and the inability to locate friends.)

Anyhow, here were some old videos I was able to dig up:





Descriptions for each race:

1. Psionids - "highly evolved, possess strong mental powers that they use to confuse the enemy in the heat of battle."
2. Strixthes - "Insectoid, behave like ants with mindless drones being controlled by a queen."
3. Arkanians - "Insectoid, more like roaches that can construct anything out of garbage - they're also excellent thieves."
4. Munzoids - "Closest to the human race. Descended from Mongolians captured and enslaved by an alien race. The Munzoids are extremely aggressive and never surrender."
5. Metalloids - "Somewhere between Star Trek's Borg race and the T1000 from Terminator 2. Artificially created as servants, their individual thought processors are controlled by a central computer known as The One. They reproduce by absorbing metal and then splitting, amoeba like, in two."
6. Drache - "Dragon-like. These former slaves are skilled workers and can transform a barren landscape into a habitable world."

Here was an old write-up about the game:

"The planets that you colonise will give your race not only a place to grow, but also many resources. At the same time, planets have their own ecosystem which could be upset if you choose to meddle with it. For example, you may decide to eliminate a creature that becomes a pest, but in doing so, the predators that live off those creatures might start viewing your race as an alternative food source.

Once you've successfully populated one planet, you will want to expand and for that you need ships. In addition to outpost and colony ships, there are seven basic hull types for each race, all of which can be customised to some degree. Some of these are ideal for ferrying troops to newly discovered planets, while others are combat specific. Not only can these interstellar behemoths face off against enemy fleets, but they are also capable of bombing planets.

War is avoidable, though: diplomatic relations are a large part of the game and you can maintain neutrality, enter into hostilities or even form an alliance with another race. Trade is another area and will provide you with resources that you cannot get for yourself and money, which goes towards the development and running of your colonies.

Naturally, careful resource management is central to the success of your empire. For your colonies to flourish, you need sufficient food, as well as plenty of buildings and structures. You can't have buildings without metals, which must be mined, and power, which is derived from radioactives. And of course, you can't build anything without money, which you'll need for units, ships and structures. Fortunately, resource management is made easier because materials can be used anywhere, not just in the area they were acquired."
I was sitting on this blog post for quite a while now, but I was hoping to get some more information before posting this (e.g. more details, screenshots, videos), but my contact (Eric Smith - former President of Flatline Studios) got a little busy and forgot all about me. =[

Maybe if he finds this blog in his travels, he might get back in touch (I'm looking at you Eric!). Apparently, he still has Pre-Production boxes and a few Demo/Beta CD-ROMs lying around somewhere. I'd love to get my hands on some old videos or screenshots of live gameplay!

While preparing this entry, I also pleasantly discovered a recent post about Alien Intelligence here. Glad to see that it's memory is still being kept alive.

It has been described by some as a Turn-Based Strategy (what MOO3 should have been) and by others as a Real-Time Strategy (like Starcraft but on an epic scale). The demos seem to indicate that most of the game was a real time strategy - so I assume it had a lot of features like a 4X game (ie, resource management, diplomacy, espionage, etc) but there might have been a way to task a NPC to micromanage certain aspects of your empire for you. And, if you had time between building construction, combat, or travelling to other planets, you could do some micromanaging on your own. Without playing the actual game, though, I can only fill in the gaps with my imagination. =]

Oh well. At least I'm comforted in knowing that A.I. Alien Intelligence survives somewhere in a parallel dimension where Interplay made smart business decisions, the game shattered sales records, and my counterpart was addicted to it for several years.