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Ghostcrawler’s Unexpected Exit

Greg Street is stepping down from Lead Systems Designer at Blizzard to “pursue an amazing opportunity.” It is hard to imagine that there is a better opportunity out there to pursue than being a Lead System Designer for a billion-dollar MMO, but I suppose we’ll see what exactly that could be soon enough. My money is on it not being a switch back to marine biology.

No doubt there will be a lot of people out there whose alternate post title would be “Christmas Comes Early” or somesuch. Certainly, the small corner of my gaming soul that remains a paladin is cheering vindictively. “Hybrid tax my ass!” But before the rest of the internet drowns itself in schadenfreude [edit: too late], I think it’s important to look back on what Ghostcrawler actually accomplished. Namely, if not actually throwing the doors open to the Ivory Towers of game development, at least coming to balcony and engaging with us rabble down below. As I mentioned early last year:

I am not sure if I mentioned it before, but I genuinely enjoy having Ghostcrawler around. He may be the face of the B Team, he may be a straight-up design troll in some respects, but hey… at least he has a face, yeah? In a world of Bobby Koticks and David Reids and faceless community managers, I am all for more Greg Streets and Curt Schillings, even if they get things wrong.

People seem to forget how WoW actually was back in 2008. “Back when it was good, you mean?” Yeah, back when designers thought a 25%-30% DPS difference between pure and hybrid classes was the epitome of balance. You can point to TBC as some golden age of pre-LFD design, but you can’t tell me some of that shit wasn’t dumb, arbitrary, and had nothing to do with why WoW was “better” back then.

And, worse, it was so often opaque and unexplained. The devs would come down from the mountain with patch notes written on clay tablets and that was that. Ghostcrawler literally changed all that. Even when he was getting it so wrong it hurts, the fact remains he has pretty much been the sole voice on the other end of the table regarding design and direction of pretty much any MMO then and since. Or maybe I’m mistaken? Does Guild Wars 2 or SWTOR or The Secret World or any of the rest have a lead designer come out and explain their thinking damn near every patch?

So as the confetti settles on the remnants of your Thanksgiving plate, I hope you’re sober enough to take stock of what we’re likely losing. Love him or hate him, Ghostcrawler was at least willing to get out there and tank the entire community (even as a Holy Priest, apparently) in an age of PR weasels like David Reid. If you think someone like Rob Pardo would have been better (to stay) in that hotseat, keep in mind that Pardo wanted LFD in WoW at launch. Hell, that interview from 2009 pretty much confirms that the exact same steps would have been taken no matter who was Lead Systems Designs. Could we have gotten someone better? Maybe. Or we might have ended up with Jay “and double it!” Wilson.

So as you’re soaking up the last of the gravy with a dinner roll, I recommend pouring yourself a cup of gin and raising it in the simple thanks of the common man: it could have been worse. I’ll miss your face Ghostcrawler… even if I could never tell you and Tom Chilton apart.

It's like Where's Waldo for bald guys.

Seriously, who is who?

Hearthstoned

Oh, my. I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but Blizzard is making a(nother?) Collectible Card Game.

Like I imagine many people in the non-apoplexy camp, I spent a large portion of my formative nerd years with Magic: the Gathering. My original shoebox of cards were from Ice Age, gifted from some obscure cousin of a family friend, but the first real entry into M:tG came with Tempest. Which then led into the Urza trilogy, with Urza’s Saga still remaining my favorite expansion of all time.

Not the most OP, but some of my favorite art/effects.

Not the most OP, but some of my favorite art/effects from Urza’s Saga.

My high school friends and I continued playing weekly up through, I believe, Ravnica. At that point, we were all scattered from life and interest waned. I dabbled with Magic: Online, still in the Ravnica era, and I was midway through busting out my credit card for another $17 tournament entry fee when I realized my objection to WoW and other MMOs with subscription fees was somewhat hypocritical.

I have little doubt that Hearthstone will be fun, at least for anyone who enjoys CCGs – it is difficult to screw up the innate simplicity and surprising depth to deck-building games. Any reservations I have is entirely based on the payment scheme.

Can we be frank for a second? Calling a Collectable Card Game “Free-to-Play” is such rank PR bullshit as to make even David Reid nauseous. Of course a CCG is free-to-play. You already bought the cards! Who is selling collectable cards and then charging a subscription for the privileged of keeping them? EA? This sort of nonsense is like calling Chess a F2P game. Maybe we are so mired in novel payment schemes that such a distinction (misleading as it is) is nevertheless necessary as signals to consumers.

And all of this obfuscates the underlying snare of all CCGs, Magic included: they are Pay-To-Win by design. I love M:tG, I really do. There are Pauper leagues (all common cards), Drafts, and some historical decks in which many of the key cards were no more than uncommon. But those things are only noteworthy insofar as they were the exceptions. If you look at standard tournament decks, they will cost between $250 to $650+ (!), stuffed as they are with Rare (or Mythic Rare, these days) cards. I used to read the WotC design articles, and at that time I almost swallowed their premise that these rares were justified in their rarity based on their complexities. “Commons are, well, common. You wouldn’t want the average player to crack open a pack of 12 complicated cards.”

Yeah, you’re right, we wouldn’t want that. It is just a huge coincidence that the more complex cards are the most objectively powerful and the most (artificially) rare, thereby forcing people to buy more booster packs in order to compete. I mean, we couldn’t possibly keep things proportional, like limiting rare cards to 1 specific card per deck instead of 4.

I mention all this because there is one indelible truth to CCGs: someone with more money to burn is going to ruin your day. Over and over and over again, until you can’t whip out your credit card fast enough. If you don’t think this is the first thing that will happen in Hearthstone, I don’t know what to tell you. Cynicism? Bitch, please. I am a Grade A recovering CCG addict and I know what’s coming for you and anyone else with less street-smarts to know that the first hit from the dealer is always free.

Interesting Move, CCP

Way back in February, I was quoting Bullshitter in Chief, David Reid, on how Dust 514 could make EVE “the biggest game in the world at the end of 2012.” There are only 33 days left in the year for this to be theoretically possible, but nevermind.

At that time (and still currently), my questions focused on the “what the hell were they thinking with a PS3 exclusive” angle. The related followup question was how CCP planned to muscle into an already crowded FPS marketplace with a completely unknown IP (the FPS portion anyway); free-to-play will only get you so far, if no one knows about you.

Well, with all the game console browsing I have been doing lately, I have a partial answer:

Product Features

Platform: PLAYSTATION 3 | Edition: 250GB Uncharted 3: Game of the Year
  • The new 250GB PlayStation 3 System, with a built in Blu-Ray player, can hold over to 1800 Games, 140 Movies, 99,000 Songs, and 40,000 photos
  • The PlayStation 3 system includes a free PlayStation Network membership for online gaming, streaming movies and music, and access to the PlayStation Store
  • UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception Game of the Year Edition showcases Nathan Drake’s journey through new challenges and includes over $45 of Bonus Content
  • With a 30-day trial of PlayStation Plus, access your instant game collection and download from a free library of hit games. Save over $70 with the PlayStation 3/Uncharted 3 Game of the Year bundle
  • Dust 514, a free to play game available exclusively on the PlayStation Network, thrusts you into the explosive ground conflict of the EVE universe
  • Included with this PlayStation 3 bundle is a promotional code for your personal DUST 514 ordinance pack containing a 7-day active skill booster, a permanent Armored Personnel Carrier, an assortment of digital items, and 2,000 Aurum to spend on in-game gear, weapons and equipment. Over $30 in total value.

That’s right, somehow CCP got Sony to include $30 worth of item shop goods in the, er… PS3 Uncharted 3: Game of the Year bundle. Because nothing says sci-fi F2P FPS like a 3rd-person action game.

It is an interesting move, and certainly one that will garner some extra attention from whomever takes advantage of that bundle. I can’t help but get confused though, when it appears that the Dust 514 mention is missing from the other bundles like the 500gb Assassin’s Creed 3 and even the 320gb Uncharted 3 bundle. Did CCP only pay enough to get on the 250gb bundle instead of the 320gb? Surely there is no hardware difference, so did they just change their minds? Did Netflix out-bid them?

Regardless, I find myself even more intrigued by this unfolding drama than I was before. And, hey, now that I own a PS3 myself, I might actually go full gonzo and try it at some point.

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