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World of Warcraft subscribers numbers in free fall

World of Warcraft has reportedly shed another 1.3 Million subscribers in the last three months.

While there is some theorizing going on about why this may be, as a current World of Warcraft player myself I can tell you exactly why:  “Daily Quests”.  The latest expansion went too far in forcing the players to do these “Daily Quests” every day to advance.  The animosity many players I know feel towards this new model is very deep.  It’s no wonder they are losing subscribers hand over fist – they took an entertaining game and made it a daily chore to do.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

If I wasn’t involved in a guild with people I like to hang out with, I would have hit the eject button myself a few months back.

Retro console game systems alive and well

A growing number of fans and developers are keeping the classic console systems alive and well.  Platforms such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) which ended production in the Nineties yet remain a viable customer market for new games.  The 2009 game of Rush Rush Rally by game makers Senile Team saw the retro Dreamcast version outselling its Nintendo Wii counterpart.

Related: check out the new RetroN 5 console cartridge player

On M&M’s, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and the Death of Atari

In 1982E.T. for the Atari 2600 the Steven Spielberg film “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” hit the public consciousness  with a sonic-boom.  The film would quickly become the highest grossing film in history (a record which would last a decade) and, strangely enough, the film would also be the catalyst for the destruction of the console video game market a year later.

Recently I flipped past the film playing on cable which left me remembering the massive impact E.T. had on two things I was in love with at the time of the films release: candy and video games.

For historical context on the effect of the film on society at the time, I submit the following.  As a child I was carted off to theaters to see E.T. more times than I can even recall.  Family members, neighborhood parents, everyone was going to see it for their first, second or tenth time. Neil Diamond was on top of the radio charts with his E.T. inspired hit “Heartlight“.  The television news breathlessly reported on how Princess Diana of Wales was moved to tears by E.T. and how the U.N. would honor Speilberg with a Peace Medal for the film.  Here in Los Angeles we were treated by Universal Studios to the opening of the “E.T. Earth Center” where one could buy every conceivable piece of E.T. related merchandise imaginable – including Michael Jackson reading E.T. on audiobook.  Even my own father, an ex-marine, fell victim to E.T. mania when he felt compelled to paint a picture of the long-necked, glow-fingered alien which he hung on the wall.  Ah, they don’t make cultural phenomenon movies like they used to.

E.T. was a movie which would make millions of dollars for many companies, but two would not be so fortunate: Mars Inc. and Atari.

In 1981 Universal Studios approached Mars Inc., the makers of M&M candies, with a request to use their M&M’s in a new film Universal was working on.  The product placement deal would showcase M&M candies in a crucial scene to the movie in exchange for some cross-promotional advertising by Mars Inc.  The new film Universal Studios was working on was, of course, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and to the use of M&M candies in it the Mars Brothers gave a firm denial.

Product placement deals with movies are a common thing and one can only wonder why Mars would pass on a mutually advantageous deal. Of course they could not know that in passing on it they were handing perhaps the greatest marketing coup in history to their direct competitor Hershey Foods.  Hersey had their own little round candy called “Reese’s Pieces” and it was to Hershey that Universal Studios turned next in trying to find a product that Elliot could use to lure E.T. into his house in that seminal scene from the movie.

The release of E.T. caused sales of Reese’s Pieces to skyrocket with most accounts suggesting an immediate 65% sales boost as the Hershey confection became known as “E.T.’s Favorite Candy”.  I know that I, personally, was eating them by the bag full in 1982 and I was not buying M&M’s.  I recall being in the car with my parents going somewhere during that time and the news guy was on the radio saying people at Mars Inc. were literally beside themselves crying in tears over the lost opportunity.  Such would be the bitter fruit of making one of the worst business decisions in history.

While the tale of Mars Inc. is a straightforward one with an utterly predictable ending, the story of how Atari was destroyed by the advent of E.T. is the story of the video game crash of 1983.  The Wikipedia entry does a wonderful job summarizing it, and it is a good read.  Arguably, however, the straw which broke the camels back was in fact E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600.

Atari paid $20 Million for the license to produce an E.T. console game based on the film.  Their plan was to produce the cartridge of the game quickly in order to capitalize on the holiday buying season.  While Atari had rightly predicted that parents would line up to buy a copy of the game for their kid at $40 bucks a pop,  this would prove to be the undoing of mighty Atari – the first great force in video games.  For Atari had produced a game so foul, so noxious, that is takes an article by 1UP to fully capture the terrible and unnatural thing Atari had birthed upon the world.

This would lead to the famous Atari Video Game Burial where millions of unsold Atari video games were unceremoniously driven truck after truck to the desert and left for dead in a New Mexico landfill.

My friend Pat got the E.T. cartridge for Christmas in 1982.  We tried to play it that day and something in both of us died.  It did not take long for us to go back to Pitfall! which was an awesome game.  Pat would never load E.T. into his Atari 2600 again after that fateful morning and his parents would become more judicious about buying any game after that.  The same story of any parent who saw their kid crying over their copy of E.T. for the 2600  on Christmas morning.

It is interesting, in hindsight, to note that Mars and Atari could have both prospered had they played their cards differently.  But I guess someone has to serve as a lesson to the rest of us.

The Cataclysm Post Mortem

Recently, World of Warcraft’s lead systems designer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street did a “Post Mortem” interview on the Cataclysm expansion.

My initial reaction to reading through this interview was “Old Fail is Old”.  However, on further contemplation I realized that I had a specific bone to pick with the Cataclysm expansion and I believe I can pinpoint exactly when I first realized the whole experiment was on very thin ice.

Now, Cataclysm was a WOW expansion with some serious issues, and anyone playing it could probably write you a dissertation.   In fact, if you read the interview above you’ll find that Blizzards technical lead just did.  And while this seems at first glance to be a sober assessment of the expansion’s problems, this humility coming from Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is a new thing.  Back when Cataclysm was released we found a very different Greg Street pontificating sarcastically to the Warcraft Community how they just didn’t measure up in a post entitled “Wow, Dungeons are Hard“.  This post was the first indication that the expansion was well and truly boned.

You see, Greg Street had this great idea for Cataclysm to tune the difficulty of the opening Cataclysm dungeons up to an extremely challenging level.  Clearly this was done to appease the constant whining of the “hardcore” gamers who wanted a challenge, but Greg Street seemed to forget, somehow, that the game had Ten Million subscribers or something.

This dungeon difficulty was tuned on the backs of the healing classes by making every dungeon a completely unforgiving experience for keeping the party alive.  Even if everyone in the dungeon was playing their class competently, the healer still had to be stupidly judicious about healing anything or they soon would run dry their Mana bar – which meant nothing would be getting healed at all.  And, at the start of Cataclysm, finding pick-up groups where everyone played their class competently was a tricky thing.  My primary character is a Priest healer, so I remember this well.

Now, as it so happens, a lot of the people who play Healers are not the hardcore challenge-mode kind of people that Greg Street was apparently speaking to when he taunted the rest of us in his “Dungeons are Hard” post.  They are often wives, girlfriend  and best-friend types who play to do something with their significant other when that significant other has the urge to fight dragons.  Those folks were not into Greg Street’s hard-mode fantasy and they headed for the exits pretty quickly.  And often times they took their significant other with them.

The beginning of Cataclysm was like watching a slow motion train wreck as people began drifting away after only a few weeks.  I, myself, try to be a pro healer and the initial challenges did not bother me so much.  But I saw what it did to other people, and the wives of other people, and I saw how our guild began shrinking after not very long at all.

Based on the Post Mortem interview, it may be that Blizzard and Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street have tuned into this fact.  Cataclysm was an expansion with quite a bit of intelligence but very little wisdom.  We shall see if their next expansion Mists of Pandaria does any better.


Aliens: Colonial Marines

I recall seeing James Cameron’s Aliens in the theater when it was released.  I was absolutely blown away by the film as a young spud and it is definitely still a movie I love to return to and watch on Blu-Ray.

Alien 3 had it’s moments, I guess, but it wasn’t the sequel to Aliens that I (or apparently most other people) wanted to see.  And as for Alien : Resurrection, as much as I love to see Ron Perlman on the screen chomping the scenery with one-liners, it still was not the sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens.

Recently I heard about a new game which is described as a true sequel to James Cameron’s film, and that is exciting news.  You can read more about it here on wikipedia.  It sounds just perfect, with the Sulaco, LV-426 and the derelict alien spacecraft from Alien all serving as environments in the game.

Looking forward to playing this one…