In the midst of a posting rut, Tuebit came up with a novel idea. He suggested that we should explore the MMOG-Blogosphere and run a few interviews with some of the bloggers that we particularly enjoy. Emi and Tachevert thought this was a great idea, and we sent out a small round of polite notes in the hopes that one or two people might be interested. The response was overwhelming, with 2/3 of our invitees agreeing within just one day! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing the Gameblog Interviews. These conversations range from gamers-with-blogs to folks who get to work with games for a living.
Our first interviewee is Tobold, who was nice enough to chat with us even through the pain of replacing a broken G15 keyboard. Tobold’s MMORPG Blog covers all sorts of topics in MMO gameplay, business, and analysis. Without further ado, here is “just a regular guy and player” (with 1.2 million visits and counting)…
WorldIV: To get us rolling here, tell us a little bit about Tobold. What drew you to blogging about the MMO genre in the first place?
Tobold: Before I had this blog, I used to write a lot on various game forums. But forums aren’t always properly archived, sometimes forum administrators lock or move threads, and every time I switched from one game to another I changed to the new games forum, losing not only past written material but also “reputation”. Blogging was the perfect solution to that. I have better control about content and archiving, and a better sense of ownership. My readers and me can search the blog for old articles, like seeing what I wrote about Star Wars Galaxies back in 2003.
WorldIV: You’ve ramped up your posting from your early days, with only sporadic posts, to just about daily. What keeps you inspired to blog?
Tobold: Positive feedback. The major change came after I installed a counter, and noticed that there were more people actually reading my sporadic articles than I would have thought possible. That encouraged me to write more, which got me more readers, et cetera. My readers also often provide me with subjects to blog about, by their comments or by sending me e-mail.
WorldIV: For the last couple of years, World of Warcraft has figured prominently in your blog ( http://tobolds.blogspot.com ). Is it safe to say that WoW has been one of your favorite MMOs? What is it about WoW that kept you having fun?
Tobold: I consider a MMO to be a form of entertainment, like a book or a movie. World of Warcraft is my favorite MMO because it is a very, very thick book, and well written. In MMO terms World of Warcraft has a lot more content than most of its competitors. And most of that content is accessible to me. My playing habits place me somewhere in the middle class between casual and hardcore, but in my second most favorite MMO, Everquest, I never got past level 42. World of Warcraft was my first game where I actually hit the level cap. Several times now.
WorldIV: What aspects of WoW kept you engaged straight through the level cap? We’ve all had games where we fall off the wagon long before then, and it can be hard to describe what keeps one persevering.
Tobold: I am an explorer, I love to discover new things in virtual worlds. World of Warcraft keeps me playing because there is so much to explore. Instead of boring and repetitive landscapes randomly created and populated, World of Warcraft has every corner of the world carefully crafted by hand, every monster placed with a context and purpose. And the quest system actually encourages you to seek out all these little corners and explore them, without forcing you to spend too much time in the same place.
WorldIV: On that note, what game(s) online or off are keeping you entertained right now? Your reviews have trended from collectible card games ( http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2007/05/world-of-warcraft-trading-card-game.html ) to offline games ( http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2007/04/puzzle-quest-psp-review.html ) — that’s quite a mix!
Tobold: Right now I’m pretty much back to WoW. But between April and November I took an extended leave from that game, and played various other MMOs (notably LotRO) and single-player games. Collectible trading card games, specifically Magic the Gathering, were a hobby of mine until MMO gaming really took off in 2000, so I’m still interested in that subject (and the possibility of applying the lessons from those games to MMO business models). The PSP is something I bought for times when I don’t have a computer with me, like on holidays, but still don’t want to be totally without games.
WorldIV: Despite all the gaming you do (and then write about, to boot), you have the occasional post that implies that you maintain a healthy home life and professional life as well. We salute you! How do you find the time?
Tobold: By not procreating. My wife and me met relatively late in life, and decided not to have children. I don’t regret that decision, although of course I’m not saying that everybody should do so. For me it works, and the huge amount of time that other adults spend on their children I have available for gaming. Maintaining a healthy professional life isn’t that much of a problem over here in Europe, we don’t work crazy hours like the Americans, I usually leave office by 5, and thus get the whole evening from 6 to 10 for playing.
WorldIV: If we were able to spot a specific trend in your game-analysis posts, it would probably be that you do a fair bit of economic analysis — both in-game economies and real-world business information on MMO games, Real-Money Trading, etc. What draws you to this kind of analytical work?
Tobold: I know it’s a strange hobby, but economics have always fascinated me, although I majored in chemistry and history, and then went for a career in science. I find the field of behavioral economics very interesting, because it allows you to predict what people will do, given economic circumstances. Virtual worlds are a great playground to observe such theories in action, because unlike the real world a wider set of possibilities is possible, and there are less negative consequences when things go wrong. Real-world business information also allows one to predict where the MMO genre is going. I do not believe in the idealized image of the game developer only interested in the quality of his work and the well-being of his players. These are all companies that want to make a profit, because that is what companies are for. Profitable concepts are more likely to be developed further or copied in future games than unprofitable ones.
WorldIV: In fact, you’ve not only discussed game economies, but you’ve weighed in as not terribly opposed to Real-Money Trading, in concept. This is a topic that drives some gamers into a fury. (It’s amazing that one wouldn’t even have to be supportive; neutrality can be enough!) Have you had any trouble because of these beliefs?
Tobold: Some hate mail and insulting comments, but nothing I couldn’t live with. The reason why I am not outright against RMT is that I make a difference between cause and effect. RMT by itself is a form of cheating, but in a non-competitive environment of a video game lots of people find cheating acceptable, there are thousands of cheat code websites out there. What really annoys people about RMT in games like WoW is the secondary effects, like bots or gold spam. I am totally against bots, gold spam, and the various scams that gold sellers are using. I’m just asking the question of in how far these negative secondary effects are due to RMT being illegal, and would disappear if for example Blizzard was selling gold.
WorldIV: Has anything you’ve found (in-game or out) particularly surprised you?
Tobold: I am still very much surprised by the level of “fame” I achieved. I wasn’t shooting for that, but the intricate mechanics of the internet, combined with the power of Google, resulted in me getting far more readers than I ever thought I would get. If 5 years ago you had asked me to create a website which would get over 1 million visitors over the next 5 years, I would have thought that to be impossible for me. And yet that is where I am now. I can tell you that it feels really, really strange to know that when I quit WoW or rejoin it, WoWInsider is reporting that as news. I’m just a regular guy and player, after all.
WorldIV: Which upcoming Massively Multiplayer games are you looking forward to, or at least seriously interested in trying?
Tobold: Pirates of the Burning Sea and Warhammer Online : Age of Reckoning. PotBS because it is very different from WoW. WAR because it isn’t.
WorldIV: What role do you think that players-gone-analyst have to play (or should have to play) in the MMO gaming industry as a whole? Is blogging a pleasant hobby activity, or are player journals, guides, and analysis important to the gaming business?
Tobold: I think they could be important to the gaming business, because somebody just writing what he feels about a game on his blog can give you far more insight into what people are really doing in the game than the highly biased official game forums. On the other hand I don’t think the big developers take us bloggers all that seriously. I don’t have the impression that Blizzard is reading my blog and uses it as a source for new ideas. And EA Mythic even has a “no bloggers invited to beta” policy.
WorldIV: You proudly claim in your blog Terms of Service: “I do not run advertising in the form of banner ads or similar permanent front-page links on this blog. I do reserve the right to change this policy if somebody offers me large piles of money.” Have you given thought to monetizing your blog, or otherwise entering the ranks of professional game journalism?
Tobold: I did give it thought, and even tried to find some of the sparse information of how much I could earn with my blog if I used something like Google Adsense. Turns out that I’d make less money with my blog in a year than I make in my real job in a day. Game journalism and game design suffer from similar problems: many people would like to earn money in a game related job, so these jobs don’t really pay all that well. I can only advise people who think they have the technical skills to design and code games to apply those same skills into a career in science or engineering, which will basically guarantee them a much more interesting and better paid job for life, instead of the unsteady badly paid careers gaming has to offer.
WorldIV: For 15,000 WorldIV DKP: In 20 words or less: is there any specific intellectual property license that you’d like to see a new MMO use?
Tobold: Magic the Gathering – the trading card MMO. Combining the addictiveness of MMOs with that of collectible cards.
WorldIV: There is actually a Magic the Gathering Online ( http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=magic/magiconline ). Did you specifically mean that game, or are you generally just looking for a game to incorporate Card Combat Game elements? (And we don’t mean like Vanguard diplomacy.)
Tobold: I did play MtGO, but that isn’t a virtual world MMO, it is just an electronic version of the card game. EQ’s Legends of Norrath likewise. What I would like to see is mixing of the “deck building” and “draw hand of random cards” elements with the MMO gameplay of fighting monsters and exploring virtual worlds. MMO combat is probably the area where there has been the least development over the last 8 years, the “autoattack and click hotkey for special attacks” formula is still the same as it was in Everquest. Introduction of random elements that force people to think about which of the options they “drew” would be good to use now, instead of spamming the same series of hotkeys over and over would be a big improvement.
We’d like to thank Tobold again for his time and patience with our several rounds of questions! Look for more Gameblog Interviews in the near future.