Saturday, 28 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Extra 1.0

Note: Extras in a review series means more commentary than what I initially planned to write about. This is a rebuttal towards Cysero's justification on why HeroSmash and AE's other games were abandoned, as well as what little contact I made with him on Twitter.

A commentary on "Abandonware" Entertainment.

I had the opportunity to interact briefly with Cysero on Twitter yesterday. When he said that a new project was too ambitious for Artix Entertainment at the moment, I asked him if he wanted to go back and revise old projects.

His reply? "Hardly. Time to conceive of smaller, less ambitious and lengthy projects and keep moving forward."

Well, this implies that you're ignoring your older works, no? Even if you claim MechQuest is finished and "beta" is just a word when it comes to phases of development. It's known that AE's planning is notoriously fast and loose, to put it mildly. Might be why AQWorlds took 6 years to finish its major storyline.

Original AQ took about 2 years to finish the Carnax Saga, a major storyline I played through from 2005 to 2006. The Devourer story continued shortly after, "ending" in 2007. Then again, the company back then didn't see the need to insert celebrity sequences like Disney's musicals.

Cysero also claims that AE's mistake is to remain on the web and not go mobile. I suppose if you can make completed projects that don't need frequent updates like Battlegems, you can go mobile. But you want a commitment of weekly releases for your browser games at the same time. Can you have your cake and eat it too?

Now, for some choice quotes from the Design Notes post itself:

"Let's say that you have a boat. The boat has a hole. If the boat takes on water faster than you can bail it out... you have to swim away or drown. A game gets the attention that it can afford. The more popular the game, the more development it gets. If a game gets no support from the players... the game bleeds out and development stops."

Avalina: Interesting analogy. Go on.

"The raging torrent of players that we started with became a river, then a stream, then a creek, then a trickle. The game was in freefall and no matter what we did, the game couldn't make enough to support the team. We can't keep a team of 15 working on a game that isn't bringing in any money to support the company so slowly the size of the team was reduced, smaller and smaller until now only Randor and a few volunteers are there to keep the lights on for the VERY small number of players who play HeroSmash (and even smaller number who pay to support it). There are days when the game makes nothing at all. Even a roadside tomato stall makes more than that.

People accuse AE of giving up on HeroSmash (and a few games in similar situations), but the truth of the matter is that the players left us no choice. We stuck around and tried to keep people interested in HeroSmash LONG after we reasonably should have but you can't keep that up forever."

Avalina: Err, because you hadn't drafted a storyline contingency plan for what happens if say, the villains win every single war? Instead focusing on AQWorlds and its celeb events?
Besides, responsibility goes both ways (player AND admin). You didn't promote your other games as much as AQWorlds. I doubt you can disclose how much revenue BroadwayQuest makes, but would it be enough to support the abandonware's revival if you ever get around to it?

"All that said, the older and less popular games AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE! Artix has promised that the games would stay open for as long as possible and he means to keep that promise. Even if development has stopped on a game it will remain open until we can literally no longer afford to run the servers, even if it means keeping them going at a slight loss."

Avalina: Finally, a redeeming point. Your company hasn't gone entirely money-minded like the big names, who would have shut down their "failures" as soon as it proved to be too much work.

"I'm going to say this again. I'm GLAD that all of our games have a free option so that people can have fun in them when they can't afford to support it. BUT, if you like one of our games and you want to see it prosper and grow then get your friends to play. If the game's continuation is a priority for you then support it if you can. Don't just complain that the updates have stopped when it is within YOUR power to change that."

Avalina: Cysero, Cysero, Cysero, the staff can also help out by promoting the abandonware more often. Players alone would be but a small margin when your abandonware isn't even polished enough for even gaming celebs to take a look! I doubt  Markiplier or Pewdiepie would review abandonware that hasn't got a refined gameplay, nor an unfinished story where the developers have no intention of bringing the game out to show.

Even if we can somehow attract outsiders to play your abandonware, they will probably leave while saying "Why should we bother with a project the admins clearly can't be bothered to update?"

In conclusion, I believe that AE staff should at least recycle their characters if they're not interested in restarting their abandonware. It's a waste to let original characters rot just because you're focusing on new projects. After all, how many people know who Demolicious and Luigi daVinci are? Their rivalry in HeroSmash could be extended to an idea like a puzzle game or a runner a la Angry Gran Run or "Nun Attack: Run and Gun."

But I'll let AE decide what type of game they could reuse the HeroSmash characters in. I hope that the forgotten characters are given a chance to shine again.

January 2015 edit: My suspicions about BroadwayQuest making just enough to support the other games has been proven in this particular dev post.

I asked in the comments:
Well, I can see where you're coming from, but I have one more question: Does what AQWorlds make ALSO support your other games, being the biggest celeb portal besides being a game too? Just a yes or no will suffice.
 Cysero replied:
 Yes. A few of the games don't make enough to support themselves and the money to supplement them has to come from somewhere so it's an additional strain on AQW.
We'll see if the company once harbored any intentions to save their characters if I get another question answered.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 3.4

Previous section: Click here.
First section: Click here.

Follow the links in the article to learn more about other game companies' celeb endorsements. (Caution: May contain spoilers.)

3.4 Non-AE examples of celebrity endorsement
Celebrity endorsement, especially by singers, is uncommon outside of the genre of musical games. One other famous example of celeb endorsement for a non-musical game is Katy Perry's 2012 promotion of Electronic Arts' The Sims 3: Showtime. Unlike Artix Entertainment's usage of heavy metal and Gothic stars in a medieval game, Katy Perry's pop-music promotion for Electronic Arts is thematically appropriate, as the Sims 3 expansion pack is about making superstars out of the modern-day Sims.

On the subject of Sims, the much older “The Sims: Superstar” also has celebrity likenesses ranging from Avril Lavigne, Marilyn Monroe, to Jon Bon Jovi. Unlike the Katy Perry example, the older Sims game did not make such a big deal about the celebrities appearing in it. From the title alone, real-world celebrities making an appearance in “The Sims: Superstar” still makes sense as the Sims are still in the present day or a time when the celebrity culture became global.

Famous people are also randomly inserted in the Sims 4 trailers. Barack Obama and Kim Jong-Un (both being leaders of countries) have been made into Sims for not much reason other than the potential comedy.

Other companies have taken the approach of including superstars in technical roles for their games. Bethesda chose to hire Liam Neeson (a voice and film actor) to play the role of the Lone Wanderer's father in Fallout 3; and hired other famous voice actors such as Charles Martinet (voice actor of Nintendo's Mario and Luigi) to act in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. This allows the stars to build up their resume and the star factor to be expressed in a subtle way.

Tara Strong, famous for voicing cartoon characters like Teen Titans' Raven and My Little Pony's Twilight Sparkle, has dabbled in video game acting as well. She voiced Juliet Starling in the American release of Lollipop Chainsaw, Grasshopper Manufacture's pop-culture-laden yet violent take on the zombie slayer genre.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 3.3

Previous sections (3.1 and 3.2): Click here.
First section: Click here.

3.3 Statistical Summary
For those who want a summary of how many guest celebrity events occurred in AQWorlds, there is a list below. This counter includes events where a particular celebrity outside AE is the main character/focus or has a major ingame appearance without actually performing, e.g. as a non-player character. There are other celebrities (e.g. Andrew Huang) present in some of the events, but they do not get the spotlight focused on them for the entire event. Events that commemorate an important real life event (e.g. AE workers' weddings) will not be counted, but noted anyway.

The current total of celebrity events and years present:
Voltaire Hernandez: 8 (2009-2013). 1 minor appearance as Artix's wedding guest, without performing.
One Eyed Doll: 3 (2009, 2010, 2012). 1 extra with Voltaire and George Lowe.
George Lowe (A television narrator): 1 (2010).
ArcAttack: 1 (2011).
Mia J. Park: 2 (2012-2013).
Ctrl Alt Del (Webcomic crossover): 1 (2011).
They Might Be Giants: 1 (2011).
Paul and Storm: 1 (2010). Same time as Jonathan Coulton.
Jonathan Coulton: 1 (2010). Same time as Paul and Storm.
Ayi Jihu: 1 (2011). Never mentioned or hired again by AE afterwards.

Total number of celebrity events from 2009 to 2013: 18.
Number of celebrity events by year:
2009: 3
2010: 3
2011: 5
2012: 5
2013: 2
Year(s) with the most celebrity guest events: 2011, 2012.

These events take up to a month on average as AQWorlds always sells virtual merchandise and wants as many players as possible to join in on the event. If the events' proportions are calculated by the total number of months, this calculation happens:
Months in 2009 to 2013 = 5*12 = 60
Months occupied by celebrities = 18
Percentage of time occupied by celebs = (18/60) * 100% = 30%

It may not seem like much for five years, but when it is broken down by individual years, this is the result:
Celebrities in 2009 = (3/12) * 100% = 25%
Celebrities in 2010 = (3/12) * 100% = 25%
Celebrities in 2011 = (5/12) * 100% = 41.67%
Celebrities in 2012 = (5/12) * 100% = 41.67%
Celebrities in 2013 = (2/12) * 100% = 16.67%
(Assumption: 1 celeb event is 1/12 of a year, a.k.a. A month.)

Coincidentally, HeroSmash was abandoned and its servers repurposed in 2011 (as the staff quotes below will show), joining the lineup of games to be neglected by AE, having no major storyline or gameplay updates since then. OverSoul joined the neglected lineup in late 2013, and its only updates as of this post are adding new characters for collection. A focus on AQWorlds was a factor in these games getting neglected.

A quote from Artix about adding servers to AQWorlds for one of the celebrity events:
Special Birthday Event This Friday
Join us for our special event with special musical guest band, They Might Be Giants! We are going to add some servers, raise the level cap, and have the biggest special event in the history of the game.

This is a quote from Beleen justifying the removal of some of the HeroSmash servers:
One more thing…!
A bunch of you have been wondering where the other servers have disappeared to. Well, seeing as to how the GIANT AdventureQuest Worlds event with musical guests They Might Be Giants releases tomorrow night, HeroSmash donated a few of its severs to help AQWorlds out!
Because sharing is SUPER! And we know super =p
Happy PumpCON everyone! Smash on

Of course, neither of them wanted to alarm players by stating that AQWorlds would not return the servers. It is only in hindsight that the real purpose of the server transfers is clear. Artix Entertainment seems to have given up on attracting players to their superhero game.

But I digress, and it is time to return to AQWorlds statistics.

This is the percentage of Gothic celeb events (Voltaire and One Eyed Doll) compared to non-Gothic ones between 2009 and 2013:
Total events = 18
Goth events = (11/18) * 100 = 61.11%
Non-Goth events = (7/18) * 100 = 38.89%
More than half of the events in AQWorlds involve Gothic celebrities, dissonant with the initially non-Gothic atmosphere of AQWorlds. AQWorlds is no Tim Burton production, and not influenced by his works either.

Surprisingly enough, on June 13 2014, AE decided that a Voltaire performance would distract from the ending of the Chaos storyline that was already planned. Hopefully this improved level of organization will be applied to the other neglected games. These quotes from the AQWorlds design notes should give you an idea why they decided not to shoehorn a musical event in.

According to Alina on June 10th, 2014:
Normally (as if THAT happens in AQW!!!), Friday the 13th brings a huge (horribly unlucky) event with musical guest star, Voltaire. But if you've read the info above, you know that we've already got more bad juju than we can handle! So while he jets off to parts unknown for another recording session, WE are going to keep things moving in a chaotic direction with the World War Lore event and a limited time shop!

We DO have an idea for an event with Voltaire later this year, but we should talk to HIM first before we give you any details!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 3.0

Previous section: Click here.
First part of the series: Click here.

June 2015 update: Click here. Poll included.

3.0 Celebrity Over-Endorsement
This section describes a problem that Artix Entertainment has run into in the last few years, the overuse of celebrities to promote only one game while neglecting almost all of their other works. It will also describe a few other examples of celebrities being used to promote video games.

Celebrity endorsement is the use of a superstar's fame to sell or advertise a product. The reasoning is that a recognizable star will have an easier time promoting a product to users compared to a publicity agent that has not yet worked their way into mass media. While celebrity endorsement can make a brand more famous, done wrongly, the celebrity in question appears to be inserted for the sake of star factor.

3.1 Neglecting other works
It is easy to make the assumption that Artix Entertainment's main game is AQWorlds, due to the huge amount of promotion that is included. However, it has gotten to the point that AE's other games appear to be forgotten. With the sole exception of Original AdventureQuest, the other games suffer from a lack of staff, a lack of updates, and a lack of guidance. The clearest example would be HeroSmash, which has not had any major storyline updates since late 2011.

MechQuest, DragonFable, and OverSoul are neglected to varying degrees as well. AE simply isn't large enough to conduct a virtual Broadway stage and keep its other games alive at the same time.

3.2 Schedule slips and quality interference
Celebrity events in AQWorlds have been quite frequent from 2010 to 2013. This is partly due to the informal contract that Voltaire Hernandez will hold a virtual performance every Friday the 13th. The celebrity events are often given plenty of fanfare via design notes, Twitter, and forum posts, and shoehorned into the game regardless of whether the event fits into the established canon of AQWorlds. The other AE games have only one or two celebrity cameos in minor roles.

Drakath, Chaos Champion
Discordia and Kimberly, Mythsong Lords

The first One Eyed Doll event was contrived in such a way that the lead singer, Kimberly Freeman, was the actual Chaos Lord (a minor villain serving Drakath, the main villain) of Mythsong (a musical land). The justification was that Drakath hypnotized Kimberly, and she hypnotized the Chaos Lord Discordia in turn. This sounds ridiculous to an outside viewer because Drakath and Discordia are fictional, but breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly is fairly common in AE games, regardless of superstars' involvement.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 2.3

Previous section: Click here.
Introduction to this series: Click here.

2.3 Problem-solving
To deal with rowdy players in AdventureQuest Worlds, the staff have enforced their rules. Players who are found to be behaving badly are warned or even banned from the game. Hackers are punished as well. The most recent method of punishing hackers taken by AE was to remove all the items from a hacker's account and replace them with an unkind note, as well as all achievements gained by the hacker. This measure was taken in order to discourage players from cheating in AdventureQuest Worlds. This is in line with the Art of War's recommendation to use discipline while training one's troops.

In response to the dissatisfied subscribers of AdventureQuest Worlds, AE has been offering more subscriber benefits to players who have subscriptions of at least three months or more. For players who have fifteen months' worth of subscriptions, a new ingame class is offered to them. AE has also linked the subscriptions of AdventureQuest Worlds and HeroSmash so that players only need to pay for one subscription in either game.

Short post today. The next one will be on a unique problem this company has encountered over the course of hosting AQWorlds.

Next section: Click here.

Artix Entertainment review, Part 2.2

Previous section: Click here.
Introduction to this article series: Click here.

This is Part 2.2 of my Artix Entertainment review. For new readers, this is a list of problems that I have observed AE encounter. The general problems of being a video game company, that is.

2.2 Problems
One of the main problems faced by AE is customer dissatisfaction, especially in AdventureQuest Worlds. Some subscribers expressed concern about the value of ingame subscriptions compared to that of microtransactions. Players have also expressed their disapproval of AdventureQuests Worlds' over-reliance on microtransactions, as the in-game equipment sold through said microtransactions is functionally similar to other in-game equipment.

The players of AdventureQuest Worlds have also expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the story and the actions of Cysero, the current head of the game. A common complaint about Cysero is that he manages AdventureQuest Worlds only to gain more profit at the expense of player satisfaction.

Another problem in AE is the lack of proper communication among the staff. In theory, each game has a team assigned to that particular game alone. This is because each game has its own technical requirements as well as game lore to maintain. However, due to communication breakdown between the top-level management and other staff, team members from older games may be assigned to newer ones, sometimes until the point where the older games suffer in performance.

AE also has to compete with other game companies such as Jagex, Blizzard and Electronic Arts. AE usually is capable of coming up with unusual and unconventional ideas, but occasionally, they slip back into old tricks that barely work. For example, AdventureQuest Worlds initially forced all its female players to wear revealing armour, but the policy changed after a group of players protested constantly for nearly two years. This was because compulsory revealing armour on female characters was used by practically all gaming companies except Jagex's RuneScape. The CEO of AE had this to say about the former revealing armour policy:

If there is one thing I have learned in the past few years, is how important it is to listen when someone feels strongly about something. I think some people would get defensive, but it is my belief that if someone does not like something and tells you it is a good thing. This is because it means they care... and when people care about something, you know there is an opportunity to make it amazing. Because it is against our policy to take away items that we have given to the players (and they are using) the agreement that the team made was to create a large number of conservative armors and classes for female players. After the PTR is stabilized we will do this in a number of shops and releases. (A. Krieger, personal communication, April 22, 2010)

The discipline of AdventureQuest Worlds players has deteriorated since 2010, as many of the players use foul language and behave unkindly to other players, despite all AE games forbidding griefing. Hackers have also become more rampant in AdventureQuest Worlds. As a result, the game has negative publicity among the online community. It should be noted that griefers are common in many online games, as the internet allows users to engage in bad behaviour.

AE's sixth game, HeroSmash, was originally going to be called SuperHero Quest, but AE received a cease-and-desist letter from DC Comics and Marvel, two comic book mega-corporations, stating that AE was not allowed to use SuperHero as the two companies had a trademark on the phrase. AE then renamed SuperHero Quest to HeroSmash, although the CEO did not want to give up. However, AE had no choice because DC Comics and Marvel were much larger than them.

Business rivals stealing ideas is a problem in any line of work. AE does not usually reveal a lot about their new games until the new game is almost ready for testing or release, in order to prevent business rivals from knowing their ideas. The practice of hosting virtual concerts in games was also pioneered by AE in March 2009, as it was not a conventional way to gain publicity for game companies at the time. In fact, virtual concerts in MMORPGs were unheard of until AE first held one for Voltaire, a well-known singer in the alternative Gothic scene. Other stars and singers have been invited to hold virtual concerts and shows in AdventureQuest Worlds, such as One-Eyed Doll, They Might Be Giants, Jonathan Coulton, Ayi Jihu and George Lowe.

Next section: Problem solving.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 2.1

For the previous section of the Artix Entertainment review, click here.

2.0 General Procedures and Problems
This section describes general problems faced by the company, and the steps they have taken to rectify them.

2.1 Company Practices
The rules of Artix Entertainment are stated in their terms and conditions, which can be found on every game they own. These rules are meant to be followed by players and staff alike, in order to ensure orderliness.

The practice of having all staff members of AE use pseudonyms is consistently enforced. Almost none of the staff reveal their actual names in any official announcements on their websites. Only the CEO has mentioned his real name, but he prefers to use a pseudonym as it is much more recognizable. The pseudonyms can be considered a way to separate the staff's personal life from their work.

In order to finance their games, AE offers character upgrades, microcurrency and subscriptions. AdventureQuest Worlds and HeroSmash are financed by subscriptions, while AdventureQuest, DragonFable and MechQuest offer one-time upgrades for players. All AE games sell some form of microcurrency to gain further income. EpicDuel's financing relies solely on 'varium,' a microcurrency exclusive to that particular game.

The importance of planning cannot be denied in business. AE normally makes loose plans before creating new games or updating their existing ones. Before a new game is released, the staff of AE will announce the name of the game, and also post a short blurb through the design notes of the other games and their official forums. This is to stir up interest among existing players and attract newer ones. AE normally allows paying players to test the new game for bugs before releasing the next stage to the rest of the players. EpicDuel was exempted from the testing routine, as it was a game made by a different company that merged with AE.

While releasing updates for their games, AE follows the usual routine of announcing them through the design notes. The company always updates their games near the end of the week, usually Friday, so that players may enjoy the updates during the weekend.

AE has a strong bond with its player base compared to other game companies. The staff often interact with players in game, on the official forums, and through their social networking accounts. Although the staff cannot answer every single player that interacts with them, they do try their best to respond to questions and remarks about the games. The staff interact with each other in an informal manner despite having clear ranks for each member.

Many suggestions from the community have been included in the games, ranging from items to story ideas. In fact, most of the staff were former players who were hired for their talent in art, coding and administration.

Next section: Problems faced by AE.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 1

This review of Artix Entertainment is based on an essay I wrote for business strategies class a few years ago. It has been updated to reflect the current situation of the company. It will be posted in several parts over the month.
1.0 Introduction
Artix Entertainment is an online browser-based game company based in Land O'Lakes, Florida. It was founded in 2002-2003 by Adam Bohn with two of his close friends. Bohn founded the company in order to gain support for AdventureQuest, which was a very small game at the time. Bohn, under the pseudonym Artix Krieger, has been the current CEO of Artix Entertainment since 2002.

The company has around fifty staff members, the exact number is uncertain as the company does not keep extremely detailed public records. However, it is known that every staff member uses a pseudonym which is based on their ingame character, and each of the games has at least one project head.

This company currently runs seven Flash-based games. They are: AdventureQuest, DragonFable, MechQuest, AdventureQuest Worlds, OverSoul, EpicDuel and HeroSmash. The games take place in a fictional land known as Lore, which is currently in the Middle Ages. The exceptions to this are EpicDuel, OverSoul and HeroSmash, as EpicDuel takes place in another planetary system, OverSoul takes place in another medieval world, and HeroSmash takes place on Earth. Artix Entertainment also has several browser-based minigames, which are mostly spin-offs from the six bigger games.

AdventureQuest (henceforth known as Original AQ), DragonFable, and MechQuest are online single player adventure games, which were released in 2002, 2006, and 2007 respectively. AQWorlds and HeroSmash are adventure MMORPGs released in 2008 and 2010 respectively, while EpicDuel is a duelling MMORPG adopted by AE in 2009. OverSoul is a 2013 card-battling pseudo-MMORPG with player-versus-player elements, although the bulk of OverSoul consists of collecting non-player-characters (NPCs) for the player's army.

In 2014, AE released a mobile puzzle game titled BattleGems. It is loosely based on the Lorian games. BattleGems can be played on Android, iOS, or Facebook.

Artix Entertainment also sells merchandise based on their games. The merchandise can be found in online stores such as Heromart, which is owned by the company, and Jinx. Stuffed toys, books, clothes, posters, and a card game are among the products sold by this company.

AE is a virtual goods company, location is still important. Their largest consumer base is in the United States, as AE is based there. The target market of AE consists mainly of teenagers and young adults, although the bright cartoonish designs in most of the games appeal to young children.

Next section: General Procedures at AE.