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June 5, 2014 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Anatomy of a failure, with vampires. Icelandic Eve-creator CCP's World of Darkness MMO was shut down recently. This Guardian article gives a behind-the-scenes rubberneck at what went wrong.
posted by Sebmojo (78 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Painful reading, classic mismanagement of a property. It's a shame as the short video looked like it would have been interesting.
posted by arcticseal at 8:00 PM on June 5


Previously on Metafilter we had a discussion that touched on World of Darkness, where a couple of folks associated with that project stopped in to comment.
posted by Nelson at 8:19 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: make it more... psssshhhh!
posted by loquacious at 8:22 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


.. and now having read the fabulous article, I'll say it's a very good summary of my understanding of what happened. CCP was in way over their heads and had no idea how to expand past Eve Online. The article doesn't go into this, but a confounding factor was the near-collapse of the Icelandic economy 2008–2011.

Also I'll totally disagree with the early statement that "White Wolf was a natural fit." It wasn't a natural fit at all. White Wolf was a paper publishing RPG company, and a tiny minority one at that, whose focus was on a rich world of lore and storytelling. CCP had a single big space sci-fi game based on subscription revenue with terrible lore and precious little storytelling in the publisher content but a brilliant sandbox design. World of Darkness MMO was a completely new project that in no way played to CCP's strengths. It was an ambitious gamble for the company and it failed.
posted by Nelson at 8:28 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Anybody who's played in a large Vampire LARP can attest to the way Vampire can work as a sandbox. It's not that it's a bad fit for that, but rather that it sounds like CCP hadn't the first clue what it was doing.

Ah well, at least Onyx Path and By Night Studios are doing well with WW's IP.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:36 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


I've never been asked to make anything more "psshh", but I've definitely been through similar employment nightmares.

I know that running a business—any business—is hard. But (in my experience, anyway—maybe I've just worked for terrible companies), dysfunctional management is the norm, not the exception.

Does business management just attract certain personality types (narcissistic, entitled, on the "clueless" side of Dunning-Kruger—basically, people who can order their poor employees to "make it more 'psshh'" and not immediately kill themselves for being terrible human beings)? Because after some of the shit I've seen at a number of very different companies in very different industries, I sometimes wonder how the global economy functions at all.

We're hearing about this particular dysfunction because it's connected to a high-profile entertainment product. But thousands of employees are living out the same Kafkaesque nightmare right now at unsexy companies in unglamorous industries, lying awake at night wondering how they're going to satisfy their managers' incoherent and irrational and contradictory whims, or whether they're going to be the ones who get crucified when the project (quite predictably) bursts into flames.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:38 PM on June 5 [42 favorites]


I am personally about two steps removed from a good number of the people at White Wolf. I'm not in the industry myself as anything but a consumer/fan, and none of my industry friends have entrusted me with any secret "this was in my NDA so don't tell anyone I told you" stuff... but everything I have heard lines up with this article. I have also heard that there was some gross financial mismanagement at CCP (the kind that happens when people have more money than sense), and that motivated a lot of the rushing and personnel swaps with Dust, Incarna, etc.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:47 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


People will often break NDA's when they don't matter anymore (information has value, but it also has a shelf-life of value).
posted by el io at 8:50 PM on June 5


I'm reminded of this Vanity Fair article on Icelandic entry into the finance bubble leading up to 2008, and how it was in part a tale of macho Icelandic men jumping in with no expertise but a lot of confidence:
It took years of training for him to become a captain, and even then it happened only by a stroke of luck. When he was 23 and a first mate, the captain of his fishing boat up and quit. The boat owner went looking for a replacement and found an older fellow, retired, who was something of an Icelandic fishing legend, the wonderfully named Snorri Snorrasson. “I took two trips with this guy,” Stefan says. “I have never in my life slept so little, because I was so eager to learn. I slept two or three hours a night because I was sitting beside him, talking to him. I gave him all the respect in the world—it’s difficult to describe all he taught me. The reach of the trawler. The most efficient angle of the net. How do you act on the sea. If you have a bad day, what do you do? If you’re fishing at this depth, what do you do? If it’s not working, do you move in depth or space? In the end it’s just so much feel. In this time I learned infinitely more than I learned in school. Because how do you learn to fish in school?”

This marvelous training was as fresh in his mind as if he’d received it yesterday, and the thought of it makes his eyes mist.

“You spent seven years learning every little nuance of the fishing trade before you were granted the gift of learning from this great captain?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“And even then you had to sit at the feet of this great master for many months before you felt as if you knew what you were doing?”

“Yes.”

“Then why did you think you could become a banker and speculate in financial markets, without a day of training?”

“That’s a very good question,” he says. He thinks for a minute. “For the first time this evening I lack a word.” As I often think I know exactly what I am doing even when I don’t, I find myself oddly sympathetic.
posted by fatbird at 8:52 PM on June 5 [23 favorites]


Also I'll totally disagree with the early statement that "White Wolf was a natural fit." It wasn't a natural fit at all.

Before they went to CCP -- and I'm talking about roughly 10 years ago -- White Wolf shopped around the idea of a partnership with other game studios. The one I worked at was one of them. They seemed like cool folks and they gave us lots of sourcebooks, and we started a V:TM campaign among ourselves.

But ultimately, we and they decided it wasn't going to work out between us. I don't know how different things would have been if we did start working on their game, though.
posted by Foosnark at 9:20 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I actually really like the lore in the EVE universe.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:24 PM on June 5


It's also worth noting that the time frame Foosnark suggests--roughly ten years ago--is about the same time White Wolf put out its "new" World of Darkness, rebooting the entire setting. Personally, I liked the new more than the old, but I'm distinctly in the minority opinion. The company has since returned to the old school (including for the MMO), but the switch lost them a good chunk of their audience, much of which doesn't seem inclined to come back.

I believe CCP's mismanagement probably did much more damage to the brand and the MMO project than any of White Wolf's bad calls, but it's not like WW never made a mistake, either.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:27 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I think making an MMO of the White Wolf stories was a terrible idea, because the White Wolf games were all about narrative and performance, and the MMO's seem to work better when players and their characters goals are one in the same, that is to say, when they're about economics, not passion.

I don't know how you can make the economics of a world of darkness game particularly interesting when you are dealing with immortal characters for whom money isn't much of a concern.

I think the best use of the WoD property would be in a Telltale-style adventure game, where it's mostly about relationships and dialogue and a well crafted story with characters you care about.
posted by empath at 9:38 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


White Wolf shopped around the idea of a partnership with other game studios. The one I worked at was one of them.
Was that ASC Games?
posted by unliteral at 9:42 PM on June 5


I don't know how you can make the economics of a world of darkness game particularly interesting when you are dealing with immortal characters for whom money isn't much of a concern.

MMO money is spent on stuff to make your MMO character more powerful and/or shiny. This would be no less of a motivator in a White Wolf game (or other with similar themes). You might trade less in cash and more in, oh, blood or nebulous "favor points" or whatever, but the concept would not entirely go out the window.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:45 PM on June 5


MMO money is spent on stuff to make your MMO character more powerful and/or shiny.

This is part of the problem, actually. It varies depending on which corner of the franchise you're in, but VtM characters are created at a particular "power level" (governed by how many generations they are removed from the Original Vampire) and they're pretty much stuck at that level forever unless they "diablerize" a more powerful vampire, an act that is about as taboo in that setting as killing one's own parents for their inheritance. The intrinsic unfairness of this state of affairs, especially given the lack of upward mobility, is a major theme.

VtM is built form the ground up to be distinct from the "inexorable accumulation of godlike power" that was characteristic of Dungeons and Dragons, so there's no way to simultaneously remain faithful to the lore and also implement World of Warcraft or EVE game mechanics. This is probably a big part of why the core team had trouble implementing game mechanics. Lore is all well and good, but it's not what makes the wheels of a sandbox MMO turn.
posted by belarius at 9:53 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


It's also worth noting that the time frame Foosnark suggests--roughly ten years ago--is about the same time White Wolf put out its "new" World of Darkness, rebooting the entire setting. Personally, I liked the new more than the old, but I'm distinctly in the minority opinion. The company has since returned to the old school (including for the MMO), but the switch lost them a good chunk of their audience, much of which doesn't seem inclined to come back.

I believe CCP's mismanagement probably did much more damage to the brand and the MMO project than any of White Wolf's bad calls, but it's not like WW never made a mistake, either.


The nWOD was a HUGE blow to live-action Vampire. Back around 2002 or so there were LARPs everywhere. Every town large enough to have a game store, and several that didn't, had them, and if you were willing to do even a bit of driving, you could LARP most Saturday nights. Within a year or two of the replacement of Masquerade with Requiem, the vast majority of them were gone, and it's never really recovered. There's definitely other causes (including the decline of the goth/industrial scene over the last several years), and it's not a totally dead thing, but the impact was very real.


I think the best use of the WoD property would be in a Telltale-style adventure game, where it's mostly about relationships and dialogue and a well crafted story with characters you care about.

A sequel to Bloodlines, that's all I ask.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:59 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


From what I remember my White Wolf friends telling me about the old days, it's not like White Wolf was a paragon of an efficiently run business either. Lots of egos, power plays, and bitter recriminations.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:00 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


It's also worth noting that the time frame Foosnark suggests--roughly ten years ago--is about the same time White Wolf put out its "new" World of Darkness, rebooting the entire setting... The company has since returned to the old school (including for the MMO), but the switch lost them a good chunk of their audience, much of which doesn't seem inclined to come back.

"Change for the sake of change" has not ever been something that has fared really well amongst tabletop gamers. Wizards of the Coast is I think gradually learning the same lesson.

I think the best use of the WoD property would be in a Telltale-style adventure game, where it's mostly about relationships and dialogue and a well crafted story with characters you care about.

This is pretty much exactly VtM:Bloodlines that you are describing (granted, it has some extra doses of combat, but it is very much story and character-driven, with some of the most memorable NPCs of any video game ever). The sad thing about that game is that it wasn't any of the folks at White Wolf who made the poor decisions there - it was that they got Troika to make it for them, and Troika was a game studio basically defined by releasing incredibly ambitious, incredibly promising games that were crippled by playability-destroying bugs, and Bloodlines was no exception. On top of that, a combination of screwy contractual obligations and furious last-minute bug-fixing meant any chance it had at decent sales was ruined by having it ultimately hit the stores right around the same time as Half Life 2 did. A decade's worth of fan patches later, though, and these days it's a very good game that shows exactly what a well-done WoD video game could have been.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:00 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


I can kinda/sorta see how the idea of "emerging gameplay" could tie in the CCP world of EVE with Vampire, but there's still a need for something for all these vampires to DO while they plot and scheme. All we saw was people sitting around in stations, one at a time. I'd love to see the in-game analytics of how often people actually do that.

Now if they'd tried to make something like Hong Kong Action Theater into a game, then they might have something.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:01 PM on June 5


World of Darkness doesn't even work well on text games with a hundred players, much less on any "massive" kind of scale. Pretty sure any legit WoD game that includes more than six people is going to end up with two people trying to kill each other, and it's not ruled out at any level lower than that. And they are, yes, going to intend for this to involve people staying dead. (Or at least torpored.) Neither nWoD nor oWoD was ever a game that was conducive to this.

Some tabletop games really need to stay around a table.

(I realize that some people really hated the new stuff, but nWoD Changeling is a thing of beauty and I will fight anybody over that. I'm also probably never going to get the chance to play it again.)
posted by Sequence at 10:02 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I can kinda/sorta see how the idea of "emerging gameplay" could tie in the CCP world of EVE with Vampire

They were never going to tie in WoD with Eve.
posted by empath at 10:03 PM on June 5


Troika was a game studio basically defined by releasing incredibly ambitious, incredibly promising games that were crippled by playability-destroying bugs

/happy sigh

I'd love to go back in time with a bunch of money and give it to Troika, specifically earmarked for QA. Oh, what could've been.


(I realize that some people really hated the new stuff, but nWoD Changeling is a thing of beauty and I will fight anybody over that. I'm also probably never going to get the chance to play it again.)

nWoD Changeling is kind of like the Revised Malkavian Clanbook from V:tM- it's great on its own, and it looks all the better next to its godawful predecessor.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:09 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I was thinking more in terms of the style of gameplay. "Here's a big world with lots going on and you can make your own thing happen without the creators really getting involved." It's certainly more of a fit than the Nexon/Maple Story team would have been, to pick another developer at random.

If you enjoy game post-mortems, the ones from Gama Sutra are worth reading. Some real horror shows in there--I remember years ago reading about a team where none of the developers or artists could agree on formats, so they ended up building a lot of tools to port data from one pet format to another.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:11 PM on June 5


World of Darkness doesn't even work well on text games with a hundred players, much less on any "massive" kind of scale.

Here ya go.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:12 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


What's depressing is how many game companies this article describes. Swap out the company and project names and you can write the past, present and future of the gaming industry.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:13 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I realize that some people really hated the new stuff, but nWoD Changeling is a thing of beauty and I will fight anybody over that. I'm also probably never going to get the chance to play it again.

NWoD Changeling and Mage are both vastly superior to their predecessors. Sadly, with Vampire as the flagship, it would appear that the comeback of the OWoD vampires means that we're going to lose the new-school Changelings & Mages.

As for Vampire LARPing, um... well, that's a shameful habit of mine for about 15 years or so. The newly-revised Vampire LARP rules are an incredible improvement on the old stuff, and they even make the Generation power-ceilings more equitable (each generation category can do compelling and interesting stuff the others can't). But I don't believe anyone expects that the new rules, awesome as they are, will really bring Vampire Larp back to its former popularity.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:14 PM on June 5


New stuff's still coming out for nWoD. Here is Onyx Path's schedule for the next yearish. Plenty of upcoming releases for both new and old alike, and the 20th anniversary edition of Wraith!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:19 PM on June 5


As for Vampire LARPing, um... well, that's a shameful habit of mine for about 15 years or so. The newly-revised Vampire LARP rules are an incredible improvement on the old stuff, and they even make the Generation power-ceilings more equitable (each generation category can do compelling and interesting stuff the others can't). But I don't believe anyone expects that the new rules, awesome as they are, will really bring Vampire Larp back to its former popularity.

I've actually seen several old players tempted back out to games by the new rules, which are indeed an incredible improvement. As a Storyteller, that's a good thing, as a large playerbase produces a vastly different (and IMO better) game.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:24 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


The White Wolf IP is alive and well, with the World of Darkness and Exalted lines licensed to an outfit called Onyx Path that's basically made up of former WW writers, doing half-million dollar kickstarters for ginormous 20th Anniversary editions of the original World of Darkness titles, an extensive rules update to the New World of Darkness that's kind of a new edition, except WW didn't want them to do a new edition per se, but they are doing new books for each of the NWoD lines to bring them up to the new rules. And Onyx Path bought Scion and Trinity (Adventure!, Aberrant, Aeon) outright.

with Vampire as the flagship, it would appear that the comeback of the OWoD vampires means that we're going to lose the new-school Changelings & Mages.

Not at all -- here are OP's current projects. They've just been doing the 20th anniversariy editions of the old WoD -- there have been recent Mage: the Ascension and Vampire: the Requiem titles, with more to come. Changeling: the Lost hasn't seen as much activity, it's true, but the Victorian Lost setting book came out just two years ago.

on preview: darn it, Pope Guilty!
posted by Zed at 10:25 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I think WoD actually made a great candidate for an MMO even more brutal than Eve: have permanent character death, and use something like the sovereignty mechanics from Eve to establish Camarilla-like sovereignty over a city (or more likely, neighbourhoods). Likewise, relative safe zones for PvE would be the downtown cores of major cities, enforced by the Prince's ghouls, give players a chance to level; but you could grow in power by moving out of those safe zones, practicing diablerie, etc... and the whole time, you have to feed undetected, which adds a stealth component for grinding blood.

Staked and left out in the sun? Too bad, reroll. What better way to make players actually fear and respect characters who are genuinely old in the game, who really are powerful survivors... and what better way to bring to life the emotional and narrative setting of the game.
posted by fatbird at 10:25 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Brief thoughts:

The immediate reaction from me and (at LEAST) one other female ex-WoD dev: "Good overview, too bad they didn't talk to any women on the team at all." There's some hints of the cultural issues with the "sweaty room" story, but nothing about the workplace being a sexual harassment lawyer's wet dream.

Also, the primary named source (yes, that's his real name) worked on EVE, not WoD (again, despite the name). He's not wrong about many of the issues, but again, I wish we heard a little bit more directly from the WoD devs. It could've helped to explain why so many brilliant, talented people stayed on so long despite everything. Key to understanding the failure of WoD is how insanely ambitious it was, why it appealed to people from all over the industry who were sick of working on sports games or bland AAAA fantasy MMOs billed as "WoW-killers."

What's depressing is how many game companies this article describes. Swap out the company and project names and you can write the past, present and future of the gaming industry.

It sounds like that from the article, and certainly managerial issues are often the same across most if not all gaming companies, but the project and cultural and human issues were... special. (Yes, let's go with special.)

Also, I don't think anyone linked to this yet - it went live mere hours after the Guardian story.
posted by susoka at 10:35 PM on June 5 [18 favorites]


have permanent character death

Kind of a problem with a subscription based model.
posted by empath at 10:40 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Also with immortal beings.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:57 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Permadeath's also a thing that you can totally work with when there's severe social sanctions for being a jackass about it (if you kill another character for kicks at the local LARP, the other players will think you're a dick and won't hang out with you, for example), but in a semi-anonymous system like an MMO it's a really, really bad idea.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:00 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


The best MMORPGs I ever played had perma-death though you really had to fuck up for it to happen.
posted by Justinian at 11:04 PM on June 5


I found the nWOD stuff made things I didn't like before (Wraith, Changeling, Werewolf) better and things I did like (Mage, Vampire) worse.

I'd still like to play the new version sometime. Just not new Mage.
posted by squinty at 11:21 PM on June 5


Kind of a problem with a subscription based model.

Even without permadeath, the average lifespan of a subscription player is only 3 months across all MMOs--Eve was notable, several years ago, for having an average subscription length of 7 months. You're not risking much, but you are offering a unique experience. And as Eve shows, the players who'll hang out for years tend to have multiple characters anyways. Fear of permadeath has always been overstated, I think.

Permadeath's also a thing that you can totally work with when there's severe social sanctions

Also if they found a way to make the sire/progeny relationship material in some sense.
posted by fatbird at 11:21 PM on June 5


Also with immortal beings.

In WoD, immortality meant that you continued to function without aging, not that you couldn't be killed. And even then, it didn't mean "forever", it meant "a really long time", and with a mythology that the trip was in the direction of going completely mad or bestial or into longer and longer periods of torpor, until you woke one day and ate all your children. The dark wealth of the narrative setting can't be overstated.
posted by fatbird at 11:24 PM on June 5


Was just mentioning to Pope Guilty and musing, what would a Call of Cthulhu MMORPG look like?

My take: Are you kidding? The first player to learn Contact Azathoth will eventually destroy the world, and half the player base will be actively trying to awaken Cthulhu. Basically, you'd measure time in terms of server resets, or "Time to Armageddon."
posted by JHarris at 1:02 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty, the new stuff coming out for nWoD is now using the revised "God Machine" rules, which were some really big changes, and there's so far been no indication about when some systems are going to get rules updates--which means that CtL is looking very much dead in the water, as are some of the other less popular lines.
posted by Sequence at 1:04 AM on June 6


That's not true. V:tR already got the Strix Chronicle, W:tF is getting The Idigam Chronicle, and M:tAw is getting The Fallen World Chronicle. No word on Changeling, Geist, or Promethean, but I'd be surprised if Changeling didn't get one. Geist, meanwhile, nobody seems to have much of an idea what to do with.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:14 AM on June 6


This was a good article. I like these kind of in depths looks at industry successes or failures. In particular I find the prophecy about the games industry not unlikely. I know it is partially due to my having got older, but I remember being constantly excited about new releases while growing up, while these days AAA studios rarely get me interested. Indies, sure, but there seems to be a lack of genuinely new AAA releases.

Re: Wod, having only played the wonderfully moody Promethean, and a Changeling campaign I had to drop out of, I have no experience of the old Wod that people speak of in such mythic tones. It is a running joke that White Wolf are incapable of ordering a rulebook in anything approaching a sane way (and good luck using the index!) but they are pretty good at making interesting settings. I think a lot of what makes an MMO, in fact any big game to be honest, is the setting. When I played WoW, the most fun I had was in exploring the world they had created. Its a shame we don't get to see that now, but its not like I would have had time to play an MMO anyway!
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:28 AM on June 6


That's what I meant--the big lines, Vampire/Werewolf/Mage, have gotten announcements as to their updates. There's no word whatsoever about Changeling, which has never been anywhere near the same popularity level, and I don't think with the new publisher that we can count on it getting any attention, honestly. And I've seen some fans try and come up with ways to update it, but--well, the new costs alone make Changeling stuff very screwy, so I really don't know how they're going to handle it. Onyx Path hasn't done anything with CtL since the stuff released in 2012 that was already in the pipeline when OP opened, and the only thing that seems to be coming is another period setting with no talk of rules updates, which is going to leave it entirely incompatible with the revised books, as far as I can tell?

It stands pretty well on its own, but I'm pretty disappointed so far. I'd like to be wrong about all this, but if you're going to do a major rules revision, to leave some systems waiting multiple years for updates seems to ignore that there's a lot of people playing multi-splat games.
posted by Sequence at 1:48 AM on June 6


If we're on to general WoD chitchat (and why not!), check out the Continuum: a fan made Mage (oWoD) expansion inspired by the wonderful UK sci fi series Sapphire and Steel.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:09 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It's a shame, really- an open-world MMO would have been a great fit for VtM. At the very least, it would have provided an alternative to LARPing, and kept the VtM-types from bothering the other Goths in the bar.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:27 AM on June 6


I like these kind of in depths looks at industry successes or failures. In particular I find the prophecy about the games industry not unlikely. I know it is partially due to my having got older, but I remember being constantly excited about new releases while growing up, while these days AAA studios rarely get me interested.

An endless succession of disappointments tends to make one jaded.
posted by empath at 4:36 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It's a shame, really- an open-world MMO would have been a great fit for VtM. At the very least, it would have provided an alternative to LARPing, and kept the VtM-types from bothering the other Goths in the bar.

I wasted many, many nights on open world WoD MUSHes back in the day.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:55 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


My take: Are you kidding? The first player to learn Contact Azathoth will eventually destroy the world, and half the player base will be actively trying to awaken Cthulhu. Basically, you'd measure time in terms of server resets, or "Time to Armageddon."

Depending on the player base this could be completely awesome in every way. It would never make money, though, because you'd never manage to get the players that you'd need for it to work.

Now I'm picturing a game like Glitch, except that the giants were sleeping and once they were awakened the world was destroyed and re-implemented.
posted by winna at 5:45 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Now I'm picturing a game like Glitch...

I'm sold.
posted by Braeburn at 6:18 AM on June 6


The dark wealth of the narrative setting can't be overstated.

I'm intrigued by the pieces of lore that have been dropped in this thread. Where can I go to waste my workday reading more?
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:27 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


The classic story of this type is Masters of Doom. It's a genre onto itself, watching the rise and fall of game companies.
posted by stbalbach at 6:55 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I mostly played oWOD Mage. When I looked into nWOD, it was hard to get over how human the setting felt, and that pretty much killed it for me. They took something weird and wonderful and pretty fundamentally out of human scope, and replaced it with the Illuminati? There was probably more to it than that, but after the initial shock I didn't really want to explore.

I do agree though that nWOD Changeling is a beautiful thing.
posted by pan at 7:00 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Was that ASC Games?

Nope.

I think making an MMO of the White Wolf stories was a terrible idea, because the White Wolf games were all about narrative and performance, and the MMO's seem to work better when players and their characters goals are one in the same, that is to say, when they're about economics, not passion.

I always felt the same. WoD really is more roleplaying than game. MMOs, at least since they became truly massive, are more game than roleplaying. The few RPers tend to be little soap-opera knots of people doing chatroom roleplaying, isolated from the game itself.

I have fond memories of text-based MMOs where you knew most of the couple of hundred regular players and their characters' personalities and the little dramas that would unfold. That could work with White Wolf stuff, but it wouldn't be profitable.
posted by Foosnark at 7:01 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


(Chalk me up as another one who really, really liked new Mage. I loved the overhauled rules system, and ran a game for about six months with a bunch of new players, wandering around the dark forests of the Pacific Northwest getting mixed up with old-school demon summoners, terrifying technomancers, and weird old werewolf packs around Arcata.)
posted by kaibutsu at 7:10 AM on June 6


I'm intrigued by the pieces of lore that have been dropped in this thread. Where can I go to waste my workday reading more?

Drive-Thru RPG has damned near everything ever published for both Worlds of Darkness for sale in .pdf. There's an unofficial WW wiki, though without context it can be a bit hard to sort out what's important and what isn't.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:28 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Wait, what was wrong with the old Wraith and Changeling games?

I ask that as someone who owned both books but never actually played them. I thought they had tremendously fascinating settings and lore, both of them. Probably two of the most interesting fantasy worlds I ever ran into. So are the statements above about their horribleness about them as games (i.e. problems I never ran into), or are they in contradiction to my love of them as world-building?

What was wrong with them?

i liked the aaron spelling show
posted by neuromodulator at 8:39 AM on June 6


Wraith was a high concept way to end your gaming group. Most people put a bit of themselves in their characters and suddenly having one of your peers playing your character's Shadow, actively trying to tear down that part of yourself, leads to bad juju on a practical level. One player gets really into the Shadow, weirds out another, meanwhile everyone else at the table has nothing to do while the two interact.

And that's the way the game group ends, boredom and strife.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:10 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Can anyone clarify what 'actual in-game riots' means?
posted by glasseyes at 9:21 AM on June 6


Can anyone clarify what 'actual in-game riots' means?

I'm not an Eve player, but I assume it was this:
In the Jita system, the most important commercial hub in EVE Online, hundreds of players pointed their weapons toward the "Memorial to the winners of the Ruevo Aram Riddle Competition", a great monument near the most trafficked station in the game, and opened fire.
posted by neckro23 at 10:17 AM on June 6


Wait, what was wrong with the old Wraith and Changeling games?

Wraith was never updated, so there's not an oWoD-nWoD comparison to be made. nWoD's Geist has a little commonality in premise and theme... but not a lot.

Though they both involve changelings, Changeling: the Dreaming (oWoD) and Changeling: the Lost (nWod) have very different premises.

In C:tD, changelings are fae souls born into human bodies, struggling to deal with their dual nature and a world in which the very survival of wonder and imagination and magic is in jeopardy. In C:tL, changelings are humans who were kidnapped by Fae and replaced with a fetch; the Changeliengs have spent years in Arcadia, the fae world, essentially playing mouse to the fae's cats. Prior to the start of play, they've somehow escaped back to Earth (massively altered by their time in Arcadia)... to find their old life is gone. Either their fetch died in the meantime, and everyone believes they're dead, or it's still alive, and everyone believes the fetch is them.

Zed's Law of RPG Partisanship: Infinite are the arguments of mages. Higher-order infinite are the arguments of people who sometimes pretend to be mages.

I've never played any World of Darkness game. I'd like to sometime, especially Wraith (oWoD), Changeling: the Lost (nWoD), Hunter: the Vigil (nWoD), and Mage (either or both). While waiting, I've read a lot of discussion of pros and cons.

There's fairly wide agreement that nWoD's rules improve on oWoD's, and that Mage: the Ascension's (nWoD) magic rules are better than Mage: the Awakening's (oWoD). And I've seen shockingly little dissent regarding the recent God Machine Chronicles' rules update to nWoD being an improvement to original nWoD.

Lots of people -- maybe even most, or maybe just a vocal minority -- prefer oWoD Mage's setting. nWod's Hunter and Changeling seem to have the edge over their predecessors, but oWoD's versions definitely have their proponents. Here's one long example of C:tD and C:tL fans hashing it out. To everyone's credit, it's pretty civil and people aren't saying there's something wrong with either.

By the way, there are some impressive unofficial fan-made nWoD lines. I'd really like to try Genius: the Transgression some time, in which you play mad scientists. Princess: the Hopeful began life as a joke of an nWoD take on magical girl anime... and evolved into a game.
posted by Zed at 10:25 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


What I know of the White Wolf and CCP people actually did feel like a natural fit...at least what I saw at E3, GenCon, and GDC. Both were notoriously hard partiers, edgy and fun, so in that I think the Guardian got things right.

When White Wolf came to my company shopping around the WoD MMO, they were very firm that they wanted VOIP in the game engine, which seemed like an odd thing to take a hard stance on. Their reasoning was that it would make the game more immersive, that no one else was doing it. I suspect this pursuit for "killer features" is part of what killed the project.

I really wanted this game to succeed; I wanted to play it. The Guardian article, if accurate, demonstrates why products need vision and good production to guide them and hold them accountable. Some producer should be reflecting very hard on his or her career choice right about now.
posted by offalark at 10:52 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


You know, logistically, a lot of the challenge of MMO translation is that MMOs tend to be focused on grinding to improve a character, usually via resource gathering or mook slaying via a same-y script. The problem with WoD is that none of the games are really focused on that- Vampire, for example, is basically imaginary Renaissance cloak and dagger politics and if your character hasn't used influence to deal with a physically dangerous problem they are probably really unlucky and your first IC goal should be to put a buffer between you and the normals- because if you get caught using your specialness too obviously with humans it violates a Masquerade. The two real currencies in Vampire are blood, which they need to survive, and social prestige, which helps them get what they want from other Vampires.

So I think an online MMO that accommodates that would need to take a step back from individual characters, and gear and basically all that standard MMO fodder. Instead you basically want to create a system that rewards being dynamic NPCs for other people- a Vampire, box art aside, isn't actually alone- even the rebel types have to have regular contact with people for omnoms.

Since I am a fan with no voice and naught but a head cannon, what I imagine is a game that allows you to create one supernatural- and then a fuckton of 'normals' for whatever the setting should have. For Vampire, let's say that's regular humans assigned to various setting enhancing categories corresponding to the influence your character has (law enforcement, medical staff, artist, criminal, etc...) following the influence accordingly. Playing out these roles gives you exp. which buffs your vampire and unlocks what you're allowed to do. You only have to do this a little bit of the time, and the system also seeds with a bunch of NPCs.

Then you create cities which are territories- and maintaining your influence is investing in your people. Each influence should also be related to an advantage- for example a 'medical' invested Vampire PC needs to control the hospital- they can go there to tap into the blood bank, run a doctor there who mucks with medical records in the morgue,

Furthermore, part of game balance in WoD is that each magical group has some sort of limitation. For VTM it was both that you take damage from sunlight and are sluggish during the day- so part of the time your character should be napping. Additionally there should be a citywide 'Masquerade' rating for the exposed areas- being stupid and overt should aggro law enforcement but also tag anyone causing the problem or hanging out there.

Another important mechanic would be social tagging- your 'humans' could tag to be related to each other and other player's humans, and Vampires tag to who sired them, but also your character can play up the emotional drama by being tagged as 'in love' or having a vendetta, and so on in ways that buff interactions accordingly, as well as forming coteries. Meanwhile interacting with other Vampires or hanging out in the 'Elysium' would raise the social prestige stat and players would have the ability to give negative or positive prestige (with more or less value based on the total prestige of the person giving it out).

Where all the human/influence stuff would matter is that your vampire would manage them like a gang- equip them, send them to do stuff (for example supernaturally mauled bodies would be sent to the morgue and a 'medical' human could be tasked with hiding the evidence or falsely accusing someone else, but also tend to their needs- and that the 'boon' system would allow you to borrow or take influence from other people (including borrowing their humans)- which could only be rejected at a cost to social prestige.

You could also use the inbuilt humanity rating to control being a game breaking dick (drop to a certain point, lose control of your character and have them be a mindless mook for others to mop up)- as well as giving players protection against being randomly PK'd- while killing 'owned' humans would carry a smaller penalty (eg owing the player boons), killing a vampire, in the setting, was supposed to be a nono without permission and could result in your character getting tagged for destruction.

Thus Vampire is really a resource management simulation with interpersonal drama- while clinging to buildings is very *theatrical*, it really has nothing to do with the game's existing mechanics. But like, nobody asked me, sadly.
posted by Phalene at 11:00 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Mage: the Ascension's (nWoD) magic rules are better than Mage: the Awakening's (oWoD)

Grrr. I got the subtitles backwards. Should have been "Mage: the Awakening's (nWoD) magic rules are better than Mage: the Ascension's (oWoD)"
posted by Zed at 11:46 AM on June 6


Changeling the Dreaming's problem is that it had about four or five really great games in it...none if which were compatible with each other.

Take Banality for instance, that toxic element of modern society: is it creativity vs. Uncreativity (meaning scientists, who are high Banality are uncreative)? Change vs. Stasis (why are Changelings locked into rigid races and powers)? Faerie reality vs. Modern reality? Insanity vs. sanity? I.can find readings for all of the above in the books. And yeah, my scientist friends were really annoyed by the whole "science is banal" stuff.

Add to the fact that where expansions should make for more options, the player's guide and splatbooks emphasized that the races should be played in the most rigid, unimaginative way ever. So for example, you can't have a Pooka who lies by omission, or shades the truth, or is sarcastic. No, he must be a constant fibber. It's like someone looked at the first Malkavian sourcebook and said "Hey, let's see if we can be MORE annoying!"

And again, Glamour and Banality were so incredibly poorly defined. Like, are children really supposed to be more creative and imaginative than adults? Again, some people found that whole "Adulthood is the worst thing ever" to be annoying.

Oh yeah, and the first edition C:tD making the powers be based on a collectable card game probably counts as one of, if not THE worst idea in rpg history. And it didn't help that the powers themselves seemed to have been created by a chimpanzee typing at random.

And what were Changelings again? Dreams made flesh? Imagination made flesh? Embodied alien spirits? All of the above? Something else?

Really, I dislike Ron Edward's criticism of "ncoherent" games, except in the case of Changeling. Because they really had no firm concept of what they were doing.

There's some great potential concepts in Changing, I've run with a couple myself. But you pretty much have to break the game down and rebuild it from the basics. And at that point, why not do something else?
posted by happyroach at 1:22 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Man this makes me feel old. Have I really been looking down on WOD players and Vampire LARPers for 23 years? I've only been spitting on MTG gamers for 21 years.
posted by Megafly at 4:53 PM on June 6


Changeling: the Lost will eventually get a Chronicle book, assuming the Chronicle books keep doing well, though Rich Thomas doesn't seem to think it's particularly necessary.

Again, some people found that whole "Adulthood is the worst thing ever" to be annoying.

Changeling is fucked up in part because it closely mirrors the beliefs of a group of fucked-up people, and it doesn't help that "being a mature, rational adult is the worst thing ever, and you can injure fairies just by being a functional adult around them" is seriously, seriously fucked up.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:44 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I would only play a WoD MMO if it were done as a period piece, i.e. set in the 1990s.
posted by um at 7:08 PM on June 6


I hearby invent the term EIGHTIESPUNK.
posted by JHarris at 1:17 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


How to put it? Changeling: the Dreaming has a really weird premise and it's hard to get people to play it; I know, I was a fan of the game at the time and eventually did get a chronicle going. To put it succinctly, the central concept – characters struggling for limited Glamour and fighting to stave off Banality – did not work as a game. Plus, the first edition relied on cards for the spells, which was a gimmick that seriously damaged the line. And the early products were really, really bad.

But second edition had an extremely beautiful rulebook (seriously, they had Rebecca Guay and Tony DiTerlizzi – it was overload for fantasy watercolor) and overall in tone the game focused on "urban fantasy with a weird concept behind it" and more or less arrived at a playable compromise. It wound up more or less like the other World of Darkness games, tossing the high concept aside, strongly encouraging players to keep up "the masquerade," and focusing on the politics and territoriality over the ostensible premise of the game. The problem was, by that point, most potential fans had been driven away.

The problem with Changeling: the Lost for fans of the Dreaming was, it didn't really scratch the itch of the urban fantasy game we liked, instead being something totally different.
posted by graymouser at 2:46 AM on June 7


Changeling also had a real issue with the "Well, what do we do?" Strong settings produce archetypal plots. What do Vampires do? They protect the Masquerade, they fight and scheme against each other for status within their sect, they fight other sects, they monger influence and personal power. What do Werewolves do? They fight the Wyrm, they protect (ideally) their Kinfolk, they explore the Umbra, they seek Renown. What do Changelings do? Wellllll...

Both incarnations of Mage have that problem to a certain degree, mitigated by Mages being strong-willed, individualistic types with hugely varied motivations. A Mage character's going to have strong motivations and goals, but outside of "fight the Seers/Technocracy" or "bicker with the other local members of the Traditions/Pentacle", Mage motivations (and hence stories) are going to to be heavily determined by the characters themselves. Changeling always felt to me like a character type in search of a story.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:25 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


I found folks who got Dreaming *really* got it and had a blast with it, but it was in its own cul de sac. Strangely, these people weren't "otherkin" types for the same reasons that "real vampires" slag off the Vampire RPG: the existence of the fiction renders the origins of what they believe too obviously arbitrary, and strangely, suggests that they could go about it less shallowly.

Dreaming really occupies this middle space between a magic realism exploration of theme and a description of a fantasy world. Successful games skew less toward believing that this is an alternate world where children are special and more toward being in a story where we explore these things, but with the ability to slide back and forth to support the dynamic, long form nature of RPG play. (Recent taxonomies of what RPGs are tend to say you can't have it both ways, which is why I don't especially care for them.)

Lost (which I worked on a few supplements for) takes this magic overlay and makes it antagonistic. Changelings have escaped an oppressive story and have had the meaning hollowed out of them, replaced with the Fae nature, so the challenge becomes one of self-definition in the face of mythic patterns.
posted by mobunited at 5:44 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Dreaming was really two things in one, which probably limited its audience. It helps to understand it if you've read Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, which was a major inspiration for the game. To put it simply: you're enmeshed in a struggle for territory (and Glamour) between rival Faerie courts, and at the same time you're trying to put on a killer rock concert in your mundane life. I think the problem is that the system was never really strong on how to integrate generating Glamour, and as such people didn't really have a clear direction on that side of the equation.
posted by graymouser at 5:49 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


But anyway, if Werewolf: the Apocalypse were more popular I think that could be a fun MMO – playing Garou fighting the Wyrm seems more amenable to the kind of gameplay that MMOs foster than playing Vampires in their eternal power struggles.
posted by graymouser at 5:52 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


I always understood that a major motivator for rebooting WoD was to get a unified rule set that could be used to introduce supernaturals from other game lines into your games. It always seemed foolish to me that vampires wouldn't wind up brushing against other supernaturals, given their predilection for eating people, and I don't think I've played a game set in the WoD that didn't have them at least at the periphery. This was especially true with Hunter: The Reckoning, where you're out hunting vampires and whatnot. Having upteen rulesets got really tricky for me as a Storyteller, at times. Having a unified rule set with a unified game world is terribly useful.

Of course this has given me the mad skillz required to run V:tM games with Lost Changelings in it. Best of both worlds.

Wait, what was wrong with the old Wraith and Changeling games?

Wraith is the most depressing game you are ever going to play, if it's done right. You start off dead, then it gets worse. Your entire game, at it's heart, is a fight against oblivion. Also, there's a mechanic called the Shadow, where your character's inner demons are given actual life (so to speak) and are farmed out to another player to manage. From time to time it's possible to have your character lose control to their Shadow - and the player controlling that Shadow makes your character's decisions instead of you. In a group full of good players who trust one another the mechanic would be interesting, I think, but I can see it getting really ugly really fast.

I say "could be" because I've never found a group willing to play it. Too bleak.

Changeling: The Dreaming became a fine game that was in no way set in the WoD and it suffered very much from being wedged in there. I've played a few good Dreaming games, but they're always playing lipservice to the setting and we spend more time in Arcadia than anywhere else. It's also got much more limited character options than Lost does.
posted by Jilder at 7:56 AM on June 7


It always seemed foolish to me that vampires wouldn't wind up brushing against other supernaturals, given their predilection for eating people, and I don't think I've played a game set in the WoD that didn't have them at least at the periphery.

The book for the Seers of the Throne, the Illuminati mages in M:tAw who conspire to keep everybody stupid and distracted and Asleep, mentions that since the Seers and the vampires have the same goal (hide the magical reality from humanity), there's cities where the local Seers and vampires have an arrangement where they occasionally slide each other information or trade favors.


Wraith is the most depressing game you are ever going to play, if it's done right. You start off dead, then it gets worse. Your entire game, at it's heart, is a fight against oblivion.

To me, that makes Wraith the most hopeful and amazing. You are literally the sum of your passions and attachments, and the force you are ultimately struggling against is the total negation of self and existence. You can kind of half-ass a character in most games, just have a sheet and no real sense of who the character is, but in Wraith, who the character is and what the character is are one and the same. It's a bleak game, yeah, but it's also beautiful.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:41 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


This thread inspired me to check out Demon: The Descent. It reminds me in a good way of the old Technocracy, with all the spy tradecraft and coincidental magic.

It even kind of has HIT Marks, since the superpowered true form of demons is all biomechanical horror.

One day I'll run a nWOD campaign. One day.
posted by squinty at 4:47 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my list of *WoD games I'd like to try should have included both Demons.
posted by Zed at 5:21 PM on June 10


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