DISCLAIMER: Company names and external links on all external communications have been omitted from this article. Proper names of individuals have been changed to protect them.
That title might sound completely unlike anything I've ever written on this site... and you're right, because I didn't write it.
Several weeks ago I got contacted by a company that was willing to pay me to post articles on my site.
Here's the first email:
I hope you're having a great day! My name is Samantha and I'd like to submit an editorial piece for your website, rpg.brainclouds.net.
We have a team of writers ready to prepare a post written according to your site's topic, whilst adding references to our client. We are also able to pay an administration fee of $100 for your efforts in publishing the article.
Our aim is to contribute an article that adds value to your website and something that you and your readers may find useful and entertaining.
Please email me back if this is something that might interest you, David.
I look forward to working with you.
*NOTE*: "Samantha Smith" is not their real name.
A subsequent email explains how this would work...
I sent you an email about providing an article for your site. Have you read it and had time to think about it?
To repeat, we can send over a well-written content created specifically for your site. The post would also contain references to our client.
You will also receive an annual payment for your effort, paid promptly through PayPal.
Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you.
"Yours"?!? Man, they're trying to sell me their body already?
So here's how it works: they send me an article, I post it in its unmodified form and leave it on my site for 12 months, and after 12 months they PayPal me $100. Sounds easy, don't it?
I, like pretty much anyone who's ever owned a meaningful blog, has probably gotten a fair share of requests like this. But has anyone ever done anything besides instantly hit the DELETE key and carry on with their lives?
So, for the sake of journalism and because I haven't posted an article here in millennia, I will take that challenge!
Now, if you're reading this you know what this site's content is about... but I couldn't help but wonder if they knew that. Furthermore, their article will contain links to their clients, so I can't help but wonder (1) whether they even can write an article about D&D, and (2) how they would railroad their existing clients into said article.
So, for curiosity's sake... or perhaps for amusement's sake... I decided to play along. I had some questions of my own before I proceeded.
This is my email to them, complete with shameless shilling of my fan base and my lack of time to post anything productive:
Well this is an interesting offer, I admit. I haven't had much a chance to post a lot recently, so really could use some articles to maintain my fan base (over 2,000 followers on Twitter!).
I do have some questions, though:
1) I currently do not have an active PayPal account due to collection problems with PayPal. Is there any other payment option?
2) Is it $100 per article or per year? If the latter, how many articles does that $100 include?
3) Do I have any right of refusal for articles you submit that I may deem inappropriate to post?
4) What kind of clients do you represent?
5) Do you have a company website, or somewhere where I can see examples of articles you have written?
6) Do you even know what my site's topic is?
Thank you for your interest. Maybe we can work something out after all.
Now, just to be clear, I could care less about the answer to questions #1-5... I wanted to hear their answer to #6.
And they did not disappoint...
Thanks for getting back to me and I'm more than happy to answer your queries.
1. We make our payments only with Paypal and Skrill/Moneybookers. We find these two channels as the most safe and efficient. If you don't have a Paypal account, you may also sign up with Skrill/Moneybookers, or we can transfer the payment to a friend or colleague of yours that has Paypal and we'll just cover the Paypal fees.
2. The fee is for just a single article which we would ask for you to keep on your website for 1 year.
3. The article is subject to your review and approval prior to publication.
4. The article will include a few references to our client, a digital entertainment company offering online games. You are free to review the article first to see if it suits your site and readership.
5. Yes, you can find more information about us here: http://letsgetwise.com/about-us/
6. The article we aim to contribute is written according to your site's topic - Game Design and /or D&D (video games)
Please let me know if you wish to see the article and I'll ask our writers to prepare the copy. You may also specify topics that you prefer so that I can pass them on.
I await your response.
Now there's two things to note in the above.
- Their client is a "digital entertainment company offering online games". Remember that description later...
- I'm a "game design and/or D&D (video games)" blog. Well, asctually, that's closer than I expected them to be so I'll allow it.
So far, there's no risk to me. They write me an article, and I get to choose whether to post it or not, and it doesn't cost me time or money. If anything, it costs me personal pride and ethics... but that's worth the $100 I'll make a year from now, right?
I, of course, had more questions before I commit to this...
I'm still considering it, and I am interested... One final set of questions, along with the request to see a sample of what they would intend to post:
1) Is there any sort of contract that would be involved in this?
2) Are there any restrictions - legal or otherwise - as to what I can and can't do outside of this one article (which I assume I can't alter) on my own site?
Beyond that, I would love to see the type of article I should expect from this sort of thing. If it really works out, I'd be more than happy to do this setup more than once; my site could use the content.
The reason for question #2 is, if I do decide to post it, whether I'm allowed to bash it mercilessly in a blog post the next day. I could care less about the $100 in a year... this has comedic value now!
I hope you are well and my apologies on the delayed response. We don't have a set of terms and conditions or contract. All we would ask from you is to keep the article on your website for at least 12 months. Again, you are also free to review the article and make necessary adjustments to match the tone and style of your writing, however, we would ask you to keep the hypertext and links originally included when the article is sent.
I should be able to send the draft for your review within the next couple of days. If you have any editorial guidelines or specific topics in mind that you wish for us to write or avoid, please let me know so I can pass them on.
At this point, I couldn't wait for the monstrosity of an article they were going to send me!
Today I received the article. After looking at the post and the supporting links (we'll get to that later), I told them that I would not continue with our arrangement... but, of course, I'm going to post their jewel anyway. For free, 'cause I'm such a nice guy.
Here it is, in its entirety but with the links removed.
Title: Did you know that there's a Dungeons and Dragons slot machine?
Yeah, totally sounds like something I'd write. Oh boy... this is going to be good...
In May 2014, legendary game developer Konami launched two slot machines themed after Dungeons and Dragons namely "Conquests and Treasures" and "Enchanted Riches." (link removed) According to the games’ description, both have a 4-level progressive feature, free spins, and Xtra Reward.
To those who aren't familiar with slot machines, 4-level progressive is a fancy term used by game developers for bonus rounds, which can be triggered after playing a slot machine for a certain period of time. Bonus rounds usually yield bigger winnings than the payouts given by regular spins.
Free spins is pretty much self-explanatory. They award free games, and can be unlocked when a player hits 3 specific icons from a single spin. Xtra Reward, on the other hand, is Konami’s original slot feature that is offered to players who bet big.
Now, who would’ve thought that a lot of casino-goers are fans of the world's leader in tabletop role-playing game? According to G3 Newswire (link removed), guests actually waited in line when the game was launched at the Valley View Casino and Hotel in San Diego. Apart from cool prizes from the event organizers, each guest was given an official action figure patterned after the slot machines’ fire-breathing dragon model.
“The players we see this day and age are out looking for entertainment, and there’s a lot of entertainment value in the new Dungeons & Dragons slot machines,” said Randy Reedy, the Vice President of Valley View’s slot operations. “They really enjoy the experience. Just watching them, they get excited about additional bonuses within the free spin feature, which takes them to the progressive functionality. It’s very fun and interactive."
Today's young adults are usually the target of slot makers. This is evident on An Online Casino (link AND name removed), the world's first online casino that opened in the late 90s, having games that carry with them the commercial license of DC Comics and several other movie franchises. Perhaps there are already enough slot machines tailored for the more mature audience so slot developers are now trying to expand their market by attracting the younger demographic.
Check out the DnD Enchanted Riches game in action on this YouTube video. (link below)
So the "digital entertainment company offering online games" is an online casino... I mean, I expected something like that, which is why I was curious how they were going to railroad that kind of client into an article about D&D, but thanks to Konami they had a reason.
And, you know, I actually considered complying with their request, posting it as-is, and bashing it tomorrow... but something really rubbed me the wrong way and forced me to tell them "no" immediately and make this post.
What was it? Well, here's a video of the machine being demoed:
Let's face it, we can't expect a SLOT MACHINE to capture the feel that is D&D (what's with the playing card letters and numbers?!?). And I have to wonder if Wizards of the Coast is actually aware that this is what was going to be done with their brand and signed off on this.
But about 0:30 in we get this jewel:
"...but it's not really hardcore Dungeons and Dragons. It actually, what we found, is it appeals to both men and women..."
*headdesk!* ... *headdesk!* ... *headdesk!*
You know, I just can't accept that.
So I immediately said goodbye to the $100 I couldn't wait to spend next year, and sent them an email that I "would not proceed with our arrangement".
Well, at least I got a blog post out of this...
Gosh, it's been a while... To say my life has been hectic, or difficult, is somewhat of an understatement. So much so that I have had to effectively cancel my trip to GenCon this year because I see no way whatsoever that it can be logistically or financially possible. So, to those of you that are going, I will have no choice but to experience it vicariously through you.
Meanwhile, my little pet project - the Atomic Age RPG - has been languishing in something I can only describe as "development hell". Or maybe "launch a Kickstarter hell", if such a thing exists.
Here are my concerns with the project:
1) I have no art
Right now, at this very moment, I can probably launch a Kickstarter, distribute or sell the product... but I can't bring myself to do that. You see, right now at it stands it's nothing more than a text dump, an almost identical copy of the Archmage Engine SRD with some words and numbers changed. That does not make for a successful RPG by any means, and I feel that if I were to do that the product wouldn't last a day before disappearing into obscurity.
If I'm going to do this I'm going to do this right, which means that I need some sort of art. And there are many levels that need to be covered by art...
- I don't even have a LOGO yet
- The Kickstarter listing alone needs some sort of art
- The core book needs art. A LOT of art, quite frankly
- Everything else (stretch goals, backer rewards, etc...) needs art
Now I know a handful of artists I want to approach with this project, and I have even had business-like discussions with them, but with all of them there is a cost to get this off the ground. Maybe some will do it free, I don't know... I didn't ask and I don't want to ask. Like I said, I want to do this right: I do not want contributions or charity. I'm going to treat this like a business, which means I will pay my artists what the market bears.
That being said, although the cost of prettying up the core book and supplementals will be covered by the Kickstarter itself, the logo and Kickstart art will not and has to be paid first. The financial turmoils I've already mentioned make that rather difficult to do, and I can't bring myself to take the next steps without knowing - without a doubt - that I can afford my artists.
2) It hasn't been officially announced
I've mentioned the project in passing, and have even posted images of some of the content I've been working on, but it hasn't really been officially announced. There's a website, and a Facebook page, and a Twitter account... but few people know about it.
Why not? I don't have a logo, and for personal pride reasons I feel I can't start officially directing people to the social media venues without having a product identity.
So, until I can do that, they stay clouded in obscurity and amidst the whispers of a select few.
3) It hasn't been playtested
Because it hasn't been launched, few people know about it. Even fewer have actually seen it. Actually, I can only think of two people that have, and even those two have probably only glanced over it, figuring I wasn't quite serious about this whole thing because I haven't done everything I mention above.
For that reason, I have no idea if what I'm doing is "right" or "broken". I don't know if I properly grasp the concepts and game style people expect or look forward to, or if I've created any single element that needs radical changing before it gets abused all to hell.
Granted, the playtesting could theoretically happen during or after the Kickstarter, but as a long time game designer it's a serious concern for me. I've had issues before with games that weren't properly tested... Sure, this isn't a video game, but I feel it needs an equal level of analysis and testing before getting anywhere near production.
4) It hasn't been edited
I'll be honest: I'm a lousy writer. And if you're a writer reading this, I bet you can admit (to yourself, at least) that in the early stages of your writing career you were a lousy writer too. Heck, there are probably several dozen grammatical errors and misspellings in this post alone (yes, I know they're there... No, don't point them out).
If I want to do this right, the game has to be the best that it can be, and for that an editor is absolutely necessary. Yes, I know that the editor can do his job pretty much at any time before the product reaches the final stages, but that would mean that the early "alpha" or playtest releases might end up looking like they were written by a child who can't speak English. Once again, personal pride steps in... You can be the creator of the best RPG the world has ever seen, but if you give it to the world using text that looks like it was written by a monkey with a typewriter it doesn't matter how good the game is.
5) It's not done
In the video game industry, there was a time when if you asked pretty much any video game developer when they were going to release their product they would answer without hesitation "when it's done" (I guess we can thank 3D Realms for that one). But the thing is, if it were entirely up to me and my creative flow, what exactly defines "done"? Honestly, I could keep writing content until the core manual is 3,000 pages. Who decides "OK, you can stop now and publish this"?
Furthermore, as many authors will probably attest to, it's hard to be satisfied with what you've written. When you think you're done, you look at it and think "you know, I didn't like [X]... let me fix that"... And six months and 400 pages of rewrites later you keep thinking the same thing. It's very hard for a writer to stop themselves because, in their eyes, it's never done... it's never perfect... and there's always room to do something better.
Let's look at the classic example of someone taking forever to write something: George R. R. Martin. Do you honestly think he sits down and starts writing page one, then as soon as he writes the last word of page 1,200 sends it off to the publisher and never thinks about it again? Heck no. Let's be realistic here, there probably is at least one version of The Winds of Winter that is already written cover to cover... He's knows it's terrible, he's probably been writing and rewriting and rewording and fixing it for the last four years, and will probably keep doing that for another four years because that's the way he works. If he had someone that made him publish the books when they were ready, we'd have fifteen books in the series by now. They may not be as awesome as the five books we've seen (they'd probably suck, to be honest), but they'd be out there.
So unless you're George R. R. Freakin' Martin, eventually you have to put your foot down and say "OK, I might have spent five years rewriting this thing eighteen times, and I know it's probably the worst thing I've ever written, but I can't keep doing this until the end of time", send it to your publisher and hope that you're the only one that thinks it sucks.
I know a lot of things in my product are deficient, or "broken", or nothing more than a "// TODO" tag. It's personal pride again, preventing me from having anyone besides myself see how bad or lacking this product is. Every day I write something, even if it's a sentence or a paragraph or changing monster #135's Mental Defense stat... But I know that at some point I'm going to have to force myself to stop and let other people look at this mess.
Anyway, besides the personal issues I will not elaborate on here, I have a lot of things to do and a lot of battles with my own pride to overcome. This product will get done, sooner than later, and I just have to get my crap together to do it.
Until the Kickstarter launches, "ever forward..."
If you've been following this blog, you know that we have had our fair share of communication with the legal department over at Wizards of the Coast, and as a result we have not only learned a great deal of what we can and cannot do as far as licensing but we have been able to figure out exactly who the right person to talk to is in order to get the necessary licensing agreements in place
Several months ago, after a great deal of negotiations (most talks of which started with the words "now please don't sue us, but...") we have managed to talk to the right people and sign the proper agreements to do what we thought was impossible: secure a provisional license to use the Dungeons and Dragons brand name to create the next state of the art video game based on the "DnD Next" rule set. The official press release can be read below:
Since we are not authorized to be direct competitors to the upcoming MMORPG Neverwinter by Cryptic Studios, our product is a single player campaign that will be a traditional delve through a dungeon. While we have had a group of professional, well known writers working on the story - most of which you are familiar with, but we are not allowed to disclose names yet due to Non-Disclosure Agreements - I and a group of experienced software developers have been working on the engine.
Since we do not want to take funding away from Wizards of the Coast and would rather they spend the resources they have to get "DnD Next" developed and released, in a few weeks we intend to launch a Kickstarter project to fund the development of the final product. We did not want to launch a Kickstarter before we had a "proof of concept", and unlike some other companies we do not want to launch a Kickstarter to fund said "proof of concept". So we have been developing the engine on our own, on our personal time and at our personal expense, in the hopes that it can show the world what we're capable of and more easily reach our goals once the Kickstarter launches.
After further negotiations, and painstaking work over the past few months to get it in running condition, I have been authorized to release our first "proof of concept" (which we refer to internally as an "alpha" build) for The Caverns of Mayhem: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure (tentative title... we'll let the writers come up with something better) that you can download below!!!
The game engine is not exactly a direct port of the "DnD Next" ruleset simply because, as is the case in Neverwinter, a lot of the rules don't exactly port flawlessly from the tabletop to a video game. But it has everything you've come to love about D&D: it's got dungeons, it's got monsters, it's got treasure... and, heck, it's even got a dragon!
The "proof of concept" which you can download below has been developed for Microsoft Windows (we're investigating a Mac port, but none of us actually own a Mac so we'll probably have to wait for funding on that) and requires nothing more than the .NET Framework 2.0. It is not graphics intensive so it should run on pretty much any machine; in fact, for those of you with inferior machines our game will probably run significantly better than Neverwinter because the hardware requirements are much lower. And, thanks to proprietary compression technology, it uses a lot less drive space!
As we mention above, it is a very early "alpha" build and has some known issues. And, since it's an "alpha", I ask that you do not start reporting bugs in it; we pretty much know what most of them, and have tried to document them in the "readme" file included with the distribution. Please read that file prior to launching the game so you understand what to expect and are aware of the aspects of the game that have yet to be completed.
We here at Darklight Interactive are entering an interesting time, and we would like to thank everyone at Wizards of the Coast for giving us the opportunity to use your license. We hope that, after looking at our proof of concept below, you support us and await our upcoming Kickstarter launch.
Thank you all for your support.
Requires Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0
(c) 2013, Darklight Interactive - All Rights Reserved
Dungeons & Dragons, D&D, Neverwinter, Wizards of the Coast, and their respective logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries, and are used with permission. Hasbro and its logo are trademarks of HASBRO, Inc.
Please don't sue us.
Before I continue, I need to state a disclaimer:
1) I don't remember the last time I wrote a review about anything. So this may not be the most perfect of reviews; it's more of a brain dump, if you will.
2) I have never played World of Warcraft. My recent MMORPG experience is only Everquest II. Well, except for when I beta tested Ultima Online (before you ask: yes, I was in Britannia when Lord British died)
3) I am extremely weak when it comes to Dungeons and Dragons lore. For example, I know there's a city called "Neverwinter", but that's pretty much all I know about it.
Anyway, here goes...
This weekend marked the third beta test weekend for Neverwinter, so I got the opportunity to experiment with it.
All in all it was a rather enjoyable experience but I think the product is going to suffer because of the way it is presented: it's being billed as an MMORPG at the same level as World of Warcraft, but it clearly is not and should never be considered as such. To me it looks like a single player experience - something like Neverwinter Nights, Kingdoms of Amalur, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, etc. - that just happens to have a LOT of NPCs in it.
And I mean LOTS... Compared to other multiplayer games I've seen, the engine manages to handle over a hundred players in one zone amazingly well. You wander through Protector's Enclave and you are simply surrounded by dozens of other players. This gives the environment life and makes it feel like an actual city, not like the barren wasteland that cities are in most other games. Granted you can't interact with each and every one as if they were an NPC, but it just feels grander. I remember walking through the "great" city of Qeynos in Everquest II and wondering where the hell anyone is; you certainly won't feel that way about the city of Neverwinter.
Beyond that, the game progresses like a single player experience; I pretty much solo-ed the entire game all the way to level 30. At the end of each zone there is a "party only" event that requires you to have 5 players, but it's really optional and isn't required to proceed along the original quest line. So if you're looking for the true multiplayer experience, the thrill of 20 man raids or interaction with teammates, I'm not sure if Neverwinter is for you.
1) The game runs remarkably well, all things considered. Granted, my machine is as low end as you can get, the video quality was abysmal for me and there were certain areas where I felt I was watching a slide show than playing a game (the zone with the "mad dragon" was unplayable due to frame rate), but running through Neverwinter with a hundred players around me ran pretty well.
2) If you liked the single player games I mentioned above (specifically Neverwinter Nights and Kingdoms of Amalur), you should enjoy this game. It's really nothing more than a single player game that requires an Internet connection; there are multiplayer aspects of it (not many that I saw) but they're not an obligation. A majority of the zones along the main questline are instanced and not shared so you'll be all alone most of the time.
3) It feels like D&D. It may not feel like 4th Edition, or any edition for that matter, but there's no doubt about the fact that you're playing a D&D game. The first time you get attacked by a mimic or the first time you plow in to a gelatinous cube will be memorable (I'm not sure if either one can be detected prior to attack; it all happened so quick). And once you get to the 30s, you can experience a rather large green dragon (that crumpled heap at the bottom of the screen is me).
4) Some of the zones are beautiful. The Plague Tower, with huge chunks of stone floating in mid air, is a sight to see.
5) I was concerned to a point about the "free to play" model and whether there would be "pay to win". In the 30 levels I've played I managed to accumulate two companions (can only have one active at a time though) and a horse without having to spend real world money, so that says something about it. Granted, I can imagine certain things would be a lot easier had I shelled out some money - I'm betting I wouldn't have taken such a beating with the green dragon if I was buffed with stuff I bought - but that doesn't mean I can't play the game. You can still enjoy it without shelling out a dime.
1) If you're looking for a true MMO experience, I don't know if this will be your cup of tea. I'm sure you can team up to do quests, but even so it's very personal and doesn't feel like it's designed for massive raids other MMORPGs tailor to.
2) The main questline follows a very linear progression: do everything in zone "X", then move on to zone "Y". At least in games like Everquest you sometimes have the need to go back to old zones, and in EQ there are cases where an instance of a differing level than the surrounding zone exists, but here as soon as you're done with a zone forget about it. For example, if you finish Blacklake and move on to the next zone you can never again do the dungeon or skirmish missions that were there and have no reason to ever go back to Blacklake.
3) Because of the linear progression, I can't help but wonder what's going to happen once you hit the level cap. At least with Everquest you have things to do: zones to explore, raids to participate in, thousands of quests to complete, etc... but it doesn't quite feel like that will be the case with this one. I question what there will be to do besides retire your character and make another one. Time will tell.
4) All the zones don't become available until you complete necessary quests and unlock them. I would prefer that all zones be open; if you're level 1 and you blunder in to a level 60 zone that's your problem but that's also your choice. They mentioned zones like Icespire Peak which I can't even go see if I wanted to.
5) Inventory management becomes an issue quickly. Unidentified items are worthless and cannot be equipped, but the only apparent way to identify items is with a Scroll of Identification which is extremely rare. At level 30, I was constantly running around with a pack busting at the seams with unidentified items that I would have to discard now and then just to make room.
6) Expect to run around a lot. Most zones only have one main entrance in or out, so since there's no fast travel I've found that the quickest way to go to another zone is to kill yourself (diving in to the Rift in Neverdeath Cemetery was particularly entertaining, especially when my companion dove in after me a few seconds later). Eventually you get to buy a horse but it doesn't feel that much faster.
7) Monsters don't appear to be tied down to a specific spot. In Everquest you can be chased by monsters up to a certain point where they will break off the attack and return home, but here you can train dozens of monsters across the entire zone. Since every monster in the zone has pretty much the same level it's not that big of an issue; you won't have problems like Fansy the Bard dragging a boatload of high level creatures over to pound you in to batter.
8) The voice acting is pretty bad. And, in some cases, really bad. The fact that they won't shut the hell up when they're standing near you really doesn't help.
1) This. Just... This.
Every time you enter a new zone - and sometimes while you're playing - you get hit with this. It's "Patching"... What it's patching I don't honestly know, but it got to be quite infuriating. On some zones it's quick, but on other zones it took upwards of 6-8 minutes. My longest wait was 496 seconds.
What is that for? I would much rather wait an hour for the game to patch itself on launch before I even play it than to get constantly interrupted every time I zone. And, quite honestly, if I invite you to a zone and it takes you ten minutes before you even show up I'm going to kick you from the group.
2) This has been touched upon by others much better than I, but women's armor has some... issues. I mean, this is my female halfling rogue:
What the hell kind of armor is that? It's better than chainmail despite the bare midriff. And what is that, a duck crammed in to my toon's cleavage?!?
I recently tried Wizardry Online and was immediately turned off because every female player looked like a prostitute. This isn't as bad, but it's pretty damn close. And I'm hoping that wardrobes will become considerably more diverse; for now, considering everyone on the main questline gets the same rewards, expect every level 30 rogue to have pretty much the same appearance.
3) There are bugs, which can be expected. But many have said that Perfect World has a tendency of not fixing things and launching anyway which is somewhat disconcerting. There technically weren't any actual "showstoppers" but there were some really glaring issues that I feel should have been dealt with on the first beta.
All in all it was an enjoyable experience, and I think it's a game that captures the feel of D&D and shows some great promise. Whether this will have the necessary longevity to keep players playing has yet to be determined, but in lieu of that if you're looking for a long single player experience this might be worth it. If you're looking for a hardcore MMORPG, I question whether this will give you that.
I look forward to the next beta weekend!