AGDC08: Lane Merrifield, At Their Service

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Sep 152008

At Their Service: Making a Difference by Putting Players First
Lane Merrifield, Club Penguin


Thank you for allowing me to be here, a huge honor. It wasn’t to omany years ago that I was just an avid fan dreaming of attending this conference. Going to try to keep it brief so we can have time for questions.

I had a few plane issues last night, landed at 4:30am, if i am slow, it’s not because I am Canadian.

Why would I fly to Austin to listen to someone talk about serving others? If we can truly learn how to put the player first, we will have better customer support, and we will build better games, stornger teams, and better businesses.

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Jul 152008
XBox Live avatars

XBox Live avatars and new dashboard

From here, it sure like the virtual world-ish convergence that has long been predicted is hitting the consoles in earnest.

  • XBox Live is adding avatars, akin to the Nintendo Miis, but it looks like they’ll have a bit more spatiality and multiplayer interaction to them — and will be the basic interface for XBL from now on. Oh, and remember when I commented that consoles were turning into PCs? They announced the ability to install games to the hard drive as a major advance. Heh.
  • Nintendo’s next Animal Crossing game is also drifting towards online-world land, though still not truly massive in scale.
  • Club Penguin is jumping to the Nintendo DS, and don’t underestimate Disney’s new DGamer service, which is intended to network all the Disney online properties.
  • Sony has a 256-player action game coming, which qualifies as “massive,” certainly, though perhaps not as presistent. They’re also adding more real-world integration, with stuff like movie and TV downloads, weather service, news, etc.
May 202008

Nielsen is saying that Club Penguin is stalling out — not much, just a -7% growth year on year from last April to this April.

Of course, with the quantity of kids’ worlds coming into the market now, this is not really surprising, is it? I mean, I was at the grocery store this weekend, and there was a rack of Beanie Babies 2.0 with giant “play online!” tags hanging on them. It may be that this is the death of “Web 2.0,” when it gets co-opted for Beanie Babies.

At left here is the rack of game cards available at Target — snapped this weekend, and strongly reminiscent, finally, of similar shots I have taken in Korea, Japan, and China. For years, there was no such rack in the US. Then it was just a couple of cards, and only at some checkouts. Now it gets a rack right between the TV box sets and the top pop albums (you can see REM’s latest CD there, abandoned on the top shelf).

Besides the cards you maybe expect to see, like Club Penguin, WoW, and Zwinky, there’s also a large stack of ’em for gPotato games (Flyff, Shot Online, etc) And Acclaim, which make their living by bringing over games from Korea. There’s WildTangent cards, and the Gaia cards are almost sold out. The diversity is interesting, as is the lack of cards for most of the core gamer MMORPGs. The strong presence of the often-marginalized Korean games is telling.

Meanwhile, I hear that Age of Conan has something like 700,000 units in the pipe for day one, which is either a business blunder or a sign of high pre-orders and pent-up demand. WoW players looking for something new to sink their teeth into?

We’re starting to see the fragmentation that can come from having so many offerings on the market. How many kids’ worlds can actually survive?

I actually think the answer is “just about all of them.” If online continues to chew through the gaming market, this rack could be the size of a Gamestop someday — one stack of cards per game, in a world where all the games try to drive alternate revenue streams regardless of platform.

May 092008

MMO Week: Industry has been irresponsible with kids // News //

Merrifield also thinks that there is an over-reliance on technology that ignores the human element, which is why they’ve decided to devote two-thirds of the company’s staff to positions such as safety moderators and customer service.

“We know the limits of technology, even though I would put our filtering software up against anybody’s, especially because of that human element – we’re adding 500 to 1000 words every day to the filters, simply because of slang that works its way into the language.

Jeez, I know professional writers who rack up less word count than that in a day.

Apr 092008

Disney is shuttering Virtual Magic Kingdom. Nobody knows how many active users it has these days, and Disney is of course moving aggressively into more virtual worlds, encouraging users to switch to Toontown, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, and Club Penguin. But as longtime virtual worlders know, that’s not acceptable to the current community, who not only have a lengthy thread on the discussion boards, but have also started threads even on the new coverage elsewhere begging for their world to remain open.

Generally, a virtual world with any momentum at all will not die unless it is actively killed. And the result is always heartrending posts like this one: Continue reading »