Electron Dance
3Jan/12Off

The Xmaspiration: Laura’s Story

-201TCA88-LM- Virtue is Bond. I/We have discovered the ex-dictator of the late Facewizard empire fled to Earth and is masquerading as Earthen flesh Laura Michet. She is one-half of Second Person Shooter and also a copywriter for Tencent America.

The Spiritual Domain of The Aspiration and Facewizard were neighbours. Today, Laura describes her experience of running an empire.

Facewizard - Laura Michet, Second Person Shooter - That is one crazy hat, Laura

Why I Did Not Enjoy Neptune’s Pride

Games of Neptune’s Pride eventually come to an end, apparently.

After about two days of playing the game, I was more interested in seeing that end than in winning, or even continuing to play. The game takes place at a glacially slow pace; ships crawl across the map. Apparently, this is necessary for players to form strategies. As a veteran of the mid-ninties fast-paced-RTS craze, weaned on Age of Empires, I can affirm that strategy is just as much fun in a fast-paced game as it can be in a slow-paced one, if not more fun, and usually far more stimulating. Heck, Galcon and its Steam counterpart, Galcon Fusion, shave matches down to approximately two minutes! Anyone who has ever played a game of hot-seat-multiplayer in Civ 4 will realize the kind of frustration associated with incredibly slow-paced multiplayer strategy games. Against a computer, the frustration is less, since you can always simply stop playing. Against humans, it’s harder to admit to that frustration and boredom: you’re afraid you’ll seem like a bad sport, like the kid who throws the chess board across the room and stomps out.

My reasons to dislike Neptune’s Pride only proliferated as time went on. Half the people near to me seemed to be having more fun pretending to be space aliens than actually negotiating anything reasonable; the other half seemed to be focused on stabbing me in the back. Kent’s earlier, failed attempt to get us all into a different game of Neptune’s Pride meant that half the players were already very familiar with it. I, on the other hand, was unclear on several of the mechanics. In sending my ships to a star that was unoccupied, I angered a neighbor who happened to arrive there only a few hours before I did. I had no idea at the time that it was impossible to turn ships around mid-jump. My ships arrived and lost the battle—so, really, no harm done to my neighbor.

Incursion Noted

While taking a break at work, I opened the game in a browser window and was surprised to see that instead of listening to my explanation, this neighbor has decided to roleplay an angry alien race. Soon I began noticing hostility from several other players, most of whom refused to answer my messages. By this time, I was so frustrated with the pace of the game that I had little love left to lose for it. Crumpled in my chair at work, I realized how inappropriate it was that something could make me have these kinds of thoughts, and this degree of angry rage, when I should have been concentrating on my job. We were only a fraction of the way into the game itself, and this did not bode well for the future. I couldn’t afford to care so much about something like this. So I shut the window and decided not to play anymore.

About a month later, I read Ian Bogost’s widely-read blog post about social games (and his own attempt to make a social game, called Cow Clicker). I realized, then, why I did not enjoy Neptune’s Pride: it destroys time in the same way that much-hated Facebook social games do. It plays upon compulsion and obsession, and it destroys the time we play it and the time we spend away from it, and there is really no excuse for that.

Essentially, Neptune’s Pride is a solid strategy game with the soul of Farmville.

It’s so slow that there’s no room for experimentation and so social that there’s no room for frustration and boredom. It’s just complicated enough to make us feel as if we have lost something significant if we stop contributing. It could easily be on Facebook. The irony of this bothered me a lot. We’ve attacked Farmville and accused it of being a game for old ladies, but nobody’s called Neptune’s Pride out on having the exact same compulsion strategy—probably because it’s strategic and about aliens, two things that gamers consider antithetical to old ladyhood. Where Farmville boosts egos by making its players feel responsible, Neptune’s Pride boosts egos by trying to make its players feel smart—an emotional appeal that has particular strength with kind of people who consider themselves gamers. All strategy games work this way—we’re supposed to feel smart when we win, and we often feel stupid when we lose.

I was sick of sinking so much time into something so compulsive—and so unrewarding—that made me feel so stupid. Fuck social games, I thought, and fuck strategy, and fuck aliens. I’m simply not going to play anymore.

So I didn’t.

Facewizard vs The Aspiration

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Comments (18) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Seem to have published this a day early. Oops. Ah well.

  2. I remember this. I sent Laura a message on a whim about her IMPENDING DOOM for a bit of fun, but I felt rather bad about it after I found out what she was putting up with. Her feelings mid-game are pretty much square with how I felt by the end of the whole ordeal.

    There should be a memorial on one of my old stars that reads “NEVER AGAIN.” On the upside, I made internet friends.

  3. I wasn’t sure if Laura would let me publish this and was really happy she gave me the green light. I was desperate to include it because it’s important to show the other side of the coin, the people the game left behind. The allusion to Farmville-like compulsion is right on the money.

    (This and Kerry’s Story are important drivers for The Xmaspiration finale on Friday.)

    Oh and I’m afraid The Aspiration found that memorial and built a shopping mall over it. And then they abandoned Pollux for Sol. In hindsight it was probably the wrong decision to head for Earth but The Aspiration believed they were going to be hunted down by Veret, hunted down to death.

  4. A fascinating piece, especially in the context of all the others.

  5. Jonas, Laura wrote this shortly after the game was finished and both BeamSplashX & I felt “culpable” when we read it. The funny thing was we didn’t have a great time of it either – the game got pretty brutal for everybody after Laura left – and we completely agreed with her sentiments.

    But it gave both of us pause. Had we harmed a real-life relationship with this game?

  6. “NEVER AGAIN will you have to pay high prices for galactic handbags” is an appreciable stance, at least.

  7. Hey, thanks for publishing this, HM! I worried at the time that I was overreacting, but I’m glad to hear that people understand what I was trying to say.

  8. You’re welcome Laura! And I think playing Neptune’s Pride was all about over-reacting. Well, speaking for myself anyway.

  9. Very well put, but as somebody who hasn’t played either game, I’d say the biggest reason why people haven’t moaned about NP as much as Farmville is because there’s a clear point to it and it’s overtly competitive. As reprehensible as its mechanics might be to some, there is an end to the madness, however far away that might be. From what I gather, Farmville has no end, no obvious point apart from growing shit and well, that’s it isn’t it? Is that an accurate statement?

    Both games bully you though; you have to bend to them or else you miss things and consequently fail in some way. That part of the package is what puts me off of NP. I played Blight of the Immortals earlier in the year and while that was a co-operative experience, and was a lot of fun fighting together with others, it was the same; it demanded your undying attention and that sort of thing is hard to maintain when you’ve got other responsibilities and you know, a life.

    Great to hear your side of the story at long last though Laura. Don’t be hard on The Aspiration though, It/They seem like a nice enough bunch.

  10. That, and they’ve landed on Earth recently. Don’t want to anger them now.

  11. Gregg that’s an interesting take on why NP gets a “pass” whereas Farmville does not.

    I’m going to abstain from adding more to this discussion as my final word on the good and evil of Neptune’s Pride as a game is being unleashed tomorrow. It’s one of those articles where the conclusion surprises me – that’s not what I was wanted to say when I planned this! But there it is.

    The Aspiration are handing the server back to me tomorrow but they seem to be tense about something. If they had nails, I’d say they were biting them.

  12. On the subject of Neptune’s Pride being a sort-of strategic, alieny FarmVille – I can see that to a point. Nonetheless I disagree.

    I would argue that Iron Helmet’s game lineage is actually traceable to older browser games like Planetarion and Kings of Chaos, and before them “massively multiplayer” play-by-mail pen and paper strategy and RPG games. All of these things were expansive and often complex, and demanded regular player involvement to get the best performance. And yes, that is driven by cynicism, because you want players to remain subscribed or see your advertising or what have you. But that is an inherent attribute of anything extruded by a commercial entity, and so pulling together Neptune’s Pride and FarmVille in such a way does not ring true to me.

    Going back to those predecessors I mentioned: these games also all ended – the term used was usually an “Age” and each ended so that the game didn’t end up with veteran players wholly lording it over newcomers. A levelling of the field, if you will. Even blatantly cynical modern offerings like Evony reset every so often.

    This stands in direct contrast to the model used in FarmVille games, in which previous player investment must never be lost because to do so breaks the model entirely. This is actually rather closer to the experience of the typical MMORPG than it is to a strategy game like Neptune’s Pride.

    I think it’s also worth noting that Iron Helmet are an indie dev with a small team who offer their games essentially for free unless you like them enough to subscribe, so in terms of business model, player retention AND depth of design (i.e. they don’t employ analysts and psychologists who devise ways to manipulate the human mind to commercial benefit) the comparison also does not stand.

    The only way in which the argument stands is in terms of player reaction. And that is valid, of course, because it is wholly subjective. And that pure subjectivity is why I think it’s entirely reasonable to say that Neptune’s Pride should have a “free pass”.

    I hope that line of reasoning makes sense. I am operating on minimal sleep at my first day back at work and am feeling a little compost mentis.

  13. Shaun, I would argue that Laura wasn’t implying that Neptune’s Pride was made intentionally this way. It depends on how much you read into “it plays upon compulsion and obsession” which I read as accidental rather than intentional.

    She’s associating this outcome with the real damage that something like Farmville does, through the acquisition of your time outside of play – becoming a pervasive and invasive presence in your life which is precisely what happened to me. I wouldn’t read much more into the connection than that because, as you say, it doesn’t fit.

  14. Apologies for not being clear – my last comment was not in response to Laura’s post as a whole (which I thought a wonderfully honest take on the game and also enjoyably contrary to the wider context of ED’s NP coverage to date). However I think it does contain a comparison that is unjustly reductive as a summary of social gaming, and I felt that warranted challenging.

    That aside, if we read her comparison as focusing not on the substance of the games themselves, but as a personal reaction to events within the games, then I can agree with the thrust of the argument.

    This may sound like an issue of semantics but I don’t think it’s terribly difficult to read Laura’s original comments either way (little surprise if the article was written in anger and despair immediately after the events of the game itself), and so I felt it worth making the distinction – particularly as Gregg’s comment and your response on this part of the post focused on mechanics, which are game-intrinsic and not player-derived.

    I actually find your coverage of NP particularly enthralling as I found it quite easy to switch off from every Iron Helmet game I’ve played – sometimes to my detriment, but other times I just accepted that I would only be checking in four times a day for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. However I’ve never played a game against people who I’ve got any sort of relationship with, so it’s like fighting drunken strangers in the dark.

  15. Shaun, I really think being so disconnected from the game is a bonus, although you’re not really going to win like that against serious players. Part of me wants to hook you up with some buddies to play an Iron Helmet game just so I can sit back and watch you can suffer. “It’s my head, my GOD IT’S IN MY HEAD!” I don’t think you’re really playing it until you’ve experienced that.

    It is true that social gaming does get a damn good kicking from “non-social gamers” most of the time, although what you might find interesting is Laura’s bio on Second Person Shooter: “Laura currently does copywriting for Tencent America, so anything she writes about social games is probably a conflict of interest, or something.” Although Laura wrote the main thrust of this piece before her employment =)

    I try not to wade into these waters too much simply because I don’t play social games. I’d probably venture that the (deliberate) exploitation of time by something Farmville is more insidious simply because it happens by stealth: you don’t feel exploited because it doesn’t appear to change your life that much. You’re just passing time, but you don’t realise it’s got you to pass more time with it than you’d probably intended. Whereas in Neptune’s Pride, you’re fully aware of your slow mental death because IT’S LIKE BROKEN GLASS RIPPING THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

  16. It’s the difference between getting punched in the face versus someone slowly spreading rumors that you’re a whore.

    That said, I was in NP, especially with that weapons tech.

  17. “It’s the difference between getting punched in the face versus someone slowly spreading rumors that you’re a whore.”

    Ugh, exactly. I’ll take facepunches every time.

  18. @Shaun: Haha yep, like HM is saying, I’m not sure that you’ve really played Nep’s Pride until you’ve stayed up hours past your bedtime or set a 4 am alarm just so you can redirect your ships at the earliest opportunity. It’s admirable that you were able to maintain such a healthy distance from the game though! I had enormous trouble striking that proper balance, neither becoming obsessed nor quitting out entirely, and it seems like a lot of other NP players experience similar problems. Like HM, I’m curious to see what would happen were you to get into a game with a group of friends, or perhaps a game that plays out over an even longer period than usual(my 3-month game was by far my most intense), but inviting that kind of madness into your life is probably not the wisest decision.