This started out as a comment on my previous blog post, but ended up getting too long for a comment, so I made it into another blog post. Michael commented that "Tobold, it's not that I at all disagree, it's that I question the point of continuing to talk about it.". I believe that this touches a rather fundamental and recurring problem of all forms of public writing, including blogging and journalism: Should you engage with and write about people and organizations you strongly disagree with, or should you ignore them?

I've always been with Edmund Burke on this one, see title. Even when I am fully aware of the dangers and unwilling to feed the trolls, I'd rather post to point out where I disagree than just keep silent. So I would like to discuss a recent example:

The Noisy Rogue, a self-proclaimed pro-GamerGate blogger, posted a very hateful post full of personal attacks and insults about how the Newbie Blogger Initiative "has gone full George Orwell. You shall not go against the group think. You shall have the correct opinions. All those who do not have the correct opinions shall be cast out and shunned. For we have the numbers and all agree with us.". I disagree with the post and would have ignored it, if I hadn't also disagreed with the response of a circle of pro-NBI bloggers: They first exchanged a long series of tweets between themselves (but visible to everybody) on what an idiot The Noisy Rogue is, and then wrote a blog post on the same subject starting with "It seems that a certain blogger—whom I will not link to here...".

To me that appears to be the worst possible way to respond. You neither engage or even acknowledge the person you disagree with, but you also don't ignore him and keep silent about the issue. I would always prefer to link to dissenting posts than this sort of half-way treatment. To some extent I blame Twitter, which has a strong culture of "let's talk badly about somebody behind his back" school yard behavior, while making the shared insults publicly viewable, maybe in hope that the object of the insults finds them later. In this particular case The Noisy Rogue might well point out that this is exactly the sort of behavior he complained about in the first place.

Moving smoothly from my previous blog post on games spilling into the real world, I think it is best to understand GamerGate as a political right vs. left conflict spilling into the world of games and game writing. In my opinion the left won a moral victory by using somewhat less objectionable means in the conflict, reducing the right to their standard "all mass media are controlled by the left" excuse. Which gets rather thin when even Fox News comments "Recently, an online campaign dubbed "GamerGate" has led to the harassment of women in the video game industry for criticizing the lack of diversity and how women are portrayed in gaming.".

But the point is that the fundamental right vs. left conflict is never going to go away. And as nobody ever admits defeat on the internet, even GamerGate is probably going to stay with us for years to come. In multiplayer games, griefing is not going to go away. Ignoring everything I don't like isn't really a viable strategy. And there is the danger that I recede into a shell of just reading the sites I know that I will agree with, which leads exactly to the sort of group think that can justifiably be criticized. This is why I link to posts I disagree with. This is why I moderate comments only for personal insults, never for dissenting opinions (although obviously that means deleting comments which have both). Acknowledging the other side and speaking out against things I disagree with is a value in itself, even if it can't possibly change anything.
Tobold's Blog

Outside battery limits
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 May 2015, 7:18 am
In engineering there is an important distinction of things being either "inside battery limits" or "outside battery limits". On an engineering plan there is often a dotted line showing that "battery limit", which is the border between "the plant" and "the rest of the world". I think that concept needs more attention when talking about games, especially multiplayer online games. The limits are often not clearly defined, and that leads to dangerous situations.

In Canada a 17-year old League of Legends players has plead guilty to a range of charges: "According to what [prosecutor] Bauer told the court, the teen would often target fellow League of Legends players and their families when they denied friend requests or he felt slighted by them over some minor offense. He would retaliate, according to Bauer, by shutting down their internet access, posting their personal information online, calling them late at night, or calling the police to call in an imaginary emergency situation.". To me that is an extreme example of that League of Legends player having stepped outside battery limits. You are supposed to beat your opponent *inside* the limits of the game; stepping outside of those limits is problematic, and in some cases criminal.

There are some games like EVE Online or Crowfall where the developers deliberately obscure the limits to what is out of bounds, and in consequence serious breaches of those limits happen. There is a whole school of thought among some PvP players where it is not sufficient to beat your adversary in the game, it is necessary to make the person behind the keyboard cry. I have been criticized for calling such behavior "evil" because "it is just a game", but I believe that from a certain point onward it stops being just a game and goes outside the limits of the rules of the game. And not just swatting, which constitutes a serious danger to the life and health of the target, but also lesser forms of cyber-bullying, harassment, and humiliation. If the target is a person as opposed to his avatar or other representation in the game, these actions are evil. That they take place because of a game is not an excuse; rather I find it worrying that somebody would be willing to inflict harm on another real person for something as trivial as a game.

I do believe that game companies and developers have a duty to make the limits of their game very clear, and to strongly react to transgressions that step over those limits.
Tobold's Blog

Legacy websites and Chrome stopping to support plugins
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 May 2015, 7:37 am
Google decided that their browser Chrome should stop supporting plugins, especially the Microsoft Silverlight plugin, because well, it's from Microsoft and not from Google. A number of websites are affected by this. And while there are lot of sites with a lot more traffic, the one site where this affects me is the Wizards of the Coast D&D Insider archive with the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons online tools.

I'm not quite certain why, but official computer and online tools for Dungeons & Dragons have always been a sad story. Usually you get a lot of promises for those tools when a new edition of D&D comes out, and then the whole plan falls apart and you get very little. That is what happened with the current 5th edition. For 4th edition, although the tools never lived up to the promises, at least WotC had two programs that worked quite well, a character creator, and a monster builder / database. And because my group like tactical combat and half of my players don't speak English and 5E isn't on offer in any other language, I am still using those online tools and pay a subscription for them.

But of course WotC isn't providing any new additions or support to the legacy website of D&D Insider. We can be happy enough they didn't shut it down yet. And as the tools work with Microsoft Silverlight, I now need to use Internet Explorer instead of Chrome. And I wonder how many other legacy sites there are out there that got created with plugins, and there is nobody to redo them in the new standard that Google is trying to impose on us. I would imagine that people are much more faithful to their preferred websites than to their preferred browser. If Chrome doesn't support your favorite websites any more, then goodbye Chrome! Google might well be shooting themselves in the foot with this more than hurting Microsoft.
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Neverending content
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 May 2015, 10:39 pm
On MMO-Champion I stumbled upon an interview with ex-WoW developer Ghostcrawler who says: "Neverending content leads to making things so difficult you can't progress or asking you to run the same content 100 times.". I feel that is very true. Nevertheless I don't think that is an unsolvable problem, because you can design content in a way that running it a 100 times isn't boring.

For example look at games like Tetris or Candy Crush Saga (which will now come preinstalled with Windows 10). These are clearly games in which players run the same content far more than 100 times. But because there are minor variations, some randomness, and a slowly increasing difficulty level, players don't mind doing that same content hundreds of times.
Tobold's Blog Launcher
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 May 2015, 4:19 pm
Not much blogging this week as I am traveling. I must say that the launcher is a big improvement when you are away from home: I get to play World of Warcraft without having to take my authenticator with me, something I was always reluctant to due to the danger of losing it. Of course now somebody stealing my laptop could theoretically access my account, but I'm pretty certain that laptop thieves and WoW account thieves are two very different types of criminals with not much overlap.

In any case, even at home I am happy that I don't have to enter my password and authenticator code every time I log in. Logon screens are so last year!
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 May 2015, 1:45 am
So the conservative party won the UK elections and will now hold a referendum about the British exit from the European Community, the so-called "Brexit". As politicians are unable to explain why an economy with no industry that is living of trade would be better off in a free market, it is likely that Britain will vote for the Brexit. And it is only in that wave of splendid isolation that I can explain the decision of the BBC to close down their global BBC iPlayer.

The global BBC iPlayer was a simple deal: While UK citizens get free access to BBC content, for which they already paid for with their annual television licence fee, Europeans and Canadian get to watch that BBC content on their iPad in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. Before Netflix came to Europe, this was the only TV on demand service working on my iPad. And it still has some advantages over Netflix, as the iPlayer allowed you to download films and watch them when you didn't have a network connection.

And now the global BBC iPlayer is shutting down at the end of the current subscription month with no replacement. The BBC says it has "plans" for new global digital services, but given their usual speed that could take years before those plans become a real service. So right now the BBC is refusing what was essentially free money, because they simply sold already existing content to more customers and now refuse to make that sale. For the BBC the Brexit is already happening, and the rest of the country can't be far behind. I wonder if they'll ever realize that they aren't a global superpower any more.
Tobold's Blog

Does betrayal scale?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 May 2015, 1:19 am
People who behave make for boring stories. The most famous World of Warcraft player is Leeroy Jenkins because he was clearly misbehaving. But as WoW has relatively strict behavior rules, it doesn't really produce all that many stories worth reading. Not like EVE Online, which is a great source for stories of scams, betrayal, and assassination. The people who make Crowfall would like to imitate said and announced their rules: "A key component of politics is the concept of betrayal. We envision many relationships being formed and broken in the game. Whether it be a subservient guild who who overthrows their master, an infiltrator who loots the entire guild cache and delivers it to their sworn enemy, or an alliance that breaks falls apart at a key turning point of a campaign… We consider these to be “fair game” tactics." As there is no lack of people who would like to misbehave, we can be sure of getting stories of betrayal from Crowfall.

But how does such betrayal scale as a form of entertainment? Clearly the idea is to allow all sorts of dirty politics in Crowfall for the fun of the players. And I always had the impression that this works better in theory than in practice: Betrayal is not an activity that you can do very often, and it usually doesn't involve a large number of people in the know. If everybody is aware that betrayal is allowed by the rules of the game, people will be paranoid and not easily trust each other. And that includes that if you plan a betrayal, you can't tell many people about it, because they might reveal your plans to your enemy.

Scree lists some stories of EVE Online, like the Titans4U scam which netted the scammer 850 billion ISK, worth $45,000. Great story for readers, but consider for a moment the inherent fun of that for the players. The scammer presumably acted alone, so he was the only one actually having direct fun from the betrayal. And while that netted him a lot of real world money, I guess in the game he was finished, because nobody will ever trust him again. With lots of people on the losing side it seems to me that fun-wise the betrayal story is a negative sum game. How many people are going to stay in your game because it allows them to regularly betray somebody, and how many players do you lose who quit in disgust?

While I don't know how many people actually play EVE (CCP only lists accounts, and most players have several accounts), I have trouble believing that many of these players play EVE only because they want to betray others. It isn't as if there were a lot of non-betrayal space trading MMORPGs out there, and I'd assume that more player are interested in the more repeatable direct PvP than in slowly building up the trust of others in order to betray them once. So I'm not sure that betrayal scales well as a activity of entertainment in a MMORPG.
Tobold's Blog

Blizzard is pumping gold into the economy
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 May 2015, 3:30 am
Real markets move in unpredictable ways. The advice to buy low and sell high is a joke, because you don't actually know whether the price is going to be up or down tomorrow. The WoW token market is not a real market however. As you can see on, the price goes up and down in a very predictable sinus curve. By observing the rate of change you can even predict future prices. So unless you are completely oblivious, you are going to buy low or sell high. There is absolutely no reason to sell when prices are low, or buy when prices are high, as you just need to wait some hours for the next peak or valley.

The market also uses an algorithm that guarantees the token seller the amount of gold the token was worth when he decided to sell it, while the token buyer only pays the price at the moment when he decides to buy. That leads to a curious market anomaly: The token seller is selling when prices are high, but there are no buyers at that moment. The buyers strike when prices are low, buying up whatever the sellers put on the market during the previous peak. And Blizzard is making up for the difference. With every WoW token sold, Blizzard is pumping thousands of gold into the economy, because of their price guarantee to the seller. The buyer is always paying less gold than the seller receives, because everybody knows whether the current price is high or low, and acts accordingly.

I don't think this is working a planned by Blizzard.
Tobold's Blog

NBI and Gamergate
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 May 2015, 4:31 am
The NBI launched a Talkback Challenge to write about Gamergate. I do think that this is a bad idea. I very much agree with Jeromai that it would be better not to feed the trolls.

But I would like to take the opportunity to talk about freedom of speech, because I believe a number of Gamergaters horribly abused the term to the point of it becoming unrecognizable. In short, freedom of speech gives you the right to communicate your opinions and ideas without needing to fear legal consequences. Freedom of speech does not A) force anybody to listen to your opinions or ideas, nor B) does it give you the right to any specific platform for your opinions and ideas.

Thus in particular, somebody blocking your Twitter feed and not reading it any more is not a violation of freedom of speech. Somebody not allowing you to post your opinion on *his* website, or have a stand on *his* convention is not a violation of freedom of speech.

As an example, you have the freedom of being pro-slavery. If you write a pro-slavery blog without falling into the trap of writing anything that is legally considered to be "hate speech" or "inciting racial violence", you are free to express your pro-slavery opinions without legal consequences. That doesn't make you less of an asshole. You might not have legal consequences, but other people reading your revolting opinions and ideas might well spit at you. And you don't have the right to publish your opinions on the cover of Ebony, or give you the right to a stand at the National Baptist Convention.

Saying "I support Gamergate because I believe in freedom of speech" is just plain wrong. You would need to also support every other group that holds revolting opinions, because they all tend to always clamor for freedom of speech.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 May 2015, 4:09 am
You know that feeling you get when somebody is wrong on the internet? I got that reading several blog posts about the fall in WoW subscription numbers. I'll just quote one from Belghast, because he made the statement very explicit, but the same thing was reported by several other people. What Belghast said is "what we are seeing is a lot of people who came back and played the game for the month that came with their boxed copy, decided that they did not really like what they saw and left again all without actually subscribing.".

That is factually wrong. Only the original game of World of Warcraft comes with a free month. Somebody who bought the box of Warlords of Draenor either already was subscribed or decided to "actually subscribe" before being able to play, because WoW did not come with a free month of subscription included.

So, I did it, I fixed the internet. :)

Of course that doesn't change the fact that the people who came and subscribed just in order to play Warlords of Draenor then went and unsubscribed a month or two later. Personally I am still subscribed, but A) that subscription is now paid in gold, and B) the content I am mostly playing is pet battles and leveling through Cataclysm content. Besides garrison maintenance I am not actually playing Warlords of Draenor content. So I don't disagree with the view that WoD had only 1 or 2 months worth of content, and lots of people came, saw, and didn't stay to conquer.
Tobold's Blog

Back to base
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 May 2015, 7:50 am
In 2007 Raph Koster published a post on how open big virtual worlds grow. The post describes an universal curve of growth and decline of MMORPGs. While for each game the time scale and the peak number is different, the overall shape of all curves is the same. Expansions are basically peaks added on top of a universal curve, which do not change the underlying fundamentals. So once you got past the headlines of "Oh my god, WoW is dying (again)!" and "WoW loses 3 million players overnight", you will discover that World of Warcraft is perfectly aligned with Raph's theory and just got back to exactly the same base curve it was on before the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

The expansion peak might have been a bit bigger than usual because the further along the decline curve you go, the bigger the number of ex-WoW players becomes. People tend to use any available number to support their pre-existing opinion, but I think there isn't really anything interesting going on here. Until end of Q1 2015 World of Warcraft simply followed a predictable trajectory, because the fundamentals didn't change.

So the interesting data point is going to be the next one. Because obviously a move like going free to play is changing the fundamentals and will change the basic shape of the player number curve. So if you consider the WoW token a form of free to play, it could be expected that there is a visible impact on player numbers rising again in Q2. But if you think that only very few people buy and sell WoW tokens, you'd expect a slight decrease in Q2. We will see!
Tobold's Blog

How much lore do you need?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 May 2015, 8:46 am
I am between campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons, having finished the Favorites of Selune campaign and not yet started the Zeitgeist campaign. So I am busy preparing the new campaign, understanding the campaign world, and getting everything together we will need to create characters and start playing. Doing that I quickly ended up with a very specific question: How much lore do I need to tell to my players before character creation and playing?

Now it is perfectly possible to start a campaign with absolutely no lore whatsoever. A generic dwarven warrior, a generic elven ranger, a generic halfling thief, and a generic human cleric meet in a generic tavern in a generic fantasy world. Go! The problem with that approach is that not every player is a creative genius and master of improvisation. Given a generic fantasy world as background, a typical group of average players is going to end up with a history that reads like a bunch of World of Warcraft quest texts: Fun adventures battling more or less random monsters for not much of a good reason except for gaining treasure and experience. Hey, it works for World of Warcraft!

But imagine you want to play a campaign in the world of Game of Thrones, and you want your campaign and the stories being told interactively between the DM and the players to somewhat resemble a Game of Thrones story. Creating random characters and meeting in a tavern is probably not going to do the job. You would need to tell the players about the various houses, about the wall, about the different meaning of "winter" in that game world, about old and new faith, and about some other things. And then you might not want to give them total freedom in choosing their character background, because running that campaign with player characters loyal to different houses would be rather awkward.

It is basically the old question of high fantasy vs low fantasy all over again. A low fantasy campaign works well with little lore and lots of improvisation, because players only need to rely on their experience and knowledge of typical fantasy to tell a typical low fantasy story. For a high fantasy campaign in which the players are saving the world by throwing the one ring into Mount Doom, the players better know a bit about the world. Like where is Mount Doom, what is the difficulty in getting there, what are the consequences of failing to throw the ring in, and why didn't anybody offer them 100 gold pieces as reward for that quest?

Having said that, there is certainly a danger of presenting too much lore to the players. The Silmarillion is too much knowledge, even for a Middle-Earth campaign. Lots of DMs who created fantasy worlds went way overboard with creating extensive history and lore for that world which ultimately isn't all relevant for the campaign.

Thus the idea for my Zeitgeist campaign is giving an overview of the history of the world, the lore, the power struggles, and to which group in the world the players belong and are presumed to at least initially have loyalty. But only to an extent which is necessary for intelligent character creation and playing the first adventure or so, during which then of course more lore can pop up in play. The reason I want to explain lore before rolling characters is that I want to use the campaign specific background themes, and it is hard to expect somebody to play a "docker" or a "skyseer" without explaining what those are and how they fit into the world. I just need to work out how much lore is "enough".
Tobold's Blog

Messing with the player economy
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 May 2015, 3:45 am
There are a few players in World of Warcraft who choose their crafting professions by regarding immaterial aspects like role-playing. Of course a dwarven warrior should have mining and smithing as professions, otherwise he wouldn't be a proper dwarf! But everybody else tends to see professions as a way to make gold, which is even more important if gold now can buy you subscription time and save you real money.

Now Warlords of Draenor introduced huge changes to crafting professions. It made it easier to pick up a new crafting profession and level it up without having to go through all of the old content, you can level a profession like tailoring or smithing from 1 to 700 with only WoD materials. WoD also significantly changed the relation between gathering professions and crafting professions: It allowed everybody to gather WoD materials in the safety of their own garrison in sufficient quantities for crafting, and without needing to have the gathering profession at all. Gathering professions like mining or herbalism became unprofitable. While at the same time the crafting professions (with the exception of alchemy) were turned into a source of passive income: Just do your daily transmute and your work orders, and you'll make thousands of gold every month from your garrison.

As a consequence a large number of players dropped their now useless gathering professions and went for two profitable crafting professions instead. My warrior got double screwed by having herbalism and alchemy before WoD; now he has smithing and tailoring to "pay the rent". But as Azuriel points out patch 6.2 suddenly requires people to have maxed out gathering professions again, as it introduces a new high-level crafting material "Felblight", which is gathered in the new zone Tanaan Jungle using gathering professions. Crap, I haven't got a single high-level character with a gathering profession any more.

I don't think I am the only one. It was pretty evident and common knowledge up to this point that gathering professions had become somewhat useless (I don't even spend the time to gather the free resources in my garrisons any more). Lots of people dropped them. And I guess that will mess mightily with the supply of Felblight. Yes, you can level up mining or herbalism again in your garrison, but going from 1 to 700 will take over a month that way. And while the initial price of Felblight will be high, you never know how it will evolve in the long term and whether that justifies dropping a crafting profession and putting all that effort into leveling a gathering profession again.

I think Blizzard dropped the ball on crafting in Warlords of Draenor. Them now backpedaling on gathering professions only makes things worse.
Tobold's Blog

The Newbie Blogger Initiative
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 May 2015, 5:33 am
Like most years I am not formally participating in The Newbie Blogger Initiative. I dislike the focus on MMO blogging, and I consider "hey, you should totally write a blog about MMOs" to be particularly bad advice to give to anybody. Having said that, I do have advice for anybody considering blogging, so this might be the moment to write that advice down.

You can roughly divide the life of an average person into three main domains: The private domain of family and relationships, the work domain of your studies and job, and the hobby domain of what you are doing for fun and relaxation. Blogs work for the last of those three. Your thoughts about your private domain are better held in a private diary with no public access. And blogging about your job is potentially prohibited by your work contract, and could get you into trouble or even fired. Blogging about hobbies is fine, because there are other people out there who share the same hobbies and might want to read about your thoughts, and you aren't likely to reveal private or sensitive information.

The main lesson that I learned about blogging about hobbies is that a blog has value to me as long-term archive of my thoughts. Everybody changes, but usually that change happens rather slowly. You are not the same person today than you were 10 years ago, nor than you will be in 10 years. Writing down your thoughts now helps the person you will be in 10 years to remember who you were today, or to document that slow process of change.

So my most important advice is to take future change into account. Don't make a blog about a specific class in a specific game, because as much as you might be concentrated on that today, that class or that game is *not* your hobby. Your hobby is probably a lot wider, at least different games, different types of games, or even things outside games. Do not write a "WoW Hunter blog", or even an "MMO blog"; write a blog about the totality of YOUR interests. Write for yourself, not for a hypothetical audience. Write what YOU think, what YOU feel, and don't worry if you consider that the same thought has been written before by others. The one person who might be very interested in what your thoughts on your hobbies are today is yourself, so write for an audience of one, yourself. Everybody else reading your blog, or willing to discuss your thoughts with you, is a bonus.
Tobold's Blog

What if there were several World of Warcrafts?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 May 2015, 3:17 am
A decade later, with many people having long grown bored with World of Warcraft, and many MMORPGs having been released since, it is hard to remember the impact WoW had when it was released. By being far more polished and far more accessible than its competitors at the time, World of Warcraft singlehandedly changed the landscape of MMORPGs forever. A few months before WoW a financial analyst calculated that the overall market size for MMORPGs in Europe was 280,000. Then WoW came and sold 380,000 copies on the first weekend. Everquest II came out a month before WoW and people at the time considered that as a scoop that might "win" the war for SOE, but once World of Warcraft was released it just left EQ2 in the dust. As much as some people would like to deny it today, at the time World of Warcraft was far above its competitors in quality as well as accessibility, and we still feel the impact of that revolution today.

But what if World of Warcraft had been released onto a market where the already existing competitors were not so much different in quality? Sounds like a stupid hypothetical question, but I feel that something like that is happening now: Blizzard is soon to release Heroes of the Storm on June 2. It is a nice, accessible, polished game like pretty much all Blizzard games are. But it isn't much better or much more accessible than the competition. Yes, there is a training mode against the AI to test out new heroes, and some rules changes are designed to limit asshattery between teammates during a game. But it competes with a League of Legends with 27 million daily players, not an Everquest with 400,000 subscribers.

I am pretty sure that Heroes of the Storm will get millions of players, and that some people for different reasons will prefer the Blizzard version over the Riot version. But I don't see Heroes of the Storm being a "LoL killer". It will be somewhere in the list of the top 5 MOBA games, but not necessarily number 1. Blizzard is really late to this market (which is somewhat ironical, seeing how they could be said to be involved in starting the genre), and the existing games are already highly polished and accessible for a multi-million player mass market. The WoW/Hearthstone effect of "I'm taking a niche genre and make it accessible for the mass market" just isn't going to happen here. And thus I doubt that Blizzard will have such a huge impact on the future of this genre than it had on MMORPGs.
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Now accepting donations in WoW gold
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 May 2015, 1:08 am
A reader came up with another interesting idea based on WoW tokens: Instead of using the buy Tobold a coffee button to donate money to me, he offered to donate WoW gold. Enough gold to buy 2 WoW tokens in fact. So although his gold was on a different server, as long as it was in the same region (Europe) that worked just fine: I made a level 1 character, he gave me the gold, and I bought 2 WoW tokens (plus a battle pet with the change) on the auction house. Thank you!
Tobold's Blog

Breaking the 4th wall the wrong way
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2015, 7:20 am
When Frank Underwood in House of Cards turns towards the camera and speaks directly to the audience that is called breaking the 4th wall, an expression coming from the idea that a stage has 3 visible walls around it, and an "invisible" wall towards the viewer. Breaking the 4th wall in that direction, from the actor towards the audience, can be interesting. But sometimes that wall is broken in the wrong direction, with the real world intruding on the imaginary world. Ald shot first has a post on how he got an epic shield from the salvage yard and couldn't help thinking how that could pay for his WoW subscription if he sold the shield and bought a token for the gold. What used to be a game is suddenly a financial transaction. There are already addons out that directly translate gold prices into money prices. You might have been willing to pay 120,000 gold for a Reins of the Grand Expedition Yak, but are you willing to pay $120 for it?

[Tangent for the nitpickers: There is no actual fixed number for the exchange rate between dollars and WoW gold. Not only is the price fluctuating, but it also depends on which region you are in: In Europe the equivalent of 120,000 gold is just €60. Furthermore there is an endless discussion whether you should count 1 WoW token as being the equivalent of $20 (it's purchase price) or as being the equivalent of under $15 (what you save on a subscription by using the token instead of money). I'll use $20 for a WoW token, exchanged for gold at a rate of 20,000 gold per token on a US server, because that gives an easy $1 = 1,000 gold exchange rate. I'll count €1 = 2,000 gold for the same reason. YMMV]

This intrusion of the real world has some consequences. At first I wondered why a WoW token would go for twice the gold in Europe than in the USA. But then I realized that "Europe" in the Blizzard sense of the word includes Russia and other eastern countries which have a lower GDP per person than the USA (or the EU). The thing is that $1 doesn't have the same value for each of us. The question is basically what percentage of your disposable income a subscription to WoW represents. As in Russia that is presumably a higher percentage, the WoW token is more valuable, and people are willing to give more WoW gold for it. The Chinese realms just introduced the WoW token and there it goes for between 50k and 75k, because the token is worth even more there, relatively speaking.

At 30k to 40k gold for a WoW token in Europe I am pretty much indifferent to it. I can see myself both buying and selling, depending on my current needs. Yes, I have plenty of gold on some characters. But all my gold is only about a year worth of subscription, while the money I have in my bank account would easily pay for my subscription until death do us part (either mine, or WoW's). I don't need the addon to translate gold to €/$, because I am just as comfortable with spending 5,000 gold for a battle pet as I would be with the idea of spending €2.50 for it. But I am aware that depending on ones situation in life that might not be the case for somebody else. I can see how it would break immersion if something happened to you in game which translates into a dollar value you would actually care about.
Tobold's Blog

Improving the auction house
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2015, 3:26 am
World of Warcraft is over 10 years old. And at some places that shows, with some game design elements being somewhat dated and far from optimal. I would argue that one of these outdated game design elements is the WoW auction house.

Basically MMORPGs have two major opposed concepts of player economy. One is the individual concept, where trade is supposed to strengthen social bonds between players. The best example of that would be games like Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies having player-run shops. If you wanted the best armor, you had to go to the shop of the best player blacksmith. People could make a name for themselves as master crafters. The opposing concept is the one of maximum convenience: A centralized auction house manages trades, and connects buyers and sellers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While the WoW auction house leans towards the latter, it carries with it some elements of the former: Each auction is individual and shown with the name of the seller. Unfortunately this middle way ends up being no good: Nobody cares who the seller is, and the individual listing makes the auction house less efficient. Anonymous auction houses are frequently far superior, for example in Wildstar.

One advantage of anonymous auction houses is the efficiency of buying some crafting material. The WoW AH frequently has goods listed in a quantity of 1. If I want to buy 200 Sumptuous Furs, I sure as hell don't want to buy 200 individual auctions of 1 fur each. And the standard interface without addons doesn't even make it easy for me to find the 200 least expensive ones. In more modern auction houses I'll just give an order for 200 fur, and the AH interface sorts out the price for the 200 cheapest ones for me.

The other advantage of anonymous auction houses is that it can be slightly less precise in order to prevent micro-management. For example it can show the price of the last item that sold, instead of showing the price of the cheapest item on offer. In the WoW auction house you frequently get the case of a seller seeing all the prices of the other sellers and then underbidding them by 1 copper piece to become the cheapest. Then another seller logs in, cancels his now more expensive auction and posts it at another 1 copper cheaper. You can get long 1 copper underbid wars that serve absolutely nobody, because they don't really decrease the price, but force everybody to keep watching the AH.

It is probably not a priority for Blizzard, but I would hope that at some point they patch in a more modern, anonymous version of the auction house. It would be more efficient and practical for both buyers and sellers.
Tobold's Blog

Spectator eSports
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 April 2015, 7:51 am
Belghast has an interesting article up on whether eSports are sport, and how that leads to controversy when eSports arrive on ESPN. For me the whole problematic of eSports boils down to the question what exactly you show, where you point your camera, so to say. In any "real" sport the camera tends to point where the athletes are, because that is the most interesting part of the image. In eSports the athletes are either shown somewhere in a corner as tiny picture-in-picture display, or not at all. The interesting part of eSports to watch is not the athlete (who doesn't move much), but his avatar.

This difference points towards a huge missed opportunity in displaying eSports: Currently games are typically shown in the same view that the player has. Now imagine a game of football which you could only watch via the helmet-cameras of the players. Obviously not the best view a spectator could have. And to the limits to which I understand 3D graphics engines, it shouldn't be too hard to display a different view. If you can send a different view of the scene of a multiplayer game to each of the players, then surely you could produce one more view of what is going on in spectator mode. League of Legends already has a spectator mode. Develop that a bit further and apply it to all eSports games, and they could become a lot more viewable.

Personally I watch neither sports nor eSports, I prefer doing to watching. I might not run as fast as Usain Bolt or click as fast as Hai Lam (now retired at the age of 22), but I am a lot more connected to that sport or to that game by doing it at my own pace than the connection I could get from watching the best doing it on a TV screen.
Tobold's Blog

For the children!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2015, 3:30 am
Yesterday evening I had planned to sort out my various alts in World of Warcraft and decide what character I would create and level from 1 to 100. But while I was still doing garrison stuff with my level 100 characters, somebody in trade chat mentioned that Children's Week had started. Hmmm, isn't that one of those events which gives pets as rewards? Me being very much into battle pets at the moment, I couldn't resist and changed my plans. I spent the rest of the evening doing Children's Weeks quests on different continents.

As I was planning to do the quests on different characters to get more pets, I started with the character I was currently on, my priest. Thus doing those quests too me some time, as I had to take various portals or zeppelins to travel from one continent to another. At one point I was in Orgrimmar and didn't have a hearthstone ready to get me anywhere where I could use a portal to Undercity, so I took the zeppelin. And then realized that I had forgotten where exactly the entrance to Undercity was in the Ruins of Lordaeron. Must have been many years since I last entered Undercity without using some means of fast travel. Usually I do travel-related stuff with my mage who just portals everywhere.

Overall I have mixed feelings about the event. All that traveling makes the quests somewhat long and tedious, with me playing on my iPad while waiting for some flying mount to make it to the destination. Not really the most fun activity. And somehow it is a sort of trap: I felt as if I was being suckered into a not-so-fun activity by the combination of a reward I wanted (the pets) and the time restriction (you can only get these pets during this particular week every year). So in the end I wasn't sure if it was actually worth it. The pets aren't even of rare quality, so I'm not even sure I'll ever use them. They just help with the achievements to collect hundreds of different pets. And most of them are tradable, so I might be able to get them for cheap this week on the AH.
Tobold's Blog

The economics of zero marginal cost
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 April 2015, 4:56 am
Why isn't Ford attracting more customers by giving out cars for free and then charging for additional stuff later? And if that model wouldn't work for cars, why would it work for computer games? The answer is in what an economist calls the marginal cost of an item, which is the cost of producing and selling one more of it. Once your game is finished and you have a distribution platform and everything, the marginal cost of selling one more copy is pretty close to zero. The same isn't true for cars, because even when the car is designed and the factory is built and set up, it still costs thousands of dollars to produce one more car and sell it.

The "culture of free" on the internet is very much linked to that zero marginal cost. Even piracy depends on zero marginal cost, because it doesn't cost the pirate more to make a copy of a game or other content than it costs the developer / owner of that game or content. Free2Play wouldn't work without zero marginal cost. But a lot of people confuse zero marginal cost with zero cost. It does not cost nothing to produce content, because it always costs time, and that time has an opportunity cost. However there are people on the internet who voluntarily produce content for nothing, me included. And that leads to an interesting economical question: What is the difference in quality between free content and paid-for content?

There are two sides of that: People who produce content for nothing are by definition "amateurs", which comes from the Latin word for love, they do something for the love of it, without payment. It can be argued that in certain cases such a work of love can be superior in quality to content produced by "professionals", who only do it for the money. In an environment of zero marginal cost a "professional" might be tempted to steal or rip off successful content from somebody else and sell it to you, like for example many cloned mobile games. On the other hand, if you car had a problem with its brakes, would you prefer a professional garage to fix it, or would you go to somebody who has a sign on his yard "amateur repairing cars for free for the fun of it"? Without financial incentive, an amateur might not be willing to invest too much time and money into a creation. Thus there is a viable economic theory that some very high level content will only be created in the first place if the developer thinks he can make money out of his creation. You can make Flappy Bird for free, but not Destiny, Battlefield, Bloodborne, or Grand Theft Auto.

Last week Valve announced a scheme which would allow people making mods to sell those mods on Steam. Most people reacted very badly to the idea, because they believe that they will have to pay to get the exactly same mods that previously were free. And of course the freeloaders made an immediate appearance, trying to sell mods based on the free work of others. But what about the long run? Isn't it likely that at some point a mod will be made *because* the modder was confident in his ability to sell it, a work he wouldn't have undertaken for free? Up to now very few mods end up being better than the original game. But with a mod economy in the future we might very well see a lot more high quality mods.

What I find curious about game economics is that there appears to be a large population that is always defending the status quo, even if that status quo is contradictory. Thus among the people complaining most loudly that mods are best if they remain free we also find the same people who previously argued that games are better if they are not for free.
Tobold's Blog

Colossal time sink
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 April 2015, 3:42 am
I bought Shadow of Mordor on Steam this weekend, as it was on my wishlist and there was a half-price promotion. On that occasion I noticed that I hadn't bought anything on Steam since restarting World of Warcraft. It isn't that there aren't any good games in my Steam library, I would love to continue playing Pillars of Eternity for example. But World of Warcraft ends up being such a colossal time sink that I simply can't find the time for anything else.

To some extent that is good news, as it means that I am having fun. I had a good time this weekend basically doing all the battle pet content of the Mists of Pandaria expansion: Beating all the pet masters, the pandaren spirits, the beasts of fable, and finally the celestial tournament on Timeless Isle. I also went on my very first LFR raid, with my priest spec'd to holy, as I was annoyed of his ineffectiveness in shadow spec. LFR is silly easy, although we managed to wipe on Operator Thogar by being run over by trains. I did several "raids" and got two epics, albeit for the same slot. Not something that I'll do a lot, as the epics aren't actually better than what you get without raiding from your garrison, but an interesting change of pace.

What I still haven't even really started yet is a grand project to level a character from 1 to 100, while simultaneously collecting pets everywhere. I have a low level hunter and a low level monk, but I'm not sure whether I don't want to start over from scratch with a hunter of a different race and combine the hunting for battle pets with the hunting for rare hunter pets. To get that started I should probably reduce further the time spent on "maintenance" of my 4 garrisons, which eats up too much time.

So as long as I have lots of stuff to do in World of Warcraft, I can't find the time for other games. Technically I am in the beta for Heroes of the Storm, and I have downloaded the client, but never even started it. There is a much higher barrier of entry to starting a new game than to deciding to just play good ol' World of Warcraft. A new game requires you learning controls and what the game is about, and playing a game you know very well is much lower effort. Maybe I'm just in a low-energy phase, but right now this means that WoW is taking up all my time.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 April 2015, 12:55 pm
I couldn't resist the opportunity for speculation: I bought a WoW Token for money on one of my poorer characters and exchanged it for over 40k gold. The idea is to use a rich character of mine later to buy a WoW Token for less than 30k (prices go up and down quite a lot). The overall effect is 5€ extra paid for a month of subscription, but gaining 10k gold and having it transferred to where it is needed.
Tobold's Blog

Europeans buy less gold than Americans
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2015, 8:12 am
Curiously the price of the WoW Token is rising again in Europe, hitting nearly 40k, while the US WoW Token is down to just above 20k. As the price reflects the relative supply and demand, it appears as if the players on the US servers are far more enthusiastic in buying gold, while the Europeans are more interested in selling their gold. I find it hard to explain why there should be such a huge difference, with the tokens twice as expensive (and thus gold being half the price) in Europe. Any ideas?
Tobold's Blog

Semantic collision
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2015, 5:36 am
A role-playing game is a semantic collision of two very different activities: Theatrical "role-playing" and playing a game with dice and rules ("roll-playing" or "rules playing"). Different people enjoy those two parts to different degrees, and they are prominent to different degrees on different platforms: Computer RPGs often concentrate on the game part, which then makes the role-playing part an "unique selling proposition" for tabletop RPGs. But there are definitive synergies between the two parts, especially in the heroic fantasy genre or other genres where action and combat are very much part of the story. The inherent randomness of determining success or failure by rolling dice creates a source of neutral input and impulse to the story-telling. And in the other direction clever role-playing can create advantages for combat later or generate more interesting gameplay situations.

On blogs and forums people frequently exchange ideas how games "should" be designed and played. But the truth of the matter is that those blog and forum posts have little or no influence on game developers. In a computer game the developer determines the laws of physics and possibility in the game. You might be able to pursue different goals and activities in a MMORPG, but you cannot change game design. But as the Dungeon Master / Game Master of a tabletop game it is YOU who determines what is possible, and that makes you a game designer to some extent, even if you use a pre-made rules system like Dungeons & Dragons.

This is why the design of my next D&D campaign is very important to me. There are game design principles I believe in, and this is my opportunity to realize them and see if they work. And the balance between the role-playing part and the game part is a very important piece of that. I am not saying that I have an universal solution, but I do what I like, and I do play this campaign with people I have been playing with for years, so to some extent I know what they like. Thus the goal is to find a balance which is the most fun for all of us.

I recently joined another D&D group of people I didn't previously know, where I play a character in a 5th edition D&D game. I don't want to dis that game, but I can certainly see that between the personal style of the DM and the 5E system this makes for a system that I am not overly fond of. In two sessions we only had one single fight, and that one was over in 5 minutes. As much as I want more story for my game, I don't want to fall into that extreme either. I'm pretty sure my players would get bored, they do like tactical combat. I am far more inclined to target an overall 50:50 ratio of time spent in combat and time spent role-playing. Not necessarily per session, but at least per adventure. I don't want just a "role-playing", nor do I want just a "game"; I want the complete thing, a role-playing game.
Tobold's Blog

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