Reviewing games on YouTube
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 September 2015, 9:58 am
From time to time on this blog I post my opinion about some game. That sort of post might or might not have the word "review" somewhere in the title or text. I might have the word "recommended" at the end, but never a review score or anything similar. But most importantly I'm not getting paid $30,000 to write such reviews. Most of the time I received absolutely nothing, and even had to buy the game myself. Over the 12 years that I am doing this I received a handful of free "review copies", and in each of these cases I stated that in the post.

Personally I prefer to express myself in written form instead of speaking into a camera. The result is slower, but better thought through, because it is so much easier to edit writing. But I certainly can see the attraction of watching your game reviews on YouTube, especially if you can see the gameplay as well as hearing what the reviewer thinks about it. I can understand why especially a younger audience would rather watch a funny guy reviewing a video game on YouTube than reading a blogger's much dryer review of the same game. I understand while some of these channels have millions of viewers, compared to blogs having at best thousands of readers.

But when I hear some YouTuber writing to developers demanding $22,000 for a review, I am starting to believe that something has seriously gone wrong. The sum of all the worst accusations of corruption leveled against all video game review writers during Gamergate was just a fraction of the sums that appear to be common now on YouTube. And there are contracts between game companies and YouTubers which are definitively unethical, by deliberately hiding the fact that these are paid promotions, or by obliging the reviewer to refrain from saying certain things.

I do think that there are sufficient methods for popular YouTubers to make money via advertising and the like without having to resort to effectively blackmailing developers into payments, or disguising paid promotions as honest reviews. But with the current situation of there being far too many games out there struggling for a piece of the consumers gaming money, I'm afraid that we'll hear far more stories of shady dealings on YouTube for some time to come.
Tobold's Blog

Second opinion: Magic Duels
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 September 2015, 5:05 am
I was reading Ravious' opinion about Magic Duels on Kill Ten Rats, and found it far more negative than my own experience with the game. I still think it is one of the better incarnations of Magic the Gathering in a virtual format. So I'd like to address his points of concern and give my differing opinion on them:

"Easy AI has ridiculous answers to the deck I am forced to build.": There is a lot of complexity to this complaint. Magic Duels has quests, most of which require you to use the deckbuilding wizard, which doesn't give you full freedom to build decks, and thus often ends up with sub-optimal builds. And Magic the Gathering is, and has always been in all forms, a game with certain rock-paper-scissors elements: Certain decks work extremely well against certain other decks, but get crushed by yet another type of deck. So all together that means that yes, you can build a deck with deckbuilding wizard to do a quest, and then lose against the AI on easy difficulty because the opponents deck was just built with plenty of answers to the threats you put into your deck. But you can just as well play on medium and have an easy victory, because it just happens that your deck is the rock and the AI has the scissors. Note that Magic also has a certain degree of randomness, so you can always win or lose just because of what lands you or your opponent drew. Personally I find it good that I don't have a 100% win chance against the AI on easy. But I'm winning far more games than I lose at that difficulty level, so for me there isn't really a problem here. Furthermore I would like to point out that of course you can build a deck freely without the deckbuilding wizard and earn gold outside the quests. The game becomes a lot less limited if you don't limit yourself to doing quests.

"The “curated” meta where someone decided not all cards from the Origins set should go in to the game allows for cards like Nimbus Wings (1W aura for creature to gain flying and +1/+2) to become monsters.": Magic the Gathering in physical card form or as MtG:Online allows the player to put 4 cards of the same name in a deck. Magic Duels allows 4 if the card is common, 3 if uncommon, 2 if rare, and just 1 if legendary. That has consequences: Combinations of rares into a complicated engine work a lot less well, because you can't put 4 of each rare you want for the engine in your deck. With complicated engines being out, creatures (and creature enchantments) become the main way to win a game. Magic Duels in its current form is easier than real Magic, but also considerably cheaper, as you don't need to buy so many cards to get all those rares. Personally I think that is of more advantage than disadvantage. You don't copy "net decks" for Magic Duels, it is a separate format in which different cards are strong, and you need to account for that when building your own decks.

"The daily quests aren’t really daily because of server issues, and players roll for craps with the server anyway on seeing if they will get the gold from the completed quest.": Actually it says nowhere that the quests are daily. As far as I know it is intended that you get a new quest only every second day. On the plus side the quests accumulate, so after 6 days you have 3 quests waiting for you, which is nice for weekend players. Magic Duels does have server issues, but those depend a *lot* on the platform on which you are playing. On the iPad, once I am connected, I never had the problem of winning a game and then not getting it counted because of connection loss to the server. There appear to be far bigger server problems on the PC version of the game.

"I hope that there is a Hail Mary patch for this game, and I am looking forward to when Battle for Zendikar gets added.": The server issues especially of the PC version need to be fixed for this game to get anywhere, obviously. I don't expect a patch to change much on the gameplay side of things. I am looking forward to the Zendikar expansion, and it will be interesting to see how they are going to handle the format: Will the new quests require you to build Zendikar-only decks, or can you mix cards from different expansion, which opens up a lot more possibilities?

Overall I think that Magic Duels (not regarding the PC server issues) is pretty close to the best we could have hoped for as a virtual version of Magic the Gathering which is accessible to a broader audience than the card game or the much more cut-throat MtGO version. You can reasonably play for free, and even if you decide to buy cards, that doesn't break your bank like the other versions do. You can't build every deck you can build with the other versions, but that removes some layers of complexity which would be rather daunting for new players. In order to compete with a much simpler game like Hearthstone, Magic Duels is rather well done attempt.
Tobold's Blog

Zeitgeist: The Island at the Axis of the World - Session 02
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 September 2015, 5:31 am
In the previous session the group as members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary provided security for the launch of the first Risuri-built steam warship, the RNS Coaltongue. Having successfully dealt with some troublesome dockers, they were invited to provide further security on the ship, which was to make a short maiden voyage with the king and invited guests. So this session started with a tour of the ship. I had gone the expensive route of printing the map of the ship on two posters to 1" scale, and had an NPC, petty officer Elian Aughtbrook, give them a guided tour to be sure that they knew all the details of how the ship operated. They met a guard, Divianne Athel, at the ship's magazine, telling them how the firedust (powder) for the cannons was protected by wreaths enchanted daily with a fire resistance ritual. And they met the young engineer Fitzcairn Luckshore in the engine room, where he was shoveling firegems into the furnace with two rather more solidly built and older colleagues.

Via Elian Aughtbrook they also organized, as requested, a room for the sister of the king, Duchess Ethelyn of Shale, to nap in. That caused some discussion, as the players with some degree of meta-gaming concluded that this special request meant that the king's sister was in special danger; so they weren't sure to what degree they were supposed to guard just the king, or his sister as well, or the whole ship. In the end they tried to cover everything, but of course the ship was rather huge and patrolling it every quarter of an hour with just 2 people didn't turn up anything suspicious.

Apart from the king complaining about indigestion, which he said was probably caused by some local archfey wanting to let him know their displeasure about the use of technology, nothing much happened during the next hour. The band assembled, ready to play the royal anthem accompanied by fireworks, and after that a speech by the king was planned. At that point the group's boss, Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft approached them with a task: The duchess hadn't returned from her nap, and there was some concern that she might try to embarrass the king by being absent during his speech. So the constables were charged to give her an "escort of honor" and make sure she was present for the speech.

In spite of their earlier concerns regarding the safety of the duchess, the group decided that it would be sufficient if 4 of them went to provide that escort, while the 2 others remained on the top deck in case something happened there. The duchess' room was two decks below, in the back of the berth deck. The 4 constables went there and knocked on the door, and got a response from the duchess' handmaiden, Sokana. She opened the door just a bit and said the duchess was still sleeping. At that moment two things happened: The band on the top deck began playing the royal anthem at full blast, and near the duchess' cabin another door opened. Out came the halfling chef they had observed earlier with a tray of chocolates, but now he was wielding a short sword, and the green substance smeared on that sword didn't look like chocolate. Combat ensued, with the halfling assassin enjoying surprise over most of the group. Sokana wasn't surprised, pulled out a rod, yelled "an assassin, protect the duchess!" and went forward towards where the assassin was facing Merian the avenger, and Aria the sorceress.

Now I played this encounter as written, using the stats given, although I had a nagging feeling that the assassin was a bit underpowered with his 22 hit points. This turned out to be very much the case: The assassin landed a nasty poisoned blow on Aria, who couldn't act that turn due to surprise. But Merian, who stood right next to Aria, hit the halfling with a strong attack for 14 points, and Eldion the, who had likewise succeeded his surprise roll, finished him off with another strong hit. End of round one it looked as if the combat was already over.

At that point the real surprise was revealed: Sokana cast a whirlwind spell attacking Aria and Merian, which as a secondary effect teleported her past them. She then proceeded to summon 3 fire sprites as a minor action, and moved further towards the ladder to the engine room. Artus the ardent, standing at the duchess' cabin door, decided to check what was going on there and opened the door. The bed was empty (remember the empty bed in the vision last session?), the duchess had apparently left through the porthole and was seen outside riding a leviathan into the sea, fleeing the scene. Something was afoot, and the duchess and her people turned out to be the enemies here.

Now the group had to manage several things: Pursue Sokana, stop the fire sprites who were going for the powder magazine, alarm their two remaining colleagues on the top deck, and find out what the enemies were up to. Fortunately for them Sokana's whirlwind spell had missed both targets. And Merian the avenger was uniquely equipped with powers to pursue a single enemy. Sokana managed to summon more fire sprites, get down to the engine room, throw an enchanted fire ritual wand into the furnace and rusting shut the furnace door, but Merian was always right behind her, dealing serious damage. Aria also followed, and being a spirit medium received a message from the spirit of her dead father who is watching over her: Her father was a technologist and could tell her that the furnace was unusually overloaded with firegems (the "coal" of this world), and with the added heat from the fire wand the boiler would surely explode at some point. He was even able to calculate how much time they had to stop this, so there was a countdown until the boiler would explode and kill the whole group. Fun!

Meanwhile Eldion had gone and warned James and Malicia, the two group members on the top deck. Together with Artus they killed all the fire sprites, before they did any damage to the powder magazine, and then went down to the engine room. The guard of the powder room was found dead, apparently killed earlier by the assassin, and in the engine room the young engineer had been killed by his two burlier colleagues who were in on the sabotage and had bashed his head in with a shovel. The two engineers were busy sabotaging the pressure relief valves, and Sokana retreated towards them, blocking Merian's way with a wall of fire. Like a good musketeer Merian drew his musket and shot Sokana through that fire wall, killing her. She had succeeded in all her sabotaging objectives, but never did much serious damage to the group otherwise.

The furnace was hot enough to give fire damage to people standing close, but Aria had some fire resistance due to her dragon origin as sorceress. And unlike a weakly mage the sorceress had rather high stats in force, and was trained in athletics, so she was able with a lucky roll to break open the furnace door. She also found some tongs and managed to remove the fire wand from the furnace, which slowed the reaction down considerably (and doubled the number of turns remaining on the countdown). Meanwhile the other group members went after the two engineers and after a short combat killed these last enemies. Aiding each other they succeeded after a few attempts to unblock the safety valves, further adding time to the countdown.

Now the scenario has several different methods to completely stop the boiler from exploding. The group went for the not very spectacular but effective way of having Aria with her fire resistance shovel the firegems out of the furnace into metal buckets, with the others emptying those bucket through portholes upstairs into the sea. The group did also during this time warn the king about what was going on, but did so discreetly and said an evacuation wasn't necessary. The king's principal minister Harkover Lee called over the tiefling engineer Geoff Masarde, who had built the ship, who as tiefling also had fire resistance and could help Aria shoveling hot firegems. That way the reaction was stopped long before the countdown reached zero, and the ship was saved. On the list of possible outcomes from critical failure to critical success this was a critical success, because not only was the ship and king saved, but there wasn't even an interruption to the festivities.

The group received the personal thanks of the king, who was visibly shaken by the news that his own sister had betrayed him and tried to kill him. He feared there could now be a civil war in Risur. The king then gave his speech, in which he explained the situation to the guests, publicly thanked the constables and announced that after four wars with Danor he would now seek peace with them, convening a peace conference in a year to come, and planning to marry a Danoran lady of high birth. With this successful outcome we ended the session.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 September 2015, 2:35 am
When Sid Meier said that a good game is a series of interesting decisions, he was producing a lot of turn-based games for which this is particularly true. In real-time games the player can get into the flow of just taking care of the execution and still be engaged. A turn-based game constantly disengages the player while he has to wait for the other players to make their move. So it becomes important that when its the player's turn again, he has something interesting to decide.

Armello is doing this very well, as it is a virtual fantasy strategy board game. You don't just decide on a strategy at one point in time and then spend the next hundred turns executing it. Every turn the situation has at least slightly changed and you will have to decide on your move accordingly. And you don't get hundreds of turns anyway: In Armello the king has been infected by rot, and is losing 1 health every two turns. As he only has 9 health at the start of the game, that gives a natural limit to the number of turns the players have to either cure the king, depose him, or become the new king after the king's death by prestige.

In every turn you draw cards if you don't already hold as many cards as you have wit in your hand, and then move over a very small hex map around the world. On that map you can capture settlements for a gold income, explore dungeons for random rewards, visit stone circles to heal, or just pass over different sorts of terrain. In the middle of the map is the palace, which you don't enter until you try for one of the victory conditions near the end of the game. As the map is small, you constantly run into the other heroes (Armello is a game for 4 players, but 3 of them can be AI), the king's guards, and the banes. That is an opportunity for combat, as combat gives you the prestige you need for the default prestige victory condition.

Combat is done by rolling dice with symbols on it. Sword symbols count as an attack, shield symbols as a defense, and the other symbols as either attack, defense, or nothing at all, depending on circumstances. And yes, that means that there is a strong random element to combat, although characters with a higher fight score get more dice and thus have a distinctive advantage. Before rolling the dice you can also "burn" the cards in your hand to get specific results on a die. That not only makes combat a bit more predictable, but is also a great opportunity to discard cards you didn't want to play anyway.

The cards which you draw every turn unless your hand is full are of three sorts: Equipment, which you can then transfer to your inventory for a cost in gold, spells which you can cast for magic, and trickery cards which can be used for various effects, usually to hinder other heroes. The overall effect of the various ways to hinder other players is that the three victory conditions which require you to cure or beat the king in some way are very, very hard to reach. Most games thus end with the default victory condition of declaring the player with the highest prestige the winner. That in turn makes the more fight-oriented heroes like the wolf clan members more likely to win than the other classes. This minor imbalance is the only point of criticism I have on Armello. Each turn *is* full of interesting decisions, and while each game is relatively short, you'll often want to start the next one right after it and try a different way. There is also a system where your victories unlock different starting bonuses for your next games.

Besides the excellent gameplay, Armello is also a very charming game. The characters are anthropomorphic animals, the king is of course the lion, and the different character classes are represented by different animals. Everything is nicely animated and the whole world looks just great.

Overall I can only recommend Armello. In view of the low price tag of $20, you don't even have to wait for a Steam sale in order to be able to afford it. :)

Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 September 2015, 5:26 am
Golfers are known to wear funny trousers and Amazon has quite a selection of books with jokes about golfers. Any hobby has its particular customs which, from the outside, look somewhat funny. Golfers apparently don't mind all that much, and are in fact the prime customers of those books of golfer jokes. That relaxed attitude to a bit of ridicule unfortunately isn't shared by video gamers.

American television host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel recently made a joke about gamers. Or rather he made jokes about the new Youtube game streaming service. The core of that joke was that he can't see why you would watch somebody else play a video game instead of playing the game yourself. And he has a point there: It is a very specific behavior which looks funny to the outside world. Making a harmless joke about extrapolating that to people who watch people watching people watch video games didn't really hurt anybody. But of course gamers didn't see it like that, providing Jimmy Kimmel with a far more harmful opportunity to read out the various death threats he received from gamers because of his initial joke.

Gamers are establishing themselves as one of those extremist fringe groups that you only need to lightly poke to get a huge reaction of outrage from. And already several TV comedians have discovered that. The *reaction* of gamers to just about anything tends to be so completely blown out of proportion that it provides endless perfect material for comedy. Somebody playing a video game isn't inherently funny, not funnier than somebody watching TV, and the activity is so mainstream now that it only allows for mild humor. But somebody overreacting, foaming at the mouth because of some mild criticism or joke is incredibly funny. Even Jimmy Kimmel would be stunned if he knew that those death threats were in fact *not* sent by "12-year old boys", as he thinks, but by grown men. There is a greater than zero probability that one of the offended gamers will do something stupid like sending a SWAT team to Jimmy Kimmel's house, or calling in a bomb threat on his plane (such stuff happened before), providing Jimmy with even more comedy material.

Public ridicule is impossible to beat. It is a war that gamers just can't win. The only way to deal with ridicule is to ignore it. As some gamers aren't very likely to do that, they'll be inviting even more ridicule, painting the rest of us in a bad light. That's a shame.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 September 2015, 5:26 am
Golfers are known to wear funny trousers and Amazon has quite a selection of books with jokes about golfers. Any hobby has its particular customs which, from the outside, look somewhat funny. Golfers apparently don't mind all that much, and are in fact the prime customers of those books of golfer jokes. That relaxed attitude to a bit of ridicule unfortunately isn't shared by video gamers.

American television host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel recently made a joke about gamers. Or rather he made jokes about the new Youtube game streaming service. The core of that joke was that he can't see why you would watch somebody else play a video game instead of playing the game yourself. And he has a point there: It is a very specific behavior which looks funny to the outside world. Making a harmless joke about extrapolating that to people who watch people watching people watch video games didn't really hurt anybody. But of course gamers didn't see it like that, providing Jimmy Kimmel with a far more harmful opportunity to read out the various death threats he received from gamers because of his initial joke.

Gamers are establishing themselves as one of those extremist fringe groups that you only need to lightly poke to get a huge reaction of outrage from. And already several TV comedians have discovered that. The *reaction* of gamers to just about anything tends to be so completely blown out of proportion that it provides endless perfect material for comedy. Somebody playing a video game isn't inherently funny, not funnier than somebody watching TV, and the activity is so mainstream now that it only allows for mild humor. But somebody overreacting, foaming at the mouth because of some mild criticism or joke is incredibly funny. Even Jimmy Kimmel would be stunned if he knew that those death threats were in fact *not* sent by "12-year old boys", as he thinks, but by grown men. There is a greater than zero probability that one of the offended gamers will do something stupid like sending a SWAT team to Jimmy Kimmel's house, or calling in a bomb threat on his plane (such stuff happened before), providing Jimmy with even more comedy material.

Public ridicule is impossible to beat. It is a war that gamers just can't win. The only way to deal with ridicule is to ignore it. As some gamers aren't very likely to do that, they'll be inviting even more ridicule, painting the rest of us in a bad light. That's a shame.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 September 2015, 5:26 am
Golfers are known to wear funny trousers and Amazon has quite a selection of books with jokes about golfers. Any hobby has its particular customs which, from the outside, look somewhat funny. Golfers apparently don't mind all that much, and are in fact the prime customers of those books of golfer jokes. That relaxed attitude to a bit of ridicule unfortunately isn't shared by video gamers.

American television host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel recently made a joke about gamers. Or rather he made jokes about the new Youtube game streaming service. The core of that joke was that he can't see why you would watch somebody else play a video game instead of playing the game yourself. And he has a point there: It is a very specific behavior which looks funny to the outside world. Making a harmless joke about extrapolating that to people who watch people watching people watch video games didn't really hurt anybody. But of course gamers didn't see it like that, providing Jimmy Kimmel with a far more harmful opportunity to read out the various death threats he received from gamers because of his initial joke.

Gamers are establishing themselves as one of those extremist fringe groups that you only need to lightly poke to get a huge reaction of outrage from. And already several TV comedians have discovered that. The *reaction* of gamers to just about anything tends to be so completely blown out of proportion that it provides endless perfect material for comedy. Somebody playing a video game isn't inherently funny, not funnier than somebody watching TV, and the activity is so mainstream now that it only allows for mild humor. But somebody overreacting, foaming at the mouth because of some mild criticism or joke is incredibly funny. Even Jimmy Kimmel would be stunned if he knew that those death threats were in fact *not* sent by "12-year old boys", as he thinks, but by grown men. There is a greater than zero probability that one of the offended gamers will do something stupid like sending a SWAT team to Jimmy Kimmel's house, or calling in a bomb threat on his plane (such stuff happened before), providing Jimmy with even more comedy material.

Public ridicule is impossible to beat. It is a war that gamers just can't win. The only way to deal with ridicule is to ignore it. As some gamers aren't very likely to do that, they'll be inviting even more ridicule, painting the rest of us in a bad light. That's a shame.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 September 2015, 5:03 am
Azuriel is complaining in this post that "When you use the word “entitlement” as a pejorative, all you are doing is asserting that someone has unreasonable expectations about something, without actually bothering to offer an argument or explanation as to why it is unreasonable.". Well, I'd be only too happy to offer an argument and explanation of gamer entitlement.

A game is an entertainment product. Somebody produces it, a process which involves cost, mostly in the form of manpower cost. Then he is trying to sell or otherwise monetize the resulting product. If he manages to make a profit, he can then produce the next game. If he doesn't make a profit, sooner or later he has to shut down shop and stop making games.

The gamer in this story is the customer. His value as a customer to the game developer is proportional to the amount of money that he is spending on the game. Whether the gamer is "a big fan", or "plays the game for hundreds of hours", or "is really skillful at this game" is largely irrelevant. It doesn't pay the developer's bills. The effect a "fan" has on sales by promoting the game is frequently rather small and insignificant.

The problem with entitlement is frequently that gamers think that the time they spent playing a game entitles them to special consideration by the game developer, in spite of them not having contributed more financially to the game than other players. They demand more content than the purchase price of the game justifies, they demand special exclusive content designed just for their needs, they even demand changes to the game that keeps other players out or restricts the content those other players can use.

I do think that there are cases where a player is entitled to be heard by the developers, for example if he spent $5000+ on the Crowfall alpha access diamond bundle. I do not think that somebody who is paying the same amount of money as everybody else, but is playing the game more, is entitled to any special consideration. That gamer already got more bang for his bucks by playing more, why should he receive any further favors without paying for them? The game is a product that is sold "as is", you take it or leave it. Game developers don't owe you anything unless you gave them a lot of money some way. It is unreasonable to demand special consideration from game developers without special financial engagement.
Tobold's Blog

Minor comfort feature
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 September 2015, 7:53 am
So patch 6.2.2 arrived and brought flying in Draenor to World of Warcraft. Despite the huge fuzz that was made about this feature, for me it doesn't change the way I play all that much. It is a minor comfort feature to reduce travel time a bit sometimes. My first use of it was with my freshly leveled to 100 paladin traveling between the garrison and the shipyard a bit faster. Not a big deal, but rather a minor comfort feature.

Flying used to be more useful to me in previous expansions, where gathering materials was still a big deal. But even with the added chance of finding Felblight in Tanaan Jungle, I don't see myself gathering resources in this expansion. The resources you get from garrison mine and herb garden have pretty much killed the interest in gathering professions. Neverthless I am thinking ahead: On two of my now five level 100 characters I abandoned one crafting profession and went back to mining instead. The idea is that come next expansions gathering skill will be needed again, and it is easier to skill mining up now with the help of the garrison mine than to try to rush it when the next expansion comes out.

I wonder if I should take up herbalism again as well, for example with my mage who has inscription. On the other hand I don't have a character with alchemy any more, that profession felt so utterly useless in WoD. What do you think?
Tobold's Blog

Free2Play MMORPG goes subscription-based
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 September 2015, 8:37 am
Now this must be a first! A Tale in the Desert changes its business model from Free2Play to subscription based. After a million headlines of games heading in the other direction, this is an interesting move.

I believe the economics of this is based on the fact that A Tale in the Desert is very, very niche. It doesn't profit much from a Free2Play approach, because it can't really hold casual players very long, being too far away from people's expectations. So for a very small and dedicated player base, the subscription model probably works better.
Tobold's Blog

Impressive Pay2Win
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 September 2015, 7:46 am
Usually mobile Free2Play games rarely impress me. I mean, I play them from time to time, and some of them are fun on the gameplay side; but usually they are low budget affairs of small teams. Graphics and presentation are at best "okay", usually some cartoon style (and the same looking anime style for every single game of Asian origin), with little or no animation. So I was kind of surprised to stumble upon a Free2Play game with triple A production quality: EA's FIFA 15 Ultimate Team (FUT). I was barely aware that my iPad could even display such graphics with this fluidity, the game looks absolutely stunning.

Apparently FUT is some sort of a side-project to the console FIFA 15 game for consoles and PC, which you get as added extra when you buy the $60 FIFA game. The iOS and Android versions started their life as free "companion apps", but look like a full game to me now. So there are a number of slightly different versions of it, including also a version specifically for phones. I've been only looking at the iPad version here.

So what is FUT? At the heart is is a trading card football manager game. The most important cards are players, and you build a team out of them to then play football (soccer) with. That is done in two alternative modes, either you controlling a player on the field directly, or in simulation mode. The two very different modes mean that you can play FUT in a "kick a ball around" mode as a football action game, or you can play it as a pure football manager game, or something in between. The action game part is quite well done, especially if you consider that you can get that for absolutely free.

The trap is of course the trading card football manager part. Cards exist in bronze, silver, and gold, plus "rare" versions of each of those, plus some exotics. While your starting team will be mostly bronze and all sorts of nationalities and leagues, there is an advantage to putting together a team from the same nationality or league, as that adds to the team's "chemistry" and increases success chance. And unless you want to grind a lot of games to get the gold to buy the players on the transfer market, you might be tempted to buy bronze, silver, or gold boosters. Which you can buy for in-game gold, but also for a second currency available for cash. I have a strong tendency (out of interest in monetization schemes) to buy "something" in any Free2Play game I like and play for more than a day, so in this case I spent $15 which got me 10 gold boosters (opening 10 gold boosters happened to be a "quest" that awarded another gold booster). But with that investment and all the boosters I got from basically doing tutorial "quests" I am still far from even scratching the surface: There are 10,000 players from over 500 licensed teams in the game. A nightmare for completionists! :)

If collecting players doesn't get you to spend money, then maybe the other types of cards will. There are cards for your stadion, your team name, your home and away kit, various staff like managers, and various consumables. For example each player has a number of games he is contracted to play, so once those run out you need to use a consumable contract card on your player to further use him. There is some strategy involved in that: Why use your best player and use up his contracts if for the tournament or season or match you want to play a lesser player will suffice? What players do you use your training cards on? But the main activity besides playing is getting your squad right, putting players on their preferred position and linking them up with players they have "chemistry" with. FUT works quite well as a football manager game if you don't go overboard and start spending too much real money to get better players.

There is also another game in FUT: An economic game of buying and selling cards. There is a very active market with around half a million cards being traded at any given moment. Boosters give you random cards, so if you are building a team of a specific nationality or club, you need to trade away the players you don't need to get the gold to buy the players you need. That economic game uses the same currency of gold which is also given out as main reward for playing matches and can be used to buy boosters, so a good trader has a different source of income.

Overall FUT is quite a good game, at least as long as you play it for free or are good at limiting your spending. Server stability is sometimes a problem, and on the iPad version I was very happy to have linked the game to Facebook, because that saved my collection from a glitch that had reset the game. I also have open questions about FIFA 16 being released in three weeks with a new version of Ultimate Team on consoles and PC. Will I just get an update of FUT on my iPad, but keep my old collection? Or will there be two separate versions (which isn't ideal)?
Tobold's Blog

Old and out of practice
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 August 2015, 7:39 am
Nearly a decade ago for some time I was doing raiding in World of Warcraft, for some time with a rather hardcore guild. So hardcore in fact that they kicked me out later when I went on an announced summer holiday, as that sort of lack of commitment wasn't allowed. So during vanilla WoW I got up to Nefarion in Blackwing Lair (BWL) while most other raiders where still struggling with Molten Core. And I was good at it. I was playing a holy priest and at the time where healing still had aspects of mana management I was one of the top healers in that guild.

From vanilla on I got less and less interested in raiding. I was and technically still am in a much more relaxed guild, signed up for raiding less and less frequently, and got more and more disenchanted by changes to raiding which turned it from a series of interesting decisions into a Simon Says memory game of dance steps. I think I was still okay though at that time as a healer. I remember a Malygos raid where everybody was still alive at the moment that he enraged and killed us all, and as a healer one couldn't do better than that.

I didn't play much Mists of Pandaria, and in Warlords of Draenor I did very little PvE group content. I did the one dungeon needed for the first stage of the legendary ring in normal, and a few LFR raids just to have a look. But nothing which required any serious skill. But this weekend I was thinking that maybe I should do some more dungeons on heroic, and do the rest of the legendary quest line. For that I had to visit the proving grounds and as a healer beat the silver level of the proving grounds to be allowed to heal in a heroic dungeon. With memories of past skills and an iLvl of 680 I thought that wouldn't be much of a problem. And was proven very, very wrong.

Okay, so I didn't have any addon like healbot, and used the standard interface for healing, which certainly wasn't optimal. But mostly it was a question of feeling old, slow, and out of practice. At some point I was supposed to dispel stuff, and had no idea where my dispel button even was. And just brute force healing didn't do the trick as I had thought it would. After failing the third attempt I gave up. Not because I didn't think I wouldn't eventually succeed with addons and such, but because I concluded that if the proving ground was a problem, I probably wouldn't be a good group healer any more. And you get already enough nasty remarks if you heal perfectly and some idiot stands in the fire and then complains.

I think my hardcore endgame days are really over.
Tobold's Blog

Fusion games
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 August 2015, 11:17 am
At the recommendation of Bryksom I tried out Knights & Dragons and found that it is one of the many games in a very specific mobile games genre which I call fusion games. They all work the same way: There is some combat mechanic, which on winning rewards you with something, like new monsters if it is a game about controlling monsters, or new weapons and armor if you fight with characters. Doing many fights you will find a lot of stuff. But the trick is that unlike MMORPG gear, which just gets outdated and sold to a vendor, the stuff in these games can always be fused together to form new stuff. So you put on your best armor and fuse it with all the junk armor you have to give a higher level armor. Or you combine small monsters into higher level monsters. Usually stuff has a rarity rating which determines how far you can level it by fusion, and then there is often another game mechanic which can increase rarity, but much more expensively.

Because you can use all the stuff you find and nothing is totally worthless, fusion games usually work quite well on motivation, better than eternal upgrade games like Diablo or MMORPGs. On the downside the mobile games pretty much always are very much Pay2Win, and use exploitative sales methods like selling random chests with a chance to find really awesome stuff, or a chance to blow all your money on nothing much.

The most curious thing about these games is that there are so many different combat mechanics used for them. Knights & Dragons has a very simple single attack, which charges a stronger attack once every few monsters killed. But I have seen match-3 puzzle games, card games, or strangest of all a game called Dragon Coins (now defunct) which had a carnival coin dozer as basic combat mechanic.

I can't say I have found any fusion game yet which had held my attention for very long. Many have very simplistic combat mechanics, which you can frequently even set to auto-combat. No interest at all in those. The ones that have more interesting combat frequently annoy me by having a deliberately steep difficulty curve, trying to force me to buy random chests and stuff to advance further. But then there are thousands of these fusion games, and I have just scratched the surface. So if any of you can recommend one of these games which has interesting combat and isn't too exploitative, I'd be interested.
Tobold's Blog

Guild Wars 2 goes Free2Play
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 August 2015, 10:18 am
According to a leak this is one of the headlines you will read coming from Pax Prime. And I just wanted to comment that I'm considering this a non-event. Wildstar going Free2Play means I will be able in the future to play Wildstar for free. GW2 I already was able to play for free, having bought it long ago. And as you could already get the base game heavily discounted in the past, it isn't such an enormous change at all. The base game also is free if you buy the new expansion. So I really don't see this move gaining Guild Wars 2 all that many new players.
Tobold's Blog

Server outages and other players
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 August 2015, 7:24 am
I understand the interest for game companies to put their games online. Games as a service instead of games as a boxed product avoids a lot of problems with piracy and the like. And you make a business out of selling virtual stuff and store it server-side, so customers don't lose anything if their computer crashes. On the other hand I have two specific problem with online games: Server outages and other players.

The first for example is a recurring problem with Magic Duels. The PC version is affected more than the iOS version, but even on iOS I need a good WiFi connection to be able to play. On 4G I can't, which makes the game a lot less mobile than I wished to. Server problems are quite frequent in games that just came out. A smooth launch for a MMORPG is a rare beast. And in spite of server problems being so predictable, customers are frequently treated with obscure error codes instead of a message which explains clearly what is going on with the server.

The second problem for me with online games is that game companies frequently decide that as they are online anyway, it would be better to make the game PvP instead of PvE. I just had a look at the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, but most of its game modes are against other players, and the game modes against the AI are limited to specific decks. No interest for me to build my own decks if I don't want to play against other human beings. And playing against other human beings isn't always an advantage. You never know who you get paired against, and that can be people who play very slow (a problem in a turn-based game), quit half-way through the game, or use the game communication tools for insults and trash talk. For a quick game, especially mobile, I much prefer a computer opponent.

I also find it highly annoying that the majority of city/empire building games on mobile platforms are exclusively PvP, in the Clash of Clans mold. First the game puts you at risk of having your progress destroyed by raids from other players, and then they sell you "protection" against that for real money. Sounds like a right mob racket to me!

And I'm pretty sure I am not the only one who would prefer less PvP and more PvE in various online games, especially on mobile platforms. I think game developers are missing out on a bunch of potential customers by not offering both options for the same game. Playing against real human beings can be fun under certain conditions, but for a casual game it often causes more problems than advantages.
Tobold's Blog

There are no girls on the internet
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 August 2015, 7:19 am
Not a game story, but nevertheless an online community story: Boing Boing reports that the recent leak at Ashley Madison, an online dating service of extra-marital affairs, did more than embarrass a few politicians and celebrities (all male). It also revealed that the whole site was a huge scam: For over 20 million men who checked their Ashley Madison messages there were only 1,492 women who did the same. Apparently the leak only showed that many of the female profiles were simply fake. At least in this case the old meme that there are no girls on the internet proved to be quite true; at the very least girls on the internet aren't there in order to have extra-marital affairs.
Tobold's Blog

Habit forming
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 August 2015, 4:03 am
I own over a thousand games. Or rather, as a lawyer would tell me, I own limited licenses which allow me to play those thousand games I bought on different platforms. Plus there are thousands and thousands of games I could play for free or little money if I wanted. Supply definitively isn't the problem. The problem is having a real life which limits the time per day I can spend playing. The problem is coming home tired from work and not wanting to deal with anything too complex any more that day. The problem is learning curves of games, especially if you wanted to flit from one genre to another for more variety.

All these reasons result in that there is a high probability that the game I play on day N is the same game I played on day N-1. That usually requires the least mental effort, and it is likely that when I closed down the game yesterday there were still things I wanted to do in it. So let's play it again, Sam!

Game companies know that. And because they know that, they add "daily" features to their games. That isn't some new-fangled invention of the Free2Play age, already Ultima Online gave you double progress in the first hour you played every day. World of Warcraft introduced daily quests, daily crafting cooldowns, and in this expansion a bunch of stuff in your garrison which is on a daily timer. Of course Free2Play games also use that sort of feature a lot, you usually get some bonus for login in every day, and the longer the chain of daily logins gets, the more rewards you receive for that.

The idea is to form a habit with players login in every day. As long as players login every day, they are more likely to be willing to pay subscription fees or whatever is on offer in the item store. If you don't play, you're less willing to pay. But like all features the "daily" features have a risk of being overused and showing their downsides: At some point the daily login becomes a chore, which hardly isn't the way to endear the game to you. Miss a day, and it will feel like a punishment to have broken the reward chain or at least missed out on a day of easy to get rewards.

But as Zubon reports, there is a new trend to make daily quests a bit less of a chore: Accumulating daily quests. Magic Duels gives you a new quest only every second day, and the previous ones are stored on a list which can hold 3 quests. Thus if you only play Magic Duels every weekend, you still haven't missed any "daily". Apparently Heroes of the Storm also has a way to accumulate quests (I'm not currently playing that, although I logged in today to get a free Diablo hero). Even World of Warcraft has introduced weekend events with a very wide definition of weekend to accommodate people who are on a slower schedule than daily.

You might see that as yet another brick in the wall of the ongoing casualisation of games, but I do think that accumulating daily quests and having weekly stuff as well is a good idea. Personally I'm getting sick and tired of the daily garrison maintenance in WoW, even if that pays for my subscription.
Tobold's Blog

Zeitgeist: The Island at the Axis of the World - Session 01
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 August 2015, 5:28 am
After a warm-up session before the holidays, yesterday my new D&D campaign started in earnest. The player characters are members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary of Risur. Risur has been at war with Danor repeatedly. The nation of Danor is a magic-dead zone, so they developed steam age technology and guns, which proved to be superior to Risur's druidic magic. So Risur has been industrializing over the last 40 years to catch up technology-wise. This is the background for the first assignment of the players: Providing security at the launch of the RNS Coaltongue, the first Risuri ship completely powered by steam, with no sails at all.

At the headquarters of the RHC the group received instructions and information from their boss, Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft. They got an itinerary of the event and a guest list. The elf of the party also received from the RHC skyseer Gaethan a vision of what she saw in the stars the night before: A crowd, a purple ribbon, the Beran city of Seobriga, an empty bed, a broken tin whistle or flute, and a girl with a lisp singing the Risuri royal anthem.

At the event there was a big crowd waiting to be let in. The regular police was charged to let in only 800 people to not overcrowd the docks. The RHC was in charge of making sure that among those being let in there were no troublemakers. They started that well, by identifying the groups that were most likely to cause trouble: The dockers, who are angry how the city treats them in the growing social conflict brought on by rapid industrialization. The primalists, traditionalists of the old Risuri druidic ways, unhappy about modern technology. Agents of the fey terrorist known as "Gale", who has a history of attacking industry. And finally the veterans of the 4th Yerasol War, who aren't happy that it is a Danoran tiefling who is building the Coaltongue.

With a series of skill checks the group identified 20 possible suspects among the 800 people let through the first security checkpoint. One of them was standing next to a tree with a purple ribbon around it, and got visibly nervous when the constables eyed him. Another was the only one not looking towards the checkpoint before being let in, instead apparently being very interested in a map of Ber in the shop of a cartographer. The group didn't look out for the girl with the lisp, but the vision had provided them with some clues.

Now there would have been a possibility to approach the suspects one by one, and send away those not deemed to be safe. Instead the group opted for a different method, letting through the 780 not suspect people through the second checkpoint, while detaining all the 20 suspects at one spot. Of course that group wasn't really happy when the constables started to question and search them. A few were found to be harmless enough, a war veteran who was willing to hand in his sword until the end of the event, a druid who still was royalist in spite of the king's passion for technology, and so on. A few suspects got fed up and wanted to leave. At that point Eldion, being an eager constable, decided that they should search the people wanting to leave, which caused some commotion. And during that commotion a group of 4 dockers, including the guy next to the tree with the purple ribbon and the guy at the map shop, made a dash through the second checkpoint and onto the bridge leading to the quay. The group went after them and combat ensued.

The dockers were armed with belaying pins, and later pulled knifes, but still managed to deal some serious damage with a few high rolls. But they didn't have much armor or defenses, and also missed a lot of attacks. In spite of me reminding the players that the event was on a schedule and there was no possibility to take a long rest after the fight, Aria the sorceress used her daily power in the first round and her action point later. That is the same player who used this alpha strike tactic consistently in the last campaign, and then always nagged the group to rest after every fight. I think he will find that in this campaign this will work a lot less well, as events are frequently on a tight schedule. The group used non-lethal damage on three of the dockers (in 4E D&D that decision is made on the last hit that brings the enemy down). Only the healer, annoyed at having received two serious knife wounds, decided to kill the one docker he brought down. The other defeated dockers were handed over to the police to be thrown in jail and to be presented to a judge the next day.

After the fight another docker turned up, who was known to Eldion, the deva invoker and politician of the group. Eldion had worked for one of the district mayors of Flint and had come in contact with this docker, Thames Grimsley, before. Thames is trying to organize a union, and is preferring less violent methods of class struggle. He came to warn the constables of a potential threat by a group of 4 dockers, but came too late. At least that confirmed that there weren't more docker troublemakers in the crowd that the party might have overlooked.

While the first of the invited guests arrived, the group had a debriefing meeting with their boss, Stover Delft. He introduced them to Harkover Lee, Principal Minister and closest advisor of the king. Both congratulated the group on having handled the troublemakers without causing any inconvenience to the guests, and apparently nobody was much troubled by one dead docker. The group was invited to provide further security on the ship, once it was christened by the king and the guests embarked. Right now only crew and staff was allowed on the ship, the group saw for example a halfling chef bringing a tray of chocolates on board, and some crew members carrying instruments. Due to the vision of the broken tin whistle or flute, the party checked whether any of the instruments were in fact disguised weapons (think blowgun), but found that the marching band actually used rather larger instruments than a flute.

A lot of invited guests assembled close to the ship, waiting for the king to arrive. There was the tiefling engineer Geoff Masarde who had built the Coaltongue; Captain Rutger Smith, who would captain one of the escort ships, the Impossible, which was actually a ship of the Royal Homeland Constabulary; Flint Governor Roland Stanfield; Principal Minister Harkover Lee; Industrialist Benedict Pemberton; and Duchess Ethelyn of Shale, the king's sister. A lot more NPCs than in my previous campaign, and there were signs that the players suffered from a bit of information overload and started to worry how to keep track of all of them.

When briefing the constables, Harkover Lee had mentioned that some guests might be not too pleased about the king's speech, looking at the king's sister, who had arrived with an elven handmaiden in tow. The duchess waved to Malicia, the paladin, because her family was close with the royal family, and Malicia knew the duchess and the king since she was a child. When Merian, the avenger and only character in the group with some connection to the Unseen Court of the fey from his childhood, went to check out the handmaiden the duchess gave her servant some instructions, and the handmaiden called Merian over to talk to the duchess. Duchess Ethelyn was feeling tired, and requested that the constables would organize a room for her on the ship to take a nap.

From that request the players jumped immediately to conclusions, thinking that there was a danger of the duchess being assassinated and started making plans on how to prevent that. This was interrupted by the arrival of the king, who christened the ship. Then the king went onto the ship, and the guests began to embark. At this point we stopped the session, and the next one will cover the events during the maiden voyage of the RNS Coaltongue.
Tobold's Blog

World of Warcraft has 100 million players
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 August 2015, 8:43 am
I think Blizzard is doing a really bad job of marketing here by reporting accurately the actually relevant number of subscribers (and then still being attacked because subscribers in China don't pay as much as subscribers in America / Europe). Other companies are doing a much better job by *not* telling you how many active players they really have, but instead giving you a much larger number that can easily be confused with a player number. For example EVE Online counts the number of "accounts", which because you can only gain xp on one character per account is pretty much equivalent to the number of characters. Imagine how much better Blizzard's number were to look if they reported the number of characters instead of that of players!

The latest example is Final Fantasy XIV reporting the number of registered accounts. I am pretty sure that World of Warcraft has somewhere around 100 million registered accounts. I mean, that is counting everybody who ever tried the game, even if he never subscribed after the free month! As Syncaine assures us that a registered account is the same as an active player, so if that is true for FFXIV than it must also be true for WoW. Would you have thought that World of Warcraft has 100 million players? Thanks, Syncaine, for that information!

What really is going on is that after all those years World of Warcraft is still by far the market leader, and the real numbers of WoW make all the real numbers of the various competitors look bad. World of Warcraft has more players resubscribing for an expansion and then quitting again a few months later than most other MMORPGs have subscribers. You just need 5% of those 100 million registered accounts deciding to check out the new expansion to get 5 million players coming and going in a short time span. As those numbers are then all over the news, the competitors are reluctant to post how proud they are to have 1 million actual subscribers, because that sounds like small change (which it really isn't).

I think it is an achievement for EVE Online to have 100,000 players, but that number doesn't look good enough in marketing, so they have to multiply it by the number of accounts each player has. I think Final Fantasy XIV is really very successful with 1 million subscribers, but Square Enix inflates that number by reporting registered accounts. As you can't unregister an account, that number can only ever go up, so marketing has never the problem having to report players leaving. And as only Talarian does the math, they aren't afraid to report that each of those registered accounts played over 50 hours a day, what an achievement!

In short, player numbers have gone from being a useful information to being a marketing tool and subject to a series of lies and manipulations. Blizzard should join the club and also use those inflated methods of reporting player numbers to even the playing field!
Tobold's Blog

Economic downturn
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 August 2015, 3:00 am
A MMORPG is not one game, but rather a collection of many interconnected games. Different people pursue different personal win conditions; and the game has different counters telling you your iLvl, your various currencies, your achievement points, your PvP rank, and so on, so that you can follow your progress in your chosen goal.

Now I am one of the players interested in the economic subgame of World of Warcraft. I count my gold pieces (one and a quarter million at the moment) as indicator of progress. And I observe what is going on in the economic game. Which, right now, is an economic downturn.

Part of the problem is the major business cycles of World of Warcraft: Every expansion, every raise of the level cap, also increases the amount of gold in circulation. So long-term the game is inflationary, a stack of copper ore today on the AH costs a lot more than during vanilla WoW. Overlayed on that long-term trend, during each expansion there is a strong deflationary trend: The very first time an item drops it is worth a lot, and the price declines from the start of the expansion or patch that introduced this item. The bind-on-equip epics (crafted or looted) that were interesting and expensive in patch 6.1 are much less so in patch 6.2. Felblight went for over 700 gold when it was new, then dropped to around 400 gold, and now is frequently sold for less than 200 gold.

For an economic player, that is a problem. In spite of the term "gold farmer", very few people actually farm gold directly. It is a rather inefficient method of making gold. Instead you gather resources, maybe craft them into stuff like epics, upgrades, or 30-slot bags, and sell those to other players. So the lower the AH prices are, the less gold the economic players make. Long periods with no new content lead to market saturation and fewer opportunities to make gold.

In addition to this general trend that has happened before, I am observing a new effect: Blizzard in their infinite wisdom have decided that economic players like me are really the best of the best, and should be able to play for free. Which we do. Any economic player with the most basic skills can earn more gold per month than it costs to buy a WoW token, even on European servers where they cost nearly twice as much as on American servers. So there is really no reason for us economic players to cancel our subscription, as it doesn't cost us any real money, and every month we stay subscribed, we earn even more gold. I have 4 WoW tokens in my bags, and enough gold for 2 more years of subscription even if I didn't earn any further gold.

The same cannot be said about the other World of Warcraft players. The *do* have good reasons to cancel their subscription. Apart from flying, which people didn't want to lose, but probably aren't so interested in that it drives subscriptions, there will be no more new content until the next expansion. And it becomes increasingly unlikely that the next expansion will release anywhere soon, presumably the beta only starts with Blizzcon in November. Furthermore I believe that the WoW Token market is real, as Blizzard says. Okay, I don't see the person who is selling me his token for my gold; but historically MMORPGs had a lot of problem with third-party gold sellers, which suggests that there is no lack of players who are willing to spend real money on gold, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be willing to do so when the gold buying becomes legal. The difference in price between regions for a WoW Token for me is proof that this is a real market, and Blizzard is neither injecting gold nor tokens, every sale has a player buyer and a player seller. So while I pay nothing to play, other players pay double: Their subscription and mine. They pay my subscription by buying a WoW Token from Blizzard, selling me that token for gold, and then handing me that gold back by buying my stuff from the AH. Which is a rather good deal for me, and a rather bad deal for the non-economic player. I wouldn't be surprised if in view of the lack of content and the cost, non-economic players would quit the game at a higher rate than economic players.

The result of that is observable on the AH: Supply and demand are out of balance; all the stuff that economic players usually make money with, like crafted epics, essences to upgrade crafted epics, or bags, are present in large numbers on the AH, with nary a buyer in sight. That is leading to price wars driving down prices. You can get epics or 30-slot bags for less than 1,000 gold now. The upgrade essences are being sold for the price of the savage blood / felblight needed to craft them, giving away the soulbound resources and sorcerous elements for free. The flow of gold from the AH into my coffers has slowed down to a trickle.

In a way that is okay with me. My interest in the economic game is to observe the market and to develop new strategies to make money. Grinding out the same strategy for months is far less interesting. I'm growing bored of farming trapped animals for my barns, even if that is still a good money maker. I'm growing bored of logging on every character twice a day to collect resources from the garrison and do missions and daily crafts of soulbound resources. I think I have demonstrated that I can make gold in Warlords of Draenor, and that I have more than enough for the next expansion. I just need to decide how many tokens I still want to buy. Do I want to continue playing my alts and just don't bother with my level 100 characters any more? Do I want to try something else with those characters, like finally visiting some dungeons? I don't know yet. But the economic game for this expansion has lost its luster for me.
Tobold's Blog

Hero Forge Steel
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 August 2015, 2:25 am
I very much liked the idea to get 3D printed figurines for my D&D campaign from Hero Forge. The $15 basic plastic version looked too rough for 30 mm figurines, so I went for the $25 ultra detail plastic ones. That worked well in many aspects: Delivery was fast, the detail on these is fantastic, and I was able to get figurines for my Zeitgeist campaign that would have been difficult to represent with generic standard fantasy figurines. For example I now have a figurine of a sword-and-shield fighter with a rifle on his back, wearing a policeman's helmet.

In other aspects I was not perfectly happy with the figurines I got: They are reportedly fragile, so I have to carry them around in bubble wrap. They are also very lightweight compared to the usual metal figurines. And they are made of a semi-transparent plastic that has a slight yellow tinge, so the finer parts look white, but the thicker parts look distinctively yellow. Painting will fix that, but I can't paint myself, and haven't negotiated yet whether one of my players is willing to do so.

In any case, a while after receiving my plastic figurines I noticed that Hero Forge now has two new materials on offer: Steel figurines for $35, and bronze figurines for $99. Now the bronze ones look absolutely fantastic, but I need 6 figurines and wasn't going to pay $600. So I ordered a set of figurines in steel. They arrived just in time for my campaign start on Monday.

The steel figurines are made out of steel powder fused together by bronze. So they are incredibly sturdy, probably more so than standard white metal alloy miniatures. The surface is rougher than those of the ultra detail plastic ones, but less pitted than it looks on the Hero Forge website. The photos on the website also don't quite catch the color: The bronze/steel mix results in a rich, dark brown that looks very good by itself, even unpainted. I am very happy with these figurines, because they will be perfect for starting play Monday in their unpainted form, and then we still have the option to paint them.
Tobold's Blog

Paying to be the hunter
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 August 2015, 7:36 am
There is some unexpected comment activity on an old thread of mine about EVE Online, where a commenter now remarked that "I'm not on Eve to be some psychopath's game content." as reason for quitting. I found the remark quite interesting, and wondered whether better game design or a better business model could help.

MMORPGs in general can be observed to have huge differences in power between different players. Power tends to be somewhat proportional to hours played. So as players don't all start at the same time, and don't all play the same amount of hours per week, power levels diverge over time. PvE games tend to try to fix that with level caps, which make power gain per time spent increasingly slower, so that people can catch up. And in a PvE game power differences also have a lesser impact on the enjoyment of the game. In a PvP game, especially if free-for-all and with no level cap, the power differences have a much bigger impact. Some people get stuck in the role of the permanent victim, as the amount of time they spend in the game isn't sufficient to become strong enough or built a strong protective network to fend of attackers. Being repeatedly the helpless victim of somebody much more powerful is not a lot of fun to the victim, and thus it is understandable if he rage-quits.

From a game design point of view the solution could be to eliminate the difference in power level that comes from things like levels and gear. Many other games don't have character power levels or gear, so it is totally possible to create a game in which playing a lot would only make you stronger in as far as you become more skillful in the game. You would not benefit from having higher stats on your character or on your gear than a brand-new player. The added advantage for that would be that any PvE content would be viable forever and never become outdated because everybody has become much stronger through levels and gears.

From a business model point of view I was wondering whether the hunter and his prey should be paying the same amount of money to play. It is said about social networks that if you don't have to pay to use them, you are not the customer, you are the product. People nevertheless use those social networks, because at the price point of "free" they don' t mind being the product. So it is possible that at the price point of "free" they also wouldn't mind being effectively "content" in a PvP game. And the people who use this content, the powerful hunters that chase the weak prey, would be the ones who would have to pay for that privilege.

To me it seems somewhat weird that in EVE as well as in WoW the trend is rather in the other direction: The system of selling PLEX / WoW tokens favors certain veteran players, even if that isn't necessarily the players with the highest power level. For a brand new player it would be rather difficult to make 30k - 50k gold to pay for a monthly subscription, while for somebody with several max-level characters it is a lot easier. And the people who play the least are those who get the most bang for their buck out of paying additional money for in-game currency and buying stuff in game with it. So the people who play less end up paying more, and subsidizing the people who play more. And I don't see the veteran players skilled at making money providing "content" for other players to consume.
Tobold's Blog

Lifetime membership
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 August 2015, 3:15 am
Syl regrets *not* having taken a LotRO lifetime membership, while I regret having taken one. Maybe that is funny. Maybe that is an opportunity to talk about lifetime memberships. Do these even exist any more? I don't remember having seen one on offer recently. Besides Lord of the Rings Online, the games I know had that option were Hellgate London and Star Trek Online. Seeing how the company that made Hellgate London went bankrupt and the game went under (to be "resurrected" by a different company as Free2Play later), I'm pretty certain that at least that one was a bad deal.

For me the main attraction of the LotRO lifetime subscription was that I bought it when I still thought that LotRO would remain a subscription game forever. Subscription games have a disadvantage of that it becomes problematic to play them on and off. If there is another game coming out that you want to play, do you cancel your subscription, only to take a new subscription once you want to come back? So at the time the lifetime subscription for me removed that problem, giving me free access whenever I wanted without hassle. Of course then LotRO went Free2Play, which removed my prime motivation for the lifetime subscription. If I had played LotRO a lot that might still have been a good deal, because the lifetime subscription was converted into advantages of the Free2Play game. But in hindsight I didn't play LotRO all that much, and wasted my money.

So the main problem with lifetime subscriptions is that they are usually on offer only at the very start. Just like expensive collectors editions they are sold on hype, not on a solid experience with the game. As MMORPGs frequently undergo changes, both to gameplay and to business models, a lifetime subscription today sounds like a risky proposition. There probably isn't much demand any more, which probably explains why I don't see them any more. When a new subscription MMORPG is released today, the first thing people ask is "how long until it goes Free2Play?", and not "how I can I subscribe for this for eternity?".

Right now I don't know any game where I would be willing to pay $200+ to get a lifetime subscription for. Not even World of Warcraft, seeing how that one has effectively gone Free2Play for me. How about you?

Tobold's Blog

Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 August 2015, 3:46 am
Syp started the latest MMORPG blogosphere trend talking about regrets, followed by Rowan Blaze and Telwyn. I was a bit surprised that they all shared the regret of not having gotten into MMORPGs earlier. I'm not in the same boat: I played LPMUDs on a university mainframe computer with ASCII terminal, 25 x 80 text characters "resolution". I played Ultima Online on dial-up, and quit after the first telephone bill arrived. I played Everquest relatively early on, even if I wasn't there for release. I started my MMORPG blog over a year before World of Warcraft was released, and at that time already had played pretty much every game on the market. I'm just not sure that Syp, Rowan, and Telwyn missed much.

Certainly, the early period of MMORPGs pre-WoW had more variety, the formula of what a MMORPG is was less fixed and less static. There was a lot more experimentation going on. On the other hand, a lot of that experimentation went horribly wrong. There are events, like the launch of Anarchy Online, where my regret is to have been there rather than not having been there. Anarchy Online also showed what could go wrong if you designed worlds and stuff by algorithms, for example by creating weapons that actually had negative stats, because the weapon existed at 200 different levels and the formula designed the stats at level 100 and the slope of increase/decrease per level could be so steep that the low levels fell below 0. Several games experimented with open world player housing, leading either to horrible overcrowding (UO) or deserted player cities when server populations shrank (SWG). Star Wars Galaxies was full of failed experiments, like the first Jedi design, or the NGE, but probably had the best resource gathering and crafting system I've ever seen. Everquest and Final Fantasy XI showed up the limits of forced grouping. Nearly every early game failed to foresee that some people would camp or grind stuff 16 hours a day (and modern games still haven't found an adequate solution for that). So the early days of MMORPGs kind of resembled the mythical Chinese curse of "may you live in interesting times". I don't regret having lived in interesting times, but the experience wasn't always pleasant.

Overall I can't say I regret much of my long years in MMORPGs. The worst regret is possibly having fallen for the hype and buying the lifetime subscription for Lord of the Rings Online, and then playing the game very little because of the unresponsive combat system. I certainly made mistakes, both with playing MMORPGs and with blogging about them, but I tend not to regret my mistakes but rather cherish them as a learning experience. Thus the Sinatra quote in the title. The very definition of a game is that it provides a safe environment for experimentation, with limited consequences, thus I would say it is natural to have less regrets about games than about real life.
Tobold's Blog

Handling lore
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 August 2015, 3:18 am
I find that my attitude towards lore is very different between playing a MMORPG and a tabletop RPG. In MMORPGs I tend to completely ignore lore. Part of that is because when I was young I read a lot of fantasy literature and learned to tell the good from the bad, and the writing of a typical computer RPG is usually rather bad. I mean, does the whole Warlords of Draenor alternative timeline story make sense to anybody? The other problem is that in a MMORPG lore tends to clash with gameplay. I play different alts, so I end up killing the same main villain several times, or worse I find myself in a script of being betrayed and can do nothing about it in spite of already knowing who the bad guy is. In the other direction lore is nearly always completely irrelevant for gameplay, the game never asks me to make any decisions based on my understanding who is good and who is bad. The good guys have a green name and I can't attack them, the bad guys have a red name, and outside scripted events I can attack them; that is all the lore I need to know.

In a tabletop RPG the situation is very different. Especially for me as DM, being lorekeeper is part of my job. Now there are different approaches to that: Some DMs make up the lore on the spot, as the world only exists when the players come into contact with it. The disadvantage is that this requires a very good memory, because stories tend to loop back to NPCs and other lore elements you described before, and then you better remember what you invented on the spot several sessions ago.

So my approach is usually one of preparation. Especially if I play a campaign or adventure that I haven't written myself. I will read the adventure and campaign material several times and think about the various relations described in there until that virtual world becomes kind of real in my head. If I know the history of my campaign world and the NPCs that are principal actors in it, I can respond to any situation that comes up in the game with a consistent answer.

For my new campaign I was lucky with the timing. This is Europe, with its long summer holidays, and in a group of 1 DM and 6 players it isn't easy to play during summer, because everybody is gone at some point or the other. That creates a huge gap between the last session before the holidays and the first session after the holidays. But as this year we finished the old campaign just before the holidays, and only had time for a short introduction of the new campaign (character creation and a warm-up fight), I had all summer to prepare the new campaign. As the Zeitgeist campaign is *huge* (the first hardcover with the players guide, DM guide, and adventures 1 to 4 has 562 pages), I could really use that time. Now I feel well prepared, having understood the interaction between the various power groups in the campaign world, and events about to happen that the players will interact with.

When I started playing tabletop roleplaying games in the early 80's, the written modules and campaign guides were all you had to prepare. Today there are other sources, because other people will have played the same campaign and put their experiences in blogs, podcasts, or even videos. 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons works well with videos, as long as you stream your virtual tabletop in the video. There are various videos on YouTube basically showing people sitting around a table for hours, and there an audio podcast would have worked just as well. In any case, it is interesting to hear how a different DM describes the same campaign world, and what the reactions of different players are to certain situations. Sometimes it helps you to identify pitfalls in the adventure, where the players ask a perfectly reasonable question or take a logical course of action that the adventure failed to foresee. Seeing that happen in somebody else's campaign helps to avoid the gap in my own campaign. On the other hand every podcast or video is full of player interaction and dice rolls that have no relevance for my own campaign.

The big difference between tabletop RPGs and computer RPGs is that lore actually makes a difference in the pen & paper game. There is a much larger possibility space for players to make decisions in, and only if you have meaningful decisions to make becomes the lore important as a basis for deciding who to help and who to fight. The best a computer RPG can come up is a decision system where you better be consistently good or consistently evil to get to the maximum power level of your alignment-based powers.
Tobold's Blog

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