Please boycott Fallout 4 pre-purchase!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 June 2015, 3:33 am
Yesterday Fallout 4 was announced. Simultaneously the offer to pre-purchase the game on Steam went up. I am launching an appeal to everybody to please boycott that pre-purchase. If we as customers make it clear that we are willing to give companies money for simply *announcing* a sequel with unknown content and release date, it is our own fault if those game companies fleece us in the future.
Tobold's Blog

Hell level nostalgia
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 June 2015, 2:40 am
The original Everquest, before 2002, had a complicated formula to calculate xp requirements per level which led to certain levels needing far more xp than others. These levels were known as hell levels. At the time leveling was a very slow process, so while a regular level could already take a week of playing to achieve, a hell level could take a month. And at the time you also suffered an xp loss on dying, so dying during a hell level could set you back a week of progress. The xp curve was smoothed in 2002. And today, on the new progression servers Ragefire and Lockjaw, the xp requirements per level have been significantly lowered. You can now level up in hours, not days or weeks or months.

It is my personal belief that the way people play MMORPGs depends very strongly on the incentives and requirements. Thus as much Ragefire and Lockjaw might resemble the old Everquest, and the advertising says "play like it's 1999", I think that playing on these progression servers with their fast leveling is fundamentally different from playing the original Everquest with slow leveling and hell levels. Furthermore from the descriptions I read it appears that EQ today is far more solo-friendly than EQ 1999, and that again has a huge impact on social behavior of players.

I'm not saying that I want my hell levels back. But I would say that the often bemoaned phenomenon of people "playing alone together" is very much a product of the xp requirements curve and the ease of soloing. If you made a new World of Warcraft server on which gaining a level would take 20 times as long as it does today, and you increased the group xp bonus significantly, you would end up with a version of World of Warcraft where lots of people would group during leveling, and where leveling would be far more prominent than end-game raiding.

Me, I'd rather play on that hypothetical server. I am currently playing a level 29 hunter not using heirloom gear, and doing a lot of pet battles. And I can't help but outlevel any zone shortly after I entered it, in spite not having the heirloom xp bonus and in spite of not resting in an inn. My WoW leveling experience today is as far away from the original WoW as the Ragefire / Lockjaw servers are from the original Everquest. For people who actually like taking their time to explore zones and level slowly, there don't appear to be many games on offer. Anyone know a game where people still group to level, because leveling solo is too slow?
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World of Tanks: Generals and Heroes of the Storm
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 June 2015, 3:05 am
Wargaming, makers of World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, World of Warships, ... (you get the idea), is also making two World of Tanks spinoff games for mobile devices: World of Tanks: Blitz and World of Tanks: Generals, which just entered open beta. Although I haven't played World of Tanks for some time, I consider myself a fan of that game, and I am looking forward to World of Warships. But neither of the two mobile games appealed very much to me.

World of Tanks: Blitz is a simplified version of the PC World of Tanks. The reason I don't play it is the controls. Shooters in general work extremely well with mouse and keyboard. They already work less well with a gamepad on consoles. And the touch screen controls are probably the least adequate way to control a shooter, even if it is a "slow shooter" like World of Tanks. The lack of haptic feedback is killing the game for me.

Cue World of Tanks: Generals, a "turn-based tactical card game" for which the touch-screen control scheme is a perfect fit for the gameplay. Of course that gameplay doesn't have anything to do with the other World of ... shooters. WoT: Generals is a game where you have a hand of cards drawn from a deck. Many of those cards represent tanks (including artillery tanks), and are placed on a small board of squares where they can move and fight each other. So overall you collect cards, build decks, and battle with those decks like in many other tactical card games, just with tanks instead of fantasy characters.

I could happily play a tactical card game for hours, but I don't play World of Tanks: Generals. Because once you are through the tutorial, where you play against the AI, World of Tanks: Generals is a pure PvP game. You can't play offline, and every battle that counts for anything is against another player in real-time. Only practice matches can be played PvE. Now for the regular World of Tanks PC game I can understand the need for the game being PvP: Anybody who ever played a PvE shooter knows that the AI always has serious limitations. And the 15 vs. 15 gameplay of World of Tanks limits the impact of bad behavior of any single player. The same can't be said about a 1 vs. 1 tactical card game: The AI is perfectly adequate, and a human opponent isn't necessarily more interesting to play against than an AI opponent; and any bad behavior of your opponent like stalling impacts your enjoyment of the game very much. In short, WoT: Generals would be a much better game if it had a solo PvE mode beyond just practice. I'd play it solo PvE, but I'm not playing it PvP.

I have a very similar reaction to Heroes of the Storm. Blizzard added a feature of practice against AI which clearly demonstrates that a solo PvE game can be much more enjoyable than a PvP game: The matchmaking is clearly much better, there is a lot less chance of an easy win or unavoidable loss due to players quitting or not really playing. And you don't need to suffer the toxic community of MOBA games if you play against the AI. I think somewhere Blizzard missed the boat on that one: They made it to the top of the MMORPG heap by pushing the soloable MMORPG, but failed to do the same for the MOBA genre. Given how in MOBAs hell is other people, a completely soloable Heroes of the Storm would have taken a much bigger market share from League of Legends and Dota2 than the PvP Heroes of the Storm with just a PvE practice mode.

I'm not saying that PvP isn't a big market. But PvE is an even bigger one, and a better business opportunity. A lot of people with more money than time prefer games which can be played offline on a mobile device, or online against an AI that doesn't get pissed off if you have to quit for real-life urgencies. If you have a game with a perfectly working solo practice mode, you already have all the elements needed to make a game that can serve both PvP and PvE markets. Why limit yourself to just PvP?
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Can't keep real life out of games
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 June 2015, 4:52 am
I recently argued that I would prefer game review scores not to be affected by politics. Most commenters responded that it is impossible to keep real life out of games, that a reviewer can't switch off his political opinions which then automatically change his impressions of a game. Okay. If we all accept that, then why is there such an uproar about about another intrusion of real life facts into games, money?

If two people live in the same area and work in the same company, we accept that it is possible that one of them lives in a nicer house and drives a nicer car to work. It is a fact of life, and economic models that tried to make everybody equal have clearly failed. It turned out that communism in practice isn't actually more fair than the free market, it just is a different bunch of people who end up with all the advantages.

The same now happens in games, especially MMORPGs. Flat payments models have failed, because they are in practice not actually more fair than models with variable payment, they just favor a different bunch of people. So all games now allow paying more for getting something more. Even subscription games allow you to get ahead faster by buying multiple accounts, or by buying in-game currency and lots of different nicer stuff. Just like the two guys from the same area, who still are equal in some ways like taking the same amount of time to drive to work but differ in how nice the car is in which they drive, two players of the same game now differ in function of how much money they spent on in-game comfort.

Just like the old apparatchiks weren't too happy with the fall of communism, because communism favored them, there are now people who were favored by the flat payment model because they had more time to spend than others, and these people are now complaining about "Pay2Win", as if that was any worse than "Grind2Win". Making success in games completely independent from success in real life favors those who aren't successful in real life. It was always clear that this was a situation that wasn't tenable in the long run, because game companies aren't charities. The people who make games need to be paid, and the people who invest in games need to get some return on investment. If game companies would somehow be forced to keep a flat rate for MMORPG, that flat rate would have needed to go up considerably to be able to finance the increasing cost of game development with decreasing numbers of players per game due to the overcrowding of the market.

A shopping mall that offers luxury goods isn't "exploitative" or "predatory". Some people can afford those luxury goods, others can't and are limited to window-shopping. Games with item shops are exactly the same, because let's face it, everything sold in an item shop is a luxury good which isn't necessary for survival. Sure, that provokes jealousies from the have-nots against the haves. But successful companies don't build business models which are primarily concerned with the sensibilities of the have-nots. Especially since we aren't talking about exclusion of the 99% here, we are talking $25 sparkly ponies and $70 monocles, not million dollar yachts. You only need a modicum of real world success to be able to afford most of the things on offer in an item shop.

A good argument can be made that life isn't fair. People are born with different social backgrounds and different degrees of talents useful for real world success. As we can't keep real life out of games, the unfairness of real life gets reflected in the games. If you can't afford the nicest house and the nicest car, it becomes possible that you won't have the shiniest gear in a virtual world either. That is just the reality of life, and railing against it serves very little. Suck it up and deal with it!
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If you can't define, you can't discuss
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 June 2015, 5:04 am
Apparently there is yet another discussion about Pay2Win in MMORPGs. "Pay2Win" is quickly getting to the top of my list of least favorite terms, because nobody has a clear definition of that term. My personal opinion about Pay2Win in MMORPGs is that it is technically impossible: You can't possibly "win" a MMORPG, there is no universal win condition; thus you can't buy a win either. The alternative is to allow *anything* as a win condition, which includes for example mount collection, so a game that sells mounts is a Pay2Win game, and pretty much every MMORPG becomes Pay2Win. So what's it to be? Everything is Pay2Win or nothing is Pay2Win?

As I stated previously I think this is a case of everybody having a different win condition in a MMORPG, and many people wanting that *their* personal win condition doesn't involve money. And that is impossible. If you list all existing MMORPGs, subscription games now make less than 10% of the games on offer. And even subscription games like WoW and EVE Online have ways to buy in-game currency legally with money, and offer other things in an item store. Anybody still know a game which doesn't sell anything at all?

In economic theory there is the concept of Utility. Basically people only ever spend money on something that satisfies their wants. Even a donation to charity has "utility", because it makes a person feel better about themselves. Under this theory it is obvious that everything you can possibly buy in a MMORPG has "utility", even if it is just a hat or mount. The most common utility sold in these games is ways to save time. That could be a "double XP scroll", or that could be buying gold in WoW to buy a rare pet with on the AH which otherwise would have required hours of farming. But there are many forms of utility which are only of utility to a niche of customers, and considered to be "fluff" by others. Nobody minds if the guy next to him buys "fluff", but some people do mind if the guy next to him buys something which would also be of utility to himself.

But utility isn't a "win". There are some items in some PvP games which do in fact increase the probability of the buyer to win, for example gold ammo in World of Tanks. But frequently the possibility exists to get exactly the same item by grinding in-game currency. The guy on the receiving end of that ammo probably doesn't care whether his opponent bought it with money or grinded for it, but considers both to be an unfair advantage. And in a game where you can buy better equipment for in-game currency, does it matter whether that in-game currency was earned by playing the economy, by buying the currency from the game company, or by buying the currency from another player in exchange for game time? I'd feel very uncomfortable splitting hairs here, because to me either all of them are Pay2Win, or none are.

Ultimately the current definition of Pay2Win is "something sold in the item store of the game which I don't like". And that is very subjective and not very helpful at all. Right now nobody could possibly make a list of games and say which of them are Pay2Win and which of them aren't, because there is absolutely no common definition.
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Dungeons & Dragons without alignment
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 May 2015, 2:49 am
My Dungeons & Dragons campaign is currently on hold due to various personal things preventing all players to be available at the same time. And this is Europe, with many people going for 3 weeks or more on long summer holidays, so we'll only start the campaign after that. However we did the introductory session and are now building characters, and this is promising to become interesting.

Dungeons & Dragons has always used a very simplistic good vs. evil system of character alignment to chart characters' beliefs. That gives a nice justification for the players' murder hobo behavior. Because it is obviously totally okay to break into a castle or cave, kill all the inhabitants, and steal all the loot if those inhabitants are like evil, man! That might be a good enough system to give basic motivation for a group of teenagers, but for adult players it quickly becomes too simple, and can actually get into the way of telling certain stories with investigative aspects. In some editions you could find an assassin in a group of civilians by casting a detect evil spell! 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons already toned down the alignment system considerably, there are nearly no powers that use alignment. So for my new campaign I decided to simple remove the alignment system altogether.

That doesn't prevent characters from believing in good and evil. A paladin can still see himself as a fighter for good. But others might see him more like a Templar, whose participation in a crusade isn't quite as morally lily white as he might believe. And without alignment on a good vs. evil, lawful vs. chaotic scale there is now room for more different philosophical differences. Which is what the Zeitgeist campaign is all about. If there is for example a conflict between an old faith and a new faith it is far better to not label those with simplistic good or evil tags.

Looking at the characters my players have created, I can see good possibilities for role-playing. In a country torn between traditionalist and progressive forces, the players seem destined to be on the progressive side: Their religious members are all of the new faith (that is divine powers, not primal); their themes chosen mostly paint them as modern, ambitious, young men and women, kind of like early yuppies. Half of them have chosen classes whose main ability score is charisma, with skills like diplomacy and insight being very prominent. And with them being members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary they aren't murder hobos, but servants of the state. The stipend system of the campaign even allows me to get away from the "we murder monsters for treasure" aspect of D&D. Several characters are pretty clearly motivated by a career.

I do think this will work very well in the context of the Zeitgeist campaign. I don't know yet how it will play out in detail, but the campaign is designed to leave room for philosophical differences and personal development. I won't need the crutch of an alignment system to give players a motivation, they can decide for themselves what is right and wrong.
Tobold's Blog

Politics in review scores
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 May 2015, 7:08 am
Imagine that you created a game playing in 2015 Europe. As a dev your bonus from the publishing company depends on the Metacritic score of the game. And then you read a review in a major publication where the reviewer gave you a lower score because he didn't agree with a map in the game showing the Crimea as being Russian (or alternatively as being not Russian). Bonus gone because of a difference in political opinions. How would you feel?

In reality the game developer in question, Adrian Chmielarz, and the reviewer from Polygon had a political difference about sexism and equal representation of minorities in the game The Witcher 3. But otherwise the story remains the same, the reviewer gave a lower score to The Witcher 3 than other reviewers because of politics. And because this is the post-Gamergate era, any discussion of gender / minority politics in games always ends up exploding in a huge shitstorm. The problem with those shitstorms is that people only ever discuss minor details like some statement not being 100% accurate, or the credibility of this or that person, and totally fail to discuss the core issue.

I have no interest whatsoever in discussing the details of the Chmielarz / Polygon spat, and will delete all comments trying to derail this thread towards those details. What I would like to discuss is whether it is justified to give a worse review score or better review score to a game because you disagree or agree with the politics of the game.

Games have come a long way from Pong, Pac-Man, and Tetris. So when a game stops being about the interaction of abstract shapes, but instead shows cinematic quality stories, it is only natural that the reviewer has an opinion about the stories that are being told. And it is nearly inevitable that those stories in some way touch on political issues, because everything in life does. Would you expect a book review of "Capital in the 21st Century" by Thomas Piketty (or the earlier incarnation "Das Kapital" by Karl Marx) to be politically neutral and only talk about whether the book is well written or not?

On the other side threatening a developer with bad review scores if he isn't politically correct is clearly a form of censorship and attack on artistic freedom. I remember people complaining about the promotional material for Warlords of Draenor, because it showed only male orcs, and they wanted equal representation: Some male, some female characters, and preferably two gay orcs holding hands and another one in a wheelchair to represent the handicapped demographic. Personally I don't think we should repaint Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" to include apostles of different skin color or gender. I believe that any artist, including game developers, should have the artistic freedom to say that *his* vision of warlords is one of blood-thirsty male brutes that just aren't very inclusive as a club. In particular I believe that if you tell a historical story, you should have at least the freedom to depict gender and race relations in a historically correct way, even if we all agree that those relations have progressed since. If gender and race relations in medieval times weren't very enlightened, that isn't exactly the fault of the artist who depicts those times. You *can* create a story based on the premise "what if people in medieval times would have been totally enlightened", but you shouldn't be forced to.

I think that while a reviewer could well mention his politics and his political opinion on things shown in a game in the text, it is somewhat unfair to then let those politics affect the review score. Review scores are simple numbers that don't reflect the details of how a reviewer got to them, especially once they are aggregated. The most common use of a review score is for a customer to decide whether a game is any good and whether he should buy it (thus the link to bonuses). Personally I prefer reviews without scores, but if you have to put a score, that score should say more about the quality of the game than about the politics of the reviewer.
Tobold's Blog

Anyone remember Aion?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 May 2015, 4:14 am
I love it that Azuriel's blog has a tag for "impending doom". His latest post on that subject discusses the financial situation of Wildstar, which dropped by half from Q4 2014 to Q1 2015. Wildstar is now making less money than City of Heroes before it was shut down. Thus "impending doom". But maybe NCSoft should consider another alternative than just shutting down Wildstar.

Anyone remember Aion? I barely do. I found it to be not a particularly good game at the time, rather generic, and then it went free to play. But this "free" game is now making 7 times as much money for NCSoft than the subscription game Wildstar. "Free" Guild Wars makes even more money. To me it appears obvious that it is the business model of Wildstar that is weighing the game down like a dead albatross around it's neck, far more than any issues of content or gameplay.

In my mind Wildstar is a far better game than Aion, it has a lot more character, and some strong features like the great player housing system. I don't see why it wouldn't make as much money as Aion if it had the same business model. I'm even playing World of Warcraft for free these days, so why would I consider paying a monthly subscription for any game at this point? I believe the monthly subscription model is way past the point of "impending doom", with The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar having clearly demonstrated that the business model is dead.
Tobold's Blog

Endowment effect
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 May 2015, 3:52 am
The endowment effect is a psychological phenomenon where people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them. It appears that Blizzard developers aren't very well versed in psychology. They caused a huge uproar by announcing that flying isn't going to be introduced to Warlords of Draenor, nor any future expansion. People pointed at their $25 flying mounts and felt cheated. Mount collection is a huge part of the game for some people, with players willing to run old dungeons and raids many times in order to get some rare flying mount. But those flying mounts usually look horrible waddling on the ground, so being told that they will become forever useless is hurting some people big time.

There are good arguments for and against flying, but I consider all those arguments to be irrelevant. The point is not whether World of Warcraft is a better game with or without flying. The point is that because of the endowment effect you cause more damage taking away a feature than you created by introducing it. I'm very much convinced that exactly the same thing will happen when the next expansion doesn't have garrisons or some equivalent form of player housing. People get used to features, adjust their gameplay to them, and then get angry when those features are taken away. It doesn't matter how good that feature is. Devs need to make the decision of whether a feature is good for the game *before* announcing and introducing it. Constantly adding features and then removing them again just makes it appear as if the devs don't have a plan and are simply working on trial and error instead of with some vision or design philosophy.
Tobold's Blog

To discourage their purchase
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 May 2015, 11:13 am
This post deliberately has the same title as Azuriel's post on the subject. That is because it basically is just a small addition to the discussion of Azuriel. The issue at hand is Apexis crystal items in patch 6.2 costing gold instead of Apexis crystals. Which makes the crystals pretty useless, and opens up Blizzard to conspiracy theories linking the move to the new WoW tokens.

Azuriel quotes a dev saying: "The high pricing is deliberate to discourage their purchase in favor of crafted items or raid BoEs.". Now I make a lot of money with little work by producing armor upgrades, e.g. Hexweave Essence, from the resources that my garrisons produce. And when I see the price list of the "Apexis" gear in gold, I must say that they are not highly priced at all. If you bought a crafted epic, then applied first an Essence, then a Greater Essence, and then a Powerful Essence to it, you'd probably end up paying more for about the same iLevel. I don't think the prices "discourage their purchase in favor of crafted items" at all, and in many cases the Apexis items are also cheaper than popular raid BoEs. The move is more likely to destroy my crafting profits than to discourage buyers.
Tobold's Blog

Everything old is new
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 May 2015, 10:50 am
The latest MMORPG from this month is the original Everquest, a new "progression" server called Ragefire with the advertising slogan "play it like it's 1999". There is obviously a huge demand for such back in time servers that promise to bring back our MMORPG past. I just don't think that is actually possible.

I have fond memories of the original Everquest. It is second only to World of Warcraft in the length of my subscription. And its basic philosophy of "you have to play together with other or perish alone" is fundamentally different from World of Warcraft and most other modern games. But a large part of the attraction of EQ at the time was that it was one of the first mass-market MMORPGs and the most graphically advanced in 1999. Sixteen years later we aren't the same people any more that we were in 1999, our tastes and expectations have evolved with all the games we played since then. And the graphics standards have evolved too, so today EQ is just downright ugly.

So for me the most likely scenario is that people will start playing on this Ragefire server out of nostalgia, and then relatively quickly discover that their selective memory made them remember all the good things and forget about all the bad stuff. It simply isn't 1999 any more, and we can't bring 1999 back. Most players will give up after only a few levels, because today the original EQ leveling speed will appear extremely slow.

Having said that, I do believe that Blizzard could get a million or more subscribers for a month or three by offering a "vanilla WoW" server with 40-man raids to Molten Core.
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Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 May 2015, 5:48 am
We know from official data that the peak of subscriptions from the release of the Warlords of Draenor expansion for World of Warcraft is over. But subscription numbers aren't reported frequently, and you always get into discussions on whether the changes happened on the servers you are playing on, or somewhere in China. What we need is indicators of how active our server cluster is. Now sometimes those indicators are anecdotal, like previously crowded spots feeling less crowded. So an objective indicator, a number, is preferable.

Now I am using the auctioneer addon to scan the AH once a day to get a database full of prices and know when an item is cheap or expensive. And that scan tells you the number of auctions scanned, as a number and as number of pages with 50 auctions each. And I noticed that these numbers are down, from 1,000 pages with 50,000 auctions down to 700 pages with 35,000 auctions.

So I wonder in how far the number of auctions is a representative indicator of player activity. Or whether somehow I could find an even better one. What do you think?
Tobold's Blog

Not leaving the house
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 May 2015, 4:13 pm
As I have some other things going on I am currently not playing so much World of Warcraft. Basically just garrison maintenance, which still brings in more gold than I would need to pay for the subscription. But that has to be temporary, either the patch will give me fresh stuff to do, or I'll just quit, because I don't just want to make gold to pay for the subscription I need to make gold.

Anyway, I was playing the auction house speculating with Universal Language modules and parts, and ended up getting a module cheap. And then I decided I had too much gold anyway, might as well spend it on some luxury. So I bought the other parts and handed them in for the "quest" that gives you an auctioneer in your garrison. As going to Warspear for the auctioneer was pretty much the only thing I still did regularly outside the garrison, I'm now able to play without ever leaving my player house. And that probably isn't a good idea to allow that in a multiplayer game.

The garrison is rather big for a player housing system in a MMORPG, and has more functionality than most. I understand the attraction of all that convenience, but in the end the result is isolation, and player harvesting and crafting having been ruined. It is also very hard to take away convenience from the players, they are still complaining about having lost flying in Draenor. So how is the player base going to react if in the next expansion the garrison becomes outdated, and players are basically losing that convenience and housing? Already in patch 6.2 players will discover that they need harvesting skills again, what happens when that comes back as being the standard method of gathering resources? The patch adds more content to the garrison, so people will feel it even more when they don't get anything equivalent in the next expansion.

While I think that the WoW garrison has been worked very nicely into the story and continent of Draenor, I am wondering if a flying house like the starship in SWTOR or the floating island in Wildstar isn't the better way to go. And I think that there can be too much convenience in player housing, because you don't want a massively multiplayer game where most players are sitting alone in their instanced housing most of the time. Player housing in MMORPGs has some big inherent problems, and Blizzard is far from having solved them.
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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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
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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".
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