Accuracy and reverting to the mean
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 July 2015, 9:54 am
Talarian has a very niche post up, discussing accuracy in games. The chance to hit with an attack that is, not whether the things depicted in those games are accurate, which is a completely different can of worms. Talarian points out that if the game is designed around a few, decisive attacks, you are more likely to feel the effect of randomness. If there are many small attacks, missing a few doesn't matter so much, and is felt much less.

I found that interesting because it pretty much describes my main point of contention with 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I prefer 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, whose combat has with some justification been described as "slow". Basically in 4E everybody has a lot of hit points, and you need several good hits to bring an enemy down. In 5E the characters have a lot less hit points, deal more damage, and thus fights are over much quicker. But because of what Talarian describes, the 5E combat is much more likely to produce random results. In 5E it matters less whether the player has good tactics or otherwise made good choices, he can be downed in round one by a critical hit before he even acted. Fast, yes, but for me that speed comes with too much of a price.

I especially hate critical hits in 5E. In 4E a critical hit deals maximum damage. Only at later levels, when you have magical weapons, do you get additional dice to roll. In 5E you get double the dice on a critical even at level 1. So a simple arrow dealing 1d6 damage does 6 damage in 4E, and 2d6 damage in 5E. Which very much opens up the chance of the high attack roll being followed by a high damage roll, for up to 12 points of damage. Which knocks out most level 1 characters.

Of course the early death of a key player can create some good narrative. But it also removes damage potential from the player's side, so makes the combat slower again. From a social point of view it is awkward having a player just sit there, not able to participate, just rolling death saves for the rest of the encounter. Especially if it is due to no fault of his own.

I guess that is a typical example of me putting gameplay over narrative. I would like the outcome of a combat to be determined by tactics, not by chance, even if that makes the game more predictable and less fast.
Tobold's Blog

Great PR
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 July 2015, 8:57 am
Wherever you stand on the issue of the Greek referendum, you need to admire Greece for its great public relations: Everywhere the story is how the plucky Greeks said "no" to the evil European loan sharks that want to suck all the life out of Greece. Debt forgiveness is widely demanded.

Actually I am for debt forgiveness as well. I mean, there isn't much chance that Greece will ever pay back its loans and bailouts, so you might as well write the money off right away. But maybe even more importantly, it might change the narrative to be somewhat kinder to the rest of Europe: Because what Greece wants isn't simple debt forgiveness. They want fresh money, their debt forgiven in order to then be able to take out new loans. They want to continue living a lifestyle where the state spends far more money than its revenue. Yes, of course Greece's GDP would look a lot better with unlimited free money from elsewhere, but can you really blame the rest of Europe for not wanting to throw more money into that bottomless pit?

I think the rest of Europe should forgive the Greek debt, and then hold a referendum on whether to give the Greeks more money. I'd bet the people of Europe would vote "Oxi" to that. And for the Greeks it is a lot harder to walk around with signs saying "We demand your money!" instead of "No to austerity".
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An esoteric question on WoW missions
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 July 2015, 7:12 am
Warlords of Draenor introduced a new offline element into World of Warcraft: Missions, where you send out your followers or since recently ships for hours. You need to select the right mix of skills of your followers (or equipment of your ships) for the challenges of the mission, and on success you are rewarded. Many missions only give experience for your followers/ships, but some give rewards to the player, like gold, apexis crystals, or even raid gear.

And here lies my problem: The missions that only give experience become useless after your followers / ships reach epic status. So I don't know if I should still do those missions that only give experience. What I don't know is whether doing experience missions alters the spawn time of the treasure missions. If I "clear" all experience missions, do I get new missions faster? If I stop doing experience missions, will I get stuck at some point with having only unfinished missions of that type and never get new treasure missions any more? As sending out followers / ships on missions costs resources, can I safely save those resources and ignore those missions?

Anybody know?
Tobold's Blog

1 million gold
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 July 2015, 4:33 pm
Friday I was thinking that I might be getting close to having 1 million gold on my World of Warcraft characters. So I installed an addon (Accountant) to do the math and found that I had over 900k, but was just short of a million. So I used the materials I had in stock to craft some stuff and earned another 100k this weekend. So now I really have over a million gold in WoW.

To put this in perspective, the price of the WoW Token recently spiked at just over 50k gold when the patch came out, and has since gone down to under 50k again. The tokens I bought in the past were 2 for 32k each, and one for 42k, and the tendency for the price is currently falling (I guess there was a rush to buy gametime for the patch which has since receded). But even if we say the price of the WoW Token is 50k gold, I would have enough gold for 20 months of WoW. As I've been earning over 100k a month in this expansion after expenses, I've gone infinite, and I wasn't even planning to. I just played what was fun to me.
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Bug or feature?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 July 2015, 3:30 am
One of the new features that patch 6.2 brought to World of Warcraft is weekend events. There is a guy standing next to the main building of your garrison that gives you a new quest every Friday, which is valid for that weekend. This weekend is apexis weekend, and the quest is to do five of those bonus objectives that give apexis crystals. Which is in itself already pretty brilliant, because you already need to do three of those per day if you are reputation grinding in Tanaan Jungle to get flying.

But what was even more surprising, and I'm not sure whether it isn't a bug, is that the quest already counted bonus objectives done during the week. So when my main took the quest he was already at 5/5 objectives completed. That at first was greyed out, but as soon as I entered the garrison main building the game realized that I had done the quest and gave me a message to that effect. So I went back out and got 5000 apexis crystals, 1500 oil, and 1000 garrison resources for not having done anything.

Of course that reminded me of Paul Barnett bears, bears, bears idea. Has World of Warcraft actually implemented a quest that rewards you for stuff you already did? Or is this just a bug?
Tobold's Blog

Decreasing relevancy
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 July 2015, 3:45 am
While I was writing my previous post I was struck by the thought of how it was of very little relevancy to the majority of my readers. Not only is the general interest in MMORPGs declining, as can be traced by the Alexa ranking of, or the popularity of the search term on Google (see graph below).
But in addition of being already a niche subject, the MMORPG world is now increasingly fragmented. When I started there were just 3 major MMORPGs on the market, Everquest, Ultima Online, and Asheron's Call. Today there are hundreds, and many of them big enough to be discussed on various blogs.

Now some of my posts are about topics of general interest to many MMORPGs, like discussing the holy trinity of tank, healer, dps, or discussing the advantages and disadvantages of different business models. But a big part of MMORPG blogging has always consisted of discussing the game one is playing at the moment, and the subject is frequently about minor details that can only be of possible interest to somebody playing the same game. As we are increasingly not playing the same game any more, the blog posts become less interesting.

(As an aside, I also blog occasionally about Dungeons & Dragons, but that is even more niche.)

Now I happened to be around at the peak of the above curve of interest in MMORPGs, and got over a million pageviews per year. Fortunately I stopped caring about pageviews, because numbers are way down. And as far as I can see there aren't any other MMORPG blogs around that get a million pageviews a year either. Between the general decline of interest in the field, and the fragmentation into too many different games, blogging about MMORPG is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a subject of interest for other people. As I always say, you need to blog for yourself, not for others.
Tobold's Blog

DPS : Healer : Tank ratio
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 July 2015, 6:09 am
In a different thread today the discussion turned to the long wait times that you have if you sign up for a LFR group. That is "long" if you are a DPS, "short" if you are a healer, and "instantly" if you are a tank. The tool does nothing but wait for enough players for each role to sign up, and then starts a group. One problem here is that there is very little feedback: You are told the average wait time, but not the reason why. If the tool showed the number of players in the queue (which would look something like 1000 dps, 100 healers, 1 tank), the effect of roles on wait time would be far more obvious and might push some players to try a different role if their class permits.

On the other hand, maybe it is time for something far more revolutionary. Why does a raid need 2 tanks and 5 healers compared to 18 DPS. The ratio is completely arbitrary and is based on how the encounters are designed and how the abilities of the different characters are designed.

Now imagine a redesign which makes tanking and healing far more effective. You could design encounters which work with 1 tank and 1 healer, provided that you give the tank and healer far more powerful abilities for their specific role. And the closer your required DPS : Healer : Tank ratio gets to the actual distribution of those roles among players, the shorter the queues become. And don't forget that if you make tanks and healers more powerful, more people will want to play them, which also helps.

The alternative is designing encounters which don't need a tank or healer at all. For example the premade group finder to kill the champions of hellfire doesn't require any tanks or healers. That might be tactically less interesting, but that could be changed by introducing other design elements which forces people to react more. Right now tanks and healers are "too hard" to play in a group, so people don't do it, and DPS are "too easy", and everybody chooses that role. That is a design problem which can be rectified with a few class changes.
Tobold's Blog

Milestone reached
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 July 2015, 3:44 am
Yesterday I made a strategic error in World of Warcraft. I had reached revered with 2 out of 3 factions in the Tanaan Jungle, and was just missing the Order of the Awakened. But they only have one daily quest to gain reputation, and it is one I didn't particularly like: Kill 10 rares or find 10 treasures. I had already run out of treasures. And apparently the arena in Fangri'La had been fixed to not count more than once per day for this quest. Only the champions of Hellfire have premade groups made for them, so the other rares is a question of camping or running around trying to find one that has spawned and not been killed. Even with the basic hunter crystal it is tedious work.

The problem was that I hadn't read the small print in the flying announcement and thought that the earlier I got to revered, the earlier I would get to fly. So seeing that I had tons of gold, and that the medallions of the legion had dropped to just over 12k each, I bought 4 medallions yesterday for 50k gold and reached Tanaan Diplomat and Draenor Pathfinder. It was only then that I read on the pathfinder achievement that I would be able to fly "in an upcoming patch". Damn, I should have just done it slow and saved 50k gold. Not that it really matters, I have too much of the stuff anyway, even after paying for WoW tokens.

At least today I got some good news: Blizzard had discovered that many people disliked the naval missions for being pretty much useless and too slow, and hotfixed them to make them more attractive. It has become easier to get battleships, requiring just friendly instead of honored reputation, the 2 day missions have been shortened to 18 hours, and the rewards in gold and apexis crystals have been doubled. I already liked naval missions before (being less impatient), and had already gotten iLevel 685 gear from them once, so I never thought of them as useless. But of course less waiting and more rewards and easier access for alts is better.

I now just need to work on getting all the equipment unlocked. Yesterday my main waited in a LFR queue for Hellreach for over half an hour, just to get the equipment blueprint from the second boss there. I'm only missing one blueprint for him now. But my alts are far less advanced, because again getting blueprints frequently means camping rare spawns. And only the really big ones like the shark have premade groups you can join.

Anyway, having reached the milestone of the flying achievement, I don't feel compelled to do certain things for reputation any more, and can go back to a more leisurely pace. Which is just as well, as I'll be on summer holidays soon, and will only play WoW occasionally on my laptop.
Tobold's Blog

Garrison sharing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 July 2015, 4:59 am
Rohan thinks that garrisons are too lonely, and wants a system where they are shared with people who have the same garrison setup. I think he identified the problem correctly, but ended up with a bad solution. It would be good to share garrisons, but not based on a complicated system of meeting strangers based on which buildings they chose for their garrison. I think I have a better idea:

Garrisons could be shared between all members of a guild. Everybody who logs in and visits his garrison will see his guild mates there if they are in their garrison as well. But everybody sees *his* buildings, and can change them as he wants. Because the plots are fixed, it doesn't matter that one player has a tailor on his plot and another has a forge. They will still interact with the pile of produced goods at the same location, and while player A sees his tailor there, and sees player B clicking interacting with that object, player B sees his forge. Everybody still has his own garrison and his actions don't affect in any way the garrisons of the other players in his guild. But everybody sees his guild mates running around, for a more shared, more social experience of the garrison.
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The purpose of challenge
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 July 2015, 3:40 am
I have long been puzzled by an apparent contradiction about challenges in MMORPGs: On the one side a lot of people say that they want challenging fights. On the other hand the majority of the time spent in a MMORPG is for your character to become stronger, which makes any given fight less challenging. If we want challenging fights, why do we chase after those epics that remove the challenge?

Today I had a thought, that maybe I need to approach the subject from the opposite angle. What if what we really want is character progression, getting stronger? Then the "challenging fight" becomes not a purpose in itself, but rather a yardstick, a unit of measurement. It isn't the challenge which is important, but the status of being able to overcome that challenge.
Tobold's Blog

Universal definition of the gamer identity
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 June 2015, 5:17 am
Recently there have been thousands of words written in the blogosphere on what exactly is a gamer. I don't get why there is any need for that discussion. The definition of what a gamer is is so simple:

Anybody who spends as much time and effort as I am in playing games is a gamer. Anybody who spends less is a casual n00b. Anybody who spends more is a basement-dwelling unemployed looser.

Note: The "I" in the above phrase does not specifically mean me, Tobold. It means everybody, or whoever is trying to define what a gamer is. It is an universal definition.
Tobold's Blog

How many MMORPGs can you play?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 June 2015, 4:35 am
Syp floored me with his gaming plans for 2015 mentioning 9+ different MMORPGs he is planning to play. I barely find the time to do everything I want in just one. Different MMORPG surveys consistently over the years have found that the average gamer plays just over 20 hours of MMORPGs per week. In one game 20 hours per week results in some sort of progress. Split over many games, nothing much is happening. Now I don't know how many hours per week Syp plays, and there certainly are extreme cases playing up to 100 hours per week. But I wonder if the average player even has the time to play 2 MMORPGs in the same week.

Besides time, the other issue is that MMORPGs require a lot of knowledge. You don't only have to know control schemes, but also things like spell rotations, and where to go to find what. I just spent all weekend figuring out the new zone in World of Warcraft. I'm not sure I could hold in my head all the information needed to play 9 MMORPGs efficiently.

So I'd like to hear your opinion and your experience on this. How many different MMORPGs have you played in parallel for some time? For you, what are the advantages and disadvantages of playing more than one MMORPG at a time?
Tobold's Blog

The social patch
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 June 2015, 3:01 am
Something interesting is happening in World of Warcraft: After 10 years of trying, Blizzard finally got all the elements together to make people play in groups rather than solo. I haven't been playing in so many groups for so long for years than I have this weekend. Tanaan Jungle, introduced in last weeks patch, is the perfect group place.

The first part of the puzzle is content which you'd actually want to group. Yes, you could solo for example the Saberstalker reputation. But as you need 21,000 reputation for revered (which you need for flying), and each mob you need to kill gives only 30 reputation, but has over a million hit points, soloing would take a rather long time. Find a good group and you get to revered in a day. I did.

The second part is a good group finder tool. Warlords of Draenor added the custom group finder, which makes it possible to create or search for a group for any content. You can just write "Saberstalkers reputation farming" as name of your group, set it to auto-invite, and you'll have a full farming group all the time, with leaving members constantly being replaced. And no, you don't need a healer and a tank for that, 5 dps work just fine.

The third part of the equation is the system of cross-server linking and each server having possibly several copies of the same area. Which means that your Saberstalker farming group most probably will be in a copy in which there are actually mobs to farm. Your group won't be all alone, but it won't be totally overcamped either. That is especially useful for rare mobs, like the four champions of Hellfire Citadel which drop Medallion of the Legion (gives 1,000 reputation for all Draenor factions, basically one day less dailies to get to flying). You don't have to camp the rare spawn for half an hour, you can just search for a group for that mob, and when you join the group you will be automatically transported to the server and phase where the rare is up. I recommend the addon Premade Group Finder to check every 30 seconds for such a group and auto-signup to it. Yesterday I killed all 4 of them 4 times, once each on each of my 4 level 100 alts, and got 2 medallions out of it (they aren't bind on pickup, so I could send them to my main, but you could also sell them for 20k gold).

Even daily quests are sped up with groups. One of the factions you need to farm reputation with to get flying only has a single daily quest, which is finding 10 objects you get either by finding a treasure or by killing a rare. As you can only select each of the 51 treasures once, but kill the rares every day, rare-farming is the way to go. Especially useful here is the arena for the Rumble in the Jungle quest to defeat the three arena champions of Fangri'la. Even after you finished that quest you can still buy the totems to summon those rares, which makes it easy to farm in a group. Another faction you need reputation for requires you to do 3 bonus objectives every day, and that is a lot faster in a group as well.

For me this is especially interesting in view of having 4 characters at level 100. The patch is finally requiring my alts to leave their garrison, at least for a while, to get reputation for ship blueprints, and farm rares for equipment blueprints. That means I will progress slower, as I don't have the time to play 4 characters on work days. But that is probably working as intended, as alts just producing passive income is not great game design. I'm approaching one million gold without doing much for the money.

So in summary, patch 6.2 and Tanaan Jungle made World of Warcraft a far more social place. I hope Blizzard can keep that up for future content.
Tobold's Blog

The economy of abundance
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 June 2015, 3:56 am
In 2014 Steam added 1,400 games to its library, more than 100 per month. Even if you would just spend 1 hour 59 minutes with each new game (and then sneakily refund it), that would take more hours than a full-time job. The Apple app store is even worse, it added nearly 10,000 games per month in 2014. Even if you spent just 5 minutes testing each game you couldn't possibly keep up. There aren't hundreds of MMORPGs out there, but given how much time each of them takes there are also far more than a single person could play.

Not only are there too many games to play, but there is also the problem that there are far less types of games than there are games. Of the 379,313 games in the app store, how many are match-3 puzzle games? How many are about building a base and raiding the base of other players? Steam is full of sequels, or games that while being from different companies still strongly resemble each other. The expert might be able to see the difference between all those multiplayer shooter games, but for the layman they are all pretty much the same. For example I don't play zombie apocalypse survival games, so I can't tell the dozens of them on Steam apart. Being well versed with MMORPGs I can see the difference between all those different MMORPGs, but honestly at the core many of them are very similar and have the same basic structure.

The economic consequence of that is that given the choice between too many similar games, players tend to flock to a few market leaders, while the rest of them distributes between all the others. There is more supply of games than there is demand for them, which is one of the reasons why people have been increasingly protesting about "too high prices" for games, in spite of the fact that inflation-adjusted even triple-A games have become cheaper over the last 20 years. But why pay $50+ for a game any longer when there are lot of viable alternatives for cheap in a Steam sale or on some app store?

In the past making computer games was a profitable business because there are lots of idiots who are willing to work twice the hours for half the pay making a game than they would get for writing banking software. But even that competitive advantage isn't cutting it any more if people aren't willing to pay much for games any longer. I recently stumbled upon a quote on Blessing of Kings saying: "Steam is essentially reverse piracy. Instead of playing games you didn't pay for, you pay for games you'll never play.". But that isn't a situation that can continue indefinitely. At some point people will stop buying, because they already have a lot of similar games unplayed in their libraries.

Now in many cases players won't care if some video game developer goes out of business. But the danger is that in the last years more and more games have turned in online services. And when the company goes broke and the servers go down, the game you bought isn't playable any more. There might be some dark clouds ahead for gaming.
Tobold's Blog

A question of identity
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 June 2015, 9:21 am
I don't blog much about my TV watching habits, but one of the shows I like to watch is Top Gear. That is a British show about three middle-aged guys behaving like immature teenagers while playing with often very expensive cars. That has a huge appeal to the predominantly male audience, so Top Gear is the BBC's biggest hit. But it was never a comfortable relationship: The loudest of the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, has strong right-wing opinions and isn't afraid at all to say things which aren't politically correct. That led to a series of "scandals" where Jeremy said something which offended somebody, and the BBC got complaints.

That could have gone on forever if Jeremy Clarkson at one point hadn't completely lost it. He wanted a hot meal after a day of shooting, only got offered sandwiches by a production assistant, and that enraged him so much that he hit that production assistant to the point where the guy had to go to the hospital to get his split lip stitched. Now many fans, used to that endless series of "scandals", were ready to forgive Clarkson. But the BBC fired him. Which was probably the right thing to do, as I think most employees from most companies in the world would much prefer if their boss hasn't got the right to beat them. Unless you are a professional boxer there aren't many places where you can seriously hit a coworker and not get fired.

But that situation is now leading to an interesting question of identity. The BBC holds the right to the Top Gear brand, and announced that they will continue the show with completely new presenters. Mean Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, are going to host a new car show, presumably on Netflix. So which one of the two shows is the "real" Top Gear successor? The one with the brand name, or the one with the presenters who made the show such a hit? My guess is that the Netflix show will have far more success than the BBC show. Clarkson, Hammond, and May have a special love/hate chemistry going on between them which the BBC can't possibly reproduce. The rest of the show, expensive cars and crazy races, is easily enough reproduced. And there is no copyright on the format of a TV show. So Netflix will be able to produce a show that resembles the old Top Gear far more than the BBC can.

Which only leaves one question open: Which show will have The Stig?
Tobold's Blog

Crafting in 6.2
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 June 2015, 3:17 am
I only had a short look at the new World of Warcraft patch up to now, concentrating on the crafting part. I used to make items like hexweave essence, greater hexweave essence, and powerful hexweave essence. These now all have been replaced by the "new" hexweave essence, which can be applied multiple times to a crafted item to bring its ilevel up to 685. Beyond that you need the new mighty and savage hexweave essences, and those need the new resource felblight. (Replace "hexweave" by other terms like "truesteel" for other professions than tailoring).

Apparently the devs were of the opinion that felblight somehow would "fix" crafting in WoD. I disagree. I was seriously disappointed to find out that you can't buy felblight for primal spirits, like you can for all other crafting materials. Which means that the *only* way to get felblight is gathering resources in Tanaan Jungle. Really bad idea, as that will just lead to node camping, and people being angry at each other for "stealing" nodes, especially once we get flying. And of course a lot of people abandoned gathering professions, as those were kind of useless before the patch.

The crafting resource requirements for the basic essences has been lowered, and the production of those resources has been sped up. I don't think that actually changes anything. Prices will adjust according to the new balance between supply and demand. Although I am not yet convinced that the new production speed between the craft-specific resource, the sorcerous element needed, and the savage blood is in balance: I have the impression that I now have far too many of the craft-specific resources and not enough elements and blood to craft them into essences. Which is a problem because there is no way to "grind" monsters for elements and blood, so you can't adjust relative production speeds.

Other than the mighty and savage upgrade items the patch brought no new crafted items. Which means that we are still stuck with making the basic crafted items and upgrading them with essences. And we still can't wear more than 3 of those, which basically turns crafted items into a "filler" for slots you couldn't find other items for. I really don't see how patch 6.2 has done anything to improve crafting, it still isn't very interesting but more of a passive money maker.
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Is an expansion a form of blackmail?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2015, 10:28 am
Recently several rather successful games have run into trouble when they tried to sell an expansion: People protested about prices for the expansions being equal or close the price of a full game. Now normally one would think that an overly expensive product isn't something to complain about: Steam is full of games I am not willing to buy at that price, and that causes me no distress at all. I'll just wait until I can get them for half price or less a year later. But maybe expansions are different.

If I don't buy a new game, my situation doesn't change. I didn't have the game before, I don't buy it now, I still don't have it, no loss to me. But the people who would buy an expansion are those already currently playing the game. Not buying the expansion means either stopping to play, or running around in old gear through old content while everybody else around you is enjoying the new content and getting new gear rewards. An expansion appears to be less optional, and more a must have.

So some people apparently perceive an expensive expansion as being a form of blackmail: If you want to continue playing, give us your money! Playing without the expansion doesn't appear to be a viable option for many people. That would explain why an expensive expansion is causing so much more protests than an expensive new game. What do you think?
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Zeitgeist : Police Academy
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2015, 4:11 am
My new Dungeons & Dragons campaign is going to start end August, when my players are all back from their holidays. But as we already rolled the characters and still had time to meet once before the holidays, I created a special pre-campaign adventure for the players to get to know the characters they created.

It is Summer in the year 499 A.O.V. (after our victory, the victory being of the humans against the eladrin empire, which got destroyed in the process). On Pine Island, a quarter of the city of Flint in the kingdom of Risur, the Battalion Academy is training recruits for the army, the police, and the Royal Homeland Constabulary. Recruits first go through basic training before they are assigned to one of those forces, the RHC being the most prestigious, in charge of the security of king and country. So it is with some excitement that an inspection by the Viscount Inspector Nigel Price-Hill, the boss of the RHC, is being prepared. Price-Hill, who is normally in the headquarters in Slate, the capital of Risur, is being accompanied by Lady Inspectress Margaret Saxby, the head of the Flint branch, and Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft. They are being shown around by the head of RHC training in the Battalion Academy, Colonel Sebastian Harlock.

The player characters are all recruits in basic training. After the parade and inspection, they observe Price-Hill, Saxby, Delft and Harlock in a heated discussion of a newspaper article. On approaching they can hear Price-Hill saying that "We need to do something about this! And especially we need to show the king that we are doing something about this!". On noticing that they are being overheard Lady Saxby says "I think I have an idea, but let's discuss that in private.". So the leaders of the RHC are walking off, leaving the newspaper behind. In the newspaper the characters see that apparently the article under discussion was about people disagreeing with the king's politics on progress: The king wants Risur to industrialize, especially in the military sector. He wants modern weapons like muskets and steamships, like Risur's enemy Danor has developed. But in the 4th Yerasol war, 7 years ago, the Risuri forces, more used to druidic and shamanic magic than modern weapons, failed to use those weapons to good effect and lost the war. So a faction in Risur, the primalists, want the country to return to the old ways, against the wishes of the king.

The next day the characters are being told that they have been selected for the RHC, forming a new type of squadron, the musketeers. They aren't allowed other ranged weapons than muskets, and it quickly becomes clear that this new squadron is in part a political statement, trying to demonstrate the superiority of the modern weapons over the old ways. That is why the group does not contain any druids or shamans, but only characters using arcana, divine, and psionic powers. In detail the group consists of:

  • Eldion, a deva invoker. Devas are humans who were present when during the great victory 500 years ago the human army slew the avatar of the eladrin goddess Srasama. The death of Srasama led to a huge magical catastrophe, turning Danor into a magic-dead zone, killing nearly all eladrin women in the whole world (which led to the downfall of the eladrin empire), and causing a huge explosion. The humans who were close enough to witness the death but didn't get killed in the explosion received a sliver of the goddess' immortality, and have since then constantly be reborn every time they died, retaining a part of their previous live's memories. Eldion got selected for the RHC due to his political connections. He is a pragmatic politician who wanted to get into the RHC to promote his political career, and got a recommendation by one of Flint's mayors, for whom he worked previously.
  • Merian, an elven avenger. Merian is the only one in the group with a connection to the old ways, having been born and raised as a savage in the Risuri jungle. But a secret sect of the Clergy converted him and educated him as avenger for the church. It was this conversion from the old ways to a more modern religion which got Merian selected for the RHC.
  • Aria, a human sorceress with dragon blood running in her veins. She is a spirit medium, able to talk with dead, and can sometimes be found in conversation with her dead father. Her power to speak with the dead is of obvious use for the RHC.
  • James, a human battlemind. When the current king founded the RHC 30 years ago, James' father was one of the first constables. This family connection got James selected for the RHC.
  • Artus, a half-elf ardent. Artus fought as a young man in the fourth Yerasol war, distinguished himself as a war hero, but witnessed the death of many a comrade. Drifting after the war he was selected to the RHC following a recent political effort to employ war veterans.
  • Malicia, a human paladin. She is of noble birth, related to one of the previous kings of Risur. While the kingship is handed from one king to the next based on merit, the family of current and previous kings is the nobility of Risur. The RHC being considered a distinguished career, Malicia got the job due to her family connections.
After being selected the group spends the next 6 months in special training for the RHC, especially training with the musket (all players get the musket weapon skill). Any other ranged weapons are prohibited. At the end of that training, in Winter of the year 500 A.O.V., Colonel Sebastian Harlock has planned a special demonstration event as a sort of final exam for the musketeers: They are to face two squadrons of police and military recruits in a mock battle using non-lethal damage. They are facing a squadron consisting of Sergeant Gravash, a dragonborn soldier, with 4 policemen plus another squadron of Sergeant Alduin, an elven archer, with 4 militia archers. There being a political dimension to the battle, the group is set up with their muskets at one end, and the two squadrons fighting them are placed 25 squares away. The archers having short bows with a range of 15 squares, they need to spend the first round running, while the musketeers with their range of 20 have the advantage of being the defenders.

With several members of the group having the political skills to understand that a demonstration of muskets is called for, most of them use the musket once in the first or second round. Due to luck (most of the group has low dexterity and isn't actually any good with the musket), they kill the 4 archer minions with musket balls, to the applause of Colonel Harlock. The two sergeants and the policemen aren't minions, and are such much harder to kill. But with healing from both the paladin and the ardent, the group withstands the assault and wins the battle. (Technically this was a hard encounter, level 4 encounter for level 1 characters, but the advantage of the set-up made it easier than I had thought. Still it ended up being an interesting test battle giving everybody the chance to get to know the powers of their characters.)

After finishing their training with distinction that way, the group joins the RHC branch of Flint, and they each receive a magical RHC badge (amulet giving +1 to defenses, and allowing them to use their second wind as a movement action instead of a standard action. That is basically a disguised house rule, as the experience of the previous campaign showed that the second wind self-healing wasn't used much if it meant not attacking that round. As a movement action it isn't quite as good as the dwarven racial power that allows second wind as a minor action, so it still isn't a complete no-brainer but demands a tactical decision.). They are being told that in 6 weeks, in Spring 500 A.O.V. (the Risuri calendar has no months, just 4 seasons), the king will come to visit Flint for the launch of the first Risuri-built steamship. They are assigned as security for that event, and will spend the next weeks canvassing the area of the royal shipyard, performing background checks on the guest list, etc. The next session (the actual start of the campaign story) will be that event.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 June 2015, 4:55 am
Every MMORPG has a lot of content that requires mostly time, and not much skill. While a game like World of Warcraft might use words like "epic" or "achievement", fact is that the achievement often isn't all that great, nor is the reward all that epic. However some of those achievements can serve some useful purpose as a milestone. In a game without end it can be useful to get a signal that you have finished some chapter.

It is with that in mind that I am happy to report that I have done all the pre-patch achievements and tasks necessary to acquire flying in Draenor. I'll just need to do the reputation grind in Tanaan Jungle once it opens. While of course I am interested in being able to fly, I also think this is a good milestone for this particular expansion. It tells me that I have done all the significant solo content of the expansion. That is more than I can say of some previous expansions, although those didn't necessarily contain an equivalent milestone.

On the other side of the coin this milestone means that there isn't much left pre-patch that I am still interested in. And I assume I'll cover the post-patch new content in something like a month. However, where I was previously always thinking "why should I spend a monthly subscription on a game where I don't play much any more?", the introduction of the WoW Token changes that part of the equation. I'm much more willing to continue playing occasionally and paying with in-game currency of which I have tons of, than to pay with real money. There is less of a feeling of obligation to play when I didn't pay real money for the subscription. So I'll see how that works out for the rest of the year, and presumably most of next year, before we get the next expansion.
Tobold's Blog

Why we can't have nice things on the internet
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2015, 2:58 am
There is an eternal fight in the MMO blogosphere about business models, which is usually a conflict between fans of the subscription model and fans of the Free2Play model. Up to now I have read very few complaints about the buy once, play forever business model, which seemed to be everybody's favorite. That is until Guild Wars 2 announced the pricing for its first expansion. At that point the internet turned ugly, got out the torches and pitchforks, and attacked ArenaNet full force. Sigh!

There are two main complaints here: One is that the Guild Wars 2 expansion at $50 is slightly more expensive than let's say a World of Warcraft expansion at $40. That blatantly ignores the fact that playing a WoW expansion over two years costs $40 + 24 x $15 = $400, which is a hell of a lot more than $50. Really, ArenaNet charges you just one-eighth of what Blizzard does for a comparable service, and you are still complaining that this is too expensive?

The second complaint is that the expansion comes bundled with the base game. Gasp, horror, somebody who didn't buy Guild Wars 2 yet can get the game and expansion for less than you paid! That is absolutely scandalous! Nobody else in the history of video gaming has ever reduced the price of a three year old game or bundled it for free with the sequel or expansion! No, wait, in fact I get a similar offer from Steam about once a week. Blizzard sells you the base game of World of Warcraft plus all the expansions up to Mists of Pandaria for $9.99. Which means that $50 buys you the game plus all expansions, just like Guild Wars 2 does.

In short, the whole uproar is from the usual entitlement kids who want not just to pay for a game only once, but also want an endless stream of added content and updates for no money at all. ArenaNet just can't win under conditions like that. At some point in time all those video game developers working for peanuts will give up on that ungrateful bunch of their customers, and we will be reduced to getting only as much game as we are willing to pay for. Which apparently for many people isn't very much.
Tobold's Blog

Steamed under
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 June 2015, 3:04 am
There is currently a Steam sale going on, and I couldn't help but buy some games. That brings my total of games bought this year to 11 games, for an average of 14.16€ per game. The problem with that is that I only played one of those games, Pillars of Eternity. Which is also the only game I paid full price for (you can now get it for 33% off). The rest was all much cheaper, usually at some big discount of 50% or more. But even the cheapest game is too expensive if you don't actually play it.

The chief culprit here is World of Warcraft. I am still having fun playing that, since the WoW Token was introduced I get to play for free, and when I decide each evening what I want to do, WoW has the lowest barrier to entry. It's a bit like a comfortable old slipper. The fact that I am buying other games shows that I am still interested in other games, but it takes a certain amount of activation energy to actually do so. With every new game you have to put in some effort to learn how to play it, and after a long day at work that energy isn't always there. A secondary problem is that I have this huge new Dungeons & Dragons campaign to prepare. So whenever I have energy, I rather make progress with that campaign than starting a new video game.

The good news is that I do expect things to change in the summer. Patch 6.2 is expected for next week, and after a few weeks of toying around with the new features and doing dailies to get flying in Draenor, I expect my motivation to play WoW to decrease. And my D&D campaign is starting with a pre-adventure next week, and in earnest after the summer holidays. Once that gets going the preparation work is getting less.
Tobold's Blog

Human breeding simulator
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 June 2015, 12:39 pm
I'm not exactly an ultra-feminist. I do believe in gender equality, but don't agree that the best way to get there is forcing quotas for women in every job, or turning half of the Warlords of Draenor into Warladies. Having said that, it does happen that I object to some particularly sexist content. And it is with some surprise that I found Fallout Shelter to be offensively sexist.

Fallout Shelter is a mobile game which falls into the same general category as let's say Tiny Tower. You manage a vault in the world of Fallout and need to keep a balance between resource production and resource needs. Your shelter is inhabited by "dwellers", and shortly after the start of the game you stop getting dwellers from outside. You can attract outside dwellers with a radio station, but I haven't had much luck with that yet. You can get rare dwellers from lunchboxes, which aren't that frequent either if you don't buy lots of those lunchboxes with real money. So as you need quite a lot of dwellers, for example to unlock new room types, Fallout Shelter quickly degenerates into a human breeding simulator.

From a pure minmax perspective, if not all of the women in your vault are pregnant, you are playing it wrong. You need to drag each woman into the living quarters together with a man who isn't a direct blood relative, dress them both up in gear that increases their charisma the most (which in my game weirdly is a bishop's outfit for the man and a baby doll nightdress for the woman), and a few minutes later the two will disappear into the bedroom in the background, from which the woman will come back pregnant. Repeat until every woman is pregnant, and you will soon have enough dwellers in your vault. There are even quests ("objectives") like "Have 12 Male and Female couples dance in the Living Quarters", with "dancing" being an euphemism, you can't dance without a pregnancy resulting. Oh, and "dancing" is also the best way to increase the happiness of your dwellers. As much as that is represented in a humoristic way, that sort of gameplay isn't exactly in the best of taste.
Tobold's Blog

Games, toys, and balance
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 June 2015, 3:24 am
Lego has no rules other than the rules of physics. Nobody is telling you that you can't but that blue brick on that red brick, or whatever you want. Monopoly has rules that prevent you from doing whatever you want, for example you can't move counterclockwise around the board. That is because Monopoly is a game, or structured play, while Lego is a toy, or unstructured play. The problem is that in some cases, for example MMORPGs, you're not quite certain whether you are playing a game or playing with a toy.

MMORPGs sure have a lot of silly rules. Many of them have to do with the limitations of the engine: Most of the things you see in your environment you can't interact with. You can't pick a flower unless it is of a specific group of herbs, and you have a specific skill for picking that herb. You can't climb a wall, or even a fence. You can chop through a 5 meter high treant, but a vine only as thick as your arm is an impassable obstacle. And the same flying mount can either fly or not fly depending on where you are, and whether you fulfill certain conditions.

The latter is not so much a case of limitation of the engine, but one of game rules. Games have rules mostly to create a structured and balanced environment. In computer games there is frequently the notion that an activity has to provide a certain degree of challenge, and overcoming that challenge is then rewarded. If you circumvent the challenge, for example by installing an aim-bot in a shooter game, you are considered to be cheating, because you get the reward without doing the challenge within the rules. If the challenge is having to get through a bunch of mobs, or using a glider to reach a specific location, flying can also get you to the reward without doing the challenge. Thus from a game perspective it makes perfect sense to only allow you to fly once those rewards aren't relevant to your character any more.

But then of course some people don't consider MMORPGs to be games, but rather toys. Nobody forces you to follow a specific cycle of challenges and rewards. You can just go out and ignore much of the structured play and do something less structured. For example the character I am currently leveling is basically not doing quests. Instead he is visiting all zones and is collecting all pets. And because the xp requirements today are so low, the xp from exploring, pet battles, and the occasional fight with a mob that is in the way is enough to level him. Not a terribly efficient leveling method, but then that isn't really the purpose of the exercise. I sure wished he could fly sometimes, but at level 33 that isn't possible yet. The game gets its rules in the way of my toy.

There certainly are a lot of similar cases, where playing around with the toy that is a virtual world gets hindered by the rules necessary for the game part of that MMORPG. And I wonder if one of the reasons of the decline of the genre isn't that developers concentrated too much on the game, and restricted the toy too much in the process. Toys can have a much better longevity than games, because you don't reach a goal and are done with it. I would very much like to see a MMORPG in which I could interact more with my environment, even if that doesn't serve a huge purpose for the game. While I am skeptical that Daybreak can actually pull it off, the concept of EQNext / Landmark is very promising in that regard. We sure don't need yet another "level to the cap, then raid" MMORPG out there. In the words of Monty Python, it is time for something completely different.
Tobold's Blog

Fallout Shelter
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 June 2015, 7:26 am
Recently somebody assured me that Bethesda was not one of those game companies that would milk a franchise for all that it's worth. Today they released Fallout Shelter for iOS, a Free2Play vault management game with in-app purchases. Now some fanboi will probably explain to me that this is so totally not the same a Dungeon Keeper for iOS. But from where I stand, without rose-tinted glasses, I must say that this looks mighty suspicious. My personal guess is that The Elder Scrolls Online created some cash-flow problems for Bethesda; the mobile Fallout Shelter and the 2-years-in-advance pre-purchase offer for Fallout 4 suggest that they are rather desperate for cash.

Or to say it in other words: You would be suspicious as well if this had been EA.
Tobold's Blog

Kickstarter fraud
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 June 2015, 9:39 am
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the first time got involved with a Kickstarter campaign, finding that the person who ran the crowdfunding campaign "never hired artists for the board game and instead used the consumers’ funds for miscellaneous personal equipment, rent for a personal residence, and licenses for a separate project.". Well, obviously that is good news if there is somebody watching out for consumers against such fraud. Although I'd say that the fraudster got off extremely lightly: While he settled with FTC on paying the money back, that payback is suspended because of his inability to pay. Other than having to promise not to lie next time, nothing happens to him. Not exactly a huge win for consumer protection. Not sure it will actually discourage anybody from trying something similar.

Fraud is mostly a matter of intention. While the FTC might come after somebody for fraud, they won't sue somebody for being an idealistic idiot with no clue in project management. Which is probably a fair description of most cases of failed Kickstarter projects. That is somewhat unfortunate for the consumer, because for the consumer the results of fraud and of incompetence are pretty much indistinguishable. You're out of your money and didn't get the game you funded.

I wonder if Kickstarter would still work if there were no backer rewards. What if the project creator could *not* promise you a free copy of the game and other rewards in return for your donation? What if it was, *gasp*, an actual donation, with no strings attached? Before you say that this would never work, think about the consequences: If we say that a Kickstarter project could not possibly be financed by real donations, but has to have an element of pre-purchase, then is a Kickstarter project a campaign for donations at all? Or is it rather some sort of sales agreement, which would necessitate far better consumer protection than we currently have?
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