The case for less features in the next game
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 October 2014, 5:49 am
I haven't bought or played The Sims 4. But I did play The Sims 3 a bit, and thus was reading reviews, or watching video reviews, of The Sims 4. And pretty much every review was talking about how The Sims 4 has less features than The Sims 3 and then gave the game a lower score because of that. Now I understand where this is coming from. There is a famous post of 89 features missing from The Sims 4. And historically The Sims has always been a game where added features were bundled and sold as expansions, so 89 missing features is like having to buy two or three $20 expansions just to have the same feature set as the previous game. But the whole thing led me to the question whether it is a good idea that every sequel or next game of a genre has more features than the previous games.

I believe that the number of different features matters most to veteran players, those who already played the previous versions of a game, or lots of other games in the same genre. If a new player will play The Sims 4 as his very first The Sims game, it is doubtful that he will even notice most of those "missing" features. You can't miss what you never had.

If feature lists get longer and longer, at some point they constitute a barrier to entry. Both for game developers, because you need more and more money to make a game for a specific genre, as there are more and more features you absolutely must have. And for new players, because at some point games become hard to learn because there are so many features you need to be aware of.

Sometimes less is just more. The PvP in an MMORPG is encumbered by the whole huge rest of the game, having to have abilities and powers that are balanced for PvE and PvP simultaneously, having gear coming from PvE and PvP activities, having leveling and crafting and all that in the game. A MOBA game very much resembles the PvP part of a MMORPG without all that ballast. And I have lots of examples of MMORPGs where certain parts were visible just added to tick off boxes of some must-have feature list, but the game would have been better off without them. I'm still waiting for a new genre of games that just takes raiding from MMORPGs without bundling it with all the rest of features from the genre.

One way to find those feature-light games today is mobile platforms like iOS or Android. Due to technical restrictions and very different economics, you can get some games on those platforms which went back to the roots of the core content of a genre. Nobody minds if a $2 game on the iPad doesn't have all the latest features. And then those games often are easier to get in to, and sometimes even more fun to play. Of course that might change once we have iOS15 on the iPad of 2020 that is more powerful than my desktop PC today. But right now I am quite happy to have that alternative.
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How much does it cost to remove the suck?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 October 2014, 5:25 am
Back in the 80's some of the games I played were shareware. You could often get the software for free, but then there were nag screens or the game was otherwise incomplete and crippled. By sending money to the author (often by stuffing a banknote in an envelope and sending it by mail, no internet yet) you could get the code to remove the suck and get the full game. So it was always interesting to know how good the crippled version of game still was, and how much it cost to remove the suck.

Three decades later and I'm applying the same thought process to Free2Play games. How good is the free version, knowing perfectly well that it is in some way crippled? And how much does it cost to remove the suck and get something that isn't crippled? There are very clearly some games where you can put an infinite amount of money in. But there are also games which work pretty much like the shareware of yesterday, you pay a reasonable amount of money once and you get a game which isn't crippled at all.

The same consideration is true for the increasing number of games that aren't free to start with, but still come with a shop. I'm currently playing Warhammer Quest on the iPad, which costs $5, and you need to spend some more money to unlock various content and buy a bit of gold to pay for character training. I think I paid $30 overall, but found the game worth that amount of money to me, and now there is no remaining restriction and it plays just as if I had paid $30 for a full-price game.

The different restrictions those crippled games can have affect different people in different ways. I am playing several Free2Play games without paying anything, because the restriction is that you can only play for so long before having to wait for some energy to restore. Somebody less patient might be tempted to pay for an immediate energy refill, but I'm fine with playing a bit and then doing something else while that energy restores itself for free.

Of course Sturgeon's law applies, 90 percent of everything is crap. 90 percent of Free2Play games aren't any good, regardless of how much money you put into them. But I have bought enough full-price games which then turned out to be crap to know that this isn't a specific failure of Free2Play games. And in this respect I actually prefer if I can try out the game for free, I can imagine whether it would still suck if I put this or that amount of money in, and then decide not to play it any further if I don't see how to make the game not suck.

Overall I'm spending less money on games now. As I said, some games I play for free. Other games are cheap to start with, you can get perfectly good full-price games on the iPad for $2. And if you insist on playing games with better graphics on the PC, you can always wait for the next Steam sale and get games at a hefty rebate. My main expenses for my gaming hobby is buying a gaming PC and iPad, and paying for the best available internet connection (another case where I decided to pay more to get the uncrippled version). The money I pay for actual game is relatively little compared to those related expenses. Gaming companies are the ones that make the least money of my gaming hobby. Somehow I don't think the games industry will be able to continue that way very long.
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How to further ruin the reputation of gamers
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 October 2014, 3:42 am
I might need a tin foil hat. But it occurred to me that Gamergate might be a conspiracy to ruin the reputation of gamers. At the very least that is the only thing I see that the movement succeeds in doing. I had hoped the whole tainted thing might go away, but then Gamergate succeeded to go mainstream by getting Intel to pull their ads from Gamasutra.

Some of you might claim that Gamergate is a movement that is fighting corruption in video game journalism. Unfortunately that claim just fell under an Intel bus. Gamasutra is not a specifically corrupt gaming journalism site. The protests from gamers that pressured Intel to pull their ads from Gamasutra were not about corruption, but about a feminist opinion article on the site. Intel pulled the adds without mentioning corruption, but mentioned the pressure from gamers complaining about feminists and "social justice warriors". Which means that even the most neutral journalist of the non-gaming press is now identifying Gamergate as an "anti-feminist" movement.

There is a certain irony to this Gamergate "victory": A movement that pretends to be against big companies influencing video game reporting with advertising money pressures are big company to try to influence video game reporting with advertising money. How is using money to corrupt video game journalists to not dare to mention certain political opinions any different from using money to corrupt video game journalist to not dare to mention certain opinions about the quality of a game?

As somebody who spends a significant part of his life playing games, thinking about games, and writing about games, Gamergate increasingly makes me uncomfortable to identify myself as a "gamer". If, as they should, Gamasutra is now showing a middle finger to Intel and telling them that they won't be bullied, which side do you think looks like the "anti-corruption" one? How long do you think it will take for the other side to discover that they can use the Intel corporate responsibility form as well to complain to Intel about this decision? How many more people are going to read the "Gamers are over" article on Gamasutra now that it has become such a prominent target?

Was it worth to keep the discussion alive at the cost of throwing the central anti-corruption message overboard? If before Gamergate was an anti-corruption drive that was somewhat tainted by extreme right-wing anti-feminism and harassment, today the anti-feminist message is the only one that is left. The reputation of gamers has been ruined, they are now widely being identified as a group of people who not only hold misogynist opinions, but who also are willing to launch campaigns to silence free speech.

So tell me, are the Gamergaters just very bad at getting their message across, or are they out to ruin the reputation of gamers?
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Talking about games in an age of oversupply
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 October 2014, 5:03 am
I got my first computer in 1981, a ZX81. Getting a game for that computer was extremely difficult, there weren't any shops anywhere near that sold them, and the capabilities of the computer to play games was extremely limited. Some games I played after having had to type the program from a print magazine into the computer. Fast forward three decades and I am buried under a flood of more games than I could possibly play. There are over 3,700 games available on Steam alone! It gets even worse on other platforms, there are about 300,000 games on the Apple app store! And those are just the platforms I am most interested in, there are also tons of Android games, console games, portable console games, and to a lesser extent Mac and Linux games.

It's a jungle out there in game land, and it's easy to get lost. One thing I noticed that is now happening to me all the time is that I see a game mentioned favorably on some blog or other site, and I don't even know what platform that game is on. I'm guilty of that myself, for example I talk about Destiny in comparison to other MMORPGs, and I don't state every time that Destiny is only available on consoles, while most of the other MMORPGs I talk about are only available on the PC. Especially with indie games you often can't even see from a screenshot whether that game is running on a PC or some tablet OS.

I bought Card Dungeon today. If I were to write a post about that game (might happen), I would compare it to Card Hunter. And the screenshots look rather similar. But Card Dungeon is an iOS game, buy once for $2.59 and no in-app purchases, while Card Hunter is a PC (Flash) browser game which is Free2Play and which is yet to be ported to the iPad. If you like Card Hunter and read me writing enthusiastically about Card Dungeon, you might be rather disappointed to find out it is an iOS game if you don't happen to own an iPad or iPhone.

To me that happens all the time. I hear great things about games like Bravely Default, and would really like to play them. But then I don't have a Nintendo DS. Do I really want to buy every single game platform there is, so that I can play all games? I have a PS3, a PSP Go and a Gameboy, but no current generation console or handheld console. Buying a console for one or two specific games has a rather high cost per hour of entertainment. Especially if I consider that I don't even have the time to play all the games I already own on the platforms I already own.

In any case I'll make an effort to mention the platform when discussing games in my blog posts. And I hope other bloggers will do so as well.
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Some social assembly required. Friends not included.
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 October 2014, 4:54 am
The best feature of multi-player games is other people. The worst feature of multi-player games is other people. People have such a wide range of possible behaviors that they can brighten or darken your day. They can make you happy or unhappy. They can help you to achieve your goal, or they can frustrate you. For game companies that poses a problem. They would like to have positive player interaction, because they can basically monetize it. For example some people stay in a game they would otherwise have quit just because their friends are still playing. What game companies don't want is players leaving their games because of negative interactions. But they can't monitor all player interaction to step in and prevent the negative ones. At best they can put things like a "report" button into their game, or some player-run justice system, but none of this actually prevents players being driven out of the game by other players.

Destiny is trying a different approach, and it is an approach that pretty much every Facebook game uses: For certain parts of the game you can't interact with strangers, but you can interact with people on your friends list. The idea behind that is simple: People you already have on your friends list are probably more likely to have positive interactions with you than negative ones. Let's just avoid all these strangers! So Destiny simply doesn't have anything like local or general chat, because that would foster interaction with strangers, which could go wrong. The problem is that chat also could lead to meeting new friends, or forming groups, and by not having that option, you're less likely to group or make friends.

I feel as if those games should come with a disclaimer, "Some social assembly required. Friends not included.". My real friends play pen & paper games with me, and they play PC games (we all played World of Warcraft at some point), but none of them plays console games. My Playstation friends list has only one person on it, and that person hasn't played anything in months, and presumably doesn't even own Destiny. So I don't have existing Playstation friends that I could group with in Destiny. And as *making* friends isn't really foreseen in the game, there are parts of the game I can't play other than solo. The weird thing is that Destiny has a perfectly well working system of grouping you with strangers for other sorts of content ("strike missions" or PvP). But apparently they felt it was important to keep strangers away from the basic story campaign of the game.

I think that is a mistake. While some MMORPGs in the past certainly have made mistakes in game design which resulted in "grouping with strangers" being likely to ruin your game experience, that isn't the case for all games. Specifically in Destiny grouping with a stranger who is afk and not contributing anything would still be better than playing solo, because as long as the other player is alive, you can respawn. Strike missions in Destiny work perfectly well, because they don't actually require all three players in the fireteam to have an above average skill level. If the people you have been randomly grouped with aren't good players, you still advance faster by sticking with them than you would if you quit the group and looked for a better one.

As long as you don't give players to kill each other in parts of the game that are supposed to be collaborative, it is actually unlikely that grouping with strangers will be a net negative experience. And because not everybody has a big friends list to start with, meeting people in the game and making friends is an important option for a multi-player game. Don't ruin that by over-protective game design!
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Ganking as a feature
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 September 2014, 7:39 am
I am not playing ArchAge. Part of that is due to reasons not related to the gameplay itself: The high cost of the founder packs, queues that keep out free players, and so on. But a major part of the decision was made when I read that ArchAge has ganking. Why would I want to play a game in which every activity that I am interested in can be spoiled by somebody having a bad day and deciding to gank me?

While I am aware that ArchAge has some sort of justice system, I don't believe that these sort of systems can ever be effective. People tend to get to a point in every game where they simply aren't interested in what the game has to offer any more. If you are already on the verge of quitting, you can go on a virtual crime spree without any fear of consequences. There are enough examples of people not shying away from bannable offenses in online worlds, so why would they be afraid of a virtual prison sentence?

I simply don't understand why somebody would put ganking as a feature in his game. I understand the interest of other forms of PvP, like dueling, battlegrounds, territorial control, and more. But why would it ever be a good idea to allow one player to attack a random other player with no reason, and no consent of that other player? Isn't it obvious that the net effect of that will always be negative, that the ganker will not gain as much pleasure from the activity as the ganked player will lose? A single player with a bad attitude can drive away multiple paying customers. Why would you want to allow that?

ArchAge has many qualities that would attract casual players, like the ability to live a peaceful virtual life of farming and crafting. It is less combat oriented than many other games. It is the kind of game I would definitively try if it hadn't that ganking feature.
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My subculture is better than your subculture
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 September 2014, 4:23 am
The truly amazing thing about role-playing games and virtual worlds is that there are so many different ways to experience them. People might think they play the same game, but in reality they don't. You can have World of Warcraft players all with the same game on their computer, but one of them is raiding, another spends most of his time fishing, another plays the auction house to get the maximum amount of gold, and another is using WoW to hang out with his friends. The same is true for Dungeons & Dragons, which can be a base for anything from improvised theater to hack'n'slash dungeon crawling.

A surprising number of people fail to see that this is a strength of those systems.

What happens instead is that some people who prefer a certain sub-game of the larger system declare their subculture to be the "true", "real", "old school", or whatever other attribute you can use to express superiority. The message is always the same: "We are playing this right, you are playing this wrong". There is also a surprising amount of history falsification à la 1984 going on, you know, "Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.". For example people pretend that a certain play style of Dungeons & Dragons is superior and call it Old School Renaissance, but nobody agrees what OSR really is, because in reality there is no such thing as a unified "old school" way of playing D&D. I'm not saying an OSR is in any way a bad way to play D&D, but pretending that this was the way everybody played in the old days is as false as it is presumptuous. It is just another label used to express superiority of a specific subculture by pretending that "this is how Gary Gygax wanted us to play".

As mbp mentioned in a recent comment and then on his blog, Edward Castronova mentioned the splintering of MMORPGs into subcultures as part of the reason for their decline: "For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin.".

Narrower games appeal to a narrower part of the customer base. That is quite okay too, if by making the game narrower you can manage to make it cheaper to produce. But, as the developers of Wildstar discovered, if you make a game that is both broad in the list of features and narrow in its appeal, you get an expensive game with few customers, which is not a recipe for financial success. Maybe a pure raiding game without all the rest of a MMORPG attached would have been the better plan if you think that raiding is the essential part of the MMORPG experience.

I believe that if we want to see games that are huge successes in the future, these games need to be broader and not focus on any of the small subcultures in them. That is the one thing I like the most about Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, that it is a broader game that will appeal to more different groups of D&D players. (4E is better for the specific subculture of tactical players). I believe the same would be possible in the online space of role-playing games. But as that would be a rather expensive venture, I am not sure anybody will even try it. EQ Next to me appears more to be about catering to a different subculture than about bringing us a new MMORPG that everybody can enjoy.
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Destiny of Titan
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 September 2014, 3:56 am
Kotaku has a post about what Titan actually was for a game. It was a SciFi MMO shooter. In fact, many of the features sounded a lot like Bungie's Destiny. And of course I know that if devs give an interview explaining the reasons for a decision, you never get to hear the full story. So I wondered in how far the decision to cancel Titan was influenced by the release of Destiny. Titan had a lot more MMO features that I would have liked to see, like professions and crafting; but at its core it would have played a lot like Destiny.

With Blizzard being famous for developing at a very slow pace, Bungie basically got there first. And while the critics didn't like Destiny all that much, the game sells well. With Activision Blizzard as a publisher and a 10-year plan of expansions to wring more money out of the customers. Releasing Titan would potentially not just have had a negative effect on World of Warcraft subscriptions, but also on Destiny continue income. So in spite of all dev talk of not feeling the fun, there might well have been other, more financial considerations behind the cancellation.

My proposal: Activision Blizzard should send part of the disbanded Titan team to help Bungie out with Destiny. Because Destiny is a good shooter, but not a good MMO. Which isn't really a surprise if you look at what kind of game Bungie made before. They could really use some help on the social part of Destiny, with better options to communicate and to join a fireteam for story missions. And Bungie is currently learning the hard way how MMO players will always go for the path of least resistance to maximum progress, even if that isn't the most fun way to play. They just nerfed the loot cave, but there are still a lot of exploitable places in the game.

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Twitter as a breeding ground for internet hate
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 September 2014, 3:19 am
Unfortunately the discussion around Gamergate is refusing to die. I say unfortunately because there actually isn't a discussion; instead one side talks about harassment while the other side talks about corruption. There is no pro-harassment and anti-harassment side debating each other, there is no pro-corruption side debating an anti-corruption side. There are two groups talking about two very different and mostly unrelated things into a vacuum, and the only interactions is each side saying "your subject of discussion is irrelevant, let's talk about my subject of discussion instead".

In that context it is surprising that two people on different sides of the discussion at least found one point they agreed upon: The problem with Gamergate is Twitter. Even before Gamergate I already considered Twitter to be the worst place on the internet, a breeding ground for internet hate, the place on the internet where all the torches and pitchforks are stored for regular outbreaks of manufactured outrage.

There is a social media enterprise petitioning the US president to censor 4Chan. Not only is that stupid and not going to happen, but it also wouldn't help to make the internet a nicer or safer place. What *would* make the internet a better place would be Twitter changing its policy and demanding proof of identity for every account, with only one account allowed per verified identity. And that might be something that actually has a chance to happen, and there might even be government intervention to make it happen. Some of the things on Twitter right now are illegal under current law. It would just take one person with a good case to sue Twitter for damages because they enable cyber-bullying and internet harassment, and Twitter would be forced to change their policies pretty quickly.
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Does mini-golf ruin the sport of golf?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 September 2014, 3:41 am
This week the blogosphere is full of posts discussing whether World of Warcraft "ruined" MMO gaming. The argument is that there was a certain style of forced grouping with strong social interaction in MMORPGs like Everquest, and WoW "ruined" that by making a solo-friendly game in which social interaction is largely optional.

What this argument overlooks is that we are talking about two very different populations of very different size here. Everquest peaked at around 400,000 players, World of Warcraft at around 13 million players. If the MMORPG genre would have stuck with the strong forced social interaction model of players being dependent on each other, the overall market size would never have passed even 1 million players. The other 12 million players entered the market *because* it was now possible to solo.

At worst you could say that World of Warcraft "diluted" MMO gaming by providing an accessible alternative. There might have been a few EQ players who hated forced grouping and switched, but honestly those players wouldn't have stayed in the genre for long anyway if there hadn't been the accessible version.

There are a lot more people occasionally playing a round of mini-golf than there are people playing golf seriously. But it would be silly to claim that mini-golf ruined the sport of golf. Mini-golf just provides a more casual and accessible alternative which somewhat resembles golf. World of Warcraft provides a more casual and accessible alternative to hardcore MMORPGs. That is all there is. It is stupid to think that in some alternative universe 13 million people would have ended up playing a MMORPG with forced grouping and strong social interaction, if only WoW hadn't existed.
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Blizzard doesn't want to be a MMORPG company
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 September 2014, 3:52 am
You probably heard by now that Blizzard decided to cancel their next-gen MMORPG project Titan. Now a lot of people interpret that in the general mood of "MMORPGs are dead" (or at least the triple-A version of them is). While hard data are limited, the anecdotal evidence of the big MMORPG releases of this year indicated that they all failed to hold on to their players. And unless I overlooked any important announcement, there is only Everquest Next left in development as triple-A MMORPG, plus a bunch of minor players.

But what I found interesting in the announcement of the Titan cancellation was how open Blizzard discussed that they want to be company making great games, but they didn't necessarily want to be "the MMORPG company". Coming from the company that in the history of MMORPGs made the most money of that genre, that is strong stuff. But then a lot of Blizzard games in other genres were also highly successful.

I believe that Blizzard excels at making highly polished games of whatever the currently popular genre is. I believe that it is safe to say that MMORPGs aren't the "currently popular genre" any more. Which is why Blizzard is working on a MOBA instead. It is as simple as that.
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The paradox of progress
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 September 2014, 4:57 am
Once upon a time a video game ended with some sort of "Game Over - You Won!" screen at the end and rolling credits. And during the game you played the same character with the same abilities from start to finish. While pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons might still be a niche hobby, it certainly had one big effect on the video games of today: In many games you now have a character level, and the game never ends. You might hit the level cap, or finish the story, but that won't get you to the game over screen; you'll be able to continue playing, either repeating stuff or playing other game modes, and keep progressing your character forever by upgrading his gear or skills or something. And I wonder if that eternal character progress thing is really such a good idea.

In the old arcade games you progressed in the game by getting better at playing. People enjoyed that, but the progress is naturally slow. And once you learned the basic skills of video gaming, you already start any new game with a good amount of skill; while you can still progress some, the amount of progress you experience won't be enormous. Adding what is often called "role-playing elements", aka artificial character progress in the form of levels and gear improvement, gives every player more of that feeling of progressing in the game that they enjoy. Maybe you as a player don't get much better at playing, but you character now has more health, more armor, and a bigger gun/sword that hits much harder. As you continue playing, you get more and more powerful.

But there is a downside to that: The monsters or whatever you are fighting get stronger too. And if the game gives you the option to everywhere, you will find that going to most places doesn't make sense: Either the enemies there are too low for your level, or they are too high. There might be a huge open world out there, but you are effectively limited to a small slice of it which corresponds to your character level. And a bigger problem looms ahead: You can't progress that way forever. Because if every level has its level-appropriate zones, the developers can't make an infinite number of zones, so you can't have an infinite number of levels. The devs need to install a system that dramatically slows down progress, for example with a level cap where you can only continue to grow stronger by finding rare pieces of gear.

I have played through all the story missions of Destiny now. But the game is never over. I'm supposed to do various things now, like repeating those story missions at higher level, doing strike missions in a group, doing PvP, doing raids, doing patrols, doing bounties, and who knows what more; all that will gain me new gear, and Destiny even has a system which transforms your gear score into a level. So while the maximum level you can get through earning experience points is 20, I'm already level 21 because I have gear with a "light" score which doesn't do anything but increase the number floating next to my name over my head.

And because Bungie doesn't have much experience with MMORPGs, they failed to make sure that you can *only* gain that better gear by doing the content you are supposed to do. Instead level-appropriate loot drops from every enemy killed in your vicinity, even if it wasn't you who killed it. Google "Destiny loot cave" to see how easily that can be gamed: In certain areas of the game, under certain conditions, you will have an endless quick respawn of mobs. The "loot cave" is such a place, and with at least 2 players you can organize an endless stream of random loot. Sure, rare loot is rare, but if you kill a large enough number of lowly mobs in a short time, you'll get some of that rare loot too.

Those are the points where character progress becomes a curse to a game. People *will* find the quickest way to progress, even if that involves the least fun way to play the game. By adding this artificial progress dimension to the game, you end up killing much of the content that you created, because people tend to ignore the kind of content that is too far from the optimum progress speed. I really wonder whether Destiny wouldn't have been a better game without those character levels and gear progression.
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Housing for tourists
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 September 2014, 4:00 am
My first proper MMORPG (not counting LPMUD and the like) was Ultima Online. I was there when they introduced open world housing. It was a disappointment, with not enough housing space available, but a lot of empty houses taking up space (camped by people who wanted that space when they house crumbled). 15 years later I read about the ArcheAge launch and think that nothing has changed. If anything, things have gotten worse: People stay less long in a MMORPG than they used to, and that is especially true of Free2Play players, which didn't exist 15 years ago.

The problem is relatively simple: If you have open world housing (as opposed to instanced housing), there is an optimal ratio of housing spots to number of players on a server. If you would know exactly how many players are on one server, and you could be sure that this number would remain constant, you could make a good open world housing system. If your servers are crowded right after release, you get players complaining about queues and lack of housing spots. If many of these players turn out to be tourists that didn't come to stay, you end up with dead cities full of abandoned houses in a few months.

Right now Trion can't open enough servers for the release rush, because that would make the problem in three months even worse than today. You can't easily expand and contract the offer of available housing spaces. How do you merge servers when both servers have houses in the open world? Even if on both servers half of the houses are empty, it won't be two halves that fit together on one new server. How do you tell the players on one server that they are losing their houses if there is already an active house on the other server they merge with?

I simply don't think there is a solution to the problems of open world housing in MMORPGs. Today's MMORPG populations are largely migrant, and you can't build a good housing system for tourists.
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The next video game crash
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 September 2014, 2:42 am
Kotaku last week had an article asking whether we are on the cusp of another video game industry crash. I think that is very much possible. It isn't just everything mentioned in that article, like people having huge libraries of unplayed Steam games. But there is also the economic side to consider. I consider Microsoft buying Minecraft for $2.5 billion to be a sign of weakness, not strength, of the industry. Not only will they never get their money back (Mojang has $290 million of *revenue* per year, not profit. The time it would take to make $2.5 billion on the profit of that means Minecraft would need to remain as popular as today for the next 20 years.). But also Microsoft is essentially saying that if they were to put $2.5 billion of money on the table anywhere else, they wouldn't be able to make a game as profitable as Minecraft. Too much money chasing too few opportunities for profit is usually a sign of an upcoming crash.

Now crash doesn't mean that video games are about to disappear. The financial industry crashed hard 6 years ago, but there are still a lot of banks and other financial institutions around. But if you look at the video game industry overall, from the big companies to the indie developers, it appears pretty clear that there are too many people working on too many (usually derivative) games. There are price wars: Steam sales, Humble Bundles, and mobile platforms on which a $5 game would be considered "expensive". And there isn't all that much potential of market growth any more, because everybody who is the least likely to play a video game already has at least a mobile phone with games on it.

Of course there will always be a few people and companies that make money. Markus Persson becoming a billionaire is likely to remain an exception, but there will be a number of people at least able to stay in business because their games sell for more than it cost to make them. If we are talking crash, we are talking about how many people in the industry and how many game companies are *not* making a profit. We are talking about the pork cycle of video games, where many companies around the same time discover that they spent too much money on developing video games that are not going to make their money back. We are talking of indie game developers deciding that they'll earn a better living flipping burgers. We are talking investors pulling out of the industry. And because of the way that capitalism works in boom and bust business cycles, we are talking about a lot of bad news of that kind happening around the same time.

The recent gamer culture wars aren't helping. Already a lot of people who work in the game industry are exploited, working more because of their love of games than for financial reasons. Disillusion those people, and you'll get a mass exodus. Game developers are usually young, creative, and have a good set of computer skills, not the kind of people who'll stay in the industry because they can't find any other job. A combination of gamers disappointed in the latest games reducing their gaming spending and game developers becoming disappointed of their customers' ungratefulness could well produce a video game crash as early as 2015.
Tobold's Blog



Your loss, Amazon!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 September 2014, 2:49 am
I don't watch live TV. Having to be there at a specific time, and then sitting through the ads, not my cup of tea. But I do watch a lot of TV shows, either recorded with a hard drive recorder, or bought as a full season of one TV show on DVD. Usually from Amazon UK, because I prefer English with English sub-titles, that being the neutral ground between me and my wife. Obviously I would be interested in TV on demand, but here in Belgium that used to be extremely difficult: For example Amazon Instant Video is offered in three neighboring countries that have their own Amazon website, but you can't access any of them from Belgium due to rights issues. There are a few Belgian companies with streaming services, but they only have movies, and no TV shows. Not even Apple iTunes is selling TV shows in Belgium.

Yesterday that changed and the 21st century of TV finally arrived in Belgium: Netflix.be opened their doors. As you probably live in a civilized country that had Netflix for years, I don't need to tell you how great that is. Lots of TV shows and movies on offer. And a monthly flatrate that is less than half of what a single season of a single TV show costs on DVD. Which is great, because now I can try out TV shows I wasn't sure about without paying for a full season in advance.

I was especially impressed that Netflix works on so many devices. I can watch it on my TV screen either via the Apple TV box I have connected to it, or directly via the Smart TV application. My second TV is connected to a Playstation 3, and it works on that too. I could watch on my PC screen. Or I could go mobile and watch on my iPad. And in spite this being Belgium, I can get movies and TV shows in English, some even with English subtitles.

That means that an TV show I am interested in I will first check availability on Netflix. Only if Netflix doesn't have it would I consider buying the DVD from Amazon any more. Your loss, Amazon! You could have made Amazon Instant Video available here. If Netflix can do it, it obviously wasn't impossible.
Tobold's Blog



Before and after
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 September 2014, 8:52 am
Watch Dogs: 77. The Sims 4: 70. Destiny: 77. These are some current average game review scores from Metacritic for some of the biggest game releases of this year. In a scoring system where a good game has a score of 90 or more (and developer's bonuses depend on having a score of 90 or more), those are rather disappointing numbers. So how about some other numbers? Watch Dogs sold 8 million copies until July. The Sims 4 sold 400,000 copies in the first week. Destiny shipped $500 million worth of copies to retailers on release and sold $325 million worth of those in the first week.

Apparently there isn't much correlation between review scores and sales numbers. Especially not for first week sales, which usually happen before anybody had time to read any reviews. People buy games in the first week based on the hype around those games. So I wanted to go and check on the same website (preferably by the same author) what a game site said about a game before and after release. It turned out that this wasn't really possible, because such sites typically only have 1 review of a game, but tons of previews. Polygon gave Destiny a horrible score of 6 out of 10, but if you search the site for articles on Destiny you find a whopping 307 of them! Most of them from before release. Not all of them positive (e.g. there is reporting of bad voice acting). But the previews in general are much more positive than the review is.

I hate previews.

There are lies, damn lies, and video game previews. A video game preview is fake journalism, it is a press release from the publisher thinly disguised as the opinion of a journalist. Either we say that before the game is finished it is impossible to judge it, in which case we don't need all of those previews. Or we say that the preview material can already give a good indication how good a game is, in which case we have to ask ourselves why we get so glowing previews for games that after release have such bad reviews.

Now some Gamergater will claim that video game journalists are corrupt, but why the heck are they only corrupt in their previews? If the industry had bought those journalists, they could well expect for their money the reviews to also be glowing. Why would a journalist lie in the preview and then write a honest review? I am puzzled by this difference in reporting of the same game before and after release.
Tobold's Blog



Suspending player agency
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 September 2014, 6:48 am
The goal of Dungeons & Dragons is to create great stories by interactive story-telling. In a recent post I explained how important it was that the players felt that their destiny was in their hands, that it was their actions which determined the outcome of the story. But if you read this week's journal of my campaign, you might have noticed that player agency was clearly suspended at the end, when the whole group was without warning transformed into svirfneblin and had to flee the city. So let's talk about suspending player agency, and why it sometimes is necessary.

How many computer games have you played which started with your character being either dead or in prison? TESO actually managed to start your character being both dead *and* in prison. That sort of game start establishes a motivation for your character: You dislike the people who threw you in prison, while you like the powers that resurrected you from death. That works well at the beginning of a story, because you don't have to mess with player agency to get them into the death and/or imprisoned state. If you want to motivate your players in the middle of a campaign with either revenge or gratefulness, you first need to engineer a situation where outside forces do bad things to the players.

The problem is especially acute in episodic campaigns, where there isn't a strong loyalty of the players to somebody else. Game of Thrones tells strong stories because the characters have strong bonds to their respective houses. In a typical episodic campaign the player characters have little interaction with their family, if they have any at all. You can't just introduce a family member into the story only to use him five minutes later as a leverage, having him threatened or killed only so that the player is motivated.

Revenge can make for great stories, just think of the Count of Monte Cristo. For the player to be really motivated by that revenge, you need to do something to the player character. Which isn't all that easy if you think how D&D tends to be a series of events and encounters where the players emerge victorious pretty much all of the time. Engineering an encounter the players are bound to lose is already messing with player agency. And it tends to be protracted and chaotic. So if you want to suspend player agency and put players into a bad place from which a story of revenge, or a story of rescue and gratefulness can evolve, it is better to do so with a very short event.

In the example of my campaign there deliberately was no warning. The players had set up a guard, who saw a black cloud appear, but couldn't do anything to stop it or warn the others before everybody fell unconscious. There deliberately were no saving throws, or other rolls of the dice, or opportunities to act against the event. The transformation was quick and inevitable. And thus the suspension of player agency was short. The story moved on very quickly to how the players reacted to waking up in a room full of dark gnomes. And from there to the imminent threat of being a group of dark gnomes in a city which is already in a panic about an "Underdark threat". So after the transformation, player agency was quickly restored. The situation had changed fundamentally, but they were back in control of their actions to deal with that situation.

In summary, good stories evolve from the interaction of the players with unforeseen events and outside forces. For that it is sometimes necessary to suspend player agency while these events occur. The best is to keep that suspension short and give the reins back quickly to the players to deal with the new situation.
Tobold's Blog



Circumventing the quit wall in Destiny
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 September 2014, 4:49 am
Keen recently coined the phrase quit wall for the point in a game where "it’s a natural breaking point where [the developer] essentially gave players permission to quit their game if they couldn't climb over and reach the other side of the content.". In other words, players don't ask themselves the question whether they should quit a game when they are in the flow. If there is a break point in that flow, like a step-change in difficulty, or a big change in how the game plays, people are more likely to consider quitting.

I recently reached such a quit wall in Destiny. I did about 20 attempts to finish the last moon story mission, Chamber of Night, and failed every time. You get locked into a chamber where you have to withstand a constant barrage of waves and waves of monsters, and if you are alone a single mistake means you have to start from the beginning again. In a regular MMORPG there would be three possible solutions to that: Skip that piece of content to go elsewhere, find a group to help you with that content, or outlevel the content and come back. Skipping doesn't work because you need to finish Chamber of Night to open access to the next planet, Venus (I think). Finding a group didn't work because Destiny doesn't have decent group finding tools for story missions. If I join a strike mission (which are supposed to be harder than story missions), I get grouped with two random strangers, and up to now that always worked well (except if I get disconnected): Just by being present another player gives you the opportunity to respawn if you die, the scene only resets if ALL players are dead. But for the story missions there is no such automated group finder, and even by setting my fireteam option to public and waiting for an hour in front of the story mission dungeon I couldn't find a teammate. Story missions are solo or to play with already existing friends on your friends list. As I don't play console games very often, I didn't have any. And as there is no chat in Destiny, it is hard to meet people and make new friends.

I tried outleveling, but even at level 13 I still failed to finish Chamber of Night. So I considered quitting. But I do like playing Destiny, and I wondered what the alternatives to quitting were. If I could level up my character very quickly, and get good gear, then maybe I could finish that story mission and move on.

What I found was that because of how loot drops and death in Destiny are handled, it is in fact very easy to level very fast and get loot very fast as soon as you reach the moon. The first moon story mission, the Dark Beyond, has somewhere in the middle a scene where you find a dead guardian in front of the Temple of Crota. At that point the temple door opens, and about 30 mobs of the Hive pour out. The standard way to beat that encounter, and that is suggested by your ghost, is to move back. But you can also stand right in front of the door and kill a lot of monsters within a minute in a blaze of glory, which ends with your death. O death, where is thy sting? There isn't one in Destiny other than you being set back to the latest checkpoint. Which in this situation is the door of the temple opening and the Hive pouring out. Which means that you can stand in front of the door again and die in a blaze of glory again. And again. And again. Each time you gain xp. The loot drops (other than ammo) don't reset when you die, so after a number of waves you pick them all up. If you play the mission on hard the mobs are level 9 and drop more loot. But in Destiny the level of the loot drops depends on YOUR level, not the level of the mobs.

So after doing that for one evening, I am suddenly level 19, with a full set of nice uncommon and rare level 18ish gear. Plus I learned a lot about how the Hive mobs AI works, and there are nearly the same mobs in the Chamber of Night. I think tonight I should be able to beat that mission and move onwards from the moon. It does feel a bit like cheating, but if playing as intended only gets me to the quit wall, I'll play as not intended to circumvent that wall.
Tobold's Blog



The Favorites of Selune - Skin Deep - Session 1
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 September 2014, 9:55 am
The previous session ended with the Favorites of Selune handing over their weapons peacefully to the ruffians guarding the euphemistically named seamstresses' guild (I had expected that they would be bored at that point and start a fight). So this session starts with them meeting Madame Emerine, the guild mistress (and brothel madam). They manage to convince her that it wasn't them who killed Belina, and get their weapons back. What Madame Emerine knows is that since recently Belina had a special secret client, whose identity she doesn't know. But Belina's brother Irv acted as a go-between and thus should have that information. Only problem is that Irv believes that the sorceress in the group is responsible for the dark magic that killed his sister. To help finding the boy and convincing him otherwise, the group hires Beatrice, the scarred woman who is the protectrice of the guild to escort them for three days.

They find Irv near the tavern at the market, but he is afraid of the group and tries to run away. [I handle that as a skill challenge. Not my favorite part of 4E, but at least players get to roll some dice in a session otherwise having only role-playing.] They catch Irv and with some sweets and diplomacy manage to persuade him that they only want to help finding Belina's killer. Irv reveals that Belina's lover is Prince Ular, commander of the guard, whom the group already met in the previous session. The prince even wanted to set Belina up as his mistress in a house somewhere.

The Favorites of Selune then interviewed some other potential witnesses: One couple that had dined in the tavern at the time they arrived, but as they hadn't stayed the night they knew nothing. So they visit another local couple, who had stayed the night due to renovation work in their home, Master Dynrod the leatherworker and his wife. They find Master Dynrod in his workshop where he is making a bellows, but he and his wife didn't hear anything that night either.

So finally the group goes to the palace, where they have an appointment to make a formal statement. They are treated not very friendly, left waiting for an hour before being led to the guard commander, Prince Ular. The prince clearly suspects them, and interviews them for a long time in a hostile tone. The group offers to use a raise dead ritual on the dead girl [something I hadn't planned for, so I improvised here], but the prince said that this ritual was already being cast, and that there would be a line-up tomorrow. While the interview is dragging on, the door opens and a guard announces the prince's sister, Princess Taidra. Taidra is a very beautiful woman with long blond hair, and very charming to the adventurers. She demands of her brother to let them go, as she is convinced that it was "the Underdark menace" who killed the tavern wench. As the prince only has suspicions and no evidence, he has to let the Favorites of Selune go.

So the group returns to the tavern, where in light of the events of the previous night they set up a guard rotation this night. In the early hours of the morning the guard suddenly sees a black cloud appearing in the room, but falls unconscious before he can raise an alarm. Waking up a bit later, each player [I took them aside one by one] sees the following: His friends are gone, and the character now finds himself alone in the room with five dark-skinned gnomes. In fact all six players have been transformed into svirfneblin, but don't realize their own transformation at first, only seeing the other five group members in that form. Having asked each player individually for his first reaction, we rolled initiative. I was lucky, the two players who *didn't* just call out rolled the highest initiative. So we got the hunter firing two arrows at the warrior, while the druid jumps out of the window while calling for help. [Very fun scene.]

Finally the adventurers realize what happened, and they also are immediately aware that with all that talk of the Underdark menace, they wouldn't be very welcome in the city, and risk being attacked on sight. They call back the fleeing druid, and while looking out of the window find a bellows outside, with its nozzle pointing inside the room through a hole in the wall. They take that bellows, and find a maker's mark from Master Dyson, and residue of a greyish powder. As the druid already called for help, they hurry to grab their things and flee through the tunnel they discovered in the previous session in the cellar, leading out of town. Having been awoken by the druid's call for help, the innkeeper is awake downstairs. He adds to the chaos by now also calling for help, shouting that there is "an invasion from the Underdark". The group reaches the cellar, and flees town before any guards arrive.

The druid of the group remembers that there is a higher level druid living in a forest to the south of the city. And as druids know about transformations, they decide to head there. When the sun goes up they notice that as dark gnomes the sun hurts their eyes. They also have lost many of their racial abilities, them having been replaced by the racial abilities of svirfneblin. Reaching the shade of the forest is better for their eyes, but after a while in the forest they come across a group of kobold shepherds with the flock of drakes, who immediately attack. As it was getting late, we decided to do that combat in the next session.
Tobold's Blog



Triple A games for the masses
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 September 2014, 3:12 am
The sales strategies for video games for different market segments appears to be pretty much set: On the one side we have expensive triple A games for a small hardcore market, and on the other side we have cheap or pseudo-free games that sell millions of copies to casual gamers. You only earn small amounts of money per game on those casual games, but as your production cost are low and you sell so many copies (or make money from a few whales among lots of free players), overall you make a profit. But what if you could have the best of both of these worlds: A game that sells for $60, which also sells millions of copies to not-so-hardcore average gamers. How could you get there?

Well, one thing to consider is that if you design games in a specific genre for a hardcore audience, you tend to add more and more features to it. That moves the game away from the average customer's needs. So if you want to make that triple A game for the masses, you will need to make the most generic version possible, one which appears to be rather bland and unexciting to the hardcore players. You will need to make the everygame for the everyman, a game that is clearly identifiable as being at the very core of a genre without adding anything new to it. A game that doesn't require familiarity with the genre to play, because most of your target audience is people who don't usually play such games.

Then of course you will need to market your game in a different way. You need a much bigger advertising budget. And you need to concentrate on advertising your game in places where regular people will see it, from bus stations to regular newspapers and TV ads. The specialized gaming press isn't your focus here, they'll write about your game anyway once everybody is talking about it.

If you look at this plan to make a triple A game for the masses, it might look somewhat familiar. Isn't there a Destiny advertisement at your bus station or in your newspaper? Haven't you just read some Destiny reviews calling the game generic and lacking innovation? Hasn't the game shipped $500 million worth of copies at launch anyway? Haven't you played the most generic MMORPG with millions of players and the most generic RTS with millions of players from exactly the same company?

I think that if you see the mediocre reviews of Destiny in specialized gaming magazines or on Metacritic, you might be getting a wrong impression of that game. Who needs a high Metacritic score when you target customers who don't know about Metacritic, but read the positive stories in the Washington Post instead? I don't think Activision Blizzard worries much about the bad opinion some core gamers have of their games as long as those games make millions of dollars. And they do. If there is one company that has understood the secret recipe to making extremely profitable triple A games for the masses, it is Activision Blizzard. If you hate their games, it is because you simply aren't their target audience. If their games appear well crafted, polished, but somewhat generic and inoffensive, that is by design. And the ultimate joke is that the core gamers are going to buy the games anyway, because they can't afford not to know the game everybody is talking about.
Tobold's Blog



Movement in video games
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 September 2014, 3:46 am
Try a little exercise: Stand on one spot and try how fast you can turn a full 360°C. You'll find that it's not so fast (especially if there is friction on the ground and you can't spin on one foot), usually it would take over a second. I was reminded of that when I played Destiny on a console, where rotating around your axis with a gamepad takes about that realistic amount of time. It would also be the time it would take to rotate in many PC games if you use the keyboard to turn. Only if you use a mouse on a PC you can suddenly turn much faster, a fraction of a second, depending on your settings.

That made me wonder why developers don't put some mechanism in which makes such a movement the same speed regardless of which form of input you use. It certainly works in World of Tanks, where the speed with which you can turn depends on your tank, and not your mouse settings. But then again you also have an obvious advantage in a shooter game if aiming with a mouse instead of gamepad. I wondered if I was doing well in Destiny because the game *assumes* that I'll be slow targeting the enemies, as the gamepad is my only option. Do PC shooters require faster aiming, because faster aiming is possible?

With the army using video games for combat training, one has to wonder how realistic movement in video games actually is. Not just the speed of turning. But for example most games allow you to walk sideways at the same speed and ease as forwards. Try that is real life! I hope we aren't training our soldiers to do things like circle-strafing, because that wouldn't really work so well in reality.

Do you know of any video games with more realistic (and thus slower) movement? Does that work for a game?
Tobold's Blog



Destiny first impressions
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 September 2014, 7:03 am
Disclaimer: These impression are based on a free copy of Destiny for the PS3 that I received.

Reviews are frequently based on a comparison of the reviewer's expectations with the actual product. I didn't have any expectations for Destiny, which is why my impression of the game is generally a positive one. I've been playing a Titan up to level 10, through all content of Earth and some content on the moon. And as I don't play so many shooters, and especially not console shooters, if anything I was positively surprised how much fun Destiny is. Apparently the game was hyped a lot before release, and many reviewers correctly pointed out that the game isn't the second coming, but as I said, it depends on what expectations you have.

That is not only a problem for reviewers, but also for players. Destiny is a hybrid between a shooter, and a MMORPG, on a console. Which means it suffers from certain limitations of shooter games, of MMORPG games, and of console games. People very much involved with one genre tend to overlook the inherent limitations of that genre, but with a hybrid game the fans of each genre discover the flaws of the other genre, and that can grate. Plus if you usually play on a PC, the console brings some extra problems, like long loading times and fiddly controls.

The world of Destiny is a curious mix of MMORPG open world zones and linear shooter levels. That isn't just visually, but the rules actually change if you leave the open world and enter a shooter level: Suddenly your respawning is limited, and death brings you back to a checkpoint, resetting all events back up to there. But because it is an online game, there is no pause function. Too bad for you if your phone or doorbell rings, or there is some other real life intrusion. On the positive side your checkpoint is saved even if you log out, so you can resume the action at that point the next day. You can even first fly back to the central hub, The Tower, identify found items, buy some new gear, and then continue in the middle of the fight where you were. You can use that to get around the silly feature that if you die because you ran out of ammo, you'll respawn with still no ammo. Flying to the tower won't fix that, but the gunsmith there sells ammo refills which do.

You play one of three character classes, Titan, Hunter, or Warlock, a weird mix of SciFi and Fantasy. I'd love to tell you what the difference between the classes is, but I can't. Because if you start a new character and play him through the intro up to level 2 and the Tower, the three classes play pretty much the same. You attack is determined by your weapon, which is the same in the intro for the three classes. There are differences in the stats, the grenade, and the melee attack, but these differences are small compared to a MMORPG, where you would expect a warrior and a warlock to play very differently. When gaining levels, you gain class abilities, so later there is presumably more difference between the classes, but I didn't play several classes to higher level to find out.

Combat plays mostly like in a shooter game, but with a weird system for weapons: Unlike in a MMORPG, a higher level weapon does not necessarily deal more damage. Instead the weapon has an attack value, which basically determines up to what level of enemies you can damage with it. How much damage it deals is determined by the weapon's impact stat. So if you exchange a low attack value, high impact weapon for a high attack value, low impact weapon, you will do *less* damage to lower level enemies, and only starting from a certain enemy level the change makes sense. This also explains why you can get high level weapons by doing low level missions: The higher level of the weapon doesn't really make a difference in a low level mission. There are weapons with low impact and high fire rate, and vice versa. It might be just me, but I think the high impact weapons are better, because enemies move very fast into cover and thus you don't necessarily always have the opportunity to spray them with many bullets. A boss mob with a regenerating shield can be a tough nut to crack with a machine pistol, but get one-shotted by a sniper rifle headshot.

Destiny's biggest weakness is it's limits to interacting with strangers. In the open world you kind of auto-group with anybody close to you. But in the darkness zones of the story missions you are alone unless you invite up to two other people into your fireteam. Which only works well if these people are already on your friends list. As there is not keyboard there is no typed chat, and the voice chat only works inside a fireteam, so you can't use it to find a team either. Fortunately the strike missions don't have that problem, there you'll automatically be grouped with other random players if you didn't bring your own friends.

Overall Destiny isn't the world's best shooter, nor the world's best MMORPG. But the weird hybrid kind of works, so it isn't a bad game either. One certainly can have hours of fun with it, even if one isn't an expert in console shooters. Having hit level 10 in less than one weekend, of a level cap of 20, Destiny apparently follows the MMORPG convention of short leveling, long endgame. And I can't say yet how engaging that is going to be. As neither "raids" nor PvP interest me much, I might not even play the endgame very much.
Tobold's Blog



If you have GMail, check this tool!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 September 2014, 3:01 pm
A list of 5 million GMail addresses was published, together with *a* hacked password for each. According to Google those passwords must have come from somewhere else, because mostly they weren't GMail passwords. If you used that somewhere else password for GMail too, you have been notified by Google already. If you haven't been notified, you can use this tool to see if your address has been compromised.

Unfortunately it doesn't tell you WHICH of your passwords from somewhere else has been compromised. So it could be one of many gaming sites that have been hacked over the years where you used your GMail address as UserID.

For me that was the opportunity for some drastic action: I made a list of all the games and sites that I have an account on, and changed them ALL. That took hours, but because I used a list of freshly created strong passwords, all my accounts should now be secure. Some of them already had extra protection, e.g. the authenticator from Battle.net and some other 2-step verification systems, but I changed their passwords anyway.

So how do I store all those passwords? Old style, written down in a book hidden in my library. It would need a weird combination of burglar/hacker to get that list. And because it is hand-written with no trace on a computer, the list itself can't be hacked. I prefer that system to Password Manager software. If you have a password manager on your home PC, what do you do if your hard drive crashes and all your passwords are irretrievably lost? Sorry, I trust paper more than I trust software.
Tobold's Blog



Selling out
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 September 2014, 4:41 am
In the interest of full disclosure I'd like to report that I received a code for a free copy of Destiny yesterday. Given recent events, that of course made me think: Will I get death threats from Woody or other people who consider free games for bloggers to be corruption? I thought it might be time to repeat a previous message of mine on the subject of selling out.

I believe that everybody has a price. Mojang is currently selling out, but for $2 billion, who can blame him? Me, I have a standing offer that you can buy my complete blog for just $100,000. I never even adjusted that for inflation or the Euro/Dollar exchange rate. If you pay me $100,000, I'll sign over the blog and the Tobold identity to you, and you can market your game with fake reviews and recommendations under that name as much as you like.

Having stated my price, I would also like to point out that I am not corruptible for less. And I very much assume that this also the case for most game writers, whether blogger or professional journalists. Yeah sure, we will take your free game, we will take your swag bag, and if you want to give us a tablet, we will take that too. Just don't expect us to change our opinion because of that.

A free copy of Destiny means that I will play that game, which I might not have done if I hadn't received it for free. This *will* increase the chance that I write about the game. It will *not* change what I write about the game. My review of a hypothetical bought copy of a game and a free copy of the same game would always be identical. Now there are small indie games where me mentioning or reviewing a game could possibly make a difference, as exposure is more important for an indie game than what exactly the review says. But for an AAA game like Destiny there is already a huge exposure, and the handful of readers of my blog won't make any difference. I received the free copy with no obligation attached or mentioned, just "Hey, I like your blog, do you want a free copy of my latest game?" from a game developer.

Everybody has a price, but most people aren't cheap. It is not as easy to buy a favorable opinion as you might think. Unless, of course, if you are prepared to pay those $100,000.
Tobold's Blog



Refining the question
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 September 2014, 9:30 am
Syp is asking whether special editions are getting too pricey. I don't like that sort of question, because the word "too" is always a judgement. And whether something is "too pricey" is not only subjective, but also depends very much on personal disposable income. I'm sure there isn't a special edition anywhere which would be "too pricey" for Bill Gates.

But let's refine that question. Whether a special edition is too pricey depends among other things on what exactly you get for your money. And that quickly gets us to the related question of what game developers can put into a special edition without pissing off the customers of the regular version. Syp mentioned how the $100 Imperial Edition of the Elder Scrolls Online came with a race that regular players couldn't play, which caused some controversy. Imagine the regular edition of a MMORPG came without raid content, and you would need to upgrade to a twice as expensive edition in order for you to be able to participate in the raid content. Good idea on paper, but I doubt it would go down well.

Things that do not provoke any protest are usually physical items, not in-game items. Collectors editions containing CDs with the soundtrack, or books with artwork, are not very controversial. But those items actually cost money to make, so much of the extra income from the collectors edition is then eaten up by the cost of producing that edition. Which is why increasingly the main selling point of special editions is in-game stuff, which is cheap to produce. That stuff is then valuable to the customer *because* the other players in the game don't have it.

Gamers have a strong sense of entitlement. In real life the answer to the question of why your neighbor is driving a nicer car than you is relatively obvious: He paid for it (or got it as part of his job contract). Most people are okay with that in real life. In a massively multiplayer online game many people are not willing to accept that somebody else has nicer stuff because he paid for it. It is one of the principal objections to the Free2Play business model that somebody else might end up with paid-for nicer stuff. And special editions are based on the same tactics of price segmentation that Free2Play games use.

So basically game companies have two option: Either they limit the in-game stuff content of special editions, in which case they will also have to limit the price. Or think of some really great in-game stuff they could pack into special editions (also available as upgrade to the regular edition you bought), and hope that the additional profit is higher than the loss of sales from people who won't play a game like that. My guess is that we will see at least some attempts of the latter.
Tobold's Blog



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