Why I support NBI 2014
Posted by Welshtroll [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2014, 3:00 am
Every time I write NBI I get Nativity in Black suck in my head, stupid dyslexia. This is a post about the Newbie Blogger Initiative for 2014, many of the people that visit my blog are likely to be aware of this but it’s worth a quick post for anyone that isn’t. The NBI is […]

Are choppers sexist?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2014, 2:16 am
Blizzard this month started a collaboration with a TV series American Choppers to produce Azeroth Choppers. And the way I heard about it was by reading my MMO blog newsfeed, where several feminist blogs complained about that move as being sexist.

I find that complaint itself very sexist. It suggests that women could not possibly be interested in choppers. That is like saying that World of Warcraft, which is a game about hunting and killing, is a game for men and could not possibly appeal to women. Female gamers have fought long and hard to be recognized as being equally interested and good at games about killing. Why should women not be interested in choppers?

Feminists complaining about choppers are reinforcing exactly the gender stereotypes that true gender equality is trying to overcome. I would find it extremely insulting to women if anybody suggested a marketing campaign linking World of Warcraft to knitting and quilting in order "to appeal to women". Gender equality requires us to forget about those stereotypes, and to recognize that men and women can be equally interested in the same things. Putting male/female labels on items like choppers or cooking pans is unhelpful.
Tobold's Blog

Voting with your wallet
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2014, 12:39 am
Syl recently asked in an image in a post "If I'm supposed to vote with my wallet, then is a wealthier man's vote more valuable than mine?". Obviously a trick question. Just think of the situation where voting with your wallet is the most direct and obvious: An auction. Does the wealthiest man in the room win all items in the auction? No. Because that wealthy man is at the auction to buy antique furniture, so he won't outbid you on your Star Wars collectible action figure. You win the auction for the action figure not because you are the wealthiest person in the room, but because that action figure is worth more to you than it is to anybody else in the room.

In the realm of games, that is most obvious with MMORPGs that have a subscription business model. Voting with your wallet is a $15 a month difference. For a large majority of players their wealth plays no role in the decision of whether to subscribe to that game or not. The question is rather whether that game is worth $15 a month to them, because they have that $15 but might prefer to spend it on something else.

Now Syl asks where developers get the information from what the players want. Easy. By watching the money coming in. Of course that isn't extremely specific, you can't easily identify a single feature that players want or don't want that way. But Blizzard most certainly has mountains of data for each of the expansions of World of Warcraft showing how many people resubscribed and how long they stayed after resubscribing for the expansion. And those data allow them to rank those expansion in terms of which one the players liked the most. Which then can influence design decisions for future expansions. That also works when comparing two different games: World of Warcraft makes a lot more money than Darkfall, so game developers from other companies rather try to emulate WoW than Darkfall. The devs got the information about what players want from the market.

In Free2Play games people spend very different amounts of money, and thus their votes count more or less. Some features are in some games because of some "whales" spending hundreds or thousands of dollars because of those features. But many other features are designed around getting free players engaged enough to value the game highly enough to spend at least a few bucks. If MMORPGs have a strong trend towards Free2Play games, it is because players DID vote with their wallets on that issue. Many companies reported increased earnings and profits after switching from a subscription model to a Free2Play model. And apparently they have enough data to consider the move in the opposite direction as suicidal. If a game earns more money after switching to Free2Play, obviously a sufficient number voted with their wallet that they would like to spend more than $15 per month on that game. Plus you capture all the players who value the game at $5 per month, who were previously excluded. If you count every dollar as one vote, Free2Play simply got more votes than the subscription model.

That doesn't mean that whatever game feature or business model gets the most dollar votes will replace all others. Just like in a political election the minority might be sizable. So if too many game companies decided that theme park MMORPGs are the way to go and nobody makes sandbox MMORPGs, then going against that trend might be a wise decision. Better have a large market share of the minority, than a tiny slice of the majority market. There will always be room in the market for at least one subscription game, although it isn't obvious whether there is room in the market for a subscription game that isn't called World of Warcraft as long as WoW is around.
Tobold's Blog

Neutral Blood Elves
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 April 2014, 8:00 am
The other day's post about the factionalism of some Pandaren led to an interesting comment which, among other things, suggested that Blood Elves should be neutral. The idea intrigued me.

It's somewhat of an accident that the Blood Elves are in the Horde. As High Elves they'd been part of the Alliance. Their 'conversion' to Blood Elves was recent. Their joining with the Horde was even more recent, and was not inevitable. There were doubts, and justifiably, that this more-than-devastated nation would be little more than a burden. Surely a Horde that had only recently broken away from demonic influence would be wary of a race that was dependent on demonic power.

In terms of personality, it fits as well. Elves are generally arrogant, and high elves perhaps even more so. Why would they not stand alone, away from the savages and corpses?

They have their own problems, trolls and the Scourge. Remember, BC was long before the Lich King was defeated. Could they really afford to go marching off to someone else's war with the many powerful Alliance armies on the continent? But perhaps that's irrelevant, since they have a powerful buffer zone against the Alliance: the Plaguelands and Lordaeron.

Who would become paladins? I still think tauren paladins sound ridiculous, even though I also think that Sunwalkers are a somewhat logical extension of druidism. There has always been a bit of a push for Forsaken paladins, but those also have various problems, even if they sound cool. Perhaps they'd be the inverse of the Blood Knights: rather than being so dark that even their brethren shun them, they'd be rejected for their embrace of the Light.

Geographically, Silvermoon isn't of much use to Horde players. Undercity already gives good access the north of the Eastern Kingdoms.

Most importantly, it's too late for World of Warcraft. The story already happened, not that that has necessarily mattered; Cataclysm was more than happy to erase player actions, such as killing Onyxia. Players are Blood Elves and I suspect would not react kindly to a forced race change. A splintering, as we saw with Pandaren is possible, but also sets an annoying precedent, because what race could not be justifiably picked apart? Break off the Dark Irons again, divide the orc and troll races, might as well just have every character pick its faction. Someone probably likes that idea.

Future Story
This is where I think the idea shines. Or, gets exceptionally ugly.

Despite regaining the Sunwell, I do not believe the Blood Elves are particularly powerful still. They were hit far too hard and were never a populous group. If no longer under the umbrella of the Horde, they'd end up with a potential enemy: Sylvanas.

I'd love to see this dark... darker.... black hole swallowed by another black hole, but without the huge energy releases from gravitational waves... darkerest turn by Sylvanas. Why should her former brethren not rejoin her? Perhaps the Forsaken could find some use for the Sunwell.

This leads to her army marching right back up along the Dead Scar and her journey to becoming the Lich King-lite is complete. Might the Alliance, seeing the risks of the Forsaken gaining such a powerful source of magic, intervene? Things could turn out ugly for Vereesa.

Alternatively, they just get overrun by trolls and breakaway undead.

Creating ESO: Trials
Posted by Bethesda Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 5:24 pm
12-player Trials are coming with ESO’s first Adventure Zone, Craglorn. Visit ElderScrollsOnline.com and find out what your group will face and learn how we created a new kind of adventure for ESO. Learn more about Craglorn on its dedicated page at elderscrollsonline.com

Being Too Greedy Too Early
Posted by Zen Of Design [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 5:28 pm
One of the things I’m very proud of when we monetized SWTOR, is how generous we were to the new users.  Players don’t get asked for any money before level

Havoc in HearthStone
Posted by Casually Strolling Through MMOs [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 10:24 am
What do WarCraft, bloggers, and collectible card games have in common? Havoc in HeartStone! An upcomming event from those at the New Blogger Initiative!

Gabriel Knight 2: Wagner scavenger hunt
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 12:00 pm
(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.) With Gabe transforming into a werewolf and Grace dealing with a live pigeon stuffed into her … Continue reading

Civilization – The Center Cannot Hold
Posted by The Ancient Gaming Noob [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 12:00 pm
The third week of our Friday night Civilization V game saw us all online together, but we were going to have to test something new.  Loghound was with us, but would have to drop out of the game almost immediately to take care of a domestic issue.  From what we had read, the game should […]

Building Poetry Communities on WordPress.com
Posted by WordPress.com News [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 11:00 am
From cutting-edge ezines to collaborative projects, poets and poetry lovers are finding each other on WordPress.com.

Five video game genres that I stopped playing and why
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 9:00 am
It’s weird when you look back at your life and see how you’ve changed, grown, and sometimes simply stopped doing things you used to be really into.  While I’m just as crazy about adventure games, RPGs, and many strategy titles … Continue reading

What is the state of The Elder Scrolls Online?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 8:14 am
Today I had a mail from IGN in my mailbox, who did a review of The Elder Scrolls Online and gave it a not really great score of 78. That is the day after reading the PC Gamer review which gave TESO a 68. A look at Metacritic reveals a familiar story: A bunch of reviews from release day giving the game high-ish scores around 90. And then reviews with lower scores trickling in over the three weeks since. Average score thus trending downwards, currently at 78, which is less than stellar.

I wonder if the actual players show a similar trend. I have no idea how many copies The Elder Scrolls Online sold, apparently Zenimax only published how many people signed up for the free beta. That is borderline misleading, because obviously not everybody interested in a free beta will then want to pay the price of a full game plus a $15 a month subscription. I would be really interested to know the actual sales up to now. The only data I have is the very imprecise Xfire score compiled by the Nosy Gamer, which shows TESO being played less than SWTOR or FFXIV, and only slightly more than Aion.

Now in the MMORPG blogosphere there is frequently talk of the "three-monther" MMORPG. Many triple-A MMORPGs post-WoW have lost the majority of their initial players in the first three months. But personally I believe that over half of that three-month loss happens at the end of the first month, because that is the first time where a player has to decide whether he actually wants to pay a subscription for the game he is playing. Now I've read some stories about accounting irregularities with TESO, where basically you couldn't play your free month if you didn't have $15 on your credit card. All game companies are trying to force you to sign up for a subscription, so usually you need to subscribe and then actively unsubscribe before the free month ends if you don't want to pay any subscription fee. But the end of the first month still remains a rather important milestone. Too bad that as we don't even know initial sales, it is unlikely that Zenimax will reveal how many players they lost after one or three months.

In the specific case of The Elder Scrolls Online there will be another important milestone after two months: The Wildstar headstart begins May 31st. It is inevitable that *some* players will decide to switch from TESO to Wildstar, but very hard to predict how many that will be. Warlords of Draenor will probably be too late in the year to really make a big dent into TESO player numbers any more.

Up to now I have no data which would suggest that The Elder Scrolls Online has better than mediocre success. But if somebody has data that suggest otherwise, I would be very happy to hear them. From what you know, how is The Elder Scrolls Online doing?
Tobold's Blog

Early Theme Adopters: Hemingway Rewritten
Posted by WordPress.com News [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 8:00 am
In our Early Theme Adopters series, we focus on bloggers creating great-looking sites with the most recent additions to our Theme Showcase. Today, let’s visit some of the sites that are already using Hemingway Rewritten, a free theme that makes both words and images shine.

The value of trash mobs
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2014, 3:09 am
My pen & paper role-playing campaign uses Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition rules. 4E rules are excellent for creating epic combat encounters. As I wrote in our campaign journal yesterday, this week we had an encounter which involved an evil cleric, a vampire, a basilisk, and five minor vampire spawns. So the players need to assess the relative danger that those 4 different types of enemy pose to them, and make tactical decisions which enemy to take out first. And the rules system gives them daily powers, powers they can use once per encounter, and powers they can use every round to select from. So as long as players enjoy that sort of tactical games, 4E makes for really great epic fights.

What 4E does much less well is trash mobs. "Classic", that is earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, had more, but smaller encounters. For example the Keep on the Borderlands (Caves of Chaos) classic D&D module from 1979 has 64 encounters, but most of them are small and with just one type of monsters. So you meet 9 kobolds in one room, and then 3 orcs in the next, while 4E would rather do fewer encounters, but each having several monster types. In earlier editions of D&D all spells are "daily" powers, so if you use your magic missile in one fight, you can't use it in the next. Thus a series of small encounters works as a challenge of resource management. In 4E players would just use at-will and encounter powers if they met 3 orcs, and thus spend at best a healing surge here or there in a series of small encounters.

Thus my 4E campaign looks a bit like a MMORPG raid dungeon without trash mobs: There are only epic boss fights. Or rather, there are boss fights, and non-boss fights which aren't any less epic. No need to grind through trash mobs which pose no real challenge to the players. Or is there?

A reader commented yesterday that my players were frequently rather timid, and not very heroic. And I began to wonder in how far that is my fault: If every single fight they enter is a life or death epic struggle, no wonder that they are rather careful. Maybe I need more trash mob encounters, where my players without much effort dispatch 3 orcs. Maybe there is a psychological value to trash mob encounters in making the players feel strong and heroic, and then less afraid of the epic boss fights. After all, there must be a reason those trash mobs are in every MMORPG raid dungeon.
Tobold's Blog

LOTRO: The day after
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2014, 9:00 am
The title here has a double meaning, in that I not only started playing the new Update 13 epic story the day after it came out, but the storyline itself begins the day after the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  Time … Continue reading

Quote of the Day: It’s business
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2014, 10:12 am
“Videogame design is not a democracy; first and foremost it’s business and sneaky psychology.” ~ Syl

Gabriel Knight 2: Werewolf hunt
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 April 2014, 12:10 pm
(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.) In our previous episode of Gabriel Knight 2, Gabe stumbles upon a very naked Von Zell … Continue reading

My WildStar crew, part 1
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 April 2014, 3:39 pm
With the WildStar beta weekend and the new patch boasting additional body options and hairstyles, I knew I had to make it my goal to log in and work on my future characters’ looks.  Here’s the crew of possibles that … Continue reading

Quote of the Day: Trait revamp
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 April 2014, 4:24 pm
“Between the level increase to unlock traits (seriously, waiting until level 30 is terrible. If it had to have been changed, it should have been to level 20, at the highest), and the requirements to then unlock traits, I see … Continue reading

My WildStar crew, part 2
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 April 2014, 9:00 am
And here are my efforts to create fun-looking characters over on the Dominion side of things: It might just be me, but it seems as though Cassians get better options, especially in the hairstyle department.  Seriously, how could I *not* … Continue reading

Weekend gaming report
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2014, 8:23 am
I had a very busy if scattered weekend of gaming, so here’s what I’ve been up to: LOTRO: I’ll write up a longer post later on about the continuing adventures through Update 13.  It definitely feels like a much smaller … Continue reading

Gabriel Knight 2: Reunited at last!
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2014, 12:00 pm
(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.) The final chapter of the game (stick with me — we’re on the home stretch now!) … Continue reading

The Secret World: A fistful of bees
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 April 2014, 8:05 am
Our Monday night Secret World group reconvened to tackle the second of the four investigation missions: Immersion, AKA “The Game.” The mission started out with one of the very few alive Orochi in the game, this one in the camp … Continue reading

Sorting through musical history
Posted by Bio Break [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 April 2014, 10:24 am
I began collecting MP3s back in… 1999, it was?  I remember converting my old CDs and downloading new tunes on Napster via a dial-up connection (one song in 10 minutes… what futuristic technology is this?).  Since then my collection has … Continue reading

Designing massively multiplayer games for multiple players
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 April 2014, 12:53 pm
I was browsing the web and came across the PC Gamer review of The Elder Scrolls Online. And what struck me about the review was the following paragraphs:
One of The Elder Scrolls Online's biggest weaknesses as an MMO is that it often becomes a worse game when large numbers of players are involved in the same activity. While questing in the High Rock area of Stormhaven I was directed to a monastery that was under attack by bandits. I was given two quests: put out six fires, and deliver healing to four injured monks. Credit for completing these objectives is only granted to the player that performs them, which means that I was put in indirect competition with every other player in the area—and given the linear nature of the game's zone, that means a lot of other people. The monastery might have been on fire, but there weren't enough fires for everybody: which meant hanging around waiting for fires to respawn so that I could get the credit for putting them out. Badly-designed quests like this one are common, and even when your objective is more deftly constructed you are always aware of the conga-line of players waiting to do the exact same thing that you are doing. This takes the game to some strange places: I'll never forget the time I traveled back in time in the guise of an ancient warrior only to find a room full of doppelgangers jumping about, dancing, and waiting for a boss to spawn. Immersive it isn't.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a particular weakness of The Elder Scrolls Online. I pretty much had the same experience in my Wildstar beta weekends: Wildstar has a feature called challenges. The first time you kill a certain type of mob in a area or click on a certain type of item, you get a loud "Challenge begins!" message, telling you that you should now kill X of those monsters or click on Y of those items within a time limit. Sometimes there are several levels possible, with numbers displayed on how many monsters/items you need for bronze, silver, and gold level. And rewards for those challenges are good, for example bags, gear, or crafting resources. But these challenges are obviously designed so that you can achieve them IF, and only if, you are the only player in the area. If you start the challenge and then realize that another player is also doing it, you'll both fail, or at best get bronze.

I consider that to be extremely bad game design for a massively multiplayer game. What those challenges teach the players is that other players are the enemy, who make you fail your challenges. With the timed challenges of Wildstar the effect is especially harsh, because you get an actual "You failed!" message shouted at you. But of course outside challenges Wildstar has exactly the same problems as mentioned by PC Gamer above: Players compete for mob or resource spawns, and it breaks immersion if you are one of many "Chosen Ones" all doing exactly the same stuff.

All this teaches players that the optimum number of other players in the same zone as you is zero. If you had the choice to play through that zone with other players or alone, you'd chose alone for most of the content and only do group content with others. At some point in the future we might actually see a MMORPG which offers the option to play through single-player instances as a feature. There certainly would be interest in that. But then the whole business model of MMORPGs collapses: Why should you be required to pay more money to play multiplayer TESO than to play single-player Skyrim, if most of the time when playing TESO you wished you were alone in the zone? Same for Wildstar, although it doesn't have that obvious single-player game to compare it to.

Fortunately there are also some bright spots. For example in Wildstar, if you need to kill a boss mob for a quest, you don't need to kill that boss mob alone, or be the first one to touch it. If you come across that boss mob already in a fight with other players, you just need to get a single hit in, and you still get full credit for your quest. And then Wildstar, as many previous games, has public events, which are hard or impossible to solo, and thus make you quite happy if there are other players around when you want to do them. So designing a MMORPG in which other players are actually an advantage is possible. I just think that developers need to carefully design all the features in the game to check how they are influenced by there being multiple players around. Telling somebody that he failed because somebody else tried the same challenge is a bad idea. Creating situations where players are automatically helpful to each other would be a much better plan.
Tobold's Blog

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