Biased game news reporting
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 March 2015, 2:55 am
EA shut down the main Maxis studio Emeryville. And the internet erupted in a wave of stories how the evil overlord company destroyed the developer studio that has produced some of our favorite games like The Sims and SimCity. Without any shred of evidence it is assumed that everything that went wrong is the fault of EA, while the developers of Maxis are innocent victims. But can we really be sure about that?

Both the latest SimCity game from 2013 and the latest The Sims 4 had huge problems which made them far less successful than previous games. On Metacritic SimCity got a score of 64, and The Sims 4 got 70. This are not high quality games. And I think it is too easy for a developer to claim that his game was shit only because of some high-level corporate decision or budget constraint. I played SimCity on release and for me it was clear that the code was flawed way beyond what could be explained by an evil overlord theory.

Gamers are frequently demanding unbiased game news reporting. I think that would be great. But what they often mean is that they want biased game news reporting that corresponds to their personal bias, the Fox News concept of game news reporting. I don't think that is such a good idea. Just because many people dislike EA for good reasons doesn't absolve Maxis from blame for the bad quality of their games.
Tobold's Blog

Game vs. improvised theater
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 March 2015, 9:31 am
Sly Flourish has an interesting analysis of a PAX Acquisitions Incorporated D&D game. One player of that game clearly thinks inside the box, thinks in "game" terms, and during his turn performs the standard actions the rules allow his character to do. A second player thinks outside the box, thinks in terms of improvised theater performance, and uses his turn for a long series of spectacular actions. Unsurprisingly the first player is angry about that. Seen from the "game" side the actions of the second player are cheating, and the DM is perceived as playing favorites by allowing them. When in fact the DM would probably have allowed the first player to also do spectacular stuff, if he had only suggested it.

Both parts of a tabletop role-playing game can be a lot of fun: The game and the improvised theater. But any game is a social contract between the players, and tends to fail if during play it turns out that there was in fact no consent as to what exactly that contract contains. Unless you carefully select your players to make sure they all want exactly the same thing, the more common case is that you will have to compromise between the wishes of the different players. As pen & paper RPGs aren't symmetrical, one player (the DM) has far more power over the rules than the other players, it is up to the DM to look for what the players want and arrange that compromise.

In game terms a rules system which describes in much detail what players can do, and uses visual aids like maps and figurines to create consent about the current situation is inherently more fair than a theater of the mind system. The map and figurines tell the players exactly where they are and where the monsters are, and various rules and stats like the speed noted on their character sheet give a very clear and indisputable answer to the question of whether they can run this far or how hard they can hit this monster. The rules empower players, especially the less creative ones, but leave less room for decisions to the DM, and less room for creativity in combat for the players. In addition the DM needs to prepare more, create all those battle maps, provide all those figurines or tokens, know more rules, and generally "work" more.

RPG systems with less rules and more improvisation are often more fun for the DM and certain highly creative players. That is perfect if you have a group where everybody is very creative. But as soon as you have some "gamers" among your "role-players", the situation changes. Gamers tend to have a very strong sense of fairness, and nothing turns them off more quickly than any perceived unfairness of the game. A good DM can't allow one or few players to hog all the limelight. Between those who dislike the "mother may I?" gameplay where they can never be sure what their character is able to do, and those who dislike another player being far more effective because the DM allowed him to do some crazy stuff, the theater of the mind style of play has lots of pitfalls and dangers. A possible compromise is keeping the game part of combat under stricter rules, and allowing more creative freedom in the roleplaying outside combat.

In the PAX game an added problem is that part of the group started the game with that DM under 4th edition rules. Social contracts are unwritten and are established by custom and experience. I asked my group whether they wanted to switch from 4th edition to 5th edition and explained the difference, and they flat out refused to change, because they are more gamers than roleplayers. The PAX game is in part a Wizards of the Coast marketing action, and as such didn't have the choice of keeping the old system. But it is very clear that some players still play under the old social contract of the 4E rules, doing what the rules allow them to do, which then leads to conflicts with the new players who fully embrace the freer spirit of the 5th edition rules. Different systems suit different players, and I'm not sure if the PAX game ends up being such a good marketing for 5th edition as it was for 4th edition.
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How much is WoW gold worth?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 March 2015, 3:01 am
The announcement of the WoW token with which you can exchange a month of game time to WoW gold has started the speculation for how much these tokens will go for. It is not a free market, Blizzard is both selling and buying the tokens for gold, and it is unclear to what degree they will regulate the price or adjust it to supply and demand. But as reader "8F55..." remarked in a comment yesterday, you can today buy a thousand gold for a dollar from various illicit gold trading websites. Apparently $10 pets from the Blizzard store also sell for around 10,000 gold. So even if players value legit gold slightly more, a WoW token can't go for less than 10,000 gold.

I am less worried about the lower limit than about the upper limit. I don't think Blizzard is planning to give you that little gold for a WoW token, or rather they won't sell you a month of subscription for that little gold. Gevlon was talking about his million gold pieces, I counted over 200,000 on my account, and I'm sure a number of people who were a bit interested in the economy of WoW have hundreds of thousands of gold pieces. I really doubt that Blizzard is willing to give me over a year of free subscription to World of Warcraft in exchange for the gold I accumulated. Especially since I could easily "go infinite" by making more than 10k gold per month and playing without paying forever. During my two months of WoD subscription I made more than 10k gold per month just by selling crafted epics from my garrison crafting buildings.

10,000 gold for a WoW token would also not be all that interesting for the potential gold buyers. Yesterday bryksom posted a list of bind on equip gear that would bring you up to iLvl 668+, enough for the "mythic" level of dungeon/raid content, but estimated the price for that at around 1 million gold pieces. At 10,000 gold per WoW token that would be 100 tokens or $1,500. I doubt there will be all that many people who would be interested at buying gear for real money if every single item is a hundred bucks or more.

GaelicVigil was thinking a WoW token would go for 100k to 150k. I think that is too high. The idea that somebody without a clue would like to spend money on high-level epics and go raiding at mythic level is probably just a strawman anyway. Raiding isn't really an attractive activity for the supposedly time-poor, money-rich player anyway, as it requires too much time and commitment. And you don't need those iLvl 668+ epics for the kind of content a more casual player might be interested in. Apart from buying rare mounts and pets on the auction house, there isn't really much you can spend that gold on at the moment. A fully built-up garrison might cost you 30,000 gold, but you'll make that sort of money in the time it takes you to get there.

So I was thinking that Blizzard will set the gold price for WoW tokens to between 30,000 and 50,000 gold. That is significantly more gold per dollar than the gold farmers offer at the moment, and thus likely to put a lot of gold selling companies out of business. It is an attractive enough price for people who have accumulated some gold to exchange it for game time, and an attractive enough price for the gold buyer as well.

The long-term effect on the economy and price evolution depends on factors we aren't really sure about. Is Blizzard only an intermediary in this trade, selling only as many WoW tokens for gold as other players are selling for gold? In that case the total quantity of gold in the economy would remain unchanged. If a player buys gold for WoW tokens and then buys things on the auction house with that gold, most of the gold remains in the hands of other players. The only gold sink would be the AH fees. But Blizzard could also decide to sell WoW tokens for gold even if there are no players putting up those tokens for sale, in which case they would create a real gold sink and remove gold from the economy. Which would have a significant long-term effect on prices.
Tobold's Blog

The WoW token
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 March 2015, 11:56 am
Blizzard now announced more details on the upcoming "PLEX" system for World of Warcraft, the WoW token. On the one side I always prefer a legal system of exchanging money for time over illicit third-party RMT. On the other side I am not so sure that the system is really all that suitable for the game World of Warcraft.

The problem principally is how people make gold in World of Warcraft. Some of it is made by what I would call regular game activities, like questing. But as Gevlon has shown back in the days, most money is made on the auction house. And that more often than not involves some sort of auction house manipulation. Somebody using a bunch of addons like Auctioneer can make significantly more money than somebody trying to "farm gold". I frequently see people buying up all of one commodity on the AH and then reselling it for twice the price. I'm not sure how effective that is, but I can sure see its going on.

At the time Gevlon was constantly complaining about the "morons & slackers" buying or selling stuff at stupid prices on the AH. The reason for that was that gold was not actually all that important for many activities in the game. People handled virtual money stupidly because it wasn't really worth all that much for them. The WoW token system risks to change that, because it now attaches a real money worth to WoW gold in the mind of people who wouldn't have bought gold from RMT traders before. I'm not sure if is viable to try to pay for a subscription by "farming gold" in a way that doesn't involve the auction house.

As I always enjoyed toying with the player economy, I'v always had more than enough gold, and still have over 200,000 gold on my account. I wonder what a month of WoW subscription will go for. But weirdly, even if I had enough gold to buy a subscription and wanted to do this, I'm not even sure that I could do it. Because my characters are "inactive" due to not having a subscription, I cannot buy a subscription with gold without first buying a subscription with money.
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Dreams and deliverables
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 March 2015, 3:00 am
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
The world needs visionaries. Shared visions are the best way to get people to work together towards a common goal. And with the vision you can verify whether your decisions bring you closer or further away from the ultimate goal.

Having said that, a vision is not the same as a deliverable. The civil rights movement made enormous progress since 1963, but can Martin Luther King Jr.'s three surviving children really claim to "live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? Visions also often fail to detail what the best way towards the goal is. You and me might share Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a world in which there is no racial discrimination, but we might disagree on whether positive discrimination (affirmative action) is the way to get there.

I have a dream of a virtual world in which player actions matter, where these actions shape a dynamic virtual world, and where everybody has fun without grinding.
The typical MMORPG Kickstarter, 2015
I noticed that visions feature very much in many Kickstarter game projects. Ultima Online is in it's 18th year, Everquest has 16 years, and World of Warcraft recently celebrated it's 10th birthday, but a lot of the visions of the early days of MMORPG have not been realized yet. We want player actions to matter, but the industry standard is that you can just walk through another person, because developers found that otherwise people will block doorways and negatively impact the game for others. We want dynamic worlds, but if an event happens and is then over instead of respawning, lots of people who missed it will complain. And nobody has found out how to balance the different possible activities in a game in a way that there is not one path of least resistance to maximum rewards, which people then grind.

I agree with many of the visions for better MMORPGs in many of the proposed Kickstarter projects. Unfortunately this isn't somebody standing at the Lincoln Memorial and pronouncing his vision for a better world with better games. This is people who want to *sell* you their vision. Promises are being made: "Give me your money, and I will create this visionary game, and you will get to play it!". It is an extreme form of pre-purchase for a game that only exists as a vision yet. And because of the disadvantages of visions listed above, I am very much against selling visions.

The recent controversy about the Godus Kickstarter is in fact close to a best case scenario: The Kickstarter money finances a game which moves the genre towards the stated vision, even if it never quite fulfills all its promises. At least the backers actually got a game, and it actually did some of the things the Kickstarter promised. A lot of other projects never even get that far. No vision, nor a list of famous team members, can tell you anything about the quality of the project management, which is frequently the point which makes or breaks game development.

So what I would like is Kickstarter projects with the vision toned down a bit, and a bit more attention to the details. How exactly do you propose to solve those inherent problems of virtual world design that have existed for nearly two decades? What exactly are the deliverables, and what makes you think that you can reach them? At the moment visions sell well on Kickstarter, because so many people share them. But that doesn't necessarily make the person who can formulate those visions in a Kickstarter page the best one who can get us there.
Tobold's Blog

A multi-layer approach to role-playing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 March 2015, 4:58 am
Pen & paper tabletop role-playing games are a combination of two very distinctive parts: A mechanical rules part in which your character is a collection of stats and numbers, with dice, mathematics, rules, and tactical decisions deciding what happens. And a "playing a role" part comparable to improvised theater where a character has a background, history, and personality different from that of the player controlling the character, where "what would my character do next" decides what happens.

Since the early days there have always been conflicts between the two parts. Different players prefer different approaches. Some are perfectly happy to play a tabletop game like you play a computer game, as a tactical combat game with numerical character advancement. Others insist on the role-playing being essential, especially in view of the fact that it the part that tends to fall short in the computerized games, and thus is the unique selling proposition for the pen & paper version. Also gamers have a strong tendency to tell other gamers that they are "playing it wrong", and get into pseudo-religious arguments about stuff like this.

When I started my current 4th edition D&D campaign three years ago, I was faced with two problems: A group of players where I knew that not all of them liked to role-play, and a rules system which was new to us and very much on the complicated side. Tons of options (which my players loved), but requiring a lot of rules knowledge and mechanical game preparation by the DM. So at that point I decided to keep the role-playing on the light side. I didn't push anyone to create a character background, and only one player did it voluntarily. And the episodic form of the campaign with the characters not having strong bonds or loyalties, but just being a band of mercenaries traveling from one adventure to the next didn't encourage role-playing either.

Now this campaign is drawing towards the end, and I would like to have a bit more role-playing in the next campaign. We won't change the rules system (because 5E isn't available in French), but at least we are sufficiently familiar with the rules now that we can add role-playing layers to the game without causing a total chaos. I'm going for the Zeitgeist adventure path as campaign, so the world and campaign has a lot of background that can encourage role-playing. But what I still need to overcome is that some of the players might not be terrible interested in the role-playing part. How can I offer role-playing opportunities to those who would like them without forcing those who don't like them?

What I came up with is a multi-layer approach where different levels of role-playing are possible, and there are some house rule incentives to trying them. At the most basic level every character has the same motivation: They are all members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary of Risur, and loyal to king and country. So if in doubt to the question "what would my character do?", this basic premise should already provide a lot of answers. And even that basic level is a lot better for interactive story-telling than the characters being orphans without loyalty or bonds to anything. It is what the Zeitgeist adventure path strongly suggests as premise, because without the loyalty to the king and to Risur a lot of the story of the campaign doesn't make much sense. Imagine Game of Thrones where the various characters would not have bonds and loyalties to their houses, it would make for a much weaker story.

As medium level option for role-playing I decided to use character themes. This is something that has been added to 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons later in its life-cycle, often as part of some campaign setting. Basically a theme describes what your character did before the first adventure starts. The Zeitgeist campaign setting has a list of pre-made character themes that fit into that particular campaign world, for example the Docker, the Gunsmith, or the Skyseer. But there are also some more generic options, like the Aristocrat, Scholar, or Street Urchin. It is character background and history made easy: Choosing a theme from a list is a lot easier than creating a background from scratch by yourself, and as the DM you can make sure that the list of proposed themes fits into the campaign story and is relevant for giving role-playing opportunities. As an incentive for players who are more comfortable to think in min-maxing terms than role-playing, the theme gives access to different skills, and I am going to give every character with a theme or self-made background one additional encounter power which will be based on that background.

For those who really want to get creative with role-playing, I have created an added page for the character sheet using a mix of 13th Age and 5th edition D&D rules. If they want the players can invent a "One Unique Thing", a freely created unique characteristic that sets their character apart from everybody else. They can also choose personality traits like their ideals, or flaws. And their background and personality can then give rise to bonds with places, organisations, or NPCs. Again I'm using a bit of an incentive here, from 5E rules: A player who makes decisions based on the personality and background of his character, especially if those decisions aren't just the strategic or tactical best choice, will get a point of Inspiration, which he can use to roll two dice instead of one in one future dice roll.

The Zeitgeist campaign world is both sufficiently rich in story, and sufficiently open to additions to that story so that I can use all those possible levels of improved character description and create some interesting individual stories besides the main campaign story. Whatever theme or One Unique Thing a player chooses, it will figure somewhere in one of the campaign adventures. But if the players don't want to play along with that, I can also run the whole campaign just on the basic level premise of loyalty to the king and country. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. I will see how it goes.
Tobold's Blog

WoW veteran edition
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 March 2015, 3:22 am
My subscription to World of Warcraft ran out this weekend. The last thing I did was set up a new character to test the new "veteran edition" of WoW. That is a minor tweak to the so-called "starter edition", the free trial that lets you play characters up to level 20 without a subscription. Up to last year, if you already had an account on which the subscription had lapsed, you needed to create a *new* starter edition trial account if you wanted to play low level characters for free. Now you can just log on your regular account, all the characters above level 20 are marked "inactive", but you can play the lower level characters.

Basically the new system has two advantages: If you really like the character you played up to level 20, you can subscribe again and continue playing without having to pay for a character transfer. And with the new heirloom tab you can also use all your heirlooms for the trial characters.

On the other hand you might not necessarily want to use those heirlooms. At the very low levels your heirlooms (especially if you went to the added effort of enchanting them) are rather overpowered. Not only are they better than the gear that you are likely to find, but the heirlooms also cover slots like head and shoulder where regular characters just won't have anything. Besides making an already trivial game even more trivial, and not giving you a good impression of how the character will play later, the heirlooms also have an added disadvantage: Many of them come with a bonus percentage to experience gain. Thus the already short path from level 1 to 20 is going to be even shorter. Which might not be what you want if at level 20 it's game over.

I did a short tour of all my still existing WoW characters (with the help of the AllPlayed addon) and counted that I have played 6500 hours of World of Warcraft. That is about 4 years worth of a full-time job. Playing a series of characters up to level 20 that cover every single class and race probably wouldn't even add another 100 hours to that score. So what makes sense for a free trial version of World of Warcraft isn't really all that useful for an actual veteran. Still, it is nice to have the option, and Blizzard is obviously hoping that once you start playing a veteran edition character, you're going to want to subscribe to keep playing. For myself I'm not so sure. If I actually try it, it will be later. Right now I've had enough with 2 months of subscription and would prefer to do something else.
Tobold's Blog

WoW "final" status
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 February 2015, 5:39 am
My World of Warcraft subscription runs out this weekend, so I thought I should give a final status. "Final" as in "final for this episode of me playing WoW". It is possible that I will resubscribe at some point in time, but judging on past form that might well take until the next expansion.

Overall I liked Warlords of Draenor. I know some people disagree with me calling the garrison "player housing", but in my opinion this is one of the best player housing systems that I have seen in a MMORPG. I'm not much of a decorator, so not being able to place the furniture where I want isn't of any concern to me; I much prefer gameplay functionality and world integration, and I think WoD did that very well. I don't think perfect player housing is possible, due to conflicting demands, so I consider the garrison to be a very well balanced compromise.

I'm ending the expansion with two characters at level 100, and two at level 96, thus short of my initial goal of three characters at 100. The reason I decided to cancel instead of playing another month and getting there is that ultimately I wasn't all that happy with the warlock I created and paid €50 to boost to level 90. He was a lot better than the priest in terms of power, in fact he might be my most powerful character overall. But I found him somewhat boring to play, as most of the time I was just spamming very slow spells with long casting times. I pull with Soul Fire, cast an instant Corruption, and then most mobs are dead before I even manage to pull off a second Soul Fire. The whole "I turn into a demon and become more powerful" thing is nice in theory, but in practice I only ever used it on boss mobs. Between my demon and the imps that spawn automatically I feel I already have too many pets before I even got to the point where I could hire a bodyguard. I'm not a big fan of pet classes, even if they are powerful.

On the positive side the Alliance warlock gave me the opportunity to play through all the Shadowmoon Valley quests, which I couldn't do on my Horde characters. On the negative side, once I came to Gorgrond I discovered that half of the quests, including the grand finale, were just carbon copies of Horde quests and I didn't experience anything new. That didn't motivate me to keep playing to 100.

What was exceptional about these two months of World of Warcraft was that I only visited one single dungeon (on normal, for a quest for an epic ring). I basically opted out of PvE or PvP group content, being disillusioned about playing with others. Of course if I don't want to group, I'm excluding myself from tons of content, which explains how I can "finish" Warlords of Draenor in two months. I fully recognize that there are a bunch of other possible activities where I could grind this reputation or that currency to advance my character further. But why should I? Why gear up for a content that I have no interest in? So in the end beyond experiencing the story of the expansion through quests I ran out of goals to pursue. Time to put the game aside again.
Tobold's Blog

Rashomon and Gamergate
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 February 2015, 4:02 am
So the TV series Law & Order SVU did an episode based loosely on last year's Gamergate affair. That of course caused the conflict to flare up again, until even the grandfather of MMO blogging Lum the Mad chimed in. But what I found far more interesting is that both sides in the Gamergate conflict are unhappy about the Law & Order SVU episode, both not liking the way they are depicted on TV. So lots of people are saying bad things about that episode, about it being stupid, not realistic, bad writing, whatever. I think they are missing the point here.

I very much recommend watching the film Rashomon if you haven't done so before. It teaches us that there is no such thing as absolute reality. Different people experience the same events in different ways, and in consequence their memory and perception of these same events differ. Even if you wanted to make a documentary instead of a TV show, you would be unable to retell the story of Gamergate in a way where everybody agrees with the facts. You could even say that not agreeing on the facts is one of the core features of Gamergate.

The people actually involved on both sides of the Gamergate story are few in numbers. Even if you count everybody ever using that hashtag or a related one on Twitter, you end up with just a few thousand people. But the story hit many major newspapers and national TV. Which means that millions of people who were not involved in Gamergate ended up with some perception of those events. The TV episode of Law & Order SVU is based on that *perception* the outside world already had before the episode was shown. Of course then it propagates that perception, but it barely changes it. If both sides on the conflict look bad on TV, it is because that is how both sides already were perceived before.

TV is not the most subtle of media. But that is because it is a mass market media, and the perception of the public of events tends to be not very subtle. There is no simple causality of "TV is stupid and makes people stupid", but a far more complicated story of sometimes very intelligent people deliberately dumbing down the narrative because they think that is all their audience can handle. Is the Law & Order SVU episode a simplified narrative with some artistic interpretation instead of a documentary? It sure is! Is it "stupid" or "unrealistic"? No, not really. Given the same public sources a different team of writers for a different TV show might well have produced something very similar. In Rashomon terms it is the woodcutter's version of the story, the one where neither one of the participants comes out looking very good, the version of the story from the person who doesn't have skin in the game, the independent observer. It is likely to be the version that will be shared by most people, and the one that is going to be remembered.
Tobold's Blog

Saying some nice things about Crowfall
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 February 2015, 5:36 am
To stop the death threats I should write some nice things about Crowfall. :) Just kidding, there are actually nice things to say about Crowfall and as I only talked about the Kickstarter I feel that my generally negative attitude towards Kickstarter may look as if I hated Crowfall, which is not the case.

First of all I totally agree with Rohan that it is totally okay for Crowfall to be a PvP-centric game. We don't have enough decent PvP games, especially in the fantasy genre. Even for somebody like me who won't play a PvP game it would be interesting to know whether the lack of success of fantasy PvP games is due to there being no demand, or there not being any decent game on offer.

Second, I totally dig the Crowfall business model. I am not a big fan of the straight WoW-like subscription model, because that model sells you "equal opportunity of access for equal money". As in reality two people with equal opportunity of access will have two very different degrees of consumption, the straight subscription model penalizes players for playing less if either their real world commitments or their interests result in them not playing many hours per day. There is a good reason why there are so few restaurants with all you can eat buffets, the customers who just want a regular meal resent paying for the gluttons. In spite of $15 not being a huge drain on my finances, I cancelled my WoW subscription when I started to play less, because it always makes me feel uncomfortable to waste money.

The Crowfall business model is much better. You can buy the game once and play forever (I assume that is only valid for the core game, and any expansions will again have to be paid for). With that single payment comes just a single character passive skill training. Passive skill training means gaining skill while offline, which obviously is a huge advantage. So if you want to play more different characters, you either need to buy the game several times, or you need to get a "VIP subscription", which gives you three passive skill training slots. In either case, a casual player who has enough with just one character will pay less for Crowfall than a very engaged player who feels he needs several characters.

The semantics of that business model are somewhat tricky. On the one hand the devs can claim that theirs is not a Free2Play game with a Pay2Win / Pay4Power item shop. On the other hand an account with three passive skill training slots is rather obviously more powerful than one with only one, so you *do* pay for power. But as that power comes in the form of having more options, and being able to play more different characters without the disadvantage of having no passive training, the power of any individual character is not affected by this. That is extremely important for a PvP game. Crowfall does not allow you to boost the power of a single character by using money. It does allow you to use money to get more trained characters and larger kingdoms, things that are desirable (and thus will presumably sell) but not an unfair advantage in PvP. I find that very well balanced. It is even a slight improvement over the EVE model, where you need to pay several subscriptions for several characters in offline training.

I put an alert on the Crowfall Kickstarter to check in a month how it went. Given the current result it appears almost certain that the $800k goal will be reached, but that isn't really the number I am interested in. I am interested in the number of backers, currently just under seven thousand, in order to get an idea of what the potential market size for a PvP MMORPG is. (Don't quote EVE numbers to me, which are highly misleading: They count accounts instead of players, and count the 80+% of PvE EVE players together with the PvP players.) Dividing the money given by the number of backers also gives the highly interesting information that the average backer gave around $100, which is very interesting regarding the financing of niche games. Ultimately a niche game will need to get more money from the players than a mass market game due to economies of scale, and it is interesting to see whether that is possible.
Tobold's Blog

Vigilante justice
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 February 2015, 2:31 am
Last week an 11-year old kid accepted an offer of help from a stranger on the internet, giving him access to his game of Destiny via the PS4 Share Play feature. The stranger promptly deleted the kid's characters and exotic weapons. So far, so "just another day on the internet". The video of the event went viral. And the internet reacted in the usual way by taking up the torches and the pitchforks and harassing the person who owned the account which the stranger had used to ruin the kid's game of Destiny. Then of course it turned out that the stranger wasn't the account owner. Account sharing between friends and family is rather common, and the account owner had let somebody else play on his account.

Apart from being a double lesson in why account sharing in any way is a really bad idea, I think the story also is a lesson on the dangers of vigilante justice. In another story this week it turned out that one person who had posted bizarre death threat videos in the name of Gamergate was in fact a comedian with an extremely bad sense of humor who thought it would be funny to make an extreme parody of Gamergate. Now it is him who is getting the death threats.

The underlying problem is that apparently many people feel that the internet is a lawless space, and decide to take up justice in their own hands. Apart from that sometimes going wrong and ending up hurting the wrong person, the so-called "justice" is often far more criminal than the offense of person harassed. The person taking offense is more likely to end up in jail than the offender. The law is quite clear on that: If you put both the person who deletes a kid's Destiny character and the person who in response for that offence sent out death threats in front of a judge, the judge will find that only the death threat is a criminal offense.

Computer games are very much part of the internet, and it is probably because of this that the hate culture is so strong among gamers. Being called names and suffering ad hominem attacks for the "offense" of having an opinion about a game is considered normal. You are less likely to receive hate mail for having an opinion or making a decision that negatively affects the life of real people at work than you are for writing on a game blog. And that more and more becomes a death spiral, with reasonable and polite people quitting the discussion and leaving the field to the trolls and the haters. I don't think that this is good for gaming in the long term.
Tobold's Blog

How much does it cost to make a MMORPG?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 February 2015, 3:40 am
The news of the week is the Crowfall Kickstarter, which has raised some serious questions. Not just the usual Kickstarter question whether the company can actually deliver what they promised. But a far more fundamental question of how realistic it is to make a MMORPG for less than a million dollars.

For me Crowfall in scope somewhat resembles Darkfall. So how much did it cost to make Darkfall? We don't have official numbers, but we do know they received $3 million (€2.6 million) from InternetQ plc as investment just for the development of Darkfall 2.0. They also received a bunch of European and Greek government research grants, which were said to be around $20 million. As Ionomonkey pointed out, the $800k they are asking for via Kickstarter corresponds to less than industry standard salary for the 17 known team members for a year.

Other MMORPG Kickstarter projects asked for much more money, for example Camelot Unchained with $2 million. And then of course there is a long list of actually released MMORPGs which did cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course the scope of these might have been a lot bigger, but I'm not sure if all Crowfall Kickstarter backers understand that they'll get a game with indie scope and polish, and not something comparable in quality to The Elder Scrolls Online or Wildstar.

In short, I do believe that it costs several million dollars to make even an indie MMORPG with ugly graphics and lots of bugs. It costs tens of millions of dollars to make a half-decent MMORPG, and over a hundred million dollars to make a top-shelf one. Backing a $800k project is basically giving a donation to a bunch of guys so they can have some fun coding the game of their dreams for a year, before reality hits them and sinks the project.
Tobold's Blog

The Favorites of Selune - Trollhaunt - Session 1
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 February 2015, 2:31 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune had vanquished all the henchmen of the previous adventure, but decided to not go after the main villain. They suspected Princess Taidra of the Duchy of Faywyr to have engineered the events in order to discredit her brother Prince Ular in a dispute about the line of succession, but didn't want to act without absolute proof. So instead they spent a month in training for their paragon levels and then traveled towards the town of Moonstairs in search of a portal to the Feywild.

This session started with their river boat having been stopped by a chain hung under water from bank to bank, and under attack by three magical tentacles. The tentacles turned out to be not very dangerous, and the adventurers killed them within a few rounds. But the chain and tentacles had damaged the boat, so that it couldn't travel further upstream toward Moonstairs. But as the town was only two hours away, they decided to continue on foot, through the swamp.

When night fell they were on a path through the swamp towards Moonstairs, and they saw two lights like torches or lantern ahead. Approaching they found that the lights were will-o-wisps, illuminating the carcass of a horse around which several trolls were fighting for the choicest bits. The leg of a man was sticking out from under the horse. While the druid of the group would have liked to avoid the fight, the trolls saw the adventurers in the light of the will-o-wisps and attacked.

As the group was aware of the troll regeneration, they utilized whatever powers with the fire attribute they had to stop that from happening. Especially the priest caught all of the trolls in a big column of heavenly fire. The trolls didn't stand a chance and died quickly. The man under the horse turned out to be a dead courier, carrying a letter from the mayor of Moonstairs to Duke Ruwan of Faywyr. It was to inform the duke that Prince Ular had died battling the trolls, and asking for reinforcements for the town. The group decided to bring that letter back to the boat, so that the captain could float downstream and deliver the letter as soon as possible.

Then they went on to Moonstairs, where they found an old acquaintance in the inn: Beatrice, the guard of the seamstresses' guild, who had accompanied the prince on his troll-hunting expedition. Beatrice was drowning her sorrows, and told the group a sorry tale of betrayal: The expedition had equipped themselves with flasks of oil from the palace quartermaster to burn the trolls that the soldiers cut down. But when they wanted to use them it turned out that somebody had replaced all the oil by water, and the regenerating trolls overwhelmed the prince and his party. Beatrice had run away, but was the only survivor. The trolls even came to Moonstairs and delivered the head of the prince in a sack.

The druid of the group, who had already been to the portal to the Feywild, was able to draw a map showing the location. And Beatrice could tell the adventurers that this was right where the warren of the trolls was. Their king, Skalmad, was apparently trying to recreate the old troll kingdom of Valdar, which had been destroyed a hundred years ago by a previous Duke of Faywyr. With this we ended the session.
Tobold's Blog

World integration of garrisons
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 February 2015, 3:24 am
In Star Wars: The Old Republic you have a star ship on which your followers live. World of Warcraft garrisons have a lot more functionality for your followers, and the garrison is a lot better integrated into the world: It is located in the starting zone for your faction on the map, and in many respects works like any other quest hub, but better.

That integration comes at a price: Unlike the SWTOR star ship, your garrison can't take off and go somewhere else. You already notice a difference once you leave the starting zone and start questing in other zones, but at least there is still a good connection by flight paths. But I am wondering what will happen in two years, when the next expansion with the next continent comes out. Will we abandon our current garrisons and build new ones on the next expansion continent? Will we keep the old garrison and travel by portal? If we keep the old garrison, will we upgrade the crafting buildings to craft the resources and items of the next expansion?

In short, the garrisons are a nice new idea, but they aren't very portable. There is a reason why SWTOR has space ships, or the houses in Wildstar are on floating rocks in the air. The better you integrate player housing into the current zones of the world, the more problems you get when those zones get outdated by the next expansion.
Tobold's Blog

Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 February 2015, 4:50 pm
A reader alerted me to another bad news about Everquest Next: I won't have artificially intelligent NPCs powered by the Storybricks system any more. So if we ever see a game called EQN, it will probably be a boring WoW-clone that works like all the other boring WoW-clones out there. They ditched the dynamic system that was going to make EQN different, and now will just exploit the Everquest brand with something unoriginal.
Tobold's Blog

Do we still need new games?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 February 2015, 10:24 am
Several people commented yesterday that as long Steam doesn't go bust and they keep their current library, they wouldn't be too much affected by a decline in the video game industry. That is especially visible in the MMORPG genre, where the most successful game of 2014 was 10-year old WoW, and NCSoft was losing money on Wildstar while making money with the ancient Lineage games (in Asia). People apparently don't need new games all that much.

I do believe that there is an unlimited amount of stories to tell, so there is room for an endless amount of books and film. But when I read the bad reviews for The Order: 1886 which all laud the great cinematic story-telling and then slam the game for having too little and too outdated gameplay, I don't think that people buy games for their stories. I don't know how long Telltale can keep up the concept of making a series of games with no evolution of gameplay, just by telling a different story every time. Personally I much dislike those "games" which are only pseudo-interactive stories with no real meaningful decisions.

On the gameplay side evolution is very slow. When was the last time you played a game where the gameplay was not a minor variation of gameplay of earlier games? At best you get interesting combinations mixing gameplay elements from several different games. I can see how somebody who already has a dozen first-person shooters doesn't necessarily need a new one. With 70% of the games in my Steam library not yet played, and my iPad library being like that as well, I certainly could survive a drought of new games for a while.

So do we really still need new games?

Personally I think we do, but unfortunately not the ones that we are likely to get. For me for example the possibility space for massively multi-player online role-playing games is huge; but the part of that possibility space taken up by existing MMORPGs is tiny, because they all cluster around the same set of features with only a few outliers. I can imagine fully dynamic virtual worlds with many modes of gameplay we haven't seen before, but I'm not optimistic that somebody will have the guts to deviate from the tried and tested. So "no new games" isn't all that different from the current "no games that are really new".
Tobold's Blog

Coping with reality
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2015, 7:22 am
I believe that 2015 will be a difficult year for video games, if not worse. My newsreader feed is already full with stories of layoffs, games cancelled, or MMORPG's whose earnings dropped by two thirds in one quarter. I believe that a combination of factors like the rise of mobile platforms and Steam Early Access / Greenlight has made it increasingly easy to make and distribute games. To the point where there are more games being produced than there is demand for. Demand in the economic sense of the word, as in willingness to pay for, not like in demanding better games on a blog / forum.

Warren Buffett said after the financial crisis in 2008 that it is only after the tide goes out that you can see who is swimming naked. As long as making games is a boom industry, over-enthusiastic investors or developers can keep a game studio afloat even if there isn't a good business case. When there is a game industry recession and hope is in short supply, tougher business decisions get made based on financial facts. It is also possible that this year or next we will see a major backlash against the crowd-funding business model. It already made headlines when Godus failed to deliver on its Kickstarter promises, imagine what the reaction will look like if Star Citizen isn't as great as everybody believes!

I believe the overall result of that gaming recession will not be pretty. And in particular I believe that the kind of games and business model we will see surviving this recession will be the ones tailored to more casual gamers, and diametrically opposed to the wishes of the hardcore gamers. The success stories of the future will resemble the story of games like Candy Crush Saga (casual, mobile platform, Free2Play). While games like Wildstar (hardcore, PC only, subscription) will have a hard time even getting published in the future.

This is not based on wishful thinking or my own preferences (I detest Candy Crush Saga). I am simply observing what works financially and what doesn't. Both major subscription MMORPGs released in 2014 are already in deep trouble. TESO is removing the subscription, and the Q4 Wildstar revenue numbers suggest only 100K players left, and quickly reaching the level at which NCSoft shut down City of Heroes / Villains. And more and more people discover that if they save $60 on a triple A game and buy a bunch of indie or mobile games for the same money, they get more bang for their bucks, especially given the number of triple A games that disappointed over the past few months.

I don't think that complaining will help. Life isn't fair, but we knew that before. The whole "this business model is morally superior" discussion is crap; in a recession the question becomes which business model and which kind of game enables a game studio to survive. Pure and simple. To some people with a huge sense of entitlement that will be a nasty surprise. The rest of us will learn to cope with the reality of the business of making video games.
Tobold's Blog

1886 clashes with 2015
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 February 2015, 10:31 am
Friday a much-hyped PS4-exclusive game called The Order: 1886 comes out. But in spite of a review embargo until Thursday the launch is already in trouble: Somebody with a review copy played through the whole game and posted the full length Let's Play videos on YouTube (now taken down). YouTube is where many people get their information in 2015. Problem is that on seeing the game life, many people didn't want to buy it any more.

Part of the criticism is exaggerated. While the videos showed 5 hours 30 minutes for a full completion of the game that was very obviously a speed run. I totally believe the devs saying that a regular player is more likely to need 8 to 10 hours to finish the game. That still isn't very long, but saying that you shouldn't buy this only because it is "only 5 hours" isn't right.

On the other hand the videos showed very well the gameplay, and people complained about the number of quick-time events, and the re-use of boss battles for example. I think those are valid concerns. And the interesting thing is that due to the review embargo combined with the leak the raw information about how the game played was out way before the filtered opinions of any game journalist. I might be a cynic, but I'm pretty sure that some journalists have now secretly lowered the score they game The Order: 1886 in their draft review. If you already know that your readers hate the game, don't post a too glowing review about it, however much advertising money you get from the game company. The whole thing is likely to hurt Ready At Dawn / Sony badly.

For me it would be perfectly fine if we got such a video leak for every new game. It didn't help me for The Order: 1886 (would never have bought it anyway, don't owe a PS4). But for the few games I'm still tempted to buy on release, I'd love to see a gameplay video before. That would be a lot more helpful for me to evaluate my purchase decision than some day one review. So here is my proposal to all game developers: If you really believe in your game, why don't you publish a full Let's Play video playthrough on YouTube yourself before release? It would get tons of views, you could show your game played as intended by you, and if it is really good then this should only increase your sales. How about it?
Tobold's Blog

Beware of hackers coming over the phone!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 February 2015, 8:21 am
A gentleman with an Indian accent called me today. He said he worked for Microsoft, and they were getting reports that my computer had been hacked. As proof he told me how to open up the Event Viewer, where of course there were lots of error messages and warning. After thinking he had me sufficiently scared he then offered to fix my problems by asking me to type in the address of a website into the Windows run window. At which time I told him where he could stick his lousy scam. I did a virus and malware scan, just to be safe, but my computer is already pretty well protected with hardware firewalls and software, so of course there was nothing.

So please, if somebody calls you with tech support for a problem you didn't even know you had, be extremely suspicious. That sort of customer support simply doesn't exist in the modern world. Somebody is simply trying to lure you onto their site that then *will* infect your computer, or they'll sell you a scam protection or something.
Tobold's Blog

Putting the cart before the horse
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 February 2015, 2:20 am
Since I have resubscribed to World of Warcraft, it very much dominates my gaming time. That is the one thing I always hated about subscription games, you feel like you are wasting your money if you don't play. So you're taking it for granted that you will play, and then decide what exactly you want to do in the game. More and more I am getting the impression that this is putting the cart before the horse. Shouldn't I first look what exactly there is in the game that I really want to do, and then decide whether I want to play this or rather something else?

While the garrison sub-game is interesting for a while, it does get repetitive after some time. Yes, I got my main character to item level 634, somewhere between heroic and LFR without having ever done either. But as I am not doing dungeons and raids, I don't actually need that epic gear anyway. So I ticked the "I'm not doing dungeons and I've run out of things to do" check box on the WoW cancellation form and quit.

Well, I can still play until the end of the month, which should give me enough time to finish the Shadowmoon Valley quest lines with my one alliance character. It appeared to me that much of the content in the other zones was faction-neutral, except for the parts related to building outposts. So even if I don't make it with a third character to level 100, I won't have missed much content.

One can perfectly well play the WoW garrison game by just logging in twice per day for a short time to start work orders and send out followers. But I'm sure not going to pay $15 a month for that. The garrison doesn't really solve WoW's problem of every expansion providing 2 months worth of content every 2 years. At this point in time I would be more interested in a Free2Play version of WoW.
Tobold's Blog

Apple against free
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 February 2015, 2:06 pm
Gamers know that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Games cost money to make, so any game being advertised as free probably has some sort of hidden cost or other source of revenue for the developer. And as such advertising can be attacked as being misleading, distributors end up being in the crossfire. Especially distributors of mobile games, because so many of them are "free".

Apple had to settle a suit accusing them of misleading children. Afterwards they changed their app store so that the button to acquire a new "free" game now says "Get" instead of "Free". And recently they featured a new category on the front page of their app store: Pay one and play games, giving rise to some satire for that being so unusual.

Now all payment models have their advantages and their disadvantages. But I think Apple is onto something in their approach: It focuses not on eliminating "free" games, but on disclosure. I think that is a very good idea. I would very much like to know in each and every case what the secondary costs of a game are. Not only for "free" games (where that is already not so hard to find out), but also for games where only after paying $60 you find out that you'll need to shell out another pile of money for DLCs or other stuff from the item store.
Tobold's Blog

That didn't take long
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 February 2015, 4:32 pm
Apart from some stupid remarks from SOE haters, there was a genuine discussion about whether leaving Sony was good or bad for the future of the studio now renamed to Daybreak and its games. But the optimists just took a big hit, as Daybreak now announced huge layoffs. Of course those are accompanied by the usual press releases of "don't worry, firing people will have no negative effect on the games these people were developing", but frankly, nobody believes those.

As EQ Next was pretty much the only remaining MMORPG on the horizon that I had any hope for, this isn't good news. If EQ Next is either rushed out cheaply or abandoned, we are left with an outlook on a selection of games rehashing old ideas and marketing themselves with nostalgia rather than innovation. Games that might have a certain niche appeal, but which won't revive the genre. That is too bad.
Tobold's Blog

Traveling with Netflix
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 February 2015, 11:42 am
Living in Belgium I have not very many options for video on demand services, I can't get Hulu or Amazon video. For a long time I only got the BBC iPlayer, which outside the UK only works on iOS. But then, a few months ago, Netflix came to Belgium. A huge improvement, and saving me a lot of money on purchasing DVDs.

Netflix not only runs on pretty much any device, it also runs everywhere. While the BBC iPlayer would refuse to work in most countries, Netflix simply gives me access to that country's catalogue of videos. Especially when traveling to America that gives me a lot of new options. The only downside is that on coming back home, I lose access to that much expanded offer, and am back to the much smaller Belgian catalogue.

Now I understand that licensing results in TV series being available in Europe later than in the US. But why does the US Netflix have older UK series like Midsommer Murders, and Netflix Belgium doesn't? Why doesn't Belgium have even old seasons of CSI? I sure hope that with time we'll get access to the back catalogue of the US!
Tobold's Blog

Extrapolating from a sample of one
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 February 2015, 6:06 am
One of the most common mistakes when people write their opinions on the internet is what I call extrapolating from a sample of one: You like something, and think that means everybody likes it; you lost interest in something, and think that applies to everybody else too. I was thinking of that when I read about both WoW Insider and Massively being reincarnated as Blizzard Watch and Massively Overpowered. I read somebody commenting that Blizzard Watch might have captured a lot of the nostalgia money by getting their Patreon out first. And I thought, well, there isn't going to be much interest in a new Massively anyway. But then I thought that I might be completely wrong about that, because currently I'm playing WoW and no other MMORPG.

I couldn't find any information how many readers the two sites had before AOL shoved them out of the door. So I was thinking about the respective audiences of the two sites: Blizzard Watch will appeal to everybody playing World of Warcraft, and depending how they develop their content further might also include other games like Hearthstone, with its 75 million players. With World of Warcraft having recovered a lot of subscribers with the latest expansion, that seemed like a large possible audience to me. Where I am more pessimistic is about the possible audience for Massively Overpowered, but as I said, maybe that is just me. Massively probably appeals more to people who do not play WoW or any other MMORPG for a long time, but rather to what some people call the "tourists", the people who try out every new MMORPG. And I'm wondering how well that sort of tourism is doing.

Personally, 2014 pretty much killed my desire to try out new MMORPGs. I was disappointed by Wildstar. I didn't like The Elder Scrolls Online either, but then I never had high hopes for that one. In particular I am left with the impression that the genre is stagnating: Games either come with a long list of features that everybody else also has, or they run on nostalgia for some past game with a much narrower appeal.

Not only am I not part of the narrow niche a game like Crowfall is targeting, I also seriously doubt that it can succeed with such a narrow potential audience. I mean if your designers KNOW that their design is driving away 70% of new players, and still rather want to repeat that design than the alternative which fixed that problem, what chances does the game have. It'll be Crowfail, with subscription numbers like Darkfail. 2014 also was a bad year for the idea that you could fix all problems of MMORPGs by moving from a theme park design to a sandbox design. ArcheAge couldn't get out of the negative news cycle long enough for me even wanting to try it. And later that year Elite: Dangerous (while not exactly a MMORPG) reminded a lot of adults why they stopped playing in their neighborhood's sandbox at the age of 5: An unlimited amount of sand isn't the same as an unlimited amount of actual content. So overall I felt as if the genre was somehow stuck between old ideas that have been already repeated endlessly, and new ideas that just don't work.

For me the news of Massively and WoW Insider being kicked from AOL, and SOE being kicked from Sony, are all indicative of a decline of the MMORPG genre. Even Blizzard doesn't want to make another MMORPG. And with Daybreak now being "independent", it looks like big companies have lost all hope in the genre, and all upcoming games are now indie games, more likely to be financed by crowdfunding than by investors.

The really funny thing is that the one outlier from this story of decline is World of Warcraft, which has been declared dead so often in the past. I guess if you are presumed dead, you live longer. On the current trajectory where expansions repeatedly succeed to halt the decline, WoW will still be around when every other MMORPG has closed down.
Tobold's Blog

Does your Bartle type determine your attitude towards Free2Play?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 February 2015, 4:10 am
Dr. Richard A. Bartle showed in 1996 that players in the same persistent virtual online world / game can have very different motivations for playing. The concept was later much simplified as the 4 "Bartle types": Achiever, Killer, Socializer, and Explorer. During this week's discussion on Free2Play I stumbled upon some comments where people considered Free2Play as being rather harmless, as they couldn't see how somebody would spend too much money on them. Other people thought that it was perfectly possible to ruin yourself financially with such a game. And I began to wonder whether this difference in opinion could be explained with the Bartle types.

The games where we have evidence that some people actually spent thousands of dollars in a short time on are all PvP games, like Clash of Clans or Game of War. It appears obvious to me that these people are of the Killer Bartle type. And I can understand that somebody who has strong tendencies towards that Bartle type can consider Free2Play games as dangerous: If you can buy power with money, and use that power to win over another player, that easily can lead to a spiral in which your opponent then spends more money to strike back, forcing you to spend even more money, and so on, until somebody gives up or is broke. Games where you can buy power only at lower levels, but not infinitely to beat high-level human opponents are considered by Killers to be much less dangerous.

For an Achiever buying power to win is also attractive. But as the challenges the computer opponents pose are fixed, there is more likely to be an upper limit of how much money you can spend. Even if raid epics were for sale, one set of the highest level epics would obviously suffice for an Achiever. The main concern that Achievers have with Free2Play games is that they consider the epic gear to be not just the necessary equipment, but also as the reward for their previous achievements, a trophy showing their achievement to the world. If somebody else can buy that, it cheapens their achievements.

Socializers are a lot less interested in buying power, and are more likely to buy cosmetic items and fluff. It isn't impossible to overspend on that, especially since some cosmetic items are rather expensive (WoW sparkly pony $25, EVE Online monocle $70). But there is not so much pressure on a Socializer to spend money, as even for him the items remain more in the nice to have category than in the must have category.

In a way the Explorers are the luckiest of the Bartle types with regards to Free2Play. Sometimes companies just plain forget to try to monetize them. I don't know if it is still the case, but I was struck at the time how Explorers got the best deal out of the move of Star Wars: The Old Republic to Free2Play: Everything an explorer wanted, like the full story content, was for free. What you can sell to an Explorer is mostly more content, like DLCs or expansions. Again those don't come cheap, but as it takes the developers quite a lot of time to produce more content, Explorers don't have to pull out their wallet all that often. Explorers are most likely to be annoyed by day 0 DLCs and similar moves. But as long as they buy really new content, they usually feel they get a fair deal. Offering fresh content is also the least specific possibility, as all the other Bartle types will probably want the new content too, for different reasons.

Ultimately much of the conflict about Free2Play models is often about the fact that everybody would prefer somebody else to pay. When you hear somebody demanding that games should only sell cosmetic stuff, that person sure isn't a Socializer. If the item shop contains nothing that you actually want or feel you need, you can actually play for free. But I think that for fairness it would be best if Free2Play games sold many different items, appealing to all different Bartle types, so that the cost of running the game is spread around fairly.
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