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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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

Having said that, I do believe that Blizzard could get a million or more subscribers for a month or three by offering a "vanilla WoW" server with 40-man raids to Molten Core.
Tobold's Blog



Indicators
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 May 2015, 5:48 am
We know from official data that the peak of subscriptions from the release of the Warlords of Draenor expansion for World of Warcraft is over. But subscription numbers aren't reported frequently, and you always get into discussions on whether the changes happened on the servers you are playing on, or somewhere in China. What we need is indicators of how active our server cluster is. Now sometimes those indicators are anecdotal, like previously crowded spots feeling less crowded. So an objective indicator, a number, is preferable.

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

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



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

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

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

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



This started out as a comment on my previous blog post, but ended up getting too long for a comment, so I made it into another blog post. Michael commented that "Tobold, it's not that I at all disagree, it's that I question the point of continuing to talk about it.". I believe that this touches a rather fundamental and recurring problem of all forms of public writing, including blogging and journalism: Should you engage with and write about people and organizations you strongly disagree with, or should you ignore them?

I've always been with Edmund Burke on this one, see title. Even when I am fully aware of the dangers and unwilling to feed the trolls, I'd rather post to point out where I disagree than just keep silent. So I would like to discuss a recent example:

The Noisy Rogue, a self-proclaimed pro-GamerGate blogger, posted a very hateful post full of personal attacks and insults about how the Newbie Blogger Initiative "has gone full George Orwell. You shall not go against the group think. You shall have the correct opinions. All those who do not have the correct opinions shall be cast out and shunned. For we have the numbers and all agree with us.". I disagree with the post and would have ignored it, if I hadn't also disagreed with the response of a circle of pro-NBI bloggers: They first exchanged a long series of tweets between themselves (but visible to everybody) on what an idiot The Noisy Rogue is, and then wrote a blog post on the same subject starting with "It seems that a certain blogger—whom I will not link to here...".

To me that appears to be the worst possible way to respond. You neither engage or even acknowledge the person you disagree with, but you also don't ignore him and keep silent about the issue. I would always prefer to link to dissenting posts than this sort of half-way treatment. To some extent I blame Twitter, which has a strong culture of "let's talk badly about somebody behind his back" school yard behavior, while making the shared insults publicly viewable, maybe in hope that the object of the insults finds them later. In this particular case The Noisy Rogue might well point out that this is exactly the sort of behavior he complained about in the first place.

Moving smoothly from my previous blog post on games spilling into the real world, I think it is best to understand GamerGate as a political right vs. left conflict spilling into the world of games and game writing. In my opinion the left won a moral victory by using somewhat less objectionable means in the conflict, reducing the right to their standard "all mass media are controlled by the left" excuse. Which gets rather thin when even Fox News comments "Recently, an online campaign dubbed "GamerGate" has led to the harassment of women in the video game industry for criticizing the lack of diversity and how women are portrayed in gaming.".

But the point is that the fundamental right vs. left conflict is never going to go away. And as nobody ever admits defeat on the internet, even GamerGate is probably going to stay with us for years to come. In multiplayer games, griefing is not going to go away. Ignoring everything I don't like isn't really a viable strategy. And there is the danger that I recede into a shell of just reading the sites I know that I will agree with, which leads exactly to the sort of group think that can justifiably be criticized. This is why I link to posts I disagree with. This is why I moderate comments only for personal insults, never for dissenting opinions (although obviously that means deleting comments which have both). Acknowledging the other side and speaking out against things I disagree with is a value in itself, even if it can't possibly change anything.
Tobold's Blog



Outside battery limits
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 May 2015, 7:18 am
In engineering there is an important distinction of things being either "inside battery limits" or "outside battery limits". On an engineering plan there is often a dotted line showing that "battery limit", which is the border between "the plant" and "the rest of the world". I think that concept needs more attention when talking about games, especially multiplayer online games. The limits are often not clearly defined, and that leads to dangerous situations.

In Canada a 17-year old League of Legends players has plead guilty to a range of charges: "According to what [prosecutor] Bauer told the court, the teen would often target fellow League of Legends players and their families when they denied friend requests or he felt slighted by them over some minor offense. He would retaliate, according to Bauer, by shutting down their internet access, posting their personal information online, calling them late at night, or calling the police to call in an imaginary emergency situation.". To me that is an extreme example of that League of Legends player having stepped outside battery limits. You are supposed to beat your opponent *inside* the limits of the game; stepping outside of those limits is problematic, and in some cases criminal.

There are some games like EVE Online or Crowfall where the developers deliberately obscure the limits to what is out of bounds, and in consequence serious breaches of those limits happen. There is a whole school of thought among some PvP players where it is not sufficient to beat your adversary in the game, it is necessary to make the person behind the keyboard cry. I have been criticized for calling such behavior "evil" because "it is just a game", but I believe that from a certain point onward it stops being just a game and goes outside the limits of the rules of the game. And not just swatting, which constitutes a serious danger to the life and health of the target, but also lesser forms of cyber-bullying, harassment, and humiliation. If the target is a person as opposed to his avatar or other representation in the game, these actions are evil. That they take place because of a game is not an excuse; rather I find it worrying that somebody would be willing to inflict harm on another real person for something as trivial as a game.

I do believe that game companies and developers have a duty to make the limits of their game very clear, and to strongly react to transgressions that step over those limits.
Tobold's Blog



Legacy websites and Chrome stopping to support plugins
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 May 2015, 7:37 am
Google decided that their browser Chrome should stop supporting plugins, especially the Microsoft Silverlight plugin, because well, it's from Microsoft and not from Google. A number of websites are affected by this. And while there are lot of sites with a lot more traffic, the one site where this affects me is the Wizards of the Coast D&D Insider archive with the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons online tools.

I'm not quite certain why, but official computer and online tools for Dungeons & Dragons have always been a sad story. Usually you get a lot of promises for those tools when a new edition of D&D comes out, and then the whole plan falls apart and you get very little. That is what happened with the current 5th edition. For 4th edition, although the tools never lived up to the promises, at least WotC had two programs that worked quite well, a character creator, and a monster builder / database. And because my group like tactical combat and half of my players don't speak English and 5E isn't on offer in any other language, I am still using those online tools and pay a subscription for them.

But of course WotC isn't providing any new additions or support to the legacy website of D&D Insider. We can be happy enough they didn't shut it down yet. And as the tools work with Microsoft Silverlight, I now need to use Internet Explorer instead of Chrome. And I wonder how many other legacy sites there are out there that got created with plugins, and there is nobody to redo them in the new standard that Google is trying to impose on us. I would imagine that people are much more faithful to their preferred websites than to their preferred browser. If Chrome doesn't support your favorite websites any more, then goodbye Chrome! Google might well be shooting themselves in the foot with this more than hurting Microsoft.
Tobold's Blog



Neverending content
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 May 2015, 10:39 pm
On MMO-Champion I stumbled upon an interview with ex-WoW developer Ghostcrawler who says: "Neverending content leads to making things so difficult you can't progress or asking you to run the same content 100 times.". I feel that is very true. Nevertheless I don't think that is an unsolvable problem, because you can design content in a way that running it a 100 times isn't boring.

For example look at games like Tetris or Candy Crush Saga (which will now come preinstalled with Windows 10). These are clearly games in which players run the same content far more than 100 times. But because there are minor variations, some randomness, and a slowly increasing difficulty level, players don't mind doing that same content hundreds of times.
Tobold's Blog



Battle.net Launcher
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 May 2015, 4:19 pm
Not much blogging this week as I am traveling. I must say that the Battle.net launcher is a big improvement when you are away from home: I get to play World of Warcraft without having to take my authenticator with me, something I was always reluctant to due to the danger of losing it. Of course now somebody stealing my laptop could theoretically access my account, but I'm pretty certain that laptop thieves and WoW account thieves are two very different types of criminals with not much overlap.

In any case, even at home I am happy that I don't have to enter my password and authenticator code every time I log in. Logon screens are so last year!
Tobold's Blog



Brexit
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 May 2015, 1:45 am
So the conservative party won the UK elections and will now hold a referendum about the British exit from the European Community, the so-called "Brexit". As politicians are unable to explain why an economy with no industry that is living of trade would be better off in a free market, it is likely that Britain will vote for the Brexit. And it is only in that wave of splendid isolation that I can explain the decision of the BBC to close down their global BBC iPlayer.

The global BBC iPlayer was a simple deal: While UK citizens get free access to BBC content, for which they already paid for with their annual television licence fee, Europeans and Canadian get to watch that BBC content on their iPad in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. Before Netflix came to Europe, this was the only TV on demand service working on my iPad. And it still has some advantages over Netflix, as the iPlayer allowed you to download films and watch them when you didn't have a network connection.

And now the global BBC iPlayer is shutting down at the end of the current subscription month with no replacement. The BBC says it has "plans" for new global digital services, but given their usual speed that could take years before those plans become a real service. So right now the BBC is refusing what was essentially free money, because they simply sold already existing content to more customers and now refuse to make that sale. For the BBC the Brexit is already happening, and the rest of the country can't be far behind. I wonder if they'll ever realize that they aren't a global superpower any more.
Tobold's Blog



Does betrayal scale?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 May 2015, 1:19 am
People who behave make for boring stories. The most famous World of Warcraft player is Leeroy Jenkins because he was clearly misbehaving. But as WoW has relatively strict behavior rules, it doesn't really produce all that many stories worth reading. Not like EVE Online, which is a great source for stories of scams, betrayal, and assassination. The people who make Crowfall would like to imitate said and announced their rules: "A key component of politics is the concept of betrayal. We envision many relationships being formed and broken in the game. Whether it be a subservient guild who who overthrows their master, an infiltrator who loots the entire guild cache and delivers it to their sworn enemy, or an alliance that breaks falls apart at a key turning point of a campaign… We consider these to be “fair game” tactics." As there is no lack of people who would like to misbehave, we can be sure of getting stories of betrayal from Crowfall.

But how does such betrayal scale as a form of entertainment? Clearly the idea is to allow all sorts of dirty politics in Crowfall for the fun of the players. And I always had the impression that this works better in theory than in practice: Betrayal is not an activity that you can do very often, and it usually doesn't involve a large number of people in the know. If everybody is aware that betrayal is allowed by the rules of the game, people will be paranoid and not easily trust each other. And that includes that if you plan a betrayal, you can't tell many people about it, because they might reveal your plans to your enemy.

Scree lists some stories of EVE Online, like the Titans4U scam which netted the scammer 850 billion ISK, worth $45,000. Great story for readers, but consider for a moment the inherent fun of that for the players. The scammer presumably acted alone, so he was the only one actually having direct fun from the betrayal. And while that netted him a lot of real world money, I guess in the game he was finished, because nobody will ever trust him again. With lots of people on the losing side it seems to me that fun-wise the betrayal story is a negative sum game. How many people are going to stay in your game because it allows them to regularly betray somebody, and how many players do you lose who quit in disgust?

While I don't know how many people actually play EVE (CCP only lists accounts, and most players have several accounts), I have trouble believing that many of these players play EVE only because they want to betray others. It isn't as if there were a lot of non-betrayal space trading MMORPGs out there, and I'd assume that more player are interested in the more repeatable direct PvP than in slowly building up the trust of others in order to betray them once. So I'm not sure that betrayal scales well as a activity of entertainment in a MMORPG.
Tobold's Blog



Blizzard is pumping gold into the economy
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 May 2015, 3:30 am
Real markets move in unpredictable ways. The advice to buy low and sell high is a joke, because you don't actually know whether the price is going to be up or down tomorrow. The WoW token market is not a real market however. As you can see on WoWToken.info, the price goes up and down in a very predictable sinus curve. By observing the rate of change you can even predict future prices. So unless you are completely oblivious, you are going to buy low or sell high. There is absolutely no reason to sell when prices are low, or buy when prices are high, as you just need to wait some hours for the next peak or valley.

The market also uses an algorithm that guarantees the token seller the amount of gold the token was worth when he decided to sell it, while the token buyer only pays the price at the moment when he decides to buy. That leads to a curious market anomaly: The token seller is selling when prices are high, but there are no buyers at that moment. The buyers strike when prices are low, buying up whatever the sellers put on the market during the previous peak. And Blizzard is making up for the difference. With every WoW token sold, Blizzard is pumping thousands of gold into the economy, because of their price guarantee to the seller. The buyer is always paying less gold than the seller receives, because everybody knows whether the current price is high or low, and acts accordingly.

I don't think this is working a planned by Blizzard.
Tobold's Blog



NBI and Gamergate
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 May 2015, 4:31 am
The NBI launched a Talkback Challenge to write about Gamergate. I do think that this is a bad idea. I very much agree with Jeromai that it would be better not to feed the trolls.

But I would like to take the opportunity to talk about freedom of speech, because I believe a number of Gamergaters horribly abused the term to the point of it becoming unrecognizable. In short, freedom of speech gives you the right to communicate your opinions and ideas without needing to fear legal consequences. Freedom of speech does not A) force anybody to listen to your opinions or ideas, nor B) does it give you the right to any specific platform for your opinions and ideas.

Thus in particular, somebody blocking your Twitter feed and not reading it any more is not a violation of freedom of speech. Somebody not allowing you to post your opinion on *his* website, or have a stand on *his* convention is not a violation of freedom of speech.

As an example, you have the freedom of being pro-slavery. If you write a pro-slavery blog without falling into the trap of writing anything that is legally considered to be "hate speech" or "inciting racial violence", you are free to express your pro-slavery opinions without legal consequences. That doesn't make you less of an asshole. You might not have legal consequences, but other people reading your revolting opinions and ideas might well spit at you. And you don't have the right to publish your opinions on the cover of Ebony, or give you the right to a stand at the National Baptist Convention.

Saying "I support Gamergate because I believe in freedom of speech" is just plain wrong. You would need to also support every other group that holds revolting opinions, because they all tend to always clamor for freedom of speech.
Tobold's Blog



Nitpicking
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 May 2015, 4:09 am
You know that feeling you get when somebody is wrong on the internet? I got that reading several blog posts about the fall in WoW subscription numbers. I'll just quote one from Belghast, because he made the statement very explicit, but the same thing was reported by several other people. What Belghast said is "what we are seeing is a lot of people who came back and played the game for the month that came with their boxed copy, decided that they did not really like what they saw and left again all without actually subscribing.".

That is factually wrong. Only the original game of World of Warcraft comes with a free month. Somebody who bought the box of Warlords of Draenor either already was subscribed or decided to "actually subscribe" before being able to play, because WoW did not come with a free month of subscription included.

So, I did it, I fixed the internet. :)

Of course that doesn't change the fact that the people who came and subscribed just in order to play Warlords of Draenor then went and unsubscribed a month or two later. Personally I am still subscribed, but A) that subscription is now paid in gold, and B) the content I am mostly playing is pet battles and leveling through Cataclysm content. Besides garrison maintenance I am not actually playing Warlords of Draenor content. So I don't disagree with the view that WoD had only 1 or 2 months worth of content, and lots of people came, saw, and didn't stay to conquer.
Tobold's Blog



Back to base
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 May 2015, 7:50 am
In 2007 Raph Koster published a post on how open big virtual worlds grow. The post describes an universal curve of growth and decline of MMORPGs. While for each game the time scale and the peak number is different, the overall shape of all curves is the same. Expansions are basically peaks added on top of a universal curve, which do not change the underlying fundamentals. So once you got past the headlines of "Oh my god, WoW is dying (again)!" and "WoW loses 3 million players overnight", you will discover that World of Warcraft is perfectly aligned with Raph's theory and just got back to exactly the same base curve it was on before the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

The expansion peak might have been a bit bigger than usual because the further along the decline curve you go, the bigger the number of ex-WoW players becomes. People tend to use any available number to support their pre-existing opinion, but I think there isn't really anything interesting going on here. Until end of Q1 2015 World of Warcraft simply followed a predictable trajectory, because the fundamentals didn't change.

So the interesting data point is going to be the next one. Because obviously a move like going free to play is changing the fundamentals and will change the basic shape of the player number curve. So if you consider the WoW token a form of free to play, it could be expected that there is a visible impact on player numbers rising again in Q2. But if you think that only very few people buy and sell WoW tokens, you'd expect a slight decrease in Q2. We will see!
Tobold's Blog



How much lore do you need?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 May 2015, 8:46 am
I am between campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons, having finished the Favorites of Selune campaign and not yet started the Zeitgeist campaign. So I am busy preparing the new campaign, understanding the campaign world, and getting everything together we will need to create characters and start playing. Doing that I quickly ended up with a very specific question: How much lore do I need to tell to my players before character creation and playing?

Now it is perfectly possible to start a campaign with absolutely no lore whatsoever. A generic dwarven warrior, a generic elven ranger, a generic halfling thief, and a generic human cleric meet in a generic tavern in a generic fantasy world. Go! The problem with that approach is that not every player is a creative genius and master of improvisation. Given a generic fantasy world as background, a typical group of average players is going to end up with a history that reads like a bunch of World of Warcraft quest texts: Fun adventures battling more or less random monsters for not much of a good reason except for gaining treasure and experience. Hey, it works for World of Warcraft!

But imagine you want to play a campaign in the world of Game of Thrones, and you want your campaign and the stories being told interactively between the DM and the players to somewhat resemble a Game of Thrones story. Creating random characters and meeting in a tavern is probably not going to do the job. You would need to tell the players about the various houses, about the wall, about the different meaning of "winter" in that game world, about old and new faith, and about some other things. And then you might not want to give them total freedom in choosing their character background, because running that campaign with player characters loyal to different houses would be rather awkward.

It is basically the old question of high fantasy vs low fantasy all over again. A low fantasy campaign works well with little lore and lots of improvisation, because players only need to rely on their experience and knowledge of typical fantasy to tell a typical low fantasy story. For a high fantasy campaign in which the players are saving the world by throwing the one ring into Mount Doom, the players better know a bit about the world. Like where is Mount Doom, what is the difficulty in getting there, what are the consequences of failing to throw the ring in, and why didn't anybody offer them 100 gold pieces as reward for that quest?

Having said that, there is certainly a danger of presenting too much lore to the players. The Silmarillion is too much knowledge, even for a Middle-Earth campaign. Lots of DMs who created fantasy worlds went way overboard with creating extensive history and lore for that world which ultimately isn't all relevant for the campaign.

Thus the idea for my Zeitgeist campaign is giving an overview of the history of the world, the lore, the power struggles, and to which group in the world the players belong and are presumed to at least initially have loyalty. But only to an extent which is necessary for intelligent character creation and playing the first adventure or so, during which then of course more lore can pop up in play. The reason I want to explain lore before rolling characters is that I want to use the campaign specific background themes, and it is hard to expect somebody to play a "docker" or a "skyseer" without explaining what those are and how they fit into the world. I just need to work out how much lore is "enough".
Tobold's Blog



Messing with the player economy
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 May 2015, 3:45 am
There are a few players in World of Warcraft who choose their crafting professions by regarding immaterial aspects like role-playing. Of course a dwarven warrior should have mining and smithing as professions, otherwise he wouldn't be a proper dwarf! But everybody else tends to see professions as a way to make gold, which is even more important if gold now can buy you subscription time and save you real money.

Now Warlords of Draenor introduced huge changes to crafting professions. It made it easier to pick up a new crafting profession and level it up without having to go through all of the old content, you can level a profession like tailoring or smithing from 1 to 700 with only WoD materials. WoD also significantly changed the relation between gathering professions and crafting professions: It allowed everybody to gather WoD materials in the safety of their own garrison in sufficient quantities for crafting, and without needing to have the gathering profession at all. Gathering professions like mining or herbalism became unprofitable. While at the same time the crafting professions (with the exception of alchemy) were turned into a source of passive income: Just do your daily transmute and your work orders, and you'll make thousands of gold every month from your garrison.

As a consequence a large number of players dropped their now useless gathering professions and went for two profitable crafting professions instead. My warrior got double screwed by having herbalism and alchemy before WoD; now he has smithing and tailoring to "pay the rent". But as Azuriel points out patch 6.2 suddenly requires people to have maxed out gathering professions again, as it introduces a new high-level crafting material "Felblight", which is gathered in the new zone Tanaan Jungle using gathering professions. Crap, I haven't got a single high-level character with a gathering profession any more.

I don't think I am the only one. It was pretty evident and common knowledge up to this point that gathering professions had become somewhat useless (I don't even spend the time to gather the free resources in my garrisons any more). Lots of people dropped them. And I guess that will mess mightily with the supply of Felblight. Yes, you can level up mining or herbalism again in your garrison, but going from 1 to 700 will take over a month that way. And while the initial price of Felblight will be high, you never know how it will evolve in the long term and whether that justifies dropping a crafting profession and putting all that effort into leveling a gathering profession again.

I think Blizzard dropped the ball on crafting in Warlords of Draenor. Them now backpedaling on gathering professions only makes things worse.
Tobold's Blog



The Newbie Blogger Initiative
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 May 2015, 5:33 am
Like most years I am not formally participating in The Newbie Blogger Initiative. I dislike the focus on MMO blogging, and I consider "hey, you should totally write a blog about MMOs" to be particularly bad advice to give to anybody. Having said that, I do have advice for anybody considering blogging, so this might be the moment to write that advice down.

You can roughly divide the life of an average person into three main domains: The private domain of family and relationships, the work domain of your studies and job, and the hobby domain of what you are doing for fun and relaxation. Blogs work for the last of those three. Your thoughts about your private domain are better held in a private diary with no public access. And blogging about your job is potentially prohibited by your work contract, and could get you into trouble or even fired. Blogging about hobbies is fine, because there are other people out there who share the same hobbies and might want to read about your thoughts, and you aren't likely to reveal private or sensitive information.

The main lesson that I learned about blogging about hobbies is that a blog has value to me as long-term archive of my thoughts. Everybody changes, but usually that change happens rather slowly. You are not the same person today than you were 10 years ago, nor than you will be in 10 years. Writing down your thoughts now helps the person you will be in 10 years to remember who you were today, or to document that slow process of change.

So my most important advice is to take future change into account. Don't make a blog about a specific class in a specific game, because as much as you might be concentrated on that today, that class or that game is *not* your hobby. Your hobby is probably a lot wider, at least different games, different types of games, or even things outside games. Do not write a "WoW Hunter blog", or even an "MMO blog"; write a blog about the totality of YOUR interests. Write for yourself, not for a hypothetical audience. Write what YOU think, what YOU feel, and don't worry if you consider that the same thought has been written before by others. The one person who might be very interested in what your thoughts on your hobbies are today is yourself, so write for an audience of one, yourself. Everybody else reading your blog, or willing to discuss your thoughts with you, is a bonus.
Tobold's Blog



What if there were several World of Warcrafts?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 May 2015, 3:17 am
A decade later, with many people having long grown bored with World of Warcraft, and many MMORPGs having been released since, it is hard to remember the impact WoW had when it was released. By being far more polished and far more accessible than its competitors at the time, World of Warcraft singlehandedly changed the landscape of MMORPGs forever. A few months before WoW a financial analyst calculated that the overall market size for MMORPGs in Europe was 280,000. Then WoW came and sold 380,000 copies on the first weekend. Everquest II came out a month before WoW and people at the time considered that as a scoop that might "win" the war for SOE, but once World of Warcraft was released it just left EQ2 in the dust. As much as some people would like to deny it today, at the time World of Warcraft was far above its competitors in quality as well as accessibility, and we still feel the impact of that revolution today.

But what if World of Warcraft had been released onto a market where the already existing competitors were not so much different in quality? Sounds like a stupid hypothetical question, but I feel that something like that is happening now: Blizzard is soon to release Heroes of the Storm on June 2. It is a nice, accessible, polished game like pretty much all Blizzard games are. But it isn't much better or much more accessible than the competition. Yes, there is a training mode against the AI to test out new heroes, and some rules changes are designed to limit asshattery between teammates during a game. But it competes with a League of Legends with 27 million daily players, not an Everquest with 400,000 subscribers.

I am pretty sure that Heroes of the Storm will get millions of players, and that some people for different reasons will prefer the Blizzard version over the Riot version. But I don't see Heroes of the Storm being a "LoL killer". It will be somewhere in the list of the top 5 MOBA games, but not necessarily number 1. Blizzard is really late to this market (which is somewhat ironical, seeing how they could be said to be involved in starting the genre), and the existing games are already highly polished and accessible for a multi-million player mass market. The WoW/Hearthstone effect of "I'm taking a niche genre and make it accessible for the mass market" just isn't going to happen here. And thus I doubt that Blizzard will have such a huge impact on the future of this genre than it had on MMORPGs.
Tobold's Blog



Now accepting donations in WoW gold
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 May 2015, 1:08 am
A reader came up with another interesting idea based on WoW tokens: Instead of using the buy Tobold a coffee button to donate money to me, he offered to donate WoW gold. Enough gold to buy 2 WoW tokens in fact. So although his gold was on a different server, as long as it was in the same region (Europe) that worked just fine: I made a level 1 character, he gave me the gold, and I bought 2 WoW tokens (plus a battle pet with the change) on the auction house. Thank you!
Tobold's Blog



Breaking the 4th wall the wrong way
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2015, 7:20 am
When Frank Underwood in House of Cards turns towards the camera and speaks directly to the audience that is called breaking the 4th wall, an expression coming from the idea that a stage has 3 visible walls around it, and an "invisible" wall towards the viewer. Breaking the 4th wall in that direction, from the actor towards the audience, can be interesting. But sometimes that wall is broken in the wrong direction, with the real world intruding on the imaginary world. Ald shot first has a post on how he got an epic shield from the salvage yard and couldn't help thinking how that could pay for his WoW subscription if he sold the shield and bought a token for the gold. What used to be a game is suddenly a financial transaction. There are already addons out that directly translate gold prices into money prices. You might have been willing to pay 120,000 gold for a Reins of the Grand Expedition Yak, but are you willing to pay $120 for it?

[Tangent for the nitpickers: There is no actual fixed number for the exchange rate between dollars and WoW gold. Not only is the price fluctuating, but it also depends on which region you are in: In Europe the equivalent of 120,000 gold is just €60. Furthermore there is an endless discussion whether you should count 1 WoW token as being the equivalent of $20 (it's purchase price) or as being the equivalent of under $15 (what you save on a subscription by using the token instead of money). I'll use $20 for a WoW token, exchanged for gold at a rate of 20,000 gold per token on a US server, because that gives an easy $1 = 1,000 gold exchange rate. I'll count €1 = 2,000 gold for the same reason. YMMV]

This intrusion of the real world has some consequences. At first I wondered why a WoW token would go for twice the gold in Europe than in the USA. But then I realized that "Europe" in the Blizzard sense of the word includes Russia and other eastern countries which have a lower GDP per person than the USA (or the EU). The thing is that $1 doesn't have the same value for each of us. The question is basically what percentage of your disposable income a subscription to WoW represents. As in Russia that is presumably a higher percentage, the WoW token is more valuable, and people are willing to give more WoW gold for it. The Chinese realms just introduced the WoW token and there it goes for between 50k and 75k, because the token is worth even more there, relatively speaking.

At 30k to 40k gold for a WoW token in Europe I am pretty much indifferent to it. I can see myself both buying and selling, depending on my current needs. Yes, I have plenty of gold on some characters. But all my gold is only about a year worth of subscription, while the money I have in my bank account would easily pay for my subscription until death do us part (either mine, or WoW's). I don't need the addon to translate gold to €/$, because I am just as comfortable with spending 5,000 gold for a battle pet as I would be with the idea of spending €2.50 for it. But I am aware that depending on ones situation in life that might not be the case for somebody else. I can see how it would break immersion if something happened to you in game which translates into a dollar value you would actually care about.
Tobold's Blog



Improving the auction house
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2015, 3:26 am
World of Warcraft is over 10 years old. And at some places that shows, with some game design elements being somewhat dated and far from optimal. I would argue that one of these outdated game design elements is the WoW auction house.

Basically MMORPGs have two major opposed concepts of player economy. One is the individual concept, where trade is supposed to strengthen social bonds between players. The best example of that would be games like Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies having player-run shops. If you wanted the best armor, you had to go to the shop of the best player blacksmith. People could make a name for themselves as master crafters. The opposing concept is the one of maximum convenience: A centralized auction house manages trades, and connects buyers and sellers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While the WoW auction house leans towards the latter, it carries with it some elements of the former: Each auction is individual and shown with the name of the seller. Unfortunately this middle way ends up being no good: Nobody cares who the seller is, and the individual listing makes the auction house less efficient. Anonymous auction houses are frequently far superior, for example in Wildstar.

One advantage of anonymous auction houses is the efficiency of buying some crafting material. The WoW AH frequently has goods listed in a quantity of 1. If I want to buy 200 Sumptuous Furs, I sure as hell don't want to buy 200 individual auctions of 1 fur each. And the standard interface without addons doesn't even make it easy for me to find the 200 least expensive ones. In more modern auction houses I'll just give an order for 200 fur, and the AH interface sorts out the price for the 200 cheapest ones for me.

The other advantage of anonymous auction houses is that it can be slightly less precise in order to prevent micro-management. For example it can show the price of the last item that sold, instead of showing the price of the cheapest item on offer. In the WoW auction house you frequently get the case of a seller seeing all the prices of the other sellers and then underbidding them by 1 copper piece to become the cheapest. Then another seller logs in, cancels his now more expensive auction and posts it at another 1 copper cheaper. You can get long 1 copper underbid wars that serve absolutely nobody, because they don't really decrease the price, but force everybody to keep watching the AH.

It is probably not a priority for Blizzard, but I would hope that at some point they patch in a more modern, anonymous version of the auction house. It would be more efficient and practical for both buyers and sellers.
Tobold's Blog



Spectator eSports
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 April 2015, 7:51 am
Belghast has an interesting article up on whether eSports are sport, and how that leads to controversy when eSports arrive on ESPN. For me the whole problematic of eSports boils down to the question what exactly you show, where you point your camera, so to say. In any "real" sport the camera tends to point where the athletes are, because that is the most interesting part of the image. In eSports the athletes are either shown somewhere in a corner as tiny picture-in-picture display, or not at all. The interesting part of eSports to watch is not the athlete (who doesn't move much), but his avatar.

This difference points towards a huge missed opportunity in displaying eSports: Currently games are typically shown in the same view that the player has. Now imagine a game of football which you could only watch via the helmet-cameras of the players. Obviously not the best view a spectator could have. And to the limits to which I understand 3D graphics engines, it shouldn't be too hard to display a different view. If you can send a different view of the scene of a multiplayer game to each of the players, then surely you could produce one more view of what is going on in spectator mode. League of Legends already has a spectator mode. Develop that a bit further and apply it to all eSports games, and they could become a lot more viewable.

Personally I watch neither sports nor eSports, I prefer doing to watching. I might not run as fast as Usain Bolt or click as fast as Hai Lam (now retired at the age of 22), but I am a lot more connected to that sport or to that game by doing it at my own pace than the connection I could get from watching the best doing it on a TV screen.
Tobold's Blog



· Older Entries >>

Show: [ALL] [NEWS] [BLOGS] [PODCASTS]

Updated Today:
A Green Mushroom [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Bethesda Blog [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
DDOcast [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Gamers with Jobs [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
mmocam! [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
MmoQuests.com [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Ogrebear's Thoughts [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Reign of Gaming [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Tobold [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Updated this Week:
MMO Symposium [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Morphisat's Blog [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Mystic Worlds [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
The Instance [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Wife Agro [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Zen of Design [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Updated this Month:
Bioware TOR Dev Blog [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
female-gamer.com [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
LotRO at TenTonHammer [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Low Elo [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Moorgard.com [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
No Prisoners, No Mercy [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
The Ramblings of JoBildo [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Wolfshead Online [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
World of Warcast [HTML] [XML] [FULL]