Less fun jobs in a group
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 July 2014, 9:11 am
In the second part of RPGMP3 video playthrough of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, the fighter in view of rather bad odds is resorting to a tactic which is probably optimal for a 5E level 1 fighter: He stops trying to hit things, but instead uses the dodge action every round. Which in addition to his protection fighting style results in every attack on him or anybody next to him being at disadvantage, taking the lower of two d20 rolls. That doesn't exactly speed up the game, the group takes 4 hours for two fights, but it results in there being no combat deaths. As advantage/disadvantage is such a huge bonus equivalent of up to +5, and 1st level characters in 5E don't survive more than one or two hits, the fighter using dodge is keeping everybody alive by making the monsters keep missing.

The cleric in this group, and in all other groups I watched playing this, is not playing optimally. The optimal play for a level 1 cleric in 5E is to reserve his two level 1 spell slots for healing, because that is all the group gets. So casting another level 1 spell like bless or shield of faith is suboptimal to casting cure wounds or healing word on a fallen comrade and instantly reviving him and getting him back into action.

The reason why the optimally playing fighter is so remarkable, and the suboptimally playing cleric is so common, is that the optimum in both cases isn't much fun. Dodging, which involves not even rolling any dice, is a lot less fun than hitting monsters. And casting only healing spells instead of your full range of spells isn't fun either. It is a bit like in World of Warcraft, where tanks and healers are constantly in short supply, because dealing damage is just more fun than healing or being a meat shield.

Of course that depends on the system. In 4E the tank protects his group by "marking" an enemy, and that is done by doing an attack on that enemy. The 4E healers get 2 heals per encounter a bonus spells that aren't substracting from the number of other spells they can cast. So with Wizards of the Coast obviously being aware of the problem, it is kind of sad that they went back to a situation where fighters and clerics basically get the choice between unfun or suboptimal.
Tobold's Blog



Lost Mine of Phandelver videos
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 July 2014, 2:18 am
As I want to buy it at my local gaming store and not online, I still haven't got the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. But I did find that several people, Wizards of the Coast included, put videos of themselves playing the starter set adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver on YouTube. *Spoiler alert* Don't watch those videos or read my comments if you plan to play the Starter Set as a player. As watching different groups actually play the game can give a more precise impression of the Starter Set than just reading it, I ended up spending hours on YouTube that way. Here are my impressions.

Let's first list the videos I watched. First of all there is the official version, WotC playing their own Starter Set, with one completely new player. The videos I liked the most were the ones from RPGMP3: Dungeon ON! Also quite well done is the video from Quill18, but after the end of part 4 it appears as if that was just a temporary group and they don't plan to play through the rest of the adventure. Table Top Gaming has a playlist with already 23 half-hour videos, but with apparently experienced players who don't really care that they are playing 5th edition, and a DM taking lots of shortcuts. The lowest quality video is the one from Caffeinated Conquests, where you don't see anything and the music makes it hard to understand what the players are saying.

Of those five video sources, the first and the last are playing theater of the mind style, while the other three are using the Roll20 virtual online table-top. Whatever you think about using battlemaps and miniatures in Dungeons & Dragons, it has to be said that if you want to turn it into a spectator sport these are very much needed. A video showing people sitting around a table and rolling dice just isn't all that visually interesting. Furthermore it turns out by comparing the same fight done by everybody that theater of the mind isn't the fastest version, with even WotC taking one hour for the first fight against 4 goblins. Part of that is of course people still learning the rules, but one does notice a lot of "where exactly is my character standing? Where are the monsters exactly?" type of questions in the theater of the mind versions, and that takes time.

WotC is playing the adventure using the pre-generated characters and they make a great effort to stress the new role-playing rules elements of 5th edition, like characters now having bonds and flaws, or getting "inspiration" advantage for role-playing to those flaws. It is very noticeable that everybody else does not, mostly using characters created using the basic rules. As much as I can understand a dislike of pre-rolled characters in D&D, the pre-gens do have specific background stories, objectives, and bonds to items, places, and people appearing in the adventure, and that gets lost if you create your own characters. So for once I would recommend playing Lost Mine of Phandelver with the pre-generated characters. It isn't as if with the basic rules you could actually make VERY different characters than the pre-gens. As I do consider the personality and background rules for character creation to be one of the strong points of this edition it is somewhat worrying to see them not used so much in actual play videos.

As previously remarked the lethality and randomness is very much on display in these videos. There are several cases of players getting one-shotted from full health to unconsciousness. One fighter, previously wounded, dies outright and instantly from a large critical hit. Quill18 ended up visibly cheating and allowing an unconscious player to use second wind to prevent a total party kill at the end. Some people like lethal games, but somehow I can't help thinking that it isn't a great feature for a Starter Set. If your first impression of Dungeons & Dragons was being the one guy at the table who actually "lost" the game, would you want to play again? I'll have to check, but I don't think the Starter Set even has any instructions on how to replace a dead character, as there are only as many pre-gens as there are supposed to be players.

Speaking of which, WotC had the situation that one player wasn't available for the second session, and "solved" that by presenting that character as having gone elsewhere, instead of somebody else playing that character. Then another character fell unconscious, and the group ended split up with two characters still exploring and one character tending the unconscious fellow. Really? In my opinion the DM should have stepped in and prevented the party from splitting that way, because it sets a rather bad example in the official video of the Starter Set.

5E at its game core is very much a game of resource management. Not every group, and especially not the WotC group, was good at that. The limiting factor appears generally to be healing: There are no healing cantrips, so the two spell slots of the cleric are the only sources of magical healing, and the only way to quickly revive an unconscious character. That is so important that low-level cleric basically should only ever cast cantrips and healing spells. In any case, the level 1 cleric spells other than healing are extremely weak, especially if you compare them to the level 1 wizard spells which do 3d6 area attack damage or splittable 3d4+3 damage with no attack roll or saving throw. Somewhat unfairly the wizard can get spell slots back during a short rest, but the cleric can't. As cure light wounds can heal for a LOT of hit points, it is even debatable whether a cleric should always wait for a character to go down before healing him. On the one side a wounded character can die instantly from a crit, but on the other hand the cleric doesn't really have the luxury of healing every wounded character.

Rogues are actually quite good in this edition. They get their sneak attack even on ranged attacks if they have advantage or, more frequently, when another ally is standing next to the target. And the dual wield rules are rather powerful: If you wield a light weapon like a dagger or shortsword, you get a second attack with your off-hand weapon, albeit only the base damage without attribute bonus. With the bonus attack not being limited to the same target, and moves being splittable in 5E, you can stab a monster to death, move and then stab another monster with your off-hand. In the Starter Set adventure with the level 1 groups against goblins, the rogue and the wizard were the only classes that could potentially kill more than 1 goblin per round.

The Lost Mine of Phandelver appears to be a rather generic adventure, but that is probably a good thing for a Starter Set. It also is a lot longer than the adventures in previous starter boxes, and could potentially be the start of a whole campaign. Given how the basic rules are somewhat incomplete and insufficient to start a game by themselves, the $20 Starter Set looks like a good investment for people who want to play 5th edition without paying $150 for the core books right away. And new DMs can always see how to play that adventure by watching those YouTube videos.
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The least balanced of all D&D editions
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 July 2014, 5:28 am
I now had time to study the basic rules of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons in more detail. And I discovered something which surprised me: By combining rules from unbalanced earlier editions with rules from the very balanced 4th edition, WotC has managed to create the least balanced of all D&D editions. They basically removed most of the disadvantages of lower level spell-casters without toning down their high level advantages. So the previous deal, where the fighter was stronger at lower levels and the wizard became stronger at higher levels is gone: Now the wizard is nearly as good as a fighter at level 1, and then becomes quadratically more powerful with level by gaining both more spells and more powerful spells. The fighter still has his linear progression where he hits harder and is harder to kill with every level, but doesn't gain much in additional options. All the stuff he does gain with level again just makes him hit harder or harder to kill. Whatever his level is, if he stands in front of a monster and the DM asks the fighter what he wants to do, his answer will be "I hit the monster with my weapon", because that is basically his only reasonable option for 20 levels of play.

Spell-casters like wizards and clerics have become far more powerful at lower levels. That starts with the level 1 wizard now having 6 + constitution bonus of hit points, instead of 1d4 or 4 plus constitution bonus. You don't have to choose which spells to cast in advance any more, you can use your spell slots for any spells you have prepared, even multiple times. Then in 5th edition the cantrips are now more powerful than 1st level spells were previously. Do you remember the level 1 wizard who was only able to cast 1 magic missile per day, doing 1d4+1 damage? Well, now he has a cantrip which he can cast every round and do 1d10 damage. Plus several spells slots for level 1 spells, with which he could for example cast a magic missile which does THREE TIMES 1d4+1 damage. Even the cleric has a cantrip with a ranged attack that does 1d8 damage. Although I would argue that the cleric is screwed somewhat in 5th edition by the lack of combat healing, so he'll probably end up using all his spell slots for healing spells (there are no healing cantrips except one that stabilizes a dying player).

At higher levels the spell-casters still get all the spells that made them problematic in earlier editions. Why play a sneaky rogue to scout out the enemies if there are spells like invisibility and fly in the game? Why lockpick if there is a knock spell? Why play a fighter who can hit a monster really, really hard if there are spells like Power Word: Kill? But even more importantly, a high level fighter or rogue is simply lacking options. They don't even have something like a kick power. The most they can do is maneuver themselves into a position where they get advantage and roll two d20 instead of one, or do some extra damage by a sneak attack. But that is it, roll one or more attack rolls and deal a lot of damage. Meanwhile the high-level casters get up to 27 spells per day, of which 5 are cantrips and can be cast repeatedly. Plus you get to "recover" up to 10 levels worth of spell slots once per day.

5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is probably okay for people who never role-played playing through the Starter Set. They will have a lot of fun, especially since the Starter Set ends at level 5. If you start 5E with experienced players, and especially with people who previously played 4th edition, you sooner or later will run into the situation that nobody wants to play a fighter or rogue any more. If you want to play with non-spellcasters in the group, I hope you have a few friends who are somewhat simple-minded and don't object to being constantly outshone by the casters. In the group I'm playing with, nobody would play a simple class like that. They simply are too boring, and have too few options. Being able to attack several times in a round doesn't make up for not having the multitude of options that a spellcaster has. And with the previous disadvantages removed from the caster classes, those will become even more popular than before. Without the powers they had in 4th edition, the fighters and rogues in 5E now just plain suck in comparison. More than ever before.
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Core-shell model of Dungeons & Dragons
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 July 2014, 2:57 am
I have a very simple model of games in general: They usually have one core activity that is frequently repeated, and then some shell around it that gives structure to the sequence of core activities. In role-playing games, both on paper and on the computer, the core activity is usually combat. The shell is then the virtual world with its lore and quests turning an otherwise dreary sequence of combats into something more. But the same model also applies to very different games, like World of Tanks, where there is also a combat core activity, and a shell around it about researching, buying, and equipping tanks.

Now how much emphasis is on the core part and how much emphasis is on the shell part varies from game to game. Some pen & paper role-players will happily play only the shell part of the game for several sessions, doing mostly role-playing with very little combat. The game I like to call D&D Tactics, but which WotC calls D&D 4th edition is more towards the other extreme, being very focused on the core combat tactical game and not all that helpful with the shell part. That is very evident in the official adventures, where you usually get a booklet with a series of encounters, and need to put in quite some work yourself to fill the part between encounters.

For example my current 4E campaign is near the end of the Madness at Gardmore Abbey boxed adventure. A great adventure with a great story, but the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. You get two booklets full of encounters, but the encounters aren't all that memorable. The fun is in exploring the sandbox that is the abbey freely and piecing together the puzzle of what happened to the abbey, and make decisions about what to do about it. But that requires the DM to piece together that puzzle himself first, and the story is distributed over the other two booklets, plus told in sidebars or descriptive text of the various encounters. And because the story isn't linear, you also need to piece together the various quests and story parts with the map locations. I think I did a good job of that for my campaign, but that involved many hours of preparation, even making lists of quests, secrets, and locations, and flow-charts of the quests and the locations. While I would recommend Madness at Gardmore Abbey for experienced DMs, I can also easily see how an inexperienced DM could make a complete mess out of this. Just by themselves the series of encounters makes no sense, and the adventure would suffer a lot if one only plays the core game of combat without the shell game of slowly revealing what is going on.

Having said that, this isn't a unique flaw of 4th edition. I have played through all editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and I have encountered my fair share of bad DMs. Early editions had lots of adventures that consisted only of dungeons with room after room full of monsters and traps, with little more in the way of a story than there being an evil villain at the end. Even the 5th edition starter set begins with a story that reads "You are hired as caravan guards. The caravan gets ambushed.", which must be one of the most generic stories in the history of role-playing games. 5th edition makes a better job than previous editions in encouraging role-playing by having things like flaws and bonds in the character generation system. But in the end none of the D&D rule books ever did a good job of teaching people how to role-play. Rule books are more concentrated on the core game, the story shell remains to the players and the DM to create.

I am currently preparing the next adventure in my campaign, and the challenge I have set for myself there is to make an adventure in which the shell of the story carries itself even with less of the core combat elements at time. If all goes well there should be sessions with no combat at all. And some fights are optional and can be replaced by role-playing if the players so choose. The difficulty in that is to keep the game interesting to all the players, because many players quite like combat, rolling dice, and using their combat powers. Combat is turn-based, and everybody gets his turn to shine. Role-playing is less structured, which can lead to the most eager players to dominate, while others aren't so engaged. But this will be the last adventure of this campaign, and the next campaign is far more story-centric. So I'd better start demonstrating that ultimately the shell part of the game is in the hands of the DM, and can work regardless what edition is being played.
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The economics of CREDD/PLEX
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 July 2014, 8:22 am
Recently neowolf2 commented here in a discussion about how much money Wildstar is making, saying "I'm wondering how the CREDD system is affecting this. I'm seeing reports that people can just farm and vendor stuff to get enough gold to buy all the CREDD they need. If Carbine screwed this up they'll effectively have a grindy B2P game.". So, what are CREDD in Wildstar or PLEX in EVE all about?

Different people enjoy different activities in a MMORPG. Furthermore different people also have different amounts of available time and different tolerances to grind. The result of that is that some people either enjoy very specific gold-making activities like trading, or don't mind farming gold, or if they hate both sometimes are willing to buy virtual gold for real money. Thus there are third parties selling gold, and that trade can cause a lot of trouble if the sellers hack accounts or use bots to farm their merchandise.

Now the easiest way to kill third party gold trade would be for the game company to sell gold at half the going rate. As they can create that gold out of thin air and don't need to hack or bot to get it, they could always be cheaper than any Chinese sweatshop and quickly take them out of business. But some players, especially the hardcore variety, object strongly against game companies selling gold. Miraculously the same hardcore players suddenly find gold selling not unfair any more if it is them who profit. Thus CREDD or PLEX are primarily a way to introduce a legal gold trade into the game without the hardcore players protesting.

If you ask the people who sell gold that way, they will pretend that this is all positive for the game company. The gold buyer basically pays for two subscriptions and the gold seller plays for free, so overall for the game company that works out as if they had two players buying subscriptions. What that calculation ignores is the alternative of the game company selling gold directly: In that case the gold buyer is still spending the same amount of real money and gets the same amount of subscription time plus virtual gold. But the other player who previously financed his subscription with gold would now either have to pay money to keep playing, or stop playing and stop using resources of the game company. So selling gold directly instead of via CREDD or PLEX is clearly more profitable for the game company. As the people who object to that are those who are basically freeloaders in the CREDD/PLEX system, them protesting against direct gold sales is not actually a financial impact on the game company.

Now some people will tell you that direct gold sales from the game company, of gold created out of nothing would lead to inflation. That is a strawman argument. It is obvious that ALL gold in a MMORPG is created out of nothing; various sources in the game either hand out gold directly, or hand out items or resources that can be sold to a vendor for gold. And all those mob drops or vendor sales create gold out of thin air. If you have a CREDD/PLEX system, more people are busy creating more gold that way, and that causes pretty much the same inflation as if the game companies sold the gold directly. In any case you have to balance the virtual economy with gold sinks, like the expensive housing decor in Wildstar or exploding spaceships in EVE.

So how much is a CREDD/PLEX worth in virtual gold? In Wildstar, where gold is easy to make if you know how, the price of CREDDs is going constantly up. On my server a CREDD used to go for under 4 plat, and now it is already 9 plat. Basically the price balances out at a dollar vs. hour rate at which the money-poor but time-rich player is willing to spend time to get his subscription, and the money-rich but time-poor player is willing to spend dollars to get his gold. Unfortunately that balance means that if somebody has a more effective way to make gold, for example a sweatshop, a bot program, or account hacks, he can sell gold cheaper than the player who farms gold to pay for his subscription. As a result for that neither Wildstar nor EVE managed to eliminate illicit gold trade.

Even a standard subscription game without a CREDD/PLEX system already has the casual players (who play less for the same money) subsidize the hardcore players (who play more, and thus pay less per hour). Adding a CREDD/PLEX system allows some people to play completely for free, freeloaders who live of the money of other players. Game companies would be better advised to just sell gold directly, and by that way get rid of the freeloaders and the gold traders at the same time.
Tobold's Blog



Magic 2015
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 July 2014, 11:59 am
I've been playing Magic 2015 on my iPad for a few days, and it will be released on Steam later this week. At first one wonders why the game is 10€ on Steam and "free" on the iPad, but obviously the later isn't real: You only get the tutorial plus 4 games before the free game ends and you need to pay 9€ to unlock the main game. Both platforms also allow you to buy the 30€ complete bundle instead, but that only unlocks all the cards you would otherwise unlock by playing, so I don't recommend it. Complete bundle or manual unlock, there are cards that you can't get either way, and you need to buy those in 1.79€ boosters of 15 cards if you want them. Well, Magic the Gathering was never a cheap game.

The interface is quite well done. Instead of stopping every second to ask you whether you want to cast an instant or interrupt, there is a stop timer, and you need to act quickly if you want to do anything, otherwise the game progresses. Also some decisions like damage distribution are automated by default, but you can turn that off in the settings. The AI is playing reasonably well, although in the campaign the difficulty is more about the computer having the better decks. The game is divided into several planes, each with a series of fixed encounters and a set of random exploration encounters you can play once you beat the fixed games. The first time you beat a fixed game and every time you beat a random encounter, you earn a booster full of cards. But you can get only cards from that plane, so after you got all from one plane, you need to move on.

With all cards unlocked if you pay more at the start, plus the premium boosters with cards you can't get by playing, Magic the Gathering is definitively a Pay2Win game. Which is why I didn't even try multiplayer. But the campaign is fun enough and decently priced, so I'll be having fun with this for a while.
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EQ Lego
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 July 2014, 2:10 pm
I have played EQ Landmark for 7 hours and don't plan to play any more at this point. I've claimed a patch of land, built a house (including a slanted roof), explored islands and mines, and crafted better picks and axes. Except doing more of all this, there currently isn't much to do in Landmark. It isn't a game yet, it is just a toy, like Lego. Now I have seen really awesome castles and building made by other players. But that isn't something I am all that interested in. I'd rather have a house with some functionality. Unfortunately I would need to mine 210,000 stone for a tier 1 crafting station (stone forge). As I only got up to about 12,000 in 7 hours, I don't think I have the patience for that sort of grind.

Having said that, I see the potential in EQ Landmark. The "prettier Minecraft" approach is going to attract a lot of people. But for me the question is in how far they are going to add an actual game to that concept, and how good the integration between toy and game will work. The possibilities are endless. You could actually build a tunnel through a mountain, although that probably would give a whole new meaning to the term carpal tunnel syndrome. I guess I will have to wait quite a while before Landmark is ready and integrated with EQ Next. But now that I've seen it, I'm quite looking forward to that.
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info@e-sonyonline.com is not fake
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 July 2014, 3:36 am
I received a suspicious e-mail with a Landmark beta invite. The mail looked perfectly real, but was sent from info@e-sonyonline.com, instead of from soe.com or station.sony.com. And the beta client download link also directed me to link.e-sonyonline.com. That looks very much like a phishing mail. So I googled it, and mostly found a lot of confused people asking whether mails from info@e-sonyonline.com were phishing mails, and some people who said yes, it was phishing, while others said no, it was legit.

So I decided to test this out. Certainly not by following the link and logging in with my true credentials. But there are two ways to test whether a login screen is fake. One is to enter fake login credentials, which a real site will reject, while a fake site will react differently. The other, which I actually used in this case, is taking advantage of a feature of many websites who won't ask you for a login if you are already logged in. So I went to the legit SOE site, logged into my account from there, and THEN clicked on the link. And lo and behold, the mail was real and I got to download the Landmark beta client without having to enter my SOE credentials on the e-sonyonline.com site.

What I think happened is that SOE outsourced sending out that sort of invitation to some marketeer, without letting him use the soe.com mail system. In an age where one gets phishing mails every day and people are highly suspicious that isn't really a good move.
Tobold's Blog



Unification failure
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 July 2014, 3:53 am
Dungeons & Dragons started its life as squad-based tactical wargame, made by people who called their company TSR for "Tactical Study Rules". The idea of acting in character was a later addition, and in fact there are a number of other pen & paper roleplaying systems which have rules that are far more suitable for roleplaying than D&D. Nevertheless Dungeons & Dragons played most of the time for most of people as a mixture of both, a tactical combat game and a game where you play-acted a role. And like with all games that have more than one core that inevitably led to conflict between players who preferred the one over the other. That conflict was fueled by the fact that over the 40 years of its existence many different developers worked on Dungeons & Dragons, and they swung back and forth between the two parts. That led to the "edition wars", which culminated in 4th edition, a version of D&D which strongly favored the tactical combat part over the play-acting part. 5th edition set out to end the edition wars and be a unifying edition that pleased and united everybody. And the one thing that is clear from just reading the basic rules is that it completely failed in that mission. 5th edition is clearly swinging the pendulum back towards a play-acting game.

It is not as if 5th edition wouldn't permit you to put figurines on a square grid to play out your combat in a tactical manner. The problem is rather that 5E made many design decisions which result in it becoming a rather bad tactical game if you want to play it that way. First of all it threw overboard the class balance that 4th edition introduced to D&D; 5E went back to a system where classes are initially not equally strong, and then certain classes that start out weaker become stronger than other classes after a certain time. That has good reasons on the role-playing side, but makes for a horrible tactical game outside a narrow range of medium levels where the classes happen to be just about equally strong.

The second problem of 5E as a tactical game is randomness. If you look at MMORPGs, you will find that in combat there you rarely miss, and the damage you deal with a single hit only takes a slice of the health of your opponent. Dungeons & Dragons always had a system where your chance to miss was around 50% at lower levels, with varying systems of how that evolved in higher levels. But where the editions differed a lot was how big a percentage of health a successful hit could deal. For a tactical game you prefer to limit that, so that tactics play a bigger role than luck. 5th edition has an extremely luck-based combat system, where not only hit and miss depend a lot on luck, but also the difference between minimum damage and maximum damage of an attack is huge compared to the health of characters and monsters.

So whatever modularity 5th edition will add to the rules later, I don't think adding more tactical rules about facing or positioning to the game will turn 5E into a good tactical combat game. Which means that people who want to play a good tactical combat game will stick to 4th edition. Which is perfectly fine, but does herald the failure of 5E as the great unifier of the D&D editions.
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About the G in RPG
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 July 2014, 2:03 pm
In the previous thread a number of people were in favor of a DM of a pen & paper RPG cheating to avoid unwanted results like random character death. The argument was that a RPG is role-playing, not roll-playing, and thus shouldn't be suffering from the randomness of dice-rolling. I don't agree. I think that argument totally ignores the G part of RPG, which stands for "game". Games generally become worse when somebody cheats. That is because games are a social contract, where the players agree for a limited time to adhere to certain rules. When you break that social contract, you destroy the very basis of the game.

That is not to say that dice are necessary for role-playing. There are quite a number of pen & paper role-playing game systems which are diceless. In that case the players agreed beforehand that they would prefer a system in which results are not randomly determined by dice. But if a group of players sits down to play Dungeons & Dragons instead of a diceless system, the social contract is a different one. The players agreed that they want a certain randomness in the game, because that can be fun. The DM cannot just opt out of that social contract, because ultimately he is a player too. His temporary god-like role in the pen & paper system are a consequence of the social contract, and do not reach beyond that agreement.

The DM in the video under discussion yesterday rolled his dice openly, and was chided for that by one commenter. But I think that the DM did the right thing, especially in the context of a training video for new DMs. Dungeons & Dragons, like all systems with a game master / dungeon master is asymmetrical, the DM has far more powers than the players. To a group of people playing a pen & paper RPG for the first time, that might well feel unusual. There can easily be a sneaking suspicion that the DM "isn't fair". Rolling dice in the open, at least at the start of a campaign, is a trust-building exercise. The DM shows that he is bound by the same set of rules as the players are. If something bad happens, it was bad luck with the dice, not the DM singling somebody out. If you have been role-playing for many years with the same people, you don't need that sort of trust-building. But this being a starter set for brand new players, trust-building is a necessary step. You don't want a first-time DM to cheat, because he probably doesn't even have the experience to know when fudging the dice would be a good idea. And you certainly don't want the first-time players to notice that their DM is cheating, because they would probably just quit at that point.

So what other options are there? Let's get back to the problem. While I did mention 1st level mages and arrows in my example, the problem of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons goes way beyond that. For example an orc (in the last playtest version, I haven't got the starter set yet and there are no monsters in the basic rules) hits for 1d12+2. Which means that if he rolls a critical hit, he can deal up to 26 points of damage. That kills any cleric, wizard, or rogue below 4th level, and any fighter below 3rd level. Furthermore if the orc has "advantage" in combat, his chance to roll a critical hit is 10%, not limited to 5% like in previous editions. Any hard-hitting monster in 5E with a large damage dice thus results in very unpredictable results, with the volatility of the results being large compared with the health pool of the characters.

The solution to that is not cheating. It is changing the rules in advance, in agreement with the players. There are various options, for example giving the players more health to start with, or letting them start at a higher level. Or, and that is even optionally supported in the rules as written, you don't roll dice for hit points and damage at all, but use always the average (rounded down). That means the orc always deals 8 points of damage on a normal hit, and 14 on a critical hit. And that most 2nd level characters can survive. But what I would really prefer is a system in which there is a better balance between the volatility of the damage rolls and the health pools of the players and monsters. Fudging dice rolls only gets you so far, for example you can't fudge your player's dice rolls. So cheating can't be the solution for a rules system in which the random numbers are too volatile.
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A first 5th edition remark
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 July 2014, 10:18 am
I have frequently joked that if you want to know what edition of Dungeons & Dragons you are playing, you only need to ask "How many arrows does it take to kill a first level mage?". I watched WotC do a demonstration of the new starter set on YouTube and the group cleric there gets one-shotted by a critical hit. And the DM mentioned that in a previous trial run of the same adventure a mage not only got dropped by a critical arrow hit, but outright killed.

I believe 5E to be rather deadly, at least in the low levels. The advantage / disadvantage mechanic makes critical hits far more likely, and player characters have much less health than in 4E. And while a critical hit in 4E does damage as if you had rolled the maximum on the dice, in 5E you get twice the dice to roll. So if you roll high, you do more damage on a crit. More crits, potentially higher damage per crit, and lower health pools. What could possibly go wrong?

As I reported yesterday my campaign is in the middle of a fight which is hard and didn't go terribly well for the players. It is possible that somebody will die in that fight. But if somebody does, that will be an accumulation of several things, tactical errors made, and health lost over several rounds, with opportunities of healing having been missed. In 5E you can lose a character to a single arrow in the surprise round of an ambush. I don't consider that to be good game design. Character death should be a strong feedback signal telling you that you did something wrong, and not a random result telling you that you have bad luck.
Tobold's Blog



5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is a thing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 July 2014, 4:54 am
Previously known as D&D Next, 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is now officially a thing. You can buy the starter set in selected shops now, and everywhere else soon. Plus the basic rules are available for free from the WoTC website. Time for some comments:

First of all, my current campaign and the campaign I'm planning for next year will remain 4th edition. That is not only because me and my players like 4E more; but also because we play in French: 4E has a French translation, 5E is only available in English. Half of my players don't speak English. So our choice in this matter is inherently limited. Distribution being similarly US-centric, I don't expect to be able to pick up a D&D Starter Set before August.

I have downloaded, printed out, and started reading the 5E Basic Rules. I have watched videos on the content of the Starter Set, and seen WotC play the first session of it on YouTube. With the information I have about these two products, I have come to a conclusion: The Starter Set and the Basic Rules *together* form something which could be described as "Basic D&D", that is a full system to play a campaign of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons with somewhat simplified rules. With the Basic Rules being free and the Starter Set $19.99 official retail price, $12.65 currently on Amazon.com, that is extremely good value for money. On the other hand, if you want to play the *full* version of 5E, you will need to buy 3 books (Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual) at $50 suggested retail price each, and those haven't even come out yet.

Needless to say I consider the Starter Set / Basic Rules combo to be more suitable for new players, both from a point of view of complexity, and of price. Which leads me to my personal "5E project": I would like to look at the Starter Set and the Basic Rules together, do some simulated play sessions solo, and see how well the combo does in teaching Dungeons & Dragons to a new generation of players. That will presumably happen somewhere after the summer. I'm not in a rush. Besides telling me how good the new edition is for new players, I will probably get to understand the fundamentals of 5E enough for me to decide whether I want to buy the full books. Which, unless WotC announces a French translation, is currently not likely. 5E is now a thing, but not yet a global thing.
Tobold's Blog



The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 17
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 July 2014, 3:26 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune cleansed the main temple of Gardmore Abbey, and learned how the Deck of Many Things had caused the downfall of the abbey 150 years ago. They had killed most of the gnolls in the vaults, which left only the gnolls' rivals, the minotaurs, plus a big bronze door behind which the party suspects a dragon.

Entering the room of the minotaurs the heroes found them to be not immediately hostile. The minotaurs seemed quite amused by the fact that the party had killed their rivals, the gnolls. They freely gave the group information about the layout of the vaults, and confirmed the presence of a dragon. The other unexplored room contained the mysterious new chief who had united the rival tribes of minotaur and gnoll and stopped them from fighting. The rogue suggested they might go and kill that chieftain, and the minotaurs agreed to help under the condition that they would leave the minotaur bodyguard of the chief alive and only kill the chief and the remaining gnolls. But something didn't feel right about that offer (intuition check), and the group wisely declined. Apart from "cleaning the dungeon" they actually didn't have a reason to fight the minotaurs and the gnoll/minotaur chief, and so they decided to leave instead.

Using the other entrance to the vaults they returned to the bronze door and the dragon's den. They had been told that the dragon was too fat to leave his den, and that his kobold minions were digging a tunnel for him to the outside. On opening the door they found that the kobold and the tunnel was true, but the young red dragon was not so fat after all. Fortunately the dragon was asleep. As usual the heroes stayed outside the room and started firing at the kobolds. The kobold shaman started praying to Mekkalath, the dragon, besieging him to wake up and slay their foes. So the warlock decided to cast an area spell centered on the kobold shaman to stop him from waking the dragon, but that area included the dragon. So the damage from that spell woke up the dragon earlier than the kobolds would have managed. Oooops!

At first the usual battle tactics of the group worked: The warrior and the rogue tanked at the door, while the others launched spells and arrows from behind. But the door was 4 squares wide, and the kobolds opened then second half of the bronze door so that all 4 squares were accessible. And when the wizard cast a stinking cloud on the dragon and kobolds, they started to push into the room where the group was. The group killed all the 1 hitpoint minions, but only one of the four kobold defenders. And in spite of me giving them too much information about how the kobold shaman was healing and buffing the dragon, they also didn't attack the shaman, but concentrated their fire on the dragon. Unfortunately the dragon had a huge amount of health, so that wasn't the best tactics.

The dragon also turned out to be scarier than I had thought. Monsters in 4E have the same sort of at-will and encounter powers as player characters, but they also have a kind of attack with a different cooldown that players don't get: Recharge powers; those are encounter powers with a probability to recharge each round. The red dragon's fire breath recharges on rolling either a 5 or a 6 on a d6 at the start of each round. So as luck would have it, the dragon got to use his breath weapon twice in two subsequent rounds, catching 3 players each time. He also managed to grab the dwarven warrior in his mouth with a bite attack. The dwarf had found a dragonlance earlier in the abbey, which reduced all dragon damage by 5 points. But with the dwarf in his mouth and the rogue pushed aside by the kobolds the dragon was free to storm into the room with the casters. The wizard panicked and tried to run away, getting knocked down in the process by a tail swipe from the dragon, but then using an action point to get up and flee towards the stairs.

Unfortunately we had started the session rather late, and we had to stop at that point. Stopping a session in the middle of a fight is annoying, as one has to write down all positions and effects. But with the tactical situation now being much less favorable and the dragon not even bloodied yet, maybe the group needs some time to think how to continue that fight.
Tobold's Blog



What I'm playing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 July 2014, 10:06 am
With over a hundred unplayed Steam games in my library, one might think that I would be playing those to reduce the backlog. But as I considered that notion, I realized that all week long I hadn't played a single game on Steam. What I actually played was:

  • Wildstar: While MMORPGs are a niche market, the people who do play MMORPGs tend to spend a lot of hours in these games. That seriously reduces the time they spend on other PC games. I am not playing Wildstar excessively, my "main" is only level 21. But I did spend several hours to switch my alt from relic hunter / technologist to armorsmith / technologist, crafting armor for my warrior main. It just isn't worth doing a gathering skill on an alt who is level 15 and doesn't go into the zone where he could actually gather interesting relics. Omniplasm is cheap on the AH.
  • World of Tanks Blitz (iOS): The good news is that Wargaming.net made a very good port of World of Tanks for the iPad. It is reduced in size to 7 vs. 7, with only 3 nations, and no artillery. But otherwise it plays very much like World of Tanks on the PC. The bad news is that if you have both a PC and an iPad, there isn't really a good reason to play on the iPad. The controls with a virtual joystick with no haptic feedback simply is too awkward on the iPad, even if it isn't quite as bad as in the ports of other, faster shooter games.
  • Battleheart Legacy (iOS): Syp called it the mobile game of the year, and I agree. I played the original Battleheart and found it not so great, as controlling 4 characters on the touch screen was hectic and annoying. Battleheart Legacy reduces that to just one character, with more powers, and that works brilliantly. The skill system is excellent, so while I haven't finished the game with my first character yet, I already started with an alt to see how it plays with a very different build. If you are looking for a good single-player RPG on the iPad which you can play even without internet connection, I can only recommend this game.
  • Pixel People (iOS): This is one of those games some core gamers will hate, because progress is so slow. I basically finished the game now, having found all 380 out of 380 professions. But that took me months, playing a few minutes every day, usually twice per day.
So, lots of iPad games last week, which is related to the fact that I was traveling for some days. But even at home I was playing Wildstar and Battleheart Legacy rather than playing a Steam game. I find that there is a certain barrier to entry before I start a new Steam game, because it takes some time to download and install the game, and then learn how to play a new game. Coming back tired from work I frequently prefer a game I already know to a new game, just because it requires less energy.
Tobold's Blog



Wildstar subscription numbers
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 July 2014, 4:59 am
I don't have any. Do you?

Every week I look at the Nosy Gamer's Digital Dozen MMORPG XFire activity chart. Which is getting less and less statistically significant every week, due to XFire not exactly being growing. However the chart shows trends which are probably roughly correct. And Wildstar activity numbers have been constantly decreasing by large percentages each week, to the point where they are now behind Guild Wars 2, a drop of over 60% from the peak. And that in just a few weeks, we aren't even talking "three-monther" here.

It is my personal belief that Wildstar is doing rather badly regarding subscription numbers. I am basing that opinion not only on Nosy Gamer's activity charts, but also on my personal experience of servers being much less busy now, and the fact that no new servers have been opened since release. I also noticed on my character selection screen a message which was basically begging me to stay subscribed and try out the new content patch. Furthermore the complete absence of any bragging about subscription numbers by Carbine makes me think that there is not much to brag about.

Of course by simply not publishing any numbers Carbine makes it rather easy to adapt a position of denial; pretending that everything is going just fine. Ultimately what matters is how much money Wildstar is making. And Carbine is owned by NCSOFT, who aren't known for their infinite patience with games that don't make money. There is something inherently unhealthy about a big budget MMORPG made for a niche population in a niche market. Things are going to happen in the coming 12 months to address that, including introduction of a free trial, price reduction of the box cost, and possibly even a Free2Play conversion.
Tobold's Blog



Get disappointed in your life
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 July 2014, 3:06 am
The title of this post is the label of the Steam Calculator, an online tool that calculates the value of your Steam game library. Here are my results:

Worth: 2495,32€ (808,04€ with sales)
Games owned: 188
Games not played: 134 (71%)
Hours spent: 988.6h

You can see where my recently mentioned reluctance to buy any more Steam games on sale is coming from: 71% of the games in my library are unplayed. The thousand hours played appears low, but I do have a laptop with Steam installed in offline mode to play some games, so the number might not be complete.

The one value that I would take with a large grain or shovel-full of salt is the first one, the "Worth". This is actually what it would cost me to buy those 188 games today. I'm not 100% sure where the "with sales" value is coming from, maybe they do have a list of the lowest price every game was ever on sales for. What the number certainly doesn't reflect is what price I paid for these games. Because some games I bought on release, where they were cheaper. Others I bought at some sale. So my real spent money might be anywhere between the 808 € with sales number and a number which is even higher than the current worth of the games.

If you want, feel free to post your Steam Calculator results in the comment section. If you consider that data to be private and don't want anybody to know, you might be interested to hear that right now everybody who knows your Steam name can look up this information. You would have to go to your Steam account settings and change your Steam account profile from public to private to hide the information from the world.

Am I disappointed in my life? Certainly not because of the Steam Calculator. What that shows is that I have more money than time. And seeing on my Steam account that I've been on Steam for 6 years already, and given my disposable income, 2500€ is certainly not a worrisome amount of money for me. The Steam Calculator only tells me what I already knew, that I should tread softly with Steam sales, and spend more time actually playing the games I already bought.
Tobold's Blog



A question for Gevlon
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 July 2014, 9:44 am
Gevlon,

You want to remove the 90% of players who are not playing good enough (from your point of view) from your MMORPGs of choice. Assuming that the game companies would quite like to keep the same revenue, would you be willing to pay a 10 times higher subscription fee for that priviledge? You can't just shove the 90% into second-rate content and expect them to keep paying the same subscription fee as you do.
Tobold's Blog



Is MMO group content salvageable in today's AAA MMOs?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 July 2014, 11:14 am
Of course I couldn't leave Hagu's "meta question" of yesterday unanswered. Not only do I believe that group content in a modern AAA MMORPG could be salvaged, I also have a bunch of ideas how. The solution is actually quite simple once one understood the problem, so let's talk about the problem first: Group content today is designed in a way that if you group with the "wrong people", your overall reward of your activity becomes negative. Most frequently in the form of "I group with incompetent players, I fail to complete the group content, I wasted my time".

The solution is therefore to make the reward for grouping always positive. You might still want to group with a more competent player for getting even more reward, but as long as grouping with anybody is better than soloing, most of the toxicity is gone. It would be very hard, if not impossible, to implement such a solution in MMORPG dungeons today, but who said that we have to? We can simply make questing in a group give a better reward than questing solo. If grouping with random strangers day to day was beneficial, people would be a lot nicer to each other, and make friends more easily. We could even have levelling guilds, which I sometimes hear advertised in chat, but which under current game design are unable to deliver.

In its most basic form my solution would be a simple multiplier to the reward of questing depending on whether you were grouped when you did the task or not (with your group partner being in the vicinity). Note that this isn't only possible for xp while levelling, you could also hand out better gear; it would also work for end-game daily quests that hand out some currency to buy stuff with. For xp this is easiest, and you can also give more xp per kill done together, which prevents grouping with afk players. With Wildstar having moved the genre back towards somewhat slower levelling, many people would be interested in faster xp.

If you want to expand on the idea, you would have to modify quests a bit. No more phasing preventing players from doing a quest together to start with. And it might be a good idea to have quests with flexible goals: Not "kill 10 wolves in the forest", but "kill wolves in the forest". When you come back to the quest giver, you get a reward proportional to how many wolves you killed, with each wolf killed in a group counting for more.

Note that currently most games, including WoW and Wildstar, are designed to make questing in a group slower than soloing. Which very much contributed to the "massively single-player online RPG" genre that we have today. Change the incentives, and playing together (and thus paying for playing online) actually makes sense again.
Tobold's Blog



Relying on random strangers
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 June 2014, 9:19 am
I personally have opted out of Wildstar group content, because I consider it counterproductive to the true goal of playing a game: Having fun! But I keep reading about it, usually reporting bad design decisions. Apparently the best rewards of a dungeon could be had by gaining a gold medal, for which the requirement was doing the dungeon without a single death. And some people ran dungeons with pickup groups and then got extremely angry about not getting that perfect score, resulting in groups getting dissolved early or people getting kicked or other forms of toxicity.

But the good news is that even Carbine realised that this was an idiotic design. Azuriel reports that the system has been changed, now giving the best reward for the actual purpose of a dungeon run: Finishing it. But then of course the hardcore players started complaining about the "nerf", as finishing a dungeon is obviously much easier than a perfect run, so now the unwashed masses can get the good gear.

As Azuriel remarked, requiring a perfect score for a reward is incompatible with a LFD system that groups you with random strangers. By definition a random stranger on average is averagely skilled, and you can't do content with them that would require more than average skill. In particular you can never do content with a random pickup group which requires nobody ever to do a mistake. Even good players make mistakes.

So Carbine's only alternative would have been giving the highest level of rewards out only to guild group, and thus preventing PUGs to be able to go for that sort of reward. But I guess by now a sufficient number of players has cancelled their subscription to make Carbine realise that a casual-unfriendly game might have some drawbacks. Expect more of those "nerfs" in the coming months.
Tobold's Blog



Hating Wildstar challenges a bit less
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 June 2014, 11:04 am
During the beta and first week of Wildstar I absolutely hated challenges: The way the game suddenly shouted at me and forced me to change my plans. The way they turned a leisurely activity into a rush. The way they were designed to make me hate other players, who caused me to fail the challenge (and get shouted at again). And finally the way how the challenge offered me a choice of rewards, only to then give me one of the things I didn't want. I still believe most of this is just bad game design, but I'm starting to get used to challenges and hate them a bit less.

The first thing I found out which helps a lot is that there is no penalty for just cancelling a challenge. Then when that challenge is more convenient (no other players around, or need to kill the same mobs for a quest) I can just restart the challenge from a tab in the quest log. The second good thing is that even if I succeed a challenge and don't get the reward I wanted, I can restart the challenge after half an hour. Which I do sometimes, because some challenges offer much better gear rewards than quests of the same level.

While I prefer to make gold by crafting and trading on the AH, I also need to remark that challenges aren't a bad way to make gold. Once you outlevel a challenge somewhat it gets very fast to complete. And some of the rewards, especially decor, sell for good money. I've seen websites describe gold farming routes involving series of challenges on a circular path that takes just enough time to reset the half-hour counter.

So even if they can be somewhat annoying, I have learned to not completely ignore challenges. Some of them can actually be fun, usually those that don't involve killing regular mobs.
Tobold's Blog



Not doing that Steam Sale
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2014, 4:10 pm
Recently Ars Technical data-mined Steam and found that 37% of games that people had bought then stayed unplayed in their libraries. I'm afraid my personal Steam library has even more unplayed games in it. I tend to pick up games that look interesting for cheap in a Steam sale, and then never find the time. So this year I don't participate in the Steam summer sale, because I simply don't need any more unplayed games.

Between Steam sales and cheap iOS games, I have reached the point of game saturation. Neither money nor availability of interesting games is a limiting factor any more, the only limit to the number of games I can play is the time I have for games. How about you?
Tobold's Blog



Are CREDD Pay2Win?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 June 2014, 2:35 am
In the previous thread Gevlon commented that buying gold is a form of cheating. Basically "Pay2Win", you pay real money, you get virtual gold, and the auction house permits you to leverage that virtual gold into a power advantage in game. But when I pointed out that you could buy gold "legally" via CREDD, Carson opined that Carbine makes the rules, so buying gold via CREDD wouldn't be cheating. Okay, but putting that legalistic definition of what "cheating" is aside, isn't buying gold still Pay2Win, regardless which path you use to convert your real money into an in-game advantage?

In case you don't play Wildstar, you might need to know that in Wildstar crafted gear is exceptionally good, compared with other games. I can't speak about the level cap, but during the leveling process I am convinced that "best-in-slot" is more often than not a crafted item. As a weapon-crafter I have never seen a drop or quest reward which is anywhere near as good as the weapons I can craft for myself. Not only is the quality very good, you also get to choose what stats to put into the crafted item.

So if for example you wanted to start PvP and did so in typical quested for / looted gear, your gear would be far from optimal for PvP, and it would take you quite some time to get decent PvP gear from doing PvP. Especially since if you did this while leveling, you get good xp from PvP, and thus constantly outlevel your gear again. But if you bought a CREDD for real money, and transformed it into virtual gold, you could start your first PvP battle with gear which was not only of much higher quality than quest gear, but you could also buy that gear with specific PvP stats and blow an equally skilled player without that advantage out of the water.

While you can't technically "win" the PvE part of a MMORPG, most people would consider having more power at the same level and thus leveling faster quite an advantage. CREDD can buy you that. So whatever way you look at it, CREDD to me look very much like Pay2Win. And Carbine is making money from it, because CREDD are more expensive than a regular subscription, so Carbine effectively slapped a $2+ "tax" on CREDD subscriptions.

Now I understand the concept of trying to prevent "illegal" gold-selling by offering a legal version. But that didn't work out all that well for Diablo 3. Because it isn't JUST the fact that gold sellers are a shady bunch that cause all sorts of secondary problems that makes real-money trade (RMT) of dollars versus gold a problem. There is a reason why government decided that you can't legally buy heroin in a pharmacy, even if that might put heroin dealers out of business. Legalization isn't a perfect solution to every problem of that kind. If a large part of the motivation in a MMORPG comes from collecting better gear, and you can just pull out your wallet to buy the best available gear, you destroy much of the game in the process.
Tobold's Blog



Wildstar botters
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2014, 10:11 am
Carbine pulled out their ban-hammer for the first time and banned a large number of botters. I can't be absolutely certain if that was the cause, but on the AH of my server the number of titanium chunks for sale dropped from 14,000 to 6,000 over night. Wildstar's Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney said:
"(An aside, from a place of honesty here - I sincerely don’t understand the player that tries to level up by AFK botting - they make instanced Battlegrounds less fun, and we’re going to ban healthy percentages of them. This wastes money and time (both ours and theirs). And pisses you, the honest player, off. Lose-lose-lose. That being said, I don’t gotta understand the reasons behind such actions – they’re still going to get banned, we’re going to focus heavily on those going forwards.)
(Gold farmers I hate too, but at least I can understand the reasons behind their actions. They’re trying to make money by spamming, ripping off accounts, and gold, and wasting our support/dev time, which is unethical and borderline evil but at least rational. I really suggest not buying gold from them if you actually care about such things)."
I understand the sentiment and the ranking: If your goal is to do well in a game, using a bot is just plain cheating and completely defeats the original purpose of playing a game. On the point of gold farmers, I would be more careful with my language. If you call them "gold farmers", I don't consider their actions unethical or evil. Annoying, sure, but as they never actually accepted the premise of the game as being *a game*, but consider it as a form of making a living, I have a hard time condemning them. They don't "cheat", because they don't play, they work. Of course as soon as we talk about "account hackers", which is not totally the same thing even if there is obviously an overlap, we clearly get into the domain of illegality. But somebody who is just farming gold, with or without bots, and then selling it, with or without spam, isn't breaking any real world laws. In fact a gold farmer quite frequently does exactly the same actions as a regular player in need of gold, only they do it more intensively.

I strongly suspect that game companies hate gold farmers mostly because the gold farmers expose one of the big lies of virtual worlds: That the items and currency in these games are just pixels, a form of art protected by copyright, and not something of real monetary value to the player. The fact that there is an exchange rate, as well officially (CREDD for plat) as inofficially (dollars for gold farmer plat) suggests to any economist that we are dealing here with things that have real world value. Game companies absolutely hate that idea, because they fear that they could be held responsible if their actions lead to a loss of virtual goods. On the one side the game companies would love to extract a maximum amount of money from players who value virtual items, but on the other side they refuse any responsibility for guarding those values. If today someone buys a sparkly pony for $25, and tomorrow the game shuts down or patches mounts out of existence, shouldn't there be some sort of consumer protection for the hapless buyer?
Tobold's Blog



Don't outsource your core business
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2014, 3:26 am
MMORPGs are not like other computer games. A developer studio making a single-player game might well consider their core business to be developing games, and leave the distribution to somebody else. A MMORPG is more akin to an ongoing service. Game design is important, but the infrastructure around it is at least equally important. Your brilliant game is no good at all if for example on release your account creation website is dead and nobody can log in.

Sony Online Entertainment took two years to learn this lesson. They had outsourced the handling of their European customers to a German TV company which had a few browser games, ProSiebenSat1, and was thus eminently unqualified to handle massively multiplayer online role-playing games or shooters. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and the European players felt left out in the cold. I haven't played any SOE games in that time, just because of PSS1 and region locks. This week SOE cancelled the contract, and will migrate the games back into SOE management. Better late than never! I now might get to play Everquest Next and Landmark!

I hope other game companies are watching and learning the lesson: Customer handling is a core business for MMORPGs, don't outsource it!
Tobold's Blog



Serious gameplay vs. serious looks
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 June 2014, 3:06 am
I played every Final Fantasy game from FFVII on. If you look just at the single-player role-playing games of the series (and thus ignore the MMORPGs and tactics and whatever spinoffs), you'll notice that on gameplay they are variations around the same design. But on graphics style there are huge differences between the different Final Fantasy games, from more comic book and colorful to more realistic and dark. Thus in my experience there isn't much of a correlation between looks and gameplay.

But apparently that isn't the perception of everybody. Many people believe that a more serious, closer to photo-realistic, and darker look correlates with more serious gameplay, while candy colored funny furry animals are for casual games. As a result they tend to have problems wrapping their head around Wildstar, which is extremely colorful and not serious at all in style, but very serious in gameplay. You hear a lot of comments from hardcore players who like the idea of Wildstar gameplay, but are turned off by the graphics style. Would Wildstar have an easier time marketing itself to the hardcore audience if it looked more like let's say The Elder Scrolls Online?

Surprisingly when I thought about factors of correlation between looks and gameplay, it appeared to me that if I wanted to make a very serious game, I would go for a comic look, like Carbine did. For me better gameplay correlates strongly with a better user interface. And highly visible user interface elements fit better into a comic world than into a photo-realistic one. You only need to play five minutes of TESO combat versus five minutes of Wildstar combat to know what I mean: The core mechanics of combat are very similar, but in Wildstar you always know exactly what is going on, while in TESO the feedback you get is far from optimal. If you added telegraphs and floating damage numbers to TESO, it wouldn't look good, but that is exactly what you need to do to get combat right.

I believe that Carbine did the right choice when choosing the looks of Wildstar. It is a lot easier to make a game with serious gameplay with the graphics style they have.
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