WoW Token hits Europe
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2015, 2:49 am
One could have reasonably expected Blizzard to launch the WoW Token in Europe at the same price than in the USA, because there isn't really a strong reason to think that the market value would be much different over here, with the Euro being at $1.07. But strangely enough somebody at Blizzard decided to set the starting price of the WoW Token in Europe to 38k instead of 30k. I faintly suspect that they observed on the US servers that the price dropped by 8k from 30k to 22k since its launch and figured that if they launched at 38k they would end up at 30k. While a few players bought tokens for this high amount of gold and drove the price on the first day up to nearly 45k (a similar post-launch peak happened in the US), the high price then simply caused people to stop buying those tokens. So now the price is 33k and falling, and in trade chat many players said they'd wait for the prices to reach US levels.

I haven't done a recount of my gold yet, but I think it is over 300,000 now. I'll certainly buy at least one WoW Token for gold if the price falls below 25k as expected. But that is mostly to be able to say that I did it. Otherwise I have much reduced my gold-earning activities, because they are only fun for so long, and I'm not falling into the circular logic trap of buying a subscription with gold, and then only using that subscription to make gold. I don't like repeating the same activities over and over, even if that makes me save $15 a month.

As I have no intention of cancelling my subscription and replacing it with WoW Tokens, I started to wonder what happens if you have both. If I have an active subscription and turn in a WoW Token for 30 days of game time, does that "suspend" my subscription and make Blizzard not charge me money for a month? Or do I need to cancel my subscription in order to use the token?
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The Favorites of Selune - Last Session
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2015, 10:32 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune had fought their way through the troll warrens, uncharacteristically skipping an optional combat. That left them for this session with only the final boss fight of the dungeon left, against the troll king Skalmad. The fight was okay-ish, but in view of this being the end of the campaign I think I should have re-designed Skalmad instead of taking him as written from the King of Trollhaunt Warrens adventure.

Skalmad is a troll who found an artifact, a magical orb. A person can rip out his own eye and put the orb in, and that gives him access to some special powers. I loved the idea, but unfortunately didn't bother to playtest or re-read the powers in detail. And it turns out that in practice the eye wasn't all that great. It had one minor power that slowed a single character and prevented teleportation, but with a solid front adventurers vs. trolls movement wasn't much of an issue in the fight. And then there was one power that shot a sort of fireball, but only once per encounter. That made Skalmad mostly reliant on melee combat, and for some reason he was hitting less hard than the battle trolls of his entourage. Once I started I didn't "cheat" and upgrade Skalmad in the middle of the fight, but in the end I did wish I had prepared better and made my own version of the troll king with more impressive eye powers.

I guess that is a lesson on transitioning from one campaign to the next. The natural tendency is to be very excited about the new campaign, and that poses a risk of not properly ending the old one. But then I guess in the history of D&D there are far more campaigns that just somehow petered out than those who got a spectacular send-off at the end. With the Favorites of Selune having been an episodic campaign with no large story, there wasn't really much room for a great finale.

So, this was it for the Favorites of Selune, a campaign of just over 3 years. It taught us how to play Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, and got us from level 1 to 11. I asked, and my players prefer 4th edition over other options, so the next campaign will use the same rules system, but use all Player's Handbooks, and not just the first one. And I'm hoping to improve on the role-playing part.

The new campaign will start slowly: One session to introduce the world of the Zeitgeist campaign, and then another session to create the characters. The idea is to first establish the campaign world, and what the general role of the group is in that game world, before creating the characters. I always felt that if you make a character before knowing anything about the world, you risk to end up with a background that doesn't really fit into the history of the world. One of the strong points of the Zeitgeist setting is that it provides character themes which are tailor-made to fit into the campaign. But for that to work, some knowledge of the world is necessary.
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Level cap activities
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2015, 8:51 am
I am not a huge fan of playing at the level cap. Gameplay at the level cap tends to be more repetitive, with diminishing returns of gear rewards over time. And while reaching the level cap is great as a starting point for the next expansion, the gear reset when that expansion comes makes most rewards you got at the level cap obsolete.

One thing I was interested in was making gold with my 4 level 100 characters in view of the WoW token coming to Europe one day. That turned out to be rather easy. With two tradeskill buildings and the relate professions per character, and a level 3 barn each, I'm making over 5,000 gold *a day* just by producing the crafting materials and savage blood that I transform into various upgrade essences. The problem is that with money-making methods I am most interested in proving the concept, and not necessarily in repeating the method for a long time. For the savage blood I need to kill 6 elite level 100 mobs per character per day, or 168 elite mobs per week. That gets tedious pretty quickly, and between farming those mobs and doing the daily garrison chores (gathering resources, collecting work orders, followers missions) I end up spending half of the time I play each week just with those money-making tasks. As I already have enough gold to buy a bunch of tokens, I'm planning to cut that way down, and skip the resource collection / farming part. The tradeskill building still make some money if I buy the resources, and I don't really need more.

End game activities frequently pose a danger of circular logic: You raid to get epics, and you need epics to raid more. I need gold to pay for WoW tokens, and then I spend my subscription time to make gold. To escape that circular logic I think I need to concentrate on what is intrinsically the most fun activity, and forget about the rewards.

One thing I am having a lot of fun with is pet battles. Collecting the pets from different zones appeals to the collector in me. I am currently working on the Draenor zones, with the added goal of reaching 150 pet battles won in Draenor, which gives an account-wide achievement which unlocks the level 3 menageries in my garrisons. But once I have that, I was thinking of collecting pets with my low level monk and/or hunter, combining questing with pet collecting in the same zone. Maybe that way I'll even level another character all the way from 1 to 100.

I still haven't regained my interest in group content, even with the announced timewalking mechanics. On paper it looks like a good idea: A lot of effort went into creating the dungeons of previous editions, and right now they are pretty useless. I soloed Karazhan for fun with my warlock, but beyond the nostalgia value that isn't really all that interesting. So yeah, making old dungeons available to current end game characters sounds good. Only I'm not interested because if you join a pickup group today you only ever get people in a hurry wanting to do speed runs, and complaining all the time about their group mates. That isn't what I would want to visit old dungeons for, even if they give level 100 rewards. As I said, those will be obsolete by the time the next expansion comes anyway.
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One combat system to bind them all
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2015, 2:46 am
Since last weekend I started doing pet battles in World of Warcraft. I simply missed out on them earlier and had only low level pets. So in the zones that were level-adequate for my high-level characters, the pets were too high level for me, and I wasn't in a mood to grind low-level zones for them. But when you do the final upgrade of your garrison at level 100, you get an easy quest for an "Ultimate Battle-Training Stone". With 4 character at level 100 I could thus instantly boost 4 rare pets of mine of different types to level 25, and could start battling high-level pets. Which then gave me more pets, and lesser battle-training stones, so by now I have a decent selection of level 25 pets for different opponents.

A hundred pet battles later it struck me that in fact the WoW pet battle combat system in solo PvE is far more interesting than the regular WoW combat system: In pet battle combat you actually need to plan ahead, and you can't use the same pets with the same rotation for every battle. You can lose a fight horribly, change your pet selection and their powers and win the rematch. In comparison the standard WoW combat is far more simplistic, requires less thinking, and your optimal tactic is largely independent of who you are fighting. So why not "Pokemon the MMORPG", where all battles are pet battles?

The answer to that is probably that solo PvE is only one part of combat in MMORPGs. You also need to consider group PvE and PvP. And the turn-based pet battles of WoW that work brilliantly with you alone against the AI wouldn't work quite so well when there is a whole group of players involved. Because there are so many different ways to play a MMORPG, the combat system needs to work well in all those modes.

Wildstar, currently rumored to be preparing a drop of subscriptions after having pulled boxed copies from retail stores, in my opinion has a problem with the combat system. I really love the Wildstar combat system in solo PvE, because it is far more interactive than classic systems. But all those telegraphs and signals you need to respond to collapse into chaos in a group situation. When you are fighting a group of monsters with a group of players, there are telegraphs on the ground everywhere and you don't know where to step.

Even in World of Warcraft the fact that the combat system is used for different situations poses a problem. It is simply impossible to have a perfect class balance for all the different modes of play. And typically class balance is considered most important for PvP, somewhat important for raids, and less important for solo PvE. So I am left with a shadow priest that downright sucks in solo PvE. And the announced serious nerfs in patch 6.2 for some classes are pretty much incomprehensible for me as solo PvE player, because it isn't the classes that are best in solo PvE that get nerfed.

Sometimes I think the relative rise of the MOBA and decline of the MMORPG is due to the fact that a MOBA is only trying to do one thing, while a MMORPG is trying to do too many things at once. I can think of better game designs if I start with the premise that my game is *only* having solo PvE, or *only* group PvE, just like a MOBA *only* has group PvP. Using one combat system for everything imposes serious limitations on the MMORPGs of today.
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Personal blogging
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 April 2015, 3:55 am
Yesterday mbp asked "Would you care to share your thoughts on the ongoing relevance of personal blogging in this age of facebook / twitter / reddit etc.?". I think the keyword in this is "personal", because that is where I see blogging moving towards to. A lot of the things that we thought a decade or more ago have turned out to be not true. Blogging isn't a platform to become rich and famous on the internet, blog posts do not make or move opinions except on a very small scale. The people who started blogging because they wanted to influence others, or to make money, have seen that this simply doesn't work and have stopped doing so. Those who only ever wanted to shout a strong opinion from the rooftops have moved to Twitter, fortunately taking a good part of the hate culture of the internet with them. Gamergate happened mostly on Twitter, not blogs.

Blogging has become quieter and more personal. Some hate blogs still exist, but they have turned into echo chambers of small groups of people already sharing the same opinion and repeating the same stuff over and over again. Sustainable blogging is personal, because intrinsic motivations last longer than hoping for extrinsic rewards. If you don't write for yourself, you don't write 5,000 blog posts over 12 years. Blogs are a perfect medium for public diaries, a need that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit don't address. Blogs are semi-public, the author still retains far more control than he has on social networks or forums, for example through comment moderation. That makes blogs a good place for moderate discussion, as you have the tools to kick out the troublemakers. Blogs work better for considerate, thoughtful discussion, while the other platforms work better for rash, strong expressions of strong emotions. It is actually a feature of Twitter that old tweets are hard to find, while for blogs it is a feature that they have searchable archives.

If somebody would ask me for advice whether he should blog, I'd ask him what for. Much of our daily lives is ephemeral. When you are playing a game, you leave nary a trace. If you want to preserve some memories and thoughts, personal blogging is a great way to do so. I am sad that I don't have blog entries from the role-playing sessions I did during my university days, because there was a lot of creativity in interactive storytelling that has been lost forever. For trying to make money or influence people, I would recommend different platforms (YouTube?), although I have a strong suspicion that for every famous person on the internet there are a million unknown people that tried the same thing. Blog if you want to write for an audience of one, yourself, first and foremost.
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5,000!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 April 2015, 12:43 am
This is my 5,000th post on my blog. That took me nearly 12 years, with an average of just above one post per day.
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McDonald's is not responsible for your eating habits
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 April 2015, 12:08 pm
The best thing I can say about Wolfshead is that fortunately he doesn't post often. But when he does it is always a long diatribe against the evils of modern MMORPGs, modern being anything from this century. Usually I just ignore him, but his current rant at least deserves one major logical flaw to be pointed out: In a free market the bad habits of customers are not the fault of the companies that enable those bad habits. Just because junk food exists does not force anybody to eat junk food. And if, as Wolfshead claims, there is a bad habit of gaming without social interaction that is enabled by World of Warcraft, that is *NOT* the fault of World of Warcraft.

In the case of McDonald's people could still point out that junk food is cheaper than healthy food. That still doesn't make McDonald's responsible for you eating junk food, but at least you can blame socio-economic factors for it. Playing World of Warcraft is not cheaper than other MMORPGs, in fact WoW is one of the most expensive games out there. So if more people play World of Warcraft than some "socially superior" game, it is because players *prefer* the "playing alone together" mode of World of Warcraft to the forced grouping of yesteryear.

Communities in online role-playing games evolved in a trend which is similar to the evolution of communities elsewhere on the internet: We moved from a situation where only a very small part of the population had access to a situation where everybody has access. Early online communities were tight because they were small and socially homogeneous. Today the online world is much bigger and much more heterogeneous, which leads to people having less in common and less interest in interacting with each other. People today prefer games in which they don't have to speak to each other for exactly the same reason that people generally don't start conversations with strangers on a bus.

What Blizzard does is what Blizzard always did well: Make accessible games and design them around what the players want. If guilds and raids today in WoW are the way they are, it is because people prefer them that way. And it is because people prefer playing the way that WoW offers that the game has millions of players. There is no secret, hidden conspiracy where Blizzard executives visit the houses of people who would rather prefer games with more social interaction and force them at gunpoint to play solo-friendly WoW.

The "flaws" that Wolfshead lists, easy soloing and no downtime, are actually part of World of Warcraft's recipe for success. Forced grouping and long downtime are not popular features for the mass market. The worst thing you can accuse WoW of is creating a mass market, as some people would have preferred MMORPGs to remain niche forever. But even in a hypothetical parallel world with no WoW, MMORPGs would have evolved to have less forced social interaction. Because the alternative, that is visible in places like Twitter or League of Legends, is a toxic and petty community in which people hate each other. Good modern games deliberately isolate players from each other, because hell is other people.
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What do the gold buyers spend their gold on?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 April 2015, 2:33 am
When the WoW Token was announced, I speculated that it would lead to gold flowing from people who didn't use it to players who had some need for it, who would go on a shopping spree and cause AH inflation. For me it appeared perfectly reasonable that somebody who was short on gold and bought 20k of it would spend it on let's say some Hexweave Leggings (follower missions for some reason don't give leg slot items) and maybe even a Hexweave Essence to further upgrade the iLevel of those leggings. But as far as I can make out from websites that track US server AH prices, the US prices for those items haven't changed since the WoW token was introduced and are roughly the same as the prices on the European servers, which don't have the WoW tokens yet.

So I am wondering what is happening. Are there not enough WoW tokens being traded to make a difference to AH prices? Or are the people buying gold spending it not on the AH, but for example to upgrade their garrison or buy NPC vendor mounts? Or am I just looking at the wrong kind of items and there is an inflation, but for items I haven't looked at?

If you are "playing the market" on the US servers, I would be quite interested to hear your observations. Did you notice any effect of the WoW token being introduced? What items do the gold buyers spend their gold on?
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On the role of the DM in a tabletop role-playing game
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 April 2015, 3:59 am
I've been reading a blog post about whether a DM in a pen & paper role-playing game should be an impartial arbiter, friendly guide, or deadly foe. None of those options struck me as particularly fitting, at least not for my style of Dungeons & Dragons gaming. So this is a post about what in my opinion the role of the DM is.

What I didn't like about the three options described above is that they have one thing in common: They set the DM apart from the players. Yes, pen & paper role-playing games which use a DM are asymmetrical and the role of the DM isn't exactly the same as the role of the players. But more often than not a tabletop role-playing group is otherwise homogeneous, a group of friends or people with similar interests. So in my opinion the DM is first and foremost a player too. That means that fundamentally everybody at the table, DM included, is working towards a common goal, telling an interesting interactive story and having fun in the process.

Think of it like the actors in a play that revolves around a strong main character, let's say Hamlet. Everybody is an actor in that play, including the person playing Hamlet. But the person playing Hamlet gets more time on stage. In a game of Dungeons & Dragons the DM also gets the most stage time, because everything anybody else does happens somewhat in interaction with the DM. But the goal, to make "the play" a success, is the same for all actors / players.

Whether the DM should be the arbiter depends a bit on what system you are playing. There are systems where the rules are deliberately vague and the DM is always required to judge any action of the players. Personally I dislike the "mother, may I?" style of play, and prefer systems with strong rules, like 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. If a situation can be played by following the rules as written, it isn't even necessary that it is the DM who has the best rules knowledge. Although if another player takes that role, the DM has to make certain that this player is impartial about it, and not a "rules lawyer".

Friendly guide is still the closest option of the three presented, but it isn't so much guide as the DM simply having a different view of the story, and a different set of information. There are many aspects in the fantasy world that the DM knows, but the players haven't discovered yet. That doesn't mean that the DM's view is absolute. It is *because* many parts of the world are unknown to the players, that the DM has the freedom to change the world on the spot. If your group enters a town and the cleric says "I am looking for a temple of Selune", I as the DM will either create such a temple on the spot, or if that doesn't fit reply with some other information about religion in this place, even if I hadn't thought of that before and hadn't prepared anything. If the players have a great idea to resolve a situation, the DM should play along, even if that wasn't what he planned. Thus the players can create new elements in the world by suggesting them and having that suggestion accepted.

What the DM should never be is deadly foe. He shouldn't use his infinite power over the world to basically cheat in combat against the players. It is best to design the challenge in advance, and then treat combat like a game of chess: The DM is the adversary, controlling all the monsters against the group of the players, but he is also a player in a tactical game which resembles a board game. Thus like any other player he should cheat on the dice rolls or conjure up new monsters on the fly when he feels he is losing. The DM sets the challenge level in advance, and then lets the dice fall as they may. Random results, whether that results in an easy win or in a player character death, are part of the story in a tabletop role-playing game.

DM isn't an easy job, and it involves more work than the other players have. But ultimately the DM should also have fun, interact with the others to tell a story, and be part of the group. Somebody *has to* be the DM in most pen & paper systems, and it is best not to set that role too far apart from the players. You never know, maybe another day you and your group will decide that somebody else is going to be DM for the next campaign.
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Alternative uses for WoW tokens
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 April 2015, 2:53 am
Talarian was musing whether he could make a profit by speculating with WoW tokens. Buying tokens for gold and reselling them for gold isn't possible. But you can buy subscription time for gold when tokens are cheap, and buy tokens for dollars and convert them to gold when tokens are expensive. The market would need to move a lot for that to work, because the tokens cost $20 for a $15 subscription, but in theory it is possible.

I had another idea on an alternative use for a WoW token: Transferring money between alts on different servers or different factions. The principle is the same as Talarian's idea: One character trades gold for a token, while another character buys a token for dollars and trades it for gold. Again you take that $5 hit, but that is cheaper than some other ways of transferring gold. Note that between factions you can transfer gold for a 5% fee via the auction house, but you need a second account or a trusted friend for that. I used a second account with a 10-day free trial recently and that worked fine.

From the current chart on WoWtoken.info I am wondering whether prices are stabilizing. The peaks are getting less high, and there is a trend towards a stabilization around 22k. But what I am even more interested in is when the WoW token will come to Europe. I'm looking forward to that.
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4 x 100
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 April 2015, 8:07 am
As far as reasons go to level a character to 100, I might just have found the silliest one: I leveled my shadow priest to 100 because he had been in the mid-90's for so long, he ran out of bank space for the various level 100 gear reward tokens from follower missions. I hated the idea to vendor them for 5 gold instead of the full converted value, or missing out on some surprise when converting them to real items. But as conversion is only possible at level 100, I had to play the shadow priest some more.

The priest is probably still my least favorite character of the four level 100s I have now. But I found that towards the end of the 90's his performance got better. I'll see how he does against level 100 elite mobs when I have my barn upgraded to level 3, but he might just do okay.
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WoW token 30,000 gold
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 April 2015, 3:53 am
I recently made a prediction that Blizzard would set the price for a WoW token at between 30,000 and 50,000 gold. It turns out that I was right, the initial price of the WoW token is 30,000 gold, and it goes live with the patch today in the American region. The other regions will have to wait a bit longer. Sorry Gevlon, your prediction of the price being set over 100,000 was wrong. And so was the prediction of reader "8f55..." who argued strongly that the price couldn't be higher than 10,000.

The WoW token system comes with a lot of protection against abuse. You can't buy or sell more than 10 of them, and a token once bought for gold can't be resold. That should kill most attempts at speculation or the involvement of professional gold sellers. At 30,000 gold for $20 you get 50% more gold per dollar when buying gold legitimately than if you use the cheapest third-party gold seller. That should put a major dent into their profits.

What interests me the most about this is the effect this is going to have on the in-game economy. I assume that there will be a lot of gold sellers, because if you have gold on an inactive account you can "play for free", and any move towards free play increases player numbers. On the buyer side there will probably also be more people, those who didn't want to risk getting banned over third-party gold buys, but would be interested in the legitimate version. So I assume that results in lots of people with more WoW gold than they had before searching for stuff to buy. That should increase AH prices.

I've been stockpiling resources for crafting and upgrading epics. Well, I sold some essences over the weekend, because it was a long weekend over here and the prices were unusually high, but I still have lots of resources left. So besides the about 200,000 gold I already have, I should be able to make at least a 100,000 more when all those new gold buyers storm the AH. Which is still some time away, because I'm playing on a European server. I'm not even sure if the initial price on the European server will also be 30,000, or whether it will already be adjusted after the experience with supply and demand on the US servers.

Anyone know of a blog or other site doing economic analysis of American World of Warcraft servers? I'd really like to know how the WoW token price is moving, and how the prices of resources and epics/upgrades evolve.
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Inverted scales
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 April 2015, 2:26 am
The WoW token had an interesting first day. At first it's value in gold rose by about 10%, from 30,000 to 33,000, then it dropped by nearly 25% to just above 25,000. But of course like any currency transaction you can also look at it from the other side, on an inverted scale: 1,000 gold initially got you 67 cents, that dropped to 60 cents and then rose to 80 cents. If the value of the WoW token goes down, the value of WoW gold goes up. Clearly there are currently more people wanting to buy (legal) WoW gold than there are people who want to sell it.

I now have answers to some of the open questions: Bryksom was wondering whether the buy price and the sell price are the same, and that appears very much to be the case. There is no cut for Blizzard on the gold, instead Blizzard gets their cut by selling the WoW token for $20, while the price for a month of subscription is only $15 or less (depending on payment plan). Seeing how volatile the price is on the first day it also appears very clear that this is really a free-floating currency, with prices getting adjusted every 30 minutes.

The one question where I am still looking for an answer, not having access to US servers myself, is whether it is possible to buy a WoW token without being currently subscribed to World of Warcraft. I think that makes a huge difference to people with inactive accounts: Would they first have to spend $15 to activate their account again in order to use their gold to get more WoW token subscription time, or can they do that transaction without spending any money of their own? The latter would obviously be much more attractive and get a lot of inactive accounts back into the game.
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eSports on steroids
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 April 2015, 5:01 am
Last year there were some big discussions about the role of video game journalism, with some people demanding that video game journalists should behave more like regular investigative journalists and less like mouthpieces of the industry. Well, sometimes investigative video game journalism happens, but I doubt that gamers will be happy with the result: Eurogamer has an excellent investigative article, well researched and with sources and all, about the use of performance enhancing drugs in eSports.

Of course the steroids in the title are just a figure of speech. Steroids stimulate muscle growth, and that tends to be not much of a help for a video game. But there are other drugs, for example medication for attention deficit disorder, that makes you more concentrated and increases your reaction time. Obviously that is a big help in certain competitive video games. And now that between Twitch and the first eSports events being shown on ESPN the video game tournament is becoming more prominent and people can earn thousands of dollars by performing well, it isn't surprising that some people use those performance enhancing drugs. Organizers turn a blind eye because they don't want eSports to be connected with doping, and there are no drug tests done at these events.

Allegations of drug use aren't new. But sooner or later we will come to the point where either eSports stops growing, or it will have to deal with these issues in order to be taken seriously. At some point some player will become seriously ill or die from side effects of some drug he took in order to improve his performance, or some winner will be proven to have been doped, and there will be a huge scandal. It often takes a Lance Armstrong scandal to really clean up a sport.

As an average gamer with no competitive ambitions I am frequently puzzled by the obsession some people have with performance in video games. I can understand the problematic of raiding, where your success depends on the performance of others, and if you are in a group with underperformers you waste your time and don't get any shiny epics. But the culture of performance goes much further than that, and even extends to single-player games. I don't understand why I should care at what difficulty level you play some single-player game. I'd recommend choosing the level that is most fun to you, and not trying to prove something by playing at a level that is more frustrating than entertaining.

What I understand even less is why some people cheat or "game the system" in multiplayer games. That goes from using aim bot software to manipulating your rating in a ladder-style match-making in order to be able to crush newbies, all of which are common and well-document practices. And now we can add drug use to that list. I am not convinced that it is *only* people playing for big prizes in tournaments that would consider taking an ADD drugs to play better. What satisfaction can you get out of a win if you know that you cheated to get there?
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Going infinite
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 April 2015, 2:58 am
In Magic the Gathering Online there is a special format of quick tournament called a draft where you cannot use the cards in your collection but need to play with expensive fresh packs of unopened cards (called boosters). You need 3 boosters to participate, but if you win the tournament you get more boosters than that as prize. So if you win sufficiently often you can "go infinite", that is keep playing without having to buy those expensive boosters. The WoW Token has opened up the possibility of "going infinite" in World of Warcraft, paying for your subscription with the gold you make in game. It is hard to say where the gold value of a token will settle (currently going up again to 26,500 g), but for the purpose of this post I'll consider you need to make 30,000 gold per month, or 1,000 gold per day every day, to go infinite. The discussion here and elsewhere reveals one interesting fact: Opinions differ widely whether 30,000 gold is "a lot" or "very little". And I would like to discuss why that is so.

I currently have 4 characters above level 90 with garrisons in World of Warcraft. Thus let us examine a very basic strategy to go infinite for me: I could log on every day and do the same thing with every one of my 4 characters: Gather the resources in my garrisons, and use them to start work orders in my crafting buildings. For example the daily ore I can get from a level 3 mine is sufficient to run a forge and a jewelcrafting building. Even if I don't have the professions myself and just use the work orders from two buildings and the daily recipes from the NPC to make 16 advanced crafting resources per profession and character per day, I end up with nearly 4,000 of those resources per month. So I can make 40 crafting epics. I can easily sell them in the current market for over 1,000 gold, so that is 40,000 gold and enough to go infinite.

And that is just the most basic plan, I think I could do much better than that with a more complicated version where I also use a level 3 barn to farm savage blood and make "essences" and similar upgrades which sell for a lot more. So this is why anybody who is used to trying to make gold in World of Warcraft will consider making 30,000 gold per month to be trivially easy, as I barely even need to leave my garrisons for that. Thus the utter incomprehension of the players who consider making gold to be easy for the other side, the people who would be tempted to buy 30,000 gold for $20. So let's have a look at the other side, by considering the "cost" of my plan to go infinite.

First of all my plan requires 3 to 4 alts with garrisons of at least level 2. For veterans like me (6,500 hours of /played time in WoW) that is not really a problem. But if you were to start as a new player today, it would take you hundreds of hours and thousands of gold to get just to this point. Second just logging on my 4 characters and running through all the daily stuff in my garrisons already takes me about 1 hour. And that is 1 hour of boring repetitive chores. If virtual economies and making gold wouldn't fascinate me, that would become tedious pretty quickly. What if you have only 1 hour per day to play? Would you want to spend that hour doing chores to pay for your subscription, or would you rather go out and have some fun?

Which brings us to the financial argument: Yes, I can easily pay for my subscription with gold playing one hour per day making that gold. But that means I paid with 30 hours of "work" instead of $15. I basically worked in World of Warcraft for 50 cents an hour. Financially I would be far better off if I worked a minimum wage job elsewhere and paid for the subscription with dollars. I earn $50 per hour in my day job, so why would I want to work for $0.50 in World of Warcraft?

When the WoW tokens come out I will buy some with my accumulated gold out of pride. I am as proud of my skills to make X gold per hour in World of Warcraft as somebody else might be to have the skills to deal X damage per second. Paying for a subscription with gold is a way to express my virtual economic skills, just like running around in raid epics in a city is a way to express your virtual warrior skills. But I'm pretty sure that this pride won't last forever. I have no interest in doing daily chores just so that I can save the trivial sum of $15 per month. When I am tired of making money in this expansion I'm not going to continue doing so just to pay for my subscription. Going infinite may be trivial in World of Warcraft, but paying for my subscription with real money is trival too.
Tobold's Blog



Heightened suffering
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 April 2015, 5:00 am
Ashenglut from Epic Slant is quoting Nietzsche on people who want to heighten suffering in an article discussing why some people like brutally difficult games. I was wondering whether the love of brutally difficult games isn't a social artifact, something which would go away if we would all play in isolation.

My reasoning is this: Imagine you had a game with a million different difficulty levels and you could tune it exactly to your liking and most amount of fun. You would not want to tune it in a way that you would never win. You would also not want to tune in it a way that you always win. There is some ideal win percentage, which might not be 50% but which certainly isn't 0% or 100%, at which you have the most fun.

Now obviously your win percentage depends also on your skill. Two players with different skill would have to tune that game to different difficulties to both arrive at the same win percentage. And that is where the social aspect is coming in. If I am talking on the forum of that game and am being asked what difficulty I prefer, that indirectly becomes a question of "how skilled are you in this game?". So people who are somewhat insecure and tend to derive self-worth out of their mad video game skillz are very tempted to say that they prefer a higher difficulty, because that is indicative of their high skillz.

An additional social effect which goes in the same direction is the notion of exclusivity. The same insecure players would not only like to enjoy a game, they would like to be part of a small exclusive club enjoying that game, because that would give them higher social status. [That is a bit like quoting Nietzsche, because you pretend to be part of an intellectual elite who actually reads and understands Nietzsche.] That explains why people not only clamor for games with optional brutal difficulty. They clamor for games where brutal difficulty is the *only* option, because that excludes a lot of players who are not veterans of the genre and creates an exclusive club with high social standing.

Personally I find brutally difficult games just boring, because "difficult" basically means that you are frequently forced to repeat the same content. You jumped one pixel too early or too late? Do the whole level again, and again, and again, until you get it right. I simply don't have time for that. Being able to jump at exactly the right pixel does not add to my self-worth (I get that from real life), and doesn't add to the entertainment value of the game. There are games which are story-heavy where I prefer to play at normal or lower difficulty level, because I know that otherwise I risk to get bored of the game before I have seen the end of the story. That is why several games call their easy difficulty setting "story mode", a notion I completely agree with. I simply depends on what you are trying to get out of a game. I suspect few people derive maximum enjoyment out of the most brutal difficulty, if it wasn't for the social status they think they get out of doing so.
Tobold's Blog



Geforce GTX 970
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 April 2015, 6:25 am
I don't think I mentioned it, but I recently bought a 27" screen with 2560 x 1440 resolution. That is a hell lot of pixels. Which might be the explanation why shortly afterwards I started to observe problems with my Geforce GTX 770 graphics card: In World of Warcraft, which isn't the newest game with the sharpest graphics, I observed some dips in framerate. And several times per day I got the dreaded "Display driver nvlddmkm stopped responding and has successfully recovered." error. In those cases my screen went black for 10 to 20 seconds in the middle of the game, but then recovered. Only that when hunting elite beasts for Savage Blood in WoW, if you are blind for 10 to 20 seconds in the middle of the fight, you end up dead.

At first I did my research and discovered that whole encyclopedias have been written on the internet about that display driver error. I tried at least a dozen different recipes that people proposed on how to fix it, but nothing worked. Some people suggested it was a problem with overheating. The GPU temperature I measured under full load at around 80°C is high, but below the 98°C maximum spec for the card. Other people suggested flaky video RAM.

So after fiddling for a day I had enough and went for the simple but expensive option: I bought a new graphics card, Nvidia Geforce GTX 970. I stuck with Geforce so I wouldn't have to change my drivers and Geforce Experience software. That makes changing the graphics card rather easy, especially since I have a large tower case with an easy to open door and lots of room to manipulate. So the card is up and running. My 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark went up from 7,500 to 9,721, and World of Warcraft is running perfectly at 60 fps (VSynced). I'll see if I'm not getting the display driver error any more.

The GTX 970 might be a bit overkill, a GTX 960 probably would have done the job too at half the price. But this way the new graphics card is presumably sufficient until the end of life of the computer.
Tobold's Blog



EVE Online is dying
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 April 2015, 3:38 am
Over the past decade there must have been thousands of blog or forum posts proclaiming that World of Warcraft is dying. Those usually appear after some quarterly result or other data point shows that a million subscribers have left the game. The same blogs then fail to mention when WoW gains 3 million subscribers due to some expansion coming out. That explains while after a decade of dying World of Warcraft still has millions of players. Still, if WoW would lose around 20% of its players, there would be another series of World of Warcraft is dying posts.

So in the interest of fair and balanced reporting I am doing a EVE Online is dying post, based on the excellent analysis of The Nosy Gamer on the matter. He dismisses the rumor that EVE is down to 146,000 subscribers, but shows through different sources and official statements that the game has lost between 18% and 23% of players over the last 12 months, which is certainly a sharp decrease.

Now I have been deliberately using the term "players" or "subscribers" in this discussion, which is what the fans of EVE usually do. In reality that is somewhat misleading. EVE never had as many players as is generally claimed, instead it had that number of "accounts". EVE Online is somewhat unique in that regard because the average EVE player has more than one account. Some people even have quite a lot of accounts, 5 or more.

The distinction is important in this case, because I don't actually believe that EVE Online lost 20% of "players". It lost 20% of "accounts". And the reason it lost those accounts was that they changed their policy regarding multi-boxing and specifically disallowed the ISBoxer software which many people used to automate multi-boxing. If you can't easily run many accounts at the same time any more without getting banned, you are likely to close some of those accounts. CCP deliberately forewent revenue in their fight against botters and RMT, which is commendable.

I consider it likely that World of Warcraft will see a number of account closures soon when they release the WoW token. A legal way to trade real money for WoW gold should drive some illegal gold sellers and their gold farming accounts out of business. The difference is that the real money used to buy gold with the WoW token system is not going into somebodies pocket, but is instead buying a subscription. A lot of elapsed WoW players with gold on their account might well reactivate their accounts and play "for free", their subscription being effectively paid by the people who buy their gold. So overall the WoW token is more likely to lead in an overall increase of subscription numbers than to a decrease.
Tobold's Blog



April 1st
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 April 2015, 5:55 am
I hate blogging on April Fools' Day. Don't believe anything you read today, not even this message. :)
Tobold's Blog



Global Netflix
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 March 2015, 3:45 am
A reader alerted me to a story about Netflix wanting to make Netflix global, by letting everybody access all Netflix content everywhere, with no geo-blocking or regional restrictions. Unfortunately that turned out to be not a real announcement, but an overly enthusiastic interpretation of a line taken out of context in an interview done when Netflix launched in Australia. The CEO of Netflix is basically saying that he isn't worried about VPN use of his service (as people pay for that), and that if one day Netflix goes global, the VPN issue would go away. That isn't the same as announcing a plan for a concrete Netflix Global service.

While the EU revealed a Digital Single Market Strategy without geo-blocking, that also is more a statement of intent, and not an announcement of anything happening anytime soon. Many European governments, especially the French, are worried about cultural imperialism, and the effect on global film and TV industries if everybody can freely watch American TV and films.

What Netflix is trying to do is telling their customers that it is okay to use VPN, while not being explicit enough about it to get them into legal trouble with the copyright holders. The people who sold the US rights to some TV series to Netflix would much prefer Netflix having to pay far more for global rights, while Netflix would like to gain more oversees customers with the possibility to watch that TV series via VPN without Netflix having to pay for it. Earlier this year The Guardian revealed that Netflix has 30 million customers in countries where Netflix isn't even available, so all of these *must* use VPN to access Netflix.

While legally in a grey zone, this strategy gives Netflix a competitive advantage. Other services are far more restrictive and require an US address and credit card before a customer can watch their TV on demand. That is a lot harder to get around, and it is safe to say that there aren't 30 million people doing it.

As an European living in Belgium, the most annoying TV on demand policy to me is that of Amazon. You can watch Amazon Instant Video in several European countries, like the UK, France, and Germany. But Belgium, which is smack right in the middle of those three, doesn't have access because Amazon Instant Video is only available in the large countries which have a local Amazon store. Parcels with books and DVDs can cross European borders, streamed TV shows can't. And I have a hard time imagining that the rights holder gave Amazon an European license which excludes all the small countries, so I don't believe that this particular case is a rights issue.
Tobold's Blog



Pillars of Eternity - First Impressions
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 March 2015, 8:55 am
I've played Pillars of Eternity for 16 hours now, which is longer than some other games are long, but short on the time-scale of this game. I'm still in Act 1! So this isn't a review yet, but just some first impressions.

Pillars of Eternity is most definitively and old school game. Gameplay is very similar to Baldur's Gate, but the world and story is original, and not licensed from Dungeons & Dragons. There are a few modern comfort functions added, but mostly the game offers very little in terms of handholding or even just tutorials. You are supposed to find out things on your own.

Sometimes the modern touches clash with the old stuff. For example you have a modern 3D character creation tool where you can make your character look as you want him to look. But then you need to choose one of only 66 2D character portraits, and of course none of them even remotely fits the character you just created in 3D. You might as well not bother, as most of the time you only see the 2D portrait anyway, unless you zoom in a lot.

In Pillars of Eternity you control a party of up to 6 characters. You create one character at the start, the other 5 are companions which you can either pick up during the adventure, or create yourself if you have the money. *Spoiler* The first three companions you meet are a wizard, a fighter, and a priest, but you don't know that when you create your main character. What works very well is making a rogue as your main character, so you get your companions with their stories and have all the basic classes covered. If you insist on let's say making a wizard, you end up with two wizards in the group, or miss out on that free companion. Plus you have to spend money on hiring a rogue companion to open locks and disarm traps, and the created companions don't have a background story and have less dialogue and interaction.

Personally I like Pillars of Eternity a lot, but it is not the most accessible game, designed more for veterans than for new players. Combat takes a while to get the hang of, as it is in real-time, with optional pauses. You have various auto-pause settings, or can pause the game with the space bar whenever you want. What is very helpful in combat is the option to zoom in very close, as you need to be precise. The game allows friendly fire, and my rogue once managed to backstab one of his companions because that companion was too close to the enemy and I mis-clicked. Area effect spells are rather tricky, because combatants tend to move while the spell is cast, and you can easily burn your own party with a fireball. At least path-finding has much improved since Baldur's Gate, although sometimes characters still get stuck and can't find a way to melee the enemy.

Pillars of Eternity is a very big game, and I can see myself spending many hours playing it through. Being an explorer at heart I'll probably just play it once, but if you want you can play through the game at different difficulties, including very hard settings with permadeath and reduced access to comfort functions like the stash. But there is also an easy setting with a reduced number of monsters for those who are mainly interested in playing through the story and exploring the world.
Tobold's Blog



The price of verbosity
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 March 2015, 8:31 am
I was following a link from a post from Bhagpuss about turning your blog into a pdf or ebook file. The software didn't work for my blog. So I googled for similar services and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM failed to turn my complete blog into a book. None of the programs could handle my 4,985 posts with the 188 MB of data in XML format. Too bad, I would have liked to offer the pdf or ebook file to my readers for my upcoming 5,000th post.
Tobold's Blog



MP3Gain
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 March 2015, 9:59 am
Just a quick mention of a software that helped me with a small problem: I had bought an alarm clock which wakes you up with your favorite song as mp3 file on an USB key or SD card. Unfortunately it turned out that the volume setting in alarm mode cannot be changed, and getting woken up by music blaring loudly wasn't especially nice. I thought about buying a different alarm clock, but then I had an idea: The volume of the music must be somewhere encoded on the mp3 file. If only there was a way to easily change the volume of a bunch of mp3 files!

Turns out, there is! MP3Gain lets you change the volume of a bunch of mp3 files to the same loudness. While mostly meant to normalize the songs on your mp3 player to have the same volume, it also worked beautifully for my purpose. 80 decibels is enough to wake me up without giving me a heart attack.
Tobold's Blog



Telling the future
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2015, 10:31 am
Psychochild has written a great article explaining that "Peter Molyneux isn’t so much lying as being terrible at telling the future.". For me the problem is not the difficulty of telling the future, or any specific developer being bad at it, or any specific game failing to deliver on its promises. For me the problem is gamers and game media being more interested in the future than in the present. If you want you can do the following experiment: Go to the next newsstand and buy any one random games magazine. Now count the pages dealing with previews of upcoming games and count the pages dealing with reviews or other information about games that have already been released. The number of preview pages ALWAYS is bigger than the number of review pages, up to twice as many pages talking about the future than there are pages talking about the present.

The internet isn't any better. There is endless discussion of Kickstarter projects and all sorts of other games still in development. As soon as a game is released everybody is losing interest. The level of interest is also quite evident in pricing: Many developers will happily sell you alpha access to a buggy unfinished mess for $200, but the price of the game goes down to $60 on release day, and half a year later you can pick up the game for $20 in a Steam sale. People would be outraged if a game on release day had a $100 price tag, but Kickstarter projects for games frequently get an average of around $100 per backer.

Unfortunately everything Psychochild explains about Molyneux is also true for most other game developers. The greatest visionaries are often the least able to transform their visions into an actual product. Anybody remember the Warhammer Online hype, and the "bears, bears, bears" video? Lots of people got so excited that they started a great many number of blogs, most of which quickly died when the game was actually released.

I would much prefer if the visionaries would shut up and rather try to implement their vision than telling the world about it. Visions are incredibly cheap to produce compared to actual games. And I see more and more cases where it can be suspected that somebody noticed that the cheap vision sells better than the expensive to make game, and deliberately sets out to con people out of their money. Game developers aren't the only ones terrible at telling the future, gamers themselves are also incredibly bad at evaluating the visions that are being sold. Game design has a number of insolvable problems and inherent incompatibilities, and you can earn a lot more money by promising the impossible than by trying to work out a reasonable compromise and implementing it. That makes Kickstarter a paradise for con artists rather than a way to fund the games that people actually want.
Tobold's Blog



Player agency and what they do with it
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2015, 8:10 am
In the original Everquest, despite its name suggesting otherwise, players were not doing quests all the time. There weren't all that many quests. Most of the time a player had nobody who told him what to do, he was free to pursue whatever goal he wanted, wherever he wanted (as long as the zone was level appropriate). The consequence of that wasn't pretty, it led to what people called Evercamp: Players were most interested in gaining experience as efficiently as possible, and the most efficient method was to "camp" one location of monsters. The initial pull was the hardest, as afterwards the mobs respawned not as a group but one by one. So the most efficient way to gain experience and levels was to stay at the same spot and kill the same group of monsters over and over and over. As level gaining was much slower than in modern games, it wasn't unheard of a player staying at one spot for weeks, moving on only once he outleveled the monsters and needed a new spot.

When games like World of Warcraft moved to a system where players were always on a quest, and the quests made them move all over the zone instead of sticking to one spot, that was considered a big improvement. Only those "quests" weren't quests in the Wikipedia sense of the word. Sir Galahad is famous for having completed one quest in his lifetime, World of Warcraft has achievements for doing 3,000 quests, or worse 10,000 daily quests. Instead of finding the holy grail, a quest often doesn't involve more than walking 10 meters and clicking on something. At most you need to run to the other end of the zone and kill 10 monsters. So by now everybody is thoroughly bored of doing thousands of minor chores, and is clamoring for sandbox games.

But the initial problem still hasn't been solved: If you give players a huge world filled with interesting stuff, how do you ensure that they actually go out adventuring and do dangerous and interesting stuff? A great majority of players is more interested in the rewards than in the adventure, and prefers the path of least resistance, even if that path is rather boring.

The problem isn't unique to MMORPGs. Besides the D&D campaign were I am the DM, I now found another group where I could play instead. But in the first session I felt the group was never in any situation of their own chosing, but was being led by the nose through a scripted story. Putting my DM hat back on, I am not sure my players don't feel the same about my game. For example in the latest session of my campaign my players came upon a troll shaman with a bear pet. They clearly had at least two options, ignoring him or fighting him, and they never thought of other possibilities like talking to him. But in any case the situation itself was one created by me, the DM (or the author of the adventure I was playing). Like a dungeon in World of Warcraft the dungeon in a D&D adventure is a collection of possible encounters, and the only freedom the players have is to choose their path through that collection, and how to deal with each situation. They rarely *create* the situation they need to deal with.

Just like with MMORPG players, people playing tabletop roleplaying games of clamor for sandbox games instead. I have a strong suspicion that those clamoring the loudest are those that don't actually play or lead a game, but talk out of a purely theoretical armchair position. The previous adventure of my D&D campaign before the current dungeon was a more sandboxy city adventure, and that ended with the group walking away and deciding not to confront the archvillain, in spite of having a strong possible motive of revenge. If as a DM you give players a strong motive to do something, they feel railroaded. If you don't give them a strong motive to do something, they won't do it. And most players you can't rely on to create their own strong motivation beyond gaining experience points and treasure. In a completely sandbox world of D&D, players would probably end up "camping" mobs. A generic fantasy world without DM-designed stories is a bland and boring place, but every story you do tell creates at least the impression of you leading the players.

I'm still experimenting with my tabletop roleplaying games, and I'm still waiting for a MMORPG to come up with a better solution. I'm not sure there is a perfect solution for either case, we might need to settle for the least bad compromise.
Tobold's Blog



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