Small Decisions
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 July 2013, 12:56 am
I've been thinking about reagents and arrows lately. They're basically gone from the modern game. They were seen as trivial and obvious, an inconvenience to be smoothed away. However, I'm wondering if we lost something in doing that.

Arrows and reagents were a small test of ... skill, I guess. A good hunter kept her stock of arrows up, and refreshed it regularly. Same with reagents. I remember keeping three stacks of the reagents for Blessings on me at all times. This wasn't a very hard test, of course. Most people did this. (Though there were a few who didn't, who never had enough reagents.)

Reagents were a "small" decision. You had to make the decision to restock every so often, had to evaluate your supply against the demands on your time. It wasn't a difficult decision at all, but still a decision that all players had to make.

There were many of these small decisions in Vanilla. Soul shards, poisons, feeding your pets, talent points, etc. Even going back to a trainer when you leveled was a small decision. You had to decide whether to stop questing and get the new abilities right away, or wait for a natural break.

Most decisions in WoW now are "big" decisions. Choosing a specialization, choosing talents, using the correct abilities. There are fewer small decisions and more big decisions.

Was there value in having those small decisions?

I think that it was part of mastering your class. You get the small decisions down before having to tackle the larger ones. Almost everyone got them right, and it was the first thing to learn when playing.

But to a good experienced player those small decisions are obvious and trivial. The only interesting decisions are the big ones. But big decisions are rare. Fewer decisions make for a less interesting game. You can see this in WoW leveling. All those small decisions that you used to make while leveling have been smoothed away. But a game with few decisions to make is not interesting at all.

Firefall: First Impressions
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 July 2013, 1:52 am
Firefall went into open beta recently. I downloaded it and gave it a whirl.

Firefall is a third-person shooter, done in an animated cell-shaded manner. The class system is bound up in these battleframes, which your character can equip. Example battleframes are the medic, recon, assault, etc. You can change your battleframe fairly easily. Each battleframe gains experience separately, and is upgraded separately. So it's like being every class, but you can only equip and level one class at a time.

The setting is a somewhat post-apocalyptic setting, in the lush jungles of South America. Firefall gives your character jumpjets, and the game plays a lot with this. There are large cliffs to scale, and fights often involve you jumping while shooting.

The game that immediately jumps to mind as a comparison is Defiance. But the differences are instructive. Defiance has the vehicle game, Firefall has jump jets. Defiance features dropped loot, while in Firefall you accumulate resources and then craft loot. In fact, I think Firefall takes a lot of its gear and crafting inspiration from Eve Online, more than anything else. Except you can't trade, so it's like an Eve where you had to mine and craft everything yourself.

I tried the medic for a bit, but switched to the recon after a while. The recon seemed to be a much simpler playstyle, so I decided to use that while learning the game.

The game is very open, you can go anywhere and attempt anything. In combat, when you're at an event, the game is a lot of fun.

My current issue is that I seem to be having a hard time "finding the fun" in the game. I open my map, see an event or mission I would like to try. So I jump my way to area, running into cliffs and having to backtrack and find my path to the area. Then I get there, and the mission has been finished or is almost over. Then it's time to repeat the process.

Or they have these "melding tornados" large-scale events. I've joined two of those, but they ended abruptly, and everyone disappeared, and I didn't get any rewards. I'm still confused by the everyone disappearing bit. There must have been 20 people at the event, then the tornado disappeared and there was only me and one other guy there.

I see other bloggers raving about the game, and how they moved from event to event, getting stuff done. I think that I must be missing something.

I can't help but compare it to Defiance. In Defiance, events were very dense. You couldn't swing a cat without hitting something to do. In Firefall, events seem very sparse, and I seem to spend more time traveling than actually doing something.

All in all, Firefall is a pretty good game. Its combat is fun and handles well. I like the progression with the crafted gear and the different battleframes. I just need to figure out how to "get to the fun" faster.

Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 July 2013, 1:06 am
UnSubject has an excellent post on Metacritic. I strongly recommend reading it.

The most interesting thing about Metacritic these days--and what makes it more controversial than all the other review aggregators for other media--is that some game publishers are tying bonuses to the game's Metacritic score.

This seems a little odd to me.  UnSubject's explanation is that royalties are tied to Metacritic because “it’s a quantitative measure of game quality, popularity and helps forecast sales”. I don't think this is the full explanation.

For one thing, Metacritic scores are a weak proxy for what publishers really want to learn: how much money did this game make? But publishers don't need a proxy to figure out how much money a game made, they have direct access to the sales figures. It would be more sensible to base bonuses directly off gross revenue, rather than an indirect measurement such as Metacritic.

The only theory I have is that gross revenue or sales can be thought of as a function of both game quality and marketing (and the sheer fickleness of the audience). However, marketing is traditionally the responsibility of the publisher. It seems unfair to pay or withhold bonuses if the publisher did a good or bad job on the marketing.

In theory, reviewers should not be affected by marketing. Metacritic scores should filter out marketing's contribution to gross revenue, and only represent the developer's contribution.

Of course, the fact that Metacritic tends to correlate well with popularity and sales generally means that this extra indirection is unnecessary. It would be interesting to see what games are outliers. Games where the Metacritic score did not predict sales or revenue; either a poorly-rated game selling many units, or a highly-rated game selling fewer units.

The State of Healing
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 July 2013, 11:08 pm
I saw this post by Vixsin on The State of Healing, and I wanted to comment on the general subject. Please note that I'm not really doing organized raiding this tier, so you should take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

I think there has been a general problem healing this expansion, and perhaps taking a step back, a general problem in the design of healing since TBC.

The problem this expansion is that there is too much "ambient" healing. Compared to previous expansions, there's lots of aoe heals, lots of hots, and lots of absorbs that kind of buffer the entire raid. There seems to be a lot less triage and healing assignments.

The problem with this is that boss damage needs to balance out healing. Lots of ambient healing leads to lots of ambient damage. This means if the ambient, background healing ever dips down, then all of a sudden the damage can seem overwhelming. Second, and you see this in LFR a fair bit, healers that do not heal in an ambient style do far less healing than they should.

Now, the problem with healing development in general is a bit more subtle. It seems that when Blizzard is looking at the healing classes, the thought process is, "X is pretty cool, let's make more use of X". So they use X a lot more and the game breaks.

The obvious example this expansion is absorbs. Power Word: Shield is a cool spell. It does something slightly different than all the other spells, and wasn't too broken on its own (at least when it was more restricted). Blizzard saw that PW:S was good, and spread it around when they needed new spells and abilities. Paladin master, spirit shell, etc. And then the game broke.

It's not just absorbs. Cooldowns and AoE spells have followed the same pattern. Rare at first, with only one or two specs with access to a version that usually had a significant downside. Then everyone got access and the healing game became unbalanced.

Older paladins will remember that critical strike and Illumination did something similar. The original Illumination made critical strike interesting, but crit was a rare stat for paladins. Then Blizzard saw that paladins were chasing crit, embraced it, and ended up breaking Holy paladins.

In my mind, healing works best when it is fairly basic. A couple direct heals, a signature heal, and weak (non-spammable) AoE heal is all you really need for a good healing environment. Making healing more complicated, in some sort of arms race, just leads to less fun healing environments. Damage has to keep up with healing. The more powerful healing is, the more powerful boss damage is, and the healing environment becomes less forgiving and less fun.

Proving Grounds
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 July 2013, 2:18 am
The new Proving Grounds coming in 5.4 look pretty neat. I think teaching players how to tank and heal without throwing them into a live group will be a good change.

I'm rather amused that,  for the healer challenge, Blizzard included a hunter who stands in the fire and a mage who yells for heals. Good preparation for actual group content.

There's been some concern that the Proving Grounds will be the new "requirement" for guilds or pick-up groups. I think that it will actually be good for the game if Proving Grounds become the new requirement.

The current credentials required tend to be a catch-22. Usually PuGs are asking for people who have already done the instance, or have gear from the instance. So you require the help of the group to get the credential that will allow you to join the group.

In contrast, Proving Grounds are a credential that you can earn on your own. That makes it a much better credential for people looking to start raiding.

Pugs will always require some sort of proof that you are skilled enough to be successful at the group. Proving Ground completion is in some ways a superior form of proof to the two current methods. Thus, I actually hope that Proving Grounds become required by PuGs, supplanting gear and instance achievement checks.

To put it another way, if you're looking for your first job, and everyone requires 2 years of work in the same field, you're going to have trouble finding a job. But if employers are willing to substitute a degree or certification requirement, that can make it a lot easier to break into the field.

(Of course, you're going to run into problems if employers don't feel that the degree or certification matches actual ability. Then it's just a waste of time and money.)

The End of MMO Blogging?
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 July 2013, 2:08 am
Always fond of navel-gazing, the blogosphere has been discussing why there are so few new MMO bloggers these days. I see a lot of calls to make a better community. However, I don't really see why new bloggers need so much hand-holding. The previous generation managed just fine without artificial "communities", just by linking and writing steadily.

Here's my theory:

The current generation of bloggers grew up and moved on to more important things. The next generation which should have replaced them is functionally illiterate.

I am exaggerating for comedic effect. But I do think that there is a difference between the previous generation (late 20s, 30s) and younger people. A generational gap between people who came to the internet after elementary school, and those who have grown up with the internet. Young people seem to have real problems with long form writing.

I don't know why this is. Perhaps it was the experience of actually writing material out by hand. Or perhaps that before the internet, one had to read books, so there was an assumption that written material should be longer than 140 characters.

To look at it another way, the teenage experience of my generation's internet was Livejournal, where people composed long angsty screeds. The current teenage experience is a picture with a caption that is marginally funny.

That's my theory. MMO blogging is dying because the young players--who should be the new bloggers--simply don't write content of moderate length anymore.

Throwing in the Towel on F2P
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 July 2013, 1:23 am
With the news that WoW is looking at an expanded cash shop, I guess that's the last nail in the coffin for those of us who prefer pure subscription games.

I'm not too happy about this, but I'm resigned to it. I don't really see that it produces better games. If anything it just seems like a low-grade annoyance, making the game slightly worse.

Take yesterday's "event" in The Old Republic. It was the 10th anniversary of the release of Knights of the Old Republic. To celebrate, for 24 hours TOR allowed you purchase a title, "Revan's Heir", for the low, low price of 10 cartel coins.

10 cartel coins is very cheap, it's pretty much nothing. But it was so cheap that you have to ask yourself, why even bother selling it? If this had been a sub game, everybody logging in would have gotten the title.

It was to get people to use the cartel store. Like a drug dealer, the first hit is (almost) free. But now that people have used the cartel market, maybe they'll buy more stuff.

It's just so corrosive. Yesterday should have been a celebration. Instead, the entire thought process is "How can we monetize this?"

In the end, though, I blame gamers. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. It doesn't matter how bad our games get, so long as someone else pays for them. We'll just complain about it on the forums.

Weird Ideas: Travel Time
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 July 2013, 1:11 am
I think that travel time is a really important factor in making an MMO feel like a world instead of a game. However, travel time is highly inconvenient. So I was musing about ways to incorporate travel time into an MMO, and came up with the following design.

Goal: An MMO where travelling between two towns takes one week of real time, without boring the player to death.

1. Have the actual travel be tied to an NPC that continuously moves, rather than the PC.

Having the player get on a horse and travel in a straight line for hours is just not going to work. So we need to have something do the traveling for the player.  My basic idea is a caravan. The caravan starts at the first town, Antwerp, and travels to the second town, Brussels. The player signs up for the caravan at Antwerp, and the caravan takes seven days to travel to Brussels.

Whenever the player logs in, she logs in with the caravan, and can adventure in the area around the caravan's current location.  The player moves much faster than the caravan, but the distance between towns would still require hours of travel time if you went directly.

2. Have the travel be tied to the guild level, not the individual.

One of the problems with long travel times is that it is easy for a group to get separated, and then be unable to play together. So the easiest thing to do is to move as a guild. Here, instead of the individual players signing up for the caravan, a guild officer signs the guild up, and the entire guild moves together.  That way, even players who haven't logged in for a while still log in near their guild.

I think these two ideas would go a long way towards making travel time more palatable. You still log in and can easily group with your friends. You aren't spending all your play time riding a mount in one direction. But you still move steadily. Movement time for everybody is the same, regardless of playtime.

But moving, and travel time is a big deal. It's something you prepare for, and don't undertake lightly. A caravan bringing a guild with goods from another town might be very important economy-wise, if resources are not distributed equally. I think it would go a great deal towards making location important again.

Battlefield Barrens
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 July 2013, 1:09 am
I finally finished the Battlefield Barrens weekly quest and got my Hordebreaker title. I am not sure if I liked the process or not.

When I started the quest, I saw that you needed 150 of each item, and mobs were dropping only 1 commodity per mob, so I gave up rather quickly. Not to mention that early on it was pretty buggy because of phasing or cross-realm zones.

But today I decided to just finish the weekly, and actually got a bit caught up in it. It was fun killing orcs until a champion spawned, and then flying from champion to champion. Or escorting a random caravan every so often.

It felt very old-school, this farming. No quests, no rigid guide-rail to hold your hand. I think it would have been very nice in a small group. Trying to heal while I was solo was a bit annoying.

I don't think I'd want to this all the time, but doing it once was an interesting change of pace.

I did like the way the rewards were structured. You do it once, and you get a pet. If you like farming, you can farm more and get gear or other items.

Choosing Statistics to Evade the Argument
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 July 2013, 2:23 am
Gryphonheart at The Lion Guard posted about a tweet by Ghostcrawler regarding LFR.
@Ixidane Most of the players doing LFR just didn't raid at all before. They were never really eligible for recruitment.
— Greg Street (@Ghostcrawler) June 6, 2013

I've seen this tweet before, and it annoys me. Even though it seems like GC is rebutting Ixidane, both statements can be true at the same time.

To see this, imagine a population of 100 players. Before LFR, 20 of them participate in regular raids. We'll call these 20 players Raiders, and the other 80 players Casuals.

Then LFR comes out. 10 Raiders switch to LFR, along with 30 Casuals.  So the following statements are both true:
  1. LFR has significantly damaged normal raiding. Normal raiding lost 50% (10 of 20) of its players.
  2. The majority of people in LFR didn't raid before. 75% of raiders in LFR (30 of 40) didn't raid before.
I'm not saying that Ixidane's contention, or statement 1 above, is true. It might very well be false. I don't have the numbers to verify, though the various progress sites are showing a significant reduction in normal raiding guilds and raiders.

 But GC's rebuttal is deliberately misleading, spinning numbers in a way that appears to refute the argument, but really does not.

I think this bothers me because I see it more and more on the internet. Getting people to give straightforward numbers in favor of their arguments is like pulling teeth. Numbers are always phrased to be slightly misleading, shown as a percentage when the denominator is not exactly what you would expect, or is correct to use. Or the number is normalized in some misleading fashion, and the normalization is waved away.

Lately, I get highly suspicious anytime I see "percent" or "most" or "majority" in support of arguments. These statistics never seem to be the expected or obvious statistic. It's always a statistic deliberately chosen to prop up one side of the argument. Raw numbers showing the totals and breakdown into each category are always to be preferred, but are rarely shown.

A Twist on Story Mode Instances
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 July 2013, 1:16 am
The upcoming patch for The Old Republic has an interesting twist on the standard dungeon or instance. The patch contains two new flashpoints (4-man instances). The Hard Mode version is the standard flashpoint, with a tank, a healer, and 2 dps.

However, the Story Mode version of the flashpoint will be designed for any group of four people, with no Trinity required.

I think this is a really clever idea. A easier version often has issues because no one runs it, preferring to run the harder version for better rewards. But the Trinity-less version offers extremely fast queue times, as all you need are four bodies.

This might set up an equilibrium, as some DPS move from the HM to the SM queue, decreasing times across the board.

As well, difficulty seems more appropriate. In my view, the Trinity is a stronger skeleton for combat, allowing you to make fights more intricate and involved. Hard Mode requiring a tank and healer, while Story Mode not requiring these, feels intuitive and right.

Finally, this makes very good use of the art assets, netting a 2-for-1. As I've said before, I think art asset creation is the blocker in modern video games. Any time you can reuse the same art for multiple types of content is a win.

Sith Inquistor Done!
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 July 2013, 12:17 am
The following contains significant spoilers for the Sith Inquistor storyline in The Old Republic.

I finished my third class storyline in The Old Republic: the Sith Inquisitor. By and large it was a very good story. However, it did have two major flaws.

The first flaw was the motivation behind the villain for Chapters 2 and 3, Darth Thanaton. He is presented as a arch-traditionalist who takes you in dislike for violating traditions (I think). However, I could never really understand exactly why he felt this way.

Your master, Lord Zash, uses you to kill her master, Darth Skotia, in Chapter 1. I think this is supposed to be the non-traditional move that Thanaton opposes. But Sith killing Sith is a normal state of affairs. The primary rule seems to be "don't get caught". Zash arranges things such that she has an ironclad alibi for Skotia's murder.

As far as I can tell, this is pretty much standard for Sith. I don't see what the tradition that got violated was. So I don't really know why Thanaton became the enemy. I think that Bioware did a poor job explaining the motivations of the main villain, and as a result, my attitude to him was more confused or bemused than anything else.

The second flaw is that there were two major strands in the Inquistor story, and they were not in balance. One strand was all about Force ghosts and ancient mystic secrets. The second strand was about building a power base. The force ghost strand becomes too dominant for much of the game, with the power base coming in second. Then at the very end there is a abrupt and jarring shift in focus to the power and political game.

I think either the Force ghost story should have been the sole focus of the Inquisitor story, or its importance should have been reduced slightly, and the power base story been expanded in scope.

Ignoring those two flaws, the story was very enjoyable. If you just accepted that Thanaton was the villain, or that the Force ghosts were not involved in the last bit, the story went very nicely. I actually was neutral in alignment, some light and some dark, and I think it worked out quite well. I started Light Side, but then some NPCs became annoying, and the [Shock] option became too tempting.

Mechanically, the Sorceror was a fun class. I played as a healer for the last 25 levels or so, and it was quite viable. I would run with a tank, Khem Val, let him gather everything up, and then DoT things up, or Force Storm for AoE, and keep healing Khem.

I did try using a DPS companion a few times. I found that though the DPS companion did more damage, I kept getting aggro from the other mobs in the group, and I had heal both myself and my companion. I found that to be more annoying than just keeping Khem healed up.

Now what story next? I am thinking Trooper, to get the last buff and to balance Imperial/Republic. I was thinking of going Dark Side, but I'm having a real hard time being the bad guy.

Why LFR?
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 June 2013, 1:50 am
Here's a really interesting thread from the MMO-Champion forums: Why Do You Choose LFR Over Raid Guilds? There's a lot of chatter about LFR, and how negative the experience is, etc. So one person decided to ask about the other side of the coin, and the responses are extremely enlightening.

The main reason given, naturally, is time and scheduling concerns. This was predictable, and indeed is a strength of LFR.

However, the other major trend is that a lot of people hated the raid guild atmosphere. The drama, the way people were treated, etc.

If LFR is widely considered to be a negative experience in terms of the people involved, it should be of major concern that many people see the raid guilds as worse. That LFR actually provides them with a more pleasurable experience, in addition to being more convenient.

I really like proper, extended raiding with a solid raid team. I am lucky enough to be in one in The Old Republic.  But if a majority, or even a significant minority, find LFR to be a better experience than raid guilds, then there's no way raid guilds will survive.

Gambling and Lockboxes
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 June 2013, 1:27 am
After the discussion on F2P last week, the conversation turned to lock-boxes. These are items which you purchase with real money, where the contents of the box is unknown. Lock-boxes are becoming more and more common in F2P games.

I think a lot of how you feel about lock-boxes depends on how you feel about gambling.


I am ambivalent about gambling. Making a small bet on a sporting event, or buying lottery tickets every so often doesn't seem that bad to me.  But playing hand after hand of blackjack--losing some hands, winning some hands, the losing more hands--feels wrong.

In some ways it's the difference between luck and probability. On a small scale, Lady Luck dominates. But as the number of repetitions increases, the Law of Large Numbers kicks in, and the outcome approaches the expected value. And in all gambling games, the expected value is negative so that the house or bookie makes  money.

Maybe it's an idiosyncratic view, but I'm okay with betting on the outcome of a football game. But I wouldn't be okay with betting on the outcome of each play within that game. The odds offered will favor the house, and enough repetition means the house's edge becomes mathematically real.

I also don't approve of casinos. I once went to a local casino. In my mind, I had an image of a casino, mostly formed by movies and television. Some place where the people are slightly dressed up, with cards and dice, and all the traditional trappings.

The reality of the casino was rows and rows of slot machines. Something like 80% of the floor was dedicated to slots. People didn't even use coins! They had a plastic card inserted into the machine, keeping track of the money won or lost. The card was attached to their belt by a plastic cord. It almost looked vampiric, as if the slot machine was draining their life through the cord.

I don't think I am usually fanciful, but that casino had an almost palpable aura of despair.

I left in a hurry, and actually ended up having an excellent crème brûlée at a nearby restaurant. All in all, I counted the dessert as a much better experience than the casino would have been.

Maybe Vegas would be different, more like the idealized version. But if I am ever in a position to vote against or block a casino, I will do so.


Back from the digression, I think my view on gambling greatly influences my view on lock-boxes.

There are two types of lock-boxes. The first type is the basic box that contains one item. The item might be rare, or the item might be common. Most of the time, you'll be disappointed. I think the boxes in Guild Wars 2 and most eastern MMOs.

The second type of lock-box are collectible packs, based on collectible card games. The pack contains multiple items, with a fixed rarity. For example, a pack might contain 1 rare item, 2 uncommon items, and 4 common items. You may not get the specific rare you want, but you are guaranteed a rare. Most of the time, these items are tradeable with others. This is the system that The Old Republic uses.

In my opinion, the first type of lock-box is too much like excessive gambling. It displays the lose, win, lose pattern, along with much repetition that characterizes "bad" gambling for me.

In contrast, the collectible packs seem fair to me. The payout is consistent from pack to pack. You always get a rare. You can trade the items with other collectors. Most of the time the items are all cosmetic, so the value of each item is in the eye of the beholder. (Unlike CCGs, where the power level of the card within the game often determines the monetary value.)

So given a choice, I would prefer a F2P game to sell collectible packs rather than single-item lock-boxes. It seems fairer and not as exploitative.

Eternal Flame in 5.4
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2013, 6:22 pm
I've talked about Holy Paladins and Eternal Flame Blanketing before. It's the practice of putting 1-point EFs on many members of the raid, and relying on the fact that EF extends our mastery shield to absorb a fair bit of damage. At the time I didn't think it would be viable in raids, but it turns out that it is very viable. The majority of max healing parses for Holy Paladins feature this trick.

This isn't the way Holy Paladins were meant to be played. It's more like a Druid playstyle. Instead of being optional, Holy paladins are in danger of having this playstyle be mandatory. So Blizzard is taking aim at this practice. The last PTR version featured several major nerfs:
  • Initial heal of EF decreased by 30%
  • The HoT part of EF no longer gives mastery shields
Now, Blizzard has walked back these changes, but it is pretty clear that some sort of change will come to Eternal Flame.

After the mastery nerf in 5.3, Holy Paladins are not overpowered in PvE. It's more that EF was becoming mandatory, and that Holy Paladins were being pushed to heal in non-traditional (at least for paladins) style. The second part is why EF will not become a baseline spell, and instead will be nerfed.

Here's my suggestion for an Eternal Flame nerf:
  • Make Word of Glory and Eternal flame cost exactly 3 Holy Power.
Right now, WoG and EF can be cast for 1, 2, or 3 Holy Power for a scaling effect. If you can only cast 3pt EFs, you can keep them up on about 2 people at a time. You can do more sporadically with Divine Purpose, and go nuts with Holy Avenger on cd, but those can't really be counted on (and note that both can't be used together). Instead you'll effectively maintain EF on a tank and one other, maybe yourself or the other tank. If EF is on a tank, mastery shields will get chewed up pretty quickly, so having EF extend mastery is not an issue.

It would also match the other Holy Power finishers. Templar's Verdict, Divine Storm, and Shield of the Righteous all require exactly 3 Holy Power.

Now, this might not be a strong enough nerf to make EF optional. At that point, Blizzard would have to look at stronger actions, or strengthening the other talents in that tier. However, a fixed Holy Power cost is the smallest change that attacks the playstyle directly, and is more in-line with how Eternal Flame was original designed to be used.

A Disconnect on F2P
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 June 2013, 1:31 am
First off, check out this article by Klepsacovic. Money quote:
Sell a man a fish and you feed him for a day; offer a man a free fish and an inexpensive fishing class and he'll get really pissed off and starve to death instead.  Because he's stupid.
Brilliantly encapsulates a lot of the forum chatter about F2P.

I often think there is a disconnect between how players think F2P works, and how companies think F2P works. You can tell what a company thinks about F2P not by what they say, but by what they offer for sale.

Let's say that we have a subscription game. The earnings might look like:
  • 100 subs * $15/sub = $1500
Now, let's take a F2P game. Judging by the forum rhetoric, players believe that the revenue works like:
  • 300 players * $5/player = $1500
But if you look at what most game companies actually sell, it's pretty clear that they believe their revenue looks like:
  • 25 paying players * $60/player = $1500
They sell some small items, but most of the store is targeted to people who are willing to spend a lot of money.

This is the real advantage of F2P. Rather than trying to scrounge up more subscribers, they remove the limit on how much the former subscribers can pay them. It's easier to chase a few whales than thousands of small fish.

For example, F2P in The Old Republic has roughly doubled revenues. However, I would wager that the majority of the increase in revenue comes from existing subscribers, and not the new players. That is why TOR focuses on Cartel Packs, because subscribers are willing to buy them.

But a lot of F2P players have not come to terms with this, and the forums often break into complaints that item X is too expensive. But the truth is that even if it was cheaper, most players wouldn't buy it.

Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 June 2013, 1:35 am
I've seen a lot of discussion lately about making content more exclusive, especially in light of Raid Finder and Flexible Raids. It occurs to me that everyone arguing for more exclusive content just so happens to be in a position to do that content.

Perhaps Blizzard should make more exclusive content. I suggest they start with a long, lore-filled questline with amazing rewards. However, you can only access this questline if your account, on any character, has never killed a raid boss in normal or heroic.  And if you do kill a normal or heroic boss afterwards, the rewards become unusable.

Let's see how long the calls for more exclusive content last after that.

Flexible Raiding
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 June 2013, 1:16 am
I'm really glad I got in that post on Variable Group Size instead of sitting on it for a while like I normally do.

So Blizzard is introducing Flexible Raids, which can have 10 to 25 players and scale in difficulty. This will be interesting to see. I think it will be a success, but I also think it will end up cannibalizing Normal mode raiding. Removing modes is never very popular, but I can see the next expac having Raid Finder, Flexible Raids (with a slight difficulty increase at the top end) and Heroic Raiding (with a slight difficulty decrease at the bottom end.

I think the administrative advantages of Flexible Raids will prove to be too tempting for Normal Mode guilds. After all, a Normal Mode guild has all the headaches of Heroic Raid roster management, but lesser gear and lesser prestige than Heroics. Another small step down is not much compared to not having to worry about rosters.

Flexible Raids will use the Raid Finder loot system. I think that's pretty good, because it scales. To be honest, I think if Blizzard announced loot being won to everyone in the group, people would be happier with the loot system. There would be tangible evidence that someone is getting loot whenever a boss dies, and it's not just you getting gold all the time. Plus you could congratulate others when they get lucky, and they could congratulate you.  Bosses would feel more rewarding because you would see that someone in your group won something and the group became stronger.

I also see a lot of chatter that everyone will be "forced" to do Flexible Raids. Since it has its own gear level, I don't think much of this concern. If people insist on killing themselves for lower quality gear, maybe it's time to just let them go their own way. I do think that a lot of this concern would be mitigated if Blizzard overlapped some of the item levels between tiers (the way The Old Republic does). That way people would already have upgrades from the previous tiers.

All in all, Flexible Raids a big step forward for PvE MMOs. Blizzard continues to raise the bar. It will be interesting to see how other upcoming MMOs (*cough* Wildstar *cough*) respond.

Eve Online, Women, and Avatars
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 June 2013, 1:20 am
You've probably seen the news that Eve Online is only 4% female. Naturally the blogosphere is brimming with reasons why this is so. In my mind, there's probably no one reason that contributes to the lack. There's probably several reasons, each chipping away at the potential audience.

For example, if the ceiling for female participation in an MMO is 40%, maybe Eve loses 5% because it's hard scifi instead of fantasy, 5% because it emphasizes PvP, 10% because of the horrible reputation of its players, 5% because it's boring, and so on.  (All numbers made up, just illustrating that a series of filters can reduce the audience greatly, even though no one reason is fully to blame.)

Another possible reason is the different cultures that play Eve. For example, a large number of Russians play Eve. Maybe much fewer Russian women play video games as compared to North American women. This imbalance might knock another few percent off.

However, I would like to discuss one potential reason that I haven't seen anywhere else:

Eve Online is the only major MMO without a humanoid avatar.

At least, an avatar that actually makes a difference in gameplay. All you really have is a portrait and an avatar that you can walk around with in the station. In Eve, your "real" avatar is your current ship. Even Star Trek Online has your captain as an avatar, and using your captain makes up a good half of the game.

There are a number of research indications that, in normal MMOs, women identify more with their avatars than men do. For example, less than 10% of women will play with a male avatar. In comparison, 30-40% of men play with female avatars.  It's possible that one of main reasons that women avoid Eve is that there is no avatar for them to identify with, just a ship. Maybe many women would rather play a character, rather than play a spaceship.

If you accept this idea as possible or true, it leads to an interesting perspective on the Incarna debacle of 2011. In Incarna, Eve introduced 3D avatars, as well as micro-transactions to outfit those avatars. The playerbase, lead by the CSM, revolted, mostly because they saw the avatars as a waste of time in their spaceship game, and because they thought Eve was getting greedy with $100 monocles or whatever. I think Eve ended up dropping the microtransactions, and didn't really do anything with the avatars, though they were left in.

But perhaps one of the reasons for Incarna was a subtle attempt to raise the proportion of women in Eve by providing an avatar that could be identified with. An attempt that wouldn't really affect the rest of Eve proper, the way attacking any of the other filters would have. Of course, the micro-transaction side of Incarna put an end to continuing this experiment in any meaningful way.

Defiance First Impressions
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 June 2013, 1:28 am
On the weekend I picked up Trion's third-person shooter MMO, Defiance. I gather it's tied into a television show, but I don't watch that show. I assume all the named NPCs are characters on the show. It's a Buy-To-Play game so far, but I'm not entirely sure what else is sold. Maybe some boosts, cosmetic items and new episodic missions.

Defiance is an excellent game, but with one significant flaw.

Mechanically, it's very sound. The game feels like a shooter, like you are in control of your actions, and it's more skill than stats. Now I don't play a lot of shooters, so keep that in mind. The weapons all feel very different. Latency is not an issue, and the game performs very well.

The graphics are pretty good. There's a fair number of facial sliders in character creation, though sadly I had my usual trouble making a good looking character. Though I ended up with a pretty decent one. There are no classes in the game, but you do choose a background which determines your starting weapon. You can use any weapon you find however.

The setting is a quasi-post-apocalyptic setting. Some alien refugees came to Earth, there was a war, and some areas got devastated, including the area the game is set in. The story is okay, nothing amazing, but decent enough.

In a lot of ways, the quest structure is similar to Rift. You have main story missions and side missions. You also run across "situations" very often. These might be things like "Rescue some hostages" or "Eliminate a raider camp", etc. They're the equivalent of small Rifts. Anyone can join in and help, and when the situation is resolved, everyone gets the xp reward.

Then there are "Arkfalls" which are the Zone Invasions from Rift. These are much larger events that attract a lot more players. There's usually one active on the map at any given time.  There are also special mission types like Time Trials and Rampages, which keep a leaderboard of the best times.

For missions, anyone can jump in and help. If two people are on the same mission in the same area, they both help out. Essentially, mission objectives are tied to the area, and not the people.  As well, if your health goes to zero, you are incapacitated and another player can revive you. It's the same system I loved in Guild Wars 2, and works excellently here.

For skills, there's a large EGO grid. There are 4 main powers: an invisibility cloak, a damage buff, a speed boost, and a decoy creation power. You pick a main power and then you can pick talents near it which unlock more of the grid. You can then equip X talents. It's a pretty nice system leading to some interesting builds that you can match to your playstyle. On the whole, the power curve feels fairly flat so far.

You also get a vehicle, an ATV, fairly early. The ATV handles more like vehicles in a racing game than mounts in a traditional MMO. Vehicles are actually a great deal of fun.

Actually, the entire game is amazingly fun. You do short bits of content while slowly improving your character, both through the weapons you find (a bit like Diablo) and as you unlock new talents. As you go from mission to mission, I find it fun to just clear all the situations I come across as I go.  It's also excellent if you find a small group of 2 or 3 others and you work together to clear things.

However, that leads to most significant flaw. Defiance is an exceedingly lonely game. No one talks in chat, no one talks to other people. Because grouping is implied and automatic, you just kill things silently with other people.

Honestly, if I played MMOs with one or two real-life friends, I would say that Defiance is the best MMO for that small group playstyle. And assuming that we all liked shooters, I would push to make it the regular game of choice. You can feel that it would be an amazing experience with two or three on voice-chat.

But I don't play with real-life friends. I'm a solo player. And even though I'm enjoying Defiance hugely at this point, I think the loneliness and quiet will get to me. I like grouping and watching people chat about silly stuff in general chat, and that lack makes the game feel very empty at times.

Fixing Dailies
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 June 2013, 2:11 pm
By most accounts, dailies are the number one issue in Mists of Pandaria. Personally, I didn't have an issue with the dailies in Pandaria, mostly because I didn't really care about them and did them desultorily. I'm still not exalted with the Klaxxi, the Serpent Riders, or the Anglers.

I think the issue with dailies was not so much the actual dailies, or even the fact that you had to do dailies to earn reputation. I think the main problem was that Blizzard chose to make reputation the mechanism to deliver alternate raid gear.

I think that link between reputation and raid gear coupled dailies and raiding too tightly together. It would have been better if that link was not as strong. Previous expansions had epics, but it was usually only a single piece per faction.

If I was redoing reputation, here's what I would have done for the expansion launch reputations:

1. i450 blue gear at Honored. i463 blue gear at Revered. Cosmetic items at Exalted.

This moves dailies and reputation down in the chain. Instead of being on par with raiding or high end PvE, reputation is on par with dungeons and scenarios.

2. Items cost gold instead of Valor.

Valor and reputation made for a double gate that was somewhat unnecessary. Simplify things by going back to just gold. Valor could be saved for separated raid gear vendors, upgrading, or simply dropped all together.

3. At Exalted, sell a Bind-On-Account Tabard that allows you gain Rep from dungeons, scenarios, and raids.

This is to help alts out. Your first character has to earn reputation the hard way, but subsequent characters have more options in how they earn reputation, and can earn rep simultaneously with dungeon gearing.

4. When patch 5.2 came out, add i489 epic gear to Exalted on old Reputations.

This keeps the rewards coming for the older reputations, adding additional catchup mechanisms, and adding rewards for the pure solo player.

Essentially, I think that putting reputations on the same level as raiding was a mistake. Reputations would have functioned better one level down, on par with 5-man dungeons and scenarios.

Alliance vs Horde Storyline Favoritism
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 June 2013, 1:58 pm
One of the current issues in WoW is the perceived imbalance between the Alliance and Horde storylines. The Horde story, the rebellion against Garrosh, is much more interesting and central. The Alliance storyline feels much like much more of an afterthought. On the various fan sites, many fans ascribe this fact to Blizzard favoring the Horde at the expense of the Alliance.

However, in my view, this story "imbalance" was an inevitable consequence of the Cataclysm decision to heat up the war between the Horde and the Alliance.

In 2009 I wrote a post on The Nature of War, where I said that the modern view of war is "the only moral war, the only just war, is a defensive war." Thus it would not be possible to start a war without one side being considered evil.

Now in Pandaria, we see the end result of that. One side had to go evil to make the war "fit" with modern sensibilities. Thus one of Garrosh or Varian had to go bad, and Garrosh was the one chosen.

That sets up two stories: a civil war within the Horde, and the Alliance attempts to finish Garrosh. Of those two stories, the civil war is always going to be the more interesting story.

It could have gone the other way. Varian could have been the one to go bad, and the Alliance be torn apart by civil war. Possibly with Anduin leading the forces against his father. (To be honest, this might have been a better story than the Horde civil war.)  But in this alternate future, the Alliance storyline would have been the more interesting one, and the Horde the ones left behind.

Ultimately though, the storyline would still be imbalanced. The modern view of war demands this outcome. Parity between Alliance and Horde stories can only come when the two factions are not directly focused on each other.

Should Diablo 3 Remove the Auction House?
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 May 2013, 1:36 am
As you know, I believe, in hindsight, that the regular Auction House in Diablo 3 is a mistake. There have been several comments by the dev team that indicate that they are leaning to this view as well. Not to mention the crazy inflation due to recent bugs.

Assuming that the dev team comes to the same conclusion, here's a question:

Should D3 remove the auction house in the inevitable expansion?

Now, obviously if the AH is a mistake, the game without the AH would be a better game. But on the other hand, the people who are still playing Diablo 3 are okay with the Auction House.  A significant number of them like it. (Some may be playing in spite of it.)

I think this is one of the hardest questions for MMOs and persistent games. Should you remove a feature that your current playerbase likes, if you think that it will lead to a better game and/or more subscribers? After all, as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

As well, if you can't remove a feature, does that make you less likely to add new features, realizing that you can't go back if they prove to be a mistake?

Perhaps for D3 specifically, the best idea would be to introduce a new "No-Market" game mode. Like Hardcore, characters in that mode would not share a stash with characters in other modes. And that mode cannot access the Auction House or trade items. But gameplay would be the same as Normal.

It will be interesting to see how Blizzard approaches the Auction House in the new expansion.

Jedi Knight Complete!
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 May 2013, 1:37 am
Over the weekend I finally finished a second Star Wars: The Old Republic class story line. This time I played a Jedi Knight with the Sentinel advanced class. The sentinel is a melee class that wields two lightsabers.

The story was quite good, but a lot more "straightforward" than the Imperial Agent. It's often said that the Jedi Knight story is the equivalent of Knights of the Old Republic 3, and that's very true. But on the other hand, it plays out almost exactly like you would expect it to play out.

I did play Light Side again. I guess I'm just not one for the Dark Side.

I can't really talk about about the story line much without spoilers. However, I do like that Bioware did not shy away from making significant changes to the game world in the various story lines. The Jedi Knight (and Agent to a lesser degree) had "world-shaking" events happen in them, and the other story lines in the game reflect those changes.

My next class in TOR is the Sith Inquistor. This time I'm going with a healer character, to see how leveling with a healer is. I don't know if I'll end up Light or Dark. I started out Light Side, mostly rebelling against the Sith, but then other characters started annoying me, and the Shock conversation options became too tempting. So now my Inquistor is pretty neutral.

Wildstar Settlers
Posted by Blessing of Kings [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 May 2013, 2:00 am
The hype machine for Wildstar has been gearing up.  From Reddit, here's some info about the Settler path which looks rather interesting.  I'm especially interested by the idea that almost everything a Settler builds is unphased. Will that result in a landscape overrun with buildings?

Settler Path

  • Meant for socializers and also "builders"
  • Tasks include mending broken or degraded equipment such as a farmer's fence which, due to the breakage, is letting all his cows escape. Such tasks are separate from questing. This is internally called "minfrastructure"
  • True infrastructure tasks include building a new shop, new vendor or a bus station.
  • Smaller "projects" helps gather resources for bigger "projects"
  • Can unlock Settler powers that allow you to "free-farm anywhere"
  • There are goals when building -- raise a town's value or utilize your abilities
  • Increasing value to a certain extent allows special things to happen like bigger rewards
  • Bigger, more meaningful projects will take multiple settlers to complete while smaller projects can be done solo
  • If structures aren't maintained, they will decay
  • You can get a lot of path XP by running around and building everything by yourself but less from social tools like campfires
  • almost everything Settlers do is unphased
  • Settlers have utility in dungeons such as being able to make a resurrection station next to a boss -- can use resources that can be found in the dungeon. Random chance whether many of these resources will appear
  • Settlers will be useful when placing structures next to harder areas in the world
  • While there are static locations that can be built on, there are also free form structures you can freely place
  • Settlers will get more housing equipment(FABKits) than other paths
  • Housing dungeons mentioned explicitly after being asked the question "What sort of perks will Settlers bring to player housing?" I would not bet on housing dungeons being exclusive to Settlers, however.
  • Settlers get increased XP the more their structures are built (campfire, for example)
  • Speculation: in a video segment about settlers, a player is seen swinging a sword to cut down trees
  • Can build quest givers with really good loot
  • Video demonstrated the building of a jail which opened up quests for the area and had a warden that could give players a buff
  • Can build taxi vendors to allow rapid travel through area
  • Can make outposts with guards in an area to help you fight mobs (not just in towns)
  • There is somewhat of a meta where you have to decide where to place structures to get optimal use. For example build an outpost in the wilderness and choose to put your campfire there. You can put structures like a campfire in major areas, but then you are competing with everyone else doing that. We can expect that if there are two fires placed immediately on/next to each other, only one settler is going to get credit for a player standing within reach of both fires.
  • Mission types: Expansion(improving towns), Supply cache, Public ServiceTasks for the greater good), Civil Defense(combat, I think), Infrastructure (builds hospitals, taverns, spaceports, etc)
  • Can make puzzles appear

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