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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So my most important advice is to take future change into account. Don't make a blog about a specific class in a specific game, because as much as you might be concentrated on that today, that class or that game is *not* your hobby. Your hobby is probably a lot wider, at least different games, different types of games, or even things outside games. Do not write a "WoW Hunter blog", or even an "MMO blog"; write a blog about the totality of YOUR interests. Write for yourself, not for a hypothetical audience. Write what YOU think, what YOU feel, and don't worry if you consider that the same thought has been written before by others. The one person who might be very interested in what your thoughts on your hobbies are today is yourself, so write for an audience of one, yourself. Everybody else reading your blog, or willing to discuss your thoughts with you, is a bonus.
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What if there were several World of Warcrafts?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 May 2015, 3:17 am
A decade later, with many people having long grown bored with World of Warcraft, and many MMORPGs having been released since, it is hard to remember the impact WoW had when it was released. By being far more polished and far more accessible than its competitors at the time, World of Warcraft singlehandedly changed the landscape of MMORPGs forever. A few months before WoW a financial analyst calculated that the overall market size for MMORPGs in Europe was 280,000. Then WoW came and sold 380,000 copies on the first weekend. Everquest II came out a month before WoW and people at the time considered that as a scoop that might "win" the war for SOE, but once World of Warcraft was released it just left EQ2 in the dust. As much as some people would like to deny it today, at the time World of Warcraft was far above its competitors in quality as well as accessibility, and we still feel the impact of that revolution today.

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

I am pretty sure that Heroes of the Storm will get millions of players, and that some people for different reasons will prefer the Blizzard version over the Riot version. But I don't see Heroes of the Storm being a "LoL killer". It will be somewhere in the list of the top 5 MOBA games, but not necessarily number 1. Blizzard is really late to this market (which is somewhat ironical, seeing how they could be said to be involved in starting the genre), and the existing games are already highly polished and accessible for a multi-million player mass market. The WoW/Hearthstone effect of "I'm taking a niche genre and make it accessible for the mass market" just isn't going to happen here. And thus I doubt that Blizzard will have such a huge impact on the future of this genre than it had on MMORPGs.
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Now accepting donations in WoW gold
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 May 2015, 1:08 am
A reader came up with another interesting idea based on WoW tokens: Instead of using the buy Tobold a coffee button to donate money to me, he offered to donate WoW gold. Enough gold to buy 2 WoW tokens in fact. So although his gold was on a different server, as long as it was in the same region (Europe) that worked just fine: I made a level 1 character, he gave me the gold, and I bought 2 WoW tokens (plus a battle pet with the change) on the auction house. Thank you!
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Breaking the 4th wall the wrong way
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2015, 7:20 am
When Frank Underwood in House of Cards turns towards the camera and speaks directly to the audience that is called breaking the 4th wall, an expression coming from the idea that a stage has 3 visible walls around it, and an "invisible" wall towards the viewer. Breaking the 4th wall in that direction, from the actor towards the audience, can be interesting. But sometimes that wall is broken in the wrong direction, with the real world intruding on the imaginary world. Ald shot first has a post on how he got an epic shield from the salvage yard and couldn't help thinking how that could pay for his WoW subscription if he sold the shield and bought a token for the gold. What used to be a game is suddenly a financial transaction. There are already addons out that directly translate gold prices into money prices. You might have been willing to pay 120,000 gold for a Reins of the Grand Expedition Yak, but are you willing to pay $120 for it?

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

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

At 30k to 40k gold for a WoW token in Europe I am pretty much indifferent to it. I can see myself both buying and selling, depending on my current needs. Yes, I have plenty of gold on some characters. But all my gold is only about a year worth of subscription, while the money I have in my bank account would easily pay for my subscription until death do us part (either mine, or WoW's). I don't need the addon to translate gold to €/$, because I am just as comfortable with spending 5,000 gold for a battle pet as I would be with the idea of spending €2.50 for it. But I am aware that depending on ones situation in life that might not be the case for somebody else. I can see how it would break immersion if something happened to you in game which translates into a dollar value you would actually care about.
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Improving the auction house
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 April 2015, 3:26 am
World of Warcraft is over 10 years old. And at some places that shows, with some game design elements being somewhat dated and far from optimal. I would argue that one of these outdated game design elements is the WoW auction house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally I watch neither sports nor eSports, I prefer doing to watching. I might not run as fast as Usain Bolt or click as fast as Hai Lam (now retired at the age of 22), but I am a lot more connected to that sport or to that game by doing it at my own pace than the connection I could get from watching the best doing it on a TV screen.
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For the children!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2015, 3:30 am
Yesterday evening I had planned to sort out my various alts in World of Warcraft and decide what character I would create and level from 1 to 100. But while I was still doing garrison stuff with my level 100 characters, somebody in trade chat mentioned that Children's Week had started. Hmmm, isn't that one of those events which gives pets as rewards? Me being very much into battle pets at the moment, I couldn't resist and changed my plans. I spent the rest of the evening doing Children's Weeks quests on different continents.

As I was planning to do the quests on different characters to get more pets, I started with the character I was currently on, my priest. Thus doing those quests too me some time, as I had to take various portals or zeppelins to travel from one continent to another. At one point I was in Orgrimmar and didn't have a hearthstone ready to get me anywhere where I could use a portal to Undercity, so I took the zeppelin. And then realized that I had forgotten where exactly the entrance to Undercity was in the Ruins of Lordaeron. Must have been many years since I last entered Undercity without using some means of fast travel. Usually I do travel-related stuff with my mage who just portals everywhere.

Overall I have mixed feelings about the event. All that traveling makes the quests somewhat long and tedious, with me playing on my iPad while waiting for some flying mount to make it to the destination. Not really the most fun activity. And somehow it is a sort of trap: I felt as if I was being suckered into a not-so-fun activity by the combination of a reward I wanted (the pets) and the time restriction (you can only get these pets during this particular week every year). So in the end I wasn't sure if it was actually worth it. The pets aren't even of rare quality, so I'm not even sure I'll ever use them. They just help with the achievements to collect hundreds of different pets. And most of them are tradable, so I might be able to get them for cheap this week on the AH.
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The economics of zero marginal cost
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 April 2015, 4:56 am
Why isn't Ford attracting more customers by giving out cars for free and then charging for additional stuff later? And if that model wouldn't work for cars, why would it work for computer games? The answer is in what an economist calls the marginal cost of an item, which is the cost of producing and selling one more of it. Once your game is finished and you have a distribution platform and everything, the marginal cost of selling one more copy is pretty close to zero. The same isn't true for cars, because even when the car is designed and the factory is built and set up, it still costs thousands of dollars to produce one more car and sell it.

The "culture of free" on the internet is very much linked to that zero marginal cost. Even piracy depends on zero marginal cost, because it doesn't cost the pirate more to make a copy of a game or other content than it costs the developer / owner of that game or content. Free2Play wouldn't work without zero marginal cost. But a lot of people confuse zero marginal cost with zero cost. It does not cost nothing to produce content, because it always costs time, and that time has an opportunity cost. However there are people on the internet who voluntarily produce content for nothing, me included. And that leads to an interesting economical question: What is the difference in quality between free content and paid-for content?

There are two sides of that: People who produce content for nothing are by definition "amateurs", which comes from the Latin word for love, they do something for the love of it, without payment. It can be argued that in certain cases such a work of love can be superior in quality to content produced by "professionals", who only do it for the money. In an environment of zero marginal cost a "professional" might be tempted to steal or rip off successful content from somebody else and sell it to you, like for example many cloned mobile games. On the other hand, if you car had a problem with its brakes, would you prefer a professional garage to fix it, or would you go to somebody who has a sign on his yard "amateur repairing cars for free for the fun of it"? Without financial incentive, an amateur might not be willing to invest too much time and money into a creation. Thus there is a viable economic theory that some very high level content will only be created in the first place if the developer thinks he can make money out of his creation. You can make Flappy Bird for free, but not Destiny, Battlefield, Bloodborne, or Grand Theft Auto.

Last week Valve announced a scheme which would allow people making mods to sell those mods on Steam. Most people reacted very badly to the idea, because they believe that they will have to pay to get the exactly same mods that previously were free. And of course the freeloaders made an immediate appearance, trying to sell mods based on the free work of others. But what about the long run? Isn't it likely that at some point a mod will be made *because* the modder was confident in his ability to sell it, a work he wouldn't have undertaken for free? Up to now very few mods end up being better than the original game. But with a mod economy in the future we might very well see a lot more high quality mods.

What I find curious about game economics is that there appears to be a large population that is always defending the status quo, even if that status quo is contradictory. Thus among the people complaining most loudly that mods are best if they remain free we also find the same people who previously argued that games are better if they are not for free.
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Colossal time sink
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 April 2015, 3:42 am
I bought Shadow of Mordor on Steam this weekend, as it was on my wishlist and there was a half-price promotion. On that occasion I noticed that I hadn't bought anything on Steam since restarting World of Warcraft. It isn't that there aren't any good games in my Steam library, I would love to continue playing Pillars of Eternity for example. But World of Warcraft ends up being such a colossal time sink that I simply can't find the time for anything else.

To some extent that is good news, as it means that I am having fun. I had a good time this weekend basically doing all the battle pet content of the Mists of Pandaria expansion: Beating all the pet masters, the pandaren spirits, the beasts of fable, and finally the celestial tournament on Timeless Isle. I also went on my very first LFR raid, with my priest spec'd to holy, as I was annoyed of his ineffectiveness in shadow spec. LFR is silly easy, although we managed to wipe on Operator Thogar by being run over by trains. I did several "raids" and got two epics, albeit for the same slot. Not something that I'll do a lot, as the epics aren't actually better than what you get without raiding from your garrison, but an interesting change of pace.

What I still haven't even really started yet is a grand project to level a character from 1 to 100, while simultaneously collecting pets everywhere. I have a low level hunter and a low level monk, but I'm not sure whether I don't want to start over from scratch with a hunter of a different race and combine the hunting for battle pets with the hunting for rare hunter pets. To get that started I should probably reduce further the time spent on "maintenance" of my 4 garrisons, which eats up too much time.

So as long as I have lots of stuff to do in World of Warcraft, I can't find the time for other games. Technically I am in the beta for Heroes of the Storm, and I have downloaded the client, but never even started it. There is a much higher barrier of entry to starting a new game than to deciding to just play good ol' World of Warcraft. A new game requires you learning controls and what the game is about, and playing a game you know very well is much lower effort. Maybe I'm just in a low-energy phase, but right now this means that WoW is taking up all my time.
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Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 April 2015, 12:55 pm
I couldn't resist the opportunity for speculation: I bought a WoW Token for money on one of my poorer characters and exchanged it for over 40k gold. The idea is to use a rich character of mine later to buy a WoW Token for less than 30k (prices go up and down quite a lot). The overall effect is 5€ extra paid for a month of subscription, but gaining 10k gold and having it transferred to where it is needed.
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Europeans buy less gold than Americans
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2015, 8:12 am
Curiously the price of the WoW Token is rising again in Europe, hitting nearly 40k, while the US WoW Token is down to just above 20k. As the price reflects the relative supply and demand, it appears as if the players on the US servers are far more enthusiastic in buying gold, while the Europeans are more interested in selling their gold. I find it hard to explain why there should be such a huge difference, with the tokens twice as expensive (and thus gold being half the price) in Europe. Any ideas?
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Semantic collision
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 April 2015, 5:36 am
A role-playing game is a semantic collision of two very different activities: Theatrical "role-playing" and playing a game with dice and rules ("roll-playing" or "rules playing"). Different people enjoy those two parts to different degrees, and they are prominent to different degrees on different platforms: Computer RPGs often concentrate on the game part, which then makes the role-playing part an "unique selling proposition" for tabletop RPGs. But there are definitive synergies between the two parts, especially in the heroic fantasy genre or other genres where action and combat are very much part of the story. The inherent randomness of determining success or failure by rolling dice creates a source of neutral input and impulse to the story-telling. And in the other direction clever role-playing can create advantages for combat later or generate more interesting gameplay situations.

On blogs and forums people frequently exchange ideas how games "should" be designed and played. But the truth of the matter is that those blog and forum posts have little or no influence on game developers. In a computer game the developer determines the laws of physics and possibility in the game. You might be able to pursue different goals and activities in a MMORPG, but you cannot change game design. But as the Dungeon Master / Game Master of a tabletop game it is YOU who determines what is possible, and that makes you a game designer to some extent, even if you use a pre-made rules system like Dungeons & Dragons.

This is why the design of my next D&D campaign is very important to me. There are game design principles I believe in, and this is my opportunity to realize them and see if they work. And the balance between the role-playing part and the game part is a very important piece of that. I am not saying that I have an universal solution, but I do what I like, and I do play this campaign with people I have been playing with for years, so to some extent I know what they like. Thus the goal is to find a balance which is the most fun for all of us.

I recently joined another D&D group of people I didn't previously know, where I play a character in a 5th edition D&D game. I don't want to dis that game, but I can certainly see that between the personal style of the DM and the 5E system this makes for a system that I am not overly fond of. In two sessions we only had one single fight, and that one was over in 5 minutes. As much as I want more story for my game, I don't want to fall into that extreme either. I'm pretty sure my players would get bored, they do like tactical combat. I am far more inclined to target an overall 50:50 ratio of time spent in combat and time spent role-playing. Not necessarily per session, but at least per adventure. I don't want just a "role-playing", nor do I want just a "game"; I want the complete thing, a role-playing game.
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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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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?
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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 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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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.
Tobold's Blog

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