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

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

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

Of course by simply not publishing any numbers Carbine makes it rather easy to adapt a position of denial; pretending that everything is going just fine. Ultimately what matters is how much money Wildstar is making. And Carbine is owned by NCSOFT, who aren't known for their infinite patience with games that don't make money. There is something inherently unhealthy about a big budget MMORPG made for a niche population in a niche market. Things are going to happen in the coming 12 months to address that, including introduction of a free trial, price reduction of the box cost, and possibly even a Free2Play conversion.
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Get disappointed in your life
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 July 2014, 3:06 am
The title of this post is the label of the Steam Calculator, an online tool that calculates the value of your Steam game library. Here are my results:

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

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

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

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

Am I disappointed in my life? Certainly not because of the Steam Calculator. What that shows is that I have more money than time. And seeing on my Steam account that I've been on Steam for 6 years already, and given my disposable income, 2500€ is certainly not a worrisome amount of money for me. The Steam Calculator only tells me what I already knew, that I should tread softly with Steam sales, and spend more time actually playing the games I already bought.
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A question for Gevlon
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 July 2014, 9:44 am

You want to remove the 90% of players who are not playing good enough (from your point of view) from your MMORPGs of choice. Assuming that the game companies would quite like to keep the same revenue, would you be willing to pay a 10 times higher subscription fee for that priviledge? You can't just shove the 90% into second-rate content and expect them to keep paying the same subscription fee as you do.
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Is MMO group content salvageable in today's AAA MMOs?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 July 2014, 11:14 am
Of course I couldn't leave Hagu's "meta question" of yesterday unanswered. Not only do I believe that group content in a modern AAA MMORPG could be salvaged, I also have a bunch of ideas how. The solution is actually quite simple once one understood the problem, so let's talk about the problem first: Group content today is designed in a way that if you group with the "wrong people", your overall reward of your activity becomes negative. Most frequently in the form of "I group with incompetent players, I fail to complete the group content, I wasted my time".

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

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

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

Note that currently most games, including WoW and Wildstar, are designed to make questing in a group slower than soloing. Which very much contributed to the "massively single-player online RPG" genre that we have today. Change the incentives, and playing together (and thus paying for playing online) actually makes sense again.
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Relying on random strangers
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 June 2014, 9:19 am
I personally have opted out of Wildstar group content, because I consider it counterproductive to the true goal of playing a game: Having fun! But I keep reading about it, usually reporting bad design decisions. Apparently the best rewards of a dungeon could be had by gaining a gold medal, for which the requirement was doing the dungeon without a single death. And some people ran dungeons with pickup groups and then got extremely angry about not getting that perfect score, resulting in groups getting dissolved early or people getting kicked or other forms of toxicity.

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

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

So Carbine's only alternative would have been giving the highest level of rewards out only to guild group, and thus preventing PUGs to be able to go for that sort of reward. But I guess by now a sufficient number of players has cancelled their subscription to make Carbine realise that a casual-unfriendly game might have some drawbacks. Expect more of those "nerfs" in the coming months.
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Hating Wildstar challenges a bit less
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 June 2014, 11:04 am
During the beta and first week of Wildstar I absolutely hated challenges: The way the game suddenly shouted at me and forced me to change my plans. The way they turned a leisurely activity into a rush. The way they were designed to make me hate other players, who caused me to fail the challenge (and get shouted at again). And finally the way how the challenge offered me a choice of rewards, only to then give me one of the things I didn't want. I still believe most of this is just bad game design, but I'm starting to get used to challenges and hate them a bit less.

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

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

So even if they can be somewhat annoying, I have learned to not completely ignore challenges. Some of them can actually be fun, usually those that don't involve killing regular mobs.
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Not doing that Steam Sale
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2014, 4:10 pm
Recently Ars Technical data-mined Steam and found that 37% of games that people had bought then stayed unplayed in their libraries. I'm afraid my personal Steam library has even more unplayed games in it. I tend to pick up games that look interesting for cheap in a Steam sale, and then never find the time. So this year I don't participate in the Steam summer sale, because I simply don't need any more unplayed games.

Between Steam sales and cheap iOS games, I have reached the point of game saturation. Neither money nor availability of interesting games is a limiting factor any more, the only limit to the number of games I can play is the time I have for games. How about you?
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Are CREDD Pay2Win?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 June 2014, 2:35 am
In the previous thread Gevlon commented that buying gold is a form of cheating. Basically "Pay2Win", you pay real money, you get virtual gold, and the auction house permits you to leverage that virtual gold into a power advantage in game. But when I pointed out that you could buy gold "legally" via CREDD, Carson opined that Carbine makes the rules, so buying gold via CREDD wouldn't be cheating. Okay, but putting that legalistic definition of what "cheating" is aside, isn't buying gold still Pay2Win, regardless which path you use to convert your real money into an in-game advantage?

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

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

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

Now I understand the concept of trying to prevent "illegal" gold-selling by offering a legal version. But that didn't work out all that well for Diablo 3. Because it isn't JUST the fact that gold sellers are a shady bunch that cause all sorts of secondary problems that makes real-money trade (RMT) of dollars versus gold a problem. There is a reason why government decided that you can't legally buy heroin in a pharmacy, even if that might put heroin dealers out of business. Legalization isn't a perfect solution to every problem of that kind. If a large part of the motivation in a MMORPG comes from collecting better gear, and you can just pull out your wallet to buy the best available gear, you destroy much of the game in the process.
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Wildstar botters
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2014, 10:11 am
Carbine pulled out their ban-hammer for the first time and banned a large number of botters. I can't be absolutely certain if that was the cause, but on the AH of my server the number of titanium chunks for sale dropped from 14,000 to 6,000 over night. Wildstar's Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney said:
"(An aside, from a place of honesty here - I sincerely don’t understand the player that tries to level up by AFK botting - they make instanced Battlegrounds less fun, and we’re going to ban healthy percentages of them. This wastes money and time (both ours and theirs). And pisses you, the honest player, off. Lose-lose-lose. That being said, I don’t gotta understand the reasons behind such actions – they’re still going to get banned, we’re going to focus heavily on those going forwards.)
(Gold farmers I hate too, but at least I can understand the reasons behind their actions. They’re trying to make money by spamming, ripping off accounts, and gold, and wasting our support/dev time, which is unethical and borderline evil but at least rational. I really suggest not buying gold from them if you actually care about such things)."
I understand the sentiment and the ranking: If your goal is to do well in a game, using a bot is just plain cheating and completely defeats the original purpose of playing a game. On the point of gold farmers, I would be more careful with my language. If you call them "gold farmers", I don't consider their actions unethical or evil. Annoying, sure, but as they never actually accepted the premise of the game as being *a game*, but consider it as a form of making a living, I have a hard time condemning them. They don't "cheat", because they don't play, they work. Of course as soon as we talk about "account hackers", which is not totally the same thing even if there is obviously an overlap, we clearly get into the domain of illegality. But somebody who is just farming gold, with or without bots, and then selling it, with or without spam, isn't breaking any real world laws. In fact a gold farmer quite frequently does exactly the same actions as a regular player in need of gold, only they do it more intensively.

I strongly suspect that game companies hate gold farmers mostly because the gold farmers expose one of the big lies of virtual worlds: That the items and currency in these games are just pixels, a form of art protected by copyright, and not something of real monetary value to the player. The fact that there is an exchange rate, as well officially (CREDD for plat) as inofficially (dollars for gold farmer plat) suggests to any economist that we are dealing here with things that have real world value. Game companies absolutely hate that idea, because they fear that they could be held responsible if their actions lead to a loss of virtual goods. On the one side the game companies would love to extract a maximum amount of money from players who value virtual items, but on the other side they refuse any responsibility for guarding those values. If today someone buys a sparkly pony for $25, and tomorrow the game shuts down or patches mounts out of existence, shouldn't there be some sort of consumer protection for the hapless buyer?
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Don't outsource your core business
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2014, 3:26 am
MMORPGs are not like other computer games. A developer studio making a single-player game might well consider their core business to be developing games, and leave the distribution to somebody else. A MMORPG is more akin to an ongoing service. Game design is important, but the infrastructure around it is at least equally important. Your brilliant game is no good at all if for example on release your account creation website is dead and nobody can log in.

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

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

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

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

I believe that Carbine did the right choice when choosing the looks of Wildstar. It is a lot easier to make a game with serious gameplay with the graphics style they have.
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Wildstar crafting imbalances
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 June 2014, 3:10 am
In my opinion a MMORPG crafting system should do two things: Produce useful items, and be at least cost-neutral, if not provide a small profit. Wildstar is doing very good on the first count, the weapons and armor you can craft are frequently better than the gear you find questing. On the second count Wildstar is simply unbalanced: For some professions like tailoring the cost of the necessary vendor bought material to craft an item is higher than the vendor sales price of that item, so you not only need to provide the other resources, but also lose money on each craft. For other professions, like architect, it is just the opposite, with the crafted items selling at a huge profit to NPC vendors.

I didn't want to switch tradeskills to architecture to try this out, but after doing the numbers I found that if I crafted refined sapphire power cores from auction house bought resources, and then made titanium weapons from them with AH bought titanium chunks, I could make up to 40 silver per weapon in profit. Not something I would want to do all day, because it involves a lot of boring clicking. But for proof of principle I did that for one hour and ended up making 1 platinum piece (100 gold). If I wasn't such a lazy bastard, at the current CREDD prices of 5 platinum I could earn a monthly subscription by crafting one day. I suspect there is a nerf coming, or the CREDD prices are going to go up a lot.

My previous money-making scheme, making refined sapphire power core and selling them on the AH, is inherently slower, as you rely on other players to buy your crafted stuff. And the more you try to sell, the lower the profit gets, as the AH prices come under competitive pressure. The new scheme is a lot more solid, as this time it is only the buying that is done on the auction house. For example I need 7 chunks of titanium for one weapon, and on the AH on my server there were 14,400 chunks on offer. I could craft a long time before the AH runs out of resources. And the NPC always buys at the same price, regardless how many swords I sell him.

To me the huge quantity of resources on the AH suggests that collecting resources might be somewhat too easy. It is not only that the vendor prices for some crafted goods are too high, but also that the AH prices for some resources are too low. If I can make 1 plat in 1 hour with a level 18 character (and I could have done it with a level 10), you can imagine what kind of virtual money the sort of people who do this for a living can make. We'll have to rename the Chinese Gold Farmers into Chinese Gold Crafters soon.
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Wildstar Journal - End
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 June 2014, 5:16 am
No, I'm not going to stop playing Wildstar already. But the journal is over, after me having taken some decisions regarding this game. I consider the solo game of Wildstar to be one of the best currently available, and in its challenge level more fun to me than World of Warcraft. Crafting and the auction house are also very well done. Housing is "nice to have", albeit not something I'm going to spend hours on. On the other hand I consider that the combat system which works so well in solo mode breaks down in multi-player. And yes, I also tested PvP. With multiple players fighting multiple opponents, mob or player, there are simply too many telegraphs and things going on too quickly to allow for a decent degree of tactical control. Combine that with the decision of Carbine to make dungeons and raids inaccessible for the majority of players, and I just can't see myself doing much, if any, multi-player content.

On the negative side that means that reaching the level cap in Wildstar for me will be equivalent to a game over screen. And due to the low number of zones in the game, I'm not going to play a large number of different characters; currently I play 2, and the maximum I could imagine if I decide to play an Exile alt would be 3. And chances aren't good for me to play Exile, unless I would be allowed to send mail from Dominion to Exile, as I find having to start the economic game over from zero to be too annoying.

On the positive side, having decided to opt out of the multi-player part of Wildstar means I am under absolutely no pressure to be at a certain level in a certain time. At first my instincts kicked in, where I was thinking that if I pay a monthly subscription, I need to play a significant number of hours per month to make it worth paying. I had already considered unsubscribing from Wildstar after the first month, just because I will be away on holiday for three weeks in July, and Wildstar doesn't play well on a laptop. But now I think I will just keep that subscription active, and maybe play a bit of Wildstar during the holidays in activities that aren't affected too badly by low framerates, for example crafting and trading. It isn't as if I couldn't afford to pay for a Wildstar subscription for the up to 6 months it will take me to "finish" the game if I don't hurry.

I find that my enjoyment of Wildstar increases if I don't pursue traditional goals like fast leveling. This weekend I spent an afternoon farming all the weaponsmithing tier 1 recipes in the two level 6-14 starting zones. Such activities fulfill the basic formula for fun in a MMORPG: I set myself a goal, I pursue that goal over a limited amount of time, and I'm happy to achieve the goal at the end of the day. I don't consider MMORPGs to be competitive games, even if lots of people try to artificially introduce competitive elements like "server firsts" into it. If you don't exclude activities which give a sub-optimal amount of rewards per hour, there is a lot of things to do in Wildstar. And I intend to enjoy Wildstar until inevitably I run out of content.
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MMORPG life cycles
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 June 2014, 4:21 am
In last weeks thread there developed a side-discussion on how short the life cycle of MMORPGs are. And because people generally are bad at math, they couldn't agree on whether World of Warcraft was the most stable MMORPG ever, or the most volatile. Quote Hagu: "WoW lost 4-5 million customers, probably more than all other MMOs have in the West, so "just fine" might be overselling it slightly.". The fact that a quarterly report of Blizzard can easily show a up or down movement in player numbers of WoW which exceeds the total player number of any other MMO in the West makes it appear rather volatile, so "WoW loses a million players" is a frequent headline in gaming news.

I think it helps to not calculate in absolute numbers, but in percentages. Basically just draw a curve, ignore the scale, and see how steep the rises and drops are. So on the one hand we have World of Warcraft, which rose to its peak subscriber number in 6 years, and then lost about a third of those subscribers in the 4 following years. On the other hand we have the games of the "post WoW era", with one famous example of the short life cycle behavior being Warhammer Online, which rose to 750,000 subscribers in a month, and then lost two thirds of those in the following 6 months. Or Star Wars: The Old Republic that went up to 1.7 million subscribers in the first two months, and then also lost about two thirds of those in the following 6 months, before going Free2Play to stem the fall.

If you look at this that way, the most stable MMORPG is EVE Online, which took nearly 10 years to peak. Although, just like WoW, opening Chinese servers in a later point of the life cycle certainly helps against volatility. Second place after EVE Online is then World of Warcraft. Every other game, even earlier games like Everquest, lost higher percentages of subscribers in shorter periods of time.

I believe that the MMORPGs of 2014 will peak in less than 12 months after release, and will lose more than half of their subscribers in the 12 months after the peak. But it isn't certain that they will release any numbers. I haven't seen any numbers published for The Elder Scrolls Online; there have been "best guesses" based on physical box sales that put subscriber numbers in the first month at 1.2 million, which sounds nice until you consider that they had 5 million players signing up for beta. TESO might have peaked *before* release. I don't have any numbers for Wildstar either, but they wisely restricted beta access much more. But while many people consider Wildstar's "endgame is for the ultra-hardcore" design to be exactly what they want, I don't think anybody believes that a lot of the 95+% of excluded players will stick around for a long time. The arguments typically are "they will leave anyway", rather than that this design will make them stay.
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A question for the hardcore
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 June 2014, 2:33 am
The hardcore vs. casual debate is getting increasingly ugly on the Wildstar forums. A lot of people who didn't think of themselves as "casual" made it to level 20, tried the first dungeon, and found out that Wildstar in fact considers them to be part of the unwashed masses not worthy to do group content. So they complain, and get shouted down by those who like the Wildstar difficulty as it is. But in all that discussion I am missing one rather essential point. And so I am asking it here:

Imagine that all what the hardcore players say is true, and that ultra-hard content and 12-step attunements and all that is good for the game. But what exactly would be the harm if we take all that group content and duplicate it, providing an "easy mode" copy with lesser rewards?

To me it appears that for a raiding guild to function, there needs to be a pool of potential candidates out there. And it would be much preferable if those candidates had already SOME knowledge and training in the content that the raiding guild wants to tackle. Furthermore one of the motivations of the hardcore appears to be wanting to be a role model that other players look up to. But a real casual player who is interested in decorating his house and his mount collection or whatever isn't going to look up to a raider strutting around in epics. Somebody who is doing easy mode raid content is much more likely to see a hardcore raider as a role model.

But most of all I consider the financial implications. If there is a large population who would like to do group content, but isn't able to, they are likely to quit Wildstar. It would cost very little of money and developer time to provide them with an easy mode copy of the dungeons and raids. And then they would stay at the very least some time longer, contributing more money to Carbine's ability to produce future content for the game.

The only possible argument I can see how easy mode would be bad is that some people would shy away from hardcore raiding if easy mode raiding was available. But honestly, is that really the sort of player you would want in your hardcore raid?

So I really can't understand why anybody would be against the *additional* provision of easy mode content, after giving the hardcore raiders all the ultra-hard raiding content and shiny epics they desire. If you know any good arguments, please tell me!
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Wildstar Journal - Day 7
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 June 2014, 3:04 am
As reported yesterday, I found that there was a good profit margin in doing refined power cores, buying the materials at the commodities broker and selling the power cores there. So I pushed heavily into that market. That significantly lowered the prices and profit, but I ended up with 40 gold (four times the cost of a mount). Fortunately buying, crafting, and selling doesn't take too much time, so I spent most of that session doing quests with my esper alt.

The reason I was playing my esper is that I noticed that his rest xp were low. In fact, after playing him for a while and using up his rest xp, I found he didn't gain ANY rest xp over night. Strange, the information I had about rest xp was that you get *some* everywhere, twice the number if you are in your capital city, and between three and four times the number in your house, depending on decor. In any case, it seemed worth it to level up the alt to get to level 14 and be able to park him in his house when not needed. In this session I made it from level 11 to 13, so this goal is getting close.

In the process I observed another weird thing: In Wildstar you don't get a talent tree, but you get AMP points. And to get to the higher levels of AMP abilities, you need to find those skill AMPs as a drop or buy them from a vendor. And it turns out that the distribution of the AMPs you can find is seriously skewed. My warrior is swimming in AMPs. My esper can't find any AMPs for the assault branch of the AMP talent tree. That is reflected also in auction house prices, there are hundreds of those warrior AMPs for cheap in the AH, while the esper assault AMPs are not available, or have a single one in the AH for 10 to 100 gold.

Besides the random drops, you can get AMPs from vendors. So I looked up the AMPs I needed for my esper. Bad luck, there aren't any assault AMPs in the zone I'm in. I would need to switch to the other newbie zone and grind reputation to buy one of them there. A second one is in the capital, but only sold for prestige points, the PvP currency, in spite of not being a PvP-specific AMP. And the other three are in much higher level zones. So in the end I decided I couldn't put my points in the assault tree as I wanted, and went for the utility tree instead. The support tree (healing) is useless for soloing.
Tobold's Blog

An interesting theory on the Wildstar business model
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 June 2014, 4:23 am
Green Armadillo has an interesting theory on the Wildstar business model: He believes that Carbine is counting on most players leaving the game in the first 90 days anyway, and trying to retain just the top 1% to 5% of hardcore raiders. Quote: "Five percent of WoW's over ten million peak would be over half a million subscribers, which would put Wildstar in solid territory by any measure."

While as a theory this is interesting, I do have a problem with the math. Because the 5% Carbine could possibly retain are not 5% of WoW peak numbers, but rather 5% of Wildstar peak numbers. Which are probably closer to 1 million than to 10 million. And to the best of my knowledge of MMORPG economics, 50,000 subscribers aren't enough to keep a triple-A MMORPG afloat.

Numbers can be deceptive. If you look at a graph of World of Warcraft subscription numbers over time, you get the impression that for some time people joined WoW, then it peaked, and then people started to leave WoW. But imagine you had the possibility to track each individual WoW player. Imagine you knew exactly what the 8 million players of World of Warcraft during let's say Burning Crusade are playing now. It would be totally wrong to assume that just half a million of them quit WoW and 7.5 million of those 8 million are still playing. Chances are that the numbers are closer to reverse: Half a million people of those 8 million during Burning Crusade still play WoW, the other 7.5 million quit. The overwhelming majority of people playing WoW now are people who joined the game much later. WoW doesn't necessarily KEEP players, it replaces them by new ones.

I believe that for most people hardcore raiding is a phase, not a permanent lifestyle choice. For me certainly it was. You can't point at the 8 million people of Burning Crusade, of which 1% to 5% played raids with attunements and think that these people are still around, only waiting for another game with raid attunements. Raiding is fun, but it does have inherent disadvantages: You need to be online for a large block of hours simultaneously with your raiding friends, and while your personal performance might be important to you, it is not the deciding factor to whether the raid succeeds. You can fail because your raid companions failed, and that causes inherently unstable social situations. "Guild drama" is a term we are all familiar with because of raiding.

And, let's face it, we aren't getting any younger. World of Warcraft is approaching its 10th anniversary, and if you started raiding even earlier, in Everquest, even more time has gone past. The years are likely to have a negative effect not only on your reaction time and raid performance, but also on your availability for raiding, due to things like growing work and family responsibilities and competing claims on your time. And for most of us the years also did a good job of putting our priorities into perspective: We now have other goals in life than being a top raider in this or that MMORPG.

Thus I do not believe that it will be possible for Wildstar to attract a stable pool of half a million hardcore raiders and keep them playing (and paying for) the game for several years.
Tobold's Blog

Wildstar Journal - Day 6
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 June 2014, 8:29 am
I took a long weekend off from computer games and played Outside instead. Thus the gap in my Wildstar journal, where day 6 is the sixth day *I* am playing and not the sixth day after head start or release.

Anyway, at the end of day 6 my warrior main is level 17 and my esper alt is level 11. The most time in this session was spent with my warrior doing quests around Hycrest. Fun, but nothing special to report. The only interesting thing was that my quest journal was full of quests for that zone, because those quests got "phoned in" while I was exploring the zone for farming herbs in the previous session. As that overloaded my quest tracker I decided to abandon all those quests. Interestingly if you do that, they remain in your quest journal, with a link to phone the quest giver to get the quest back. Nifty!

Other than that I followed the advice of one of my readers, who on reading about my power core production had asked whether selling the power cores wouldn't be better than making weapons from them. On the one side I remain persuaded that making power cores for your own weaponsmithing is a good idea, because it allows you to level up weaponsmithing while making good money. On the other side I have to agree that if you aren't interested in skilling up weaponsmithing, you make even more money by selling the power cores directly.

In particular I was making refined sapphire power cores (I still have to check out the economics of the lower level refined quartz power cores). It turned out that buying the components for one refined sapphire power core on my server at the commodities broker cost under 15 silver. The refined sapphire power cores had buy orders for 35 silver, and the lowest sell order was 80 silver. So even taking into account cost for mailing components between the two characters and auction house listing fees there is obviously money to be made. I sold 16 power cores over the evening making about 10 gold profit in the process. Of course it is well possible that this won't work in the long run. It is a very basic buy components, craft, sell product scheme, which will quickly be reproduced by others. But I do have fun finding that sort of scheme.

In the long run I am not sure where the economy of Wildstar will be heading. The big unknown factor here is C.R.E.D.D., which just went live. They work like PLEX in EVE Online, but the economy of Wildstar doesn't work like the economy of EVE Online. While you can spend a lot of gold on mounts or house decorations, Wildstar to the best of my knowledge doesn't have a repeatable money sink like the destruction of space ships in EVE is. And it is also not obvious to me why a player who happens to not be interested in hardcore dungeon / raiding content would want to continue playing Wildstar after the level cap and put money into decorating his house. It will be interesting to see how all of that works out in the end.
Tobold's Blog

The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 16
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 June 2014, 3:53 am
While the previous session ended in a chaotic retreat, the Favorites of Selune did manage to grab the chalice of the dragon on their way out. That completed their quest to find the three sacred vessels for Sir Oakley to purify the temple of Gardmore Abbey.

Technically speaking the purification of the temple is a skill challenge, a special feature of 4th edition D&D. Despite numerous official and unofficial attempts to fix skill challenges, they never really work well. Either you handle them as a boring series of dice rolls and get very little narrative out of the exercise. Or you ask the players what they propose to do in a given situation, and then you have the problem of trying to translate their ideas into a skill check. If the players want to use powers or have ideas that don't correspond to skills, that gets rather tricky. So for the purification of the temple I used a mixed approach, asking everybody what they proposed to do to protect Sir Oakley while he was doing his purification ritual. I accepted all ideas, and asked for dice rolls only if appropriate.

When Sir Oakley started the purification ritual, the shadows in the temple began to move. At first they started to whisper trying to dissuade or distract Sir Oakley from his ritual. The players tried to chase the shadows by adding more light to the temple, and chanted religious hymns to overcome the whispers. Then the shadows changed tactics and started throwing debris at Sir Oakley. Some players used their shields and bodies to intervene, and the wizard used his mage hand to protect Sir Oakley from above, swatting stones away like ping pong balls.

Then the temple turned completely dark, and the players had a vision from the time of the fall of Gardmore Abbey: Wraiths coming out of a room in the vaults, up the stairs and into the temple. Having been there in the previous session, the players could identify the room where the wraiths came from as the one where the gnolls are. At the end of the vision, light returned to the temple, but the wraiths from the vision where now physically present and attacked. But that was an easy fight, and the players quickly dispatched them. Finally, at the end of the ritual, the shadows fled inside Sir Oakley, trying to possess him. But the players managed to overcome that final obstacle too with magic and religion. The purification of the temple was complete, and Bahamut sent a reward, the torc of justice, a +2 necklace with nice powers.

That being done, the vision during the purification had given the players a hint where to search for the source of the chaos in Gardmore Abbey. They went back into the vaults towards the room with the gnolls. As they feared being attacked in the back, they used spikes to block the door towards the minotaurs. But they also saw that the minotaurs themselves had nailed shut that door from the other side. The gnolls meanwhile had used stacked up vases behind their door to act as a primitive alarm system. The rogue couldn't completely silence that one, and so the fight against the gnolls began with both sides well warned.

When trying to use a card of the Deck of Many Things in that room, the players had another vision from the past: The captain of the guard of Gardmore Abbey during the orc attack, Havarr, decided to use the Deck of Many Things artifact in the hope of using it to beat back the orcs. But instead of a helpful result he drew the skull card and unleashed a horde of undead on they abbey. The combined assault of the undead from within and the orcs from outside then caused the fall of Gardmore Abbey.

The fight against the gnolls turned out to be somewhat too easy, mostly due to my experiments with the escalation die. Importing a rule from 13th Age, the escalation die gives the players an increasing bonus every round of the combat, up to a maximum of +6. The rule is designed to prevent combat from dragging on too long, but ultimately it is somewhat overpowered. I already have players with attack bonuses of up to +14 fighting monsters with an AC of 22. If they get a +6 bonus they hit even if they roll a 2 on the d20, which pretty much destroys all challenge. And while the gnoll fight WAS quite short due to this, it also meant that I didn't even have the opportunity to use all the powers of the various gnolls. And with the escalation die making combat very fast, any crowd control power that stops a monster for just one round becomes very powerful as well. In consequence I will not let the escalation die increase by 1 every combat round any more. Instead I'll just use it to give a bonus if the group fights more than one fight after an extended rest, +1 for the second fight, +2 for the third fight of the day, and so on.
Tobold's Blog

The Snugg executive case for iPad Air review
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 June 2014, 11:31 am
*FTC Disclosure: This review is based on a free review copy I received from The Snugg*

When I bought my iPad Air, I bought the official Apple smart case to go with it. I regretted that decision later. Not only was the smart case rather expensive, and I didn't really like the available colors, but it also turned out that the damn thing didn't even fit well. If you close the smart case normally you either get a spot in the middle where the cover doesn't touch the screen, or if you straighten that out you see that the side of the hinge doesn't touch the screen. The bad fit causes the magnetic lid to not stay on and to not always work in shutting down the iPad.

So when The Snugg wrote me and asked whether I wanted to test one of their iPad cases, I just happened to be interested in that kind of product, and agreed. They sent me the electric blue Snugg Executive Case for the iPad Air (iPad 5). Already the color is a huge improvement over Apple's washed out blue (and The Snugg has a wider range of color available). But the main thing is that it is in many ways a different product than the smart case. The iPad Air in the Snugg leather case is nearly a centimeter thicker than in the smart case, and about 100 grams heavier. The upside of that is that it looks a lot less blatantly obvious like an iPad, and more like a filofax, which potentially might reduce its attraction to thieves. Choose a more serious color and it doesn't look out of place in a business meeting, which is probably why they called it executive case.

The thicker leather comes with some extra features: A stylus holder, and places to put things like business cards or pieces of paper, although as this is between the cover and the iPad the thickness is obviously limited. The Snugg case has a hand strap in case you are one of the people who like to walk around with the iPad held in one hand. And the case has a latch at the back into which you can fold the cover; that results in two very stable stand positions for your iPad, one flatter angle useful for typing, one steeper angle for watching videos or talking on FaceTime. For balancing an expensive iPad I much prefer that sort of latch to the magnetic-only fixation of other cases.

The Snugg case does have magnetic fixation of the cover, and it works: You can hold the thing upside down and the cover doesn't fall off. You can also put the case in a bag without the cover slipping off and the iPad turning itself on. But in all fairness I have to remark that with the Snugg executive case just like with the smart case on closing the cover I did not have a 100% success rate in the magnet shutting down the iPad. I'd say it works "better", but if you close it somewhat limply the magnetic lock doesn't engage. Other than that the Snugg cover works very well. Recommended!
Tobold's Blog

Wildstar Journal - Day 5
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 June 2014, 1:12 am
I love it when a plan works. My Wildstar money making scheme, while complicated and time intensive, did pay off big in the end. In a change from when I tried it in beta, the power cores that the technologist now makes are blue name. And if you use them to smith a weapon, you get a blue name weapon. Sure, the name itself is the same whether it is written in white, green, or blue. But not only are the stats on the blue weapon much better, making them easier to sell on the AH, but also the NPC vendor price goes up. So I didn't even need to wait for the AH to make a quick 20 gold and buy a mount. I took the raptor for my draken warrior, to stick with the WoW troll theme. I'll take the hamster ball for the chua esper.

As that worked out so well for the refined quartz power cores, I started to wonder whether I wouldn't be able to get to refined sapphire power cores. So I moved my warrior to the level 16+ zone and started farming herbs. And it worked, I quickly got enough herbs to send to my technologist alt and learn the second tech tree up to sapphire power cores. That in turn enabled me to craft for myself a level 15 blue weapon which is probably best-in-slot at this level for a warrior. And I have the power cores to keep training weaponsmithing while making profitable weapons.

The only annoying part of this was that riding around in a new zone without questing fills your quest log even if you don't want to. By just turning up somewhere you get the quests "phoned in", and if you don't accept them they just end up on a different to do list of unanswered calls. I will have to sort that out later. But this weekend I won't be playing, I'll be out in the sun instead.
Tobold's Blog

Wildstar Journal - Day 4
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 June 2014, 3:18 am
In the Wildstar beta I was doing okay with regards to earning gold. In the release version not so much. It turns out that adventures are expensive, as you don't get any loot but a big repair bill. And I bought some AMPs on the auction house to experiment with dps and tank builds. As a result my warrior main is level 16 and doesn't have a mount yet. My idea to fix that is to level my esper alt to level 10 and start technologist crafting with him. That will allow me to craft power cores for my main, who is weaponsmith. And if I craft the cores instead of having to buy them, weaponsmithing can be very profitable.

In consequence day 4 consisted of leveling my esper (I got to level 9), and gathering plants with my warrior. The rarer plants are in the higher level part of the zone, and as you don't need a special skill to farm them, the warrior is better suited for that job. Plus he can use the seeds he finds to plant in the garden of his house.

So I was with my esper in the starting village of Deradune when I read a system message reminding me that it was launch day. On the first day of the head start that village was packed full with people. Today it was nearly deserted. Launch day was a complete non-event for Wildstar. Apparently nobody buys games in boxes any more, so there was no reason for anyone to be there at launch, but not for the head start.

On the one side the absence of players helped my esper with his challenges. On the other side he had problems finding other players for the group "wanted" quests. And somehow I find it a bit worrying if the starting zone of a game is already deserted on launch day. It seems everybody has rushed on into the higher level zones. Pretty soon nobody will be leveling in Wildstar any more.
Tobold's Blog

Fast is not the same as challenging
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 June 2014, 3:55 am
Imagine a very simple game: Your screen shows just two arrows, the left one pointing to the left, the right one pointing to the right. When one of the arrows flashes, you need to press the corresponding arrow key on your keyboard. If you press the right key within the time limit you gain a point towards your high score, if you press the wrong key or are too slow pressing the key, you lose.

Obviously this game only requires the brain power of a trained pigeon to play. It is in no way intellectually challenging or difficult. But if you took a large enough pool of players, you could tune that game, reducing the required reaction time to succeed, until only 10% of your player population are able to beat it. The other 90% would be players who either naturally have a slower reaction time, or are over 24 years old, or simply found the "game" too boring to put much effort into it.

But of course the 10% of players who can beat that game will be extremely proud of this "achievement". They will call themselves the "hardcore" and look down upon the 90% who can't beat the game. And with some clever marketing you might even be able to make these hardcore players pay $15 a month for playing this game. Because, remember, they might not have more brain power than a trained pigeon.
Tobold's Blog

New player guide to role-playing: Getting started
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 June 2014, 5:52 am
Another question from my "ask me anything" thread was about how to get started with pen & paper role-playing games. That is not an easy question to answer. In fact it could be said that this is one of the weakest points of the hobby: There is no easy way to pick up a box/book, sit around a table, and start playing.

When Dungeons & Dragons was young, it existed in two different incarnations: A Basic D&D game, and an Advanced D&D game. The basic game had much more simpler rules and thus was easier to learn. Since the third edition of D&D in 2000 there is only one version, and it is the advanced one. The main competitor of D&D today, Pathfinder, is also based on advanced D&D rules. 4th edition changed D&D into a more tactical game, but that ended up being even more complicated. Errata and rules changes didn't help. Many other rules systems on the market were also made by veterans for veterans, and didn't exactly simplify the rules. So how does one learn to play?

The best option today is finding other people who are already playing, and to join them. Many stores that sell role-playing games have some sort of organized play events, or at least a message board where you can find other players. Google can help too. How successful you are in finding people to play with will depend on where you live, for example America is much better covered than Europe (D&D stopped getting translated into other languages a few years ago), and of course it is easier to find other people with the same interest in urban environments than in rural ones.

If you are really determined to try to learn the game without outside help, the best way to start would be a starter box. The 4E starter box ("red box") is out of print and is being sold on the secondary market for outrageous prices over $100. Pathfinder has an in-print and thus affordable "Beginner Box". But if you can wait a few more weeks, 5th edition D&D will publish both a free set of "Basic Rules" and a very affordable "Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set" on July 15th. Once I get hold of these, I will post a review, but right now these would be your best bet of getting into D&D without joining an existing group.
Tobold's Blog

Wildstar Journal - Day 3
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 June 2014, 3:22 am
On writing the title I realized that "day" is a bad unit of measure here: Day 1 and 2 were Saturday and Sunday, so I had a lot more hours available than on day 3, which was a work Monday. Anyway, I spent half of the evening leveling my first alt, a chua esper. Then my guild needed another level 15+ player to try the adventure again, and I decided to give it another shot, this time as dps.

The result was that I still don't like the "hardcore" Wildstar adventures and dungeons. They are simply too fast and twitchy for me to be enjoyable. There is even less tactical thinking involved than in a WoW dungeon. For example as dps warrior I had very little control over who I was hitting when the enemies were bunched together, and no way to check aggro. Warrior might be an ideal dps class for group content, I felt I was doing less good than in the previous attempt as tank. Ranged dps have a huge advantage of having a much easier time avoiding the area attacks of the enemies, as melee it was nearly impossible to fight a group of enemies without getting hit as there were telegraphs everywhere. So in the end the whole thing played like a long firework of flashing lights and button mashing with very little feeling of having control over the situation.

I like the Wildstar combat in the solo version, because it is less trivial than the WoW equivalent. But I find it scales up badly to 5 players fighting half a dozen mobs. And the absence of a "normal" dungeon mode for more casual players annoys me, I don't want to play heroic all the time. I always disliked the gap in difficulty between solo and group content, and I had hoped that Wildstar would close that gap somewhat by making solo content more challenging. But they just made all content more challenging and kept the gap. So I guess I will play Wildstar without the adventure / dungeon / raid content. Too bad for Carbine, because that means my subscription will be shorter.
Tobold's Blog

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