The Ongoing Tension Between Solo and Grouping

In which we are reminded that the “group-solo” dynamic in MMORPGs is not settled and likely never will be.

I have been thinking about the solo/grouping dynamic a bit after a couple of previous posts regarding World of Warcraft and EVE Online.

Yesterday the 7.2 patch went live for WoW, and one of the key items in it for a lot of people was the ability to finally finish up the achievements to unlock flying in the expansion.

Now available

The grind to get there seems, to me, to indicate how much the devs would like you not to be able to fly until you’ve walked the whole expansion. (WoWHead has a nice little tool to track your progress towards unlocking flying.)

However, participating in a raid… which at one point was never going to be available via LFR, then was going to be available via LFR at some much later date… is no longer on the list.  The achievements for unlocking flying are available to the dedicated soloist.

Given the situation, where we learned back during Warlords of Draenor that a very vocal subset of the WoW population believes that flying is part of the social contract between them and Blizzard, and where Blizzard seems to have agreed after its own protestations, making it a soloable venture is the right decision.  “You must raid” as a prerequisite for flying is a non-starter, even with something like LFR available.

Then over in New Eden, CCP announced their plans for refineries in EVE Online.  One key aspect of the change involved moon mining.  Rather than being the passive activity it is now where, once the POS is setup and configured all you do is flying out to it once in a while and collect the resulting moon goo, moon mining is going to become an active process where chunks of the moon will be ripped from its surface to float in space where people will need to undock and harvest it.

Moon chunks in spaaaaaaace!

My own reaction to this was to wonder if this new method would be fun for people as an ongoing mechanic or initially fun before turning into yet another aspect of EVE Online that is grindy boring.  But I do not mine moons… or asteroids or anything really any more… so my thoughts on the topic were fairly brief.

Kirith Kodachi though, he saw this as a blow against the null sec empires.  Rather than being able to simply put up towers and collect the proceeds, people were going to have to work to get those essential… essential to tech II production… moon resources.  And that certainly seems to be the case.  Harvesting moon goo is going to be more work.

Enter Neville Smit, whose own follow up post to the CCP announcement takes this thought a step further.  He sees this as yet another squeeze on the solo New Eden entrepreneur.  Who besides the null sec alliances is organized enough to adapt to these new mechanics both effectively and efficiently?  It is the CSM elections all over again, where a large group that had to organize by necessity is thus already poised to take advantage of something where organization is a critical element.

Basically, the rich get richer and Malcanis wins again.  What is a solo capsuleer to do?

Azeroth and New Eden are drastically different places, but they both still end up walking that same path between what can be done solo and what should require a group, organized or otherwise.

World of Warcraft owes a healthy chunk of its success to enabling solo play.  It is one thing to pine for the good old days of EverQuest, but the fact that solo wasn’t a thing put a cap on its popularity.  So WoW has to keep on the path of allowing solo play to be viable to keep subscribers.  They have to play it safe and not do anything crazy like… say… making mobs in WoW Legion scale to your item level rather than just your level so your daily faction grind becomes a chore… and give solo players crutches in the form of dungeon finder to let them dip their toes into grouping without commitment.

EVE Online, on the other hand, does pride itself on being… difficult.  That alone has put a cap on how many subscribers it can ever hope to have.  But it has been reasonably good at not explicitly killing the viability of solo play, at least for specific definitions of “solo.”  Are you still “solo” if you are multi-boxing multiple accounts?  You don’t need half a dozen people to sign your corp charter or need to form a fleet of a given size to attempt content… you’ll likely get blown up if you do, but if you want to try you’re welcome.

And, in that spirit, there is nothing that specifically prohibits a solo player from trying to set up a refinery to moon mine, just like there isn’t anything specifically prohibiting a solo player from trying to take null sec space.  They can have at it all they want, it is just likely to end badly.  And I think it is okay to have content that requires group play.  But I wonder if CCP should be trying harder for solo and smaller group play, especially when it comes to making changes to things that were once viable for those groups.

Flying Comes to WoW Legion

Today is the day, the day that the Tomb of Sargeras update, Patch 7.2, goes live in World of Warcraft.

Available now!

The update has been a while coming.  Blizzard was talking about it back at BlizzCon in early November.

But the patch delivers quite a bit of content.  The release notes are full of details.  The Broken Shore is now available, there is a new dungeon, pet battle dungeons, new incentives to grind reputation, new class campaigns, and, most of all, flying.

I haven’t played WoW for a while now.  I tapped out of WoW Legion before BlizzCon, having done all the main zone story lines and being otherwise uninterested in the daily rep grind or queuing up for random dungeons.  Flying makes me think about going back, but then I think about all the items on the list to get there and any thoughts of whipping out the credit card to re-subscribe fades.

Still, for those who remain invested, there is a bunch of new content available now.

StarCraft Remastered Announced

I was hoping to hear something about this at BlizzCon back in November, but everything takes longer than you think it will, and at Blizzard you have to dial that up by another half again.  So while the word first leaked almost a year and a half ago, Blizzard has finally announced the remastered version of StarCraft.

About damn time indeed

The StarCraft site has the current details.  Sort of…  And there is a trailer.

The key bullet points for the remaster are:

  • Remastered Graphics
  • Revised Dialogue and Audio
  • Blizzard Friends and Matchmaking
  • Classic StarCraft Gameplay

The graphics will be 4K HD, which is quite a step up from the 640×480 the game has run on for the last 19 years.  The whole thing will still be 2D perspective, it will just finally look good on your widescreen monitor.

The revised dialog and audio… well, I guess if you are in there and changing stuff, higher quality audio might be something you want to change, but I worry a bit about that one.  A lot of StarCraft to me is the way it sounds.  If the marines don’t say, “Jacked up and good to go!” it might be an issue for me.

Blizzard “friends” and matchmaking are fine as far as it goes.  But the important/traditional aspect of the game, the LAN connection, remains which seems to indicate that it won’t be converted into another Blizzard game that requires and internet connection in order to play.  For a stretch back in the day StarCraft was our after hours game at the office thanks to LAN play.

And then there is “classic” StarCraft game play.  This is, after all, the game that was an esport before people were talking about esports, the game that pretty much became the national video game of South Korea.  So while remastering is good, I do wonder how it will impact game play with more data on screen and the whole “zoom out” view.  Part of the challenge of StarCraft was dealing with limited view of the terrain that you were given.  If you didn’t have scouts out and your eyes on the mini-map, your foe could surprise you.

The target date for the release of StarCraft Remastered is this summer.

As part of this, the original standard definition version of the game is getting an update and will be free, which certainly implies that the remastered version will cost you something.  I wonder what a price tag will do to enthusiasm for the project.  Of course, I was happy enough to shell out for Age of Empires II: Age of Kings when the HD remaster of that came out, so maybe that won’t be a barrier.

Of course, the other question that springs to mind is what does this mean for StarCraft II?  I haven’t heard anything bad about the successor title aside from the gripe that, in an effort to not screw up a good thing, Blizzard did not stray very far from the original, so that it did not stand out on its own.  But at least it had up-to-date graphics and supported modern screen resolutions.

What happens to StarCraft II now that the original is coming back in a remastered format that should “fix” the key barriers to playing it?

And, finally, I wonder where things stand on the other two remaster projects, Warcraft III and Diablo II?  The trio being remastered represent the greats of the pre-World of Warcraft era for Blizzard.  What happens when they return fit to be played on modern machines?

The Coming of Refineries in New Eden

Upwell structures continue to take over New Eden.  CCP put up a dev blog about the current state of citadels and engineering complexes with some informational tidbits such as:

  • Over 7800 different player corporations have at least one Upwell Structure in space right now.
  • Four player alliances have active home citadels with more traffic and trade volume than any NPC stations except for the big four trade hubs and the newbie systems. The busiest of them has also surpassed Rens in trade volume.
  • The top 100 most active industry facilities in EVE (measured by industry job output value) so far in 2017 consist of 13 NPC stations, one Outpost, one Starbase array, one Citadel and 84 Engineering Complexes.

The new structures have definitely been embraced by a swathe of the community.

Keepstars are the new centerpiece of player empires

As a follow up to this, CCP also posted a dev blog about the next Upwell branded structures they expect to release, Refineries. (There is also a survey to gauge how you feel about these structures.)

Refineries will replace player owned starbases in the role of moon mining, and the act of moon mining will go from passive act (or passive aggressive according to Kirith Kodachi) to a much more active process, where chunks of the moon will be displaced into space to be collected manually.

Everybody’s current favorite moon chunk picture

According to the follow up questions and answer post, this will mean the end of siphons.  Since harvesting from moons will be a more active process, stealing the moon bounty will also become something you have to get out there in a ship and do directly.

There is still no time frame for when Refineries will be coming to the game.  I suspect that we will hear a lot more about this at Fan Fest, which is coming up in less than two weeks now.  Over at INN there is word that CCP Fozzie will be appearing on the Talking in Stations podcast with Matterall to discuss what has been announced.

This means one less activity for player owned starbases, the familiar old POS that has dotted New Eden for many years now.  With moon mining operations gone, the purpose of the POS will be as a place for jump bridges, cyno beacons, and cyno jammers.

When the POS finally disappears, it will be the end of an era.  I have spent a lot of time in game “shooting the stick” and forming up in the protective force field that surrounds the central tower of a POS.  My first ever fleet op in null sec involved shooting a POS.

Modules blowing up back in 2011

In the new world of structures, with their vulnerability timers that let you control when you have to fight, I have no doubt there will be some nostalgia for the old POS once it finally disappears.  You could go and shoot one to reinforce it whenever you wanted.

Why yes, I will shoot this POS

And nothing will replace the giddy feeling when the shield hit points drop below 25% on a tower you expected to just reinforce.  A boring old POS shoot suddenly becomes a kill mail.  Those days will soon be behind us.

Minecraft and Coming to the End of My Road

The end of the road is in sight, and I mean that literally rather than in some sort of gloomy metaphorical sense.  My long term project to build an overland route between the Forest Mansion I found last November and our central surface world rail network is about 90% complete.

In December I started on the road project to cover the 20km gap between the mansion and the nearest mine cart rail stop.

Status back in January. Oh, yeah, that is quite a ways

As of this week only about a 2km gap remains between my current forward location on the road and the nearest base and rail stop.

So much closer

The road has taken a while largely due to logistics.  Given an infinite supply of cobblestone in my bag, I could have completed the road in a few sittings.  Having to manage a limited inventory, finding or creating resupply points as the road moves forward, and having to deal with the day/night cycle and the hostiles that spawn after dark make for the challenge of the project.

Also, it allows me to indulge in one of my favorite tasks, which is base building.  In order to not totally bog down the road building effort I have tried to limit my major bases to NPC villages, desert temples, and the like so that I have some structures available to set up in.

A Desert Temple base on the road

Desert temples make good bases, so long as I have some wood on hand to make a few doors.  I go in and loot the treasure in the basement, then set off the explosive trap down there, running away before it blows.  That opens things up so I can mine cobblestone easily.

Villages however tend to tie me down for a while.  While showing up at one gives me shelter, the Minecraft algorithm for placing them seems to just drop them on the terrain rather haphazardly.

A desert village on the only hill in sight

This leads to me spending time “fixing” villages. After I have picked a house to setup in, placed a bed and some chests for storage and built a corral for horses, I can’t bring myself to move on until I level out the paths and make sure all the buildings are accessible.  Placement often leaves a few buried up past the doors so you cannot get in or out.

And once I am doing that I also light up the village with lots of torches, straighten up the pathways, and add a bunch of doors to get an iron golem to spawn to defend the villagers.  If the village is far enough from the previous portal, I put up another nether portal to connect to the nether transit hub and maybe build a tower to make the village more visible from a distance.

A fixed up village with portal and tower

So every village becomes a new side project.  I suppose I have a vision of them being used as bases by other people, though at the moment there is scant activity on our server aside from my own work.

I did try to expand my working hours by keeping more tamed wolves around me in order to fight off hostile spawns at night, to the point of breeding a pack.

Happy wolves looking to be fed, also an iron golem and the back of an auto-furnace

Wolves can be fragile however.  You have to keep them healed up by feeding them, and securing a supply of meat to feed them led to breeding a flock of sheep.  And still I was losing them pretty regularly.

Damn dog, I am busy over here with slimes!  Slain by a spider

That was all becoming a more effort than it was worth, so I gave up on any illusions about working through the night in order to keep pushing ahead rather than wasting time traveling back and forth from the nearest camp to sleep.

So progress has been made and the end is in sight.  At this point I think it might work best for me to head back to our core territory and build the road northward to link up with what I have build already.  That will give me the advantage of drawing from already established supplies.

See Your Space Wealth

Yesterday we got another minor patch on top of the YC119.3 update that gave us a new feature.  Per the updated release notes:

Added a Total Net Worth counter to the character sheet. This is accessed by clicking a ? icon in the character sheet header. This counter updates once every 5 minutes.

So now not only can you see your total ISK on hand by checking your wallet, but looking at your character sheet will give you your estimated net worth.  Clicking on the question mark will break the two numbers out so you can see how much you hold in ISK and assets.

Wilhelm… the background color behind the name is sub-optimal

This isn’t a startling new thing.  Some third party apps, such as Neocom on iOS and the internal GSF utility EVE Thing have been able to give you such an estimate in the past.

However, then citadels came along and mucked everything up on the data front, something we’ve yet to recover from.  The two apps I mentioned just don’t know about any assets you might have in citadels, while EVE Mon reliably crashes every time it tries to tell me a sales order was completed in a such a structure.  Since I don’t really pay attention to the CREST API stuff, I can’t tell you if that isn’t up to par yet or if the utilities haven’t caught up, but citadels certainly seem more opaque than stations when I go hunting for data.

Anyway, I am actually surprised my widely spread assets are valued at that much.  Almost 22 billion ISK seems like a lot of money for me to have tied up in stuff.  I have an Archon and an Apostle, which together add up to maybe 5 billion ISK.  But other than that, I have some normal-ish sub caps, none of which likely exceed 300 million ISK in value, and then a bunch of modules and ore and other crap strewn across stations all over New Eden.

So I suppose the next logical feature to ask for is some sort of ranking list to show what assets are tying up how much wealth, because my gut says there is probably 10 billion ISK worth of stuff I don’t use stored away somewhere.

CCP Revises PLEX Plan to Reconsider Aurum

To cut straight to the chase, CCP announced in a dev blog that they are not going to gyp you out of your Aurum if you have a balance less than 1,000.  Last week they were going to draw a line at 999 Aurum or less in the name of the economy and I was dubious as to whether they would hold the line on that statement.  They’ve given out lots of penny packets of Aurum since it showed up and are worried that converting it all to the new PLEX would flood the market.

Honestly, I am never going to replace this PLEX graphic

While the design of the game may have started with the line “Death is a serious matter,” death is mostly trivial in New Eden, it is the economy that keeps the game going.  They can fix death, but if they screw up the market the game is done.  But the hew and cry about lost Aurum was loud enough that they had to listen.

So instead of doing the PLEX conversions all at once, those with Aurum balances under 1,000 will get their conversion three months after the fact in an effort to buffer the impact on the economy.  There is still no word on when the initial PLEX conversion will happen, so that will be three months from whenever.

Also, as part of that dev blog I learned, as no doubt many others did, that there are actually Aurum tokens in the game.  I’ve never seen one, nor bothered to look.

Look quick before they’re gone

Those will be coming out of the game when the change hits.

CCP has also said that they will be doing sales/promotions in the New Eden Store so that if you want to spend your Aurum before the change, there will be something to buy with what you have.  They also announced a new ship SKIN for Cormorants, Caracals, and Drakes, but that comes in at 800 Aurum per SKIN and you probably only have a balance of 300, so you’ll have to wait for another offer.

Not really sure who the IGC is, but they have a nice SKIN

Meanwhile, there is always a “somebody is going to get screwed” aspect to changes like this, and while people with low Aurum balances seem to be off the hook, those who have paid Broker’s fees in order to list PLEX on the market are now the ones who will be losing out.  In the first dev blog CCP promised to refund Broker’s fees when the conversion went in and all current listings were removed.   The new dev blog though says that isn’t going to happen:

…our team discovered that we don’t actually have the ability to refund fees at all. In EVE, fees are paid as a transaction when an order is placed and not tied to the order itself.

Oops.  The back up plan here is just to give you lots of advance notice that if you list a PLEX on the market and it is there when the change comes into effect, you can kiss that ISK good-bye.  Of course, as noted above, we still don’t know when this PLEX change is going to come into effect, so we don’t know how far in advance this advance warning will be.  And, of course, CCP doesn’t have a great track record getting the word out to people, though that doesn’t distinguish them from other MMOs.  As an audience, MMO players likely aren’t as engaged as you thing they ought to be.  If you’re reading this you are a special snowflake when it comes to actually paying attention.

Furthermore, I have to wonder if getting the word out is a good plan.  What happens when people stop listing PLEX on the market to avoid the possibility of losing their Broker’s fee?  Supply will shrink and prices will go up… and if they go up enough people will start listing again because the Broker’s fee loss will be covered by the price increase if only the person listing can sell some of their stock.  Because there is likely to be a price drop once the change has been made and a lot (but not all) Aurum is converted to the new PLEX.  Maybe?

What do you think?  Is CCP going to screw up the market here, or is there enough ISK going through Jita to buffer this change?

For those interesting in hearing more on this, Talking in Stations did a show that included a discussion of the topic with CCP Rise to help sort things out.