Monthly Archives: May 2013

May in Review

The Site

Aside from putting all of my banners in a post where I (and everybody else) can easily find them, general site related news has been pretty slim.  And after a month of record setting page views, things are back down to the level of mere mortals… and down a bit from even there.  Not writing as much about actual games takes its toll.

So this month I will do what I often do, and pick on some dubious WordPress.com feature.

This month: Reblogging.

If you have a WordPress.com hosted blog and you use the somewhat dubious WordPress.com Reader (let’s just say it is not going to replace Google Reader in its current state), among the options you get is to reblog the posts you read.

Reblogging SynCaine - Always Fun

Reblogging SynCaine – Always Fun

And if you click that, you get a short excerpt of the post added to your own blog as an independent post.

Which is okay, I guess.

It appears to be an attempt be a bit like Tumblr, where people with picture focused… Tumblrs… repost from each other all the time, which means you will see the same picture over and over in whichever of the many Tumblr silos you happen to follow.

However, with WordPress, it looks kind of awkward.  The post before this one is a reblog, so you can see what I mean.  I picked on Tesh for this, since he has pictures, which adds to the effect.

All of which is neither here nor there, except that 99% of the time I see anybody use this feature is in attempt to create some insta-blog with content.  At least three times I have had some blogger reblog every single post on my other blog, EVE Online Pictures.  I can see no good reason to spend the time doing that.

Since my other blog is all pictures, I think maybe those rebloggers really belong on Tumblr.  Or maybe my picture blog does.

One Year Ago

I played Portal finally.  Now Zoidberg makes the cake joke!

I wrote about camping rare mobs and how this all came from the fact that MUDs used to crash pretty often.

There was the Newbie Blogger Initiative thing.  I summed that up already this month.

On the Fippy Darkpaw server, The Gates of Discord unlock vote shut down that expansion.  This caused some hard feelings.  And then it failed the vote again.

38 Studios went tits up due to managerial incompetence.  Not how you run a start up.  But the myth of what greatness might have been lives on, fostered primarily by those whose reputations would benefit from such tales.

The instance group was clearing out King’s Breach.

Diablo III came out and… error 37.  Then error 75.  And installer problems.  High expectations, huge sales, its always online nature, and memories of past Diablo games probably doomed it the eyes of many.  Still, we played it a bit.  I compared it to the beta version of Torchlight II, its primary foe in the click to kill genre.  I moaned about atmosphere and the influence of WoW on it.

And then I complained about talent trees.  Most people seem to like them more than I do.

But mostly I was on about EVE Online.  There was a summary of Burn JitaHulkageddon V came and sort of went.  There were spoils from the war in the north to be handed out.  OTEC actually got out there, putting aside differences, to defend its financial interests.  We blew up an IRC CSAA in Cobalt Edge.  There was a question as to whether PLEX was cheating.  I mined in null sec for the first, and so far only, time.  There were stats about Escalation and Hulkageddon and just ships being blown up in general.  And I made a post around John Smeldley’s tweet about Drakes and new missile graphics.  He dropped me a note in reply.  Turns out he is not only a huge EVE Online fan, but was in the CFC as well.  As Mittens would say, one of us.

Five Years Ago

My daughter and I were finishing up the final battles in the base game of Pokemon Diamond as well as staging our own gym battles.

In EVE Online CCP gave us a date for the Empyrean Age as well as giving us all a gift on the five year anniversary of the game.   Meanwhile I was building battleships, refining my Drake fittings, and laughing at a the EVE Online guide to talking smack.

Oh, and I was being propositioned in a standard Goon scam.

In World of Warcraft the instance group was doing some quests to level up a bit because the Mana Tombs were proving to be a challenge.

And, in the industry in general, Turbine got $40 million dollars to play with (wonder where that ended up) while Age of Conan launched amid immediate declarations of success and failure.

New Liking Blogs

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in May

  1. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  2. So What is the Verdict on Google Reader Alternatives?
  3. Further Mutterings about MMO Revenue Models
  4. New Blogger Initiative a Year Later – Who Survived?
  5. It is Never Too Late to Head to Mordor
  6. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  7. Memories, Timelines, and the Bigger Picture
  8. Rift to go Free to Play on June 12
  9. Diablo III – Now Featuring Hyperinflation
  10. Party in Amarr – EVE Celebrates 10 Years
  11. Blizzard – WoW Subscribers and the Diablo III Economy
  12. The First Computer Game I Ever Played

Spam Comment of the Month

Spamhaus a bunch of liars and criminals

Spreads slander about isps and their customers

Blackmails ISPs to comply to their rediculous “demands”

[two additional pages in the same vein cut]

When I get semi-literate automated comment spam claiming that an organization dedicated to fighting spam is bad, I want to applaud their work.  Spamhaus must be doing a good job if spammers are taking time out of their evil ways to criticize them.  Poor spammers are sounding butt hurt.  Plus who doesn’t love to nitpick about the difference between slander (spoken) and libel (written).  Though who knows, maybe Spamhaus is saying things aloud about spammers as well as publishing lists.

EVE Online

It has been relatively quiet for me in EVE.  There was the 10 year anniversary.  I did go on a couple of small fleet ops.  I actually ratted a bit to earn some ISK.  Mostly I have been training skills, which is something that goes on with little interaction from me.  The goal, I think, is a carrier.  I am currently working on Jump Drive Calibration V.  And I am about to hit 99 million skill points.

Lord of the Rings Online

The approach of summer has seen a return to Middle-earth.  How far will we get?  We shall see.  I am already into the Lone Lands, a place where many a summer group has left off.  I have to say that now, after six years, the lifetime subscription I purchased back at launch was officially a good deal.

Neverwinter

We have started to look into this.  I am not sure where it will lead yet.

Rift

Rift seems to be on the back burner for now.  It goes free to play next month.  We shall see what that ends up meaning in the both the short and long term.  Details have been sparse.  One interesting idea that has been broached is selling additional crafting skill slots, so you could work with fewer alts.  But would you spend $50 to have one character with all the professions?

World of Tanks

Somewhere along the line I just stopped playing this in May.  I am not sure when.  So call it a break.  I still have more than half a year in which to make it to my tier IX tank goal.  There is always the 8.6 update and all the arty changes to come.

Coming Up

As mentioned, Rift goes free to play next month.  That should at least make for some discussion if they find some new way to serve up F2P.

In EVE Online, the Odyssey expansion comes out.  That will shake some things up in null sec, to the point that there is a promise of war.  Fun stuff.

And, at some point over the next month, barring a last minute reprieve, I am going to have to have to switch from Google Reader to some other RSS feed reading tool.  Despite all the helpful feedback, I am not sure where I will go yet.

Sweet Six Hundred

Reblogging this to illustrate a WordPress.com feature that I am going to complain about in the next post. Picking on Tesh for his 600th post. Also, dice!

Tish Tosh Tesh

This is my 600th post.  Seems like it ought to be an occasion of some sort.  So let’s see… Dice, Rats and Dragons, Oh, My!

Dice!

I’m doing a Kickstarter campaign for my “Rusty Fudge” Tinker Dice and their siblings (I have the numbered designs, fudge designs and a lead on metal and plastic printers).  Yes, it’s not the BIG campaign for the playing card deck, but that’s still in the pipe, I’m just ramping up to it.  In the meantime, there are a handful of reasons I’m doing the dice first.  At least, once I get the last few bits of paperwork sorted out.

One, it’s smaller in scope ($3,000 primary goal), so I’m hoping it is fulfilled and then I can make sure I know how to make the whole process work, start to finish.  It seems relatively straightforward… but that’s why I want to take…

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Quote of the Day – Defining a Successful MMO

“How many MMOs have been successful in the U.S.? Two. World of Warcraft and EverQuest. Kind of a bad slugging percentage.”

Take-Two Interactive chairman Strauss Zelnick, arguing that MMOs don’t work in the West

I am not sure what measure of success you would be using if you declared that the only two successful MMOs ever in the U.S. were EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

I guess if you don’t wildly exceed your initial expectations, you have failed.

Neverwinter at First Blush

With the summer hiatus upon us, we have begun looking at other games.  Gaff and I have been back in Middle-earth.  Potshot, on the other hand, was keen for fresher, if maybe not greener, pastures.  He has been been poking his nose into Neverwinter.

Ah, Neverwinter.

A new MMO-ish sort of game based on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign environment of Forgotten Realms.  What is not to love?

Well, there is the Cryptic Studios factor.  I haven’t liked their last three games.  Two of those were super hero games, City of Heroes and Champions Online, and super heroes are not my thing.  But then there was Star Trek Online, which I really, really wanted to like.  And which I cannot bring myself to play.

So my approach to Neverwinter has been half-hearted.  I did download the client during the first weekend of open beta.  And then I proceeded to let it sit untouched until last weekend, when it was just I and the Potshots on to play.  So I got into the game at last.

And, for the moment, it reminds me a lot of Dungeon & Dragons Online.

Certainly the parallels are there.  Character creation shows you in an epic armor set.

Meet Epic Sven Sverdsk

Meet Epic Sven Sverdsk

And then the game tosses you on a beach and forces you to scavenge for equipment in what is becoming the video game equivalent of the of starting your D&D campaign in an inn.

Why can't I get the stein?

Why can’t I get the stein?

You get some gear, learn a few of the game mechanics, finish up the intro quest, and end up in town.  This is where I met up with Potshot, in the guise of Fergorin, the dwarf guardian.

Sven and Fergorin

Sven and Fergorin

And, continuing the DDO parallel, the town is pretty much a lobby.  There is no world to explore.  Rather, the game is made up of a series of instances and shared zones.

Where Neverwinter starts to break the parallel is in how good the game looks.  DDO is into its seventh year and the graphics, especially the character models, were really feeling their age the last time I played.  For Turbine, DDO was the game before LOTRO, and while I love the Middle-earth environments, the character models were never award winners, and they were an improvement on DDO.

Neverwinter though looks marvelous.  Character models look good, environments are rich, and animations seem to be mostly spot on.  My warrior’s first attack animation seemed to go off without his weapon a good portion of the time.  He would whack somebody with an invisible sword first, then his giant two-handed sword would materialize in his hands.

As a group we ran through the first instance together, clearing out a vault in town.  Adventures seem to be built in stages.  You fight your way through some bad guys, avoid some traps, and make your way to a camp fire, where you heal up and start the next stage.  Okay as far as it goes, though the camp fires do show up in odd spots.  who builds a fire in the middle of a vault.

Game mechanics took some getting used to.

Neverwinter combat is very active.  Common MMO style combat is face the bad guy and press buttons.  Neverwinter ends up closer to the Diablo series, where it is click to kill.  You primary attack abilities are mapped to the left and right mouse button, and movement is in the FPS style, where you steer by aiming the camera.  You also have to aim your character at an enemy to attack.

That meant me stumbling over the controls for quite a while, and even when I started getting used to it, I still kept setting of secondary abilities that were mapped to the Q and R keys, because I use those keys to strafe left and right normally.

We made it through the first instance.  The game is good about showing you where the loot it.

Treasure chest highlighted

Treasure chest highlighted

That done, we decided to go see what The Foundry had to offer.

The Foundry could be the big draw for Neverwinter, as it allows people to create their own campaigns.  We picked one that was rated high and which had several stages and gave it a try.

Overall it was well done.  It had indoor and outdoor segments.  Things looked good, including some very nice lizardman models.

Now THAT is a lizardman!

Now THAT is a lizardman!

And there were even good, old fashioned traps, highlighted in red once detected or tripped… in our case it was mostly tripped.  We should have brought a rogue.

That was a painful room to cross

That was a painful room to cross

All in all, the adventure we chose, which had a few follow-on segments to continue the story, was very good, to the point of not being obviously different from the initial quests that the game itself offered.  I am not sure if we chose from a particularly talented author or if the tools offered by The Foundry are just that good, but it seems to bode well for the game.

Which brings us to the inevitable catch.

I am just not feeling it.

And I cannot tell you exactly why.  I just do not feel any big pull to go back and play.

Maybe I just haven’t played enough.  I am past about the three hour mark (Raptr says I have less than that, but it didn’t notice I even had the game installed until after our group night), which is not a lot of time.  But I have been hooked on games in far less time than that.

Or maybe it was the lack of edge to the game.  At no time did I feel my character was in any real peril.  He seemed to be able to kill stuff as he was.  He got a couple of item upgrades along the way, but I couldn’t tell how much of a difference they made.

Again, it is too early to call the game “easy.”  We were just doing starter things, which should be on the easy side, and Foundry stuff with a group of three, which may have been too many.  I don’t know.

And then there is the lack of worldliness.  I appreciate the game getting us straight to the action.  You jump into an instanced adventure and it is go time.  But, while I complain about pointless or repeat travel at times, at times travel has been part of the adventure.  Even out short time with Neverwinter Nights 2 involved some tales of the road.

Anyway, that is where I stand at the moment, though the jury is still out.  While I am not hooked on the game yet, neither am I fed up with it and ready to move on.  We shall see where I end up in the next few weeks.

Suddenly in the Lone Lands

I have made it to the Lone Lands already, twice over.

There was a bit of a push in our kinship to get to level 25 ASAP, with the intent of doing the Great Barrow in kinship groups… erm… fellowships.  Kinship fellowships just sounds odd.

So I put in a bit of effort to get there, though not as much as I expected I would have to.  The levels flew by.  If I spent time running down quest lined in one zone it inevitably pushed me beyond the level requirements of the next.  I hit 20, which is when the game prompts you to head out to the Lone Lands, having completely bypassed Adso’s camp and almost all of the north and south Bree fields as well as The Old Forest and the Barrow Downs, except for my visit with Tom Bombadil, which is part of the epic quest line.

All my old friends are so happy to see me!

All my old friends are so happy to see me!

Granted, it helps that by this point in my relationship with the game I know most of the quests.  Not a lot of time is wasted figuring out where to go or what to do, though I do get ahead of myself once in a while.

And it also helps having the right rock in your pocket.

Bonus Rock

Bonus Rock

Of course, it is hard to tell exactly how much that pocket item hurried me along.

Traditionally, LOTRO has given the lion’s share of experience for quest completion, while monster kills have tended to be a pretty meager second source of experience.  Likewise, they have added experience to harvesting and crafting, but the actual experience per action is pretty small.  However, I did go explorer with my two highest level characters, so I did do a lot of harvesting and processing, so quantity probably made up for the small individual contribution of each action.

I suppose I will see once I catch up with the group and swap that rock out with something else.

Interestingly, the LOTRO store also sells a pocket item that turns off all exp.  I am not sure I would spend Turbine Points on that yet.

Despite my start with a hunter, and then a short diversion with a lore master and then a champion, I think my group character this time around will be a captain.  I have never played one in a group, though they seem ideal for such.  A test with a skirmish showed the benefits.  I was even able to keep Pengail alive during his goblin murder spree without much effort, thanks to the captain skills.

Pengail and his obsession

Pengail and his obsession

They actually seem to have tweaked Pengail a bit.  I seem to recall him going half a mile out of his way to gank a goblin who he thought might have looked at him cross-eyed, but now he seems to be content just to murder those who get within aggro radius.  Still, he is easily one of the more aggressive escort quest mobs in the history of the genre.  He does hate goblins.

So, plumed hat at a jaunty angle and my armsman in tow, my captain is just about set for the Great Barrow.

Redraw has been a bit slow in town...

Redraw has been a bit slow in town…

Now to see if I can keep the alts under control.  Those crafting materials pile up and it is always tempting to make an alt just to use them up.

Azeroth Needs to Stay Strong Until at Least 2016

According to Venture Beat, the Blizzard project code named Titan, the potential next big thing from the company, has been sent back to the drawing board and is now unlikely to see the light of day before 2016.

ActiBlizz450

Developers have been diverted to other projects while the core team starts over.

So, World of Warcraft will be paying most of the bills at least until then, which puts a little bit of pressure on the franchise after it dropped another 1.3 million subscribers last quarter.  Still insanely profitable, but that line is headed in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, no Diablo III expansion has been announced yet.  StarCraft II just got an expansion, so the next one is probably two years off.  And Blizzard All-Stars, a free-to-play MOBA is reported to be coming along, but I cannot imagine that will be live before the end of the year.

Charting the Relative Natures of MMO Economies

I think that by this point in time, some fifteen years down the road from the launch of Ultima Online, having a player economy is one of the hallmarks of games I consider to be MMOs, at least when I use the term.

If there is no player to player economy, then the game is something else to my mind.  World of Tanks, not an MMO in my book.  EverQuest certainly is.

And desire for a player driven economy stems from the deep in the roots of the genre.

In 1993 I was playing TorilMUD, arguably the precursor of EverQuest, which was very much a gear driven game.  Despite there being no mechanism at all to handle or encourage a player economy, one spontaneously appeared.  The desire to exchange gear for trade or coin, the need to create an economy, was so strong that an unofficial one was started and developed its own rules and customs.  And it became popular enough that there were standard prices for certain items.  We would sit around in Waterdeep and people would do shout auctions for items, which you would bid on with a direct tell to the seller.  And it you were looking for something, you would shout out a “want to buy” or WTB.

The economy become very popular very quickly, to the point that the people running TorilMUD were not quite sure what to do with it.  First they tried to contain the amount of spam it caused in town, putting a limit on the number of yells you could do over a given period of time and then by trying to get us to do this in a single room rather than shouting across a whole zone.  Eventually, an auction house was implemented, though the devs put the auctioneer in out of the way places, as I think they were still suspicious of the player driven economy.

This suspicion came, in part, from the fact that the player driven economy pointed out flaws in the game.  With little to spend the in-game currency on besides items from other players, some people began to amass huge quantities of cash.  This, of course, drove up the price of everything in the player economy because the long term players could afford to drop a lot of coins on things they wanted for themselves or alts.

But the whole sinks and faucets and inflation aspect of the currency is another discussion.

Likewise, when EverQuest launched, there were no tools to drive a player economy.  It formed around the Commonlands tunnel where people would go to buy and sell, very much in the model of TorilMUD.  This popped up again for a bit on the progression servers, at least until the bazaar showed up.

The Plane of Knowledge kills all this...

Nostalgia at the tunnel

I was thinking about all of this and trying to fit MMO player economies into a two dimensional system for comparison.

What I came up with was how much of a requirement the player economy was to play the game and how much friction there was to engaging in the player economy.

The first seems pretty reasonable to gauge.  Can you play the game, or can you get very far in the game, without engaging in the player economy.  For example, in EVE Online, you have to use the player economy to play the game.  You could, I suppose, try to avoid it.  In fact, it might be an interesting experiment to see what you could do without it.  But I imagine that it would be a long, slow grind to completely avoid the market and it would limit what you could accomplish.

Most other MMOs make the player economy somewhat optional, and have moved more in that direction over time.  The combination of quest rewards and game difficulty have moved in the direction of keeping players independent of the player economy.

Friction, on the other hand, encompasses a whole range of things, such as:

  • How easy is it to access the market?
  • How easy is it to buy and take delivery?
  • How good is the UI?
  • How high are the fees/taxes on transactions?
  • How stable is pricing?
  • Do enough people use the economy to make it viable?

And it is with this that you start to get all over the map.  For example, Guild Wars 2 and EVE Online are oddly similar in how easy it is to view the market.  You can bring it up in the UI wherever you are.  On the other hand, while GW2 shows you everything on the market in the game, EVE limits you to your current region.

Anyway, in order to compare these, I made a little graph and put down where I thought certain games might sit on those two continuum.  This is what I ended up with.

Click to make readable

Click to make readable

The X axis is friction, and the mixed bag of items that represents.  The Y axis is how much of a requirement it is to engage in the player driven economy.  For a few games I made entries for past states of the game and how they seem currently.

EVE Online is, of course, the game furthest down the required end of the spectrum.  I also put it midway along the high end of the friction scale.  On the one hand the market is chopped up by regions, there is no delivery so you have to go get the item from the station in which it was listed, this leads to interesting price differentials based on convenience, there is a double tax/fee system, and then there is the whole contracts economy to confuse the issue.  And pity the poor capsuleer in the middle of nowhere in need of something.

Mitigating that friction is that if you go to the right system, usually Jita, you can find what you want to buy, and there are so many buyers and sellers competing that there is price stability.

At the other end of things is Guild Wars 2, where you can list to sell anywhere and just have to find the right NPC to pick up items you have purchased and proceeds from sales.  The friction is so low that low that lots of people engage in the economy, so commodities for crafting and the like are readily available at reasonable prices.  How much a player is really required to participate is a wild guess on my part.  Gear provided by your personal quest line seemed good if you kept up, but I have no idea if that carries on through the game.

In the middle, well, a few other games.  I ranked LOTRO‘s friction higher than most because of the low participation and the annoying locations and mediocre UI of the auctioneers.  On the other hand, you don’t really need it, and doubly so since Turbine started selling very good armor in the cash shop.

EverQuest II was high friction at launch in some ways… you had to be online to sell, sales were restricted to the storage space of your home (which you had to have to sell), and fees pushed players to go visit players directly in their homes.  And, if you were crafting at the time, there was the interdependence of the crafting skills that required you to use the market or use up your four character slots to make crafting alts.  On the other hand, when you buy something on the broker in EQII, it appears right in your inventory.  A lot of that got smoothed out over time, but dependence on the broker went with a lot of that.

EverQuest started at high friction, you had to be online and see the right person on the auction channel selling something you wanted.  Later the Bazaar came and you could get a listing, but sellers had to be online, in the Bazaar, and you had to go find them.  Finally, things got to offline selling in the more recent expansions, though I think you still have to show up at the Bazaar.

I ranked TorilMUD even higher on friction, if only because the player base was so much smaller.  When your player population is a few hundred, and only 256 can be on at a time, your buying and selling options are pretty limited.

And in the middle there is World of Warcraft, which used to have a segmented market, but which has since been unified.  The UI for it has gotten better over time, and the addons for playing the auction house have grown more sophisticated, but the need for the auction house has diminished over time as quest rewards in the form of gear have become more regular and standardized through the leveling process.

So there is my chart.  It is pretty much a gut-level, unsubstantiated work at this point.  Where do you think I am right and where am I clearly wrong?  And where would other games fit on the chart?

And, of course, where do you think MMOs should sit on that chart?  What would be ideal, if anything?