Tag Archives: Grumpy old man angry about change

The Coming Alpha Clone Skill Point Apocalypse in New Eden

for me at least this started back during EVE Vegas when CCP announced that they were going to expand the range of skills that would be usable by Alpha clones.  After about a year of these free accounts roaming New Eden, CCP felt they ought to be allowed to do more.  So CCP said they wanted to unlock tech II weapons up to the cruiser level, add battlecruisers to the list, as well as limited battleship skills.  Oh, and Alpha clones would no longer be limited to their own faction.  If a Gallente Alpha clone pilot wanted to bring their Drake, that would be within the realm of possibility.

The interesting bit, for me, was how they were planning to do this.

Adding in the new ships and expanding support to all empires raised the skill point total possible to about 20 million.  However, free Alpha clone training would still cap players out at 5 million skill points.  If you wanted to get 20 million skill points you were going to have to subscribe and become an Omega clone to train them or inject them through the usual method.

The Skill Point Divides

So if I unsubscribed my alt, who has over 120 million SP, I would be able to use 20 million of those skill points to play as opposed to just the meager 5 million.  This, to my mind, would create a special class of players who had paid CCP some money at some past date and were being given a minor reward for that support.

LOTRO has something similar in the past, where there were free players, VIP players, and then those who had paid for something and so were entitled to a higher level of support even if not VIP subscribers.  I thought that was a good idea back then, and think so today.  In a game where “free” is an option, people who show a willingness to spend money ought to get some attention.

After EVE Vegas there was a dev blog that laid all of this out again and listed the skills that would be included in the new, expanded, unlimited use pool.  Good so far.

This was followed about two weeks later by an additional dev blog about New Alpha Training Options, the dev blog that introduced the Daily Alpha Injector.

LOL! Drink a pot noob!

This is where the slope begins to get slippery.

CCP had some criteria that this new injector should meet, which I will borrow from the dev blog:

  • Alphas must be able to acquire training in small chunks (one day’s worth ideally)
  • Training rate from new option must not be faster than Omega
  • Must not activate Omega state or put character in a new Clone State
  • New option must be easily traded and available on market

And what they came up with was the Daily Alpha Injector, which has the following specifications, again borrowed from the dev blog:

  • Only one Daily Alpha Injector may be used per day, per character [not account] (resets at downtime)
  • May only be used by characters in the Alpha Clone State
  • Can be purchased in the NES for PLEX or purchased for your regions real money currency via secure.eveonline.com
  • Can be activated to immediately to add 50,000 skill points to your character’s unallocated skill pool (roughly one day worth of Omega training)
  • Can be traded on the in-game market
  • Does not award Omega Status

While you can earn ISK to buy the 20 PLEX for your Daily Alpha Injector (DAI going forward) in game, you can also straight up purchase them for cash, which I have to imagine is going to be a likely course for many an Alpha clone player.

So what we have here is a clear attempt to monetize the free player by selling them skill points generated on demand.

Now, on the one hand, CCP is a relatively small company in the industry; they’ve only have, and have only ever had, the one successful video game and the company lives or dies by its earnings.  They have also made something that is unlike almost all other games in the genre.  Given that, my inclination is to cut them some slack, a position no doubt influenced by the fact that I have played and enjoyed the game for more than 11 years.

So an admitted blind spot right there.

On the other hand, a lot of us just had a jolly old time last week roasting EA for going so overboard on monetizing Star Wars Battlefront II that even Disney had to step in and say, “Whoa, dude, settle down!”  And even though EA has shown itself to be bad to both its employees and its customers regularly and repeatedly over the years, there is still plenty of room for hypocrisy if I just say, “Well, CCP are nice people so they get a pass.”

CCP isn’t straight up selling a titan + fully skilled character package yet, but they are, as has been pointed out in a number of places, pulling skill points out of thin air and selling them for cash money.  And while CCP is clear on their intent, embodied in this phrase:

They can only be used by alphas, and an alpha can only apply unallocated skill points to alpha skills.

That isn’t strictly true.  If you pile up a bunch of DAIs, using them every day on your Alpha, but not spending the skills, they just sit in your unallocated skill points buffer.  If you then convert the account to an Omega… which is to say, you pay the old fashioned monthly subscription fee, which is what CCP really wants you, so we all win when you do that… you can use those unallocated skill points on whatever you want.  But if you go back to being an Alpha and you used those points on skills outside of the noted 20 million, you’ll lose the use of that skill.

Admittedly, that is a tiny and unlikely to be pursued loophole, but it does exist.  And if I can find that one, I bet there are others I haven’t found yet.

And the loophole isn’t really the issue here, it is the willingness to change a long standing rule of the game.  We got skill injectors because players could already buy skilled up characters from other players through an official process.  Besides which, they were not introducing new skill points into the game, just reallocating those already present.  In fact, due to the way the injectors worked, CCP was effectively removing skill points from the game.   If I try to use a skill injector, which contains 500,000 skill points, I only end up with 150,000 while the other 350,000 disappears into thin air.

Well, now those skill points seem to be coming back out of the air and are available straight up legal currency, and no other players need be involved.

But its only for Alphas right?  And it is in such small increments right?

I expect the usual cast of characters to express outrage.  Gevlon and Dinsdale will point at this as CCP revealing their true colors or sign of the impending demise of the game.  And certain Star Citizen fan boys who feel that EVE Online must die for their game to succeed will jump on this as well.  But the current EVE player base seems… well… oddly restrained.

I mean, look at this thread on Reddit.  Generally speaking EVE Online players cannot discuss the weather that politely.  I mean sure, there is dissent buried in there, and the expected “This is the end, EVE is dying” theme pops up now and again.  But the most upvoted comment basically summarized DAIs as selling Omega training time in daily allotments.  (Which sounds a lot like the “selling game time in smaller increments” that Gevlon brought up in an ongoing comment thread with Raph Koster on Saturday’s post.)

I guess that is how you could look at it.  I guess I could get comfortable with that.  I mean, no Alpha clone is going to catch me at 185 million SP consuming DAIs.  It would take them over ten years.

But I was also pretty okay with day one DLC and the whole Season Pass thing wasn’t horrible, but now look at where EA stands.  If we’re fine with one thing it sure seems like a company will push things further.  What follows selling skill points under very restricted circumstance?  And can CCP, which has investors and shareholders to appease just the same way that EA does, afford to not press the envelope and find further ways to monetize the game?

The whole thing leaves me uneasy.  I want to be reasonable, see the stated intent as the only goal.  But I am a product of my environment and goals can change, especially when cash comes up short… or even when cash is flowing freely but somebody sees a way to eke out some more.

What’s a capsuleer to do?  I suppose we shall see come December 5th when this goes live as part of the Arms Race release.

Disney Checks EA Over Battlefront Microtransactions and Other Hilarity

As it turns out, all of that firestorm about Star Wars: Battlefront II did not change EA’s mind.  Electronic Arts was fine just staying the course and going all-in on pay to win in the name of boosting revenues.  They were willing to move the dials some, but actually turn it off? Nah!

I don’t directly have a horse in this race since I’ve written off EA as a horrible company and don’t give them money in any form any more, but I figured I ought to follow up last week’s post and also note the state of affairs so I can come back to it a year from now and see how things played out.  Also, my daughter, cringing at my childish artistic efforts, made me a new “EA is Hell” graphic for such posts.  I’d feel bad not using it.

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

Anyway, as it turns out Disney had to step in and yank EA’s chain to get them to stop shitting all over the Star Wars franchise just before a big movie launch next month.  So I suspect we won’t see EA suspend their temporary moratorium on predatory practices and straight up pay to win until Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes its billions in screen revenues and toy sales.

Then there was the analyst who, displaying all the depth the profession is known for, like a true Scooby-do villain, blamed the whole fiasco on “those meddling kids,” in the form of Reddit and a momentarily not subservient gaming press.  Can’t they see that EA needs that extra revenues to stay alive?  Games are so much more expensive to make these days, or so we’re told, so if gamers can’t be milked for more revenue the whole industry will collapse.

Oh, wait, EA says that shutting off its Star Wars Battlefront II whale exploiting program won’t affect earnings.  So which is it?  Are these all a necessary evil in order to ensure games keeping getting made or just another unconscionable way to boost revenues?

Anyway, all of that nerd rage has buoyed the FIFA fan base to demand EA fix the exploitative nature of that franchise as well, to which I can only respond with a hearty Nelson Muntz “Haw, haw!”

Or I would if this sort of thing wasn’t on the rise everywhere it seems.  Your dollar votes make this possible.  I know, we all just want to play our video games with our friends, and it is easy for me because EA literally makes no games right now that I care to play, but at least give this some thought now and again will you?  Spending $60 on the box for a game that contains a blatantly, unarguably vulgar straight up pay to win mechanic just makes that more likely to happen again in the future, even if you don’t participate in the most crass aspects of the money grab.

Did I get enough adjectives in that last paragraph?  I think there is room for a few more.  Would more change your mind?  Or are you just going to buy the games anyway?  You’re just going to buy them anyway, aren’t you?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you way too late!

Meanwhile various small time government officials are trying to ride this storm for some publicity.  The Nosy Gamer has a post about some of this.  The gambling commission in Belgium, a French senator, a Hawaiian state representative, and now a state gambling commission in the Australian state of Victoria have weighed in, all looking to play this for some press to further their careers.

I mean, I have some mild hope given the direction some of this is going.  There seems to be a line of thought that random chance plus real money alone is sufficient to declare something, if not real gambling, at least a predatory practice that targets the young, without having to open the can of worms that would come from declaring virtual goods to have real world value.

But even with virtual goods being worth cash money, the whole idea that random chance and money are predatory causes me to see how this could immediately bleed over into collectable card games (I don’t care if adults play Magic: The Gathering, it is still viewed in the mainstream as the domain of 13 year old boys, while the Pokemon TCG is straight up aimed at kids), baseball cards, the gumball machine in front of the drug store that drops out random toys in little plastic capsules, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

There is a long and lamentable history of laws being written with a specific intent and then being expanded to include semi-analogous but never intended scenarios.  If “money + chance + children” is predatory do you have a green light to sue McDonald’s if you don’t get the right Star Wars toy in you Happy Meal?  I’m sure some lawyer will take that case and try to make new law if you’re willing to pay his many billable hours and expenses.

Anyway, the potential for a law that might get expanded into various other venues will cause a cross-industry alliance against any such changes to be formed.  They will battle directly by making up numbers about how many jobs would be lost by such regulation and promises of self-policing in the industry while at the same time innocuous sounding industry groups will donate to the campaign funds of politicians… or directly to politicians… to sway their minds and soon, if EA can keep itself from publicly shitting the bed again for just a little while, the whole issue will disappear.

So that is my call.  Ain’t nothing going to happen and a year from now the status quo will still be in place.  I mean, maybe EA won’t be trying to sell its pay to win so egregiously, so there will be a small win in that.  But that will have been accomplished through direct economic pressure.  No legislation or regulations will have been passed in any but the tiniest of jurisdictions.

Yes Gevlon, I read your post.  I disagree, if only because I cannot imagine the systems in the US and the EU working with such haste.  The EU only gets itself in gear if it thinks it can milk US companies like Google and Apple to punish them for being better at what they do than their European counterparts.  Somebody will point out that any changes won’t just hurt EA but Europeans as well and that will be that.  And in the US… well, the NRA and its congressional puppets have been reading from the “video games cause gun violence” script for years and that hasn’t changed anything of substance.  What chance does this have?

Anyway, we shall see.  If I remember I’ll make this one of my predictions for 2018.  I need to start thinking about that.

Until then I’ll go back to playing World of Warcraft, at least until they start selling mythic raid drops in loot boxes for cash.  After that it will just be Pokemon for me I guess.  Nintedo would never do this, right?  And they’re going to announce a Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remake next year as well, right? Right?

Can You Find Love with a Heart of Thorns?

Today is the day.  The easily predicted, even when ArenaNet was still denying it, expansion to GuildWars 2 launches today.  Today it is Heart of Thorns day.

GW2HeartOfThornsLogo

I have no real stake in the game or its expansion at this point.  I played GW2 for a bit, but it never really hooked me.  It is very pretty, and there was nothing really wrong with it, I just never settled in and felt at home.  I think that was, in part, because a lot of people I knew who played the game got in, made a character, played up to level cap, and left.  There didn’t seem to be much hanging about for some, and while I do a lot of things solo in MMOs, I do like to have friends around to share the experience with, even if it ends up with us being involved with parallel solo play.

But it is a major MMO, lots of people do still play it, and it launching an expansion seems worthy of note here.

I have been interested in the reactions to the expansion as well.  They have not been… wholly positive.  I find interesting because it stirs within me my own conflicted view of expansions.

Part of me, of course, loves expansions.  Who wouldn’t want MORE of a game they already enjoy?!?!  I find enthusiasm for expansions easy to stir up within myself.

But in my gut and in the back of my brain and lurking in other dark recesses of my being, there is an aspect of me that believes expansions aren’t all they are cracked up to me.

When I am channeling that particular bit of myself, I am apt to say that EverQuest Ruins of Kunark was the only good expansion EVER.

Expansions, by there nature, tend to be dividing lines in the game, before and after points where the game changes, sometimes significantly.  Sometimes the changes are good, or at least not bad, but sometimes they are very disruptive and completely change your relationship with a game.

I hold Ruins of Kunark in esteem as it is one expansion that seemed to extend what we already liked about EverQuest without changing the game too drastically.  That is a rare case indeed, at least in my experience. (And I will admit to time perhaps distorting my view of Ruins of Kunark, but I’ve held to that opinion for a long time now. 2007 me seemed to be in full agreement with 2015 me.)

But I think of all the times that expansions… or the hype for expansions and the accompanying build up of expectations… changed my relationship with games for the worse.

As an example, I was totally a fan of Rift for a stretch, played through to level cap on four characters… including a mage type, and I never play those… and was totally down with their system and tight, well designed zones.  And then came Storm Legion, and the game just stopped clicking with me.  I gave it a couple of runs, but it just wasn’t the same.  The game had changed.  They opted for huge, sprawling zones, new quest mechanics, and a few other items that just broke the game’s hold on me.

Not that a game can’t get past that.  I’ve been back to World of Warcraft since Cataclysm alienated our group.  But each expansion brings change.  Mists of Pandaria was actually quite good in the end, despite my skepticism.   Then Warlords of Draenor kindled some hype in me again, only to crush it later by endless garrison labor.  And now we’re looking towards Legion.  Should we trust another expansion from Blizzard, especially one with a single word title?

Sometimes I think we might be better off without expansions.  Sometimes I think companies should just make their 1-50 or 1-60 or 1-80 level game and be done, moving on to the next game.  Maybe add some new classes or some new end game content, but otherwise let the world be.  Because expansions just add complexity, move your core user base further away from any new players if you choose to raise the level cap, trivializes old content, and otherwise bring as many problems as they may solve.

Or such is my dour mood this morning.

How about you, how are you feeling about expansions today as we see a new one launch?

 

Google Reader Alternatives?

There were a bunch of changes to Google Reader, which in my opinion left it a worse product overall.

They removed features I used, like the ability to share items to an RSS feed, which I used to use to build the “Posts From Other Blogs” list that was in my side-bar until today.  They also killed off the statistics for individual feeds.  (Or hid them very well, as I cannot find them.)

Of course, they did add features… but only if you use Google+.

But Google+ is still a “real names only” club.  Pseudonyms are not allowed there, so that pretty much leaves me out.  They might change the pseudonym thing at some distant future date, but currently the real name purists at Google hold sway.

When I was griping about Google+ not being integrated into the rest of the Google functions, I thought maybe they would make Google+ play nice with other functions, not break old functionality to integrate with Google+.  Such is life at Google.

Anyway, the updated interface annoys me.  A “fresh design” apparently means “Lots of white space like Google+,” a design philosophy that seems to rank functionality second.  It isn’t so bad that I won’t get used to the font or the fact that it displays fewer items per page due to a layout that is really unpleasing to my eye.

But it annoys me enough that I want to explore alternatives for online RSS feed readers, and all the more so since the Google Reader team’s response to criticism seems to be, “Don’t like it? You’re free to take your data and fuck off.”

So what options are out there that compete with Google Reader?

MBP sent me over to look at NetVibes, which would also take a bit of getting used to.  I have nearly 200 feeds I watch.

Jason Scott, who was hopping mad over the changes at Google Reader, jumped onto NewsBlur.

Bloglines also looks like it might have potential… or is it just NetVibes with a different color scheme?

Addendum: I have seen a spike in views from Feedly, another web based RSS reader.  Any feedback on that?

Who else uses something other than Google Reader?