Tag Archives: Just Rambling

I Will Play Candy Crush No More Forever

In which I finally get a post I started on about two years ago out of my drafts folder.

Five years ago we picked up an iPad 2 after Christmas with some gift cards and a bit of cash we had around the house.  The iPad was a luxury good in my opinion, not something we needed, so I wasn’t going to pull money out of the budget for one but my wife, ever the clever shopper, pointed out how we could get one without touching any of our accounts, so we went out and got one.

While it was supposed to be a device for the whole family… and I did try to share… I quickly became its primary user.

Everyone in the house has played with my iPad

I even got an app for the cats

A lot of games have come and gone on the old iPad over the last five years, but three seem to have stuck through the whole time; Ticket to Ride, DragonVale, and Candy Crush Saga.

Ticket to Ride is an example of a board game translated to the tablet just right and remains a joy to play through to this day.  I own it and all its expansions. (I still think the Windows version is crap by comparison.)

DragonVale is something my daughter wanted to play.  But then I started helping her with it, eventually becoming the sole person interested in this little “breed and collect” game.  At some point I will do a post about how this game has evolved over the last five years and how it should be a model for others who follow.

And then there is Candy Crush Saga, a horrible game from a horrible company… they literally took another company’s game, made their own version with slightly better visuals and a new name, and then, at some later point, actually tried to suppress the game they copied… that I downloaded just to see what all the fuss was about.

The game itself actually isn’t all that horrible.  It is just another minor variation in the long tradition of tile matching games that stretches back to the early days of the computer age.  Once we all had color monitors, we started matching colors to score.  And the game is actually well put together, stable, colorful, and all the things that make for success.

The horrible bit is the business model.  And the company that made it… mustn’t forget King.com, now part of the happy Activision-Blizzard family.

Candy Crush Saga uses every marginally ethical trick in the free to play book to get people to spend money on it, or at least get people to annoy their friends about it.  It is the true spiritual successor to FarmVille in my mind.  The key barrier to playing are time gates.  You only get five plays, and a play gets used up if you fail on a level.  They regenerate at a rate of one every 30 minutes, so if you’re facing a hard level.  And then, once you hit the end of a 15 level segment, you hit the 72 hour wait gate.

Pay us, bug friends, or wait...

Pay us, bug friends, or wait…

Oddly, what Candy Crush does with time gates is not radically different than what DragonVale does.  The latter has its own time gates that you can buy your way through.  However, their aggressive application differs just enough that one annoys me and one doesn’t bother me at all.

Anyway, because of their business model I made it a goal to beat the game without spending any money on it ever.

Back when I picked up Candy Crush Saga on the iPad, there was some debate as to whether or not the game was tilted to force you to pay in order to advance that far or not.  There were all sorts of hurdles and timers and levels where random chance had to fall your way to keep you from progressing.  But was that enough to deter people and make them pay?

King said it was not, pointing out that 70% of players who had gotten to the then top level, 355, had not paid them any money.  You could beat the game without paying!

Later, as the game went on King was saying that 60% of players that had beaten the game by reaching the cap, which was then level 455, had not ponied for the privilege.

With recent iOS updates for Candy Crush Saga the level count has moved past the 2,000 mark.  New levels get added regularly, I have to hand them that.  But the ability to beat the game gets harder with each new 15 level segment they add.  I mean, if you don’t pay.  I could get to the top level in an afternoon with an unlimited budget.

So King has long since stopped talking about how many people beat the game for free… I am going to guess that the percentage has continued to dwindle as the levels have increased… instead focusing on the percentage of players who chose to pay, a number that I saw reported at about 2.3%.  So 97.7% of people who play do not pay, depending on that thin slice to fork out over $20 a month on average to keep things going.

That is your free to play market place right there.  It seems to work for some companies.

My own progress towards beating the game, getting to the top level, started to lag behind.  Without spending any money the time gates and super hard levels start to hold you back.  I spent three weeks on a single level at one point, during which I think King added 30 levels to the game.  Yet I persisted.  Once I am on a quest I do tend to hang on.

However, a final problem arose.  For Christmas my wife got me a new iPad, and 32MB iPad Air 2, bringing me somewhat up to date on the iOS hardware scene.  The upgrade was due, the old iPad 2 was struggling to keep up with new apps and had developed a memory fault that caused apps to crash when they queued too much data.  So I backed it up and restored everything to the new iPad Air 2, then wiped the old one and started it up fresh as just a viewer for Netflix and Amazon Prime videos, where it still seems to be able to hold its own.

And everything ran great on the new unit.  I am quite happy with it.  However, there was one issue.  All of my progress on Candy Crush Saga was lost.  Unlike every other app on the old iPad, it didn’t store its data in a way that let me move is across to the new unit, even though it was the same Game Center ID.

So that led to a dual moment, the feeling that my quest was over before it could be fulfilled and a sense of being released from a minor obsession.  Because I was not going to start over again.

So I can report that I made it nearly to level 700.  I took screen shots now and again to mark my progress, the last one being at level 680.  I made it beyond that, but pics or it didn’t happen I guess.

Last point recorded

Last point recorded… waiting for that 72 hour timer

So we’re done with that.  Meanwhile, Candy Crush Saga continues its tenure on the top revenue generating iOS apps, and King.com keeps adding levels to make sure it stays there.  They pretty much have to since, again in the Zynga mold, they haven’t been able to remake their success through remaking the same game over and over again.

Five Years in Null Sec

Back in December of 2011, even as Hilmar was telling the CSM that the era of the “Jesus Feature” was over, I was again subscribed to EVE Online.  Having unsubscribed after the debacle that was Incarna, I was back to see what CCP had done since then as they launched Crucible, an expansion that promised to get back to the nuts and bolts of the game and start a trend of fixing stuff that people had been complaining about for years.

I had to admit that it was pretty, with new nebulae and start gates that appears to be lined up to shoot you at the correct star even.

Jump Gate in Action

Jump Gate in Action

But as pretty as the update was, it wasn’t holding me.  I was back and looking at all the stuff I had in my hangar, leftovers from the various paths I had trod over the previous half decade in New Eden… mission, mining, production, arbitrage… along with 70 million skill points in training and felt no inspiration.  I was subscribed for a month and figured I would spend it toddling about looking at pretty things and then let my account lapse.

Even my friends, the people who came and went from our little corp, were all gone… all save Gaff.  Gaff was back and playing, but he was out in null sec where he had gone a year or so previously, and there was not getting there to visit, though he did stop by in high sec for the occasional romp.

He had tried to get me to join him in null sec in the past, but I am one of those people who gets stuck on “things,” and all of my things were in a station in Amarr space and I couldn’t imagine trying to get them all up to where he lived in Deklein.

This time, however, my commitment to the game was waning such that I was up to take a chance.  I filled out an application to join BSCL, got accepted, changed my home station, and self-destructed.

I was revived in the station at CU9-T0, the headquarters of my new alliance, TNT, but quickly scooted off to 0P-F3K, the system that BSCL mostly called home.  It was December 18, 2011 and a conflict had just broken out.  After the great VFK headshot Goonswarm had taken what was once DekCo, transformed into the Clusterfuck Coalition, or the CFC, once its boarders expanded, on the road after some neighbors to the northeast that were seen as threats.  The CFC struck out at them and these foes, White Noise and Raiden, announced they were set to come get us, promising to rid Deklein of Goons, a statement which was turned into the infamous cry of “VFK by February!”

It was war and I had to figure out what was what in a hurry.

I got to our staging system in VFK-IV, got on coms, got myself a doctrine ship, and was soon bumbling my way through fleets trying to figure out what was going on and not screw up.  But by December 21 I had already bridged off of a titan, been in a fleet fight, done a structure shoot, and had seen all sorts of new things in the game.  And probably more importantly I became part of the ongoing story that is null sec space.

Null Sec Sov. December 27

Null Sec Sov. December 27, 2011

Long after seeing a titan was no longer special and I had trained up skill points to fly in every subcap doctrine the coalition could come up with, being part of the sweep and story of null sec space has kept me interested in the game.  Before I came to null sec I used to drop my subscription and take a break every so often, usually after I wore out whatever goal or project I had been working on.  Since I came to null sec I have remained subscribed and logging in.

As something of an MMO tourist, being in a null sec alliance and part of a contentious coalition has afforded me the opportunity to witness many of the noteworthy events that have sometimes made it to the mainstream news.  To abuse a former CCP advertising catch phrase, “I was there” for:

  • My first “big” fleet fight in EWN-2U which saw the newly released time dilation mechanism in play (post)
  • Burn Jita of various flavors (Burn Jita tag)
  • Z9PP-H when CCP fumbled the node and saved TEST (Post, though I left just before that happened)
  • The Lazamo at 3WE-KY (post)
  • 6VTD-H at the end of the Fountain War (Post with lots of links about the battle)
  • HED-GP when we were killing nodes with drone assist (Post)
  • B-R5RB, which remains the most expensive battle in New Eden history (B-R5RB tag with several related posts)
  • M-OEE8 and the great betrayal of the Casino War (Post)
  • Defeat in the Casino War and the great migration to Delve (Delve 2016 tag)
  • M-OEE8 Keepstar fight with the most pilots ever to pile into a single system (Post)

Those are points in time that a lot of people will remember.  I think the one big event I totally missed was Asakai, which happened while I was at work and was done before I got home.  And these are just peak events.  For each great clash there are many smaller battles.

And even when there isn’t a wider war going on… which is usually when some vocal non-null sec players start chanting about “blue donuts” and “stagnation”… there is always something going on, even if it is just planning and building for the next conflict.  We can’t sustain constant war, it takes too much out of people.

And the story continues.  That series of discreet events I listed out are just points on the arc of a much wider and ongoing tale of which so many people have been a part.   Some actors and organizations come and go, others change sides or become part of new organizations.  If you read Andrew Groen’s book Empires of EVE, that is just part of the story, a great snapshot from null sec, but only a snippet from the ongoing saga of 0.0 space.  War, alliances, spies, betrayal, conquest, victories, defeats, old hands, bitter vets, new bros, null sec has it all.

Null sec sov Dec. 20, 2016

Null sec sov Dec. 20, 2016

Granted, null sec isn’t a game niche for everybody, and there are aspects of it that do get tiring.  After a couple of years of mostly being in the blob of main fleet, the whole effort was starting to wear on me.  If you look back at January of 2014, when B-R5RB happened, I am only on six kill mails.  They were six titans from that battle, but I wasn’t doing much else and my Dominix got left behind in the system after the Russians collapsed and lost all of that space.

And then Reavers came along with ops where 100 ships is a big turn out for an op and got to do all sorts of different sorts of fights all over New Eden.  And that isn’t a constant activity.  We deploy for a bit, have some fights, then come back home to do other things.

All in all though, being part of null sec is pretty much what made EVE Online finally “stick” for me.  Every time I think maybe it is time for a break, something new comes up in the story and I decide to stick around a bit longer just to see how that plays out.

In Which I Ramble About Being All Things to All People

Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man

-The Dude

If you asked me what the most egregious flaw in MMORPG development has been over the history of the genre, I would say it was a “lack of focus.”

All together now, "Stay on target!"

All together now, “Stay on target!”

Overreach, trying to have too many features, trying to appeal to too many different audiences, listening to too many voices saying that they will give you money if only you support their pet feature, has ended up with a lot of time wasted on features that did not enhance a given game over time.

Vanguard is probably the poster child for this, a game that launched with too much breadth and not enough depth. (Star Citizen could claim that crown from Vanguard, save for the “we’re still in Alpha” loophole that will be going on for the foreseeable future.)  All those races, all those starting zones, PvP and different types of PvP servers, huge landscapes devoid of content, all running on server code not ready for prime time.

The game wanted to leap past day one EverQuest and be EverQuest five expansions into its life.  Instead it jumped down a well and was on life support for the next seven and a half years, finally being let go when even a free to play conversion couldn’t make it economically viable.

That trajectory might have been different had the vision for launch not been so grandiose.  A few races, one continent, and a focus on content around that might have led to a different outcome.  Maybe.  They still would have needed more time on server code, but maybe with less emphasis on a huge world they could have spent some money on the underlying mechanics.

When Brad McQuaid showed up again with his Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign three years back, I was happy with his vision… back to the core of what made EverQuest a success… and doubly so at him saying that the plan was to keep things small and focused.  And then people started pestering him about features they wanted to see in his new game and vision creep seemed to have returned.  When he caved in to a loud corner of players and said PvP would be a thing, I gave up on following the game.  What attracted me to it was his statement about focus, and once that was gone the project ceased to be special to me.

Not that I am anti-PvP.  I have enough posts about EVE Online here to show a commitment to that as a play style.  But I am not convinced that PvP needs to be a feature in every single MMORPG.  It needs to be an integrated, core feature and not something tacked on in the hope of a few more box sales.  That is where it works, where it is good.  However, there is a loud group of players who will show up and rant about any game that dares not have PvP on its feature list.

EverQuest II is my favorite example of time wasted on PvP.  It is a game where the core feature set and audience is PvE that spent way, way too much time trying to make PvP viable by tacking it on to the game in all sorts of ways.  There battles with avatars, and arena battles, and battle grounds, and different servers with different rule sets over time, and eventually there was a point where they redid all the gear so that it have both PvE and PvP stats.  And, in the end, after attempt after attempt to make PvP a thing, they finally gave up and went back to focus on the core game play, the PvE questing and dungeons and raiding, that keeps its main audience going.

Of course, I have a flip side example for EQ2 in EVE Online.  There has always been a persistent rumbling from people about making New Eden more PvE friendly or making high sec completely safe from non-consensual PvP.  CCP has admirably stuck to its vision of the game on that front, but they nearly slipped at one point.

When we speak of the Incarna release, a lot of people jump straight to cash shops and monocles and the insider talk of selling “gold” ships or ammo ala World of Tanks.  But the cash shop still exists and monocles are just as expensive today as they were five years back.

That was all fluff.

The main issue was the captain’s quarters and the diversion from flying in space to avatar based game play.  That was what was rejected after Incarna, but only after a dismissive attitude from CCP about ship spinning… something that was even in their CSM summit statement…  and the like.

But results trump attitude, and after Incarna we got a renewed focus on flying in space with the Crucible expansion that started a long series of reworks of broken or ignored features that were part of the core game play, after which the game reached its subscriber peak.  They seem to get that they have a core they need to maintain. (Which they even mentioned in an interview today.)

And yet there remains a loudly vocal group of players who insist that EVE Online needs avatar based game play, the dreaded “walking in stations” crowd, despite it being such a non-core feature that to make it viable CCP would have to essentially develop another game within EVE Online in order to make it any sort of real attraction.  And to do that it would need to shift resources away from space, which is where everybody who plays the game today is invested.

Arguments about avatars attracting new players are all pie in the sky wishful thinking, while ignoring core game play and the primary audience for the game simply cannot be justified.  But still somebody brings up “walking in stations” every time the future of the game is discussed.

Straying from your core audience can be a win, but only if you know the demand is there, and there is no evidence that an investment in avatar based game play would add a single player to New Eden.

You can point your finger at me and rightly say that I am not a game developer, so how would I know.  And it is true, I work in a different segment of the tech industry, enterprise software.  It pays better and is much more stable.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sack full of stories about companies with solid products that bring in 99% of the revenue ignoring them to chase some pie in the sky vision because the VP of sales heard some analyst at Gartner say that the future was in “nano-plastic biometric IPv6 reporting schemas” or some other nonsense feature.

And let me tell you, the urge to stray from your focus is tested a lot more by a fortune 50 retailer telling you that they will only consider your product for their seven figure RFP if you support crazy feature X than by any number of gamers grumbling in your forums.

So I certainly have a sense of what happens when you lose focus along with a series of “no customer ever used” features I on which I worked for my resume.

All of which makes me a bit more optimistic about the MMORPG market these days.  WoW clones attempting to appeal to all demographics are dead for now.  Even WoW has felt the pinch for being too much of a bland reflection of early versions of the game.

Instead we have a range of “niche” titles in development, games that set out to be smaller and so can focus on what makes them what them special rather than feeling the have to have every feature ever present in any MMORPG ever shipped.  We wait upon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Project: Gorgon, Crowfall, and probably a bunch more to validate once again that an MMO can be small and focused and successful.

But if you’re still out there shouting that every game needs to support your pet feature, you’re might want to reflect on whether you’re actually part of the problem that got us to the grim state of big MMORPGs in the first place.

BB78 – Can The Slate Ever Be Made Clean Again?

After something of a vacation, it is time for another EVE Online Blog Banter entry.  This is number 78 in the series and it asks the following question:

Just for a moment engage your “willing suspension of disbelief”. Imagine that CCP, at downtime today, reset everything in Eve Online. Everything! When you logged in you were in a starter system with your character… but now with less than a million skill points, a mere 5000 ISK and a noob ship (now with civilian afterburner!). Markets are pretty empty other than a few seeded items. All Sov is gone. All player structures are gone. All PI infrastructure is gone. No corps or alliances exist. Nothing remains. New Eden is suddenly a completely level playing field and the next great gold-rush is on? Or is it? What happens now?

The great player wipe question.  I went directly there only a few months into the life of the blog, trying to split the difference between death and rebirth.  And I have been back there many times since.  It is a thorny question and not one easily dismissed, for each tired “obvious” response has its own set of counter arguments that you have to ignore in order to believe there is but one true path.

The pro-player wipe, or pwipe, side of things draws on a desire to relive the past.  Nostalgia is a more powerful force of nature… at least human nature… than people often believe.  Quoting Thomas Wolfe and declaring the very idea of being able to relive the past an impossibility ignores the flexibility of the human brain and memories.

I say this as one who has been on successful trips into the past.

TorilMUD, the Forgotten Realms based MUD I played for many years went through three distinct periods with pwipes in between and probably the best time I ever had in the game was after the third pwipe.  That was in early 2002 if I recall right, nearly a decade after I made my first character, so the game was not new to me.  There were no more feelings of first discovery to be had, no sense of wonder and anxiety in exploring the low level areas of the game.

But there was a huge rush of fun as everybody started out again at level one.  Many old players returned and there were lots of familiar names as we set out with our basic newbie equipment to slay orcs and kobolds and those buffalo outside of Waterdeep.  TorilMUD is very much a game that requires grouping and having ample low level groups to join is something that only happens at pwipe.  After enough time passes the usual thing happens and the regulars are all at the top of the level curve and those few lowbies you see online are often alts, twinked with good gear so they can solo.  If you start new then, low level zones tend to be dead and groups difficult to find.

The game had changed quite a bit since I started playing just after the 1993 pwipe.  But the mechanics do not matter as much as you might imagine.  There is a lot of fun/nostalgia to be had just being on a fresh server where everybody is starting over again.

As a follow on to that, I will point to the progression servers in EverQuest.  Back in the Fippy Darkpaw server era, Skronk and I had a great time running through old Norrath.  Granted, it helped that we started in Qeynos, the side of the world long in disfavor with SOE and so which still has old school graphics.  But even our runs to redone Freeport and The Commonlands were not spoiled by revamped visuals.

Bandit fight in West Karana

Bandit fight in West Karana

And we were not bothered by the how much the mechanics of the game had changed over the years.  A few people were nit picking about how such and such a thing wasn’t like that back in 1999, but on the whole players seemed happy to just jump onto a fresh server with new players and old content in order pretend we were all young(er) again.

In the case of EverQuest, this is born out by the fact that of the three most popular servers running, two of them are nostalgia/progression servers, with the third being a community heavy role play server.

Not so many servers as the old days

Not so many servers as the old days

And, yes, the call of nostalgia is an emotional one, not a logical one.  But we are not logical beings.  I think the past election is proof of that.  I’ve certainly seen enough in life to support the assertion that people general make their decisions immediately and then find and weight facts to support that decision after the fact.  And I know I do it too.

So I can see the emotional appeal of just wiping that database and restarting Tranquility afresh.  Imagine New Eden with 40K rookie ships… erm, corvettes now… undocking.  A New Eden with now loyalty points yet banked, no faction yet earned, no huge piles of ISK socked away in wallets, no markets piled high with equipment, no sovereignty claimed, and not a tech II module or BPO to be found anywhere.  Everybody equal; the same starting equipment, the same amount of ISK, the same number of skill points.  A bright new universe of choices and second chances.  Alliances to be rebuilt, empires to be forged anew, fortunes to be sought once again.

It doesn’t have to be technically 2003 again… or 2006 for me… to feel at least some excitement at the prospect of a pwipe.

Cormorant Docking - Trails On

Cormorant docking back in the day

Of course, there is the flip side to all of that, wherein a pwipe would be very, very bad for CCP.

As human beings, we often get very attached to our “stuff,” and the distinction between real and virtual stuff is no distinction at all for some, regardless of what the EULA might say.  In fact, one of the draws of MMORPGs, the thing that keeps them going for beyond a decade, is often tied into our virtual inventories and accomplishments.

Stuff… be it bank tabs full of cosmetic gear and outdated crafting supplies or hangars full of ships and modules… is part of the link the tethers us to these games.  The sunk cost fallacy is alive and well as people will continue to play a game, even after it goes stale for them, simply because they have accumulated so much stuff.  And levels, experience, or skill points further cement that bond.

I don’t play EVE Online merely because I have 160 million skill points, but all those skill points and what they enable within the game do make me much more likely to log in.

And somewhere in between… at a different spot for everybody… is a balance, a spot where loss of stuff would break the tie between them and the game.  A good portion of people don’t want to start over again, and I am sure that some who do would find that wish challenged in the face of a rookie ship reality.

Of course, CCP knows this.  Every decent MMORPG company knows this.  This is the reason they don’t clean out the character database regularly, why you should worry too much about what it says in the EULA about when they CAN delete your account, because when they actually WILL delete it is a different story.

For CCP to do a pwipe, especially one as described, would be insanity given the current state of the game.  It would be throwing out a known situation in hopes that an unknown situation might be “better,” for whatever definition of the word you wish to choose.  “Let’s roll the dice and see what happens!” is not a viable business plan.

So it ain’t gonna happen in New Eden.  Or not any time soon.

And neither is a fresh server.  Leaving aside the cost of setting up and maintaining another live server, one of the lessons from the EverQuest and EverQuest II is that, while some people will come back for a fresh/retro/nostalgia server, a large part of those who will play them are already subscribers.  One of the forum complaints about the Stormhold server in EQII was that it stole enough players from live servers as to make forming groups for raids a much more difficult task.

Opening a fresh server would steal more players from Tranquility than it would bring in new players, and then we would end up with two servers with less players than the current one.

For a game that thrives on having a certain critical mass of players… any why else would you bring in Alpha clones than to try to keep the game above that level… a second live server (outside of China, which doesn’t count) looks like a non-starter as well.

So we shall plow on through space as before, all of us together aboard the SS Tranquility, for the foreseeable future.

Still, though, it is fun to imagine what we all might do if after some future downtime the whole thing came up fresh.  The reactions would range between sheer joy and utter rage I am sure.  I’d give it a shot.

Alternate titles I considered for this post:

  • You can sort of go home again
  • Playing with your old toys as an adult
  • Roll on rose colored glasses
  • Nostalgia is a can of worms
  • The clean slate
  • How to kill New Eden
  • Nostalgia is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad

Meanwhile, other bloggers tackling this month’s topic include:

A Brief History of Station Cash Complete with Tirade

(Warning: Tirade contains less than 20% new content)

Whenever the topic of currency for “microtransactions” comes up, I think back to the origins of the term, more than 20 years past at this point.  The idea, back in the day, was to let people use their credit card to buy another currency so that they could make purchases that were smaller than would be practical for a credit card transaction.

Basically, at about the $5.00 mark, it stops making sense to take credit cards due to transaction fees, and these currencies were supposed to let people make payments down below a dollar if they wanted.  That was the goal.  It never really panned out despite some serious attempts over the years.

The idea was picked up in other places though.  Almost eight years ago SOE grabbed the idea and stumbled off with it, introducing Station Cash and a lackluster store with a meager list of depressingly priced items for sale.  Even four years after it launched, I couldn’t find anything worthwhile in the Station Cash store.

The pricing there, and in other in-game cash shops since, strongly indicate that the transaction cost had ceased to be the prime motivator.  In fact, the tragicomic tale of SOE and their virtual currency points straight to what companies want.  They want to separate their customers from some cash up front and worry about the cash shop later.  SOE went so far trying to boost their bottom line with Station Cash sales that they devalued the currency like a Latin American dictator.

TripleSC01

Stock up now? Don’t mind if I do!

For a stretch they had to stop letting players pay for their subscription or buy expansions with Station Cash because, if you worked things just right, you could have ended up paying as little as $1.25 a month for your Gold Access subscription.

Where were those people who love to study virtual economies when this was happening?

Anyway, SOE had to have a Station Cash austerity program (did the Virtual World Bank step in?) for a while, going so far as to suggest they might stop giving out the monthly 500SC stipend for subscribers at one point, as they worked out how to get people to spend their giant piles of cheap Station Cash.  I think they actually got a few useful items in the various stores after that, plus some mounts in EverQuest II that were not hideously ugly.

Still, SOE carried on.  They were committed to Free to Play.  The term was part of their marketing slogan for a while.

My way includes constant pop-ups asking me to subscribe...

My way includes constant pop-ups asking me to subscribe…

They were invested in the cash shop and getting people into their game for free, so that they might become paying customers later. (Via an unsubtle combination of inconveniences and incentives, but that is another tale.)  They were at least trying to be a stand-up player in the market. (For all its mistakes and missteps, SOE always tried to do the right thing in the end.)   Station Cash was pegged to the real world at a penny a point (except when on sale of course) so players could figure out how much something really cost without getting out a calculator.

Failure to do this is generally a bad sign.  Customers do not like it.  Microsoft fiddled with that in the XBox store for a while before going to a penny a point.  Nintendo dumped points altogether, assigning straight up dollar values in their shop.

I think companies suffer in the long term by trying to obscure the value of their in-game currency… which leads me to Turbine and Lord of the Rings Online, which has one of the more arcane RMT currency systems around.  Turbine Points can have a wide range of values depending on how you purchase them, and once in the game Turbine has added in subsidiary currencies, like Mithril Coins, that you have to buy with the main currency, in order to purchase certain unlocks.  Trying to fool the customer is only ever a short term strategy and I am sure LOTRO has suffered over the years for going all in on that.

Anyway, at least SOE didn’t go down that path.

And SOE stuck to having a single currency wallet across all of their games. (Well, on the PC at least.  There were complications in the land of PlayStation.)  If you played EverQuest II and wanted to move over to PlanetSide 2, your station cash went with you. (Again, looking at you Turbine, and how Turbine Points in LOTRO and Turbine Points in DDO are two separate and distinct things.)

Then came bad times at Sony and SOE was sold off to the investment bankers at Columbus Nova Prime, a group with a reputation for milking their acquisitions.  SOE became Daybreak, Station Cash became Daybreak Cash, and so on down the branding line.  No longer covered by Sony’s checkbook, reality set in quickly with layoffs and changes to the business model.

EverQuest and EverQuest II, perennial foundations of the company, managed to get back on their old track of an expansion a year after dabbling with the idea of more frequent, but less fulsome DLC.  I think the fact that loyal followers of the game have a habit of buying collector’s editions probably helped there.  How much DLC do you have to ship to equal on CE?

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

$140 offsets a lot of DLC

Also, the expansion thing keeps the player base from getting totally fragmented and unable to play together because somebody doesn’t have the right DLC for the night’s content.  Add in some special servers for subscribers only and the classic Norrath part of the company seems secure for the moment.  They did have to kill off PvP for the most part, but that is what happens when you have to focus on your core.

Over in another part of the company, quiet yet solid DC Universe Online got ported over to the XBox One.  Not bad for a five year old title.  But then, access to XBox and other platforms was supposed to be one of the big upsides of the acquisition.

Other titles were less secure.  Somebody found where Smed hid the last PlanetSide server and turned it off finally.  Dragon’s Prophet was sent packingPlanetSide 2 was having problemsEverQuest Next became EverQuest Never, heralding the end of the classic mainstream fantasy MMORPG. That is a niche genre now, but it probably always anyway.  Legends of Norrath was finally taken off life support, then its loot card organs were harvested for the cash shop.  And my question about how Daybreak would get off the sweet, sweet Early Access money drug was answered when they ditched free to play for Landmark and H1Z1, charging $20 a pop to get into either.

Ars Technica Reports...

Still have to replace that founder’s pack revenue stream though…

Well, $40 a pop for all of H1Z1 unless you already had a copy, since they split that into two games, each with its own $20 price tag. There is now H1Z1: King of the Kill, the money making one that turned out to be mildly popular on Twitch, and H1Z1: Just Survive, the mostly neglected worldly survival game for oddball old school MMO players.  King of the Kill got a “Summer 2016” ship date, which it has since pushed off (though there was already a press release saying it had launched quite a while back), while Just Survive seems to be living up to its name.

All of which brings us up to yesterdays fun new announcement that King of the Kill will not be using Daybreak Cash, ditching that for its own currency.  From the King of the Kill site:

INTRODUCING: CROWNS

Daybreak Cash will no longer be used in H1Z1: King of the Kill after the game update on September 20. Instead, the new currency will be called Crowns. Crowns are a unique currency, available and usable only in H1Z1: King of the Kill. With Crowns, you will be able to purchase crates and bundles as you did previously with Daybreak Cash

Beginning on September 20, you will have the option to convert all or some of your existing Daybreak Cash into Crowns. This is a one-to-one conversion: 1 Daybreak Cash = 1 Crown. This conversion is only one way; once you convert your DBC into Crowns, you cannot convert Crowns back to DBC. This conversion opportunity will only be available for a limited time. You will be able to convert your Daybreak Cash into Crowns from September 20 through December 31, 2016.

Daybreak Cash is still usable in other Daybreak games, including H1Z1: Just Survive. Crowns can only be used in H1Z1: King of the Kill.

So there it is, another turn in the long tale of Station Cash/Daybreak Cash.  You can, until the end of the year, change your Daybreak Cash into the new currency, Crowns.  But from then on Crowns are Crowns and Cash is Cash, and never the twain shall meet.

The question is, what does it mean?  Why separate the one game from the rest of the of the Daybreak family in this way? (On the PC at least, consoles are a different story.)

One of these things is not like the others... also, why a pig?

One of these things is not like the others… also, why a pig?

Does this mean that there are special plans for King of the Kill?  Does Daybreak see the game as especially promising when compared to the rest of its stable?  Is this a one-time event in special circumstances or a chilling portrait of things to come where Daybreak Cash gets stranded on specific games?

Not much of a tirade in there, unless you read it aloud in the right tone of voice ( I recommend whiny/sarcastic for the best effect) or you’re somebody who conflates criticism with hate.  I’m often critical of the games I play, but the ones I hate get no mention at all.  When it comes to H1Z1, at least in the King of the Kill flavor, I am largely indifferent, except where it intersects with Norrath.  This is really just another marker on the long journey of the company that made EverQuest back in the day.

Though when I go back to EverQuest II now and again, I still can’t find anything worthwhile in the cash shop.

Related topic: SOE and its MMORPGs, a post from a while back.

The Battle at SH1-6P and Null Sec Ongoing

I wasn’t sure I was going to do a post about the fight at SH1-6P, seeing as I wasn’t there for it and I try to keep the blog to things I’ve seen and done.  That is the major premise of the whole effort here at TAGN.

On the flip side, over time one of the minor but valuable sub-notes in the disharmonious chord that is this blog has been the noting of events and milestones, such as game launches (and closures), expansion releases, and major events of note… like battles in EVE Online where titans get blown up.

A picture CCP used, maybe even from the battle...

A picture CCP used, maybe even from the battle…

So, there was a battle at SH1-6P, a system where CO2 had a POS with a capital ship assembly array, which PL and NCDot had previously put into a reinforced state.  When the reinforcement timer ended, the battle erupted between CO2 and its allies battled PL/NCDot and their allies.  Capitals, and then super capitals were dropped into the time dilated maelstrom around the POS.

Included in the battle were a large number of third parties (battle report), including a fleet from GSF that flew across New Eden for a chance to kick CO2 in the nuts.

CO2 escalated the battle to a super cap conflict and came out the worse for the effort, with it and its allied losing around 1.2 trillion ISK, including six CO2 titans down, while inflicting less than 200 billion in damage on its foes.  That is a one trillion ISK damage deficit.

There are battle reports up at the usual competing sources.

I think TMC wins out on details and insight.

In addition, The Asher Hour podcast episode 23 followed up the battle with a show featuring Asher talking with Ron Mexxico, Killah Bee, and Doomchinchilla to get sense of how things went from the PL side of the battle.

The event itself now takes second place on the list of battles that involved titans being blown up.  The list, so far as I recall it:

  • B-R5RB, January 2014 – 75 titans destroyed
  • SH1-6P, August 2016 – 6 titans destroyed
  • Okagaiken, July 2016 – 4 titans destroyed
  • Asakai, January 2014 – 3 titans destroyed

As things settle down the usual post-fight posturing is taking place.  You can catch that in the comment threads of both articles linked above.

And then a blog post, styled as An Open Letter to CCP, by the pilot Capri Sun Kraftfoods (yes, that is his in-game name) started its own waves as it took CCP to task for generally going down a path away from such large scale fights with Fozzie sov.  This led to a threadnought on Reddit with over a thousand comments, a surprising amount of which were not complete shit, along with a post over at Crossing Zebras trying to sum things up.

Unfortunately, none of what came up was really new.  I couldn’t begin to count how many times people who have actually had to go out and take or defend sovereignty have called out the entosis mechanic as a bad idea.  The fact that citadels didn’t go with entosis seems to indicate that even CCP isn’t sold on the idea.  Better to just shoot things, give kill mails, produce explosions, and have some sort of damage cap to extend events if you want to keep things from being blapped too quickly.

Likewise, jump fatigue has been moaned about for ages.  We’re coming up on Phoebe’s second anniversary and some people are still angry about it.

ADMs seem to be the only widely approved of mechanic from Fozzie Sov, as they reward groups that live in their space.  Of course, “living” in null sec means mining and ratting, which the PvP purists tend to despise, but at least it gives them some targets I suppose.

Being, as I noted recently, something of a fatalist when it comes to game mechanics, I take what I am given and try to work with them.  And I do not see any indication that CCP is going to change any of the current sovereignty mechanics.  Despite complaints about CCP being focused on null sec, Fozzie Sov seems to be clearly in the rear view mirror when it comes to development.  Maybe we’ll get another pass in a few years.

But the whole thing, Fozzie Sov, citadels, big fights, and how CCP responds to things does seem worth note.  One certainly couldn’t look at the bigger picture and come away thinking CCP is unified in their vision for New Eden.

The duality of man. The Jungian thing.

The duality of man. The Jungian thing.

On the one hand there is Fozzie Sov which, among its stated goals, sought to disperse fights across a constellation.  This seems like an attempt to reduce the size of sovereignty battles.  There have been some big battles over Fozzie Sov objectives.

The war that started LONG before Easter...

Excuse me, that is the “Casino War” TYVM

But in my experience, sovereignty, when it is contested, tends to turn into a long slog with both sides chasing each other around in a constellation-wide game of competitive whack-a-mole.  Less big fights when you disperse targets.  Working as designed.

However, this contrasts with how readily CCP jumps on any big event to drive press coverage.  CCP loves big battles and grand events, from Burn Jita to B-R5RB to anything else that gets a huge number of players in close proximity and destroys a lot of ships.  CCP threw together (another) screen shot contest immediately after SH1-6P. (The first Keepstar citadel getting blown up drew little water from the company though.)

And well they might jump on such events, as they do get wider press coverage and represent some of the “exciting” bits of the game in a world where coverage of the game can often stray into how boring the game can seem to those on the outside.  Of course, the press coverage of the exciting bits also brings in new players, though with the state of the new player experience, that often seems like a wasted opportunity.  Even letting people have a go at New Eden for free on Steam generates a spike in new character creation, but no noticeable effect on PCU.

Basically, another day in New Eden, where the highs can be incredibly high, while the everyday operations can wear you down if you don’t see a payoff somewhere down the road.

Who Has Successfully Changed Horses Midstream?

To start this off, I feel like I first have to address my own point of view on the topic to be covered, so you see where I am coming from.

I actually played right field, but that isn't a metaphor

I actually played right field, but that isn’t a metaphor

I tend to be something of a fatalist in many things, but in video games especially.

For me that means I come to a video game with the view that it is a series of rules and constraints that I have to work within in order to win, progress, succeed, or whatever, and that the idea that the developer ought to change them just to suit me rarely enters my head.  There is more than a bit of the rule following engineer in me.  I take what I am given and try to make it work.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t kvetch about the details of various games.  This blog is a testament to that.  If there is a mechanic that is awkward or horribly inefficient, I will complain about that or suggest improvements.  But that is mostly for myself, to record how I feel about a game at a given moment, and my comments tend to be about tactical issues rather than strategic vision.  I do not expect anybody to be paying attention and I am generally surprised when anything I think might be a good idea actually comes to pass through whatever means. If something changes, I can almost guarantee it had nothing to do with me.

But to suggest that a developer change what is the driving philosophy or core game play elements title to accommodate my tastes would be bizarro world strange.

As an example for illustration, I do not enjoy League of Legends, so I simply do not play the game.  The complete lack of LoL posts here attests to that.  I do enjoy five person PvE dungeons.  Again, plenty of posts to back that up.  But the idea that I should start pestering Riot to make a five person PvE dungeon version of LoL would only occur to me in the context of listing out things I would likely never do.  Despite the fact that their engine could probably handle it, five person dungeons isn’t what LoL is about.  So I don’t post about how they should accommodate my vision here, on their forums, on Reddit, or anyplace else.

And I realize that might just be me, given how often I see people suggest that if only game X had feature/aspect/mini-game Y, then they and thousands to millions of like minded individuals would rush to the game, bringing success.  Many an arm chair developer has a plan to save a given game or even the whole industry based suspiciously on their own tastes in video games.

This all comes to mind because of the persistence of the “walking in stations” idea in EVE Online.  Kirith Kodachi wrote a great post on the topic, a “what if” scenario, where walking in stations becomes a success, which illustrates the whole problem I have with the idea.  The feature essentially requires CCP to develop a new game, distinct from the space focused current game, in order to make walking in stations anything beyond a gimmick.

Whatever you think about it, you cannot deny that walking in stations would require fundamentally different game play than what is the focus of EVE Online today.

However, I don’t want to get into the holy war over whether or not walking in stations would be a good thing though.  And believe me, my own relationship with the idea isn’t as cut and dried as you might think.

Instead, I am looking for examples from other games, especially MMORPGs, where the developer has, after launch, departed from their core philosophy or game play plan, and achieved success beyond what they had previously seen.

When has the idea that more people would play a game if it changed fundamentally actually come to pass?

I can only come up with examples where greater success did not follow.

I think of Trammel and consensual PvP in Ultima Online, or Star Wars Galaxies and the NGE, or that “fine, we’ll give you a PvE progression experience” expansion for Dark Age of Camelot that I cannot remember the name of right now, or the distraction of PvP in EverQuest II.

Which is not to say somebody didn’t like all of those things.  One of the lessons you learn from blogging is that any feature, no matter how bad or annoying it is, will have somebody stand up for it and declare it their favorite thing ever.

But none of these led to greater success.

Even World of Warcraft, which is, as always, the outlier in this, having the budget to add in all sorts of non-core features, still lives and dies on their core PvE content.  Five million people did not drop out of the game last year because of problems with battlegrounds, arena combat, or pet battles, they dropped out because they didn’t like, or too quickly consumed, the overland, dungeon, and raid PvE content.

So plenty of negatives, and I didn’t even start down the path of gaming franchises that remain successful year after year despite offering up nothing substantially different in core game play.  Everything from Pokemon to Civilization to Call of Duty that goes from success to success with only minor variations seems to argue against changing horses midstream.  Find your rut and stick with it forever!

But just because I can’t come up with an example of success in this regard doesn’t mean there haven’t been any.  There are more things in online gaming than are dreamt of in my rather limited philosophy.

Who has done it?  Who has made a success of a fundamental change of game play or philosophy on a live game?  There has to be some example out there, even if it is a special case that worked only because the conditions were just right.  I would prefer an MMO example, but something MMO-ish would suffice.