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Burn Jita 2018 Aftermath

In which I ramble about how Burn Jita went, you can scroll to the end for the pretty pictures.

Burn Jita has come and gone for another year.  Each round I seem to spend a little more time with it.  This time I was in for a bit each day over the three days of the event, sometimes at peak hours, sometimes when things were slow, just to see how things played out.

I remain impressed with how smoothly the whole thing runs these days.  Having gone through previous iterations in Jita (and once in Amarr) plus the general experience of MiniLuv, the high sec ganking arm of the Imperium, has led to a system that works despite the participants as much as because of them.

Back in the original Burn Jita in 2012 the gank ships were often things like Tornado battlecruisers which required a character committed to some training time.  That evolved into the current levee en mass approach with Coercer destroyers, handed out for free, used as the main source of firepower.

Gank fit Coercers on the move

Cheap, minimally fit, and flyable by an Alpha clone after a week of training, they are sacrificed by the hundreds and thousands for freighter kills.  At about 1.5 million ISK a copy, even sending a full fleet full of them at an empty freighter spins the ISK war is still in the favor of the attacker.  If cargo drops the op can generate a net profit.  MiniLuv’s day to day operations are a profit center for the coalition.

And one of the bright ideas that came up over the years was to encourage people create alts to fly in the event.  This doesn’t seem like all that big of a deal, but it has become clear to me over the years that people who live in null sec start to freak out about the complex set of rules that govern high sec space.  I lived in high sec for years and I couldn’t pass a quiz about the rules of sec status, criminal and suspect timers, who can shoot you when, kill rights, and whatever else governs the activities of people behaving badly in high sec.  Encouraging alts with the name BJBee <name/number> lets people off the hook from worrying about security status and what not, likely leading to higher participation overall.

And then there is how to tackle the issue of a couple hundred eager but ignorant capsuleers showing up without knowing what to do.  A post was put up in the forums with details instructions on how to get in the fleet, how to get your non-Imperium friend or alt into the fleet, how to get ships, what to do with your ship, what to do when you undock, when and how to shoot, and what to do after CONCORD blows up your ship.  The post was in the MOTD for every fleet and re-linked frequently when people had questions.

The fleets were organized into two wings.  Anybody joining the fleet dropped into the “Move Yourself” squad from which you were supposed to move yourself into a squad that matched your birth month.  There were squads for each month of the year.  The months were not significant but were just a way to get people to sort themselves out in a crude form of load balancing to assist in the distribution of ships.

To get ships you were to open a trade with your squad commander, who would then hand you five fit Coercers.  You would then jump in the ship, group the guns, load the laser crystals, and put the ECCM scrips in the sensor boosters, at which point you were ready to go.  When the FC said to undock, you would leave the station a float, using the invulnerability timer you have until everybody was out of their hangars, then the FC would warp everybody to an insta-undock point.

The Caldari police would start to appear after we landed, as we aligned to warp out to the next point.  The police were quick enough that I often took hits from them, and ever went into armor once.  However, they web and shoot, and webbing has the consequence of letting you warp off quicker once aligned, so few people were blown up there unless the FC was slow.

The next stop would be a gate if the target was in another system, a perch on grid with the target if that was the plan, or straight to the target if we were in a hurry.  Once headed to the target, the FC would call it out, tell people to overheat their modules and, on landing, lock up the target, approach it, and shoot.  For the runs I was on the target melted almost every time.  One Rhea jump freighter survives a first pass and another pilot, anxious to repel our attack, shot at one of the bumpers as we landed and got his wormhole bait Orca blown up by CONCORD.

After the latter our fleet was able to warp to a friendly citadel and tether up as the faction police crowded around and glared angrily at us.  (Except for that one neutral who couldn’t tether, they blew him up straight away.)  So another way tethering works against the game.  We got back to our station in Jita and docked up to await the next target.

Spot who didn’t tether

Basically, everything was structured to limit the amount of time the fleet was undocked and exposed to attack from either the local NPC faction police or third party players trying to defend freighters.  This was so effective that I didn’t even think about freighter defenders until Gevlon mentioned in a comment how people used to organize an anti-ganking effort back in the day.

As it turns out, people still do that.  There is an in-game channel named Anti-Ganking which you can join… if you’re not affiliated with the Imperium anyway… where people were busily trying to coordinate and shepherd freighters through Jita.  It has links to suggested fits and to anti-ganking sites and such and seemed reasonably active during the event.  I logged in with a neutral alt and joined the channel, and it told a sad tale for the defenders.  While they took the successful arrival or departure of any hauler as a success, almost every freighter they tried to defend from an actual attack ended up being reported as a dead freighter.  I did find the disdain they showed for the pilot of the Nomad jump freighter who got caught auto-piloting into Jita to be amusing however.  All sides seemed to agree that was a pretty dumb idea.

When things slowed down were dropping on obvious bait freighters, empty and buffed by reinforced bulkheads, sitting on the 4-4 undock and surrounded by defenders, and still blowing them up.  That was the tale told, why I had barely noticed any defenders.

I mostly saw people hanging around potential targets, waiting for us to drop on them so they could shoot us once we had the suspect timer up, padding their kill stats by claiming ships CONCORD was going to blow up anyway.  And, of course, people eager to scoop up any loot they could grab.  Mobile tractor units don’t defend freighters, but they were out in force.

Your loots, give them to me!

The most effective defenders I saw during the event was a small group of PL pilots in smart bomb fit battleships that were loitering around one of our insta-undock landing spots.

Watching us

Our FC got lazy and used the same spot a few times in a row so that we landed right on top of the battleships and lost most of a fleet of coercers.  But we all just ended up back in the station without suspect timers, so we re-shipped and undocked right away and still killed the target.

So maybe there were some big saves by the anti-ganking team, but the defenders sure seemed to be brushed aside, having little to no impact, when I was out and about.

While the main fleet was in one channel, while the scouts and bumpers and FCs were plugged into another set of coms at the same time, so the line members never got word of the target until we were on grid with it.  That made spying less than useful, and we had obvious spies in our midst.  There was an NCdot pilot out with us for a while.  He only got kicked when he started shooting us… but only after we were aggressed and going to die to CONCORD anyway.  More kill board padding I suppose.

Enough people turned out that when I peeked in on Friday there were two full fleets running operations against freighters, going out after every timer cool down, and an attempt to put together a third fleet to handle the overflow.

I might have marked this down to people not knowing about the event as there was no advance build-up to it.  But people were talking about Burn Jita in local in some obvious, difficult to miss ways, not to mention scams selling safe passes.  Friday was a target rich environment.

Lots of activity around Jita

Comparing Regions, The Forge Was Where Things Were Blowing Up

Saturday found the pickings getting a little more slim.  There was only one fleet running when I checked in during the evening, but it was full and going out regularly and hitting targets whenever suspect timers expired.  There was talk of a second fleet, but each fleet needs a certain amount of support in the form of scouts and bumpers and FCs and, compared to the Coercer flying F1 jockeys, those are a scarce resource.  Better to keep one full fleet going strong than divide the labor and have to less effective fleets.

Sunday evening when I logged in things had slowed down considerably.  It was already late on a work night for Europe and anybody who was going to figure out that Burn Jita was a thing already had heard and had taken steps to avoid it.  I was scoffed at in the previous post about the event for suggesting people take the weekend off if they wanted to avoid getting their hauler ganked, but that is literally the best response.  A Burn Jita without targets is a sad Burn Jita.  The way things stand, the only way to “win” is to deny them targets.

There were reports of people setting up courier contracts from Amarr to Jita with generous rewards… only payable on success of course… in order to generate some more gank targets.  I have no direct evidence that this actually worked, but people on coms claimed it was happening.

One entrepreneur I did see was a person collecting corpses and selling them in bulk contracts, no doubt for those looking to fill the corpse bays on their Blood Raider capital ships.

Corpses for Sale – Special Edition Mega Pack!

You could also find FC corpses if you were looking to fill out a special collection.  Of course, the character Frozen Corpse Trader turned out to be a Goon who had the foresight to set themselves up for this almost a month in advance.

Frozen Corpse Trader

Somebody suggested that this might be the most Goon thing ever, using Burn Jita as a way to collect corpses for resale.

And then at some point on Sunday night/Monday morning the last freighter was ganked and the event ended.  Ganking will now go back to mostly a profit driven activity in the usual locations rather than swarms dropping on any freighter than undocks.

I haven’t seen a final total for the amount of ISK destroyed over the course of Burn Jita.  There was apparently a problem with the killboard MiniLuv uses.  They couldn’t setup then event in it because nobody could remember the admin password and the person who owns the board doesn’t play anymore.  Somebody is no doubt doing a manual accounting.  We will see if it exceeds the 776B ISK reported blown up last year.

Over at zKillaboard they implemented an experimental tag called Ganked to try and track those sorts of kills.  It sort of works, but it isn’t perfect.  And, of course, it catches things game-wide.  Still, if you want to track suicide ganking it might be useful.

Reactions to the event, while muted relative to previous years, were predictable.  Amateur haulers railed against ganking even being a thing still while the pros either stayed away or chalked up their losses as part of the cost of doing business in New Eden.  One guy, who bought a bogus Burn Jita pass (always a scam people) and was subsequently ganked spent hours raging in Jita local which, of course, probably had the opposite effect he intended.  Meanwhile CCP Guard clarified CCP’s stance on the event.

To clarify, Burn Jita doesn’t violate rules. We balance Concord to provide a level of consequence and balance. There’s no known exploit to get around that. How ships are used in space is a matter of choice, both for those looking to cause mayhem and for those looking to avoid it.

On the ganking side, the particularly difficult or expensive ganks were celebrated.  The organizers were thanked for putting together tens of thousands of Coercers, handing them out, and then leading a bunch of amateurs around to see freighters explode over and over.  Screen shots from the event are everywhere.

In a surprisingly calm and serious discussion over in the EVE Online subreddit, the mechanics of suicide ganking were explored at the request of a hauler.  In that the mechanics of bumping were singled out pretty universally as the most broken part of the whole thing.  Other items were brought up, but that one seemed to not face much push back from any side.

Reading that reminded me that two years ago, as part of Blog Banter 74, I picked out the three minute maximum bump timer as the most important thing to come out of Fanfest in 2016.  At the time I wondered whether it would reduce suicide ganking or just create a new norm.

As it turns out, it was just a new norm.  Now you just need somebody a sacrificial warp scrambler/disruptor ship along with the bumper to stop their warp which, if I understand correctly, forces the freighter pilot to start the warp process all over again.  The freighter pilot is then stuck there getting bumped and unable to do anything.  That is decidedly unfun game play and something CCP should take another pass at.

Anyway, the space tourist in me went along for the Burn Jita ride as it provides some of the more spectacular scenes in the game.  I spent a lot of time with the UI turned off just watching things unfold… slowly, because time dilation was kicking in during kills which made each tableau all the more dramatic.

Screen shots for those who want a glimpse of what I saw and a comment section for those who want to complain about CCP letting this be a thing.

Spring is Coming Early for Rift Prime

In which we may again tread into how the seasons are measured.

A little over a month back Trion World’s put out their producer’s letter for Rift in which they were explicitly eyeing the seemingly evergreen fields of video game nostalgia with a mind towards making a few bucks on the idea.  Leave it to Trion to jump on the nostalgia bandwagon only after Blizzard began lumbering in that direction with WoW Classic.  We may not be in Azeroth anymore, but the influence of that world can always be felt across the genre.

Anyway, the plan was for something called Rift Prime, a nostalgia server set to follow the well trod path that EverQuest has been going down with increasing frequency over the last decade.  As with the well honed EverQuest model, the basic plan put forward back then would be a server with vanilla content (with some adjustment to the easier to access dials and switches to make the current state of play seem a bit more retro) that would unlock expansion content over time, and which would be available only to subscribers… excuse me, patrons… which would allow Trion to remove much of the cash shop gimmickry that otherwise pays the bills on the standard live servers.  All of this, and some other vague statements, were slated to become reality in “Spring of 2018” according to the producer’s letter.

While you may have noticed the rising tide of sarcasm up to this point, let me assure you I was, and remain, in full approval of this idea.  While I’d be interest to know whether the idea of Blizzard soon taking up every last seat on the nostalgia bus or the building backlash against lockboxes might have set Trion on this path, that is mostly idle curiosity.  That it is happening is the the real thing, the coin of the realm, and I am on board with it.

And spring seemed like a good time frame for me last month.  I was still enamored with Azeroth and pet battles and what not, and expected to remain so for another few months or so before tiring of it.  The launch could have been quite a while coming, as late as the front half of June, as we will recall from the Landmark Spring launch that came about on June 10, 2016.  Massively OP tried to make that something to complain about, but in the northern hemisphere summer is generally accepted to start on the solstice, not on June 1st.  A cabal of astrophysicists and calendar makers have made this a thing.  Trion just had to get there between March 20 and June 21st.

So when yesterday I saw the announcement that Rift Prime would launch on March 7, 2018, my second thought was, “That’s not spring!”

A springing tiger mount does not change that

I know that seems more than a bit pedantic, especially in California where is can get “spring-ish” in February, but I have been trained by years of working in software that an estimate like “spring” generally means as far into spring as you can get away with… like June 10th… the same way that “the middle of the month” means any day save the first or the last of a given month and “in a future release” means a point in time somewhere before the heat death of the universe.  Nothing is ever early.

This mattered to me because, as noted, I am still invested in WoW right now and I hate to dump a game I am enjoying for some new variable.  A bird in the hand is worth a pig in a poke and all that.  And few things can rain on playing another MMO than currently having fun playing WoW.

My first though was, “Oh, hey, that’s my birthday.”  I’m not sure if that is a sign or not.

Anyway, I am as ready as I can be I suppose.  After the producer’s letter I went and got the Glyph launcher, now considerably more trim since it let go of its Steam aspirations, figured out my login credentials, downloaded and patched Rift, then actually logged in.  So I am ready on that front.  I still need to buy my way into patron status… subscribe… to get access to Rift Prime, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

But do I want to play?

As mentioned, still being invested in WoW is an issue.  I’m on the downside of the usual WoW high and, while not ready to walk away just this minute, it wouldn’t be a tragedy if I did.  It might be better if I walked off still hungry for a bit more Azeroth.

Meanwhile, to get in on day one of a new server can be a special thing in and of itself.  And Rift’s world, or at least the initial content from launch, was made up of a set of very well designed zones that I really enjoyed the first time through… and the second and the third and the fourth time.  So I am good there.

Not everything will be as it was.  As the Rift Prime FAQ points out:

RIFT Prime will not be an exact copy of launch RIFT, and certain features that were added to RIFT to expand gameplay or improve quality of life will be available from day one. These include: Dimensions, Looking for Group, Looking for Raid, current Warfronts, and Wardrobes.

Instant adventures is off the table however.  That’s okay, IA was something of a “keep people busy while we get some new content out” sort of thing.

The server will also have level scaling for zones, so if you wander into a lower level zone you haven’t finished up, you’ll be scaled down to the level of the content.  No running about one-shotting everything.  Good as well.

There will be a cash shop, but it won’t offer gear or bags or lockboxes for the RMT currency.  There will just be cosmetics, mounts, and services available.  However, if you already have Rift Credits on your account… I have a bunch left from the F2P transition…  you won’t be able to use them.  There will be special Prime Credits for this server, though when the server closes any Prime Credits you have will become normal Rift Credits.

The FAQ says that they expect the server to run for at least a year, which after so much exposure to the mighty mountain of expansion unlocks that come with an EverQuest retro server, seems like a very short time horizon.  but Rift just doesn’t have that much to unlock.

And maybe a year is good.  Honestly, I am not interested in going into Storm Legion or beyond, the zone design there being the antithesis of the what I enjoyed about the launch zones.  So that would leave me playing for a few months before wandering off.  I don’t need a server to last more than a year to get what I am looking for.  And if it is a success, the shorter duration will likely lead to more such servers.

And, of course, Trion is selling a special Rift Primogenitor Pack in their web store for $30, which gets you the following:

  • 30 days of Patron access for the purchaser
  • 2 voucher codes for 15 days of Patron access each (30 days total). Invite your friends to play, apply it to your alts or use the time yourself!
  • A mount out of the ordinary: Armored White War Tiger
  • A title exclusive to Prime players: Primogenitor
  • Cloak of the Void
  • A new Prime portrait frame

Essentially, if you buy it all just for yourself, you’re getting two months of Patron access for about the same price as two months of Patron access, with a few goodies thrown in to sweeten the deal.

So I am leaning in favor of this.  I am not totally sold, but I have two weeks to decide.  And since I am crashing from my typing binge, I’ll close with a poll about this:

There is a poll above this line which, if you don’t see it, might have been eaten by ad block or Firefox or Russian troll bots.

Pet Battles – Beyond Catching Them All

When Pet Battles were announced as a feature of the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft I was a skeptical.  Pets had been a thing forever in Azeroth, if a bit rare.  I remember getting that worg pup and a spider back in vanilla WoW, but they were akin to mounts back then in that they took up bag space and didn’t do much when brought out aside from follow you around… though that was enough at times.

Children’s Week brought along some more pets to show off, first in Azeroth then the Outland version.  Things evolved, pets and mounts became manageable through a different interface, ceased to take up an inventory slot per pet, and became cross-wide items.  I collected some along the way, including a few from BlizzCon Virtual Tickets, because I tend to be a collector and also because achievements began to show up for them.

Grunty from BlizzCon 2009

Still, as a Pokemon player I was dubious about Blizzard attempting to graft something akin to Pokemon game play onto WoW.  When I did finally pick up Mists of Pandaria during its second year, I treated pet battles as more of a collection game than anything else.  I picked up pets opportunistically as they appears, tried my hand against a few of the NPC pet masters, but generally treated it as very much a secondary or tertiary activity.

It wasn’t until Warlords of Draenor and the need to defeat some bigger pets in order to unlock the menagerie in the garrison that I started to consider doing more than level up a few pets for a catching group.  Then I started building something of a pet army, enabled by the Pet Battle Teams addon.

At that point I built up teams to defeat the pet battle masters throughout the game as well as the daily garrison challenge.  I leveled up pets and collected the badges to buy stones to upgrade their quality, but I never quite got around to the Celestial Tournament, the big pet battle event on Timeless Isle in Pandaria.

Before I got to that I burned out on Warlords of Draenor and garrisons and did not return until WoW Legion was looming.  At that point I was more about getting flying in Draenor then the pre-launch events for WoW Legion and then the opening of the expansion itself, during which time battle pets were not a priority.  After my initial run to 110 in WoW Legion I tired and took another break.  It was only with my return late last year, after switching to the Rematch addon for pet battles, that I was back in the saddle.

The main Rematch UI

But I still wasn’t up for the Celestial Tournament.

The Celestial Tournament is a series of seven battles against a couple sets of possible foes, three battle masters and four epic pets, during which you cannot heal or revive any of your own pets.  It your Pokemon faints battle pet passes out they are out and if you need that battle pet again you had better have a dupe.

While I have read that you can do the Celestial Tournament with as few as 18 level 25 pets, they do have to be the right pets.  I was able to put together teams from my 500 pets to take out the initial three masters, but the four epic pets would thwarts me every time.  Looking at guides, I discovered that I lacked most of the recommended pets for these battles.  So my goal became hunting those down and then leveling them up.

A few possible contenders, like the Iron Starlette, I had but just needed to level up.  Some candidates were fairly easy to find.  I stumbled upon an Unborn Val’kyr on my first attempt to find one, and bagged a pair of Emerald Proto-Whelps along the way.  Others took a bit more time.  I had to run through Ahn’Qiraj about a dozen times before I managed to get the Anubisath Idol pet as a drop.

Anubisath Idol up front in Pandaria

I also came up with a daily leveling routine that would take a level 1 battle pet all the way up to level 25 in five fights, which I will post about later.

In the mean time I took on the Wailing Caverns and Deadmines pet battle dungeons.  Those are somewhat easier events based on the Celestial Tournament model, where you battle a series of challenges in the dungeon environment but cannot heal or revive your pets.  Doing Wailing Caverns has a chance to award pets when you finish, while the Deadmines awards you tokens that you can use to buy one of three pets.

At the Mining Monkey in the Deadmines

Then one evening as I was killing the same mobs over and over on the Isle of Giants in Pandaria looking for one of the Zandalari pet drops, I decided that maybe I ought to go check out the auction house.  Most pets you catch can’t be traded, but some you get through other means can be caged and handed off or listed at the auction house.

A visit to the auction house and 50,000 gold later and I had filled most of the gaps in my potential Celestial Tournament line up.  (Remember when that was a lot of money?)  I wasn’t aware that quite so many pets were tradeable.  Granted, they were all level 1, so I had some leveling up work to do, and a few need to be boosted to rare quality, but I had a clear path forward.

And then, when adding those pets to my collection I crossed the 600 pet mark, which gets you an achievement and another pet.

Stormwing is the reward pet

Meanwhile, I stumbled across another achievement reward out in the Broken Isles when I did the 30th unique world quest pet battle.  That gives you a token to up your battle pet storage.

Space for 1500 pets

I was actually starting to wonder about storage.  The initial limit was 1,000 pets and, while there are only currently 946 pets you can get (Warcraft pets says that number is 917, with 960 total, so take your pick) you can have dupes.  You can catch up to three of any pet… and I have dupes of some of my more useful ones… plus any pets that pre-dated Mists of Pandaria you got one for every character that had it, which is how I ended up with five Creepy Crates in my collection.  So my total was edging up towards 800.  But now I have more breathing room on that front.

At this point I think I have all my Celestial Tournament pets at 25 and boosted to rare quality, so I plan to give that a serious run this weekend.

And collecting… that keeps on going.  My count is currently at 614 unique pets and I have a bunch I can still get if I work at it.  I’ll never get to the full 946 though.

Recount collection stats

That count includes pets that came with collector’s editions of the game and, while you can find a collector’s edition of the 2004 release of WoW still, the price is way too steep for me.

Picking My Favorite WoW Expansion by Reputation

There is always a desire to rate and rank things, to quantify things down to a simple calculation.  Sure, you wrote a nice 2,500 review of that game, but how many stars did you give it?  What is the Meta Critic score.

And I am not immune to such things.  I can ramble on for hundreds of words about something, how I feel about it, what I liked and what bothered me, but sometimes I’d like a nice objective measure of my real reaction.

Which brings us to World of Warcraft expansions.  I had this idea rolling around in my head and then Syp moved me to action by essentially praising what I found to be one of the worst aspects of the first WoW expansion, The Burning Crusade.

Looking out from the Portal

I find expansions problematic in general.  They must change the game and, in doing so, alienate some segment of the game’s population.  They seek to extend the support of the fan base yet risk driving it away because every horrible feature, no matter how seemingly universally reviled, is somebody’s favorite.  So when an expansion makes something better it inevitably wrecks the game for somebody.

I’ve long said, only semi-sarcastically, that EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark was the only “good” expansion, mostly because it expanded Norrath without changing it too much.

And yet I am always at least somewhat enthusiastic for expansions, so I am even at war with myself over the idea.

Anyway, my gut ranking of WoW expansions has generally been:

  1. Wrath of the Lich King
  2. The Burning Crusade
  3. Mists of Pandaria
  4. Warlords of Draenor
  5. Cataclysm

Vanilla can’t really be ranked in that list, it is more of a baseline, and WoW Legion is still active and I am still playing it, so the jury remains out.

But I do wonder how much of an effect distance in time has on that ranking.  If it wasn’t for a peeve of mine about quests in TBC it might actually contend for first spot.  I mean, I loved the dungeons, there were plenty of them and, at the time, that was more important than a lot of other things.

So I started fishing around for a way to quantify my activities in each expansion.  Ideally I would be able to extract something like total play time or number of quests or number of dailies or number of dungeons run while each was the current live expansion.

I stopped for a bit at measuring the number of characters who hit the level cap during the expansion, that being at least theoretically being a measure of how much I enjoyed playing in an expansion, but discarded it when the list turned out like this:

  1. Warlords of Draenor – 7
  2. Mists of Pandaria- 3
  3. Cataclysm – 3
  4. Wrath of the Lich King – 2
  5. The Burning Crusade – 2

Hanging with Khadgar and Thrall in Draenor

This is more a measure of how easy it was to level up rather than an indicator of enjoyment.  Plus, WoD started the trend of giving players a level boost and ended on the pre-launch event for WoW Legion where I managed to get two character to max level.

So I fished around some more and settled upon factions.  More specifically, how may factions from a given expansion did I end up getting to exalted status?  It is a decent measure of how long I stuck with a given expansion and it is something I tend to do with a single character.

So I went over to the WoW Armory and looked at Vikund’s standings, took the total number of “main” factions and the number I managed to get to exalted and ranked the expansions based on the percentage, which looked like this:

  1. Mists of Pandaria – 10 of 12 or 83%
  2. Wrath of the Lich King – 8 of 11 or 73%
  3. The Burning Crusade – 6 of 13 or 46%
  4. Warlords of Draenor – 3 of 8 or 38%
  5. Cataclysm – 1 of 4 or 25%

Jumping into Pandaria

Of course, there are problems with that measurement.  To start with, not all expansions have the same, or even comparable, numbers of factions.  And there there is the question as to which factions should really count?  I put “main” in apologetic quotes above for a reason.  I somewhat arbitrarily decided individuals in Mists of Pandaria should not count, nor should the Sholazar Basin factions in Wrath of the Lich King.

If I add those in MoP goes to 63% and WotLK goes to 61%.  Since that keeps the ranking the same I dismissed that for the moment.

Going the other direction, I might argue that the sub-factions of Alliance Vanguard in WotLK ought not to count the same way the Sholazar Basin factions didn’t count, which would give the expansion an 86% score, putting it on top.

And then there is the question of which factions did I get to exalted in one expansion AFTER a later expansion appeared.  Things get ugly for TBC with that, since I did at least three of those factions long after the fact, and even uglier for Cataclysm, which drops to zero.

  1. Wrath of the Lich King – 8 of 11 or 86%
  2. Mists of Pandaria – 10 of 12 or 83%
  3. Warlords of Draenor – 3 of 8 or 38%
  4. The Burning Crusade – 3 of 13 or 23%
  5. Cataclysm – 0 of 4 or 0%

Valiance Keep Harbor

This is the reason I cannot rate Vanilla, I am pretty sure I only had one or two factions to exalted at the most during the reign of the original game, and maybe not even that.  The Argent Tournament in WotLK got me to exalted on most of the main alliance factions  Also, there are a those wacky factions, like the Bloodsail Buccaneers, or raid only factions, like the Brood of Nozdormu, that I was never going to crack.

And this brings in a side issue, which is the expectations set by the previous state of the game.  After Vanilla my expectations for TBC were pretty high.  They were met on the dungeon experience side of things, but were dashed by how Blizz decided questing should be handled.  And don’t get me started on ugly equipment or the introduction of some really dull daily quests.

So my expectations were more modest for WotLK.

Then came Cataclysm, the expansion I spent the least amount of time playing.  That set expectations so low that I punted on Mists of Pandaria until it had been out for a year, then found it to be a really solid expansion.  But with only 5 level boost in the level cap you could get to dailies and follow on items like playing with your farm or doing fishing quest pretty quickly.

That realization, along with the return to TBC vibe that Warlords of Draenor started with and the idea of housing, again set expectations high.  The zones were fine, the dungeons good, but garrisons sucked the life out of things, seemingly having been designed to prove a comment that Blizz made long ago about why they didn’t want housing; they pulled people out of the world into their own little domains.

To add to the list of things that this might measure, I should also consider what I got out of getting various faction standings to their current state.

In WotLK getting to exalted unlocked mounts.  Many mounts.  Likewise, mounts were a motivator in MoP.  I know that the only faction I have at exalted in Cataclysm is there because I wanted that camel mount, while in TBC the Netherwing and the Sha’tari Skyguard specifically to get their mounts.  But in Warlords of Draenor I either didn’t want mounts or they were not there.  I can’t remember.  All I really wanted was to unlock flying, and that

And over the course of all of this the game has changed, the market changed, and we have all changed.  Goofy stuff that my daughter and I used to do, like wander far afield just to find a specific pet, have been replaced with other tasks.  The instance group, with whom I ran though Vanilla, TBC, and WotLK, started to fall apart as the years went by, our lives changed, and our ability to stay up late diminished.

So I have gone from a situation where the dungeon content has been supreme in my mind to being much more interested in solo items with some touristy group things via Dungeon Finder and LFR.  That means my rankings are flawed in an even more esoteric fashion.

So TBC and WotLK were good at dungeons when that was important to me while Cataclysm was not, while MoP was very good for solo when that was important to me while WoD wasn’t quite there.  But WotLK was also very good for solo for me once the group tired, while the TBC solo content didn’t hold me very well once the group was done with dungeons.

So maybe, in my own little world, I can admit that WotLK was a good expansion and put it alongside Ruins of Kunark.

Basically, 1,500 words in, I think I have decided that I have wholeheartedly liked two MMO expansions, but I don’t expect you to agree with me.

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.

Quests, Missions, and Return on Investment

One of the great compelling aspects of MMORPGs is progression, progression being defined as doing something… gain a skill, earn some gold, gain some experience, advance a story, open up new zones or dungeons… that advances you towards a larger goal.  I was all over that, along with what was meaningful and what might not be, last week.  Or, at least I strung together a bunch of words alleging to be all over that.  The rather subdued response could mean I sent everybody away to think… or that I just sent everybody away.

I am back for more.

Part and parcel of whatever variation of progression you choose, at least in PvE, is knowing that the time you spend gives you an expected return in the coin of the realm, be that gold, progression, faction, or whatever.  Knowing you can log in and do something in a given amount of time for a set reward can be a powerful thing.  But it can also be a limiting thing.

In a discussion in a comment thread a while back about PvE in EVE Online there was the usual gripe about the dull and repetitive nature of PvE in New Eden, accompanied by the call for CCP to make PvE more challenging, dynamic, exciting, or whatever.  Those words always play well, in part because they are just vague enough without solid context to mean just about anything.

However one person called bullshit on all of that in a comment.  His assertion was that what mission runners valued above all was the consistency of both knowing what they were going to get for their efforts and understanding what it was going to take to complete the task at hand.  It was the surety of the return on the time invested that kept people going after they learned enough of the game to move forward.

Great moments in PvE, two explosions at once… I clearly split my guns

And while I wasn’t on board with everything he had to say, I had to agree strongly that the almost guaranteed return on the time invested was likely the bedrock on which many a mission runner career ended up being based.  In the absence of broad scale progression like levels, the reward in ISK and LPs was about all one can hang their hat on when it comes to New Eden PvE.

There is a reason that bounties in null sec are the biggest ISK faucet in the game.  Anomalies are repetitive in the extreme, don’t really have much of a fig leaf of a story to cover your reasoning to warp there and shoot everything in sight, and the big excitement is that maybe you get an escalation at the end.  And even escalations, not all that common back in the day, have gotten much more rare as CCP attempts to put the reigns on the faction battleship supply.

Furthermore, as I noted on Talking in Stations a week or so back, the escalation option for many players is to sell the bookmarks to a group that will run them and split the rewards with you so you don’t have to step out of your comfort zone and have your payout expectations set in advance.

There was a skit with Bill Murray on Saturday Night Live way back in the day where he was on stage with another performer ( I forget who at this point) who would give him a treat every time he did something on stage.  Then, after one action, he didn’t get a treat, at which point he stopped to point out that he was expecting a treat.  He’d been given a treat for every action in rehearsal and during the warm up before the show and for every action up to that point, but now suddenly he didn’t get a treat when he clearly expected one and had to find out, mid skit, what happened.

This is sort of the dark side of MMORPGs, the conditioned behavior, in that we expect to get a treat… experience or gold or achievement or whatever… for every action.  We expect that our time invested ought to be rewarded and can get upset or demoralized when it does not.

I am reminded of spending a whole evening grinding mobs with a group back in early EverQuest and then having a bad spawn or a mob wander up or get trained onto us, getting killed, and essentially losing all of the progress I had made.  That was always a disheartening moment.  For all the arguments about having enjoyed yourself up until that moment, the loss of what you had played/worked for tends to cancel that out and then some.

MMORPGs have tended to mitigate that since the early days of EverQuest.  In World of Warcraft death’s sting is pretty light, no progress is lost, and you can run back and try your hand at things fairly quickly.

In New Eden however the destruction of one’s ship can still represent a setback in the only progress a lot of people use, ISK accumulation.  One of the hardest things to get used to in EVE Online is that losing a ship is something to be expected, a normal part of the game.  It took me a long time to get past that.  I have seen people argue that they would never play EVE because they equate a ship in New Eden with gear in WoW, and the idea that you could somehow lose all of your hard earned purple raid gear is anathema to some people.  The whole “only fly what you can afford to lose” is nonsense talk to people who come from worlds where you never lose anything.  That there is a whole complex economy happy to sell them replacement ships doesn’t matter, loss is bad.

And even when you have accepted that ships are temporary, there is still that ISK setback and the inconvenience of getting a replacement.  So PvE in New Eden tends to be the pursuit of the optimized ISK gathering experience, and null sec anomalies win on that front.  Missions are arguably at least mildly more interesting, but a boring anomaly is very consistent in reward and difficulty and you don’t have to travel to find one.  With no real progression outside of ISK accumulation, people tend towards the easiest path.

But that is setting up for failure if your primary focus in PvE.  Anomalies are deadly dull.  I will never be really space rich or own a super capital ship because I cannot bring myself to run more than one or two on any given day.  Instead I use them to fill in the gap between alliance ship replacement payouts (you never quite get what you paid, or for peacetime ops you only get a small payout), to buy new ships when doctrines change, and to cover my own losses when I am off doing dumb things just to see if I can. (I was told I was very dumb for flying my Typhoon back from the deployment, fun and/or challenge not being a mitigating factor in the minds of some.)

In a sandbox game like EVE Online which lacks what I would consider long term, meaningful progression, how do you build “better” PvE for players?  What does “better” even look like given that, for many people, additional complexity or difficulty is often viewed as a negative and the accumulation of ISK or LPs are the only real long-term incentives?

Even people who choose more difficult content like burner missions optimize for them, so that when CCP changes something without mentioning it in the patch notes it can cause some heartburn?

And where does that leave CCP’s ambition to convert new players from PvE to PvP?  Because the return on investment… measured in fun, excitement, or kill mails… for PvP in New Eden can be even worse than PvE.  Much worse.

EVE Online Curse

Sitting in a bubble during a gate camp and waiting…

The problem with sandbox PvP is that it depends on other people, and we’re all notoriously unreliable.  And all the more so in New Eden where you can’t just pop up again at the nearest respawn point fully equipped and ready to have another go.

Yet another on the list of reasons I fly in null sec is that not only do I see some of the more large scale PvP battles, but for the most part somebody else does the work of figuring out where to be and when, then just calls on people like myself to come and help make it happen.  People like Asher Elias and Jay Amazingness and a host of other people put in a lot of effort to find fights that will keep us all happy to hang around and respond to pings.

Even then I would say that maybe, possibly, very optimistically one in four operations end us up with us shooting at hostiles, leaving aside structures and the occasional passing target of opportunity… which usually gets scooped up by the guy not running the doctrine fit because he has two scripted sebos in his mids for just such an occasion.

And even then, actually getting the much worshiped “gud fight” is a rare bird indeed.  Most roams or gate camps or whatever tend to end up as ganks of singletons who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and can’t quite get away.  It is no wonder that final timer structure shoots tend to get a good turnout.  At least we all get to fire our guns and a kill mail is almost guaranteed.

So I ask, in the context of the progression the game offers, the tendency for players to optimize for the desired outcome, and CCP’s fantasy about turning PvE players into PvP players, what does better PvE look like in New Eden?

In Search of the Thousand Dollar Video Game

Last night Keen saw fit to retweet this gem, which is the sort of statement than makes me shake my head in dismay.

There it is again, the false comparison between lattes and video games, with a game dev angry that people are not paying enough for his product.  Even the go-to comic from The Oatmeal to cover this is more than five years old now. (Clicking on the image will bring you to the full comic, complete with the coffee comparison.)

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The argument here, salted with jealousy, seems to be that all luxury goods are equal, so your baseline for deciding where to spend you money should be solely factored on the value one gets in return.  In that world, the fleeting experience of a latte pales in comparison with the many hours of enjoyment a video game can bring.

Except, of course, that is specious at best and more akin to complete bullshit for most people.

The buying decision for a latte is never formulated as “What is the best value for my money today?”  In my experience the situation is more akin to, “I NEED coffee NOW!”

I don’t actually drink coffee, so I might not be the best person to make that assessment, but that is what it looks like from the outside.  I have seen developers get panicked and upset when they mislay their coffee mug and I am keenly aware how often we have to stop at Starbucks so my wife can get her favorite coffee beverage. (She prefers a “soy caramel macchiato,” which might as well be a magic incantation so far as I am concerned.)

Anyway, video games likely never come into the buying decision.  The latte experience is so different and so removed from video games that comparing the two is… well… I already used the words “specious” and “bullshit” didn’t I?  That.

So whining about people buying lattes instead of your video games is just a self-serving attempt to blame other people, including your customers, for your own problems in a cheap attempt to milk some guilt out of them.

And what are your problems if you’re a video game developer?  I think a lot of that has been covered elsewhere.  But then there is the video game market itself.

The video game market is overloaded with choices, most of which are uninspired imitations or direct knock-offs of worn-out concepts we’ve seen many times before hidden behind a series of horrible user interfaces that defy people to actually find the gems in the huge steaming stack of dung that is the video game market.

Imagine if Starbucks was run like Steam.

You’d have thousands of different lattes, each with a name that might or might not relate to what was actually in them, vaguely described, with mashed-up references to sub-genres of coffee drinks.  You would have to order them from a computer screen where you could only see 20 or so at a time.  Oh, and some of them aren’t compatible with your coffee cup, while others say they might be, but probably require you to upgrade your cup in order to enjoy them fully.

How is that for an analogy?  Let’s push it even further.

You can… slowly… look at latte reviews, but some of the positive ones are from people who were given a free latte, while some of the negative ones involve aspects outside of the latte experience.

Meanwhile, every previous latte you ever ordered from Starbucks is still available to you.  You can look in your latte library and see them all.  There are some in there you really liked, but probably a lot more that you barely even took a sip from.  Sure, you might be a bit tired of the ones you like, but they are reliable, certainly more palatable than most of your attempts to find a fresh new latte.

Oh, and then there is the Starbucks Summer Latte Sale and the Starbucks Winter Latte Sale, during which many lattes are marked down from 25-to-75%.  If you aren’t dying for that specific latte right now, you can wait and it will probably be cheaper.  Seems like a good idea, unless all of your friends are simply raving about some new latte.  You’ll buy that one right away.

I’m tempted to bring GameStop into the picture and examine the situation where you can return your latte for credit on a new latte, but I think I have pushed the envelope of absurdity far enough to make the point that comparing video games and lattes is an argument for the dim, desperate, or drunk.

While I too scoff at people putting down five bucks for a latte, connecting that to video game sales seems ludicrous.

Instead, they are a form of entertainment.  Video games are fun, not food.

As such, they compete with other forms of entertainment.  Here, the original tweet claims the entertainment value for video games should be $20 an hour.

That would make video games a pretty expensive form of entertainment.  My immediately to-hand similar comparisons:

  • Movies – $20-25 per person for 90-180 minutes of entertainment, including popcorn and a drink.
  • Books – $12 for a paperback, $30 for a new release hardback, 4+ hours of entertainment
  • Audiobook – Varies, but I just wrote about an $18 book that is more than 7 hours of entertainment
  • TV – Even being gouged by Comcast, probably close to a dollar an hour as much as our TV is on
  • Netflix – $12/month, used enough to be under a dollar an hour
  • On Demand – HD movie, 90-180 minutes, anywhere from $4-12, whole family can watch

At $20 an hour, the value proposition for video games doesn’t look so hot.  When you’re argument is undercut by Comcast, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Which is not to say I do not see the entertainment value in video games.  My Steam library runneth over, my history with them goes back more than 40 years, and I write a video game blog for Pete’s sake.  I love video games.

But if you think playing the bitter game dev, shaking your fist at your customers (and potential customers) and blaming them for not giving you what you feel you deserve, I have to say that you’re not doing yourself any favors.

And, after all of that, I have to admit that I did find a video game that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have paid over $1,000 to play.

It is called World of Warcraft.

I know I have spent more than that much, counting the base game, the expansions, subscription fees, and the occasional cash shop item.  Blizzard was just smart enough to not ask for all the money up front.

Of course, the Gods of Irony must be paid their due.  This shining example of a video game that many, many people are willing to spend that much money on… is the sort of game he disdains in a subsequent tweet.

So most gamers just give up and keep playing League of Legends or World of Warcraft and forget about trying to find anything new.

There is the problem.  It isn’t that we’re not willing to spend that much money on a video game.  It is that we’re not willing to spend that much money on the “right” video game.

I think somebody in the comments on the corrupt developer post made the music comparison.  A lot of people want to get into music, be a rock star, and live the lifestyle.  But there is only so much room at the top.  Likewise, in the video game business you get a few really successful games, and a few devs rich enough to afford to become space tourists, while the rest labor on, never achieving fame or fortune.

Anyway, cranky rant over.  I’ve been down this path before, more than once.  It is a pet peeve of mine.  Keen posted about this as well in his more optimistic tone.  You might prefer that.  I’m just too jaded to buy this sort of blame shifting.