Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Thea: The Awakening

When playing Civilization, I always liked the early phases the most, when you are still exploring the surroundings of your starting city. In the later phases you have too many cities and too many armies, and that somewhat bogs the game down. So what if somebody made a game where you only ever had one city and a very limited number of armies? Maybe fantasy rather than historical. That would be a rather cool game, wouldn't it? It turns out that somebody made that game. It is called Thea: The Awakening, and it only costs $16 on Steam during the autumn sale. Which is a great price for a game that compares well with some other hex-based fantasy world exploration games that come at full price.

At the core of Thea is an innovative combat game which has you playing cards in turn with your opponent. Each card represents one of your characters, or the monsters the opponent controls, and has values for health and damage. Half of your cards are for direct combat, the other half can optionally be played for various effects that manipulate other cards. Overall that gives great tactical gameplay and is much fun. And because your characters don't just have combat values but also other skills, for example social skills, the same system is used for skill challenges. And if you don't want to bother playing that card game for some insignificant opponent, there is an auto resolve button too. Just don't use it for the hard fights, because you can do better manually.

You characters come in different character classes: Warriors, medics, gatherers, and crafters. You will leave some of them in your village (there are no settlers to found more villages), while others you send out in "expeditions". You might send out adventuring types to do quests or explore ruins, while you might send out a gathering party to collect some resources you need. Everybody needs food and fuel to keep warm, and lots of monsters wander the world and can attack your village and expeditions. So you need to be careful and try to get your economy going in order to survive. Thea is billed as a survival game, and with the limited number of characters you get, you really don't want to lose many.

Your characters get stronger with time, and you will find a lot of resources and gear. Crafting can create more gear, and there is a sort of tech tree for researching materials, crafted items, and buildings. The crafting system is quite interesting, because recipes aren't totally fixed: You can use various alternative materials, and depending on the quality of the resources the quality of the crafted item improves. You can also salvage unused items back into materials.

All of this plays on a procedurally created world. But that world also contains various story elements and encounters. Often you need to make a decision, and what decisions are available depend on the skills of the characters involved. So although you might come across the same story elements again on your next playthrough, there is a lot of replayability. That is also helped by a system where your progress in a game makes the god you chose at the start stronger, so if you didn't manage to survive you can try again with a few more powers.

It has been a long time since I last got into that "one more turn" fascination of a game like this. Thea: The Awakening is really one of the better and more innovative games of this genre. You get a full-price value game for the cost of an indie title. Recommended!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Syp of Bio Break has a retro gaming column in which he plays 20 year old games again and makes a journal of his experiences with those games. Personally I rarely play games more than a few years old, but somehow it is good to know that I could, even if I have to solve a few technical difficulties first. That contrasts sharply with an observation Cam did yesterday in the comments, where he stated that: "Multiplayer-only games have no shelf-life. No longevity.".

I'm not saying that his observation is an absolute truth, you can still play Meridian 59 from 1996 or even LPMud. But just like the WoW subscription curve, the number of players of a multi-player game rises for a while, and then declines. Depending on the game mechanics a decline can have more or less serious negative impact on the remaining players: Longer waiting times in queues to get a number of players together, for example. And then there is the danger of the servers being switched off, and the game becoming totally unplayable. lists 260 dead MMORPGs, and the list gets a lot bigger if you include other types of multiplayer games.

As Cam says: "Everyone's playing Battlefront now, so who's playing Splatoon, Rocket League, Titanfall, Evolve, Brink, or any of the literally HUNDREDS of indie 2D arena-battlers who are all languishing in the 'mostly negative' reviews bin with the predominant complaint being: "Empty servers."". The advantage of MMORPGs is that there is still a lot of game left if you were the only player on the server. Those arena-battlers or other types of multiplayer PvP only games simply become unplayable if there are not enough players online to form even one game.

"Games as a service" has replaced "Games as a product" because developers couldn't find a better idea to combat piracy. As a result even some games which are from gameplay fundamentally single-player experiences now only work after you've logged into a server online. The day the company goes bankrupt or closes down the server because the cost outstrips the revenue, you can't play that game any more. Which means that any game that uses servers has no guarantee that you can still play it 20 years later, and might die much faster than that.

Part of the problem is the over-supply of games these days. There are so many games of any given genre coming out every year now that it is simply mathematically impossible for each of them to hold their players for long. Of course some blockbuster games will last for decades, but not many games can achieve that any more in such a crowded field. As much as I like to pick up games on Steam for cheap a year later, I must agree with Cam that with multiplayer-only games the months or year after release can become the only opportunity to play the game at all before it withers and dies.

Which multiplayer game of 2015 do you think will still be around in 2035?

Sunday, November 22, 2015
Steam sales

There are people who consider Steam sales to be some sort of game. There has been some gamification of those sales with trading cards and stuff, but more importantly prices used to change every day during sales. Soon people figured out that on the last day everything was at its cheapest price, and stopped buying games on other days. So now Steam has given up on that part: In the future (and the future starts with an autumn sale on the 25th of November) prices will not fluctuate any more during a sales event. You'll get the best rebate on every single day. While that will disappoint the Steam meta-gamers, I think for the regular customer that is a far more comforting option. Who wants to buy a game at 30% off only to see it at 50% off the next day?

Having said that, the obvious next problem is that sales might actually not have any real effect any more, because they are now considered as a given. The fact that pretty much everybody except Bhagpuss has some unplayed games in his Steam library means that most people don't need a new game *right now*, but can wait for the next sale, which comes around often enough (there are still two sales on Steam from now to the end of the year). Steam sales have become completely predictable, and for most people a game next month at half price is better than the same game at full price today. (I wonder if you can make a net present value calculation of that.)

So these days if I visit Steam, I don't purchase games any more, I put them on my wishlist and wait for them to drop in price by at least half. That is not because I couldn't afford full price, but because there are a lot of games where I am not 100% convinced that I will like them. I am currently enjoying Shadows of Mordor a lot, but that was a surprise. I wouldn't have bought the game at full price, but was willing to take the risk at half price and see for myself. And now I am glad I did. Steam sales are widening my gaming horizon.

[EDIT: After writing this I came upon a blog mentioning Star Wars: Battlefront (the 2015 version). And I realized that this is one of those games I would be willing to buy for half price. But probably I won't, because the game isn't on Steam. I'm not checking other platforms for sales. So I think EA might be better off to ditch Origins and move their games over to Steam, even if that means giving another company a cut.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The damage games do

There has been an on-going discussion about the effect that time and money spent on games has on the rest of your life. Real scientific data on the subject is sparse, and there is a lot of sensationalism instead and talk of "addiction". So as I don't have a statistical study on the subject, I can only offer an in-depth analysis of the one case I know perfectly well: Myself. What damage did games do to my life?

The reason why the damage of games is so difficult to assess is that there is no simple black & white answer to the question of how much time spent and how much money spent is still reasonable, and how much is excessive or damaging. Games are not like drugs, where you can with some certainty say that using heroin once is already too much; it is more like alcohol, where a lot of people consume alcohol regularly without any problem, and a few people become alcoholics and damage their lives with it. Furthermore different people at different points in their lives have different amount of disposable income and free time. As long as you only spend the money and time that you have plenty of, which you would otherwise have spent on a different form of entertainment, I would consider games to be not damaging at all.

I am 50 years old, and I have played games since I was a little kid. Of course not computer games, they weren't available yet when I was a kid. I was already in my teens when we got the first console, playing Pong in black and white. My first "home computer" was a ZX81 with 1 kilobyte of RAM. So my gaming career started with board games. My first "fantasy" game was Talisman in 1983. From there I went to pen & paper role-playing games.

I can't think of any damage games did to me during my childhood and teenage years. I finished high-school with the second highest grades in my class, and unless you want to nitpick and claim I could have had the highest grades if I had played less and studied more, I don't see any evidence of damage. I certainly didn't spend anything but disposable income on games, because as a teen all your income is basically disposable as long as you live with your parents who pay for all the essential stuff. I could even make a case that I used to be bad at English, and then suddenly developed an interest in the language due to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition, being only available in English at that time; so somewhere games even helped with my education. Even computer games were often educational, as magazines printed the code in BASIC and you had to type it into your computer and learn a bit of programming in the process.

This changed during my college / university years. In the early 90's I discovered that I could access LPMUDs via the university's main frame computer. It was basically MMORPGs as text adventure, but already having levels and being played online and with multiple players living in somewhat persistent virtual world. I am pretty certain that without LPMUDs I would have finished university at least a full year earlier. That basically cost me one year of life earnings. If you start working later but have to retire at the same age you can say you lost your *last* year of earnings, and that for me is a number in the 6 figures and a substantial financial loss. But this also shows how time and money aren't completely independent from each other, I wasted my time and ended up losing money. So this is probably the biggest damage that games ever did to my life and ever will. If there is any lesson to be learned from me here it is that during college / university gamers are at their most vulnerable to damage from games. Procrastination from students is nothing new, but games can be a major time sink, and it is very easy to spend too much time on them in a period of your life where you have a great degree of control over your time and little supervision.

During my Ph.D. I was already earning some money as a teaching assistant. And that was the period where I spent the largest percentage of my income on games: I had gotten into Magic the Gathering, and bought around $1,000 worth of cards per year at a time where my income was barely at subsistence level. I only got a fraction of my money back years later when I sold my collection of cards. My disposable income today is much higher, but there still isn't a single game in my life on which I spent as much money as I did on Magic the Gathering.

Once I started working a job with regular hours, games stopped to be damaging to my life. My disposable income rose, and it turned out that many games, especially computer games, are relatively cheap entertainment. I am spending less money per year on games, even if you include hardware which isn't used exclusively for games, than I would spend on an annual golf membership or other comparable hobbies for grown-ups. And I play only during my free time, after having dealt with all time requirements of work, family, and other real life stuff. That still leaves me 20+ hours of gaming per week with no discernible damage to my life.

As I said, my story isn't necessarily representative for everybody. But there are lessons to be learned here: Wasting time is frequently a danger when your life doesn't have structure; if you are supposed to organize your time yourself because you are a student, or because you are in the process of looking for a job, it is easy to err and assign too much time to entertainment and not enough to real life. Once you have a 9 to 5 job with a boss who watches over your work hours, and family at home which doesn't hesitate to demand your time in no unclear language, there are more obstacles that prevent you from wasting too much time.

Personally I consider a waste of time on games a much bigger danger to a life than a waste of money on games. Of course that does not include gambling. Board games and computer games are low-cost luxury items compared with many other alternatives. Games are in the cheap category together with activities like watching TV or reading library books. Many other sports or hobbies are a lot more costly. But this is from the perspective of a middle-class professional with a regular income, and there are certainly people for who a console plus games isn't really affordable. I just don't think these people are reading my blog.

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Fallout 4

I just put Fallout 4 on my Steam Wishlist. That means I am not willing to pay full price for it, but will probably pick it up at some point if a sale offers at least 50% rebate. I made this decision *after* checking various reviews, Metacritic, and Steam user reviews. Basically critics and players agree that Fallout 4 is "okay". Review scores around 85, Steam use reviews "mostly positive". These days I'm not paying full price for "good" games any more, there are too many of them. I pay full price for "great" games, and wait for a sale on the "good" ones.

So I am quite happy that I didn't pre-purchase Fallout 4. Not that there was much danger of that: I was quite annoyed when I found out that the pre-purchase offer for Fallout 4 came out on the same day as the game was announced! To me that smelled too much of greed, and of relying on the brand name instead of showing something from the game first before asking for money. I barely ever pre-purchase single-player games these days, not even XCOM 2, in spite of the chance being high that I buy it on release.

I did however pre-purchase the next WoW expansion, Legion, although I am pretty sure that Legion also will be only "good", and not "great". But MMORPG expansions have different dynamics: There are no Steam sales, you can get the expansion for cheap only after the next one comes out. And while a single-player game might well be better a year later when it has been patched, a MMORPG expansion is best when everybody else is playing.

Sunday, November 08, 2015
Shadow of Ubisoft

I am currently playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, a Warner Brothers game. However it feels very much like playing an Ubisoft game, Assassin's Creed: Mordor or something. A few years ago, when open world games were becoming popular, Ubisoft developed the "Ubisoft formula", a game design concept of giving structure to an open world by sub-dividing it into smaller areas to be explored one by one, with a story-line leading you through the world. For some unknown reason this formula requires you to climb towers to unlock those zones. And Shadow of Mordor copies that formula to the dot, including those towers.

You play Talion, a ranger of Gondor, and the game starts with teaching you how to sword-fight, and then gets you killed. You continue the game as half human ranger, half elven wraith with magical powers, so your early death is necessary for the story. Or maybe it is meant as a message that you shouldn't be sword-fighting in this game: Sword-fighting combat is copied from another Warner Brothers game series, the Batman Arkham series, and involves hitting the attack button a lot, plus well-timed blocks and dodges when the game signals you to do so. The problem with that is that it is so hellishly inefficient: The same orc who will die to a single headshot arrow or stealth dagger in the back will need a dozen sword hits before he goes down. That is not a problem if the orc is alone, but for fighting a group that quickly gets tedious. More orcs means needing more blocks and dodges, and if you mistime those, you quickly end up dead.

To some extent the game is designed to make you fail that way, as that showcases the game's Nemesis system: Orcs that kill you get promoted and become stronger. Even orcs you kill sometimes come back and remember you in a small cut-scene when you fight next. The idea is to have a more personal relation to the orc captains to make killing all those orcs more interesting. To some extent that works, but there is something inherently flawed in a system that makes the enemies stronger when you fail to kill them. On my first game I missed how important interrogating orcs was in this game, and didn't know how to scout captains through walls yet. So I ended up running into a group of two captains over and over, and got killed repeatedly, turning them into unbeatable monsters. Once I had understood what I was supposed to do, I deleted the save game and started over. Now I mostly stick to arrows and stealth kills.

That is facilitated by orcs being incredibly stupid and having problems looking up. Even with a dozen orcs on your trail you can often easily get into stealth again by climbing a wall. So if you find yourself fighting too many orcs, you're doing it wrong; climb a wall, disappear, and then shoot or stealth kill some of them to make the rest of the fight much easier. Shadow of Mordor is a stealth game, and much easier if you play it as one.

Overall the quality of the game is great. While you kill orcs most of the time, the orcs all look very different from each other. They come in different sizes, different faces, and different clothing. Not just the captains, but also all the regular orcs. Some of the structures are re-used, but overall the open world is quite interesting to explore, with some easier, lighter populated areas, and some much more difficult strongholds. There is also quite a good mix of story elements and open world elements, which is keeping the game interesting for many hours. And of course you get Middle-earth and Gollum in the story, which I find more interesting than Ubisoft's assassins. So I would recommend Shadow of Mordor to anyone who likes Assassin's Creed games.

Saturday, November 07, 2015
That other game we still have

I watched the Blizzcon opening ceremony yesterday and the most interesting part was how little importance Blizzard is giving to World of Warcraft. The Warcraft movie and newer Blizzard games like Hearthstone or Overwatch took pride of place, and WoW was mentioned last with a non-announcement: Legion is coming out in Summer 2016, that is on or before September 21st, and you can pre-purchase it now. What a surprise!

As I still have a bunch of WoW tokens, I decided to pre-purchase Legion. I must say the pre-purchase bonuses aren't great: I'll get access to the demon hunter a bit earlier, in the pre-expansion patch, and I get my level 100 boost for one character now instead of when Legion comes out. That's it. Nothing really extra, only the same stuff earlier.

So I used one of my WoW tokens to get into the game and use the level 100 boost on my druid, which happened to be the only character left where I had any interest in leveling him to 100. I don't think I'll need a boost for the demon hunter, I guess he'll come out of his starting area at or near level 100. The nice surprise of the level 100 boost now is that it came with a level 3 garrison, so I don't have to build that up again.

The less nice surprise was that WoW tokens have gone up in price on both the North American and European servers. Where I used to pay under 50k for a token, I now have to pay over 60k. I guess I should stock 10 tokens before the expansion makes the price go up even further. And I think paying that token was a waste, as once in the game I couldn't be bothered to play much. My interest is currently being held by Shadow of Mordor, and WoW just is the same old as when I quit it two months ago.

Sunday, November 01, 2015
Falling of the bike

I continue to play League of Angels - Fire Raiders on my iPad as a "whale". That is I am spending far more money than is reasonable for a mobile game, but far less than would make a visible dent in my disposable income. Having ascertained that there isn't any real danger of actual damage to my real life, I decided to be unreasonable as a kind of experiment. Not only am I experiencing the life of a Free2Play whale, I am also studying the game mechanics that push people into such spending.

Unlike other games where spending much money never tempted me, in League of Angels there is a rather clear advantage of spent money giving you access to more content. There are game activities like the island race which is only open to the server's top guilds, and of cause those guilds only hire the top players. As your level depends a lot on how much money you spend every day on additional stamina, the highest spenders are the highest ranked players. Play for free and you won't have access to certain parts of the game.

Another game mechanic that favors spending are the various PvP parts of the game. In the island race you can plunder other player's resources, but only if that player is weaker than you. So the top dogs are in least danger of getting plundered, while having maximum freedom to plunder others. The arenas work in a similar way: You have a limited number of attempts every day to improve your rank, but you lose rank when somebody stronger of lower rank attacks you. The best rewards are for the highest ranked players, which are those who spend the most money.

What I think drives the revenue for the game company very much is the fact that all of this creates a dynamic like riding a bike: If you stop pedaling, you'll fall off. The game mechanics and social dynamics punish taking a break: Most guilds will kick you out after a few days of inactivity, because players that don't contribute to the guild score every day are a dead weight; and as everybody is constantly becoming stronger, anybody taking a break will quickly lose rank and consequently get fewer rewards in the future, and less access to content. You can keep up with the Joneses with moderate spending every day, but you'll fall of the bike if you stop. This is a game that rewards you more for spending $10 every day than for single $100+ spending splurges.

Players don't need to be especially susceptible to "addictive" behavior for this to work. Wanting to be a top player and wanting to keep being so is a rather fundamental desire in many gamers. And that is good business: Why chase the few people whose specific weaknesses would allow you to milk them for thousands, if you can target a far larger number of people like me who can spend hundreds without worrying about it? Having said that, I don't plan on staying on this particular bike for much longer. I've pretty much seen all of the content of the game now, and like any game at some point even the most exclusive content becomes repetitive and boring. I don't know yet if one day I'll just stop abruptly, or whether I'll do a phase where I just switch to playing for free. But I'm pretty certain I won't be playing this any more come Christmas. Nor will I seek another game to become a whale in. It's an interesting experience once, but ultimately a bit silly, as most ways of spoiling yourself are.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Zeitgeist: The Island at the Axis of the World - Session 05

In the previous session infiltrated the fortress on Axis Island with a mission to open the sea gate and signal their fleet to invade. This session started with them close to the lighthouse in which the mechanism to open the sea gate is located. They got there with the help of a water breathing ritual, one of a bunch of ritual scrolls they had been provided with. Now frequently in role-playing games players hesitate to use one-shot consumable items, because you never know whether there isn't a better occasion to use them just ahead. But as in this case they had been told to return unused scrolls to the Royal Homeland Constabulary armory after the mission, this session was all about the use of ritual scrolls.

Approaching the lighthouse under water the constables were able to scout the defenses there, which consisted of 12 rebel enemies (4 different enemies of their level, 8 minions, but they didn't know that). Usually this group has a tendency to go for "Plan A", the frontal assault. But this time they decided that it would be better to open the sea gate first, and deal with the enemies later. In spite of this being a group with more social skills than physical skills, they managed to climb up from the water to the roof of the side building of the lighthouse. Not a small feat considering the climb consisted of 3 climbing checks and several group members had negative skill modifiers. But they used a silence ritual scroll to muffle the sound of people falling back into the water, and so climbing up from the water turned out to be an advantage. On the roof they used a passwall ritual scroll to get through the stone roof and jumped into the building where the sea gate mechanism was.

Now the fortress had been constructed by Danor, old enemy of Risur and relying on technology instead of magic. So the sea gate mechanism was operated by steam. Aria, the spirit medium, talked to the spirit of her dad, who knew about technology, because nobody else in the group does. So they figured out how to open the sea gate. But apart from being aware that brute force might well release the steam and shut the gate again, they couldn't find a way to sabotage the mechanism in the open position. And the opening sea gate made quite some noise, alerting the troops in and around the lighthouse.

Now the group was in a good position to defend the gate mechanism. But they somewhat complicated the situation by asking their main healer, Artus, to smash the window and cast the pyrotechnics ritual scroll in order to alert the fleet and start the invasion. Rituals aren't made to be cast in combat, even the simplest pyrotechnics ritual takes a minute, 10 combat rounds, to cast. This resulted in the healer being out for the fight, which made combat somewhat more exciting than expected.

The rebel patrolmen minions weren't much of a problem and dropped like flies. But the rebel mage got a storm cloud spell off that followed Eldion around. And the mage's pet drake turned invisible in the first round and then managed to bite Aria in the neck, poisoning her for 5 points of ongoing damage. Normally that isn't that bad, but Aria managed to fail 5 saving throws in a row. Even with Malicia the paladin healing her with laying on hands, Aria ended down to 1 hitpoint before she managed to succeed the saving throw. Meanwhile James Boffin, the tank, held the lower door of the building against the rebel soldier and investigator without taking a scratch. Only one encounter power of the investigator which didn't require an attack roll or allowed a saving throw forced James once to attack Eldion, bringing him down to 2 hitpoints. In the end the party managed to kill all enemies but without a main healer the fight had been tough.

As the fight had taken only 5 rounds, Artus completed the pyrotechnics ritual 30 seconds later and alerted their fleet. But also the rest of the rebel troops in the fortress, who came rushing along the sea wall towards the lighthouse to close the gate. The group will have to defend the sea gate mechanism for 10 minutes, but that will be for the next session.


Sunday, October 25, 2015
Just another virtual currency

Some stories about EVE Online have headlines like "Spaceships worth more than $200,000 destroyed in biggest virtual space battle ever", suggesting that a lot of real dollars have been lost. But of course what *was* destroyed was spaceships worth a certain amount of ISK, the virtual currency of EVE. Much of that worth was created by mining and other in-game activities, and not bought with real money. Virtual currencies that can be bought and/or sold for real money, or exchanged for things worth real money, walk a fine line between real and virtual currency.

Technically these are all virtual currencies. Most countries require special banking permits to allow a company to trade with real currencies. Game companies don't have that sort of permit, so if asked they would say that those currencies are all virtual. That also absolves them from any liability if any virtual currency is lost in a bug or when the servers shut down. Virtual property rights are still an exception, so in most cases you have no way of redress if your virtual currency disappears for some reason.

Especially easy to treat as virtual currency are the cases where you didn't spend real money on them. For example I have the equivalent of $400 in my WoW account in the form of gold and tokens, but I don't think of those as real money. I earned the gold by playing, and since the tokens were introduced I didn't spend any more real money on WoW. For me that is just a weird game design decisions (why should I and people like me who just happen to be interested in making WoW gold play for free, and not the others?), and not a real money issue.

In the other direction, games that want you to spend as much as possible on the game almost always try to disguise the real cost by using virtual currencies: You don't buy the sword of uberness for $9.99, you buy it for 1,000 diamonds that you can buy for $9.99. And then of course you get some diamonds for free for in-game activities, and diamond bonuses here, and rewards for spending diamonds there, and you end up thinking of diamonds as just another virtual currency. It is easier to spend money if you don't think of it as real money, but consider it a virtual currency.

What helps is that the "whales" of Free2Play games are in reality just dwarf sperm whales, the smallest whales on Earth. To be considered a whale in Las Vegas you would need to gamble with hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to millions, while a typical Free2Play whale spends a few hundred dollars per month on the game. With 20% of US households having an annual income above $100,000, there are enough people around that can afford spending a few hundred dollars a month on games. People who can afford it will spend $10 on virtual currency as easily as giving a $10 tip in a restaurant. As long as the money is coming from the "disposable" part of the budget, it nearly is like a virtual currency, like play money.

Of course while many games stop rewarding you for spending after the first few hundred bucks, a few games are designed to be bottomless and can easily accommodate somebody spending thousands of dollars on them. The guys spending all his savings on a game makes for a good anecdotal story, but up to now there is no evidence of that happening all that often. Poor people are more at risk of losing their money in gambling than in gaming. That has to do with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the rewards of video games typically fulfill needs of esteem, which is already in the upper part of the pyramid. Status symbols are less important for people struggling to make rent.

So while lots of the stories trying to link games with huge amounts of lost money and resulting destitution are more sensationalist than reporting on a real and present danger, another argument is most certainly true: Spending hundreds of dollars on a game is bad value for money. By better selecting the games you play you can achieve the same entertainment value and the same feeling of achievement for much cheaper. While the currencies in question might be in between real and virtual, the rewards of games are all just virtual. Feel free to spend hundreds of dollars on virtual rewards, but be aware that the rewards aren't real, and any status acquired is limited to that game, or even just one server of that game.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Short comment on the state of Magic Duels

I have mentioned several times on this blog that while I was aware of Magic Duels having server and connection problems on the PC, I did not experience such problems on the iPad. Unfortunately I need to correct that now: I haven't been able to play Magic Duels on the iPad for over a week now, I just can't get a connection to the servers any more. As I haven't changed anything on my iPad, the problem must be server side.

What is it with WotC and computers that they are so reliably messing up the digitalization of their games?

Thursday, October 15, 2015
Gamer social networks

I get about one mail per month announcing a new social network for gamers, and asking me to promote it. I never do, because I don't think they will ever work. The basic problem is one of critical mass: The budding gamer social networks have a few hundred to a couple of thousand members. Considering how many different games there are and how many millions of players some of these games have, such a small social network is simply of no use.

In social networks there is a huge first mover advantage. Facebook got millions of users because before Facebook there wasn't anything comparable. Later competitors only achieved critical mass if they offered something very different, or had an existing customer base like Google+ did. The basic attraction of creating a social network is you don't need to create content for it: The other people on the network *are* the content. But that means that if there aren't a large number of other people on the social network, that social network isn't very interesting. So it can't grow and get to the necessary size. A real dilemma.

To as far as people use MMORPGs as "social network", those considerations also apply to MMORPGs. WoW made the first mass market accessible game, and has benefited from that every since. Of course a MMORPG also has content, and lots of people play a game for the content and not for the social connection to other players. So there is still a chance that one day we'll see another multi-million player MMORPG, as long as it has far superior content than the existing games. I don't see one on the horizon.

If I were to design a "social network site for gamers", I would start by creating some content. That can be as stupid as a "gamer personality test" or similar stuff. If you manage to create something that goes viral, you'd have a chance to attract enough people to get past the first critical mass hurdle. A plain vanilla social network site for gamers with just an interface but no content at all has no chance to get there. People will just use existing social networks, forums, or game sites to connect to each other. It is easier to find another gamer on Reddit or Facebook than on a new social network site for gamers.


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