Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 03, 2015
Decreasing relevancy

While I was writing my previous post I was struck by the thought of how it was of very little relevancy to the majority of my readers. Not only is the general interest in MMORPGs declining, as can be traced by the Alexa ranking of, or the popularity of the search term on Google (see graph below).
But in addition of being already a niche subject, the MMORPG world is now increasingly fragmented. When I started there were just 3 major MMORPGs on the market, Everquest, Ultima Online, and Asheron's Call. Today there are hundreds, and many of them big enough to be discussed on various blogs.

Now some of my posts are about topics of general interest to many MMORPGs, like discussing the holy trinity of tank, healer, dps, or discussing the advantages and disadvantages of different business models. But a big part of MMORPG blogging has always consisted of discussing the game one is playing at the moment, and the subject is frequently about minor details that can only be of possible interest to somebody playing the same game. As we are increasingly not playing the same game any more, the blog posts become less interesting.

(As an aside, I also blog occasionally about Dungeons & Dragons, but that is even more niche.)

Now I happened to be around at the peak of the above curve of interest in MMORPGs, and got over a million pageviews per year. Fortunately I stopped caring about pageviews, because numbers are way down. And as far as I can see there aren't any other MMORPG blogs around that get a million pageviews a year either. Between the general decline of interest in the field, and the fragmentation into too many different games, blogging about MMORPG is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a subject of interest for other people. As I always say, you need to blog for yourself, not for others.

Bug or feature?

One of the new features that patch 6.2 brought to World of Warcraft is weekend events. There is a guy standing next to the main building of your garrison that gives you a new quest every Friday, which is valid for that weekend. This weekend is apexis weekend, and the quest is to do five of those bonus objectives that give apexis crystals. Which is in itself already pretty brilliant, because you already need to do three of those per day if you are reputation grinding in Tanaan Jungle to get flying.

But what was even more surprising, and I'm not sure whether it isn't a bug, is that the quest already counted bonus objectives done during the week. So when my main took the quest he was already at 5/5 objectives completed. That at first was greyed out, but as soon as I entered the garrison main building the game realized that I had done the quest and gave me a message to that effect. So I went back out and got 5000 apexis crystals, 1500 oil, and 1000 garrison resources for not having done anything.

Of course that reminded me of Paul Barnett bears, bears, bears idea. Has World of Warcraft actually implemented a quest that rewards you for stuff you already did? Or is this just a bug?

Thursday, July 02, 2015
DPS : Healer : Tank ratio

In a different thread today the discussion turned to the long wait times that you have if you sign up for a LFR group. That is "long" if you are a DPS, "short" if you are a healer, and "instantly" if you are a tank. The tool does nothing but wait for enough players for each role to sign up, and then starts a group. One problem here is that there is very little feedback: You are told the average wait time, but not the reason why. If the tool showed the number of players in the queue (which would look something like 1000 dps, 100 healers, 1 tank), the effect of roles on wait time would be far more obvious and might push some players to try a different role if their class permits.

On the other hand, maybe it is time for something far more revolutionary. Why does a raid need 2 tanks and 5 healers compared to 18 DPS. The ratio is completely arbitrary and is based on how the encounters are designed and how the abilities of the different characters are designed.

Now imagine a redesign which makes tanking and healing far more effective. You could design encounters which work with 1 tank and 1 healer, provided that you give the tank and healer far more powerful abilities for their specific role. And the closer your required DPS : Healer : Tank ratio gets to the actual distribution of those roles among players, the shorter the queues become. And don't forget that if you make tanks and healers more powerful, more people will want to play them, which also helps.

The alternative is designing encounters which don't need a tank or healer at all. For example the premade group finder to kill the champions of hellfire doesn't require any tanks or healers. That might be tactically less interesting, but that could be changed by introducing other design elements which forces people to react more. Right now tanks and healers are "too hard" to play in a group, so people don't do it, and DPS are "too easy", and everybody chooses that role. That is a design problem which can be rectified with a few class changes.

Garrison sharing

Rohan thinks that garrisons are too lonely, and wants a system where they are shared with people who have the same garrison setup. I think he identified the problem correctly, but ended up with a bad solution. It would be good to share garrisons, but not based on a complicated system of meeting strangers based on which buildings they chose for their garrison. I think I have a better idea:

Garrisons could be shared between all members of a guild. Everybody who logs in and visits his garrison will see his guild mates there if they are in their garrison as well. But everybody sees *his* buildings, and can change them as he wants. Because the plots are fixed, it doesn't matter that one player has a tailor on his plot and another has a forge. They will still interact with the pile of produced goods at the same location, and while player A sees his tailor there, and sees player B clicking interacting with that object, player B sees his forge. Everybody still has his own garrison and his actions don't affect in any way the garrisons of the other players in his guild. But everybody sees his guild mates running around, for a more shared, more social experience of the garrison.

Milestone reached

Yesterday I made a strategic error in World of Warcraft. I had reached revered with 2 out of 3 factions in the Tanaan Jungle, and was just missing the Order of the Awakened. But they only have one daily quest to gain reputation, and it is one I didn't particularly like: Kill 10 rares or find 10 treasures. I had already run out of treasures. And apparently the arena in Fangri'La had been fixed to not count more than once per day for this quest. Only the champions of Hellfire have premade groups made for them, so the other rares is a question of camping or running around trying to find one that has spawned and not been killed. Even with the basic hunter crystal it is tedious work.

The problem was that I hadn't read the small print in the flying announcement and thought that the earlier I got to revered, the earlier I would get to fly. So seeing that I had tons of gold, and that the medallions of the legion had dropped to just over 12k each, I bought 4 medallions yesterday for 50k gold and reached Tanaan Diplomat and Draenor Pathfinder. It was only then that I read on the pathfinder achievement that I would be able to fly "in an upcoming patch". Damn, I should have just done it slow and saved 50k gold. Not that it really matters, I have too much of the stuff anyway, even after paying for WoW tokens.

At least today I got some good news: Blizzard had discovered that many people disliked the naval missions for being pretty much useless and too slow, and hotfixed them to make them more attractive. It has become easier to get battleships, requiring just friendly instead of honored reputation, the 2 day missions have been shortened to 18 hours, and the rewards in gold and apexis crystals have been doubled. I already liked naval missions before (being less impatient), and had already gotten iLevel 685 gear from them once, so I never thought of them as useless. But of course less waiting and more rewards and easier access for alts is better.

I now just need to work on getting all the equipment unlocked. Yesterday my main waited in a LFR queue for Hellreach for over half an hour, just to get the equipment blueprint from the second boss there. I'm only missing one blueprint for him now. But my alts are far less advanced, because again getting blueprints frequently means camping rare spawns. And only the really big ones like the shark have premade groups you can join.

Anyway, having reached the milestone of the flying achievement, I don't feel compelled to do certain things for reputation any more, and can go back to a more leisurely pace. Which is just as well, as I'll be on summer holidays soon, and will only play WoW occasionally on my laptop.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015
The purpose of challenge

I have long been puzzled by an apparent contradiction about challenges in MMORPGs: On the one side a lot of people say that they want challenging fights. On the other hand the majority of the time spent in a MMORPG is for your character to become stronger, which makes any given fight less challenging. If we want challenging fights, why do we chase after those epics that remove the challenge?

Today I had a thought, that maybe I need to approach the subject from the opposite angle. What if what we really want is character progression, getting stronger? Then the "challenging fight" becomes not a purpose in itself, but rather a yardstick, a unit of measurement. It isn't the challenge which is important, but the status of being able to overcome that challenge.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Universal definition of the gamer identity

Recently there have been thousands of words written in the blogosphere on what exactly is a gamer. I don't get why there is any need for that discussion. The definition of what a gamer is is so simple:

Anybody who spends as much time and effort as I am in playing games is a gamer. Anybody who spends less is a casual n00b. Anybody who spends more is a basement-dwelling unemployed l00ser.

Note: The "I" in the above phrase does not specifically mean me, Tobold. It means everybody, or whoever is trying to define what a gamer is. It is an universal definition.

How many MMORPGs can you play?

Syp floored me with his gaming plans for 2015 mentioning 9+ different MMORPGs he is planning to play. I barely find the time to do everything I want in just one. Different MMORPG surveys consistently over the years have found that the average gamer plays just over 20 hours of MMORPGs per week. In one game 20 hours per week results in some sort of progress. Split over many games, nothing much is happening. Now I don't know how many hours per week Syp plays, and there certainly are extreme cases playing up to 100 hours per week. But I wonder if the average player even has the time to play 2 MMORPGs in the same week.

Besides time, the other issue is that MMORPGs require a lot of knowledge. You don't only have to know control schemes, but also things like spell rotations, and where to go to find what. I just spent all weekend figuring out the new zone in World of Warcraft. I'm not sure I could hold in my head all the information needed to play 9 MMORPGs efficiently.

So I'd like to hear your opinion and your experience on this. How many different MMORPGs have you played in parallel for some time? For you, what are the advantages and disadvantages of playing more than one MMORPG at a time?

Monday, June 29, 2015
The social patch

Something interesting is happening in World of Warcraft: After 10 years of trying, Blizzard finally got all the elements together to make people play in groups rather than solo. I haven't been playing in so many groups for so long for years than I have this weekend. Tanaan Jungle, introduced in last weeks patch, is the perfect group place.

The first part of the puzzle is content which you'd actually want to group. Yes, you could solo for example the Saberstalker reputation. But as you need 21,000 reputation for revered (which you need for flying), and each mob you need to kill gives only 30 reputation, but has over a million hit points, soloing would take a rather long time. Find a good group and you get to revered in a day. I did.

The second part is a good group finder tool. Warlords of Draenor added the custom group finder, which makes it possible to create or search for a group for any content. You can just write "Saberstalkers reputation farming" as name of your group, set it to auto-invite, and you'll have a full farming group all the time, with leaving members constantly being replaced. And no, you don't need a healer and a tank for that, 5 dps work just fine.

The third part of the equation is the system of cross-server linking and each server having possibly several copies of the same area. Which means that your Saberstalker farming group most probably will be in a copy in which there are actually mobs to farm. Your group won't be all alone, but it won't be totally overcamped either. That is especially useful for rare mobs, like the four champions of Hellfire Citadel which drop Medallion of the Legion (gives 1,000 reputation for all Draenor factions, basically one day less dailies to get to flying). You don't have to camp the rare spawn for half an hour, you can just search for a group for that mob, and when you join the group you will be automatically transported to the server and phase where the rare is up. I recommend the addon Premade Group Finder to check every 30 seconds for such a group and auto-signup to it. Yesterday I killed all 4 of them 4 times, once each on each of my 4 level 100 alts, and got 2 medallions out of it (they aren't bind on pickup, so I could send them to my main, but you could also sell them for 20k gold).

Even daily quests are sped up with groups. One of the factions you need to farm reputation with to get flying only has a single daily quest, which is finding 10 objects you get either by finding a treasure or by killing a rare. As you can only select each of the 51 treasures once, but kill the rares every day, rare-farming is the way to go. Especially useful here is the arena for the Rumble in the Jungle quest to defeat the three arena champions of Fangri'la. Even after you finished that quest you can still buy the totems to summon those rares, which makes it easy to farm in a group. Another faction you need reputation for requires you to do 3 bonus objectives every day, and that is a lot faster in a group as well.

For me this is especially interesting in view of having 4 characters at level 100. The patch is finally requiring my alts to leave their garrison, at least for a while, to get reputation for ship blueprints, and farm rares for equipment blueprints. That means I will progress slower, as I don't have the time to play 4 characters on work days. But that is probably working as intended, as alts just producing passive income is not great game design. I'm approaching one million gold without doing much for the money.

So in summary, patch 6.2 and Tanaan Jungle made World of Warcraft a far more social place. I hope Blizzard can keep that up for future content.

Friday, June 26, 2015
The economy of abundance

In 2014 Steam added 1,400 games to its library, more than 100 per month. Even if you would just spend 1 hour 59 minutes with each new game (and then sneakily refund it), that would take more hours than a full-time job. The Apple app store is even worse, it added nearly 10,000 games per month in 2014. Even if you spent just 5 minutes testing each game you couldn't possibly keep up. There aren't hundreds of MMORPGs out there, but given how much time each of them takes there are also far more than a single person could play.

Not only are there too many games to play, but there is also the problem that there are far less types of games than there are games. Of the 379,313 games in the app store, how many are match-3 puzzle games? How many are about building a base and raiding the base of other players? Steam is full of sequels, or games that while being from different companies still strongly resemble each other. The expert might be able to see the difference between all those multiplayer shooter games, but for the layman they are all pretty much the same. For example I don't play zombie apocalypse survival games, so I can't tell the dozens of them on Steam apart. Being well versed with MMORPGs I can see the difference between all those different MMORPGs, but honestly at the core many of them are very similar and have the same basic structure.

The economic consequence of that is that given the choice between too many similar games, players tend to flock to a few market leaders, while the rest of them distributes between all the others. There is more supply of games than there is demand for them, which is one of the reasons why people have been increasingly protesting about "too high prices" for games, in spite of the fact that inflation-adjusted even triple-A games have become cheaper over the last 20 years. But why pay $50+ for a game any longer when there are lot of viable alternatives for cheap in a Steam sale or on some app store?

In the past making computer games was a profitable business because there are lots of idiots who are willing to work twice the hours for half the pay making a game than they would get for writing banking software. But even that competitive advantage isn't cutting it any more if people aren't willing to pay much for games any longer. I recently stumbled upon a quote on Blessing of Kings saying: "Steam is essentially reverse piracy. Instead of playing games you didn't pay for, you pay for games you'll never play.". But that isn't a situation that can continue indefinitely. At some point people will stop buying, because they already have a lot of similar games unplayed in their libraries.

Now in many cases players won't care if some video game developer goes out of business. But the danger is that in the last years more and more games have turned in online services. And when the company goes broke and the servers go down, the game you bought isn't playable any more. There might be some dark clouds ahead for gaming.

Thursday, June 25, 2015
A question of identity

I don't blog much about my TV watching habits, but one of the shows I like to watch is Top Gear. That is a British show about three middle-aged guys behaving like immature teenagers while playing with often very expensive cars. That has a huge appeal to the predominantly male audience, so Top Gear is the BBC's biggest hit. But it was never a comfortable relationship: The loudest of the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, has strong right-wing opinions and isn't afraid at all to say things which aren't politically correct. That led to a series of "scandals" where Jeremy said something which offended somebody, and the BBC got complaints.

That could have gone on forever if Jeremy Clarkson at one point hadn't completely lost it. He wanted a hot meal after a day of shooting, only got offered sandwiches by a production assistant, and that enraged him so much that he hit that production assistant to the point where the guy had to go to the hospital to get his split lip stitched. Now many fans, used to that endless series of "scandals", were ready to forgive Clarkson. But the BBC fired him. Which was probably the right thing to do, as I think most employees from most companies in the world would much prefer if their boss hasn't got the right to beat them. Unless you are a professional boxer there aren't many places where you can seriously hit a coworker and not get fired.

But that situation is now leading to an interesting question of identity. The BBC holds the right to the Top Gear brand, and announced that they will continue the show with completely new presenters. Mean Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, are going to host a new car show, presumably on Netflix. So which one of the two shows is the "real" Top Gear successor? The one with the brand name, or the one with the presenters who made the show such a hit? My guess is that the Netflix show will have far more success than the BBC show. Clarkson, Hammond, and May have a special love/hate chemistry going on between them which the BBC can't possibly reproduce. The rest of the show, expensive cars and crazy races, is easily enough reproduced. And there is no copyright on the format of a TV show. So Netflix will be able to produce a show that resembles the old Top Gear far more than the BBC can.

Which only leaves one question open: Which show will have The Stig?

Crafting in 6.2

I only had a short look at the new World of Warcraft patch up to now, concentrating on the crafting part. I used to make items like hexweave essence, greater hexweave essence, and powerful hexweave essence. These now all have been replaced by the "new" hexweave essence, which can be applied multiple times to a crafted item to bring its ilevel up to 685. Beyond that you need the new mighty and savage hexweave essences, and those need the new resource felblight. (Replace "hexweave" by other terms like "truesteel" for other professions than tailoring).

Apparently the devs were of the opinion that felblight somehow would "fix" crafting in WoD. I disagree. I was seriously disappointed to find out that you can't buy felblight for primal spirits, like you can for all other crafting materials. Which means that the *only* way to get felblight is gathering resources in Tanaan Jungle. Really bad idea, as that will just lead to node camping, and people being angry at each other for "stealing" nodes, especially once we get flying. And of course a lot of people abandoned gathering professions, as those were kind of useless before the patch.

The crafting resource requirements for the basic essences has been lowered, and the production of those resources has been sped up. I don't think that actually changes anything. Prices will adjust according to the new balance between supply and demand. Although I am not yet convinced that the new production speed between the craft-specific resource, the sorcerous element needed, and the savage blood is in balance: I have the impression that I now have far too many of the craft-specific resources and not enough elements and blood to craft them into essences. Which is a problem because there is no way to "grind" monsters for elements and blood, so you can't adjust relative production speeds.

Other than the mighty and savage upgrade items the patch brought no new crafted items. Which means that we are still stuck with making the basic crafted items and upgrading them with essences. And we still can't wear more than 3 of those, which basically turns crafted items into a "filler" for slots you couldn't find other items for. I really don't see how patch 6.2 has done anything to improve crafting, it still isn't very interesting but more of a passive money maker.


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