Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Friday, August 30, 2013

10,000 Hits


As I said, this is really great for me, especially since I had no single unexpected whale of a post. As you can see below, my all-time top posts are mostly from about two years ago. In the grand scheme, I know I am a tiny fish. But this still exciting. Something that had not occurred to me as I sat anticipating the "rollover" from 9,999 to 10,000 pageviews . . .
. . . was that the scale itself would double, making my graph look flatter.
Anyway, for the second time today, thank you,
Dear Reader.

Thanks, Raptr . . .

. . . for rubbing it in:
I've been busy . . . and tired. Mostly tired. Excited for this month, though. I've broken my record for monthly page hits without a single whale post, like I had in December or March. Just a bunch of solid, regularly posted stuff. Thank you, Dear Reader, for joining me on this awesome journey.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Beyond the Veil Take 55: C is for COOKIEEE!!!

Beyond the Veil, Take 55 is now available for download on Holosuite Media. The BtV crew chats with Sezmra, Funcom's new Community Manager for The Secret World.
Also, we have Azture, winner of the last PvP Tournament, with us. There's a new design contest: “Get your art in the game” Plus, new beachwear has been released just in time for your late-summer zombie luau.
You can also subscribe through Holosuite Media's RSS feed or through iTunes (with older episodes here). Be sure to catch the live show every Thursday at about 7p.m. EDT (11p.m. UTC) on Holosuite Excess.

BioWare and Tone Deafness

Hooray! A chance to rant (briefly)!

Ravanel posted on Tuesday about a recent Q&A between a representative of the Sith Sorceror class in SWTOR, and the devs at BioWare. I seem to recall that sorcs were considered OP at launch. I take it that they got hit once too many times with the nerf bat at some point. In the comment section, Ravanel's S.O., Tiger, went into even greater objective detail on the balance concerns of the class. I won't go into the details, but I encourage you to go read her post.

I guess people have even made videos about it. This one was my favorite:
The proper answer to all those questions—if they didn't have a solution—was, "We'll look into it." Instead what the Sorc community got was, "You don't know how to play. Respect our wisdom in this matter." The answers given are simply symptoms of the larger tone deafness of BioWare, going all the way back to the "most valued players" debacle of April 2012. They have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not know how to manage an MMO and its community.

But I guess that matters not when people are still throwing money at you.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

QOTD: Introverts and Extroverts

Extroverts network. Introverts multi-box.
~Jeromai, in an almost completely unrelated post

A Scuffle in Tokyo

A bit of adapted fiction from my last NaNoWriMo. This one is for is Frank:
The Way teaches balance. There is Order in apparent Chaos, a duality of Nature: Light-Dark; Hot-Cold; Life-Death. However, the ordered mind recognizes that of these vectors, the "negative" is simply the absence of the "positive." There is really only Light, Hot, Life.

Truth: only people are chaotic in their dualities: Good-Evil; Innocence-Guilt; Mercy-Justice. These vectors are active. Evil is more than simply the absence of Good; and Good is not simply the absence of Evil. The Innocent must have Mercy. But for the Guilty, there is only Justice. That is balance. That is the Way.

The night was alive with energy, pulsing like the heartbeat of a great beast. It was a good night. And Hinageshi had long been a creature of it. The scent of food wafted her way from the nightclub district. Hinageshi inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. Her stomach growled, and she headed down the avenue toward the aroma.

The streets of Tokyo never seemed to empty. People laughed and dashed from this club to that bar through colliding techno beats. Hinageshi ran her fingers through her close-cropped green-and-yellow tinted hair. In some ways, she was downright conservative in this crowd. With the whimsical costumes sported by so many, no one noticed the punky girl with eyes that matched her hair and the tattoo decorating the side of her face.

Except the ones who did. She stopped at a snack stand, and caught a glimpse of them. Four punks; much like herself, truth be told. They ducked back, and she acted like she hadn't seen them, purchasing yakitori and moving on down the boulevard. She was clearly without companions in the crowd. She knew they were following, looking for an opening. Smirking to herself, she decided she would give them one. They could be yakuza; she hoped they were. Meandering down the avenue, she ate the kabobs.

She turned down a darker street, away from the crowd, as if heading home. It would be harder for them to disguise their pursuit. Indeed, she perceived that they had been joined by friends, making seven in all. So much the better. Ever the easy prey, she turned down another street.

"Hey, sweet thing," their leader called to her. "Don't you know it’s dangerous for a girl out alone in the night?" A couple of the others chuckled.

“Hey, I’m talking to you,” said the leader as he got closer.

Another thug called, "You need an escort home, little thing? We'll keep you safe."

At this point, she glanced back over her shoulder, "Somehow, I don't think so."

She picked up her pace. So did they. Ever closer they came. She glanced back over her shoulder again, a scared look on her face. Perhaps in another block or two they would give up and leave her alone.

But they continued their pursuit. Hinageshi started to jog, half a block more, then down a blind alley. It smelled slightly of rotting garbage and stale urine. The leader grinned like a predator, she was making it too easy. She reached the end, turned around, terror etched on her face. They had her cornered, and the yakuza moved in for the kill.

The leader grabbed Hinageshi by the arm. He pushed her up against the wall of the building.

"You shouldn't have run away like that, little thing." he said, still speaking as if to soothe. "We just wanna have a little fun." He moved closer to plant a kiss on her trembling lips.

She could feel the adrenalin surge, her heart beating faster, time slowing down. She saw all of them, gauged their positions relative to her and to each other. The precepts of the Way flashed in her mind. "In Chaos, Order. For the Innocent, Mercy. For the Afflicted, Comfort. For the Guilty . . .

The kata of the Way guided her body. The ebb and flow of thousands of battles of her forebears refined her movements. Allowing herself to be pulled closer to the leader, she drew one of her wakizashi from its scabbard hidden in her sweater. The terror he saw in her eyes evaporated. Two flicks—The Rising Tide—and the punk’s fingers were falling to the ground. He screamed. The others registered surprise, then confusion. Hinageshi's second blade glinted in the streetlight.

The second thug found his breath cut off, then his life, as Hinageshi’s blade passed through his windpipe—The Rushing Wave—on its way out the back of his spine.

The third tried to defend himself, drawing a Beretta that clattered to the ground, still gripped tightly by his severed fist—The Whirling Breeze—followed closely by his head. The fourth tried to flee—The Wind in the Reeds—but found himself unable to run effectively with no feet. Hinageshi continued her swing—The Sudden Calm—ending his misery.

The fifth thug had drawn a knife, but a series of downward strikes—The Hailstorm—deprived him first of of his weapon, then of his lifeblood. The last two had time to fully draw weapons, but wisely chose to run screaming into the night. Hinageshi let them go.

She turned to the leader, whose cry had faded to a whimper. He was on his knees, rocking. He clutched the stumps of his hands under his arms. His pants were soaked in his own urine. Looking up at Hinageshi in fear, he babbled, begging for mercy. Her yellow-green eyes stared down at him. Before relieving him of his head, Hinageshi leaned in close, and whispered in his ear, as if to soothe:

"For the Guilty, Justice."

Such is the Way.

Evil creatures from other dimensions encroach on our reality, hungering; befouling Nature, sowing disorder. Sometimes the World’s monsters don't come from another place. The Way answers them all.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Barriers to Entry: More Revenue Model Discussions

EDIT: I sure wish I knew why this post is so hot. Let me know in the comments section what led you here.

In case you had not realized by now, Dear Reader, I am fascinated by the so-called Dismal Science, Economics. Though much of economic theory revolves around money, I had one college professor eloquently refer to it as the Study of Choice in the face of Scarcity. This is what fascinates me about it, why do we make the choices we do? It doesn't have to be choice involving money. For instance, do I spend all morning researching and writing a blog post, or exploring the town and country I am sojourning in, or playing a video game?

Market Forces
One thing that interested me about Guild Wars 2 was that, since everyone could gather any crafting material from the environment, the Trading Post became a buyer's market rather than the seller's market found in so many other MMO player exchanges. Without (artificial in the case of MMO resources) scarcity, goods have little value on an open market. That is why maize is cheap and caviar is expensive. People hoping to make lots of in-game gold by playing that market screamed bloody murder about how it was broken. To which ANet's own in-house economist responded, essentially, works as designed. Speaking about the cross-server system, John Smith said:
The global trading post provides a large number of huge benefits at virtually no cost, outside of the complicated technology required to support it. Making the TP individual to each server opens up market failures across the board, including easy arbitrage and extremely easy market manipulation. The global TP is easier to find items, harder to manipulate, and reaches equilibrium prices significantly faster and more efficiently than any other in game marketplace ever created.
Manipulating markets in the real world is frowned upon. But when a MMO developer takes steps to counter it in the game, those would otherwise exploit the market cry that it's ruining their game.

Others have complained that the prices for end-game fancy item skins are too high in the AH, a result of low drop rates. However, fancy in-game items are rare for a reason, they should represent the effort you put in to get them. I could just as easily complain that the price of a Roll Royce or jar of caviar is too high. But there is an easy solution to that. Spend your money on something else. Or save up for the purchase. (This is also partly why I am not in favor of the top end stuff being awarded essentially via slot machine.)

Coulda Shoulda Woulda
Which brings me back to the title of my post, revenue models. My good friend Belghast has written an excellent post in defense of the subscription model:
Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee. This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift. Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.
I would counter that by pointing out that many of those games struggled greatly, some spectacularly, before making the transition, and are now presumably profitable. None of them switched to hybrids or F2P out of the goodness of their hearts. Those games that remain profitable while requiring subscriptions have continued to do so. After all, the old adage is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The converse of that would have to be: if it is broke, fix it and fix it now, or trash it. We have have seen a few instances of the latter, have we not? And much to the dismay of those still loyal to the now defunct games.

Again from Belghast:
While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription. Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.
Many bloggers like to prognosticate and talk about the "should" of game design and, in this case, revenue models. I like to think I am all about the "is" of said topics. Right now, I come down on the side of subscription-optional models, for personal economic reasons. Not that I can't afford a subscription. I was subbed to SWTOR and TSW concurrently for over a month last year. Just yesterday, I was thinking about re-upping in TSW and Rift, both of which I currently play without a sub. Between those two games, I have paid for items and DLC just in the last month. But I question whether I want to pay for a bunch of content I probably won't see; or simply buy "stuff" I know I want.

Barriers to Entry
Another concept of Economics is Utility, which another professor referred to as happiness (not just usefulness). This professor made an an easy equation: "Utils"=Dollars. (But, "I get no happiness from dead presidents.") That is, balancing utility and cost. If I judge that the cost of something outweighs its utility, then I will not work to obtain it. Cost is not just about the dollars spent, but the opportunity cost of doing something else like playing an equally engaging MMO that doesn't require a monthly subscription.

There is another personal cost of the subscription model. As I've mentioned before, if I am paying a subscription, I want to maximize the value of that subscription. That means other games developers that may want my attention have to overcome the barrier of my existing subscription. The main reason I never even tried the original Guild Wars was that I was subbed to WoW. For the same reason—only this time it was SWTOR—I never even started the Dragon Age games, even though I bought them (on sale).

In fact, when I first started playing STO (with a subscription), it was the promise of being able to play in one of my all time favorite universes, combined with a disenchantment with Blizzard and WoW, that enticed me to subscribe. I subbed to both for a long time, and I remained subbed to WoW for a few months after I eventually decided I wasn't playing STO enough to sub anymore (while also subbing to Rift), but that was for social reasons. I only have so much leisure time (a scarcity) and a game has to compete for my attention not only with other games but other entirely different activities. Add to that an actual monetary cost and it will likely reduce the utility of the game below the threshold of participation on my part.

I have no illusions, however, that my situation is the same as the majority of players. Maybe Wildstar or TESO will be the next WoW that never seems to have to worry about player numbers. Or rather, to have the worries that other games can only dream of. Honestly though, I doubt it.

Syp just quoted Damion Schubert's "Zen of Design" post regarding the subscription-only model:
Here’s what charging a flat monthly fee actually means:
  1. Fewer players will try your game. [emphasis mine]
  2. The majority of those players will pay more money than they otherwise would have.
  3. Perversely, you'll still end up making significantly less revenue.
  4. Also, the subscription model will put pressure on players to leave the game as soon as they feel like they are 'done' with the game.
There were plenty of agreements and addenda in Syp's comment section. But also apologists for the subscription model, plus not a few snide remarks about SWTOR's cash shop model, which Schubert oversees as current Lead Designer.

Ever the contrarian, I gotta say Schubert has a point. I may not like the direction SWTOR has taken, and BioWare is not likely to get another penny from me. But it's hard to argue with SWTOR's post F2P success. I see a lot of people saying that, if a game is good, the revenue model doesn't matter. I think that is increasingly naïve in the current MMO landscape. There are many people who won't play a sub-only game, no matter how great it is. Others will be reluctant to try it, even if they are not averse to the idea of subscribing in principle. We can talk game design all we want, but business is business. And there are plenty of good reasons to use the cash shop or hybrid approach, mostly to lower the barrier of entry to the game. If the game is that good, then having a non-subscription variant won't hurt it.

Should Wildstar and TESO (and FFXIV) be free to play? I would like them to be; but mostly because, like Belghast's comment above, the anticipated Utility to me of these games is lower than the current projected cost of participation. Do I think a F2P model would be in their best interests? It might or might not be. Like Mogsy, I'll bet that they are going to try to recoup their development costs, and decide whether to transition to some hybrid at a later time, when sub-only is no longer profitable.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So Sayeth the Tobold

The subscription business model is still dead, and those two announcements don't change anything.
~Tobold Stoutfoot.
Tobold and I don't always agree. But when we do, he's right. He's more harsh about it than I like to be, but then he generates far more traffic, as well.

Honestly, the only thing any of us finds interesting about the F2P/Subscription debate is which side benefits each of us personally. And we smell "victory" with every official pronouncement. But I have seen several people, like Mogsy, put forth the idea that these announcements reflect at the very least a hope on the part of the devs/publishers to get a bit of revenue before the inevitable conversion to F2P. Or, as the more cynical among us will say, a "Money Grab."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Are We Talking About This Again? Sub-Only Rears Its "Ugly" Head

So The Elder Scrolls Online has "thrown in" with Wildstar and the Sub-Only Crowd. (Sorry, Wildstar. As TAGN said, you can't claim to be F2P with the same model as EVE). I've seen some pretty reasonable posts; I've seen some inexplicably self-satisfied ones. Even Syp is getting smug with Smedley.
Just a couple months ago we were hashing over whether F2P was going the way of dodo (TL;DR: It's not). Now Syncaine is gloating over his "impeccable" sense of prophecy. Then again, I have a feeling "smug" may be Syncaine's default emotion. Given the recent history of "AAA" MMOs not called WOW or EVE, I think Mogsy might have a more accurate bead on what's going here. Time will tell.

L2P, F2P!

TAGN and others are pointing to perhaps poorly designed F2P models as the epitome of the business model and the reason they want to keep sub-only. I say they have only seen it done badly. Trust me, I have too. But I have also seen it done well. Games where I don't feel I have to go buy something to fully enjoy the content of the game. Games where they reward players for subscribing, but don't punish players for not subscribing. Guess what? I'm actually playing those games. I do pay for stuff when I am so inclined, when I think it's worth it. And I don't feel like I'm paying for content I'll never see, because I lack the time to do so.

Arguments about the quality of the community in free-to-play MMOs don't hold water for me, either; since I've seen the groups of people that pass for "communities" in subscription-based games. Frankly, they're about the same regardless of business model. I've only ever found true communities in smaller subsets of the gaming population, like Mercy Gaming, Beyond the Veil, and House Stalwart.

No Problem with Subscriptions

Just this morning, Belghast was saying he'd happily throw his money at a subscription based TESO. Here's his chance. Unlike Bel, I have no history with The Elder Scrolls franchise, so I am less inclined to buy the box or subscribe to TESO. Like Bel though, I don't have an issue with subscription model itself. I just don't see any games (current or upcoming) that are worth it to me. Not when there are quality F2P options.
Come to think of it, I tried WoW originally only due to the free 10-day recruit-a-friend trial they had running back in 2006. If I'd had to buy the box and commit to a subscription sight unseen, I never would have even started playing. The only game I have preordered without playing at least a beta weekend was SWTOR, and that ended up a disappointment for me.

Are there things that annoy me about F2P? Sure—*cough* lockboxes *cough*—but there is plenty to annoy me about subscriptions, too, including the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I have to "maximize the value" by playing as much as I can for that monthly fee. Honestly, it's the same reason I hardly ever go to a buffet restaurant.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beyond the Veil Take 54: NPCs Я US

Beyond the Veil, Take 54 is now available for download on Holosuite Media. The BtV crew discusses who their favorite TSW characters are, the Twitterverse Experiment, new items released this week, and a lot of shenanigans. I had to sit this one out, since I'm two hours behind, and had to work late on Thursday besides. Have a listen!
You can also subscribe through Holosuite Media's RSS feed or through iTunes (with older episodes here). Be sure to catch the live show every Thursday at about 7p.m. EDT (11p.m. UTC) on Holosuite Excess.

Wildstar Loses C.R.E.D.D.ibility

Hey, an early morning post. Taking a page from the Aggronaut Playbook, I am writing early this morning. I even got up early to do so; though by the time I sat down to type, it was already past the time I would normally have been waking up. But as I wait for the telltale gurgle that the pot is done, I am here. After months of training material and software development, I am on the road teaching again. Though I love this part of my job (IT/software instructor), being "on the podium" means I have limited access to the internet, and juicy bits of news, and by the end of the day I am not really in the mood to write much.

I got this news from Ocho. (See? You are a news source!) Carbine (I kept wanting to call them "Chronic" for some reason) has announced their revenue plan for Wildstar. As Ocho said, they have a really great infographic that explains how things are going to go down. I guess there was a lot of heartburn over at Massively as to whether the plan will work.

At first glance, I saw only one problem with the system (which seems similar to EVE if I am not mistaken), and that is that CREDD is more than a subscription. Who would pay for that? It's not like you can't subscribe for a month and then cancel before the month is over. Why would JPHiggenbottom pay an extra five bucks for essentially nothing. So unless Carbine acts to control the market, the in-game gold cost of CREDD will skyrocket due to scarcity, which means it won't be good for Brofessional (the guy trying to go F2P) either.

Looking at it again, it seems that Carbine's thought is not necessarily that the players buy CREDD with RL money with the intent to use it, but with the express intent to sell it in-game. In their example, JPHigginbottom already has a subscription, he needs just in-game gold. Meh, I still don't like it.

I tend to think of the money I spend in terms of how long it will take me to earn it. Is it worth the time savings to spend the money for something I could otherwise do myself? Obviously, in the case of real world items like food, it is worth it, because I could never grow or make all the different foods I want to eat. Game time is a little different. For someone like Cortical Scrub's employers, or for a spoiled kid, that equation is a lot different.

So is the time I spend grinding for gold for CREDD (and trying to keep myself outfitted with those shiny mounts and things) worth the $15 worth of real work at the office? I'm not sure, because they just turned my game into a job. Brofessional is supposedly a hardcore raider (who still wants or needs F2P). But Raiding tends to be a gold sink in most MMOs, which Bro needs to pay for his CREDD from Higsy. It's not the gold sinks that will be a problem in this scenario; it will be the gold resources.


Given their justifiable dig at gold farmers on the business model page, I think they are Carbine's real target with this scheme, and from that perspective, it just might work. I just don't see it working for me.

I think that the subscription-optional (including perks) with an enticing cash shop seems to be the most reasonable business model right now, at least for me. I'd rather pay RL cash directly to the dev, when I feel the item (or content) is worth it, than some oblique RMT auction with other players. I can't help feeling that someone in that scenario will simply not get either their money's worth or their time's worth.

"Just do the sub," I can hear you saying, Dear Reader.

I might just do that. However, then Wildstar is competing with shinies like Rift and TSW that do not absolutely require my time or money for access while at the same maintaining what I currently feel are superb content and features. Right now in my life, that is very appealing indeed.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mare's Leg

Inspired by a response by Ravven to Gazimoff's recent Wildstar post:
I don't plan to; but if I ever buy a gun, it will be one like this:
I fell in love Zoe's gun about the same time I fell in love with Wash's wife. No nonsense, tough as nails, loyal almost to a fault to both her captain and her man, and gorgeous. Yikes! And the mare's leg (a prop originally from Brisco County, Jr.) is just a cool weapon, inspired by none other than Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.
I haven't ever seen one in an MMO, but hopefully they'll have them in the upcoming Firefly MMO. Come to think of it, it would be cool to see in TSW, as well. 'Twould be perfect for my LoneStarBelle, whom I seem to have subconsciously modeled on Zoe, at least in part.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beyond the Veil Take 53: Lost in the game…

Beyond the Veil, Take 53 is now available for download on Holosuite Media. Thin news this week, so the BtV Crew chats about their sweet achievements, missions and a whole lot more!!!
You can also subscribe through Holosuite Media's RSS feed or through iTunes (with older episodes here). Be sure to catch the live show every Thursday at about 7p.m. EDT (11p.m. UTC) on Holosuite Excess.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What is Lore?

1. the body of knowledge, especially of a traditional, anecdotal, or popular nature, on a particular subject: the lore of herbs.
2. learning, knowledge, or erudition.
The word "Lore" is related etymologically to "Learn."

Harbinger Zero is wondering if players can create Lore. I gave him some link love on Twitter and got a couple fairly quick responses from the players behind TSW's Hikari Kenzaki and Frank Calhoun, saying that the RPers from TSW have created lore right on Twitter, and some of it has ended up in the game. I can't remember if HZero plays TSW or not, but since he didn't think Kenzaki and Calhoun's Lore affects his gaming experience, then he does not consider it Lore at all.

Now, I realize that HZero is working from a premise put forth by some EVE players in a recent discussion about that game; Lore is only Lore if it affects gameplay. But he himself expresses reservations with that premise. "I had severe cognitive dissonance when official company lore was only said to be effective when it impacts 'in game realities.'" Perhaps Lore is less important in a sandbox-type game like EVE.
Here's the thing about Lore, though. Its effects can be both subtle and far reaching, from the type of creatures you may encounter, to the architecture of the cities and other locations you visit. Do you have to be aware of the "history" of Meridian in Rift, for example, to be affected by it?

(I bring this up as a side note: In the recent Battle Bards episode on City Themes, Syp, Syl, and Steff discussed the layout of Meridian and how they didn't like it or understand its reasoning. Perhaps it would help to know that it is an occupied city; built by the Abyssal Cult as a center of worship, then turned over to Orphiel Farwind and the Defiants by the Faceless Man in a betrayal of Akylios the water dragon.)
You don't have to know any of that to be affected by it. Meridian doesn't really seem like a city because it isn't. As HZero pointed out, just about every game out there has some sort of Lore that affects design choices. This includes EVE. How much does this impact the player, though? If I am a Guardian in Rift, and never set foot in Meridian, how does its history affect my game reality? Does that make it "non-Lore" to me?

Prominent players in the Blizzard Community have ended up inspiring NPCs in World of Warcraft. Breanni runs a site devoted to companion pets and later became the proprietor of the Dalaran Pet StoreThe cofounder of Wowhead has an in-game character honoring him. The Redshirt Guy who played Stump-the-Chump with Chris Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi of Blizzard even has a character in game. Granted, these characters are shout-outs by the devs, but just as player Lore is founded on dev Lore, the opposite can sometimes occur.
Wildhammer Fact Checker
What about TSW's Twitter experiment? I'd hazard a guess that much of the interaction among RP player characters—and between the PCs and NPCs through their Twitter accounts—is not seen by the vast majority of TSW players. I follow all the NPCs and a good 75 PCs though my own RP account, and I am sure that I don't follow half the RPers. And of those that I do, for various reason I don't see the majority of their interactions. Does the "Lore" they create impact me? Does it affect the in-game reality? It does have that potential, in two ways.

1) Occasionally stuff put together by players ends up in the game, like the completed monster book in the Tree House in Savage Coast, as pointed out by Hikari Kenzaki. Players can go in game and see the book itself with artwork created by other players. Funcom also occasionally holds contests for things like original music that end up in the game, like "Sleepless Lullaby" by Bright September and featured in TSW Issue #7, "A Dream to Kill."
2) When I tweet in character, I am playing The Secret World. Whether or not I am not logged into the game client is irrelevant, if you think about it. I affect and am affected by other players, as well as the NPCs with accounts on Twitter, when I participate in those scenarios. Granted, TSW, being set in present day earth, lends itself to such interactions.

EVE does, too. The recent Battle at 6VDT received coverage from news outlets like BBC and CNN. I would say any in-game action that receives RW news coverage ought to qualify as Lore, especially in a game like EVE, where most of the stories you hear about are PvP betrayals and battles; as opposed to, say, World of Warcraft, where PvE Lore like the fall of the Lich King or Deathwing take center stage.

Your own personal lore may also affect your game experience, even if it doesn't change what you see or do moment to moment in the game. HZero mentions how the work of another player, Kodachi, enriches his own experience.

In the end, while there may be theoretical value to HZero's original postulate; in practice, I think it is very hard to discern where some little bit of lore affects your game reality. Every player experiences a given game differently, which is partly there are so many different games out there with loyal followings. Much like the real world, we may never end up in the history books of a game as individuals, but I think we create and influence the Lore with every action, nonetheless.

Tib Conquers Polaris

Time for yet another set of Pics from Polaris. On Friday, Scooterz both took the day off, and among other things, spent some time playing RIft and TSW. One of our Guildmates in House Stalwart (I keep wanting to type Stuart), a college chappy named Tibuant mentioned that, while he was up to the Savage Coast in TSW, he had yet to run the first instance, the Wreck of the Polaris. Readers of this blog will hopefully recognize Polaris as the source of hilarious helicopter rides. And "Cthulhu."
Tibuant in quite contemplation. You silly Lumies and your masks.
Well, that wasn't so hard, was it?

With Tib tanking, Scooterz on the street cannons, and me healing, we decided we were geared well enough that the three of us should be able to get through the Wreck without too much trouble. Which was indeed the case, until Cthulhu showed up.
Hey, folks. I'm gonna need you to step out of the Helicopter for a minute, thanks.

The Ur-Draug (his official name) did give us some trouble. I'm not sure how many times we wiped; happily, it was never for completely idiotic reasons. In the end though, it was only a matter of time before we got the rhythms of the fight down and then Cthulhu.
The Titanic Trio

Tibuant, a.k.a James, just started blogging, by the way. Take a little time to head on over to his site—Plate Mail and Blue Jeansand welcome him to the community.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Roles, Rules, and Relationships

Last week, the main speaker at Scooterz' graduation ceremony spoke about the three Rs. Not the ones you may be familiar with, but the ones in the post title. She spoke of their importance in what we sometimes call meatspace, or "real life." But the three Rs are are equally important in cyberspace, especially in online gaming.

Over the past couple weeks, the value of the Unholy Trinity has been hashed and rehashed, perhaps ad nauseum. Some think that it has ossified group play, requiring a set number of this or that role. As a result, people are either forced into roles they did not choose or left on the sidelines because they play a disproportionately common role. Others, those who like serving in the less popular roles, would like to be able to continue in those roles.
But time marches on, as does technology. Artificial Intelligence is becoming more intelligent, and old ways of setting up combat are changing. Much like armies and navies of the world have had to adapt to changing technology in war, gamers will have to adapt to changing technology in MMOs.

Tanks may become defenders, working to control the battle through "physical" means rather that threat manipulation. Healers will still need to heal, but will likely add or re-emphasize shielding and mitigation in their arsenals. (I personally loved being a DiscoPriest; no need to heal damage that doesn't reach the target.)  DPS will likely become the new threat, as is fitting. They'll have to adapt, as well.

The rules are changing. Perhaps rather than mathematical charts that control the flow of combat, more complex algorithms that mimic intelligent decision making will come to the fore. The min-maxing munchkins, the "elitist jerks" who thrived on play-to-win ROLLplaying will no longer hold sway over "the right way to play."
There are towns all over Europe that have gotten rid of all roadway traffic controls (e.g., signs, signals, painted lines, etc.) throughout their jurisdictions. Doomsayers predicted disaster as drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians would not know the rules or their roles. Instead, what occurred was increased safety, traffic flow, and economic activity as users of the road learned to communicate and pay attention to those around them, rather than depend on the traffic signs and lines to keep them "safe."

In much the same way, players of upcoming MMOs will be forced to communicate and coordinate better, to form relationships, even if only briefly. Gaming on social media is not necessarily social gaming. Then again, neither is queueing for a random dungeon with a group of strangers and succeeding only because you know the fight and your own role so well the you have no need to actually communicate with or relate to the other players. In games that many players swear have little to no opportunity for social experiences, I have had plenty. Maybe it's not the game that has the problem with sociability.
I stopped "pugging" some time ago. If I see someone "in the wild" who needs help, I help. If I need to do group content, I take friends along. I know my roles, but I am willing and able to adapt to the changing rules of new MMO innovations. The important thing to me is forming and strengthening relationships with other players.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Beyond the Veil Take 52: Community PUDDING!!!

Beyond the Veil, Take 52 is now available for download on Holosuite Media. Not a lot going on besides the Director's Letter, read magnificently by our very own wiseguy, Tony Soprano Katzushima. And the BtV Crew chats about their sweet achievements, missions and a whole lot more!!!
You can also subscribe through Holosuite Media's RSS feed or through iTunes (with older episodes here). Be sure to catch the live show every Thursday at about 7p.m. EDT (11p.m. UTC) on Holosuite Excess.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Levels & Roles

On Wednesday, I discussed how life has levels. Today is a special day for me, not just because I have managed to make 41 trips around the nearest star. This evening, I celebrate a very special event with my lovely bride.
"If I had my life to do over, I'd find you sooner so I could love you longer."
Almost three years ago, I met a fascinating woman who stole my heart. I am so happy she decided to include me in her life, for she is the light of mine. She has many facets, and fulfills many roles.
Lover of Sunflowers
Scooterz loves sunflowers, we have decorations all over the house. Their cheery color is a perfect reflection of her personality and the sunshine she brings to my life.

Old School! Scooterz played AD&D and other tabletop games in her teens, and returned to gaming with her subscription to World of Warcraft just as Cataclysm launched. Since then, she has participated in beta tests and launch events for games like Rift, SWTOR, TSW and GW2. Scooterz loves DPS, especially ranged classes.

Gaming Partner
I could not hope for a better one. Our playstyles complement each other perfectly, as I do my best to keep us alive, while she does her best to kill the bad guys.
Loving Wife
Just as we complement each other in games, Scooterz is my perfect mate. We don't always agree; but where I often have my head in the clouds, she always has her feet on the ground.

Scooterz has raised an educator, a soldier, and an aspiring medical professional—on her own—and has helped raise an aspiring theater artist and a scholar, as well.

Through all this, she has served in supervisor/manager positions all her adult life, leading and directing others, establishing and maintaining high standards of safety and efficiency, and climbing the corporate ladder.

A full-time job and raising three kids mean sometimes dreams get put on the back burner. But tonight, Scooterz will fulfill one of her own, and walk across the stage to receive her bachelor degree. I played a small part—sounding board, cheerleader, proofreader—but this glory is all hers, and I am so proud of her.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

No Levels?

But what is your level in Real Life? You don't have one! Because in a pure "world", without "game" elements, you are not defined by numbers like your level or your strength score. You do have knowledge and skill, you do have possessions which can bring a certain status, but a life in a world isn't possible to put into a few simple numbers.
~~Tobold, "There is no such thing as a sandbox game"
In the early-ish days of video games, certainly in the era of PacMan and Donkey Kong, video games had levels. These were defined by screens where the action took place, once the level was "cleared," the player avatar—be it Mario, some spaceship or whatever—would move on the the next level, which would usually be harder to clear. Players beat each succeeding level until the difficulty matched or exceeded their skill, at which point the game was usually over.

Flash forward to the the era of MMORPGs. Most still have levels and zones where players can go, but seldom is the level achieved tied to player skill. It is simply a measure of how much the player has done in the game. Some few MMOs claim to not have levels, though YMMV as to the truth of such claims. But this post is not actually about levels, or whether they are appropriate in MMORPGS.

I think Tobold is sorely mistaken, or maybe things are just different in the United States than in Belgium. Life is full of levels. Granted, they are not always numbered and don't always correspond to the relatively simplistic levels of PacMan or World of Warcraft, but they are there nonetheless. But then, game worlds will always be compressed versions of the real world.
  • Children are acutely aware of the various levels they are in: Age, grade in school, sports groups, etc.
  • The UK school system ends with O-levels or A-levels
  • Colleges have degrees: Bachelor, Master, Doctorate, etc.; and woe be unto you professionally if you do not have the appropriate education level.
  • The business world has levels: entry-level, professional, supervisor, manager, executive.
  • Trades like plumber, carpenter, and mechanic all have levels, like apprentice, journeyman, and master.
  • Sports like alpine skiing and white-water rafting have skill levels with courses rated for difficulty, and again woe be unto you if you attempt a course that is beyond your skill level. One thing the Real World definitely has is perma-death.
  • As far as "strength score," not many weight lifting conversations don't include the question, "How much can you bench?" or some similar gauge of strength.
  • The military has levels called ranks. In the U.S. at least, the ranks even have numbers associated with them and may or may not correspond with skill or achievement; though they generally involve pay scale increases and additional responsibilities.
Does this mean we should have WoW style levels—with gated content—in all MMOs? Not necessarily. However, I would expect some gauge of skill changes as players learn the quirks of the system and acquire new abilities, as seems to be the plan for EQNext. But don't try to claim that life doesn't have levels. I personally am close to completing 41 seasons of adventure on this blue marble, and I'm proud of every one.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Godwin's Law Strikes EverQuest Next

Not accusing anyone of anything with this. Thought it was funny. Personally, I'm adopting a wait-and-see approach, there is a lot to look forward to with EQNext. I'll just leave this here:

Gaming Addiction Fight!

Massively's headline tweet reads thus:

The BBC story I read early this morning placed far less emphasis on that particular quote.
Cyber psychologist Dr Zaheer Hussain, from the University of Derby: "One idea [emphasis mine] could be to shorten long quests to minimise [brit sp, FTW!] the time spent in the game obtaining a certain prized item."
~~BBC News, Online game firms need to do more to prevent addiction say researchers
Of course, that is a naive suggestion to anyone who has actually played an MMO. The length of quests is probably the least addictive part of the games, especially compared to level grinds, gear grinds, exploration, crafting, achievements, etc, etc, ad nauseum, etc.
I wish I could give proper credit  to Tassy
I'm not saying there isn't a potential problem with video game addiction, despite the fact that it is not a medically classified disorder. Quite the opposite, in fact. While it has never affected my professional or family life (that I am aware of), I have in the past gotten caught up in the "Just one more thing to do before I log off . . . Holy cow, where did that 2 hours go?" cycle. Is there something we can do to change that? Maybe there is; maybe game designers can tweak things. But the nature of a persistent online world is that there will always be one more thing you could do in-game. Maybe there are things players can do for themselves and for others. One key as an individual player is to realize that that one-more-thing will still be there tomorrow or whenever you next log in.

Unless it's evaporative content, then all bets are off.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Carebears and the Monkeysphere, a Love Story

Meet Enura:
The Face of a Cutthroat
Enura is a rogue in Rift. She likes to kill things. If she has a motto, it is "More Dakka." However, all by her lonesome, Enura dies. A lot. Look up "Glass Cannon" and you just might find a picture of Enura, laying on the ground.

Meet Achillea (formerly known as Rowan):
The Face of a Carebear
Achillea is a Cleric. Achillea loves Enura (shut up, we're playing roles). Achillea wants to protect Enura. She is what we would call a Tank. With Enura focusing on "Pew Pew," the role of Shepherd also falls to Achillea, and she heals herself and Enura as necessary. Alone, she is almost impossible to kill, but takes forever to kill a mob. Achillea is a slow yet inexorable force on the battlefield. (OK, I often to get in over my head, or forget to summon my fae healer. And often enough, Enura's DPS saves us both. I'm using artistic license here.)
Teamwork Is the Key
Together, Enura and Achillea make a pretty unbeatable team, because they know their roles, and they care for one another.

Needless to say, Enura is played by my beloved Scooterz, and I play Achillea. We have a reasonably synergistic team dynamic, and fill these roles in almost every game we play together. You could substitute Dortmunder and Dex-y from TSW, Heide Uhrmacher and Reina Echowald from GW2, Versteckt and Chico from SWTOR, or Ginger and Regina McBane from WoW, and you would witness similar duo dynamics playing out. If Scooterz takes on a more tanky role, I still do the healing. It comes naturally to me.

I like my roll as Tank/Healer and Scooterz loves DPS. Does that mean I want to fill either role in a pick-up group? Hell. No. Frankly, those people are outside of my Monkeysphere, and I am outside theirs. They only care about my mistakes relative to how it affects them. And I refuse to dance in the Blame Ball. I once started to tank a PUG with a healer friend. I had barely entered the instance and was getting my bearings. The second a DPSer started shouting (in chat) to GoGOGO! and insulting my ability to tank—which I had yet to demonstrate—I dropped group and left. I don't put up with that kind of abuse from complete strangers in person. What makes you think I will in a computer game? I have never tanked for PUG since. The toolbaggery (it's a euphemism, live with it) I have dealt with as a Healer (and a quite good one I might add, if I do say so myself) is too much to recount in a single blog post. Suffice it to say, I have ceased to do so. For a guildie/friend, I'll bend over backward to try to help, to make sure they have a good gaming experience. I'll help out random strangers in the wild if I think they need it. I've never had a bad experience doing so, though I've heard tales of unappreciative victims recipients of random kindness in various games.
101 Freeway, Burbank Blvd. and Ventura Blvd.
We talk a lot about community in the MMO genre, but the truth that MMOs are not communities, they are sprawling metropoli with thousands or hundreds of thousands of competing interest groups. What seems good for some is not at all good for others. And people are jerks. This is not misanthropy, it's tribalism. Doing a PUG is like riding a public bus: I will if I absolutely have to, but I won't be happy about it, because of all the creepers I have to deal with. Much better to get in my own car, or carpool with friends. Because a city of strangers does not form a community, a group of friends does.
A Face in the Crowd
However, the Devs are trying to manage the city, as well they should. This means they will cater to the majority. And with limited resources, priorities are made, and the smallest interest groups fall off the priority list. While some may be loud on the forums and the blogosphere, they do not necessarily represent the majority, which votes with their pocketbook. The lowest common denominator that causes television to be populated by "Reality" shows and CSI clones, also affects the development of any Online Game that hopes to be Massively Multiplayer. Cuneum economicus follows the money, because—while they may want to make Art—ultimately, it is always about the bottom line.

Where's the Value? What's the Payoff?

Sometimes the best defense really is a good offense.
High Value Target (HVT): A target the enemy commander requires for the successful completion of the mission.

High Payoff Target (HPT): A target whose loss to the enemy will significantly contribute to the success of the friendly course of action.
~~ADRP 1-02, Operational Terms and Military Symbols
The U.S. Army (and other Armed Forces) use these terms to help plan battles. Team PvPers understand the concepts even if they don't use the terms. A good Artificial Intelligence will understand it too. Traditional MMO aggro tables try to mimic what goes on in the enemy's head. But as is easily seen by the fact the Tanks tend to be useless in PvP, aggro tables are a poor substitute for an intelligent opponent.
The only pic of an actual boss fight I have easy access to.
HVTs and HPTs often coincide, but are not synonymous. Looking from a dungeon Boss' perspective (because the goal is that they be intelligent), the DPS will be HVTs because killing them will degrade the group's ability to accomplish their mission (which is to kill the Boss). Conversely, the group healer will be the HPT because the killing the healer will significantly contribute to the success of the Boss' course of action (which is to wipe the group). Notice that at no time is the heavily armored guy shouting insults at the Boss any significant concern to the intelligent Boss. Now, if the group Tank could actively interfere with the Boss' objectives through physical block or through significant DPS of their own (therefore drawing fire), then that would be an effective fight mechanic against the intelligent enemy. Instead, we've been saddled with the aggro table.
Is this all a bit silly? Maybe, but it's fun to talk about.
The folks from SOE have stirred a hornet's nest by saying they want to abolish the Unholy Trinity. A lot of people are very attached to their Tank and Healer roles. I've mentioned that I love healing, and Belghast loves tanking, for similar reasons. However, with the changes in AI that SOE is bringing to EQ Next, the standard Tank mechanic of aggro manipulation may be going out the window.
The best plan? Kill it with fire.
Players are pointing to Guild Wars 2 as an example of the lost UT causing unfun chaos in group instances like Ascalonian Catacombs and Twilight Arbor. But see, here's the thing: UT still exists in GW2. I built a quite robust PyroChem Engineer, complete with increased endurance and aggro manipulation. I could pull aggro on any creature driven mostly by that mechanic. Most of GW2's professions are very flexible, too. I was also able heal on the fly simply by changing out my kit. But ArenaNet's goal was to not have those roles be absolutely necessary for a dungeon; therefore making it easier to form groups and tackle the content.
The ultimate role specialization. (Matt Bryant of the Atlanta Falcons)
GW2 dungeons are more like a rowdy game of playground basketball than a game in the NFL, where you have to bring in special teams to do each task. Were the resulting fights chaotic? Yes. But it meant there were more opportunities for thrilling heroics, like when I managed to stay alive and rez three out of four fellow dungeoneers during a fight with a giant spider.

It's easier for me to come up with reasons to get rid of traditional Tanks than reasons to get rid of designated healers. But again, a la GW2, giving each character the ability to heal themselves takes the burden of healing off a single healer or small group. GW2 does allow for designated group healers, but their healing is weaker, compensated by the fact that everyone could and should be healing themselves.
I just think this pic is really badass.
The Secret World maintains strong roles, but the classless, weapon-based ability system means that any player can conceivably fill any role in the group as needed, assuming time/points have been devoted to learning those abilities. That's a tremendous amount of flexibility, to be honest. Samantha "LoneStarBelle" Hawthorn, pictured above kicking ass, has as a primary build what I would call DPS support, lots of debuffing the enemy and buffing the group. She may not be at the top of the DPS meter, but I guarantee the bosses go down faster when she's around.

How will SOE solve the question of roles in EQNext? I don't know—I don't think we have all the information. Honestly, SOE may not have the answers fleshed out either. Maybe they'll take feedback and incorporate a version of UT into the game. However, I'd like to see a different approach than aggro manipulation to drive group content. The use of voxels may be the key to that alternate approach. If a tank can physically block the enemy from the DPSers and Healer, that would be something.

What do you think? Is SOE going down the wrong path in trying to eliminate the Unholy Trinity? Do they have something else up their sleeve that might be even better?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Thanks, But No Tanks.

Belghast is worried about the lack of trinity mechanics in EQNext. I personally have long been ambivalent about the Unholy Trinity (UT), as I call it. And I am not the only one. The artificiality of "Aggro" in MMOs both encourages and necessitates Tanks. Healers seem more natural, but tend to draw aggro from every mob in the fight—increasing the need for a Tank. While synergistic, UT is a construct of the game. As developers try to implement other systems, they encounter resistance from certain sectors of the playerbase.
Belghast likes Tanking; it feeds his protective tendencies, which also make him a great guild leader. I get what he's saying. As as a habitual healer, I care for my flock, including the Tank. But the truth is that the vast majority of people are not comfortable with or just plain don't like those two roles. Otherwise, there would be no problem filling those roles across many different games. But long queues for DPS are a direct result of the Tank and Healer Shortage. Not fun for you is not the same as not fun for everyone else. ;)
The other side of the equation is that threat building is a really poor substitute for the true, physical defensive techniques Belghast himself brings up. Grimjakk makes a really strong point in his comment on Belghast's post about evolving AI obviating the need for aggro tables and therefore aggro manipulation. A real tank on the battlefield is a prime target precisely because of its destructive power, not because the tank crew is busy shouting taunts at the enemy. If they come up with something like that, then I'll be very interested. Meanwhile, we'll just have to see how the game plan develops. It's still early enough in the cycle that I think they have the flexibility to adapt, given enough feedback.