Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Currency Conundrum

So in Patch 5.1, Blizzard converted [Lesser Charm of Good Fortune] into currency. Then they gave us [Domination Point Commission] as an item drop.

One step forward, one step back. Sometimes Blizzard's logic is hard to fathom.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Indians and Gaming

A lot of feminist gamers decry the fact that gaming companies are almost totally male. Personally, I've never felt this was an entirely fair accusation. To me, gaming companies are mostly male because computer science and engineering programs are mostly male. When the pool of talent you hire from looks like X, it's hard not to end up looking like X, especially when you pay below-market wages.

Of course, there is a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here. A lot of men go into Computer Science because they are gamers, and the idea of maybe joining a gaming company after graduation lingers in the back of their minds. (Then they find out about the hours and pay, and decide to go into business programming.)

But something about the above formulation troubled me. Then I realized that it is wrong. Game company demographics do not quite match CS demographics. Oh, they more or less match according to gender, but they don't match according to race.

Specifically, the Indian population is missing from gaming.

If you drop into a CS program, you will notice that there are three significant racial groups: White, Asian, and  Indian. (I am ruthlessly compressing several cultures into each category. Painting with broad strokes.) But the gaming industry is almost totally White and Asian.

Indeed, I would argue that geek and gaming culture is mainly White and Asian. It is rather interesting that Indians are missing, given that all three cultures share enough similarities to make Computer Science a common goal.

Now, I'm not ascribing the difference to racism or anything like that. Rather, I would say that the geek/gaming culture carries many White and Asian people into CS, and the gaming companies recruit from that stream. Meanwhile, the large presence of Indians in CS is a effect of Indian culture's esteem for engineering, and seeing engineering-like careers as desirable.

I've been musing about this lately because (as you may have guessed from my name) I am Indian by ancestry. But when I was young, my parents moved to a town that was almost entirely White. (The actual story is a little more complicated than this, but it will suffice.) So in many ways I am White by culture, and part of that is that I fell into the geek/gaming subculture. It's pretty much what White people of my temperament and talents do: read sf and fantasy, rhapsodize about Star Trek, and play video games. It was what all my (White) friends did, and since I was like them, I did the same.

Then I went to university and encountered that divide I discuss above. I went to a very techy university with tons of fellow geeks. But even though there was a large Indian presence at university, it was almost non-existent in geek circles, even though those circles pulled people from the same classes.

It was, and still is, slightly disconcerting. Growing up, I had made the assumption that I was the only Indian geek I knew because there was a bare handful of Indians in the town's population. Then I went to university, met a large Indian population, and realized I was still pretty much the only Indian geek I knew.

I'm sure there are others out there, but it has always seemed odd to me that there isn't a larger Indian presence in gaming and geekdom, given the fact that there are so many Indians in CS and engineering.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Opposite Gender Avatar Study

I got an email from  Amalia Badawi about a psychology study at Charles Darwin University in Australia about people who may or may not use characters/avatars of the opposite sex. I thought I would pass it along for your delectation:

We are conducting an Internet based psychological study at Charles Darwin University [in Australia] and are seeking male and female participants who are over 18 years of age, are able to read and write in English fluently and who use avatars. The study will examine participants' identification with their avatars as well as explore why people may use, or not use an avatar of the opposite sex. The study will examine psychosocial functioning in the real world, personality factors as well as sex role identification of the participants' and their avatars. Please go to http://cduhes.asia.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_brQ0uYKeagINqo4 for more details. You are not required to provide any identifying information in order to participate. All information given will be anonymous and protected. Ethics approval has been obtained for the conduct of this study. Thank you.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Randomness in Raiding

Tobold is calling for more randomness in raiding. I disagree with this idea. Here are my reasons:

1. Randomness has been disliked in the past.

Historically, fights featuring a high degree of randomness have been disliked by the playerbase. Prince Malchezzar and Faction Champions are the prime examples here. Both of them were fights which led to a high degree of grumbling.

I don't really see the point in adding more randomness, when the evidence shows that randomness is unpopular.

2. Randomness encourages "fishing".

Often, a fight with random elements contains one set of elements which is significantly easier or significantly harder than the others. This encourages guilds to reset the encounter until the "easy" combination shows up, or wipe it early if a hard combination appears.

My guild did this with Heroic Twin Valkyries back in Trial of the Grand Crusader. Twin Valks used one of four random abilities every minute or so. My guild used a very specific strategy that relied on rotating cooldowns to mitigate enough damage to survive.  However, there was one combination of elements which that strategy could not handle because the cooldowns didn't line up correctly. For all other combinations, the strategy was easier to heal, but that one was a guaranteed wipe. So we fished. We just trusted in the odds, and took the wipe if it came up.

Honestly, though, it was kind of silly. We should have mastered a strategy that would allow us to always beat the fight, even if it took more time.

3. Execution is not trivial.

There is an unfortunate tendency in the geek subculture to regard thinking as hard, and execution as the easy part, the part to be left as a trivial exercise for the reader. I deeply disagree with this. Many times, execution is the hard part, and mastering the execution is the challenge.

It's like writing a novel. Sure, you can tell someone how to write a novel, come up with characters and a plot. But that's easy. The hard part is actually sitting down and writing out the novel, polishing page by page.

Mastering execution simply scratches a different itch for us. It's like learning to play a new song. Sure, one could say that it should be easy, because you've already got the music in front of you. But learning to play the song is still a challenge, still worth doing.

Joel Spolsky talks about trying to hire people who are smart and who get things done. In my view, smart people are a dime a dozen in our subculture. People who get things done, on the other hand, are exceedingly rare.

That's what raiding is aimed at. It's all about execution and getting things done. And it's still difficult, and still challenging. Just because you can't show off how smart you are, doesn't mean it is automatically an inferior activity.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The last few weeks have been pretty crazy for me in real life. I've barely had time to play games, let alone write about them.

Hopefully life has stabilized and I will be able to write more soon.

The Old Republic

TOR launched it's F2P shop and a new companion quest. I haven't bought anything from the store. The thing is that I just don't care about cosmetic gear. My entire bank is filled with moddable rifles and gear, but I'm just wearing the latest gear I have.

I haven't finished the new companion quest yet. I've done the first part, which includes an entire "puzzle" segment aboard a ghost ship, with almost no combat. Instead it's like an adventure game. It was pretty fun, and very atmospheric.

World of Warcraft

I haven't played WoW very much either. No time, really. As well, I have some sort of crash issue that comes up randomly on fights. It happens very often in LFR, once or twice on a boss fight in a dungeon run, and very rarely at other times. It's actually really annoying, because it is so inconsistent. All my drivers are updated and everything.

Maybe it's a sign that it's time to upgrade my computer.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Brawlers Guild Invitations

The latest mini-controversy in WoW is invitations to the Brawlers Guild. Unlike most content which unlocks immediately, invitations to the Brawler's Guild are being passed out virally, from other players. The initial set of invitations are being auctioned off in the Black Market Auction House. Which, of course, riles everyone else.

As I am a great fan of experimentation, I'm generally in favor of Blizzard trying this out. It's content that is completely new, that no one is invested in yet. So it's a perfect ground for trying something new.

However, let's analyze things further. First, let us separate idea from implementation.


The central idea of the Brawler's Guild invitation is to have a content gate that depends on other players. This is very different from most content gates in WoW. Most content gates are independent of other players. Whether or not your character is attuned to an instance really doesn't depend on anyone else. It solely depends on your own efforts and those of your guild.

A content gate that depends on other players has been tried once before: the opening of the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj. That too was an interesting experiment, and is remembered by Vanilla players. It was memorable, but maybe not entirely successful.

However, unlike AQ, this gate is not all or nothing. Rather, it is set up to spread virally throughout the population, a la Gmail. Perhaps this will prevent large population spikes or activity that hurts the servers. Maybe this will have positive benefits, or maybe artificially preventing some people from the content will be negative.

Either way, I think the idea behind the invitations is interesting, and worth experimenting with.


Now, the specific implementation of the Brawlers Guild Invitations is to sell them on the Black Market Auction House. Many people instinctively rebel at giving the "rich" people initial access to content. However, there are some advantages to this method.

First, everyone who buys an Invitation wants an invitation. They are deliberately purchasing the item, not picking it up by accident. That means that there are no "wasted" invitations, and the number of invitations is strictly known.

Second, this method allows a consortium of people to band together and purchase a set of Invitations.

Third, this method is not random. It is guaranteed, while still limiting the number of available Invitations.

Fourth, this method does not disrupt the rest of the economy or the playstyles of people not interested in the Brawlers Guild. Imagine if daily quest mobs had a chance to drop the invitations. People farming the mobs for invitations would conflict with people who just want to do their dailies. As well, there would be a large influx of farmed materials like cloth, which would temporarily depress prices in the regular markets.

Now, there are other ways Invitations could have been handed out. You could hand out invitations to people who could kill a heroic raid boss. Or maybe the PvP's who win the most arena matches each week. But this too is just as elitist as giving it to the rich people. And these people already get first crack at new content.

It could be purely random, but that would just encourage people to farm futilely, or have some invitations be wasted.

You could put the item on powerful rare spawns. But then there would be intense camping of those rares. And how would you deal with raid groups that killed the spawn? Look at the competition for things like Loque when it first came out, and imagine it a thousands times worse because killing the spawn actually unlocks new content for all classes.

To my mind, selling the Invitations on the BMAH might not be the best possible idea, but it might be the one with the least side-effects, and thus, the least-worst idea. All the other ideas I can think of are either too baroque, or will negatively impact people who are not interested in the Brawler's Guild.

Plus, you know, this method hasn't been tried before. Killing bosses and the like has been done before. I think it's worth experimenting on something relatively low key like the Brawlers Guild.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Eternal Flame Blanketing

A quick post for Holy Paladins running Heroics in Mists. I'm using a new technique, Eternal Flame blanketing, and it is working out really nicely, even with minimal non-raid gear.

The basic idea is to cast Eternal Flame for one Holy Power on the non-tank players in the group. So Holy-Shock on cooldown, put a small EF on someone. And keep doing this to make sure that all five players have an Eternal Flame on them. With Beacon of Light, half the heal transfers to the tank, so the tank is getting a constant stream of small heals.

As well, Eternal Flame keeps renewing and building your Mastery shield on the players. It constantly ticks, so the shield timer renews and does not expire, and the shield can build up to quite a significant value. This greatly blunts the occasional damage that non-tanks take in heroics.

As well, it's extremely mana-efficient. HS-EF costs pretty much nothing. So you can do a great deal of healing for very little mana. I've done entire Heroics where I have not dropped below 80% mana, and that's without any raid gear other than quest boots from Sha of Anger.

As well, EF blanketing works very nicely with Blessing of Sacrifice as the shield and HoT on you will take care of a lot of the sacrifice damage. With Divine Plea, you'll occasionally get free 3-pt Eternal Flames that you can roll on people, which makes life even more stable.

Of course, when damage starts being serious, you will have to step up with larger spells. But I've found that EF blanketing makes everything feel more stable, and not as immediate. Frankly, it makes healing heroics significantly easier.

Now, is this a good idea for raids? I rather doubt it. You really cannot roll EF on more than five or so people, and the HoT is only 1-point, so it is somewhat weak in comparison to real HoTs. In a raid, if you use Eternal Flame, I think it would be better to build to 3-point Eternal Flames and keep them running on the tanks. Let the druids blanket the raid in HoTs. That's their strength.

But for Heroics, where you're the only healer, EF blanketing can make life a lot easier, dampening the incoming damage, and allowing you to leverage your strong Mastery on the non-tanks who only take damage sporadically.