Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An Amazing LFR Group

I just got out of the best LFR group I've been in for a long while. It was a true LFR group, with people from several servers. It didn't seem to be a quasi-guild group.

It was for the first 3 bosses in Throne of Thunder. Jin'rokh - one shot, only one death. Horridon - one shot, one death. Council - one shot, zero deaths.

No one behaving badly in chat. No elitism or stupidity. No fighting over strategies. People doing what they were supposed to. Just clean and efficient execution.

I'm still ecstatic over that run.

Monday, March 25, 2013

More Hearthstone Thoughts

Ted A comments:

And now we bring you this 'blast from the past'. A blog post from September 4, 2001, just days after Blizzard Entertainment announced its new game, an MMORPG called World of Warcraft.
"The colors and graphics make it look fun and colorful. I will happily try it out. But I wonder if, in their attempt to smooth out all the inconveniences, Blizzard will fail to capture the unique richness of a game like Everquest."
Heh, quite true. One can never count out Blizzard, or discount making things more convenient.

Dawn Moore of WoW Insider had an interview with the Hearthstone team, which contains this nugget of information:
A secret is a card that you play into the play field that is hidden from your opponent and will trigger based on a certain set of circumstances. A simple version of that would be a card that says, "Counterspell: when your opponent plays a spell it's countered." It would sit there as a question mark in front of your opponent and they'd think, "I wonder if that's Counterspell, or Ice Block, or maybe Ice Armor?"
This is quite an intriguing game element. It actually points to one of the main controversies running around in paper Magic these days: how to handle automatic "triggers" (in a tournament setting)? A trigger is an ability which occurs (or triggers) when something else happens. A trigger might be optional, or it might be mandatory. The question in Magic is what do you do about an automatic trigger that was missed. Do you penalize one side? Do you back the game up? If you notice that an opponent's trigger should happen, and you don't say anything, is that wrong?

Optional triggers are easy, you just assume that the player chose not to do anything. But the best path for mandatory triggers is very unclear. A complex game state might have 10 or more triggers, making it very possible that one could be overlooked. The overlooked trigger could have changed the game radically.

In contrast, computer games handle automatic triggers exceptionally well. The computer makes sure that each ability that must occur actually does occur. So there's a lot more room to play with triggers because the computer takes care of the bookkeeping for you.

As well, making the information secret, but must trigger on the right condition is very interesting. For example, with the Counterspell, the opponent might have to "bait" the secret with a spell she doesn't care about.

This is quite beautiful design, in my opinion. Something simple and elegant, ideally suited for computer play. In fact, this mechanic makes me far more interested in seeing how the rest of Hearthstone plays out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hearthstone Gameplay

Blizzard unveiled a new online Collectible Card Game this weekend: Hearthstone. This video illustrating gameplay has been making the rounds, and pretty much all my gameplay observations in this post are based on it:



The gameplay looks like a very stripped-down Magic: the Gathering. There is only a single type of resource, mana crystals. The resource is a net-gain resource like land in magic, in that the total resource available increases each turn. However, the increase looks automatic, and there are no land cards. So there's no such thing as being mana screwed or mana flooded. There also looks to be an ability to trade a card on the initial draw, leading to even smoother draws.

Creatures and the player seem to be the same type. A spell that can hit a creature can also hit the player. You can attack a creature just like the player. As well, like players, creature health does not regen to full after each turn. Instead it looks like you can whittle down a creature over several turns.

Combat seems different as well. There doesn't seem to be a single combat step, exactly. Instead your attacking creature can attack another creature or player, and that combat is resolved. Then you can attack with another creature. It looks like you can attack any creature or player. The only exception appear to be creatures with Taunt, which I guess means that they must be attacked first.

However, that leads into what looks like the biggest difference. There does not seem to be a "stack". In Magic, you can respond to abilities. "Coriel Shocks (deal 2 damage) Elisandra's Elf.", "In response, Elisandra Giant Growths the Elf, making it big enough to survive."  This ability to respond to actions is in many ways the core of Magic.

In Hearthstone, it looks like there is no option to respond. Instead each ability is cast, and then it immediately resolves. This does solve one of the major problems with Magic Online. 90% of the time when you can respond, you don't really want to. But 10% of the time, that response is vital. In physical play, you just speak up when response is important. But in computer play, it becomes a lot more complicated. You have to pass manually every time, or set up "stops" when you want to respond.

Hearthstone doesn't look to have this issue. Gameplay should be smoother as a result. But responses are what makes Magic interesting. I wonder if Hearthstone will end up being first side punches, then second side punches, and each player's turn will essentially be a solo affair, without interaction from the other side.

Hearthstone definitely looks interesting. The colors and graphics make it look fun and colorful. I will happily try it out. But I wonder if, in their attempt to smooth out all the inconveniences, Blizzard will fail to capture the strategic richness of a game like Magic.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

F2P and Crafting

A while back I noted that, unlike other professions, crafting armor and weapons was in conflict with content rewards. Today I realized that for F2P games, crafting is very often in conflict with main monetization scheme.

A lot of games sell cosmetic armor and weapons. In a subscription game, these might have been one of the items that crafters could make. But a F2P is going to try and reserve as many of these as it can for the store. Cosmetic armor is something that sells, and is also something that is clearly not power, so you don't get grumbles about Pay2Win.

This is especially true in The Old Republic. In TOR, armor is composed of a shell and modifications can be inserted into the armor. The shell is entirely cosmetic, and all the power comes from the modifications. Naturally, TOR has taken this opportunity to sell a lot of cosmetic armor in its F2P offerings.

But that has diminished the armor and crafting professions. These professions can still make one type of modification, but their potential range of products has greatly diminished since the introduction of F2P.

For example, Armortech can only make Aim/Cunning armorings and augmentations, while Cybertech can make any type of enhancement and general mods, as well as earpieces.

In subscription games, armor and weapons crafting is very often in conflict with rewards from content, often making them a bad choice. In F2P games, these crafting professions are often in conflict with the F2P market. This marginalizes those professions even more, and makes them even less attractive.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dungeons versus Scenarios, Part II

On the last post, Kring comments:

The question is, now that they scarified [Ed: sacrificed?] dungeons, how long will they continue to make new raids during an expansion? 
Scenarios are nothing else then PvE-battlegrounds. Will they continue to produce new raids or will they take the simple route there too and replace raids with bigger scenarios, with PvE-battlegrounds.

I think Blizzard will continue making raids. Specifically, Looking for Raid overlaps with dungeons. It's transient, formal Trinity group content. The ratio of tanks to dps is more likely to match what is played. Plus, raids are the expected method of increasing gear level. There's a pattern there, and the playerbase expects raids to be obsoleted as time goes.

Admittedly, there is a difference as dungeons are small group versus the large raid group. But I think that Blizzard is making an effort to include more small group options out in the regular world. It's probably a lot easier from an art creation perspective to throw a few elite mobs out there.

Plus, and I think this is very important, they get a 2-for-1 with the raid artwork. The same amount of artwork produces both transient group content and extended group content. So I think raiding still fits in the game where 5-man dungeons start getting squeezed out in later patches.

I may not have mentioned this before, but I think that art asset creation is the "blocker" in modern game development. The amount of new artwork an idea requires often determines whether or not it is actually implemented.

RJ comments:

While I don't disagree with your assertion, and it makes logical sense, I throw in another suggestion:
Compared to the development work that goes into your typical dungeon (including the various difficulty levels), I imagine that Blizz could make a bunch of Scenarios for the same time, effort, and money it takes to make a single "second tier" dungeon. 
Loot aside, what would you prefer? 2~3 new dungeons, or 5~10 new Scenarios?

Ah, but as above, I don't think they're funneling that effort into scenarios. Sure, they're making a couple new scenarios each patch. But I think the lion's share of art and content dev time is going into the new raids.

Look at this patch. We got a 13-boss tier following a 16-boss tier. Has Blizzard ever done two consecutive raid tiers with that many bosses?  Especially in the given time frame?

I certainly would rather have another 15 or so raid bosses in 5.4 rather than a 6 boss raid and a couple 5-mans.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dungeons versus Scenarios

Blizzard devs mentioned last week that--unlike previous expansions--there would be no new 5-man dungeons in Mists. However, there will be a few new scenarios. It is interesting to compare scenarios with dungeons. Why can Blizzard make new scenarios but not dungeons?

I think the key is rewards. One interesting thing about new scenarios is that the rewards are not better than old scenarios. Blizzard makes a new scenario, and throws in the group finder rotation. It doesn't obsolete the previous scenarios.

Indeed, scenarios have no intrinsic rewards, or rewards unique to a particular scenario. The only reward is what you get from the launcher, valor and the random loot bad. If Blizzard wants to improve rewards for scenarios, they improve all scenarios.

Meanwhile, a new tier of dungeons would be expected to have new and better loot. But this instantly obsoletes the older dungeons. We get into situations where we run the same 2 Zul dungeons over and over, or the same 3 Icecrown dungeons.

I wonder if the player base would accept a new dungeon with the same item level rewards as the previous dungeons. After all, we now have Looking for Raid to take care of gear progression for transient players. So a new dungeon would simply be new content, new achievements, and a new challenge mode.

But somehow I don't think the player base would be happy with this. The expectation is that new dungeons bring better gear. But simply obsoleting that much old content is not a good choice either. So maybe Blizzard's choice to not make new dungeons, but focus on scenarios and raids, is the "least-worst" solution.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The End of Google Reader

Like everyone else, I am saddened by the news that Google Reader will be shuttered. Ah well, you get what you pay for, I guess.

The real lesson here is that Google was unable to make any money from advertising on the RSS feeds. In fact, one might argue that they lost money because people were not going onto the sites to view the regular ads.

I wonder if this will be the start of a greater shakeout in the internet, as all these site/places that can't cover their costs start closing. It would be kind of sad, but at the same time, it would be nice to get rid of the "everything on the internet should be free" expectations that so many people seem to have.

Hmm, I wonder if I should be concerned about Blogger getting shut down.

Oh well, time to look for a decent alternative RSS reader.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

TOR's New F2P Reputation

Ah, The Old Republic. Can't have a patch without a Free-To-Play controversy, now can we. Anyways, the latest controversy concerns this patch note:

Players may now gain reputation with the Contraband Resale Corporation, a group loosely affiliated with the Hutt Cartel! Reputation Trophies for this organization are now available in new Contraband Packs, and a new vendor has been added to allow players to capitalize on this reputation.
There is no actual content attached to this reputation. Instead, items which give you CRC rep appear in the cartel boxes, you increase your rep, and you can buy cosmetic items from this reputation vendor. You can buy and sell these rep items on the Auction House, I believe.

I don't really see the big concern about this idea. To me, it's roughly the equivalent of those old promotions where you cut out a bunch of UPCs from cereal boxes and mail them to the company for a prize.

These cartel packs need "common" items. Something to add filler along with the rares which everyone prizes.  Things like XP potions, or minor unlocks. These CRC rep items make good fillers.

The one thing that I do think they might have changed is to use a different mechanism other than reputation to achieve roughly the same effect. All the other reputations in the game are content, and having one reputation be different is a bit jarring. The packs could have contained a new type of currency, and the vendor sells items for that currency.

Though, this is one of the things I dislike about F2P. So much effort spent on innovating monetization, much less time being innovative on the game.

There's an old piece of advice about looking for work. You want to work for a division which generates profit directly, not for a division which is a cost center, no matter how important that cost center is. The cost centers are the divisions that first get cut and squeezed. That's why a lot of people recommend avoiding IT work in non-IT firms. In F2P games, more and more it's looking like the monetization team is the profit-generating division, and the actual game is nothing more than a cost center, and company policy follows accordingly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reconciling PvP and PvE

Unrelated to this post, but Power Word: Dinosaur is the greatest spell introduced into WoW.


At least for me, Blizzard's expansion of Valor has worked out pretty well. Last week I capped out on Valor by doing:

  • 2 Isle of the Thunder King rares
  • 4 Raid Finder wings
  • 2 Scenarios
  • 1 5-man dungeon
  • 5 days worth of Isle of the Thunder King dailies
  • 5 days worth of the farm rep quests
Notice that I never did the maximum in any activity, but rather did some of pretty much everything. Meanwhile, in The Old Republic, I pretty much only log in to raid recently.

I think that spreading Valor around has worked out pretty well. However, I was wondering about PvP.

You know, back in Vanilla and TBC, I used to PvP casually. I got my Knight-Captain rank and [The Unstoppable Force], like everyone else. But then I just stopped. And to be honest, I'm not really sure why. I think it's mainly looking at the path in front of me, and realizing it's easier to just stay on the PvE path rather than attempt to do both.

I know there's a lot of people who are very vocal about needing PvP to be completely divorced from PvE. Not sharing gear, not sharing reward systems. And that is the path that WoW and pretty much every major themepark game has taken.

But I wonder if this was the best path? Would it have been better if the two systems used the same type of gear, offered the same rewards? It would make it a lot easier for people to drop in and out. To do a battleground or two here and there. Maybe it would have led to more intermixing between the PvP and PvE communities.

The big issue back in the day was that it was too easy to earn gear in PvP compared to PvE, especially with bosses like Kael'thas and Lady Vashj. But the modern PvE has Raid Finder, and normal modes, and it is expected that everyone moves into the latest tier pretty soon after it is released. The pace of gear more closes matches that of PvP now.

Of course, the edge PvP/PvE people will complain, saying that maybe a certain piece from the other side is BiS for their purposes. But you know what, screw the edge players. If you want to be hardcore, you do what it takes to be hardcore. I think the large middle section of WoW would benefit from the reconciliation of PvE and PvP, as it would be far easier to dip in and out of each segment.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SimCity

The issues with the latest SimCity release are pretty interesting. I personally have not purchased SimCity. City building games don't really interest me. As well, after the experience with ME3, it will take an absurdly amazing game to make me install EA's Origin again.

However, one common complaint seems to be unfair to me. Many people are complaining about how EA/Maxis is making people go online for a single player game. But after reading a couple of reviews, and following a forum thread for a bit, I think EA/Maxis has made something more interesting than a mere single-player game.

It seems to me that you don't really build cities in this new game, but that you build neighborhoods or boroughs instead. The maximum city size is fairly small, but each city trades with its neighbors. One city may have lots of jobs, and the city next door has lots of people, so the people go to the city next door for work.

Or you trade utilities or resources. It seems to me more a game where you have to specialize and harmonize with your neighbors.

To put it in terms of my city, instead of one single person building Vancouver, instead one person builds the West End, one builds Downtown, one builds North Vanouver, one builds Kitsilano, etc. Each neighborhood exists on its own, but each has a different character, and relies on the others.

In a lot of ways, this is a far more interesting and ambitious design than the single-player game where one person builds an entire city.

Though, I will have to admit that I was greatly amused by the guy complaining that the main export of one of his neighbor was criminals. Ah, online gamers, so true to form.

This design is very intriguing. It's almost enough to make one take another chance on Origin. But not quite enough.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Privileges, Part 2

On the previous post, Stubborn comments:

I completely agree, but since it would take an incredibly larger amount of effort on the dev's part to generate a) what should be a privilege, b) what the requirements for gaining access to the privilege are c) what should cause the privilege to be revoked, and d) actually monitor those systems, there's no way they'll actually do it. 
Throwing gigantic rules blankets over the whole population is so, so much easier.
I don't agree. Sure, having one simple rule for the entire population might be easier. But that rule doesn't stay simple for long. It gets hedged about with exceptions and special cases. And that makes the whole system more brittle and prone to unexpected error.

From a programmatic standpoint, privileges or permissions are not that hard to implement. It is simply a different way of looking at the problem.

In fact, it is a very common technique in operating systems or business software. Can you read, change or delete a file on your computer? Rather than trying to apply a single rules heuristic, it's just handled by the permissions on that file. The OS doesn't really care how you got those permissions, but only that you either have permission or you don't.

Business software and operating systems have a mental conception of users that fit into different groups, which is why privileges feel natural to them. It is only gaming software that tries to pretend that all its users are the same.

As well, permissions don't have to be calculated in real time. The game generates logs, and those logs can be parsed at a later date by bots looking for patterns. Indeed, if you come up with a new and better pattern recognition bot, you can rerun it on old records.  A simple example might be a bot that looks for people who swear in public channels. All chat logs are saved, so a bot can traverse those records at its leisure, spit out results, and those results can set chat permissions which apply in the future.

RJ comments:

But you yourself just laid out a number of what you consider the perfect cases for it being a privilege that cannot be strictly programmed in; else you get systems like we already have! 
Example: If you designed a new game that had a vote-kick system, what would your programmatic patterns of abuse be? The guy kicks a lot of people? How does the program know that it's not legit? 
Example: If a person is needing a lot on gear that's actually wearable by them and offered to him by the game, how do you know he's not just making a legitimate use of the game system?

Here's the thing. I believe that abusers of rules exhibit very different patterns of behavior than regular users. Take vote-kick for example. I almost never vote-kick anyone, and I pretty much only run LFR/LFD at this point. I just don't see that anyone can possibly justify a high vote-kick rate in dungeons. I think the problem more likely lies with the vote-kicker.

Same with Need/Greed. Alright, maybe in your first instance run, you have a higher than average amount of need rolls. But if you keep that up, that's a clear sign that you are behaving badly.

These patterns should be identifiable. Obviously, you do need some history, to let the Law of Large Numbers start to kick in.  But if you were presented with a player's history, I think it would not be hard for you to determine if a player is exploiting the rules or not.  And if you can see the pattern, then a bot can be built or trained to see the same pattern.

Take a player in a battleground. If you look at the players's history, and see one battleground with zero damage or healing, well, maybe he was defending a node which never got attacked. But you start seeing more and more of them, the odds that this player afks or is a bot increases dramatically.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Privileges or Rules?

Consider the difference between privileges and rules. Ideally, rules are for everyone. Everyone has to obey the same rules. Privileges on the other hand, might be specific to individuals. A privilege usually must be earned in some fashion, and can be revoked if the person proves unworthy.

When it comes to player interactions, privileges might be a better model that one-size-fits-all rules.

Over the course of an MMO's lifespan, we see the same pattern. There are simple rules which govern player interaction. They work well for 95% of the time. Then someone figures out how to exploit those rules. The developers have to modify those rules, making them more complex, more onerous and more inconvenient for the rest of the players.

Instead of rules, perhaps structuring interactions as privileges is a better way to frame the situation. Then you can use a player's past behaviour to control whether a privilege is granted or revoked.

For example, take vote-kicking. The basic vote-kick system worked well for all the people who used it judiciously. Then people started abusing it, and the devs had to include more and more safeguards. You can't vote-kick in combat, or for a bit after combat. All of this makes it harder to vote-kick someone when you need to actually kick.

Maybe the better model is to think of vote-kicking as a privilege, not a rule. If you abuse vote-kicking, or vote-kick too much, your ability to vote-kick is simply taken away. Other people's vote-kick privileges can remain intact and untouched.

Or take the latest rule change, the removal of /follow in battlegrounds. It's a rule change made to target bots. But it does remove an option for players who are not abusing it.

As well, take the old Need/Greed loot system in Raid Finder. Perhaps it would have worked out better if rolling Need was a privilege instead of rule. If you rolled Need too much, you could lose the ability to roll Need, and/or lose the ability to trade gear.

Another example could be talking in general chat. Right now there are restrictions on how fast you can reply, which came in because of spammers. Maybe freely talking on general chat channels is a privilege that should be earned.

A final example might be ganking. The ability to kill players lower level than you should be a privilege and can be revoked if you kill too many, or exhibit a pattern of corpse camping. Revoking a ganker's ability to kill lowbies shouldn't affect people who rarely gank.

Of course, the hard part here is determining patterns of behavior that should lead to a privilege being revoked. However, I think that if you look at play patterns, people who show restraint will have very low incidences of negative behavior, allowing even a moderately low bar to avoid false positives.

To sum up, I think that one-size-fits-all rules that govern player interaction have proven to be overly restrictive and vulnerable to exploitation. I think player interaction in MMOs would be better modeled as a series of privileges that need to be earned and can be revoked for those who abuse them.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

First Impressions of the Isle of Thunder

Wow, it's crowded. And mobs respawn very fast.

It appears to be a quest hub like the Golden Lotus, except that all three sites are open immediately, so you can do them in any order.  The quests all seem to be pretty traditional daily fare so fare.

The unlocking is an interesting idea. However, I do wish that it was more transparent and granular. For the AQ gates, there was a total number of items required, and each time you turned in something, you could see the count decrease. The unlocking for Isle of Thunder just shows a percentage.  The link between you doing something and the bar increasing is tenuous.

The rare chase is interesting. Thank god you can share them. I killed one rare mogu with a lot of other people. But people were calling out spawns and coordinating in general chat.

I also claimed the Sunsong Ranch. I like the new work order system. If you don't have anything specific you want to plant, it gives you something to do.

All in all, a pretty good start to the patch. The real attraction is the raid though, so we will have to see how it goes later.

Monday, March 04, 2013

5.2 Tomorrow!

Or rather, by the time you read this, today!

I'm looking forward to this patch. I really liked the storyline of 5.1, and it will be interesting to see what happens in 5.2.

Since I am raiding primarily in LFR, I won't get to see the new raid until next week. Blizzard is touting it as the "new Ulduar", and that is a very high bar. It will be interesting to see what happens.

There aren't really a whole lot of changes for Holy paladins this patch. Mostly changes aimed at PvP, increasing cast time of various crowd control abilities. Hand of Purity does get a straight buff, and Eternal Flame gets a buff when you cast it on yourself.

What are you looking forward to in this patch?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Decline of Rogues

As Cynwise notes, the rogue population at endgame has been steadily decreasing pretty much since Vanilla. This is interesting because rogues haven't really changed as a class since Vanilla. There have been small changes here and there, but by and large the rogue class is still the same as it was at creation. Instead, the game has changed around it.

I've always thought the rogue was well-designed. In fact, if you look at the other classes, more of them have moved towards the rogue model than otherwise. So why then has the rogue population dropped?

I think that it's not one major reason, but several trends. The cumulative weight of all these trends has been to push the rogue population down.

1. Non-rogue melee dps specs became viable.

In Vanilla, pretty much the only melee dps at endgame were the rogues. Warriors tanked. Druids, Shamans, and Paladins healed. Sure, you may have had one or two offspecs running around, but the heart of your melee dps in Vanilla was your quintet of rogues.

Now, of course, all these melee classes can dps. Many of them dual-wield as well, occupying a lot of the rogue style in melee. As well, they also offer more options than the pure DPS class. They can tank or heal if necessary.

2. The new classes overlap with the rogue.

Both monks and death knights are melee dps. Indeed, both of them can dual-wield. Again, the overlap in kit causes the rogue class to bleed players to these new classes.

3. The other pure DPS classes lost a lot of their weaknesses.

Hunters lost their dead zone. Mages and warlocks improved their mobility, cut down on long casts, and gained more instants. Meanwhile, the rogue's fundamental weakness, melee range, has not changed.

4. Stealth has been marginalized.

The signature non-combat ability of rogues is stealth. However, because no other class (save feral druids) uses stealth regularly, it has become a mostly unused ability. The major use of stealth these days is to launch an opener, more than anything else. It is not really used in group play at all.

Think about this in terms of crowd control. In the past, rogue stealth/sap was the only crowd control which did not start combat. So sap had a lot of uses. Now though, all the ranged crowd control is easier to use and does not start combat, while having the advantage of not requiring the caster to get close to the mob.

This devaluation of stealth becomes really obvious if you play The Old Republic. TOR has 2 of 8 classes able to stealth, and that includes tanks and healing specs. Stealth is really powerful in group play, because many packs have one member that, if sapped, will allow the group to avoid the pack. This includes the non-stealthies in the group. Running an instance with a good stealther is a hilariously awesome exercise in avoiding as much combat as possible. In WoW, this type of gameplay is only possible if the entire group is composed of rogues and druids.

Stealth is also the only method to avoid running back from a wipe in TOR. The stealther can vanish if everyone is dead, and then res a healer who resses the group. Between these two elements, stealth remains relevant to group play in a way that it does not in WoW.

Conclusions

Those are the four reasons that I believe are causing the rogue population to decline in WoW. I don't think it's really possible to do anything about the first three reasons, mostly because it would make the other classes howl.

However, a concerted effort to make stealth more useful in group play might be possible. As well, I think the next new class should be a ranged stealth class. Making stealth more common gives a reason to make it more useful, while a ranged class would avoid cannibalizing rogues even further.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Diablo 3, the Auction House, and Efficiency

I've been thinking a fair bit about Diablo 3 lately. Unlike a lot of the gaming community, I thought D3 was quite a good game. In particular, I think the ability and rune system was inspired. However, I think Blizzard made one major mistake: the Auction House.

The Auction House is an understandable mistake, though. Diablo 2 had a lot of issues with people selling items on eBay, with all the attendant scams and customer service issues that entails. As well, just regular trading was a big hassle and not easy to undertake.

Blizzard basically had two choices: introduce a mechanism for secure trading; or disallow trading entirely. They went for the first option in the AH. More and more, I think they should have gone for the second option, and just not allowed trading. They already made loot drops from monsters be separate for each individual player. Banning trading would have only been one step further by not allowing others to see the items you drop.

The Auction House had a lot of negative effects. It made the game much too easy. D3 isn't that hard, but the difference between a character with only random drops, and one outfitted from the AH is huge. It devalued the whole blacksmith subsystem. I think that without the AH, D3 would have had far more longevity than it did.

The central fun in Diablo is making your character stronger. After you do the campaign once to see the story, the point is to kill more bosses and outfit your character with better and better gear. The AH allows you to "shortcut" that central fun, all in the name of efficiency.

Too much efficiency is not fun. Players will always argue for more and more efficiency. However, I think it's important for developers to stand firm against this trend.  It is especially dangerous to offer shortcuts to whatever your "central fun" is. For example, if the central fun in your game is leveling, I don't think you should offer items that make leveling faster or easier.

For example, looking at WoW, I'm not certain if heirlooms, valor points, or tier tokens have really improved the game at all. They've all made the game more efficient, certainly. But I think that they've caused character progression to become too efficient, too easy. And I think Blizzard agrees with this stance to a degree. In 5.2, they're introducing rare Thunderforged gear, which makes gearing up fully much harder, and a less efficient, longer process.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Disengaged

I really haven't been writing much lately. A lot of that is due to the fact that I just don't feel engaged in anything I am playing. I have TERA, The Secret World, The Old Republic and World of Warcraft installed.


TERA - My lancer is 45 or so, now. It's still fun, but, I don't know, something is missing. As you go higher in levels, it feels harder and harder to get a full group to kill things.

The Secret World - I restarted playing this when it went F2P. I haven't gotten out of the first zone yet. For some reason, I'm finding the regular gameplay very difficulty. I'm not sure if it's because my builds are bad, or for some other reason.

The Old Republic - Still in my guild, we're still spinning our wheels a bit. I think we're hovering around our skill level, and aren't really progressing. It's not really helping that the raid makeup doesn't seem very stable as people are constantly bringing in alts and similar shenanigans.

As well, I dislike the Section X daily zone. It's very annoying, some quests have abysmal drop rates, and it feels like you have to wade though heaps of useless enemies to get to your real objectives.

World of Warcraft - I finally got my weapon, and then haven't logged in since then. I still have to do the legendary quests. The issue is that I'm in my old guild, and I'm the only person in that guild. I think the cure here is to find a new guild and raid with them instead of running LFR. But I'm not sure if I actually want to do that.

Maybe I need to focus on one game. Choose one and concentrate on it.