Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Age of Conan: Group Play

Group play in Age of Conan is an interesting experience. In many ways it is very different than WoW, even though they are both games based on the trinity of tank-healer-dps.

The nature of AoC groups stems from how healing in AoC is designed. All three healer classes have the same type of spells. There are three healing spells: green, blue, and yellow.1 The green spell is a group HoT. The blue spell is a stronger HoT that affects people in a cone in front of you. The yellow spell is a direct group AoE spell, but a player can only be affected by a yellow spell once a minute.

So healing is essentially HoT-based. You put up your green and blue HoTs and then do damage until you need to refresh them.

The first consequence of this design is that one healer can heal multiple tanks just as easily as one tank, so long as the tanks are positioned correctly.

The next element in AoC group play is that mobs hit like trucks. The standard pull in AoC (so far) is two mobs. Each tank grabs a mob and tanks them next to each other. If you get more than two, the tanks try and hold them and the group uses knockdowns as much as possible. When a mob is knocked down, it doesn't do damage while it gets back up, giving the HoTs time to tick.

In WoW, this is the sort of situation in which crowd control would be used. But AoC is a PvP game, so all crowd control is short duration, on the order of a few seconds. As well, you don't deal damage to targets exactly, you deal damage to the area in front of your character. This means that there is a lot of splash damage, which would mean that crowd control would need to ignore damage.

With two tanks, boss mobs are often handled by the tanks swapping aggro. Since both of them are getting healed at the same time, one tank's health is dropping, while the other tank goes back to full. Of course, tanks don't have a threat meter or even a baseline taunt, so this can be pretty hard. A tank swap is often accomplished when the lead tank dies.

The long and short of this is that in AoC the normal group size is 6 people, and consists of 2 tanks, 2 dps, and 2 healers. Yes, that's a worse tank/healer/dps ratio than WoW. This is despite the fact that there are 3 tank classes, 3 healing classes and 6 dps classes.

Oddly enough, even though healing in AoC is fairly easy2 and tanking rather difficult, it's not that hard to find tanks. It's still hard to find healers. I think that's an interesting difference between WoW and AoC. Healers are scarce in both games, but tanks are more common in AoC than WoW.

Of course, maybe part of the reason is because I am starting late, and everyone else who rolled a DPS character rolled a tank to get into groups.

All in all, group play in AoC is different enough from WoW to be interesting, yet similar enough to be easily understandable. Now, if only forming a group didn't take several hours.

1. The spells put a colored circle around the feet of your teammates, so you can see who is affected by each spell.
2. At least healing is easy in theory. I seem to have a hard time finding healers who understand the idea of keeping the two HoTs up at all times.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Single-Colour Gems

It occurs to me that gemming has become very boring these days. It's pretty much choose the best stat for your class and stack it.

When jewelcrafting was first released, it seemed much more exciting. There were all these colors of gems, with different colours of sockets, different socket bonuses, and meta-gems with interesting requirements.

Pretty much all of that has been bled from the system. Socket colours are pretty much ignored. The different types of socket bonuses have disappeared, replaced for most classes by a single stat. For example, on plate DPS armor, the socket bonus is always strength. It's the only stat that can possibly tempt someone away from mono-coloured gems. Meta-gem requirements have been reduced to the bare minimum. And even that is not enough. The meta-gems which require 1 of each color are considered much better than the meta-gems which require 2 blues, because you can use only 1 Nightmare Tear and meet the meta-gem requirements.

As well, I'm not sure being able to focus so much of your item budget on your single-best state is good for the game. It allows for an extremely wide range of that one ability. For example, the health difference between a tank stacking all stamina gems and one matching socket colors is very noticeable.

Is there a way to make gemming interesting once again, and maybe also rein it in a bit?

My suggestion would be to remove single-color gems. If all gems are dual-colors, then it might be easier to hit the socket bonuses. You can't focus so much in the same way. The choice becomes not so much between best stat and second-best stat, it's between second-best stat and third-best stat. Oftentimes, that's enough wiggle room to make decision-making interesting again.

In my opinion, sometimes offering the best possible choice as an option is not the best way to go. Making a decision between two flawed choices can be more interesting.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Reforging

In an interview on Gameplanet, Ghostcrawler talks about reforging:
The way [reforging] works is, instead of being tied to trade skills, now there are NPCs in the major cities. You go to this NPC and tell them you want to reforge an item. The interface opens and you place the item in it. It then asks you to pick a stat to reduce, and then pick a stat to add. You can’t use primary stats like agility, strength and intellect, but you can use all of the secondary stats like hit, crit, haste, parry, dodge, things like that. Then you reduce one of the stats by – at the moment it’s 40% but to make the example easier, say it’s 50%. If you have 100 crit, you reduce that by 50, that then gives you 50 points to put on, say, hit. And the cost of that transaction is the vendor cost of the item, so if you later decide to sell that item, you’re not really out of pocket.

I have to say that I thought reforging was going to be something you did rarely, to get rid of excess hit or a really bad stat. But from this description, it seems like reforging will be something that you do to every piece of gear.

To see what I mean, let's use our old technique of assigning a dollar value to stats. The standard 4-stat item has 2 primary stats and 2 secondary stats. We'll just ignore the primary stats because they don't change during reforging.

Let's assume, that for our class:

1 Crit rating = $1.00
1 Haste rating = $1.10

[Item with Crit and Haste]
100 Crit rating = $100
100 Haste rating = $110
Total = $210

Then we reforge some of that crit into haste.

[Reforged item]
50 Crit rating = $50
150 Haste rating = $165
Total = $215

Reforging the lower value stat into the higher value stat always makes the item better. So whenever you get an item, the first thing you do is reforge the lower value secondary stats into whatever secondary stat has the highest value for your class.

Pretty much the only time you wouldn't do this is if you are hovering around an inflection point in the value of a stat, such as the hit cap. At that point you get to bust out the spreadsheet to see if reforging is a gain or a loss.

Now, if you can't increase a stat that already exists on an item, then items with the two best secondary stats won't be reforged, but all other ones will.

I guess I understand the impetus behind reforging. My paladin has an i264 2H weapon, which I would like to use for Retribution, but I can't use it because it puts me 3% over the hit cap. However, I can't help but wonder if the implementation as described will just lead to an extra layer of complexity. You get a new piece of gear, and you have to reforge, gem, and enchant it before you can actually use it. Sometimes, I miss getting a new item and being able to equip it immediately.

Not to mention that there's a possibility for unintentional power inflation, as every item will contribute more than the design on paper, and maybe a lot more if a specific secondary stat turns out to be much more valuable than the others for a specific class. With both reforging and gemming, a character could focus a huge amount of her equipment budget on one specific stat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Heroic Loot in Icecrown Citadel

Heroic loot distribution in Icecrown Citadel is slightly different than in the three previous tiers.

In Naxx, Ulduar, and Trial of the Crusader, heroic loot dropped in addition to regular loot.

In Icecrown Citade, heroic loot drops instead of regular loot.

This small change has some subtle ramifications for guilds doing heroic content. It's now a lot slower to gear up new players to the heroic standard.

The new players can get to the i245 level fairly easily. But since you're doing hard modes, i264 loot is actually somewhat scarce. In the past, new people would be geared up very quickly with all the regular loot that the established raiders had already acquired.

But when you're working on hard modes, that regular loot doesn't drop anymore. You get mostly i277 gear, which the established raiders want, and the new people have to compete against them.

The only item that this doesn't apply to is class tokens. i277 tokens drop in addition to i264 tokens. As a result, it's really easy for a new raider to get all their tokens in short time period. However, then she's blocked on Emblems.

I guess the solution is to try and recruit more people who are already in i264 gear.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Measuring Performance with Plus-Minus

Measuring performance in a raid is somewhat hard. You can do a bit with damage and healing meters, but those meters are often skewed by the specific fight or class or spec. Sometimes it's hard to track the small things, like people who hit cooldowns at the perfect time, or kite mobs perfectly, or step beyond their specific role at the absolute correct time.

There is a statistic in ice hockey called Plus-Minus. If you're on the ice when your team scores an even-strength goal, you get +1. If you're on the ice when the opposing teams scores, you get a -1. So at the end, if you're positive, it implies that you are helping your team. If you are very negative, your presence on the ice actually hurts the team.

Of course, it's not a perfect stat. Since it relies on the team, a person on a bad team usually has a lower plus-minus than a person on a good team.

But it might be an interesting stat to use to measure a player's contribution to her raid team. After all, the ultimate goal is killing bosses. If you being in the raid means that bosses are more likely to be killed, then you are doing well. If the raid is more likely to wipe if you are in raid, then that's a problem. Rather than trying to measure and quantify the individual aspects of your role, we could just try and measure your effectiveness.

Here's how I'd set up a Plus-Minus system for a Raid Guild:
  1. +1 for each boss kill.
  2. -1 for each boss wipe.
  3. Only count a maximum of 4 wipes per boss. This is so that raids with an obviously bad composition don't just give up to keep from wrecking their rating.
  4. Don't count wipes on new bosses that haven't been defeated.

Going by this system, I was +4 this week. Not bad, but not really good either. But Plus-Minus is a relative system. So it would depend on what scores my other guildies would have.

Of course there are issues with this system. People who are in the raid all the time will have the same rating. It's not a problem in hockey because people are constantly taking shifts out on the ice. Certain bosses are more likely to cause wipes than other bosses. The method only works if you actually expect there to be some wipes.

Ultimately, killing bosses is the goal. Measuring effectives by how much a raider contributes to that goal might be a better method than trying to rank damage meters. But on the other hand, going through meters gives feedback on how to improve. A Plus-Minus system only identifies outlying players in either direction. It does not say how that player makes the raid better or worse.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Goblin GDKP Variant

I missed this when Gevlon first proposed it, but he proposed a variant on the standard Gold DKP loot system.

For those people unaware of GDKP, it's a loot system where raid members bid gold for items. Items are auctioned off in a standard multiple-round, public bidding process. The gold all goes into a pot and the pot is split equally among all the raid members at the end of the run. It's good system for pickup groups because it provides an easy way to compensate people who don't win items. If you don't get any items, you at least get several hundred or several thousand gold. This encourages geared and experienced players to join the PuG, giving it higher chance of success.

Gevlon proposes a rule giving 1/3rd of the winning bid to the second place bidder, in order to encourage higher bid prices and discourage "fake" bids.

I'm not really sure that this rule actually accomplishes anything useful.

Look at it from the point of view of the optimal bidding strategy. In a normal English auction, the optimal bidding strategy is to bid (up to) what you think the item is worth. In a normal GDKP auction, the optimal strategy is to bid you think the item is worth plus a little premium, because you get back a portion of your bid when the pot is divided up at the end of the raid.

Under the Goblin variant, the optimal bid is to bid 150% of the items worth (plus a little bit for the pot-split). To see this, let us ignore the pot-split for now, and imagine that there are two items that a player values at 1000g. The player bids 1500 for both and wins one and loses one (for 1500.01).

For the winning bid, the player nets 1000g (item) - 1500g (bid) = -500g.

For the losing bid, the player nets 500g for being the second place bid.

So when the two bids are taken together, it's a wash. The extra money you get from being second is cancelled out by the extra money you have to pay to win items.

Also, note that the size of the pot doesn't increase. There were two bids of 1500g, whereas under the regular rules there would be two bids of 1000g. But the pot is 2000g in both cases.

So as far as I can see, the only person who benefits from this rule is someone who is very skilled at bidding just enough to get second place. For example, consider a spoiler who only joins in bidding when there are two other people bidding. With three people bidding, the price gets pushed up and up. When one of the original two bidders drops out, the spoiler immediately drops out right after, guaranteeing that she has second place. It is very unlikely that two legitimate bidders will drop out at the exact same price point. There will be a small difference between their maximum amount which they are willing to pay, which the canny spoiler bidder can exploit.

Far from discouraging strategic bidding, I think this system actually creates a legitimate opening for someone who is bidding to push prices up. People who win items do not benefit. Higher end players carrying the group to earn some extra gold and maybe hoping a rare trinket drops do not benefit.

This rule just adds extra complexity for no good reason. It encourages people to bid using a non-optimal manner, just because they want the extra gold from being in second place.

Regular GDKP is a good system. It is close enough to English auctions that everyone understands it, and close enough that the strategy of bidding what you think the item is worth is very close to optimal. It's been my experience that when bidding systems stray from this optimum, they are more fragile, because people don't really understand how to bid well.

Gevlon's rule of "1/3rd to the second bidder" is not an improvement on GDKP, and should be avoided, in my opinion. It will still work, but it is more complicated, has a less intuitive optimal bidding strategy, encourages strategic bidding and does not actually add any positive effects that I can see.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Paladin Medium Glyphs

Blizzard announced that they were scrapping the Path of the Titans system and instead fleshing out Glyphs a bit more. Seems like an interesting decision. I think that Glyphs never really lived up to their full potential. They were touted as a way to "tweak" your spells, and a lot of early glyphs had both positive and negative effects. For example the old Glyph of Flash of Light cut the direct healing in half, but added a non-stacking HoT.

However, the Glyphs that were purely positive were the most popular, I think, and soon Glyphs become nothing more than extra talent points that improved your best spells.

Cataclysm is adding a third row of Medium Glyphs. As I understand it, Major Glyphs would enhance the main spells in the rotation, Medium spells will enhance situational spells, and Minor glyphs will be cosmetic or reageant effects.

I was thinking about what paladin spells would have Medium glyphs, and was struck by the fact that we don't have *that* many situational skills. Paladins have a lot of abilities, but each spec uses different ones all the time. For example, Divine Plea is situational for Holy and Ret, but a main spell for Protection. Seals are now active most of the time. I can't see Seal of Light or Wisdom going to Medium glyphs.

So what spells would be eligible? My list would look like:
- Lay on Hands
- Divine Intervention (no clue what a Glyph of DI would do)
- Hand spells
- Holy Wrath
- Turn Evil
- maybe Seal of Justice and Judgment of Justice
- Divine Shield / Divine Protection
- Hammer of Justice
- Avenging Wrath

Pretty much all the other spells are used full-time by one of the specs, or are a Blessing/Aura, which really are not good candidates for Glyphing. Blizzard is moving away from improved Blessings/Auras to make coordinating them easier.

I suppose that's enough spells to do stuff with, but I'm not sure that any of these spells can be really exciting.

Personally, I don't think much of the current design of Glyphs. We already have talent trees. I don't really see the need for talents which are not talents. Glyph of Seal of Wisdom/Light could just as easily have been a Holy talent (Improved Seals) which read, "While Seal of Wisdom is active, the cost of your healing spells is reduced by 1/2/3/4/5%. While Seal of Light is active, the effect of your healing spells is increased by 1/2/3/4/5%."

I think the idea of glyphs being a double-edged sword--actively changing how that spell was used--was much more interesting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

LotRO and Free-To-Play

In the last post, I discussed what I see as the economics of Free-To-Play versus Subscription games. Here is my reasoning on why Free-To-Play may be more more understandable for Lord of the Rings Online than most other games.

First off, you cannot discount how the DDO resurgence went. DDO was a dying game, and looks to have been revitalized by it's move to F2P. I's debatable how much of the revitalization was due to F2P, and how much was due to the fact that Turbine spent a fair amount of effort improving the game, and that the massive publicity of going F2P got enough people to take a second (or first look at it). But regardless, if a suit sees that income increased by 500% (increasing small numbers always looks impressive) after going F2P, then of course she's going to assume that going F2P will have a beneficial effect on the other games.

However, I think the more compelling economic reason for LotRO to go F2P is their Lifetime Subscription program. By all accounts, it's been reasonably popular. But Lifetime Subscriptions aren't always profitable, even after accounting for the time-value of money. If we assume a 10% annual rate of return, a $300 Lifetime Subscription is worth roughly 22 months, or slightly over 3 years, of a $15 subscription. After that, the company is essentially getting no money from those subscribers. And Lord of the Rings Online was launched just over 3 years ago.

Furthermore, who are the people most likely to buy Lifetime Subscriptions? The people who buy Lifetime subscriptions are the people who are more inclined to spend lots of money on their hobby. Section B in the graph.

So I think that LotRO's income chart now looks more like this:

The higher the inclination to spend money, the more likely the customer is to have purchased a Lifetime Subscription, which has now run its course. So Turbine is actually getting the least money from the people that should be giving it the most money!

And because Lifetime Subscriptions are implicitly pitched as "You never have to pay again!", it's much harder politically to introduce things like Star Ponies. The Lifetime Subscribers have a reasonable expectation that they don't have to pay for anything, and the optics of the situation just look bad. But in a wholesale revamp of the payment model, such problems are greatly diminished.

So the real advantage of LotRO going F2P is that the Lifetime Subscription gets converted into a monthly subsidy of Turbine Points. This frees up all those people in Section B to to follow their natural inclination and spend more money on the game. They don't have to spend more, but they can, and because they are inclined to, they probably will. They may spend a little less because of the subsidy, but it's much better than getting nothing from them as Turbine would otherwise.

I think the real lesson to draw from this situation is that Lifetime Subscriptions aren't really a good idea for MMOs. If the game is good, you can count on people playing for a fairly long time. Lifetime Subscriptions only make sense if you think that people will stop subscribing before the break point. I'm not sure that is a good assumption for anyone with a decent MMO to make.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Free-To-Play versus Subscription

The recent news that Lord of the Rings Online is going Free-To-Play, and being supported by a cash shop instead of subscriptions has reignited the debate over the two payment methods.

Before I post about LotRO specifically, I'd like to talk about the underlying issues as I see it.

In every hobby, different parts of the potential audience are inclined to spend differing amounts of money. For example, take Collectible Card Games such as Magic: the Gathering. You have some people who purchase a couple packs a month, some who purchase several packs a week, and a few who buy boxes of cards at a time. In theory, by having a variable amount that can be purchased, the company does not "leave money on the table", and gets the maximum income it can.

That's basically the idea behind the economics of the F2P games. They feel that subscriptions leave money on the table both in the segment of the audience that is inclined to pay less than the subscription amount, and the segment of the audience that is inclined to pay more.

The following graph shows how the income from the two forms compare against each other.

Note: Not real numbers, just hand-waving to get the idea across.

There are three sections where the two payment methods do not overlap. Section A is money from people who aren't willing to pay the full subscription. Section B is money from people who are willing to pay more than the full subscription (Star-Pony-land).

However, what people are inclined to pay--their "rest state" of spending--is not the same as what they will pay. If the only way to play the game is to buy a subscription, a lot of the audience will pay up. That's what Section C represents: the extra income that a subscription can extract above inclinations for a specific part of the audience.

So what the F2P companies are betting is that A + B > C.

Now, I don't have any access to any real world data about what the actual size of A,B and C are. This is just punditry. However, I think that the F2P companies are gravely under-estimating the size of Section C.

In my opinion, the gaming/scifi/fantasy subculture is terribly "penny-wise, but pound-foolish". We will talk a good game about paying up, but the vast majority of us won't pay unless forced to. We will come up with all sorts of excuses, but will try and evade payment by any means necessary, legal or illegal, and even take pride in it. No matter that it leads to the destruction of the companies involved, or the cancellation of shows or games that we enjoy.

If the game is good, and the subscription reasonable, I think Section C will be significantly larger than Sections A and B. In fact, I don't think Section A actually exists, and the F2P companies will end up depending on a very small, but high-paying segment to survive. Which is an unstable way of life for the company, and is often not too healthy for individuals in that small segment. For every millionaire tossing wads of cash at the item shop, there's an addict spending money she can ill afford to waste.

That's why I think that subscriptions will put a game on a firmer, more stable financial footing than cash shops, even if they do leave some money on the table. Of course, your game has to be of a certain quality to make subscriptions viable, and that's where most companies seem to be falling down these days.

(LotRO is a special case, in my opinion, which I will discuss in a later post.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another System for Raid Ids

Jeremy had a very interesting idea in a comment to the last post:
I just had an epiphany: Blizzard is building a Raid Finder for a mid-Cataclysm patch.

They just announced that raid IDs will be more forgiving: if your raid ID has killed the same set of bosses as another raid ID, you can switch over to the other raid ID.

Now add a Raid Finder that matches you with another group of players that all have a compatible raid ID. You join a raid, do your best, kill a few bosses, and then tomorrow, you log on again and join a different group that has the same set of bosses downed. It doesn't matter whether it's the same group as yesterday, as long as they've made the same amount of progress.

And there you have it: no more distinction between transient and extended content. Why should there be? Raiding is not rocket science, and the biggest barrier is that it's hard to find a regular group of people who are all online at the same time as you. Right now, nobody wants to PUG, because you'll just get locked to a dungeon with one boss down, and never see that group again. But with this feature, you can get a new group every day, and you can raid whenever you have the time for it. Brilliant!

(And Blizzard, if you're not working on this feature, you should be. It will actually make raiding feasible for all the players who are interested in and capable of raiding, but can't carve out regular weekly times for a guild raid.)

A system that implemented this isn't that hard to conceptualize (at least theoretically, real code always makes easy ideas hard). Right now, raid instances have an existence in the world. My character is tied to this specific raid instance, which exists even when my character is not online. And this has consequences. In the worst case, the raid id can be "stolen", and the remainder of the raid completed by another group, leaving most of the people in first group out in the cold.

But suppose a player's raid id was simple bit field, with 1 representing a live boss, and 0 representing a dead boss. So a player's TotC1 id could be 00011, saying that they've killed the first three bosses, but Twin Valks and Anub are still alive.

For any given group of players, it becomes trivial to find the common set of bosses still alive. Simply bitwise-AND the raid ids together, and you can use the resulting mask to populate an instance with the bosses that no one has killed.

For example, Player 1 kills Beasts and Faction Champs (raid id 01011), and player 2 has killed Jaraxxus, Faction Champs, and Twin Valks (raid id 10001). 01011 ∧ 10001 = 00001, giving you an instance with only Anub'arak active. You can just keep bit-wise ANDing with all the players in the raid.

You can put in checks if you don't want early bosses to be alive and later bosses dead. Or you might not bother. After all, does it really matter if someone with Lich King dead gets to knock off Marrowgar the day after?

The key here is that there is no logical reason the specific raid instance needs to persist as its own entity. It can be generated at raid time so long as you know the set of bosses to populate the instance with. And since the bit fields are connected to the experiences of the individual players that week, you can easily generate the correct set of bosses for any given group of people.

You can also use the mask to determine whether to deny a new addition to the raid entry into the instance. If the current raid mask AND the new player's raid id is not equal to the mask, she cannot enter.

Even a Raid Finder wouldn't be that complicated to implement. The number of 1's in the result mask would make a strong foundation for the fitness function of the grouping algorithm. You want to group people such that they get an instance with as many bosses active as possible.

The hardest part, in my mind, would be making sure that an individual's raid id gets properly updated in each fight. You'd have to account for people intentionally disconnecting and joining at points in the fight in order to evade being tagged with the kill.

But as Jeremy points out, such a system would change raiding from being de jure extended content into transient content. It might still be de facto extended content, simply because a consistent group would be the best path to success. But it would put a lot less blocks in the way of individuals wanting to raid in a transient fashion, while still preserving the rule that "you can kill a boss a maximum of once per week".

1. I'm using TotC because I don't want to write out 12 digit bit fields.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Group Content and Group Creation

First, let us stipulate that there are two types of group content: transient; and extended.

Transient group content is content that is expected to be completed in a single session of play. The group is formed, the group completes the content, and then the group is disbanded. In WoW, group quests, battlegrounds, and 5-man dungeons are transient group content.

Extended group content is content that is expected to be completed over several sessions of play, and where the group is composed (more or less) of the same individuals throughout. In WoW, raids and PvP arena are extended group content.

Lately, I've come to the conclusion that transient group content is crippled without automatic group creation.

I've been playing a game (Age of Conan) which doesn't have a Dungeon Finder for groups. You have use a Looking For Groups channel, like in the old days. And it is terrible. It literally takes hours to form a group. I have never appreciated the Dungeon Finder as much as I do now. I remember having a lot of the same issues when I was playing Lord of the Rings Online. In fact, I stopped playing that game because I rolled a group healer and yet I found grouping to be too hard.

As well, because group creation is so hard, people seem to feel free to take advantage of the group with long afks, or generally do their own thing while the rest of the group waits for them. I remember that this used to happen a lot in WoW in the pre-Dungeon Finder days, but has since been eradicated from the game. Whatever the faults of the "gogogo" culture, at least they aren't wasting my time.

Without automatic group creation, the amount of time spent forming the group is excessively long, and makes grouping an unattractive proposition. I think this group creation time is really what keeps people from grouping up, more than any other concern such as rate of experience gain.

Other games have sort of approached this, while still leaving humans in control. For example, Warhammer Online had "open" groups, where you could just join a group instead of needing to be invited. While that was better than the old system, it still isn't as good as a fully automatic system.

It's interesting that the PvP side has always seemed ahead of PvE when it comes to this. Battlegrounds featured automatic group creation long before PvE. Perhaps it is because of a lot of the formative ideas for MMO PvP came from the First-Person Shooters and Real-Time Strategy world, where automatic group creation is the norm. While PvE grouping was stuck with the idea that it was important to let people choose their own groups.

Of course, automatic group creation is probably a bad fit for extended group content, if only because play sessions for the group need to match. In transient content, you know the play session matches because everyone is already online.

But it's also possible that I am wrong about extended content, that I am too used to the old system of making guilds, and I overweight the problems, and underestimate the convenience.

Perhaps an automatic matching system would be a good improvement for extended content. For example, a Guild Finder. Guilds could post what their schedules were like, or what type of guild they were, and players could do the same, and the system would automatically add people to guilds.

I think the bar has been raised for future MMOs. If an MMO has transient group content, it had better have automatic group creation for that content. As well, WoW needs to implement a system for group quests, as that is the last piece of transient content without an automatic group creation system. And group quests are noticeably the hardest content to find a group for.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Ask Coriel: A Holy Paladin AoE Heal Idea?

HolyPally - Barth writes in:
Basically it is obvious that the paladin needs some sort of AoE heal but nothing amazing because you don't want every class to be able to do the same things. You dont want a pally looking exactly like a priest and so on.

So my idea consists of giving paladins a talent in the holy tree which gives them a spell that is activated after receiving holy power from casting healing spells. Once a certain level of holy power is accumulated, then a single AoE spell may be cast.
E.g. Holy Light is cast 3 times then the ability is activated and ready to be cast. Or Flash of Light is cast 5/6 times then the same spell is available for use. By giving pallys the ability to only stack either the FoL buff or the Holy Light buff at one time, limits the spell so that it isn't overpowered. Also considering adding flexibility to the spell and making the FoL use of the spell different from the Holy Light use.

Also in regards to mana consumption you could put an increased mana cost on the spell when it is used with the FoL stacking so that you cant just spam FoL and get a powerful AoE heal equal to the heal gained from using Holy Light at an increased mana cost. Just a quick idea I came up with while I was reading your blog.

It's an interesting idea. However, it might not be "different enough" from Circle of Healing or Wild Growth. Both of those spells have a 6 second cooldown. It would take about 6s to cast 3 Holy Lights or 4-5 Flash of Lights. So in actual game play, it might end up playing just like CoH or WG does now. I'm not sure Blizzard wants to give us something equivalent to CoH.

It's not exactly the same, I know. For one thing, you can't cast the AoE spell at the start of the fight, you have to charge it up. However, I think it would end up being too close to CoH/WG for Blizzard to be comfortable giving something like it to paladins.

Like, if you look at the new AoE spells coming in Cataclysm, the shaman's Healing Rain and the paladin's Healing Hands, both those spells are continuous area-of-effect spells. Thus they will have very different gameplay than CoH/WG, and I think that is what Blizzard is aiming for.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Quest Rewards for Hybrids

This post was, oddly enough, prompted by Age of Conan rather than WoW. But you get a similar situation in WoW as well.

Most hybrids I know maintain multiple sets, even if they have one main spec and one offspec. So what do you do if a single non-repeatable quest gives rewards for both main and offspec?

Obviously most people choose main spec. But what if the main spec upgrade would only be a slight upgrade, and the offspec upgrade is a large upgrade?

One theory is that you should keep your main spec as advanced as possible, even if that hurts your offspec. Another theory is that you should use quests to advance your offspec. Your main spec will get better rewards in instances and group content. After all, it's much easier to get healing items while you are a healer, rather than fight with DPS for DPS items.

(Note that I am only talking about situations where questing would provide roughly equal rewards to instance loot. Like levelling or maybe the Quel'Delar questline.)

The specific incident that started me thinking about it was from Age of Conan. My main character is a level 35-ish Conqueror, which is a 2H or dual-wield class. I'm playing as a 2H Conqueror. There are two group quests in a chain. Both reward good 2-Handers, with the second one being slightly better than the first. But the second quest also offers a choice of a really good 1H, which would be a larger upgrade for that set of mine. Yet, I'm not likely to ever actually use those weapons. The 2H would be used all the time.

Unless, of course, I decided to respec.

Ah well, just getting a group going in Age of Conan is pretty hard, so this might be a non-issue in the end.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Interesting Vote Kick Changes

Zarhym posts:
We have found that most players using the Dungeon Finder don’t use the Vote Kick feature or abandon groups very often. For these players, we are removing the cooldown on voting to kick players from a dungeon party. In contrast, those players who tend to kick players or abandon groups more frequently will notice that the Vote Kick feature maintains its cooldown. The goal here is to make sure players who are generally patient can make use of the Vote Kick feature when they really need it, without giving a more powerful tool to those who try to kick others or abandon dungeon groups very frequently.

This functionality will adjust itself as a player’s behavior while using the Dungeon Finder changes.

This is a really intriguing change. In many ways, it's the first stab in WoW at using a player's past behavior to control the powers available to her.

There's an awful lot of functionality that would be really nice to have, but you can't include in the game because a very small minority would abuse it. Right now, if you can't give something to everyone, you can't give it to anyone.

I think the concept of identifying who exactly that small minority is, and depriving them of those powerful abilities might do a world of good in keeping the community on the straight and narrow.

I wonder if we might end up seeing things like this in world PvP systems, to moderate the corpse campers and gankers.

Oh, and for those people complaining that they "need" to be able to vote-kick freely because all their PuGs are terrible, I've done 40 levels with my lowbie warrior tank in the Dungeon Finder and have only ever kicked one player. Maybe you should look in a mirror for the source of all your troubles.