Thursday, May 29, 2014


I've been in a bit of a funk with games over the last couple of weeks. I just haven't felt like playing anything. Here's a bit of a round-up with what's going on in my videogame life.

Elder Scrolls Online

I gave up on ESO. I tried a dungeon and it was a terrible experience. Quasi-zerg, bad combat. No feeling of control or progress. I cancelled my subscription after that dungeon.

I do kind of regret not trying out PvP, but at the time everyone was talking about immortal vampires spewing bats and killing entire raids of people. That sounded pretty dumb to me, and I'm not really a PvP player at the best of times, so I just never got around to it.

The Old Republic

For some reason, I'm now the recruiting officer in our guild. About half our raid team decided to retire a couple months ago, so we're building back up. I'm trying to get a bench and rotation going. All in all, this is the main game I'm playing.

Final Fantasy XIV

I'm still subscribed, and I still kind of want to play it. I just never log in. In some ways, I feel like I got to the point where the game is too difficult for me. I'm not sure that's strictly true, it may have been entirely my experience with Titan HM. I just can't bring myself to attempt any of the new, more difficult, content.


For some stupid reason, I bought into the alpha. I levelled a character up to 15 and then just stopped logging in. I really have no idea why. The game was rather interesting up to that point.

Diablo 3

I'm still playing D3 a bit. I got my Crusader up to 70 and up to about Torment II in difficulty. I occasionally play with a friend and he seems reluctant to move up difficulties, so we're farming Torment I and it is terribly easy and boring. I've been desultorily playing low level alts.


A new game from the people who made Bastion. I reinstalled Steam just for this game. Then I ended up playing for 15 minutes on the Tuesday when it came out, and haven't touched it since. It looks like it will be an excellent game and those 15 minutes were a lot of fun. But I don't know, it's like I don't want to give it the time and effort that it deserves.


I haven't bought Wildstar. I tried it a few months ago in Closed Beta and did not like it. But the rest of the community seems very excited about it. I'm not sure if it would be worth trying again, or if I'll just end up disliking it for the same reasons as before.


Technically not a game. I gave up on Twitter a few days ago and deactivated my account. Too much outrage, from every direction. It's like seeing a mob being whipped up in real time, and a new mob for a new outrage every day. The French Revolution wasn't that much fun the first time around, and I see no point in repeating it in a virtual space.

As well, I think Twitter really "misses the forest for the trees". Everything seems so focused on the micro, that there's little effort made to step back and look at the big picture.

Honestly, I've been without Twitter for several days now, and do not miss it in the least.


So that's what's been happening with me lately. My enthusiasm for games seems to have fallen off a cliff for some reason, and that's been reflected in the amount of blogging lately. Hopefully I will try to post more next week.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alts and Challenge

Most games follow a pretty simple loop. The game presents a challenge, the player masters the challenge, and the game presents a harder challenge. Or if the game doesn't present a harder challenge, the player generally moves on. This idea is elaborated on in Raph Koster's Theory of Fun.

And most of MMOs work like this. As you level, the game presents harder and harder challenges for you to work on. Generally future raids and dungeons are more difficult that previous raids and dungeons.

But not when it comes to alts. Lately, it seems like most MMOs have your second or third character be an easier experience than your first character. Even before special effects, your first character involves you learning the game, and figuring out exactly how things work. So even if the difficulty was the exact same, you'd already have demonstrated mastery.

But modern MMOs are going further than that. They often give out effects that make leveling a second character less of a challenge than the first. For example, WoW has heirloom gear. The Old Republic makes your second character's companions more powerful.

But is this really a good idea?  If you go back to the Theory of Fun presented above, this is the exact opposite of how a good game should act. The game should acknowledge the player's mastery, as evidenced by the first max-level character, and present a slightly harder challenge. Presenting an easier challenge will only lead to a player getting bored more easily.

Of course, this might be hard to implement in an MMO. Perhaps the best way would be a slider that increases the rate of XP gain, but also increases the amount of damage you take and decreases the amount of damage/healing you do. Of course this may have to be disabled in group content.

I think that the current approach to alts--giving the second character more advantages than the first--may be counter-productive in the long run, and may lead to players losing interest faster. The Theory of Fun implies that leveling the second character should be harder than leveling the first character, to keep the player interested and invested in demonstrating mastery over the new challenge.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Useful on Day One

Wilhelm wrote an account of an Eve Online battle where a new player/account (only one-day old) contributed to a battle by "tackling" (preventing movement) of an enemy ship. Syncaine promptly seized on this as an example of why Eve is so amazing and all the theme parks suck.

I'd like to examine how Eve mechanics make this--a new player being useful to endgame players-- possible. There some obvious reasons, but also some subtle mechanics in play. I don't play Eve Online currently, so if I make a mistake with mechanics, please correct me in the comments.

1. No Maximum Group Size

The obvious mechanic is that Eve does not cap group size. You can take as many people as you want in your fleet. Thus taking a new player does not mean benching an experienced player. So you can take pretty much everyone to a battle.

2. Bounded Accuracy

In most theme parks, your chance to hit decreases as the level difference increases. Usually at a certain point, a low level character simply cannot hit the high level, and so is pretty much useless. In contrast, Eve pilots can always at least hit the enemy target most of the time. A new pilot might not do much damage, or be restricted to holding the enemy in place, but at least her abilities can connect.

3. Opposition Does Not Scale

The opposition in Eve does not scale. So bringing an extra player does not make the fight more difficult. It always makes it easier. If the opposition scaled, there would be a point below which bring lower level people would be a hindrance, would make the fight more difficult.

4. No Area-Of-Effect Attacks

This is the subtle mechanic, but in some ways it might be the key one. Eve is a single-target game with very few area attacks. I believe the few area attack weapons damage both friend and foe. The usual targeting mechanism is select a specific ship, lock on, and fire guns. 

If you think about it in terms of global cooldowns, killing an enemy requires at least a GCD. That's one GCD not spent on attacking a different player. In PvP games, the priority targets are a function of the ones with the weakest defenses and highest damage. New pilots have very weak defenses, but very low damage. Most of the time, it is simply not worth the GCD to target a new pilot.

This allows new pilots to have pretty decent survivability, even in fights with much larger ships duking it out.

On the other hand, if ships had a decent AoE attack, a single AoE pulse might wipe out all the small enemy ships. Spending a GCD to kill several small ships at once might very well be a worthwhile tactic. If this was the case, there wouldn't be much point to bringing new pilots, as they would get AoE'd off the battlefield within the first few seconds of the fight.


Those are the four mechanics that I think allows Eve Online to have its new players be (theoretically) helpful in high level combat. In my mind, the first three are fairly obvious and could be implemented in theme parks in a straightforward manner if desired. The last one, though, is subtle, and has many ramifications. AoE is surprisingly important to Trinity gameplay.

Of course, I should note that just because Eve Online mechanics allow day-old pilots to participate in combat, that doesn't mean that most newbie pilots will ever see such a thing. From my experiences in Eve Online a while back, most corporations are so scared of getting scammed that they won't invite new pilots unless there is an existing out-of-game relationship to verify them.

It’s great that the mechanics allow this gameplay. Too bad the politics will make it inaccessible for most.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Blizzcon Ticket Sales

I didn't try to purchase tickets for Blizzcon, but by all accounts it was another fiasco. Effectively causing a self-inflicted Denial-Of-Service attack and then forcing people to luckily connect just doesn't seem like a good method of selling tickets. Blizzard should be able to do better.

The major problem, though, is one that most people are not going to be happy to hear: Blizzcon tickets are too cheap.

Yeah, I know, $200 USD isn't cheap. But more people are willing to pay that price than there are tickets available. That gap causes the rush and the bad problems. It also provides an opportunity for arbitrage, which adds scalpers to the mix, increasing the amount of issues. Blizzard tries to clamp down on ticket re-selling by authenticating tickets, but that has it's own flaws. Not to mention the possibilities of scams.

These types of problems are the issues that prices exist to solve. Raising prices would smooth out all these issues. Yes, it sucks that some fans won't be able to afford Blizzcon. But a lot of fans already can't afford it. Making the process smoother and taking the scalpers out of the mix would offset those issues. And at the end of the day, everyone who attends Blizzcon is a fan.

Here's how I would sell Blizzcon tickets:

1. Use a Dutch Auction

A Dutch Auction is an auction where a buyer puts in a bid for a quantity and the price she is willing to pay. When the auction ends, the price is lowered to the point where all items sell. Every buyer with a bid above that price gets the quantity of tickets they desire, and they all pay the lowest price.

For example, there are five tickets to be sold. Anna is willing to pay $1000 per ticket for 2 tickets. Betty is willing to pay $500 per ticket for 2 tickets. Charity is willing to pay $450 for 1 ticket. Daphne is willing to pay $400 per ticket for 2 tickets. Elsa is willing to pay $300 for a ticket. The five tickets are sold to Anna, Betty and Charity for $450 per ticket.

Essentially, this allows the prices to float, and the true price be "discovered". It drives scalpers out of the process, because there's no opportunity for arbitrage anymore. In the example above, if Charity is (ironically) a scalper , who is she going to sell her ticket to? Anna and Betty already have tickets. Daphne and Elsa are not willing pay enough to turn a profit.

You can set up a long period where people can log into and place their bids. Depending on how credit card pre-authorization works, Blizzard might even be able to detect fraud earlier in the process.

It is a bit more complicated than normal rules for buying and selling, but we're all gamers. Learning the rules to new games is our raison d'etre.

2. Establish a Reserve Price and Donate the Excess Money to Charity.

Pick the price Blizzard needs to pay for the endeavor. Perhaps the current $200 dollars. That's the minimum price that tickets will sell for.

Then donate the amount over the reserve price to charity. So if the tickets sell for $450, $200 goes to Blizzard, and $250 goes to the charity.

What this does is mitigate concerns of unfairness, since BlizzCon is more public relations than profit. Yes, it is still disappointing for the people who couldn't afford tickets, but at least a lot of money went to a good cause. It's certainly far better than that money going to scalpers.

Final Thoughts

A Dutch Auction with excess profits going to charity is a far more sane way of selling tickets. We don't have to all spam the server within 10s of the start time. We remove the equipment failure factor from the process.

We remove the opportunity for arbitrage that attracts scalpers. This is pretty key by the way. Any solution that does not involve a price increase (a lottery, for example) will attract scalpers who will try to manipulate the situation. This in turn may make it easier for normal people to buy tickets.

Finally, some charitable cause will benefit, and that's always good, especially for a large public relations event.

Update: On Lotteries

A couple of comments have brought up lotteries. I posted this in response, but decided it's important enough to put it into the main post.

The thing about lotteries is that they run into the same arbitrage/scalper issue.

Let's say that you have 5 tickets, and 10 people want them. 50% chance of getting a ticket, right?

What will happen is an enterprising scalper will create 100 accounts and enter the lottery. The odds of you getting a ticket become drastically lower. The scalper wins the majority of tickets and resells them for profit.

Of course, Blizz can try for anti-scalper mechanisms, but those are hard to get right. Look at how much trouble we have with bots and RMT in the regular game. The scalpers--and the people who buy tickets from them--have more incentive than Blizzard.

The key point here is that floating prices work. When the fixed price does not match the "true" price, you always see weird behaviour. You see shortages, or hoarding, or complex arbitrage schemes. This applies to pretty much everything in real life.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

American vs Japanese Players

Here is a very interesting reddit post on the difference between Japanese and American players in FFXIV. A sample:

However the biggest difference between JP player and EN player is that you seldom see what is known as shijichu (指示厨) from the Japanese players. Shijichu is NOT taken favorably at all. So what is “Shijichu” it’s a Japanese internet slang word, it doesn’t exist in proper Japanese. It basically mean “Being puerile (childish) and telling people what to do”. EN players like to give unsolicited advice like “Stop using cleric stance, Stop using this and stop doing that”. That is considered Shijichu. 
JP players usually let you do what you want (even if you gimp the party DPS or heals). They don’t preemptively point out your choices or mistakes unless something goes wrong and the group wipes. Even if they do point out they do it just in 1 sentence and don’t harp on it, like EN players. There are cases (not the norm) where Japanese players haven been shijichu,to me but a swift “shijichu ka?” (are you being shijichu) from me often puts them in place.

The post is interesting throughout. The comments are also worth reading. In particular, there's a comment from a Chinese player comparing the two sides:

NA players are free style. They don't give you a constantly enjoyable gaming experience. But the diversity itself makes playing with them more fun. And they are more open mind and willing to share which makes it easier for a foreign player like me to make real friends in the game.

I find it very intriguing that the "elite" NA players (at least from Reddit) are very envious of the Japanese playstyle, but the American experience is regarded as friendlier, even if it is more inconsistent.