Thursday, 31 December 2015

Reasons to be cheerful, part 3.

  1. Warcraft: the Beginning
  2. Film and Legion twinning
  3. Summer sun is coming (and boats)
  1. Devs chat at GamesCon
  2. Afrasabi and Tom Chilton
  3. Demons die in Legion (and nanny goats)
  1. Demon Hunters!
  2. Dalaran's next portal
  3. Demons aren't immortal (plus equal votes)
  1. Flying back in Draenor
  2. The tailoring trainer
  3. Gul'dan isn't saner (and porridge oats)


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Priestly disciplines

I took advantage of the level 100 boost that comes with Legion last month to bring a new healer under my wings: a discipline priest. They seemed to be doing fantastic things with healing in the raids I've been in, and priests are sadly lacking in my arsenal. A boost to level 100 and ilvl 640 is not to be sniffed at!

Sadly, I can't get to grips with the discipline style of healing, which is more about absorbs (and also a little bit of DPSing to restore mana and build Evangelism1). I've read IcyVeins, I've read Noxxic, I read HealingWow, but I'm still not very good at it. And despite having 640 gear, I wasn't able to complete the proving grounds even on bronze, so I still haven't got a good "rotation" (that's not even the right word here).

On top of that is the add-ons I'm using. I'm a clicker when it comes to WoW. I find I just can't memorize keybinds, and I have to see a visual indication of the spell I'm about to cast; or when I do memorize them, they interfere with the next class I'm playing, so for instance I go to cast Smite, and find myself hitting the key that's bound to Arcane Blast on my mage2.

So I'm not comfortable with mouse-over macros that require me to mouse over a raider and hit a memorized key-combo to cast a particular spell on her (plus, in raids there are so many melee bunched together that I'm bound to heal the wrong person). And individually targetting each raider and then clicking on the spell I want to cast on them is doubling the workload.

I'm using healbot, which at least allows me to hover over the player's name in its grid and cast a spell with a mouse-click combination (for which a tooltip appears to let me know what I've bound to each combo). It's not great for me. Besides the difficulty of finding the spell I want (spells on shift or ctrl modifiers only show in the tooltip once you hold down the modifier), I also note that I'm spending my time watching the grid, not the fight. I often find myself standing in the fire and not even seeing it, but spotting on the grid that that priest is taking a lot of damage and I'd better shield her!

So I don't think I've yet found a comfortable way to play this role. I've put my discipline priest away for now, and I've switched to a druid healer which I'm finding much more appealing. Druid heals are reactive, whereas priestly absorbs are best when proactive. And the longer (and fixed) duration of druid HOTs make it more rewarding to spend two clicks (one to select the player, one to select the spell) per cast, so I don't bother with any addons for druid healing.

All suggestions gratefully received!

1. By the way, I read in various places that Power Word: Solace generates 3 stacks of  Evangelism, but I can't find this info in its tooltip, nor does it seem to be generating 3 stacks for me. What am I missing?

2. You might say, "why don't you just map smite to the same key that you use for arcane blast?" That might work in this single case, but there isn't in general a one-to-one mapping between spells across classes, so it won't work in general.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Sinking under the weight of inconsistencies

Back in Azeroth after the Rugby World Cup finished. And with a fresh outlook, I can't help feel that the weight of story inconsistencies are crushing the World of Warcraft.

A fresh horde character showed the problem starkly. All through the classical levels, Vol'Jin is now sitting in Orgrimmar as warchief. Okay, Garrosh turns up in Outland and Northrend, but the fresh character is unaware of 'later' events. However, when she reaches the Twilight Highlands, Garrosh is spearheading the assault, as Warchief. He's in the Stonetalon Mountains as Warchief. Later he's in Pandaria as Warchief. And Vol'jin is plotting against him. What?

That could be partially fixed by putting the portals to Outland, Northrend, and Pandaria in the Caverns of Time, removing all other routes into them, and replacing Garrosh in Kalimdor with another NPC. But it's hard to keep all these mixed stories straight. Anyway, I was in Dalaran recently, and I was amazed to see that Jaina has let the horde back in. Did Theramore suddenly get undestroyed? Did the duplicitous Sunreavers do something trustworthy? What's going on?

After we invaded Orgrimmar, defeated the Kor'kron and brought Garrosh to justice, you would expect the Alliance to install an administrative leader in Orgrimmar (perhaps Jaina would have been the right person for the job), and to restore the destroyed or desecrated lands of the Stonetalon Mountains, Ashenvale and Azshara to Night Elf care, Instead, orcs and goblins continue to run riot through these areas. And rather than getting rid of the aggressive alien invaders right here on our doorstep, we're off in Draenor, invading another planet.

It would be fantastic if the night elves could have their lands restored, and the orcs and Draenei could have their planet restored and we could all live in peace on our own planets. Then all we have to do is get rid of the scourge in Lordaeron.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

6.2.3 and Legion predictions

Another PvP season is coming in 6.2.3. And 6.2.3 is only going to the PTR, so we can't expect it on live servers until about the start of December.

How long does a PvP season last? Well, about 20 weeks; which would take us until about mid-April. Then there'll be a further patch with the pre-release event for the Legion expansion before Legion actually goes live. That could be anything from a fortnight to a month, leaving us around early to mid-May for the Legion release. And when does the Warcraft movie go on general release? End of May. My July prediction about that is strengthened.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Living it up

Fuill, Paoquan and I are taking a well deserved holiday from Azeroth. We decided to spend a marathon month on Earth jet-setting around Europe. We're just back from the Côte d'Azur which was fab. I don't think I've ever seen so many yachts in my life before. And not cheap ones, either. The port of Antibes alone held over a thousand yachts that the three of us couldn't afford to buy. In fact, we could hardly afford to buy a mooring berth there! We hired bicycles, instead.
€65 000 for a 10x4 metre mooring here.
I liked Antibes a lot. Probably the only town in the world with more chandleries than supermarkets.

But the  Côte d'Azur has a problem with its "beaches". In Azeroth, a beach has sand on it. In Nice, their beaches are made up of large pebbles or small rocks. I'm not one for lying on a beach sunbathing, but lying on a rocky shore sounds more like mortification than pleasure.

This is what passes for a beach on the Côte d'Azur

We took a trip to Monaco to see the Napoleonic exhibition, only to find it was sold off last year. It seems the sovereign Prince of Monaco was short of a few bob. A few bob short of a pound, if you ask me.

Anyway, our jet-setting isn't over, and the rugby world cup is underway in England, so we're off to London to watch Ireland defeat the rest of the world. Slán!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Ahoy there, me hearties! Avast behind!

My time in Azeroth has temporarily come to an end. I let my subscription lapse some months ago and am now paying with WoW tokens instead. Now I've stopped that, too. I still have some tokens in my bags, but what with a summer holiday approaching (now that it's autumn!) and the rugby world cup on the horizon (and Ireland has the incredible ranking of world number 3 right now), I don't think I'm going to have any time for raiding. Plus, I need a break.

I may come back to Azeroth refreshed in October, or I might wait a little longer. Perhaps even to the next expansion, who knows.

In the meantime, I've been playing with's latest World of Warships beta release. I downloaded it ages ago, but I had trouble getting it running. The screen would flicker in such a way that I could see what was previously on the screen, For instance, in the middle of battle, I could still see the pre-battle screen flickering in and out. And moving my gun target left a trail of target cursors in its wake. Don't even think about what happened when I rotated my point of view. Suffice to say it was unplayable.

I updated it recently to see if the problem had been fixed, and lo and behold ... it hadn't. But after much searching I found a work-around, and got the try out WoWs (as we cognoscenti call it).

Have you noticed how much more agile the tanks in World of Tanks are, compared with actual tanks? WoWs has the same problem, on speed. My low-level ships feel like windsurfing boards.

There are several different classes of ship, and the most problematic for me are destroyers, which at low-level fire torpedo broadsides from deck-mounted launchers. The problem is that the torpedoes travel really slowly, and once you have four or five destroyers on each side, well, there are a lot of fish in the water. And it's not unknown for your team to find themselves turning into the path of your slow-moving torpedoes. Uh, oh!

I am a team-killer. Inadvertently. I've also inadvertently been been killed by my own team's fish. I haven't yet had the ignominy of steaming into my own torpedoes: thank goodness my top speed is slightly lower than the top speed of my torpedoes. Otherwise it would have happened.

I guess it's just a matter of better map awareness, and better awareness of how slowly these torpedoes travel. Although the torpedo range is 8km, there really seems to be no point in using them until you're on top of the enemy. Definitely cease firing them while you are behind your own team. Avast behind!*

*This whole article written to allow me to legitimately use that final exclamation.

Blaugust, day 31.

Screen Flicker in World of Warships

 I'm only going to deal with one kind of flicker, the one that was bugging me! The screen would flicker in such a way that I could see what was previously on the screen. For instance, in the middle of battle, I could still see the battle-loading screen flickering on the battle-screen. And moving my gun target left a trail of target cursors in its wake. Don't even think about what happened when I rotated my point of view. Suffice to say it was unplayable.

This is the view mid-game!

It turns out that WoWs  doesn't respect the hardware anti-aliasing setting on your graphics chip, and tries to do it for itself. That means that if your graphics processor is set to do the anti-aliasing itself, you're in trouble, and you need to switch off the hardware anti-aliasing. But only for WoWs, or you risk other 3D software slowing down. I don't care about that, so I put up with it to get WoWs running.

I've got a very basic graphics chipset, an AMD Radeon  HD 5450 (I know this because it comes with some management software that told me (AMD Catalyst Control Centre (or CCC ))). To fix the problem, I went into CCC, selected "Gaming"->"3D Applications", and then changed the setting "Anti-Aliasing Mode" from "Override Application Settings" (which I presume is the default) to "Use Application Settings". Once I'd done that, the game played perfectly.

Then I decided to take some screen shots, like the one above, so I set the Anti-Aliasing Mode back to "Override Application Settings", and tried again. Lo and Behold, there was no flicker! What happened?

This: when I set the Anti-Aliasing Mode to "Use Application Settings", CCC automatically changed the next setting, "Anti-Aliasing Samples", to "Use Application Settings", also. Then when I changed the Anti-Aliasing Mode to  "Override Application Settings" for the screenshots, it automatically changed the "Anti-Aliasing Samples" to "None". I don't know what its original factory setting had it at, but when I changed it from "None" to "2x", the problem came back.

So now I have two ways of getting rid of the flicker:
1. Change the Anti-Aliasing Mode to "Use Application Settings" or
2. Change the Anti-Aliasing Samples to "None".

Blaugust, day 31

Friday, 21 August 2015


In "Paying to be the hunter", Tobold made the point (with respect to MMOs):
Many other games don't have character power levels or gear, so it is totally possible to create a game in which playing a lot would only make you stronger in as far as you become more skillful in the game
As 8f and Samus pointed out in the comments, there are plenty of games which require player skill, such as Call of Duty; but one of the unique features of virtual worlds is that we players are more like actors than athletes. Our skill lies not in dexterity, but in playing a role.

The premise of virtual worlds is the same as in D&D. It is the character that progresses, not the player. The fun is not in improving your keyboard skills, it is simply in acting the role of the character, and seeing the challenges from her point of view. As a player, I'm still rubbish at casting fireballs, but I act the part of my character, who is expert at it through the effort she has put into improving her magic abilities (not my keyboard abilities).

Of course, given equally powerful characters, player dexterity will matter if both are in competition. But it be the end, we players do not play these games because of our superb keyboard dexterity, or we'd be playing games in which keyboard dexterity matters more, and the second-by-second and minute by minute game-play was more attractive. We play these games for the epic stories told (and our part therein), whether player generated or developer generated; and for the personal development of our characters within that world.

It so happens that in most virtual worlds, character progress only happens when the player is in-game. That's not a law of nature, though, and I can quite imagine games in which characters are set skill-building tasks that progress while the player is offline. Skills in Eve online are trained while the player is offline. In WoW, followers level up by doing missions that progress while we are offline. In fact, the legendary quest is progressing through such naval missions. It would be interesting to see what could be made of a game in which our characters could train while we players are elsewhere.

Blaugust, day 21.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Class Order Halls

After Garrisons, where all the NPCs lick up to me and call me Commander, I'm hoping that Class Order Halls will be a big improvement. I cringe every time some programmed cartoon calls me Commander, in fact. Me and 10 million others. I'm hoping that the Class Order Halls will curb that tendency to plamás us with honeyed terms of insincerity.

Two things in the early reports that are bugging me, though:
  • First, it seems that Afrasiabi is telling all who will listen that you are the leader of your order. More plamás, it seems. You, and me, and that guy meléeing with his wand. Afrasiabi wants us all to believe we're the leader of the order of mages. The Garrison was bad enough for that sort of thing, but at least I had built my garrison up, and the only other people there were people I invited (though I don't remember inviting Fiona). But the class order hall will be filled with all sorts of mages of all sorts of abilities, and I'd really prefer that the class leader would be the most able of the mages who put themselves forward for the job.
  • Cross-faction? I don't think I could bear to spend any time in the same hall as the Undead. The smell alone would drive you out. Not that orcs or trolls smell much better. In any case, I'd be just as happy killing them as the Burning Legion. I hear reports that Dalaran would become a neutral city. I can't in all conscience square that with the behaviour of the despicable, lying horde of thugs who are our enemies. Jaina has been proven to be entirely right about the matter, and it's a shame that our king stopped Thrall from ending Garrosh's life when we invaded Orgrimmar and defeated him. In fact, its a shame we shirked our duty to bring decency and fairness to that lawless orc city.If only we had seized that moment and dismantled the horde, as Jaina wisely insisted, and executed Garrosh as Thrall tried, we could have saved ourselves the misery of a year and more stuck on Draenor in a story that has never made any sense
Blaugust, day 11.

Friday, 7 August 2015

What about those predictions, then?

It's normal human behaviour when making predictions, to celebrate your brilliance when you got it right, and rationalize away your mistakes as not really a failure of prediction, more of a failure of others to behave rationally. I'm working on that, but meanwhile, let's look at the predictions I made last week and see what became of them. So here they are repeated in quotation marks, and my comment on whether I was brilliant or Blizzard were idiots following the quote.

  • "I already mentioned that I thought Blizzard would be announcing the next expansion at Gamescom. That was the first part of my guarantee." - I don't care what you think, Wilhelm, I'm counting it!
  • "The release date will  tie in with the World of Warcraft movie. That was the second part (oh, yeah, sure it seems obvious now, but it wasn't even obvious to most people that there would even be a expansion announcement back when I guaranteed it)." - The jury is still out, though it seems likely still.
  • "The next expansion will be set in Draenor, still: in Farahlon and other parts." - My genius outstripped Blizzard's here.
  • "The Burning Legion, who have hardly shown their face this expansion, will be out in force." - I'm so hot I'm sizzling.
  • "That also means we get to meet Medivh and Kil'jaedan." - I admit Blizzard's greatness in fetching Illidan back from the grave was so greatly great that I feel stupid not having thought of it first; but the jury is still out on Medivh and Kil'jaedan.
  • "Gul'dan will finally get his come-uppance. Please let it not be as Garrosh finally got his." He isn't getting out of the Suramar Palace alive.
  • "More people with pointless apostrophes in their names will turn up". I think that's a given. Blizzard's names department has an apostrophe where the space bar should be.
  • "The gold price of WoW tokens will skyrocket." - We'll only know in the months to come. I will of course count any uptick as proof positive of my magely brilliance.
So that's one wrong, four right (though even the furbolg could have predicted the excess of apostrophes), and three more about which we must wait and see.

Blaugust, day 7.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Archimonde and other nobodies

Raiding in Draenor feels like a pastiche of the good ol' days of raiding during the days of the Burning Crusade. The problem, for me, is that the developers don't seem all that interested in telling stories. Not that they've skipped it altogether: the main story, of the struggle between Gul'dan, Grommash and Khadgar is well told. But the problem is that there is not much story that prompts us to enter the various raid and dungeon instances around Draenor. It seems that the developers are simply asked to produce a fun instance, with challenging fights, and not bother too much about how it fits into the story.

The dungeons are at a double disadvantage in that one now normally enters them through the dungeon finder while levelling, long before discovering their entrances. That leads to a story-telling problem. As a designer, you don't want to introduce a breadcrumb quest before the adventurers are at the level to enter the dungeon, but once they are, they've probably already seen it before they got the breadcrumb quest. Or else the quest is offered out of thin air, by the GUI rather than by any individual (my least favourite form of questing).

There was a solution, back in the days of Wrath of the Lich King, that I thought was very good: Jaina offered a breadcrumb quest and before you had got the quest off her, you simply couldn't queue for that particular instance. Later versions of the dungeon finder didn't allow queuing for dungeons whose entrances you had not found. But for whatever reason, these ideas were scrapped, and now dungeons seem like separate games, where the real world of Draenor or Azeroth is just a waiting-room or lobby.

The raids in WoD particularly bother me, though. I can think of no good reason for wandering into Highmaul, except to exercise my lust for death and gear. Kargath Bladefist, at least, has a story we all know from Draenor. We've seen him at Bladefist Hold in the Spires of Arak. I believe he has also been seen in the company of Grommash and the other Warlords. Kargath Bladefist is a bona-fide boss with a back-story. But Tectus? Brackenspore? Even Imperator Mar'gok seems to have no story*. Why do I care about these monsters?

Frankly, the bosses in the other two raids are not much more interesting, although at least Blackrock Foundry itself has a worthwhile storyline. But in Hellfire Citadel, bosses are name-checked and killed with no story attached to them, nor reason for their presence. You're supposed to just remember the good times you had with them in Outland. Even Archimonde only turns up in order to get killed.

Without  stories*, it's hard to remain interested in the goings-on in Draenor. Perhaps it's time to return home to Stormwind. Beneath the sands of Silithus, in the cold vastnesses of Northrend, and in the dread wastes of Pandaria, qiraji silithid nerubian mantid toil endlessly in the darkness, extending their underground empires.

Blaugust, Day 5

*I exclude stories written in novels in another universe that our adventurers cannot enter.

Monday, 3 August 2015

More Warcraft Predictions

I wasn't clear enough for Wilhelm in my predictions for what Blizzard would announce at Gamescom. Wilhelm is usually correct, and I can quite see his point, so I will attempt to be clearer, with no links you have to follow to understand what I'm trying to say this time.

  • I already mentioned that I thought Blizzard would be announcing the next expansion at Gamescom. That was the first part of my guarantee.
  • The release date will  tie in with the World of Warcraft movie. That was the second part (oh, yeah, sure it seems obvious now, but it wasn't even obvious to most people that there would even be a expansion announcement back when I guaranteed it).
  • The next expansion will be set in Draenor, still: in Farahlon and other parts.
  • The Burning Legion, who have hardly shown their face this expansion, will be out in force.
  • That also means we get to meet Medivh and Kil'jaedan.
  • Gul'dan will finally get his come-uppance. Please let it not be as Garrosh finally got his.
  • More people with pointless apostrophes in their names will turn up.
  • The gold price of WoW tokens will skyrocket.
Blaugust, day 3.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Toxic Tankers

It seems that especially on weekends, an especially toxic strain of tankers infests the World of Tanks. They complain about their own team, rage and curse at players who don't play the way they deem correct, and often give away to the enemy the position of players they feel deserve to die, even though it's at the expense of weakening their own team's chance of winning. Of course, usually all this is after their own tank's destruction.

You may remember South Park's take on people with anger management issues (episode T.M.I.): angry men's members are smaller than average, and that's what they're really angry about. But there's no point in reminding tankers about that unless you're trolling them.

In fact, this kind of  angry ranting in WoT is not helped by's response to it, which is basically to ignore it. They believe that their in-game reporting tool and automated response is sufficient. It is not. What expect is that if people are rude, enough people will report them during the game that their automatic tools will realize that and penalize the player. There are two things wrong with that:

  • Lack of reporting
  • Lack of feedback
Let's look at the first of those: lack of reporting. If a player is cursing and swearing at his team-mates, many players who would like to report the player at that point cannot do so because they're far too busy controlling their tanks and trying to avoid getting killed themselves. In the heat of battle is the wrong place to be reporting. Moreover, reporting players for inaction is problematic, because the player might be simply watching through gun-sights at a spot he expects an enemy to appear at. General inaction can only be thoroughly evaluated after the battle.

Lack of feedback is the next problem. There appears to be no benefit in reporting players. They never seem to receive penalties. Maybe they do, but how would anyone know? Lack of feedback leads in turn to the first problem: lack of reporting. Why bother reporting when nothing ever seems to be done?

Finally, will no longer follow up on reports of player rulebreaking that you raise out-of-game on their support website. Even if you support such a complaint with a replay of the match in question, their customer support agents will take no action.

Meantime, player misbehaviour worsens. I've taken to changing my "General Settings" to disable battle-chat. At least I don't have to listen to the ragers. But then I can't tell if they're giving away our positions to the enemy.

Blaugust, Day 1.

Exaltation of Spirit

Today is the 100th anniversary of the funeral of Jeremia O'Donovan Rossa, a Fenian leader, one of the most famous revolutionaries of his day, and a tireless enemy of the British occupation of Ireland. But nowadays it is his funeral that is best remembered, because of the speech Padraig Mac Piarais gave at O'Donovan Rossa's graveside in Glasnevin Cemetery, closing with
They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace
 It was an explosive oration that lit the spark of the 1916 uprising (in which Mac Piarais himself died) and the War of Independence. It was a speech that changed the world.

Contemporary silent film of O'Donovan Rossa's funeral, with a musical soundtrack added.

Friday, 24 July 2015

After 6.2?

Blizzard have told us that 6.2 will be the last patch in this expansion, and so the Isle of Farahlon (Netherstorm) won't be developed as they planned for this expansion.  Also, Hellfire Citadel is the last raid? Gul'dan still at large? That has all set my antennae twitching like a Nerubian. Let's see. They haven't time to implement their vision for Draenor in this expansion, they have a tie-in film coming out in the autumn, and now has given notice of a press conference promising "de nouvelles annonces croustillantes" (thanks for the heads-up from Alternative Chat)

My take on all this is that Blizzard will be announcing a new expansion to release at the same time as the film. I guarantee it. And the new expansion will bring us to Farahlon. And we'll hunt down Gul'dan, wherever that may take us. Perhaps Azeroth in an alternative timeline where Lordaeron is in the ascendant? I don't guarantee that.

Edit: mamytwink's promise of "spicy-hot new announcements" from Blizzard at Gamescom has proven to be correct, and as I predicted, those announcements are of a new expansion for WoW. So that's the first part of my prediction, but it has yet to be seen if it will be released in time for a film tie-in, and we are still far from knowing if it involves Farahlon or Gul'dan.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Fear of Flying

I knew Blizzard was going to give in and let people go flying. I learned that Blizzard always give in, back in 2090, when they fixed a problem in how group disbandment worked. Before patch 3.1.0, people who left a group in the middle of an instance would be teleported to wherever their hearthstone was pointing. This so-called "ghetto hearthing" was identified as a potential problem for Blizzard's not-yet-released Dungeon Finder. People might queue for instances just to ghetto hearth out: hearthstones had a 60 minute cooldown at the time. When Blizzard announced that they were fixing the problem by teleporting instance-abandoners to the nearest graveyard, there was an outcry from the usual entitled sources, who felt it was their right to be able to ghetto-hearth. To use the other 4 people in their instance in order to hearth out.

And incredibly, instead of telling these entitled idiots that we all have to play nice with each other,  Blizzard gave in to them, and announced they would reduce the cooldown on hearthstones to 30 minutes. I knew then that Blizzard would always give in.

Flying has always been problematic, for reasons that I'll not go over here, as they've all been given a good airing recently! And because it's problematic Blizzard has tried to curtail flying in many ways (and I'm sure they're sorry they ever introduced it). I don't want to get into why it's been problematic, or what Blizzard could have done to  make it less problematic. I want to focus on how Blizzard attempts to curtail it.

Flying was introduced for level-capped adventurers in the Burning Crusade, and at that point Blizzard had a proper 3D layout for Outland, but not for Azeroth. So for ages, flying was not possible in Azeroth. No convincing in-game reason was ever given, it was purely an implementation problem.

But once you have level 70 players flying in Outland, there was a hidden problem left for Northrend. Why couldn't level 70 players fly their mounts in Northrend? The real reason was that it would have made quest design a whole lot harder. Blizzard introduced it in Outland only for level-capped players - so after they had already explored the whole of Outland on horseback, and done all their quests on the ground. Blizzard wanted the same freedom for their designers in Northrend. So they introduced the idea of "Cold Weather Flying", which was a neat way of sidestepping the problem. You needed to train a new skill to be able to fly in such cold conditions. That kinda got them over the hump for Northrend. But wait - if I can fly in Northrend, what magical property of Kalimdor prevents me from flying there? Again, no in-game reason, and this was one of the many reasons Blizzard decided that for their next expansion, they'd redesign the old world to allow them to support "Old Weather Flying".

 So the idea of a "Flight Master's License" was introduced for the old world.  Not a skill that was trained. A licence. We're used to the idea of levels as being proxies for our level of ability. So I am more skilled at level 70 than at level 1. But the problem for the Cataclysm was that I am already well-skilled in flying, having learned how to do it in Outland, and having perfected the cold-weather variant in Northrend. Blizzard couldn't keep inventing new skills that were particular to Azeroth but not Northrend, and it wasn't a viable long-term solution to their problem, which was that they wanted to keep us from flying until we'd done all the quests they'd designed to be done on the ground.

So they embraced the problem in the Cataclysm expansion. and designed their new quests with flying in mind right from the start. They allowed flying right from level 60. In fact, the stonecore dungeon entrance couldn't even be reached on foot, and the Vashj'ir zone was based on everyone swimming (i.e. flying) underwater.

That was a great solution, but for some reason Blizzard didn't extend it to Pandaria. I don't know what they saw that made them change tack (perhaps they deplored the "fly-in, kill, loot, fly-out" play pattern that Cataclysm brought), but change tack they did, and in Pandaria, flying was again only available at the level-cap.

This was a retrograde step for two reasons.
1. We already had the expectation that we would be able to fly in Pandaria from the start
2. There was no convincing in-game explanation for why we couldn't fly in Pandaria.

 Sadly no explanation was given as to why my existing flying skills don't work there. "Wisdom of the Four Winds" was the gate to flying in Pandaria.What is it anyway? A skill? I already have flying skills. A licence? Who is the licensing authority? I already have a "Flight Master's License". Something else? What? This was a lazy solution. There was no in-game reason. As a player, I understand the designers' design reasons, but a solution that made sense to Dàchéng would have been nice.

Now we have reached Outland again, and my well-honed flying skills yet again seem to have faltered. I'm sure Blizzard by this stage were ruing the day they ever allowed flying, but their attempts to put the genie back in the bottle were always doomed to failure. However their "compromise" is as ugly a solution as the Wisdom of the Four Winds. None of the preconditions for "unlocking the ability to fly in Draenor on all [your] level 90+ characters" make any in-game sense.

This is just a gamified solution, with not even the pretense of an in-world reason. Not even an inscrutable reason like Wisdom of the Four Winds. Instead we are asked to collect 100 "treasures". Explore all of Draenor on the ground. Complete all the quests that are part of the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements. Achieve three Tanaan Jungle Revered Reputations. These are hoops for the player to jump through that make no sense to their characters. What has any of this got to do with flying? It's another step away from a believable virtual world.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Personal loot changes

These changes to "Personal Loot" in 6.2:

"rather than treating loot chances independently for each player—sometimes yielding only one or even zero items for a group—we’ll use a system similar to Group Loot to determine how many items a boss will award based on eligible group size"


Let's imagine that our 10-man raid is set to "Personal Loot" and will get awarded 5 items of loot. Just how will this be distributed? Does Blizzard look at the first team member and decide "Well that's a 50% chance of them getting personal loot. Let's toss a coin. Heads! You win". Then the next person in the group has a 4/9 chance of being awarded loot? I.e. 4 items left to distribute among 9 players. Is that how the mechanics of this will work? I don't know, but I'd like to. Do you know for definite?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

First they came for the pet-collectors ...

I know it's a while since I posted about the price of WoW Tokens, but that's mainly because I'm dumbfounded by it.

Blizzard engineers continue to play with the algorithms governing the in-game price of  WoW Tokens. By now I'd come to doubt that the relationship between price, supply and demand is anything more than tenuous. I note that we have never seen any data on actual volume of transactions, and also that has ceased to report the "time taken to sell", presumably because it was stuck at a fixed "4 hours" for so long. I think that in their effort to smooth price fluctuations, Blizzard's engineers have erred in reducing current supply and demand to a minor input in their equation.

I continue to buy the game-time tokens from time to time when I see them cheap on the auction house.

However, I have cancelled my subscription, and won't be renewing it when my gold runs out. To me, these tokens are the point of no return. In effect, Blizzard are now selling epics for cash (with the intermediate step that you must first exchange your cash for gold, then exchange the gold for epics). this is something many people (I include myself) have been warning about for many years, and it has inevitably happened. Take a trip down memory lane with my favourite mage blogger, Larísa of the Pink Pigtail Inn. The context of that article is that selling pets in-game for cash is the start of a slippery slope. It has proven to be so, and all the arguments people made that Blizzard might sell fluff for cash but never what matters (epics) have turned out to be wrong. Larísa, knew it, I knew it, you knew it, deep in your heart.

I know there is plenty of fun to be had in Azeroth that doesn't rely on earthly cash or Azerothean gold: I love exploring and finding little nooks and items not shown on the map. I love to stand, as Painter Mikkal does, and just gaze at the beauty of the world. I love finding routes up to "unreachable places", I love chatting to the many amazing people I have met, and I love killing orcs. But the group finder tool dealt a heavy blow to my sense of immersion in a virtual world; and now being able to buy epics like this has been the final straw for me.

I'm sure I'll keep some gold back so I can resubscribe for a while post-Draenor, and I've still plenty of game time tokens on my account, so I'm not going real soon; but my heart is no longer eager.

Monday, 4 May 2015


Izlain has posed this question as the first TalkBack Challenge in the Newbie Blogger Initiative:

How did GamerGate affect you?

Are you mad, Izlain?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

WoW Tokens: What the ...

I am at a loss to understand the disparity in the gold (game-time) WoW Token price between the EU and NA regions. Many people have tried to explain it, but none of the explanations ring true.

However my investigations have now uncovered the truth. Let's look  in the NA region first. The token price rolls between about 24 000g  and 20 000g. Let's examine that.

If you want some Azerothian* gold, you would buy a $teel (RMT) WoW Token from Blizzard for $20. If you need the gold instantly, you stick it on the AH immediately, and are take whatever the going rate is. If you can wait a little, you sell it only when the price nears 24 000g (I showed yesterday how the peaks and troughs are predictable).

What about buyers of the gold (game-time) WoW Token? You buy that at auction. If you need the token instantly, you buy it at whatever the going rate is. If you can wait a little, you buy it only when the price nears 20 000g.

So we can pretty much see that for most people, sellers get 24 000g and buyers spend 20 000g. This is a bargain for buyers, of course. If you can make 1 000g/hr, that's only 20 hours of farming**. Oops! That means I'm farming at a rate of $1/hour. That's okay, if it's fun, and you'd be doing it anyway. But otherwise, wouldn't I be better off buying a token and working an hour extra in overtime on Earth? Ah, but if I've got kids, the situation changes. I can use them as slaves.

Now let's look at Europe. On EU realms, sellers get about 43 000g and buyers pay about 33 000g. Great deal for sellers, right? Let's assume again that I can make 1 000g/ hour, so it takes me 33 hours of farming to earn a gold WoW game-time token. Since the token costs €20 or £15, that's an income of  61c or 45p an hour. Thank goodness for kids, eh? Finally all those six-year-old kids out playing football can be put to good use. Sadly it's illegal for them to sweep chimneys now, but there's nothing preventing me from enslaving them in the mines of Azeroth.

So I think I've shown what's behind the disparity. Europeans have more slaves.

* What an ugly word. I much prefer "Azerothean". However the Azerothian Diamond shows Blizzard's preferences.

**  Your mileage may vary. Feel free to use your own rates. 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Tokens: A tangled web

Blizzard changed the algorithm they used to calculate bid and offer prices on the WoW Token, just four days ago. Previous to that, the prices steadily climbed, until suddenly they started steadily falling. And vice versa. A steady climb in price followed by a steady drop. The graph of the North American Gold (Game-Time) Token was almost a saw wave. Blizzard social engineers didn't like that, and around the 23rd or 24th of April, they tried a new algorithm. They tried to curve those straight lines, and I think they are pretty happy with the result, the price graph looks more fluid now.

I certainly loved it. It coincided with the  launch of the WoW Token in Europe, and it made it the most predictable price graph on the planet. I'm sharing this with you now so you can benefit as I have done. the prices are so predictable that I predict Blizzard will be tinkering with the formula pretty soon now.

The "secret" is in the rate of change of prices. They are too predictable, too like a sine wave. The price rises at a steady rate until it's near its peak, then the rate of change drops.

Do you want to buy a $teel (RMT) WoW Token to sell for gold? You want to get the most gold for your money. Don't sell that token until the positive rate of change drops. That signals that the price is near its peak (there are no sharp random behaviours here). That is the time to sell, to maximise your gold.

Do you want to buy a gold (game time) WoW Token? Easy. Just follow the prices downward until the negative rate of change  drops. That signals that the price is near its trough (there are no sharp random behaviours here). That is the time to buy. Don't spend your Azerothean gold until then.

Blizzard social engineers are tinkering with the exchange rate, like the USSR of old. They don't trust the free market. They want to control it so that there are no unexpected jolts to the system. That's what makes it predictable. I've been able to use this in the few days since EU launch to predict the best time for me to buy my tokens, and I hope you have, too.

What about Blizzard? Are they happy with the result? I don't know. They may be happy that both sides of the equation get the best deal possible, at their expense. It isn't a big expense. Smart buyers of the $teel token get a lot of gold for their euro, dollar or pound. Smart buyers of the gold (game time) token, get their 30 days for the cheapest gold price possible. Both sides are happy. The piggy in the middle, who absorbs the difference in gold, is Blizzard - who can print gold coins for free. It's win-win-win (except for the inflation, of course. But these are the sort of economic sins that are paid for by the next government - or development team -  not this one).

Blizzard are experimenting. Blizzard will change this again. I don't think they meant to make their prices so predictable. Expect them to tinker with the algorithm again. Meantime, make use of this actionable information while it is still current. I have.

[Edit: I just noticed that is now including rates of change in their graphs, which makes timing your purchases a snap. When the rate-of-change curve crosses the zero-point, you are at a price max or min. It won't recross that line for several hours. The rate-of-change curve is too predictable.]

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


With further details of the WoW token released by Blizzard yesterday, it's time to review what will happen when it is released, which should happen in the Americas first. It will be rolled out there "in the weeks following Patch 6.1.2’s release". I imagine Blizzard will want to get Noblegarden over before the launch, so they can start collecting data in a "normal" period, rather than one where prices might be driven by a seasonal event. So let's say the Tuesday after Noblegarden, Tuesday 14 April. [Edit: it actually appeared the previous Tuesday, 7 April]

Blizzard have also firmed up the earthly price ($20 or the equivalent in your currency). What they haven't yet done is firmed up the Azerothean price. Gold is still selling on various "illegal" websites for about 1500g/$, so I think that 30 000g is a reasonable place to start. I imagine, though, that Blizzard will want to make this attractive to gold buyers, and put pressure on third-party gold sellers. That makes me think the initial price will be 40 000g for a token. [Edit: the initial price was 30 000g]

Let me first distinguish two tokens here. There is a WoW Token that Blizzard sells for $20. It has only one use: you can sell it in the Auction House for an Azerothian price set by Blizzard. When it appears in the Auction House, it is transformed into a WoW Token that can be bought at a price fixed by Blizzard, and it too has only one use: to add 30-days of game time to your account. As their icons are different (one looks like it's made of steel, the other is golden), I'm going to refer to them as the $teel WoW token (costs $ to buy) and the Gold WoW Token (costs gold to buy).

So let's look at the buyers of the $teel WoW token. Firstly, these are our avatars on earth (the 'players') rather than ourselves in Azeroth (the 'adventurers' or 'characters'). Players buy these tokens for $20, and presumably assign them to a particular adventurer who then lists them on the AH. Why would players do this? Because their adventurers are poorer than the players - they have less gold than they want, while the players have more dollars than they want.

The wants of the adventurers can be split into one-time wants and ongoing needs. Take the typical raider: she may want some pets, mounts and toys. These are one-time wants in the sense that once she has the item, she doesn't need another. To stimulate this want, Blizzard will have to release more pets mounts and toys that she can buy for gold (expect expensive flying licences for Draenor later this year).

Her ongoing needs are mainly for flasks, potions, food and repairs. She also needs gems and enchantments as she gets some gear. Up to now, she has been struggling to meet her repair bill, eats other people's food and skimps on flasks and potions. On a typical raid night, her bill should be about 250g for repairs, and another 250g on the other stuff, but she struggles just to scrape together the money for repairs. If she raids twice a week and does LFR/dungeons another night, she could easily want 1500g/week, though in reality she keeps the bill to 500g by skimping on consumables and not repairing damaged gear before and during LFR. Selling one $teel WoW token will initially cover these ongoing costs for about 26 weeks (if the initial price is 40 000g). Or fewer weeks, but leaving spare gold for one-time wants - mounts, pets and toys. For the sake of argument, let's say the gold lasts the average buyer 20 weeks, and then they will want to buy another.

Who are the buyers of the equivalent Gold WoW Token? They are players with a stockpile of gold, with nothing else worth spending it on. They will be wanting to buy 30 days' game time. If the cost of the token is 40 000g, they need to be earning 1333g/day to keep up. Otherwise, they will run down their stockpile and eventually will have to spend dollars again.

If the price is to remain in equilibrium at 40 000g, then the number of Gold token buyers, who want to buy a gold token every month, must be about the same as the number of buyers of Iron tokens at any time. But we've seen that they need only buy once every 20 weeks or so, while the buyers of Gold tokens want to buy every 4 weeks or so. So the pool of Iron token buyers must be about five times as large as the pool of Gold token buyers for this to be possible.

Now lets look at week 1. The prices will be around 40 000g/20$ that week. Almost every $teel token buyer will spend their $20 that week to get the gold they want. Every Gold Token buyer will be spending their 40 000g to get their free game time. All $teel token buyers will receive the gold they want. Blizzard will see to that. Even if it means printing gold, I very much doubt that Blizzard will return a token unsold to a player. If the pool of $teel token buyers is indeed five times the size of the pool of gold token buyers, all gold token buyers will be satisfied.

What will happen in week 2? Nothing much. Buyers and sellers of both currencies will have dried up, as everyone did what they needed to do on week one.

Week 5? Any $teel token buyer [who as you recall is a gold token seller] bought and sold in the first few weeks. They have their gold. It'll last most of them 20 weeks or so. But gold token buyers, who want free game time, need to use a new token; and unless they stocked up on week 1, they are going to have to buy one. While sellers are still thin on the ground, buyers will be turning up in their droves, camping the AH to snap up any that might appear. Prices will rocket.

So. Whatever the initial price is, be clear that it will rise steeply in week 5 if not before, and continue to climb until $teel token buyers run out of gold again, or see the gold value of a token as too mouth-watering to ignore.

Recommendation: buy Gold WoW tokens on day 1. Buy all you can afford. There will never again be such a concentrated glut of sellers. The price will never drop to 40 000g again. Don't buy $teel WoW tokens before week 5, once the upward price momentum of gold tokens is obvious.

Addendum: I expect Blizzard to be a little surprised by this. Once they see the inexorable rise of the gold WoW token, they'll be scrambling to find things for people to spend their cash on - expect expensive new mounts, new toys, new pets, soon. Also expect repair bills to rise and gold sources (such as quest rewards and mission rewards) to dry up. See also Plexing Warcraft for the social effects of this move.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Controlling the Market

Blizzard have announced their long-awaited PLEX scheme, the WoW Token. I wrote about it back in December: first about the idea itself, and then about the price. True to form, Blizzard have found a way to do this that minimizes player agency, and maximizes Blizzard's stranglehold on the world.

Of course Blizzard sets the dollar price, as it is the only manufacturer of WoW Tokens on Earth. But Blizzard has also decided that it alone will set the Azerothean gold exchange price, and once bought, the token cannot be resold. You can't decide what price you want to sell it to other players for, or what offer you will make to other players to buy it. You can't undercut other players, in order to make your sale happen earlier. You can't buy when there is a glut for resale when there is a famine. You can't bargain with other players at all. Your choice is this: sell at Blizzard's price or don't sell at all. Buy at Blizzard's price or don't buy at all.

Blizzard say that at any given moment, they calculate the gold sale price of a token dynamically, and that all tokens on sale will be at that price, but the price the seller receives is fixed at the moment of offering it for sale. How is that going to work? How can the price the seller receives be calculated dynamically when she puts it on sale, but the price of all tokens on sale be the same at any moment? There are a couple of possibilities.

1. There is a disparity between sale price and buy price. Blizzard takes a variable commission depending on the dynamically calculated price. For instance, let's say there are 10 WoW tokens for sale at 25k gold each. If I offer a WoW Token for sale, Blizzard might tell me that I will get 24k gold for it, and then Blizzard will list it at 25k, making a 1k commission. Or (as a variant of this):

2. Blizzard keeps it's price promise, and makes up the difference from its own gold mint. For instance, let's say there are 10 WoW tokens for sale at 25k gold each. If I offer a WoW Token for sale, Blizzard might tell me that I will get 20k gold for it, and then Blizzard will list it and all the others at 24k, losing 1k on the earlier, more expensive tokens. They might also take a fixed commission from the transaction to mitigate having to mint more gold.

3. In effect, there is only one token ever on sale. It is the oldest token in the queue. It cannot be undercut and will never return unsold from the AH. The dynamic price offered to new sellers is calculated depending on the size of the queue, but the price offered to buyers is the price of the oldest token.

4. A combination of 2 and 3.  The token on sale is always the oldest token, but it is on sale at the current dynamically calculated price (i.e. the price calculated for the newest token), while its seller gets the price that was dynamically calculated at the time she offered it for sale, less some AH fees. For instance, let's say there are 10 WoW tokens for sale at 25k each (and the sellers were promised 25k less commission). I offer mine for sale, and Blizzard calculates a new dynamic price of 24k for mine, less commission. The price of the other 10 are now set at 24k, and mine joins the back of the queue. When someone buys the oldest token for 24k, its seller still gets 25k less commission.

This is all just guesswork. Update: Blizzard have confirmed that it is option 4, and that there is no commision.

I don't understand why Blizzard doesn't trust its players to buy and sell these tokens normally*, nor why these tokens cannot be resold. If they are afraid of dupe bugs, they should first fix their game so that such bugs cannot occur.

* The reason stated on their blog made me laugh. They wanted to do it "without making players feel like they’re playing a game with their hard-earned money". That's exactly what we're doing when we pay our subscription.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tamriel Unlimited. Hololens

The news from Zenimax is that they are ditching mandatory subscriptions for the Elder Scrolls Online from St. Patrick's Day this year. It's going buy-to-play (which just means "buy" in everyone else's language). Wilhelm has the full story over here. One thing to which I'd like to draw your attention is that if you ever bought ESO, even if you let your subscription lapse (as I did), you won't have to pay a penny more after March 17 to play it again. Heck, they'll even throw in 500 crowns (whatever that's worth).

That's great news for me, because I got it at launch, but then found myself unable to devote enough time to it to justify a subscription, so I ended up letting my subscription lapse. Once it becomes free to play, I'll definitely be taking a look in (especially as Draenor is not floating my boat as much as I had hoped).

One of the games that attracted my attention recently is Elite: Dangerous. What particularly excited me about it was that the Oculus Rift works with it, and this amazing review from Ars Technica has just about sold me on it. What am I waiting for? Only for the Oculus Rift to come out of Beta.

But yesterday came fantastic news from Microsoft. They unveiled the Hololens, whose demo blew me away. The Hololens is not only a HUD display like Google Glass, it also holographically projects images onto your eyes so that you can see virtual elements (for instance a schematic) projected onto  the real world. Even better, it watches your hands, and allows you to interact with these elements (for instance zooming in or out, rotating, and so on). We will all be Tom Cruise in Minority Report. This is the future of gaming. Hell, this is the future of everything! Here's a review from Wired on it. Check out the video.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cosmetic items and paying for power

Gevlon has a very interesting article on what defines a "cosmetic item" in a game. While I generally agree with much of this I have a few reservations. The value of "cosmetic" in Gevlon's definition is one that won't affect anyone's gameplay. Gevlon goes further and suggests that this is the basis on which we can determine if a game is pay2win*. If an item affects somebody's gameplay it is a pay2win game.

Whilst I can agree with that, I don't think it is sufficient to determine that a game is play2win. There are items that may not affect my gameplay that nonetheless increase the power of other players competing with me.

To take an example, let's look at premium tanks in World of Tanks. Premium tanks are acquired in one of two ways: usually they are bought with cash, either directly through the web-store, or indirectly by buying a currency called gold through the web-store, and buying the premium tank with gold. The second and more unusual way is to win the tank by completing an in-game time-limited mission (for example, I won a ToG II by completing a mission called Togtober last October. Most dedicated players were able to complete this mission: it wasn't onerous, only time-consuming. However no new player can ever complete the mission, because the closing date is past). Most premium tanks aren't available in this way.

My premium tank may be no better in a particular match than your standard tank, and will not change your gameplay, but I have two extra advantages that I bought with my premium tank:
1. I earn extra credits, so I can afford more credit-bought premium ammo than you can (all else being equal), and
2. I can share a crew between my premium tank and a standard tank, thus training that crew twice as fast as  you can train your crew - I mean that I'll have one well-trained crew capable of crewing two tanks, to your two half-trained crews (or well-trained and untrained) after an equal number of matches.

Of course, in-game, you won't know whether my crew was fast-trained, gold-trained or simply normally-trained. You won't know if my premium ammo was credit-bought after a long grind, credit-bought after a short grind in a premium, or shop bought. And you won't care. You'll never meet me again, and it won't change your gameplay - driving a premium tank doesn't signal any level of competence or damage-dealing ability to other players, and plenty of non-premium tanks carry premium ammo**. The tank itself is nothing special in battle. Nonetheless I buy myself power when I buy a premium tank, which seems like a cosmetic item. In itself it is not more powerful than your standard tank. It gives me a little more power than you over the course of several matches, but that is irrelevant to you, because we will only meet once in battle.

See Hetzer Forever for more on that.

* Syncaine makes the point that it's more exactly pay-4-power. I think we can all agree that this is what we mean by pay2win.

** Of course, premium ammo is a clear non-cosmetic pay2win item. My point is that the premium tank seems like a cosmetic item, while also being pay2win.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Tobold's Game

Tobold is at it again: pretending not to know the difference between toys and games. I pointed it out to him back in 2013. He doesn't want to know, though, because he wants to buy his progress in the cash store, and doesn't want to acknowledge that this hurts other people's games (see Toys and Games for why)

By the way, that's the second time Tobold has used the title "Everything is Pay2Win". The previous time was back in 2013. which prompted me to ask how Free2Play games could be monetized without being Pay2Win. Nobody came up with any suggestions. Can you think of any?