Friday 31 May 2013

Sources and sinks

How do you make your money in Azeroth? Farming (harvesting herbs, skinning beasts, fishing, mining) or crafting (tailoring, leatherworking, smithing, engineering, jewelcrafting, inscribing and so on). Or maybe you are a trader on the Auction House, buying low and selling high. Or perhaps you make your money by questing. Most likely it's a bit of all of these. However you get your gold, it might surprise you to know where the gold comes from. The short answer is: new gold comes from NPCs only.

You might think that when you're mining copper ore you're basically digging money out of the ground. But you aren't creating any money at this point. Eventually you sell the ore (perhaps after processing it into another form): if you sell it to another player, you still haven't created any new money - you've only transferred money from another player to yourself. You only create new money if you sell the ore to an NPC.

Think about that.

Farming, crafting and trading in general don't create any new wealth. They simply transfer wealth from the buyer to the seller. NPCs are the only source of new money in the economy. They generate this money spontaneously only as a result of a player interaction with them. So the real source of new wealth in the economy is mostly players who make their money through questing (especially dailies), running instances, killing mobs and sell questing rewards and mob-drops to vendors*.

Where does the money go? What takes it out of circulation? Again, NPCs take gold out of circulation. For instance NPCs take money when you buy something from them for gold, or when you repair your armour. Probably the most effective sink is the least noticed: the auctioneers, who take fees on listed items and sold items.

Blizzard tries to control the amount of money in circulation through these sources and sinks. Without effective sinks, the amount of money in circulation would climb rapidly, bringing inflation. So Blizzard has been aggressive in adding gold sinks: mounts such as the Mekgineer's Chopper, the Traveler's Tundra Mammoth, the Grand Expedition Yak; services such as armour repair, bank tabs, transmogrification and void storage; pets like the Hyjal Bear Cub (strangely, no expensive vendor pets were added in Pandaria). These all act as a way to suck gold out of the economy.

Without gold sinks, the Azerothian economy would fill with gold, and the the cost of stuff we buy from other players would inflate very rapidly, since we could all afford to pay more for everything, since we would have more money.

* "Vendor" is the biggest misnomer in the whole of Azeroth. These guys sell virtually nothing. They are really "vendees".
Two other misnomers are "fear" and "equip". How often do we hear players complain that they were feared? The opposite is usually true! When "Fear" is cast on somebody, they feel so afraid that they run about like headless chickens, losing all muscle control. Nobody fears them! 
And when I put a piece of gear on, I do not equip it; I equip myself.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

World of Tanks Cheat Codes

Gevlon is writing a fascinating series of articles this week on how is (in his opinion) cheating World of Tanks players (for reasons that are not clear to me). But this article isn't in response to that series, rather it's in response to something a commenter said. Let me give you a little background. Gevlon started his latest series because he found that a pair of articles that he wrote months ago - accusing of cheating - was getting loads of hits, a year after he wrote them. In fact, they are the most visited posts on his blog. He opined "I think they resonate with something my readers found themselves". Commenter Ted Atchley had a counter-hypothesis:

The two pages are getting lots of hits because people are seaching Google for "World of Tanks cheats", looking for a cheat code or something similiar for the game.

Well, that resonated with me! So I thought I'd test that theory. Here, I provide no interesting theory about, nor do I provide any World of Tanks cheat codes. Such things don't exist. I simply provide a page that will catch people googling for such cheat codes, to test Ted's counter-hypothesis. I'll report back with the results in a few months' time.

Monday 20 May 2013

Lollygagging in LFR

Whenever I disagree with Rohan, I always stop and think twice. I greatly respect Rohan's opinion, and so I suspect I might be wrong. So I've been stewing over a post that he wrote last month for a couple of weeks now. But time has not cured me, and experience has just confirmed my feeling. I really hate the Determination buff in Raid Finder. Every time you wipe, you get an extra 5% buff that stacks up to 50%, until the boss dies.

Here's what happens, in my experience, in a typical Throne of Thunder encounter: tanks rush in (often without a ready check), pick up targets, everyone else rushes in and does as much damage as they can. Some of us know the mechanics and try to avoid causing problems, others ignore all fight mechanics and stuff on the floor. Healers keep them up as long as possible, until they can't any more and everyone dies.

We pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. Somebody explains the mechanics (often nobody explains them before the first wipe, since nobody wants to appear to be talking down to their comrades in arms). Second attempt: some more people are now trying to properly deal with fight mechanics. Many still aren't. They don't care. They know they don't have to. Next attempt we have two stacks of Determination. What does it matter if they don't kite the orbs out of the main courtyard? What does it matter if they ignore the Loa Spirits? What does it matter if they can't find and follow the maze? What does it matter if all the lollygaggers die? Our Determination will just stack higher and higher until those remaining can defeat the boss anyway.

The lesson this teaches is that we can just ignore fight mechanics. The boss is going down, anyway. For instance, when somebody tries to explain that you shouldn't pull all the Anima Golems at once and AoE them down (or else you'll get all the Large Anima Golems activating at the same time), someone will point out that that's exactly what their raid did, and they were able to AoE down everything in the room. The worst thing is, they are right! The unspoken corollary is that they had 5 stacks of Determination at the time. So the fight starts, and the guys who pretend that they don't have Recount installed AoE down everything, anyway, to get to the top of the charts (they pretend they don't have recount installed so that they can ask "Can anyone link recount?"). For them, getting to the top of the charts is more important than actually downing the boss. He's going down, anyway, in another few minutes, but they'll be spamming recount in guild chat forever.

Blizzard is complicit in all this. When people complain about the difficulty of a fight, Blizzard always ends up nerfing it. I've never seen a case where, when a fight is too easy, Blizzard buffs it; and yet all fights get easier as we outgear them. What's the bet that before the end of this expansion, nobody will be running Durumu's Maze? We'll all be standing in the purple, DPSing and healing as usual. Running from the beam, but that's all. Or maybe by then the beam will also have been nerfed!

Interestingly, when the Cataclysm happened, the new dungeons couldn't be zerged.  For the first time in many months, adventurers had to pull crowd-control abilities onto their action bars and key-binds. The resulting whine from the player-base was so high-pitched that Ghostcrawler responded by writing this article, barely a month after the Cataclysm struck: Wow! Dungeons are hard! In it, he defends their emphasis on thinking over acting. Rohan didn't agree, and said so. A few days later, the nerfs were implemented. For the rest of the expansion (i.e. all but the first month), the fights were all too easy. Now in Pandaria, "heroic" dungeons are an embarrassment to Blizzard, who must see the irony in the name "Heroic", just as they must see the irony in naming LFR loot "Epic".

Thursday 16 May 2013

Toys and Games

Tobold, who often has the opposite opinion to me on paying for games, had another pop at his favourite strawman, "people [who] have very incoherent attitudes towards ... Pay2Win". His point is that WoW and Rift cannot possibly be pay2win games because they have no win condition. It's a very disingenuous argument that he rolls out to support his view that time-poor but money-rich players shouldn't be at a disadvantage in these games, compared to people who have lots of time. To see why it is disingenuous (and incoherent, incidentally), first let me digress, and discuss the nature of toys and games.

What is a toy? It's something that you play with, for fun. A ball, for instance is a toy. A train-set is a toy. The play is normally undirected/self-directed. When that play becomes directed by a code of rules, the toy is generally being used as part of a puzzle or game. For instance, model soldiers: I can play with them, paint them, hide them in the sugar bowl and generally have undirected fun with them. I can also use them to play tabletop wargames. My ball can be used  to play undirectedly, but there are lots of games that are played with a ball: football, kerbie, keepy-uppy. The best toys are those that you play with for years without getting tired of them.

What is a game? A game is goal-directed play, and it is competitive play. In a game there can be a winner and there can be a loser1. Football is a game that uses a toy (a ball). Poker is a game that uses a toy (a pack of cards). (Aside: goal-directed play in which there is no competition is called a puzzle. I can complete my Sudoku puzzle, or I can put it aside for now and come back to it later, or I can give up. There is no competitor involved).

Virtual worlds are primarily toys. Second Life, Minecraft; these are worlds in which the self-directed nature of the play is paramount.

What is disengenuous about Tobold's argument is that a virtual world is a toy which is used to play many games. Tobold pretends to ignore the competitive nature of these games and only looks at the toy nature of these worlds - "tra, la, la, I can go exploring, I can see what's in this cave, I can make myself a festival suit, I can kiss a frog, I can bow before the king of Stormwind, I can ride on a dragon's back through the clouds. How does it affect your play if I've bought the Sword of a Thousand truths, to help in my self-directed play?"

The problem is that there are games within this virtual world. Competitive games. And not just "Realm first kill of Lei-Shen" or "Top Arena Team 2v2" kind of games. There is also the game of keeping your guild ahead of your peers' guilds. There are league-style ladders, in which I am both winning against those below me on the ladder, and losing against those above me. For instance, my guild is about realm 35-40 in raiding (depending on whose ladder you look at). That means we are in a competition in which we are being beaten by 35-40 other guilds, and in which we are beating about 2000 other guilds (many of whom don't realize they were entered in the competition :-)). Or another game is "See who can get the highest ilvl gear". Again, there's a ladder. Same for achievements, companion pet ownership, mount ownership, cooking recipes learned and so on. There are many games in these virtual worlds, many of which we don't choose to participate in. But that doesn't mean we don't affect them.

If the Sword of a Thousand Truths is sold in a cash shop, that defeats the nature of these games, or demands that all who want to play them have to buy the sword. It doesn't even matter if Tobold doesn't want to play these games. By making the sword available in a cash shop, these games are greatly affected.

There are also puzzles, which is what I think the majority of raiders are primarily interested in (even though they do keep an eye on their guild rank, as well). The puzzle is "What must our guild do to defeat this boss". This is a tricky puzzle. Of course, we must study tactics, and often invent new tactics for the particular nature of our team; we have to learn to execute those tactics; We also have to recognize when we need to improve our gear. Maybe we have to go into a different dungeon just to find a particular piece of equipment that we need for this dungeon. Figuring out what items we need and how to get them is part of the puzzle. If we can just buy gear at the cash shop, the puzzle is spoiled.

It is a source of confusion that these virtual worlds are called games, when in actual fact they are toys that are used to play games. Tobold uses precisely this confusion when he rhetorically asks "Can you Pay2Win in a PvE game that has no win condition?" You see right there what he's done? He is claiming that because the "game" has no win condition, it's impossible to pay to win. What he really means is that the toy that is the virtual world has no win condition. But the games played with that toy do. He also asks (again rhetorically) "Is buying something you could also get from grinding Pay2Win?" Well, clearly it is, because of the competitive nature of these games. Many of them are about who can do something first, or before somebody else. If you can do something first simply by paying for it, or by paying for a precursor to it, your time-based games are dead in the water. Just because Tobold isn't currently playing these games doesn't mean that cash shops won't affect these games.

All the while, Tobold supports these Pay2Win concepts because he believes that it will make life better for the average player. That is a belief that is not evidence-based. My gut feeling is that it will just trivialize both the toy and the games played with it. Again, that is not evidence-based, it's just a gut feeling. Its reductio ad absurdum would be to repair the Broken I.W.I.N. Button and put it up for sale in the cash shop.

1 A game need not always have a winner: everybody could lose/draw. A game can be against a computer opponent, or against the clock, or against your previous best. The point is that you, the player, can win or lose.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

The Holiday that Time Forgot

This year's children's week was the quietest since records began. With most high-level adventurers now lodged in Pandaria, it wouldn't surprise me that many people were unaware that there was a holiday event happening: there wasn't the slightest hint of it in the Shrine of the Seven Stars. No Pandaren orphans to look after, nor any orphan matrons looking after any other orphans there. The holiday itself hasn't changed all that much since Orphan Matron Aria opened her orphanage in Dalaran. There was a bit of a reshuffle after the Cataclysm, as old quest locations were destroyed or altered, but since most adventurers were back in Stormwind by this time, the old orphanage there got plenty of help. This year, with few adventurers lodging in Stormwind, the orphans were all but invisible.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Gear plan for 5.2 revisited

So, this was my gear plan for 5.2 ( ← the link on the left also shows how I was dressed at the end of April)
Head:Falling Blossom Cowltailoring
Neck:Destroyer's BattletagsShadow-Pan Assault neutral
Shoulders:Shoulders of
Demonic Dreams
Shadow-Pan Assault exalted
Chest:Fire Support RobesShadow-Pan Assault revered
Cloak:Shadowspike CloakShadow-Pan Assault honored
Wrists:Troll-Burner BracersShadow-Pan Assault friendly
Hands:Flameweaver HandwrapsShadow-Pan Assault honored
Waist:Firestrike CordShadow-Pan Assault revered
Legs:Charfire LeggingsShadow-Pan Assault honored
Feet:Falling Blossom Treadstailoring
Finger 1:Signet of the
Shado-Pan Assault
Shadow-Pan Assault friendly
Finger 2:Eye of Oondasta
(ilvl 522)
It dropped for me last week
when killing Oondasta.
If you don't have such luck,
you can use Restored Hexxer's
Signet instead. 
Trinket 1:Volatile Talisman of
the Shado-Pan Assault
Shadow-Pan Assault friendly
Trinker 2:Wushoolay's Final Choice
(ilvl 502)
A lucky ToT LFR drop last
week. Apart from praying for
lucky drops, best choice is
the Shock-Charger Medaillon
from Operation Shieldwall
Main Hand:Loshan, Terror IncarnateTsu-Long in TES
Off Hand:Inscribed Jade FanInscription
or Staff:Jin'ya,
Orb of the Waterspeaker
Lei-Shi in TES

How am I getting on? Not hard to answer that one. I'm currently honored with the Shado-Pan assault, so nothing for revered or exalted is yet mine. And the headpiece, Falling Blossom Cowl, cannot be had in the market. Not even for ready money. However Horridon was kind enough to drop the Flamecaster's Burning Crown in LFR last week.and I can't really expect to improve much on that. STOP PRESS: I luckily discovered the recipe for Falling Blossom Cowl today, and I'll be making myself one just as soon as I can buy enough Haunting Spirits. I need eight, and they go for upward of 15000g each on my realm, but they still get snapped up quickly at that price.

For the neck, I've got the Destroyer's Battletags, as expected.

As for the shoulders, I've replaced my old Mantle of the Golden Sun with an ilvl 502 LFR drop from Jin'rokh, Fissure-Split Shoulderwraps. Exalted with the Shado-Pan assault is a long way off! Jin'rokh is the easiest boss in the throne of Thunder to kill, so I may be able to get the ilvl 522 version on of these days.

For the chest, I've replaced my Imperial Ghostbinder's Robes (ilvl 489) with Robes of the Lightning Rider, a world drop from Galleon. I also won the LFR Robes of Mutagenic Blood from Primordius, but I haven't gemmed, enchanted and equipped it. I don't think it's worth it, as I'm on the cusp of revered with the Shado-Pan Assault, so I should have the Fire Support Robes as soon as I have enough Valor Points.

Cloak: Shado-Spike Cloak: 

Wrists: Troll-Burner Bracers ✓

Hands: Flameweaver Handwraps ✓

Waist: I'm still stuck with the ugliest belt in the universe, the Belt of Malleable Amber. Oh, how I'd love to get rid of it. as soon as I hit revered with the Shado-Pan Assault, I'm getting the Firestrike Cord, even before I get the Fire Support Robes.

Legs: Even though I'm honored with the Shado-Pan assault now. I'm not yet planning to replace my old Leggings of the Burning Scroll (which I got from Amber-Shaper Un'sok in HoF Normal, by way of a Shadowy Vanquisher token). I think I'm better replacing my waist and chest, first. I just don't have enough VP yet to buy the Charfire Leggings.

Feet: No sign of the Falling Blossom treads on the AH, and I haven't got the recipe yet, so for now I'm sticking with my Sandals of Oiled Silk.

Finger 1: Signet of the Shado-Pan Assault ✓
Finger 2: Eye of Oondasta ✓(I already had this at the start of April)

Trinket 1: Again, my shortage of Valor Points means that I haven't yet bought the Volatile Talisman of the Shado-Pan Assault. I'm still sporting my Relic of Yu'Lon.
Trinket 2: Wushoolay's Final Choice ✓ (I already had this at the start of the start of April)

Main hand: I'm in a quandary here. Although I won the ilvl 502 version of Athame of the Sanguine Ritual from Dark Animus in the Throne of Thunder, I'm havering about equipping it instead of my sword, Loshan, Terror Incarnate, which is twice upgraded to ilvl 491, and has the sha-touched gem in it. Usually when I'm vacillating like this, what happens is that I keep both items and wait for something unequivocally better to drop for me, but in this case there is nothing that I can realistically get that is head-and-shoulders above them. I know that the dagger is a bit better, but after all the trouble I went to to get the sha-touched gem, I'm loth to give it up.

Off-hand: I still have the Inscribed Jade Fan, and I'm waiting for something better to drop in LFR.

So there you have it. About half-way through executing my plan. But with 5.3 on the near horizon, and the balmy days of summer with us, I'm seriously wondering if I wouldn't be better off taking it easy and waiting to replace my ilvl 522 gear with 5.3 LFR gear. Certainly, all my hard-won 5.1 gear was no sooner acquired than replaced in 5.2. I have the feeling that the pace of the gear treadmill has picked up. In 5.1 I made a real effort to keep up, because I was guesting with another guild's raid team. But now my guild is raiding, so I'm no longer guesting with the other team, and I no longer feel the same pressure that I might lose my raid spot, being as how my gear is still pretty decent.