Wednesday 24 December 2014

Paying to lose

As I mentioned in "Plexing Warcraft", in EVE Online, paying for a powerful ship doesn't necessarily mean you become a powerful player. I'm learning the same lesson in World of Tanks, where my latest RMT purchase is the E-25. It's a light, fast, "tank destroyer". I put that in quotes because in fact, its accurate gun doesn't actually do a lot of damage per shot, though it does penetrate well, and has a fast reload rate. Anyway, I bought it for reasons of envy. Everybody else seems to have one, and they are in almost every battle where their tier is allowed. So much so that has decided to withdraw them from sale before every tier 7 battle becomes 15v15 E-25s swarming over each other.

So I bought one while I still could, and now I'm learning the hard way what EVE veterans know. I've paid for a tank that I don't know how to play. Its high speed makes me want to rush forward and spot. I seem to die very fast in every battle, though sometimes I grant you it is fun weaving between enemy heavies as they swing their guns in my direction, trying to swat the fly that's buzzing around their faces.

All the same, I've got to find a better tactic. It reminds me a lot of the ELC AMX, another tank that I can't play. Let me try playing as a sniper instead of as a scout.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

How much is a WoWPLEX worth?

Yesterday, I expressed my misgivings on Blizzard's plan to plex WoW. Today, to practical matters. How much will a WoWPLEX* cost? Let me first assume that it will be the equivalent of a 60-day game time card, which currently sells at $30 [Edit: Updated March 2015: after Blizzard announced it will be a 30-day game-time token, so I'll assume a WoW token will cost $15]. I checked a couple of gold selling sites, to get a feel for how much gold I could buy for that. It seems I can get around 40k-50k of gold for $30. Let's say, to make the sums easy. $1=1500 gold.

That price sort of puts a bottom on the gold market for WoWPLEXes. At that price, a potential gold buyer can get the same amount of gold by selling a WoWPLEX as he could for buying the gold illegally**. Let's say the gold price of the WoWPLEX drops below the illegal exchange rate. Some potential WoWPLEX sellers will go back to buying gold illegally, at a better rate, and the supply of WoWPLEX will reduce. That should bring its gold price back up.

So, 1500 gold / dollar, or 22500 gold /WoWPLEX  30-day token is the floor price. What is the ceiling price? To answer that, let's look at WoWPLEX  buyers in Azeroth: the people who pay gold to acquire a WoWPLEX. Apart from speculators, their purpose is to swap the WoWPLEX for 30 days of game time. This group can be broken into two: people for whom this is sustainable, because they earn more than 22500g per 30 days (or 750g/day), and people for whom this is (currently) unsustainable. They earn less than this, but they have build up a stash of gold that allows them to afford several WoWPLEX purchases before the well runs dry. Some of this latter group will step up their AH and farming activities so that they can be sustainable, and some will buy a few WoWPLEXes and then stop. So initially the demand will be higher than it will be later. That means that the initial price will be higher, too (Belghast is predicting 100k initially).

It is the fact of having to earn in gold a thirtieth of a WoWPLEX per day that tends to put an upper limit on its price; but I don't know what that upper limit might be. I certainly have less taste for farming and AH playing than I formerly did, but that might be because I have more gold than I need. Perhaps this new mechanism might encourage me to improve my earnings. I'm sure the same is true of everyone. It will also reduce the demand for 'fluff' items, in order to conserve gold for buying WoWPLEXes.

What will the effect of this be on gold sellers and bot farming? I doubt any bot will stop running unless caught. After all, they can pay for their own accounts, now. The demand for their services will be greatly reduced. That in turn will lead to them reducing their prices. That'll feed back to affect the floor that I calculated earlier. If the dollar price of gold halves, then the gold price of the WoWPLEX must inevitably double (or else some gold buyers will revert to buying the gold illegally, instead of through WoWPLEX, reducing the supply of WoWPLEX and hence raising its value).

So those are the tensions that will govern the gold price of WoWPLEX. Illegal goldsellers set the floor price and to an extent determine the supply, and the determination of players to farm and trade in-game to improve their wealth governs the demand and the ceiling.

Edit: March 2015: Blizzard have finalized their plans, which are reasonably different to Eve's PLEX. My take on it is here: Controlling the Market. And how will the gold price move? My predictions are in Tokenomics.

* I believe Wilhelm Arcturus originally coined the term way back in 2011, in a comment on Syncaine's  blog.

** I.e. breaking Blizzard's terms and conditions. This isn't really illegal on Earth in the sense that a court can send you to jail for it. But it does put your position in Azeroth in jeopardy. You might end up in the stockades for several months. You might even be executed.

Monday 22 December 2014

Plexing Warcraft

Blizzard announced that they are now considering a version of Plex for the World of Warcraft: a game-time token that is exchangeable for gold in-game. In other words, I can buy with earthly euros a token that I can then sell for Azeroth gold. Or in my case, the other way round. I have to let that sink in. This would be immediately advantageous for me, since I am as rich as Croesus in Azeroth gold. I have already bought whatever useful BoE epics I can get. But I did this through in-game means. World of Warcraft, essentially, is a collector's world. Even those who are only interested in collecting boss kills must do so by first collecting gear. If that gear will soon be purchasable for euros, the point of most in-game activity ceases. Why bother skinning, mining, inscribing and so on to make gold, when its available on your credit card?

Then we need to look at the remaining activities, and ask if they are interesting on their own. Raiding with my guild is fun. We are not very hardcore and we raid once a week, sometimes twice. I spend the rest of my week preparing for those raids: collecting apexis crystals in order to buy better gear, gathering, crafting and selling stuff at auction to buy food and flasks, running heroic dungeons and LFR and killing world bosses in the hope of better gear drops.  There is a sense of being in a living world with all of these activities (except the random dungeons and LFR). Will that be enough to sustain in me a desire to continue with those activities? Knowing that I can buy whatever I need with my credit card probably renders them pointless. And what is the value of a living world in which your activities therein are pointless? Will I continue to remain in an Azeroth where I can buy the Sword of a Thousand Truths with my credit card? Of course, soulbound gear isn't purchasable like that. But the precursors will be: the crafted BoE gear that you need to even stand a chance of killing a boss and acquiring that better soulbound gear; all the buff food, potions and flasks that all make the difference between a kill and a wipe. They can all go on your credit card. So will I continue to be interested in an Azeroth in which I only need log on for raid night?

Edit: Alex tweeted "This article should have drawn more examples from Eve Online". That's probably true. Eve, which I don't play, has quite a different economy, based on constant destruction of ships through warfare. The replacement of these ships is what drives economic activity in Eve, and all economic activity is bought and sold in a currency called ISK, which an Eve PLEX can be sold for. In contrast, WoW's economic activity comes in waves, as each new patch makes obsolete the equipment of the previous patch, driving adventurers to to re-quip with the better gear. Sometimes that gear is valued in gold, and is freely tradable. Much of the time the new gear is not tradable (this in itself is a major drain on immersion), but upgrades to the gear (in the form of enchantments, gems and other enhancements) are. Eve players seem to have no problem accepting PLEX, as many feel that buying ships with ISK doesn't make you more powerful: it's personal skill that matters. I have my doubts. A pilot with lots of skill and no ship is not a match for a poorly skilled pilot who actually has a ship to pilot.

Many EVE veterans will say that far from paying to win, inexperienced players who buy top of the range ships with PLEX-bought ISK are simply paying to lose, as they lack the skill to use the ships effectively. That's a good point: buying better gear in WoW generally does improve your damage or healing output, or survivability, no matter how bad the buyer is.

Anyway, if it has worked for Eve, perhaps it will work for WoW. Perhaps an EVE player might put the case for PLEX in Eve? I'm willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt, for now. Let's see if it actually gets implemented, and how.

Tomorrow, I'll look at how much a WoWPLEX would be worth.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Who did I just free?

Uhm, Cho'Gall, Teron Gorefiend (under the nom-de-guerre of Teron'gor), and Gul'dan. The Iron horde had made them their prisoner, and I freed them. My first act in passing through the Dark Portal into Draenor. Maybe I should have taken the side of the Iron Horde in this. Are Garrosh and Grom really worse than that trio? Oh, well. As Gul'dan says "there will be time for regrets later".

From an Alliance point of view, I suppose it's all good. We get to kill orcs, either way. From an orcish point of view, there must be more ambivalence. Free Gul'dan? Really? At least Garrosh has saved the orcs of Draenor from drinking the blood of Mannoroth, The shattered planet that is Outland shows how badly that went!

Thursday 13 November 2014

10 levels in a day.

I've just learnt that there are already 3 level 100 characters on my realm, less than 12 hours after the release of WoD. That's pretty poor work on the part of Blizzard, in my opinion. What in fact is the point in having 10 more levels if they can be skipped through in a day? I recall taking a year to get to level 50. I wonder if I'll even be able to stretch my 90-100 levelling experience out for a week.

And once we get to level 100, what remains? Raiding, of course, but where is the virtual world we once lived in? Am I to play Garrison manager for the next couple of years? I already have a job like that in Earth Online.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Hetzer forever!

In World of Tanks, I passed a new milestone yesterday: 10,000 battles completed.

And appropriately, my favourite tank, the Hetzer, fought and won the 10,000th. Go me!

So what have I been doing for 10,000 battles? As you can see from my ratings, I'm a pretty average tanker. And I've mostly been using low tier tanks: there doesn't seem to be any advantage in advancing to higher tiers, as the tanks are much more expensive, and so is the ammo, and you can still be facing opponents two tiers above you. Well, up to tier 9, anyway, when only tier 10 is above you; and tier 10, where nobody is above you.

Tier 5 or 6 tanks seem to be a sweet spot for earning credits (for non-premium tanks). In fact VBAddict shows that the top 10 tanks are all in those two tiers, so there really isn't much incentive to go into higher tiers where net income is lower, or even negative.

It's taken me two years to understand what I should have been doing with my premium tanks. Every now and then, holds a World of Tanks event where the prize is a premium tank Premium tanks normally can only be got by spending real money to buy them. You buy an in-game currency called `gold` with real money, and then you can spend that gold on buying in-game items. Premiom tanks can only be bought with gold (not with the other in-game currency 'credits' that you can earn by playing the game), and so are often referred to as "gold tanks". I've won a fair few of them now. The latest such event was Togtober, and that would net you a British heavy TOG II* premium tank if you completed it. It was while I was trying to earn it, that a clan-mate happened to mention that there is no penalty for putting crew from similar tanks** in a premium tank. That's when it clicked.

Let me first explain that crew members are trained for a particular tank. For instance, if you look at my Hetzer commander in the picture above (Stabsfeldwebel Krammer), you'll see that he's trained to 105% in the Hetzer (the 5% boost comes from some extra equipment I've added to the base tank model: "Improved Ventilation"). If I were to take Krammer, and put him in another Tank Destroyer (my Marder, for instance), he wouldn't be as effective. He would suffer a 25% penalty due to being unfamiliar with that machine, so he would be effectively at 75% (+5% if I were to add improved ventilation to the Marder). Crucially this penalty is NOT suffered if I move him to a premium tank**

Once I realized this (two years is all it took), I knew at once that I should never give my premium tanks their own crew. I should always put crew from other tanks into them, because I can transfer them from their main tank to the premium and back again at no penalty: the premium tank becomes a training vehicle. I immediately kicked out all my premium crews, and put a bullet in the head of most of them. From now on, my TOG II* is dedicated to training my British heavy Black Prince crew.

Sadly, most of my other premium tanks were light tanks, and I'm not really a fan of light tanks, except at tiers 1 and 2. So the next thing I did was to review the tech-trees for every nation to look at what premium tanks were suitable for training purposes. And of course, I came across the Russian tier 5 heavy tank, the Churchill III***. This tank was ideal for training the crews of my Russian heavies. It's rock solid. Slow moving, but hard to penetrate, and with a decent gun. It can stand toe-to-toe with most tier 5s.

Then I took a look at American tanks, and bought a tier 5 heavy T14. I'm not so comfortable with this tank - my play-style doesn't suit it. It's more nimble than the Churchill, the gun is decent, but the armor is a little thin. Faced with a KV-1, it had better run! Now that I write this, it seems obvious that I should play it more like a medium tank. Anyway, the good news is that I now have three heavy premiums for the three nations that most of my heavies belong to.

The German tree faces a disadvantage, though. Firstly, it has no tier 5 heavy premium tank. In fact its first premium heavy is the tier 8 Loewe. That doesn't concern me too much, though, because I prefer the German TDs. But there is no German tier 5 premium TD, either! The first is the Tier 6 Dicker Max. Tier 5 premiums cost 1500 gold (the currency that is paid for with euros or dollars). Tier 6 premiums are more than double that, at 3200g. So I'm going to hold off buying it until it's on special offer.

Up until now, I've been spending gold only on garage slots and barracks bunks, since these (and gold tanks) are the only items you can't buy them with credits. All the so-called "gold" ammo (APCR and HEAT) that I have was actually bought with credits, not gold. But with the purchase of the Churchill 3 and  the T14, I have officially gone pay-to-win.

* I've no idea why the Tog II* has an asterisk in its name, either.

** No penalty, as long as the vehicles are the same kind. So Tank Destroyer crews can be moved to premium Tank Destroyers and suffer no penalty, but will suffer a penalty if moved to a premium Heavy Tank, for instance. And obviously, they have to be of the same nation.

*** Lend Lease

Thursday 30 October 2014

Enohar's Revenge - Iron Invasion

Poisoning ogres' cooking pots is now part of the work of our 'heroes' in the Blasted Lands. Enohar Stormbrew, whose sister (I didn't catch her name) was killed in Nethergarde Keep, wants to take revenge on the Dreadmaul Ogres who came through the Dark Portal along with the new orcs. And the only way she knows is to poison their rat stew.

"The poison will slowly eat away at their insides. Causing a prolonged and painful death, just like they deserve. Please, for my sister".

Paoquan did not have the stomach for it. He was quite happy to fight the ogres, but poisoning their food? Not for him. "Family, friends, food. These are what matter most". No. He could not bring himself to use such dirty tricks.

I am a little less squeamish. The ogres have long been the enemies of humans and fought on the side of the orcs during the second war. In sororal solidarity, I acceded to Enohar's request.  All the same, I regret it now. It seems to be a tactic more suited to the scourge and their forsaken brethren than to heroes of the alliance. Our paladins, I am sure, will take the same view as Paoquan.

Monday 13 October 2014

A question of Valor

With one day left to spend your valor points or have them converted to gold in 6.0.2, I am busy trying to upgrade my gear: I found it easier to earn VP than lesser charms of good fortune, so I reckon I might as well make the most of them today. I'm not short of gold, anyway.

Incidentally, it was reported that adventurers who started on the legendary quest will still be able to complete it, if they do so before 13 November, and those who have not yet started will not be able to acquire the quests. But what if you're on "A test of valor"? How can you complete this?

Wednesday 17 September 2014

A weight lifted

I recently became a Conqueror of Orgrimmar. What a relief I felt! I didn't realize how tense and weighed down I was at not having defeated Garrosh until that weight was lifted. I'm sorry, though, that King Varian Wrynn saved Garrosh from Thrall's justice.

In fact, I'm with Lady Proudmoore on how we should proceed: for the first time since the Second War, the Alliance has won an advantage over the horde, due to their internecine rivalries and their disloyalty to their own warchief, Garrosh. It is the perfect time to drive back the invaders from the elven lands of Ashenvale, Darkshore, and holy Azshara; to re-establish the city of Theramore; and to make common cause with the Scarlet Crusade in freeing Lordaeron from the control of its undead abominations. Having killed Garrosh, and with the horde in disarray, we should first establish Orgrimmar as an alliance city.

Light grant that King Varian sees the sense of this.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Orson calling Mork

Returning to planet Ork.

Nanu, nanu.

Friday 1 August 2014

The Curse of Naxxramas

Many years since I was last there, I'm back in Naxxramas. This time it's only a game: Hearthstone. It's great to be back, actually. I've been playing Hearthstone since its release, and as anyone who plays it knows, the challenge of the game is in building decks. Once you have those decks built, actually playing them against an opponent is not tricky. The tricky bit is in building the deck in the first place: selecting the deck of 30 cards from which the cards you play against your opponent will be randomly chosen.

At first, players naturally crowd-source decks from the internet. Let me tell you that while these decks are better than a beginner could build, they are still of variable quality, and once you get a little experience, it's more fun to see how you can improve on those decks. And since its a game of PvP, I'm not going to publish my best decks and let my opponents have an advantage; and I imagine most other players are the same: your edge lies in your decks.

Some people call the deck-building part of it the meta-game. Not quite. The real meta-game is in watching what decks are popular, and building decks to counter them. For instance, a few months back Murlock decks were popular: a warlock class with a hand full of murloc cards. The idea behind this deck is that the murlocs on their own are pretty weak, but they buff each other so if you can get several on the board, they become very powerful. And the warlock is ideal for getting several on board, because his special class power is to draw more cards, so he will have more cards in his hand to choose from than his opponent. So during the deck-building game you had to always bear in mind the likelihood of meeting a Murlock, and that led to decks that had plenty of low-level board-clear, or decks that were heavy on board control.

At one time, nearly a quarter of the opponents I was fought were using Murlock decks. And then the Murlock faded in popularity, and so many of the decks that had been built to counter them were now not as well-suited as they could be to the next flavour-of-the-month build (currently frost mage), and so players altered those decks accordingly. Knowing this, I recently built myself a classic Murlock deck that is wiping the board, since everyone is trying to counter frost mages now, not Murlocks.

Anyway, that's all by-the-by. I wanted to talk about Naxxramas. This is a PvE adventure in Hearthstone, player against the massive intellect of Blizzard's AI. Before Naxxramas, Blizzard provided 9 expert AI opponents (one for each class), and when you built a deck, the first stop was to see how well it fared against those nine. If you couldn't beat those opponents, you would be toast against real opponents.

Now with the introduction of Naxxramas, new AI opponents have been added. The first wing opened last week, for free: the Arachnid Quarter, where we met Anub'rekhan, the Grand Widow Faerlina and the giant spider Maexxna.. It was fantastic to meet them again in Hearthstone. The designers did a great job of providing them with a personality and a deck that matched them in real life. And the deck each got had new cards, and each of these bosses has new abilities, which provided the real fun of the encounter. Suddenly, all the decks you had, all the counterplay you had imagined, it all went out the window. Suddenly you were playing against decks and abilities you'd never seen before.

There are two levels of difficulty: normal and heroic. Your good decks can probably get you through normal without needing to edit them, but for heroic mode, you absolutely needed to tailor a deck to the boss you were about to face.

For instance, Maexxna has a class ability that she uses on every turn (for free): she wraps two of your cards in a cocoon and returns them to your hand (this is in heroic mode, now). Anyone who fought Maexxna in real life will smile at this, remembering the wipes that ensued as half of your team became entombed in those cocoons of silk, their health ticking away! Anyway, Maexxna's hearthstone ability means that every turn you have two fewer cards on your board to counter the opponents that she puts on the board, and you hand is getting fatter and fatter as cards accumulate. As you can only hold ten cards in your hand, pretty soon you are burning draw cards.

The secret to dealing with Maexxna is this: build a deck that has no draw powers, because you won't have a problem filling your hand (draw powers are cards that you play whose side-effect is to draw another card from your deck into your hand). So out with Arcane Intellect or Northshire Cleric, for instance. Fill your deck with minions that have a battle-cry (an effect that takes place as soon as you place them on the board), and with spell cards. Use your battle-cry minions two at a time to to silence her minions, or to heal yourself, or attack Maexxna (luckily she doesn't use many taunt minions - tanks) and use the spell cards to destroy or neutralize the minions she has on the board. On her turn, you get your two minions back to re-use! This is where Ironbeak Owl and Voodoo Doctor really shine.

Each boss needs its own counter-strategy, and building decks to counter these bosses has really revitalized the game for me.

Moreover, the bosses drop loot when you defeat them, in the form of new cards that can be used in your decks when playing against other opponents. That has shaken up every deck you've built. Every internet deck published before these new cards became available is out-of-date. I love it. For instance, the Nerubian Egg has really reduced the value of your board-clear cards, while at the same time making silences more valuable.

Tobold is pretty annoyed about the pricing structure. Each wing except the free Arachnid wing costs €6 to enter, or 700 gold. Tobold thinks this is a lot of money to spend on playing 3 new decks. As gold is earned in-game, I doubt many will be paying euros, dollars or pounds. We've known this was coming for a long time, and like many of you, I've been building up a war-chest to pay to unlock each wing. The people who will be paying real money are those who didn't have the patience to build up a war-chest, or those who play so casually that they didn't play enough to build up a war-chest. This is great. Those players are paying for my enjoyment, and I thank them for it. It's a win-win situation. They don't benefit by getting better cards than me (we both earn the same loot rewards from defeating these bosses), so I am not at a disadvantage by not paying dollars; and they are not at a disadvantage to me because they didn't have enough time to build up sufficient gold to unlock the wings and benefit from the loot-cards. I can't see what Tobold's gripe is.

Here's what I would pay for, though: space for more decks. At present, you have nine decks you can build, one for every hero class. That means of you want to build a special frost-mage deck to take down Maexxna, then you have to record an old deck, because you'll be replacing it. In World of Tanks, I happily pay real money for extra garage spaces, so I don't have to discard old tanks just because I'm getting a new one. I'd pay blizzard for storage for my decks, too.

By the way, the plague quarter is open now. I love Heigan's ability: deal damage to your left-most minion. Remember the Heigan dance, and how there was always somebody too slow to move into the right sector before he burned the sectors beside it?

Monday 21 July 2014

Blood Wall

I'm sure you're as enthusiastic about Camelot Unchained as I am, and noticed the recent slide pack about character progression in CU. One slide in particular caught my attention. The one that says:
Our mantra is "Use it to improve it!"
In other words, to improve a skill, just use it, and you will get better at it. Sounds like a great idea doesn't it? the more I use a sword, the better at sword-fighting I get. the more I cast fireball spells, the better I get at casting them.

While that sounds good, it reminds me of another game that tried that strategy. Do you remember Blood Walls in Darkfall Online?

Blood Walls, for those who have forgotten, is lines of clan members standing facing each other continually hitting each other with weapons to improve their weapons skills, and yet others heal them continuously to improve their healing skills.

It was the ultimate grindy experience, and one that lent itself to macros and I dare say botting. But it was required behaviour if you wanted your skills to be as good as your enemies. While enemy clans and alliances were doing it, your clan had to do it as well, or find yourselves at a disadvantage in battle.

So what started out as a good idea - improving skills through just playing the game - turned into a nightmare of unavoidable grind for everyone. Darkfall Unholy Wars had to get rid of this system before its players got rid of Darkfall. I hope Camelot Unchained has learned this lesson.

Saturday 5 July 2014

A Titanic Struggle

Do you think Rob Pardo's resignation is because he's hacked off that he's not going to get a chance to make Titan?

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Honouring the flame

Like almost every year, Blizzard have once again forgotten to reset the Midsummer bonfires from last year, so if you honoured a flame last year, your won't be able to honour it this year, until Blizzard reset those quests. This happens every year. You'd think it's about time it was fixed, so that those quests automatically reset every year.

Monday 5 May 2014

The cleansing fires of Beltane

Beltane, the Celtic festival marking the beginning of the summer's fertility. It falls around Mayday. Cleansing, purifying fires are lit, burning away old dead growth, preparing the soil for new growth. The festival is held in the gap between spring and summer,the interval between the youth of spring and the adulthood of summer. The fires are lit in this space between seasons. It's not only a void in time, but also in space. Worlds collide in this gap, and the fires purify not only the soil, but anything that passes over them. Man and beast cross the fires, purifying themselves, ridding themselves of evil. Spirits from the dark underworld are cleansed.

My poor monk Paoquan tried to leap across the flames on the eve of the day of the dead, trying desperately to escape from the misty world of the great turtle Shen-zin Su's back, where she had been trapped for a year and a day, and into our world. She leapt across the fires, trying to cross the void. But fell into the interstitial gap between worlds, to perish forever. Or so I thought at the time. This Mayday, the spirit of Paoquan drifted through the void into our world again and was burned and cleansed by the fires of Beltane, and was reborn, not as a childish level 10, but as an adult level 90. The Beltane fires renewed  and revitalized. But the rebirth brought another change. She is now a he.

Monday 7 April 2014

The Happy Time

German U-Boat crews referred to the second half of 1940 as "Die Glückliche Zeit", when the Kriegsmarine had perfected their "Wolf Pack" tactics and British merchant fleets were poorly defended. They were easy pickings.

I felt a bit like a shark among the fish, a wolf among the sheep, this weekend in Hearthstone. The new season started with the official release, and after winning the obligatory three games to earn my hearthsteed, I more or less ignored it until this weekend. Too many other things going on. When I got back to it on Saturday, I realized what a great advertisement those hearthsteeds are. Practically everybody in  Azeroth is now playing Hearthstone, trying the game out (presumably having won their hearthsteed by now, and still enjoying it). And they are making all the foolish mistakes that everyone makes when they first start the game: decks that don't synergize, that ignore the particular strengths of their heroes, that are stacked with high cost cards.

We've all been there. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be this: if you're losing the early rounds due to a lack of low-mana cards, it's pretty unlikely that you'll make a comeback later. And in card-selection at the start of a game, replace any card that costs 4+ mana. Okay, so that's two pieces of advice.

Tuesday 11 March 2014


As you know, Blizzard announced that you can now pre-order Warlords of Draenor now for €45 (or €60 for the deluxe version, which includes a mount and a pet). Blizzard say they'll deliver "on or before 20/12/2014", so why would anyone bother to pre-order now? Because of the free Level 90 Character Boost. Is your raid short of a particular role? Order Warlords of Draenor today, and you can probably have your new level 90 raid-ready in a week's time. I'm considering it to solve Paoquan's dilemma, and get a tank/healer for our raids.

Wilhelm Arcturus has a list of what you get with your insta-90.

Thursday 6 March 2014


The European Commission1 wants to stop games companies from misleading consumers about the true costs of games advertised as "free". Here's what Neven Mimica, the European Commissioner for Consumer Policy says

  • Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
  • Games should not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
  • Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements and purchases should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
  • Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.

One might imagine that such aims are laudable. After all, we are all well aware of how so-called "free" games (especially those on mobile platforms) have mostly morphed into the most blatant adware, trying to sell you the means to actually enjoy playing the game (through in-app purchases) you thought was free to play.

The most pernicious of these games wait until you've invested your time in the game before telling you that to continue playing you must pay money. In other words, they hold your personal investment (for instance, your character if its an RPG) to ransom until you pay them money. I don't mind paying money for games, but I do mind when a game advertises itself as free, and then asks me for money, so I'm very happy with the EC

Azuriel, who describes himself as "as pro-consumer as you can possibly get" is annoyed, though, by Mimica trying to define what "free" means. Especially that it might only be applied to "games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis".

I'm pretty pleased with the EC's proposals. If games companies want to sell stuff to us or our kids, it's right that they be up-front about the costs, rather than trying to hide behind the word free. Azuriel's view seems to be "if I can play any part of it for free, I'm happy with it being described as 'free'" (feel free to correct me if that's wrong, Azuriel). So for instance, he thinks Dungeon Keeper is a great example of a free game. Take a look at Thomas Baekdal's comparison of the current EA ransomware version of dungeon keeper and it's 1997 original version before you make up your mind.

There's no reason why we shouldn't demand that games companies be more upfront about the costs of playing a game. For instance, here's how these games could be described:

This is Thomas Baekdal's suggestion for fixing the problem. What's wrong with that?

These changes are coming. The EU is fed up with ransomware and is going to do something about it. The UK is fed up with ransomware and is going to do something about it. The US is fed up with ransomware and is going to do something about it. Make sure you have your say on what you want done. Commissioner Mimica can be contacted through

1. The European Commission is basically the executive government of the European Union, and the Commissioners are the equivalent of ministers or departmental secretaries of state.

Friday 14 February 2014

Tamriel revisited

I was back in Tamriel again, last weekend, for the second beta test of the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). this time (unlike last), I managed to spend a lot of time 'on world' rather than in the downloader or the character creation screen. And I really enjoyed it. The quests were engaging, the difficulty level was sufficient to make it a dangerous place, and most quests didn't involve killing things, which is always a nice change in an MMO. Plenty of bugs; but the worst bug - being unable to exit a screen (for instance being unable to leave a conversation with a questgiver and return to controlling your character) could be got round with the magic mantra of /reloadui

The game plays similarly to Skyrim, but with a few changes for the better. For instance, a small action bar appears during, so you can see what keys are bound to what special attacks. Like in GW2, there are not many such bindings - Q, 1-5 and R. Which means one of your jobs is to select the subset of your abilities that you actually want to use. Contrast that with WoW wherein virtually all your abilities are bound to some button or other.

As in other Elder Scrolls games, you still move around by moving the mouse around on your screen to orient your viewpoint, and then you character runs to the centre of your screen when you press 'W'. Like in many First Person Shooter (FPS) games. Combat is also about making sure the enemy is in the centre of your screen which is where your attacks hit (again like an FPS). This means that your character's skill in killing enemies is a combination of your character's abilities (special attacks, stamina, and so on) and your own hand/eye co-ordination.

I imagine there'll be some sort of trading post or auction house, but if it was in the beta, I didn't find it.

Crafting is what you would expect from an Elder Scrolls game. You must go to a crafting station (for instance, a forge) with the ingredients you need, and if you have learnt the recipe and have sufficient skill to make it, you can make the base item, and you can add improvements (which you learn in the first place by "extracting" it from an item that already has the improvement, in the process destroying the item). Because there's also a time element to learning, I imagine it will take a long time to reach perfection!

So all in all, I liked the game. But here's the thing. Is it beautiful? That's the secret sauce that WoW has, that GW2 has, that Eve has, that many other games don't have. Their beauty. I'll be seeing these characters , these settings, these zones for months. Are they pleasing to look at? Skyrim is beautiful. WoW is beautiful in its cartoony way (though of course there are ugly zones we all can name and to which we will never return (Tol Barad, Isle of Thunder, Dread Wastes, Blade's Edge, I'm looking at you)). GW2 is beautiful. Rift? Attractive gear, attractive character models and attractive scenery are important in making us want to return day after day, week after week, year after year. The bits of ESO that I've seen so far have pleasant-looking surroundings, but I'm having a problem liking the character models in ESO. Some of the NPCs look like they were smashed in the face by with a frying pan. Of course, they can make the baddies as ugly as they like, since we're going to kill them. but you can't kill the "friendly" NPCs, so you've gotta put up with them (tell me again why anybody wants to be undead or an orc in WoW? I just don't get it).

That reminds me. In Skyrim, you could kill almost everyone (except the children), and live as an outlaw. Not so in ESO. I guess that would be too much like an invitation to grief. Shame. Some of those NPCs would look better with an axe through their skulls.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Enchanting and ilvl

I'm sure you noticed in a recent patch that the ilvl restrictions on enchantments (and other item enhancements) have been dropped. I'm not sure why this is, but I suspect it originated in the problems of enchanting heirloom items.

The problem with heirloom items is this: they are all nominally ilvl 1. That meant that enchantments that had ilvl restrictions could not be placed on heirloom items. Blizzard had three options in dealing with this:

  • Do nothing. Leave heirloom items and item enhancements as they are. This wasn't a terrible option, as a matter of fact. It would have meant that heirloom items couldn't have used the latest enchantments, because they were all targeted at ilvl 417 or better items. People had to make do with vanilla enchants and enhancements. While these may have been fine for low-level toons, they were not so useful at higher levels.
  • Scale the ilvl of heirloom items with character level. So, a level 10 character's heirlooms might be level 10, instead of level 1,and the same heirloom items on a level 80 might be ilvl 200, for instance. This would mean that the character could progress in the same way as every other character, re-enchanting gear as the gear they had breached the various ilvl barriers for enchanting and other enhancements.
  • Remove ilvl restrictions on enchantments, and instead scale the effect of the enchantment with character level. This is the solution that Blizzard chose. It has one big advantage for heirloom wearers: once a top-level enchant is applied, it need never be replaced. It just scales with character level, so it is very convenient for such characters. However, the scaling has a limit. For instance a Burning Crusade enchantment, originally designed for a level 70 character, never scales beyond level 70. It is capped at its effect on a level 70 character.

I'm sure that this convenience is the desired outcome for Blizzard. However it has had one or two unintended consequences. It starts with rare enchantments (such as Enchant Weapon - Spellpower, for instance) that were highly desired, as they were the best enchantments you could get for both heirlooms and low-level twinks. This meant that enchanters actively sought those rare enchantments and would pay dearly for them, which in turn drove adventurers to hunt them down in the world (in effect, it encouraged people to play content that they might otherwise not have seen). In particular, PvP players keenly sought out such enchantments.

That was then. Now PvE heirloom wearers just buy the top level enchantment, for convenience. It scales all the way to 90, whereas as noted, mid-level and low-level enchantments stop scaling before then. For PvP players, the calculation is a little more tricky, but their exact level will often lead them to pick the top-level enchantment, as well. The demand for mid-level and low-level enchantments is seriously reduced. Not to put too fine a point on it, sales of such enchantments have fallen off a cliff. As a result those already crafted were (and still are) being sold off much more cheaply than they used to be, and the crafters are not making any more.

This doesn't only apply to rare enchantments, though it is more pronounced with them. It applies to all low-level and mid-level enchantments. Even those who aren't willing to pay top-dollar for the rarest and best enchantments for their level, and would previously have bought a common mid-level enchantment are buying top-level enchantments, which are more easily found at auction and scale all the way to 90. Or they aren't buying enchantments at all. For levelling has become so much easier nowadays that fewer and fewer levellers are bothering to enchant their gear at all.

So the first consequence is that crafters are not crafting these enchantments (much). Nobody wants them. This reinforces the impression that crafting from level 1 to level 599 is a waste of time and money. There are few enchantments left at lower levels that are selling well (though some still survive, for their beauty rather than their utility). And of course, fewer people are hunting for the recipes.

The second major consequence is that with lower demand for lower level enchantments, there is lower demand for lower-level enchanting materials. But the supply hasn't changed much. The result is that the price of such enchanting mats is also in freefall. And it isn't just enchantments that this applies to. It's all permanent enhancements, such as spellthreads, gems, armor kits and so on. Low level characters are earning less from instances because the mats aren't pulling in as much money as before. Of course, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I expect this trend to continue, and for Blizzard to extend it to other items. What's to stop potions, elixirs and flasks being treated in the same way? Under the covers, heirloom gear is already being scaled, and its ilvl is also being scaled in a hidden way, so heirloom wearers can queue for dungeons that have ilvl restrictions on them. What's to stop armour being scaled in the same way?

Monday 13 January 2014


Last night I dreamt I went to Tamriel again. It seemed to me I stood by the launcher leading to the login screen, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.

The Elder Scrolls Online's weekend beta, and on Saturday morning, I remembered I hadn't downloaded it, so I went off with my weekend beta key to create an account and try it out. I didn't count on the size of the download. The launcher downloaded fast enough, a mere 5 minutes. But when I went to run it, and it started the download proper, I knew I was in for a long wait. It was huge! I'm not sure exactly how huge now, but it was a couple of dozen gigabytes. And it was downloading at a mere 200 kB/s. It took the whole weekend to download. I finally got in on Sunday night - well Monday morning is more accurate - when I should have been in bed.

But it had the familiar look and feel of the Elder Scrolls: WASD movement, body rotation using the mouse, 'E' for interactions. Combat (I only tried melee) similar Skyrim. And a dark setting, both figuratively and literally. For you begin your journey as a dead body. A wretch sacrificed to the Daedric prince Molag Bal. Awakening behind bars in the caverns of Coldharbour, missing something. Ah yes. Missing ...  my soul.

A breakout! Running into the caverns with the others, looking for weapons, searching every urn and chest for an advantage. Most of them only contain broth or porridge. How do you equip things again? Ah, that's it. Now I remember. Run now, run! Run towards the 'V'. Run toward your quest's end.

The opening scenario is very much in the MMO lone hero tradition (thousands of people playing a single-player game together). As far as I could tell, each of us lost souls was on their own quest, unable to help each other. I didn't mind. My big fear of about the Elder Scrolls Online is not Molag Bal's hell. No. L'enfer, c'est les autres. My big fear is other people breaking the immersive virtual world that is Nirn with anal jokes and lolspeak. There was none of that last night - I logged on too late to see many others, and I never figured out if there even exists a zone chat channel. Of course, I want to engage with others in Tamriel. But I hope the introduction sets us all in a frame of mind that will help us stay in the world, in character.

You/'ll remember that Skyrim has a lot of voice acting. So it was in Coldharbour. I'm sure I recognized the voices of John Cleese and Michael Gambon.

By the time I got out of the caverns, I was too tired to continue. And this morning, I can no longer access the server. The beta weekend is over. Was it a dream?

Thursday 9 January 2014

On Choice

Dàchéng the mage in Azeroth was discussing morality yesterday. Today it is my turn. Me, her alter ego on Earth.

The boundaries of Dàchéng's world are set by Blizzard. Within those, she must make moral choices. But she can only make choices that are allowed by Blizzard. She can no more choose to attack King Varian Wrynn than I on Earth can choose to cast arcane barrage on a passing cyclist. The physics of these two worlds are different, and so are the moral choices available to the inhabitants of these two worlds. Like Saxsymage's rogue Saiphy, Dàchéng would like to help Vanessa Van Cleef. They cannot. The choice to do this is unavailable to them, just as the choice of taking Lordaeron back from the undead is not available to us, despite the efforts of many RP guilds on many realms. Though the adventurers of Azeroth wield unimaginable power, and can kill gods with the power of their thoughts, they cannot fix the gate in Lordaeron. They can't even chop a nearby tree down to fashion into a door. Those choices simply do not exist in Azeroth.

Sometimes we, the players on Earth, are reminded that some of the choices we can make on Earth are not available in Azeroth. That's when the game reminds us that we are just playing a game. That's one of the ways in which immersion breaks. The art of creating a great virtual world is to minimize these moments, by making it seem as if we have sufficient choice in Azeroth to direct our characters as our Earthly morals would dictate such a character would behave, or as we would behave if we were that character. And when we have the ability to make such choices, this is when we feel flow most, this is when we are most immersed.

Importantly, we bring our earthly morals into the make-believe world of the game, and (when we are fully immersed in the game) imbue the characters of the game with reality. We believe that these coloured dots on the computer screen are people. For of course it is not immoral to press F1 and make some coloured dots disappear. It's only when in the flow of the game that we can suffer moral quandaries by confusing these coloured dots with real people, and by confusing pressing F1 with ripping out their hearts.

A few years ago, Brenda Romero (Brenda Braithwaite as she was then) made a very interesting game called Train. In this game, you load yellow figurines into boxcars of a train, and then move your train along its course to its destination. Impeding your progress are a number of randomly drawn cards that can slow you down or derail you, free some of the figurines, and so on. When you reach your destination, its name is revealed as Auschwitz.

When described baldly like that, it may not evoke the same strong emotions in you as it did in the players. That's because they were immersed into the milieu by the board and its setup and by the gameplay, which were chosen to subconsciously evoke the Nazi era and put the players in the zone. You can read and watch an interview about it on the Wall Street Journal. What is fascinating to me is that, when players discovered what was going on in the game, they reacted as if those yellow figurines were real living, breathing people. They felt guilty about transporting the figurines to Auschwitz, and they tried to use the rules to free them. They were in the flow, immersed.

Of course, nobody dies. They are yellow figurines, not real people. But when you are immersed in the game, in any game, you treat it as real, and its rules as immutable like the laws of physics. Thus is is that people cry when their figurines reach the final destination, and are elated when they can use the rules to free the figurines or redirect the train. Yes. Even when they understand what's going on, they often still stick to the rules, trying to use them to subvert the final solution (rather than simply picking up the boxcars, emptying the figurines out, packing up the game and going home).

It is the same in Azeroth. We players are immersed in the game to the point of imbuing the citizens of Westfall with real lives, and of feeling evil when we kill the innocent. In fact, the point of the game is immersion in the virtual world of Azeroth, it certainly isn't for the exciting game-play.

But how do the inhabitants of this world feel? I know this is rather like asking if the yellow figurines are afraid or not. And yet it's a question that makes sense. If you were, in real life, in the situation that your toon is in, and you had her powers and abilities and history, what would you do? The answer to that is what pushes us to continue to play (rather than moving on to playing Tetris, for instance, whose moment-to-moment game-play is rather more intricate). We want to be immersed, but we can't help being Earthlings.

So when we are faced with a ludic choice that does not include the option we would like have (such as giving free candles to kobolds, and arranging to buy their ore), we players feel frustrated, and sometimes are brought out of our immersive state. But would our characters feel frustrated? Would they feel any more frustrated at not being able to help Vanessa  Van Cleef than we would at not being able to polymorph our neighbours? It just never occurred to me (before now) to want to polymorph my earthly neighbour. Perhaps in a world where the gods (Blizzard in the case of Azeroth) have not made some choices physically possible, our characters would be as unaware of the missing choice as we are about polymorph. That is to say, they might hypothetically amuse themselves imagining how great a world would be that allowed such a choice, but they know that in their world, it's all just fantasy.

Wednesday 8 January 2014


Jana over at I Like Pancakes is worried about the morality of killing 30 people in order to investigate and solve a double murder. I agree. There are many such examples of immoral quests - immoral, or at least disagreeable, to the adventurer who has been asked to undertake them (for instance my own poor friend Paoquan). I remember DEHTA asking me to kill some poor starving people in Northrend, to save the buffalo mammoth from being turned into dinner for their families. To bring the immorality of it into sharp relief, the very next quest in the area is to kill the self-same mammoths to provide hides to cover some gnome's mechanical device.

Jana already mentioned how she felt about Vanessa van Cleef: she wanted to be able to help her, but due to the linear nature of the on-rails world that is Azeroth, she was unable. I sympathize. I felt the same about both her and her father, Edwin. I felt thoroughly ashamed that I helped Thrall escape from prison and killed Alliance guardsmen to do it (I will never do this instance again on any alt), and I was unhappy about killing members of the Scarlet Crusade/Scarlet Onslaught, whose aims I thoroughly agree with (even if their leadership had been infiltrated by our enemies).

We are not allowed to behave differently, though. I cannot join the Scarlet Crusade, much as I would like to. Its members are red to me and attack me on sight (members of the Zandalar tribe also attack me on sight, despite the fact that I am supposedly exalted with them). No doubt many orc adventurers felt troubled by helping Garrosh steal the Divine Bell, while other orcs must feel terrible about betraying him. What can they do about it, though? We are all on rails.