Thought/s of the Day: RMT

Surely the easiest way for a MMO to make money out of a cash shop would be to get a gaming licence and open an in-game casino? Why not take a page out of the book of games that were actually designed around players spending real life money as part of the game?

RMT in WoW

Suzina raised a storm on Kill Ten Rats with her account of gold buying in WoW. She started a new character, got to level 40, wanted dual spec and got sticker shock at the cost. But instead of deciding to defer dual spec until she could afford it, she chose to break the rules.

So when I realized that obtaining 1000 gold by level 40 was unrealistic, I made the decision to purchase gold. I bought about 1000 gold for about ten dollars from the Microsoft of gold-farmers. You know, that company that owns Allakhazam, THOTTBOT, WOWhead and a bunch of other fan sites? They got my ten dollars.

As an aside, I think she’s very unaware of what the gold sinks actually are in LOTRO. As a lifetime player, with plenty of time to amass gold, she might not know how punishing the repair bills can be if you’re raiding or instancing regularly. Or how expensive it is to level a crafting skill. Or how expensive those second age weapons on the auction house look to a new player who could use them while levelling. I could easily imagine a new player in LOTRO facing similar temptations if they were in a hurry to do any of those things.

In any case, I wasn’t intending to discuss her choice (which I disagree with). But rather to note that WoW does offer legitimate RMT. If you buy a pet from the virtual store, you can trade it in game (or at least trade the item code). The barriers to doing this are  to do with trust between players, and the fact that not everyone with lots of gold actually wants another virtual pet.

The second factor could easily be overcome using a scheme like EVEs where CCP sell time cards (for cash) with codes that can also be traded in game. Every player in a subscription game will use a month’s sub so there’s a constant demand. And players who have amassed lots of virtual gold might find it attractive to be able to trade some for game time.

So it would be possible to make legitimate gold buying part of the game. However, it will never be possible to take the illegitimate source completely out of the picture. Never. If a game card sells for £10 and is currently trading for 1000g in game, the black market only has to sell 1000g for £9.50 to make themselves more appealing to any player who doesn’t care where the money goes and just wants their gold.

This is why I’m all for the gambling licence. The genius thing about gambling games is that they make the RMT (or the bidding in other words) an actual part of the game.

Thought of the Day: On rolling need for offspec drops (in WoW)

One of my current projects is to try tanking on different classes in WoW, just to get a feel for how the mechanics work. I have tanked a few instances on my Death Knight so far, and since I have a perfectly good level 80 resto Druid alt, she’s next on the pimping block.

Now the challenge of gearing up an existing alt for a new role is how you prefer to collect your loot. Do you queue up as your current overpowered self, to make easier dungeon runs both for you and your whole group? Or do you queue as your severely undergeared and inexperienced new role instead? If you pick the former, then you have to also decide, will you roll need for your offspec gear? If you pick the latter, how do you feel about the possibility of being bitched out by the rest of your group for both poor gear AND inexperience?

I had an amusing experience when running normal trial of the champion (to pick up a tanking trinket for her). I was queued as a healer. The trinket drops. I hit need, because that’s the only reason I am there. It is won by a Death Knight, who spends the next minute haranguing me as a ninja.

The punchline: He wasn’t tanking either. He was queued as dps.

There is no off-spec, there is only dual-spec.

Ulduar Update

How’s patch 3.1 going for you?

I logged in after the patch and was immediately grabbed to go tank Emalon (new Wintergrasp Boss) in a PUG. We didn’t kill him, but we were improving on each attempt. And then Wintergrasp came up so we did that instead.

After that, I ran off to grab my dual specs. Dual spec joy!

In the evening, we took our first steps into Ulduar. The mood in the raid was electric as we zoned in. People were singing, chattering excitedly, discussing their dual specs, bringing out all the old jokes that probably should be retired by now. It was so very very different from the week before when we were dragging our tired carcasses around Naxxramas again.

We saw lots of other raiders on their way into Ulduar and everyone was waving to each other. Our server was being surprisingly obliging, for once. Things got a little ropier later but Blizzard EU ™ did a fantastic job with it, considering the load.

So we zoned in. Nope, no achievement for just zoning into Ulduar. There were some steps! We ran down them. No achievement for running down the steps?!! Man, we’ve been here 10s and no achievements yet, Blizzard is slacking.

This was forgotten as soon as people caught site of the cool vehicles parked in the courtyard ahead of us. Cue: “get to the chopper” jokes. We didn’t have much of a clue what we were doing so we piled into vehicles:

  • tanks got to drive tanks (YES!!)
  • ranged dps got to be tank gunners
  • healers got to ride choppers (Note: In the UK a Chopper is a kind of kid’s bicycle, which we all thought would have been funnier)
  • and I can’t remember what the other vehicle was but everyone else got those

So I jumped into my tank with a warlock as my rear gunner and together with everyone else, we set off.

The first obstacle is a long gauntlet of (destructible towers), other vehicles, helicopters which need to be shot down, and various bits and pieces for the Demolishers (hah! I did remember the name) to pick up to use as fuel or ammo. It was pure crazy fun. Not knowing what we were doing wasn’t a major hindrance and it didn’t take long to get the idea. I was really enjoying smacking down towers, and steering the tank so that my gunner could get a good angle on the flying enemies.

Then we came to some vehicle healing patches, from which we figured that the boss was close.

Flame Leviathan is an easy fight. Tanks kite him around (wtf is my armoured tank attempting to run away from things? That was weird), choppers weave in and out dropping patches of oil which demolishers can set on fire, non-kiting tanks interrupt his flame jets and … best of all … demolishers can catapault spare moonkins onto Leviathan’s back which is as good a place as any for them, I guess :)

In any case, we one shotted him/her/it although it was quite a close-run thing. Finally, an achievement!

I looked round at the end and there was only my tank and one of the choppers left standing. Everyone excitedly discussed whose vehicle was most fun as we ressed and sorted the loot (another achievement for the first badge of conquest, now we’re rolling), and planned to try next week with some towers up (ie. one of the hard modes).

Now the thing about Flame Leviathan as an encounter is that it’s easy, yes, but also very enjoyable. I defy even the most hardcore of hardcore guilds not to have had fun with their vehicles. This is what a vehicle based fight should be like. It was also a nice boost to more casual raiders coming in for the first time, even if they struggle with the other bosses, they get to see the fun vehicle fight and retrieve some loot.

The NPCs chattered to each other about setting up teleporters and we moved on. There isn’t any trash before you get to the next few bosses, just wide corridors and pretty scenery. And then we got to see what the teleporter was all about, it’s possible to port from the entrance to past Flame Leviathan without having to run all the way back. Nice work, NPCs! You can stay.

We took a brief look at Ignis and started to clear some of his trash mobs. But from discussion with other raid groups, we heard that he was bugged and raid leaders decided to take a crack at Razorscale instead. Incidentally, we kept getting updates which we were in Ulduar about how other raid groups were doing. Raiding on Argent Dawn is fairly tight knit, so many of our raiders have friends who raid with other guilds or groups. And it’s really handy when it comes to passing on information like this, about which encounters to avoid.

Razorscale is hard. There’s a first phase with lots of adds that need to be collected and killed, some which need to be tanked separately because of the badass whirlwind attack and others with a crazy chain lightning. In brief interludes, the captured drake descends and you pile on as much dps as you can before she takes off again. There is also fire. Because all Blizzard encounters have fire that you need to move out from. In a spark of originality, this fire is white.

We spent the rest of the night figuring out how best to handle phase 1. I think we had the tanking mostly sorted, it’s just a case of how best to get the dps onto Razorscale quickly when she lands.

Note: Razorscale and Ignis were both hotfixed on EU servers after the first night’s raiding.

Second Night

I wasn’t there for this one. More attempts at Razorscale, they had her to phase 2 a few times. Then they moved on for some learning wipes on XT-200 which apparently has awesome voice acting. I’ll look forwards to seeing it.

10 Mans

I’m not sure how much 10 man raiding I will be able to fit in now. The weather is brighter and my weekends are becoming more booked up so the regular Saturday run is off the cards, for me at least.

I’m sad, because I did really enjoy running them, but not sad enough to … you know … cancel my social life over it.

Another guildie took over the organising and they took down Leviathan and XT-200 this week. On Sunday I was in an impromptu 10 man which knocked off Emalon and then wandered off to kill Malygos too.

Looking Forwards

I am really looking forwards to getting back into Ulduar for another crack at the drake. But, I know that dps has always been the weak side for our raid group — yes we have some awesome players but we don’t have 16 consistently awesome dps. If Ulduar continues to be heavy dps checks, then I can see us struggling and it won’t matter how much effort I personally put in. We may need more runs through Naxx to gear up newer people also.

But, we’ll see how it goes.

More on Dual Specs

I had always said that I wouldn’t level my druid until I could dual spec her. Last week was that day. She’s now level 72, has healed three instances as a tree and topped the dps meters as moonkin in a fourth.

It’s been fun. Thumbs up for dual specs and for the new looking for group interface.

Dual specs bringing back the hybrids?

Back from holiday now and catching up properly on other blogs, I am seeing a lot of reactions to dual specs. I’m surprised that so many of them are negative for the wrong reasons.

Good reasons to dislike dual specs:

  • They encourage people to act differently than before they were available, and the way in which they act differently is bad for the blogger or bad for the game.

Bad reasons to dislike dual specs:

  • Some totally different reason that you’re going to hang on dual specs, even though a moment’s thought would show that they’re not connected.

Comments from Tobold’s Sunday Post referred to a couple of posts on dual specs.

Forever a noob posts a top class rant that shows mostly that he’s never played a hybrid.

Are you a paladin or warrior in a progression-minded raiding guild?  Better buy some bigger bags.  Because your raid leader is going to FORCE you to carry two or three sets of gear into raids.  Anub’rekhan needs two or three tanks, but Maexxna needs only one.  If dual-spec were around when Naxx came out, anyone who was not the main tank would have been REQUIRED to switch spec to dps after the Anub’rekhan fight.  And you’d better have good gear for both specs.

I have news for you sweetie. Any paladin or warrior who has raided in a progression minded guild is laughing at that comment, because what do you think we do NOW when we have a fight that only needs one tank? I’ll tell you what we do. We switch gear and do rubbish dps/heals. All that dual spec means is that we’ll be able to switch gear and do good dps/heals instead. This is a problem why exactly?

Imagine that you are a resto druid.  And you really like healing.  How will you respond when your raid leader says, “We don’t need three healers for this fight.  I need you to respec to Feral for dps.”

You’d ask if one of the other healers could do it instead. They all will have the ability to swap to a dps spec.

But my main issue with the argument is this: that situation could come up now. What would the resto druid do  in that case? Heal even though it wasn’t needed? Or throw a few weak nukes and hope for the best. As long as Blizzard is designing raids which may need different numbers of tanks/ healers/ CC/ dps from one encounter to the next, then people are already dealing with these issues.

The blogger’s issue is with raid design, not with dual specs. And frankly, I’d be perfectly happy if I was able to tank all through a raid and never be forced to dps in my prot spec too.

I want bags of infinite size.  If my paladin is going to have to carry three sets of armor, you better give me 30 slot bags.  Or let me teleport my gear directly from my bank.  Or summon gear from some deity on my command.

I’d be down with that. But it’s written by someone who simply doesn’t realise that a lot of hybrids already carry three sets of gear around.

Big Bear Butt (who definitely does know about playing a hybrid) riffs off this rant and takes it in another direction. His issue is more that the availability of dual specs will cause people to act as though they’re necessary.

I can see the day coming when a raid leader asks not “what spec are you”, but “what are your two specs, and how much DPS/Spellpower do you have in each”.

This (for those who are keeping score) is a perfectly sensible reason to be wary of dual specs. It is entirely possible that hybrids will be expected to play at least two of their roles/ specs to raiding levels if they apply to high end raid guilds.

Some people will be delighted, it will be why they wanted to play a hybrid in the first place. Some will refuse, and the world will keep turning. Raid leaders will still recruit primarily for the roles they need.

I’m not unsympathetic, but with my raid leader hat on, I know that I don’t need all my hybrids to be able to switch to heals. Maybe one spot in the raid will be preferred for a dps hybrid who can heal in one or two fights as needed. Just one spot. For all the rest, any dps is as good as any other. And they still get more spots than tanks or healers.

And again, I keep coming back to the point but people work within this framework right now. All dual specs does is make it easier for them to do it more effectively.

If my Druid can now, all in one character, walk into a raid or instance and, within seconds, either be a main healer, main tank or equitable melee or ranged DPS, whatever the Raid Leader wants at the time, AND be as good at it as the other classes are in each role, and the Rogue or Mage can only be a DPS, a DPS or a DPS?

That’s BULLSHIT.

Why would a Raid Leader want a Rogue or Mage anymore? The Rogue and Mage bring nothing but DPS.

At this point, BBB’s issue is not with dual specs any more. It’s with the game design and how the parameters on hybrids have changed with Wrath. It’s a reasonable rant topic, but dual specs isn’t the cause here.

I already ask one hybrid to help heal on the Four Horseman and Sapphiron. Dual spec doesn’t change the fact that some raid encounters need a different balance of tanks or healers to others, and we address this by asking one hybrid player to switch roles in the raid. There was a time when people who played hybrids LOVED that they could switch between nuking and healing in raids as needed without respeccing. There was a time when hybrids loved that they could switch from tanking to dps without missing a beat. All it needed was a change of gear.

We’re going back towards that style of hybrid, not moving away from it.

I don’t need a random hybrid to become a main tank. But I may need someone to dps 90% of the raid and heal for 10% of it. That’s the role that hybrids now fill in Wrath. And all tanks and healers are now hybrids.

Dual specs won’t take raid spots away from pure dps classes. We already do use hybrids in this way. We already do have the raid designs that require some role switching.

Well, from personal experience, I know that when I look at DPS scores, I see Hunters at the top, Retribution Paladins and Death Knights coming REAL close behind, and Rogues and Mages have to work their ass off to squeeze every last drop of utility out of their class to hang tough on their heels.

And finally, this has nothing whatsoever to do with dual specs. This is another, and again perfectly reasonable, request for damage to be evened out between classes. Rogues are definitely still behind where they should be in PvE. He doesn’t mention Fury Warriors but no one will be surprised if they catch a nerf, it’s entirely expected.

Either let Rogues and Mages have a Tank or Heal spec that is on par with other Hybrid classes… OR freaking make them the absolute best there is at what they do, which is kill shit!

And this is a rant about balance and the costs of being a hybrid. Role switching and flexibility are definitely advantages, IF that was what you wanted from a class. But if that was what you wanted from a class, then why not roll one at the beginning?

Is it that rogues and mages want to heal, or is it just that they are jealously eyeing up that one raid spot that is reserved for the guy who will dps for 90% of the raid and heal for 10%? Because by far the majority of raid dps spots will not require role switching.

Or simply that they also are uncomfortable with how class roles have shifted in the game design and how their initial expectations don’t line up with how things are now. That’s fair enough, it has been a big change.

But don’t blame dual specs for every single issue that you have with WoW. It’s not the cause, simply a symptom.

5 things I want from dual specs

I did have a post planned for today about dual specs. But Blizzard have outdated it already by announcing that their current plans include all the features I would have wanted.

My personal take on dual specs is that I have a couple of very specific use cases in mind. A use case is a way of capturing requirements in software engineering. Instead of starting by describing what the system does, we write a few sentences about what it is and then say ‘OK, I’m a user. How do I want to use this system?’. We can show the steps that a specific interaction would take. Then we go through it again for every different use case that the engineers can think so. So in my case here, I know exactly how I’d like to be able to use the dual spec system and under what circumstances. Those are my use cases.

1. For my warrior. She is usually protection spec. But she often tanks in raids where different numbers of tanks are needed for consecutive fights. So from dual specs I want the ability to switch into a proper dps spec for a fight where I’m not needed to either tank or off tank. And then switch back again. I have the gear for the dps off-spec already and I’m happy to get more familiar with my dps aspect. I want switching to be quick and easy and not hold up the raid for too long while I’m doing it, because I might be the only one who needs to switch specs.

2. I have a level 70 druid, who I played as resto in the last expansion. There’s no way I’m planning to level as a resto spec. But I’m not interested in healing instances while levelling as a balance spec. Yes it’s possible, but why do the healing on hard mode when you’re used to life as a tree? So I always told my guild I wasn’t going to touch her until I had the option of dual specs.

So I need dual specs to be available at level 70, and I want to be able to level as balance but with the option of switching to resto if I get a chance to run an instance and the group needs a healer. I also want any one-off costs to be cheap enough that I can afford to pay for both Peace and Spinks to have it.

3. I have a warlock. I don’t really care if he has dual specs or not. But if it is cheap, I will probably buy it and try out a deep destro spec so that he can be an emergency replenish-bot for our 10 man runs if needed. I don’t have a major requirement here. But I will use the feature more if the one off cost is low. This will probably lead to me experimenting with glyphs, running more instances to get alternate pieces of gear, and generally being more active in game with this alt.

Based on that, I’ll list my 5 criteria:

  • If there’s a one-off cost, it needs to be affordable. Below 2k gold would be best. (I already know that I want this facility for at least two of my alts. As it happens, I do have a fair sized pot of gold to dip into but I know lots of people who don’t.)
  • Need to be able to switch specs in raids.
  • Need to be able to access dual specs at level 70.
  • Need to be able to switch specs on a short cooldown, to allow switching for one boss fight and then switching back again.
  • Spec switching in raids needs to be quick and easy. If it requires consumables they need to be cheap (I already pay enough in repair bills!)

WoW Insider sums up the latest pronouncements on Dual Specs. They fulfil all of my criteria so I’m happy. If dual specs go live like this, I’ll be delighted. Blizzard will have won my custom not only for the next patch but also for a period for me to level my third alt.

The current plans are:

  1. dual specs cost 1000g as a one off cost
  2. dual specs available from level 40
  3. switching specs will require no consumables, will be a 5s cast, and will have no cooldown
  4. switching specs can’t be done in combat or in PvP

Are talent trees a failed design?

Blizzard’s plans to implement dual specs (ie. the ability to switch quickly from one talent spec to a  different one, complete with a change of gear and glyphs) is an admission that talent trees have failed them as a design.

It’s a band aid for a broken system that makes MMOs less friendly, more frustrating, and more inaccessible to casual players than they really should be.

Where did talent trees come from?

Talent trees on paper should never have grown into this strange monstrosity that they have become. They were intended to let players customise their characters and their abilities, to tailor the character to their play preferences. So as you went up levels, you had more points to spend on growing your character the way you wanted it to be. It was intended to mirror the way xp get spent in pen and paper games. When a character levels up in a tabletop game, they usually get some points to spend on stats, some to spend on abilites, and they may be able to buy new abilities also. In a tabletop game (D&D for example) you can easily build a cleric which focusses on buffs and damage. You can build a caster who chooses to specialise in support rather than damage.

Implementation of talent trees in games is associated with Diablo, so it isn’t surprising that Blizzard decided to go with the same successful model.

I hated talent trees in Diablo. You had to make some fairly fundamental choices about how your character played with no option for respeccing apart from starting again. You had almost no information to go on about how the different specs might play or what you might find more fun other than trying it (and starting again if you didn’t like it). The talent trees on offer gave you access to such different playing styles that each class was really a bundle of 3 (or more) completely different classes.

So on the one hand, there were lots of different things to try out, and lots of different aspects to each class. On the other, the only way to really try things out was to reroll a lot. It was also very easy to come up with a build that would be fine at the start but very weak later on in the game, and never realise until you had many hours of play under your belt.

Being able to tweak talents and try out different builds did give the game a lot of replayability. But ultimately people gravitated towards cookie cutter specs because sometimes you just want to beat the game, y’know? Without having to spend a lot of time starting again from the beginning.

The more hardcore players worked out the more effective talent specs. After all, they had the most time to spend on experimenting and starting again. They posted about them on forums. Less hardcore players read the forum posts and followed their advice.

Sound familiar?

Things I dislike about Diablo talent trees:

  • Being forced to make game changing choices without enough information to know how that choice will affect your game.
  • Being unable to change your mind easily when you find out that you wanted to try something different or have made a mistake.
  • Having the experimentation phase tuned such that only hardcore players really have access to it.

Note that these factors are frustrating for players like me, but may be good for replayability and building up a hardcore fanbase.

Three Characters in One, Bargain?

The peculiar thing about talent trees in WoW is that you sometimes feel that it’s like playing totally different character classes. The hybrids in particular suffer from using completely unrelated mechanics and gear from one spec to the next.

Paladins may be the worst example of class design ever seen in an MMO. They have three unrelated talent trees, each of which requires a totally different gear set, and playing style. There is no overlap at all. Balancing them in a sensible way has been a struggle for Blizzard right off the bat. It isn’t just the difference between switching from healing to dps to tanking, although that is also quite a fundamental change just from respeccing. It’s the fact that when prot/ret are balanced for mana regeneration, holy becomes way overpowered. It’s the fact that when prot/holy are balanced for survivability, ret becomes a nightmare.

Three classes in one sounds fine as a design goal, it gives players lots of options and lots of customisability. But in practice it’s proved almost impossible to balance. I think Blizzard generally does a good job these days, but they’re fighting against a talent tree system that is fundamentally broken.

Choose your talents to fit your playing style

If it was just a case of picking talents to fit your style, that would be fine. But it isn’t. The different talent trees support different areas of the game. There are PvP specs, group friendly specs, solo friendly specs.

This is glaringly stupid. People may prefer one or other part of the game but why on earth would you want to put barriers in the way of having players participate in all of it.

Why force healers to have to spec differently if they value soloing? Why force anyone to spec differently for PvP? Don’t they want people to have fun and be able to take part in every aspect of the game?

The cost of having talent trees that are specialised for different aspects of the game is that it directly flies in the face of one of the major strengths of an MMO. The fact that there are lots and lots of different things to do.

So it’s really not surprising that lots of people in WoW respec a lot. I used to respec my warrior about twice a week, and that was even without PvP. I welcome dual speccing with open arms as a band aid for a broken system.

Developments in Talent Trees

Other games have improved on the talent tree implementation. LOTROs traits, legendary weapons, and stances (I think most classes now have the ability to switch focus between group and solo style play) may not offer the wide range of customisation but let players tweak their characters but still recognisably remain the same core classes. WAR’s tactics let you easily switch from PvE to PvP focus and back again.

Guild Wars (which is on free trial at the moment by the way) has probably the best system ever devised for handling talent trees. You can respec for free any time you are in a town, and you can only pick 8 abilities to slot in your quickbars for any mission. A big part of the game is figuring out how to tailor your character for whatever it is that you wanted to do.

But what about actually just building and identifying with your character?

This is the flaw of easy respecs. Another aspect of pen and paper games is that you build up your character over time, and you can identify with it. Reworking all of its abilities every week would make it more difficult to do this.

This is one of the reasons I never really glommed onto Guild Wars, although I do think it’s a cool game. Sometimes you just want to grow into your character, not just switch it around every time you are in town.

It’s the reason that respeccing a lot on my warrior sometimes does my head in. I wrote before about identifying with a talent tree, but I know I’m not alone in this. People in WoW often do describe themselves by their talents, eg. I’m a moonkin, I’m an affliction ‘lock, etc. Easy respecs confuses that.

So from a gameplay point of view, I think that talent trees have failed. I think dual specs (and presumably triple specs sometime later) are a band aid for that, for making it easier for players to take part in all aspects of the game. I do wonder how future attempts at balancing talent trees will change to take this into account (eg. who cares how much damage holy paladins do, when they all have the option of just respeccing to ret?).

I think in future, talent trees will be tweaked more with PvP in mind than PvE, for this reason.

Exciting content for WoW/3.1?

Eyonix posts in WoW forums about exciting upcoming changes for patch 3.1.

These are not the exciting changes we’ve been looking for, they are class tweaks. (OK, there may be priests who are ecstatic at the ability to cast an extra buff on people but I don’t think that really improves the gameplay much.)  What we want to hear about is:

  • Dual Specs
  • New Raid Instances
  • Any Other New Content
  • New fluff
  • Something else that’s fun but unexpected
  • Savage nerfs to classes that we don’t play but that will cause mucho entertaining bitching and flamewars on forums. (Or is that just me?)

I can’t be the only person who is thinking that it’s been awhile since Blizzard mentioned anything about the dual spec notion, except to say that they were still working on it.

In any case, it’s hard not to compare with the smorgasbord of exciting new content that Mark Jacobs laid out for Warhammer recently with new classes, zones, and PvP content. And a timescale. Admittedly he is the hypemaster but I have a short attention span and I like hype!