Crafting, Convenience, and Capitalism

Every WoW player should try, at least once in their playing career, selling [Ice Cold Milk] on the Auction House during the Christmas Event where you can often get up to 1g per piece. You can buy it from a vendor in unlimited supplies for 25c (1.25s for 5 pieces) literally 5s walk away from the Auction House.

You will learn a lot about the nature of people, consumers, and trade by making that one transaction.

Crafting for the sandbox

Crafting is pretty much the ultimate sandbox activity in MMOs. Player gatherers gather raw materials and trade them with each other, player crafters acquire raw materials and turn them into finished goods, player traders create and maintain a market in these raw and finished goods. That is the crafting way of things.

So why do themepark MMO devs feel they can’t ship without some kind of crafting mechanism in the game? Themepark games offer plenty of other ways to get gear and consumables. You can buy them from NPCs (either with in game gold or with various tokens) , they drop randomly from mobs, they might be rewards from minigames, and so on.

  • It’s partly for historical reasons: Ultima Online had crafting, DaoC had crafting, Everquest had crafting. Therefore every MMO in perpetuity will have crafting because players just expect it.
  • It’s partly because crafting is another avenue for progression, another progress bar to fill, another grind to keep players in the game.
  • And partly because a lot of players seem to really enjoy making gear for themselves and trading with other players.

While many (maybe even most)  players would be perfectly happy with a crafting system that only allowed people to make gear for themselves and their alts, the sandbox interaction and trade side of things has also proven incredibly effective at getting communities of players to interact. Usually via an auction house or trade channels. Where there is an actual in-game auction house, it often ends up as the social hub of a city.

In a very real way, trade between players   is the beating heart of any MMO community.

Eric at Elder Game argues fluently for the case against auction houses. He comments that GW2 and Diablo 3 both ‘suffer’ (in gameplay terms) for their huge global auction houses – the competition is so high, the barriers to entry so low, that prices tend to sink quickly to a stable floor.

Crafters have the most fun when they can sell items to other players and make a profit. It’s just not as fun when there are literally millions of crafters competing for customers.

He also discusses the different markets in luxury goods (ie. epic gear, fancy crafted mounts and pets, etc) vs everyday consumables.

Let’s say it even more generally: the transactions that let players play the game on a day-to-day basis should be fast and easy. The transactions for rarely-needed things, for luxury items, or for power-player goods don’t benefit from being trivialized like this.

I think the case is not so much against auction houses, although it can be fun to go browse player merchants if a game supports it. That was how crafters sold goods in DaoC. You could search the merchants from a central point to find out who had the best offer on the item you wanted, but you still had to go to their merchant and buy it. But the case against global auction houses in a massive multiplayer game on the grounds that it affects gameplay for crafters and traders is beginning to look stronger (to me.)

Consumers in the real world, as well as in game, will pay a premium for different types of goods and services. They will pay for luxury goods, they will pay for personalised goods, and they will pay for convenience. Part of the fun of crafting and trading in sandbox games is figuring out how to make your product or services more convenient for players, so that you can add your profit that way. In themepark games devs sometimes encourage this by putting products or materials in the game that might be inconvenient to gather or require some exploration by players to discover. For example, some item that is only sold by one vendor in a little town on a four hour cooldown, or a component that is dropped by a raid boss, or purchased with PvP tokens.

While this might be more inconvenient for customers, it’s a gift to explorers and to any trader/crafter who also likes the type of content which provides the material. You could actually make some profit just for knowing that the vendor next to the auction house sells ice cold milk, AND that ice cold milk is a component for one of the Christmas Event quests in WoW.

And if you can profit from that, you are encouraged to think about other ways in which you could use your game and world knowledge to trade convenience for profit. “Who are your customers, what do they need, and what would make their lives more convenient?” Now that is how a trader thinks. And where this is possible, it means there is a (possibly non combat) role in the game for players to pick if they choose. It is driven entirely by players and how they relate to other players. That is why trade is at heart a sandbox style.

Back in the day, we had to travel to different cities to pick up our goods

Back in Vanilla days, WoW had segmented Auction Houses. The Stormwind Auction House was not linked to the Ironforge Auction House. What actually tended to happen was that one city ended up as the hub everyone used and the others were much much quieter. Patch 1.9 was the one that linked the auction houses together. Up until that point, you could make some gold by working out if any items were cheaper in one city than another and trading between the auction houses accordingly.

It was inconvenient for customers, and not ideal for crafters (because ideally they’d want to have items for sale in every venue) but great for traders.

Vanilla WoW also featured rare(ish) recipes and components being sold by various vendors around the world, many of which were in limited supply. You had to know who sold what, where, and when or else pay extra on the auction house because someone else had known that and made the item available more conveniently for you. They continued this into TBC and you can still find useful recipes for levelling some of the crafting skills scattered around vendors in Outland.

It’s no accident that since Wrath, Blizzard have avoided doing this. On the one hand, it encouraged players to explore the game world and vendors, made the random vendors in various settlements more interesting, and was good for the trading play style. On the other, it was rather inconvenient. I’ve talked about convenience and inconvenience a lot in this post, and it is because whenever MMOs move towards being more convenient, traders and explorers lose out on rewards for their willingness to make a market and rewards for knowing the world well, respectively.

Maybe the convenience of a global market place with low prices is more important for players than the ‘fun’ of random loot, crafting for trade,  or having to depend on traders to fill up the local auction houses. But every time convenience trumps a playing style, people who enjoyed that playing style are turned off the genre, and that playing style becomes less attractive to newbies, and the genre itself loses some of the things that make it special.

I was thinking about this when I found that the latest WoW patch has removed most of the need for tradeskills to use special tools (eg. fishing rod, blacksmith hammer) and enchanters now only need one enchanting rod (the cheap low level copper one). Convenience is great, but I used to make a bit of pocket change from selling those enchanting rods on my blacksmith. They were one of the few useful things to make with rare metals from earlier expansions for which there was an actual demand. I don’t need the income from selling rods – but what will those metal ores be used for now? People don’t even need them for levelling. Any miner who finds some won’t be excited because it’s rare and will sell, it will just be trash. During TBC, if one of us who wasn’t a miner found a Khorium node in Outland, we’d tell our guild immediately so that someone could come out and get it. Now, it will be “Useless Khorium, what a waste of a metal node.”

And yes, I think when a trade good has no actual use in the contemporary game, the game world is diminished.

[Links] Day of Reckoning for 38 Studios, soloing in MMOs, Diablo 3, Sony won the console wars?

Scott Jennings writes eloquently about the week when 40% of the SWTOR team was laid off, and 38 Studios (makers of Kingdoms of Amalur, and with an MMO in the works) imploded very publically.

I think the direction that our industry is going – the incredible amount of money wasted by EA on what was essentially a roll of the dice that came up 2 and 3, and the even more incredible display of massive hubris and utter incompetence on the part of Schilling and his management team, is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.

Everything I have read about 38 Studios going tits up makes me think that the management were a bucket of tits. (Yes that is the technical term.) Implausible business plan, lack of auditing on cashflow, taking on way more staff than they needed or could support, dicking around with staff. Unsubject writes in more detail on the financials. The only surprising thing to me is that so many MMO bloggers have sympathy for them – MMOs get cancelled in pre-production all the time, we should be used to it by now. I don’t care if it was run by a rich sportsman with a dream or a lameass banker, they screwed up.

Or in the words of Kevin Dent at  Kotaku:

I have a theory that Harvard Business School basically set this entire thing up so as to demonstrate how many ways someone can screw up running a business. If this is the case, heartfelt congrats to the Crimson Halls, you owned it.

I literally could not invent more ways to screw up than Curt Schilling has with 38.

I can’t entirely agree with Scott about the effect on MMOs though, because big budget AAA MMOs were already pretty much on the outs. You can tell this because Michael Pachter recently said so, and he only ever makes predictions after the event.

One of the interesting things about this story though is that both Bioware Austin and 38 Studios put out pretty decent games that got some critical acclaim. Neither Amalur nor SWTOR are bad games, and both were reasonably successful in the market. Just their funding model needed more than ‘reasonably successful’ – in 38 Studio’s case it is because their management can’t handle simple maths and in Bioware’s case it’s because for some reason EA felt that ploughing unfeasibly massive amounts into the game was going to pay off. (Nice bonus for players I guess, because it does feel lush.)

SWTOR will be profitable, incidentally.  It will just take a few months longer than EA predictions and that’s why it is being seen as a failure. Whereas in fact it sold more boxes more quickly than any other western MMO in the market and has fairly decent retention figures for an MMO, even allowing for number massaging. In any case, they’ve just announced that patch 1.3 (which will include a random dungeon finder) is going onto the test server imminently and that they have plans to consolidate servers into super-servers, which are both needed updates.

Shintar shares some hopes and fears that she has for the new patch.

Anyhow, it’s sad for the staff, obviously. But we’re in a recession and MMOs are risky business at the best of times, and these things happen (especially when your management are a bucket of tits, which isn’t really the case for Bioware). Hopefully they’ll find something else swiftly. I’ll miss Stephen Reid/Rockjaw, he was a great CSM.

Soloing in MMOs

Keen also found time to muse this week about why people solo in MMOs (remember in my last incredibly wise words of wisdom to new bloggers I noted that soloing vs grouping was one of THOSE topics?), claiming that MMOs aren’t single player games. So why do devs want to try to mimic single player gameplay?

I am referring to the open and deliberate act of making a very core part of a MMO into a single-player experience as if the players were offline.

Bernardparsnip at Diminishing Returns reflects on players who might want some of the advantages of mas…sive games without the disadvantages.

I recognize that there is a demographic of players that want the benefits of an MMO – a persistent world, frequent content updates, a player-driven economy, opportunities for PvP and cooperative play, without the disadvantages inherent with playing with others.

Azuriel takes a different tack and wonders whether MMOs really do suck as single player games.

…in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG.

My view is that we’re seeing traditional boundaries between single player and multiplayer games come crashing down around us, and players may not yet be sure exactly what they do want. This sense of wanting all the benefits of massive multiplayer games (like a vibrant player based economy and instant groups whenever you want them) without the negatives (like having to actually talk to anyone or rely on other players in any way) is very strong in the current crop of games.

I think Journey laid this out most neatly with having other players viewed as friendly but nameless entities, and Dee wonders if maybe the public quests in GW2 will have the same effect. But it won’t ever be the same as the sort of communities that more forced socialising will bring together, we could end up with people playing side by side but always on their own.

Ultimately I’d like to see more gating in future games, allowing players to build up communities of interest in games of their choice. What if I want to play EVE but without having to play with the more sexist, racist, homophobic players who seem to populate it (going by forum posts at least)? This is going to become more and more of an issue for anyone running online games in future, I suspect, as players lose their tolerance for playing with random dickweeds. (This will come to be seen as one of the negatives of MMOs that people would like to avoid.)

Zubon has a really smart post about how different games attract a different type of player and suggests people flock to games which seem to be populated with players like themselves.

But there is a flaw in his argument, which is how exactly are you going to find this out? If I search round EVE blogs and forums, I’ll find a lot of very aggressive posturing and the aforementioned sexist, racist, etc. language. But I do happen to know people who play EVE who aren’t like that, so it isn’t universal.

Similarly, WoW is so large that it probably contains communities of just about every MMO player type under the sun if you can find them. So characterising it as the McDonalds of MMOs isn’t quite true in terms of the playerbase. It’s more of a mosaic than a least common denominator known for poor but consistent quality.

While LOTRO is justly known for its attention to the setting, I’d also say it was a haven for more mature gamers and for RPers. But that was before it went F2P and it may have changed since then. So how would a new player know?

So while I think Zubon makes a good argument, it just places more emphasis on how /the community/ constructs explanations of what type of player different games attract and then communicates it. And bloggers bear a lot of the responsibility for this. When I write that my guild in SWTOR are laid back, friendly, casual players and raiders, people will assume this is normal for the game. It probably is! But you’re just getting one player’s view.

Redbeard tackles a similar topic from the point of view of new players in WoW at the moment.

If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW.  This isn’t Pollyanna country, and it ain’t EVE, either.  People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated.  If they feel the environment is toxic, they’ll move on.  You can’t expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can’t expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.

Diablo 3

Clearly we haven’t had enough posting about D3 yet. I’m still having fun with the game but slowing down now that I’m in Hell level on my barbarian. I don’t know that I can honestly see this as an evergreen game I’d be playing months from now (especially if Torchlight 2 and GW2 and updates to SWTOR are coming out). The Auction House is definitely impacting on the game’s lifespan in my view, and they haven’t launched the real money AH yet.

Hugh at the MMO Melting Pot (who you should follow for excellent daily aggregations of MMO blogging) collects some more views on the auction house.

The Ancient Gaming Noob has played both Diablo 3 and the Torchlight 2 beta and gives a thorough comparison between what he has seen of the games.

Milady explains why she thinks Diablo 3 is a wellmade mistake.

They had many years to consider how to best mine money from their users, and Diablo III in its entirety is what they came up with. From Blizzard’s perspective, the gear barrier is there so you are forced to buy to continue; the barrier to grouping in Inferno is built so you cannot be too effective at higher levels, and are forced to grind on your own and buy loot; the enforced multiplayer exists solely to apply peer-pressure to your gearing up, so you need to resort to the AH to play with them.

Rohan argues that Elective Mode in D3 is a mistake.

Green Armadillo lists a lot of things that D3 is not and wonders if Blizzard were right to keep the name.

And Gevlon explains why he thinks D3 just doesn’t work as a competitive game.

Straw Fellow defends Blizzard’s decision to require D3 players to be always online.

Microsoft and the Console Wars

Microsoft may face a ban on imports of the XBox 360 into the US and Germany because of patent infringement. I assume they’ll settle with Motorola out of court, but it would be an amusing way to lose the console wars.

It would be nice to think that the patent rats nest might get sorted out sometime soon, but since there is no real sign of that happening, better hope your favourite manufacturer knows how to play the game.

And finally …

Berath ponders why there are so few gaming blogs focussed on shooters, given how many people play them.

Xintia explains why Bioware are great at telling stories but bad at designing games.

And Melmoth waxes lyrical about the general chat channel in TERA.

What was fascinating about the channel was that it had become a microcosm of the blogosphere: nearly every general topic that I’ve seen repeatedly touched upon over the past five or so years of blogging was mentioned in this one place, all in the fast forward nature of a back-and-forth conversation between people whose attention was invariably elsewhere. I quickly found myself privately playing Cassandra to any topic raised, knowing full well the future of each discussion, where the disagreements would come from, and the conclusions which would be drawn.

[Links] Guild size, MoP and warriors, D3, The Secret World, Bad Kickstarters

The imminent release of Diablo 3 this week is likely to be the biggest PC gaming event of the year, which  has less to do with any gameplay innovations and everything to do with how slick the Battle.net interface is for helping people to play together. And nostalgia. It’s a good time to remember that one of the biggest factors that drives new game sales (based on unscientific personal observations) is word of mouth – and particularly in multi player games, this means knowing friends who plan to play and want to know if you are too. It’s worked very well for CoD and it will work for Blizzard too.

Anyway, on to the links. Let’s start with some links about Diablo 3 – you won’t  stop hearing about it from now on in so may as well get cracking.

Jaded Alt explains the D3 Auction Houses and how Blizzard is taking their cut (ie. charges).

On one hand the entire AH system appears designed to be bad. On the other, I can’t imagine Blizzard leaving money on the table.  This is a head scratcher for me. I really don’t know which way it will go. Either way there won’t be large quantities of transactions. $1 is a stupid price point for quantity and max listing of 10 isn’t much better.

Tobold writes some general tips on Auction House strategies in D3. Comments are entertaining because he dislikes paid for guides and discussions entail.

The Internet is full of get-rich-quick scams. And with the release of Diablo 3 next week, a lot of new scams are going to exploit player’s dreams of paying their rent by playing Diablo 3. Selling virtual items for real money sounds like a dream job. So scammers will gladly promise you the secrets of making $25 per hour, if only you buy their Diablo 3 secret gold guide for $19.95.

You could be excused for thinking that D3 was an auction house with a game attached, rather than the other way around. The AH is going to be used by such a huge number of people and I’m not aware of any UI Auctioneer-type tools to help analyse it, which means that any individual will only be able to track a fairly limited range of goods. So unlike Tobold, I could see the value for people in being in a community that wants to share information. I’m sure there will be plenty of free resources and communities around for people who want to do that. But why would you share information that is making you a profit? I think that like the RL stock market, there will be a lot of suspect ‘tips’ around. The surest bet is pick a class and sell magic find or gold find gear for it. (I may experiment with a gold finding farming set,  it’s less random.)

The Secret World held an NDA-free beta weekend so there’s a fair amount of feedback from blogs around that. People are generally positive about the game, it’s a modern day urban fantasy conspiracy setting and  it’s doing some quite different things, but I’m not hearing people say that they think it’s ready to launch next month. Which could be concerning, because it’s due to launch next month.

Gaming for Introverts has a really big TSW beta post.

Randomessa is drawn in by the beta .. or was it Illuminati mind control?

Sente also is converted by the beta.

Belghast is trying to decide whether the good parts outweigh the bad.

Personally I am looking for games more like EQ2, and less like WoW/Rift/SWTOR.  So all the extra fluff this game has, really appeals to me, and I can look past some of the awkward combat and cutscenes for the time being.

And Feliz at MMO Compendium has posted a lot of TSW screenshots.

Kickstarter has been the topic of some more discussion this week. I’m thrilled that Jane Jensen has met her target, and I think the way she has been engaging with the community is pretty much a model for how this sort of thing can work. I get the sense that she’s really enjoying the process, and that’s infectious. There are 5 days left to get in on this one if you are a fan of old school adventure games (Gabriel Knight being the more famous ones she’s written, and the next game sounds to be thematically similar.) They have announced that they will also definitely make a second game this year, making the $50 tier sound like a good deal if you are REALLY into old school adventure games.

But while it’s one thing to throw some money at an established name with experience in the field who you trust (to some extent) to come up with a product, other Kickstarters are more nebulous. The Pathfinder Online Kickstarter in  particular is a bit of a head scratcher – they’re asking for backers to fund their tech demo. (This game btw will never get funding to be made – I am pretty darned confident in that prediction.)

Ferrel at Epic Slant discusses his experiences with Kickstarter and has concerns about the Pathfinder one.

Vicarious Existence is even more cynical.

What this Kickstarter is really about ismarketing. Getting a tech demo developed on-the-cheap is a bonus, but the real focus is on showing publishers that there is a potential market for PathO.

Ryan Dancey compares himself in his blurb to ‘the Steve Jobs of MMO marketing’. Stopped laughing yet? The folks at rpg.net haven’t. (He’s been involved with large companies and done some good work but I’m not seeing it either.) What this says to me is that this isn’t even so much about marketing as padding out a resume with “have organised a successful kickstarter.” Having said all that, a Kickstarter should be very clear about exactly what is going to happen with any donated funds and backers are at the very least expected to read this and understand it. Caveat Emptor.

There is also an issue with their ‘stretch goals’ (ie. what they’ll spend the excess money on now that they’ve funded the $50k they originally asked for) because they’re not really assigning it to the same tech demo project at all, more to general funding:

Extra funding will allow us to bring more resources to the table faster. We may be able to accelerate our hiring plan, and begin the task of expanding the work we’re doing to create the technology demo into the alpha version of the game. And, of course, the more money we raise, the better Pathfinder Online looks to investors!

Since I play a warrior in WoW, I’m vaguely interested to read what people have to say about where they are going in the next expansion. And the word currently is … not looking good.

Malchome has been playing the beta and is  disappointed in active tanking for warriors.

The Warrior, Bear, and Paladin feel like all they did was take some of the survivability that was normally there and removed it and added some buttons to press to give it back on a limited basis with massive resource requirements.  Great so now we suck more by default and have to spend all our time gathering resources just to get our previous survivability back.

Zellviren agrees that active mitigation is a flop, in a two part post.

I’m now looking at a promising expansion in Mists of Pandaria, but wholly disappointing gameplay from my warrior. I didn’t reckon with the power of bad design and the impact it could have on such a good idea. Essentially, as far as warriors are concerned, “active mitigation” is turning into a nasty belly-flop where we’re potentially going to end up MORE passive than we are now.

Ghostcrawler actually posts a long reply to this.

We don’t think standing there doing nothing, or standing there trying to maximize DPS is going to be fun for tanks, so we want the attacks to translate into some amount of tank survivability. That’s the intent behind active mitigation in a nutshell.

Or people who want active mitigation could just go play another game with a more active combat mechanic style? For me, the best type of active mitigation in standard MMO is exemplified by interrupts. You do your tanking thing and if the boss starts casting its big attack, you interrupt it. Bingo, you take less damage because you used the right ability at the right time.  THAT is active mitigation. Anything that doesn’t involve the player reacting to the environment is just a more complex rotation.

But I’d be lying if I said that hearing all these negative things about my favourite class isn’t putting me off checking out MoP.

Dragon’s Dogma is apparently going to have something in it that sounds like huge multiplayer raids.

Rohan wonders if MMO decline, as shown by reduced subs, is driven by the move towards smaller guilds and raids. I’m not sure if decline is the right word when there are probably more people playing MMOs now than ever, taking F2P into account. But I do think he’s right that smaller guilds are less stable, all it takes is one person to leave and the guild may not be able to raid any more without merging, or recruiting, and before you know it, everyone is feeling unsettled and thinking about hopping to the next game.

Black Seven talks about the details of how the guild system works in GW2.

Liore joins the mass of SWTOR unsubscribers, and gives a post-mortem on her time with the game.

I like Bioware, I like Star Wars, I like “the fourth pillar” of story. Somehow, though, at the end of the day it all came together into something I’m not interested in playing, or at least not interested enough to pay $15 a month to play.

TOR Wars posts some shots of hats in SWTOR – they’re not as bad as LOTRO but …. some of them get quite close. There are some bounty hunter headpieces which are just awful that I’ll try to capture sometime.

Syp has been posting links to new blogs all week, check them out. He also has some advice on managing criticism and attacks in comments.

And Scary posts the best blogging advice ever.

You’re not going to like it, but if you still want to blog after this post, you NEED to blog after this post.

Yeebo describes how she uses in-game mail as post-it notes. Have there been MMOs that actually gave you some kind of a notepad for this kind of stuff?

Kadomi advertises a Pern MUSH, if you’ve ever been intrigued by the idea of MUSHes this sounds like a supportive kind of environment to check it out.

And now some more lists of links

A few people on my blogroll have been posting lists of links to posts this week. So this is a list of lists of links to posts.

[SWTOR] Notes on bonus missions, slicing nerfs, did WoW ruin PUGS?

aldaraan1

This is a screenshot of my character riding a speeder along a river in Aldaraan, which is a very pretty planet. Because the speeder hovers anyway, there’s no real need to ever swim again once you have one. My trousers aren’t actually green – character classes in SWTOR have strong colour schemes and Sith Warrior is generally black and red.

I’m still having a blast with the game. I got to the end of Act I (each class story is in three acts), had some fairly tight fights and cool scenes, and am now a Sith Lord. Go me! I also have a legacy – which is like a family name. You don’t have to actually use it as a surname, but from now on every time you get xp, you also get legacy xp. I compare it to guild xp in WoW except that we don’t yet know what you’ll be able to get with legacy xp, that’s for a future patch.

I called my Legacy family De’Nevers, after the swashbuckling Duc de Nevers in Le Bossu (if you like swashbuckling films, try to find a copy). I figured if I’m a lightsabre/sword fighter, might as well be related to the best.

I remember vaguely comments from beta that people were concerned that there might not be enough quests to level up with. While this may be an issue on some of the starter planets, after that you’ll largely be rolling in xp. After you have finished the main storylines on a planet, you will open up some extra bonus missions which will usually feature a military quest giver who is in the spaceport. So if you’re pretty sure that you’ve done all the single player non-class quests on a planet, check out the spaceport for the bonus questgiver. Some of the bonus quests are pretty good, but mostly they give good xp and credits/ gold. Other sources of xp/credits are PvP and flashpoints.

I haven’t done a great deal of PvP but the battlegrounds I have seen show clear influence from the WAR devs. They’re interesting locations, with plenty of scenery or buildings to climb up, push people off, and generally PvP around. I have totally failed to figure out Huttball, which is a grab/capture the thingie battleground, because I never quite figured out where the goals were (clearly this is a problem if you do end up holding the ball). One of the others is an Arathi-style “capture and hold these points for X amount of time”, and the other is an attacker/defender setup which resets a few times to give both teams a chance to both attack and defend.

I couldn’t comment on PvP balance at the moment, but there’s no reason why this game couldn’t be as interesting PvP-wise as any best of breed in similar genre. It has a good feel.

Another thing I’m enjoying far too much is playing dress up with my companion/s. While the companions can wear normal gear, quest rewards on each planet will also offer a full set of companion-specific gear, each of which has a different style/ look. Sadly this isn’t orange/ moddable, so you can’t upgrade the stats later. I’m also quite enjoying picking gear for myself, this may be because cut scenes show your character’s face and torso rather more than you would usually see it in MMOs, so you get very aware of what they are wearing.

State of Crafting/ Slicing Nerfs

The patch news this week is that Slicing got an emergency nerf – while people are complaining about this on bboards, I suspect that there may be a later tweak upwards to make it harder to actually lose money on Slicing.

The bboard complaints are not surprising, although it’s interesting to see how many people didn’t see any problems with it. See, a consumer society would be just great if the bank just printed out extra money and gave it to everyone. This would clearly not affect prices, or the willingness of anyone to actually make/do stuff at all. Well.

Truth is, in an MMO, not every crafter enjoys the trading side of the game. Some people are mostly interested in making cool stuff for themselves and their friends – which is something Bioware forgot to figure in. (Maybe they don’t have many crafting nuts in the team.) If Slicing stayed as it was, the people who picked crafting because it was fun (ie. and not as a capitalist moneymaking ploy to bleed the Slicers of their not-very-hard-earned credits) would have ended up being hit very hard. Plus, prices would eventually drift upwards (aside from the crafters who couldn’t be bothered to check the market rate and settled for the default AH prices) and it would become necessary for everyone to have maxed Slicing and be using it all the time if they wanted to actually be able to afford stuff.

The Auction House in SWTOR is far from optimal at the moment. It’s not easy to search unless you know exactly what you want, and the default sales prices are driving me (and presumably other crafters nuts). The default sales price is the price that the system inserts for an item you are selling, you can then edit it manually before placing the item up on the AH for sale. This default price tends to be on the high side for green drops and on the low side for anything else.

So, for example, I know I can sell my implants for upwards of 8k because I’ve done so. But as soon as another crafter is too lazy to check current prices and just sticks some up for the default, that goes down to about 1.2k. I think the default prices prevent the market from finding its own value, which is generally bad for crafters but good for buyers. Although maybe not so good for buyers in the long run because I (and presumably others too) are not going to make things that sell for less than cost.

I never thought I would say this, but this is a game that needs an Auctioneer addon equivalent to help the prices settle and make it easier for crafters to pitch prices at the actual selling rate.

I can’t comment on what the various crafts are like at endgame. But watch out for crafted gear with extra mod/augment slots. Those are produced when a crafter crits, and are likely to be the most desired crafted gear at endgame. I suspect non-critted gear will end up being very cheap because you have to make a few of them until a crit turns up that you can sell for more money  (this is similar to the mastercrafting system in DaoC).

My PUG experiences

PUGs, as in any game, can be good or bad. I’ve had great experiences with PUGs for heroic/ group quests on planets, people being generally cool, willing to explore, and work together. Flashpoint PUGs can be a different matter.

I ran Esseles (the first republic flashpoint) with a PUG on an alt, and it felt like being dragged back into WoW kicking and screaming. The moment we got into the instance, the rest of the group started whining about “press space to get through conversations faster” (it’s the equivalent of gogogo). Someone complained at me rolling greed on an item I couldn’t use, while later rolling need on something they couldn’t use either.

I told them I hadn’t seen the instance before and was planning to watch the full video. They said that was OK, with a hint that I should have mentioned this previously. Since I don’t really care what random people think of me (although these are randoms on my server), I’m not sweating it. But it wasn’t anywhere near as fun as running the flashpoint with a group of friends/ guildies. I wish people would just chill out, accept that some runs will take a few minutes longer, and not harass people they don’t know to rush through faster. It feels like a WoW plague that is spreading, I hope I’m wrong.

On the other hand, planet chat in Tython (Jedi starting zone) on a RP server was worryingly solemn. People were discussing the meaning of justice, and other ethical issues. I don’t know if it is like that all the time, but it was quite cool, and I’ve never seen a general chat quite like it.

[Blizzard] Plan B in patch 4.3, and Diablo 3 trailer

Happy Sunday!

Let’s start with a link to the new D3 trailer that was premiered last night (this is an RPS link since the Spike TV one is inaccessible to people in my region. )

If you want to compare with previous ones:

Maybe I’m jaded from awesome computer game trailers these days. It looks fine. I just want to know the release date.

Of greater interest to prospective players, Blizzard also released some more details around how the auction house/ battlenet/ money thing is going to work. So you’ll be able to ‘charge up’ your battle.net balance via paying money into your account, but you cannot withdraw money from it – this isn’t a bank. Proceeds of a D3 cash auction can either go into the battle.net balance (ie. if you want to use the money to pay future subs or something), or they can be cashed out if you pay a cashout fee. What this basically means is that you cannot store auction profits on battle.net until you have a decent amount and then cash all of it out for a single cashout fee. You’ll have to pay a fee on every individual auction you want to cash out.

Or as Mike@MMOCrunch puts it, quadruple dipping. This rather makes the cash AH  useful only if you either want to ‘earn’ money for your WoW subs/future D3 expansions or intend to sell rather large/ high value items. I suspect gold selling/ buying for Diablo 3 in large amounts will be the dominant model on the real money AH, and people will just use the gold AH for selling most gear.

What does a successful patch look like anyway?

Earlier this week I asked readers how they had found the difficulty of WoW’s latest patch, 4.3. Thanks to everyone who responded! The main impression I get is that people are enjoying the content, so that’s definitely a win for Blizzard.

But still, I see concerns around how difficult or challenging the raids and instances are (or more accurately, around how difficult they aren’t). I see this as very much tied into longevity. Ideally every player would like to spend their time working towards clear short and medium term goals, and seeing actual progress towards those goals with every session. (The goals don’t have to be gear related, maybe you’re making gold, making friends, or learning how to play your class/spec better.) So there’s an idea that “Well yes, this is really fun now. But what happens next? It won’t stay this fun for long …” It’s like a protestant work ethic – we cannot admit that we are having fun with the new content because dammit, we didn’t have to work hard enough. And it feels as though admitting that a patch is fun right now is like saying that it won’t be fun next week, or maybe the week after.

So–  when a player meets their medium term goals quickly, what happens then? Either they make new goals, or take a break until new goals present themselves. Some people are better than others at thinking up interesting personal goals, and some goals appeal more to some people than others (eg. I’m not motivated by achievements, personally.) And after you have played a game for long enough, maybe you’ve run out of potential medium term goals that can still hold your interest. There are only so many times you need to get the Loremaster or Crusader achievements, after all.

Blizzard is aiming to offer heroic modes as future goals for people who complete the content on normal modes, AND a much larger proportion of the player base will complete the content on normal or LFD mode than previously. Will the player base buy it, and will people then want to spend time working on the harder modes? If so, it’s a good model for Blizz. Lots of fun things for everyone to do and see when a new patch drops, as they check out the content on LFR/ normal mode. And then when they have completed that, extra challenge on heroic. Plus the new PvP season, and any other new content/ daily quest Blizzard can drop in (Darkmoon Faire in this case.)

And all that is required for that to work is for people to really care about repeating content they have already seen in normal mode in a harder heroic mode.  Let’s see how that pans out. I’d also have concerns about how LFR will affect turnout to casual raid guilds. Again, if people are motivated by seeing the content, how keen will they be to turn up to weekly raids to see it again in a harder form?

Still, it’s undoubtedly a good deal for players who wanted to see the cool lore stuff from patch 4.3 and be done with it (assuming they don’t care about harder modes) when SWTOR is released.

I sometimes wonder if the Auction House was such a great idea …

Stabs posted yesterday about the idea of liquidity in MMOs: that is, if you get a drop you don’t like, you can sell it for gold which you can then spend on something you like better. Auction Houses in game make this relatively simple. They also introduce the notion of a large, impersonal market into the game.

I have several friends who shy away  strongly from this concept of liquidity, they prefer to use or hoard items rather than trade. For example, one of my kinship friends in LOTRO started a new alt just so that he could assign it a tradeskill that would ‘use up’ his unwanted mining byproducts. I said, “You could just sell the metal, you know?” (Metal sells well in LOTRO.) But even though there are plenty of crafters in the kinship who would happily make any item anyone wanted (and I know because they’re very nice about making stuff for me), he wanted to feel that he could use that spare metal to somehow progress an alt of his own. I felt that by suggesting he sell it, I was spoiling his hunter-gatherer fun of making the best use of all the items he’d acquired and wasting none of it.

So for some players, interacting with the market isn’t as fun as thinking of a way to use the spare stuff yourself (or hoarding it in case you think of a way to use it later.) And if you don’t /need/ the gold, it’s hard to argue that one way is objectively better. Stockpiling gold might make the game more flexible in some ways (it’s a currency, you can buy a lot of different things with it), but if you don’t care about the flexibility then it’s not necessary.

But the more important gold becomes in the game, not selling unwanted items gets to be a worse and worse choice. I think games with high liquidity – where just about everything can be bought or sold for gold – encourage players to figure out one good way to make gold and then just trade for everything else. Sim Capitalism, if you like. If you could trade every piece of gear, every reputation, every token in the game for gold, then actually playing the game (other than to find a good gold making strategy and then sticking to it religiously) would be a mug’s game.

I do have concerns that cash shop games will end up this way. It’s no skin off my nose if impatient gamers with money to burn pay their way through every grind in the game, but when the answer to “How can I get item X?” is always, “Just buy it in the cash shop/ buy it from the cash AH stupid” then you could end up with a fairly odd game. After all, they have to buy it from someone so you’d end up with farmers and capitalists.

You could argue that really that just means that the grinds should go. But as seen in comments last week, there are players who enjoy that type of play as long as it’s not forced onto them.

Or maybe a game of farmers and capitalists is what people want. It could replace the old tank/heals/dps role trinity. I’m just not sure that’s especially fun for anyone (although I predict D3 may end up this way.) But I think it’s truer to the nature of the genre to get back to the hunter/ gatherer mindset, encouraging players to find interesting ways to use items that they find in the world and keep industrialisation down to the cottage industry level.

And perhaps, in order to do that, the easy access world auction house would have to go. I always found it interesting in games like EVE or Pirates of the Burning Coast that as a seller, you’d be weighing up the costs and benefits of travelling to different markets. I think it made trading more interesting and less automated than the typical one market AH model.

Diablo 3 and the Real Money Auction House (Diablocalypse?)

Yesterday, Blizzard disdained the notion of adjusting potential customers’ expectations for an upcoming game gently in favour of dropping a PR bombshell during a press/ fansite preview day for Diablo 3. There is a lot to like about the new game, with features that I think players will enjoy, but that is now going to be eclipsed by the more attention-grabbing news.

The headline reveals were:

  • Diablo 3 will have an auction house facility via Battle.Net (players will be able to trade under game IDs and this will not require realID)
  • There will be an auction house that allows trading via in-game gold. There will also be a facility to trade via RL currency. Players will also be able to trade in-game gold on the AH for real currency (ie. sell gold to other players)
  • There will be no offline solo mode for Diablo 3, running the game will require a permanent internet connection.
  • Mods and addons will be prohibited.
The Escapist posts comments from Rob Pardo explaining why the cash AH is such a great idea. My view is that each of these things can be carefully and logically justified on its own, but taken together they may force a large change in how the typical player approaches the game.

Speaking as someone who mostly played Diablo 2 solo and offline, I understand the issue of preventing piracy but I will still miss the offline mode and the relative quietitude and non-competitiveness of playing alone. I understand that it’s still possible to play solo online, but much like soloing in an MMO, it’s harder to avoid the ubiquity of online achievements and pressure to compete or keep up with friends when you’re in a multiplayer game. (I don’t buy any connection with this and cheating, since it’s easy enough for them to keep offline characters out of the auction house or online PvP games.)

The in-game gold AH is a great idea and something that was very needed in Diablo 2, where there was a clear desire for players to be able to trade drops but no real mechanism for allowing it. Even swapping items between alts needed some quick logging in and out and leaving the item on the floor in the meanwhile. The real money AH is a sensible way to legitimise the grey market that would inevitably form for D3 goods and characters. People are still buying and selling D2 items on ebay and that game is now 11 years old (I do not know who these people are who buy the stuff from ebay – if you’re one of them feel free to explain why it’s worth it to you in comments.) However, the people who bought and sold D2 goods were a small and hardcore minority of the playerbase — this playstyle is now going to be pretty much forced on everyone else.

Scrusi comments   that most players fail to recognise opportunity cost in MMOs, I prefer to think that players are quite well able to value their own time and some of them get more enjoyment out of grinding and creating their own goods and materials than they would from ‘industrial strength crafting and trading.’ However, once real money enters the picture, I think people will become very sensitive indeed to opportunity cost.  Because any time you are not farming valuable items as fast as is humanly possible and then selling them on the auction house, you are leaving money on the table.

So while I have no doubt that many many players will be delighted by this development, I’m left feeling that I won’t much like the evolving game community that this spawns and since there’s no offline mode, I won’t have the option to opt out either. Maybe I’m the aging gamer with odd ideas from an earlier age here and the new breed of online gamers wants nothing more than to be able to buy and sell random items for cash. I’m thinking you might as well go and play poker.

The decision not to allow adds or mods follows from the previous two choices. With no offline mode there’s no room for a non-competitive/ non-real-money-selling gameplay where players might easily experiment with interesting new mods or addons. So this also makes sense, but it’s a shame in an area like PC gaming where the modding community has added so much to the player experience (including previous Blizzard games like Starcraft) in the past to rule it out completely. I don’t think PC gaming died with this announcement, but it’s a sad day.

Now I’m not saying that Blizzard announced this cash item auction house today just to wind me up because they knew I posted about the pointlessness of gold accumulation in WoW, but you have to also wonder whether they are considering developing WoW in the same way. As things stand, you’ll be able to cash in proceeds from the Diablo 3 AH to pay for a WoW subscription or other items from the cash shop. I don’t think it is likely that things will go in the other direction, but if they do, I’ll have to eat my proverbial hat and admit that the goblins were right.

And that since I’m not one, I fail at online gaming.

In which players start realising that making gold on the WoW AH is ultimately pointless

This is an eloquent goodbye post from Caffeine, Smokes and Auction House Fees. He writes about his journey as a player from getting interested in making gold in game to maxing out his gold reserves, and the anticlimax of realising he has nothing to spend all that gold on.

Summary for those who don’t want to read spammy Meat Loaf lyrics (look, I like Bat out of Hell as much as the next person but that doesn’t mean I want to read entire songs in blog posts.) He’s finished all his goals in WoW, which included maxing out his gold via auction house antics, and is quitting blogging about gold.

I don’t know how long a million gold will last me, but I don’t see myself being a pauper in the near future and until then I will be living off my stockpiles of mats and when that fails my gold. I hope that eventually I learn to be frivolous.

I’ll answer that question. A million gold will last all of your alts for longer than your entire future interest in the game. Well done, you’ve made more WoW gold than you could feasibly ever spend. But did you make any friends along the way, or only auction house rivals?

From comments on the post from players who have similarly made lots of gold and then gotten bored, you can see though where all the interest in gold DKP runs (where you bid for raid drops with gold) comes from. Players who have convinced themselves that the reason they make gold in game is because they’re just that much smarter than everyone else can’t bear to think that it’s a pointless endeavour. So they start inventing schemes that reward gold-makers, rather than player skill at combat. (GDKP starts to fail when the boosters don’t feel that they need the gold enough to put up with the paying newbies/ alts, incidentally.)

This is not to disrespect making gold as an in game activity. In many ways it is very egalitarian – there are many many different ways to make gold in MMOs and surely some will suit every playing style.

However this does underline a comment I made in a previous post which was that I didn’t understand why more AH junkies in WoW didn’t want to try EVE.  EVE Online is a far better and deeper economic simulation, and devs also reward those who do well at the economic game by allowing players to swap in game cash for subscription fees. So if you’re good at the markets, you can play for free.

And yet people prefer to stay with the game where they have market expertise and know exactly what sells and who buys, even when they have no need for the gold at all. But what if Blizzard decided that economic play was something they wanted to encourage, and that there should be cool but extremely expensive stuff for them to buy – for example, what if you could buy a guild house for 1 million gold?

Should WoW offer better rewards for gold makers?

The problem with offering better rewards for in game currency without requiring players to complete content is that it lures in gold farmers and gold sellers. And when I say gold farmers, I also mean account stealers.

There isn’t a good way around this other than policing gold sellers/ buyers carefully or limiting gold supplies in some way which would require even the gold farmers to play in a productive way. And the horse has bolted on the latter because even moderately casual players likely now have large gold reserves in WoW.

But aside from that, assume that there is a hypothetical way to confirm that a player got their gold legitimately by playing/ trading in game.  What if there was a whole subset of endgame which cost large amounts of gold to enter? The housing example I gave earlier might be a good one — a guild could pool together to buy a house, or a rich individual could have one of their own.

Whatever it was would need to have lots of fancy stuff to show off. We assume people with gold want people to know about it, and that means showy luxury items and ‘exciting’ shopping experiences. And yet not everyone with the drive to make gold has a similar drive to spend it. Perhaps instead what they’d want is better market-related tools — banks of NPC crafters maybe, or sell orders, or the ability to set up their own shops in capital cities and design their own goods.  But that just unbalances the market even further in their favour without really setting up a proper gold sink.

Or maybe something really offbeat like being able to pay WoW gold for improved access to developers.

You sometimes have to wonder, is this where capitalism ends too? Once people in the ultra rich class simply run out of things to buy and just keep going out of habit?

I still think there’s a lot to be said for my suggestion of resetting the gold supply after every expansion. Think of it as an inheritance tax ;)

I was right, incidentally

I don’t mean to rag on Breevok, who sounds as though he’s been through an emotional time.

But actually gold in WoW ceased to have much meaning awhile ago. I have about 40k on Spinks and I’m not even sure how – yes I occasionally sell things on the auction house but not in an organised way. I don’t even know if I can be bothered to make some of the new 365 weapons and sell those, even though she’s a blacksmith and has the recipes. I don’t need the gold. And the gold I have isn’t going to go anywhere. Why not? Well, it’s basically because I have friends and a nice social guild and there aren’t many goldsinks in WoW, and even the ones there are will ease off over time. I didn’t have to actually pay much gold for my 365 two-handed sword, I’m not the person in the market for the finished article although I did buy some of the mats.

Anyhow, I called this one back in January and suggested that if gold was reset with every expansion, it might keep economic players more interested.

Gathering gold is the only thing you can do in WoW which – so far – has been guaranteed to carry over into the next expansion. <…> Since tradeskills aren’t balanced for cash making, all this means is that anyone who leaped on a gold making scheme in one expansion may never have to worry about gold again.

Nice for them, maybe. But is it good for the game?

Which is why it’s so funny that all these so-called goblins are so quick to label more chilled out players as morons and slackers and idiots and stupid people.

Building a better auction house

Auction Houses are incredibly convenient in MMOs, and I love them. I’ve spent many happy hours staring at an Auctio… (editor’s note: no one will believe this!). Let’s just say that I’ve been able to use auction houses to earn some gold and equip characters in just about every game where they exist. I’m not a hardcore businesswoman in games but if you don’t mind spending a bit of time to figure out the market/s  it is a whole other side and challenge to MMOs.

I know it’s not as immersive as meeting up with other players to trade but this is one of those sad places where just about everyone is happy to trade immersion for convenience. But I could love the auctions  so much more if I could do more of these things with them:

  1. I want proper programmable searches. So if I have a few items I am watching (maybe there is some item I often farm and sell) or maybe something particular that I’m looking out for, I just hit my ‘search A’ button and it comes up every day. It needn’t be any harder than setting up filters on an email program. eg. In Warhammer my Archmage is an Apothecary and might want to buy dye ingredients and sell dye, so it would save me a lot of time if I could set up a standard button to list all of those things currently at auction, to help me decide what to make/sell/buy. Really what I’m asking for is user-defined categories.
  2. I want buy orders. So if I want to buy some metal ore at a specified price but none is currently up on the auction house, I set up my buy order (eg. buy up to 80 cobalt ore at 2g per piece) and deposit however much gold that would cost, and as soon as any auction goes up with that raw material at that price or less the buy order kicks in and it gets automatically bought and sent to me. The buy order doesn’t need to be secret, maybe sellers can search through them and decide which one gives them the best deal before they sell. Sell orders could work in a similar way.
  3. I want records built in for what recent sales of any goods actually sold for so that I can easily check. In WoW you can get an addon to help with this but why not have that information built in and available to everyone?
  4. Guild/ Alliance auctions. I know LOTRO and WAR have a category for guild only auctions and I really like this ; it’s a good way for making nice items preferentially available to the group of people who you regularly play with (which will actually benefit you in the long run also). But I’m not sure how ofter people bother to check the guild auctions. There must be some way to notify people of when something they might like is available — maybe some ability for a guild/alliance auction to mail out to people if a nice epic that would be an upgrade for them goes up. Or maybe have the guild auctions available in a different location (in WoW, if the guild auctioneer was in Dalaran, it would be much more frequently checked).
  5. Buy and sell guildies. Everyone has people in their guild they’d rather sell off or trade in, right? Why stop at raw materials?
  6. Advertising. If I’m a crafter, why shouldn’t I be able to advertise in the Auction House or around the game? Spamming the trade channel is so 2004. I’d pay good gold to get a raid boss to wear a tabard reading:  ‘Spinks! For all your blacksmithing needs!’ or have a custom shout when it wiped a raid saying something like, “Thank goodness those lamers didn’t buy their armour from Spinks, or I’d have been in real trouble!” (I’d pick Razuvious by the way, because I hate him so much.)

Some of these would call for fairly heavy duty database work, but what is an AH but a database anyway? And it’s not as if Blizzard don’t have the money.