Feedback Time

Before the age of digital cameras, it was said that the average American family went through two rolls of film per year (summer vacation, Christmas). You probably have some good photos from your youth, but those were what was worth saving after removing two with the lens cap on, three with a thumb over the lens, four out of focus, five where someone blinked… Whatever rosy view of the past may exist, people were at least as bad of photographers back then, and almost certainly worse. If 90% of everything is crud, taking 50 quick pictures per week will give you far more good pictures than 100 careful pictures per year. You can delete the crud. Also, you get better with practice, and you get a lot more practice with a smartphone camera than when you only take pictures at special occasions.

Part of the reason high volume practice is helpful is that you get feedback. If you took pictures over the course of weeks or months, then waited for film to be developed, you had a big gap between when you took the pictures and when you saw how it came out. Digital cameras are even faster than Polaroids: you can see in a second whether or not you took a good picture (and try again with a slight variation in technique). Until you see the results of your actions, you do not know whether to do things differently.

In Ingress, players are encouraged to submit potential portals. See something that should be a portal but isn’t? Take a picture and send it in. The game has an achievement track for it. The developers, however, are in no great hurry to review those submissions, or at least they do not have the staff to do so; wait time is 4-6 months (and that may be optimistic). The average player will have quit by the time his/her portal submissions are reviewed.

Most portal submissions are rejected. A lot of people can submit the same portal in six months. Indeed, that could be part of their filtering: don’t bother to review it until a half-dozen people have submitted it. But also, you as the player have a very long gap between the time you hit “submit” and when you get feedback. Lots of things are submitted that will never be accepted as portals, but you might submit 100 before you start getting that feedback. Many things do get accepted that clearly violate the portal guidelines, so either those “slipped through” or there are informal guidelines that you learn by feeling them out. So submit all the things; it costs you a minute, and it is a shot in the dark anyway. That cannot be good for data quality.

: Zubon

Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it unenjoyable. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon

Vocabulary 2

This comic happens. There was an old Gen Con sketch from decades ago in which a couple of gamers get arrested after recounting their game of Top Secret (an old spy game) without considering their surroundings.

In Ingress, folks occasionally need a reminder to watch how they phrase things. You are not going to “go blow up the Capitol” or some churches. Leading “an attack on campus” is borderline. Going on a “gardens (or zoo) raid)” is probably abstract enough to be safe.

: Zubon

Interitus

I attended the fifth Interitus anomaly this weekend. On the overall score, it was a dominating win for the Enlightened, largely on the basis of the special rule added for this one: every link from several cities to one particular portal in Texas was worth 20 points in the overall score. Before the event, teammates described that alternately as “Calvinball” and “a fair chance for the Enlightened to come back,” the latter of which made less sense to me since either side could go for it. There were 102 documented links (and more submitted late) for the Enlightened and 0 for the Resistance, making it a second golden snitch worth even more than the first one. I have no evidence if this was again running up the score on an empty field except “102-0″?

The nature of that extreme swing was somewhat cloaked because the points were awarded to the two primary sites, so it looked more like two big wins for the Enlightened. Removing both those points and the Resistance points for the global score, the Enlightened carried Santiago and squeaked a victory in Cincinnati, with the Resistance carrying every secondary site by at least 2:1 except for the one the Enlightened won 27:1.

I was on the ground in Cincinnati. Continue reading Interitus

Golden Snitch Caught

I am planning on attending an Ingress Interitus anomaly (gathering/event) this weekend, but I am no longer sure why. It is kind of like playing out the games of a “best of seven” series when one team has already won four. You can still play for the battle, but the war has already been won.

I don’t know if it was true in previous event series, but the event details include the note, “Research suggests the the [sic] outcome of the Interitus Anomalies will be dependent on total Values accrued by the Factions across the entire Interitus series of Anomalies.” One of the cities in the previous anomaly, Kansas City, was so lopsided that the blue team won by 1500 points. Outside Kansas City, the score for the entire anomaly was about 1500 for each side. That metaphor about running up points on an empty field? At least in “best of seven” that would count as just one game.

Funny thing is, Kansas City was an outlier but only as a matter of degree. Most of the anomaly events seem to be blowouts for one team or the other, with 5:1 scores not uncommon. If the game is not intentionally designed for this to happen, balance went astray a long time ago and has not been seen often since.

: Zubon

Internecine Tourism

Today has been “Be A Tourist In Your Own Town” day. The passport includes admittance to the local zoo. The local zoo has about a dozen Ingress portals. While you might not pay the normal zoo fee just to capture some imaginary portals (although it looks like some local players have annual passes), for part of a package that costs $1, you might go.

The local Ingress communications channel has been filled with players capturing zoo portals, linking them up, re-taking them from the other team, and generally making an imaginary warzone of the place. The only thing the normal zoo visitors would notice is that a few people are staring at their phones instead of the animals (more than usual) and may be very particular about where they are standing.

: Zubon

Try visiting something like the Ingress intel map and looking at Lake Buena Vista, FL (Disneyworld): theme parks all over Orlando and the surrounding area, with every ride, attraction, and statue marked. Some people are having a very different experience in the Magic Kingdom.

Risk Calculations

The meatspace risks of online gaming are minimal. It is so rare as to be newsworthy when an online gaming confrontation leads to physical violence. The few incidents I recall were all in east Asia, so I estimate my own risk even lower.

In Ingress, face-to-face encounters with the opposing team are common, although few I would describe as “confrontations.” (Is it a bad sign that it is already “few” in less than two months?) Interfacing through our phones, the character of interactions is somewhere between online gaming and what you might reasonably expect from face-to-face encounters, modified by differing norms in assorted virtual and meatspace communities, particularly as people travel and those interact.

Online, you get a very low number when you multiply the odds that someone would want to do you harm times the odds that they could find you times the odds they would find it worthwhile to travel, risk prosecution, risk harm to themselves, etc. Unless you are in the same gaming cafe, your aggressor faces greater safety risks in traveling than you would from even the most blatant trolling.

If you are actively playing Ingress, your location can be pinpointed within 100 meters, along with a timestamp and a predictable direction of travel based on recent activity. The players may not be marked on the map, but you don’t need to be a genius to follow a line or approximate the center of a circle. And if you are blowing up portals, there is a very good chance someone within reasonable driving distance set them up. And as I have mentioned, some people take the game very seriously, have quick reaction times, and and will bring friends and/or cars. While the vast majority of people are decent and/or scared of repercussions (I am not aware of any Ingress-related violence), your odds on “can find you” and “reasonably close” are vastly higher in an augmented reality game than online.

Recently, any time I have been out playing (attacking, linking, etc.) rather than just hacking as I go for a walk, someone has driven up. Yesterday, I took a low-level player out to gain some levels, and the counterattack SUV was on-scene before we had walked 100 meters. That put her personal risk calculation too high (versus the value of capturing imaginary portals), and she decided to do something else with her day. And given the unhappy reaction from the man who immediately knew that cheating was going on when the lower-level account conveniently disappeared as he arrived, I must say her calculations were probably better than mine.

: Zubon

Update edit: I was wrong, I am aware of one story of Ingress-related battery and a few of minor defacement of property, but I don’t know how well sourced those are. One player says an opposing team member smashed someone’s phone, which is apparently a story well known in the area but doubted by the accused’s teammates. And then folks who put bumper stickers for Team A on Team B’s cars. I recall seeing online discussion mentions of assorted minor criminal activity between Ingress players, but again, I do not know how well sourced those are versus “my friend said his friend said…”

Shifting Priorities

I have written previously about storyline paths differing between development and live teams in MMOs. I find myself looking at recent Guild Wars 2 updates and wondering whether there was a change in development teams or the same team deciding to shift directions. One could easily look at the first year of GW2 and say, “Wow, we made that way too zergy. Let’s dial that back.” But recent content has been not just dialed back but punishing of zergs, which means either they wanted a hard break with the past or someone different took over the reins of design.

On the one hand, some content encourages zergs, other content discourages it. Yes, not everything calls for the same strategy; that’s good design. On the other hand, almost everything did, for the better part of a year, call for the same strategy, so current players feel punished for doing what they’ve been taught to do, and it is not as if a huge wave of players loving non-zerg content will sweep into GW2 because a few updates were not pure zerg. You need to upset the apple cart atop your current playerbase for a long time and hope they stick around while you right it and turn it in a new direction. On the gripping hand, as I said of “punishing,” quite a bit of content did not encourage zergs so much as require on the order of 100 people to have a reasonable chance of success. The content being rebelled against still requires dozens of people but now requires you to herd those cats in multiple groups before the tools to manage that have come into existence. To say nothing of the switch from the original “show up and do what you want” approach of GW2, where content requiring synchronized dancing was hidden in a few instances.

Also, the boss blitz is just bad.

You have certainly seen that changeover in design philosophy, usually coupled with a changeover in design teams. The original GW1 was very different from the final game after the expansions. City of Heroes under Statesman was very different from City of Heroes under Positron, and I am not sure who was helming the switch to Incarnate content around the time I stopped playing. “Trammel” and “NGE” are famous design shifts that veteran MMO players will still debate in some forums given half a chance. A Tale in the Desert saw quite a few design shifts under the same management, but Teppy was always an experimenter; I have no idea where the game is headed under its new management.

Ingress has had a shift in emphasis over time from a geocaching-like game that focused on walking to rewarding car-based play. If you can’t see why that transition could be rocky, remember that my job was analyzing traffic deaths when I started blogging.

: Zubon

Wow, we don’t even have a post category/tag for Ultima Online. Then again, we don’t bring it up enough for me to want to create it.

Time Investment

Phillip II: I can’t lose, Henry — I have time. Just look at you — great, heavy arms, but every year they get a little heavier. The sand goes pit-pat in the glass. I’m in no hurry, Henry. I’ve got time.
Henry II: Suppose I hurry things along. Suppose I say that England is at war with France.
Philip II: Then France surrenders. I don’t have to fight to win. Take all you want — this county, that one — you won’t keep it long.
The Lion in Winter

How do we feel about games whose competitive balance privilege the investment of time?

I do not mean games where you become better with experience. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is a classic design goal, and games without that learning curve often become dull quickly. Instead, I mean games where players can spend different amounts of time on the field, with points accruing to players/teams that invest more time. This includes bringing more players, playing for more time, or often both.

In contrast, think of a round of an RTS, FPS, MOBA, board game, or sporting event. The temporal bounds of the game are fixed, and the rounds are generally distinct. I can play as many games of StarCraft as I like, but I start each game fresh. If the other players are not there, I cannot keep rolling the dice in Monopoly to keep going around the board, nor can my football team show up at midnight to score unopposed while the other team is asleep.

Many computer-mediated games allow and even encourage this sort of play, especially where territorial control is involved, and the economics of the game may create this on a smaller basis if you can farm during off-hours to create an advantageous starting position. For example, your server’s score in GW2 WvW is largely driven by how many players you field over how much time, whereas GW2 sPvP at least tries to have equal players for equal time. EVE Online, Darkfall, Shadowbane, and Ingress are other games where bringing more players or continuing to play before/after the other team does allows you to win through superior time investment. You may be really good at the game, but you only have two hours per day to play, while the opposing guild might be college students who just finished finals (although you dominated during finals week).

On the one hand, it seems like something is wrong with such a game if superior time investment does not yield results. If you are trying to simulate a war, great ways to win a war include bringing more allies, bringing more economic resources, and sacking your enemies’ cities while their troops are elsewhere. On the other hand, now that I am long past the age where I have time to kill, why would I want to engage in competition where my competitors can score while I am not even playing?

: Zubon

To say nothing of the general MMO incentive to keep grinding.