Time to Effectiveness

This is true. In any PvP game (or game with a significant PvP element), a major factor must be time to PvP effectiveness. From the time I start, how long until I can be worthwhile to have along and how long until I am at parity with long time players? This is mechanical, numerical parity; you may still be lousy because of having no strategy or practice, but how long until I can shoot a bullet that does as much damage as the next guy’s?

In most non-MMOs, that was the instant you log on. A rocket launcher is a rocket launcher, a zergling is a zergling. Now more games have character advancement, so even a FPS might make you level. The better ones use a model like Team Fortress 2: you need time/money to gain options, not power (at least in theory; the “options” might be better than what you start with, but there should be trade-offs).

MMOs are notoriously bad because you need to level. Guild Wars 2 sPvP avoids this by letting you play at full effectiveness on day one, but WvW does not because a level 1 scaled to 80 is significantly less powerful than a level 80. His bullets do not do the same damage, and they will not until after a level and equipment grind, but the scaling means you can at least contribute while taking care of that grind through WvW. In EVE, you can join your friends and meaningfully contribute on your first day. I have been playing Ingress lately, where you can start contributing around level 5 and reach full effectiveness at 8, which was spread over a month for me is doable in 20 hours or less of (highly efficient, possibly assisted) play.

For MMOs, this is indicative of the larger problem that you need to grind to play with your friends. MMOs are bad for playing with your friends. Their character advancement systems make it difficult to find a span within which you can bring veterans, newbies, alts, etc. together, and it only gets worse over time as the power differential between day one and the level cap grows. I played a bit of World of Warcraft but it never really caught me because I spent almost my entire time in that vast, lonely wasteland between level 1 and the cap.

If I play these games to play with my friends, I want to play with my friends. If I play these games to compete with other people, I want to compete on a level playing field.

: Zubon

What Are You Going to Do With It?

Your game has various sources of gear or whatever your unit of character advancement is (usually gear). You might get it from quests, crafting, events, PvP, single group dungeons, or raids. Of course, whatever sort of gameplay you favor is the one that should produce the best rewards or at least have a chance of eventually earning something comparable to the best. In games with raids, especially progressive raiding, raids usually produce the strongest gear. And I have always been pretty much okay with this, despite never being all that interested in online synchronized dance recitals.

Because what are you going to do with the best weapon in the game as a solo player? None of the solo content assumes that you are going to have an extra thousand DPS, so you will just blow through it even quicker. Of course, by the time you get the best weapon in the game (TV Tropes warning, happy Monday), you don’t need it, so it is even more of a cosmetic reward. You will probably enjoy solo content less if you have raid gear that trivializes it. You do not need raid gear unless you are raiding.

But I know we have some readers who do things with MMO content other than enjoy it, so perhaps you have your reasons.

: Zubon

Changing His Solo Ways

For some reason, this 2006 post appeared in my RSS feed. But of course, the writings of Wilhelm Arcturus are always fresh and ready to be mined for new insights. Such as:

I have not avoided groups in the past because I am anti-social. … I have avoided groups because they make leveling take longer in WoW. Solo play, for levels, is rewarded in WoW. When you group, your exp per kill is reduced, time taken to finish drop related quests goes up dramatically with each person you add to the group (so you do kill more, which mitigates the exp per kill loss somewhat, but a lot of the exp is in finishing the quest, so your exp/hour is still taking a hit), and unless your group all has the same quests, somebody is usually waiting for everybody else to get to their quest.

This of course brought 2008 to mind:

If it is designed as solo content, you gain little to nothing for bringing a friend. Indeed, it might take the two of you longer to do it together than it would to do it separately, say if you each need to loot a dozen ground objects that despawn after they are looted; you would have been better off each going alone, five minutes after each other, rather than going together and waiting for the respawns.

Both of which reinforce the point from yesterday that grouping brings with it the potential for great upsides and downsides. If most of the leveling game takes away most of the upside, that leaves a lot of distance for the increasingly common “solo MMO” to fall.

Which are perhaps some reasons why we are seeing the rise of MOBAs and a renaissance in small group games where you bring your friends rather than trying to seek the questionable benefits of a matchmaker service.

: Zubon

Revolution, Evolution, Variation, Recombination

Before Arkship started, I needed food. I walked until I found a restaurant we did not have back home, which happened to be Fatburger. We do have hamburgers in Michigan, but not that chain, and friends had gushed about the place. It was indeed a quality sandwich and my first time having a hamburger with relish on it. I have had hamburgers and relish before, but not together, and the combination of ingredients was unexpectedly good.

Relatively few restaurants offer anything new. They can offer something new to you, Continue reading Revolution, Evolution, Variation, Recombination

Loot Bonuses: Bad Multiplayer Mechanic

Socializing costs and privatizing benefits is a lousy combination.

Many games allow you to increase your difficulty and your reward. This could be explicit in the form of a difficulty dial tied to rewards, but it is more often an opportunity cost. For example, you might equip an item that improves your loot, but doing so forgoes equipping an item that improves your damage. The fight is marginally harder and your rewards are marginally better. Kingdom of Loathing is an example of a game that does both: there are ways to increase monster level, and you can also equip items that have +monster level instead of (or in addition to) stat bonuses.

Kingdom of Loathing is also a single-player game. City of Heroes similarly gives you tools to adjust mission difficulty, and it gives the same difficulty increase and reward increase to everyone.

Multiplayer games that allow individuals to equip +loot items allow those individuals to increase their rewards at a cost of increased difficulty to everyone on the team. Alice is a tank using best-in-slot gear for damage resistance while Bob is a healer using best-in-slot gear for improved loot drops; Alice is working harder and incurring more repair costs for Bob’s benefits. Alice’s only way to avoid players like Bob is to stick with known companions or be That Guy and demand to see your equipment before letting you into the group. If everyone or no one is wearing +loot gear, the situation is fair and both risks and rewards are shared. Allowing individuals to unilaterally increase group difficulty for personal benefit is a solid example of anti-social design. Continue reading Loot Bonuses: Bad Multiplayer Mechanic

Work in Progress

More than other games, MMO experiences have a time stamp because the game itself changes and our experiences with the “same” piece of content might be radically different.

This is especially true in the early days. Yesterday’s dungeon discussion had some sharply divided experiences, and those could be caused by class, gear, strategy, or the dungeon’s having been updated a half-dozen times in a month. I finally tried WoW so I could see how the zones looked before the Cataclysm revamp only to find that the veterans’ experiences were radically different due to other changes that had accumulated over the years. My trip through Guild Wars: Prophecies included heroes, lots of elite skills, and PvE skills, which changed everything even if none of the Prophecies content had changed.

As a LotRO player, I recall approaches to Moria boss fights that went from “standard practice” to “exploits we patched away.” Sometimes you need the good bugs to get past the bad bugs. Some grognards talk about how hard X was during their day, and some of them did Y while it was easier, broken, bugged, etc.

The population shift is also a big change over time. The original wave of Warhammer Online players experienced public events 1.0 as intended, but as early as a month later many zones were ghost towns and you never saw the last event phases. In September 2012, players bemoaned that the Guild Wars 2 economy was broken because scraps of jute were very expensive. Come September 2014, players may bemoan that the Guild Wars 2 economy is broken because craps of jute were almost worthless. It seems to be a rare event for a game to maintain a steady population spread rather than having huge clumps at the top and bottom levels.

“Trammel” and “NGE” are extreme cases you need not mention. Everyone knows to distinguish between before and after those chasms.

: Zubon

RMT

Years ago, goldsellers were the great plague of gaming. They were everywhere, they were annoying, they were criminal conspiracies that were hacking accounts and credit cards. I flipped the eff out when WAR launched without a working /ignore function and the majority of chat was goldspam during off-hours. Pitchforks and torches appeared when one of our former writers patronized a goldseller.

I know they’re still out there, so why don’t I hear much about them? I regularly get phishing spam at an address not even associated with a WoW account. I do not know how long ago I last saw goldseller ads, because they no longer mentally register, but my sense is that I have seen them recently. Account security is still a big thing, particularly for WoW.

Is it mostly a WoW thing at this point? There is only so much profit available in niche markets. Maybe companies have gotten better about anti-goldspam techniques.

I just don’t hear much about RMT in a F2P environment, and most MMOs have gone F2P or hybrid. If a player won’t pay for the game itself, you probably will not be able to sell him much gold. If a player is willing to pay to get ahead, s/he now can usually pay the developer directly.

: Zubon

Maybe it’s just me.

Shopping By Customers

I recently read An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen. Much of the book is advice on finding quality ethnic food (and barbecue) at reasonable prices, whether in the US or in their home countries. Don’t eat in the tourist district, do eat where there are several restaurants of the same type in the neighborhood (until I visited DC, it never occurred to me that you could have a half-dozen Ethiopian restaurants in one block). Being an economist, his insights focus on where the restaurants have the right incentives and efficiencies. A place with great atmosphere is selling that, rather than the food; the tourist district does not worry about repeat customers; American shipping systems are great but really fresh seafood and produce is only available close to the source.

Yes, this is one of those extended metaphor posts that takes an example from another setting and applies it to gaming.

The simplest guide is to look at the customers. If the restaurant has the right people eating there, the food is probably good. Who are the right people? The ones with interests aligned with yours. Continue reading Shopping By Customers