Alarming Prospects

Roast Pheasant Bringing together the topics of design slippery slopes (particularly with cash shops) and Game of Thrones Ascent, we have this frightening picture. It may be a little hard to see (it is grayed out because nothing in-game calls for it), so let me explain what you’re seeing there. This is the sort of game where you send a knight on a mission and wait for him/her to finish. A Roast Pheasant is an item that will speed that by 28 hours. They do not have anything in-game yet that takes 28 hours to finish, but they have already built the infrastructure for it. And you can auto-complete a 28:05 mission for just $9.50 (or a 56-hour mission for just $19). And hopefully you succeed, because you can fail those things, and I have failed three 80+% chances in a row.

: Zubon

Quantum Leap

I am still playing Dawn of the Dragons, despite the standard social media game mechanics. Something about the energy bars and the false sense of achievement is compelling.

Mission zone 10 is an expansion pack gear reset sort of experience. Players quickly acquire zone 9 gear due to the multiplayer mechanics, and then better from leveling up while wearing it. Along the way, nothing except zone 9 raids do much damage to you. Bosses deal trivial damage, and random encounters deal exactly 1 per attack. And then you hit zone 10. Continue reading Quantum Leap

Against Covetousness

I have been playing Dawn of the Dragons, because having just one energy mechanic game at a time is less than gaming. The actual gameplay of any of these tends to be low, but in combination they can be entertaining.

Dawn of the Dragons has lots and lots of items, because grind and cash shop. The crafting tab is where much of the rubber meets the road: a fight has a chance to drop a trophy, and combine trophies to get an item, then combine items and trophies to get better items. They have these for different maps, for raids, for events, for raid events, and so on for three years of development. There are five tabs for crafting, and the longest list has a progress bar dozens of screens high. That is a lot of scrolling to see everything.

This is to be expected after years of development. Following MMOs as I do, I am used to entering at the beginning. Sure, your game may have 1000 achievements, items, or raids, but you started earning them during the pre-order head start. You naturally earned most of the new ones while trying each update, so you have a subset of Things To Do that probably covers 10% of the list, and you know which part of it is relevant to your character. And then you have the new player who must do/get all the things! He joins your guild and asks every five minutes how to get X. It is essential that he gets X as soon as possible, and it is tragically unfair if X was event-related and is available only seasonally or (horror of horrors) not at all anymore.

This is my first time walking into that situation in a long time. It is pleasantly inuring. I occasionally see those new folks (but mostly people with levels in the four-digit range), and I occasionally ask something (but I can type it into Google as fast as I can type it into chat), but mostly I am just enjoying coasting. I got some newbie tips, I am accumulating some things that do who knows what, and I am working in no particular direction except up. If I keep playing, I will someday join those players in the higher digits, and I could start caring and planning. But really? That overwhelming list is somewhat comforting. I would need a lot of time to refill the energy bar to reach a lot of that content. I would need to play for months or more to see events repeat. It helps to get past the false sense of achievement.

: Zubon

Cash Shop Upgrades

At Spinks’s suggestion (congratulations on that engagement to Charles Dance, by the way), I have been trying Game of Thrones Ascent, a Song of Ice and Fire-themed game on Facebook. They have had exciting growing pains as millions of people pounded unsuspecting servers over the weekend.

As ever with these, monetization is an important question. Beyond the usual power and convenience items, one or two items in almost every upgrade track (for the talent trees and each building) require the RMT currency to unlock. For the buildings, that is usually the best economic upgrade it has to offer, like doing things faster or queuing up resource gathering.

wolves pay, being a sheep is free The talent tree RMT upgrades get interesting because most of them are PvP improvements: better rewards, higher defenses, more frequent attacks. The increase per point is small, but they add up, and the cash shop items are stronger than anything I’ve seen available for crafting so far.

I feel like I should be upset at what translates to a pretty blatant Pay To Win, especially since unlocking all the options would take more than $50 in cash shop currency, not including any convenience or power items. (So far, the only way I have found to earn the RMT currency in-game is the reward for logging in for many days in a row. This is odd; most games give you a little so that the taste will encourage you to buy.) Part of this is ameliorated by the fact that you still need to spend the talent points in those PvP skills, so the people you are attacking are spending theirs elsewhere and probably not falling behind much. The improved economic options are a bigger thing than the explicitly PvP options. Part is the comic’s observation: if you are not paying for the game, your only value to the company is as content for the people who are paying. In F2P MMOs, you provide content by grouping, talking, and being someone to whom the paying players can show off their leetness. Here, you are sheep to their wolves. That makes a certain sort of sense to me, and it is not like the strictly PvP games where the only reason to play is to fight others. You get to play along/through the Game of Thrones story, so presumably you could PvE it up in quiet obscurity. Also, this is Westeros, where life generally sucks for the poor and powerless, so if you’re not bringing money to the table, the nobles will stomp on you while sneering.

: Zubon

Ooh, reincarnation mechanic. If that comes with an ascension bonus, I’m interested.

Heirs to Progress Quest

Progress Quest is the original 0-player MMORPG. It was designed in 2002 as a parody of the gameplay you know and love, with “fire and forget” convenience that went beyond auto-attack to auto-everything. Turn it on, create a character, and the game takes it from there. There is not gameplay as such, but it is a brilliant piece of work and strangely hypnotic.

As with most things, there is actually a genre of these by now. Kongregate has an idle game category. Epic Combo is notionally amusing, and Farm of Souls is more of an idle RTS game (with just peons). I’m tempted to fiddle with a few of these, but Kongregate is currently promoting Anti-Idle, which has enough little things going on at once to actually make it a game. It has its version of Progress Quest that you can play interactively instead of idling. It has a mini-FarmVille, a lousy Mario Kart, a collectible card game that doesn’t look very good but probably is not the worst on the site, a variety of mini-games, fishing, and some other things I have yet to sift through. It also has its own quests and achievements built in.

At worst, the gameplay is no worse than things you have paid to do (mine in EVE, farm almost anything). At best, well, it’s not a lot better than that anyway. When social media games were having their heyday, I found some of them interesting if I played 5 or 6 at once. The aggregate can involve interesting resource and attention allocation. Most of that seems built in here, plus your equivalent of offline skill training.

: Zubon

Org Charts Matter

I have been thinking about PopCap Games recently. In 2009, they made one of the best games ever, Plants vs. Zombies. They have had a couple of new titles since then, but Steam does not list any since EA acquired them in 2011. The new economic model seems to be exploiting existing properties in as many variations as possible, on as many platforms as possible, using as many monetization streams as possible. And a couple rounds of layoffs.

With 5 versions of Bejeweled, PopCap might not have been entirely averse to this structure, but I mostly hear about their games in my Facebook feed these days. The dumbed-down version of solitaire is surprisingly popular.

: Zubon

Opposite Directions

I think of Spiral Knights as the Zelda MMO. The gameplay takes me back to Nintendo and Super Nintendo days. The setting is obviously rather different.

What if you took Zelda in a different direction and decided that chopping down tall grasses in search of rupees was the heart of the game? I give you: Bush Whacker 2. Zelda, minus the monsters and game elements, plus the standard social media energy mechanic and cash shop. I do not have endgame experience, but I think I just summarized the whole thing. (It also has a quick-whack button, in case you find tedium tedious.)

: Zubon

It is strangely hypnotic. I have yet to research what happened to Bushwhacker 1.

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 on 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