Heroes Alive?

Friends at a LAN party were hitting Heroes of the Storm hard, so I joined them. Quick version: it is still a weak LoL clone that replaces the toxic community with one that is silent. It is hard to tell whether the skill ceiling is that low or players are just that casual and disengaged. When you play support frequently, you really get a sense of how random folks can be.

I assume it still has a significant playerbase? I have found multi-minute wait times for quick play, which to me would imply “dying,” but maybe my account is at a weird point in the population density.

Overwatch feels similar, a shiny but somewhat clumsy TF2. Again the silent community and surprisingly long wait times. I assume the latter are not caused by my account level; I assume there is no matchmaking at all, given that I will end up in games with level 100+ pre-made groups, despite being relatively new.

Blizzard codified the trope of “soloing together,” and this is what it looks like in a team game. On the other hand, if you can get a few people working together, that will wipe the map. Fish, barrel.

: Zubon

Summarizing F2P

“There might be a first rush, and then the contributions wind down.”

Starting monetization schemes has been exceedingly profitable, such as the money that flooded into Team Fortress 2 when its item shop opened, LotRO’s huge surge when it went F2P (even subscriptions went up),or many sites, games, and causes that make an initial appeal for money. If this is your first time being given the opportunity to pay for something you like and support, many people will. If it is no longer an “opportunity” but an attempt to build on ongoing revenue stream, that pent up demand reaches a much lower level quickly.

: Zubon

Differing Perspectives

Blizzard has announced Overwatch, a sci fi FPS. I’m not sure how you do Overwatch:TF2 :: WoW:EQ, given that TF2 is already a cartoony FPS minus the parts you hate, but let’s not dwell on that.

Our friend Keen says it will almost assuredly be something he’ll enjoy, but he’s a bit grumpy about it.

Our friend SynCaine is just grumbling about interns and “where’s the real Blizzard?”

And that’s not unfair. Is the current Blizzard “the real” Blizzard? I played Torchlight instead of Diablo III largely under the premise that the key people behind Diablo II made Torchlight as the spiritual successor, and Diablo III went in a bit different direction in terms of many game design decisions. Hasn’t WoW had something like 100% turnover? How much developer continuity do we have from WC3 to SC2 to WC4?

There is something to be said for perpetuating corporate culture so that the company can be consistent even if the staffing differs. I just don’t know.

: Zubon

Loss Versus Failure to Gain

Game developers manipulate player desires by presenting the same options differently. Player reactions are empiricably testable with cash shop setups.

I frequently cite the example of having a “hunger” debuff versus a “well-fed” buff. These can be designed to be numerically identical, where the character has higher base stats that are debuffed by hunger or lower base stats that are buffed by food. You balance content around the higher number in either case. Players will complain about a hunger debuff but feel like they have been given something extra with a food buff. Even if the numbers are identical, humans are unhappy if you tell them you are taking something away from them, whereas they barely notice if they fail to gain something.

Many cash shops have some sort of lottery option. You can give the developers $X for a chance at items or whatever. What you see at least as often these days, because we would predict that it works better, is giving you a lottery ticket or prize you can pay $X to unlock. In the former case, you can play the lottery by giving me $X; in the latter, this lottery ticket is now yours, but you cannot redeem it unless you give me $X. Same lottery, same prize, same $X. If you doubt which implementation yields more sales, look at where the developers are betting. Team Fortress 2? Locked crates with keys in the cash shop. Guild Wars 2? Black Lion chests with keys in the cash shop.

Developers can make this more concrete by adding time pressure: the box/ticket expires in a week or after the event. Some players might still see a locked chest or lottery ticket as a failure to gain, but if it is going to disappear in a few days, they have definitely lost something, even if only an opportunity. The perception of scarcity also plays in here; you always have access to thousands of TF2 crates and GW2 chests for a few cents, so it is harder to instill the idea that you are losing any opportunities, while other games might make those drops less common (but still give the player frequent opportunities to buy things). Hence TF2’s time-limited crates, and doesn’t GW2 have occasional seasonal Black Lion chest items?

: Zubon

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 and 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

It Pays for Itself

…or rather, “someone else pays for it.”

My Team Fortress 2 buddies have seriously gotten into Mann vs. Machine mode, and I was recruited as a reliable Engineer. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 on tickets and a backpack expander. I certainly don’t begrudge Valve the money, given how much play time I have gotten from TF2.

The last time we completed a tour, I received a professional sniper rifle killstreak kit. For non-TF2 people, that is a fancy cosmetic item that attaches to the standard weapon for a popular class, but it takes a bunch of other resources to use it. And, to my shock, it sells for about $50 on the Steam market. Mine sold for that in about a week, which netted enough in my Steam wallet to pay for my initial cost, then all the MvM tickets I am likely to use this year, and then a game or two besides.

I am happy to take the sponsorship, although I am shaky on why one might spend that much on one component for one cosmetic item for one weapon for one class in a game. Maybe it is a really nice cosmetic item. As it is, there are apparently people who are willing to sponsor me to play games with my friends and get bonus items, as long as they get one of the rarer bonus items. Pro circuit it’s not, but deal.

: Zubon

“A Good Fight” Part 2

A good fight brings evenly matched opponents together in an environment where superior skill will prevail. If one side is obviously going to win, no matter what the other side does, it is not a good fight. If randomness prevails, it is not a good fight.

I would not demand that it be a fair fight. Luring your enemy into a situation where they are going to lose is an element of superior skill. Setting up a good ambush takes skill, as does understanding the meta-game to counter-build. It can also be a component of a good environment that one tactic is favored in A while another is favored in B. It is a bad game environment if ambushes always lead to victory or one class has no chance in A but will always win in B.

I think “evenly matched” is the key component to discuss here, and the two major components are quantity and quality. Continue reading “A Good Fight” Part 2


High self-monitors are social chameleons. They ask themselves, “Who does this situation call for me to be?” Low self-monitors have a more fixed self-image, instead asking, “How can I be myself in this situation?” Low-self monitors are prone to see high self-monitors as two-faced and inconsistent, while high self-monitors may see low self-monitors as social incompetents. You probably know some people who could get along just as well in a biker bar as at high tea, and then others who are very good in their comfort zone but completely inappropriate outside it.

I found myself thinking of this in a gaming context based on how people adapt to their circumstances. Loosely, “how can I play my character in this situation?” versus “what does this situation call for?” I think we all want players to display some adaptability, but the range of what you think is reasonable for a game to demand probably varies in a way similar to degrees of self-monitoring. People with lots of alts are generally displaying more adaptability, but people with three alts of the same class (“Alice runs dungeons, Bob is my crafter, and Cindy PvPs”) are adapting on a different scale than someone who feels comfortable respecing the one character four times in a night.
Continue reading Adaptation