Performance Enhancing F2P

As I was browsing reddit a few days ago, I found my way into a thread talking about how you can play the Star Citizen alpha for free until March 15th (or March 20th depending on the code used). This is a game that I am somewhat interested in playing, but not 22gb of files interested. Makes you wonder about what the final download size is going to end up being. The Secret World is already over 40gb and making me think deleting it would be better than keeping it around in the off-chance I feel like… Googling the answers to ridiculous in-game riddles.

In any case, I continued reading the various comments to try and glean where Star Citizen was in development. As it turns out, they’re still in the “sell $2700+ ship packages in the store like it ain’t no thing” stage.

A bargain at twice the price.

A bargain at twice the price.

The Completionist Package is actually much more expensive at $15,000, although for some reason the $2700 tier galls me a bit more than the other. I think it’s because at some point the amounts are too ridiculous to contemplate, but these smaller ones are more “reasonable.” Could you even build a gaming PC that cost $15,000 without spending money on the equivalent of Monster Cables?

Once the game officially launches, the idea is that the cash shop for ships is going to close; thereafter, the only things sold for real dollars will be customization options… and a “small” amount of in-game currency, with a daily cap. The amount is supposed to be “miniscule” and the equivalent to whatever it costs to refuel and rearm a ship. Whether that amount will just cover a normal ship maintenance cost or one of the $200+ ships you can outright purchase right now, is anyone’s guess.

What is not anyone’s guess are the fascinating arguments being made that such purchases aren’t P2W:

There is insurance on the ships, if you bought the ship early you are granted free insurance.

Insurance will be cheap though, so if you lose your ship without insurance you kinda have to blame yourself. You won’t get a huge advantage with free insurance.

And what’s the problem with buying ingame cash? If I only have 6 hours/week to play the game I should be able to spend cash so I won’t get left behind by the players sitting 6 hours/day.

This bolded sentiment simply boggles my mind. I don’t even know where to start.

Perhaps I could start with an analogy: performance enhancing drugs in sports. If you only had six hours/week to train for a competition whereas your opponent trained six hours/day, I think everyone would still say that that is fair; if you wanted to legitimately compete with this person, you would put in the necessary hours to do so. I don’t think there is anyone here that would say you should just pop some steroids so you “don’t get left behind” by the person who is clearly more committed to playing the game than you. But suppose you do believe it’s fair, and everyone should have freedom to take whatever drugs give them an edge. In such a scenario, what happens to your advantage when the 6 hours/day person just, you know, takes performance enhancing drugs themselves? You end up where you started, except now everyone with even a modicum of desire to win is taking drugs.

Meanwhile, the people selling steroids are making bank.

The other problem I have with the bolded sentiment is what it says about time spent playing the game. If you are paying dollars to skip content, that implies the content being skipped is the unfun, grindy parts of the game. Which means all the players you are bribing your way past are stuck doing content they probably don’t find fun either. Which means that the game designers have a dilemma: they can either make the unfun, grindy parts more fun for everyone (and lose money), or they can do nothing and make more money. Or, you know, make that payslope even steeper.

This is not even my final form.

This is not even my final form.

Is that a little too tinfoil hat thinking? Maybe. Maybe there are good, legitimate reasons why my Air Defense tower in Clash of Clans takes six real-world days to upgrade. Whatever those reasons are, they can’t be too important though, as I can buy my way past the timer. As I’ve mentioned before, these sort of cash shop designs immediately throws every designer action under suspicion.

The final problem I have with the bolded sentiment is difficult to put into words. It’s like, when did we start expecting to have better outcomes than other people who play a game more than us? I would agree that a design in which no one can catch up to Day One veterans is bad, but I feel like there is a crazy expectation that skill should triumph over time-spent and yet the game still have character progression somehow. How would that work, exactly? And when did it become unfair for someone else to spend six/hours a day playing a game? And then fair for you to bring resources completely outside of game (i.e. cash) to make things even?

Sometimes I feel like we’re all just lost in the woods here.

Correction

I officially change my book answer on Wednesday to the Discworld series. Eternal apologies to Terry Pratchett (RIP) for not remembering how much I miss Rincewind, Two-flower, Luggage, Granny, Nanny, Magrat and Agnes, Vetinari, Vimes, Carrot, Angua, Colon, Nobby, Littlebottom, and Moist. And Death, Susan, Death of Rats, and… all the rest. The stories starring Vimes are probably the most famous for being “the good ones,” but I enjoyed the subtlety of the Granny series as well.

Actually, they were all really enjoyable.

God damn.

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”

Liebsteri Fatali

So apparently there’s this Liebster thing going around, and since I’m still kinda wiped out from traveling, let’s dive right in.

1. What was your very first MMO character and why did you choose that race?

Blood Elf warlock in WoW named Izuko. When I first decided to get into WoW, I had to decide early on whether to buy just the base game or the game plus Burning Crusade expansion. Since I went with the latter, I also knew that companies have a tendency to make expansion races/classes overpowered, which meant I needed to roll either Blood Elf or Draenei. While I clearly ended up sticking with Azuriel the Draenei paladin overall, Eversong Woods was perhaps the best possible starting zone for anyone new to MMOs.

Useless personal trivia: I quit playing Izuko after my leveling guild fell apart while I was in the mid-40s in Hinterlands. I was ready to quit WoW entirely at that point – old-school Hinterlands was awful at the best of times – but felt like that I wouldn’t get my money’s worth if I didn’t at least roll a Draenei. So I did. And here I am, blogging about going to PAX East with my former WoW guildmates, whom I’ve only ever met in person once before, at GenCon. Then again, I’ve probably talked to them over Vent for more hours over the past six years than any of my IRL friends.

2. Would you rather have a tiny elephant as a pet, or a tiny kangaroo?

Neither. I enjoy other peoples’ pets and have owned some in the past myself, but having to literally manage their shit has lost all appeal. If I had to pick though: tiny elephant, no question.

3. Do you overuse any figures of speech in your writing or speaking?

So… yeah. About that. For the most part, I write like I speak, including adding what probably amounts to superfluous commas all over the damn place. I have also noticed that an embarrassing number of sentences are bisected by “but,” but I’m not sure what I can really do about it. And the “so” thing.

4. You can snap your fingers and visit any city in the world. Where are you?

It’s a bit pretentious, but… Kyoto. Been there both times I traveled to Japan and plan on including it on any future Japanese itinerary.

5. What was your first (real life) pet? Who is your favorite pet?

I believe it was a gecko, which soon got lost in the grass when I tried to “walk” it. My favorite pet was probably my dog, Bo (we had a cat/dog pair named Rocky and Bullwinkle). Bo was one of those pets that spanned multiple Ages, from elementary to college.

He’s been dead for a while now, thanks for asking.

6. You’re on a desert island and only have one album, one movie, and one book. What are they?

The album question is a bit tough, as I have zero loyalty to specific artists, only good songs. Based on number of top-rated songs on my iTunes account, it looks like Auidoslave’s debut album and/or the soundtrack to Her would win overall. Hmm, apparently Fort Minor’s Rising Tied is also up there. On an island though, I’d probably need to relax, for which the Her soundtrack is most conducive.

In terms of being able to rewatch/reread something over and over, I have to go with Fifth Element and… uh… the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Because who reads one book over and over?

7. Why did you start a blog?

I was pretty active on the WoW forums back in TBC and Wrath. Over time, I realized that the same (discredited) arguments were being trotted out again and again, so I figured that I could save myself time by copy/pasting a well-sourced post rather than spamming the same text. Additionally, things on the forums had tendency to go “poof,” so I also wanted some way to preserve Blue posts and the like. It was a pretty poorly thought-out plan, I admit.

Later on, I found that I played WoW for the AH shenanigans, so it made sense to make Player Vs Auction House. This was followed later on by the realization that, no, I did like arguing with strangers over the internet more after all. And still do, to this very day.

8. What’s your favorite video game soundtrack?

I’m changing this question to favorite video game composer. In which case, Yasunori Mitsuda, hands down. Being forced to choose between the Chronos and Xenogears soundtracks is simply cruel. Although have you listened to Xenogears Creid? Hmm… now that I think about it, I’ll go with Xenogears straight-up.

9. Which writers have been the most influential in your own writing?

I’m not entirely sure how influenced I am in writing style, but I am quite often in utter awe over Jerry Holkins’ (of Penny Arcade) poetic prose. Something something Dickwolves, I know. But seriously, read this shit:

It must be said, though, that they have a different kind of cold than I have in my town.  Brenna wanted to take a walk before she had to fly out one year after the show, and I said no, that was a terrible idea, because people were freezing in place where they stood out there and being loaded onto trucks like cordwood, bundled for quick sale, to those for whom freshness was paramount.

Somehow we ended up on the walk anyhow, because whatever, who cares, and we hadn’t gotten three blocks before we turned back.  I would like to say that this was a choice we made, turning back, but we were turned back because your cold is of a fundamentally different sort.  We went back because we could not go forward.  It wasn’t a land habitable by people.  Their cold is the great Leviathan, which marks the edge of the map.

That was just a recent example in my spartan, verbal shrine to well-crafted sentences.

10. What is your favorite virtual hat in any game?

T6/Veng Glad paladin helm in WoW. I’m a sucker for halos, especially since I usually turn helms off.

___________________

And that’s it.

While I answered the questions, this was a half-assed commitment, so I’m breaking the chain.

PAX Day Three: Final

And thus PAX came to an end.

The more charitable conclusion is that I simply came during an off year. Or perhaps an off PAX. But what I truly want to say is that the show sucked. At least to this particular non-con going groupie. And I’m thinking that the allure of cons are getting diminished by the same forces that generated a niche market in making physical boxes for all-digital games.

The Twitch booth out on the show floor was extremely hard to miss. After a few minutes, the irony of my having spent a considerable amount of money to fly into the Boston snowpocalypse just to come to PAX and watch a Twitch stream in person was too much to bear. The same principle held for Overwatch and the new expansions to GW2 and FF14 – why stand in line for 2+ hours to play these particular games that will either be released or in public beta in a number of months? Maybe it made sense back in the days when we got our gaming news from magazines (remember those?), but not today.

I mean, they had a bunch of booths for iPad games for god’s sake.

Luckily, I came because of friends. PAX definitely had a better setup for free-playing various games than GenCon. But that was about the long and short of it. If I could do things over again, I probably would have bought a PS4 and just took a 5-day staycation.

PAX Day Two: Lined

Went to two major panels on Saturday, one after the other. First was FF15 and the second was Pillars of Eternity.

In regards to FF15, I actually haven’t been following the already-released information close enough to tell what was breaking news. The panelists mainly drove home the “road trip” and “Buddies” aspect of the game. Which, if I’m honest, probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting if I were not hearing their passion in person.

There was a moment while watching the gameplay that I asked myself “is this a Final Fantasy game at all?” I never really played 12 or the 13 series, so I’m not sure if there’s a huge precedent for the sort of Action RPG gameplay I watched on-screen – especially the bit where he hook-shotted up a telephone tower to wait for his MP to regen. The panelists did sort of address this subtly as they mentioned the kind of themes common throughout the series, such as the hero never being alone.

It’s not that seeing the party run down a highway avoiding traffic or that the lack of an ATB gauge is throwing me off; FF7 and 8 had a number of similar high-tech elements, and they are amongst my favorites. Honestly, it could just be that the last Final Fantasy game I completed was FFX-2. This series went from being the single most important thing in my gaming life – I jumped on the original Playstation precisely because I was following Squaresoft – to something I pick up on Steam sales, like everything else. And so “Final Fantasy” to me is/was a game that defines a particular gaming epoch, or it isn’t one at all.

Baggage aside, the game looks great, the road trip thing could be interesting, party banter is always welcome, and the remixed music was pure nostalgia.

The Pillars of Eternity panel was pretty much the devs just playing the game for about twenty minutes. Which certainly isn’t the worst kind of panel, and there wasn’t much they needed to sell for me to be onboard in the first place. They even had an Oprah moment with the whole “check under your chair for a prize.” Everyone got a free upgrade to the Champion edition, assuming you purchase the base game, and a few got upgrades to the highest tier.

While Pillars is a guaranteed purchase by me at some price-point, the pause-based tactical combat really hit home how much I prefer the FFT or other Tactics game type. It’s fun queuing up that initial volley of attacks in these sort of CRPGs, but things quickly end up coming down to micromanaging one or two characters, at best, and hoping that a third character is actually going to finish their attack animation and drink a potion before they die. The devs mentioned that there wasn’t going to be anything much in the way of AI, so you are kinda left with the worst of both worlds.

One day to go.

PAX Day One: That’s A Lot of People

I wouldn’t say this was the most amount of people I’ve been around, even at a convention, but still:

image

We're going to need a bigger boat.

Place was packed, in other words. To be expected.

I didn’t actually stand in any lines, as while playing the new GW2 expansion sounds somewhat fun, waiting two hours to do so does not. The line for Overwatch was… well:

image

This is the end...

image

... okay, maybe not the end.

I missed a chance to meet some of the Wildstar devs at a local bar, but I’m not too tore up about it. We’ll see if any similar opportunities present themselves.

PAX Day Zero: Schmoozing

So, hey, I’m (hopefully) at PAX East!

I’m not sure yet what the internet situation is going be like, so you can expect either radio silence or frequent updates. Probably the former, let’s be honest. That said, I am fully prepared for the PAX schmoozing campaign:

"Look at that subtle coloring. The tasteful thickness."

“Look at that subtle coloring. The tasteful thickness.”

Of course, if any developer scans the QR code the day I start reverse-pickpocketing these on their person, they’re going to see this post up top.

In which case… hello! Please send me all the review copies you have. Thank you.

[Crowfall] Sweet Summer Child

In the comments yesterday, Scree disagreed with my prediction that Crowfall will have a major “3rd/4th/Nth Faction” problem, saying:

Further, players aren’t going to “give up” as the world draws to a close. In fact, your likely to see just the opposite based on Crowfalls Kickstarter Update #6 which indicates the materials you’ve gathered during the campaign… only a percentage of these transfer over to your Eternal Kingdom. That percentage is based on how you did during the campaign. You want to give up because 3 days are left? No problem, I’ll be happy to move up in the rankings and get more loot.

Oh my sweet summer child.

According to the Kickstarter, the most generous map type allows you to keep 30% of your scavenged goods upon a loss. In the next best world-type, there are 6-12 factions with (presumably) only one winner; the rest are stuck with 25% goods, maximum. It gets worse for the losers from there.

In fact, given how you need to physically haul your loot to the “Embargo area” to bank them – and the Devs even point out how nice of an ambush spot this is, implying either full or partial looting of your corpse – it might be that the winning side simply camps that area too and you are left with whatever you can squirrel away at 3am on a Tuesday. The kicker is that right now the Devs are saying that what loot gets saved at the end is actually random:

Do I have any control over which item(s) are kept and which item(s) are lost from my Embargo? 

Maybe. Right now our design is simple: we will randomly select which item(s) and materials will be released and which item(s) and materials will be lost. We could certainly change this design later, to give preferential treatment to certain items based on rarity, size, value or player preference.

Spoiler alert: that’s a terrible idea and will be changed.

The “fix” Scree mentioned in the Kickstarter update is that these percentages are scaled based on your personal performance in the overall battle, including either time spent or when you entered the map (it’s not clear which). This does indeed prevent or at least discourage people from being able to hop into a winning map that is almost over and reap the higher rewards.

However, it does nothing at all in encouraging people to continue playing a losing match.

Basically all games.

Basically all games.

The problem is simple: opportunity cost. Scree indicates he/she would be fine with me dropping out, as that would make his/her rank go up in the process. But who is really going to be fighting tooth-and-nail for the maximum value of the 25% pie? That would be crazy, especially if I could earn 35% by half-assing a winning map.

There are really no good solutions to this problem, and plenty of ways to make the problem worse. And Crowfall seems poised to do exactly that. For example:

1) Make it easy to hop in/out of maps.

The easier it is to exit a losing map, the more people will do so. As near as I can tell, Crowfall does lock you into a Campaign when you zone into one. I have been unable to quite tell what exactly that means though. Are you locked into that particular map type, but can go elsewhere? As in, can you go into a God’s Reach map and also a The Shadow map? Or are you locked totally down, such that your character ain’t going nowhere for the next three months? The latter might seem the most logical, but take a moment to really absorb what that potentially means to your day-to-day gameplay. You could be stuck in a shitty strategic situation and/or gametype for nearly a quarter of a year, grinding away for that 30% payout months from now. How excited are you for that?

Don’t worry too much though, because the concept of alts lets you easily bypass the restrictions and bail out of the failboat. Is your main doing poorly? Hop on to whichever of your two alts are doing better. Indeed, there is no rational reason to even have a main, considering:

2) Make loot Account-Bound.

This is actually the current Crowfall design. With the resources you gather in these maps being Account-Bound, it actively encourages you to cheese the system via alts as much as possible. It would be dumb to fight hard in a losing battle on your main if you could sail to an easy win on an alt – all loot goes into the same pile at the end, which means your main will benefit just the same.

I’m honestly shocked that Crowfall is heading down this route, especially given how prevalent the alt issue is in other games. I don’t normally believe conspiracy theories, but it’s hard to argue against the notion the Devs are doing this precisely to sell more subscriptions (for the multiple character passive skill gains) by making alt-hopping the best way to play. Put all three character slots into three different maps and play enough on each to get some middling reward, or extra hard on whichever map is a winner. If you have a subscription, you lose zero progress on any character by playing this way.

So what are some potential fixes? Well… there’s not many due to the nature of Crowfall’s design. Alt-hopping isn’t much of an issue in games like EVE and Darkfall precisely because the world is persistent and corps/guilds will likely vet your character to prevent spies. Then again, most EVE players have multiple accounts in the first place, so… maybe not the best example. People drop out of short-lived BGs in other MMOs all the time (and are punished by timers), but since the rewards are tied to the character, there’s not much of a point to switch to alts; switching factions for a win isn’t possible because you’ll never get back into that specific BG anyway.

Crowfall’s uniqueness is this regard presents a uniquely difficult problem.

What is realistically going to need to happen is for the losing (or even just disadvantaged) side to be rewarded with something else. Someone in EVE might fight for pride or survival, but Crowfall’s worlds are temporary. Someone in WoW might realize it’s faster to stick out a lopsided WSG match than the Deserter timer, but Crowfall’s fail states could last weeks. The people making a protracted, futile last stand in Crowfall need to be earning either bonus XP or skill points or perhaps another currency akin to Honor to make their time losing worthwhile.

Otherwise we might just see an emergent, Tol Barad win-trading situation all over again.

Is Crowfall an MMO at all?

It seems like a simple enough question, but few people seem intent on asking it. Hell, even I had trouble describing my feelings on the matter until Bhagpuss came right out in the comments last time and proclaimed the emperor nude:

[Crowfall] might turn out to be a good game. In no way will it be anything I would recognize as an MMORPG.

In the Kickstarter video, the devs state that Crowfall is a marriage between a strategy game with a defined end-state and an MMO. However, most of the MMO community seems fine in describing it as a straight-up MMO. An MMO with… non-persistent worlds. Divided into servers. That end via victory conditions. Which sends you back to the Lobby, cough, Eternal Kingdoms.

Let’s call a spade a spade: Crowfall is Alterac Valley. With Landmark bolted on.

PvP focused gameplay? Check. Victory conditions? Check. Gather resources? Check. Instanced worlds? Check. Persistent characters that progress in levels? Check. Defined beginning, middle, and end? Check, check, and check.

    Competition for the Dregs space was fierce.

Competition for the Dregs space was fierce.

The analogy isn’t perfect, of course. You don’t bring out your Gnome bones or whatever outside the individual AV match… unless you count Honor and/or Reputation as resources (which they are). But my point is that Crowfall isn’t an MMO unless you happen to extend that definition to encompass a lot of lobby-based games. Such as, I dunno, League of Legends. Or Clash of Clans, even. Or, you know, every other lobby-based online game out there.

I’m not suggesting that Crowfall will be bad because it’s not an MMO. In fact, it might precisely be because it’s not an MMO that Crowfall avoids all the traditional pitfalls of the genre. As SynCaine points out though, there are all sorts of other problems that can occur once you start dealing with defined, close-to-zero sum competitions. What motivation is there to continue fighting a losing battle when another server is a click away? Hell, if the devs aren’t careful, the whole “multiple passively trained alts” thing could resemble P2W considering you could swap your losing alts for one on the winning team. Then again, everyone already has experience with these sort of issues in, you know, battlegrounds in other MMOs. So perhaps it won’t be that big a deal.

If you enjoyed old-school Alterac Valley though, Crowfall seems like the MMO game for you.

Defiance

For the past few weeks or so I have been playing Defiance. As a refresher, Defiance was a subscription-based, TV show tie-in shooter that has since gone F2P. The game plays and handles a lot like an over-the-shoulder Borderlands, in the sense that waves of enemies appear and are dispatched with a large assortment of random weapons.

In crowds, enemies become armor-plated bullet sponges.

In crowds, enemies become armor-plated bullet sponges.

At this point, I think the show is more popular than the game, and that is too bad. Defiance has story quests that are voice-acted and pretty-well put together. You get a vehicle almost immediately after character creation. There are a number of “arkfalls” at any given time, which are dynamic random events which tend to congregate players around specific points on the map. There are a bunch of (repeatable) side-quests which involve racing, sniping, and other such things.

That said, the biggest problem with Defiance is a more fundamental one: the game is only fun with a fun weapon.

Loot in Defiance is random, just like in Borderlands. There are a number of rarities and status effects and such, but the actual number of gun types are pretty well defined. In the course of my ~20 hours of play, my favorite loadout involves a machine gun that pretty much empties a full 75-bullet clip in three seconds and a shotgun that shoots grenades. I was having a lot of fun running around with these weapons when I got them, but as I have scaled higher in “EGO Rating” (roundabout levels) enemy health has scaled such that my favorite weapons are no longer viable. You can upgrade old weapons to near your EGO Rating, but you can only do so once. And I have since outleveled them again.

In the meantime, I am at the mercy of RNG dropping a higher-level version of the guns I enjoy, or really any weapon that is serviceable. There is somewhat of a push to make all of the weapons viable, but there isn’t much you can do to, say, pistols to make them fun to use. Even with super-high damage and a fast fire rate, you would likely be better off with a LMG with 10x the magazine size. Rocket Launchers face the same sort of issue with faster, higher magazine grenade launchers outputting more DPS overall while giving you a buffer in case you miss your shot.

To say nothing about, you know, a shotgun that shoots grenades with 12-14 rounds in a clip and a 250 shell capacity vs the smaller explosive round.

Oh, Von Bach, never change.

Oh, Von Bach, never change.

In any case, I’m not entirely sure how much longer I will be playing Defiance. As mentioned, the story scenes are actually quite amusing in the sarcastic banter sense, and I’m interested in seeing where it goes. The weapon issue though… it does make it difficult sometimes to slog through waves of enemies with crappy weapons to get there.

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