Making Gold in Wildstar

If there is one thing that I hate in MMO websites, it is when people allude to the fact that they are making gold (etc) but never explaining how. What’s the point? Bragging rights? In fact, that frustration was my part of my impetus for creating Player Vs Auction House way back in the day (which later morphed into this site).

Preamble aside, allow me the great pleasure of presenting one bulletproof gold-making method in Wildstar and two more that depend on the obliviousness of AH shoppers:

No assembly (usually) required.

No assembly (usually) required.

“But I’m not an Architect!” “The AH is flooded with these things!”

No, my friend. Sell them to… the vendors.

Bulletproof Method: Challenges

[Edit]: Carbine has since nerfed the vendor prices for many decor items, including the ones listed below, to about 60% of their prior value. The strategy still works, but not as quickly.

Extremely early on while leveling, I noticed that some of the Challenge options were awarding Decor. It’s kinda hard to get a handle on how valuable the Decor would be on the AH without seeing what it looks like, but there was one language I understood immediately: vendor price.

I’m going to be presenting you an Algoroc map to give you a few chances to nab the Chua-Tech Loading Arm (1.31g 79s) and the Shardspire Canyon FABkit (1.23g 74.1s). The following farming route is for Exiles only; I’m going to assume that a similar route exists for Dominion, but I have no such characters. Here it is:

Money Run #1

Money Run #1

In text form:

  1. Swiftpaw Slayer: Kill the wolves. Since this is a fairly early-level quest, you might actually have a hard time finding enough mobs depending on the number of other players.
  2. Skug Egg Destroyer: Kill the spider-looking eggs that alert/explode when you get nearby. You can typically dodge all the normal mobs in here and just kill eggs, which only have a few hundred HP.
  3. Scrap Yard: Pick up items off ground. It is highly recommended that you finish area story first. Once finished, 90% of the mobs in the area go neutral, which makes it considerably easier to pick up the scrap. Don’t bother with trying for gold-level; just click the “x” once you hit silver.
  4. Skittering Slaughter: Kill the spiders. The lone spider mobs seem to count for more, but I’m not sure. As before, don’t bother going higher than silver medal. There’s technically another easy Challenge in here to run through eggs, but it’s only worth about ~24s.

There you go. The exact odds are unknown, but silver medals give you a 4x higher chance of getting the decor. Nab all four, and you’ll walk away with over 5g 3g in vendor loot for something that likely took you less than 10 minutes (assuming mount, already completed area). Challenges can be repeated every 30 minutes. The one downside of this reset period is that time only counts down while you are online.

And why the hell not, here are two more in Celestion that can award the same items:

Bonus Round.

Money Run #2

In text form:

  1. Dancing with Data: Perform a DDR-esque mini-game. If it’s your first time here, you’ll need to complete the quest at the same console to unlock the challenge. I recommend using the default Ctrl-F1-F3 buttons rather than trying to mouse-click them.
  2. Licking Lolli-Lopps: Click the mushrooms. This is actually a bit harder than it sounds, as you receive a low-gravity buff and have a tendency to lose all forward momentum when running around. There are some mushrooms higher up in the trees, but they’re tricky. High chance of out-right failure if there are other people doing this one.

Nab both, walk away with 2.5g. Nab all six, and you’re looking at possibly 7.5g 4.5g every 30 minutes until you can’t stand it any more. There’s always a chance the dice roll against you, but it sure beats whatever the hell else you were doing to make gold.

…or maybe not:

Vendoring the AH

That’s right, my friends. Despite the fact that most items default to their vendor price when you list them, somehow the AH gets stocked up with below vendor priced goods. While I fully expect things to be fixed soon – either with a patch or an add-on that will vacuum all these deals automatically – for now just keep in mind to check the vendor price when looking at items. For example:

Three-way profit.

Three-way profit.

There are actually three ways to profit here.

  1. Straight-up buy items to vendor. I don’t recommend vendoring mats (see below), but if you’re looking for quick cash, this is literally free money.
  2. Check Bid prices to see if they’re beneath vendor. This FABkit, for example, had a bid price of 1g and yet vendors for 1.79g. The guy was actually trying to sell it at 5g or whatever with his Buyout Price, so technically you could try and flip it if that’s your style. For now, I’ll take 79s profit for tying up 1g for ~24 hours or so. Also, keep in mind that just bidding for shit is a good way to nab normally expensive things.
  3. Create Buy Orders for less than vendor. This one is a bit trickier, because there is a minimum charge of 5s for Buy Orders; in other words, you’ll definitely want to put in a large order and otherwise do the math to make sure you’re coming out ahead. In my case, I basically put in an order for 100 of these items (it really doesn’t matter what they are) and each one I get is +1s to me. Low-margin, sure, but the overall principal can scale to whatever size you please.

Here’s a third-level method to making gold, and the one I assume many “I can’t tell you” players are doing:

Crafting the AH

One again, we’re focusing on ultimately selling things to vendors. But instead of looking at mats to vendor, we’re looking at mats to craft into vendor bait. Example:

Something like this, but better.

Something like this, but better.

The above isn’t actually the best example, as the margin is (relatively) razor-thin here; mats cost 15.93s  (2.6*3 + 8.13) and final product vendors for 24.87s, for a net profit of 8.94s. Will you churn through the crafting interface for almost 9s a cycle? Maybe. There’s crafting XP in it for whomever would rather do this than find a tree that drops Ironbark wood. Due to the nature of crafting, you might be able to toss a few copper towards additives that can morph the final product into a slightly more valuable vendor good.

The other professions should work the same in principal, although I don’t currently have a non-beginner Weaponsmith (etc) to try it out. Just keep in mind that all of the various components (Power Cores, etc) have their own costs, and also the vendor price seems to be a function of the overall stats of the item. For example, I “over-charged” a weapon (adding more stat points at the cost of chance of failure) and it increased the vendor price by 2s. Might not sound like much, but these margins can become important later.

____________

In any case, there you go: three methods of making gold in Wildstar. Needless to say, I highly recommend Challenge farming. It is profession agnostic, simple, and relies on nothing more than Carbine not nerfing anything. I have identified six Challenges worth more than a gold apiece, right in the starter zone for Exiles – now that you know about them, you can keep an eye out for similar payout in future Challenges for yourself.

Wildstar Annoyances

Everything ain’t flowers and sunshine, cupcake.

Competitive Questing

It is kind of funny how the release of a game nearly two (!) years ago can so profoundly impact your expectations for all future games, even if you no longer play the other one. Specifically, Guild Wars 2 pretty much forever ruined the “traditional” approach to implicitly competitive questing, and it’s hard to tolerate anywhere else now, especially in Wildstar.

As some might point out, you can technically get quest credit for killing mobs in Wildstar as long as you tag it before someone else lands the finishing blow. Not in the WoW tagging sense, but the “just any attack at all” sense. The problem is that there is a profound lack of all the other supporting social mechanisms. Resource nodes are still exclusive. Quest nodes are still exclusive. Challenges train you early on to hate other human beings, even if you could be tagging mobs together; most mobs at these early levels die much too fast for you to tag them anyway, and meanwhile each dead mob is one less chance for you to actually complete the Challenge. To say nothing about melee classes usually not being able to tag in time, or how hard it is to do so as an Esper.

There is also the implicit annoyance/benefit of walking into one of the many quest caves, following in the wake of what must be The Butcher on a rampage. On the one hand, thank you stranger for clearing out all these mobs. On the other hand, err… I kinda wanted to play the game too.

Terrible Chat Interface

“Addons will fix it” is never an excuse for anything, much less something as important as a chat interface. I was singing the praises of the /Advice channel being integrated by default, and that is indeed good. What is not at all good is the fact that there isn’t a way to reply to Whispers without specifying whom. Every. Time. I just wanted to say hello to the guy who, you know, just whispered me. Having to click their name in the rapidly scrolling chat box is awkward as hell.

The workaround right now is simply joining a party with them, as your chat box defaults to your last channel entry. Why Carbine decided to not do the same for Whispers (specifically defaulting to the last person you whispered), I have no idea.

[Fake Edit] After playing around with it some more, another workaround is to use the Circle functionality. Because we should be taking cues from Google+…? I’m joking, the idea of having multiple “Guild-lite” social structures is pretty good; I could conceivably have a Circle with ex-Auch players, another Circle with the bloggers whom sort of directed me to this server in the first place, and still be in a hardcore guild if some aneurism left me a constant craving for pain and drama. In any case, chatting with multiple people via /c1 is just like chatting in a party. It’s just a shame that I cannot add accounts to Circles – what sense does it make to being able to Friend someone’s account, but having to add all their alts to your Circle individually? Just give us the option, Carbine.

Underdeveloped Mentoring

Did you know there was a Mentor system in Wildstar? You know, an in-game means to down-level yourself to go play with your friends? Me either. If I had not recalled that bit of trivia from half a year ago, I would not have scoured the web in search of the means to do so.

So, Pro Tip: target a party member and type /Mentor. Alternatively:

Right-click > Group > Mentor Player

Right-click > Group > Mentor Player

As far as I can tell, there is no other in-game explanation for this, for god only knows what reason. It certainly isn’t automatic like in Guild Wars 2, which I suppose can be good for carrying friends through group quests or whatever. I haven’t really been able to ascertain how much XP is penalized (if any) for doing this, but at least there’s a mechanism for making playing with friends less painful.

Phasing

One of the downsides of playing with friends though is the hard phasing. Right from the start, you are going to have to click Sync Group whenever you join someone’s party just to ensure you are in the same world instance. Which sort of begs the question for why there aren’t just megaservers, but whatever.

From there, we were confused a bit upon reaching Gallows, as I got a notification that the Mentoring would revert due to being “too far away” from my friend. Turned out the NPC town of Gallows was phased, and so he disappears from my world any time he’s within 10 yards of the place. Quests that take you “off world” also basically just teleport your friends away.

It irks me that these ex-WoW devs will have to re-learn the same goddamn lessons their peers ran face-first into years ago. And, hey, if you are going the hard phasing route, couldn’t you have individual resource nodes too? Or at least individual quest nodes.

Resource Node/Tools

This next one is an incredibly easy fix, either by Carbine or hopefully an addon later on, but it annoys me that it’s a thing in the first place. Basically, gathering professions require a specific gathering tool to be equipped before you can harvest a given node. I have chosen the equivalent of Mining and Laser-Lumberjacking. But here’s the thing: the game won’t automatically switch between tools. You have to manually click on the appropriate tool to go between mining Iron to cutting down a tree. Err… what?

If the goal is to discourage people from having two gathering professions, well, good job. Otherwise, it’s just goddamn annoying.

Salvaging Wat

One quest of particular note during my brief time with the beta was the one which asked you to Salvage an item. It was noteworthy in its clunkiness. Sadly, not much has changed.

As far as I can tell, the only way to Salvage things is to click on an icon in your inventory, which brings up a Salvage window… that then asks you to cycle through your entire inventory. Wut. Why can’t I, oh I dunno, just right-click to Salvage things? Drag them into box maybe? Make it a toggle like with Disenchanting in WoW?

If the game does have these things, they are doing a terrible job at communicating them.

Public Event Nonsense

Finally, I’m not sure whether I have seen a worse implementation of Public Events in an MMO. I’d call it “half-baked,” but that implies a portion of it has indeed seen the inside of an oven, which does not appear to be the case.

While questing with my friend, the path led us near one of the marked Public Events on the map. “Alright, let’s go see what these are about.” When we arrived, we joined in killing an Elite, which ended up being the capstone to the Event. Nothing dropped, no notification of anything, and the quest markers was pointing to an empty field nearby. “No worries, we probably need to start it correctly.”

After waiting about two minutes, the NPCs respawned and the Event began again. So we collected boxes, dropped some mining bots, killed some mobs, spawned the Elite, and then killed it. Aaaaaaand nothing. Literally nothing dropped at any point. There wasn’t even an indication that the event ended, other than the NPC camp disappearing in a cloud of dust. We eventually figured out to click on the Public Event text in the sidebar, and I was presented with this screen:

Hey, thanks for tracking precisely how much time I wasted.

Hey, thanks for tracking precisely how much time I wasted.

Err… wat.

I mean, on the one hand, okay. I can understand if their Public Event system is to only award things to people who contribute the most. It’s profoundly anti-social, and even Warhammer gave people in the middle a shot at getting loot, but whatever. What is less excusable is the lack of any indication of anything. And, you know, the fact that I actually did appear to be a top contributor. This is just a newbie zone Public Event, yes, but both my friend and I have come to the conclusion to not waste our time with these things again. One shitty experience with a game mechanic at the very beginning can poison the entire mechanic going forward.

___________

That is about where I’m at with things. I just dinged 12 13 on my Medic yesterday, so I’ll soon see how Adventures, Dungeons, PvP, Housing, and Mounts work out. I have been reading about how group content is leading to rather crazy amounts of Renown gain, which is an alternative currency you can use to purchase things like Mounts and such.

I have to say though, some of these classes are just obscenely underpowered compared to the others. Rather than Mentor my Medic down to level 8, I switched to my level 7 Engineer to play with the aforementioned friends. Jesus Christ, guys, it is so bad. It might not feel that way if that’s all you have known, but I challenge you to roll a Medic or Spellslinger and tell me Engineer belongs in the same game. What’s worse is that at level 8, you’re three levels away from getting anything approaching another DPS ability. You get Shitty Shotgun, Tickle-Me-Elmo Electricity, a reactive Crit attack that can’t really trigger off anything, and two Dumbass Bots that will aggro all the things. If the level 11 ability doesn’t blow my fucking mind, I might be forced to put on the waders and start mucking around the official forums.

Wildstar: The First 4 Days

I am likely playing Wildstar all wrong.

Basically, none of my characters are above level 8. I started off playing a Medic, which has been pretty fun. Once I hit a certain point in leveling though, I started asking questions in the /Advice channel – pretty brilliant of Carbine to include that by default, by the way – and realized that I should probably come to some sort of decision on a Main. Would it be Medic? What about all the other classes I hadn’t tried out?

Low-Grav buff stacks with Scientist Low-Grav buff. SCIENCE.

Area Low-Grav buff stacks with Scientist Low-Grav buff, by the way.

Let me state for the record that stopping your progress in newbie zones to reroll five other classes through the same sort of newbie zones is both very logical and a very dumb way to play. But since I did, I may as well go over how I felt about things.

Medic seems pretty powerful. Unlike most classes, they start with their resource system at full power, which lets you front-load a lot of damage into mobs. Also unlike a lot of classes, their “finisher” has no cooldown, so if you 1-2 shot the mob you attack, you can almost instantly transition into the next mob in the same fashion (the resource bar regenerates quickly outside of combat). Also, Science.

In comparison, playing a Warrior felt terrible. The filler attack was weak, and their multi-tap finisher has an 8-second cooldown. So while most classes press 1-1-2-2 to kill mobs at this level, the Warrior enforces an 8-second cooldown between mobs. None of the abilities that come later seemed all that exciting, which is a problem considering that you’re stuck using the early abilities for most (if not all) of your gameplay to cap.

Brutal character deletion.

Brutal character deletion.

I’m pretty sure the Engineer is broke, or at least was in the area that I was leveling. In principal, having bots out is cool. Not getting any feeling that the bots are contributing damage is less cool. Pets in MMOs generally fall into either Overpowered or Useless categories depending on their AI and pathing, and my impression is that Engineer pets are the latter. Considering that the Bruiser Bot and Missile Bot count as Abilities, having two of your early abilities feel useless is not encouraging.

Esper was somewhat of a surprise to me, in that I anticipated it being unfun when the opposite is true. In a game of constant mobility, what sense does it make to have your #1 filler attack require standing still? Then look at the level 4 ability, which is instant-cast but does nothing until 4.4 seconds later. Nevertheless, it feels kinda fun to be able to set up a lot of damage on mobs that lands all at once. I’ll likely have less fun in PvP and in situations where I can’t wind-up attacks though.

This Esper didn't come out bad at all.

This Esper didn’t come out bad at all.

The Stalker is toned down from the closed beta, but in principal and effect still feels a tad overpowered. Stealth has no cooldown outside of combat, your #2 attack is basically Ambush, Energy regens quickly outside of combat, so you can start every encounter with a huge burst of damage like the Medic. Plus, Stealth is always fun for bypassing mobs/players. If you go the Stalker route though, be sure to check out each race’s Stealth animation. The female Mordesh animation, for example, is grandma power-walking; meanwhile, the female Aurin is Naruto/ninja running.

Finally, the Spellslinger shot up in fun-levels once I figured out “the trick.” Basically, your “cooldown” ability is Spell Surge, which gives your abilities extra power for as long as you have Focus (or whatever). However, Spell Surge is actually a buff that lasts until you completely empty your Focus bar, and Focus regens (somewhat slowly) outside of combat. So, under normal circumstances, fighting mobs goes: 2, wait 5 seconds to charge, fire, 1-1-1-1. With Spell Surge up though, your 2 ability charges in 1.4 seconds and one-shots mobs if it crits. Even when it doesn’t, most encounters end with 2, wait 1.4 seconds, 1-maybe 1 again. Mobs die so fast that it starts getting annoying waiting for 2 to come off cooldown (10 seconds) before one-shotting the next, but I just unlocked another cooldown button that essentially one-shots mobs too, allowing me to alternate.

...okay, Spell Slinger with Surge up may be even cooler.

…okay, Mordesh Spellslinger with Surge up may be even cooler.

Now, obviously, these impressions of the classes could not be representative of their final forms, so to speak. If someone was describing the level 8 paladin experience in WoW as indicative of endgame, I would… hmm, bad example. Level 8 Elemental shaman… err. You get what I mean. Some classes don’t “click” until a key ability is unlocked, and other classes that start out as overpowered can fall out of favor once mob Time-To-Kill increases past a certain threshold. Medic, for example, will likely get annoying if two front-loaded #2 abilities aren’t enough to burst something down. Or maybe it won’t, because Science.

I would be interested in hearing the experience other people had with the Warrior. Was there a level or ability where it became fun? Maybe I was missing something like with the Spellslinger.

______________

I want to take a minute to talk about the Paths. Thus far, I have a hard time justifying anything other than Scientist. I mean, the Settler buff stations are really good – 50% run speed outside of combat is tough to beat – but I’m not sure how you compete with the endgame utility to summon group members or summon portals to capitals. Explorer abilities are almost a joke, and Soldier will entirely depend on what exactly a “Weapon Locker” does and/or what “Bail Out!” even means.

I analyzed the blue crystals at the left to get a jump buff to reach the hidden stash.

I eventually analyzed the blue crystals at the left to get a jump buff to reach the hidden stash. Scientist FTW.

Of course, you can pick a Path depending on the type of side-quests you enjoy too. If you don’t particularly care though, I have found Scientist to be the best: not only do you get easy tasks, you unlock special areas that no other Path has access to, e.g. bypass doors, unlock jumping buffs to reach secret stashes, etc. Sure, Explorer gets exclusive jumping puzzles, but those are less obvious than the locked Scientist doors in the course of normal gameplay.

________

I was asked by another ex-WoW friend if Wildstar was worth purchasing. Not at full MSRP… but $48 at GMG? Probably. I am having enough fun at these low levels that I’m certain I’ll play and hit the cap even if my other friends abandon the game tomorrow. Will I enjoy the hardcore dungeons and hardcore raids? Unlikely. The concept of Challenges in busy zones is a huge design oversight that doesn’t exactly engender faith in social aspect of the game; you need to make friends to do endgame stuff, but the rest of the game causes you to hate other people. I do not anticipate 40m raiding to survive the year.

Which is worse: empty TP roll vendoring for 75s, or me being too afraid to vendor it?

Which is worse: empty TP roll vendoring for 75s, or thinking it’s worth WAY more than that as decor?

Overall though? Not bad. I’ll be interested in seeing if I can pay for my next month via CREDD.

Wildstar: the First 4 Hours

Okay, let’s get started.

Auspicious.

Auspicious.

This screen was a bit disconcerting considering I hadn’t even made a character yet. As it turns out, it was defaulting to the beta server which… still exists? Weird.

Here we go.

Here we go.

I have mentioned it before, but I have a huge issue with character creation in any game. Namely, analysis paralysis:

Analysis paralysis or paralysis of analysis is an anti-pattern, the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises. A person might be seeking the optimal or “perfect” solution upfront, and fear making any decision which could lead to erroneous results, when on the way to a better solution.

Pretty much the only reason I purchased Wildstar and am playing in the Head-Start is because I have some friends who have decided that it was a good idea to get back together. Which is great… but these are largely the same people (with two big exceptions) who quit WoW a few expansions ago, quit GW2 within the first two weeks, and otherwise jump from game to game. In other words, there be issues.

In fact, there were some issues right from the start: one of the friends is gung-ho for PvP servers and already rolled on Warbringer as Dominion, then tagged us all in a Facebook post to let us know. There’s little doubt that if I went with him, most everyone else would follow. So, do I try and keep everyone together? Or do I herd as many friends as possible to a PvE server where the likely 1-month survivors will have more fun? Once that (easy) decision was made, I had to, you know, pick a PvE server. Obviously the Full ones were out, but should I go High or Medium? What is the server known for? And what kind of question is that, on Day 1 of the Head-Start?

Precipice.

Precipice.

Ultimately, I defaulted to Exile on Evindra, simply because I saw a few other bloggers mention it.

While this over-analysis might seem strange, from my perspective few people realize how absurdly critical realm selection is. Had I not picked the Recommended server on Auchindoun-US back in the day, my six-year relationship with these people would have never existed. Hell, I resisted getting a mic for almost all of TBC precisely because I did not want to grow attached to people I would never meet but nevertheless feel an obligation towards. Now? We’re sharing hotel rooms at GenCon.

Maybe I would have met a different set of friends on a different server, and I’d be talking about them. Maybe I would have met no one and quit the game years ago. I’m aware that realm selection was just one step on a sequence of causality leading up to the Scarlet Monastery run that led them to inviting me to Invictus. But, dammit, this right here is where you start collapsing the waveform.

Realm decided, I was immediately presented further dilemmas:

 

How much Dunk in your Bundka?

How much Donk in your Bondka?

Just kidding. That’s an easy decision.

Aww shoot, indeed.

I’d pay someone, like, $5 for that name.

So, as of right now, I’m (steam)rolling around as an Exile Medic named Azuriel. The class is pretty fun thus far, which is quite a relief as it was one I did not have any beta experience with. Mobile and hard-hitting Science? Yes, please.

I’m still interested in Engineer assuming that the DPS/fun issues I had in beta are addressed, and I have yet to try Warrior or Esper. I’m weary about being rooted to the ground for my primary attack with some of these classes, but at the same time you unlock alternate filler attacks later, so… it’s tough.

Two other items of note:

Irony.

Irony.

First, in perhaps the most comical bug fail I’ve ever seen, clicking the Report as Spammer button on any of the numerous gold sellers in chat results in an instant Crash-2-Desktop. The spam cleared up by itself once out of the starter zones, but I’m still laughing at the implicit message being sent.

Next, the opposite scenario of a full designer win:

The devs as indeed listening, apparently.

The devs as indeed listening, apparently.

I am a little hesitant to declare total victory, but preliminary reports indicate Skill Trainers have been consigned to garbage bin of bad game design where they belong.

Checkmate, atheists.

BM Steam?

So what are the odds that Steam is selling RPG Maker VXA for $17.50 (75% off) the same day that RPG Maker VXA is a part of the Weekly Humble Bundle (i.e. buy it for $1)?

Someone is a bastard and/or genius.

Someone is a bastard and/or genius.

I mean, it can’t be all just some amazing coincidence, right? And I would imagine that the Humble Bundles are, err, less nimble than Steam sales. Then again, maybe this is actually Good Guy Steam for letting us use RPG Maker VXA for free before deciding if one American dollar is worth the risk. Tough call.

On a related note, I was all set to plunk down some monies on the bundle before I realized that I already owned RPG Maker VXA. I’m not sure how, when, or why, but I do. Back in the day, I used a similar program on the PlayStation to start up what would inevitably be The One game that broke me into the industry. But after spending literally 15 hours coding item stats via controller (Stone Sword –> Iron Sword –> Steel Sword –> etc) I decided that my dreams were dumb.

I still have a lot of ideas, but they are tempered in the reality of getting other people to do them.

Definition: Insanity

With great reluctance and a heavy sense of resignation, I took GreenManGaming up on their 22% off coupon for Wildstar. Day One purchases are for chumps, and that goes doubly so for MMO releases, but… well, if all your friends are jumping off bridges, you might as well join them. Attempting to apply that game code resulted in this:

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

Repeated attempts eventually got through but we’ll see how it all goes down this weekend. Will my friends stick around in this game (not likely)? Will I find an agreeable method to fund my subscription entirely through in-game gold (possibly)? Will there be many, exhaustive posts detailing everything I find wrong with the game (indubitably)?

Still, this is what you guys pay me to do, so I will trooper on.

Also: Press™.

PvP is Overrated

Okay, seriously, last time I abuse a (this) misleading title.

Two items of interest today. First, Blizzard finally took a step to address BG faction imbalance (read: queue times) in WoW… by opening free Horde –> Alliance transfers on a single realm:

We consistently watch queue times for all areas of the game to try to identify problem areas where we can step in and make an improvement. Battleground queue times specifically tend to be a direct result of how many people are entering the queue at any given time from both the Horde and Alliance, within an entire region. While a number of factors can lead to longer queue times, faction interest in queuing for PvP tends to be the primary influence. For that reason we’re going to be trying something new. For a limited time, and only for select realms (for this first test just a single realm), we’ll be opening faction changes for Horde characters to change to Alliance for free.

While time will tell how much this works in solving queue times, I have been watching Blizzard dance around this issue with considerable amusement. Because honestly, the solution that actually works is the one the devs are least willing to implement: same-faction BGs. Bam! Faction imbalance solved. Instead, Blizzard is treating random BGs as some sacrosanct, final line in the sand:

Faction imbalance is definitely something that’s contributing to the lengthy queue times. That said, we agree that allowing Horde vs Horde and Alliance vs Alliance Random BG’s isn’t a great answer. We’ll do it if it’s absolutely necessary (Rated BG’s allow for same-faction battles for exactly this reason), but we’re going to look at all other options first.

Honestly, even if we can’t find another good answer, we’re not sure queue times are so bad, at least at the moment, that same-faction Random BG’s would be worth it. Horde vs Alliance, Orcs vs Humans, Elves vs Trolls etc. has long been a strong core of the Warcraft universe. We want queue times to be faster for everyone, but we also don’t want to lose that.

Err… guys? It’s a goddamn random BG. Nobody cares. Horde have been battling Horde in Arena and Rated Battlegrounds (gasp!) for years. It would not be at all difficult to provide lore-based justifications for this combat. I mean, the Horde is fighting the “Iron Horde” in the next expansion, for god’s sake. One team is Horde, the other consists of “Twilight Cultists.” One team is Alliance, the other is “Scarlet Crusaders.” There are literally dozens of viable factions introduced in each expansion that could make these fights make sense, if anyone at all really cared about the “strong core of the Warcraft universe” nearly 11 years since the release of Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne. And it’s not like they could not get that same Horde vs Alliance kick from, I dunno, the actual story as told by quests and such. World PvP could still be whatever.

There are few things worse in any game than having to wait out timers. Sure, some people pine for the days of 30-minute boat rides in EverQuest and such, but you could theoretically chalk that up to “immersion.” There really isn’t anything that can be said for BG queue timers; the whole thing is arbitrary from the start. I’d like to believe that we will see same-faction BGs from Blizzard sooner rather than later, but the hills people choose to die on are varied and nonsensical on the whole.

Second item: fun with “Peace-decs” in EVE. While technically recycled, the article is interesting to me because it turns the traditional EVE “PvP sandbox” thinking on its ear.

For the uninitiated (which technically includes me as well), EVE has three security zones: hi-sec, low-sec, and null-sec. If you are out mining in high-sec, anyone who shoots you will get killed by space police within a few seconds. One way to get around that is for a PvP guild to “war-dec” your guild, which gives them the ability to shoot you without repercussion for as long as they pay the upkeep to the war-dec. What can you do? Nothing. Technically, you can quit the guild that has been war-dec’d or join an NPC guild or perhaps just not log on at all until the whole thing blows over. The developers likely hope that you either fight them or hire mercenaries to kill them or something of that nature. Or maybe they don’t particularly care.

This hypothetical “peace-dec” is the opposite of the war-dec: your guild pays a sum of money + upkeep costs to prevent another guild from being able to fire on you in hi-sec. Sounds fair, right? Holy shit though, watch the PvPers freak the hell out at the suggestion. For the inherent symmetry of the peace-dec thought experiment highlights how much of a non-sandbox the EVE universe might happen to be. I mean, is a sandbox a sandbox if other players dictate how you can play? It’s an interesting question. It’s also interesting seeing PvPers get mad at being threatened with the inability to play the game how they want to, when the existence of war-decs necessarily prevents PvE players from doing so. Why is turnabout not fair play?

In any case, the idea of a peace-dec is really growing on me, even for other games. For one thing, imagine the money-sink capability. Even if there were only a 5% chance of dying from a ganker, I’d imagine that 90%+ of the players would consider X amount of their earnings a worthwhile sacrifice for the peace of mind. Then, as you get more comfortable in your PvP ability, you can stop paying the upkeep and gain a greater profit for your skill, even if you are farming the same area. Plus, you could have instanced PvP for those who want fights they don’t have to look for. Who loses under this scheme, and why do we care about them?

VR is Overrated

Not really. Well… maybe. I mostly wanted to keep the title convention going.

I was discussing with a friend the other day about whether I think the Oculus Rift and VR in general is going to be the next big thing. Before I present my thoughts on the matter, let me preface with two items. First, I have not ever worn an Oculus Rift. I was an iPod and smartphone holdout through some extremely prime college years up until the moment I wasn’t, at which point I was slightly embarrassed for how needlessly I went without a piece of technology that otherwise made my life better. So, having not ever used this latest generation of VR headgear, it’s always possible that it will be wildly better (or worse) than I imagine. I did go to the Epcot Center back in the late 90s, which had some very primitive VR machines, and it went okay.

Second, Nintendo released this in 1995:

Nearly 19 years ago, folks. Nineteen years.

Nearly 19 years ago, folks. Nineteen years. [img source]

Yeah, sure, it wasn’t really VR as we know it; at most, it could probably be called a predecessor to the 3DS. Still, just file this away for now.

The answer I gave to my friend was: “Yes… eventually, in the remote future.”

I have a few issues with VR conceptually. First, what problem is it trying to solve? Maybe it doesn’t need to solve anything. Maybe it is simply another tool in increasing immersion. The issues I have with that are the non-monetary costs involved. I am talking about having to wear headgear that shuts out the outside world. For the moment, I will assume that it’s weight is negligible, that it will be comfortable for long play sessions even for those who wear glasses (such as myself), that there will be no issues with fogging up glasses, and so on. But… does the Oculus not preclude the use of keyboards? Perhaps the most obvious usage of VR would be in MMOs, but I’m not entirely convinced that going into 100% proximity voice or Vent/etc channels to interact is a step the community is willing to make. To say nothing about the more mundane concerns like, I dunno, reaching for your drink.

Second, what is it really adding to the gameplay experience? There have been a lot of FPS demos out there heralding the ability to glance side-to-side, or even full-scale treadmill-esque setups that would simulate you actually running around. That sort of thing makes for some comical Youtube videos, but in practice? I’m not convinced that limiting my PlanetSide 2 abilities to my physical endurance is a positive outside of exercise scenarios. And what real good is peripheral vision in an FPS when I would still be required to turn my character (with a controller!) in that direction to shoot the enemy?

One thing I was actually looking forward to was the ability to essentially never have to purchase a TV again. “Is a 40″ TV big enough for my apartment, or should I upgrade to 50″?” I’m already at the point where I believe that I would be better off with a projector, but what amounts to an infinite-screen TV is very tempting. At least it was, up until the moment I realized that VR is an extremely personal experience. If you have someone over, you both can’t share the same headset, so that “frugal” TV-replacement purchase suddenly balloons up with another Oculus purchase or Oculus + the TV you were going to buy anyway. Plus, you have the same issues as with the computer (e.g. find your drink) with an added bonus of precluding things like mid-movie make-outs… at least not without taking off the headgear.

Don’t get me wrong though, VR definitely has some potential. As the maker of Omni (the treadmill thing) mentioned, it can/will be used to train military units, it could help in physical therapy, I can see it being utilized for “traveling,” seeing museums, national parks, house shopping, etc, etc, etc. I’m not entirely sure what Facebook will be using it for, but maybe they think (VR) chatrooms will make a comeback. But for right now? I don’t know what I was use it for. I feel the exact same way about augmented reality tech like Google Glass as well – other than the fantastic advertising opportunities, what use would it have? Each time I’ve read a Zubon post about Ingress, I become further convinced that I am at risk of slipping into “old man” territory, railing against the incomprehensible “Nintendos” of the younger generation.

So… yeah. VR is probably the future, at some point. Not sure if it’ll ever be my future though.

Challenge is Overrated

Rohan posted the other day that the modern MMO tendency towards making leveling alts easier runs afoul of Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun¹. “Leveling alts should be harder, not easier!” Allow me to offer an alternative Theory of Fun: it’s about Novelty, not Challenge.

While I have forwarded this thesis almost three years ago, I am more convinced than ever that the Novelty theory better explains fun than Challenge. For one thing, when was the last time you were truly challenged in a videogame? When were your abilities pushed to their maximum? Okay, now think about the last time you had fun playing a videogame. Did you ever have fun without being challenged? QED.

Part of this debate is semantic – Challenge is Novel by definition, else it would not be challenging. But Challenge does not model the demonstrated ability of players to derive fun and entertainment from picking herbs, mining copper nodes, exploring the map, fishing, and so on. Neither Skyrim nor MineCraft are particularly challenging, and yet people can sink MMO-esque amounts of time into them.

What challenge is taking place in the imagination of a child at play?

The other problem with Challenge as Fun is how clearly there is a hard limit on it. Even if you avoid crossing the line into too challenging to complete, sustained challenge can be exhausting. Which makes sense, as challenge is an exertion of effort above the median. Sustained challenge also presupposes a sort of boundless limit for self-improvement. Even if I believed that everyone could do anything if they simply put their mind to it (I don’t), it’s undeniable that one’s effort hits diminishing returns rather quickly. Is it worth 15 hours of additional practice to realize 1% gains? Maybe someone thinks so. I raided with a Hunter back in ICC whose DPS improvement was literally squeezing in one, single additional Kill Shot into an eight-minute fight. But even he would be unlikely to spend 30, 60, 90 more hours to squeeze in a second one.

Plus, you know, he did end up quitting WoW despite there being plenty of challenge left.

The way I am describing Novelty is not necessarily as “a completely unique experience.” All it has to do is simply feel new to you. The subjectivity is an important facet, just as with Challenge, and it explains how someone can still have fun picking herbs when the action itself is fairly rote and well-defined. For myself, I consider Progression to be Novel; increasing in power and effectiveness is fresh and exciting to me. I start making plans for my ever-increasing hoard of Peacebloom (etc), or imagine what I could purchase after selling it. Others could see the act-in-time to be Novel – they have never picked Felweed at this particular time and place before, and who knows if a member of the opposite faction could be lurking around the corner. Of course, there is also the people-element that can make the most mundane of tasks into cherished memories.

In the end, I might almost say that the most universal quality in fun games is Engagement. Challenge can be engaging, Novelty can be engaging. However, it is not particularly useful to suggest a game be more Engaging any more than it is useful suggesting a game be more Fun. One can certainly suggest a game be more Challenging or Novel though. I would just suggest going with the latter.

¹ I have not actually read Koster’s book, so it’s entirely possible he isn’t arguing Challenge > everything. In fact, I seem to recall it being more about learning things, which puts it more in line with my Novelty argument. Nevertheless, I don’t feel like a game has to be Challenging to be fun, and I have no idea why challenge is so fetishized in game design.

How Hardcore Will Wildstar Actually Be?

Keen brought up an interesting perspective last week in regards to Wildstar:

I keep hearing/reading that WildStar is going to be such a hardcore game not for the casual, console, [insert something with a core not hard enough] audience.  Yes, there are inaccessible 40-man raids.  You’re delusional if you think that WildStar is now or will ever be hardcore.  Even compared to Vanilla WoW (like WildStar often is) it’s ridiculously accessible and easy to level.  People were hitting 40+ in 3-4 days or less.

All it will take is a few exit surveys for NCSoft to step in and force accessibility.  “We’re losing subscribers because they can’t experience the content they want to play.”  It will never, ever, be more inaccessible than WoW.

It’s an interesting perspective to me because I was (and still am) prepared to take Carbine and the Wildstar devs on face value. There was another Reddit AMA last week that sort of doubled-down on the hardcoreness. You can read a much cleaner, more condensed version here. This rather epic deconstruction sums up a lot of miscellaneous things:

Q: When it becomes apparent in the next year that hardcore 40 man’s aren’t going to work because it’s not what people like to do anymore, what other ideas are you going to try?

CRB_Gaffer: This is a “gotcha” question, but I’ll answer it anyways since some variant of it comes up reasonably often.

Little aside here: Why is this “gotcha”? Well, let’s examine possible answers:

1) Say “yes, 40 mans won’t work in a year, we’ll roll to another system” – well obviously we don’t believe that, or we wouldn’t have done them. And if early testing were pointing that way, we would have already converted them.

2) Say “no, they’ll never change, even if no one plays them!” – well, obviously, we’d be idiots to not respond to player feedback; it’s what we do. They’re fun enough that they’ll get played, we’re confident.

3) Say “it’s entirely up to player feedback!” – that’s hardly giving a strong direction, and we know this one will be contentious – there’s not likely to be a consensus. Every interesting game design decision is a mix of having a vision and being willing to intelligently and rationally assess when to swerve from it if reality and vision collide.

4) If we say that contingently we’ll push other fallback ideas, then of course the player base will potentially rapidly become divided to say “DO THAT NOW!!!” or assume that our plan all along is to go that route, when in practice, anything we do in terms of long-term planning is to an extent contingency based. We’ll be MUCH more knowledgeable about the health of the systems in the long terms six months post-launch.

So, that’s kinda the definition of a gotcha question – there’s no simple answer that actually addresses the question.

There’s another issue; the phrasing “when it becomes apparent” that implies that you’re asking the question to people you think aren’t that smart to begin with.

One assumes that’s intentional; it creates the added issue that responding to the question potentially Pavlovian conditions folks asking us questions to be snarky, when generally we try to focus answers on intelligent, well-phrased questions (even contentious ones) to make sure we’re doing our best to improve the quality of dialogue. No offense intended if that phrasing was just unintentional and through poor communication skills! Anyways, a good policy in TL;DR form: “Don’t feed the trolls”

But what the heck! To answer concisely after the extended parenthetical:

If it turns out that gamers are no longer capable of enjoying large-scale raiding, at that time our cross-discipline group of folks will have a series of debates on what works, what doesn’t work, base it on the data we’ve pulled from the systems and talking with our fans, and either double down on the parts of the systems that work well, or innovate some new directions to move forward in.

But early feedback is that that’s a pretty hypothetical situation. ;) Cause, hell, they’re pretty fun, and we think the added fun of the deeper gameplay we get out of those fights outweighs the social overhead of maintaining large groups. But folks will prove us wrong or not.

There are enough Ins and Outs in that response to construct a burger franchise, but there you go. Vague PR bullshit or nuanced game design? While I find myself more inclined to wait and see, I must confess that the following responses seems a bit contradictory:

Q: Are you committed to keeping a natural progression of content? [...] Do you plan on adding shortcuts to previous tiers of raids when new ones come out? Removal of attunements, nerfing fights, adding equivalent gear from casual and easy to obtain sources (see WoW patch 2.4)?

CRB_TimeTravel: This is a great question for four months from now. Our post-launch balancing plans will depend heavily upon the speed with which players consume the content and the # of players doing the consuming.

However, we definitely don’t want to simply invalidate our previous content when we release new stuff.

Q: I know this is far into the future, but I’m hoping you guys keep old content relevant. I think it would be a great way to get the more casual players to raid in older/easier raid instances and have the new raids maintain the benchmark for hardcore players.

CRB_TimeTravel: We definitely don’t want to make our older content irrelevant, so will be looking for ways to have an intelligent progression forward with gear and ability as the game matures post-launch.

Q: What are your plans for longterm raid progression in terms of gear? Will you be taking the WoW model of trivializing the oldest raid instances when new ones are released? or the EverQuest model of a strict progression system, or somewhere in between?

CRB_TimeTravel: Somewhere in between.

We do not want to trivialize our content, nor force players to do all of it before seeing anything new.

What “middle way” is there between “not invalidate older content” and “not force players to do all of it”? You can either skip tiers or you can’t. The fact that the last boss of any given raid tier is always harder than the first (few) boss(es) of the next tier is one of the reasons I have always considered things like attunements and the justifications for them to be asinine. “Linear progression” is never linear progression, at least not for the first half of the next instance. If the hardcore raiders get a handful of gimmie bosses, why not everyone else? What good is preserved by putting a hard, game-ending limit to a given guild’s progression when you’ve specifically crafted new bosses that that guild could defeat if you but got out of the way?

Ugh. I think “attunements” and “linear progression” are trigger words for me.

That being said, I am not entirely sure whether I share Keen’s “optimism” regarding raiding in Wildstar becoming more accessible. As mentioned, there is enough wiggle-room in the posts by Carbine devs to allow them to nerf the content based on low participation. More problematic is how exactly they plan on nerfing it. Many of the gameplay videos I have seen paint most of the bosses as “bullet hell” dances, even in the 5m dungeons. In a world in which something as simple as the Heigan Dance threatened to break guilds apart, I’m skeptical these devs will be able to thread that needle. Maybe the attacks will 3-shot you instead of 1-shot? Maybe there will be less “bullets?” As any PUG raid leader can tell you though, moving out of the fire and dodging the fire are two entirely different things.

In any case, I suppose we’ll see how things shake out a few weeks from now.