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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?

Dust, Draenor, Destiny

The one bit of news out of CCP’s Fanfest 2014 that peaked my interest was Project Legion. Which is, for all intents and purposes, a rebooting of Dust 514 on the platform it should have been released on in the first place: the PC. I’m not actually sure a sandbox PvP/PvE hybrid shooter MMO is what I’m looking for anymore, but given I have continued to grudgingly slink back to PlanetSide 2 for my FPS urges, let’s just say that I’m not exactly opposed to new experiences. It should be noted that in that article, CCP basically states that Dust still has 100,000 active daily players, which is around 100k more than it seemed to have any reason to have last time I played.

Incidentally, NoizyGamer believes that this year or the last one might have marked the last year of consecutive EVE subscriber growth. That’s noteworthy specifically because the ~10 consecutive years of growth itself was noteworthy. And rather annoying to argue against with my MMO market saturation theories.

Speaking of bodies, WoW lost another 200k of them since last quarter, bringing the total to a mere 7.6 million. I’m not really sure what to think about this sort of thing anymore; at the moment, I’m leaning towards simple incredulity that there are 7.6 million people paying a subscription to a game that will be going on a full year without any new content. I mean, I too was that guy years ago, but that sort of shit doesn’t fly with me these days.

Speaking of questionable Activision Blizzard moves, the console-only FPS MMO Destiny is reportedly going to cost $500 million:

To put some perspective on this, the money being spent on Destiny is more than twice the amount EA reportedly spent on Star Wars: The Old Republic and a little less than double the $265,000,000 Rockstar paid to get GTA V made. The Reuters article cites analysts saying that Destiny will have to sell 15-16 million copies at $60 to break even. So, the final game has to make a very, very good first impression.

For reference, Borderlands 2 cost ~$35 million and sold 8.5 million copies as of February 2014. It’s worth noting that the first link estimates Destiny at $140 million, so it’s entirely possible that the $500 million is in reference to the entire 10-year franchise run that Activision Blizzard purchased from Bungie rather than the BorderHaloLands game we have on display.

Still… goddamn. This doesn’t even seem like the same ultra-conservative game company of a year ago, who didn’t want to branch out into the mobile space simply because the Top 10 games change every year. I’d like to imagine those executives with a fat Hearthstone egg on their face, but great handfuls of money make for surprisingly effective yolk removal.

EVE is Real (Evil)

I don’t play EVE, but I have been following the developing story of Erotica 1 (E1) with a particular interest this past week. The drama itself is interesting enough, but the entire episode asks a lot of compelling questions on the nature of games, social interactions outside of the game but still concerning the game, and the role (if any) of the developers.

EVE, as you might already know, is just about the most hand-off MMO on the market. Scams, extortion, and piracy are not only allowed, they are encouraged. “Be the villain,” and all that. One such scammer took things to another level though. Basically, the deal was that E1 ran an ISK-doubling scam that actually did pay out occasionally, such that it was ambiguous as to whether you could make a bunch of money. After passing the first tests, there was a “Bonus Room” in which you could quintuple your winnings again. The catch? You had to hand over 100% of your in-game assets and then jump onto a Teamspeak server for hours (!) of recorded humiliation.

You can read the full breakdown of what transpired in this particular Bonus Room on Jester’s Trek. In fact, the two hour, seventeen minute SoundCloud file is also linked. The victim has a speech impediment which is fully exploited, and when he finally snaps, E1 and his crew drive the victim’s wife (who showed up to ask what was going on) into a panic attack.

I doubt this is what CCP envisioned with their “EVE is real” campaign.

The reactions to this incident have ran the gamut. I was first made aware of it at all by this post on Greedy Goblin. Gevlon’s take? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count. Spoiler: Gevlon blames the victim. And in a certain light, it is something you can almost get behind – why didn’t the guy just turn the computer off? Well, for one thing, he had already given away 100% of his in-game assets at that point. And for another, it doesn’t fucking matter. The only truly relevant point (for CCP) is whether or not someone like E1 is worth having in your game.

And indeed, CCP, perhaps finally realizing the potential media shitstorm brewing, came out and issued a statement:

While the content of online interactions between players cannot realistically be gated within our game worlds, CCP strongly disapproves of clear and extraordinary levels of real life harassment against our players in the outside world.

CCP, in collaboration with the CSM, have agreed and would like to state in the strongest possible terms and in accordance with our existing Terms of Service and End User License Agreement, that real life harassment is morally reprehensible, and verifiable examples of such behavior will be met with disciplinary action against game accounts in accordance with our Terms of Service.

While they didn’t announce anything specific, we know from other sources that E1 was permanently banned. I don’t actually recommend going to that second link there unless you’re a fan of sadism, or want to see a rather frightening example of the sort of players EVE’s mostly hands-off policy attracts.

Still, I feel like there were some arguments surrounding this incident worth deconstructing. Gevlon and a lot of other commenters argue that this issue could be solved by not falling for the scam in the first place. Plus, they argue, what’s really the difference between a prank and a bully? Given how tomorrow is April Fools Day, it’s even somewhat topical.

My response would be: there really isn’t one. The difference between assault and a scuffle is someone filing a police report. The prank example that was offered was blocking someone’s door with phone books. Prank or bully? That’s two different questions. First, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest it wasn’t a prank at all, but rather harassment – again, with the difference being simply the victim’s decision. As to whether someone is a bully for doing that depends on their intentions. We can imagine a scenario in which a guy constantly “pranks” people who shrug it off when, in fact, he derives pleasure from the misery he creates. As I mentioned in the comments on his post, someone is a liar regardless of whether anyone believes them.¹

Gevlon then claims that we cannot prosecute people like E1 with intention-based arguments because no one can prove intention. Except the courts do it all the time via mens rea. There is a rather instructive scenario outlined in a related Wiki article:

For example, suppose that A, a jealous wife, discovers that her husband is having a sexual affair with B. Wishing only to drive B away from the neighbourhood, she goes to B’s house one night, pours petrol on and sets fire to the front door. B dies in the resulting fire. A is shocked and horrified. It did not occur to her that B might be physically in danger and there was no conscious plan in her mind to injure B when the fire began. But when A’s behaviour is analysed, B’s death must be intentional. If A had genuinely wished to avoid any possibility of injury to B, she would not have started the fire. Or, if verbally warning B to leave was not an option, she should have waited until B was seen to leave the house before starting the fire. As it was, she waited until night when it was more likely that B would be at home and there would be fewer people around to raise the alarm.

The Bonus Round victim could have turned off the computer at any time. So too could E1. And this is besides the point that there isn’t a jury in the world that would say the outcome was not exactly what E1 and company were intending to occur.

Where things get really amusing is when people argue that E1 can’t get punished because it’s not against the EULA. Except the EULA includes the ToS, of which the very first goddamn entry might be instructive. Or that E1 shouldn’t get punished because it sets a “chilling precedent.” Or the line is too ambiguous, as Gevlon states. Or it somehow would obligate CCP to start banning all such offenders. Or that it opens the doors to nefarious individuals impersonating people and getting others banned. And a number of similar armchair philosopher attempts at rules lawyering.

That sort of nonsense might work on religions and in college electives, but it doesn’t pass muster in the real world. Items #25 and #26 in the ToS give CCP carte blanche to permaban anyone for any reason. Arguments towards precedent and a nebulous obligation to do a full crusade sort of remind me of the Buridan’s ass paradox. On paper, it “makes sense” that a donkey inbetween two equally distant piles of food would starve to death because it can’t decide between them. In the actual real world, people have the ability to make arbitrary decisions and judgment calls. Just because E1 is banned does not necessarily mean CCP has to, by some mysterious logical mechanism, ban the EVE guild that threatens to blow your ship up unless you sing to them on their chat channel. So very few people understand the Slippery Slope is actually a fallacy; it’s entirely possibly to (subjectively!) determine that one is a more egregious example than the other and stop on the slope.

Then again, hey, that singing extortion thing is pretty fucking weird and exploitative and maybe they shouldn’t be doing that either. If these are the sort of examples people point to concerning how “EVE is real,” perhaps it’s time to re-examine whether that tagline actually relates a positive quality. We don’t have to abandon every game in which someone’s feelings might get hurt, but how about we aim for, as Jester points out, the ballpark figure of “your mother can listen to this without thinking you’re a psychopath.”

______________________________

¹ Gevlon’s counter-argument to this is that a liar no one believes is an actor or comedian. Err… no. Those professions do not rely on untruth to scam or exploit out of wealth, power, or security; the intent is to amuse, surprise, and entertain. It’s a nonsensical argument akin to suggesting a torturer and a dentist are similar because they both hurt you.

WoW Finally Has Server/Faction Sale

In a move that I have been suggesting literally forever, Blizzard is slashing all character services by 50%… for one week.

Still has a 50,000g transfer cap, unfortunately.

Still has a 50,000g transfer cap, unfortunately.

The prices break down as follows:

  • Server Transfer = $12.50
  • Faction Transfer = $15.00
  • Server + Faction Transfer = $27.50
  • Name/Appearance Change = $7.50
  • Race Change = $12.50

If there is not a clearer sign that Blizzard believes WoW still exists as luxury entertainment on a level all to its own, I don’t know what it is. Well, you know, beyond the fact that as absurd as these prices appear to be, given the proper distance from the game, they are normally 50% higher.

I mean… Christ. Is this the same MMO that lost 1.3 million subscribers last quarter? That’s a rhetorical question because of course it is. Otherwise Blizzard would have no cause to not still charge people $25/$55 to move off dead realms Blizzard kills with extreme negligence.

In other news, I just bought EVE Online for $4.98 on Steam. You know, for a rainy day.

Instant Gratification vs Fun Investment

All this talk about Magic: the Gathering makes me want to revisit a topic I briefly touched on last week, in the comments here and elsewhere. Namely, the sort of denigration of “instant gratification” and the elevation of investing in “long-term fun,” which is presumably shorthand for “doing a series of boring things for a reward later.”

The choice between instant gratification versus an investment in long-term fun is a false dichotomy. Gaming is an instance in which you can have your cake and eat it too.

One of the examples activities that was used to illustrate how “boring gameplay” can lead to bigger returns in fun was painting figurines in a tabletop game like Warhammer. Simply purchasing already-painted figurines would just not be the same despite having no direct gameplay relevance. I agree. I also agree with the notion that, say, using cheat codes to become immortal, having infinite money, and so on right at the start of the game likely diminishes the overall amount of fun you can derive from it.

But here’s the thing: someone who paints their Warhammer figures probably finds the act of painting them fun.

I used to play a lot of Magic: the Gathering back in high school. The games were nothing serious, just some 3-5 person chaos multiplayer amongst friends. However I would routinely spend about 10 hours crafting decks for every 1 hour a given deck would actually see play. In fact, if any of my decks began to routinely win, I stopped using them and built new ones.¹ And I had fun!

Deck-building was almost better than playing the actual game for me. There is something deeply satisfying in seeing a complicated scheme all fall into place, top-decking the one perfect counter that changes the game right when you need it to. But running all those scenarios through my head, pouring over all my available options, whittling down a pile of 250 cards I wanted to use into a perfectly-tuned 60-card machine was pure entertainment in of itself.

Another example: D&D. I ran a 4-year campaign throughout all of college, and a little beyond. As a DM, I let my players have ample freedom, but I made sure the world they inhabited was scaffolded in lore such that they had a place in it. In other words, I wanted to give them the ability to take the world as serious as they wanted to. Of course, most sessions started and ended with them starting a bar fight rather than the existential pondering I secretly wanted them to do. But it is not much of a stretch to say that I spent 20 hours per week in preparation of one 3-6 hour session. Never once did I consider those 20 hours a chore. I was excited to DM those games because it gave me the opportunity (and justification) to spend all that time world-building.

Now, clearly, what an individual finds fun is going to be subjective, and possibly something that changes over time and circumstance. But my point here is that the sort of activities necessary for long-term enjoyment – figure-painting, deck-building, world-creation – can be fun in of themselves. Not only can, but should. This extends to all in-game activities.

I do not buy the argument that something like Darkfall/EVE’s AFK resource-gathering systems is fun “because it gives you the time to do something else.” An activity doesn’t become fun by adding in a separate fun thing; an activity is either fun in of itself or it isn’t.² An unfun thing can become tolerable when mixed, but that is not a point in the base activity’s favor. Being punched in the face is alright if you give me $1,000, but I would rather just have the $1,000. Is desiring just the money considered “instant gratification,” or is that simply rational?

You can rightly question why I am not currently building Magic decks or constructing D&D campaigns if they are so fun in of themselves. The truth is that without the payout, without the destination at the end of the journey, these (investment) activities are not as fun to me. However, while they might not be as fun – that is, they are less fun than other things I could be doing instead – keep in mind that they still are fun. An actual destination acts as a force multiplier, if you will, to the entertainment of the journey. Contrast that with many of the in-game “investments” we are tasked to complete which make no sense to perform at all without reward, e.g. they are the punch to the face.

The distinction is important, because I feel it is far too easy to for us gamers to fall into the cognitive dissonance trap of “retroactive fun” and Sunk Cost fallacy. “I spent 5 hours farming herbs, it must have all been worth it!” Even if there is no real difference between actual fun and retroactive fun in practice (and isn’t that a depressing thought?), it does matter when comparing games mechanics in the moment.

All things considered, you should desire the mechanics that are both fun now and even more fun later. We simultaneously can and deserve to have both.

¹ A successful deck was a sort of “proof of concept” for me. Could my infinite damage combo reliably work in an actual hostile environment? Coming up with combos was a lot easier than constructing a deck capable of pulling them off, after all. Plus, my goal was never to craft a (P2W) deck that beat my friends 100% of the time; that sort of thing is never fun to play against anyway.

² It’s probably more accurate to say fun is a gradient rather than a binary distinction, one that can shift from one moment to the next. But I still believe that the unfun half of the scale hits zero right near the border.

Questionable Space Battles

Sometimes I find myself inexplicably drawn to building spaceships and watching them explode. With Steam having a 75% sale on the Gratuitous Space Battles DLC this past weekend, it seemed as good a time as any to try and get that fix.

The problem is that I am having a hard time convincing myself that the game isn’t complete bullshit.

You can read my original review here, but suffice it to say, GSB is essentially a game about building spaceships and nothing else. I think one of the DLCs or patches gave you the ability to change orders mid-battle at the cost of high score tracking or whatever, but under normal circumstances you design ships, give general orders, and let’em go. I mentioned in the review that I quickly came across a strategy that essentially wins 100% of the time – basically missile spam with occasional target painter that makes missile 100% accurate – but it seems clear to me now that it has been nerfed to oblivion. Anti-missile tech existed in the vanilla game already, e.g. guidance scramblers and Point Defense batteries, although it seems much, much stronger than it ever was so many months ago.

It is fine having counters to things, whatever. When I was looking at alternatives to missile spam though, I kept running into problems with the ship building aspects. As you might imagine in these sort of games, you have to juggle each component’s energy usage, crew requirements, weight, and so on. Except… all roads lead to the same max-level components and heavy mixing of weapons. It feels… banal. If I want an all-beam ship, let me build an all-beam ship without gimping on shields or armor. The weakness of specialization is supposed to be being vulnerable to counters, not it being nigh-impossible to actually specialize.

Or maybe I’m just all sour grapes because this happened:

Was totally wiped out, killing zero enemy ships. They all had ~20% HP or less.

Was totally wiped out, killing zero enemy ships. They all had ~20% HP or less.

I will continue plugging along with Gratuitous Space Battles for a while longer, but in the meantime, if you have any suggestions for spaceship designing/battle games, let me know in the comments below. I was obsessed with an ancient game called Stars! back in the day, and spent 40+ hours most recently on Space, Pirates and Zombies; dunno if FTL really counts, but I spent a lot of time with that one too. It can be a 4-X game, it can be FPS, it can be whatever it is, as long as it has a ship-designing component. And, preferably, no bullshit.

It just can’t be EVE. I have little interest in experimenting resulting in the destruction of weeks of game time.

Interesting Move, CCP

Way back in February, I was quoting Bullshitter in Chief, David Reid, on how Dust 514 could make EVE “the biggest game in the world at the end of 2012.” There are only 33 days left in the year for this to be theoretically possible, but nevermind.

At that time (and still currently), my questions focused on the “what the hell were they thinking with a PS3 exclusive” angle. The related followup question was how CCP planned to muscle into an already crowded FPS marketplace with a completely unknown IP (the FPS portion anyway); free-to-play will only get you so far, if no one knows about you.

Well, with all the game console browsing I have been doing lately, I have a partial answer:

Product Features

Platform: PLAYSTATION 3 | Edition: 250GB Uncharted 3: Game of the Year
  • The new 250GB PlayStation 3 System, with a built in Blu-Ray player, can hold over to 1800 Games, 140 Movies, 99,000 Songs, and 40,000 photos
  • The PlayStation 3 system includes a free PlayStation Network membership for online gaming, streaming movies and music, and access to the PlayStation Store
  • UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception Game of the Year Edition showcases Nathan Drake’s journey through new challenges and includes over $45 of Bonus Content
  • With a 30-day trial of PlayStation Plus, access your instant game collection and download from a free library of hit games. Save over $70 with the PlayStation 3/Uncharted 3 Game of the Year bundle
  • Dust 514, a free to play game available exclusively on the PlayStation Network, thrusts you into the explosive ground conflict of the EVE universe
  • Included with this PlayStation 3 bundle is a promotional code for your personal DUST 514 ordinance pack containing a 7-day active skill booster, a permanent Armored Personnel Carrier, an assortment of digital items, and 2,000 Aurum to spend on in-game gear, weapons and equipment. Over $30 in total value.

That’s right, somehow CCP got Sony to include $30 worth of item shop goods in the, er… PS3 Uncharted 3: Game of the Year bundle. Because nothing says sci-fi F2P FPS like a 3rd-person action game.

It is an interesting move, and certainly one that will garner some extra attention from whomever takes advantage of that bundle. I can’t help but get confused though, when it appears that the Dust 514 mention is missing from the other bundles like the 500gb Assassin’s Creed 3 and even the 320gb Uncharted 3 bundle. Did CCP only pay enough to get on the 250gb bundle instead of the 320gb? Surely there is no hardware difference, so did they just change their minds? Did Netflix out-bid them?

Regardless, I find myself even more intrigued by this unfolding drama than I was before. And, hey, now that I own a PS3 myself, I might actually go full gonzo and try it at some point.

Where Are All the Bodies?

WoW subscriber losses since Q1 2011: 2,900,000.
SWTOR subscriber losses since Q1 2012: ~700,001.
Aion subscriber losses since 2011: ~600,000¹.
RIFT subscriber losses since 2011: 350,000¹.
LoTRO subscriber losses since 2011: 300,000¹.
EVE subscriber losses since Q2 2011: ~20,000¹.

Where are all the bodies?

Talk about fiscal cliffs…

It is seductively easy to imagine the MMO landscape as a zero-sum, closed universe. One developer’s bone-headed design mistake is another MMO’s gain. “Guild Wars 2 is going to nail the coffin shut on SWTOR/steal another million from WoW.” But it is fact that there are less people playing “traditional” MMOs today than there were in mid-2009. And there were fewer game options back then!

The graph up there is somewhat misleading in two ways. It does not represent the entire MMO market (browser-based games, etc), so it is entirely possible that in the journalistic sense the “MMO” market is doing perfectly fine. But it is misleading in the other direction too: do you really care how Second Life and Dofus and Asian MMOs are doing? There are a lot of games you will never play and/or people you cannot possibly play with that are propping up those numbers. The Truth™ is liable to paint a much bleaker picture.

I think we may need to start entertaining the notion that the entire genre – as we know it – has peaked. Not just the hot topic of F2P vs Subs, but the whole damn shebang. Classical arguments like “WoW lost subs because grinds/attunements/etc are good” become embarrassingly moot (if they were not already). Where are the bodies?

Whoever is leaving does not appear to be coming back for a second date, or even meeting new people; they have simply vanished back into the ether. Speculation on the whys seems moot as well, because there is zero indication the ex-pats transition anywhere else. Rather than go to the alternative MMOs that offer grinding/feature no grinding, they simply go away.

On a tangentially related subject, yesterday was my one-year WoW anti-anniversary:

A year ago yesterday I was doing Firelands dailies.

So… we have located at least one body. A body with an extra $179.88 in its pocket at that.

Where are the rest?

¹ Based on eyeballing this chart, which hasn’t been updated in a while.

Out of Game

You may or may not have been following the Gevlon + Rohan argument about whether PLEX-selling – that is purchasing a RMT item that confers 30 days of game time in exchange for in-game currency – constitutes cheating in EVE, or is “unfair,” or skipping content, or is ruining the simulation, etc. It has been a fascinating series of posts precisely because I find it almost impossible to relate to their worldview at all. Parts of the argument have the contours of unassailable logic; see Rohan’s near prose when it comes to inconveniences. And yet some part of my mind reels backwards each time I get too close to accepting their premises.

So, let us back up a bit: what constitutes out-of-game resources/thinking?

Rohan says:

I still think PLEX is unfair. All the arguments for PLEX have sidestepped the basic unfairness issue, and pointed to the good effects that PLEX has. But at it’s heart, Eve permits one faction of players to skip content for real money, but does not do the same for other players. It weakens the fidelity of the economic simulation that is Eve Online. […]

PLEX is like the designated hitter rule in baseball, or shootouts in hockey. It’s legal, it’s in the rule book. It’s popular, the crowds enjoy it. It might even be necessary for the continued health of the game. But baseball without the designated hitter is a purer form of baseball, as is hockey sans shootouts.

See what I mean about contours of unassailable logic? PLEX can exist within the game, in your cargo hold or on the AH, but it is not of the game, so to speak. You cannot be mining an asteroid and a PLEX fall out; you cannot assemble a PLEX from a blueprint. Every PLEX that exists came into being from a cash transaction outside of the game. In a very real way, it is a breaking of the 4th wall. Rohan is essentially correct.

…and yet, I cannot shake the nagging feeling of the arbitrary.

Across the main post and comments, Gevlon says:

You can only skip grind. If you skip competitive elements, you are cheating. Skipping any competitive element is cheating. Otherwise you are on the slippery slope of “I just skip one more element” until the point of you skip it all and buy a pilot with top killboard stats and peacock around without actually killing anyting yourself. That’s not against the ToS either. […]

@Ephemeron: true that for most people getting E15 is probably just as long as solo mining 500M ISK but it’s an out-of-game skill. Again, if we accept this, the conclusion is “the best way of winning EVE is being good in RL money making”

And also:

@Azuriel: you are an inch from being banned from here for being an idiot.

The second account ship obeys the same rules as the first. With 2 hulks you can mine twice as fast, true. But can lose two times more ISK to a ganker.

Real life money is real life money. Buying things in real life with it is normal. Having lot of money is winning RL. But a game is separated from RL for a reason. Buying an EVE-ship by having RL money is just as bizzare as buying a car from ISK.

Putting aside the unfounded belief in the objectiveness of sandbox competition, I see the contours in this argument as well. The ISK from the sale of the PLEX cannot be affected by anything Gevlon does; the credit card which creates the PLEX cannot be ganked, unlike the ship earning 500m ISK mining Veldspar.

But let us go back to our question: what constitutes out-of-game resources/thinking?

Where things break down for me, in both arguments, is when it comes to the arbitrary natures of the distinctions being made. Gevlon, for example, is perfectly fine with multi-boxing. He himself has three accounts running so as to have three separate characters gaining skill points… in an apparently competitive game. But at what point did a second and third account not count as buying advantage using real-life money? Those additional accounts are supporting the primary one: his original “competitive goal” of buying and piloting a Titan is only becoming a quicker reality due to the additional skill point paths he is paying a premium for. Using just one account, his goal would be months (if not years) farther off, as he cannot train Trading and Combat skills at the same time.

I find Rohan’s argument similarly arbitrary. What makes PLEX so especially odious and disrupting? The nakedness of purchasing it from CCP? Consider for a moment other out-of-game transactions. Does multiboxing reduce the fidelity of the economic simulation? Although both of your spaceships exist in the “pure” game world, the reality is that you are paying for an advantage over those with one account. A normal player cannot be in two places simultaneously, nor specializing in two separate skills, nor being able to jump around and trade on six different stations. And let us not pretend opening a 2nd account is any less naked than PLEX.

For the moment though, let us assume that multiboxing is fine.

Is it fine to accept ISK from a friend whom also plays the game? Is the competitiveness of the game intact, should he simply pay for all of your ship fittings and cover all of your losses? Does that constitute out-of-game? Let us even assume he received all of his ISK “legitimately.”

Suppose that instead of simply gifting you the ISK, your friend grants it as payment for letting him copy your homework. Or for driving him to the airport. Out-of-game? What if you offered to pay his EVE subscription for a month, in return for 500m ISK? Your friend still risked his ship getting ganked, still had to undercut Gevlon’s Veldspar by .01 ISK on the AH, and so on.

Rohan and Gevlon’s arguments have such shapely contours because they imitate the elegance of Plato’s Forms: the “pure” EVE is such, and self-contained. But it’s not. Other people exist, and the relationships can cross over between in-game and out-of-game. Ever play Monopoly? You may not have been able to buy Boardwalk by slipping the Banker a real $20 bill, but in the last game I played every single one of us brought in out-of-game resources in the form of favors, grudges, and so on. I gave my friend Andreas a railroad essentially out of spite; he had done nothing in-game to warrant such a one-sided transaction, but I was tired of Aaron winning all the time.

Point being, I can understand how PLEX appears as an “obvious” case of Pay-To-Win (assuming you subscribe to the notion of ISK = winning)… but I see no rational reason to draw such otherwise arbitrary distinctions. Using a Vent or Mumble server to coordinate attacks is an out-of-game maneuver. So is helping a friend with ISK, either freely or for services rendered. I would even argue that reading gaming blogs and Wikis and other 3rd party websites are absolutely out-of-game resources regardless of whether you can open up a browser in-game or not.

Where is the clearly delineated line? Does it start at the cash shop, or at the relationships you bring to the game? Is there one at all?

Well, There is Always That

Remember that real-life interview I had back in February?

The selection process for the 2012 JET Program has now concluded. We regret to inform you that we are not able to offer you a position on the program this year. Please know that this decision is not a reflection on your personal qualifications, but on the nature of the JET Program selection process. As it is ever year, competition was stiff and the available positions were few, and unfortunately, many qualified applicants had to be turned down.

We hope you will reapply for the JET Program in the future and we wish you the best of luck.

So… yeah. Japan is a no-go.

I was a little ashamed that the realities of MMO gaming was a (small) thing I had thought about throughout the whole application process. People clearly play WoW from Australia and endure the cross-Pacific lag and whatnot, but it was a bit daunting to realize the likelihood that you would ever game with the same people again was effectively zero by the time differences alone.

Sure, there is always the chance that someone you hang out with in WoW or wherever can suddenly evaporate. There are dimensions to leaving the country though, that gave me some pause. Would Guild Wars 2 be playable over there? Could I even play Diablo 3’s single-player without lag? In a strange bit of coincidence, EVE was just localized in Japanese a week ago; perhaps it was would have been a sign?

Given those questions, I had not been thinking about upcoming MMO releases or even the current ones all that much. Would you even want to play a new MMO if you knew – for sure – you’d have to give it up in 2 months? Now that I know I will be sticking around, I suppose it is time to start looking towards a much more predictable future. A future that includes a lot more gaming than I necessarily expected.

And alcohol. Lots of alcohol.