Blog Archives

PvP Servers

It has been quite some time since I’ve had to bother with the issue of PvP servers, but Shintar’s latest experience with a “classic WoW” server really sums up my thinking after the years:

The truth is, I’ve never had the urge to initiate combat with the opposite faction, so if I’m being honest I’m just making myself a punching bag for other players by going along with it. All that ever happens is that I get attacked by people who are several levels above me, in twink gear, or in a group. Sometimes things get turned around and they are the ones who end up with egg on their face, but that’s a cold comfort when compared to the amount of my time that ends up getting wasted by corpse-running and having to re-do quests. I’ve put up with it because there were no other options at the time, but weekends like these really make me wonder whether it’s worth it when I could be having fun with something else where other players aren’t able to ruin my enjoyment every step of the way. My free time is really too precious to me these days to waste it on nonsense like that.

Is there excitement on PvP servers? Sure. Although I would more describe that as anxiety, considering I’ve only ever gone on ganking sprees after being ganked myself. So, really, that would be what I say to anyone asking if they should pick a PvP server: “Do you want to spend your time ganking mostly helpless players over and over? If not, then don’t go to a PvP server.” Those rare moment of cooperation and peaceful coexistence do not make up for the time you spend getting killed in the middle of a quest. They really, really don’t.

FF14 Subscription Number Speculation

How many active subs does Final Fantasy 14 have? More than WoW?

The answer to the latter question is “lol no,” but the former is a bit trickier. The official word circa July 2015 was the following:

During today’s Japan Expo, Final Fantasy XIV Producer Naoki Yoshida shared that the game has accumulated a total of five million paid subscribers during its 21 months on the market.

To be clear, the current subscriber count hasn’t been announced, nor has Square Enix ever shared this figure. The five million subscriber total doesn’t include trial accounts, and only those who have at one time or another paid the $12.99/$14.99 monthly fee making it a substantial feat.

Estimates place FFXIV at around 800,000 to 1.2 million subscribers after a one million subscriber bump from February’s announced total of four million, averaging at around 9,000 new players per day over four months. Significant post-launch updates and the arrival of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward have been key components to recent growth

An embarrassingly large number of people have taken the “5 million registered accounts” news to mean 5 million active subs, but that does not pass the smell test. Which smell test? The March 2015 yearly report smell test (PDF):

The graph above shows that all Square Enix MMOs generated around 6 billion yen on a quarterly basis, or roughly $49 million. If we assume that 100% of those dollars came from FF14 subs at the $12.99 price-point, that would put the sub numbers at $49m / 3 / 12.99 = ~1.25 million subs.

We can be more charitable in our calculations, if we wish. Let’s take the yen/dollar exchange rate from back in 2014, so 6 billion yen is now… erm, way less than $49m. Nevermind.

Okay, let’s assume that the chart actually refers to 2014 sales (or projected 2015 sales) instead of what it’s labeled as. We know that FF14 had 4 million registered accounts in February 2015, followed by 5 million in August 2015. Looks like it also had 2.5 million in December 2014. That amount of box sales + 2nd month sub fees is nothing to sneeze at, especially 1.5 million over the holiday season. Assuming a 100% retention rate, if we add the 2.5 million to what we have already established, we get 3.75m subs, which is the closest any MMORPG has ever gotten to WoW.

Of course, that’s all a bit silly.

What we know from other sources, is that there are 408k characters (not players) at the highest level cap in the five months since the expansion was released; the number of level 50+ characters stands at 1.3m. Maybe FF14 takes people longer to level through, sure, fine. So lets now assume that the chart we used before speaks about all of Square Enix’s MMOs and not just FF14, and the fact that it includes box sales, so whatever FF14’s portion of those numbers actually is, is reduced again.

Still think FF14 has 5 million active subs? Half that? Even a third?

There is every indication that FF14 is a great MMO, and I expect that it is. What I do not expect is for the Square Enix 2016 report to show even 2 million active subscriptions throughout this year.

We’ll have a better idea around this coming March, I suppose.

Prisoner’s (Gaming) Dilemma

BINGO was postponed for a week, but I’m not even mad. Seeing the shit Blizzard is getting on the forums every time they introduce another flying mount is payment enough. For now.

Let us set that aside for a moment.

So I was presented with two hypothetical scenarios over the weekend which I found interesting for reasons. The first one was this: you’re going to jail for ten years, but it’s a minimum security prison that will allow you to take one offline game (any DLC included) with you. But that will be the only game you get for those ten years. Which game do you pick?

The second scenario is similar, but this time it’s life in prison. For some insane reason, the Warden will allow you to take any three games and allow an internet connection. The parameters did not specify whether future DLC or microtransactions will be free for you, but let’s assume you can make enough money stamping licence plates to cover, say, $30/month. Which games do you pick?

The answer to the first scenario was pretty much unanimous amongst my fellow hypothetical jail mates: Minecraft. There was a Skyrim holdout in there, but ten years is a long time and I don’t think mods could extend the attention of even the staunchest Skyrim fan that long.

The second scenario answer was more diverse, with my friend solidly in the Destiny camp (which is his current console mini-MMO game of choice). Mine was more blunt: World of Warcraft. Yes, even with bile I feel towards Flightgate, I have to admit that WoW is a game A) most likely to still be around and supported for decades to come, and B) one offering the most diverse playing experiences. In other words, you could spend a lot of time getting real good at raiding, master it, and then set off to roll the boulder up the PvP hill and feel a difference.

I found my own responses interesting primarily because I don’t particularly like playing either of them. The last time I seriously played Minecraft was before they introduced the Hunger meter; it may not have even been out of beta yet. I am still “playing” WoW currently, but it’s in the same way I play Clash of Clans: short bursts of activity to kill time, because apparently I’m going to live forever and have no standards. Or perhaps it’s because if I devoted the whole of my free time to one game, I’d probably clear three games a week, and the corresponding post-game depression phase three times. No thanks.

Still, what does that really say about me, and presumably us, that we aren’t simply playing these games full-time? That we could conceivably be playing them for 10+ years, but would rather not to? Obviously the intensity of a novel experience is higher with new games, so it makes sense that we enjoy playing the newer ones more (at least for a while). But here are these other games which clearly are mechanically superior in a replayability sense and we, or I, don’t seem to care. Until we’re in jail, anyway.

In any case, I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ choices in these two scenarios. For me, it’s Minecraft for the first, then Minecraft, WoW, and Counter-Strike for the second. I thought about swapping Magic Online with Minecraft in the second set, but the $30/month limit, while arbitrary, still wouldn’t cover hardly any reasonable amount of gametime.

Age of the MOBA

According to EEDAR, by the end of 2015 MOBAs will generate more revenue than (F2P) MMORPGs in the North American market:

"Meteoric" pretty much covers it.

“Meteoric” pretty much covers it.

The difference is small – $501m vs $499m – but it’s impressive nonetheless for a genre that didn’t (formally) exist five years ago.

One thing is for certain though: MOBAs are the “new” hotness and are poised to overtake F2P MMOs either this year, or Soon™ in any case. Which is a fascinating turn of events for someone who really has less than zero interest in MOBAs specifically. Indeed, nearly every mechanic that make MOBAs “deep” are the same mechanics that make many MMOs terrible. For example, the whole Last Hit mechanic. Or having over a hundred different characters, many of whom are direct counters to others, requiring one to memorize a truly voluminous amount of minutia to succeed. You thought the whole Raid Dance memorization was dumb? Just wait until you spend time researching dozens of characters who don’t even get picked. Oh, and hey, I heard you like 40+ minute LFG fights were you (ideally) lose 50% of the time.

On the other hand, in the Venn Diagram for MOBA and MMO I wonder how much overlap there really is. Did some people leave WoW for League of Legends? What did they find on the one end that they did not on the other? Perhaps nothing, and the audiences are from two entirely different sources. Which really doesn’t answer the question of where the MOBA audience came from. Is this an entirely different generation of gamer coming to age during the rise of MOBAs? Or was this a deep pool of potential players who hitherto weren’t being serviced by existing products?

Maybe the answer is less complicated than I am making it out to be: MOBA players seemingly sprang from the earth because it’s all F2P. Easy to get into, easy to get hooked, and then easy to get monetized. As revenues approach half a billion dollars in NA alone though, this clearly is not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. Despite the MOBA saturation, revenue still increase almost 20% last year, according to the chart. You will undoubtedly have winners and losers in the market, but MOBAs are here to stay.

Which is… well, good for them. I’m going to play something else.

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.

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.

Dynamic vs Random

Keen has another post up lamenting the stagnant nature of modern MMO game design, while suggesting devs should instead be using ideas from games that came out 15+ years ago and nobody plays today. Uh… huh. This time the topic is mob AI and how things would be so much better if mobs behaved randomly dynamically!

Another idea for improving mob AI was more along the lines of unpredictable elements influencing monster behavior. “A long list of random hidden stats would affect how mobs interact. Using the orc example again, one lone orc that spots three players may attack if his strength and bravery stats are high while intelligence is low. A different orc may gather friends.” I love the idea of having visible cues for these traits such as bigger orcs probably having more bravery, and scrawny orcs having more magical abilities or intelligence — intelligence would likely mean getting friends before charging in alone.

The big problem with dynamic behavior in games is that it’s often indistinguishable from random behavior from the player’s perspective. One of the examples from Keen’s post is about having orcs with “hidden stats” like Bravery vs Intelligence that govern whether they fight against multiple players or call for backup. Why bother? Unless players have a Scan spell or something, there is no difference between carefully-structured AI behavior and rolling a d20 to determine whether an orc runs away. Nevermind how the triggers being visible (via Scan or visual cues) undermine all sense of dynamism. Big orc? Probably not running away. If the orc does run away, that’s just bad RNG.

There is no way past this paradox. If you know how they are going to react based on programming logic, the behavior is not unpredictable. If the behavior is unpredictable, even if it’s governed by hidden logic, it is indistinguishable from pure randomness. Besides, the two absolute worst mob behaviors in any game are A) when mobs run away at low health to chain into other mobs, and B) when there is no sense to their actions. Both of which are exactly what is being advocated for here.

I consider the topic of AI in games generally to be one of those subtle designer/player traps. It is trivially easy to create an opponent that a human player could never win against. Creating an opponent that taxes a player to their limit (and not beyond) is much more difficult, and the extent to which a player can be taxed varies by the player. From a defeated player’s perspective, there is no difference between an enemy they aren’t skilled enough to beat and an unbeatable enemy.

You have to ask yourself what you, as a hypothetical designer, are actually trying to accomplish. That answer should be “to have my intended audience have fun.” Unpredictable and tough mobs can be fun for someone somewhere, sure, but as Wildstar is demonstrating, perhaps that doesn’t actually include all that many people. Having to memorize 10+ minute raid dances is bad enough without tacking convoluted mob behavior outside of raids on top. Sometimes you just want to kill shit via a fun combat system.

Themepark MMO players enjoy simple, repetitive tasks – news at 11.

Dailies and Long-Term Engagement

In terms of creating an incentive to play, I believe that things like Daily Quests and other log-in rewards are extremely effective. That being said, I also believe it is an open question as to whether such incentives come at the expense of long-term engagement with the game. At least, those are my thoughts after reading the long thorough post by Torvald that is making the rounds.

Players are logging on, feel compelled to go through their Garrison chores, getting those rewards that are placed right in front of them… Even though that very content is not fun and drains their stamina for engaging in other content. It reduces their stamina for engaging in other activities that absolutely require large blocks of time to give a reasonable hope of success. And for activites that don’t absolutely require large blocks of time, so many of those lack structure that the player defaults to assigning them large blocks of time for what it would require to be “worth it” (i.e. very few players want to make a trip for an unstructured rep grind just to grind for 15 minutes).

In this situation, Torvald is talking about WoW players who say “there’s nothing to do” despite there arguably being more things to do than ever before. A player feels like they have to complete the Garrison stuff immediately, lest they forever lose the reward and fall behind. And that is a sentiment that I 100% can relate to in expansions past. Remember the Tournament dailies in Wrath of the Lich King? Or Jewelcrafting dailies? The end goal required X amount of days to reach with few (or no) catch-up mechanisms, so each day you skipped doing them added that much more time to completion.

There is absolutely no question that I logged onto WoW some days solely to do daily quests. Similarly, there is no question that on the days where I logged on just to do dailies that I sometimes ended up hanging out with friends. So, in essence, the daily quests worked in making social situations possible. After all, the death knell of any MMO starts ringing when you no longer feel compelled to log on.

But I can totally feel the other side of this too. When you think about MMO burnout, what is the image in your mind? Did it come from the activities you found fun in the moment? Or did it come from the sense of crushing obligation? If you are having fun every time you play, is burnout even possible?

I hesitate to say that dailies are not fun generally, as I personally find satisfaction in the completion of even mundane tasks. I also enjoy the sense of character progression and the working towards a long-term goal. That said, dailies do in fact take up a non-inconsequential amount of limited play time. If you spend “just” 30 minutes on chores, how much time do you have left for other activities? And how do you avoid the sense of loss (i.e. opportunity cost) that derives from not completing dailies and letting those easy rewards go?

I do not know if there is a solution. The one offered by Torvald is to essentially reduce the number of Garrison chores directly, and then make the remaining ones take longer than a day (e.g. Weekly quests). I did enjoy when WoW experimented with allowing you to complete a full week’s worth of dungeon dailies in a single session, as that allowed you the freedom to either work on other projects guilt-free or only to log on the weekends and still remain somewhat competitive. Then again, I’m not entirely sure how healthy plowing through that many dungeon dailies on Reset Day really was.

It might be cute to suggest “no dailies” but I’m not sure we can really go back. At a minimum, other games will have daily quests and I know people who log onto them to get those easy rewards before logging off and playing the game without dailies. That scenario “drains your stamina” just the same as if the daily-less game had them.

I’m not sure there is a solution here other than the one I’m currently employing: not playing MMOs. Of course, Dragon Age: Inquisition has War Table timer-based quests now too. You just can’t escape.

More Hearthstone Revenue Speculation

Because two posts aren’t enough!

Actually, the real reason is because during the comment back-n-forth with Syncaine, Wilhelm mentioned something I had never realized before: Blizzard actually does post revenue numbers for just World of Warcraft. You can follow along at home by navigating to the Activision Blizzard Investor page and the Q4 2014 Excel document entitled 12-Quarter Financial Model. On the Rev Mix by Platform tab, you get the following (edited) table:

Numbers.

Numbers.

The asterisk indicates that “Online” revenue solely has to do with WoW related subscriptions and services. So for 2014 WoW raked in $1.035 billion. Interestingly enough, this point of reference allows us to flip back to the NR and OI by Segment tab, which breaks down total revenue for just Blizzard (again, chart edited):

More numbers.

More numbers.

Apparently you can get a much easier summation of the above information from this PDF, which I only realized after the fact.

So, for 2014 Blizzard made $685m in non-WoW revenue. For the curious, those non-WoW figures were $319m in 2013 and $538m in 2012. As far as I know, only the Diablo 3 expansion and Hearthstone were notable releases in 2014, although obviously there is X amount of revenue coming in from incidental sales of D3, Starcraft, and such.

I was unable to find exact figures of total Reaper of Souls sales other than 2.7 million copies in the first week. Assuming $40 apiece, that lowers Hearthstone’s possible share by another $108m at a minimum. If the opening paragraphs of D3’s Wikipedia page can be believed, the original game has sold 15 million copies. Combined with news that D3 + expac sold 20 million altogether as of August 2014, that pushes the Diablo portion to $200m, minimum.

Going back to what we know, the Hearthstone revenue formulas are thus:

  • [Hearthstone] = $850m – [$500m+ Destiny], or
  • [Hearthstone] = $685m – [$200m+ non-WoW]

Incidentally, most of the Destiny reporting says it achieved $500m in revenue on Day 1. That’s not actually true – there was $500m in shipped product, but only $325m in actually-sold games in the first five days of release. Or about 5 million units, physical and digital. There are two near-as-we-can-tell figures that incorporate all of 2014: VGChartz’s 9.3 million units and 13 million unique players as of Christmas. Depending on how charitable you wish to be, that range is either $558m to $780m (@$60/copy), or $604.5m to $845m (@$65 average/copy). Which means Hearthstone is anywhere from $292m to… er, $5m.

I think I heard Syncaine fall off his chair from here.

All told, I still feel it’s entirely possible that Hearthstone made at least $100m in 2014, if not $200m. That’s a quite a reduction from my earlier post vis-a-vis $350m for Hearthstone, of course. And I’m fine with that in light of this new information; if I’m factually incorrect, then I will acknowledge it and move on. My only real horse in this fight is the ridiculously specious argument that A) Hearthstone is a mobile port, and B) it’s not that successful. Not only does current reality defy A, in terms of B it’s entirely possible Hearthstone (eventually?) outstrips Magic: the Gathering in yearly revenue.

Either way, not bad for a card game that came out of nowhere.

Or Maybe We Won’t See

Once again, Blizzard has buckled under the weight of people giving them money:

#ZerothWorldProblems

#ZerothWorldProblems

I would call something like this unprecedented, but I suppose I have experienced something similar firsthand back when Guild Wars 2 came out (Jesus, was it really 2.5 years ago?). I mean, it’s one thing to take people’s money and then not let them play because the servers are on fire; it’s something else entirely to not take the money in the first place.

In related news, someone on Reddit provided the following Twitch screenshot:

Rather unprecedented.

Rather unprecedented, I think.

In case that’s hard to see, it says Hearthstone had 190,704 viewers on Twitch.tv – higher than the next two games combined, which were… League of Legends and WoW. At the time I’m writing this post, it has decreased to ~86k viewers, but it’s still beating out LoL by a few thousand. New expansion and all, sure, but that’s still not a bad performance for a “casual app with a PC port.”

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