Two years ago, I talked about countering toxicity via intentional game design. The example was Hearthstone, which continues to be relatively accessible and innocuous. Blizzard accomplished this by limiting non-friend player interaction to a handful of emotes. Granted, a whole new implicit language of BM (bad manners) has developed in the meantime, but there is both a timer attached to the emotes and, crucially, the ability to disable them from your opponent.
I bring this up for two reasons.
The first is that Supercell finally came out and addressed the rampant trolling emote spam that takes place in Clash Royale. And by rampant, I mean I get surprised when I do not see gloating emotes during a game. Supercell’s response? Trolling helps their bottom line:
The same principle – evoking strong emotions – is at the heart of why we’re not planning to implement a mute option. Emotes are loved by some and hated by others – even within the Clash Royale team! We believe these strong emotions are integral to the core of the game.
Clash Royale is not a single player game and shouldn’t feel like one. Emotes are an important reminder that you’re facing another human being – maybe they’re a nice guy, maybe they’re not – but there’s a person at the other end of the Arena and not a robot. You can communicate with them and they can respond, regardless of language or cultural barriers.
Given advancements in AI, it’s possible we’re already playing against robots.
Now, Supercell didn’t come out and say that this helps their bottom line, but… it does. Get spammed with emotes, get tilted, lose, then you buy a bunch of gems to unlock more shit. Or win against impossible odds, feel good, buy some gems. It’s all the same. Which is fine, whatever. But I still fail to see how adding the option, buried in the menus somewhere, to mute emotes automatically isn’t possible or would affect one goddamn thing other than the trolls.
The second reason I brought up Hearthstone is because, as I’ve mentioned before, Overwatch makes me salty. And what makes it worse is the direct communication feature between teams. Again, what possible good exists in letting Team A talk to Team B? Because what I mostly see is stuff like this:
Honestly, this is downright mild in comparison to the “die in a fire” and worse from the earlier days of gaming. Or probably current days of gaming if you’re a woman and have a microphone.
But the more time passes, the less value I see in having much in the way of communication at all in these sort of games. In MMOs? Yes, of course, there is a need to build social bonds and such. Nobody is building anything with emotes in Clash Royale other than ulcers and kidney stones. Nor with chatting in Overwatch, really. So… why have them in these games? Habit alone?
Unless, of course, your business model is based on exploitative psychology.
One of the more interesting complaints I’ve heard about Overwatch is that of its microtransactions. Specifically, the only ones it has: loot boxes. It’s true, you can indeed purchase loot boxes:
I find the complaint interesting because Blizzard has opted for the Hearthstone model when it comes to loot. Specifically, the items you receive are random, but duplicate items are converted to a currency that you can in turn use to purchase your exact desire. If said desire is a Legendary skin – which, let’s face it, is pretty much what everyone wants – it costs a maximum of 1000 currency.
I just hit level
30 50 the other night, which means I have opened a total of 30 50 loot boxes. After level 20, the XP required to get to the next level stays the same at 22,000 XP, and there is no level cap. There are a smattering of bonuses depending on match performance, but the biggest award is typically based on time spent in the match. Generally speaking, then, I’d say that you can average around 2200 XP per match, which takes ~10 minutes apiece, so… 1.5 hours of gameplay per box.
Given the above… how egregious are Overwatch’s loot boxes, really? One faction might suggest any microtransactions at all in a B2P game is too many. Another faction wants the ability to just purchase the skins they want. Another more bizarre faction laments the random nature of the loot boxes and what that means in terms of how long it takes to collect all the things.
And I get it. Sorta. But just like in Hearthstone, this is by far the most fair random loot box scheme that is likely possible. Most other games would be 100% fine with giving you useless duplicates, making it possible you never received anything you wanted. I’m not sure a middle way – such as loot boxes + the option to buy game currency – would really work economically, but I suppose that would be more fair.
In any case, of all the things one might criticize Overwatch about, I do not believe the loot boxes deserve to number among them.
I was reading a recent article from Murphy regarding MMOs needing to be more social, and he gave a few different approaches. This part in particular stuck out to me:
Final Fantasy XIV’s commendations are a great start, but I think those could be turned up to 11. Promote adding strangers to your friends list or repeat grouping with others. Create a more prominent reputation system so players are more aware of how the server views them.
When trying to visualize how MMOs could do the above, my mind wandered to Overwatch’s end-of-game cards. Those cards are not a perfect system by any means, but it is always nice on those rare occasions to be recognized for your contribution.
Of course, that screenshot also demonstrates the other side of being “social.” Read the chat box.
Then it finally struck me why Overwatch makes me so damn salty: this is a group-based game. Of course, right? But think about it. Imagine every failed dungeon run you’ve had, where the Rogue kept drawing aggro trying to Sap, where the Mage refused to Sheep, where the Hunter had on Aspect of the Pack the entire goddamn time, and so on.
That is Overwatch.
Every time you start a map and four people immediately pick DPS classes. Every time you feel obligated to pick a tank/healer character, for the Nth time that night. Every time you take on that literally thankless mantle and those same DPS derp it up the whole match, leaving you to die. When your teammates waste their Ultimate abilities killing one guy they chased into a room a thousand feet away from the payload. When no one is willing to change characters to counter the enemy’s composition, and you can’t because that means there won’t be a tank/healer anymore.
That is Overwatch.
In larger games like Battlefield 4, things sometimes hinge on the outcome of small engagements, but mostly it is an aggregate struggle across a 20 minute fight. Overwatch is much more intimate, like a 6-player dungeon. And whereas I could content myself with a high Support score in BF4 (revives score just as high as kills), Overwatch provides no such relief. The only scoreboard you have access to is your own. If you are lucky, you might get that card at the end of the match, but it’s fairly irrelevant by that time. And moreover, it’s a cold comfort when you lose.
For the record, I do believe a commendation system would be useful in MMOs, Overwatch, and basically any game. On the other hand, just like in real life, reputation is a function of the size of your social circle. If there are a million people cycling through the LFD queue, the 500 or so you’ll encounter is a rounding error. If you want to queue with the good players again, you’re going to have to do more than give them a commendation; you’re going to have to give them a friend request.
Minecraft has sold over 100 million copies. In 2016, the average rate of new sales was 53,000 per day. That’s… pretty big. Here is part of the infographic Mojang posted:
The above infographic really surprised me though, for several reasons. As I pointed out in January of last year, the Minecraft stats we had circa June 2014 were the following:
- PC/Mac: 15 Million
- 360: 12 Million
- PS3: 3 Million
- iOS/Android (Pocket Edition): 16.5 Million
But look at the infographic again. Actual PC sales of Minecraft is just a small fraction of total sales, which was the trend we saw already happening in 2014. If you average the PC sales together, you only get about 23% of total. Which, if you math it out, means PC/MAC sales have been ~9,577,735 in the last two years (106,859,714 * 0.23 – 15,000,000). Or roughly 13,120 sales per day on PC.
The reason I bring this up is due to a recent post by SynCaine. His thesis is:
The bigger point here though, as it relates to MMOs, is that this is a very important date point related to the “Everyone who wanted to play WoW already has it” talking point and how it relates to the failures of the game from WotLK and beyond. Minecraft has a much larger user base than WoW, yet it’s still attracting a horde of new players daily, so why do some people think WoW is a special snowflake and had/has tapped out the market?
In other words, “how can market saturation exist if Minecraft is still doing so well?”
Wilhelm deconstructs the argument pretty thoroughly already, but I wanted to spend a moment, again, to remind people about big numbers. Specifically, the extremely likely chance that WoW is selling more copies per day than Minecraft is on PC. Yes, even now, in the nadir of Warlords.
The two questions you need to ask yourself are 1) what is WoW’s current population, and 2) what is its churn rate (i.e. percent of players that cycle out per month). Historically, the churn rate of WoW was 5%. Is it higher now? Probably. So, to throw out two numbers, let’s assume that WoW is holding steady at 5.5 million subs at a 10% churn rate. That means WoW needs to sell 18,333 new subscriptions a day, just to keep pace.
WoW is losing subscribers these days, of course. Since the numbers are no longer being reported, we may never know how many. But let’s do some sanity checks. The last reported sub number was 5.5 million in September 2015. As already noted, maintaining that number would require 18,333 new subs a day. But WoW probably isn’t maintaining anything – it’s losing customers. Rather than be arbitrary, let’s assume it’s “only” getting something like, oh, 13,120/day.
18,333 – 13,120 = 5,213 * 30 * 9 = 1,407,510
Do you believe WoW is currently at ~4.1 million subs or less? If not, hey, it’s still selling more boxes daily than Minecraft on PC.
In the comments to his post, SynCaine pointed out that since WoW is in decline, we can’t actually say that 100% of the churn are new players coming in. Er… okay. That’s not how churn (or reality) works, but let’s roll with that. What is the population at then? The same 4 million-some? Zero new players and 1.4 million vets burning out in the last 9 months? That’s an average of 156,390 per month, which equals a churn rate between 2.8-3.8%. Meaning this dead period of Warlords retains players better than vanilla or TBC ever did.
Granted, the reality is probably somewhere inbetween there. Still, big numbers are big.
No. The answer to a question in a headline is always no.
I was made aware of the “Fandom is Broken” article from a Twitter push notification, which immediately reminded me that I should really delete the app. Then I read the article. Which starts off with, of all things, a “lesson” from the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle.
“This isn’t really a new thing – way back in 2012 I named Annie Wilkes the Patron Saint of Fandom after the childish, ridiculous uproar over the ending of Mass Effect 3. What I couldn’t have known in 2012 was that the Mass Effect uprising was just a preview of the main event; that tantrum happened under the auspices of being a ‘consumer revolt,’ which would be the same kind of language behind which terrorist hate group GamerGate still hides. And in the years since Mass Effect 3 it seems as if the crazy has been ramping up, and as the wall dividing creators and fans gets ever thinner with each new social media platform the number of voices being raised has grown.
The article gets worse from there, with a meandering diatribe vaguely conflating consumer entitlement with the rise (?) of Twitter death threats to game/movie/etc creators. But by far, the most puzzling element of the article is this part:
The corporatized nature of the stories we consume has led fans – already having a hard time understanding the idea of an artist’s vision – to assume almost total ownership of the stuff they love. And I use that word ownership in a very specific sense – these people see themselves as consumers as much as they see themselves as fans. This is what the “Retake Mass Effect” movement was foreshadowing. They see these stories as products.
Of course these games/movies/books have been products. They have always been products. If there has ever been an inflection point at which “artistic vision” meant anything, it died the moment the creator cared about the people who consumed the art at all. Focus groups? PR departments? Franchise opportunities? All of that calls into question “artistic vision,” decades (if not centuries) before Twitter ever became a thing.
And, really, let me take a moment to say how much of a bullshit weasel-word “artistic vision” is to begin with. It conjures into being a sacrosanct defense that apparently renders the artist immune to criticism or critique. One should not point out the many plotholes of the original Mass Effect 3 ending, because apparently the half-assed nature of it was intended. And how do we know it was intended? Because the artist released it like that. So, ispo facto, that’s the vision. If you think it’s bad or could have been better, you’re entitled!
When Bioware released the expanded endings, however, that apparently isn’t “artistic vision,” so tainted was it by the unruly demands of the unwashed masses. Or maybe Bioware was just embarrassed enough from being called out on their bullshit and decided to finish what they started. Or maybe Bioware was just concerned about future Mass Effect: Andromeda sales.
That there is the rub, of course. Fans are more connected to creators these days not because of the means and mediums, but because the creators make themselves more available. And why do they do that? Because they want that feedback, they want to foster that investment, because they want to stoke the engines of the hype train to ever greater levels. Sometimes that works. Sometimes that doesn’t, as the creators of No Man’s Sky are seeing, as the hype train is late pulling into the station.
In any case, it is regrettable that death threats are being thrown about. Nobody really deserves those, and anyone who sends them should be punished accordingly. But… they are also largely unavoidable these days. If 99.99% of a given, million-strong fandom are perfectly rational people, that still means there are 100 people spewing bile directly into your Inbox. Which is a lot of people! And as long as Twitter continues being a platform basically dedicated to consequence-free instant abuse, I don’t know what the solution is.
I can tell you what isn’t the problem is though. It’s not the fandom.
I am nearing my end with Clash Royale. And not by choice.
One thing to note about Clash Royale is that it, like many games, is very rewarding right away. You get free treasure chests every four hours, with a maximum stack of two. Every eight hours, you can request cards from your clan. You have four slots for treasure chests from winning games. Every X hours, you have a Crown Chest that you unlock by accumulating 10 crowns (from destroying towers). My play pattern basically means I’m opening 1-2 chests every time I boot up the game.
The problem is you run into a very real payslope eventually.
I have been “stuck” in the Royal Arena 7 for going on a month now (or more). My highest trophy count is 2575, which is still pretty far from hitting the last Arena level. But for the most part… I don’t care about that, since nothing new unlocks at Arena 8.
In the meantime, day after day, I open chests and get the same rares/common cards. Upgrading from level 8 commons/level 6 rares to the next higher level is something that takes weeks-worth of gold, for only very marginal gains comparatively.
But it’s not even about that either. My progression is stuck. Here is my setup:
It is essentially a Judo deck – a reactive deck that relies on countering my opponent’s push and then winning via superior plays. It lacks the sheer ridiculous power of some other deck openers, but it is decently resilient, as evidenced by my trophy levels. Could I use other cards? Maybe. My only level 3 epics though are Freeze, Crossbow, and Mirror. Meanwhile, everyone I face seems to have level 3+ relevant epics and legendary cards. I keep thinking that if I were to get Prince up to level 3 or Balloon or something, that would provide enough of an incentive for me to change my deck.
Then I realized that my little skeleton bomber is a strictly worse Princess or Ice Wizard. All cost 3 elixir, all fill similar roles, but the latter two are (of course) legendary cards that could change the course of games all by themselves. This is a poisonous sort of knowledge though, as each and every chest I open that doesn’t contain a replacement legendary is a waste of time. The expectation that such a legendary will be opened is fallacious, of course, as the odds were remote in the first place, much less that this particular chest will contain one.
And so, here I am.
Most people would say “at least you got 2+ months of entertainment from a mobile app.” That is true. But in experiencing these last MMO-esque gasps yet again… well, it makes me long for the mercy of a quick, definitive end of gameplay. You know, to finish a game before you’re done with it.
Now this is always a nice email surprise:
Title: Your account has been deleted!
Your HEX account has been permanently deleted. We hope you had a fun time in the world of Entrath.
Maybe you’d like to continue your adventure in the future?
Then visit us at http://hex.gameforge.com/.
We hope to see you again one day.
The HEX Team
And if you’re wondering, yes, it’s legit. Getting bought by a German company is serious business.
Almost exactly three years ago, I backed Hex on Kickstarter to the tune of $85. That remains one of the dumbest game-related purchases I have ever made, and not just because Hearthstone came onto the scene three months later and sucked all the oxygen out of the digital CCG room.
Looking through my archives, I don’t see many posts about Hex. Which sort of makes sense, as I believe I only really played it twice in the last three years. The first time was a session that lasted just long enough for me to realize that the card browser was a hideous mess and having to press Pass Priority a million times – an unfortunate feature just as shameless stolen from Magic Online as everything else – was not the future I wanted to live in.
I tried again about a year later, noted little improvement, found out that they were already releasing the third (or fourth) expansion set, and realized that my unopened Kickstarter packs were likely worth even less, assuming they were worth anything to begin with. Supposedly there is PvE now, but facing the prospect of needing to throw in additional dollars just to do basic stuff like drafting and seemed absurd in a post-Hearthstone world. Yeah, Hearthstone does have the option to charge you, but I haven’t been spending a dime to play in almost a year. In this game space, that’s a big deal.
In any case, I have not been back to Hex since then. And apparently I never will.
[Fake Edit] Word on the street now is that they are rolling back all the deletions, as it seems there was a “glitch” in the notifications that got sent out. Or didn’t get sent out, as the case may be. Glad everyone has the opportunity to download the client, accept the ToS, and promptly uninstall the game for another three years.
I was in a mood for a new roguelike for those times when you want to play something for 10 minutes (but end up spending 2 hours), so I picked up Dungeon of the Endless. After finally completing the first ship on Too Easy mode – having died a dozen times in frustrating ways on Easy mode (only two options at the start) – I’m not sure that I’m up to playing any more.
The core mechanics to this game are actually really novel and layered. The goal is to open new rooms until you find the exit, then move the crystal to said exit. Each time you open a door though, you trigger a Tower Defense-esque round where enemies may or may not pour from every unpowered room that you have discovered (unless characters are parked in those rooms). You can power and unpower rooms at will, but are limited to a certain number of powered rooms based on your Dust level. Dust is discovered by opening rooms and killing enemies.
Additionally, each door that gets opened gives you X amount of Industry, Science, and Food, which can be augmented by building components in powered rooms. Oh, and there are defenses you can place, new tech to research, items to equip, your characters can level up by using Food, and so on.
If it sounds complicated… it actually isn’t, amazingly. While you can order your characters (up to four) around, you can only tell them to go to given rooms; they attack automatically. Eventually you can unlock extra abilities, which generally last less than 10 seconds and thereafter take 2-3 rooms to recharge. You can sometimes get clever combos going, but it’s mostly panic button stuff.
What ends up being frustrating though, is how the game sorta becomes more of a Press Your Luck game than roguelike. Your accumulated resources carry over to each new floor, so there is always a tension between placing defenses (which cost Industry) to be extra safe, and/or just going for the exit, and/or opening a few more rooms to get some more resources/items. You can sometimes get screwed going the extra mile with Binding of Isaac or FTL encounters, but for the most part your twitch gameplay skills can save you. With Dungeon of the Endless though, there is a thin margin between being okay and getting slaughtered. Since everything is practically automated – you cannot choose which alien your characters shoot at – there isn’t much you can do when you get a gang of suicide enemies amongst cannon fodder or tanky enemies.
Hell, I’ve played the game for 10 hours now and I don’t know what the suicide enemies look like. This is definitely one of the those “discover on your own look up everything in the Wiki” games.
I dunno. I may play a little bit more to see if I’m just not grokking the experience. With Binding of Isaac and especially FTL, getting that “Aha!” moment was both sudden and mind-blowing in terms of how much further I could go. I’m not sure the same is possible here, but we’ll see.
Since writing the above, I played for another 5-10 hours and my conclusions are basically the same. I feel like I understand the essential essence of the game… but there isn’t anything I can do when things like this happen:
Opened 23 doors, still didn’t discover the randomly placed exit. GG. Since monster waves get worse and worse the more doors you open, there was literally nothing I could have done here. Other than chose to go south and west first, back when my map was blank.
Play perfectly and still get randomly screwed? Yeah, welcome to roguelikes. But in most other ones, I feel like you have room to improve your own skills. In this instance, my RNG was the only meaningful skill I was lacking.
This game is definitely going straight in my Steam graveyard category.
There is an interesting post up over at MMOBro asking whether or not Overwatch is missing the mark. The conclusion Tyler comes to is this:
For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.
Having spent the last week playing Overwatch 2-5 hours a day, I am inclined to agree.
Most of the criticisms brought up by Tyler are legit. While single-player campaigns in games like COD and Battlefield are generally superfluous, they are value propositions and used extensively to sell boxes via commercials. Blizzard appears to be treating Overwatch more like a MOBA in the sense that they are crafting a lore-rich story and intricate characters that have nothing at all to do with the game itself. Or maybe the straight Team Fortress 2 comparison is more apt.
Regardless, it does feel a bit jarring to have all these production values without a production.
Also, it is very much true that Overwatch is not a particularly welcoming game. The average Time-To-Kill varies, but it very often can be “Instantly.” Junkrat and Reaper can often kill 3+ people practically out of nowhere with their Ultimates, which is kind of a big deal in 6v6 matches.
Indeed, the team size is small enough that a skilled veteran can often single-handedly lock down a match by themselves or a complete noob on your side can result in a demoralizing, grinding loss in an otherwise even match. I’m not sure what kind of matchmaking Blizzard had active during the Beta (assuming they had anything at all), but it didn’t seem to be working that well. The fact that the teams stay the same from match to match (there is no team shuffling) just encourages people to bail to try and find a different server with the possibility of a better team, which just increases the queues for everyone.
Having said that… this is technically still beta. One of the criticisms from Tyler was:
That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.
This is not entirely true.
In fact, if there is contrary info out there, I’d like to know where, because Kaplan has said this:
Yes. The version you are playing now is what will go live at launch (there will be some bug fixes etc…). We also have Competitive Play, which was a feature that was live in Closed Beta. We removed it from Open Beta because we received a ton of great feedback on how to improve the system. We had a tough choice. It would have been awesome to have the feature in for Open Beta and Launch. But we felt like we could really improve on some things so we opted to have the feature come out shortly after launch. We’re hoping that our efforts in the Closed Beta to try to get things done quickly and at high quality aren’t lost on our community — but we also never want to sacrifice the quality of the game by putting something live that isn’t up to our standards.
We’re also working on a TON of post-launch features and content. It’s going to be a pretty amazing summer…
Indeed, Overwatch has borrowed Hearthstone’s Brawl mechanic in which there is a weekly mode with “crazy” new rules. This past week it was random hero selection upon death, and the ability to switch heroes disabled. Not only was this a brilliant, relatively stress-free way to experience characters you might feel bad for picking in a normal match, if Hearthstone is any indication, it is also a test-bed for future mechanics.
Just think about how much live data Blizzard could pull from any given match, in terms of whether stacking three Roadhogs was effective given X or Y factors. Seems dumb now, but maybe that very thing will inform a future, more robust AI for bots down the road. Or when the Brawl from before was normal Overwatch but 75% shorter cooldowns.
Far-fetched? You be the judge:
So, in the final before-launch analysis, I conclude that… Overwatch is fun. I wish I was playing it right now. Assuming that Blizzard fixes the matchmaking and horrible DC experiences, it will absolutely become a part of my “I don’t know what to play right now” rotation. You can easily get four matches done in 30 minutes, which starts to make you wonder if Blizzard’s master plan (assuming there is one) is to fill in the holes in WoW’s design with other games. Waiting for dungeon queue? Play some Overwatch. Which is absolutely easier to jump in and out of than Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm.
However, much in the way that raiding isn’t for everyone, neither is Overwatch. If you are John Q Casual, there isn’t much for you to do (at the moment). The scope of the Battlefield series is such that you could always tag along a squad as a medic or supply guy and generally not be nuisance while rendering material assistance to your team. In Overwatch? You’re a straight liability, even if you are a healer. Especially if you are a healer. Because the better players might assume you’re competent and not pull a healer themselves.
So as I mentioned before, I agree with Tyler. If you’re looking for quick bursts of kinda frustrating, often amusing FPS action, Overwatch is pretty damn good. Just make sure that is what you’re looking for before you throw down $40/$60.