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Relative Value of Money

Gaming has gotten pretty complicated for me these days.

The annoying part of this situation is that the complication is all by design. Clash Royale recently celebrated its 1-year anniversary, for example, which means I have been playing this mobile game off-and-on for about a year. Just the other day they teased a “one time sale” that included 100,000g and a Magical Chest for roughly $25. At the stage of development I’m at in the game, that amount of gold would effectively allow me to upgrade two units. Two. For $25.

And I was seriously considering it.

The only real thing that stopped me was that the deal wasn’t as good as the prior deals I did take advantage of. The $25 thing was only a “x4 value” whereas I dropped $25 on a different package several months ago that was a x10 value. At the time, it offered a rather significant boost of power, and allowed me to finally snag an Ice Wizard, which I have used in every deck to this day. Conversely, it is not entirely clear that upgrading two units for 100,000g would see similar returns.

In addition to Clash, I am playing three separate gacha-esque games with similar payment models. Four, technically, if you include Fire Emblem: Heroes in there. I haven’t spent near as much in those as I have in Clash, but I do boot them up every single day for the feeling of incremental progression. And all of them are offering “amazing” deals for $10, $25, even $99.

Then look what happened with WoW. There is currently a “sale” on character services, which means it “only” costs $18.75 for server transfers. Since I had over $180 in Blizzard Bux from cashing in WoW Tokens, I decided to use some of those funds to move the survivors of Auchindoun-US over to Sargeras-US. Moved about four toons thus far, and thinking of a fifth. That’s $75 already. Not $75 from my bank account per se, but I could have nearly bought StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void and 50 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion with that same amount of funds.

All of this is why I take a somewhat adversarial stance with game designers. If these were all B2P games, we would not be having this discussion; instead I would be lamenting about how there aren’t enough hours in the day to play all these great games. Instead I’m talking about services within a game, or progression boosters, any of which are more expensive than actual, other games. I just bought Mass Effect: Andromeda from GMG for $41 and some change. That’s roughly two character transfers in WoW, or a few unit upgrades in Clash Royal.

Now, there’s the argument that there aren’t that many games you could even play for a whole year and not tire of. Doesn’t Clash Royal deserve my money for how much amusement it has generated? Isn’t plopping down some cash on these games technically cheaper than paying full price for new releases every few weeks/months anyway?

I think those are the wrong questions, and intentionally engineered to take advantage of cognitive dissonance. Because we aren’t asking those questions up front – we are asking them after having “invested” dozens (or hundreds) of hours into the game. If you told me at the beginning that it took 50,000g to upgrade units in Clash Royal, I would have balked. But having stewed in a pot of nearly boiling water for a year, it all seems reasonable. “Of course it makes sense that I used to get upgrades every three days, and now only get one a month.” Not really, no.

(Especially not when they end up nerfing units a month later. No refunds here.)

The value of money is mostly relative. Going from making $20k to $30k is life-changing, whereas going from $100k to $110k is likely not. However, money is also fungible. Dropping $10 or $25 here and there might make sense in the context of whatever game you are currently playing long-term, but those same dollars could buy anything else.

It is important, IMO, to consider the full picture of what your gaming dollars may or may not be purchasing. A server transfer in an MMO that will save your waning interest may seem a bargain. Hell, it might actually be a bargain in the final analysis. Just be cognizant that the decision should not be “do I spend money or not,” but rather “do I give up X or not.” I decided that two unit upgrades in Clash Royal isn’t worth half a Mass Effect. Framing it this way helps me resist all the fallacies (Sunk Cost, Gambler’s, etc) working on the decision to make it seem reasonable (when it is not), and gives me an answer I can live with.

Maybe your gaming budget is such that you don’t mind dropping hundreds of dollars a month into whatever. In which case, feel free to Paypal some my way, chief. Otherwise, we all have to look out for each other a bit, because the game designers and the in-house psychoanalysts on their payroll certainly are not.

This is TERA

Any time you feel that MMOs like WoW have gotten too silly over the years… well:

Tera_Crazy

This is a thing that can happen.

This is TERA.

Rio My Dinero

Well, the mystery of how Overwatch is going to make money in the future has been revealed:

The new skins, sprays, and so forth come from limited-time-only Summer Games loot crates. Players will receive a free crate upon logging in, but here’s the rub: Summer Games items cannot be purchased with your stockpile of credits, nor can Summer Games items be found in standard loot crates.

In other words, Blizzard has just created a set of new skins for all the characters, and are locking them behind limited-time paywall lootboxes. Specifically want the new Tracer skin? Good luck. You cannot specifically purchase a skin, nor can you craft one with in-game currency.

This particular pivot boggles my mind. Blizzard went from one of the most fair, egalitarian business models I have seen in videogames… to pretty much the worst possible one. Sure, they are just characters skins and “don’t matter.” At the same time, if any of these particular skins did matter to you, then, well, get fucked, I guess.

If this is indicative of Blizzard’s future direction with Overwatch, I just got a lot less interested.

[Fake Edit]: Jeff Kaplan has come out and specified that you can choose to receive a Summer Games lootbox when you earn a lootbox normally, e.g. when gaining levels. Good luck grinding that shit out in three weeks though. Making the in-game currency useless for these time-limited events is still a travesty.

Royale with Cheese

Like with many bloggers, I have been playing Clash Royale for quite a bit lately. It has been an interesting experience – my feelings on the gameplay, the payment structure, and overall package has oscillated wildly, sometimes several times within the same day.

The basic structure of the game is dropping troops to go destroy towers, MOBA creep style. Resource parity (1 elixir per second) and the random nature of “deck” draws (4 cards out of 8) makes for an often nail-biting experience. While I hesitate to use the term CCG, considering there are nearly 50 different cards, Clash Royale does have that seductive element of deck-building and metagame strategy that makes the genre difficult to put down.

ClashRoyale1

I love waiting arbitrary amounts of time.

The game is not without its cheese, however. The reward mechanism are Chests, which are time-released and tied to the general Arena rank you were when you earned them. There are four empty Chest slots to fill, and the shortest timer is 3 hours; you can cap out your Chests in four matches, which can be done in 10 minutes. You can open these chests early with the cash shop currency, of course, or spend dollars buying gold, which is necessary to level up your cards. Cards, incidentally, which are randomly opened from chests.

The random card distribution mechanism is the source of most of my ire these days. There are card rarities, of course, and the Epic cards are some of the most powerful. It isn’t that they are impossible to counter, but rather they need to be countered somewhat immediately. The difference between not having a given Epic card and having one is immense. Getting a 2nd copy will let you level it up to level 2, which is a 10% stat gain. So not only is it possible that you won’t get a powerful Epic troop, you might be facing someone with one that will always win against your own even if you do get one.

The Prince in particular is one I have harped on elsewhere. He costs 5 elixir to deploy and can easily be swarmed with low-HP, high-volume units, sure. But if he isn’t, he deals double-damage on the first hit on your tower, and will often completely destroy it before you can even drop more troops… unless you are specifically pooling elixir to directly counter this strategy. The Giant can also destroy a tower if left alone, but his ponderous gait and inability to deal minion damage means 1-2 skeletons can finish the job. It’s hard to even say that the Prince is a high-risk strategy though, because even if he can be countered by being swarmed, he’s still, you know, a high-damage troop. One that you have to plan around in every single match lest you be taken unawares.

ClashRoyale2

Current deck. Would not recommend this setup.

I continue to play Clash Royale though for a reason that’s somewhat surprising: I can. I still boot up Clash of Clans periodically, but my play is limited to ~3 minutes every 1.5 hours due to the structure of the game. I was originally playing Clash Royale the same way, mentally declaring it a toilet game, e.g. something you only play once you have empty chests available. But… you don’t have to. As Syncaine notes, you can still play and get rewarded with trophies for wins, which eventually pushes you to the next Arena rank, which makes the chests you acquire contain more and better goodies.

After a particularly brutal series of humiliating defeats dropped me out of the Arena 4 bracket though, I realized that hey, it’s actually kinda fun just playing the game and trying different things. You’ll encounter bullshit matches against vastly superior troops, sure. The leveling system structure even means you’ll face opponents who have towers with more HP and damage than your own. But… but! There is literally nothing stopping you from pressing the Battle button again. There is no Energy gauge to limit your screen time to some arbitrary, cash shop optimized level. Getting zero progress rewards does suck and makes my eye twitch with the inefficiency of it all… but, hey, I’m pushing buttons and playing a game.

Which is surprisingly and embarrassingly uncommon for phone games of any genre.

So I say give it a shot, if it sounds interesting to you. The early game experience is kinda terrible I’ll admit – people running around with Princes in Arena 1 and Arena 2 are terrible people – but once you get a handful of epics, the game opens up considerably. Well, as considerable as a two-lane MOBA-esque quasi-CCG can.

Investment Window

It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?

I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.

Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.

All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.

The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.

While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.

So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?

Performance Enhancing F2P

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

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

A bargain at twice the price.

A bargain at twice the price.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the people selling steroids are making bank.

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

This is not even my final form.

This is not even my final form.

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

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

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

Card Hunter’s F2P, Multiplayer, and Potential

Let’s get started.

Multiplayer

As strong as the campaign mode is right now, Card Hunter’s multiplayer is probably going to provide the “long-tail” revenue for the game. Because by “multiplayer,” what they really mean is PvP. The basic setup is pretty simple: your three characters against their three characters in 20-minute matches. Every map I have seen thus far includes Victory Squares (+1 Victory Point per turn that you control it) as well, so the games do not necessarily devolve into simple death-match.

There are some pretty big incentives to give multiplayer a try, even if you aren’t necessarily into that sort of direct competition. Winning your first multiplayer match of the day grants you a chest that has a guaranteed Rare drop, for instance – plus another Rare item if you have a subscription. The reward path after that extends outwards to special Rare chests at 3rd, 7th, 12th, and finally an Epic chest at #20.

Pictured: Not Multiplayer, just a tactical genius at work.

Pictured: Not Multiplayer, just a tactical genius at work.

A particularly clever move on the dev’s part – aside from the subtle push into subscriptions to double your guaranteed rewards – is the fact that if no one is available to play against (at your MMR), you will automatically get into a match against the computer. Which, trust me on this, just as brutal in MP as it is in the normal campaign. Which is awesome.

The downside to multiplayer is the downside to multiplayer everywhere: other people. I have only faced one human opponent thus far and he/she was a perfect gentleman/lady, but the beta forums are awash with concern over how to handle players who intentionally drag out games in attempts to win via boredom. Since the queue time for games visibly increases based on MMR, this is a particularly apt concern. The solution seems to be heading towards a progressively shorter turn timer (2 min, 1 min, 30 seconds) based on a player hitting certain limits, but I’m not entirely sure the full scope of player metagame malevolence is being appreciated here. Unless the triggers are invisible, why not wait until [Trigger – 1 second] to play your card? You know, other than to avoid being an asshole?

It is also worth mentioning that, given Card Hunter is a game about hunting for cards, you will also encounter other people with way better cards than you. The MMR should help with things a bit, but some of your matches are going to suck enormously when your mad tactical skillz are thwarted by a rich moron buoyed up to your MMR by the power of their cards. Speaking of which…

F2P

In talking about Card Hunter’s F2P scheme, there is really only two things to note.

First, my (beta) experience thus far as a non-paying customer has been fantastic. Based on what I have seen, I do not think there is really a paywall or some necessary purchase you cannot do without. Given the game’s incredible difficulty, you might feel tempted to purchase a few bonus chests or otherwise acquire more loot earlier in the game (when you are more restricted by random drops) though. While it is possible this could change as I enter the “endgame” (my party is level 11ish at the moment), it would very much surprise me.

The second thing is that just because you don’t have to spend money in a F2P to have fun, that doesn’t mean that you will get a good value for your money if you do spend. This is, unfortunately, the state I see Card Hunter’s cash shop in right now.

To illustrate the issue, let’s start with the cash shop currency page:

/sigh

/sigh

I will ignore, with difficulty, the fact that there is a $99 option for the cash shop currency. I mean, I guess a 12-month subscription to an MMO would run $180 before discounts and such. But seeing the “best value” option set at $99 tells me that the devs are either A) incredibly optimistic, or B) setting up the game to make make one hundred dollar purchases of things attractive to players.

Gut reactions aside, a better metric of the F2P Evilness Scale is to look at the lower end of things. The minimum buy-in is $5, for example, which raises an eyebrow. What exactly can I purchase with $5? Well…

/doublesigh

/double-sigh

So we have “cosmetic” options which are really just new figurines altogether. Do note though, that purchasing these new figures is the only way to access the other gender options for your race/class. You can purchase new Multiplayer Starter kits, which is the equivalent of a sort of theme deck in a TCG. While you can use your campaign characters in multiplayer – everyone is scaled to the same max level – the huge difference would be the quality of your starting items. There are “treasure hunt” maps which are dungeons that reward guaranteed epic items that you can purchase either individually or collectively with a discount. It wouldn’t be a F2P game without some ($5) lockboxes, of course. You can also straight-up convert leftover pizza into gold at a 5:1 ratio.

I saved the “best” for last, though. Card Hunter has a subscription option whose benefit is receiving one additional item any time you open a treasure chest. You will know about this functionality from the first map onward, because the game will show you exactly what bonus loot you are missing out on every single time. I… suppose that that is alright, in the scheme of things. It doesn’t necessary feel like cash-shop-in-your-face as some other games, even though it technically is.

*twitch*

*twitch*

How much do the subs costs? Basically it will be $10/month (with +30 pizza), or you can get the 3-month subscription for… err… hold on, let me break out the calculator. 850 pizza means $20 (690 pizza) + $5 (150 pizza), which leaves us 10 pizza short.

…excuse me for a second…

Are you fucking kidding me? Ten of your goddamn tokens? Don’t try and tell me that was an accident. This is some Microsoft Points level of intentionally asinine corporate bullshit. Jesus Christ, this is the sort of malicious “trick the customer” design that poisons the entire concept of F2P. If you want to charge me $23.62 for your 3-month subscription, fine, charge it. This ten-hotdogs-eight-buns nonsense has got to go.

Ahem. Where was I?

If you buy the $20 and $10 tiers, you can get the 3-month subscription with 170 pizza left over. That is enough overflow to then pick up one of the epic lockboxes (-150 pizza) and then you are left with 20 pizza… which is, of course, ten pizza away from purchasing the 30 pizza lockbox. About the only scenario that doesn’t leave you with leftover arcade tokens pizza is the $20 buy-in with the 1-month subscription + unlock of the Treasure maps + 3 of the Rare lockboxes. Which is probably alright.

Potential

With Card Hunter as it exists now, I believe most people will likely consume all that they wish to within a month, provided they play on an MMO time-scale. A month is not a bad amount of time at all, especially for how much entertainment value you get at the $0.00 price-point for a game that runs in your browser. Multiplayer might satisfy for a bit longer, but it’s tough imagining that it will provide months and months more content even for those that enjoy tactical games. After all, you will eventually get the strongest items in the game, and that will be that – it’s tough to transition from a state of eagerly anticipating a rare drop to simply having fun playing within the same game, in my experience.

Where things could get potentially crazy is with the Custom game feature. You can, right at this moment in beta, create your own encounters for other players to try. This includes “drawing” your own map and placing monsters. I have not had a chance to dabble with it, but if anything, this is the feature that could spiral Card Hunter out (further) into a class of its own. Imagine creating your own 3-5 battle modules, complete with the sort of D&D sheet in front and pre/post-game writeups. Imagine being able to string several of those along in sequence.

*evil cackle*

*evil cackle*

Or how about going even crazier? Like instead of multiplayer being two people using their parties against each other, imagine one side controlling the monsters. Or allowing multiple players to control the same side, e.g. 3-person teams. All of a sudden, the game stops being a tactical mock-up of old-school D&D and starts being an online version of D&D.

If you are wondering why I see all this potential in Card Hunter and not in other games, the answer is pretty simple: it’s possible. Let me break it down:

  1. Card Hunter is not being made by some large corporation (even if their F2P pricing is similar);
  2. Multiplayer and custom games are already implemented;
  3. The graphical overhead is nil and no voice acting, making additions easy to implement;
  4. The game devs clearly like D&D enough to play such a great homage to it;
  5. Free content that players will likely pay for the privilege to make.

Make DM tools/campaign creation available with a subscription, allow user ratings to separate the wheat from the chaff, pay the successful module creators in Monopoly money pizza currency, and watch the real dollars roll in.

Bam! You’re welcome.

As the PlanetSide Turns…

A few weeks ago, SOE released a new weapon: the pump-action shotgun. New weapons in a F2P game is somewhat expected, with two different SMGs having been released the month before. I am starting to get the impression that a metaphorical corner has been turned with these shotguns though.

The problem? The shotguns offer a one-hit kill (OHK) at ~7 meters and less. A one-bodyhit kill.

It is nothing new that some guns are better at others at various ranges. Bullet damage decreases the farther it travels, and there are wild swings both in terms of Rate of Fire and Bullet Velocity amongst each factions’ arsenals. The difference this time, IMO, is reaction speed. If I see an enemy at the same moment he sees me, the fight comes down to a number of factors. Sometimes pulling the trigger first is the difference, especially when “bullet flinch” (which has thankfully been decreased) can cause your counter-attack to miss its mark. Of course, even if the enemy has a gun advantage over yours, you can still win with either better aim (headshots), luck (headshots), or environmental awareness (ducking behind cover, etc).

With the new pump-action shotguns, this has all changed. The outcome of any encounter is boiled down to a single variable: did the guy with a shotgun miss? If he didn’t, you’re dead. If he did… you’re probably still dead a few moments later. Your gun having a 1.27 second Time-To-Kill is meaningless when the shotgun’s is 0.00 seconds.

If you believe that the short OHK maximum range is a good enough downside, well, I would ask whether you play PlanetSide 2 at all. You see, for however large the “maps” are – and they are extremely huge – all of the infantry action typically takes place within 7 meters anyway. There are medium engagements, sure, but they are either always brief or consist of steady exchanges of fire from cover. The latter is necessary because tanks and jets will murder you in moments if you are spotted on open ground. Ergo, between the need for cover and that all capturable objectives are located in small sheds, a short-ranged weapon is no downside at all; especially not one with such a high payout.

In PlanetSide 2, you are either sniping or in bayonet range.

Honestly, something like this is probably less nefarious than it is inevitable. There are only so many “sidegrades” a design can accommodate before the number of permutations reveal downsides that aren’t downsides at all. Care has to be given to how the game itself plays out most commonly. A 30-second cooldown that increases damage by 10% is not the same as 100% damage cooldown every 5 minutes, no matter what it says on paper. Similarly, a gun with a low rate of fire and a high reload timer is irrelevant in a firefight that ends as soon as it begins.

There undoubtedly would be havoc unleashed should SOE come out and nerf the $7 shotgun, so I am not entirely sure what the solution to this newfound problem can be. Indeed, I have already resolved to purchasing the shotgun myself; not to fight fire with fire, but to eliminate the fire-starter before he can even react to the heat of my flames. The only reason I have hesitated is because, much like the SMG before it, another pump-shotgun variant is slated to be released soon. And it is entirely possible it will be more powerful than the original, which is how it worked out for the Vanu SMG.

Perhaps this new one will hit so hard it kills you again on the respawn. Or shoots explosive shells that damage tanks. Or both. The sky (up to 7 meters) is the limit.

And The Rest

Let’s go ahead and wrap up the rest of my Guild Wars 2 impressions.

Point 10: Making Bank

Guild Wars 2 has, by far, the best inventory management system I have seen in a videogame. And it was a feature I only discovered accidentally in my final few hours of playtime.

This needs to be in all games, ASAP.

It is called the Collectible Tab and it is to my eternal shame that I did not take a screenshot.

Essentially, the Collectible Tab is hundreds of organized, square silhouettes that represents all of the trade and crafting goods in Guild Wars 2 (and maybe more besides). Instead of you needing to waste precious bank space with your stacks of Jute scraps (e.g. Linen Cloth), you merely drag it to the Collectible tab and it automatically gets sorted and contained in its own little square. Or, you know, you can simply right-click the item and select the “Deposit Collectible” option. From anywhere. And by “anywhere” I mean, literally, anywhere you can open the Inventory screen. Farming bandits and find your bags are overflowing with the pilfered trophies from corpses of men you murdered in cold blood? Two clicks and you are done.

I did not think to check whether there is an upper-limit to the stack size of items stored in the Collectible Tab. All I know is that I no longer will need to do my OCD WoW bank routine wherein I manually alphabetize herbs by expansion, rarity, and the aesthetic qualities of the icon. Simply put, the banking system in Guild Wars 2 is built out of win.

Point 11: The AH on the other hand…

There is a very specific thing that happened to the AH, for a very specific reason, and it has soured my experience with it somewhat. What happened was this:

Oh, RMT. Is there ever a bridge too far?

Basically, ArenaNet took the ability of players to retrieve their successful auctions from anywhere, limited it to the Trading Post NPCs, and then are selling consumables in the cash shop to allow you to pick up your items anywhere… for 5 minutes. Considering you can teleport to within 30 yards of the Trading Post NPCs at any time from any where, this might come across as a tad… nitpicky. Entitled, even.

But let us be clear what is going on here. You can sell, buy, and browse the AH from anywhere in the game world at any time. And during the first beta weekend, you could also pick up your successful auctions (money and items both) from anywhere as well. Now you cannot, and there is consumable cash shop item that temporarily restores the functionality. Granted, the Trading Post NPCs did not have much of a purpose before, but that is a design problem with an easy solution, e.g. remove them. Or leave them as reminders to those who forgot you can access the AH from anywhere by pressing “O.”

I can recognize the cognitive dissonance between my accepting as intuitive the fact that you cannot withdraw from your bank from anywhere, and the obviously analogous Trading Post situation. Maybe this is only an issue with my seeing the monetizing team in action – had this been in the first beta weekend, it might be that I wouldn’t have thought any different. Nevertheless, I seen what they did last summer, and I had/have a problem with this change.

Everything else about the AH is fantastic, although I must admit that Buy/Sell orders somewhat diminishes the thoroughly soothing gameplay I find in searching for AH bargains.

Point 12: Guilded

I did not actually join a guild, but I thought this was a good idea:

Kinda like a Background Check.

When you click on a Guild invitation, it takes you to a screen that allows you to actually look at said Guild’s roster before joining. This is another of those common sense features that you wonder why are not in more games. The only thing missing is a Cover Letter and perhaps a list of three things the Guild is bad at.

Point 13: Minecrafting

This is 100% a personal preference thing, but I’m not a huge fan of the crafting system in Guild Wars 2. There are a number of surprisingly complicated base recipes – when was the last time you saw a game that requires you to construct a wristguard strap and wristguard padding before combining the both with a 3rd ingredient to make a pair of gloves? – but the vast majority of recipes comes from the “Discovery” system, aka the Trial & Error system.

Oh, good.

Or, perhaps most likely, the “Just look at the damn Wiki” system.

The bow in the above picture is a lame example, of course, but I otherwise find zero entertainment in such “just try it!” crafting systems. My brain simply doesn’t work that way; I am too damn methodical. Do you know the first thing I did when I built a crafting table in Minecraft? I put a piece of wood in the first empty square. Then I put another piece of wood in another square beside the first. And then I moved the second piece of wood over one square. And then moved it again, in sequence, around the remaining empty squares. Then I added a third piece of wood, and repeated the process. If you asked me to crack the combination code to a briefcase, I would start with 0-0-1 and end with 9-9-9, X number of hours later… if I did not simply throw the briefcase out the window beforehand.

Don’t get me started on Word Finds, or that Doodle God app.

I saw the following quote during the first beta, but I forgot to specifically notate it:

Originally posted by Linsey Murdock

Cooking is considered our advanced craft. It will cost you more money, karma, and time traveling the world than any other crafting discipline.

Pro Tip: Every cooking recipe in Guild Wars 2 is a real recipe for real food in real life (or a basic approximation). If you think you are close to figuring out one of the combinations, google a recipe for the food you suspect it might be, and odds are, you can find a bunch of recipes for things like that to try out.

If you like this sort of thing, you will like Guild Wars 2 crafting quite a bit. If you don’t, you will probably be Alt-Tabbing to the Wiki like myself.

Incidentally, this is also true of the crafting system:

Originally posted by Linsey Murdock

The way leveling XP gain works in crafting is this: For leveling a discipline from 0-400, you will gain 10 levels along the way. By maxing out all 8 disciplines, you will gain 80 levels. That means you could dedicate a character to crafting, feed it all the mats you get on other characters and level it all the way to 80 without ever needing to kill a thing. As hardcore crafters, we think that is pretty cool.

__________

Conclusion

That about sums up my impressions of this second beta weekend. If/when the third beta weekend comes along, my tentative goals will be the following:

  1. Test the Norn/Charr areas more thoroughly to see if I run into the same pacing issues I experienced in Queensdale.
  2. Verify whether it was user-error in Queensdale after all.
  3. Level a character high enough to see how the “trinity-less” dungeons work.
  4. Sell my gems on the AH so I’ll have more than 10 silver to rub together.
  5. Continue being angry at puppies, rainbows, and the laughter of small children.

So look forward to that. I know I am.

Kickstarter, Cash Shops, and Ultimate Capitalism

The perfect capitalist scenario is full price discrimination. That is to say, the ability to charge each individual customer the maximum amount they are willing to pay (consumer surplus = $0). Under normal situations, this is exceedingly difficult in non-monopolistic markets. If my maximum for a game is $85 and yours is $250, the monopolist would have to have some way of preventing me – or, say, Gamestop – from (re)selling the game to you at a discount.

Enter F2P and cash shops.

Every customer pays the same entrance fee (be it literal F2P or some cover charge or $X+ for the “collector’s edition”), but now you have the ability to engage in some voluntary price discrimination. Want some costumes? $10. How about a shiny mount or horse armor? $25. Server transfers? Hats? Keys to unlock chests? Speed the game up? Unlock a dungeon? Cha-ching!

When Guild Wars 2 comes out, there will be some people out there that bought it for $60. Others will have bought it for $80. Still others will spend $150. And many more will spend $5, $10, $100 more over time via the cash shop. Nearly perfect voluntary price discrimination. Same game, same amount of development (those developers would have been creating said content regardless), different prices for different customers.

Enter Kickstarter.

A lot of bloggers have been covering Kickstarter here lately. Two of the “previewed” games caught my eye: The Dead Linger, and Faster Than Light (FTL). The latter game is a roguelike space exploration game that has successfully received 2,005% of its funding goal. After watching the video and reading about it, I am somewhat sad I missed the chance to “buy-in” with $10.

The Dead Linger is an opportunity to buy-in at $25 for a game that sounds like a cross between Left 4 Dead and Minecraft (25,000 km procedurally generated worlds, 16-person multiplayer, PvP modes if you want, etc). Then I looked at the $100 option, which included the game and goodies, plus your name or handle as part of a street sign or graffiti. “How cool would it be to see people posting their screenshots and then seeing ‘Azuriel was here’ in the background?'” I thought.

That’s when I remembered how cool $100 is, especially when compared to a game not even in playable alpha yet.

The interesting thing to me about Kickstarter in a cash shop world are the implications. In effect, it proves that there are people out there just looking for the opportunity to give their money away. If I was fanatically in love with Bioware and Mass Effect 3, how could I show my appreciation for what they do? Buy the Collector’s Edition? Buy the novels? In each case, what is taking place is a sale, a transaction, a transfer of goods for compensation. My “contribution” is not distinguishable as an act of charity or praise; Bioware simply gets the feedback that I deemed the product a good value for the money.

Kickstarter is different. Sure, a lot of people treat it as a extra-early preorder. But you can also contribute anonymously. If I sent Bioware a check for $1000 in a the mail, would they cash it? I have no idea. What Kickstarter has done is package up charity and enthusiasm into a “product” that can be sold.

Rationally, it is no different than sending a check in the mail, but it feels different. There is a meter that fills up, there are (limited!) time-sensitive bonuses, there is the satisfaction of needs going on (the game wouldn’t exist without this funding), there is a sensation of fellowship with other Kickstarters. In short, it is brilliant marketing. Utterly and completely brilliant.

As a skeptical consumer, however, I worry. The gamification of charity aside, I am concerned about how the industry marketeers must already be foaming at the mouth. How long is it until it is not just Day 1 DLC we see, but “Pay $100 for your name in graffiti on Station Omega?” It already appears as though pre-order “bonuses” (if you pay for it, it is not a bonus) in the form of DLC is here to stay. When is Kickstarter’s methodology entirely co-opted, and eventually devalued?

Oh, wait. Resident Evil 6’s Premium Edition, which includes a real-life replica of Leon’s leather jacket, costs over $1,000. The future is now.