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EVE and GW2

NoizyGamer has a post up contemplating the health of EVE. Before its sale to Pearl Abyss, the actual EVE revenue numbers were hard to get. Now they get reported every quarter like a lot of other (Korean) companies. NoizyGamer’s last paragraph concludes:

Yes, EVE only beats Aion in revenue for the first half of 2019. But I can’t help but think if CCP and NetEase had managed to get Serenity up and running in China again, EVE would actually beat Guild Wars 2’s performance. If anyone had said that, outside of China, EVE was performing financially as well as GW2, would anyone have believed that statement?

…Yes?

Within the context of the post, EVE is being compared to GW2 because a gaming journalist was observing the fact that a hardcore MMO and a casual MMO were making roughly equal amounts of money. That… somewhat deflects from what otherwise seems like an asinine comparison between a subscription MMO and a B2P fashion-endgame lootbox grinder. The journalist goes on to tweet:

Just as an FYI, my initial thought on this wasn’t to say “GW2 better than Eve lol” but to be a little confused over the “Casual games are all the rage, it’s all companies should make” vs. “Companies should make more hardcore games rather than appeal to casuals” dichotomy.

I mean… good luck making a new niche hardcore subscription-based MMO in 2019. Hell, good luck making any subscription-based MMO these days. That EVE made it as one of, what, three MMOs still with subs is textbook Survivorship Bias. Do we need to talk a stroll down Wildstar lane or Darkfall ditch to recall how many “hardcore” MMOs still exist?

GW2Revenue

Data pulled directly from NCSoft Quarterly reports

Even just looking at Guild Wars 2, the comparison is not particularly flattering. Revenue for GW2 has been stagnant or declining since 2016, with the business model mostly consisting of the fumes of stale farts locked away in lootboxes, along with a 0.1% chance to obtain the only thing the art department has been working on for six months. The B2P model and horizontal progression and endless grinding for the fashion endgame do indeed make GW2 among the most casual of casual games, but why make that comparison and not, I dunno, EVE vs FF14?

Incidentally, remember Blade & Soul? That NCSoft game has consistently done ~30% better than GW2 since at least the end of 2014.

This is not necessarily to scoff at numbers. Based on today’s conversion rates, GW2 made $65.9 million in 2018. The very worst quarter in GW2 history (2Q17) was still $11.1 million. There are plenty of game developers who would love to release a game that makes $11.1 million in a quarter. But when just the mobile version of Hearthstone pulls in $165 million in 2018, which is down significantly from 2017, the casual vs hardcore business model gets put in sharp relief.

I Miss Ghostcrawler

There, I said it.

Luckily for all of us, apparently the people of the LoL forums occasionally goad him into talking about WoW design. Here are some of the bits I found most interesting:

Was there a specific wow example that you think changed the balance too much? Whether you meant to shift the game that way or not, it seems like the playerbase thinks this has happened.

If I had to point to one controversial change, I’d say that in vanilla and BC to a lesser extent, there were many specs that weren’t really viable for PvE or PvP. We felt like they needed to be viable in order to justify being in the game, and we were reasonably successful in getting all of them much more competitive. I’ll be honest that there were times when there was still one dominant PvP spec, one dominant PvE spec and one more-or-less dead spec per class, but we did get a lot closer than ever before, especially in the most recent expansion. (And that was the team that accomplished that — I take very little credit.)

So why was this direction controversial? One, it was just flat out harder to balance since there were more variables. It led to all sorts of religious debates such as whether pure classes “deserved” to do more damage than hybrids. In order to guarantee that a particular class or spec wasn’t mandatory for raiding or Arenas, we had to share utility among more classes. (One example is shaman were no longer the only ones to bring Bloodlust.) This did homogenize classes, and some players were understandably not excited about that direction. I’m not sure of a better approach though. Maybe WoW should just have had 10 classes and not the 30 that different specs brought. Maybe some specs should have just stayed dead. I still think about this a lot.

As someone who mained a Paladin throughout TBC, I am a little biased against the whole “leave dead specs in” design. I was not a particular fan of Paladin healing, which left… precisely zero viable PvE/PvP specs for me for most of that expansion. Hell, Illidian as a raid boss was entirely designed around having a Warrior tank. And don’t get me started on how Retribution was only viable as a DPS option on Horde side (Seal of Blood was Blood Elf specific). Paladins ended up being 5-man tanking kings by the end of TBC, but I still remember the growing pains into of Ulduar in which General Vezax basically meant I had to level up a Death Knight alt just to main-tank it.

Still, I almost wonder how a “just 10 classes” design would work. Perhaps like Guild Wars 2? Or would there simply be tanking classes and healing classes?

Do you ever regret opening the game up to be more casual? Instead of taking the kind of direction you are with league?

Different approaches work for different products, and I don’t want to second guess the WoW team. Let’s just say that after working on Age of Empires and World of Warcraft for a total of 16 years, it’s really refreshing to work on a game where I don’t have to worry whether someone’s grandmother can pick it up or not.

Would like to see GC’s grandmother (or mother or father or brother etc) kill Heroic 25m Siegecrafter Blackfuse!

Blackfuse is not the standard by which most of the game is designed. It’s memorable in fact because it’s so much harder than 99% of what you do in the game. Very few players even try (though it is a great fight). You don’t wipe 100 times leveling up. Few players quit running dungeons because they’re too hard. In much of the game, death is unlikely and not much of an obstacle when it does happen. That’s just the way the game was designed and the way nearly all players experience it. I’m not even commenting on whether I agree with that philosophy or not, but it was the philosophy.

Regardless of whether anyone’s grandmother can beat Blackfuse or attain Challenger tier is really besides the point. The points (and these are facts, because I was on the staff of both dev teams) are:

1) WoW spends a lot of effort to make sure almost any player can pick up the game, learn the ropes, level to 90 and even raid if that’s their interest. LoL spends almost no effort making sure almost any player can pick up the game. It does expend some effort to make sure that players who self-identify as gamers can pick up the game.

2) As a result of these efforts and different definitions of potential audience, WoW has a much broader audience than LoL. That’s fine. Different strategies work for different games.

My point was that I spent a lot of development time on both Age of Empires and WoW trying to make the games approachable to a wide audience without compromising the game design. I don’t have to do that anymore, which is s nice change of pace.

Well that’s certainly a confirmation of a lot complaints about WoW’s difficulty curve in solo content.

I love WoW but if not for heroic raiding, I likely would have left a long time ago.

I’m a heroic (mythic) raider. That’s how I fell in love with WoW. But they can’t sustain the game alone. (Source)

There’s a widespread misunderstanding that most people even want to be “brought up.” Everyone has the tools and capability to do anything. How many do it? (Bashiok)
We thought in Cata that we could entice players to rise to the occasion to do harder content. But, you know, some players just said that’s not why they play the game. More power to them. (Source)

The notion that gaming exists (entirely or in part) as a means to improve the skills of the player is a topic all its own, but let me briefly say: that’s dumb. Games are entertainment products. Some people are indeed entertained by honing their skills and seeing increases in finesse. But in many ways that is ultimately a zero-sum endeavor – being “too good” eliminates a wide swath of potential games for you on the one end, and the limits of your own physical abilities removes games from the other end. Meanwhile, everyone can experience, say, character progression at any level.

In a game entirely based around competition, sure, go ahead and “train” your players. Some of us just want to press some buttons, experience a little escapism, and/or need an excuse to (virtually) hang out with online friends and do things together.

I’d like to know what Blizzard considers to be the big barriers.
Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a movable camera. (Bashiok)
I agree. So does a lot of data. (Source)

Man, I always supported you with WoW changes and felt really bad when you left, but that WoW comment… ouch.
We updated Elwynn Forest twice while I was there to make the game accessible. It was a lot of work. There are very hardcore aspects of WoW but there are also casual ones. Catering to both (or all) is a big challenge. That’s all I meant. I earned a reputation for “dumbing the game down” which is bizarre to me. I was countering that supposition. No offense intended.(Source)

I’m reading a lot of comments confusing accessibility with difficulty. Learning to play WoW is accessibility. Raiding is difficulty. WoW’s intent when I was there (I can’t speak for it now) was to appeal to a wide audience. Developing for a wide audience is very hard. Ulduar (my favorite raid) had two raid sizes (and optional hard modes). After that we added more difficulty tiers to broaden raiding appeal.
Is that something you didn’t want to do?
You can argue it exposed more players to the fun of raiding, but might have diminished the psychological reward of doing so. Raids also self nerf over time as players gear up, and we did across the board nerfs as well. So dedicated players would eventually get to see the content. The change was more about whether players deserved to see new content when it was new vs several patches later. (Source)
Adding multiple tiers per raid is more work. Appealing to a broad audience is more work. For once in my career, I don’t have to do that. (Source)
People struggled through bad design and confused it with mastery of difficulty.
There also was very little concept of damage meters or optimal rotations in Molten Core. The audience matured. (Source)

The raiding bit was interesting, but the fact that the very fundamental 3D interface being an issue is… illuminating. The things was take for granted, eh?

What by your experience are the constant things that come up that make learning a game hard?
1) Identifying the goal, 2) Understanding the controls, 3) Realizing where the fun is going to be. I mention that third point because too many tutorials strip away too much fun out of fear of burdening a new player.
Hand held guidance vs joy of discovery and freedom. Can`t have both.
Yes, but you can make the hand held guided part fun. Maybe you can see a dragon even if you have no business fighting one yet. (Source)

Explained another way, when you see a big drop off in players after only a few minutes then they are probably very confused. Players can’t usually tell if a game will be fun that quickly, but if they have no idea what’s going on, then they may quit. You see this a lot when casual players can’t mouse look, a skill second nature to many core gamers. (Source)

Look, you can play a very demanding game casually or invest many hours in a simple iPhone game. WoW appeals / tries to appeal to many gamers who don’t fit the traditional gamer mold. League doesn’t go after those gamers. Simple as that. (Source)
I can mouse look, play WoW, and adventure games. Dont consider myself (hard)core gamer. Core/casual split seems so limiting
It is very limiting. However, when even game developers watch a brand new player struggle with controls it’s eye opening. (Source)

Alright, I’m good.

Still… see what I mean? Could someone point out where else we could read some rather frank discussions on the nuts and bolts of game design? Developer blogs are almost entirely marketing vehicles that only tangentially resemble the final product. I am not suggesting Ghostcrawler is necessarily best designer out there, or even a good one. He might not be the one we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

Hardcore Causality

The perennial semantic debate of the Hardcore vs Casual descriptors has reared its zombie horse head again, and it amuses me somewhat seeing the Rorschach results. My own take?

Casual and hardcore relate to the seriousness in which an activity is undertaken.

Length of time has nothing to do with it: as is frequently mentioned, top-tier raiders can clear 7/7 heroic Firelands in 2 hours and then not play at all for the rest of the week. Compare that to someone who levels alts or otherwise plays for 50 hours a week.

Of course, “seriousness” is somewhat subjective. Then again, there are a few objective metrics in which I believe can determine (arbitrary) positions on the seriousness scale. For example:

  1. Read forums or Wiki pages. +1 seriousness
  2. Posts on forums. +1 seriousness.
  3. Download mods or external programs. +3 seriousness
  4. Ignored phone calls in middle of the game. +3 seriousness
  5. Schedule your real-life around in-game events. +5 seriousness

It is important to note that while raiding (agreeing to log in at 7pm on Thursday) does not automatically make you hardcore, it is certainly more hardcore than someone who does not seriously consider convincing their other friends to move Poker Night to Wednesdays so they can make Thursday raid night.

The design of the games themselves absolutely has an impact on seriousness too. To be sure, human beings are 100% capable of making otherwise casual activities the most hardcore thing imaginable – stamp collecting, Lego models, Chess, and so on. However, the nature of the game can also lend itself to being taken more seriously. The difficulty of raiding, for example, is such that a random group of ten people thrown together is not likely to achieve success.¹ That encourages people to schedule play sessions; the social ties generated thereby encourages structuring your IRL commitments around game time instead of vice versa. I absolutely know people that asked for Tuesdays off from their retail work because, well, raids reset on Tuesdays and you would let the team down if you don’t show up.

Difficulty and social ties aren’t the only game designs that skew people towards hardcore-ness. Sometimes the game makes it hard to reasonably progress without a minimum amount of sunk time. I have been playing The Binding of Isaac recently, for example, and much as other roguelike games you cannot Save and quit, death is permanent, and so on; there is literally no point in playing The Binding of Isaac for 10 minutes, because you cannot beat the game, you cannot unlock anything, you cannot really do anything of value. Games based on Checkpoints such as Far Cry 1 also fall into this mode.

I know I mentioned time spent playing is irrelevant, but here is the nuance: if you know you need at least an hour free to get anywhere in the game, and you chose to continue playing, you are more apt to start rearranging your real life around the game life. I am not saying life rearrangement is bad or ridiculous – I do it all the time – but it does indicate you are more of a hardcore player of said game. Compare that with Angry Birds or Plants Vs Zombies or Red Remover which I play only when I am sitting around in a doctor office or at the DMV or wherever and I immediately turn it off when I am no longer waiting.

In any case, that is my contribution to the field of loaded verbiage.

In regards to the topic at large, i.e. for whom was the leveling game changed, I would suggest that leveling was indeed made faster for the hardcore. However, I would NOT agree that this somehow makes the game less casual-friendly. The boredom of disaffected veterans is not analogous to a brand new player of the game – I cannot imagine someone with zero WoW experience complaining about or even recognizing leveling “too fast” or the game being “too easy.” Indeed, a new player more than likely died several times before level 10 and then spends the remaining 75 levels being overly cautious. Or being skilled enough to recognize the lack of danger, which indicates they would have been bored no matter which way leveling was designed.

And besides: the more quests and zones that are skipped on the way to the level cap, simply means the more replayable content exists, right?

¹ We’ll see how Looking For Raid works out, eh?