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Tyler over at MMOBro makes the case for “getting over” lockboxes in games. I found the post interesting for several reasons, which I will get into in a bit. However, I do want to point out in the beginning that I agree with the premise: lockboxes aren’t going anywhere.

Even though they should. Specifically, into the garbage bin of bad game design.

One of the first of Tyler’s points is that lockboxes don’t literally destroy games. To which I would reply: not directly. Was the first iteration of Diablo 3 unplayable? Nope. Plenty of people were able to play the game just fine… for given amounts of fine.

From my perspective, the game was essentially broken in half. ARPGs in general (and especially Diablo) revolve around killing crowds of bad guys and hoping for good loot to drop, and the dopamine feedback loop simply didn’t exist when you could straight-up buy way better gear from the in-game AH. I was killing monsters hoping to get gold to buy better gear, rather than having any illusion that a monster might drop gear for me.

Perhaps even more problematic in Diablo 3’s case were the endgame difficulties. Since players could shop around and directly buy the best possible gear from a million other players’ drops, the endgame was balanced around Resistances and other stats that would be all but impossible to get within your own game sans AH. In other words, since you could buy good gear, the game designers had to create challenges that required that gear for it to be worthwhile, thereby creating cash-required progression.

Now, you might say that Diablo 3’s system wasn’t technically lockboxes at all. Semantics, I say. The point is that if you can buy power for cash, the player incentives in the game change, as do developers’ ultimate design goals.

But what about non-power purchases? Tyler starts out in the post by saying:

It can be a little irritating to see some gorgeous mount or awesome costume that you’ll never get unless you dump a small fortune into gambling boxes, but how much impact is that having on your moment to moment gameplay, really?

Later on, however, he gets to this part:

I also don’t think we should give up the fight to keep direct purchases part of MMO business models. Something I find frustrating about SW:TOR’s lock[box] obsession is not so much the boxes themselves, but the fact that almost nothing good ever gets added to the cash shop for direct sale.

That is precisely why this business model is so pernicious. As Tyler notes, there are plenty of MMOs out there which have survived just fine almost entirely on the backs of their lockbox revenue. Tyler was making that point in context of refuting lockboxes as short-term cash grabs, but the fact that they are in fact long-term revenue streams is more damning, IMO.

Lockboxes are long-term revenue streams because designers devote significant time to adding more stuff in them at direct expense to the rest of the game. Which makes perfect, rational sense. Under a traditional Buy-2-Play model, you get more money by making a better game. Under anything else, you get more of that game-adjacent thing, which NEVER improves the gameplay experience itself. Because it is never a part of the actual game.

Later, game designers get this defense:

And let’s stop demonizing developers for adding lockboxes to games. […] They’re just trying to turn a profit and earn a living, like everyone else in our capitalist society.

I mean… that kind of justifies anything, right? Mylan was just trying to turn a profit with the EpiPen hike in this capitalist society, Martin Shkreli was just trying to turn a profit with that AIDS drug gouge, and so on. Nothing nefarious about that; it’s all just business. “Business” being defined here as consequence-free personal enrichment and erosion of all consumer surplus, of course.

As I mentioned at the beginning, lockboxes aren’t going anywhere in spite of their abhorrent, exploitative, design-destroying influences, precisely because they work. And to be clear, lockboxes work the same way that cigarettes “work,” with similar (metaphorical) long-term effects. Lockboxes never, in any way, ADD anything of value to the game design itself; all of those cool mounts and skins could have been added for achievements, as rewards for skill, at the end of a long quest chain, or anywhere at all that reinforces the core gameplay loop.

At best, lockboxes funds game development in a roundabout way. Which sort of begs the question as to why these designers don’t just go full Konami and get into the Pachinko business to which they clearly aspire. Or, you know, perhaps make a product worth purchasing on its own merits.

What Are Those Titan Devs Doing Now?

Adam of Noisy Rogue brought up an interesting point recently regarding the cancellation of Titan:

Nobody outside the Blizzard bubble knows what Jeff Kaplan is doing right now. Apart from him there are over a hundred other developers and designers that have been working on Titan for almost seven years. It’s a lot of talent. […]

Hey, yeah, what are they going to do with all the people who were working on Titan?

So what we know is that Titan had 100 developers working on it last August, until it was slashed down to 30 when it “went back to the drawing board.” Mike Morhaime said they moved the slashed devs over to Diablo and the Blizzard MOBA. But then I got to thinking: wasn’t the dev count on WoW beefed up recently? Indeed it was, as reported on 8/25/13:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

So the timeline makes sense that a lot of those Titan devs were moved over into WoW in addition to Diablo and the MOBA. But then I came across this Icy Veins interview with Tom Chilton from August 2014 (emphasis mine):

Q. You announced repeatedly that you would release content faster: “every 6 months”, “no more ICC”. Obviously, that did not really work out, so we were just wondering what caused it.

A. That is definitely fair criticism. We did a good job earlier in Mists of Pandaria, having the content come at a more frequent intervals, and certainly we had hoped to have Warlords of Draenor out a couple of months ago. The reality is that scaling up the number of people that we have, to work on multiple projects at once has slowed us down. Honestly, it should have not come as a surprise to us. We increased the size of the team by 50% and the majority of those people had never worked on World of Warcraft before or any other MMO, so it is really difficult for them to create content right away, without getting up to speed. So we ended up redoing a lot of the content that we were doing for Warlords to make sure that we would get it at the quality level that we would expect.

Now I’m not sure what to think. Did Blizzard hire a whole bunch of brand new developers for the WoW team? Were the 30 core devs left behind on Titan the only ones with WoW experience, e.g. Kaplan, etc? We do know that Blizzard is already designing the expansion after Warlords right now, so perhaps the new guys got relegated to Warlords and the core-crew is working on whatever Orcish masturbation fantasy is undoubtedly next (“Thrall’s child is all grown up and mad with power!”). I mean, Jesus, it’s been World of Hordecraft aside from that one brief period of time in Wrath. And it’s arguable that the Taunka and Horde Death Knight quests were far superior to what the Alliance got.

I’m not bitter or anything.

By the way, while I was Googling researching this post, I came across this rather interesting picture:

The jokes almost write themselves.

The jokes almost write themselves.

This slide came from the Hearthstone fireside chat back in November 2013, with those numbers representing the team sizes of those three games at release. In other words, vanilla WoW had 60 people, Diablo 3 had 75, and Hearthstone 15. Supposedly Diablo 3 is in a better place these days, but it kinda tells you a lot about the relative worth of even Blizzard developers when you have 75 people collectively cranking out the clusterfuck of Diablo 3 on release. More is less, it would seem.

Loot 2.0

The big news of the week has been Blizzard’s rather unprecedented decision to shut down the Diablo 3 AH in March of next year. While I suppose that the start of a new expansion is as good a time as any, I still find it interesting that they are bothering at all – a bit late to close those barn doors, yeah? Then again, I suppose with all the other changes they have made in the time since I stopped playing (a whole year ago?!), the “economy” has become more warped and functionally useless than before. Making it five feet in Act 2 Inferno used to require Resistance scores out the ass, but between the general elite nerfs, the player-decided mob-levels, and the Paragon system, you can probably make it through the game without buying anything.

You would still want to, of course. Even a child should be able to understand that a 5% chance at something good is worth less than buying exactly what you want from someone who was going to vendor the thing anyway. Or anyone playing the game for more than an hour during the open beta weekend, for that matter.

The question though, is what system will replace it? Apparently Blizzard feels it is Loot 2.0:

  • New game modes including Loot Runs with guaranteed special item drops when successfully completed.
  • Smart drops where a dropped item is guaranteed to roll the appropriate mainstat for the class that finds it.
  • Fewer but better item drops, where players will see far fewer items, but the items (especially the rares) will have better stats.
  • A new NPC Artisan, the Mystic who has the abiilty to reroll one selected affix on an item.
  • Legendary (including Set Items) will get an across the board quality buff.
    • Legendary items will drop more often, especially for lower level characters with guaranteed legendary drops from the first kill of many story/quest bosses.
    • Legendary items will roll with less low-end variability, to reduce the likelihood that they are complete junk.
    • Legendary items will gain variable item levels with stats scaling appropriately — current high level items legendaries will drop on lower difficulties and low level Legendaries will drop in the end game. All stats on these items will scale up or down to be appropriate for the level of the monster that drops them.

Item binding is going to be a key feature of Loot 2.0, with some of the found items, and most or all of the crafted items or items upgraded with the Mystic gaining BoA or BoE to restrict them from being traded or sold. Full details are not yet finalized.

I counted three instances of the word “guaranteed” in there. Not something I usually associate with Diablo games, but hey.

While the above is not an exhaustive list of the Loot 2.0 paradigm – I’m pretty sure that not even Blizzard knows what else they’ll toss against the wall before March – we can see the sort of trajectory taking shape. What is a huge unknown to me though, is what exactly Blizzard plans to do with all the gold left in the economy when the AH doors close. Will the Mystic be an expensive gold sink? That might work… but what about the people who haven’t stockpiled? Will the feature not be for them? Between that and the possible stockpiling of crafting materials, I almost have to assume that Blizzard plans a “currency reset” with the expansion, to go with the inevitable gear reset that comes with an increased level cap.

In any case, watching things play out this week has been interesting while playing Path of Exile on the side. I mentioned before that PoE has something more akin to a lore-based barter economy, but I am finding it even more interesting than before. Effectively, I find myself rolling my own loot back in town when I go to vendor things. Useful Magic/Rare/Unique items do drop out in the wild, but I am finding that the addition of colored gem slots adds another depressing layer of randomness to everything; a given item might be awesome for your class/build, but if it is replacing an item with a good spell-gem configuration, you might end up banking it instead. While there are “currency” items that can add/change sockets, I am finding it almost easier to hold onto normal items with good sockets and then spend my “money” turning that into a Magic/Rare item instead.

That can sort of happen in Diablo 3’s crafting system, but it lacks the granularity and impressive nuance that PoE brings to the table. Scrapping four items to get another shot at getting a useful fifth isn’t the same as being able to choose to reroll an item’s magic properties, adding a new property, adding sockets, adding connections between sockets, changing a socket’s color, and/or stripping the item clean and then possibly rerolling it into a Rare/Unique.

Can I also just mention how addicting just leveling in Path of Exile can be? It’s the standard sort of hack-n-slash, but since your gems can level up too, it feels like I “level” a half-dozen times every 30-40 minutes. “Getting kinda sleepy and I still have 8 bars before level 24. Oh, wait, there’s like a centimeter left on my Raise Zombie gem XP bar. Hmm… let’s go clear out the NW corner.”

But, yeah, loot systems. Borderlands 2 is feeling pretty archaic right now in comparison.

Item Build Paradigms

As you may recall, I have been having a rough time in Borderlands 2. I bought the Season Pass back when I bought the original game, but sort of let things slide somewhere around 95 hours /played, about the time the Hammerlock campaign was released. My main issue, aside from general burnout, was that my character is Zer0, the melee-based ninja/sniper character. Simply put, I was having a hard time surviving in the extended difficulties as someone either in the middle of the action (where mistakes kill you quickly) or trying to snipe when 10 people are shooting at you (whom are extremely accurate with their assault weapons).

Now, I can already hear those of you in the audience: “But, Az, Zer0 is like one of the strongest characters in the game! He can solo the raid bosses!” Sure he can… with a very specific loadout of Legendary/Unique weapons, which either requires luck, grinding, duping, or all three. While I am obviously not allergic to chasing gear drops in games, in this instance all I really wanted to do was finish the Hammerlock DLC and then complete Tiny Tina’s Dragon Keep DLC. You know, at a level in which it’d be challenging and rewarding too – there isn’t any real reason to blow through it on Normal or anything.

Unfortunately, I was stuck between a rock and Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode (UVHM). I beat the game on True Vault Hunter Mode (TVHM) way back when, plowed through it again in “2.5” mode where everything is scaled up to level 50 (the cap at the time), leaving all of the sidequests alone so that I could give myself the option of getting the highest-level versions of the various unique gear. Hell, I even farmed the last boss a few times. UVHM steps it up a few notches though, including a level cap increase, and basically makes Slag elemental weapons (which increase the damage of all other sources) required. Not only did I not really have any of those weapons, my current gear was simply not cutting it… or anything, really.

This past weekend, I finally decided I was going to give it one more shot. My plan of action was to grind to level 51 and then cash in my ~40 Golden Keys and hope that the level-cap inflation on guns would give me something worth shooting. Since I was grinding anyway, I decided to do so in the Torgue DLC, in the repeatable Bar Brawl quest area; each run gives you special DLC currency to purchase, among other things, an Unkempt Harold, e.g. a Legendary everyone seems to use.

So I did. And got it. And now it feels like a whole different game.

The basic gist is that the gun says it deals ~14k damage per shot, but the “bullet” is actually a missile that splits off into 3, 5, and 7 missiles depending on how much distance it gets before impact. The Double Penetrating Unkempt Harold, which is the version I got, does the same thing x2. So, depending on how close something is, a shot from this pistol deals ~196,000 damage. Meanwhile, my best rocket launcher deals 226,000, with a 3-round clip and 7.4 second reload speed. I can carry 700 pistol rounds and reload in under 2 seconds. I could technically pick up another Unique item from a sidequest (The Bee shield) which would add something crazy-stupid like 40,000 damage to my bullets – which ends up being added to each bullet from the Unkempt Harold – but it is already making my TVHM-ish run somewhat of a joke.

What all of this is making me realize is that I don’t like this paradigm. Specifically: the gear-based-build paradigm. “Get item X and now you can do build Y.” Another of the items I picked up was a weapon (the Rubi) that gives heals you for 12% of the damage you inflict while having it equipped. It is another of the sort of “required” weapons for endgame Zer0 builds, as you can abuse the life-gain by dealing melee or grenade damage; the gun itself will never hold a candle to others, but firing one and then swapping back to it before impact will still basically let you heal to full. Combined with the “health-gating” hidden mechanic that prevents you from being one-shot (50% + 1 HP and you will survive any hit), this lets Zer0 basically melee raid bosses.

The problems, as always, are A) getting the gear and B) what to do until you get the gear. I am 100% for different character builds. I don’t even have much of an issue with talent choices leading to different stat weightings, e.g. choosing Talent X makes Haste worth more than Crit or whatever. But building an entire character around single pieces of (rare) equipment? That feels awful to me. Either you don’t have the item yet, in which case you feel weak/incomplete, or you do get the item and suddenly everything else that drops is useless/unrewarding. Plus, there is the whole side-effect of the fact that your character identity feels weakened or nonexistent; do my character choices even matter in the face of my item collection? Am I Zer0 at all, or am I simply “some dude with a Rubi and DPUK?

I decided to take a break from Borderlands 2, and started playing Path of Exile as a backup game. And… whoops! Just like many hack-n-slash games, it too features rare items that you can/should/(have to?) build entire characters around. Because that’s fun. To someone. Sigh.

Beta Impressions: Path of Exile

That’s right, I’m all beta, all the time up in this joint.

Okay, Trade Chat being on by default in the opening seconds is a little immersion-breaking.

Okay, Trade Chat being on by default in the opening seconds is a little immersion-breaking.

For those not keeping track at home, Path of Exile is a F2P love letter to Diablo 2, and the Diablo franchise in general. It features six classes, a 1350-point talent tree forest, the Materia system from Final Fantasy 7, extremely gritty and realistic graphical style, and an outstandingly clever commitment to the game’s own setting. It is currently in Open Beta, and you can download it here.

While the central concepts of Path of Exile may seem strange at first, they are all pretty logical once you get past the unfamiliar veneer. For example, let’s talk about that 1350+ point talent tree. It is not an actual talent tree as you are familiar with, at least unless you played Final Fantasy X. The tree itself is entirely passive abilities and stat increases that act as nodes you activate with talent points you receive from leveling up or getting as quest rewards. The overall tree encompasses all six classes, with the difference being the starting location for each class. Thus, for example, the Witch starts on one corner of the board nearest all the +Intelligence and other magic boosting nodes.

Hey, remember when this was fun?

Hey, remember when this was fun?

The bigger nodes give bigger bonuses, and the extremely large ones are sort of capstone goals to help guide your character’s overall build. While your talent selection generally builds itself, it is possible to work your way across the board into other classs’ territories, if you are so inclined. That said, while the tree is certainly impressive the first few times you look at it, I’m not entirely sure of its practical use beyond standing out from the crowd. I spent 30 minutes mousing-over everything, decided which nodes I eventually wanted, and now will spend the next fifty levels getting variations of +10 Int or +20% mana regeneration. Woo, choice.

Meanwhile, the FF7-esque Materia system that Path of Exile emulates… is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, all the abilities your character has access to is governed by Skill Gems you socket into open slots on your gear. Want to use Raise Zombie? You need to fit that Skill Gem into an open blue slot. Fire Trap? Green slot. Shield Bash? Red slot. As you kill enemies, any socketed gems gain XP and level up just as you do, under the normal sort of hack-n-slash scheme (+1-2 damage, +1 mana cost each level). Later on, you will receive gear with Linked sockets which – again, exactly like in FF7 – let you link, say, a Fireball gem with a Multiple Projectile gem to (drumroll) shoot multiple Fireballs.

It is worth mentioning that, for the most part, any class can equip any Skill gem. I found a Shield Bash gem while running around with my Witch, for example, although I was unable to equip it because it required a Strength score of 16 (I had 14). While there will presumably be some +Strength gear somewhere, I could also raise that stat by navigating my way to a +Strength node in the talent tree. Pretty cool, IMO, although I believe the downside is a more limited selection of skills available for everyone overall. Shield Bash appears to be Shield Bash for everyone, so if X, Y, or Z skill is OP or garbage, you will likely be using the same skill loadouts no matter what class you pick.

The Hack-n-Slash is hack and slashy.

The Hack-n-Slash is hack and slashy.

What is beyond reproach and, frankly, goddamn brilliant is Path of Exile’s integration of the game’s setting into the gameplay. The premise of the game is that your character has done something or pissed someone off enough to be exiled to some hideous and hostile land to die (think: colonial Australia). So while the game looks understandably dark and gritty, it actually goes much farther than that. For example, when you sell items to a vendor, the currency is… scraps of an Identify Scroll. Five scraps equals one full scroll. Which you can then consume to identify an unknown magic item, ala Diablo. There are other barter currencies that double as actually useful items (Transmutation Orbs turn normal items into magic ones, other orbs randomize a magic item’s properties, etc) too, which sets up some interesting dilemmas insofar as using them as currency to buy better gear or use them to possibly make what gear you already have better.

Now, seriously, how amazing is that economic system? Every prototypical hack-n-slash would simply have used gold pieces as the medium of exchange here. Hell, I don’t think anyone would have cared if gold pieces were used as the currency in Path of Exile, even though it doesn’t make any logical sense for there to be a vast sum of wealth in a prison colony. It reminds me of Metro 2033 where your currency for buying guns and such were rounds of military-grade ammo, which you could technically load into your guns and fire.

Are there downsides? Sure. Since there is nothing worth less than a scrap of scroll, the beginning hours of gameplay highly encourages you to loot 100% of all junk since 5 pieces of anything = 1 useful scroll. This goes the other way too, wherein selling a magic item nets you a rounded-down amount of other material rather than 1400g vs 1100g. Vendor items get a bit goofy too, when they charge the same price for a necklace that provides 2 HP/sec regeneration with another necklace that provides 3.7 HP/sec regeneration.

Another example of the noble commitment to rational setting consistency? Instead of health/mana potions, you have health/mana flasks that use X number of Y charges for Z effect. And they recharge when you kill enemies. I mean, sure, there isn’t much of a logical reason why the Frost Elemental slime drops a wooden tower shield, but at least you’re not seeing more glass beakers full of replenishing liquid mowing down zombies as you’d find in an alchemist’s lab. Monsters drop less items as a result of this artistic/setting direction, but it still manages to feel similar to the loot explosions of Diablo (if less intense).

So, basically, I am having a lot of fun thus far with Path of Exile. While the devs have posted a sort of cash shop manifesto for this F2P game, they appear to actually be taking the “no P2W” mantra seriously. Hell, I don’t think they are even selling +XP potions, which is something I have simply come to expect from these games. The one lingering concern I have is the whole Ranged vs Melee (im)balance, which is something they do have on their roadmap to address. But beyond that? If you liked Diablo 2, play this game. Hell, if you liked (or disliked!) Diablo 3, play this game. It’s a F2P hack-n-slash, so what do you have to lose?

Other than your time, of course.

Systemic Concerns About the GW2 Economy

It may seem a bit premature to wonder about the Guild Wars 2 economy, considering the game has only be out for a week or so. But a comment by Chris K over on Syncaine’s GW2 Review post got me thinking about whether the game’s structure makes the economy unlikely to ever “recover” from its current bizzaro state:

“The trend [of crafting being pointless] will not persist. Currently people are levelling crafting only for the xp gains. It is, essentially, buying levels with gold. When the majority of these people hit the level cap then you’ll start seeing a decent economy forming.

At least I hope so…”

I have reported before that the GW2 devs made it a point of pride that the crafting system alone can get you to level 80, assuming you feed an alt enough mats. But Chris makes an astute observation that crafting, even when the market is vendor+1c, has a point: easy, scaled XP gains.

So think about it. Going 1-400 in one profession will net you 10 levels of XP at increasingly large costs (primarily in vendor mats, but also karma recipes, etc). Or you could simply go 1-40 (etc) in all eight crafting professions and net 8 levels’ worth of XP much more easily. Why wouldn’t you do this on all your alts? Or your main for that matter, considering that you continue earning Skill points for “leveling” past 80 to spend as Mystic Forge currency.

Changing crafting professions to a new one is a completely painless process with no upfront costs, and all your progress in a dropped profession is saved. Switching back to even a 400-level profession only sets you back 40s – not a completely trivial amount at current gem exchange rates, but way less than I expected. There are no profession bonuses that I know of, and even if there are BoP gear recipes, the lack of gear progression at endgame makes it a mostly moot point.

All of this + the global Trading Post + the existence of Buy/Sell Orders makes me think it unlikely that the Guild Wars 2 economy will ever meaningfully mature from its current state. I have every incentive to start all eight crafting professions on all five of my character slots, and so does everyone else. Doing exactly that will continue to put huge Demand pressure on low-level mats, even if gold inflation raises prices across the board. I can maybe see higher level gear selling for more than vendor+1c once fewer people are leveling crafting past 125 (etc), but the moment it does there will be ten thousand wannabe goblins squeezing into the margins.

Not that I am particularly complaining about the ease in which I can finance cash shop purchases here. I just think ArenaNet really screwed up in the incentive department, on the same level and scale as Blizzard did with Diablo 3. I never thought I would look back on WoW’s discrete Auction House markets and extreme Profession-hopping disincentives with nostalgia, but here we are.

If there is ever a Crafting system failure metric, the “vendor+1c” phenomenon is it.

The Secret World’s Other Shoe, and Jay Wilson’s Apology for D3

A little over a week ago, I pointed out that Funcom’s The Secret World was not selling all that well; Funcom’s own public press release highlighted a (presumably optimistic) scenario in which they sell half a million boxes and have ~120k subscribers after a year.

As reported by Kotaku, that other shoe has dropped: 50% of Funcom’s staff has been laid off.

Some of these initiatives are part of normal procedure following the launch of a major project, such as adjustments to the customer service staffing based on the number of customers in the game as well as adjustments to the production team as the project goes into a post-launch phase following years of intense development. Many of those affected on the customer service team are on temporary contracts which is common for a live service such as ‘The Secret World’ where customer service demand shifts based on the game’s population levels.

Even the “good news” part of that – the developers/designers were less affected than “temp” customer service reps – comes across as bad news to my ears. After all, if the MMO was doing better, then one would presumably want to retain a robust CustServ department.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wonder whether or not we should start using layoffs as a metric of MMO success. Obviously subscription numbers have been used as the de facto measurement for years, and I imagine it correlates with layoffs pretty strongly already, but I think most of us recognize the dissonance between claiming “Game X failed” while it still remains profitable. I mean, for god’s sake, Warhammer Online is still kicking it with a subscription¹. EA is not keeping that thing alive out of the goodness of its heart. In fact, arguably, keeping Warhammer alive is unnecessarily cruel.

Or… perhaps we would all be better off not bothering with arbitrary success or failure designations entirely.

…nah, this is the internet. There can only be one!

Speaking of immortals losing their heads…

You will be forgiven if you have not been following the “Example #38417 of How Social Media Will Ruin Your Day” Diablo 3 news story, staring Jay “And Double It” Wilson.

The short version is that one of the developers of the original Diablo (David Brevik) made some comments about Diablo 3 in an interview, and essentially said he would have made different decisions. More or less. The current developers of Diablo 3 did not like that too much, and Jay Wilson thought it was a good idea to respond on Facebook by saying, and I quote, “Fuck that loser.” You can read the Kotaku write-up if you like, as it includes snippets of the interview in question and a screencap of the Facebook post itself.

Looking at the other comments, I’d say Eric Bachour’s “You’d think that guy wasn’t responsible for Hellgate: London. Lol.” was the more epic burn.

In any case, Jay “Fuck that loser and Double It” Wilson has an official pseudo-apology up on the Diablo 3 boards. I do not expect you to actually click on that link, because most of it is PR bullshit (redundantly redundant much?). Well… alright, if you skip the first four paragraphs, things get more interesting. Or you can simply read this handy list of bullet-point quotes:

  • “We believe it’s a great game. But Diablo III has flaws. It is not perfect. Sales mean nothing if the game doesn’t live on in all of our hearts, and standing by our games is what Blizzard does.”
  • “If you don’t have that great feeling of a good drop being right around the corner — and the burst of excitement when it finally arrives — then we haven’t done our jobs right.”
  • “Out of our concern to make sure that Diablo III would have longevity, we were overly cautious about how we handled item drops and affixes. If 1.0.4 hasn’t fixed that, you can be sure we’ll continue to address it.”
  • “Part of the problem, however, is not just item drops, but the variety of things to do within the game. “
  • “As it stands, Diablo III simply does not provide the tools to allow players to scale the game challenge to something appropriate for them.”
  • “Later in the development of Diablo II, the ‘players 8’ command — which let people set monster difficulty — was added to address this issue, and we’re considering something similar for the next major Diablo III patch to allow players to make up their own minds about how hard or how easy is right for them.”
  • “The Auction House can short circuit the natural pace of item drops, making the game feel less rewarding for some players. This is a problem we recognize. At this point we’re not sure of the exact way to fix it, but we’re discussing it constantly, and we believe it’s a problem we can overcome.”

I have a spoiler alert for you Jay: that last bullet point ain’t going to happen. Not only is that cat out of the bag, it has been skinned in more than one way across all nine of its lives.

I played a few hours of D3 since the patch, and I have noticed three things:

  1. “Normal monster health increased by 10%” = +5 terribly boring seconds per mob.
  2. I can tank Act 3 Inferno elites in the same gear/skills I was 2-shot in pre-patch.
  3. Gold prices have gone from $2.50/million down to $1.06/million.

That last one is a real shame, as I was hoping to cash out my ~5 million gold and (combined with the few bucks from earlier sales) maybe purchase a month of WoW ahead of MoP. Then again, that would be kind of silly to do given the Scroll of Resurrection’s free server transfer bonus, and GW2’s imminent release notwithstanding. Oh well.

Kind of wonder if that dude who paid $200 for my friend’s 2H sword is still playing the game. I do not know which possibility would be more sad for him/her.

¹ Warhammer says it is F2P on the website, but as far as I can tell it operates more as an unlimited duration free trial than true F2P. For example, you cannot go to the capital cities, cannot engage in any economic transaction with another player, and are limited to “Tier 1 scenarios,” whatever the hell that means (it’s been years since the one month I played).

Game Changer

I regret using such a punchy title for Diablo 3’s 1.0.4 patch, but good god have you seen this?

Introducing the Paragon System

The new Paragon system coming in patch 1.0.4 is designed to address Magic Find gear-swapping while providing players who’ve reached level 60 with an extended progression system.
Here’s how it works:

  • After you hit level 60, any further experience you earn from killing monsters will begin to count toward Paragon levels
  • There are 100 Paragon levels
  • Every Paragon level will reward you with:
    • Core stats such as Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Vitality in amounts similar to what you’d gain from a normal level
    • 3% Magic Find and 3% Gold Find

In addition, a distinctive increasingly-impressive border will surround your character portrait in the in-game party frame to denote your Paragon progression, with a new frame earned after every ten levels. Your Paragon level will also be visible to other players wherever your normal level is shown.


The time to reach the upper Paragon levels approximates the long-term time investment required to get a level 99 character in Diablo II.

Now, the above is in addition to all the AH changes – the biggest of which is the ability to sort by Bid Price and Ending Time (eBay snipe city incoming) – and all the class and difficulty changes I talked about last time. For sheer scope, I recommend checking out the full patch notes as well.

Oh, and it will probably be Live by the time you read this, not the 28th like I thought.

Sitting in my chair, jaw slightly ajar, I could not help but start wondering if there comes a point at which even positive changes become too conspicuous. This patch feels like I just started haggling with a used car salesman and he immediately gave me the keys and said “Here, just take it and go.” Eyebrows and suspicious are raised in equal measure. These are not features Blizzard had planned to roll out at the start, like PvP; damn near everything is a concession based on (negative) feedback that apparently came to a great surprise to Jay “And Double It!” Wilson and crew. Should they be praised for listening to feedback or damned for releasing a game in such apparent need of repair?

Also… what does Blizzard know that we do not? Did they perhaps intend for Diablo 3 to hold everyone over until MoP’s launch, but the negative 2 million subs and the (assumed) precipitous drop in D3 player activity got them spooked? Why else roll out this magnitude of changes? I have no idea. All I do know is that this version of D3 I might be playing tonight is going to almost be a completely different game than the one I started playing four months ago.

And since I haven’t even reviewed Diablo 3 yet… I’m not sure which game to write about now.

Diablo 3.5 Release Date is… Released

In what undoubtedly was an amazing case of pure coincidence, Diablo 3’s groundbreaking 1.0.4 patch is coming out “the fourth week of August.” Hmm. What day do Blizzard patches come out on? Tuesdays, I think? What is the Tuesday in the last week of August? The… 28th. August 28th. Good thing I have nothing else planned to do that day.

Kidding aside, patch 1.0.4 may as well be called Diablo 3.5 for the sheer scope of the sweeping changes to endgame. Let’s look at them a bit closer:

Co-Op Buffs

Gold/Magic Find will no longer be averaged between party members. While Blizzard admits that they were originally worried about leechers jumping into multiplayer with pure Magic Find gear and thereby not likely pulling their weight, the complete lack of foresight displayed was astonishing. If I am capable of farming Act 1 Inferno by myself with 228% MF, why in god’s name would I join with a random stranger who not only increases monster HP (getting nerfed this patch too, by the way) but likely reduces my level of MF by his/her mere presence?

The other guy gets my bonus, and I get his… what? Pleasurable company?

Pro Design Tip: don’t build your co-op or multiplayer system around Russian Roulette, e.g. you are no better off when you win, but when you lose, you lose big.

Severe, Sweeping Elite Pack Nerfs

And I mean severe. Any one of these changes would be huge on its own, but Blizzard is throwing the whole goddamn pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Look at it:

  • Elite HP reduced by 10-25%.
  • Regular mob HP increased by 5-10%, but 4x more likely to drop magic items.
  • Specific nerfs to Fire Chains and Shielding affixes; Invulnerable Minions getting removed.
  • Removal of Enrage Timers for Elites (!!!).
  • Removal of HP regeneration for Elites after player death (!!!).

Those last two items would have been more than enough to fix most of my issues with Inferno by themselves. The current system is binary: you can either kill the pack (or one member thereof) or you cannot. While removing Enrage Timers and HP regeneration can/will lead to Graveyard Rushes, I never understood how exactly that was a bad thing. Just because I can die six times in a row to finally take out an obstinate foe does not mean I don’t care about those six deaths. Dying in a game is penalty enough because I already wanted to survive; extra penalties are generally superfluous unless death serves some other gameplay function.

Sweeping Item Buffs

Although the buffs appear only targeted for weapons right now, this is nevertheless a big deal:

Weapon damage is the most important stat on a weapon. It can be disheartening to get a lot of weapon drops and you know before even looking at them that they have no chance of being good. To help give weapons a fighting chance, the raw damage value on all level 61 and 62 weapons will be able to roll damage that extends all the way to the top end of level 63.

While we will still see awesome +800 Life per Hit-esque stats on ilevel 62 weapons with unusably low DPS, the mere chance that it could be a better drop instead is a great move forward. Of course, it will lead to rampant stat inflation and subsequent hollowing out of the AH economy, but at this point, who cares? Hell, if we can get to a place where I can get a goddamn upgrade off the ground instead of praying for good drops to sell for gold to buy upgrades from other people, I will gladly throw the entire AH under the bus.

Also, I guess Legendaries are getting buffed? Since the average player is only ever going to see the buffed Legendaries in the AH, I never understood why Blizzard talked much about them at all; it is not as though they are farmable items.

Ridiculous (but Needed) Class Changes

I do not really know anything about the class changes yet, but I am going to go ahead and declare them ridiculous. They would have to be, assuming Blizzard follows through on this:

  • Does the skill fill a similar role as an extremely popular skill? If so, buff the skill to be competitive with the popular skill. For example, Bola Shot could be a solid skill, but simply doesn’t have the raw damage when compared to Hungering Arrow, so we’re buffing Bola Shot to be competitive.
  • Does a skill have a dominant rune? If so, can we buff the underused runes to be more competitive? A good example here is the Wizard Hydra skill. The Venom Hydra is by far the most popular rune, and for good reason, so we are buffing the other runes to make them more competitive with Venom Hydra.

What could possibly compete with the monk’s Fists of Thunder (Thunderclap rune) or Deadly Reach (Keen Eye rune), for example? Or, god help us all, the One With Everything passive?


I cannot say I have any particular faith that Blizzard will fix everything broken with Diablo 3, but even given this very preliminary information I can confidentially state that I will log back on once 1.0.4 goes live. It may only be long enough to finish out Inferno Act 3 & Act 4 before uninstalling for good, but hey. If there is a chance to relieve blue balls, you go for it.

Population vs Community

Population is the antithesis to community.

In other words, the bigger a community grows, the more it ceases to be a community at all.

com·mu·ni·ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee]
noun, plural com·mu·ni·ties.

3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists

A lot of words have been said regarding the degradation of the “MMO community” or a community specific to an MMO, typically in the context of developer mistakes decisions. While my argument technically supports those who claim that, for example, WoW devs killed the WoW community by pooling the population together via LFD and the like, the actual mechanism of community destruction was simply the existence of more warm bodies.

The more people you get together in one place…

  1. The lower the chances you have of seeing any individual again.
  2. The easier it is for good players to get lost in the crowd.
  3. The easier it is for extremely bad behavior to get noticed.
  4. The more incentive someone has to behave even worse (for attention, or other gain).

You may have heard about Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory. I suggest the “Anonymity” component is redundant with Crowd. In sufficient numbers, even one’s real name becomes irrelevant, assuming it isn’t duplicated to begin with, i.e. John Smith. Think back to the cliques that formed in high school. Chances are that the negative behavior of the members of the clique did not persist on the individual level when they were split up (beyond, perhaps, a catalyst). For myself, I distinctly remember the dichotomy between how much the football team could be assholes during lunch, but how well behaved (and friendly!) they were in Art class, including the ringleader (so to speak). Even if we assume that such a clique required X amount of sadism in order to remain a member, the fact that it was apparently modulated on the basis of number of witnesses is telling.

I bring all this up as a means of arguing against Milday’s mourning of the loss of “community activism,” for lack of a better term. To her, things were better when people behaved out of fear of Scarlet Letters and social ostracization, rather than behaving well simply for lack of griefing tools. It is impossible to steal a resource node or ninja a dungeon drop in Guild Wars 2, for example, and that is apparently a bad thing. Better that someone could behave badly and such behavior be punished, than a world with no wrong to be done.¹

And, hey, perhaps Milady is even right. Maybe that is better.

The problem is that social ostracization only works on a community level. Could a ninja get blacklisted in the “glory days” of vanilla and TBC? On smaller servers, sure. Or maybe even on larger servers in the “community” of people running dungeons at 3am. But then again… were they really blacklisted? Paid name changes were rolled out in October 2007; server transfers existed since mid-2006. Alts existed since Day 1. And, let us be serious here, social ostracization only works anyway when both A) the entire community acts as one unit, and B) the target even cares. Your “xxIllidanxx is a ninja” spam might have inconvenienced xxIllidanxx for the 30 minutes you posted in Trade Chat², but what about the rest of the time? Chances are that he still got a group eventually, either because someone was really that desperate or they simply did not know. Or perhaps enough of his ninja friends logged on today.

The flood of LFD strangers circa end of Wrath makes social ostracization in WoW dungeons moot, of course. But I would say it was moot to begin with, given the size of WoW as a whole and the underlying level of persistent churn. There will always be more people. Even if you stopped xxIllidanxx in his ninja-looting guild-hopping TBC tracks, such that he reformed or quit the game entirely… xxArthasxx is right behind him. And xxDethwingxx. And xxlegolasxx. And so forth and so on ad infinitum. Not necessarily because there are infinite jerks/morons in the world (there is), but because the underlying incentive to behave badly still exists.

In the land of law-abiding citizens, the one criminal is king, to bastardize a phrase.

Should we simply throw up our hands and endure bad behavior? Of course not. But with games of sufficient size, the only solution that works is a systemic one. Guild hopping a problem? GW2 lets you join multiple guilds. Ninja looting and/or Need Whoring getting you down? Individual loot has rolled out in Diablo 3, GW2, and is coming to a LFR near you. Even Copper Ore nodes cannot be stolen in GW2, only shared.

The only downside to systemic solutions is what Milady refers to as the Automatization of the Social. In other words, if you provide in-game incentives to positive social actions – such as getting XP for helping resurrect dead players – one can no longer tell whether the action was performed for altruistic reasons, or selfish ones. I might suggest there is no difference between the two (altruism typically feels good), but I also recognize the potential pitfalls – I hardly ever thanked a stranger for rezzing me in GW2, whereas it would have been a bigger deal in WoW.

The key though, is simply recognizing all the new opportunities be sociable. Ever do Diablo 3 co-op and then stop and ask if your wizard partner needed the rare staff you picked up? Would Need vs Greed been better there? I say that voluntarily giving up a “secret” item is more social than simply not hitting Need. I have mentioned GW2’s resource node sharing several times now. In WoW, maybe there was social interaction is letting the other Miner grab the ore when you both show up. Or maybe you ganked them/stole it while they were in combat. In GW2, since you both can take the same node, you have an incentive to work together to kill the spider guarding it. That’s more social than what came before, IMO, because even if you gave the stranger the node in WoW, it allowed you to get to the next node faster, or the knowledge to move to a less-farmed area to maximize your own gains.

In Conclusion…

Any non-static community will “degrade” over time as the benefits of bad behavior naturally escalates with each additional member. The only real solution is changing the fundamental interaction between members, such that the more odious bad behavior becomes more than disincentivized, but impossible. With each additional participant in a Prisoner’s Dilemma, the more likely the worst possible outcome comes to pass. Ergo, it is best to never present the Prisoner’s Dilemma at all, if you can help it.

Out of all of the social engineering experiments we have seen in the MMO space, the results of individual looting/resource nodes is the one I am looking forward to seeing the most. It is a fundamental shift away from zero-sum – I win the item, you don’t – to win-win. At least in theory. Maybe it will turn us all into asocial solipsists playing our single-player MMOs.

In which case… well, I still consider that a win-win compared to the current paradigm.

¹ Which should make one question one’s assumptions about the desirability of Heaven, eh?
² Ironically, xxIllidanxx would have a good case against you for in-game harassment.