Sunday, 25 September 2011

Diablo 2: Ladder reset tomorrow?

EDIT: Apologies all, I didn't do my homework.

Blizzard posters have confirmed that nothing is imminent although they haven't forgotten about D2 players.

We're holding off on a reset to figure out some things. We'll let you know as soon as we do.  

Just wanted to let everyone know we haven't forgotten about you, we're still working some things out to determine when a reset may occur, and we'll let you know as soon as we do. 

If anyone else is passing the time until D3 with the older versions of the game then it may interest you to try the D2 Ladder if it resets tomorrow.

Ladder resets are due every 6 months, however there's been no official announcement. So it's a bit unclear whether we get one or not. Let's hope so.

It's been ages since I played the Ladder seriously but I remember it being fairly easy to place so you get to see your name. And it's quite fun to level up under a sense of time pressure. You see yourself as, say, 41st, play for an hour or two log off and bam, you're 38th when you log off.

I'm going to try the Hardcore ladder because that gives the additional spice of seeing your place rise because someone above you has exited the race (mwa ha ha). I'll play a Barb for the fun of it, a Druid if he takes an early bath.

While there's always a fair amount of cheating and duping in D2 this is a time when it's at its absolute minimum - people can't dupe until they've found something to copy in the first place.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Pacifism and video games

Pacifism, the philosophy of non-violence, has a long and distinguished tradition in human thought. Jesus Christ was a pacifist. Mahatma Ghandi. Compassion for all life, human and nonhuman, is central to Buddism and Jainism. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century gave rise to a number of pacifists sects including the Quakers and the Amish. The Quaker province of Pennsylvania was essentially unarmed and experienced little or no warfare during the 75 years from 1681 to 1756. The nineteenth century saw more articulation of this position, including the thoughts of Russian author Tolstoy. The rise of socialism based on the theories of Marx saw an opposition to war which was seen by many socialists as exploitative of the working class for the benefit of capitalist profiteers.

The First World War featured "conchies", conscientious objectors, who refused to fight. 16 000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors in the UK of whom 6 000 were sent to prison. They were often despised by the general public, with a white feather being handed to them (signifying they were cowards). In World War Two there were 60 000 conscientious objectors of whom 5500 were imprisoned. Many conchies were given work in non-combatant military service such as the Royal Army Medical Corps. 350 of them even volunteered for bomb disposal work.

In real wars pacifism is an important consideration. In politics and diplomacy peace is often sought as a desirable goal. So why are games so bloodthirsty? And do they always have to be?

There are two main reasons that games are bloodthirsty. One is tradition, the other relates to game mechanics.

The traditional accent on war in games goes right back to ancient civilisations and is, I think, influenced by the availability of equipment. There are of course games with free or cheap equipment - any kid can grab a feather and run around tickling the other kids, any kid can find a stick and throw it. Dice are fairly cheap to carve from wood or bone. But more sophisticated games such as chess, go, and draughts required leisure to produce, leisure which was only available to those who could extract the labour surplus - the warlords. While the peasants toiled in the fields the warlords and their knights waited, bored, for a fight and devised ways to pass the time. These pastimes reflected their interest in war and were a way to pass their military wisdom to their heirs.

Computer games directly inherited this theme. The early uses of computer for gaming was a dream of building a computer so sophisticated that it could beat a human at chess, seen as one of the most intellectual of achievements during the 1950s and 1960s. The other big influence on computer gaming was Dungeons and Dragons, a combat game that evolved from tabletop wargaming.

Computers are particularly suited to game mechanics that are based around fighting. In life the alternative to fighting is talking, whether to playground bullies or around the diplomatic table. Talking was particularly difficult for early computers to handle as they were machines built to process numbers not language. I wonder if this is still true. While computers are based on numbers deep down we have so many sophisticated programs for dealing with language that this technological limitation may no longer apply to these tools. Google applies sophisticated algorithms to search phrases that may be linguistically inelegant and still finds relevant results even where the search is clumsily phrased. Virtual worlds are used for language learning with over 200 universities or academic institutions using Second Life.

So is it time for a pacifist game, specifically a pacifist MMO?

Here's a design framework.

The game world is based on modern society. Players start as young people entering the world of work and must develop careers as the main game play mechanism with pacifism as the goal for most players and war as the goal for a small minority. So advancing your career is how you play, completing your career without war is how you win if you're a pacifist, causing a war is how you win if you're a hawk. One possible way of motivating people would be Winners Play Free - if you win you get another go. This of course would mean that the company doesn't make much money when the pacifists win, that doesn't necessarily matter and shouldn't influence game design.

In the pacifist gameplay you have a role that is basically firefighting. So a journalist might need to write an article condemning a military solution to a crisis contrived by the game engine and exacerbated by the hawk players. The article could be tested using metrics software - how many people Like it, how long do people spend reading it? (If people glance at it for 2 seconds then hit Like that's not going to count for much). Hawks have career advantages in that they have dirty tricks options. So they can blackmail, bribe and beat up people to advance their careers.

The gameplay can be extended to real world social networks with the ability to make Youtube videos, to tweet, to create social media pages in game. So for example you could give a speech in game, upload it to Youtube, get a million hits and 100k likes in the real world and that would influence your character's success in game. Speeches and videos would also be matched against a google type algorithmic pattern searching program to see if the speech matches peaceful themes or warlike themes. If a speech is given that is warlike, even if given by a pacifist player then all those hits advance the cause of war.

Career paths that players could choose should reflect influence brokers and power in modern society. Politicians, political lobbyists; businessmen and women, military officers, secret agents, journalists, union leaders. Affiliation would be secret (although players might guess based on someone's actions). Most spots in the game would be doves. This may well not reflect what players want to do so two things would be needed to keep the matches balanced. First players don't have a choice - they pay their money they draw a card, if they get their preference great, if they don't they can pay to draw again if they want or play what they drew. Next activity needs to be monitored. If 40% of your doves are inactive you need to add more doves to the match. This is fine since it means that people in the game will be at different stages of their careers.

Everyone's allegiance is secret but there should be some solid advantages to being overt. A pacifist newspaper might be able to wrack up a lot of Peace Points. A hawk newpaper getting a lot of Likes and Time Spent Reading could be really dangerous.

The timeframe of a game is the length of someone's career. If we says they start at 20 and retire at 65 that gives us 45 years. A reasonable length of time for a match might be 9 months, so we have 5 years of career progression per month.

Working title? How about "Peace in our time?"

Friday, 16 September 2011

Diablo 3: Item Affixes

Today I'm going to have a look at item affixes in Diablo 3.

Affixes are a bonus, usually to a single stat. +2% chance to crit is an example. The word affix means a word or phrase that goes before or after a word. If I'm Sir Stabs of Goldshire Sir is an affix and so is of Goldshire. An affix that comes before is called a prefix and an affix that comes after is called a suffix.

Magic items in the game will have a number of affixes determined by the item type. I'm expecting that rare and standard magic items will work similarly to Diablo 2. In D2 a blue item had 1 or 2 affixes and a rare item had 3-6. This generally meant that rares were better than blues. (There were some exceptions but as Jay Wilson said in an interview rares would be the best items we'll ignore those for the point of thinking about D3).

In this picture from D3 Beta we see two blue items. Both of them have two affixes, one each of suffix and prefix. So if we look at the names it breaks down to:

Prefix=Oak              Item type=wand                Suffix=of the Oracle
Prefix=Ferocious      Item type=Great Axe        Suffix=of Mutilation

Rares don't follow this naming convention, they have names that are not connected to their item properties.

In addition there are crafted items. Crafted items usually have some fixed properties and some affixes. (It will say random properties, which is a synonym for affixes).

In this instance there aren't any fixed properties. When you make this wand you get 4 random affixes. The damage probably varies a little as well.

This will change each time you make an item using the recipe. Even the same recipe will usually produce varying items.

In this picture we can see two pairs of gloves made using the Journeyman Chain Gloves (rare) recipe. The amount of armour clearly varies as do the properties. We've got some properties that are the same on both (eg Attacker takes damage) but it's not possible from this screenshot to say whether the recipe gives 4 random properties or a mixture of fixed and random since it's possible that the gloves have the same properties through chance. Note also that the exact numbers vary on most properties. Here one Attacker takes damage is 5 the other is 6. That's just luck.

Better affixes and different affixes are added into the mix as the level of the item rises. (Level of the item will usually be similar to the level of the area it was found or the level of the player crafting it). Some affixes won't be available at all at low levels and some will have relatively small numbers until later in the game.

And there are also legendary (unique) and set items. Legendary items are generally fairly strong and may have properties that aren't on the standard affix list. Set items are like legendaries but in addition have bonus properties when multiple items from the same set are worn. Most set items in D3 are I believe made by craftsmen using rare recipes dropped by monsters.

One of the many mathematical peculiarities of D2 was that some very similar sounding affixes worked in very different ways. For example + enhanced damage was miles better than + enhanced damage to demons even against demons. This is because the first one got factored into the equation at an earlier stage so it got multiplied by skills and stat bonuses rather than just being added at the end.

We won't know how D3 functions mathematically until people theorycraft by doing practical tests. But just bear in mind that many of the numbers in D2 did not do what they claimed to. +20% attack speed did not make you attack 20% faster, +100% magic find did not double your magic find chance.

For now my best advice is expect it to do something similar to what one would expect but maybe not exactly. I do expect D3 to be less inexact, the D2 mathematics felt rather botched together. I remember Peter Hu, one of the D2 designers explaining a system to us on a theorycraft site and he sounded almost embarrassed.

We have details of what affixes do in Diablo 3, some from beta screenshots and some from this site. Bashiok mentioned the gold find radius affix in passing a few days ago - from this screenshot we see it's not just gold but health globes too.

Looking at the datamined list we see that prefixes and suffixes unlike Diablo 2 are about the same list. I'm now going to classify addons into types:

+ stats
+ damage
+crit chance
+gold find
+gold and health globe pickup radius
+magic find
+ fast cast
+ improved attack speed
CC reduction
Damage reduction
+ defence
+ experience gained per monster kill
+ fury/spirit gain (as a leech effect possibly)
+ health/hatred/mana/spirit regen
+ health globe (drop chance?)
Life and mana leech
Item cost increase (appears to make the item vendor for more gold)
+mana/life per kill
+ maximum Discipline/Fury/Mana/Arcane power
+ run speed
+ salvage (chance for more mats?)
Attacker takes damage (very useful for zookeeper witchdoctors with the passive that extends this to their pets)
plus a few that I couldn't figure out

So there's a lot to choose from and when you find a rare you could luck out and get 6 good ones or you could be unlucky and get some of the turkeys and/or get less than 6. And don't forget that if you don't like what you see there legendary and set items may have properties not on that list.

One thing that does occur to me - I can certainly see myself having a +salvage alt or gear swap and melting everything with a character who has + salvage in every slot.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Diablo 3: Who's who in the economy?

The Buyers

The Veteran - Most buyers I think will be ambitious experienced players wanting to be a little bit stronger. Someone like me in fact - if I spot a good deal on a +magic find item I don't mind dropping a few pounds on it. Maybe it'll pay itself off. Some of the systems in the game seem very cleverly designed to get people to spend just a little. For example the skill planner I've been playing with recently uses level 7 runes which are ilvl 58 and presumably only drop in Inferno. Some of the builds I made need the full bonus of the rune to make the build work, my Teleport build would be much less good if a cheap rune was in the Teleport spell and that meant you had too short a window to find your next destination. So you can build something on the planner, get all excited, realise you can't make it work with what you're finding and be drawn to the RMAH to make your build work. People will get sucked in.

The Noobs - Tobold thinks the market will be driven by people who are not very good but want to disguise that by paying for success. He's right that it's a factor, I'm not sure this will be the biggest driver of the economy though. They can pay huge amounts. One DDO player spent $200 on mana pots from the cash shop in the first month of free-to-play. He could have kept them healed using wands bought from vendors cheaply for in-game gold. He didn't know about that and didn't want to tell the others he couldn't keep on healing them.

The Traders - some people will buy items they have no intention of using simply because they think they can sell at a higher price. Sometimes they will be right and make money, sometimes they'll get it wrong and lose out.

The Narcissists - some people will buy items because of the appearance. Dyes, flashy spell effects and cool looking armour will have value to them.

The Big Spender - anecdotes abound of That Guy. You know of him, you've heard about him. He's the guy who spent $6m on his house in planet Calypso; the guy who bought over $100k of plex in Eve or the celebrity whose wife owns a Spectral Tiger in WoW. Of course what these people are really buying is celebrity, the fact that they value owning something that other people can't afford is a phenomenon that gave rise to the unfortunate cash shop monocle in Eve. Count on hearing stories of spectacular extravagance in D3 (because the whole point of spending 1000 times more than anyone else is to have people notice "wow, that guy spent 1000 times more than me").

The pvper - competitive pvp generally forces people to min/max. While there is some scope for coming up with an original and powerful build early on the scene quickly becomes a matter of using cookie cutter builds with specific optimal gear. Anything on the gear list of the most successful cookie cutters will be in high demand.

The Sellers

The regular players - by far the biggest RMAH input will be from normal unremarkable players turning surplus loot into cash. Most of the time these people will never use the AH either to buy or sell but occasionally one of them will find an item that people tell him is worth a decent sum. And he doesn't want to use it. Not individually very economically busy but so many of them that they will dominate the market supply.

The amateur farmer - someone who farms and sells it because it's a minigame. The profits are a way of keeping score. This will be a popular playstyle and a significant source of supply. This is where I'd classify myself.

The trader - buying from other players and re-selling at a profit. I think this will start off quite popular but will burn a lot of people. There are players who think they're incredibly shrewd based on WoW or Eve who are going to get burned when they start playing for real money. It's like someone who usually beats the family at cards over Christmas thinking he'll be great at Poker in the casino. Some people will make money of course and quite possibly a handful of people will make a lot of money.

The Chinese gold farmer (blue collar) - traditionally MMO gold farming has been a low skill low status job in the Asian economies where this has become an industry. The worker moves his character to a zone with non-elite monsters intended for soloing, presses a couple of attacks and collects loot. For hours. At the end of his shift he sells off his loot for anything he can get and a replacement worker starts a shift (selling off anything his colleague failed to liquidate). I think this business model will fail in Diablo 3. Not completely, these guys can farm Nightmare or early Hell but late Hell and Inferno will be too hard for them. The way they share the characters in shifts means workers will sell off all of the character's gear at the end of their shifts which will really mess up the character's ability to farm. The tendency to solo hurts them and the tendency to view this as skillless menial work. There simply won't be much money in mindless farming. We may see these guys turn up in random pugs as magic find leeches.

The Chinese gold farmer (white collar) - currently white collar work in the industry includes things like customer service where the worker has to be a bit more switched on and clued up. (Especially if the exchange of goods is accompanied by social engineering aimed at getting the client's password). Diablo 3 will surely see a new era of professionalism in gold farming where gold farming teams start recruiting good players, where people have sole access to a character, where they keep some of their good gear, and where they play in synergistic teams. I don't think many such teams will be ready to go on Day One but I do think we will see a transition to this format during 2012 and 2013. A feature of this business will be that they trade through Blizzard's system, effectively they're real players who just farm all the time and don't do anything outside the EULA nor behave different from most other players.

The Chinese scammer - scamming, phishing and hacking is the fastest growing part of the RMT industry. This business model is dishonest all the way through. Typically they pay for an account with a stolen credit card number, offer item selling or power leveling that is mainly an attempt to get passwords, phish for passwords, then after a few months log onto their clients' accounts and strip them. These guys will sell D3 items cheaper than the RM auction house to get people to visit sites where they'll use trojans and keyloggers to steal player accounts. They'll get cleverer too so we'll start seeing informational websites and forums that look like they're done by an English-speaker which are actually attempts to steal people's information. Do be careful, I think this sector will get more sophisticated and more desperate because I think Blizzard's model marginalises them. A lot of people buy items in games, most of these will use the obvious in-game system. These businesses can't trade on that system if I'm right in assuming that Blizzard won't let you take real money out until your credit card has cleared. They have to lure people to third party sites.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Diablo 3: Thriving on chaos - a Barbarian build

I was intrigued by one of the runes for Wrath of the Berserker. Wrath of the Berserker is designed as a powerful short duration buff. Normally it buffs you for 15 seconds and has a cooldown of 120 seconds. Adding a golden runestone gives the following effect: Every 9 Fury gained while Wrath of the Berserker is active adds 1 second to the duration of the effect.

Here's the six million dollar question: can you perma-Wrath?

If we can gain 9 Fury every second all the time then this buff never runs out. That's +10% critical hit, +45% attack speed, +20% dodge and +20% movement speed always.

Let's start by looking at the passives.

There are quite a lot that improve Fury generation and I think the most intriguing is No Escape which improves the damage of Weapon Throw by 100% and gives us 20 Fury every time we kill an enemy with Weapon Throw. OK, so now to perma-wrath all we need to do is kill an enemy with Weapon Throw every 2 seconds or so. We'll add in another couple of Fury-generators: Animosity and Unforgiving. Now we get 22 Fury every time we kill an opponent with our double damage Weapon Throws and we regenerate 1.1 Fury every 2 seconds.

Now let's look at our actives. We already know two of them.

1) Wrath of the Berserker runed for perma-Wrath.

2) Weapon Throw runed with something that gives us more kills.

Mighty throw rune boosts its damage which is nice but there's two even better choices.

Ricochet allows it to hit 8 extra foes which is very strong but I think there's something even better than that.

Dread shot will spend all remaining Fury to do a huge aoe to all opponents in 22 yards. As long as that kills something we get 22 Fury back and can cast it again. We have a huge spammable AOE that keeps us in perma-Wrath for as long as there are things to kill. Assuming the passive applies this does 18% damage of weapon damage per Fury point and a full Fury globe on this character is 120. So OVER TWO THOUSAND PERCENT OF YOUR BIG TWOHANDER'S WEAPON DAMAGE TO EVERYTHING IN 22 YARDS. And if you kill 6 things you get another go with a full Fury bulb. In a Diablo series game where much of the combat is about fighting small weak creatures that's astonishingly good.

3-6) OK so we know how we want to kill things - Weapon Throw. As long as we keep killing with Weapon Throw we don't need to use Fury builders and we do massive aoe damage. So most of these extra skills I've picked for mobility. Staying in perma-rage will be a race against the clock, we have to be moving fast, killing fast all the time. Note too that we don't want to kill with these skills, it suits us much better if we set up Weapon Throw kills because they give us more Fury.

3) Furious charge glyphed for bonus Fury generation.

4) Leap Attack. Our signature mobility skill, it allows us to jump over obstacles like rivers without having to run round the long way.

5) Sprint. Because sometimes you do have to run round the long way and it's good to get to the next pack before Wrath drops off.

6) Frenzy. Decent Fury builder for times when we don't have any Fury plus we move faster when it's up.

Here's the link.

Diablo 3: Waste an hour on the skill planner

Blizzard have updated their Diablo 3 website with a skill planner and it really is a whole toy in itself. Thanks to for the tip and to Marcko for the tip about Barbarian loot skills.

These are the characters I've made so far:

Lootmaster Barb

Runed Hammer of the Ancients gives enemies 55% chance to drop treasure or health globes when you crit them with the Hammer. This means crits are loot so we'll take the Ruthless passive for more crit chance. Runed Battle Rage gives you 20% chance when you crit them with anything and you only need to cast it once every 60 seconds with the Inspiring Presence passive. It also boosts all attacks. That passive also helps Threatening Shout which coats nearby baddies with a 22% improved treasure drop. That one not only helps you but helps your mates too. Treasure find Barbs are going to be a popular party member.

For gear we want high crit and fast weapons. Fast weapons take more swings to do the same job and more swings is more crits is more loot. That's why Frenzy is a good complementary skill it gives more swings. It can also be runed to move round the map faster.

Teleport Wizard

Let's face it teleporting around was what made the Sorceress in D2 the premier magic find class. The developers of D3 claimed they'd made the sort of teleport spam we saw in D2 not possible in the new game. I think they were wrong.

Firstly Teleport can be runed with Wormhole that puts a delay before the cooldown is applied. In other words as long as you keep teleporting Teleport doesn't have a cooldown. You Teleport, the clock ticks, one thousand and one, one thousand and two, and doink, Teleport has a cooldown. If you're quick enough to find a new destination and go you can spam it as long as you have enough Arcane Power.

So let's build in some Arcane power. Astral presence and Prodigy are two AP-improving passives and your signature spell can be runed to give arcane power every cast. Once runed a Magic Missile gives 19 AP as compared to Teleport's cost of 15 so if we run out we just need to stop and nuke something a couple of times.

OK so we have a build that can move about a lot, make it a bit tougher with an armour spell and add some damage. We're done.

The Butt-Kicking Monk

I built this Monk around the Seven Sided Strike skill. With rune and passive this is what the skill does:

Teleport between nearby enemies 7 times striking for 234% weapon damage every hit. Heals Monk for 3195 life. 75 spirit, no cooldown.

That gives a simple playstyle of building up spirit until we've got enough then destroying everything with our big uber skill.

The spirit generating attacks give 6 spirit per attack, 7.2 with our passive if we use a two-handed weapon. We'd want to use a two-handed weapon in any case because our big attack is based off weapon damage. Not dps, damage.

I picked Fists of Thunder and Way of the Hundred Fists for the spirit builders although to be honest they all seem pretty similar tactically. Runed one of them for faster spirit generation and the other for a short duration buff. So we'll hit things with Hundred Fists until we have 3 stacks and then use it once every 5 seconds to refresh the stack, using Fists of Thunder the rest of the time.

Mantra of Conviction pairs beautifully with Seven Sided Strike allowing us to set up a pack to take more damage before we unleash our big hit. Breath of heaven allows us to do a big group heal instead of a Seven Sided Strike which could be useful and certainly will be desired in parties. In hardcore especially it's good to be able to keep a disconnected player alive.


Rocketwoman is a Demon Hunter based on the passive that gives rockets 100% bonus damage. Rockets are gained by glyphing certain skills and generally the rocket version does about the same damage as the vanilla version before the bonus is applied.

She also incidentally has gold-sniffing ferrets. In England in rural areas we have a sport known as ferret-legging. Your friends put a ferret, which is an animal like a thin small cat, into the bottom of your trousers and tie the leg of the trousers closed at the ankle. The frantic animal then wriggles around and probably bites. They usually climb upwards. The main interest of the sport is watching to see if the animal will bite the participant in the bollocks (it's always men who play this sport for some reason). So perhaps D3 is making a nod to the sport here with the ferrets running up your enemies' trousers to bite their trouser pockets where they keep their purses and their secret codpiece gold stashes to cause them to drop more gold for you to find. Even if I were not designing these characters with a view to gold and magic find that's a pop culture reference too wonderful to pass up.

I was once offered a go by sniggering farmers while on holiday in Somerset. I declined.

Let's talk about rockets. Not only are rockets phallic and thus fit the comedy theme of the build but they also come in quite a variety of types and seem rather powerful.

Sentry gives us a passive rocket-firing turret, Strafe allows us to fire rockets on the move, Multishot is a massive volley of arrows and rockets. We'll take Impale too for a single target fight and Marked for Death for a damage buff.

Big Bad Zoo Zoo

This is an attempt to re-make one of D2's most popular builds, the Zookeeper Necro. Zookeepers were very good indeed in D2 because they were one of the most gear-neutral builds. They rolled over everything except Act Bosses (which were specially adjusted to do disproportionately high damage to summoned minions). That's less of a problem in D3 because it's much easier to group, you don't risk being PKed (player-killed - the end of the road for Hardcore characters) and we've no reason to believe that minions will be similarly gimped on Act bosses. The goal is to keep a big army of monsters up that passively kill the monsters for you while you run around picking up loot, breaking urns and opening chests.

Dramatis personae:

Enter 4 Zombie Dogs, stage left. 3 from the basic spells, 4 with the passive which also makes them tougher. From youtube footage it seems like these are always out and follow you around. The core unit of the army.

Enter one Gargantuan. A big zombie. It may have a limited duration as there's a rune that makes it last only 20 seconds (possibly implying that the vanilla form lasts more than 20 seconds but not indefinitely).

Enter one big fat spider. The mother spider births spiderlings and lasts for 22 seconds.

Enter one big fat toad that swallows enemies whole.

Enter one army of dagger-wielding fetishes. It lasts 20 seconds and can be cast every 38 seconds thanks to cooldown reductions from rune and passive.

Enter one ritual dancer who buffs all the others.

That's quite a cast. Basic tactic is move to somewhere near some monsters and while your dogs buy you time drop some creatures on them then ignore the fight and hoover up loot. Wearing Thorns gear causes the monsters to beat themselves to death on your pets which gets the job done even faster. But it's probably simpler to just wear magic find in every slot.

Monday, 12 September 2011

What are they doing with OUR money?

Anyone who haunts MMO blogs and forums sees some variation of these words a lot. The devs are "neglecting" the game, they've stopped caring, they're developing (gasp) different games (which is an infidelity like cheating on a marriage).

I actually don't like the idea at all that MMOs are an investment and we are somehow buying ownership of them.

Imagine if you did it when you bought a beer. "Hey buddy, are you going to re-invest those $3 in new brewing technology? You better not be wasting my money or I'll stop drinking and make all my friends stop drinking too."

But Eve in particular is full of people who do precisely that, most notably of late The Mittani.

I think you should buy games like you'd buy a newspaper or an ice cream. Is the value of the item in excess of the value of the money you could save by not buying it?

Of course it's a means of exerting player power and as such it's even getting meta-gamed. However in the long run it's not healthy, players don't make sound holistic decisions that improve the game for everyone else and it generates an emotional knot that has people rage-quitting over the most irrational reasons. How many long standing Eve fans will never play Eve again after a monocle they would never have bought became available in a cash shop they would never look at?

It's just plain daft.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Diablo 3: latest in phishing

I just got this email. Apart from the instruction to reply to it's really very clever.

--- On Sun, 11/9/11, diablo3 wrote:

From: diablo3
Subject: Diablo III beta test invitation!
To: me
Date: Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 0:41

Greetings from Blizzard Entertainment!

We’re gearing up for the forthcoming launch of Diablo III and would like to extend you an invitation to participate in the beta test. If you are interested in participating, you need to have a account, which you can create on our website.

We will flag you for access to the Diablo III beta test when we begin admitting press. You do not need to go through the opt-in process.

To secure your place among the first of Sanctuary’s heroes,Please use the following template below to verify your account and information via email.

* Name:
* Battle.account name:
* Password:
* Country:
* E-mail Address:

Thanks and see you all in the Burning Hells!

Yes, I'll see you in Hell too.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Understanding liquidity - how to play the markets in games

I want to talk about liquidity. Liquidity in the economics sense means converting one item into another item easily. For example gold (real gold) can be sold for dollars and dollars can be traded for just about anything.

In business, economics or investment, market liquidity is an asset's ability to be sold without causing a significant movement in the price and with minimum loss of value. Money, or cash in hand, is the most liquid asset, and can be used immediately to perform economic actions like buying, selling, or paying debt, meeting immediate wants and needs.

Source: wikipedia

When I started playing Eve I realised something that I still find utterly astonishing - almost everything in Eve is liquid in the financial sense. Your battleship = 100m isk = a Sovereignty Blockade Unit. Stuff isn't perfectly liquid, there are transaction fees, price fluctuations, issues of location and so forth. But pretty much everything is at least 90% liquid. If you have a spare battleship and need a SBU you can exchange them without significant loss of value. Of course in certain circumstances such as price gouging and other market manipulations you may lose value but these are exceptional.

In WoW most items are not liquid. Your bind on pickup epic may be worth 1000 gold but you can only vendor it for 20 gold or at best disenchant it for 50 gold's worth of mats.

Let's now have a look at Diablo 3 where we will see some astonishing factors of liquidity. Just about everything not only can be converted to gold but also to real money (unless you play hardcore). Understanding liquidity in the game could have a profound effect on the way you play it. I'll illustrate with examples.

Example 1: non-liquid inventory management.

Barb character - loot discovered = one Barb sword, one Wizard wand, 5000 gold, 20 junk blues and rares, 5 assorted gems.

Barb uses sword and the damage gem, stashes the Wand in case they want to roll a wizard one day, vendors the junk blues, saves the gold, stashes the spare gems.

Example 2: liquid inventory management.

Barb character - loot discovered = one Barb sword, one Wizard wand, 5000 gold, 20 junk blues and rares, 5 assorted gems.

Barb uses sword. Trades the unwanted gems for damage gems and cubes up to make a really strong damage gem. Sells the Wand and buys a second Barb sword for dual wielding. Spots that crafter mats are expensive on the RMAH, salvages the junk blues for crafter mats, buys extra crafter mats on the gold AH, sells all of these crafter mats for real money.

This Barb has an extra weapon, a better gem and has stored his surplus in a more mudflation-proof currency than the first player.

All because he sees that anything can become anything else. Alternatively he could have used his RMAH profits to outfit his Barb better without spending more real money than the guy who just casually slings it into his stash.

If you take this to the highest level you monitor values across a range of markets and play them. Gold is selling high? Vendor/auction everything you don't need and sell the gold. RMAH legendaries are cheap? Raise real money using other surplus stuff and buy an uber weapon to kick butt with.

In a game where everything is liquid there is huge advantage to be gained by trading, selling to expensive markets and buying from cheap markets. What you shouldn't do is sit on value. Let me give another example:

Example 3: Non-liquid Barb player discovers a Windforce, an uber elite legendary bow. It's the first Windforce in the game and will sell for £2000. However he decides he wants to make a Demon Hunter. He rolls a new character and spends the next 2 weeks leveling his Demon Hunter, finally reaching level 60 and equipping his magnificent bow.

Example 4: Liquid Barb player discovers a Windforce, an uber elite legendary bow. It's the first Windforce in the game and will sell for £2000. He decides he wants to make a Demon Hunter but knows he's best cashing in now. He sells the Windforce for £2000. He rolls a new character and spends the next 2 weeks leveling his Demon Hunter, finally reaching level 60 and buying a Windforce, (several of which have now been found) for £200 He equips his magnificent bow and ponders how to spend his £1800 remaining funds. Maybe he'll wallpaper his house in Blizzard T-shirts. (Warning: RL Blizzard T-shirts are probably not very liquid).

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Eve Online: Player participation perverted

In which the head of the CSM, who also not so coincidentally is the head of the Goons in Eve, reveals that he has used the CSM to push through changes to the game that allow his alliance to beat their enemy alliances.

In his words:

"The fruits of our political efforts in March - winning the CSM and then establishing dominance there for the good of the game - are finally being revealed in public: not only is the focus of the next expansion on issues championed by us, the supercap nerf itself is almost word for word what we have advocated.


Our memories are long, our knives are jagged, and our hate is yet unsated."

In that article The Mittani gives a lot of credit to CCP employee Stoffer. Stoffer is an ex-Goon who got a job at CCP to work the system from the inside. Here's a forum post from a couple of months ago.

"Hey Stoffer,

We won man, its game over now. You got in and trolled from the inside and nothing can never top that. Goons won the game.

Quit your job, and we can dissolve Goonwaffe right now then duckwalk back out of this ***** being all smug.

Everyone else,

Remember when Goons gave a presentation and said we weren't out to ruin THE Game, [but] YOUR game?

We totally lied."

And on that note see how The Mittani ends his piece on Kugu?

"We will not stand idly by as an alliance while our subscription money goes to waste, watching the game we pay to play spiraling into entropy due to the folly and neglect of CCP's management. It is not yet time to start a fire, but get your gasoline ready."

So how did it all happen?

Well for one thing CCP has a policy to recruit from its player base where possible. There's a lot of sense to this as it assures a supply of knowledgeable committed staff. Notably they recently recruited former Goon CEO Darius Johnson to be in charge of their security. Here's an interview he gave EveNews24 about security in the game. So there are senior Goons in very powerful positions inside CCP.

The Goons have adopted the same policy of infiltration and subversion towards the actual real world games company and the player council as they famously adopted in-game towards their play opponents. (The in-game antics are documented in great detail by The Mittani himself at Ten Ton Hammer).

So what does all this mean for the game?

Well it seems that the conflict of interest that ex-Goons who are CCP staff members now may be damaging the good of the game. It's not worth playing if one can't be competitive and who wants to play a video game so hardcore that you have to infiltrate real life agents into a company in Iceland to keep up?

As for the CSM Goons dominated it partly by organising all of their members and allies to vote for their selected candidates (and they determined internally who everyone would vote for so as to have the greatest tactical impact). They also used a dirty tricks campaign against rivals like Trebor. His opinion:

"Over the past few days, I've been the target of a big smear campaign by The Mittani and his goons.

It's the usual bullshit. Quote mining out of context, character assassination, ad hominem attacks, the big lie -- all the classic techniques. They even started a campaign to have my wikipedia page deleted (currently failing horribly) and twice vandalized the page.

And that is exactly why The Mittani and his buddies are running for CSM. He's realized that it is actually very, very effective at influencing CCP, and he wants to try to use it as a vehicle to advance his own petty in-game interests, at the expense of the vast majority of the players of EVE."

So it seems that the CSM is broken. Kudos to the Goons for getting all of their members and friends to vote their candidates in but an advisory body, called a stakeholder in the game by CCP should not be a tool of an alliance used to beat opponents. After this no one will ever stand for election on a public service agenda, election will all be about metagaming.

One thing it does show is how extraordinarily dedicated Eve players can be. Internet spaceships is serious business!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Rift: back for 5 days

I spent 5 days back in Rift and it was educational for me.

I found out two main things.

1) Rift is a superb game of its type with a number of clever features that I remember and some new ones that I don't.

2) It's not my type.

I have a number of characters spread across different servers, the most advanced being a level 50 with raid/t2 gear. Which I barely touched. There seemed no progression because the character can only progress through loot, can only get usable loot from raids. I've advanced that one too far to be able to do anything with him on this type of casual visit. And I didn't really fancy progressionless play.

Server transfers have come in since I stopped playing. I am in a battlegroup which has all the busiest servers EU-side so after some investigation I decided not to move. I was pleasantly suprised that many very active servers were available for transfer. It's not at all like the rather desultory offering in WoW where you occasionally are invited to move to a server which is deader than a parrot. (For example Argent RP-PvE server was there).

I played my Rogue a little but the main thing I wanted to do was dungeons and they weren't popping. Rift has cross server LFD now but it's still possible to queue for 4 hours on a Friday night as dps in the busiest EU battlegroup and not see a group. (That might have been a one-off. I got much better results with my low level mage even when I queued as pure dps).

So I mainly played a mage, which started at level 28 and finished at level 33. I did a little questing but i'm not terribly interested in questing these days. I did quite a lot of warfronts and those are quite fun. Somewhat pale compared to Eve pvp though. There don't seem to be any stakes at all, or at least that's what I felt. Everyone progresses and the winner progresses a tad faster. I have no sense of who I played with or against. A lot of what makes team sports fun has been sacrificed for accessibility. I found myself seeing the battles pop and missing them or clicking Ignore because I couldn't be bothered.

I did like the LFD. I was limited to 2 possible dungeons and farmed them fairly heavily. (As I leveled precisely which 2 I had access to changed). I probably did around a dozen dungeons runs. The wait is much longer than it was in WoW if I queue as dps only. However the wait wasn't bad at all when I queued as Healer, Support and Dps. Better yet, it lets you alt tab and the Rift tab at the bottom of the screen will flash when your group is ready if you're doing something else in windowed mode. That's very convenient. (It also does this for warfronts).

Probably the most interesting part was respeccing the character. I tried all sorts of different builds and still have new ones to experiment with. As someone who likes creating characters in different ways Rift is one of the most entertaining games out there. It's also taught me that games where you have to spend a significant sum to respec are less fun for me. I want to tinker constantly with my builds.

Would I recommend Rift? Very much so. It remains as far as I'm concerned the pick of the diku-types. It's better than WoW, AoC and Lotro.

Would I play it? No. I have problems with the content and progression:

solo pve (quests, rifts, etc) - bores me quickly

world pvp - no one does it much. I murdered one guy in a level 30 area, he got me back and I got him back again which was fun. But I had to initiate it, I don't think he would have attacked if I hadn't. And no one builds groups to go off fighting.

group pve (dungeons) - excellent, waiting is a lot less excellent. I do like the alt tab feature but I'd rather play a game that kept me playing because I'm hooked, than a game that makes waiting around more bearable.

group pve (raids) - still too much investment for the fun returned. Having had two raid guilds collapsed I don't want to sub and try to get into another one. Plus starting at the bottom of someone's dkp system sucks. Plus I guess I'm too burned out still. I see raids as a close community and tend to feel committed. Having had two collapse 4 months ago when I played Rift is very offputting. If I were to raid at the moment I'd rather raid casually perhaps in WoW's cross server raid pugs. I cba to work hard for a raid guild unless I feel there's the prospect of longevity.

group pvp (warfronts) - ok but aimless. It can be fun dotting people, burning people and the heal by nuking rift mage gameplay. But it doesn't suit my need for a strategic sense to pvp. How does running around what is basically a football field playing sport lead to us conquering their capital, burning their villages, seizing their treasury? It's not player AGAINST player, it's player WITH player in an endless round of pat-a-cake.

I'd certainly play another Trion game, it's a beautifully crafted game of its type. But playing this made me realise how much I want Diablo 3 and Prime instead. In fact after a few days I found myself thinking don't play Rift, play Diablo 2 and had to make myself get the maximum out of the free time instead of playing a game that's always available to me.