One Dollar, One Vote

We’re a bunch of pathetic whiners with no backbone. Keen’s got a post up about the latest details of Age of Conan’s end-game raiding grind which he takes issue with. I whole-heartedly agree that that kind of tired resource sucking design element is a big turn off. I wasn’t that interested in AoC even after participtating in the stress tests, etc. From what little I’ve seen, Keen’s PvP weekend impressions were spot on, but I digress.

The issue at hand is that here is a game that purports to have structure that Keen and I’m sure many others will find objectionable, annoying or at least off-putting. Maybe it matters little to some, maybe it matters a lot to more. At the end of the day, Keen seems resigned to vigorously object to the approach the devs have taken but will still gladly give them $50 for the box and probably some subscription revenue (not to mention whatever they get for the so-called Fileplanet “Open” beta). I’m sure many of us will find ourselves in a similar conundrum.

I did the same thing with PotBS. I was very luke warm about the game from closed and open beta but decided I’d give FLS the benefit of the doubt since I didn’t have time to personally experience all of the aspects of gameplay during beta. In retrospect, I wish I didn’t. I did know about most of them (not the buggy ridiculously broken ones, but the major design features) and even though I was somewhat iffy on whether that would be the game for me, I handed them $50 only to cancel before the initial 30 days ran out.

LotRO wooed me and I gladly gave them my $50 and subbed. I loved the early part of LotRO, but the middle bits started being unfun. I parked my accounts but kept them live and the dollars flowing to Turbine which has regularly and continually improved the game, added content and garnered my attention again. I had seen the high quality that Turbine had put into the game and was hopeful that it would evolve in the right direction (for me at least) and consciously wanted them to succeed in doing so. So I’ve paid and continue to play.

I continue to go back and forth with Eve. Its not 100% my game, but I do like what they’re doing and want to support it. But I can’t always justify keeping the subs live when I’m just not playing and not sure that I’ll come back to stay next time. Or the time after that.

WoW I’ve continued to play and bought TBC without hesitation even though I wouldn’t bring my new mains to Outland for a year after the expansion. Quite frankly, if I knew then what I know now about TBC (at release at least), I probably wouldn’t have thrown down for it on release. I’ll certainly be more careful about WotLK because I think WoW has lost its way though I’m still enjoying our group adventures.

We have two true feedback mechanisms that work with game developers– our dollars and our feet, and our feet only matter if they’ve already gotten our dollars and by then, its probably too late for us at least. The number of games that have successfully “come back” after losing someone is probably small (EQ2). The number of successful games that have grown and grown into a player base is similarly small (Eve), but have slowly grown because of their design decisions not despite them.

In the democratic capitalism of game development, one dollar (or euro or yen, or won or …) equals one vote. If we really want to see projects succeed, we have to put our money where our mouth is and buy and subscribe. We are patrons of the game arts. If, however, we object to design decisions made, then the last thing we should do is support them with our hard earned cash.

Once they’ve got it, don’t expect an audience with the game gods or even assume that you have a voice that matters. If you’re playing, you’re paying and if you’re paying, they’re doing something right (in their minds). If AoC sells 250k boxes ($12.5 million), they’ve probably gone a good way toward recouping their development cost. Tack on three more months of subs (beyond the initial 30 days) and you’ve got another $11+ million. $24 million in revenue in the first four months. Not a hit, not a giant win by any means, but enough revenue to take the pressure off the devs so they don’t have to answer the question “Why aren’t more people playing? Why aren’t more people staying?”. If we don’t pay, they have to ask those questions and hopefully win our business. If not, and they are still successful, then its just not our game.

The dirty little secret is that unless it sucks SO bad that we can’t stand it, subscriber’s remorse sets in and most of us want to see some kind of ROI on our time or dollar investment in a game. We are enamoured by the new and the promise of the better. We like the shiny, even if its dingy and often refuse to see the Man behind the curtain which is the same Man behind all the curtains of all the unsatisfying games we bought and continue to pay for.

Truth is we get the games we pay for, so we must be very careful of what we pay for.

Separated At Birth, Chapter One: Eve Online

I’ve been contemplating a series of these comparisons among MMO characters and/or NPCs with real life people for some time, but I’ve only recently gotten around to acting on this sick sick impulse. A small irony is that in Eve, I actually see the face of my character more than in most MMOs since its always visible in the chat window and I’m not relegated to looking mostly at the back of my character’s head.

So for installment number 1, I give you my character Dentikar Kapterian from Eve Online and Michael Berryman, most famous as the actor from Wes Craven’s cult classic, The Hills Have Eyes. Without further adieu, I give you, Separated at Birth, Chapter 1:

dk.jpg michaelberryman.jpg


What I Did in Eve While I Went to the Grocery Store

Travel in Eve can take a bit of time. Oh sure, if you don’t click on auto pilot and manually jump from stargate to stargate you can avoid the time the autopilot adds to your trip by dropping out of warp 15km out from the stargate and then powering in the rest of the way. But a long trip is still a long trip. There is a zen in it all though. You feel the magnitude of the journey. This place is big.

Since I started two boxing Eve, I created a Minmatar alt on a second account to assist my Caldari main. They don’t start particularly close in space. Couple that with the fact that Wilhelm, our corporate CEO set up our offices out in the low rent district makes for some travel challenges.
To get up and running I moved my base of ops to our corporate HQ. My main had done most of the noob missions and was probably 10 jumps from the new HQ. Kind of a pain, but not that bad. More of a cross town move than out of state (a topic soon to be near and all to dear to yours truly).

My Minmatar noob alt, however, was a full 32 jumps from our new HQ. Nonetheless, I dutifully sent him on his way (during which he was ganked at a low security gate–note to self: remember to resent the autopilot to avoid low sec space when you make an alt…) after which he eventually arrived in the not-so-wilds of 0.6 space. With the redo from the gankage, probably about 1 hour of pure hands off travel time.

Tandem mining has been very fruitful since I started the two box endeavor, but I felt a bit restless, and yes, maybe a bit sorry for my long oppressed Minmatar that he didn’t have the opportunity to really assimilate with his people before he was indentured into Caldari servitude. So, in taking a break from mining, I thought I’d run him through the noob missions if for no other reason than to get the several nice parting gifts which include skills and implants.

Of course, this meant the trek back home. For those of you scoring at home, here’s what a 32 jump run looks like (for a noob at least).

To put it in a WoW context, think taking the hippogriff from Auberdine to Feathermoon Stronghold to to Theramore, then the boat to Menethil, then fly to Booty Bay. Only longer. For those of EQ vintage, think running from Ak-Anon across Faydwer to the boat in Butcherblock then running from Freeport to Qeynos.

Traitor that he was, he returned home in a shiny Caldari frigate (a Kestrel no less) and actually had to buy a frigate to do the mining require in the noob missions. He persevered though and dutifully completed the initial Making Mountains Out of Molehills series of missions after which he returned to HQ another 32 jumps away.

I went to the grocery store. I did some laundry. I rebalanced my 401(k). I think next time, I’ll just send a post card home.

Quick Thoughts About Eve

Life has been busy of late and I’ve been remiss in posting.  Of course, it will only get worse in the next few weeks as Potshot and Mrs. Potshot packup and make an RL move.  Talk about grindy.

I, like many others I suspect, got lured back into Eve when the five free days offer came up last month.  Being a bit bored with current MMOs and while waiting for the next great thing (if there is one this year) I’ve been spending more time in Eve.  What really set me off lately was Wilhelm’s experience with two boxing Eve.  More to the point, one of the commenters to his post explained that all you needed to do was launch the same client twice and log on and you can “two box” on one computer.  Of course you need two fully paid accounts to do it, but on my system it works fine switching back and forth in windowed mode.  Its been so interesting that I’m considering adding a second monitor just so I can keep both windows up at the same time.

At some point, I got over the hump as it were.  I had acquired enough skill points and game knowledge to increase the efficiency of my sessions.  I wasn’t getting blown up all the time, nor was I always broke.  Still it wasn’t completely a “must play Eve all the time” feeling yet.  Two boxing has changed that.

It might be that running two sessions simultaneously requires twice the input Eve ordinarily requires.  For those multitaskers with short attentions spans among us (you know who you are), this is a godsend.  There’s alwasy some twiddling or research to be done.  Simply there is more activity so I feel more plugged into the game.

Being a bit broke and wanting to only get my feet wet in the two ship set up, I thought I’d stick to mining for a while to skill up my new Minmatar to go along with the Caldari main I’ve been working on for a while.  After working with them both for a while now, I have a few general impressions:

Since the Revelations II release, starting out is much more friendly than it used to be, or so it seems to me.  I have no historical evidence, but I think you start out with more skills under your belt which seems to make getting up and running sustainably much easier.

Mining, that bedrock profession (pun intended), in Eve is unlike resource gathering in any other MMO that I’ve seen.  This is the only game I’ve played where any gathering activity truly scaled with your ability.  As you increase proficiency and increase the size of your ship(s) and their loadout, you can gather more and more material more quickly from the same “resource node” aka asteroid.

If I wanted to, I could continue to harvest a relatively common ore type like Veldspar till the Gurista come home.  I could park a very large vessel with highly efficient mining equipment in the safest 1.0 space zone and harvest to my hearts content and be rewarded for it.  Not richly, but rewarded nonetheless.  I would be awfully hardpressed to make it worthwhile in WoW harvesting copper with my 50cp mining pick that I’ve had since I was level 5.

In other games where the yield from nodes is fixed (perhaps within a small range) with a relatively slow respawn rate, a power miner would have to traverse the countryside trying to grab as many nodes as possible in order to fill up his cargo hold.  You really can’t leverage skill or advancement as a substitute for time.  In WoW, harvesting 1000 copper ore takes as long if you’re Level 5 as if you were Level 70. 

In Eve, the only limits on the resources available from the node are 1) the mass of the asteroid (which, if not consumed, regrow slowly) and 2) the efficiency of your harvesting apparatus.  Better skill = better equipment = higher yield per time played.  This is good.

In just a few days, my little mining gang of me and myself are starting to develop specialization:  One character can pilot an industrial ship for hauling large loads while the other mines and tears off to dispatch the occasional rat.  One has a relatively high refining skill, so that character can efficiently reprocess the ore into valuable materials, and all of this can be coordinated through the common hanger at corporate HQ.

Another impression.  Scalable security space.  The security of Eve zones ranges from 1.0 civilized, governed, law abiding space to 0.0 anarchy.  Our corporate HQ is in 0.6 or just this side of the tracks.  I’ve been mining just one jump away in 0.7 space where I seem to get harassed less and travel time isn’t appreciably increased.  I can choose how “safe” I want to feel by zone.  Just because I might have quite a few skill points or something more advanced than the noob ship doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to do in safe space.

Finally, the Market.  Unlike other MMOs and presumably in a nod to “realism” goods purchased off the market aren’t magically delivered Acme-fashion to some warp-distorted mailbox out of which you can pull a ship or a horse or a complete set of armor or a few thousand tons of ore, etc.  In Eve, you have to go pick up your purchase where its located or contract to have someone deliver it.

This is good and bad. 

Bad if you want instant gratification because sometimes the best “bargain” is 15 jumps away in less secure space.  Buy the item, set your destination, go defrost a large turkey, cook it eat it, do the washing up, sleep off the triptophan, then come back and watch the last few jumps of your journey to your prize.  Voila.  Space is, well, mostly space and a lot of it.

Good because this regionalism allows you to exploit arbitrage opportunities.  For me, that means the mythical “profession” of the trader is a viable virtual lifestyle.

Case in point, after I inadvertently blew 1.9 million ISK on clone that will last me the rest of my virtual and physical life (more on that later), I decided I needed to ramp up the mining operations to recoup.  Geared up with what I had left in the bank I quickly got to the point where I could afford a Badger industrial hauling ship and got the skill trained.   Then, I started making bigger runs more quickly using it to haul in the ore from the asteroid belt.

I was somewhat dismayed to see that while the ore I was mining was nicely valued elsewhere, the local buy orders were woefully inadequate (40-60% below regional average price).  Here’s where Eve’s market’s depth shines.  You can drill into price trends and history as well as sorting and searching through buy orders.  I was able to find a buyer just 1 jump away that was willing to buy at a 5% premium and buying scads of the stuff.  With the Badger and a modest frigate mining, I can make about 3 full loads in a typical evening’s work while I do other things. 

This is OK.  I don’t feel bad about working diligently and intelligently in a virtual world as long as I get back some of that time to attend to RL which is always important during the week.  Pack a box, mine some ore, tape a box, make an ore haul, clean out the cat box, fight a pirate, etc.

While the Badger takes a load to market, my frigate keeps mining away.  When the Badger returns, it starts mining and collects the ore which the frigate has offloaded to a jet can.  Lather, rinse and repeat.  A few more nights of this and I should have enough ISK and skills for my two pilots to do upgrades.  Go me.

More as this develops.