One Man’s WAR

So the bloom is coming off the rose a bit in WAR as folks are starting to discover and “little e” exploit errors, inconsistencies and perhaps unintended consequences of game mechanics. Roll file footage of folks hiding in the chimney near the barracks or floating high overhead in the air at the lighthouse in Nordenwatch.

Overall, I think WAR has done a great job of taking an otherwise generally self-interested MMO population and largely convinced them that WAR is a team sport. Scenarios, PQs, open grouping, open world RvR, bolstering all act to reduce the barriers for collaborative action. That said, I’m starting to see the selfish gene rear its ugly head more and more which is probably to be expected. I’m a cynic, but I can dream that for just one hour of just one day all the world is a shiny fun happy place.

Mythic seems to either be conflicted or to have dropped the ball on a number of things though. I already mentioned the need/greed scenario loot roll problems– not the least of which is popping up dialogs in the middle of a pitched battle [Update: I see in the 1.0.2 patch notes this has been tweaked a bit]. It also seems that warbands aren’t really working right in PvE (not sharing loot and xp between groups in the warband).

And, more problematically, it seems that the Scenario Soloist is becoming a very bad phenomenon. I don’t do this because I’m generally not a selfish asshole when I play as a member of a team (even a PUG team, even a really BAD PUG team), but apparently, if you’re a DPSer or a healer and a min maxing selfish asshole, you should join a scenario then leave the default group into which the game places you and “go it alone” in your own group so you don’t have to “share” XP and renown among any other groupmates. The Soloist gets all that wicked mad XP and renown for kills and healing all to themselves. Because they “earned it” on their own.

(Spare me the “they designed it that way” comments…This is critical commentary. Its anathema to Mythic’s group-centric design philosophy whether its intended or not.)

I’m sincerely hoping that this is an unintended consequence and is quickly addressed by Mythic. Peeps have already been complaining from Day One as to why scenario groups aren’t automatically dropped into a scenario warband so you can share buffs, see health bars, etc.

Gosh, it only took WoW a few years to figure that one out with the BGs. Why not a default warband? If there are only 12 slots in a scenario, then why are there even any extra slots?

Ski lifts seem to have figured out a way to put everybody on the same damned ski lift by combining solos and groups… It just can’t be that hard.

But seriously, one reason WAR’s collaboration has been generally successful to date is the fact that player’s interests are generally aligned and more importantly not opposed to that of other players. The winning side in a scenario gets much more xp and renown that the losing side. Even in a close battle, winning is significantly better for all than losing. The contribution system is supposed to try to take in to account differing contributions to the overall effort.

This creates all of the wrong incentives and pisses in the pool of happy fun killing collaboration. Some folks say, “hey, you in the solo group, no heals for you” or “let him die, he’s solo” and much less nice things too. Not that I disagree with that sentiment on some level, but when the game mechanic leaves us fighting among ourselves, we are lost. There is no way to wage a one man war.

Mythic needs to fix this ASAP.

And Now an Empire Public Service Announcement…

Ok, I’m anything but 1337 when it comes to these things, and scenarios in WAR so far have been overall pretty fun–even the horrible losses which have been fortunately few.

I took a few days off for RL constraints (and to generate more rested XP!) so imagine how appalled I was tonight when our former crack Order lowbies which just this last weekend seems like they couldn’t LOSE a T1 match (or few at least out of dozens and dozens) couldn’t tell a battlefield objective from a hole in the ground…

How quickly things change.

Now I’m not Bill Murray in Stripes (nor Sargent Hulka for that matter), but MY GOD, where’s Empire’s DIGNITY?  Okay, maybe I just drew short straws all night as I was playing my rune priest mostly in Nordenwatch, but friends it was ugly.  The scenarios were popping almost as fast as you could queue them, but it was fugly.  Short bus fugly.  Vanguard dwarf fugly.  That dude in the Hills Have Eyes fugly.  Lyle Lovett-Michelle Shocked love child fugly.  Supreme Court repeals the 22nd Amendment and Bush wins a third term FUGLY.  You get my point.

So, in the interest of being a candle in the night rather than cursing the darkness, I offer these observations about the Nordenwatch Tier 1 scenario which apparently may not be in the broader public consciousness.

The Basics:

First team to 500 points wins.  Supposedly the team with the most points when 15 minutes expires also wins, but for some reason I’ve seen them continue beyond 15 minutes….

A player or players must be near a flag to capture that objective.  Unlike WoW, you cannot simply tag and move on.  Enemy players near the flag slow that progress down.

You can tell if you’re near enough to a flag if a progress bar appears on either side of the objective’s icon in the upper right of your UI (near your minimap).

To capture a flag controlled by the other side, the progress bar must recede from their color (Chaos=Red; Order=Blue); change to neutral, then proceed through your faction’s color.  This takes some time.  If you’re close enough, you can watch the progress bar move.

Each control point held by a faction generates points for that faction.  All control points don’t generate victory points at the same rate.  The Fortress (in the middle) generates more points faster that either the Barrack (Chaos side) or the Lighthouse (Order).

The winning team gets a substantial XP and renown bonus.  It varies, but a high contributing winning team member may take away 6000-8000 xp while a high contributing losing team member may only take away 2000-4000 xp.  Your mileage may vary and the more lopsided the score the worse the disparity gets.

If you don’t DO SHIT and your TEAM doesn’t DO SHIT, you get SHIT for xp and renown.  Coffee is for closers.  Role file footage of Alec Baldwin (NSFW).  Not that you need to win, but a close match is good for everyone while a lopsided one is very bad for one side.

A few things to consider:

If NO ONE stays at a flag, it will not progress, nor will it change to your side.

If you are TOO FUCKING FAR FROM THE FLAG, it will not progress, nor will it change to your side.

Basic logic says, if you hold “your” flag and they hold “their” flag, then the team that controls the Fortress longest will win the scenario.

A few observations and suggestions:

God and Mark Jacobs and that other annoying British guy gave us collision detection.  For those in the back of the room, that means that a player can block another player and (gasp) either impede their movement or shield their brethren with their bodies.  Tanks can, uh, tank.  Fo rizzle.  Stepping in front of someone may be the most significant contribution you could make for your team.

Fight at the GODDAMNED flag.  Not everyone needs to, but everyone needs to support the people there!  The basic opening for this scenario is a) secure your flag then b) race to the fort (there are minor modifications, but this is always “Plan A”).  The more people there, the faster it caps (or resists capping by the enemy).

Don’t forget to cap YOUR OWN GODDAMNED FLAG.  Its frankly embarraskin when the Fort caps an you and the enemy notice  your own flag is uncapped and unguarded.

When Order stops at the bridge and NOBODY actually goes to the flag because OOH THERE ARE ORCS AND RASPUTIN AND YODAS AND SARAH PALIN THERE, the scenario is lost.

In the interest of equal time, when Chaos stops on the ramp to the Fortress because OOH DANNY DEVITO AND ORLANDO BLOOM AND DOZENS OF CARROT TOP IMPERSONATORS are there, the scenario is lost.

Every scenario we won, we fought within range of the flag and in the midst of the pitched battle, LO AND BE FUCKING HOLD, the fortress capped.  After a brief “huzzah” we would then go on to push the Barracks, defend the inevitable Lighthouse counter assault, and guard the Fortress like it was Omaha, Juno and Sword beach which it was and is.

Every scenario we lost, we fought on the bridge, on the rocks or FOR THE LOVE OF SIGMAR on the ramp down from the flag and well out of its range.  The hearbreak of psoriasis is nothing like the heartbreak of seeing your team actually defeat the initial wave of attackers only to see the fortress remain uncapped as they respawn and return for a second assault.

I’ve played squishies (Archmage, Rune Priest, Bright Wizard), I’ve played tanks (Iron Breaker), I’ve played the in betweens (e.g., Witch Hunter, Warrior Priest, White Lion and Engineer) and group career make up doesn’t really change the equation too much.  Yes, you need some healing, yes, you need some tanking, but you don’t need dedicated ones if you just stick to the basics.

Remember, for every scenario we lose, Mythic creates another Elf career.

Pithy Insightful Commentary

Actually not.  Its just hard to come up with continuing variations on a “Weekend Update” theme.

WoW

The instance group is on temporary hiatus due to certain vacation plans, so while we are all about 68+, the slog up the final Hillary Step seems to be exactly that.  A slog.

We have been extraordinarily efficient in leveling almost exclusively via instance work once a week and only one other noninstance session each week which, particularly since the 2.3 patch, has allowed us to pretty much remain level appropriate for all instances with our modest play budget.  With the crack like concentrated xp that instance work has generated, its very hard to feel like you’re making any progress by “merely” doing quests.  Even more so when you’re running a group of more than two or three.

As Wilhelm, the Ancient Gaming Noob reported, we lifted our self imposed stay at level rule for our group since we were so close to 70.  Playing mostly with the group twice a week, I hadn’t really noticed how significant the solo bias has crept in.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m pro solo experience but I’m also very pro small group.

A week or so ago, I happened to take a Sunday– ostensibly a non-WoW day– to grind a bit to get over the hump to level 68.  Several of us were still stuck in the last half of 67.  In a matter of a relatively short time, I knocked out some green quests in Terrokar and Shadowmoon to get over the hump.  Others of our group, playing only during our “appointed” group times twice a week have failed to keep pace when doing non-instanced content.

No news here, but for the same amount of time that we play together, we make less progress than had we undertaken the same content for the same amount of time.  Playing with a group of three or four, we simply don’t make as much progress as a solo or group of two.

That’s frustrating.  Instance minimum is five but if I can’t make the same experience (or more) working together with a group for the same amount of play time, something’s borked.

EQ2

So much for WoW.  Mrs. P and I logged into EQ2 for a brief session and managed to level and nearly get another as we scale the teens and try to remember how to play the game.

Diablo

Like so many other bloggers, we took obvious note of Blizzard’s announcement of Diablo III.  Go them.  Despite the gameplay being so NOT MMO, I loved the original and will give them at least $50 as a nostalgia dividend.  If the multi works decently enough, I could see our WoW group trying to explore this game ad nauseum.

Others

Given my state of boredom with the MMO space, I downloaded the Spore creature creator and spent some time playing with that.  Lots of fun and I’m very interested in seeing what the rest looks like.

One of our instance buddies mentioned that he had been looking around for something else and mentioned Sins of a Solar Empire. I started drooling at the possibility of rekindling an RTS night.  Before MMOs, RTS games (C&C, Warcraft, AoE, AoK) ruled our universe for years and Sins seems like a good opportunity to go there again.

Blogosphere

I can’t believe the continuing “conversation” that has grown from Richard Bartle’s off the cuff comments “I’ve played Warhammer.  Its called World of Warcraft.”  or somesuch (I’m too tired to link the quote).  Raph Koster has weighed in and said that MMOs left more features of MUDs behind than they implemented.  A ridiculous quasi-historical discussion ensued on Raph’s site that seems to be racing to discover the Big Bang of the current MMO genre.  Most folks left it at  D&D was a major root influence from which all or most MUDs, MOOs, MUSHs, and later MMOs flowed.

So we owe everything to Gary Gygax’s Chainmail (R.I.P.) or Avalon Hill or Tolkien or Risk or Parchesi.  Meh.   Two questions go unanswered in all this conflated Gas Baggery:  1) Why hasn’t anyone innovated on the basic game mechanics in 50 years and 2) WTF happened to the single most distinctive feature of the table top gaming system that purportedly evolved into MUDs and MMOs:  the Game Master.

Absent the game master, the game is simply a ruleset, generally applied to static content.  No MMO to date has anything even close to the approximation of a real live breathing game master.  Therein lies the next generation my friends.

We can all learn how to kill Van Cleef as a staged, canned encounter.  Its the same whether its a group of 5 alliance mages or a mixed group of hordies or a level 70 warlock and 4 various classed noobs or whatever.  “Van Cleef pay big for your head.”  And you for the box and the subscription.  Make that encounter dynamic based on the level and mix of classes in the encounter– and what they’ve done in the virtual world then to date– and I’ll buy stock in that company.

Non Game

Finally, it warmed my heart to hear that the 73 year old Leonard Cohen stole the show at the Glastonbury Festival.  My faith in humanity may have been restored.

And the first tomato from my garden was harvested and it was good.

P out.

Fixing WoW’s Progression Problem

Tobold’s post and comments on the idea of creating disincentives to guildhopping got me thinking. People are fundamentally self-interested asshats (this I already knew). There’s just not going to be a lot you can do about that problem. Good or bad design can mitigate or exacerbate the tendency though. The more I look at it though, its really a problem with WoW’s current PvE reward/progression model.

WoW’s progression and reward model greatly exacerbates the tendency toward asshattery (greedy, selfish, anti-social and uncivil behavior) by requiring collective action for personal (and uncertain) rewards (primarily in the form of improved gear). Twenty five or ten or five people devote a significant amount of time to collectively work on an objective without any guarantee that they will be rewarded for their efforts at all (no useful drop), and if rewarded that they will be able to share in that reward (useful drop, lose the roll or drop is useful only for other class).

Under the current paradigm, we are required to run and re-run content to get another pull on the slot machine. No matter how many times you run an encounter/instance/raid the fundamental law of statistics applies– each run results in the same percentage to get a desire drop. Everytime you toss a coin, the probability of heads coming up is 50%. Its called the Gambler’s Fallacy for a reason.

As our tank Earlthecat knows after 60+ Baron runs (back in the day…) without receiving his class pants, that can be brutal and fundamentally smacks of unfairness. Your item has to drop AND you have to win the roll unless you have collective assent to redistribute the limited loot. Of course, that’s where that asshattery problem kicks in again…

The opportunity for asshattery exists as a result of the limited number and random nature of the drops. Five/10/25/40 toons enter, perhaps no one leaves with a goddamned thing. Tigole must surely be sitting somewhere with Rob Pardo laughing their collective asses off. And they should. Like Skinner in the lab late one Friday night with a bottle of Wild Turkey watching the mice. What a bunch of chumps.

As Tobold and the commenters pointed out, the guild (or raid group or just plain friend group) doesn’t progress evenly. So long as one player “needs” a certain piece of kit to progress, they are bound to collective action. Once rewarded, ggktxbye, sayonara suckers. I’m off to find the next group of chumps and my next piece of better gear.

So how to mitigate rather than exacerbate the baser aspects of our greed-addled nature? Seems pretty basic, but the problem comes down to one of two basic approaches– either collectivize the ownership of the rewards (discussed, bad, problematic) or simply equitably distribute rewards among the group (impossible to do with random, limited drops).

Simple concept and already in the game and yes, maybe a little boring– earn marks, badges, rep, BoP currency, whatever you want to call it, and distribute it equally to all members of the group. Acquire X tokens, spend them at the token merchant for the reward of your choosing. If it takes 5 runs to collect enough tokens to get the uber shield of ultimate defense or cap of bottomless mana, so be it. Take the same damned boss mob loot table for a dungeon and make that a vendor’s offerings.

Everyone progresses equally. Everyone’s contribution to that session is rewarded. No one gets screwed or ninja’d. No one cares if you guild hop, so hopefully you have incentive to stay to play with mates. At least you have less incentive to bail early. People with different play budgets will always progress at different rates, but at least if out-of-work-basement-guy does 40 runs of instance X, each of the other members of those groups were each equally rewarded toward each of those runs. If those are the same 5/10/25 people for each of the runs: Hurray! If not: no one is QQing because tankboy (who completed 40 of those runs) cashed in and got his just rewards.

Assuming some of the geniuses that created the already tired grindy-assed mechanics could come up with some shred of a shitty story to keep us mildly entertained while we’re doing it, so much the better. Basic quest to point us at an instance with some reward for clearing it, then some crappy subplot that ties into the main story arc to thinly justify that by grinding instances we are participating in the epic grand story.

If you really wanted to be generous and encourage helping others out (at no personal opportunity cost) you could make the tokens either homogenous but drop with greater frequency in higher level content or make them exchangeable so rewards in one instance could be used for rewards from another. All micro/tokens are BoP.

Imagine this: You show up in Honor Hold and receive the basic “Go Kick Ramparts Ass” quest (Blah blah blah, epic battle, enemy of the alliance, contributions to the war effort would be rewarded, etc. etc.). You get your group, run the dungeon. As you clear mobs, instance specific microtokens drop at reasonable rate from the trash distributed via the basic loot rules. You progress and kill 2 out of the 4 bosses receiving 1 token for each group member for each boss downed before you wipe or get tired or someone needs to change a diaper. Run over. Each group member would have received 1/5 of the microtokens that dropped (click on 10 to turn it into a full token just like motes) and 2 tokens.  Think two bits and pieces of eight, you get the idea.

Go back to Honor Hold, talk to the quartermaster and exchange your tokens for the gear items you want that are available from that instance. Don’t like the rewards available for Ramparts tokens? Convert them into Underbog tokens (at some less than 1-for-1 exchange rate so the progression model doesn’t get gamed too badly).

Starting to all seem a bit familiar? It should. It looks a lot like the PvP reward system except its not screwed up with a marks + honor system. As the guild/group raid begins to acquire the upgraded gear, the runs get better. By the time everyone has acquired a total of X tokens (enough that they could be exchanged for all the usable items from that instance) the guild could move on and no one should be left behind assuming they’ve contributed equally.

So what do you end up with?

  • The progression path is group agnostic, but still collective action dependent.
  • Down-playing (i.e., helping your lowbies in a below level instance) isn’t penalized– its rewarded equally in upconvertible tokens.
  • Ninjas cease to exist for progression gear.
  • Because rewards are certain, the risk of grouping is reduced encouraging collective play.
  • Unlike the battlegrounds, there is no timer, so progression requires play, not just afk honor farming or AV zerg rush min/max strats.

While we’re fixing WoW’s PvE progression, level restrict the instances and add mentoring so higher levels are downscaled to a lower level instance so the tokens aren’t devalued. Sorry twinkers.

Now that WoW’s fixed, I think I’ll go have lunch.

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.