Monday, January 26, 2015

Rationing Loot

Most games ration the top tiers of loot in some fashion. They do this to draw out the process of gearing up, and to give people an excuse to log in and continue to play.

For example, WoW uses raid lockouts combined with a random chance of items dropping. You can only do a boss once per week, and you have X% chance of your item dropping. This method is exciting, but can be streaky.

The percent chance can be for the entire group or for the individual, as in the case of WoW's personal loot system. I think the entire group method is better, as it is more apparent that the reward is for the entire group. As well, in a good group, very little loot is wasted. Unfortunately, as LFR proved, you can't trust a random group of strangers to distribute loot reasonably.

The other common method is an end-game currency where the amount you can earn per week is limited. Thus, you know an item costs exactly Y points, which will take you exactly Z runs. This method is perfectly deterministic, but rather boring.

Of all the rationing methods in the MMOs I've played, I like the system used by FFXIV's 24-man raids the best. A separate item drops for each 8-player group within the raid. If it's for your role, you may roll Need. Otherwise you can only Greed. But you can only win one piece from the instance per week. You can do the instance as often as you want. You can fish for a specific item or just take the first item for your class that drops. You can roll for your alternate specs if you want, but if a main-spec in the raid wants the item, they will win.

This "one item per week" restriction is a very blunt instrument. It's very meta as well. There's no real in-game rational for it at all. But it just works. People only roll on items they want, since there is a significant cost to winning. The tank gets the tank item if she needs it. There's no chance of a damage dealer winning the item over the tank. The item drops for the group as a whole, and people who win stuff get congratulated. It feels like a team working for a common reward, which is something that WoW's LFR has lost.

Of course, FFXIV also has an alternate raid currency. So even if you don't win anything that drops during a run, you accumulate the raid currency and can buy gear that way.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Verified Identities and Archeage

One of the major MMO stories of last year was the launch of Archeage in the West to a reasonably welcoming audience. However, Archeage was overrun by spammers, hackers, and bots to such a degree that many people gave up on the game.

Many commentators pinned the blame for this on Trion, the western publishers. Trion in turn, said that they required help from the developers, XLGames, to combat these problems. Most commentators seemed to feel that this was just Trion trying to cover up for their mistakes.

But what if Trion was right? Most MMOs these days need to build in anti-spam, anti-hacker, and anti-bot defenses. What if Archeage didn't have these defenses that we in the West take as normal?

From my quick research, Archeage Korea requires three extra items to create an account:

  1. A Korean IP Address
  2. A Korean mobile phone
  3. A Korean Social Security Number (some sort of number assigned by the South Korean government)
These three external requirements tie the Acheage account to a very specific person. What if Archeage in Korea doesn't need built-in software defenses? What if these external requirements are enough to reduce spam, hacking, and botting to acceptable levels, or eliminate it entirely?

Perhaps companies in the west need to come up with a way to create a verified identification before allowing account creation. Of course, the problem is that there are multiple countries, all with different identification documents and numbers, and legal restrictions on how those identifiers can be used. You might be able to do something with a dedicated third-party company, which the game companies support.

Rather than a software arms race between spammers, hackers, botters and the game devs, verified identities might be a more successful strategy to pursue.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crowfall

I saw some teasers for an upcoming MMO, Crowfall.

It's just the barest of teasers so far, but they look to be creating something in the vein of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Trying to get back to "world" aspect of MMOs.

For example, in an interview at mmorpg.com, they say:

There are a ton of lessons to be learned looking at games like Star Wars Galaxies and EVE Online which had and still have success with their crafting and economic loops. From a very high altitude, crafters need to be able to: craft unique items, explore new recipes and profit from the results of this exploration, and create customized items for all styles of play. Crafters must have an audience to buy their goods. The loop between crafter and combatant has to exist! And, ideally, crafters need to be able to “mark” their product so that they can build a social reputation and a following. 
The very concept that players can and will lose their items at some point is required, otherwise the game loop breaks. It is a very controversial topic for those who don’t like the potential of losing their items, and we understand that.  But sometimes you have to embrace ideas that may not be popular at first glance, because they open up amazing areas of gameplay that are otherwise not accessible.
That's a pretty bold statement, but it might very well be correct. Inconvenience drives sandboxes.

The dev pedigree is also somewhat impressive: J. Todd Coleman, Gordon Walton, Raph Koster. We'll see what they come up. There are many ways an MMO can screw up, and these devs aren't exactly known for prioritizing performance and responsiveness.

Still, I'm kind of interested in Crowfall, and it's mostly because of a single picture:


That Templar just looks good to me. It's clean, attractive, in solid, functional armor that still has a surprising amount of detail. It's stylized, avoiding uncanny valley effects, while still retaining proper human proportions.

I just really like the design intent as exemplified by this Templar. If the rest of the game matches this aesthetic (and performance/responsiveness is strong!), Crowfall just feels like it will be a blast to play.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Elder Scrolls Online Goes Buy-2-Play

The other recent news was that Elder Scrolls Online announced that they were switching to a buy-2-play model (with an optional subscription).

I've seen some people saying cynically saying that this was the plan all along. That ESO was just trying to milk as much as money out of subscribers as possible before switching. As Azuriel points out, F2P has the unfortunate side-effect of engendering cynicism among the players.

This imputation is probably unfair to the devs behind ESO. If anything, B2P would have been the backup plan. If ESO had stabilized at a high number of subscribers (0.5 million, 1 million, whatever), they would have been more than happy to stick with being a subscriber-only game.

Oh well. It will make life easier on the console, though.

I'm not sure if I will take another look at ESO. My problem was with the combat, and I don't know if that has improved or not. If any readers are still playing ESO, feel free to chime in on the state of the game.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Melee Builds and Treasure Goblins in Diablo 3

My current Crusader build in Diablo 3 is a Holy build. It's a build that has a relatively large amount of ranged damage. However, the Crusader archetype is a sword-and-shield melee fighter. So for a few Paragon levels, I tried out a build focused around melee skills and blocking, with lots of things like thorns (reflective damage).

This melee build was actually a lot of fun, and effective against enemies. It was especially fun with large packs of enemies, as you just wade into the packs, get surrounded, and then everything around you blows up as you block all the damage.

However, there was one mechanic in D3 which made this melee build extremely frustrating: Treasure Goblins. Treasure goblins are enemies which have a large amount of loot. But they don't attack you. Instead they run away from you and attempt to open a portal through which they escape. Currently there's an event where the Treasure Goblins can be found in pairs or packs.

Treasure Goblins were supremely disappointing with a melee build. While chasing down one goblin, the others made their escape. I was basically only able to kill half a pack of goblins. In contrast, the ranged Holy build can usually get all of them.

It was very frustrating because Treasure Goblins are somewhat rare, and very rewarding if you kill them. So despite the fact that the melee build was fun and performed well everywhere else in the game, I switched back to ranged. After all, the ranged build dealt just as well with regular enemies, and had the advantage of making it much easier to kill Treasure Goblins.

This illustrates how hard it is to balance melee against ranged in these sorts of games. Melee classes or builds have a fundamental weakness built into them. Ranged classes or builds need a similar weakness. When they don't have that weakness, the balance tilts too heavily towards the ranged classes and builds.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Paying for Access in a F2P Game

Is it okay to charge for access for a Free-2-Play game?

Blizzard is offering a $40 bonus pack for Heroes of the Storm. It has some heroes, some skins, and most importantly, Beta Access. If you didn't get an Alpha invite, this is pretty much the only way to get into Heroes of the Storm.

I got an Alpha invite, and I've played a little bit of Heroes. MOBAs are not really my cup of tea. I've never actually played League of Legends or similar. So I can't really tell you much about the gameplay.

But in my opinion, the label "Beta" is a misnomer. Heroes is pretty much ready for launch. Any company other than Blizzard would have launched already. I'm sure they're going to add more heroes, and do the occasional balance tweak. But that's par for the course for a modern online game.

One could say that Heroes is launching. It's just going to cost $40 for the first couple months and then go free. Essentially, you're paying to play it at "launch". If you're willing to wait, the game will eventually become free.

I don't think this is a bad thing. The Old Republic does this with early access for features for subscribers. Books have traditionally done it with expensive hardcovers coming before cheap paperbacks. Heck, one could say that games do it with sales, especially the eventual Steam sale. The only real difference is that at the end, the company offers the game for free, instead of a nominal $5 or whatever the Steam sale price is.

I also think these types of schemes have other benefits. It rations everyone into the game slowly. Rather than have a massive rush of players at launch, you have several generations. New blood comes in to refresh the community as people start to leave.

In fact, consider a scheme like the following: For the first month after launch, the game costs $60. The second month, the game costs $50. The third month, $40. In the seventh month, the game becomes fully Free-2-Play. I think such a scheme would be straightforward and beneficial, rather than masking the current state by calling Launch "Beta".

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Updates

Well, so much for resolutions. Not a whole lot has been happening on the gaming front here.

In SWTOR, my guild lost too many people to attrition in the run up to Shadow of Revan. Sadly, we didn't get a boost from the expac, either. So the five or six of us who were left all moved to a new guild. Hopefully this one works out and we can get back to raiding somewhat regularly.

I've pretty much put World of Warcraft on the back burner. I'm logging in occasionally to do the garrison story, but am not really doing much else in the game.

For some reason, I've started playing Diablo III again. I'm trying to get my Crusader to a decent standard. One problem with D3 is that it's pretty hard to find intermediate builds. All the builds I see say things like "requires 6-piece Akkan's set". I just got a second piece this week. So it's really hard to tell what's a good build or not for my gear level.

Right now I'm running a Holy build built around Fist of the Heavens and Heaven's Fury. I'm only in Torment II, but it seems pretty decent. Luckily I got one of the new Ancient Legendary weapons, which has been a big boost.

Otherwise, not much else to report. I am looking forward to the latest FFXIV patch which came out today.