Queues and Musings

Almost a rhyme.

WoW Queues

In which I posit a theory that analytics predicted the issue with queues.  First off, the playerbase over time debate.  See subscription numbers, vs Expansion dates.  Data points for 2014 are in.

wowsubs

  1. There’s always an uptick a few months before an expansion.  One measured in millions of players.
  2. Vanilla gained the most players (highest vertical)
  3. BC had continual growth.
  4. WotLK had a great launch and then went flat.
  5. Cataclysm was not favorably seen by the majority of the playerbase and has had the largest drop.  There was never an uptick.  And this is when you got D3 for free if you subbed for a year…which is the flatline.
  6. MoP had a decent launch but suffered a massive drop that eventually stabilized and had an uptick.
  7. There’s an uptick pattern for WoD.

Specifically for populations on servers.

  1. That said, given that there haven’t been any server closures, there are ~40% less people playing than at peak in WotLK.
  2. Blizzard’s method of merging is called connected realms, which puts two more servers together in order to balance populations.
  3. Some realms have never been connected and have always had high populations.
  4. Stormrage is the Alliance server, Area 52 the Horde one, where the ratios are extreme variants (95:1).  PvE specific.
  5. Due to flying since BC, open-PvP in WoW is more or less dead, making PvP servers redundant outside of a) ganking and b) timeless isle.  (My thought is that TI was a test base for no-flying in WoD, in particular the PvP implications).
  6. PvE servers are Alliance favored, PvP are Horde.
  7. All this to say that servers have high concentrations of players of a particular faction and that this trend has increased overtime.  e.g. Alliance players will tend to move to Alliance heavy servers.  It’s a funnel effect.

All that data to say that patterns indicate an uptick of ~1 million players.  Those players would be concentrated on a specific set of servers and that those servers are faction-weighted.  The “queue cap” if you will, seems to hover around 150,000 players (not absolute but scale), with quite a few servers containing many more players.  Actually, it was closer to 100,000 at WoD launch, then was raised over the weekend.  Fixed sever sizes and allocations are not feasible with such large swings between the servers.

Dynamic resource allocation (think the Amazon Cloud) is about the only way to manage this type of problem.  Connected Realms do a bit of this.  Instancing all of WoD does this as well.  However, the scale of this instancing has yet to support the servers with > 200,000 players.  They have stated that they want to address that this week.

For clarity, this isn’t a hardware issue. It’s a service issue. Building a cloud like service with 10 year old tech ain’t easy. Heck, it’s hard with 1 year old tech. My issue isn’t that the solution is complex, readily agree. My issue is that the evidence rather clearly pointed to this problem (and could address a lot of the population issues) if more efforts were put on it. Though, knowing Blizz, in crunch time they tend to align with polish rather than below water tech. After all, most people will forget about this in 3 months and complain the servers are empty again.

In an ironic twist, this is pretty much what SWTOR has in place, though that game doesn’t have seamless phasing between instances.

SWTOR

From that segue, I completed the Imperial Agent storyline due to the 12 hour queue in WoD.  I was pleasantly surprised at the final twists.  I thought it was a bit odd for the final decision to be done through proxy and that the choice, while in character, was likely not the one considered canon.  I decided to side with the Empire and serve the Sith, rather than intelligence proper.  Still, a fun and solid story, by far the best of the bunch so far. And with a better understanding of talents and power, the use of stealth made each mission fly by.

I bought the apartment on DK for 5,000, just to get an idea of what to expect.  I’m not poor, with somewhere around 3m across the 4 characters, but decided to hold off the Tatooine investment for now.  Placed some items, completed the quest, got some conquest harvesting items too.  Looks neat, though it’s more akin to Lego than a freeform service like Wildstar or Rift.

Finally, I decided to try my hand at improving my financial position.  That meant emptying the bags on the GTN (auction house).  That’s been somewhat fruitful.  Looking at the long game though, I wanted to see which tradeskills turned the best profit.  Suffice to say that crafting items seems to turn a fair bit less than simply selling the base materials, at least for now.  And that the sweet spot of cash making is not in top tier material.  In my traditional ways, I have a spreadsheet of all the material I can dig up based on my gathering tradeskills.  Some are clearly more profitable than others.  So much so that my Sorcerer, while completing some GSI missions on Makeb, ran a few crew skills and has a potential profit of 300,000.  My other 55s are all running their own as well, with 2-3 minutes of work setting up about 50,000 each of sales (log on, collect previous skills & GTN, post new items, assign new skills).

I am hesitant to spend any of the credits on temporary items, such as gear, given that the expansion is 2 weeks away.  My 140/156 mods are more than enough for now.  So for now, I’ll just run crew skill missions and see about getting a Republic character off the ground with the 12x boost.

Day 4 – Success?

So, it appears that the caps have been increased across the board for WoW.  I was able to log in at about 9:30am EST without a queue.  About 30 minutes later, based on chat, the queues were back.  By noon, from a friend, Stormrage was back up to 4000.  I logged off eventually and now, at 8:30pm, it’s around 5000.  I do know Blizz is trying to expand on their instance tech.  It’s annoying, but a few days isn’t the end of the world.  And to be honest, I fully expect Blizz to provide some compensation when this is all said and done.

Garrison

I wasn’t prepared for the sheer amount of garrison presence in the game.  It’s piecemeal to start but as you move along it grows with you.  I find that it really personalizes the game, making it more of a solo PvE experience than anything else.  I really do like housing.  This version though, with the size of it and various interactions but complete lack of customization puts it in a weird zone between instance and house.  It’s good for what it is and what I’ve seen.  Solid production values and all that.  It isn’t housing, not close.  And that’s a bummer.

Quests

In a rather interesting departure, the quests are really spread out and non-linear style and without traditional hubs.  There’s a fair chunk of exploring and just pop up quests.  The mechanics are blah.  Kill X, collect Y, explore Z.  But you do have hidden items that spawn enemies.  Sub-zones that ask you to do a few things for some extra cash.  Elite enemies seem to be all over.  A group quest of all things.  It’s a solid step forward, like the middle step between timeless isle and traditional WoW zones.  It’s not open quests though, which seems like they’ve ignored 5 years of quest design progress.

Combat

No difference from pre-expansion.  1 zone in and only 1 mounted combat quest. So that’s an improvement.

Intro Quest

I think this needed it’s own section because it’s a rather scripted event that has very high production values.  It does a good job of introducing all the main enemies, the quests are interesting, the cinematics solid.

Overall

Two words.  Orc fatigue.  The tail end of MoP was all about the orcs.  This entire expansion is all about orcs.  I’m thinking about ESO a bit here, where every enemy is a humanoid.  WoD is just full of orcs at every turn.  There’s certain  ly some spacing between, what with Shadowmoon being a nature reserve (which is an odd swap from BC SMV), but when everything revolves around a single enemy…it’s not terribly exciting.  Even less so being a 30 year old enemy.

The one super positive item is the lack of flying and the clear design choices around that fact.  MoP was very vertical, even while questing you knew a lot was going to be skipped.  WoD has roads everywhere and paths to move between the high and low lands.  But there are very few walls or cliffs.  Everything is accessible.  While seemingly every other game plays this way, it’s been a while to see WoW on this path.  Fingers crossed they stick with it.

Day 3

WoD Day 3 - 6000 queue

WoD Day 3 – 6000 queue

While there have been some changes in the backend, it hasn’t really helped me any.  I mentioned Stormrage right?  Well, there are 28 US servers that are locked/full and have queues (7/~100 PvE servers).  The good news is that’s only a minor amount compared to other ones.  The bad news is that’s still about 5K per server… so at best 100,000 affected, but more like two to 3 times that of people who don’t want to even bother with the queue.

So the stupid part first.  Here are the clearly poor design decisions at work to manage this issue.

  • no new race
  • no new class
  • single NPC to start the quest
  • only 1 way to get there
  • single starting zone

All of those items could have spread out the population a bit.  LK and Cata both had 2 starting zones.  Everyone has had either a race or a class, so you had a bunch of people in the starting zones (remember DK-pa-looza?)

Those are things they knew ahead of time and could have mitigated.

What they could not mitigate is the 10 year architecture of servers.  Sure, they’ve been trying to merge them for a while now – code name Connected Realms – but the reality is that the actual server and the zones within are single instances.  Stormwind/Ogrimmar and Valley were instanced capitals, so that you sort of zoned into a sub-zone of the main city.  It made sense, since you don’t want to have 2000+ people at the AH, though sometimes it may seem that way.  Without instances, you crash a zone.  Which is why Blizz put on server logon caps, which is making this queue stuff pretty crazy.

Blasted Lands is not instanced.  Nothing outside of the capital in WoD was instanced.  Now they are making the entire expansion an instanced event.  So Blizz is raising the server caps.  This has made it much better for a lot of people but it also took a 4 hour downtime patch on a Saturday morning to put it in.  Guess the feature wasn’t on the top of their list until this fun started.

So the queues that are left are not so much a problem with design of WoD anymore, it’s just the 10 year old servers and that the instance scaling in WoD doesn’t apply to the entire game.  I’m sure they have some smart people trying to sort all that out.

It is an interesting situation though.  13 months of no content and for some reason not expecting people to try out the expansion.  I guess they underestimated their appeal.

SWTOR

So if I can’t play WoW, I’ll play SWTOR.  I hit 55 with my Imperial Agent and I’ve headed back to Corellia to finish off the main quest.  It’s a little odd losing the GSI boost which gave me 2500 of my main stat and now going down to 1200.  Enemies are 7 levels lower than me though, so the power output is relatively the same.

I do rather enjoy the combat structure now, in particular with the orbital strike option.  IA is a ramp up class, where it needs the opponent to be afflicted for their strong attack to work.  Which makes it hard to take out a bunch of normal opponents since you need to apply 2 DoTs and a prep skill to use the big one.  It’s fine on elites though.  Orbital Strike allows me to continually hit the masses, which makes it a fair bit easier overall.

So I’m now 4 of 8 on the advanced classes at 55.  Juggernaut (tank/dps warrior), Operative (heal/dps imperial agent), Powertech (tank/dps bounty hunter) and Sorcerer (heal/dps inquisitor).  Of them all, I prefer the Sorcerer above the rest in terms of playstyle.  Likely because it’s so familiar, in particular with a smooth resource generator.  The Powertech is next, with some more interesting skills and movement abilities.  Juggernaut is a close one here, with a similar skill set but less fun to watch.  Imperial Agent has a great story but I’m really not a fan of the playstyle, which is more ramp-up/maintenance than I’d prefer.  Great story though.

I do have a 31 sniper which I think I’ll try til the end.  I’ll might give the other advanced classes a try, where the Shadow seems an interesting option.

It’s an odd compare but it’s a bit like my Monk in WoW, where while it’s a class that can do it all (like Druids and Paladins), it just seems to have a better flow for my playstyle.  The Esper in Wildstar felt the same way, in particular once TK became mobile.   Sometimes you just click with a character and no matter what other one you try after, it just doesn’t work the same way. (The monk in WoW is basically my Rogue but without the archaic design decisions.)

Tomorrow’s queue should be an interesting note.

Simplicity Makes Money

Syncaine’s recent post on old Blizz vs new Blizz is pretty spot on.  I’ve mentioned more than a few times that while certain components of their game require skill (heroic raid mechanics for example), the majority of the other systems have been drastically simplified and segregated into discreet buckets.  WoW removed reforging, gemming, types of enchants, crafting bonuses, engineering boosts, hit, dodge, parry and a dozen other items to make the game easier for everyone.  Heck, people are hitting 100 in a day.  They waited 13 months to consume 50% of the content in a day…

I did comment on the post, curious as to the potential motivations for this shift in design philosophy.  It was, at one point, easy to learn, hard to master.  This does not apply to WoW, unless you’re a heroic raider – at which point there is no other system in the game that has any value to you.  It does not apply to Hearthstone.  It does not apply to HotS.  It’s somewhat present in D3.  It is there in SC2.  Overwatch, I’ll hold judgement.

My theory is that of market weights having a larger impact on design direction than an actual philosophy internal to the group.  So I’ll start off with a basic example.

House flipping.  Many have seen the TV shows, some people have done renos to sell their house.  In order to increase the value of your house, comparative to your neighbors, you renovate certain parts of the house.  There are rooms that have more value than others.  The kitchen and bathrooms top the list.  Bedrooms and basements the bottom, where you never seem to recoup a cost.  If you want a decent return on your investment, you need to put the money where it makes sense.  Paint the bedrooms, reno the kitchen.  And don’t think your house is going to sell for 500K on a street of 200K houses.

Ok, now for the meat.  First, here are some metrics on MMO subscriptions since 1999.

Under 150K

Under 1m

Over 1m

Ignoring Lineage for now, as it wasn’t really available in the West until  much, much later, the MMO landscape in 2002 (WoW’s inception) til 2004 (WoW’s launch) topped with EQ at 500k and the rest at 300k.  Realize that at this point, Blizzard had sold 3 million copies of Warcraft 3 and 5 million of the Frozen Throne.  The Warcraft IP was very strong.  Sure, they might not have expected to hit 3m players in a year but they certainly were expecting to beat EQ numbers.  The market was far from saturated… it was immature.  They hit at the right time and the rest is history.

LoL has 67m players per month (30m per day).  It was based on the DotA mod for Warcraft 3 (which was the high skill cap part of War3) and that peaked at around 1.5m.  There were other MOBAs at the time but again, immature market as they were actually RTS players.  LoL put in a high quality stand-alone game and then just took over.  DOTA2 came after but only hit a fraction of the daily users.  HotS could be the absolute best MOBA ever made, it will not take over 67m players.  Because even if it was the best game, that would only marginally be better than LoL.

Starcraft came out in 1998 but it wasn’t until Broodwar that it really went insane.  10m copies, half in Korea.  It build a genre and TV channels to stream it.  There was nothing to compare, even after years.  Starcraft 2 came along and to compete with it’s own product, had to have the same complexity.

Hearthstone is designed from the ground up to be mobile.  And let’s be honest, there are hundreds of PvP card games on the mobile front.  Heck, I’m sure there are tens of thousands.  It’s a simple business model where you sell card packs for cash.   A mobile game has to compete with every other mobile game and the money in that pot.  It’s crazy saturated, so you need a super high quality game.

Clash of Clans was launched in 2012.  Freemium, MMO, strategy PvP game.  There were lots of freemium games, there were MMO games, there were a few strategy PvP games though most of the “send number of soliders to X and see the math results”.  There was little competition for a visual strategy game and a high market cap.  They made $100m in the first year and $900m in year 2.

Investment Factors

For each game, there’s an evaluation on the existing market.  How many competitors exist?  How many players are possible?  What’s the market cap?  This is how you do business by the way, market analysis.  You don’t build a million dollar house in a slum.

So when you do reach those answers, it gives you an idea of your potential return.  Based on that return, you figure out how much you want to invest.  Are you going to triple your budget to be marginally better than the top of class competitor?  Can the market even support that?  Or is it better to aim for the larger mass who will float between companies caring about value for the dollar and less on the quality of the item produced?  (Which is the core business of Walmart and Costco by the way, sell a lot for cheap with low overhead).

Blizzard isn’t stupid.  They build high quality games with tons of polish.  They are also very easy to learn.  The difficult to master part is the question.  They invest in that portion up to the point where the investment has a potential return.  If they can invest $100m and get 5m players, why invest $200m for 6m?

WoW is faceroll easy today and it still made over $1 billion in 2013 (over 7m subs), with $200m from microstransactions alone.  LoL has 10x the user base and made $600m.  SWTOR and LOTRO both made mode money than EvE.

Blizzard builds for the masses and invests for the few where it makes financial sense.

That Said…

I do really wish that large companies like Blizzard actively tried to push the genres forward.  BioWare took a near 8 year break between Mass Effect 2 and DA:I of arguably stupid gaming calls, but they appear to still be making money.  Wildstar tried to go for the high skill cap and ignored polish and the “easy to learn” portion and took a massive nosedive.  We’re in a market where it’s mostly indie developers that are pushing the envelope because the large ones absolutely must have a return and are extremely risk averse.  It’s too bad, because the old Blizzard magic would really make their games much more fun to play, to me.

WoW – WoD Launch Fun

War, war never changes.

In which history repeats itself for the upteenth time.

WoD launch was staggered, as usual, where the EU got first dibs.  Well, more like they are the guinea pigs for the west.  To get access to the new content, you’re sent to the Blasted Lands and then to meet Khadgar.  This NPC is a bottleneck as you need to click on him to proceed.  Blizz, in their wisdom, put a buffer around him so that you can’t stand on him and a larger buffer than auto-dismounts you.  What you end up with is a few hundred people in orbit around an NPC.  Still…. issues.

End result is that he’s cast mirror image and has multiple clones.  Yay?

And this is before even logging into the game.  I’ve mentioned that Stormrage is an old server (launch) and that it’s heavy on alliance (something like 90%), which causes tons of fun.  Stormrage has been brought down multiple times, queues are massive (over 1200 at 9EST), disconnects are all over the place (which compounds the queue issues) and just zoning through the portal seems to be an event in itself.

But hey, wait a couple days.  There are going to be hotfixes and realm restarts for the next 48 hours, that’s the way with every WoW expansion.  It’s a 10 year old game after all.  And even though there are already a bunch of level 100s before the day is up, they really don’t have anything to do once there.  Raids won’t open for a while.  Dungeons are horrible experiences when the server is laggy/crashing. Even realm first achievements are gone.   Waiting a few days will let stuff sort out, reduce the queue times (well, not on Stormrage at least!), and provide for more open leveling space.

Launches are fun.

SWTOR – Not Enough Buttons

It’s ironic really that WoW has made large efforts in the WoD expansion to remove skill bloat and that SWTOR embraces it so heartily.  Well, maybe in the Revan expansion there’ll be less…

The game seems to give me a new button to press every 2 levels.  Many of these buttons do the same thing but slightly differently.  Either a higher resource cost, more damage, longer cooldown and so on.  The problem with this is a simple and complex one.  Every class, regardless of game, has defining skills.  Those skills are either unlocked in a logical pattern, randomly assigned or perhaps unlocked through talent selections.  When you have them, the class works.  When you don’t, well, it doesn’t.

SWTOR is an odd beast in that some classes have these skills early and others have them late.  My Sorcerer, Powertech and Warrior all had a logical breakdown of skills over time (minus the actual tanking skills, which came out way too late).  From a leveling perspective, the overall play made sense and had a pattern, more or less.  Sure, there were some powerful unlocks but it only modified the play, not a complete re-write.

I have a 31 Sniper (pure DPS) and that one made sense too.  What with the 12x experience bonus, I wanted to try an Operative (heal/dps hybrid).  She hit 31 recently and what a world of difference in playstyle.  By far the hardest class to play with and maintains the least amount of survivability.  The skill unlocks don’t make sense and make for a very odd pattern of combat.  Outside of talents, there’s only 1 viable attack.  I needed 2 more talents to get ‘er going, a DoT grenade and Cull, a super damage skill based on the amount of DoT’s on the target.  The class is largely unplayable up until that unlock at 31, at least compared to the other classes.

On to interrupts for a minute.  Every class gets an interrupt and a 4s stun.  They often get a knockdown attack (which doesn’t affect elites) or two.  Then they also get a paralyze/DoT attack.  You end up with 4-5 skills that prevent an enemy attack.  And you need to use the damn things too because enemy NPCs can dish out insane amounts of damage, in particular the elites I mentioned before.  Some entire fights are predicated on interrupting those attacks.  And that’s above and beyond the basic rotation.  So I end up with 12+ buttons to press in a solo fight, half of which do the same thing.

There’s still missing some data on the Revan skill clean-up (called Disciplines).  The concept makes sense.  They do say they are changing interrupts to an 18s timer, which is odd given the previous paragraph….

I do know that WoD (and Cataclysm too) did a rather effective job looking at ability gain and timing.  Simplified rotations of 4-5 buttons per class.  It’s really something comparing the two during the leveling process.  Vastly different interpretations.

SWTOR – Progress, I Guess

What with the 12x experience boost, carving through the levels is somewhat a breeze.  Let me rephrase that a tad actually.  The 12x experience boost transforms SWTOR into 3 parts; first is the actual story, second is the stat race and third is the travel experience.

The actual story is pretty neat, per class.  I just finished a Sith Warrior (let’s say ~12 hours) all the way through and I’m of the opinion that the story was written to be played light side.  At least the key moments seem to fall well into that line.  There were a few spots where I had to pick the dark side, to keep the semblance of a bad guy but overall, the light side choices weren’t so much super good guy as they were “I don’t really care what happens”.  Which is sort of a better super villain if you ask me.  I’ve done the Sith Inquistor and preferred that story mind you, even though it was more rote.  Sith Warrior is just ho-hum quests, until the final act.

The stat race is something else.  In most MMOs you can get by with straggling gear.  Say the average power curve is 200.  If you’re missing 20, then no big deal, stuff is just a tad harder.  SWTOR don’t play that way chump!  Scaling of power seems to be based on a variance of norm rather than an absolute number.  What that means is that if you are slightly above average in stats, then you just run over everything.  Slightly under and you’re in for a rough time.  Every 10 levels I had to do a full restock.  Every 5 was a top up.  Considering I’m doing about 3-4 quests per world, that’s a fair top up.  It’s not the end of the world, I had a 55 on the fleet who could mail me supplies.  It put me out of pocket maybe 50K for the whole thing, though by the time I hit 55 I was near 400k in cash.  (note: sell everything on the GTN, if it doesn’t go on first pass, vendor it)

The travel time is the odd one and to me shows where the game was stretched.  The first 3/4 of the worlds are great, playing more like a spiderweb than a linear path.  Belsavis and Voss though, wowza.  Belsavis I must have spent 30 minutes just travelling between 2 quests.  Thank goodness I unlocked quick travel with Legacy, so that my ports back to the ship were quick.  Voss was less about travel and more about poor quest design.  I mean Bears, Bears, Bears was the thing here.  Like, have me do the 4 things at once rather than just ping back continually.  Ugh.  47 thankfully came quickly and off I went.

So the optimal leveling path, as I see it, is as follows:

  • Always log off in a rested exp zone
  • Use the Cartel EXP boosts.  You’ll start getting them as rewards near level 20.  Pop them before you turn in a quest, as that’s when it really matters.
  • Avoid all the other quests.  Seriously.  The only one you must take is the one on the Quesh stardock, that’s it.
  • 1-47, do the core world quests.
  • 47+ head to your ship to start Makeb.  For the love of poop, use the GSI terminal on the stardock.  I went from 750 strength to nearly 2500 from the boost that terminal gave.  Very good odds you’ll be stuck on the Armageddon quest to hit 55.  Which is the worst of the Makeb quests, hah!
  • When you complete a quest, use the Personal Holocron (Teleport)
  • Have someone on the fleet who can buy stuff for you and sell stuff if your bags are too full.  A level 15 is fine and with this boost takes about an hour
  • Commendation aren’t worth it, in my opinion.  Get the lockboxes are quest rewards if gear isn’t an option.  Sell it.

For $15, I got a good story, got to see some nice scenery and avoided a ton of content.  But, I learned to play the class much better because of the crappy gear differential.  I am a firm believer that this model is more effective than simply selling max level characters.  In that model, I have no idea how to play the character, no idea what’s going on and I’m just sitting in no-man’s land at max level.  Two separate ways to get to the same goal but vastly different.

SWTOR – Boost Me

I guess it’s Shintar’s fault but I decided to try SWTOR again (and sorry, I didn’t notice the referral code until after).  Yes, yes, I know.  I have a sub to WoW and FF14 active at the moment.  WoW is about farming pets at the moment, given the content lull before WoD, and that’s like 30 minutes a day.  I did level 3 more characters to 90, so that’s something.  FF14 I’m on the bubble for.  At 43, I’m in no-man’s-land.  Not enough for end game, too high for the mass of folk.  Dungeons are my best bet but my schedule these past days has made sitting down for even 30 minutes to concentrate hard.  I play a healer, so it’s not like I can AFK in a fight.

SWTOR’s next expansion is in a month.  It’s $20, which I think is the right price point for any expansion.  I guess there’s a Blizzard premium, just like Apple.  Think Turbine could learn a bit about this…

Anyways, if you pre-order (done) and subscribe (done) you get 12x the experience on class quests, which is ~5 quests per planet.  It stacks with generic experience boosts which you can buy in the store or get as a reward.  I logged on my Imperial Agent and the quest log was at 8K experience per quest.  The class quest though, that was over 100k.  1 quest practically gave me a level in itself.  Tried the Bounty Hunter who was 50 (my Sorc is 55 from previous subscription) and Makeb (the 50 to 55 zone) has all the quests impacted by the boost.  That’s…a level of insane.  30 minutes and I had 2 levels.

I played SWTOR during beta and for the first 3 months.  I considered it still in beta when I left as some core design was missing, in particular around the social tools.  Went back for Makeb for a few months, then real life got in the way and I stepped away from the PC for some time.  Funny story, I left Rift because I went away for 3 weeks in the summer, came back and the guild had server transferred.  SWTOR has always interested me for the story and the cannon.  Let’s be honest, KOTOR is the reason that people today even bother with games related to Star Wars, and SWTOR is more or less KOTOR3 multiplayer.

The 12x experience bump though, that’s an odd one.  When the core of the game is the story and this bypasses 90% of it, it makes you wonder.  Even a new played in WoW/WoD skipping til 90 would have no understanding of their timeline.  SWTOR is different in that there’s a personal hero story and the zones themselves are deeply tied to that story.  In WoW, you’re a faceless hero, in SWTOR you are the face of your game.  The good news is that it only applies to your class quest, which is the only unique part of the adventure upon replay.  Well, sort of.  The “normal” zone quests provide you with a fair chunk of SW lore.  Plus they give you the chance to pick light/dark side.  Skipping all of those means you really haven’t picked a side.

You’re also giving up the loot.  As a subscriber, training costs are 0, which is good, but you’re woefully underequipped for the content ~level 20.  There’s a climb in difficulty due to poor stats up until you reach 47 and can head to Makeb.  Makeb has a zone buff that normalizes your gear.  You could be in level 1 items and do fine.  I’d say that the loss of credits was an issue but you get next to nothing until level 40 anyways.  A set of dailies gives about 100k at 55, so it’s not like people are going to be struggling.  It’s a massive split from WoW’s instant 90 though, where you’re fully geared in epics, have super flight, all skills, some runes and a bit of cash.

What it does give you is an ~8 hour quest, from 1-55, detailing your class from start to end.  There are 8 unique versions of this (4 per faction), so about 60 hours of content.  For $35 (sub+pre-order), that’s a decent deal.

Levels, Shmevels

I’ve been thinking some about levels lately, and what exactly their purpose is.  I think is really boils down to just a time/action based gate to a specific and tangible goal.

Levels are a construct of the Pen and Paper days, where it was clearly used in a bunch of calculations.  A level 8 had that as a multiplier/addition in calculations.  Some early RPGs did as well.  UO kind of kicked that to the side for the masses though, with a more organic skill process, where levels didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Still, there were some items that were gated behind a skill level (such as tinkering) where you just were not able to do something until a certain point, though the majority was just about making really crappy copies of something instead.

WoW and EQ went back to PnP roots with levels and something new every ding, at least at launch.  You’d get a new skill, or a talent point each level.  You could have had half the levels requiring the same amount of overall experience and just doubled the rewards though.  A rank of fireball wasn’t a new fireball.  60 levels in WoW taking 7 days of playtime for 20 skills could have just as easily been 20 levels over 7 days. Expansions further diluted the concept of levels, where some you wouldn’t get anything but a ding.  Cataclysm made this readily apparent when I leveled an alt.  I could go 10 levels without any reward.  Why did those levels even exist?

When I’m looking at WoD, I’m in the same mindset.  10 new levels is predicated on the 10 new perks they want to give everyone.  They are random perks too, so it’s not like two monks at 92 would be the same, yet they would be identical at 100.  Which sort of seems stupid if you think about it.  The end space shouldn’t homogenize the differences of leveling, it should be the other way around.

That said, due to the way power curves work and gear scaling, you wouldn’t want the difference between a level 9 and a level 10 to be light years apart, that requires solid design work.  Vertical progress without levels doesn’t really make much sense.  I rather like EvE’s system of skills to equip something instead, or rather the concept.  Just setting a timer doesn’t make much sense mind you, it should be based on use and time.  WoW tried that with weapon skills, but it wasn’t based on bad equipment, it was based on miss chance.  I can clearly remember training my Shaman with axes at level 60 in a level 15 dungeon, which while odd in practice, actually made logical sense.  And really, do you feel more powerful at 60 than you do at 10, on same level enemies?  Your time to kill should be the same.

The more I think about it the more it seems like the concept of levels as arbitrary gates is not well thought out.  A full skill based game is unlikely in a themepark.  Levels for the sake of levels should also go the way of the dodo.  They should be meaningful rather than just a number, and having less of them is a solid step towards that goal.

PvP – My Take on It – Redux

A solid comment on my previous PvP post from Duke of O, was a rather long one with quite a few good elements in it.  Rather than bury it in a comment section, I would like to take the time to respond appropriately.  I’ll split up the comment here for readability but the entire content will be present.  You can always check the previous post for an unbroken version.  I’ll be using the royal version of I, You and We, unless noted otherwise.

As a long time PvPer, of both the discrete, balanced and instanced variety as well the persistent world variant, I find it interesting that the reasons why you dislike OWPvP games are the reasons why I like them. I like the chaos and the anarchy, and the feeling (albeit simulated) of living in a frontier world without laws or structure. I don’t mind the low standard of behaviour, as I already have a dim view of human nature, and all the adolescent posturing I see in these games just confirm what I already know about people interacting in anonymous environments without accountability. You don’t need OWPvP to see people behaving badly on the Internet – the more extreme polemic elements on both sides of the Gamergate debate are proof enough of that.

This is a rather fatalist view of the world and part of the core issue with the lack of progress.  A silent partner is as guilty as an active partner.  I personally expect more from people, you (specifically Duke) don’t share that view.  That doesn’t invalidate either argument, it just provides context on the entire comment.

I find it somewhat contradictory that you call these type of games anti-social, and then start talking about how common it is for players in these games to form what you call “gangs”. I don’t know why a PvE group banded together to achieve a mutual goal is called a raid group, while a OWPvP group doing the same thing becomes a “gang”, unless it is just your personal biases colouring your language.

This one is complicated due to my word use.  Raid is a military term, defining a quick attack and quick retreat before the enemy has a chance to know what’s going on.  Blitzkrieg is very close (and still used in US football).  The first time I saw the use of the word was in UO pre-Trammel and it was applied as per the definition.  It was used in EQ, again as per the definition (though you’ve likely also herd the term zerg which is similar).  It really took hold in WoW, where the events themselves were called raids and the meaning changed to one of strategy rather than guerrilla tactics.  A gang is a social construct that engages in illegal behavior.  I am selecting that term because that’s how I see it apply to OWPvP.  There is a difference between a gang and vigilantes, the latter of which is trying to enforce the law.  There are many more gangs than vigilantes and sometimes the line between them is very small.

And for anti-social, it’s how it applies to the general society and those not within your gang.  If you treat people outside your gang as you would treat people within, then you’re pro-society.  If you have a separate set of rules, then you’re anti-social.  If your goal is to destroy the enemy, rather than work cooperatively for a common goal, that’s anti-social.  If your goal is to inhibit your enemy for no tangible benefit (e.g. for the lulz) that’s anti-social.  If you use illegal or unethical methods to reach your goals, that’s anti-social.  Saying you made a friend or bonded is a drop in the bucket – if your enemy list is longer than your friend list…

Grouping together for the purposes of mutual gain, security or shared cultural identity seems to me to be the very essence of sociality, and speaking from personal experience I have found that the tightest bonds I have made in online spaces are in these types of games. Shared enemies and shared danger make for one hell of a bonding experience. Of course we treat the enemy with no quarter, but again this is what I expect from these anarchic and volatile environments, and I would like to think my opponents are aware of this.

This is the basis of my argument of consent.  If they are aware and agree, go nuts.  The argument that it builds social bonds is valid, just like a gang does.  Unless your group has some moral/ethical/legal code and actively defends that code, then you’re not a benefit to society, you’re a benefit to each other.

I do not disagree on the bonding aspect.  Our military brethren go through the same thing (ignoring the long-term effects of real-world combat for this argument).  If you share values with these people, as I assume you do, then it makes sense to build a stronger bond with them.  PvE builds similar bonds, assuming the values are shared.  Facing adversity, trusting that your team has your back and you are all working for the same goal will certainly build bonds.  Long-term trust.

I recall reading your comment on J3w3l’s blog, which says this about OWPvP – “honestly, it’s like seeing my history books in gaming.” That’s exactly why I love these type of games! If human history is the account of humanity’s rise from individualism to tribalism to nationalism to globalism via conflict and cooperation, then these type of games give us the opportunity to simulate them in a virtual environment, and to take part in them.

Agreed.  People want to simulate these events.  No different that war enactments or LARPing.  All the parties present consent and there are rules to the events.

The tale of the CFC’s rise to domination in null sec in EVE is like watching the pacification of the Wild West. From a frontier space filled with hundreds of self-serving, ruthless and selfish “gangs” the CFC has managed to create the biggest player association in MMO history, with over thousands of members, a feat no other player association in any other MMO has succeeded in or come close to doing. According to a long time writer on EVE politics (James315) the very reason why the CFC succeeded in bringing peace to null sec is because they treat their coalition members with respect, they honour their agreements and contracts, they are diplomatically astute and have a well-developed logistics and intelligence network, and when push comes to shove they can muster massive fleets in war.

CFC has done tremendously well through some of the most shady backdoor deals I have ever seen.  Governments would be proud of what this group has done in name of “the greater good”.  The amount of spying, ISK scams, backstabbing, murder, bribery, meta-PvP, and other assorted methods would astound anyone who paid attention.  Burn Jita helps the game how exactly?  What does CFC do to benefit the game, rather than benefit CFC?  It really is something to watch.  There is no game to compare to EvE where territorial control is similar.  But groups that have a similar social structure and larger overall impact?  Syndicate probably takes the cake on that one.

These are not attributes one immediately associates with “gangs”, although I do have to admit that there are plenty of player associations which fit that description in OWPvP MMOs. But it is equally possible for OWPvP worlds to have groups which conduct themselves with honour, integrity and trustworthiness.

I agree that there are people who conduct themselves with those values.  I remember the various towns that sprung up in UO, rune libraries and food dispensaries.  I have never seen an ounce of it in WoW.  AA has some, in particular the armadas.  EvE University is (mostly) a good example.

I would even contend that groups that succeed in dominating the meta-game in OWPvP games are groups which have the virtues of being able to work together internally and in partnership with other associations, and are competent and skilled in their chosen fields. I accept and respect the fact that they are not for everyone, and if anything, the fact that the reasons why I like them are the reasons why you hate them leads me to believe that these two viewpoints are probably irreconcilable.

I agree that they are both skilled and competent.  I think that their methods are abhorrent and provide no tangible benefit to anyone outside of the game.  Someone could be the best scam artist and make a mint in EvE (you see one every year or so) but you’ve screwed over a large group of people who placed trust.  So ya, they might find that they can smooth talk their way but now you have all those people who no longer want to trust anyone.  If that person scams someone outside of the group, it’s ok but if they were to scam someone in the group, it’s not.  The most notorious sociopaths are also extremely well skilled.  These arguments are not exclusionary.

I don’t think our points are irreconcilable because I don’t think we’re arguing the same thing.  My argument is that it requires consent and the majority of the actions in OWPvP are anti-social.  Your argument is that it’s fun, builds bonds between people, and requires skill and dedication.  They can both be true.

I truly do understand why people do it, in particular when there are no real world consequences of the actions (outside of meta-PvP).  It’s just not possible to argue that the actions support a progress of society as a whole, rather than subsets of individuals.  There are hundreds of reasons we don’t have tribal warfare anymore, that we have large partnerships across countries, that civilization has progressed more through cooperation than conflict.  OWPvP argues against all of that.