Thursday, September 30, 2010

LOTRO, EQ2X, and The Matrix

When two major non-subscription MMO's go "free to play" inside of a month, players are bound to compare the two.  This appears to tick EQ2 Producer David Georgeson off.  
"I really like our subscription matrix. People have compared it favorably or unfavorably to LOTRO...

I think they have some mechanisms in their matrix that look attractive at first glance but after people play it for awhile, they may realize it's not as attractive as they think it is. We've designed our matrix to be upfront as far as what the limitations are.
I think the biggest differences are in content. They lock a lot of content and make you pay for it as you go; we leave ours wide open.  I'm not really sure why people are complaining, because the more I do an analysis of it, I can't see anything that's more restrictive about our matrix than a lot of people's, and in a lot of ways it seems less restrictive. You can play for 30 or 40 levels in the current game without feeling massively restricted. The stuff like spell tiers and legendary equipment, the people that griping about stuff like that are the experienced EQII players. "
- EQ2 Producer David Georgeson, in an interview with Massively
For reference, here is the LOTRO Matrix, and here is the EQ2X Matrix.  What do we make of all this talk of Matrices?

You see, Mister Georgeson, I was there when the strength of men failed, when Isildur... wait, sorry, wrong Hugo Weaving rant.  Let me start again.

You see, Mis-ter Georgeson, the Matrix is a construct, created by marketing as a distraction from the true nature of these games; from the horrible truth that these "free to play" games are not actually free.  /gasp

Behind the Matrix
The truth is that LOTRO F2P is effectively an option to pay as you go for content.  You may or may not pay earlier and you may or may not pay more often.  However, other than Monster Play (which cannot be free to play because there is only one PVMP zone), you can access everything in the game and people who are willing to pay will be able to access all the content they pay for "without feeling massively restricted".

By contrast, EQ2X is effectively an extended free trial.  The one thing that has been non-negotiable from day one is that there will be restrictions that prevent players from reaching all of the content (including paid expansion content) that cannot be lifted without switching over to the subscription.  Time and time again, EQ2X devs have stated clearly that allowing players to buy out all of the restrictions for one-time fees and then drop their subscriptions "doesn't seem like a good long-term business plan".  Turbine apparently disagrees.  

Finally, the argument that the EQ2X matrix is somehow "more upfront" about its limitations is outright disingenuous.  By Georgeson's own admission, players will not "feel massively restricted" until they have played for "30 or 40 levels".  Personally, I would have given him until level 68 (the start of the Kunark expansion, and the first solo quest and rep reward gear that non-subscribers cannot equip).  Wherever the cutoff level is, EQ2X is designed to force players to subscribe at some point later on in the level progression.  

You may pay less for EQ2X if you solo to 80 and then quit, but you will end up paying far more in the long term if you end up locked into the $15/monthly fee - a year of EQ2X subscription fees costs more than permanently unlocking all the content in LOTRO.  Having the game conceal this reality for the first 40+ levels is actually the exact opposite of "more upfront".  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Updated WoW Cataclysm Justice Point Costs

Update 9/30: Blizzard has made the higher conversions official - emblems of Triumph and Frost will now be worth 11.58 Justice Points each.  Either my math is wrong or I got an extra emblem from somewhere after starting the PTR character copy.  This does not change any of my analysis, but I'm scratching out a paragraph of the below.  

Also, MMO-Champion believes that the patch will go live next Tuesday, October 5th.

Original Post

Two weeks back, Blizzard announced plans for a currency revamp in the 4.0 patch.  Though they did release enough numbers for MMO-Champion to make a currency converter, this was only half of the story - how many honor or justice points would we receive for our existing currencies.

The other question, if you're sitting on large piles of tokens currently, is what will happen to prices on existing items.  Do you cash out now for things like mounts and heirlooms?  Is your current stuff worth so little that you might as well burn it on soon to be obsolete level 80 gear?

I went on the PTR's today (9/28) to take a look.  Here's the bottom line up front:

If you are SURE want CURRENT Frost or PVP rewards now, spend your Frost Emblems and Honor Points before the patch.
If you're on the fence, though, you might be better off waiting and taking your chances that you might end up paying slightly more later.

Emblem Conversion

My first surprise was to log in and see that I had over 2400 Justice Points.   The currency converter told me to expect a quarter of that number.  I had to copy over a second character, compare justice point totals with emblem totals on live, and attempt some high school algebra I haven't thought about in years.  Where the previously announced conversion valued both Emblems of Triumph and Frost at 2.75 JP, the new totals are 11.58 JP per emblem.
, my possibly fuzzy math says that the new totals are:
Triumph: 12.05 JP

Frost: 11.34 JP

This does not make a lot of sense, as Frost Emblems are more difficult to obtain and yet appear to have converted into smaller numbers of JP.  If this remains true, it would actually be more efficient to downgrade your frost emblems into triumph emblems before the patch.   Either way,
the payout in JP per existing emblem appears to have gone up by nearly 5-fold.  This makes sense if you look at prices.

On the live servers, the Khadgar's items (T9 set) cost 30 or 50 Emblems of Triumph, which works out to 15.93 or 15.94 JP per Emblem.  (Presumably, the costs were set to deal with rounding.)  The Bloodmage (T10) gear costs 60 or 95 Emblems of Frost, which works out to 11.6 JP per Emblem.  Again, strangely, the Triumph stuff seems to be valued more highly than its higher quality counterparts. 

My advice here is this: If you have frost emblems that you are planning to spend on a frost item ASAP, try to do so before the patch.  Otherwise, wait.  Though Triumph items will cost more emblems per item, I'd be less inclined to liquidate them simply because, at current exchange rates, they are worth better than 1:1 for Frost emblems.

It's also worth noting that, in the current beta build, level 85 JP reward gear is costing about twice what T10 gear costs.  Would you rather have two pieces of T10 that you will replace with quest rewards, or one new piece of entry level dungeon gear waiting for you when you reach level 85?  There's no right or wrong answer, it's your call based on your playstyle, and whether you expect to be over the 4000 JP cap (mid 300's total emblems of Triumph and Frost) after the patch, assuming no changes to that number.


I was too impatient to wait for the item names to load, so you'll have to take my word for it that these are the existing PVE heirlooms

The PVE heirlooms are coming in at 10.88 JP per emblem in their existing cost.  Any low quality (heroism, valor, or conquest) emblems you still have will be turned into gold, so you should probably turn those into heirlooms ASAP.  Triumph and Frost emblems should NOT be turned into heirlooms unless exchange rates change again.

Stone Keeper shards appear to be converting at the previously announced rate of 1.6 New Honor Points per shard, and prices on these heirlooms appear to have scaled by the same factor.  I.e. your shards will buy exactly as many heirlooms after the patch as they do now.  In fact, these heirlooms will arguably be easier to obtain because you can use honor from ANY source, not just shards. 

New Honor Points

Because there are so many things that turn into the New Honor Points, I was not that inclined to double check the math - the number that the MMO Champion calculator reported was the number that I had on my main after the copy.  This means that Honor will convert at a rate of:
1000 Old Honor Points = 24 New Honor Points

Level 80 PVP vendors were not available, so I checked some of the older vendors. 

Guardian's Dreadweave Belt (S4 PVP gear)

18000 old HP = 3113 NHP (0.173 per)


50,000 old HP = 8601 NHP (0.172 per)

We can't be sure if these numbers are final, but this is a potentially staggering increase in prices.  For perspective, 50,000 OHP = 1200 NHP (more than seven-fold below the adjusted mount cost!)

My advice on honor points is simple - spend now or hold them until level 85.  Also note that any old battleground marks you still have should be converted into honor points up to the cap (75000) because this offers a more favorable exchange rate.


Though I hope that this post has answered some questions, it all counts as currency speculation.  As we have already seen, rates can and might change without notice.  (In fact, a new build went live while I was writing this post - the 2H heirloom weapons seem to have dropped in price from 707 JP to 700 JP.)  Moreover, we have no idea when the patch itself will go live, at which point it will be too late to make any exchanges.

This type of uncertainty is precisely why I argued and continued to believe that converting these legacy currencies retroactively was more trouble than it's worth.  Blizzard had to approximately preserve the relative purchasing power of these emblems to avoid screwing someone who was short by a single emblem on the night before the patch (especially since only the most attentive of players will even know this change is coming in advance).  Was all this really worth a slightly cleaner currency panel?

Brew Fail Four: EZ-Mode

Larisa has a poignant take on the state of the Brewfest boss, who has a life expectancy of about 20 seconds. The fourth incarnation of this never-quite-right holiday could use a Cataclysm of its own, as it really seems to lack direction at the moment.

Direbrew and the Mounts
The inaugural version of Brewfest in 2007 had a relatively straightforward focus; ride the frustratingly lag-prone ram race into the ground, and get your own version of the mount as a souvenir.  In '08, the mount (and its promised Horde-model counterpart) had been pulled from the vendors to serve as an incentive to get players find a group and travel halfway around the world to kill a boss who frankly wasn't that challenging even then.  Direbrew dinged to level 80 in Wrath, but there was so much raid gear inflation by the time October 2009 rolled around that his updated stats were already trivial. 

Today the automated dungeon finder finds a group and teleports you directly to the boss, removing the two previously time consuming portions of the event.  With even more raid gear, the fight runs so quickly that you probably won't be in the instance for more than 60 seconds counting time to buff, pull, and loot, even if your tank is some kind of incompetent noob (sorry PUG's, three Brew-fails was enough). 

As Larisa notes, the event is now so quick and easy that Blizzard might as well mail out the rewards to everyone once a day, for all the effort that it takes to click "join queue" and "enter dungeon" (generally 1-5 minutes later, actually doing DPS is somewhat optional since the fight will be over before anyone notices).

The Achievement Circuit
In place of the mounts, the ram race tickets now award items that are used in the infamous holiday achievement system.  This too has been nerfed into the ground.

Brewfest '08 happened before achievements were added to WoW, but those of us who were paying attention could see the planned requirements in the beta.  The Brewfest achievements which were listed in the achievement window when Wrath of the Lich King went live in December 2008 required that players obtain the rare mount, spend 550 Brew tokens on other items, and log in at least once a month for a year to collect and drink the beers from the "Brew of the Month" club. 

Blizzard had intended the coveted 310% mount reward to be as rare as its raid and PVP counterparts.  Unfortunately, the system did not do an adequate job of warning players that they were in for a difficult grind that most were intended to fail due to the vagaries of the random number generator.  Players (myself included) did not appreciate learning this lesson AFTER investing hours on frustrating event grinds, and Blizzard was forced to respond by nerfing everything.

By the time October 2009 rolled around, the mount had become optional and players were only required to join the Brew club, not actually stick around for a year to consume the beers.  This year's version nerfs the event even further, removing 350 tokens from the required count by making the festival outfit optional.  I'm not sure if this change was made because 550 tokens requires a lot of frustrating ram racing for a single year, or because Blizzard and/or the ESRB does not want to force players to consume in-game alcohol - another achievement for getting drunk and falling the maximum non-fatal distance was also removed this year. 

Either way, I had the Brewmaster title on my Tauren by the third day of the two and a half week event. 

Whither Brew Future?
I've long criticized Blizzard for turning its world events into time-sensitive grinds, as if the amount of time players spend on an event is more important than the amount of fun they have while doing it.   Perhaps the newly lowered Brewfest bar is a step in the right direction, or at least an experiment to see how many players will continue to do more involved achievements (such as collecting the outfit) even when they are not required for larger meta-achievement rewards. 

The situation with Coren Direbrew is a bit more difficult.  Though the new model is a bit too easy, finding a group and hoping that they weren't out to scam you out of your daily summons (each character was allowed to summon the boss once per day) was not an ideal way to set up something that the player is intended to do each and every day while the event is live.  The actual fight was equally easy, so the only "skill" the old model required was the patience to find a group each day. 

My suggestion would be to move the random chance to get the mount to a non-repeatable (once/festival/year) quest to track down Direbrew the old fashioned way, without the help of the dungeon finder.  This would leave finding the mount purely to chance (the drop rate would be improved to take the single chance per year into account), but that is already the case today.  The time investment to find a group and travel to the dungeon would be more reasonable as something that players only need to accomplish once in a relatively lengthy holiday. 

Like most of WoW, Brewfest this year is in a bit of a holding pattern as everyone awaits the new expansion.  I just hope that Blizzard comes up with something a bit less trivial for next year, once the dust has settled on the Cataclysm. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thrall's Farewell To Nagrand

I haven't heard officially whether the questline where Thrall visits Nagrand will be removed by Cataclysm, but it seems like an unfortunate but safe bet.  Garrosh Hellscream will sit in Thrall's chair in Ogrimmar, making it difficult to keep an old storyline about how the player enlisted Thrall's help to talk Garrosh into attempting to make himself useful. 

Assuming that it is gone, this story is possibly the biggest loss that Deathwing will inflict on Azeroth. 

Poor mechanics....
In terms of poorly designed quest structure, this quest is right up there with LOTRO's notorious Tomb of Elendil quest. 

First, the player must complete all of the solo quests in Garadar, along with a handful of non-instanced quests for small groups of level 68 players in the western end of the zone.  (Good luck finding a group for these, as level 68 players will receive far superior loot by going to Northrend instead of sticking around Outland.)  This opens up a few more solo quests, followed by a visit to the 5-man Auchenai Crypts. 

The Crypts are tuned for levels 65-67, though I guess that the original intent might have been that some players would run the dungeon as a level 70 heroic.  The good news here is that the random dungeon-finder ensures that there will be players willing to fill out your dungeon group in exchange for random rewards. 

To add a parting insult, however, the final step after the dungeon run is another non-instanced group quest.  This is the exact same flaw with the LOTRO Tomb of Elendil line - the sheer number of prerequisites drastically reduces the number of players who would be at all interested in teaming up for this final step.  (The other non-instanced group quests do not have any pre-requisites, so any players who happen to be in the area can immediately jump in if someone is looking for help.)

In short, finishing this questline at the apporpriate level in an out-dated expansion would not be fun for anyone who does not have a static group of some sort helping them out.

Meet over-inflation...
Fortunately for my hopes of ever seeing the end of this story, WoW has had far more gear inflation than LOTRO over the last three years.  I was able to solo all of the non-instanced steps up to the Crypts run at level 78, but the final boss of the Crypts was a bit too much.  Two levels and a bunch of gear upgrades later, the dungeon was relatively easy to solo. 

The final step was obviously very easy to solo at this excessive level, but it would have been hugely frustrating had I been working on this quest at level 68. 

... For a unique reward
As an Alliance player, I had been aware that this storyline would ultimately bring Thrall to Outland in order to tell the tale of the redemption of Grom Hellscream to his despondent son, Garrosh.  As thanks, the younger Hellscream has gone on to become the annoying sidekick of the expansion, and there are people who would rather follow the famous corpse of Mankrik's wife than Garrosh as the Horde's new Warchief.

What I did not know was that there was something else in the story for Thrall.  Upon completing all of the quests and failing to get Garrosh up off his rear end, the Mag'har Greatmother laments the absense of her son, Durotan.  This name is meant to ring a bell - by the end of Warcraft III, Thrall has named the new Horde's homeland Durotar, after his late father.  By doing what we normally do as adventurers, slaughtering our way across the zone, us players have inadvertently reunited the Warchief with his grandmother. 

Players have some close brushes with the lore in various places in WoW.  The Alliance has the now mostly removed storyline of the "missing diplomat" and Onyxia's stint as Lady Katrina Prestor in the very throne room of Stormwind.  In Northrend, the Alliance reunites Muradin Bronzebeard with his brother.  Horde players can hear a haunting melody by returning a keepsake to Lady Sylvanas.  Both sides experience the battles of the Wrathgate and the Undercity (the latter of which will be gone in Cataclysm). 

In these dramatic moments, though, it feels like the player serves in a supporting role to the real protagonists. We may provide crucial intelligence and support, but the final battle is fought under the banners of Bolvar Fordragon or Thrall or some other more significant character, with the player serving as a mere footsolier.  Though it is ultimately Thrall that returns Garrosh's resolve, this story succeeds in making the player feel that it was our actions that led the Warchief to return home.   

Getting this story done before the increasingly imminent Cataclysm was my highest in-game priority in MMO's, and the payoff turns out to have been well worth it.  If you have never seen the tale and you have a character anywhere near the appropriate level on the Horde side, I'd advise you to do what it takes to see this story unfold before it's too late. 

On the left, the legendary Doomhammer, weapon of prophecy.  On the right, a hammer I picked up off of a random Flesh Giant who forges weapons for the Lich King's grunts in the Pit of Saron.  Fill in your favorite joke about players and/or item designers overcompensating here. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pacing Gear Replacing

Greenraven's first level 80 heroic 5-man was a bit of an embarrassment.  Recount says that I did about 1.4K DPS on that run.  Back in early 2009 when the content was new, having your lowest DPS come in at 1.4K meant that you were probably in for a smooth run.  Today, that number meant that the tank was doing twice as much damage as I was, to say nothing of the other DPS in the group.

Two days later, my gearscore is up to the mid-3000's and my DPS is consistently at or above 2.2K.  A large portion of this increase came from a single lucky weapon drop, that allowed me to replace an old ilvl 171 blue sword from DTK normal with an epic ilvl 219 mace.  (I'd rate the new hammer 3rd best in the 5-man game for an Arms warrior, behind only the axe from Heroic Pit of Saron and Quel'Delar, which I would frankly sell rather than claim on an alt this close to an expansion.)

Obviously, it's at least somewhat fun to see the numbers piling up at such a rapid pace.  Due to Wrath's massive gear inflation, even the Hunter and Tank gear that drops in the newer instances is generally an upgrade.   At the same time, the pacing of this gear upgrade bonanza only emphasizes the complaint that I've had about Wrath's 5-man game for a while now; it is set up as a way to provide players with entry level raid gear, rather than as a legitimate game in its own right. 

Within a week or so, I expect to have picked off almost all of the upgrades from heroic loot tables.  After that, it's a question of how much effort I'm prepared to spend on grinding out tokens and repeating the last dungeon or two that offers significant upgrades.  With no plans to raid and an expansion gear reset looming, the answer is almost certainly going to be "not that much". 

RNG vs Tokens in the Zerg Era

The irony is that I would have been prepared to spend far more time working on a weapon upgrade, precisely because it is such big deal for Warrior DPS.  Instead, I won the weapon I will probably carry into Cataclysm on the very first attempt, while the guy who tanked on that same instance run bemoaned having killed the final boss dozens of times in search of a shield that just wasn't dropping.  Such is the blessing and the curse of having the random number generator decide on loot - some players win the best upgrades too quickly while others end up no longer enjoying the grind. 

I recognize that there is a psychological advantage to obtaining your item outright, especially if you have pursued it for longer than I had.  You're not going to be as excited to get the same loot in exchange for your 60th token, especially if the token comes from something anticlimactic like zerging down trivial content.  Even so, I wonder if the RNG really serves any useful purpose in the modern WoW 5-man game. 

The big strength of the system is that you can click on the random button and land in one of sixteen dungeons, some of which you probably have not seen in weeks.  When you've cleaned out all but that one last upgrade, you're reduced to repeating the same one dungeon, an exercise that will either be a complete win or an equally complete failure.  Running the dungeon until the thing finally drops isn't really difficult given how quick dungeon runs are and how likely they are to succeed.  The only thing that random loot accomplishes in the modern version of WoW 5-mans is to lock you out of the other fifteen dungeons, reducing the variety and ultimately the quality of the experience. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Introductory Tanking Experience

My warrior finally hit level 80, so I've now got the levels I would need to tank.  With the gear I'm getting from random dungeons I run as DPS, I've got the stats I would need to tank.  With dual spec, I've got the tools I would need to tank without having to sacrifice solo and DPS options. 

The challenge, then, is getting the personal experience I would need to actually know how to tank.  This is one area where the game comes up pretty short at the moment.

Off-tanking some trash
Like many good PUG stories, the Gun'Drak run crisis began with a hunter's pet.  The hunter maintained that the healer was responsible for keeping his pet alive and the tank (who claimed to have a "top Shaman healer" as one of his other characters) took the hunter's side.   The mage and I just tried to get the the tank and the healer to tolerate each other for the ten minutes it would have taken to clear the dungeon, since, as DPS, we would have been staring at lengthy queues to find a new group.  Unfortunately, after squabbling our way through three of the four bosses, bickering over whether it's okay to need a blue item that no one wanted for off-set, and a failed vote kick attempt, the tank decided to pull a group of mobs and then drop group.

As the highest DPS party member, aggro fell directly on my Bladestorming shoulders, and the healer was apparently good enough to keep an Arms warrior in battle stance carrying a two-handed weapon alive, because we survived the pull.  The remaining group members suggested that I should try to tank the rest of the dungeon in case we couldn't get a replacement, so I switched over to my tanking spec and gear and made my first ever pull as the tank of an instance group.  As it happened, the group finder got us a replacement tank shortly thereafter, but my curious lack of failure in this brief role tempted me to see what exactly I could do.

Looking for easy mode
In all likelihood, there will never be another dungeon I know quite so well as Utgarde Keep; the first dungeon of the expansion, it was also the easiest heroic and therefore the most reliable source of emblems back before 5-mans became a playground for bored and overgeared raiders.  At level 79, with a gearscore around 2.5K in my tanking set, I was way above what should be needed to tank the level 70-72 normal mode of this dungeon, so it seemed like the safest possible way to give tanking a chance. 

I queued up and was shocked to get a group before I had even finished switching over to my tanking setup.  Off we went.  Realistically, I had set a very low bar for myself to see if I could physically find the buttons needed to tank stuff.  Apparently I passed that basic standard, as we burned through the dungeon with no deaths and minimal if any cases of loose mobs running after other players. 

Next up, I queued to try the Brewfest boss.  In terms of absolute difficulty, this should have been a relatively attainable goal, as that fight is not especially challenging.  Unfortunately, this otherwise easy content is a bit harder to tank in a PUG precisely BECAUSE it is too easy.  My first attempt at a group had started and nearly finished the event before I even finished zoning in.  The second time, I bungled badly because someone has to talk to the boss to get him to attack, and I somehow lost track of him in the commotion.  The third time I actually managed to pick up the boss, but all-our DPS from raid-geared players pulled him off.  Because the fight is so easy, none of these resulted in a wipe, and therefore no one had any reason to slow their attacks for a noob tank. 

Back up to the high end
My curiosity was mostly satisfied, so I went back to work on the last few bubbles of exp I needed for level 80 as a DPS.  Then disaster struck in the Halls of Lightning.

My queue number came up as a replacement for someone who dropped after a wipe.  The tank was clearly new and struggling.  Given my own inexperience, I would have been happy to be patient with him, but he had apparently had enough, and quit without a word after a wipe on the third boss.  I warned the group that I was inexperienced but offered to try tanking the rest of the dungeon, figuring that the worst that could happen would be a group disband (which they were considering before I offered to tank). 

HOL was the hardest of the 5-mans at Wrath's launch, and features lots of AOE splash damage.  At Wrath's launch, players were required to do a variety of things to avoid this damage (e.g. the person who is giving off damaging sparks should run away from the rest of the group), but it started to become standard practice to ignore these mechanics and try to heal through them as players got more geared.  The challenge is less about holding aggro and more about somehow staying alive and doing enough damage to kill the bosses before the healer runs out of mana.  In other words, definitely not an ideal training ground for new players. 

Anyway, we gave it a shot and ultimately cleared the instance with me tanking.  I am very unfamiliar with defensive stance in general, and found myself scrambling for cooldowns I barely even knew I had just to stay alive long enough for the healer to get back to me (while also keeping the DPS up).  On both of the boss fights I tanked, my self-heals from herbalism and alchemy were the difference between life and death.  We wiped once, on trash, because I was standing in the wrong place (having always done this dungeon as a ranged attacker) and got several groups of adds, but overall it was about as great of a success as anyone could have hoped for. 

Training day?
I don't really plan to continue on as a tank on this character.  I am glad that I tried it, though, because the challenges were not what I expected. 

As a DPS, I figured that holding aggro would be hard, because the thing that I notice is when I produce more threat than the tank and the mob comes to kill me.   As a tank, I found that I never really had trouble holding down a mob against comparably geared players. 

The thing that really challenged me was the reactives - where to stand, when to move, what buttons to press in what situations.  Part of this is due to WoW's health pool design, which is currently far too heavily weighted towards massive damage spikes - Cataclysm promises to revamp the system to make survival and healing more a matter of strategy, though time will tell how they succeed. 

The bigger design problem, though, is that there is no way to learn this system other than to try (and possibly/probably fail) to tank for real live groups of other players.  Cataclysm may worsen this aspect of learning to tank because the game will be shifting to a more rigid sub-class-like system where solo builds will not see even the basic tanking tools.  There really needs to be some way for me to learn what I need to know without screwing over four other players by showing up and claiming that I can serve as their tank when that could not be further from the truth. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

PVD On The Multiverse

The latest episode of The Multiverse is out, and, if you've been waiting for years to hear the sound of my voice, your day has arrived.  Apparently I use about as many words when I'm on a podcast as I do when I'm writing a blogpost, so listeners can expect to hear me rambling on for a significant portion of the episode's hundred minutes.  Major topics include the prospects of Cataclysm, the state of EQ2, the role of the subscription in the future of MMO's, and a very special message for John Smedley. 

I'd like to thank Ferrel and Chris for having me on the show (and express my regrets for having missed out on Riknas).  The Multiverse at its core is a bunch of knowledgeable, intelligent bloggers sitting around and talking about our favorite hobby, and they were very welcoming for this podcasting newbie. 

I'll also say that it's a bit odd being on a podcast that you actually listen to, because you're used to hearing their voices and you might even talk back occasionally, but they don't usually hear you when you do.  Regardless, it sounds like I was reasonably coherent, even though I was a bit flustered at the top of the show after the two of them spent several minutes talking about how great they think I am or something.  /blush  I'd visit this show again anytime.

I would like to echo the shout-outs I made on the air to DDO Cast, LOTRO Reporter, and EQ2 Wire for being tremendous resources on their respective games.  I really do rely on these sites for the in-depth coverage that I need to stay on top of the news while juggling so many games.

Anyway, head on over to to listen to the episode!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Northrend Dungeonmaster Revisited

With Cataclysm fast approaching, I'm working on my pre-expansion "bucket list" - things that won't be possible (or at least won't mean as much) whenever the expansion finally arrives.  Over the weekend, I crossed off one of the major goals, attaining the Northrend Dungeonmaster achievement on my Horde warrior alt.  I finished this achievement on my main over a year and a half ago, and times have changed significantly.
  • Back in the days before the dungeon finder, I ended up leveling to 80 without ever finding a group for most of the expansion's dungeons - for a decent number of them, I earned my first clear on heroic mode.  My warrior, on the other hand, finished the dungeon tour with half a bubble of exp to go before hitting level 79, having cleared each zone as the mobs became level-appropriate targets (generally a level or two behind the dungeon finder's minimum requirements, which are a bit generous). 

  • The new system also awards two of the soon-to-be-defunct emblems of triumph for completing your first random non-heroic dungeon of the day.  This netted me 32 emblems and over 100 stone keeper shards, a decent head start on level 80 gear (and/or heirlooms for Horde alts). 

  • Many players were tremendously overgeared for the content, leaving it extremely easy.  In some cases, I'd see multiple level 80's with 5K gearscores (the PUG community threshold for the game's final raid instance, not entry level single group content).  The final dungeon run I finished for the achievement was "healed" by a Feral Druid with a gearscore in the mid-6000's who would occasionally pop out of cat form to throw a renew on the tank. 
In principle, this system provided me with a valuable opportunity to get experience with group content prior to the game's level cap.  In practice, though, I'm not sure that I've been taught especially good behavior.  Some tanks were able to hold aggro even if I ran in and hit Bladestorm on the pull.  Some healers were able to keep me up even if I did manage to get one or more mobs' attention.  This is poor form, but so is coming in behind the tank on the DPS meter in the eyes of many PUGs. 

Blizzard is promising increased difficulty in the dungeons of Cataclysm, but it will be very interesting to see whether and how they are able to deliver.  The difference in item levels between the gear my warrior will have in hand as a freshly dinged 80 and top end raid loot is literally over 100.   If Cataclysm actually does deliver significant increased difficulty, undergeared PUGS may be painful or even impossible in the early days of the expansion. 

The good news is that Blizzard has managed to actually convince me to spend a significant amount of my time while logged into an MMO in actual groups with actual other players.  In terms of both exp and loot, 5-man content is significantly more rewarding than solo quests (ironic given that other, more group-focused games fall short of this bar).  The question is whether they will end up regretting the way in which they got there. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cataclysm Currency Calamity

Blizzard previously announced plans to reset honor upon launch of the expansion in order to prevent people from stockpiling enough honor to buy level 80 gear the moment they dinged 80. I commented at the time that this was a major PR Failure, in part because they inexplicably failed to have the new honor award info ready until a day later, but also because of an issue of consumer confidence; wiping out previously earned honor implies disrespect for the time spent obtaining said honor.

Well, now Blizzard has reversed the decision, saying that they will, instead, jack up prices for level 80 stuff. This, of course, is what they should have done in the first place. I am staggered to think that they didn't imagine there would be outcry and only thought to react to it after the news broke.
- Me, back in September 2008
When you've been writing an MMO blog for long enough, you start to get the feeling that you're writing a post that you've written before.   Case in point, it's late September before a WoW expansion and Blizzard has once again announced last minute plans to mess with existing currencies even though they once again do not have the answers to obvious questions.

Honor 3.0
Honor points, currently capped at an arbitrary 75,000, will be scaled into a new form of honor points that cap at an even more arbitrary 4,000 (with a grace period between the conversion and Cataclysm to spend down excess points before they're turned into relatively trivial amounts of gold). 

A variety of miscellaneous PVP currencies - but possibly not all of them, such as Outland world PVP tokens - will also be removed and converted into the new honor points. MMO-Champion implemented a calculator that can be used to calculate what your current stuff is worth.  (At the moment, you will obtain more honor from converting battleground marks into honor points than from holding them, exchange rates may change.)  Wintergrasp heirlooms will now be purchased using the new honor points, and may or may end up being more expensive - personally, I'm redeeming all of my Stone Keeper Shards for heirlooms ASAP. 

An obvious and unanswered question is what will happen to the Wintergrasp Commendation, an account bound item that currently allows players to turn their Wintergrasp rewards into honor points on future alts.  Cashing these out immediately would hugely decrease their value.  However, players have been banking these items because they can also be used to store excess honor, defeating the honor cap. 

Dungeon emblems
Legacy badges and emblems will immediately be cashed out into gold, which, again, is relatively useless to most players who have enough emblems to care.  I plan to convert my old valor and conquest emblems into heirlooms ASAP.

Meanwhile, existing Triumph and Frost emblems will be turned into the new "points of justice" at an equal exchange rate, even though Frost emblems are substantially more difficult to obtain.  At current PTR exchange rates, both currencies stand to lose some purchasing power (i.e. you won't get enough points of justice for 60 emblems to buy something that currently costs 60 emblems).  On the other hand, points from Triumph emblems will be spendable on things that currently require Frost emblems - if you even want to purchase any of these things a month before they're replaced in the new expansion instead of saving the points for free dungeon loot at level 85. 

Why not just replace the currency?
The thing that boggles my mind about this change is that it was completely unnecessary.   Blizzard could have left existing currencies in place for existing content and introduced NEW currencies for the new content, as they have done in every gear reset that the game has had to date.  Instead, they are now allowing us to bank points now for use in the not-yet-released expansion.  In the interim, there's a mess of how to balance exchange rates and pricing on existing items that are only a month or two from irrelevancy anyway. 

At the end of the day, I think I might have liked Wrath's approach to dungeon currency better than Cataclysm's.  Under Wrath's rules, you might as well spend your rewards as you earn them, since saving the tokens won't actually get you anything better in the next patch.  Now the goal will always be to stay as close to the cap as possible before each new patch allows you to spend your existing points on better items than you can obtain today. 

In any case, I'm a bit surprised and disappointed that Blizzard seems to have learned so little from the failed honor reset two years ago.  Would it really have killed them to have the answers to obvious FAQ's in hand before rolling out the announcement? 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Beginnings, Old Character Slot Limits

WoW's Cataclysm launch events kicked off last week with a pair of new stories explaining how the gnomes and the trolls finally get their hometowns back from the low level mobs that have been occupying them for six years.  The beta has new introductory voiceovers for all of the existing races, and presumably other changes like these events will mean a lot of new low level content.  My guess is that you're going to need anywhere from 2-4 new alts to see the 20-60 leveling content, and as many as 10-12 new alts if there are significant changes to the 1-20 content.  To the best of my knowledge, WoW's per server character limit will remain at 10. 

There are sound technical reasons for character limits - data storage is not entirely free for one thing.  Even so, there is a distinct possibility that Cataclysm will test the limits of character slots per server on a scale that has never happened before in an MMO.  The stakes are non-trivial; many longtime players have high level alts occupying all of their slots - some folks have all 10 level 80's.  If you're forced to move to another server, you leave behind heirlooms (I'll have over a dozen when I decide what to spend my existing currency balances on) and social ties to your existing guild (which will also lose out on guild exp for your new alts). 

I suppose there is a bit of a silver lining opportunity here.  All of us probably know someone who plays on another server, and perhaps the Cataclysm is the time to pay them a visit.  It's just going to be interesting to see whether we're going to see disruptive player migration when the new content meets the old character cap.

Bonus event commentary: "da druids, we been layin' low".  Yes, we've seen various troll mobs that can shapeshift, but they have always referred to themselves as Priests of a specific animal loa.  Until now, I can't remember a Troll who has actually called themselves a druid, or displayed the ability to change into more than one different kind of creature.  This is why I don't take lore seriously as an argument to justify game design decisions - it's a fictional construct that can and will break as early and often as the developers want it to. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Self-Reinforcing Purchase Refusal

One of the features in DDO's next patch is a new raid, aimed at level six players (a third of the way to the game's cap of 20).  I'm concerned that the game's business model might get in the way of what they're trying to accomplish. 

Devil Assault In the Details
The stated purpose of the raid is for low level players to learn what raiding is like, in the hopes that they will want to continue.  Unlike many other games out there, completing the low level raids while leveling in DDO can be highly rewarding if you are able to find level-appropriate groups.  The problem is that the new introductory raid will NOT be free content.  It will, instead, be bundled in with the unpopular Devil Assault adventure, which is so underutilized that many players (myself included) never got around to purchasing it even at a price of $1.50.  The old adventure has been taken off the market until October's update, presumably because the new price will be higher. 

The issue that this particular raid has - and, indeed, any model in which the player gets flexibility into what content they have to pay for - is that the decision NOT to purchase the content is self-reinforcing.  When content requires a group to complete, the value of that content depends on the number of players there are who want to run that content with you.  That number of players will drop as the price increases. 

If the price gets as high as $4.50 - a possibility, as the last three adventure packs have come in at that price, albeit with much more content than one adventure no one wants and a raid - it will be very hard to recommend purchasing access to this new content to anyone who would be missing the numerous more versatile adventure packs in this level range.  In particular, anyone who is not that interested in raiding will - and should - stay far away.  That defeats the stated purpose of the content - introducing these same players to the raid game.   

Offering a deal they hope players will refuse?
In general, the idea of paying for only the content that you personally are going to use has a certain degree of fairness to the consumer.  However, you do not want to create a situation where players miss out on content that they would have enjoyed (and hopefully paid for in the future) because they called the developer's bluff on pricing. 

If it costs extra to try something that you already think you're not going to be interested in, you've not going to bother.  The catch is that you might be wrong - even after half a dozen MMO's, I routinely guess completely wrong on what classes I will like in a new game - and in that case you'd be missing out.  Meanwhile, the developers lose because their efforts at providing a new on ramp are wasted, and the other players (raiders in this example) lose because their "newbie hose" dries up. 

If that's where the business model is headed, the business model needs some work. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

To Rent Or Buy The New LOTRO

LOTRO's free to play headstart kicked off yesterday with relatively few issues.  Allarond is alive, well, and mostly as I left him. As a former subscriber character, all restrictions on trait slots, bags, currency, and mounts remain lifted.  He also retains free access to the two current expansions, including most of the game's endgame group content.  More importantly, I can now drop in for social calls with my kinship and world events without having to subscribe for an entire month in order to do so. 

To Rent or Buy?

Note that the "unlock" costs $2.50 PER HOUR. Realistically, I'd call swift travel a subscriber only option.

Though new options are always a good thing, I cannot recommend LOTRO's non-subscription service in the same terms that I endorse DDO's version of the model.

It is possible to get from the end of the free starter areas (approx level 20) to the start of the first paid expansions (Moria, at 50, and Mirkwood at 60 are non-optional purchases even for subscribers) without paying, provided you are willing to grind for Turbine Points at a rate of pennies per hour.  However, non-subscribers will be trying to get by with less content, no rested exp, and longer travel times due to the lack of swift travel.  Your gaming experience will be less fun, and your character will end up worse off for missing easily obtained quest and explorer deeds in the zones that you choose not to purchase.

My advice to a new player looking to get the best bang for their buck out of this game would be:
  1. Level to 20 in the starter areas, going to farm deeds in the other racial zones if you run out of quests.
  2. While you do this, order a retail box of the Moria expansion, currently available online for under $10.   Do not activate this key until you're done with the newbie areas, so you can have your full month of subscription time to work on areas you don't already own.
  3. The moment you log in while subscribed, you permanently unlock all restrictions on traits, bags, and gold for that character.  (Collectively, these cost far more than the $10 to unlock.)  You can also complete the in-game quest to unlock the riding trait once you're level 20, unless you hate that quest badly enough to pay Turbine several dollars not to have to do it. 
  4. Spend the month of VIP time working on quests and deeds in the Lone Lands.  This will give you an idea of how long each zone will last.  If you clear out the Lone Lands in a week or two, buying content by the zone is probably not for you.  Otherwise, if you're halfway or more through when your month runs out and you choose NOT to resubscribe, you can probably skip buying the Lone Lands and instead purchase some other zone (North Downs or maybe Evendim). 
Note that game time cards are available online for significantly less than $15/month, and that Turbine is continuing to offer the $30/3 month subscription as of now.  Subscribers receive 500 TP per month on your bill date, regardless of how you pay.

If you sign up for a three month sub after the Moria box subscription runs out and save all your points, you should have enough on hand to buy the Mirkwood expansion when you need to raise the level cap to 65.  Moreover, the expansions include all of the level 50-65 content; if you can get from level 20 to level 50 during the four months of VIP time, you can let your subscription lapse and ultimately reach the level cap with both expansions purchased for something like $40 out of pocket. 

Paid Travel

Fun Fact: Turbine apparently prefers that you not screenshot their prices. To get around this, I had to open up the store window and then click outside it in the game world to re-enable the screenshot key.

One final thing I will note is the addition of two types of paid maps to the Turbine store.  One type are consumables that will teleport you to various locations in the game.  Apparently the "lore" that says that only Hunters and Wardens get to teleport around at will is for sale if you're prepared to slip Turbine a buck or two under the table. 

The other maps, more interestingly, offer an alternative to the game's racial and reputation teleport spell system.  Players have always been able to supplement their hearthstone-equivalent with a racial trait that sends you back to your racial home city.  More recent patches have added reputation rewards for other locations (I believe on a shared cooldown, though I have yet to earn any of these).  Now you can purchase maps for any of these locations (including the home cities of other races) in the LOTRO Store.

Subscribers may or may not care about these options due to swift travel.  That said, the map to Rivendell (for non-elves, elves would want Bree instead) is a huge perk for non-subscribers, or really anyone leveling a character in any of the adjacent zones (Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, Eregion).  Though LOTRO has some quests that use excessive travel just to pad out completion time, my bigger complaint is usually when you're two zones away from a trainer/bank, or when you're switching between zones.  Having one additional teleport point, even if it's on a shared cooldown, does a lot to help avoid that situation.

You can argue about whether this sort of thing should be available in game.  At its current price, though, I think that most players are going to get enough use out of the one extra city map to justify the expense (which is less than the monthly stipend for subscribers).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wrapping Up Pre-Cataclysm WoW

I didn't intentionally set out to do a recap of all of my MMORPG projects the way I did last year for Labor Day, but it just so happens that my last three posts sum up what I'm doing in three of my five games.  With LOTRO's big free to play rollout happening over the next day or so, I might as well mention WoW to make it five out of five. 

Through a combination of my preference and schedule, raiding in the Wrath era was never a serious option for me.  The irony is that it has never been easier to assemble a group for unscheduled 5-man instance, but it has also never been so meaningless for the non-raider.  Most of the content is stuff that I was already beating comfortably in pugs, 18 months and two gear resets ago.  If I was raiding, the massive gear upgrades would allow me to see new content.  Because I'm not, the only reward for zerging already-trivial content is to make that content even easier. 

What's left for me in the Cataclysm era are projects that may no longer be possible when the new expansion arrives.  For example, I finally saw the Wrathgate and the Battle for the Undercity from the Horde side over the summer, and I'd still like to beat down the rest of Nagrand so that I can do the chain that introduced Thrall to Garrosh.  (I haven't heard confirmation, but I assume that this chain will be gone in Cataclysm, with Garrosh sitting in Thrall's seat in Ogrimmar.  The Battle for the Undercity WILL be removed from the game for both factions for the same reason.) 

I also experimented with farming old group content for mounts, with comically lucky results.  There has been so much gear inflation in Wrath that it's now possible to solo 5-man content from the previous expansion.  This is actually a lot of fun, because it's difficult but doable in a way that none of Wrath's solo content even attempts.  Depending on how well the early attempts go, I might try to solo the entire TBC Heroic Dungeon achievement line just to see if I can. 

Finally, there are pre-Cataclysm world events, the first of which started today.  This type of thing always jumps to the front of my gaming queue simply because it won't be there down the line. 

Overall, WoW does not figure to be my full-time MMO at any point before Cataclysm arrives.  Fortunately, with four open access MMO's at my disposal, it no longer has to be. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Bronze Life In EQ2X

I don't know that I've ever seen an entertainment product designed to elicit buyer's remorse quite as aggressively as EQ2's Extended Free to Play service.  So why, then, did I use $10 worth of Station Cash that was sitting on my account to pay for the silver upgrade?  EQ2 Extended offers a great value to well-informed players who understand the service's numerous restrictions, even if this is very much NOT the path that the game's developers would like to encourage.

Starting Out Bronze
My EQ2X character is a Half-Elf Inquisitor named Vaneras Sorrowdusk (after the capitol city in Runes of Magic and a popular adventure area in DDO).  Half Elves have the highly useful tracking racial ability, and Inquisitor was on the list of classes I'd been meaning to try anyway, so I was able to get off the ground without spending any Station Cash up front.  I made a point of not upgrading from the entry Bronze level initially to get a feel for how the basic option works.

Surprisingly, the bronze level isn't nearly as restrictive as might be expected. You are somewhat locked out of the economy, but the only real "must-have" in the long term is some form of larger bags if you're going to try and get by on two bagslots.  Stabs has a great guide on how to deal with this problem without having it cost you large amounts of real money.

I chose to go with the Sage tradeskill class to make my own spell upgrades, in large part because Sages are the easiest trade to level.  The downside at the Bronze level is that you cannot use Mastercrafted Expert quality spells, but at least the Research Assistant is available to upgrade your Journeyman spells to the Adept level (effectively two tiers of spell upgrade for your crafting troubles).

Probably the biggest annoyance for Bronze players is having the quest log limited to 20 slots.  EQ2 is fond of handing out quests that are intended to be completed by farming drops over the long term, such as the "legend and lore" line for each type of mob and NPC language quests.  You also need four or more slots in your quest log for "writs" that are used to level your guild, so 20 slots will fill up very rapidly.  You would need to really need to work hard to clear or abandon your old quests if you wanted to get by on the bronze quest log, and even then you might struggle with room.

Upgrading to silver and moving on

Once I'd gotten my feet wet, I went ahead and upgraded to Silver.  The upgrade comes with one bag slot, one additional slot in your character's personal bank, and access to two slots for shared bank storage between your alts.  I am now able to scribe Expert level spell upgrades, which adds a bit more potential mileage to my crafting profession.  The quest log doubles in size, and 40 slots is far more manageable.  The gold cap also quadruples (from 5 gold per level to 20 gold per level), and the your account goes from two character slots to three (which could mean a bank alt, who would also have 3 slots of bag space and 3 slots of personal bank, plus two or more slots of housing vault space).
My bags, bank, and shared bank, after the upgrade. The large main bag and the harvest bag come free with a new character, and I crafted all of the others myself.

Overall, the jump to Silver is a pretty substantial improvement, and really leaves the solo leveling game fully playable in my view.  I might spend $1.50 for a stack of 10 broker tokens if I'm feeling too lazy - perhaps I might even want *gasp* TWO stacks for $3.  Given that I still have $7.50 in Station Cash that I didn't have to pay for on my account, there's a good possibility that I won't pay SOE anything whatsoever out of pocket for my second level 90 character, if I end up sticking with it that far.  For now, I'm sitting at level 22 Inquisitor and 30 Sage with 35 AA's (thanks to the forced use of the AA slider, way higher than normal for my characters in this level range) and the holiday bonus exp. 

Tricking new customers?
So what, then, is the problem with the new service?
When you buy the "silver" level account upgrade, you have just upgraded to the highest possible non-subscription account option.  Minutes later, you will be subjected to pop-up ads every half an hour or so telling you why you should subscribe (making the $10 upgrade - which the very same ads were promoting until the moment you bought it - obsolete).  Between this and the prohibitive restrictions on group content, SOE is going out of their way to tell EQ2X customers that the subscription is the "real" product. 

The problem is, they're sending the message that they're more than happy to pocket as much money as they can from these potential customers before they figure it out.  For example, the Station Cash store will happily sell clueless newbies a single 24-slot bag for a whopping $7.50. The thing here is that, as I mentioned above 40-slot handcrafted bags sell for 14 gold on the broker. A player who only learns this after they've gotten more experience with the game is going to feel swindled, which does not seem like the best plan for converting them into a long term customer.
The available station cash bags - the $15 versions at least double as cosmetic items that can be displayed on your back, but the $7.50 version is flat out inferior to easily obtained in-game items.

I hope that SOE finds some way for this product to succeed.  EQ2's latest expansion feels really small compared to previous efforts, and it sounds like the new producer is hoping that additional revenue will help him make the case that his people shouldn't be pulled off the team to work on other products. 

Even so, I think the way that they have structured the model is a real challenge.  Selling additional content for money is easy to understand.  By contrast, I've seen way more in-game complaints about the business model - in particular the restrictions that remain on non-subscribers who are willing to pay - than I have ever seen in any other open access game I've played.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, they're giving away so much of the game that I happily spent the bonus exp weekend in the free service instead of resubscribing to the live game. 

The point of taking an existing subscription game to an open access model is to leverage the large amount of existing content and make more money.  Time will tell whether EQ2X ultimately pulls that off.  In the mean time, for better or worse, EQ2X appears to be worth my increasingly limited gaming time. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Future Directions In DDO

Turbine produced a surprize announcement for DDO players at this year's Penny Arcade Expo.  They had previously confirmed a new playable race - the half orc - for the forthcoming Update 7 patch (now confirmed for October).  The big, unexpected reveal was that the same patch will ALSO add half-elves to the game.

This is the kind of clever move that Turbine has to be making with DDO's business model.  Those of us who have gone the "Premium Free To Play" route literally only have to pay when Turbine adds something new that interests us.  Half-Elves presumably did not take a ton of effort to implement - they're Elves with slightly less pointy ears and stats based at least somewhat on the pen and paper stats for the race.  Even so, they're something new to add to the game, and people who don't care don't need to pay for them. 

Camping Out At Low Levels
As is increasingly traditional, Turbine has welcomed the US holiday weekend with significant sales on both Turbine Points and store purchases.  I've taken the opportunity to top off my balance and pick up the newest adventure packs. 

In principle, I could use my newly refreshed point balance to buy up all of the remaining adventure packs in the game and still probably have enough points left to buy the two new races (pretty remarkable for a total of $100 spent on the game).  In practice, there's no point in saving a dollar on some higher level quest pack that I might not need for months (if ever) and then not being able to pick up something that I actually want and would use right away.

In the mean time, I've been happily using my purchased Veteran Status to re-roll, experiment with new builds, and generally explore the low level content.  The way character power scaling works under the DND rules literally breaks large numbers of character builds that are perfectly fun to play at lower levels.  I've decided to embrace this rather than stress out about it, and have bought up basically all of the low level content in the game to give my army of alts the widest possible variety of options to visit. 

I will probably get to the upper levels eventually - perhaps my latest character will be the one I stick with, and I do want to see the new Red Fens questline - but there's no real hurry.  The value of the DDO free to play/freemium model is that I can take as long as I want (and even earn small amounts of Turbine Points while I'm doing it). 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Level 30/30 Runes of Magic Update

I finally got around to finishing out level 30 on the Rogue side of my Runes of Magic character this week.  I'd hit level 30 on the Druid side a while back, but the Rogue is feeling increasingly squishy and content is increasingly hard to come by.  As far as I can tell, I've completed all of the soloable quests in the game that are at or below my level. 

I think that I might give up on trying to keep the Rogue side fully up to par going forward - I enjoy the Druid much more, and I can lean on daily quest turnins (farmed on the druid) to get experience for the Rogue side as needed to get useful skills at milestone levels (multiples of 5).

Can A Free Game Require Commitment?
I've got significantly more daily quest tokens than I need to purchase a 30-day rental mount, but I've been hesitating on the purchase for a while now.  I'm reluctant to commit to focusing on ROM as a primary game for the next 30 days, and I don't want to waste my tokens. 

Ironically, freedom from this kind of time pressure is precisely why I prefer not to be locked into a monthly fee in the first place, but almost everything in ROM's cash shop is a rental rather than an outright purchase.  From a business standpoint, I can see why they'd be reluctant to sell permanent unlocks.  Turbine and SOE are both clearly concerned about how to balance lucrative one-time unlock fees against letting players unlock everything to the point where they never need to subscribe again.  Still, I'd rather pay more over time in exchange for the flexibility not to have my purchases wasted if I'm splitting my time and attention between multiple games.

(I might just end up tossing the devs $5 at the next double diamond sale, allowing me to purchase the infamous $10 mount for half off so that I don't have to think about this sort of stuff.  I can then use the daily quest tokens to buy more storage chests for my house, which is a half-decent substitute for the expanded player inventory and bank spaces that can only be rented.) 
Halanna, the 30 Druid/30 Rogue, named for the city of Halas in EQ cause I don't make up my own character names anymore when there are so many good ones to steal out there.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

LOTRO To Bring Back Non-Instanced Grinding Groups?

The idea of forming up a group of players to go grind mobs somewhere is out of fashion these days.  LOTRO's coming shift to a free to play model may have the ironic side effect of bringing back the grinding group.  Like DDO, LOTRO will allow players to earn small amounts of Turbine Points (the cash store currency) by completing in-game tasks.  Unlike DDO, almost everything that a leveling player does in LOTRO is outdoors, in the non-instanced world. 

If you really want to spend an hour grinding slugs in the shire for ten cents worth of Turbine Points, you're going to have to deal with the fact that there are other players - possibly LOTS of other players, especially in the free starting areas - who want to finish the same kill deed.  If you group up, everyone gets credit for every kill and everyone gets done faster.  If you don't group up, it's a race for spawns and everyone takes longer. 

(I don't know whether this has changed since 2007, but back in the day the slugs shared spawn points with non-aggro gnats that weren't needed for any deeds.  The result was that the swamp would be overrun with gnats that no one wanted to waste time killing because someone else might snag your share of the slugs while you were fighting gnats.) 

In fairness, this type of grinding group won't necessarily instill the kind of community values or grouping skills that old school players wish would be more prevalent amongst the solo-questing generation.  The fighting will be trivial, and the threshold for booting someone will be high, simply because someone who spends 90% of their time in your group AFK is still more useful than the same player spending 10% of their time taking your mobs.  Then again, some players might take the opportunity to get to know their new comrades, and might even get into the habit of looking for similar groups in future zones (or future alts in the same crowded newbie zones). 

It'll be interesting to see whether this shift affects interests in grouping amongst the mid-level community in LOTRO.  Developers have tried all manner of incentives to get leveling players into groups, but perhaps PAYING them pennies per hour was the answer all along.