Friday, June 29, 2012

Limited Secret World Thoughts

Overall, I spent way more time downloading the clients and giving away keys for the Secret World Beta than actually playing.  I have very little interest in spending time on characters that will be wiped when I have so many characters I can keep competing for my limited time.  That said, now that the opportunity is past I suppose I should write what I can.

Limited time, first impressions
I really haven't bothered to watch any of the marketing info for this game, so I picked Dragon, cause A) green and B) ninjas (I think).  The second conversation my character had in game consisted of a strong implication that a female NPC was performing off-camera oral sex on my female character in order to grant access to a flashback combat tutorial.  I'm not so much offended as highly underwhelmed - rather than a feel for the Dragon culture, I'm left feeling that the writers are going to be simultaneously cliche and edgy because they can.

Havin gotten that over with, it was off to a dojo to test drive all of the combat styles in the game - magic, melee, or firearms.  Each weapon has a damage and a utility (tank, heals, support) role, and a new character won't have enough skill points to know what all of those skills will look like, but at least it was a good opportunity to get a feel for my choices.  More games need to offer this type of option, though ironically TSW has the least need to do so since you can switch weapons without re-rolling.

The first real zone was a zombie apocalypse scenario.  Quest text is delivered in fully voiced cutscenes, but, unlike SWTOR, these are not interactive and your character never speaks.  Not having options makes the discussions feel less interactive, even though very few conversations in SWTOR actually matter - the choices are an opportunity for your character to have a personality in a genre that often fails to flesh out its occupants.  However, it was definitely as advertised, MMO mechanics in a modern setting.

I didn't get very far into the skill tree, and I unfortunately failed to take a second type of weapon when an early quest offered me an upgrade.  The skill system claims to allow two weapons per skill "deck" and it would have been interesting to see how that works out in practice.  I did find it a bit odd that I had to take abilities in the one weapon I used (some sort of fists, forget if they were actually called that) in a linear order, but it looked like there would be more opportunity to branch out later in the game.

One final tidbit was the game's browser integration.  At one point where a normal game would have fired up a tutorial, TSW launched its browser and streamed a video off Youtube.  This does not break immersion because it is a modern setting, and it allows them to reuse work they already did for their marketing campaign to spin up players on the game.  I did not reach the much-discussed story puzzles that are solved via google, so my only comment there is that I eagerly await the day the Goons launch a campaign to get incorrect answers to the puzzles onto the top of the Google search results as a way to grief the playerbase.

I respect folks who think the game is innovative and want to support it on principle.   The one place where they're not innovating, though, is the monthly fee, and that's pretty much a dealbreaker for me right now.  What I've seen of the game is potentially interesting, but I don't feel like dropping anything I'm working on right now to make room in my crowded money and time budgets.  Best of luck to those of you who are soldiering onwards to launch, and perhaps I'll join you someday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Updated Fuzzy Legacy Math

SWTOR's patch 1.3 landed today.  I'd previously posted about the questionable pricing of a character-specific companion affection perk, so I figured an update was in order. 

The issue with these perks is that there is a relatively limited amount of total affection each character will get during their career, the perks do NOT apply across your entire legacy, and each point of affection can be assigned a value in credits based on the cost of gifts.  Paying a large number of credits for an exp bonus that cannot be earned any other way - thus saving you time in leveling - is a luxury item.  Paying a large amount of credits for an affection bonus when you could have just purchased enough gifts to get that much affection for a smaller amount of credits is just bad planning.

Anyway, in response Bioware tweaked the numbers - the bonus has been doubled and the cost slashed by 2.5-fold.  The good news is that the entry level perks are a very attractive deal, especially for newer characters.  (The deal gets worse as you complete more of the story, because you will have fewer remaining quests to benefit from the bonus.)  At 10K each for 10% bonuses to gifts and conversation gains, I'm not going to spend too long worrying about whether I got the best deal.

Unfortunately, I'm still not convinced about the higher ranks.  It's an extra 30K credits (per bonus) for an additional 10% affection, but my guess is that you will most likely cap out your affection with most or all of your companions before you really benefit from this increase.  I guess the real question is whether +20% to conversations would allow you to slash or eliminate your gift budget - you will definitely profit from a single rank of the gift perk if you're handing out rank 1 gifts until they stop awarding points, but this will still cost you some money (roughly 30K credits per companion for the non-picky companions).  Then again, the numbers are probably close enough that it doesn't really matter.

If you're curious, here's an update to my numbers on how much you can save on rank 1 and 2 vendor gifts with the 10% bonus. 

Affection Range Affection/Gift Total Gifts
0-1999 (base) 96 21 (to 2016)
0-1999 (+10%) 105.6 19 (to 2006.4)
2000-3999 (base) 48 42 (from 2016 to 4032)
2000-3999 (+10%) 52.8 38 (from 2016 to 4012.8)
4000-5999 (base) 19 104 (from 4032 to 6008)
4000-5999 (+10%) 20.9 96 (from 4012.8 to 6019.2)
6000-7999 (base - rank 2 gifts) 19 105 (from 6008 to 8003)
6000-7999 (+10% - rank 2 gifts) 20.9 95 (from 6019.2 to 8004.7)
 Total Saved on Rank 1 Gifts: 6+6+8 = 20 x 200 creds =  4000 creds saved per companion (assuming non-picky companions)

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Uncharted 3 Spinning Ring of Doom and the Upside to Digital Downloads

We've seen a lot of commentary about the quirks associated with Blizzard's decision to take Diablo III online only.  Downtime prevents players from accessing the single player game.  Digital download purchase of the game are now being subjected to restrictions intended to prevent fraud involving stolen credit card numbers - though apparently the limitations were more severe than Blizzard intended and will be relaxed.  And, of course, there's the ever-convenient side-effect that an online-only game cannot be resold.  All of these things are true, but let's not over-romanticize the offline physical media era.

A cautionary tale
I purchased a physical copy of Uncharted 3 for my 2.5 year old PS3-slim and was shocked and disappointed to find that it would not load.  All the other disc-based games in my library play fine, so I assumed I was looking at a defective disc.  I was technically beyond the exchange policy at the retailer at this point, but my wife fears no customer service agent and she was able to convince them to swap out the disc for a new copy.

I brought the new copy home and was shocked to find the same symptoms.  The PS3 clock icon spins ineffectually long past when the game should have loaded, but the game never kicks in.  A trip to Google revealed that the PS3 forums call this phenomena the "spinning ring of doom"- convinced that it is an issue with either the coding or the manufacture of the physical game discs.  They may or may not be correct, but it appears that I am not amongst them.

I called PS3 technical support - not seriously expecting a solution to the problem - and at least came away with the real culprit.  My system will load all the other game discs I have handy.  It will load all the downloaded games on the device's hard drive.  Then the rep told me to load up a Blu-Ray movie and sure enough, the same problem emerged. My 2.5 year old system apparently has a broken disc drive. 

(Aside: The rep then attempted to give me the strong-arm hard sell for Sony's repair service, which cost over $100 - I don't remember if that included shipping or precisely how long I was going to be without my system as a result.  I pointed out that I can get a new system on sale for around $250 with a game and a controller that collectively MSRP for around $100, and the guy tried to put the scare tactics on me that my game and movie downloads would not work on a new console.  I pointed out that the PSN service specifically markets game downloads as tied to your account, and - caught - he said that they should but that he's heard that sometimes they don't.) 

Vestigial Points of Failure
Don't get me wrong, I'm not thrilled with how this experience played out, and the results do not leave me eager to spend more money on the PS3 platform.  I'm now out of pocket for a game that I can't return because it's been opened and can't play because my system won't load it.

However, the part that failed is not some fancy computing hardware or exotic cooling solution or even the machine's hard drive.  The point of failure is the optical drive - a vestigial appendage whose sole contribution to the endeavor of letting me play games is to load physical media from a physical store which is taking a substantial cut of the sale price for the privilege.

Can I hypothetically trade in my working disc for something else that may or may not run on my hobbled system?  Perhaps.  Somehow that's not a lot of comfort right now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SWTOR Ding 50

Aldabaran, my SWTOR trooper, hit level 50 this evening.  SWTOR is now the seventh MMO in which I have reached a current level cap, and this is my 10th character to reach a current level cap.  (Three of those characters have yet to catch up with level cap increases, leaving me with seven max level characters in five games currently.)  All told, I took about 2.5 weeks' worth of gametime beyond the included 30 days to reach the cap.

I was originally going to hold off in favor of working on alts, but I changed my mind because I was close to the cap and having a hard time figuring out how many of my credits I needed to save for when I got there.  (Answer: 110K+ in training alone, and I haven't decided how to spend my commendations versus what item mods to purchase.) 

Meanwhile, the Jeutrémie legacy is sitting at level 6, and currently grants the following benefits:
  • 150 presence (human racial plus 5 companions)
  • All five Companion archetype buffs (1% each HP, accuracy, crit, surge, and 2% healing)
  • Heroic moment ability duration doubled, cooldown reduced by 25%, one Trooper legacy Sticky Grenade per cycle
  • All classes get the trooper/bounty hunter buff (5% endurance)
  • Cyborg race unlocked for Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Sith Inquisitor classes, also additional cosmetic options available
One additional tidbit that is tangentially Legacy related - SWTOR allows cross-faction mail within your legacy (not sure if this is limited to after you unlock the Legacy around level 30).   This means I can use my crewskills - Biochem, Slicing, and Bioanalysis - for the benefit of my alts.  Because SWTOR has NPC gathering missions, I don't need to travel to a mid-level planet to get the materials for mid-level medpacs and implants.  Instead, I can just pay companions to go get the stuff for me, AFK for a while (or sign out) and craft it when I get back. 

Anyway, with these benefits in hand, it's off to work on my first alt, a Sith Warrior.  And perhaps return to the trooper from time to time to blow things up for the Republic and/or credits in support of my Legacy.  The trooper was not a class I was that interested in until I played it, but I'm glad that I did, as its medium range melee/tanking niche was different and fun.   If I'm similarly surprised by other specs, I've got a lot more fun left to have with this game. 

Seatech Astronomy

The Secret World launch is less than two weeks away, and the only public information I've seen on the beta (as opposed to the relatively open weekend events) is a few blogposts from folks who have beta keys to give away.  One of my readers sent me an email containing a pair of such keys.  Due to the presumably limited time left to take advantage of these, I'm not going to do anything creative with em - first two emails to my inbox ( get a key, I'll edit this when they're gone.

Winners have been identified and contacted, keep your eyes peeled if you're still looking, seems like there are more of these things going around as it draws to a close.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Endgame Incentives For the Solo Player

My last post gave one reader the incorrect impression that SWTOR did not have an endgame - in fact, it has solo daily quests, 4-player "flashpoints", and "operation" raids that come in 8 and 16 player size options.  These things did not really enter into my thinking for my immediate reaction post upon reaching the end of my class story. 

I spend a fair number of hours playing MMO's, but I don't do so on any fixed schedule, which rules out traditional raiding. The things that do motivate me to continue playing are new experiences, such as:
  • Story, if presented in a non-scheduled format (like WoW's EZ-mode PUG raid finder)
  • Alternate advancement or similar (including more regular advancement in the case of my SWTOR character, who is still two levels shy of the game's cap)
  • Perks and bonuses for future characters
What utterly fails to motivate me is gear for the sake of gear.  If I needed gear because it would let me carry my weight in a group of my friends, or anything else I cared about, I would care about gear.  For better or worse, the days when I would go out and farm daily quests just to say that I had obtained "raid quality" gear are behind me.  I've been there, done that, and - especially important - currently have access to numerous other games where I could go and do that if I wanted to. 

I maintain that Bioware has not done a bad job in SWTOR.  Many MMO's try to sell the player on multiple characters using additional leveling content the devs needed to build anyway, but SWTOR is the first game where I'm not only working on my second character before finishing my first, but even have plans out to what order I would tackle all eight of the class stories in.  The catch, as Bioware completes their server merges (123 US servers will trans-merge down to 12, while 88 European Servers condense to 11 according to Darth Hater - nearly the worst case of the scenarios I examined last week), is that this continues to be a recipe for a nomadic population which is less well suited to longterm MMO communities. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Legacy Chapter 3

My trooper, newly renamed from "Aldebaran" to "Aldabaran" due to the server transfers, hit another milestone this afternoon while I was babysitting the dog and some house painters.  I powered through the Corellia class quests in one sitting,  completing the third and final Chapter of the Trooper class story.  I started the afternoon as a freshly dinged level 47, and ended with a 95% full exp bar... toward level 48.  This means that I "need" to scrape together just over two more levels' worth of exp using the non-story quests I skipped, possibly the Hoth Bonus series, and the abridged storyline on Ilum. 

I airquote need because I don't actually feel any especially pressing need to hit the level cap.  I already have all five companion legacy unlocks (3 are maxed for extra crafting bonuses and the other two are close).  With the class story complete, I have my legacy ability unlocked.  I hit legacy level 5 and paid for the human racial legacy bonus because it is a decent bonus to solo play but I'd rather give up half a million credits than wait out 50 levels as a human to obtain it.  The one bonus I would obtain for getting this character to 50 is the racial unlock for Cyborgs, which opens up the race for all classes.  However, I don't really plan on doing another Cyborg in the near future. 

As a solo player, the biggest argument I have for sticking it out on this character is probably that it's easier to earn credits at higher level, which can be used to pay for gifts for companions on my new alts.  Somehow, this seems less pressing than experiencing a whole new story - or seven. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Explaining SWTOR Server Merges

My post from yesterday on SWTOR's "character transfer" program has gotten a fair amount of attention, including blockquotes at Tobold's and the MMO Melting Pot, who asks whether the game has shrunk by 90%.  To be clear, I don't think the population numbers are that low - at least not yet. 

We already knew that the game was down over a quarter of its population.  Due to the game's pre-launch guild deployment program, those losses were very likely to cluster on the newly added servers in the launch rush, as launch guilds stayed put on the pre-launch servers they were placed on.  As a result, losing 25% of players could leave more than 25% of servers with undesirably low populations.  If players were disproportionately leaving servers that never filled up to begin with, and new players (like myself) were disproportionately choosing the most popular servers that remained, it is easy to see how a lot of servers wound up in trouble. 

There are also some reasons beyond avoiding the M-word for PR reasons why transfers were used over mergers.  With transfers, it's up to the player choosing to transfer to make sure that any characters they already have on the destination server do not push them over the cap.  With a voluntary transfer in place of an involuntary merge, responsibility for loss of a name can also be pushed on the player who "asked".  In principle, some of the servers that were flagged as origin servers could still be saved down the line, though I think it is more likely that the stragglers will end up merged on a server that has room for them once they're down to manageable numbers. 

That said, the sheer numbers of servers in play, combined with the previous population trend and the abrupt talk of free to play do not bode well.  We already knew that the game was going to an unlimited free trial model through level 15 - currently seen in WoW and Rift - and that in principle means they are laying the groundwork for non-subscription access to the servers. 

Alternate Payment Model
One final thought - when I heard the news from E3, I immediately assumed paid mini-expansion based on some past rumors regarding a survey that EA circulated on this topic.  It sounds like they denied this rumor in press interviews, and perhaps for good reason.  This idea has been tried before and never goes over well in a subscription game, especially within its first year of release.  However, perhaps there is a way to make mini-expansions more like DLC - as an alternative to the subscription rather than an add-on. 

DLC has far greater acceptance amongst players in general and Bioware fans in particular.  What if, by "free to play", we mean that regular paid mini-expansions come with enough game time - at a discount that offsets the cost of the content for subscribers - to allow most players to beat the content?  If for some reason you aren't done and don't wish to subscribe in the interim, you'd be free to revisit the stuff when the next DLC arrives with more included game time.  It would still be a subscription game and you would still need to offer value for that option, but there may be some middle ground/hybrid model that hasn't been done before and that might work with the kind of content Bioware is producing.  Time will tell, I suppose. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Surveying SWTOR Servers

SWTOR players have been asking for server transfers basically since the game's first month, and they have finally arrived.  The analysis that we're seeing on the forums is fascinating.

As expected, these appear to be thinly-veiled server mergers, with as many as sixteen sparsely populated "origin" servers invited to transfer to a single "destination" server.  The thing that has surprised me is how aggressive Bioware-Mythic is being.  By my count of US servers as of this evening, there are 10 servers that Bioware intends to save (destinations), 23 servers with unknown fates (neither origin nor destination as of yet), and a whopping 90 servers that Bioware appears to be writing off (origins). 

On the one hand, I tip my hat to Bioware for ripping the bandaid off.  On a day when I should have been celebrating - level 46, Legacy level 5, and 100 presence for purchasing the human racial legacy unlock - I was instead doing damage control.  I lost about 15K credits in auction deposits (I knew I had to cancel auctions but did not realize that your deposit is only refunded if you wait until the sale expires) and had to rename my character - I may or may not end up regretting not changing his name more dramatically if I end up sending stuff to the guy who has my old name on my destination server.  I've heard many stories of players losing multiple character names.  The only thing worse than doing this once would be doing it repeatedly as servers close one by one over time. 

That said, we're looking at closure of anywhere from 75-90% of US servers depending on how the undecideds break.  Perhaps Bioware has been able to optimize or improve hardware to accommodate more players per server, especially with the launch rush redistributed (albeit primarily to a handful of endgame-relevant locations).  Perhaps part of their decision to open so many servers at launch was motivated by a belief that populations would continue to expand, rather than contract, and they are now firmly in consolidation mode.  Even so, Bioware-Mythic now appears to hold the dubious distinction of the top two slots on the list of "most servers closed by a MMO", so something clearly did not go right.

P.S. A tip for those of you who are re-locating: I would suggest creating or leaving a low level alt on the server/legacy you are departing.  This may be moot if the origin servers close soon and the remaining characters are sent to the same destination as the current transfers.  However, in the event that the last stragglers on your old server get sent somewhere else, they can potentially take a copy of your legacy (as it was when you departed) with them - if you have no characters left, presumably nothing will transfer.  A minute in the character generator on a server you're leaving for good is probably worthwhile if it gets you more options to play on in the future. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Odds and Ends

A handful of tidbits from the last week and a half or so, none of which got written up because none was that exciting.
  • I now own a level 3 character in EQ1.  Yes, the original.  SOE is running another promo in which all players will be rewarded with Station Cash if enough people spam enough of their friends to increase the follower count.  ULLSXLQXU2  On the downside, someone in accounting finally realized that people were using promotional and deeply discounted Station Cash to buy subscription time and removed this option, but at least I can apply this towards the next EQ2 expansion.
  • A riddle for your consideration:  I have something that I was given in order to share it with a friend.  I can't say what it is, I can't say why I have it, and people who don't need it can't say that they don't need it.  Can you solve The Secret? 
  • Last week was Darkmoon Faire week in Azeroth, so I signed on to snag the monthly tickets from the monthly profession quests.  This felt like a really small number of tickets, but I double checked and confirmed that no, the numbers have been that low since the thing got off the test server.  If there is a nerf conspiracy coming, it hasn't arrived yet.  EU2TMXWJX5 

Meanwhile, my SWTOR server apparently just went eligible for "transferring everyone off but not calling it a merge" status, time to go take care of that.  I'll hold my commentary until we get the final numbers, but the sheer number of servers with one-way transfers off is far greater than I was anticipating.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fuzzy Legacy Math

Update (26 June): The patch is live, see this post for updated numbers.  Bottom line: the first ranks are now worthwhile for most characters, but the higher end bonuses are still probably a bad deal.

SWTOR patch 1.3 has hit the test servers, bringing a new round of various legacy bonuses.  The numbers may change in testing, but they did get me thinking about how some things that sound good on paper don't work out so well.

I did a fair amount of math, summarized below, trying to figure out if the companion gift affection bonus was ever worth purchasing.  The answer is extremely borderline, because the bonus is per-character, there is a limited amount of affection you can earn on each character, and the only way to "cash in" the bonus is to consume a gift that has a cash value.  In order to profit from a 5% affection bonus that costs 25K credits to unlock, you need to be spending over 100K credits per companion for each of your five companions.  This is technically possible if you intend to powergrind each companion from 0-10,000 as quickly as possible using vendor gifts and paying whatever it costs on the trade network.  Most people probably will not do this.

I got sufficiently into the analysis of this that I lost sight of the bigger picture.  There are two additional ranks and these boost the costs even further - a total of 250K credits for the top rank.  It's also worth noting that the two perks for conversation gains and gift gains are somewhat mutually diminishing in value - due to the cap, the more affection you gain from one of the two, the less remaining affection there is to gain from the other.  (The conversation option has the advantage that players will do this anyway - you still have to earn more affection than you could buy with the credits for this to be worthwhile, but at least you don't have to be planning to spend an unreasonable total amount on gifts to profit from it.) 

Don't get me wrong, some of the new legacy unlocks are legitimate luxury item credit sinks.  These particular bonuses, though, especially for the top two ranks, are never worth the money for anyone.  As with your real money, I suppose the lesson is "buyer beware". 

The numbers
The chart below summarizes the cost of power-grinding the 80% of companions who have at least one gift they "love" for maximum favor using vendor gifts.  You can get from 0-8000 affection for under 100K credits using gifts from the vendor - which means that the 5% bonus you paid 25K credits for saves you fewer than 5K credits per companion.  If your crewskills and/or the auction house are more cost-effective than the vendor - or if you are less excessive in your use of gifts, you will save even less.   
Affection Range Affection/Gift Total Gifts
0-1999 (base) 96 21 (to 2016)
0-1999 (+5%) 100.8 20 (to 2016)
2000-3999 (base) 48 42 (from 2016 to 4032)
2000-3999 (+5%) 50.4 40 (from 2016 to 4032)
4000-5999 (base) 19 104 (from 4032 to 6008)
4000-5999 (+5%) 19.95 99 (from 4032 to 6007.5)
6000-7999 (base - rank 2 gifts) 19 105 (from 6008 to 8003)
6000-7999 (+5% - rank 2 gifts) 19.95 100 (from 6008 to 8001.55)

Total Rank 1 cost saved: 8 rank one green gifts (1600 credits) per companion, 8000 credits for five companions (assuming none who are picky)
Total Rank 2 cost saved: 5 rank two green gifts (3000 credits) per companion, 15000 credits for five companions (assuming none who are picky)
Total "saved": 23000 credits
Total Spent to earn these savings: 25,000 credits.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Legacy Chapter 2

My SWTOR trooper cleared out the finale of Chapter 2, hit level 40 (along with Legacy Level 3) early in the Chapter 3 content, and unlocked a bunch of goodies. All characters on my legacy now get:

  • +2% Bonus to healing received
  • +1% Bonus to surge (affects critical multiplier)
  • +20 Presence (improves all Companion stats)
  • Heroic Moment, normally a 20 minute cooldown that lasts 1 minute, now lasts 24 seconds longer and has a cooldown that is two minutes shorter.  (This will be a more significant buff when I complete Chapter 3 on one or more classes for bonus abilities.)  
  • Trooper Class Buff: +5% endurance (grants HP) to any class that does not already have the trooper/bounty hunter buff from another source (e.g. party member, drive-by buff from a player, being a trooper/BH)
  • Trooper emote
None of these things are game-breaking, though I can imagine the presence numbers adding up for a player who has enough companions unlocked.  Still, it's kind of fun that I already get to take advantage of some Legacy bonuses even though this is my first character.

Min-Maxing Affection
Part of the reason why I was able to top out two of my five companions immediately upon starting Chapter 3 (required to unlock all conversations) was through efforts to min-max companion affection using some web resources (note: links contain companions' names, if you still think that's a spoiler). 

Dulfy's guide contains two crucial pieces of information - each companion's favorite gifts and how much total affection each companion needs to cap out.  My strategy was to throw tier 1 gifts that each companion views as a "favorite" at them as soon as possible until each companion hits 6000 affection.    (Psynister has some tips on how to deal with the handful of characters who do not have any "favorite" gifts.)  I wasn't quite able to afford this much of a headstart on all of my companions because this was my first character, but this is a huge bonus for the ones that I was able to pursue - said companions only needed 2000-3500 to the maximum required affection, rather than 8000-9500 that companions starting from scratch require.

Beyond 6000 affection, gifts begin to become costly - the tier 2 vendor gifts cost three times as much and are only good for 19 affection once you're above 6000, while higher end gifts are more difficult to obtain (or costly on the exchange).  Assuming that you don't have indefinite numbers of credits to throw at this problem, the solution is questing with a site such as TORhead open so that you can always determine which dialog choices will award the most affection.  This approach does mean spoilers, but it can make a huge difference - picking the correct dialog with the correct companion out can be worth over a hundred points, where the incorrect companion gets absolutely nothing for the same amount of work.

I suppose such is the paradox of removing choices that irreversibly affect gameplay - when all that are left are "moral" choices that your companions will always forgive by spending credits on gifts, these reversible choices are what is left to min-max.

P.S. In principle, Human is the optimal race for a first character in SWTOR because it is the only race that has any non-cosmetic benefit - another 100 points to presence (which is almost exclusively a solo stat).  However, I opted to go with more interesting races instead, as the human racial unlock is the cheapest to purchase.  I'm already over halfway to the requisite 500K credits and at Legacy level 3 out of a required 5. 

P.P.S. EA's press conference at E3 announced what sounds like a mini-expansion to SWTOR.  Perhaps it's early yet, but I have not seen the word "free", which makes me think that they plan to be the latest MMO to suffer extreme backlash for attempting to charge for content within the first year of service.  Dulfy reports that there was a survey that may have been attempting to determine pricing/features for this update.  One intriguing item was the idea of including game time in the price of the mini-expansion.  Depending on pricing, this could be a good thing (effectively free for subscribers, while console players who are more tolerant of non-subscription DLC get some time to use the content Bioware is potentially selling) or a bad thing (forced to buy game time along with the thing as a way to inflate the price). 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Level versus /played

Via Massively comes an interesting tidbit of Warhammer Online news.  Beyond the first fifteen levels, the game will now use the RVR Reknown level, rather than the PVE character level system for RVR scenario matchmaking.  Characters with a low PVE level will be bolstered up to some baseline while in the scenario, while higher PVE-level players with low reknown ranks will remain what's functionally a training bracket until they rank up. 

It's an interesting concept.  In PVP in general, player skill is going to play a larger role compared to /played time, and that effect is only amplified if the player spends their leveling time in (possibly solo) PVE content.  Depending on how well Warhammer has tamed the AFK problem, the time to Reknown rank 70 may actually be enough to train newbies to play with the veterans. 

On the downside, last I checked Reknown rank was character-specific rather than account-wide.  Players who really know what they are doing are potentially trapped in the training bracket for 69 levels - it's not clear to me from the patch notes whether level 40 players can group up with their friends and queue together as a group, or whether these folks will be split by reknown rank.  By the same token, someone who really likes steam-rolling newbies could presumably serially re-roll to stay in the entry level bracket and feast on the tears. 

This may be a moot point in the context of a game that's down to its last server (or two, I've lost track) simultaneously rolling out a stand-alone spinoff version of the scenario gameplay in a free to play somewhat-level-less MOBA.  Faults with the execution aside, though, separating players by some measure of skill rather than time /played may be a sound concept, especially for PVP, and it'll be interesting to see who steals it in the future. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Shortening MMO Retention Curve

Psychochild writes:
"Raph Koster has pointed out that big MMOs follow fairly predictable growth curves. The fact there's been a drop so far so fast means that curve has gotten shorter, or the curve has changed dramatically. Neither is a positive sign for traditional MMOs."
I wonder if Koster's famous graph from 2007 was the last point in history in which the model worked. 

I stayed with WoW raiding through 2006 despite generally low satisfaction because where else was I going to go?  LOTRO wasn't out yet, nor had EQ2 completed the Rise of Kunark era revamp that made it accessible to solo players.  If solo play was a substantial part of your gaming, it was WoW or bust through mid-2007. 

I've never seen hard numbers for what happened over the summer of 2007, but Blizzard made a dramatic shift towards "accessibility" starting in the fall of that year.  I don't think it's a coincidence that this change in emphasis coincided with Blizzard's first real competition for the solo demographic and their revenue. 

By contrast, a dissatisfied customer today almost certainly has one or more alternatives (unless, of course, they're focused on open world PVP, sandbox games or other things that don't fit in the "theme park" model) - as Psychochild points out, this includes increasingly high-production-value single player games.  Moreover, recent history suggests that it is very rarely a good investment of your time and money to stick with a game that launches in an unsatisfactory state.  Games that ship unfinished are very likely to do poorly enough to force layoffs that ensure that they never get finished. 

It's easy for us talking heads who spend time writing about games on blogs instead of playing games to admonish our peers for failing to "support" innovation.  In reality, we're customers, not investors, and it is very unlikely that our one purchase, or even several hundred purchases, are going to make or break a game's success in a way that shapes future development.  As a blogger I might prefer to see any and all games succeed, but as a consumer I can't in good conscience recommend throwing money at something you aren't enjoying just because it has some trait you would like to encourage.   That may indeed be a non-positive sign for the market, but I don't see it changing anytime soon.