Sunday, May 22, 2016

Legendary Ring and Draenor Flying

Yesterday, in an unexpected coincidence, I managed to finish both my goals for Warlords of Draenor. I got my legendary ring, [Etheralus, the Eternal Reward]. I also finished [Draenor Pathfinder], unlocking flying mounts in Draenor.

I was a little surprised at the getting the ring. I was 31/33 for the tomes, but only had two bosses left for the week. But somehow Lady Luck decided in my favor, and a tome dropped for both bosses. I fully expected to be left with 32/33 and have to wait for next week.

As for the Pathfinder achievement, it was mostly a matter of finishing rep with the Order of the Awakened and finding enough rare monsters for the quest items. I still don't like the "blue bar" areas in WoD, but they're tolerable if you make or join a group in the LFG section.

There's still a lot of weird behavior in those posted groups that I don't understand. For example, I'd make a group. People would join and leave ten seconds later. For every person who joined and stuck around to work on the area, at least three people would join and leave. I don't know what they were looking for, as I was pretty explicit about what the group was for.

Now I'm not sure what to do with WoW. There are a couple quests to clean up, but I'm pretty much done until the pre-expansion stuff starts happening. I am leveling a mage, who's up to 45, so maybe I'll focus on that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Two Million Gold Mount

In Legion, Blizzard is introducing a spider mount that costs two million gold. This naturally has the forums up in arms. To give an idea of the scale, the maximum amount of gold I've ever had at one time is about 50k.



Is this mount a good idea?

It's pretty clearly a reward for "goblin" players. Players who like money-making and playing the Auction House. That's a playstyle that a significant number of players enjoy.

But just because a significant number of players enjoy a playstyle, that does not necessarily make it one that should be encouraged or rewarded. After all, a significant number of players enjoy ganking lowbies. If Blizzard introduced a mount that you got for getting 1000 kills of players half your level or lower, that would be a horrific mistake.

So first, do goblins benefit the game? In general, they do. Goblins generally "smooth" out the market. The vast majority of them make money by buying cheap items and relisting them at the market equilibrium price. The presence of goblins means that normal players probably won't be able to find bargains on the AH, but there will always be a supply of items available for purchase. It's fairly unlikely that the AH will be sold out of anything entirely.

As well, it means that normal players can guarantee sales simply by listing the item at a discount from the market price. A goblin will pick it up and relist it. Sometimes it is more important to have liquid cash than wait for the best price.

Second, does the goblin playstyle require skill or dedication, some characteristic worth rewarding? I suppose it does. The factors that give me pause is that the risk is much lower than other playstyles. I mean at least in a game like Eve you can get shot down while transporting something. The other issue is that it is a playstyle which is heavily automated. There are mods which can do amazing things for you. Of course, you have to be fairly savvy to get the most out of those mods.

Third, can the requirements be gamed? The big element here is gold-sellers and gold buying. Legitimately, you can buy 10 WoW tokens a week. If we say it's 50k gold per token, that's 4 weeks and $1200 USD. I'm really not sure that introducing a mount that can be legitimately purchased for $1200 is a good idea.

There's also the illegal gold sellers. But in a way, because the amount needed is so high, the mount can act as bait. There should be relatively few sold, so examining each account that buys the mount for gold-buying can be viable.

Fourth, will the game be hurt by incentivizing this playstyle? Ironically, adding more goblins probably makes it harder on all of them, There are more people hunting the bargains, competition becomes fiercer, and profit margins become thinner. So overall, the AH experience for normal players should be even better.

Finally, is the playstyle already rewarded enough? In general, there isn't really a great advantage to having huge amounts of gold. The one exception is the Black Market Auction House. It is a bit unfair that the other playstyle rewards can be purchased for large amounts of gold, while the spider mount remains exclusive. But then again, I've never liked the BMAH. Honestly, I think Blizzard should take the opportunity of these new rewards to drop the BMAH entirely.

All in all, the two million gold spider will probably work out fine. Though Blizzard should increase the price to eight million, one million for each leg. That's a far more aesthetically pleasing price, and also increases the time required for purchase via WoW tokens and real money to four months.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ashran

I gave Ashran a try last week. Ashran is Blizzard's "world PvP" style zone for WoD. It's been through a couple different iterations and fixes. The current version is pretty fun, and does feel a lot more like World PvP used to.

The basic structure of Ashran is that there is one "road" connecting two bases. To get to the enemy commander you have to push your way up the road, capturing each node in sequence. Then there are 5 "off-road" events that take place in the other parts of the map. The main Ashran quest requires to win 4 events and kill the enemy commander once.

So the basic cycle of play is to skirmish at the current border in the road until an event pops, then both sides rush off to the event and contest it. Eventually one faction will win four events. That faction then makes a concerted push to get to and kill the enemy commander.

By and large, it's pretty fun. The different events give a feel of having several different battles within the larger battle. There's also mechanics like giving each class a new Ashran-only ability. The paladin ability allows you to judge people and send them to a jail in your base, which is greatly amusing. There's also items you can turn in to summon NPCs to aid your side.

There's really only two problems with Ashran. First, it desperately needs a catchup mechanic. If the other team is more organized or stronger, the weaker team simply loses event after event. As well, part of your honor gain comes from artifact fragments that you loot and turn in. But if you die, you lose half the fragments you've collected. And the weaker team dies a lot more.

My fix would be to give the side that loses an event a stacking buff that boosts them by 10% or so. If they win an event, their buff count drops by one. That should be enough to even out the sides.

The second problem with Ashran is that there is no point in defending your leader. If the other side is making a concerted push to kill the leader, the best thing to do is get out of their way and get a jump on the next event.

This problem is probably much harder to solve. I think any attempt at a real solution would just see the two sides explicitly collude and take turns killing the other leader.

It's ironic, but very often the best strategy in long-running PvP games is cooperation between the two enemy sides to maximize resource gain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Legion Dev Update

Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas did a Dev Liveblog today on Twitch, where he touched upon several of the topics we've been discussing recently. Wowhead has a nice summary. He also announced that Alpha is ending, and Beta starting shortly.

Every day when you log in, there is an emissary that asks you to do specific sets of world quests to aid a faction (eg all Dreamweaver faction quests in Val'sharah). Do four quests for the emissary and get an awesome chest. These emissary quests kind of work like Hearthstone dailies - they pile up for a few days, so you can catch up on ones you missed.

Legion will still have dailies, though these "world quests" seem more similar to Diablo 3 bounties. But they're adding a bit of a buffer, allowing you to save quests for a few days.

The leveling-up experience in classic zones is pretty broken right now and not well tuned. It's way too easy and it was neglected for a bit. Due to ability changes over the years, you basically feel invincible (even before heirlooms). You're running around more vs actually fighting. The pacing of the game isn't what it should be. They've been looking to fix this (even via hotfixes now).

As I remarked a few weeks ago, leveling is excessively easy with a very fast Time-to-kill. It's good to know that it's on Blizzard's list of things to fix.

As an aside, it's not all classes which are broken. I've been leveling a human Fire Mage, and that specialization feels surprisingly right while leveling. Admittedly, I'm only in quest rewards with no dungeon gear or heirlooms. Perhaps that spec is just under-tuned. It might be a function of not having enough critical strike, as Fire seems to want more critical strike rating to get off instant Pyroblasts. But I actually took First Aid to make bandages to keep my health up. Given my experience leveling a druid, that was completely unexpected.

In any case, there's a decent amount of interesting information on the major system changes coming in Legion. So far, it all sounds pretty good.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Alternatives to Daily Quests

There's a very good discussion in the comments of the last post. Shandren comments:
The problem with dailies is that they are... daily. You have to set time aside to do them every day or you will fall behind (yes i know it is not a lot, and likely doesn't actually matter, but the problem is how it feels to miss them, not what the actual outcome is). If you skip you dailies today,you will not be able to just do them twice tomorrow and catch up. Ergo you are "forced" to do them every day.
This is true to a degree, and I sympathize with this perspective. But the alternative to dailies isn't a game where you log in whenever you feel like it and complete tasks on your own schedule.

The alternative is a game where you grind like crazy the first couple of weeks, and then spend the next few months complaining that there is nothing to do. If you don't do the hardcore grind, you "fall behind", just as much as if you miss a day of dailies. This is especially true if the rewards are half-decent. It's only the grinds with trivial rewards which players feel free to work on at their own pace.

Of these two extremes, I prefer the dailies.

There's certainly room for improvement though. For example, suppose you could do 5 dailies per day. But you could "bank" up to 25 dailies. This would allow you to skip a day here and there, and make it up the next day.

FFXIV does something similar with its levequest allowance, though that is mostly used for leveling classes. In fact, FFXIV offers two types of leves: one type gives you, say, 100 XP per quest and costs 1 leve allowance. The other type gives you 500 XP per quest, but costs 10 leve allowances. So one is better XP per time, and the other is better XP per allowance.[1]

But overall, I think dailies were an improvement over very long grinds, especially those grinds with meaningful rewards.

1. To be honest, this is probably more complexity than is warranted. I think it also ended up confusing most players.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Yet Another Look At Garrisons

With all the various controversies in WoW over the last couple weeks, I decided to play it again for a little bit. My plan is to at least finish the Legendary ring on my character in preparation for Legion.

I mixed up my playing style a bit, and came to an interesting realization: Garrisons are really enjoyable as "winding down" content.

Basically, you log in and do whatever your main goal is. Join a raid, do a heroic dungeon, hit up Tanaan, whatever. You defer the Garrison stuff to the end of the play session. After you're done your main content and are thinking about logging out, you spend the last 5 or 10 minutes taking care of your Garrison.

I find this works really well. Garrisons don't take much effort, and there's a nice sense of tidying up before you log. It's perfect for the end of a play session. You log out while seeing your followers off on their adventures. As well, being at the end, I find myself more willing to ignore the parts of the garrison which are completely unnecessary. Like the herb garden, since I have no need for herbs.

A player named Torvald had an excellent post where he postulated that doing garrison stuff up front drains a player's "stamina" and enthusiasm for other content. I find that simply moving the garrison to the end of the play session eliminates that entirely. Maybe it still drains your stamina, but you were planning to log off anyways.

There are a couple problems with this style of play though. First, it's sub-optimal. Since missions are timed, you lose out on the time during your play session. Second, it requires you to defer some easy gratification, some easy rewards. And as we all know from various experiments involving children and marshmallows, deferred gratification is not an easy thing.

The thing, though, is that incentivizing the player to do the garrison stuff at the end seems very hard. They could remove some of the time pressure by making missions based on days, rather than timed, where they all finish at the same time at night.

But you're still faced with the deferred gratification problem. The marshmallow dangling in front of your face when you first log in. You can't put a timer on it, because the player might be logging in quickly just to do garrison tasks.

The only idea I had was that while your followers are hanging around your garrison, they give you a stacking buff which increases gold, xp, and valor gained by 1-2% per follower, up to 50% when you have a full complement of 25. That way you want to delay sending your followers on missions while you are doing content, but you're perfectly happy to send them off while you are logged off.

In conclusion, I think that garrisons are much more enjoyable when moved to the end of a play session. But I think actually nudging players into that playstyle will be hard sell.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Overwatch Open Beta Tips From a Bad Player

The Overwatch open beta starts this week. Early access is May 2 if you pre-ordered, and it fully opens up a couple of days later.

Overwatch is an amazingly fun game, and I'm a terrible FPS player. I wasn't in Closed Beta, but I was in the stress tests. So here are some tips from someone who is probably worse than you are.

1. Don't be afraid to solo queue.

Obviously, if you have friends, queue with them. But the solo queue is surprisingly balanced. It seems to quickly find your skill level. As well, matches aren't independent of each other. The players from the last match will be the same players in the next match. Only the teams are shuffled. So maybe there was an awesome enemy Pharah last game that kept killing you. This game, you might end up on the same team as her. This goes a long way to keeping the matches even and popping quickly.

2. Don't bother with AI games.

Maybe play one match to get the hang of things, but I would recommend jumping directly into matches with other players. Playing against the AI just isn't the same as playing against humans. If you want to figure out a hero's abilities, use the training room to see how they work, but then fling yourself against other players.

3. Try to focus on one hero from each category.

There are four categories of heroes: Offensive, Defensive, Tanks, and Support. You generally want a mixed squad, so if you're capable of playing at least one hero of each type, you can fill in for any missing element. Also, tanks and support can be a little more newbie-friendly as they are less reliant on aim and are often a little less fragile than the others.

4. Don't switch heroes too much.

You can switch heroes every time you die, but I recommend playing the entire match as the same hero, at least at the start. They do take some time to get used to, so they might feel frustrating at first until they click for you.

5. Stick with your team.

If you're all alone, it's better to retreat for a few seconds and meet up with the rest of your team, rather than throwing yourself at the enemy. Also remember that the game is about objectives, not a death-match, so emphasize pushing the objective.

6. Use ultimates aggressively.

Ultimate abilities charge quite quickly, so don't hesitate on using them. You have to fail with them a few times to figure out how to use them best.

7. The Kill Cam is your best teacher.

Whenever you die (and you will die a lot) a kill cam will come up showing your death from the opponent's point of view. This is the best way to learn. You can see what you did wrong, and see what your opponent did right.

I think Overwatch is an amazing game, and I strongly recommend that you all try it out. There are lots of different heroes with different playstyles, so I'm sure you'll find at least a couple you enjoy.