Friday, September 30, 2011

In An Age

If you are reading this... you shouldn't be. I am over at In An Age, you know,

I appreciate the patronage of getting 1500+ pageviews in the last month despite having zero new content. So allow me to reward your loyalty with In An Age, where I have made twenty-one (21) posts in the last thirty days. Know what else? I imported PVSAH in its entirety over there (including comments), so it is not even as though you will be missing anything. Indeed, by not updating your bookmark/blogroll you will be missing the most important thing: updated content!

Here is a sample of the last month:
The only thing missing is AH and WoW economic discussions. Which, if you haven't noticed, are not taking place here either. So what have you got to lose... other than one more second reading this nonsense when you could be enjoying the sweet, sultry voice of Morgan Freeman narrating* everything I write over at In An Age?

Naught a thing, I daresay!

*Some imagination required.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


So if it was not clear from my "900,001" post on the 10th, I quit WoW. It may end up being like that smoker joke "you never quit, you just stop buying packs," but it has been two weeks since account expiration and no signs of relapse. I don't know if it says something about me or not, but I somehow miss random BGs the most, and yet have zero interest in League of Legends, etc, games. Go figure.

In the meantime, transition your love for me (and links) to: In An Age. Yes,

Essentially, In An Age is this blog without all the Off Topic tags. As silly as it might sound (and stupid as it might be blogroll-wise), I felt exceedingly guilty making posts about non-AH things under the, well, Player Vs Auction House name. This site is technically "PVSAH" so perhaps I could just pretend that it was an acronym for something completely different, but... well, let's just see how this works out.

My first (new) post is up over there, and it's called Culpability of Questionable Design. Bitching about Exploring the ramifications of de evolving Blizzard game design is still something I enjoy writing about, along with the Diablo stuff I have talked about here in OT posts before. You can expect more of that plus posts about Steam games, possibly RPG reviews, perhaps publishing old D&D campaigns I designed (!) and whatever the hell else I end up doing that is related to gaming or about gaming minutia.

Hope to see you over there.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Future of Gaming: We (May) Be Screwed

If you play games and had a pulse in the last fifteen years, you have undoubtedly bore witness to the meteoric rise of the Free To Play (F2P) model, which had been preceded by the Downloadable Content (DLC) model, which had been preceded by the "new Madden game every year" model, sandwiched inbetween the 8-hour single-player campaign and Skinner Box School of Character Advancement loafs. It is enough to make a grown man cynically quip "I told you so!" as he shuffles back into the 1990s when games were games, and boys dreamed of somehow getting credited as Writer in the next Squaresoft Final Fantasy epic.* You know, when gaming was cool because it was an ultra-niche hobby that catered solely to you and your demographic - back before the industry totally sold out** and before it was considered hip to pretend you were upset that something sold out.

Well my friends, it actually might be worse than you think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

900,001; Or How Tiny Tower Killed WoW

The frustrating thing about canceling your subscription is that you never end up doing it for the reasons you want to have done it for. All of us have those little wedge issues that crop up in the process of an evolving game design that we disagree with on fundamental levels. Cash shop antics with the Sparkle Pony/Disco Lion. Heroics being too easy or too hard. Justice point gear and the availability thereof. Premium subscriptions. Racials, class balance, paladins getting nerfed into the ground every patch/not getting nerfed enough.

I had a whole post titled "The Unapologetic Grind" ready to go, talking about how the malaise that seems to be spreading in the "community" has more to do with the transition of the badge system into an "empty bar filling" system that both encourages you to grind way past your normal limits (just... one... more... bar...) and injects feelings of inadequacy when you inevitably fail to fill them. Indeed, the first day that my guild failed to hit our maximum XP cap was the day I could point to as the beginning of the end.

But... when you get right down to it, the answer is always simple.

I first came across Tiny Tower a few weeks ago after hearing Scott Johnson and friends talk about it on The Instance and The Morning Stream, two rather hilarious podcasts I have listened to for months. If you have never heard of Tiny Tower, it is a "F2P" Apple app that is objectively a pointless waste of time. There is nothing skillful or strategic about any of the gameplay, and obviously there is no plot to speak of. It exists on my iPod only because it stimulates my nucleus accumbens in a completely vapid way: it tricks my physiological drive to multi-task into believing that the accumilated time spent playing has any meaning. And yet I have not deleted the app. It is still on there.

The philosophical question of whether anything we do has value or meaning aside, WoW engages in this same remote, psychological pleasure-center stimulation. And why wouldn't it? It is an MMO with a monthly subscription. The difference between creating enough content to occupy people for a month versus creating content it takes a person a month to complete is the difference between bankruptcy and a sweet raise. Think about those Tol Barad trinkets you spent 30+ days "earning." That they required 125 marks and Exalted reputation was entirely arbitrary. It was not about creating content, it was about creating a time wall that needed to be dismantled brick by brick by repetitive activity which creates an illusiary value to the end-product. Something you have worked towards accumilates value that simply getting it right away would lack.

In WoW's defense, there is actually an end product there: a trinket that you might be using the rest of this expansion's lifespan. Games like Tiny Tower have latched onto the notion that you do not even need the end-goal, do not need a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Worse than that though, these designers have realized that the individual actions do not have to be entertaining either. These are sandbox games without the sand; play replaced by going through the motions of play, yet triggering the same biochemicals as if you were having actual fun. And having thus deluded you into believing your participation has value, they tweak the "gameplay" to make even this seem reasonable*:

Seriously. I am waiting for a Steam deal on Limbo because $9.99 is a tad higher than I would prefer, and yet I was musing on how much could be accomplished with 1,000 Tower Bux... at the low, low price of $29.99. Philip Morris has nothing on these "F2P" assholes.

As my friends started logging into WoW less and less, the weakening social ties to the game gave me room to stand from my chair and really examine what I was doing. The taste of daily quests soured in my mouth. The AH was still fun... but it was the deals and strategy and the profit, not the tedium of listing, undercutting, emptying the mailbox. Sure, I could (further) automate those actions, but that is like automating chewing to speed tasteless digestion - it misses the point. The one activity I enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment was PvP. But when I became Honor capped on my warlock, BGs ceased to be amusing nearly instantly. "If I'm going lose 5 games for every 1 win during Twin Peaks holiday, I may as well do it on a toon that has use for Honor." In other words, character advancement and fun had been so inexoriably linked in my mind that I questioned whether they could even exist independantly. Tiny Tower demonstrated that I would do something unfun for even the vaguest of rewards, and that was when I realized I was not actually having fun in those BGs. Or rather, it was no longer immediately clear that I was.

A lot of these sort of posts smack of "I quit WoW and so should you, for these reasons," but that honestly is not my intention. I think there are some definite missteps that the designers made in Cataclysm, and I would be happy to debate those at length any day of the week regardless of whether subs are lost or gained. The fact of the matter though, is that if I was still having an engaging social experience in WoW I would probably still be paying $15/month. Without friends, WoW falls to the merits of its single-player experience. When that single-player experience is no longer fun, it falls finally onto its time soaking skills. And in the arena of time soaking, WoW cannot hold a candle to "games" like Tiny goddamn Tower.

God save us all.

*Obviously anyone who has played this "game" will go on about how they haven't paid for anything. I haven't paid for anything either. But any time you looked at that Bux screen and did not laugh at the designers' overreach is a time you ceased to "beat the system" and became one with it. Nevermind all the stupid iTunes band previews or Youtube videos you watched because they gave you "free" Bux to do it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Always Online: Missing the Point

I still have a problem with the always-online trend, but it actually comes from the other direction. Fundamentally, I am always connected to the internet... but that does not mean I always have a connection capable of running a client/server game without lag.

Spotty Wi-Fi? It happens. ISP having issues with Blizzard's servers? Been there, done that. Indeed, Time Warner (the only cable internet provider in my area) frequently has intermittent disconnects in the 11pm-3am time period when I am most active (I work 2nd shift). And obviously playing multiplayer games like FPS and WoW is impossible when, I dunno, I am downloading torrents, Steam/iTunes/antivirus programs decide to update, someone on the same connection boots up Netflix, and so on and so forth. Any of those other things are about 1000% more likely than lugging a laptop onto airplanes, trains, or buses.

So please don't construe this always-online DRM as a value-added feature when it is nothing but movie executives futilely pushing 3D movies because it eliminates the majority of piracy. There are better ways of eliminating that kind of piracy, but the movie industry is choosing the one that makes them more money.

Speaking of choosing the option that makes them more money. Tobold mentions that the cash AH in Diablo 3 necessitates a constant connection, but cheating prevention is honestly a red herring as Tycho from Penny-Arcade divines:

For my part, and I’m not, like, The Lord or anything, but the gulf between able to install a Spawn copy of the game and not being able to play offline at all seems pretty deep. Don’t really know what else to tell you. I saw that Blizzard came out with a response response, expressing their surprise at the consumer reaction, when this is more or less how consumers react every single time they learn the precise circumference of their golden leash.
By their own admission, Diablo isn’t not really focused around a PVP experience; if you’re playing with someone who has duped items or whatever, all it means is that you will be more likely to defeat Satan. Without a means to gain advantage over another, “cheating” as a concept becomes substantially more opaque. Who is the cheated party, precisely? Satan the Devil? Fuck him, who cares.
Who is being cheated? This is the part of the movie where, in a series of retrospective realizations cut with you looking at your own face in the rearview mirror, you come bit by bit to the heart of it. The person you are cheating is Blizzard, Blizzard in the aggregate, with your attempts to interfere with their digital marketplace. You mustn’t play offline or goof around with your files or any other naughty business because they are endeavoring to transform your putative ownership into a revenue stream.
There, now don’t you feel better?
Diablo 3 was going to spawn a black market(place) if Blizzard did not do anything, but there were other options available. Flagging items as being offline-only, having separate offline characters*, or hell, even turn item/gold duplication into a (somewhat hidden) feature, preemptively destroying that market. If you choose to log onto some epic'd-out guy's server, it is indistinguishable to you whether said guy hacked the items into existence or bought them all from the AH. Don't group with that guy. This is Bashiok:
Q u o t e:
but it also has the potential to damage the game economy and overall experience for the many thousands of others who play World of Warcraft for fun
We still think that's true for a MMO in which thousands of players co-mingle in a persistent world and vie for supremacy in eSport competitions or 'world first' boss kills in raids. Neither of these are true though for a co-op action RPG.

The worst that could happen is you open your game up to the public, someone jumps in wearing some awesome gear, and you don't know if he found those items himself. But that'd be the case whether we offered an official way to buy items from other players or not.

I have a hard time reading that and accepting the premise that cheating harms anything, especially under the Diablo model of a co-op dungeon grinder. Hell, I have a hard time accepting the premise of a co-op anything that you play with total strangers all the time as opposed to with people you know, but that might just be me. I would never open up a public Minecraft or Magicka or Portal 2 or Dawn of War 2 server, for example. Competitive game modes like TF2 or Counter-Strike or WoW BGs are one thing, "intimate" team projects you cannot quickly exit are quite another.

*Blizzard did address this by saying they did not want someone leveling up to the cap, eventually coming around to the whole online idea, and then realizing that they would have to reroll completely. To which I reply: you are allowing the buying and selling of characters. Throw down $20 and you can have a fully epic'd, level-capped character to play around with online. Problem solved.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Underplayed Piece of D3 News

You can buy and sell characters.

The screenshots (from MMO Champ) are fairly low resolution, but it does clearly show Featured Heroes results, the drop-down box for the class, narrowing your search to level ranges and, of course, three listings of level-capped toons for sale. Apparently the market price for a level-capped Witch Doctor is 10,000g. I would recommend buying out all three and relisting for $20 apiece.

...things are going to get fun, aren't they?

One quick item of note (that may be old news to some):
  • Personal loot. I was planning on making a post about how the whole RMT value of gear would make grouping and co-op loot rolling bizarre, but hey, this appears to have been settled over three years ago. In effect, each player gets loot from bosses/kills individually. In WoW terms, imagine killing 10m Magmaw or whatever and each person getting a (random) piece of gear instead of two pieces of random gear that has to be divvied up between 10 people. The funny thing is that this works in Diablo because loot is truly randomly generated, but absolutely doesn't work in WoW judging by most peoples' reactions to the random-stat loot in Throne of the 4 Winds, etc.
    • Of course, grouping can still get weird assuming you are playing with friends. If a cool Barbarian axe drops that you can't use on your Wizard, do you give it to your Barbarian friend... or sell for $5?
    • Making things worse, few (if any) items in the game are BoP. This means you can swap with your friends (passing down a good item), but also that if you agree to mix-n-match loot in co-op, your friend can sell that Barbarian axe you gave him for cash later and you would never know (especially if he replaced it with a legit upgrade). Might sound petty or too goblin'ish right now, but believe me, this is a Diablo game; eventually there will be some 0.001% chance item drop that could easily sell for $100+ on eBay without even considering a Blizzard-sanctioned RMT system.

I would say that this will be the last post about Diablo 3, but honestly Diablo 3 is the most interesting thing that has happened in weeks. Other than Limbo being released on Steam.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Talk About Free Publicity (Diablo 3)

Diablo 3 will let you sell pixels for dollars, in-game, and vice versa.

My first thought, along similar lines to Alto, was: can you imagine the number of gold guides for Diablo 3? WoW alone supported one costing $47 for the majority of the game's lifespan, and that is discounting the other, cheaper ones of the last few years. And you couldn't even really cash your gold out! In a game where you could presumably spend $47 and make $100 in-game using the tips, it might be foolish to not do so. Unless you could get those same tips from anyone with a blog, of course.

My second thought was self-reflection on why I instinctually despised this news. If you never use a cash shop, and if you don't care that other people do... then why hate it? There are two reasons why.

Monday, July 25, 2011

OT: The Problem With F2P and Microtransactions

Are you someone who almost never engages in microtransactions, has no real issue with people that do, but nevertheless feel like you are losing something whenever a game company starts to embrace them? Do you get the sensation that the purchasing power of your money is decreasing the longer a game goes on, seemingly for no real reason? Do you think cash shops are just plain wrong but have difficulty expressing it in words? The good news is I finally remembered the name of the economic concept behind the sensation: consumer surplus. The bad news is... so have game companies.
Consumer surplus is the difference between the maximum price a consumer is willing to pay and the actual price they do pay. If a consumer would be willing to pay more than the current asking price, then they are getting more benefit from the purchased product than they spent to buy it. An example of a good with generally high consumer surplus is drinking water. People would pay very high prices for drinking water, as they need it to survive. The difference in the price that they would pay, if they had to, and the amount that they pay now is their consumer surplus. Note that the utility of the first few liters of drinking water is very high (as it prevents death), so the first few liters would likely have more consumer surplus than subsequent liters.

The description is pretty self-explanatory, but I think the graph is a bit more useful.

And why not, here is a Greek college professor talking about it.

Do you want some videogame examples? Think back to multiplayer Diablo 2 and Warcraft 3. When I bought Diablo 2, it was because I wanted a quality dungeon-crawler experience similar to Diablo 1 - that there was an entire multiplayer experience attached was pure consumer surplus for me. Same with thing with Warcraft 3. Would I have paid an extra $5 for access to multiplayer? Probably. That $5 that I would have paid but did not have to amounted to Blizzard "leaving money on the table."* Non-game examples includes Netflix Streaming, where you can access hundreds of movies at any time for $7.99. In spite of the "controversy" surrounding them raising prices of dual streaming/DVD plans, I think it is rather obvious that most Netflix customers would actually pay $10, $15, or even $20 a month for the service, especially since Movies On Demand-style services can cost upwards of $4.99 per movie.

The entire premise of microtransactions is dividing your content into smaller chunks to (re)capture and monetize every ounce of consumer surplus. While it is true that overall the game and it's various monetized components are still worth buying - it falls within the bounds of the Demand Curve, which by definition means you value the game more than the money used to purchase it - it is equally true that literal value has been extracted from you. In other words, microtransactions remove value from games by reducing your consumer surplus.

Now, there may be the open question of whether the sort of microtransactions Blizzard is doing "counts" as consumer surplus mining. If Blizzard could/did not charge $25 for a mount, for example, would they have made the mounts at all? Would Blizzard have never made the Mobile Armory and/or the premium RealID grouping features if those did not tack on an extra subscription fee? I think they might not have developed those features and mounts, but that is more of an issue with the lack of credible competition** Blizzard faces than anything else. Indeed, competition generally engenders the greatest amount "value-added" consumer surplus since direct price wars are untenable. Then again, I might also bring up the Red Queen argument in that, much like raiding content, Blizzard has to continually be moving forward to maintain its present position. The artists that made and animated the Disco Lion would have been working on something either way, so if not adding that mount in as a PvE/PvP reward of some type, the effort might have been directed into a Titan or Diablo 3 model instead (increasing consumer surplus in those games).

In any case, I find the F2P and microtransaction model somewhat disturbing, yet inevitable. It obviously has the power to save games that would not exist otherwise (e.g. LotRO, APB, etc), and thereby opens the possibility of radical innovation in the types of games we play. Similarly, the rise of Steam and iTunes (and Facebook for that matter) as content delivery services makes indie games/music possible that could not exist in a typical retail box store. That said, the existence of that hitherto unexploited consumer surplus also leads to worse games, like Tiny Tower***. Meanwhile, instead of growing the industry, we have the major players pumping out sequals and squeezing the blood from what rocks are left instead of, well, mining for new rocks. This same phenominom is going on in the movie industry, with parallels like making movies 3D not because that adds value, but because A) they get to charge more, and B) it makes the movies nearly impossible to pirate.

The way I see it, the more game companies fall over themselves trying to monetize every corner of our consumer surplus, the less they fall over themselves giving us quality entertainment. Eventually, there will be some break-point beyond which lies an Era of Subsistence Gaming where we get exactly what we pay for and not one whit more. And those will be very bleak times indeed.

*Except Blizzard did not actually "leave any money on the table," since that implies there was no value to Blizzard for giving consumer surplus. As we all know, it is the exact opposite: we as players give that value back to Blizzard in the form of brand loyalty and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. Part of that comes from the (historic) quality and polish of their games, but the feeling that we are getting more plays a non-zero part in the calculus.

**Blah, blah, Rift, LotRO, etc. Rift peaked at 600k subs and is now hovering around ~480k. LotRO peaked at 560k and is now at 360k. If you add both Rift and LotRO numbers at their peak, and then multiplied that by two, WoW would still have had more players than that in just North America... in 2008. Lost subs are lost subs, but I bet the Disco Lion made more money in the opening day it was released to cover a year's worth of lost subs.

***Worse as in psychologically designed to exploit your nucleus accumbens, and essentially disprove the economic theory of rational consumers single-handedly.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

OT: The Single-Player MMO

Syncaine made a very interesting footnote in a recent post:
*It’s a multi-layered joke. One: Immersion is a long-running inside joke. Two: While I jokingly say that I’m looking forward to playing an MMO solo, the sad truth is many today hope for just that in their Massively Multiplayer games, and SW will make Cata look like a sandbox. Three: Barrens chat will look tame compared to SW general chat in the first month or two. Not only are SW nerds the worst nerds of all, but you just know every Huntard is going to take their unique brand of ‘gaming’ to SW and making the most (worst) of it.
I do think it is an open question about whether gamers actually want an MMO versus a single-player game with (optional) MMO components. Unlike Syncaine however, I do not think people playing MMOs as single-player games is "sad" at all - it is more indicative of the lengths gamers are having to go to find meaningful entertainment. In other words, I think it is a lack of quality games that have driven this segment into MMOs in the first place.

This is not to say there hasn't been quality single-player games, but rather there are not enough being put out. Outside of the game-crippling bugs and sloppy design in several areas, Fallout: New Vegas was absolutely amazing and I spent 70 hours in there, loving every minute. I spent a similar amount of time in Dragon Age: Origins. Portal 1 & 2 both fantastic, both over in ~10 hours. So... that is 160 hours out of the 20 I play each week, or amusement enough for about two months. What about the other ten months?

I quit smoking when I bought WoW, joking I would trade one addiction for another. I have not smoked in 4 years.

My 4-year WoW anniversary was last weekend, having started 8/17/07. Adding up all the days /played across my toons, I ended up around ~322 days, or 7,728 hours. Depressingly that averages out into 5 hours a day, every day, for four years. I played more when I was unemployed for a year, of course, but it is still shockingly bad. Then again, that also equals $0.087/hour as far as entertainment goes. Or imagine buying a $0.99 app and getting 11.38 hours of gameplay out of it. I find it unlikely that I would have done something (more) productive with my time had WoW not existed, so with that in mind perhaps I should be instead celebrating all the money I saved by switching to Geico playing the everliving hell out of WoW.

I have heard and agree with many people who suggest that WoW will be their first, last, and only MMO. Although I am a storied veteran of games that require other people to play with, e.g. pen & paper D&D, split-screen Goldeneye, Magic: the Gathering, etc, the common denominator was a group of people you enjoy hanging around with. In the absence of friends, WoW is a pretty shitty single-player experience once you reach the endgame. And while this problem can be "solved" by making new friends, actually shifting through all the bullshit is a lot of work* for the payout of challenging gameplay that comes in the form of hoping people that are not you do not screw up, e.g. raiding.

In this light, I do not particularly think the trend of companion AI or whatever is necessarily bad. Having played Minecraft for a while now, I have reached that plateau where you want nothing more than to show off the cool biodome tower you built or the Pit of Doom you dug or the cross-Atlantic powered railroad to someone, anyone else capable of appreciating the amount of effort/vision it took to do so. Of course, the thought of trying to do what I have done on a multiplayer server where anyone could wreck my house and steal my materials at any time is mortifying. I want a Show & Tell, not a group assignment. I want a single-player MMO.

And until then, WoW (with liberal playing of Steam games) will have to suffice.

*As outlined in this three year-old Cracked article, which is still pretty dead-on.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Valor Back on T11

Per recent blue post:
Due to some recent player feedback we’ve made the decision to implement a hotfix that will put Valor Points back on the bosses in Blackwing Descent, Bastion of Twilight, and Throne of the Four Winds (except Argoloth).

We agreed that players should have some additional options for earning Valor Points beyond Firelands, Zandalari dungeons, and tier 11 Heroic difficulty raids. We don’t want raiding guilds to feel like they have to raid Firelands AND the old raids every week, but we do want players to feel like they have some options besides running ZA/ZG over and over.

Bosses in these raids will award 35 VP on 10-player normal difficulty, and 45 VP on 25-player normal difficulty, to match the rewards currently offered for the Heroic versions of those encounters. (Source)
That is correct, ladies and gentlemen. Now you too can experience the wonder of cobbling together a group of nine other people in a specific configuration and killing 12 (nerfed) raid bosses, walking away with your whopping four-hundred and twenty (420) Valor points. And then perhaps continuing to do your normal routine of seven heroics a week and still not capping out. Or, you know, solo-queuing for three ZA/ZGs and getting the same amount of VP. Admittedly, with the state of ZA/ZG queues you might actually spend longer in LFD than going 12/12, but hey. One of those two options requires a wee bit more organization than the other so I guess it "cancels" out.

I did not post last week because A) I barely played WoW, B) honestly there is not a whole lot more that can be said about making gold that hasn't already been beaten into the ground, and C) I now realize how much I painted myself into a corner calling this Player Vs Auction House when I would rather have gone meta and fostered some cross-blog debate on some of the crazy-ass posts people are making.

The irony I suppose is that I could have phoned in some filler episodes on my acquiring two (2!) Obsidium Cleavers cross-faction for < 15k apiece, a 10x return bringing over a 359 BoE chest from Horde-side, or my experiences in the Vial of the Sands market. Then again... why? I probably spent in the neighborhood of $140 in Steam games over the last two weeks of deals, and would rather be playing those and/or Minecraft and/or even goddamn Tiny Tower instead.

Speaking of foreshadowing, I would tell you to stay tuned for a post three months in the making, but I am not entirely sure when it will be finished.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Honorgate Solved: Mark Your Calenders

In true, inane 24/7 News fashion, I hereby coin the PvP fiasco of this past week "Honorgate." Ladies and gentlemen, allow me also to bring to you a truly groundbreaking Blizzard solution to this controversy. From blue lips to your eyeballs:
We’ve been working over the past few days to evaluate and determine the best course of action to offer players some kind of compensation for those who were caught off guard by the new gear. The plan we’ve found to be achievable within an acceptable amount of time is to provide players who were affected with 4000 Honor Points. This extra Honor would function similarly to the currency down-conversion in that it would stack over the cap, but you would not be able to earn more until you spent under the 4000 cap. (source)
You read that correctly: four thousand (4000) Honor points. The announcement is hedged in "this is still uncertain" and "things could still change" but to come right out and say they would be giving out 4000 Honor and then not doing so would likely cause more problems than the initial screw-up. The other thing Blizzard mentioned is that the most likely date of this distribution of wealth would be July 19th, which is about a week and a half from now. I recommend marking your calenders because there will likely be thousands of players on your server getting 1-2 pieces of high-level epic gear that will need gemmed and enchanted. This is about as close to a patch day AH run you can get without it actually being a patch day.

Honestly, this post by Blizzard rather floored me. The solution I thought they would go with would be to simply reset the purchase timers on all of the Season 9 gear bought in the last week. You know, this thing:

After reseting it, you could simply sell it back to the vendor and recoup your Honor points to purchase the 371 gear. Perhaps that is more technically complicated than I am aware of, or maybe they did not want to run the risk of players missing the announcement and playing for 2 hours while the timer expired. Other solutions suggested were to add the ability to purchase the 371s with the S9 pieces like they sometimes do when you upgrade heroic raiding gear. Then again, that would require a vendor to always have that available, lest they remove the option and get bitched at by some clueless player a few weeks later. The "let them eat cake" option is truly unprecedented especially considering they decided to grant 4000 regardless of whether you just bought a 1650 Honor belt, or similar.

It will be intriguing to see whether my warrior ends up getting a 4000 Honor stimulus package despite my having gotten the S9 Chest refunded already. I must say though, this solution almost makes me sad that I did not "waste" Honor buying more S9 gear across my other toons.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

OT: Welcome the C Team

I think I will allow Blizzard's C Team speak for themselves here:
You are correct. The season transition and introduction of new PvP items was different this time around, and we apologize for the lack of advanced warning.
The Season 9 set was removed today. The items available for purchase with Honor Points are now considered lower tier Season 10 items. They are still the same items from Season 9 in terms of aesthetics, but the item level and stats are slightly higher to ensure that the Season 10 honor gear has the correct item level relative to the Season 10 conquest gear.

It's likely this is how things will work going forward and we'll be sure to make that more clear when the next season transition takes place.

New basic transition flow:

1) Season X ends and rated play is unavailable; Season X gear becomes available for purchase with HP; CP is wiped.
2) One week later Season Y starts and rated play is available; Season X gear is removed entirely; Season Y introduces a low tier of items which replace Season X vendor items and are available for HP; Season Y introduces the new top items available for CP and rated play. [source]

If it is not entirely clear from the above, or the 51-page post-capped thread, the basic gist is anyone who bought S9 epic gear in the last week got punked by Blizzard. The 365 gear that previously required Conquest Points, then required only Honor points - this is what you would expect in an universe of forms and logic and elegant game design. In bizarro-Blizzard C Team Land, taking the 365 epics and obsoleting them one week later with strictly better in every conceivable way 371 gear, for the same Honor costs even, makes sense. Here is a visual:

On the right, the 365 PvP chest that was 2200 Honor as of June 28th (gemmed and enchanted as you'll notice). On the left, the 371 PvP chest that is 2200 Honor as of July 5th, about 168 hours later. Luckily enough, I had not played my warrior all that often after purchasing the chest, so I still had time remaining to sell it back to the vendor for a 2200 Honor refund, and then buy the new 371 version. Whether the stat upgrade seems like a big deal to you or not really depends on how much you PvP, but one way of looking at it is that the 371 pieces give you 6% more stats.

And, you know, the whole fact this was such a huge designer "Gotcha!" moment; a fitting insult to the injury of literally wasting dozens of hours across hundreds of thousands of players. That is the other way of looking at it.

This is par for the course for what I can only imagine is the C Team. Remember when they accidentally did the Conquest --> Honor conversion a week early without raising the Honor cap, resulting in thousands of Conquest points being turned into relatively useless gold? Or when MMR values were so FUBAR that they made the 2200 weapons require level 86, then delayed returning them to normal for months because not very many people were clearing heroic T11 content?

It is hard finding a stickie thread that is not also an apology for some massive screw-up.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Achieving Zen

So I warned you about certain crafted BoE epic gear and how the new Firelands dailies would essentially obsolete them entirely. At the time, I was under the impression that the vendors with these 365 epic gear would be gated behind 25 days worth of dailies. That is not entirely the case, as you undoubtedly witnessed yourself on Thursday if you have been doing them daily.

Our good friend Zen'Vorka here has some goodies for anyone who fights their way into the Firelands. The items themselves are Matoclaw's Band (Agility ring), Nightweaver's Amulet (Intellect necklace), Fireheart Necklace (Strength necklace), and Pyrelord Greaves (Tanking Plate boots). I knew the Pyrelord boots were going to obsolete the BoE JP boots, but I thought that was going to happen closer to the end of August, not the beginning of July. Speaking of surprises, though...

Blizzard snuck in a stealth hotfix allowing you to unlock Firelands on Day 1.

What ends up happening now is instead of ending up with 8 Marks of the World Tree when you get to the point of unlocking the "outside" dailies, you have 16. After doing a single set of dailies, you will end up with 4 more Marks, unlocking the Firelands portal after one more quest. At that point, you are a mere one elite mob away from unlocking our friend Zen'Vorka and his goodies for your alts. The entire process takes ~35 minutes from zero to epic 365s depending on the dailies you get stuck with.

It is an open question as to why Blizzard made this change, and it will be even more interesting to see whether they end up doing something similar once "phase 3" starts being unlocked by people. And that is on top of the question as to whether or not it will actually take another month to unlock all the vendors or if they will be more like our friend Zen.

In any event, if the thought of doing 50+ dailies a day was stopping you from pimping your alts, the way has officially been cleared. Get out there and get geared.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

OT: The pre-4.2 Numbers

I think it is a bit early for a more formal "postmortem" on Cataclysm's first tier of content, but for posterity here is a screenshot of raiding progression as it stood at nearly 4am Tuesday morning, before the numbers could be "sullied" by the 4.2 nerfs.

Since there is no 100% boss, some reverse engineering of WoWProgress's numbers shows that there was a total of 62,405 guilds that killed at least 1 boss this tier. A further breakdown estimate goes something like this:

1/12 - 62,405 - 100%
9/12 - 44,107 - 70.68%
12/12 - 23,122 - 37.05%
13/13 - 812 - 1.3%*

Depending on how many raiders you associate with a raiding guild (15-30), this means roughly between 589,245 to 1,178,490 players who started this tier did not finish it on Normal. WoWProgress pulls its data from NA, EU, TW, and KR servers, which comprise roughly ~6.5 million subscriptions per MMOData. This means that at the upper end (30) the raiding pool this tier is about ~28.8% of all accounts. Or, 71.2% of all subscribers did not raid, and of those who did raid, 62.95% did not kill all 12 normal mode bosses.** In this context, seven bosses in Firelands may almost make sense.

The other thing I want to mention briefly is that I expect Blizzard's Q2 investor call to either look absolutely amazing, or completely terrible depending on timing. As you may or may not have heard, Blizzard sent out emails to existing accounts which essentially contains a free copy of the original WoW game, 30 days of game time included. Secondly, Blizzard is poised to release Cataclysm in China July 12th. Finally, and perhaps more earth-shatteringly from a subscription standpoint, Blizzard increased the Recruit-A-Friend XP bonus from 1-60 to 1-80. If you are an alt person as I am (or was, considering I have a full 10 character slots on Auch), this is about as close as Blizzard seems willing to get to letting you buy a Cataclysm character. Back when RAF originally came out, I had two instances of WoW running and essentially spent $5-10 to get a level 60 rogue, priest, and hunter (with the gifted levels) in about two weeks of leisurely play. And for that month, for all intents and purposes I was two subscriptions to Blizzard. Of course, Blizzard recouped $25 or whatever it was when I decided to transfer the RAF priest to my primary account before shutting the RAF account down.

So, basically, depending on when the Q2 sub numbers are compiled Blizzard will likely be seeing huge growth (due to 4.2 being released, dual-boxing RAF accounts, free copies of games going out, new expansion in China) or further drops depending on when the numbers are locked in for the report.

*Apparently Heroic Ascendant Council is more difficult than Sinestra based on number of guilds having killed it: 812 vs 926 (Sinestra). It might be that people were racing for Sinestra kills before the patch, but it is interesting nonetheless.

**By contrast, only 42.32% of raiders who downed Marrowgar did not also kill the Lich King. It is entirely possible we will see more 12/12 after an equivalent amount of time has passed, of course.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fate of Crafted Epics in 4.2 (and more)

I talked about about this subject in a general sense with Fire(lands) Sale where I pre-lamented the death of the Darkmoon trinkets in the face of easy-to-acquire alternatives. Due to a reader's request, I have decided to focus more on what crafters can make right now and whether it might still be a good idea to make post-4.2.


This is perhaps the most obvious category of crafted epics at risk in 4.2. Players will be able to purchase T11 chest and legs for 2200 Justice points on Day 1 of the new patch, and I find it very likely many will do so immediately with whatever amount of JP they have stockpiled. Do not forget that you will (still) be able to turn Honor points into Justice points, easily bypassing the 4,000 cap if you choose. Three weeks of ZA/ZG runs later, they will be able to further purchase T12 (same slots) with their Valor points.

The situation with belts is more complex. Players will not be able to purchase any belts with JP nor VP this patch. Instead, there are two other sources of belts: a small sample from the Molten Front dailies after ~25 days, and a complete set after hitting Honored with the Avengers of Hyjal.

The three belts in the Bad category are Elementium Girdle of Pain, Light Elementium Belt, and Lightning Lash. All three have ilevel 365 analogs available after unlocking The Armorer in the Firelands dailies. The rest of the belts will not be replaced until you get a raid drop or hit Honored with the raid reputation. Last time I checked, the word on the street was that you could hit 11,999/12,000 Honored with the Avengers from farming trash - how difficult this will be or even if it is possible will remain to be seen. I find it likely however, that someone farming Firelands raid trash will probably want to do it with a purple belt in the meantime.

Already talked about this before, but...

The Darkmoon trinkets have given me a lot of AH mileage so far this expansion, but I stopped making the cards a few months ago. Players logging in after 4.2 will have the option of getting 359 trinkets immediately for 1650 JP and/or doing ~25 days of dailies for the 365 trinkets off of the vendors there. And if they hit Revered with the raid reputation, hey, more trinkets.

That covers the crafted BoE epics, but why stop here?

There are no crafted epic cloaks, but I am referring to any BoE epic cloaks from T11 content and/or ZA/ZG drops you may have in your bags. Sell them. Sell now.

Although I missed the chance to warn you before the Midsummer holiday arrived with its free 353 cloak giveaway, the 353 and 359 cloaks were still technically as good or better than what you could get stolen by a scrub for an off-spec they will never use from Ahune. This all changes in 4.2. Namely, every single player will be sporting 365 epic cloaks for completing the Thrall Got Zapped quest-line. Price your antiquated 359s to move, lest you get stuck with a 12,000g+ "investment" that you will have to dupe people into buying for even 800g. Indeed, I recently sold a Drape of Inimitable Fate and Zom's Electrostatic Cloak for ~6,000g each and the buyer immediately relisted for 12,000g. If he can snag a sell between now and Tuesday, more power to him. Meanwhile, I just made nearly half of his possible profit with 0% of the risk.

If 365 cloaks from a quest chain was not bad enough, you also have Valor cloaks for JP and 378 cloaks after however long it takes to get Friendly with the Avengers of Hyjal. Move those capes like they're hot.

Specifically the BoE epic boots you can buy with Valor today, and Justice on Tuesday. Seems pretty obvious that these would be bad deals to get, yes? Well... not quite. Ask yourself if you would be willing to buy Justice points for gold at, say, a 1:2 ratio. In other words, imagine spending 8000g to get 4000 JP. Would you? I would. You cannot get 4000 of course, as the boots are the only items that work this way and they cost 1650 JP. Point being, even though I can grind up the 1650 JP and get them "for free," I could also simply buy them off someone who values their time less than I do and spend those same JP getting something else. Similar to belts though, there is a small kink in the plan: boots from dailies.

The three boots in the Bad category are Boots of the Perilous Seas, Rock Furrow Boots, and Moccasins of Verdurous Glooms. All three have 365 upgrades available after a scant 25 days worth of dailies. The other boots will not be replaced outside of raid drops so you will probably be able to sell them on a decent basis. Of course, so will everyone else capable of running heroics/grinding BGs but if you have nothing else to buy with those currencies, it is better than buying and vendoring Wrath epic gems.

Is anyone still making this garbage? Please, stop, what are you doing?

The mat price for the 346 rings/necklaces was ridiculous even on Day 1, but there were still chances at sales and (low) profit margins. Generally people will tell you to make the Elementium Moebius Band because it's the cheapest but actually pretty good for any tank. Problem is that there is not one, but two epic tanking rings from the Firelands dailies. From the same vendor! I guess Blizzard's thought process was that since the one ring had Parry on it, that a 2nd one was necessary for the Feral tanks. Except now if you are a Plate tank you have easy-street access to both. Did I mention they are on the same vendor? Non-casters are in the same boat with two separate Agility rings AND two separate Strength rings... on different vendors this time, but still. Spellcasters and/or healers got the shaft though, with only one ring.

So you have the option of the Valor rings being bought with JP, the new Valor rings bought with actual Valor, the crafted blue PvP rings having a difference of a whole 90 stats for the equivalent of ~1500g in mats, the 365 rings from the Firelands dailies (which covers every spec), and eventually the 391 rings at Exalted with Avengers.

Necklaces are in a mostly similar place as rings. Spellcasters get a Firelands daily option as do Strength DPS however. Missing here are Agility and Tank necklaces, which means you may have a market for Brazen Elementium Medallion (assuming people didn't just get the Hyjal reputation neck) and Elementium Guardian. There are Valor necklaces available post-4.2, but I doubt the neck slot will be at the top of peoples' lists to replace for quite some time.

Conclusion and Caveats
The mark of a good goblin is being able to make gold when it is not especially obvious that it is possible. Although I am labeling some items as Bad and Fire Sale and so on, it is entirely possible that you or someone who likes to sweat by the AH will make money where money ain't got any right being made. Maybe that dude who bought my cheap cloaks will move both by Tuesday and laugh his way to the bank. That's fine, I'm already at the bank giggling myself. The only real loser is whoever gets stuck with the item when the music stops, and presumably that person paid for the privilege so I guess everyone wins... until that guy does those 10 quests and replaces it.

So, yeah.

If you are looking for some quick and dirty advice, I would say: clear your stock, stop making/buying more BoEs. Worst case scenario you will still have your mats, and can go back to ignoring whatever I say on Wednesday. Goblins strike it rich all the time by taking on risk that no one else does. Goblins like myself also strike ~80% of the richness of the other goblins, with 90% less effort and less than a quarter of the risk. Do what you like, and we'll all see how it pans out next month.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Crafted PvP Comparison

As you may or may not be aware, when patch 4.2 rolls around all the old crafted PvP recipes will be going from their current ilevel 339 states to a much beefier 358. The material costs will also be the same, but just keep in mind that already crafted gear will not be upgraded. In other words, do not pre-craft this gear.

What interests me in this interim period though, is the question about whether or not the current crop of Honor Point gear is worth purchasing in the days before 4.2 compared to what you can get crafted post-4.2. Obviously the Conquest Point epics will be purchasable after 4.2 with Honor and be much better than either, but as someone who enjoys getting their BG on the Honor cap is still 4000. For example, I have a warrior in the current crop of crafted PvP blues with about 2500 Honor accumulated. Would it be more "efficient" to hit the 4k Honor cap and stop playing altogether? Or would there be some benefit in buying the current Bloodthirsty Gladiator pieces while still aiming at capping out before June 28th?

A couple quick notes about the above picture. First, the stat gains along the bottom of the page does reflect my adding of gems into those eight sockets. Basically there are three Bolds, two Resplendent, and two Rigid gems in there along with the meta. Secondly, I am only comparing the five "tier" pieces at the moment because I have no idea how to add items to item sets on Wowhead, only how to remove them. Finally, if you want to look at the comparison yourself or perhaps change the gems around, you can use this link here.

What we can see about this at first glance is current Bloodthirsty Gladiator gear > 4.2 crafted gear, even without considering glove and 4-piece bonuses. Wowhead's comparisons are not 100% accurate though, as the Bloodthirsty set does not have a 400+ resilience gain over the crafted gear - the discrepancy is likely from the crafted gear's 2-piece +400 resilience bonus not being properly coded into Wowhead. Taking that into account and then manually plugging in the full Bloodthirsty Gladiator set, we get a comparison like this:

4.2 CraftedBloodthirsty GladDifference
Stamina 3,311 3,135176
Strength 2,206 2,314-108
Mastery 225 15372
Armor 19,644 19,301343
Resilience 1,873 1,930-57
Critical strike -- 449-449
Expertise 393 257136
Haste 336 173163
Hit 519 238281

Note: the Difference column is focusing on the crafted gear. Looking at it in this perspective, Bloodthirsty Gladiator looks less obviously better. Indeed, the crafted gear has +146 stat points and +176 Stamina vs +108 Strength... and the existence of a metagem, a glove bonus, and a 4-piece bonus. Generally speaking, primary stats like Strength are valued at least 2:1 against combat ratings like Mastery, so the tradeoff becomes nearly ~2k HP against +3% crit damage and whatever goodies are on your gloves and 4pc bonus. Bloodthirsty Gladiator gear retains the advantage.

In an interesting twist, the crafted PvP accessories are unequivocally better than the current Honor ones:

The take-away from this is three-fold. (1) You should still be banking some mats to pump out the upgraded PvP gear for when servers come back up. New players and alts will still be hitting level 85 after 4.2 all the time and want something to cover their nakedness (or 'sploit them into ZA/ZG queues). (2) The Bloodthirsty Gladiator non-accessory pieces are still worth getting, assuming buying them does not impact your ability to cap out on Honor by the 27th. Speaking of which, people with Bloodthirsty Glad gear will not be buying your non-accessory crafted PvP gear post-4.2. In other words, the markets do not overlap. Sorry, crafters. (3) If you have a JC toon, expect a rather nice post-patch payday. Your rings and necklaces will straight-up replace any non-epic piece of PvP gear. The healer pieces merely requiring Amberjewel and a smattering of Volatiles is especially win.

P.S. If you are a JC still making those 346 rings, you might want to stop. Resilience is a dead stat for PvE, of course, but you have to start asking yourself whether ~90 stats makes this comparison make sense:


Saturday, June 18, 2011

OT: Subscription and Correlation

Did you know that ice cream makes it more likely you will drown? It's true. When ice cream sales increase, so do the number of drowning deaths. Clearly linked! Speaking of spurious correlations...
I fully expect Rift to now follow in the footsteps of WoW, in that it will decline. Vanilla and BC days had challenging content, and it’s not a surprise that sub numbers grew. WotLK made things ‘accessible’, and surprise surprise, the response was pretty meh (sub numbers dropped in the US/EU, but were offset globally by WoW launching in new regions, hence the overall stagnation). Cata tried to play both sides of the fence, but a combo of too little too late, a gimmick of progression (hard mode rehashes rather than straight-up new content), and a one-track, insult difficulty 1-85 game did it in. With no new regions to offset things, subs are dropping.
 (SynCaine in the post "Accessibility killed Rift")
World of Warcraft's growth rate went from a perfectly stable 2 million subscribers per year during 2006 to 2009, to zero during WotLK. This was exactly the time when Blizzard changed the character progression mechanic.
(Nils in the post "Smoke and Mirrors")
"If developers design a game which requires too much effort from the average player for too little gain, the average players will start leaving the game. "

This is the part I strongly disagree with, and WoW's sub history does as well. Vanilla/BC, which had a MUCH harder end-game that fewer players saw to completion, saw massive growth. WotLK/Cata, with raids being cleared by all who stepped inside, have brought decline.
(SynCaine in a comment on Tobold's post "Syncaine on Accessibility")

The reason I bring these examples up is because this type of thinking (or lack thereof) is what I consider one of the most pernicious, asinine fallacies in any discussion of World of Warcraft. It is intellectual laziness at best, intellectual dishonesty at worse. Before I begin in earnest however, here is a slightly augmented graph from MMOData that most people refer to when they talk about WoW subs:

1) Correlation does not mean causation.

Standard preface to any claim that X means Y. Ice cream and drowning are only "linked" because there is a third factor involved.

2) Even if correlation did mean causation, why this particular correlation?

This specific point is the reason the argument is intellectually lazy. When you look at the graph, it is true what Nils and SynCaine said about there being a relatively rapid period of growth during vanilla and TBC that was not apparent after the release of Wrath. However, tying that solely (or even partially) to accessibility/character progression/difficulty/etc is a completely unsupported leap of logic.

There is zero evidence given by either author as to why it was "existence of more challenging content" and not, I dunno, the introduction of the PvP Honor System and BGs in the summer of 2005, which coincides with a 500k sub spike in WoW-West on graph. Or the release of ZG in September of that year, also suspiciously near another 500k sub bump. Or if I looked at WoW's overall numbers like Nils does with his "2 million per year growth" argument, perhaps I could argue Patch 1.12 with it's wildly successful:
The stage is set for intense, objective-based land battles as Horde and Alliance vie for control over important strategic positions and resources around Azeroth. Head out for Silithus and Eastern Plaguelands to engage the enemy on the field!
...was responsible for the corresponding bump of 1 million (!) subscribers. Clearly, clearly, more things like Silithus and the old Eastern Plagueland towers is just what WoW needs.

3) What does endgame accessibility/difficulty have to do with anything?

This is another intellectually lazy part of the argument that the authors never bother to address. What percentage of the playerbase ever actually makes it to the endgame, and is this percentage big enough to even impact subscription growth? That is an open question.

The best metric that I can come up with is to look at the number of guilds who killed Beasts of Northrend in 10m ToC after two years of it being out (86,187 guilds), multiply that by something charitable like 30 players, and then divide by the approximate population in the graph above while only taking into account the regions in which WoWProgress collects data (~6.5 million). The result is 39.77% of players killing the easiest boss in the easiest tier of which we have data (something like Noth the Lootbringer from Naxx 2.0 would have been better, but alas...). That actually sounds like a lot of people, and 19.88% assuming only 15 raiders per guild is not too shabby either when referring to raid content.

That said, there is no evidence whatsoever from those two that difficulty-related gyrations amongst the top 1/3rd of players doing raiding content has a meaningful impact in comparison to whatever the remaining 2/3rd non-raiders are doing. Between 2005 and 2009 the subscriber base was growing at ~25% per year. Is it even remotely likely that the top 40% had anything to do with a meaningful drop in growth rate?

4) Growth, or lack thereof, does not really mean anything other than what it is.

What I mean by this is that you cannot simply look at growth as anything other than what it is: growth. It does not mean anything else without further information. For all the talk about growth rate percentages and "the design decisions that caused them," look at the pink line for a moment. That represents subscriptions in NA alone. Unfortunately MMOData stopped tracking that information individually (or perhaps Blizzard stopped giving it out), but the whole of TBC resulted in ~650k more subscriptions in NA over a two-year period.

Is 325k sub growth per year more than the apparent zero sub growth in the year of Wrath? Sure... but we have no real way of knowing why that growth was occurring. Was player churn less of a factor in vanilla and TBC? Was the growth simply due to the release of WoW in additional regions? Does market saturation have any impact? Do we simply ignore, I dunno, one of the worst global recessions in world history?

Oh, wait a minute... early 2009 was when the markets were at their worst? And yet WoW subs were relatively stable in most regions during that entire year? Clearly Wrath's accessibility and stress-free raiding were the only things stopping WoW's overall decline in a tough market, as evidenced by Cata's increased difficulty leading to subscription loss once markets improved. QED, amirite?

The bottom line here is that you cannot use WoW subscription numbers as evidence of a claim without first proving said numbers have anything to do with said claim. Did World of Warcraft gain six million subscriptions worldwide in its first year? Yes. Was that because of the strength of its class balance? Its risk versus reward structure? Its accessibility? No one can really say; all of it would be conjecture.

Personally, I believe the initial rush was due to the strength of the IP - I know I certainly gave WoW a shot because of how much I enjoyed Warcraft 3 - and also due to the strength of the Blizzard brand. The designers also got a lot of things down perfectly that I feel other MMO designers stumble across to this day, such as letting characters jump, making solo-play possible, having quests with interesting plots, getting the reward faucet just right while questing, and so on. The tone and tenor of game balance has certainly shifted quite a bit from when I began in TBC, but where I disagree with Nils and SynCaine is that I feel that Wrath was actually a step in a better direction in most (not all) ways. Unfortunately, until the duo, and others who believe as they do, let go of the absurd notion that "the numbers" support their conclusions, it is impossible to have any rational discussion about it.

There is a separate argument as to linear raid progression vs episodic progression, but that is an OT for another time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fire(lands) Sale

[Edit: Avenger's of Hyjal as a rep is from the Firelands trash up to the tail end of honored (11,999/12k) and thereafter rep gains come solely from boss kills. When I wrote this post I was assuming said rep came from the dailies even though I should have known better already. The rest of the points still stand.]

So... yikes. I was all prepared to write about my weekend cross-faction AH shenanigans when I realized something startling: we may see a cratering of Darkmoon trinkets and other BoEs soon. As in, within two weeks or so. It seems so obvious in retrospect with 4.2 coming out, but if the full scope of the changes slipped my mind, it is possible it slipped yours as well.

  • Everything on the Valor Point vendor will now be purchasable with Justice Points.

Duh, right? But consider what this means, slot-wise. T11 can cover chest, legs, and hands. Then you have cloaks, wrists, and feet (still BoE by the way). There are also rings, relics, and trinkets. When you look at what BoE 359 epics are available, they come in these slots: cloak, chest, feet, finger, head, off-hand, weapon (all types), neck, shield, shoulder, trinket, and belt. Or after you remove the redundancies... head, off-hand, weapon, neck, shield, shoulder, and belt. Maybe this comes across as more obvious than I originally thought (liquidate 359 gear before the new hotness of 378 comes out), but if you are still holding out hope for that Blauvelt's Family Crest to sell, you might want to reconsider a lower price-point before potential customers simply buy Band of Bees.

  • The Avengers of Hyjal faction offers amazing 378 gear at each reputation level.

You can see the actual rewards on MMO-Champ, but what I want to get across again are the item slots covered: cloaks at Friendly; belts at Honored; trinkets at Revered; ilevel 391 rings at Exalted. Following me so far? No one will be hitting Revered with the Avengers overnight, of course, but given time every endgame player raider will have access to trinkets for both slots (and see below). As a person with gold, I have no particular compunction against twinking out a toon or two - who really wants to grind out heroics and weeks of dailies with green trinkets from questing, amirite? - but the simple fact that said "twinking" would have a shelf-life of however long it took me to do dailies farm raid trash to 11,999/12k and get one boss kill and/or get 1650 JP dampens how much I would be willing to spend. To other more frugal players, it may straight-up remove them from the market entirely.

  • There are other Avengers of Hyjal vendors that offer even more gear than normal.

First off, why doesn't MMO-Champ have a single location for all this 4.2 stuff? It's dumb. Anyway, you can check out the specific vendor lists in this post. You should already know about the Blacksmithing weapon patterns that covers everyone. What you might not know is that belts, hands, feet, fingers, off-hand, relic, and goddamn trinkets again are also covered, depending on class/spec. Actually, only plate-wearers get belt options for example, but that is a rather huge market share cut out of what would otherwise be a very nice empty crafting slot.

  • Don't forget about all that lovely new 378 Valor Point gear and new BoEs

Slots covered by VP this time around are the standard chest/legs/hands, followed by Thrown weapons, wands, relics, rings, neck, and wrists. In the updated MMO-Champ list, it appears that wrists are the only definitively BoE item. I would talk about the BoE raiding drops, but it will absolutely be profitable flipping them no matter how many comparable items exist. I will also pass on talking about the crafted profession items to much, considering they require Living Embers which are likely raid drops. That said, they appear to cover boots and hands.

There will be three two reasonably easy trinket options (and a third for raiders from rep) for players to choose from without even considering Darkmoon trinkets: one from Justice Points and two from the Avengers of Hyjal faction. Even worse for Scribes is the fact that someone doing the Avenger dailies will likely get access to both rep trinkets simultaneously - I imagine grinding 125 Marks of Lazy Design will easily get someone to the start of Revered. What plate DPS* would give a second look at Hurricane when they can get Dwyer's Caber and Essence of the Eternal Flame from dailies? Nevermind License to Slay.

As for the other items/slots? It appears Blizzard is doubling-down on the "tier helm/shoulder being drops" design, so I fully expect epic BoE helms and shoulders to retain and/or increase in value heading into 4.2. Of course, with T11 content being nerfed by 20%, this otherwise consistent demand may be tempered by a new supply of farming guilds/pugs churning out BoEs, so keep your head... or sell it, as the case may be.

*I understand from the forums that some of the T11 trinkets are better itemized than the Avenger's trinkets and even trinkets from Firelands itself. My point is less about raiders in the market for BiS gear (who likely already got it months ago), and more about the people interested in getting epic trinkets right away.

Monday, June 13, 2011

WarcraftEcon Interview

The 500k milestone interview is now up at WarcraftEcon.

If you read my 500k post two weeks ago, you will basically already know what is inside, gold-wise. It does have some more personal tidbits, however, including two mini-rant-esque paragraphs that I have hitherto keep out of this space, vis-a-vis the terrible design of Glyphs and my opinion on selling gold guides:
Why did you choose to collect this amount of gold?
My ultimate goal was to hit this level of gold without relying on selling Glyphs, to demonstrate that the worst piece of game design Blizzard has ever released was not necessary to generate wealth. Fundamentally, turning herbs into Glyphs should not be any different than turning herbs into flasks, but I abhor the way Glyphs ended up playing out. Instead of accessibility, here is a profession that discourages competition, encourages collusion, and has a ridiculous add-on requirements before you can even hope to get started. When the “right way” to run a profession is to have three guild banks and process thousands of canceled mail a day, you know it should be time to go back to the white board. [...]
How did you learn to do it? Anyone or resource you would like to thank?
I was more or less self-taught by experimentation, back in the TBC days when it seemed like no one really knew what they were doing. I would like to thank the members of my guild, Invictus, for putting up with all the unsolicited, in-game financial advice over the years. Also a shout out to all the gold bloggers selling gold guides for giving me the incentive to try and undermine their business by running a free blog without any advertisements of any kind. It may not be working out that way, but it is the thought that counts.
Regarding the latter, 5+ months into this process I can begin to see the appeal. I remember a post by a blogger a month or two ago talking about they get somewhere around $120/month from ads, "not enough to live on," but that is basically my car payment, so... wow. Then again, once you start down that road the motivations change, not to mention websites become an unreadable mess without AdBlock running. I checked out JMTC on a particularly slow day from work and could hardly even see the post below a 128x128 pixel ad from IRL gold sellers (height of irony, eh?).

In any case, new viewer or old, welcome to Player Vs Auction House. I post once or twice a week, usually close to midnight EST as I work second shift and enjoy playing WoW for a bit when I get home. Bookmark or blogroll, I hope to see you around.

Friday, June 10, 2011

When To Expect Epic Gems

Are there really people still talking about epic gems? Apparently so. Let me make it really easy for you: epic gems will be released when all the profession bonuses are updated.

The stat bonuses from any one profession is around ~80 extra stats above what you could otherwise attain. As you can see from the pictures above, a Bold Chimera's Eye grants +67 Strength vs a Bold Inferno Ruby with +40 Strength. (67 * 3) - (40 * 3) = 81. Mixology from Alchemy increases your flask strength by +80 stats, Synapse Springs gives a 480 stat bonus for 10 seconds every minute which is a ~16.66% uptime that averages into 80 stats, and the wrist enchants such as Major Strength were expressly added into the game to counteract imbalance that came with Leatherworkers having Embossments, such as +130 Strength, when everyone else had to settle for +50 Hit or +50 Haste (nevermind how much better primary stats already are from secondary ones this expansion).

If epic gems were added to the game, the profession bonus for JCs would diminish from 81 to 51, assuming that epic gems are +50. Simultaneously, the profession bonus for Blacksmithing (two extra sockets for +40 gems currently) would outpace everyone else as they are able to fit in two extra epic gems. Clearly, this would be bad design. The imbalance was fixed in Wrath in patch 3.2 by increasing the stats on the JC-only gems, keeping them proportionally as good as the other professions, which were similarly boosted to account for Blacksmiths.

Yes, I know 4.2 sounds like 3.2 + 1, but it does not work that way at all. If you will recall, 3.2 was released as the third tier of raiding. Meanwhile, 4.2 is merely the second tier of raiding this expansion. We cannot rely on patch numbers anymore given Blizzard's new policy vis-a-vis "smaller, faster patches" (which I find unlikely will continue past 4.2, else we should have been hearing about 4.3 already, yes?), but it is safe to say that whatever patch will contain the third tier of raiding will also contain epic gems. But even more specific, epic gems will be in whatever patch includes updated profession bonuses. It has to, by design.

So until you start hearing about a stronger Mixology, Embossments, or Chimera's Eye cuts on some PTR, feel free to continue speculating on Pyrite and/or making bank on rare gem cuts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Question of Ethics

One of the downsides to a small-pop server is that there are fewer things to spend your gold on. More people equals more AH competition, of course, but it also means more volume of BoE epics and other goodies. Having already hit my goal, I am more interested in perhaps seeing another Fury of Angerforge or basically new BoE epics instead of the tired 353 and boring 359 crafted pieces. After another day with nothing new, I lamented in Trade chat one night "WTB more interesting BoE epics" in an effort to shake something out of the tree.

The problem with shaking the tree is that sometimes hairy things actually fall out.

Vitreous Beak of Julak-Doom is a BoE epic drop from an elite mob in Twilight Highlands, and basically requires a raid group to kill unless you want to fight for half an hour. As you can see from Trade Chat however, the item itself is allegidly hot, e.g. the result of a "ninja." The question then becomes: do you care?

Scenario 1: You find Virteous Beak on the AH for 7500g buyout.

Scenario 2: You haggle someone selling Virteous Beak in Trade Chat down to 7500g.

Scenario 3: You win Virteous Beak in a raid, but don't equip it right away because you lack the enchanting mats to put Hurricane/Power Torrent on it. Two weeks later, your raid team collapses. You sell the Beak for 17,000g on the AH.

Scenario 4: You low-ball someone selling Virteous Beak on Trade Chat in spite of a random person going on about how the seller is a ninja (in a non-Master Looter situation).

Scenario 5: You buy 105 stacks of Elementium Ore for 24g/stack from someone who is clearly a bot.

Among the five scenarios, which ones are ethical and which ones are unethical? I think we could all agree that Scenario 1 is pretty straight-forward ethically... but does the difference between 1 & 4 really come down to ignorance? As long as you do not know the sweat shop conditions of the Malyasian plant that manufactured the shirt you are wearing, it is ethical to purchase said shirt? And what does it say to us as AH barons to flagrantly purchase bot-gathered Ore off the AH (or even barter directly with said botters!) when our actions directly affect the gold-selling trade?

Would you have bought the Vitreous Beak from the guy for 7500g (assuming you had a caster who could use it)? Would you have bought it and then resold it for, say, 17500g? Does any of this sort of thing phase you in-game when it comes up vis-a-vis ninja/bot-farmed goods? How goblin is goblin?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Tale of Two Economies

As I may have mentioned before, every single time I log into WoW, the first thing I do is collect the sales from my JC business, cancel any undercuts from the day before (I list for 24 hours, but I don't log in exactly at the same time every night), relist unsold goods, and then see what is profitable to craft based on that day's prices. Just because three Purified Demonseyes sold during the night does not mean I will cut three more - if the price of uncut Demonseyes is higher than what Purified ones are going for, I will toss up 3 more uncut Demonseyes instead. If uncut Demonseyes are lower than some arbitrary number that feels good to me, usually ~20g, I will buy them all out to restock my supply.

Otherwise I allow the other JCs to do the legwork of clearing out the garbage when certain cuts tank the market, as opposed to being the fully-engaged goblin who buys out the entire market of thirty 15g-20g Pussiant Dream Emeralds in the hopes of reseting the price. To me, 15g-20g means the gem is not selling, and thirty of them means the price has not yet hit the floor. This sort of dovetails nicely into a reader email I received:

[...] My problem that I am currently having is that while I hear that JC is a fantastic profession, I can't seem to find what is so lucrative about it at the current moment.  I am aware of the 4.2 lull that might be hitting along with some people, so gems are not in as high demand, but my server (Blackrock... where everything is worth pennies) seems to have no demand for cut gems at all.  I scour over my Undermine Journal on the jewelcrafting page, and the scene is pretty stark.  Almost nothing seems to be moving right now.
Should I be cutting my losses at this point and stockpiling rare gems for 4.2, or am I missing something here?
The unspoken preface to every gold blog post out there is the same as the ending to any fast food restaurant commercial: "Local participation may vary." Surely, I said to myself, things could not be that bad on other servers. Assuming that this gentleman is a proud member of the Alliance (as all gentlemen are wont to be), I walked doe-eyed into... a mental landmine.

The TUJ image on the left is from Blackrock Alliance, the imagine on the right from Auchindoun Alliance. So... yeah. I can see how - perhaps - someone might be questioning the lucrivity lucrativeness of the JC profession in the face of those post-apocalyptic figures. Bold Inferno Rubies selling for 25g apiece? Gazing deeper into the economic abyss reveals, if not why, at least how it is Blackrock maintains such absurdly low prices.

The above is number of auctions posted for Bold Inferno Rubies in the last 96 hours, or four days. You can see me on the right, plodding along with my 3 Bolds per cycle, just as described. Conversely, we have this Athenae character on Blackrock posting an average of 32 Bold cuts every twelve hours. At around 25g apiece. From my prior experimenting with TUJ, we all know that TUJ counts canceled auctions as "sales," so it is possible some portion of that number represents vaporware. Regardless... that is pretty absurd. Where were all these Inferno Rubies coming from?

Well, good sir, if you were curious as to the cause of this market collapse, look no further than what appears to be the bank alt Stillfurious. Four-hundred and fifty-seven uncut Inferno Rubies in the last 96 hours. Stillfurious only auctions gems, and ironically, red gems like Inferno Rubies apparently makes up only 18.7% of the colors of warez he has available; granted, he posts in the neighborhood of 800+ gems a day. I remain baffled as to where all these goddamn Inferno Rubies are coming from, though, especially considering Heartblossom is 100g/stack, Carnelians are at 9g apiece, and Elementium Ore is at an eminently reasonable 26g/stack, but still relatively cost-ineffective in terms of 26g Inferno Rubies. Then again, TUJ is indicating there to be over 8,000 auctions of Elementium Ore at various times in the last few days...

So I suppose the answer to the implicit question of "what is so lucrative with JC?" is... well, it is clearly not lucrative at all on your server, unfortunately. Or, at least, not any of the Inferno Ruby cuts. Some random smattering of other cuts like Defender's Demonseye appear to be going for 75g apiece with uncut gems at 9g. The formal question of "should I cut my losses and stockpile for 4.2?" would be a definite maybe.

Here is the thing. I named this blog Player Vs Auction House because my first choice was taken I reject the notion of PvP combat via the AH. Does PvP happen? Yes. Would crushing Stillfurious beneath your righteous boot-heel for making the cut gem market less profitable than selling Linen Cloth (no, seriously) feel good? Sure. Does it really accomplish anything in the end? Probably not. Stockpiling gems for 4.2 is not a bad idea at all, but it depends entirely on whether this supply glut is going to be maintained into the future. If it is, you may be kinda screwed by stockpiling. That is not to say that you should abandon JC entirely though.

It may be tough to read without clicking on it, but according to TUJ an Elementium Moebius Band worth 3299g only actually costs you 644g and some change to craft on the same server with those 25g Inferno Rubies. Blue 346 gear may not be as in season as it was a few months ago (and perhaps even less so moving into 4.2), but if your server is sufficiently large to support 8,000/day Elementium Ore stockpiles and 25g Inferno Rubies that depress prices for weeks, then it's likely enough newly dinged 85 toons are available for you to hawk your warez upon. Even "fire sale" prices like 1000g each is still nearly a 400g profit margin. It is risky this late in the tier with new patterns coming out and not being able to fall back on cut gems, but it is an option if you do not have another profession to easily fall back upon.

Good luck.