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.