Friday, June 21, 2019

Some Friday Humor

I came across this on Facebook today, and laughed:



So in honor of some of the Vanilla WoW memes (and experiences), I came up with the following:

It was hard to limit my options to these.
As you might have imagined, distilling all of people trying out Vanilla WoW having only experienced BC and later down to 25 Bingo options was hard. I suppose I could make more sheets, but this one will do for starters.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Maybe I shouldn't have taken a bite of that Apple

I spent the latter part of last week at mini-Red #2's university orientation*, and while it was wonderful to look around and enjoy the university atmosphere, I couldn't completely shake work from the back of my mind.

Wrong time of year, perhaps, but there were vistas
like this across campus.
You see, work often means being beset by business terms ("business-speak"), discussions about how to do more with less, and the steady advance of business analytics.

The concept of business analytics isn't exactly new, given that methods of separating customers from their money have been around for millenia. However, computers and electronics have grown to the point where the "Big Data" of business analytics is now a huge business. The "targeted advertising" in the past has yielded to analytics driven methods of optimizing sales.**

Even getting away to a university in a small town hasn't allowed me to escape all of this stuff.

***

And what, you may be asking, does this have to do with a gaming blog?

Everything, actually.

Why do you think live services, lootboxes, and other in-game purchases are so big (and yet so reviled) with game dev houses right now? Because they do a great job of utilizing analytics to target the gamers who will pay for such things.

There are companies who market toward dev houses to help them maximize their profit. And if you said "Well, of course there are," watching their sales pitch is less about watching a meeting in a dev company and more about watching something that'd have been at home in a traditional corporate boardroom.

Here's a snippet of one, from Jim Sterling's The Jimquisition from back in 2017:


Sorry about adding the 50 second preamble, but I thought it was better to get a sense of the overall situation rather than simply dropping it into a post as-is. And although I do take issue with Jim Sterling at times, this entire episode of The Jimquisition does cover a lot of items that I used to see regularly as a salesperson at Radio Shack back in the early 90s.***

***

I guess you could say that --as a player of MMOs-- I ought to be inoculated to this sort of monetization, but there are times when it does bother me a lot. Like when I'm walking through a small college town, enjoying the scene, and see something that makes me think "You know, if [pick a storefront, any storefront] knew their customer base better, they could really do well here in town."

It's like being a musician, and not being able to turn your analytical brain off and simply enjoy the music any more, only far far worse.

And I really am concerned that monetization schemes in the gaming industry will become not only more invasive with time, but paradoxically harder to detect. And also I fear that game companies --particularly the major corporate dev houses-- have lost sight of the reason why games truly exist: for fun.




*Although he and I had been at his university twice to visit, my wife hadn't. Therefore, both of us tagged along with him for orientation. The drawback to those extra days off from work is that there was an absolute pile of work to get done when I got back. Yay me.

**BINGO!!! I WON BUZZWORD BINGO!!!!

***Sorry, but the term back then was "Salesmaker", not salesperson. Radio Shack loved their own lingo to no end. And boy, could I tell you stories about life at "Rat Shack".

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Quick Check-In

Yes, I still exist.

No, the blog isn't fading.

Yes, I do have a couple of posts in process, but nothing that's finished and ready to post.

But no, none of those posts are things that I'm particularly proud of, so they may never see the light of day.

Yes, I've been sucked into watching the FIFA Women's World Cup, and yes, I've been enjoying the matches so far*, but yes, it does cut into my gaming time.

And finally, yes, I've been watching E3 with a great deal of interest, and more than a bit of a jaundiced eye after the disastrous releases of Fallout 76 and Anthem (not to mention the Blizzard layoffs and other things happening in the gaming industry). But AMD... That is interesting. VERY interesting.

Anyway, I'll try to check back in next week (if not sooner).




*Except the US' nuking of Thailand. Not the score itself, because the only way the US could have stopped scoring is to simply kick the ball around the midfield for about 45 minutes, but the goal celebrations that went on after the US shot past a 6-0 score. Some people seem to think that this celebration backlash was because "women aren't allowed to show emotion", but in my case, I just felt bad for Thailand who were so clearly overmatched that I could have been playing out there for them and nobody would have noticed.

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Little Bit of Music for a Friday

If your first exposure to an MMO soundtrack was WoW's Blood Elf starting zone, you likely remember the cello piece The Sindorei:


That piece of music set a theme of melancholy against a backdrop of beautiful Eversong Woods, highlighting the aftermath of the events of Warcraft III.

Well, the cello is back in the intro music to the new ESO expac, Elsweyr, but used in a very different manner:


The Jeremy Soule theme is given a grim reading by the cello, which launches the rest of the piece with minor chords and a discordant sound more reminiscent of Knut Avenstroup Haugen's Age of Conan's soundtrack than anything we've typically heard from Elder Scrolls Online. It gives a feeling of foreboding, forcing you to look over your shoulder, rather than being a heroic upbeat piece like Summerset's Main Theme was.

Given that the dragons' return to Nirn is a major plot point in the expac, the worry and grim overtones are perfect for being concerned whether a dragon is going to drop on your head when you least expect it.

I'm looking to the release of the full soundtrack just to hear what else is in store for us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Culturally Speaking

ESO's Elsweyr expac finally dropped, and I celebrated by hanging around Vvardenfell and doing some crafting and questing.

What, you thought I'd do something else for a change?

No way, man. I'm not getting in the middle of the mad rush over to Elsweyr. And apparently I'm not the only one, given the crowd over in Vivec City. As Shintar put it, ESO does a good job of spreading people out, but I also think that it's now baked into the game's DNA.

The reason why I'm bringing up the "baked in" part is because I had a conversation with the oldest mini-Red today. She's home for (part of*) the Summer from her university, and she's spent the past two weeks catching up with friends and getting in some MMO playing.

This evening, while I was working on dinner, she and I were talking about MMO culture. She said that in LOTRO today, the main discussion in World Chat centered around a new player who had recently left WoW and decided to try out LOTRO instead. The new player simply could not stop praising LOTRO's in-game culture, talking about how nice everybody is, when back in WoW the culture was so toxic. Given that LOTRO has their own culture issues with a few notable malcontents --on the Gladden server at least-- I was kind of surprised by the story. "Had WoW gotten that bad?" I wondered.

I'd also been reading in chat on ESO about an influx of WoW refugees finding that ESO is a more pleasant gaming social experience than the present atmosphere in WoW, and I knew of posts on Reddit (of all places) mentioning that SWTOR is a more pleasant gaming experience than WoW.

This kind of begs the question whether the WoW experience is now more toxic than it was when I left.

***

The only way to really find out what WoW is truly like is to resub and then login to an old toon. However, I wasn't planning on doing that until right before (or right after) WoW Classic comes out, so it'll be only then that I'll find out exactly what Trade Chat has devolved into.

That being said, I realize that it has been about 5 years since I last subscribed to WoW, so my remembrance of WoW's Trade Chat has faded somewhat. Since then, Blizzard's fortunes have waxed and waned, and WoW itself has bled both subscribers and devs. You know things have changed when Elitist Jerks has faded into nothingness as people from EJ have been hired on by Blizzard itself.**

My great fear is that WoW now has a toxic culture baked into the game in as much the same way that League and some other MOBAs now are more well known for a toxic culture than being incredibly popular worldwide. It's also entirely possible that the type of person who is attracted to WoW's dictum that "the game begins at endgame" is more likely to engage in toxic behavior than those who don't subscribe to that belief. Other MMOs, such as LOTRO or ESO or SWTOR, have more of an "enjoy the journey" attitude toward their MMO design, and aren't defined by toxic culture.

But this is all a "who came first -- the chicken or the egg" sort of speculation, because people could have left for other MMOs because of the toxic culture in WoW, or WoW became toxic as people left.

***

I don't believe that a game's culture is set in stone. Blizzard can change WoW's culture, but it requires Blizzard to invest in more aggressive policing of Trade Chat, Zone Chat, and other areas where poor behavior has been allowed to fester.

Reputation, however, is much harder to change than the culture itself. Once a game acquires a bad reputation, combating that will take a lot of effort above and beyond the effort needed to fix the cultural issues. And it takes the one thing that WoW likely doesn't have in abundance any more: time. Blizzard is on the hot seat to "turn things around", and a corporate quick fix won't correct a poor reputation because quick fixes are designed to make things look good on the quarterly balance sheet, not address any underlying long term problems.

Poor Bobby Kotick. The two things that are required to fix problems in WoW --time and money-- are things that he doesn't want to use. He'd much rather cut costs and demand people do more with less than actually fix the long term problems.




*She'll be spending a few weeks back at her university during the Summer as a camp counselor/chaperone for a Summer Music Program, and then spending another week away at a double reed camp. Then she'll move in early because of Band Camp, which is a boon to us because we'll be taking her brother up to his first semester at a university during the time she'd ordinarily need to go back.

**Courtesy of Reddit, here's the thread Why did Elitist Jerks die out? There's also the additional nail in the coffin as EJ was bought out by Ten Ton Hammer and the latter tried to monetize the site. I could have told them that EJ was --more than anything else-- a labor of love, and trying to make people pay for that will inevitably backfire.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Farmer Red Out Farming

It's been a long time since I farmed mats.

How long? Well, I used to support the ICC-10 runs that our Horde guild had by farming mats in Icecrown Glacier as a relaxing activity in between 5-man runs.*

Sure, I farmed ore and cloth a bit in Cataclysm and Mists, but without the need to support a guild's raids my farming activities were reduced to a (very) small sidelight of my in-game WoW activity. I was happy to level my crafting up to max and that was pretty much it.**

The past several weeks, however, I've been hanging around Vivec City in ESO, leveling the various crafts that I have by completing dailies. I've done some questing --and I had completed the ESO Morrowind expac already on my first toon, so I know what's coming-- but when I venture out in the wild I've been keeping out an eye more for mats instead of actually working on the various storylines. Truth be told, Vivec City is pretty much ideal to use as a base for farming and crafting, because all of the crafting stations are close to the delivery crates, there's a bank located in the center of the crafting area, and all three are close to a wayshrine so you can hop over to a specific locale and go mat farming.

Many of the mercantile oriented guilds have already figured this out, because the distance between the wayshrine and the crafting area is filled with various guild merchants.

***

If you're like me and used to the more traditional MMO expacs where everybody abandons the previous expac's hub(s), seeing Vivec City as both relevant and active is quite a sight. When Cataclysm dropped, I parked Neve at Dalaran and conducted a robust business opening ports for players. After a month, however, Dalaran had turned into a ghost town in the same way that Shattrath was largely abandoned when Wrath dropped.

The reasons for this happening can be boiled down to two simple design decisions: the zone resources and hub vendors were limited to their affiliated expac's mats and rewards, and the ability to transport to different locales is by "realistic" transportation. For example, if you want to mine Fel Iron, you go to Hellfire Peninsula. If you want Copper, you go to an intro or low level zone in WoW's Old World. That doesn't change, so if you want to mine the latest mats you have to go to the latest zones. If you want the latest vendor gear, you go to the current expac's hub(s).

And transportation to and from those hubs can take a lot of time too. At least WoW has flying mounts for waypoints, because with LOTRO you're frequently stuck with riding hubs, and in SWTOR the speeders from the travel hubs tend to follow the roads and/or buildings.

ESO utilized a different set of design decisions.

The first major design decision was to utilize phasing to change the "leveling" materials to coincide with your toon's Crafting level. If the highest level blacksmith mat you can utilize is Orichalum, you find Orichalum nodes throughout the ESO game world. If it's Ebony, you find Ebony. And this remains the same no matter where you're located, whether it's Coldharbour, Vvardenfell, Stonelands, or Kenarthi's Roost. This makes gathering mats a lot easier to handle, and frees a player from having to restrict themselves to the latest expac's zones.

The leads right into the second design decision, which answers the question "if I can go anywhere to find my leveling mats, how do I easily get to where I want to go?" In this case, ESO adopted the GW2 method of wayshrines for easy point to point transfer. You pay for transfer to a wayshrine out in the wild, but there's no cooldown, either. And wayshrine to wayshrine transportation is free.

Finally, as part of the the rewards for completing a crafting daily, you have a shot at getting a map directing you to a rich deposit of mats in a specific zone. The map isn't so detailed as to take out all sense of adventure, but it does give you a pretty decent sense of where the rich deposit is. Once again, not completely handheld, just making it easy enough to quickly handle your farming activity.

***

While the ESO method does make farming for mats quick and fairly painless, that doesn't necessarily mean it's superior to the more traditional "grind it out" method. The former works great for the casual farmer --of which I am one-- who doesn't want to spend 1/2 hour a day farming mats to perform dailies. The latter is better for a more realistic world, where mats are found in specific regions. If you've got the time, the latter is better. I, however, don't have that time that I used to, so the former is better for me while I play ESO.

Still, I'm sure that when WoW Classic drops I'll become reacquainted with farming again while trying to build up any sort of gold pile.





*I learned the hard way to land your mount first and then enter into a 5-man. Only the most ridiculous of "GO-GO-GO" players wouldn't wait for that.

**That's the completionist in me talking.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION

...We have assumed control...
...We have assumed control...
...We have assumed control...
--Rush, 2112

Everybody got that?

Okay, I now know when I can resub to WoW.