Saturday, February 27, 2016

Just Another Friday Afternoon in Bree

Gladden server, roughly 5 PM EST.

No, your eyes to not deceive you, those are a bunch of toons --with similar names and outfits-- dancing in unison.

I'm there as well, but just off the screen to the left.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Breaking the Unwritten Rule

I was goofing off on Dromund Kaas last night, figuring I'd go do a daily or two, when I got in line to take out a 2+ toon in the Temple.

Another toon in front of me asked me and the player behind me to join up as a group, and I figured why not. It saves on waiting around for additional spawns, and you can burn down the boss more quickly.

But. (You know this was coming, right?)

Once the boss dropped, another toon who'd just run into the room ninja-ed it first.

Ahead of about 5 people/groups.

"Did he just do that?"

"What a dick!"


"Come back here, asshole!"

I shook my head. I bit back my "Well, that's someone embracing the Sith Code for you" rejoinder, because I shouldn't have been surprised at all.


I've not seen much ninja-ing of stuff since the height of Cataclysm, but it does still exist.

There was the one time I was on my Trooper and I joined an ops group to take down the World Boss on Tatooine. We were waiting for the last couple of stragglers to join us at the location when a lone Imperial ran up and summoned the World Boss, blocking us from taking credit for it.*

Then there was the 1/2 hour I'd spent grinding my way through mobs in the Field of the Dead on Age of Conan, sneaking around and attempting to reach a boss at the far end of a long flight of steps, when a high level toon rode up and dispatched the boss just as I was fighting off the last mob or two.

And I'd really rather not talk about the times I'd been ganked or ninja-ed while leveling Q back in the day, particularly in the Arathi Highlands. At 3 AM server time.**


What drives someone to take someone else's hard work and capitalize on it for their personal gain?

It's not like MMOs have a lock on this sort of bad behavior. If you work at a company of any real size, you know of at least a few people who attempt to sabotage or (at least) take credit for other people's work on a regular basis. And some corporations seem to actively encourage this sort of behavior, too, given how they handle annual performance reviews.***

Is it the nature of the MMO reward system that encourages Machiavellian behavior, or is it the other way around?

I suspect that a lot of this is absorbed by people while growing up, believing that this is how they ought to act to get ahead in life. From my own experience, I had a grandmother who used to say things like "If you've got someone who looks like they might run you over to get ahead, go and get them first! Get them before they get you!" And this in spite of the fact that she always considered herself a proper God-fearing woman.

However, a certain percentage of people get their amusement out of the pain of others. These are the people who give YouTube comments a bad name, or those who dox people they don't like (or espouse views they don't like). When confronted, you often get a defensive "hey, lighten up!" or a "it's just goofing around", or even the occasional "hey, they deserve it for [insert whatever pissed them off here]!"

Whatever the reason, there's a subset of MMO players that enjoy ninja-ing, and while they tend to gravitate toward certain games, no MMO has a monopoly on this behavior. This leads me to think that the Machiavellian tendencies were always there in people, but the online and anonymous nature of MMOs encourage ninjaing. The reward system doesn't shape behavior to the extent that some could argue, because by and large ninja behavior is the outlier, If the reward system were causing the behavior, I'd expect it to be condoned in blogger press as an acceptable method of playing the game. (It isn't.)


After the 2+ boss was ninjaed, our group switched world instances and found one empty of any sort of line. We dispatched the boss quickly, and that was that.

Well, kinda.

One of the group members dropped, but the other player and I teamed up to finish the other Dromund Kaas Heroics in short order. We chatted throughout the short adventure, and ended up friending each other. In a bizarre sort of way, were it not for that ninja, I'd have not made another acquaintance in SWTOR.

I'd just rather not have a ninja as the catalyst for that.

*He died almost instantly, but it was such a dick move that he should be grateful that his PvP flag wasn't set to "on."

**Which you'd THINK would be the safest time of day to be out in a PvP world. But nooo.....

***The worst types are those that grade on a strict bell curve, with only the highest rated people getting the raises. That means getting that highest rating, whether by backstabbing or working 90 hours a week (and I've seen both in action), makes it open season on everybody who is a good employee. Other people deliberately move to bad teams so that they can be the top banana of a bad group without having to put much effort into it. And still others will lie and cheat and steal in order to get ahead.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hitching a Ride to Duillond and Back

I've been making time this week to do some low level questing in LOTRO with the mini-Reds. Considering that I only leveled up to around L16 or so the last time I played before ceding the game to them, I figured it wouldn't take too long to go past that.

I'd forgotten that the initial leveling process for LOTRO is a bit like the pre-Cataclysm WoW system as you tend to get shuttled around quite a bit in the low level zones. For example, if you start as an Elf (as I did), one of the quests takes you up to Duillond to try to convince the brother of a quest giver to forsake Middle-earth and take a ship to the West.* That brother then sends you out to find the remains of a sword used by a Dunedain compatriot long ago, and then once secured you're sent all the way back to the initial quest giver. That quest giver then sends you up farther north to yet another hub. The back and forth in the middle, while important to the quest line, is a bit tedious to a brand new toon who has to hoof it back and forth.**

That's me, a glorified messenger boy.
(No, I haven't created any female toons yet.)

By the time Cataclysm was released and SWTOR dropped, the leveling experience had been tweaked to minimize back and forth movement throughout a zone: you collect your quests, do them, and then once you turn them in you're sent to the next quest hub. The back and forth of the previous example would have been eliminated, either by a form of phasing that would cause the two brothers to be together at Duillond (Wildstar or post-Cata WoW), or a Story Zone instance (SWTOR).

The quirks of questing aside, LOTRO still holds up well. World Chat was lively yet thankfully free from the sewer level of filth and trolling found in WoW's Trade Chat. My oldest was a bit annoyed at people feeding a few trolls, but to be honest those trolls were pretty mellow compared to those I've seen on most other MMOs.

Another part of the game that let you know you were in LOTRO was the competition for resources in the low level zones. While there are still instances of people ninja looting, I found people being respectful of others when they were fighting the baddies next to a quest object they were looking for. I suspect that the (relatively) quick respawn times helped alleviate that issue***, but still that speaks to the average LOTRO player that they weren't acting like jerks simply because they could.


These low level experiences, grouping up with the mini-Reds who were excited to share their favorite MMO with me, have been fantastic. Unlike the times when we play SWTOR, you can tell that while they like that game, they really love this one.

I can't say there have been memorable "can you believe we did THAT?" moments, but just having them there, doing their thing, or tagging along and healing while I putzed along, was great.

I wonder if this is what it is like for family who use MMOs to keep in touch across the country; these are the same tools that people use for guilds, but when family is involved the feeling is quite different. Even though they're upstairs and I'm downstairs.

*One nice part of LOTRO is that they remain consistent with the world of LoTR itself. While a reader of The Silmarillion would almost expect them to say "The Undying Lands", the quest giver here says "The West" instead, which is how the Undying Lands were presented in LoTR.

**Yes, LOTRO has Stable Masters who operate like a taxi or a flightpath, but you still have to reach places in LOTRO on foot to unlock those Stable Master points, particularly on the within-zone Stable Master locations. Unless you knew they were there as I did, a new player could just as easily have missed them and ran all the way across Ered Luin to complete this questline.

***Thankfully, they weren't as quick as found in Age of Conan, where a player would never be able to clear an immediate area of enemies before they started respawning. You have no idea how annoying that is, knowing that you'll never be able to clear things out enough to take on a boss without having to worry about a bunch of regular enemies jumping you from behind. And in Age of Conan, two mobs can take out one toon at level without blinking.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Curse of Success

I spent part of last night watching a documentary by the PBS show Frontline. If you've never watched a Frontline documentary, they're very much worth the time.* This particular time, however, the Frontline documentary was on daily fantasy sports. Called The Fantasy Sports Gamble, it talks about the explosion of daily fantasy sports into the popular consciousness, whether daily fantasy sports such as Draft Kings and Fanduel are gambling or "games of skill", and how "normal" online gambling subverts US law to cater to US players.

While I'm not exactly planning on playing any of those games**, I did note one almost throwaway comment toward the end of the episode. One of the people promoting a lesser known daily fantasy sports site was emphasizing the growth aspect of some of the "lesser" sports in the US, such as cricket and eSports.

That got me to wondering just how we truly know that eSports are legit.

My quick conclusion is we don't.

Unlike, say, other sports or "sporting activities", such as football (both varieties), basketball, auto racing, and even extreme sports, there's a physical gamespace that people have to compete in. While the space could be tampered with, that tampering affects all competitors equally. But with eSports, the gamespace is virtual, and controlled by a central system. That central system becomes more of a black box, where you have to assume everything is equal for both sides***.

But what if it isn't?

And, more importantly, how can you tell if it isn't?

You have to assume that the code compilation for eSport games didn't include any tweaks to the code designed to adversely favor a specific build at a specific time, but with growing amounts of money involved, you can bet that organized crime is trying to find a way to game the system in their favor.

I'm not talking about players being paid to throw matches, as can be found in this article from Den of Geek, but the employees at the company from being paid by organized crime to make very small code tweaks that will favor one style of play over another. Between two evenly matched teams, just a small tweak of a cooldown or a very slight manipulation of a crit size would be enough to influence the game. Or, to put it another way, if there was a code tweak in a Mario Kart Tourney that someone playing Rosalina would have a larger than normal chance of getting a lightning bolt or a Bullet Bill. It may not ensure victory, but it would certainly tilt the game in favor of someone who plays Rosalina.

And what organized crime would want is not exactly a sure thing, as that would cause speculation, but a decent chance at a sure thing.


If you follow auto racing, some leagues enforce more standards than others. Formula One racing is at the "let 'em play" end of the spectrum, while NASCAR is at the "rules lawyer" end. But that "rules lawyer" end of the spectrum means that NASCAR spends a lot of time measuring and testing the cars and other equipment of their participants to ensure there's no funny business going on.

The reason why I bring this up is obvious: without extensive testing, that black box is more mysterious than ever.

It's not as if gamblers will not stop sniffing around what they feel is a sure thing. The sheer chutzpah of some gambling sites to sponsor soccer teams (such as Stoke City having Bet365 as their primary sponsor the past few years) shows that other places around the world have a different view towards gambling than the US'. But still, as eSports will become more popular and more money flows in their direction, there will be more attempts to manipulate the system for profit.

It goes with the territory, I suppose, just as long as eSports doesn't have their own version of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

"Yeah, I'm gonna play some 2x2s tonight. Wanna come?"
From the movie Eight Men Out. From

*You can watch Frontline shows online for free, and they're definitely worth it. One of the best ones from last year, League of Denial, talks about the concussion epidemic in the NFL, and inspired the Will Smith film Concussion.

**Full disclosure: I have played Fantasy Football in "leagues" when I was in college and upwards of 10 years ago, but I've not played in years. I no longer even fill out a bracket for the Men's and Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament, because I tend to be lousy at picking who will win.

***Not counting individual build and toon differences; there's a reason why Blizz and other PvP-centric companies are constantly tweaking class and racial abilities to prevent the "new hotness" from cleaning up on the Arena or Battleground for too long.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Activision Hit By Layoffs

According to this gameinformer post, Activision's weaker results in the previous quarter have resulted in some layoffs and reorganizaton.

My previous speculations that Activision Blizzard is going to focus more on mobile and eSports games seems to be coming true, but at the cost of Skylanders and Guitar Hero.

Whether or not Skylanders is superior to the competition, Disney has heavy hitters and name brands in its' Disney Infinity line*, and LEGO has both name brands** and... well... LEGO it it's LEGO Dimenions line. This is one of those times where Activision is going to take a hit.

This makes me wonder whether Skylanders might have done better if it had a tie-in with other Activision Blizzard properties, such as characters from WoW or Diablo. Of course, those characters alone would push Skylanders away from its current family friendly space, but it might have also brought in more profits.

Will this impact Blizzard's end of things? That is uncertain, but given the downturn of Activision Blizzard's profits, there will be likely greater outside push for improving next quarter's --and next year's-- numbers. Overwatch and WoW are going to be in the crosshairs as investors will demand to see improvements to A-B's bottom line, and if they don't get it, I'd expect for Activision Blizzard to start hearing calls for more reorganization and spinning off properties that are work intensive yet not as profitable as they could be. With a lack of subscriber numbers to go by --Activision Blizzard no longer publishes those, remember-- that might include WoW.

Not that Legion didn't have enough pressure on its release.

*Disney has pulled out the stops for Disney Infinity, with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney classic movies, and others.

**Not counting LEGO specific lines (like NinjaGo), there's DC Universe, Ghostbusters, Jurassic World, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, and The Simpsons. At least; I'm sure I missed a few non-LEGO properties here and there.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How To Feel Old, Part Whatever...

It's been a slow week or so here at Red Central.

Sure, I've played a bit of SWTOR and Jade Empire, but I've been both busy with work and making the first of what is sure to be many university visits.*

Our first campus visit was similar only in the sense that it
was ON a university campus. The temps were below freezing,
and it was only an hour or two after sunrise. I also managed to
embarrass myself by missing a step and falling down.
The oldest mini-Red was mortified. (from
I did ask about internet connectivity --because it's important to be able to access your online gaming school work-- and it seems that for universities with lots of older dormitories, wifi has been a godsend. Not so sure about speeds, given than you've got potentially the entire student body using the same pipe at the same time, but at least there is internet.


There is a gaming angle to this, as on the ride back home the mini-Reds pestered me to create a character on their new LOTRO server, just so that we could hang out.

So I did.

Not surprisingly, I created another Elf Champion with the exact same name as my old main on LOTRO, because I can still do a Paladin-esque melee figher. Alas, the graphics for the buttons on the UI are still red and green and are as hard to read as ever.

It's kind of like this, only a lot fewer attacks (obviously), as I've only an L3 toon:

From forums. A whole lot of red and green.
If you're red/green colorblind, this can be really bad.

Or, if you're just like me and have a hard time reading all the details, it can drive you nuts.

Still, the scenery is as beautiful as ever. Alas that the toon graphics don't match the scenery quite as well.

But for sheer immersion, LOTRO is hard to beat.

Now, to actually find the time to, you know, play the game. But with the mini-Reds around, I get the feeling time will magically appear...

*Where did the time go? Oh, right. Anyway, two years for mini-Red #1, then we go right into two years for mini-Red #2, and #3 is right after that. Six years of the college application process. Oh yay.