Friday, September 29, 2006

Fight Club: The Joy of the Melee Class

You are not a master of the arcane. You are not shielded by your faith. You are not your freaking Khakis. The only thing you are: is very, very good with your blade. You are the Melee and your one true moment of Zen is when you send a piece of metal through the body of your opponent. Other classes can do the casting or the healing but you are all about instant gratification and the high damage that follows it. You own YouTube and thousands watch and groan as you show off your critical strikes and best damaging attacks. After all that's what online games are about: kicking ass.

The three most played classes in World of Warcraft are Hunters, Rogues and Warriors. If you split the data by alliance/horde lines then the hybrids: Paladins and Shamans make a entrance. But in general the classes that can dish out the instant damage with their weapons tend to be the most popular in the game. You have to wonder why these three classes are so often chosen over the others. Is the joy of meleeing just so much better then the required timing of playing a caster? Recently I am starting to notice that on my long raid nights its the casters who start getting tired and wanting to log off early. The melee classes seem to be having fun as if the 145th run of Molten Core is still a new experience for them. This is leading me to believe a couple things about melee classes.

1) Melees are FUN.

2) Melees feel Important.

3) Melees are more affected by Loot.

The Fun Factors:

A) Direct Interaction
I've mention this before in my healer posts so I am not going to go so far into a explanation. I'll simply summarize that directly tracking and delivering damage to the "badguys" is a rewarding experience. Offensive casters also get the experience but they are limited in that spells cause more agro and require mana.

B) The Downtime tradeoff
Melee classes have no downtime when in groups with healers. Instead the healers sit down and drink and refill their mana while making sure the melees stay alive. In a single group smart melees wait until the healer has completed the downtime before fighting but in raids with several healers they just keep going and going and going. Believe me the feeling that you are an unstoppable killbot is a very fun thing indeed.

C) NO Buffing
This is a short and sweet example. Melees are not bothered by having to improve other classes with buffs every hour, half hour, or 15 minutes if your an unlucky paladin. The stress of coordinating buffs while trying to heal and crowd control can get a bit wearing especially in a large raid format.

The Importance Factors

A) The High Damage Attacks
The best thing about being a melee is that you can see your contribution to winning. Its right there in front of your face as bright yellow numbers which seem to appear above your enemies head as a sign of weakness. Melees are even given special attacks just for the sole purpose of causing big numbers. Execute, Eviscerate/Ambush, and Aimed Shot are all about delivering those massive numbers that make you feel all fuzzy inside. How often does an execute crit for over 4k when the mob only had 900hp left?

B) Solo Ability
You are not just a cog in the big raid machine, you can actually do quite well on your own. Warriors are great on taking out multiple targets at the same time and will often explore dangerous areas by themselves. Rogues can deliver damage so fast that they are the preferred farming class. Throw in the ability to vanish and stealth and they also have very little risk in exploring new areas. Hunters are the best soloers in the game with their pets to draw agro while they deliver damage.

The Loot Factor:

A) Weapons are oh so nice
Melee classes are practically the weapons they carry. Their ability to deal damage is directly dependent on the quality of their weapon unlike other classes whose damage is limited by the damage range of the spells they use. The improvement a melee experiences with a upgraded weapon tends to be twice what a caster would experience from that same zone. Compare a rogue and a mage going into ZG after getting blues from single group dungeons. The mage gets the Wand of Chaos from Hakkar while the rogue gets the Fang of the Faceless. Which one has improved the most from the weapon upgrade?

B) Armor Envy
Melees are more dependent on their armor then other classes. They get near the "badguys" and as such they must be able to survive the "badguys". Thus they have a desire to upgrade which is a little stronger then most casters. A blue equipped priest can heal just fine in MC while a blue equipped warrior would get yelled out for trying to tank. It seems as if casters could wear nothing but jewelry with intelligence and stamina on it and would be fine. But for melees they need the armor class on each and every item they can lay their hands on. Unfortunately, this has often created an impression of greed which is why melee classes are more often accusing of ninja like practices.

With all these reasons you can seen why fighting as a melee class is more popular. There's more direct stimuli on your when you play and your responsibilities are more relaxed in a group environment. You don’t have to worry about buffing, healing, or even handling the downtime. Instead you get to do what the majority of game players find most fun, fighting.

PlayOn Data on Class Popularity

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Art of the Level 19 WSG Twink

Me and my group of friends are always on the lookout for a new and improved way to have fun in World of Warcraft. A couple weeks ago we were trying out a new group and we decided to join a Warsong Gulch game for fun. We got the floor wiped with us. There seemed to be a large population of rogues in the game and they all had three times the hit points as our warrior. Still we had fun learning how to flag capture at low levels and gang up on level 19 druids with 1800hp.

After our little foray we decided to make a group of 19 alts who would do nothing but play Warsong Gulch games. We figured it would be good practice for the upcoming Arena and most of my friends have been playing long enough that we have very good gold reserves. Deciding to avoid the most common weakness in such groups we had two members of our group make a priest and a druid. The priest is a little bit harder to twink then a leather wearing class but its still possible.

We loaded up on every blue we could get from low level dungeons and the auction house. Then we enchanted the hell out of everything. Because our group had a large number of rogues duel wielding cruel barbs we were thinking about naming our little guild the Cruel Barb Corp but later decided to take a page from Douglas Adams and called ourselves Do Not Panic. Apparently you can't use apostrophes in guild names.

After everything was completed on our characters we grouped up and entered our first game. Then ran into a stalemate. Apparently despite all our twinkage there is an upper limit on the gear of a level 19 and we had hit it along with half the other people playing. It was kind of liberating in a way since everything was extremely balanced. Strategy and coordination seemed to play a bigger part in the game instead of just getting behind the guy with all the epics. We finally managed to win using a 3 defense -4 midground -3 attack plan.

Rotating out rogues in the attack seemed to help with always making sure the flag runner had sprint up. We lost our flag a couple of times but managed to get the fifth flag capture for victory. It was one of the most rewarding pvp experiences I've ever had in a MMORPG. It just goes to show how much a difference a fair matching system is going to make when its implemented into World of Warcraft pvp. Note of warning that playing an untwinked level 19 without good teammates is suicide and I wouldn't recommend it.

Here's an idea of what the Rogues were using in the 19 BG

Head: 150 Engineering Goggles with 100hp item enchant
Shoulders: Serpent's Shoulders from Lady Anacondra (WC)
Chest: Blackened Defias Chestpiece from VanCleef (DM) with 100hp enchant
Pants: Leggings of the Fang from Commander Cobra (WC) with 100hp item enchant
Shoes: Boots of the Lynx from the AH with minor runspeed enchant
Bracer: Forest Leather Wristguards from the AH with +9sta enchant
Gloves: Level19 Gloves of the Monkey with +7agi enchant
Back: Sentry Cloak from AH with +70AC enchant
Belt: Deviate Hide Belt from Leatherworker
Ring1: Bloodstone Ring
Ring2: Seal of Wrynn from Quest
Weapon1: Assassin’s Blade or Cruel Barb with +15agi or +5 Weapon Dmg enchant
Weapon2: Cruel Barb with +15agi enchant

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hiding from the Burning Crusade

If you've been following the development of any MMORPGs out there besides World of Warcraft then you know that there were a lot of games scheduled to be released Q4 2006. As late as the E3 expo numerous games like Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online and Vanguard were still holding to release dates this year. However, a few months later most of them were changed to Q1/Q2 2007. In the case of Vanguard it was a well needed extension but for a lot of other MMORPGs it seemed as if it was a delaying tactic.

So far this year the only new MMO that I was aware of was the ill fated Auto Assault. The game fell flat on its face and combined with the falling numbers of City of Heroes/Villains caused some layoffs in NCSoft support. After that the market has been quiet as a mouse with almost all releases being pushed after the new expansion for World of Warcraft. It almost seems that originally it was suspected that Blizzard wouldn't make their Q4 2006 release date and other developers scheduled accordingly. But with the push for new hardware and the alpha already well on the way it seems as if Blizzard scared off the competition this winter.

Keep your eyes open for these upcoming MMORPGs.
Huxley Q1 2007
Lord of the Rings Q1 2007
Age of Conan Q1/Q2 2007
Tabula Rasa Q1/Q2 2007
Vanguard TBA 2007
Warhammer Q4 2007

It will be interesting to see which of them are able to carve out a niche in a market dominated by World of Warcraft. Its funny also in that these new games seem to be matching up against one another in a duel format. Its like in Hollywood when they made Armageddon the other side just had to make Deep Impact.

The Fantasy PvP match-up
Age of Conan vs. Warhammer Online

Age of Conan has realistic graphics and the ability to create player based towns. Warhammer Online has wow-ish graphics and the realm combat system that made DAOC so popular. Both will have a lot of avatar customization but no magic in Age of Conan. Then again who wants to worry about all the problems of balancing casters with melees.

Winner: Age of Conan. Warhammer will be eaten alive by the improvements made in the WoW pvp game.

The Scifi MMOFPS match-up
Huxley vs. Tabula Rasa

Huxley is more of a graphic intense FPS with a few MMO qualities. It will have corresponding versions for both the PC and Consoles which could boost its popularity. Tabula Rasa has more itemization and seems to be designed for small squad based combat. Graphics look good on both games which might make it for high end gaming machines only.

Winner: Tabula Rasa wins since Huxley feels like a console game and I predict will have problems holding onto subscribers for longer then a couple months. Also Lord British the lead dev on Tabula Rasa will create a lot of initial interest in Tabula Rasa.

The Fantasy based PvE match-up
Vanguard vs. Lord of the Rings

Vanguard is going through a complete revamp and trying to cut some of the hardcore game play that was chasing everyone away. The only problem is that their graphics still seem kind of lackluster. Lord of the Rings seems to have better graphics and a recognizable style. The only problem is there is absolutely nothing new being included in the game. At least Vanguard is messing around with new crafting and diplomancy systems.

Winner: Everquest, which will still exist long after both these games are dead. PvE centric fantasy games have their niche but at the moment the market is going to be flooded. I expect more hardcores to stay with Everquest at around 100k subscribers which is a record I doubt either of these games will break. Look at Dungeons and Dragons Online for a good example of the future of these two games.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Crit, Hit and its new brother Resilience

It looks like the Burning Crusade expansion will be introducing at least one new statistic for players to add to their number crunching add-ons. Now keep in mind this is from a leaked alpha test so it could just be unfounded rumors but it seems as if this new stat will reduce the critical strike chance an opponent will have against you. Critical strikes play a big part in producing burst damage which is needed to kill opponents in a player vs. player environment. A steady damage output without any spikes makes it easy for your opponent to recognize trouble and use either healing or crowd control.

That's why this new stat called resilience could have such an impact on the game. It doesn't directly effect your character but instead effects your targets. Already the +hit stat does much the same thing by either reducing a target's defense or spell resistance. But the +hit stat only indirectly affects the critical strike chance against an opponent by slightly raising the chance your attacks will land. Resilience will directly affect an opponents stats and thus be unknowable by them. This makes number crunching much harder to do and introduces a larger unknown factor.

Perhaps in a move to make all this number crunching a bit easier for its customers several new commands are being included in the WoW scripting language: GetCritChance(), GetRangedCritChance(), and GetSpellCritChance(school). These new commands are useful for calculating your own critical strike chances but don't give you any information on your target's resilience or resistances. Thus you could have a range critical strike chance of 25% but if your opponent has +5% resilience then your critical chance is actually only 20% against them.

This is both a good and bad thing. On one side casters have had to deal with not knowing the resistances of their targets since the beginning of the game and this stat just evens the playing field between them and melees. On the other side since there are no "schools" of physical attacks like magic the stat has the potential to be overpowered. For example just look at the classes that have low crit chances like druids and paladins. Both have very little in the way of burst damage and are not known for getting killing blows. Anyone who managed to equip themselves in high resilience gear would find most of their opponents physically hitting them like a paladin or druid bear.

A high dps class equipped in such a manner with a good weapon could become the bane of the pvp game. Blizzard will either have to make resilience a rare stat or increase the amount of +crit and +hit itemization proportionally. If resilience is a rare stat then Blizzard will have to make sure to include it in both PvP and PvE. If not then we could easily have the same situation we have today where if you want to pvp competitively you have to raid.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Arena Rating System (Updated)

This post was originally done a couple months before the release of the The Burning Crusade. I was lucky and my combination of guesses and research turned out to be a pretty accurate overview of how arena ratings were calculated. Unfortunately, just like the other PvP systems in World of Warcraft the arenas were vulnerable to exploitation. This quickly became a major problem since the arenas offered the best rewards which made them a much bigger target then battlegrounds. Blizzard has had to modify the arena system several times to try to fix exploits and my original write-up has become way off base. So after looking at the Season 4 patch notes and comments I decided to update my arena write up.

Team Rating
The initial arena system was based on the ELO chess system where teams had a rating that changed depending on the toughness of their opponents. I'll leave the basic explanation of team ratings the same since they haven't changed that much. Team ratings are still primarly how arenas points are rewarded and how team's are matched up against each other. Players who have used holes in the arena system or switched between a lot of different teams will find that their personal rating is used instead of their team rating.

Lets have team A and team B who meet in the arenas. Team B has a moderately higher score then Team A which means their odds of winning are calculated as being higher for the match. This means that Team B's rating will decrease more if they lose and increase less if they win. Team A's rating on the other hand will do the opposite. There is also an arbitrary number in the formula which decides the maximize number of points lost or won for the match. I'm using the number 30 but honestly this number probably changes based on the rating difference between teams.

Team A's Current Score: 1500pt
Team A's Chance of Winning: 1500 / (1500 + 1580) = .48701

Team B's Current Score: 1580pt
Team B's Chance of Winning: 1580 / (1500 + 1580) = .51298

Now Lets say Team A won the battle then
Team A's New Score: 1500 + (30*(1-.48701)) = 1500 + 15.39 = 1516
Team B's New Score: 1580 + (30*(0-.51298)) = 1580 + -15.39 = 1566

Now Lets say Team B won the battle then
Team A's New Score: 1500 + (30*(0-.48701)) = 1500 + -14.61 = 1485
Team B's New Score: 1580 + (30*(1-.51298)) = 1580 + 14.61 = 1595

Personal Rating
Personal Rating works just like a seperate version of the Team Rating for each player who actually participated in the match. Blizzard put Personal Rating requirements on certain rewards because highly rated arena teams were selling spots to people who wanted to quickly gain points. Each player actually has a Personal Rating for each of the arena brackets in the game. Thus a person could have a very high 2v2 personal rating and an average one in the 3v3 and 5v5 brackets. If a player switches team then their personal rating for that bracket is set back to 1500.

New rules for Season 4 (May 2008) actually use the personal rating for matching and point rewards over the team rating.

- If a character’s personal rating is more than 150 points below the team rating, they will earn points based on their personal rating instead of the team rating.
- If the average personal rating of the players queuing for a game is more than 150 points below the team’s rating, the team will be queued against an opponent matching or similar to the average personal rating.

Awarding Points
Blizzard has an arena calculator on their website which can be used to tell how many points your team will earn with your current rating. Only teams that have played more then ten games that week will be awarded points. Also only players on that team that have participated in at least 30% of the matches will get points.

Arena Exploits being Addressed in Season 4

Smurfing is the practice of creating smurf teams by taking a well equiped arena player and putting them on a team with a low rating. These players then artificially inflate the rating of the team and then switch back to their main team. They then use certain methods to make sure they play their smurf team which throws the match. The method works especially well in the 3v3 bracket which is easier to control the matching then the 2v2 bracket and doesn't require as many players as the 5v5 bracket. The new changes for awarding points based on personal rating will of course penalize teams that have players that frequently change teams.

Arena Scouting
Also Blizzard is making a change to arena scouting which is commonly used to make sure their opponents are a smurf team instead of a serious challenger. This method is also used in Win Trading where teams make aggreements to lose a match against a certain opponents. In general Arena Scouting is used at low population times when very few teams are in the queue. This allows arena teams to be fairly certain if both their queues pop at the same time that they are going to be matched together. If one team's queue pops before another then they re-queue.

- "If a team does not enter an arena match that is starting they will lose points equal to the amount that would have been deducted if they had played and lost."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Spin and Hype of Game Addiction

Since the first widely played MMOs sprung up in the late 1990s there have been reports of people becoming addicted to them. Usually reports on such people include other factors besides their game play like drug-use, depression, and trouble in their home environment. However, it is often the game play that has become the focus of the news outlets and internet chatter. While there is an addictive quality in such games its more on the scale of a morning coffee for most people then crack cocaine. Yet there are several factors that exist which would like to hype what is basically soda into a controlled substance.

1) Politicians
Its a sad fact that politicians often attack new forms of entertainment in hopes of appealing to conservative voters who are uncomfortable with it. For examples of this trend examine senate committee hearings on rock and roll and going further back comic books. You'll be surprised but there are very well know politicians from the present who are on record saying very stupid things about heavy metal music. Apparently such bands as Twisted Sister, KISS, and Metallica were going to destroy America's youth and needed to be stopped.

2) News Outlets
Interactive media has been slowly but surely swallowing up more of people's time then passive media since the 1990's. Newspapers are especially vulnerable to this as the average age of their readership has increased to almost 50. Broadcast news is also experiencing this trend but on a slower rate. Both outlets often hype news stories about video game addiction and video games causing shootings for two reasons. One is that they are taking a lesson from politicians and attacking something new to appeal to their mostly older readership. Two is that they would not mind if video games could be discredited and their impact lessened if not erased.

3) America's Stigma Against Games
Even though video games might be a very popular form of entertainment there are still roots in this country to the protestant work ethic. Its a leftover from the founding fathers but it still influences people to believe video games are a waste of time while television is socially acceptable. Look at any break room in America and your likely to find a television but just watch the looks and comments start if you pulled out a gameboy in there. According to A.C. Nielson the average American watches over four hours of television a day. You can tell this is considered normal by the length of primetime which runs for four hours each day starting at 7pm. However, game players are often accused of being addicted if they spend even half that time playing.

Just recently the Senate approved the CAMRA act which mandates that the Center for Disease Control develops research on the effect of multimedia on America's youth. The bill is sponsored by several politicians who had made it part of their image to combat the evilness of video games and the bill's primary purpose seems to be to provide them with ammunition. The ESRB and the ESA need to pay close attention to make sure all research is done in a non bias manner or else politicians will have enough scientific "proof" to start restricting types of games. The fact that such research is being done by the CDC already tells you that most politicians are happy portraying gaming as a disease.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Difference between Game Addiction and Enjoyment

The difference between enjoyment and addiction can be a very thin line which mostly consists of moderation. But the definition of moderation can be a very tricky subject. Massive Multiplayer Online games are a new form of media and people might not realize they need to moderate themselves. Plus with the over hyping of game addiction by several different groups some people might not believe it exists. It does exist but for most people its very easy to ask yourself a couple of questions and take steps to prevent any problems.

1) How much time to you play per week? The average American watches about 28 hours of television a week and this gives us a good idea of just how much time can be considered moderate. If you play more then most people watch television then you probably have a problem.

2) What was the last really fun thing you did in the game? If you are having trouble remembering when you last had fun then you have a problem. It doesn't necessarily mean your addicted but it does give you a sign that you've fallen into a bad habit. Doing something you don't really like in your free time isn't healthy. You need to quit that particular game.

3) Do you have friends who play? Not only are MMORPGs more fun if you have a large number of friends who play but there is also less chance of falling into addictive habits. Friends in game are usually the first ones to notice if you are playing too much or not really enjoying the game anymore. Note: There is a difference between friends and hardcore guild members. Do not sacrifice your health to meet someone else's need to advance in a game.

4) What do you smell? I'm serious. Go outside plug your nose for a couple minutes then walk back to your computer desk. Unplug your nose and take a deep whiff. If you're assaulted with the smell of old food and ignored housework then you could be addicted .... or just really gross. Either way establish some priorities on hygiene and cleanliness before playing. Also calling in sick from work or skipping class are signs of trouble.

There are plenty of clues which hint that you might be addicted to an MMO. I like to follow a simple rule of making sure I am still having fun with the game and not approaching the national television viewership average. I would also at this time like to point out a few points that I am tired of hearing people use to prove video game addiction.

You are Not Addicted If:

1) Non-gamers tell you that you are.
Significant others, parents, and even psychologists will often claim a person is addicted if they spend even as little as 1 hour a day playing a game. Most people who don't play video games get their information from sources that are filled with anti-game spin. Also remember that most psychologists are as much doctors as security guards are FBI agents. A few months ago one psychologist, in charge of an addiction clinic of course, pronounced that 40% of World of Warcraft players were addicted. Seems kind of high and with no research to back it up.

2) You quit the game and haven't played it for a couple of months.
I am tired of people not liking a game after they get bored with it and then claiming they used to be addicted. Just because you're now bored or were banned from a game does not mean you need to try to get other people not to play it. Chances are if you played a MMO for less then three months then quit you were never addicted. I can never understand how there are so many ex World of Warcraft players who were "addicted" but never or barely hit the last level.

3) If you want to complete a raid
The raid is one of the most time consuming features of MMORPGs but wanting to finish one doesn't mean your addicted. A lot of people don't realize that a raid is like a team sport involving a huge amount of players who all have to coordinate with one another. They only see you at the computer and think you are doing a solo activity. Thus many times a non-gamer family member will be hurt that you would rather spend time alone then with them. The best way to combat this is to introduce them to some of your raid friends. If your ventrilo is PG then let them listen to the planning and general camaraderie that occurs in such gatherings.

I've written more then I thought I was going to but I wanted to express my feelings on the truth behind game addiction. It does exist but its not as common as some groups would have us believe. In my lifetime I've only ever met one person who was addicted to a video game and he had both financial and health reasons which encouraged the habit. Unlike gambling MMORPGs don't steal away a person's wealth unless one pursues in a lot of real money transfers. Plus more modern games have cut back on having heavy time investments in their games which makes it easier to avoid addictive habits. Tomorrow I am going to write on why certain groups spin the topic of game addiction. If you want a sneak preview go on over and read some of the posts at

Friday, September 15, 2006

Will Social MMO games conquer all?

Yet another idea that is coming out of the Austin Games Conference is that social MMOs are on the rise to topple the DIKU Model MMO. I have no idea what DIKU stands for exactly but from what I can gather it was a branch of multi user dungeon games that revolved around item and experience acquisition to define character progress. So basically its the template for every role playing game in existence right now. However, it seems as if I only ever hear the term used when a older developer is complaining about modern MMORPGs. So what makes these doomsayers think that social MMOs will overthrow the current DIKU standard?

Well one reason is that there are a couple of these social MMOs out there with what seem like impressive numbers. While they might not be comparable to Everquest 2 or World of Warcraft in game play they do meet many of the criteria of being a Massive Multiplayer Online game.

Habbo Hotel - Apparently this game has become the standard example for showing that social MMOs are really more popular then current MMORPGs. The game itself has limited functionality to create virtual objects and is based on a micro-transaction revenue model. Its basically a free chat program with big headed avatars. The avatars can interact in a number of limited ways which has led to the duplication of real life games in Habbo Hotel such as musical chairs or dress-up. However, the numbers that are attributed to this game barely generate any revenue for the game even if they are greater then the subscriptions World of Warcraft has. From what I understand the game makes most of its revenue by hyping their world wide user base and charging low cost advertising.

Neopets - I am starting to see this game mentioned more and more often. Its basically a collection of free flash based games which allow you to gain points. These points can be spent to train and upkeep virtual pets which are used to battle each other. Its like a world wide pokemon game that has about 200 mini-games inside of it. Most of its revenue is also made by advertising but at least its games are better defined then Habbo Hotel and also fun. Its users are through the roof with unique free accounts numbering over 100 million. I've watched more then one fellow coworker make use of neopets to pass away time at the office which leads me to why I think social MMOs are gaining so much attention

Social MMOs are gaining attention because they are the perfect short term distraction. People can log in and say hello to their friends while pursuing a fun activity that has almost no time commitment. I especially see these short term distractions used in the workplace and I am sure a good portion of Neopet's user base comes from bored office workers. However even discounting the play from work aspect I don't see these games ever providing the same immersive experience that MMORPGs now offer. People still want an escapist experience when they play an online game. It doesn't matter that they are talking on Ventrilo while number crunching the latest stats on their new item. A part of the brain is still pretending that they are the avatar on the screen.

I do see some potential in social MMOs though and that is mainly in providing free digital services in exchange for advertising rights. However I don't see any of these types of games gathering the revenue necessary to polish their service into something a person would be willing to spend major money on. What I do see happening is social MMOs consuming other internet services like blogging, video sharing and social websites. Now there is one social MMO I would like to mention because I think it has some interesting features which I can see influencing next generation of MMORPGs.

Second Life - This game allows a wide range of virtual item creation and even allows players to code physics or weather patterns into the spaces they own. The game works off a micro-transaction system based off virtual land sales and generates decent revenue unlike the 7 million freeloaders at Habbo Hotel. The avatars are realistic and allow all kinds of customizations and interactions. In fact its because of this that the game can quickly get sordid as players act out their baser instincts. From what I understand the Sims Online suffered from a similar problem.

The two main strikes against Second Life are the lack of any defined game and the creation of bad player content. Despite these two main failings the game has managed to gather 70k users and seems to be enjoying solid growth. Terra Nova has predicted large scale growth for the game over time but so far it has failed to match any of the established large scale MMO titles. I feel the game will continue to gain strength as long as other MMO's fail to have player generated content. While I doubt purely social MMOs will replace DIKU model MMOs I do see some aspects of them being added.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Just how hard is Jindo the Hexxer?

My guild having recently reformed after a violent division is a bit weaker in player numbers then the old guild. As a result for the last two weeks we have been doing the twenty man dungeons more often then normal. This has afforded us a chance to fight bosses we used to skip because of time. In Zulgurub we've been summoning the godzilla fish boss and experimenting with the edge of madness bosses. We've been successful with both and have been gaining new recruits through our runs into AQ20 and ZG. However, we still have one dark spot on our twenty man raid record and that spot is Jindo the Hexxer.

We have only been able to beat this boss three times and on all three we had an over abundance of rogues. Back before we lost all our hardcore rogues and non tank warriors we used to hear the same thing over and over again. "Jindo isn't that hard" However, despite that mantra from those wanting ZG enchants we were almost never able to beat him. We gained gear from MC, tried different tactics, and made macros for targeting the totems. However, nothing seemed to allow us to beat him with any regularity. I personally hate this troll boss with a passion. For those of you who haven't had the joy of being "Welcomed to the Show" I'll give you a quick rundown of the fight

Jindo is a Troll Shaman who has a number of annoying abilities
1) Almost every 5 seconds he will put a totem down that does one of two things
-Mind controls a person in the raid
-Heals him for 3% of his life per tick

2) Randomly turns opponents to frogs

3) Randomly teleports opponents to a pit with 20 non elite skeletons that respawn quickly

4) Continually produces shades which can attack but are invisible to everyone in the raid except those he curses

His abilities are devastating for a couple of reasons.
- Mind control wipes aggro off the main tank allowing Jindo to ping pong around.

- Mind controlled players tend to use their AoE fears and most mana intensive spells.

- Healing totems heal him very quickly and require all melees to be good at changing targets

- The shades spawn quicker then any one person can kill them which effectively puts a timer on the encounter. Eventually there will be so many shades running around that even their low damage can kill a person instantly

We've had some success having our rogues use the wound poison that reduces healing and having our warriors keep mortal strike on him. Also we keep a mage near the skeleton pit to AoE in case anyone gets teleported. Despite these steps our frequent wipes lead me to believe that he is one of the harder bosses in the low end raid zones. Comparatively we could kill every boss in Molten Core except Ragnaros on our first try. I like the fact that Jindo isn't required for progression in Zulgurub and I can appreciate the challenge of having a hard boss. I guess its kind of interesting to have an old instance that still holds at least one challenge

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Micro Transactions vs. the Subscription Model

Some of the thoughts coming out of the Austin Game Conference revolve around the discontinuation of the subscription model for MMOs. Several games already exist that make use of different pricing models but for the majority of MMORPGs the subscription model is still king. Publishers just aren't that anxious to abandon what's been the industry standard since the days of Ultima Online. However, there are factors such as rising game costs and increasing casual gamer numbers that are pushing for a change in revenue models.

Most of these alternative revenue models seem to involve a form of billing which is commonly called micro-transaction or micro-payment billing. This involves setting up a series of small bills which are applied only when the customer wants to access a specific part of the game. Usually the base game is provided for free which means there is almost no cost of entry to playing. Three Rings, the company responsible for the Puzzle Pirates MMO, has set up servers using both the subscription and micro-transaction model.

Their subscription server works normally with players paying a fee either monthly, quarterly or yearly to access the game. The micro-transaction server requires no commitment though and players can log onto it and experience the beginning parts of the game for free. Once beyond the initial puzzles and items though the game starts charging a mixture of in-game and real world currency. The real world currency amount is small but accumulates the longer the person plays. This way players that put more stress on the game end up paying more then players who only casually sign into the game world.

While the Puzzle Pirate MMO is a sign of willingness by independent publishers to experiment with alternative subscription models, most large scale companies are less enthusiastic. That's perhaps because if you examine the micro-transaction model you can find a few flaws that don't quite scale well for a large scale North American MMO.

Micro-Transaction Flaws for Publishers
- Griefing capabilities increased since the cost to the player of a banned account is nothing
- Cost to Hardcore player base much higher which will influence most reviews of the game play
- Risk of Real Money Transfers happening outside publisher control are much higher

There are also some benefits to the micro-transaction model which could complement some growing trends.

Micro-Transaction Benefits for Publishers
- Players are never confronted with a big bill
- Casual players would pay less for access and are the largest growing market segment
- The payment process is more complex which allows publishers to easily raise revenue without an obvious price hike.

The benefits of the micro-transactions model for players are much less clear. Sure casual gamers would be charged less for playing their game then hardcore players. Yet the micro-transaction model makes it to easier to hide charges for the game. It might be that both types of players end up paying much more then what they were paying under a subscription model. Eventually publishers would be tempted to put fixes and necessary updates behind mircro-transactions. Not to pick on SOE or anything but lets use the Legacy of Ykesha expansion for Everquest as an example.

The Legacy of Ykesha expansion made huge improvements to the banks in the game and effectively allowed the pulling of resources between a player's characters. Anyone who didn't buy the expansion didn't get these improvements even though they were more in line with game fixes then new content. In fact this expansion had very little new content except for the bank changes and a new playable race. If a company was willing to hide an update behind a expansion cost then you can be sure they would do it behind a micro-transaction. Companies are in the business of making the most amount of money they can without losing their customers. In my opinion it seems as if this revenue model allows publishers to squeeze their customers harder without them noticing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Completing the 45-min Baron Run

With the lack of any more 40 man raids in my future I've been having fun going back to the single group dungeons in World of Warcraft. While they have little gear that’s an upgrade for me I like helping friends complete their tier 0 armor set and trying to get the rare epic drops off bosses. It was in the middle of one of these runs that I realized I hadn't finished the tier 0.5 quest set yet. I looked up the quest rewards on thotbot and realized the shoulders and boots where both upgrades for me. Thus I set out to complete the step of the quest which I had been stuck on for several months, the dreaded 45 min baron run.

It had been a while since the last time me and my friends had attempted the timed Baron run. We had just started doing ZulGurub successfully and we each had about three epic items. None of this helped us much since it seemed everything went wrong. The bats kept adding at inopportune times, we kept getting feared into enemies, and we spent a lot of time guessing what mobs we had to pull to make it to our goal. Now with the much better gear from the Molten Core we were finally able to get to the Baron with a minute to spare.

I wanted to give a brief description of our group makeup and what rules we followed in getting to the baron in time. Unfortunately like idiots the first we did the run we forgot about having some AOE to take out his skeletons which heal him. We ended up wiping though we did get him to 5% like three times that fight. Talking about it we realized we could do round robin on holy water and the paladin's holy wraith to take him out. So we used my treasure sniffing to get a nice stockpile of holy water then reset the instance.

Group Composition:
Paladin - 7 tier-1 epics
Druid - 7 tier-1 epics 1 tier-2 helm
Warrior - 5 tier-1 epics 1 tier-2helm
Rogue - 5 tier-1 epics
Hunter - all blues and greens

Pre-Run Strategy:
1) Set-up a small ventrilo server which is actually free on the ventrilo website

2) Found a map called the gauntlet.jpg which gave a good idea of what mobs to pull during the run.

3) Bought Blessed Sunfruit for the casters to quickly regain mana

4) Combined all the Greater Mana Potions from Stratholm Supply Crates and gave them to the druid. He popped them like pez candy during the run and almost never had to sit to drink.

Run Strategy

1) Pulled the Banshee Baroness all the way back to the gate for easier handling

2) Fought the Spider Boss in the corner next to his Ziggurat to avoid him moving around

3) Rogue and the Paladin coordinated stuns to keep necromancers from life/mana draining

4) Hunter always had a spare mob in his improved ice trap so we could always be fighting.

5) Skipped the Magistrate until after the baron was defeated

6) For the Abomination fights pulled 4 mobs on the right side of the gate then moved into the slaughterhouse area. If you don't the abominations will start coming quicker then you can kill them.

7) Used a paladin shield on the druid so he could hurricane the non-elites that spawn after Ramstein (no relation)

I know a lot of people say this run could be done with blue gear and much worse class mix then we had. However, the amount of practice and luck that would go into that would probably be equal to about 30 runs of undead Stratholm. I don't think that many repetitive runs would be very fun. So I recommend either having three people in full sets of tier-1 armor or two people in tier-2 armor. We had tried months earlier with a tier2 mage and priest helping us complete the run but you really need your tanking class to be well geared. I haven't tried it out but I think a tier 2 warrior and everyone else wearing blue items could probably also complete the run with a minimum of practice.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Anatomy of a Guild Death

I had the unfortunate experience of being in a guild which started going through death throes this week. Problems had been building for about a month as some of our key members left. However, in the end it came down to the simple fact that a few people were pushing our guild to be more hardcore against everyone else's wishes. Too bad all of our priests were casual players who felt offended by these people having free reign. Most of our priests were close friends and the wives of other guild members. Once one decided to quit they all decided to quit and the guild members started to drop like flies. The best part is the person who started all the trouble was one of the first ones to quit after the priests left.

I've been in a lot of guilds and experienced a wide range of guild politics, loot distribution systems, and hardcoreness. Honestly by the time I had gotten into World of Warcraft I had almost decided to stop raiding for good. This guild breaking up had a sort of deja vu feel to it since I swear it was an exact copy of my last guild breakup. In fact I was freaking out my friends by calling out who would leave next and what they would say in guild chat before they left. By the end of the night my friends were convinced I was telepathic and I was convinced I needed to write an article on guild death.

Guilds break up for two reasons and two reasons only:
1) The guild leader is leaving and wants the guild to end with them
2) Someone starts a divide in the guild

1) Guild Death by Self Destruct

There's not much you can do if the guild leader decides to self destruct your guild. This really is rare though as most guild leaders are more then happy to hand off leadership to someone else. I've only ever seen two cases where the leader didn't want to hand over leadership when quitting. In both cases the guild leader had absolute power in every decision and always seemed to be on. My only guess is that these type of leaders often want their guilds to die so they won't be tempted to come back to the game.

The guild leader handles all loot and is sort of tyrannical. People sort of like having an absolute law to follow though and your raids tend to run smoothly with much success.

Anatomy of the End
The guild leader starts to talk and complain about the pressure of leadership

B. Attempts to help the leader in loot distribution or raid planning are rejected

C. The guild leader will start making weird decisions and striking back at people they think are trying to take over the guild.

D. Long rant by the guild leader with lots of accusations ending with a thank you to everyone.

E. Guild Kicks for everyone. This was easier in Everquest where they would simply disband the guild.

2) Guild Death by Divide

This is the much more common method of guild death. In every case I've seen it starts with one person who uses the divide in an attempt to gain power. Sure by the time of the guild death both sides of the divide have supporters but it took one person specifically to start it and convince the more gullible guild members to support them.

An antagonist. Much like every story has one to drive conflict so does every guild death have one. This person will be dissatisfied with some facet of the guild which most members are fine with but will use several different tactics to explode an issue into a divide.

B. Leadership Vacuum. People like this can only survive in a leadership vacuum where no one is really sure if they should be listening to this person or not. Most people are sort of unsure of their guild rules and the antagonist usually has some sort of unofficial rank which they can use to bluff against people. Most successful and long lasting guilds have leaders that recognize antagonists and know to swiftly get rid of them.

Anatomy of the End
A new person in the guild leadership will appear usually about two months before the guild death. They might have been a member for a long time but the divide almost always starts with this person gaining some power. 70% of the time they will start running raids since this is the most tiresome duty of guild leadership and most will be glad to hand it off to someone who wants to do it. This also gives the person the best chance to change guild policy since raiding is where it mostly comes into play

B. The new person in guild leadership will have a close friendship with a few vocal supporters including at least one officer. Even if the guild leadership isn't well experienced they still should be able to recognize the new person as a divider and guild kick them. However, having a close relation with an officer prevents this unless they are caught red handed. Be especially watchful of anyone dating or flirting with an officer.

C. Private tells and Private chats start happening between the antagonist and members of the guild. Basically at this stage the antagonist is looking to make a few people who were fine with the current guild policy change their mind. They might use bribes, slander, or just spur up resentment by talking trash. Despite the efforts of the antagonist most people still like the way things are but are starting to wonder if they are in the minority.

D. Cha-Cha-Changes start being suggested and implemented very quickly and without everyone's full knowledge. Most people don't complain right away because they are afraid they might be in the minority. Changes are usually done to one of the following areas:
- The amount of raiding is increased often under the antagonist's control
- The loot system is modified or an attempt is made to modify it
- New ranks are made in an attempt to move the antagonist’s supporters into power

E. Vague accusations are made about a segment of the guild to justify why the changes are not going so well. Such accusations are usually against casual players or a certain class that is effected more then others by the changes.

F. The Divide hits Rock bottom: Someone gets fed up and pissed off. People realize the antagonist has created the divide and split the guild on an issue that only a few people really care about. Expect a nice long rant post on your forums or speech on your voice server. If at this point anyone but the antagonist is not guild kicked immediately the two sides of the guild will fall away from each other. If a priest gets involved and quits expect this part of the guild death to be quick.

G. The antagonist will leave the guild and join another one within a day. Chances are they had been talking to the other guild for a couple weeks and will bring some of their supporters with them.

H. If your priests got involved your SOL since it takes a long time to gather more of the rare healers. While unable to raid people will get bored and leave at 5am in the morning. While many people think big dramatic rants followed by guild quits are when guilds die, the truth is that guilds almost always die quietly in the early morning hours when the birds start to sing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Events and Holidays

I just finished a string of posts about the healing class in MMORPGs and how developers have really made them unappealing for a majority of players. This wouldn't matter so much except game design requires the class for most advanced encounters. Trying to balance these criticisms I searched my brain for something that I have seen evolve for the better in the MMORPG industry. Twirling in my chair I pick up a bite size snickers bar and thought about Halloween coming up next month. That's when it struck me. World events in these types of games have really changed a lot since the early days of Ultima Online and Everquest.

In Everquest, game masters would frequently take over high level monsters and go on rampages through lower level zones. For some reason these types of events always remind of playing against the Warlord team in Warsong Gulch. Anyways while the event was fun eventually too many people would gather to take down the monster and zones would frequently crash. The developers learning their lesson changed most events to a tournament format where the GM could control the flow of people who entered the zone. However, both events could only be experienced by a few hundred people and put heavy stress on those running them. It was much more common to hear about a cool event in Everquest then actually getting to participate in one.

It was in City of Heroes that I first ran into a scripted world event which didn't require a game master to control. The event was about an invasion of evil dimensional creatures who were much tougher then the standard villain. A certain times these creatures would open portals into Paragon City which would spew forth high level creatures with new graphic models. The event lasted long enough so that the majority of players got to experience it and there were minor rewards for those who participated. All in all it was a great preview of the upcoming patch and it didn't crash the servers by crowding players into a specific area.

World of Warcraft built upon this idea by scripting world events to include quests and very unique rewards that didn't really effect player balance. Thus if someone missed the event they wouldn't be penalize by not having any seasonal items from it. Rewards from these seasonal events usually included unique pets, costumes, useful consumables, and impressive graphic items like fireworks.

As time went on Blizzard added more events into the game often scripted around holidays with a slight Warcraftian twist. (Yes Warcraftian is a word, I just invented it.) Now these events serve the same purpose that real life holidays do. They give us a break from the standard game play and a chance to have fun doing a seasonal activity. Who doesn't like attacking someone with snowballs or dressing up as a leper gnome? Add in some useful items like the 16 slot pumpkin bag and you got something players look forward to each year.