Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 06, 2015
 
Procedurally generated worlds

Syp doesn't like procedurally generated worlds, while j3w3l is more positive about them. I'm not sure whether this is a problem of how good the algorithms are to generate those random worlds, or whether it isn't mostly a problem of the gameplay of the game in question.

In World of Warcraft since patch 6.1 you can buy treasure maps that show you where the treasures in the various zones are hidden. But you don't really need to buy those, as there are addons that show you exactly the same information. The zones are static (except for phasing) and identical for each and every one of the 10 million World of Warcraft players. You can't actually have "hidden" stuff in small, hand-generated zones that are the same for everybody.

I played games like Anarchy Online with procedurally generated worlds which were rather boring. But I think the main problem in that kind of game is that you don't interact all that much with the world. A tree tends to be just decoration, a mountain is just an obstacle. Play a game with different gameplay, like A Tale in the Desert or EQ Landmark, and the procedurally generated world suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. If you need a specific type of rare tree to get some type of wood you suddenly care a lot more about those trees. If you are building a house in that world and depend on certain geographical features either for the house or for the actions you want to do around that house, searching for the best spot becomes a huge game in itself. Now imagine a game where players create castles and walls and wage war against each other, and a mountain pass which was boring before now becomes a strategic hotspot.

Civilization would be a boring game if it only had a few small, hand-crafted maps. It is because in Civ you care about what the terrain is that makes the random worlds interesting. If we want procedurally generated worlds to work in MMORPGs, we first need to invent more ways to interact with the landscape.

Thursday, March 05, 2015
 
Biased game news reporting

EA shut down the main Maxis studio Emeryville. And the internet erupted in a wave of stories how the evil overlord company destroyed the developer studio that has produced some of our favorite games like The Sims and SimCity. Without any shred of evidence it is assumed that everything that went wrong is the fault of EA, while the developers of Maxis are innocent victims. But can we really be sure about that?

Both the latest SimCity game from 2013 and the latest The Sims 4 had huge problems which made them far less successful than previous games. On Metacritic SimCity got a score of 64, and The Sims 4 got 70. This are not high quality games. And I think it is too easy for a developer to claim that his game was shit only because of some high-level corporate decision or budget constraint. I played SimCity on release and for me it was clear that the code was flawed way beyond what could be explained by an evil overlord theory.

Gamers are frequently demanding unbiased game news reporting. I think that would be great. But what they often mean is that they want biased game news reporting that corresponds to their personal bias, the Fox News concept of game news reporting. I don't think that is such a good idea. Just because many people dislike EA for good reasons doesn't absolve Maxis from blame for the bad quality of their games.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015
 
Game vs. improvised theater

Sly Flourish has an interesting analysis of a PAX Acquisitions Incorporated D&D game. One player of that game clearly thinks inside the box, thinks in "game" terms, and during his turn performs the standard actions the rules allow his character to do. A second player thinks outside the box, thinks in terms of improvised theater performance, and uses his turn for a long series of spectacular actions. Unsurprisingly the first player is angry about that. Seen from the "game" side the actions of the second player are cheating, and the DM is perceived as playing favorites by allowing them. When in fact the DM would probably have allowed the first player to also do spectacular stuff, if he had only suggested it.

Both parts of a tabletop role-playing game can be a lot of fun: The game and the improvised theater. But any game is a social contract between the players, and tends to fail if during play it turns out that there was in fact no consent as to what exactly that contract contains. Unless you carefully select your players to make sure they all want exactly the same thing, the more common case is that you will have to compromise between the wishes of the different players. As pen & paper RPGs aren't symmetrical, one player (the DM) has far more power over the rules than the other players, it is up to the DM to look for what the players want and arrange that compromise.

In game terms a rules system which describes in much detail what players can do, and uses visual aids like maps and figurines to create consent about the current situation is inherently more fair than a theater of the mind system. The map and figurines tell the players exactly where they are and where the monsters are, and various rules and stats like the speed noted on their character sheet give a very clear and indisputable answer to the question of whether they can run this far or how hard they can hit this monster. The rules empower players, especially the less creative ones, but leave less room for decisions to the DM, and less room for creativity in combat for the players. In addition the DM needs to prepare more, create all those battle maps, provide all those figurines or tokens, know more rules, and generally "work" more.

RPG systems with less rules and more improvisation are often more fun for the DM and certain highly creative players. That is perfect if you have a group where everybody is very creative. But as soon as you have some "gamers" among your "role-players", the situation changes. Gamers tend to have a very strong sense of fairness, and nothing turns them off more quickly than any perceived unfairness of the game. A good DM can't allow one or few players to hog all the limelight. Between those who dislike the "mother may I?" gameplay where they can never be sure what their character is able to do, and those who dislike another player being far more effective because the DM allowed him to do some crazy stuff, the theater of the mind style of play has lots of pitfalls and dangers. A possible compromise is keeping the game part of combat under stricter rules, and allowing more creative freedom in the roleplaying outside combat.

In the PAX game an added problem is that part of the group started the game with that DM under 4th edition rules. Social contracts are unwritten and are established by custom and experience. I asked my group whether they wanted to switch from 4th edition to 5th edition and explained the difference, and they flat out refused to change, because they are more gamers than roleplayers. The PAX game is in part a Wizards of the Coast marketing action, and as such didn't have the choice of keeping the old system. But it is very clear that some players still play under the old social contract of the 4E rules, doing what the rules allow them to do, which then leads to conflicts with the new players who fully embrace the freer spirit of the 5th edition rules. Different systems suit different players, and I'm not sure if the PAX game ends up being such a good marketing for 5th edition as it was for 4th edition.

 
How much is WoW gold worth?

The announcement of the WoW token with which you can exchange a month of game time to WoW gold has started the speculation for how much these tokens will go for. It is not a free market, Blizzard is both selling and buying the tokens for gold, and it is unclear to what degree they will regulate the price or adjust it to supply and demand. But as reader "8F55..." remarked in a comment yesterday, you can today buy a thousand gold for a dollar from various illicit gold trading websites. Apparently $10 pets from the Blizzard store also sell for around 10,000 gold. So even if players value legit gold slightly more, a WoW token can't go for less than 10,000 gold.

I am less worried about the lower limit than about the upper limit. I don't think Blizzard is planning to give you that little gold for a WoW token, or rather they won't sell you a month of subscription for that little gold. Gevlon was talking about his million gold pieces, I counted over 200,000 on my account, and I'm sure a number of people who were a bit interested in the economy of WoW have hundreds of thousands of gold pieces. I really doubt that Blizzard is willing to give me over a year of free subscription to World of Warcraft in exchange for the gold I accumulated. Especially since I could easily "go infinite" by making more than 10k gold per month and playing without paying forever. During my two months of WoD subscription I made more than 10k gold per month just by selling crafted epics from my garrison crafting buildings.

10,000 gold for a WoW token would also not be all that interesting for the potential gold buyers. Yesterday bryksom posted a list of bind on equip gear that would bring you up to iLvl 668+, enough for the "mythic" level of dungeon/raid content, but estimated the price for that at around 1 million gold pieces. At 10,000 gold per WoW token that would be 100 tokens or $1,500. I doubt there will be all that many people who would be interested at buying gear for real money if every single item is a hundred bucks or more.

GaelicVigil was thinking a WoW token would go for 100k to 150k. I think that is too high. The idea that somebody without a clue would like to spend money on high-level epics and go raiding at mythic level is probably just a strawman anyway. Raiding isn't really an attractive activity for the supposedly time-poor, money-rich player anyway, as it requires too much time and commitment. And you don't need those iLvl 668+ epics for the kind of content a more casual player might be interested in. Apart from buying rare mounts and pets on the auction house, there isn't really much you can spend that gold on at the moment. A fully built-up garrison might cost you 30,000 gold, but you'll make that sort of money in the time it takes you to get there.

So I was thinking that Blizzard will set the gold price for WoW tokens to between 30,000 and 50,000 gold. That is significantly more gold per dollar than the gold farmers offer at the moment, and thus likely to put a lot of gold selling companies out of business. It is an attractive enough price for people who have accumulated some gold to exchange it for game time, and an attractive enough price for the gold buyer as well.

The long-term effect on the economy and price evolution depends on factors we aren't really sure about. Is Blizzard only an intermediary in this trade, selling only as many WoW tokens for gold as other players are selling for gold? In that case the total quantity of gold in the economy would remain unchanged. If a player buys gold for WoW tokens and then buys things on the auction house with that gold, most of the gold remains in the hands of other players. The only gold sink would be the AH fees. But Blizzard could also decide to sell WoW tokens for gold even if there are no players putting up those tokens for sale, in which case they would create a real gold sink and remove gold from the economy. Which would have a significant long-term effect on prices.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015
 
The WoW token

Blizzard now announced more details on the upcoming "PLEX" system for World of Warcraft, the WoW token. On the one side I always prefer a legal system of exchanging money for time over illicit third-party RMT. On the other side I am not so sure that the system is really all that suitable for the game World of Warcraft.

The problem principally is how people make gold in World of Warcraft. Some of it is made by what I would call regular game activities, like questing. But as Gevlon has shown back in the days, most money is made on the auction house. And that more often than not involves some sort of auction house manipulation. Somebody using a bunch of addons like Auctioneer can make significantly more money than somebody trying to "farm gold". I frequently see people buying up all of one commodity on the AH and then reselling it for twice the price. I'm not sure how effective that is, but I can sure see its going on.

At the time Gevlon was constantly complaining about the "morons & slackers" buying or selling stuff at stupid prices on the AH. The reason for that was that gold was not actually all that important for many activities in the game. People handled virtual money stupidly because it wasn't really worth all that much for them. The WoW token system risks to change that, because it now attaches a real money worth to WoW gold in the mind of people who wouldn't have bought gold from RMT traders before. I'm not sure if is viable to try to pay for a subscription by "farming gold" in a way that doesn't involve the auction house.

As I always enjoyed toying with the player economy, I'v always had more than enough gold, and still have over 200,000 gold on my account. I wonder what a month of WoW subscription will go for. But weirdly, even if I had enough gold to buy a subscription and wanted to do this, I'm not even sure that I could do it. Because my characters are "inactive" due to not having a subscription, I cannot buy a subscription with gold without first buying a subscription with money.

 
Dreams and deliverables

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
The world needs visionaries. Shared visions are the best way to get people to work together towards a common goal. And with the vision you can verify whether your decisions bring you closer or further away from the ultimate goal.

Having said that, a vision is not the same as a deliverable. The civil rights movement made enormous progress since 1963, but can Martin Luther King Jr.'s three surviving children really claim to "live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? Visions also often fail to detail what the best way towards the goal is. You and me might share Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a world in which there is no racial discrimination, but we might disagree on whether positive discrimination (affirmative action) is the way to get there.

I have a dream of a virtual world in which player actions matter, where these actions shape a dynamic virtual world, and where everybody has fun without grinding.
The typical MMORPG Kickstarter, 2015
I noticed that visions feature very much in many Kickstarter game projects. Ultima Online is in it's 18th year, Everquest has 16 years, and World of Warcraft recently celebrated it's 10th birthday, but a lot of the visions of the early days of MMORPG have not been realized yet. We want player actions to matter, but the industry standard is that you can just walk through another person, because developers found that otherwise people will block doorways and negatively impact the game for others. We want dynamic worlds, but if an event happens and is then over instead of respawning, lots of people who missed it will complain. And nobody has found out how to balance the different possible activities in a game in a way that there is not one path of least resistance to maximum rewards, which people then grind.

I agree with many of the visions for better MMORPGs in many of the proposed Kickstarter projects. Unfortunately this isn't somebody standing at the Lincoln Memorial and pronouncing his vision for a better world with better games. This is people who want to *sell* you their vision. Promises are being made: "Give me your money, and I will create this visionary game, and you will get to play it!". It is an extreme form of pre-purchase for a game that only exists as a vision yet. And because of the disadvantages of visions listed above, I am very much against selling visions.

The recent controversy about the Godus Kickstarter is in fact close to a best case scenario: The Kickstarter money finances a game which moves the genre towards the stated vision, even if it never quite fulfills all its promises. At least the backers actually got a game, and it actually did some of the things the Kickstarter promised. A lot of other projects never even get that far. No vision, nor a list of famous team members, can tell you anything about the quality of the project management, which is frequently the point which makes or breaks game development.

So what I would like is Kickstarter projects with the vision toned down a bit, and a bit more attention to the details. How exactly do you propose to solve those inherent problems of virtual world design that have existed for nearly two decades? What exactly are the deliverables, and what makes you think that you can reach them? At the moment visions sell well on Kickstarter, because so many people share them. But that doesn't necessarily make the person who can formulate those visions in a Kickstarter page the best one who can get us there.

Monday, March 02, 2015
 
A multi-layer approach to role-playing

Pen & paper tabletop role-playing games are a combination of two very distinctive parts: A mechanical rules part in which your character is a collection of stats and numbers, with dice, mathematics, rules, and tactical decisions deciding what happens. And a "playing a role" part comparable to improvised theater where a character has a background, history, and personality different from that of the player controlling the character, where "what would my character do next" decides what happens.

Since the early days there have always been conflicts between the two parts. Different players prefer different approaches. Some are perfectly happy to play a tabletop game like you play a computer game, as a tactical combat game with numerical character advancement. Others insist on the role-playing being essential, especially in view of the fact that it the part that tends to fall short in the computerized games, and thus is the unique selling proposition for the pen & paper version. Also gamers have a strong tendency to tell other gamers that they are "playing it wrong", and get into pseudo-religious arguments about stuff like this.

When I started my current 4th edition D&D campaign three years ago, I was faced with two problems: A group of players where I knew that not all of them liked to role-play, and a rules system which was new to us and very much on the complicated side. Tons of options (which my players loved), but requiring a lot of rules knowledge and mechanical game preparation by the DM. So at that point I decided to keep the role-playing on the light side. I didn't push anyone to create a character background, and only one player did it voluntarily. And the episodic form of the campaign with the characters not having strong bonds or loyalties, but just being a band of mercenaries traveling from one adventure to the next didn't encourage role-playing either.

Now this campaign is drawing towards the end, and I would like to have a bit more role-playing in the next campaign. We won't change the rules system (because 5E isn't available in French), but at least we are sufficiently familiar with the rules now that we can add role-playing layers to the game without causing a total chaos. I'm going for the Zeitgeist adventure path as campaign, so the world and campaign has a lot of background that can encourage role-playing. But what I still need to overcome is that some of the players might not be terrible interested in the role-playing part. How can I offer role-playing opportunities to those who would like them without forcing those who don't like them?

What I came up with is a multi-layer approach where different levels of role-playing are possible, and there are some house rule incentives to trying them. At the most basic level every character has the same motivation: They are all members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary of Risur, and loyal to king and country. So if in doubt to the question "what would my character do?", this basic premise should already provide a lot of answers. And even that basic level is a lot better for interactive story-telling than the characters being orphans without loyalty or bonds to anything. It is what the Zeitgeist adventure path strongly suggests as premise, because without the loyalty to the king and to Risur a lot of the story of the campaign doesn't make much sense. Imagine Game of Thrones where the various characters would not have bonds and loyalties to their houses, it would make for a much weaker story.

As medium level option for role-playing I decided to use character themes. This is something that has been added to 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons later in its life-cycle, often as part of some campaign setting. Basically a theme describes what your character did before the first adventure starts. The Zeitgeist campaign setting has a list of pre-made character themes that fit into that particular campaign world, for example the Docker, the Gunsmith, or the Skyseer. But there are also some more generic options, like the Aristocrat, Scholar, or Street Urchin. It is character background and history made easy: Choosing a theme from a list is a lot easier than creating a background from scratch by yourself, and as the DM you can make sure that the list of proposed themes fits into the campaign story and is relevant for giving role-playing opportunities. As an incentive for players who are more comfortable to think in min-maxing terms than role-playing, the theme gives access to different skills, and I am going to give every character with a theme or self-made background one additional encounter power which will be based on that background.

For those who really want to get creative with role-playing, I have created an added page for the character sheet using a mix of 13th Age and 5th edition D&D rules. If they want the players can invent a "One Unique Thing", a freely created unique characteristic that sets their character apart from everybody else. They can also choose personality traits like their ideals, or flaws. And their background and personality can then give rise to bonds with places, organisations, or NPCs. Again I'm using a bit of an incentive here, from 5E rules: A player who makes decisions based on the personality and background of his character, especially if those decisions aren't just the strategic or tactical best choice, will get a point of Inspiration, which he can use to roll two dice instead of one in one future dice roll.

The Zeitgeist campaign world is both sufficiently rich in story, and sufficiently open to additions to that story so that I can use all those possible levels of improved character description and create some interesting individual stories besides the main campaign story. Whatever theme or One Unique Thing a player chooses, it will figure somewhere in one of the campaign adventures. But if the players don't want to play along with that, I can also run the whole campaign just on the basic level premise of loyalty to the king and country. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. I will see how it goes.

 
WoW veteran edition

My subscription to World of Warcraft ran out this weekend. The last thing I did was set up a new character to test the new "veteran edition" of WoW. That is a minor tweak to the so-called "starter edition", the free trial that lets you play characters up to level 20 without a subscription. Up to last year, if you already had an account on which the subscription had lapsed, you needed to create a *new* starter edition trial account if you wanted to play low level characters for free. Now you can just log on your regular account, all the characters above level 20 are marked "inactive", but you can play the lower level characters.

Basically the new system has two advantages: If you really like the character you played up to level 20, you can subscribe again and continue playing without having to pay for a character transfer. And with the new heirloom tab you can also use all your heirlooms for the trial characters.

On the other hand you might not necessarily want to use those heirlooms. At the very low levels your heirlooms (especially if you went to the added effort of enchanting them) are rather overpowered. Not only are they better than the gear that you are likely to find, but the heirlooms also cover slots like head and shoulder where regular characters just won't have anything. Besides making an already trivial game even more trivial, and not giving you a good impression of how the character will play later, the heirlooms also have an added disadvantage: Many of them come with a bonus percentage to experience gain. Thus the already short path from level 1 to 20 is going to be even shorter. Which might not be what you want if at level 20 it's game over.

I did a short tour of all my still existing WoW characters (with the help of the AllPlayed addon) and counted that I have played 6500 hours of World of Warcraft. That is about 4 years worth of a full-time job. Playing a series of characters up to level 20 that cover every single class and race probably wouldn't even add another 100 hours to that score. So what makes sense for a free trial version of World of Warcraft isn't really all that useful for an actual veteran. Still, it is nice to have the option, and Blizzard is obviously hoping that once you start playing a veteran edition character, you're going to want to subscribe to keep playing. For myself I'm not so sure. If I actually try it, it will be later. Right now I've had enough with 2 months of subscription and would prefer to do something else.

Friday, February 27, 2015
 
WoW "final" status

My World of Warcraft subscription runs out this weekend, so I thought I should give a final status. "Final" as in "final for this episode of me playing WoW". It is possible that I will resubscribe at some point in time, but judging on past form that might well take until the next expansion.

Overall I liked Warlords of Draenor. I know some people disagree with me calling the garrison "player housing", but in my opinion this is one of the best player housing systems that I have seen in a MMORPG. I'm not much of a decorator, so not being able to place the furniture where I want isn't of any concern to me; I much prefer gameplay functionality and world integration, and I think WoD did that very well. I don't think perfect player housing is possible, due to conflicting demands, so I consider the garrison to be a very well balanced compromise.

I'm ending the expansion with two characters at level 100, and two at level 96, thus short of my initial goal of three characters at 100. The reason I decided to cancel instead of playing another month and getting there is that ultimately I wasn't all that happy with the warlock I created and paid €50 to boost to level 90. He was a lot better than the priest in terms of power, in fact he might be my most powerful character overall. But I found him somewhat boring to play, as most of the time I was just spamming very slow spells with long casting times. I pull with Soul Fire, cast an instant Corruption, and then most mobs are dead before I even manage to pull off a second Soul Fire. The whole "I turn into a demon and become more powerful" thing is nice in theory, but in practice I only ever used it on boss mobs. Between my demon and the imps that spawn automatically I feel I already have too many pets before I even got to the point where I could hire a bodyguard. I'm not a big fan of pet classes, even if they are powerful.

On the positive side the Alliance warlock gave me the opportunity to play through all the Shadowmoon Valley quests, which I couldn't do on my Horde characters. On the negative side, once I came to Gorgrond I discovered that half of the quests, including the grand finale, were just carbon copies of Horde quests and I didn't experience anything new. That didn't motivate me to keep playing to 100.

What was exceptional about these two months of World of Warcraft was that I only visited one single dungeon (on normal, for a quest for an epic ring). I basically opted out of PvE or PvP group content, being disillusioned about playing with others. Of course if I don't want to group, I'm excluding myself from tons of content, which explains how I can "finish" Warlords of Draenor in two months. I fully recognize that there are a bunch of other possible activities where I could grind this reputation or that currency to advance my character further. But why should I? Why gear up for a content that I have no interest in? So in the end beyond experiencing the story of the expansion through quests I ran out of goals to pursue. Time to put the game aside again.

 
Rashomon and Gamergate

So the TV series Law & Order SVU did an episode based loosely on last year's Gamergate affair. That of course caused the conflict to flare up again, until even the grandfather of MMO blogging Lum the Mad chimed in. But what I found far more interesting is that both sides in the Gamergate conflict are unhappy about the Law & Order SVU episode, both not liking the way they are depicted on TV. So lots of people are saying bad things about that episode, about it being stupid, not realistic, bad writing, whatever. I think they are missing the point here.

I very much recommend watching the film Rashomon if you haven't done so before. It teaches us that there is no such thing as absolute reality. Different people experience the same events in different ways, and in consequence their memory and perception of these same events differ. Even if you wanted to make a documentary instead of a TV show, you would be unable to retell the story of Gamergate in a way where everybody agrees with the facts. You could even say that not agreeing on the facts is one of the core features of Gamergate.

The people actually involved on both sides of the Gamergate story are few in numbers. Even if you count everybody ever using that hashtag or a related one on Twitter, you end up with just a few thousand people. But the story hit many major newspapers and national TV. Which means that millions of people who were not involved in Gamergate ended up with some perception of those events. The TV episode of Law & Order SVU is based on that *perception* the outside world already had before the episode was shown. Of course then it propagates that perception, but it barely changes it. If both sides on the conflict look bad on TV, it is because that is how both sides already were perceived before.

TV is not the most subtle of media. But that is because it is a mass market media, and the perception of the public of events tends to be not very subtle. There is no simple causality of "TV is stupid and makes people stupid", but a far more complicated story of sometimes very intelligent people deliberately dumbing down the narrative because they think that is all their audience can handle. Is the Law & Order SVU episode a simplified narrative with some artistic interpretation instead of a documentary? It sure is! Is it "stupid" or "unrealistic"? No, not really. Given the same public sources a different team of writers for a different TV show might well have produced something very similar. In Rashomon terms it is the woodcutter's version of the story, the one where neither one of the participants comes out looking very good, the version of the story from the person who doesn't have skin in the game, the independent observer. It is likely to be the version that will be shared by most people, and the one that is going to be remembered.

Thursday, February 26, 2015
 
Saying some nice things about Crowfall

To stop the death threats I should write some nice things about Crowfall. :) Just kidding, there are actually nice things to say about Crowfall and as I only talked about the Kickstarter I feel that my generally negative attitude towards Kickstarter may look as if I hated Crowfall, which is not the case.

First of all I totally agree with Rohan that it is totally okay for Crowfall to be a PvP-centric game. We don't have enough decent PvP games, especially in the fantasy genre. Even for somebody like me who won't play a PvP game it would be interesting to know whether the lack of success of fantasy PvP games is due to there being no demand, or there not being any decent game on offer.

Second, I totally dig the Crowfall business model. I am not a big fan of the straight WoW-like subscription model, because that model sells you "equal opportunity of access for equal money". As in reality two people with equal opportunity of access will have two very different degrees of consumption, the straight subscription model penalizes players for playing less if either their real world commitments or their interests result in them not playing many hours per day. There is a good reason why there are so few restaurants with all you can eat buffets, the customers who just want a regular meal resent paying for the gluttons. In spite of $15 not being a huge drain on my finances, I cancelled my WoW subscription when I started to play less, because it always makes me feel uncomfortable to waste money.

The Crowfall business model is much better. You can buy the game once and play forever (I assume that is only valid for the core game, and any expansions will again have to be paid for). With that single payment comes just a single character passive skill training. Passive skill training means gaining skill while offline, which obviously is a huge advantage. So if you want to play more different characters, you either need to buy the game several times, or you need to get a "VIP subscription", which gives you three passive skill training slots. In either case, a casual player who has enough with just one character will pay less for Crowfall than a very engaged player who feels he needs several characters.

The semantics of that business model are somewhat tricky. On the one hand the devs can claim that theirs is not a Free2Play game with a Pay2Win / Pay4Power item shop. On the other hand an account with three passive skill training slots is rather obviously more powerful than one with only one, so you *do* pay for power. But as that power comes in the form of having more options, and being able to play more different characters without the disadvantage of having no passive training, the power of any individual character is not affected by this. That is extremely important for a PvP game. Crowfall does not allow you to boost the power of a single character by using money. It does allow you to use money to get more trained characters and larger kingdoms, things that are desirable (and thus will presumably sell) but not an unfair advantage in PvP. I find that very well balanced. It is even a slight improvement over the EVE model, where you need to pay several subscriptions for several characters in offline training.

I put an alert on the Crowfall Kickstarter to check in a month how it went. Given the current result it appears almost certain that the $800k goal will be reached, but that isn't really the number I am interested in. I am interested in the number of backers, currently just under seven thousand, in order to get an idea of what the potential market size for a PvP MMORPG is. (Don't quote EVE numbers to me, which are highly misleading: They count accounts instead of players, and count the 80+% of PvE EVE players together with the PvP players.) Dividing the money given by the number of backers also gives the highly interesting information that the average backer gave around $100, which is very interesting regarding the financing of niche games. Ultimately a niche game will need to get more money from the players than a mass market game due to economies of scale, and it is interesting to see whether that is possible.

 
Vigilante justice

Last week an 11-year old kid accepted an offer of help from a stranger on the internet, giving him access to his game of Destiny via the PS4 Share Play feature. The stranger promptly deleted the kid's characters and exotic weapons. So far, so "just another day on the internet". The video of the event went viral. And the internet reacted in the usual way by taking up the torches and the pitchforks and harassing the person who owned the account which the stranger had used to ruin the kid's game of Destiny. Then of course it turned out that the stranger wasn't the account owner. Account sharing between friends and family is rather common, and the account owner had let somebody else play on his account.

Apart from being a double lesson in why account sharing in any way is a really bad idea, I think the story also is a lesson on the dangers of vigilante justice. In another story this week it turned out that one person who had posted bizarre death threat videos in the name of Gamergate was in fact a comedian with an extremely bad sense of humor who thought it would be funny to make an extreme parody of Gamergate. Now it is him who is getting the death threats.

The underlying problem is that apparently many people feel that the internet is a lawless space, and decide to take up justice in their own hands. Apart from that sometimes going wrong and ending up hurting the wrong person, the so-called "justice" is often far more criminal than the offense of person harassed. The person taking offense is more likely to end up in jail than the offender. The law is quite clear on that: If you put both the person who deletes a kid's Destiny character and the person who in response for that offence sent out death threats in front of a judge, the judge will find that only the death threat is a criminal offense.

Computer games are very much part of the internet, and it is probably because of this that the hate culture is so strong among gamers. Being called names and suffering ad hominem attacks for the "offense" of having an opinion about a game is considered normal. You are less likely to receive hate mail for having an opinion or making a decision that negatively affects the life of real people at work than you are for writing on a game blog. And that more and more becomes a death spiral, with reasonable and polite people quitting the discussion and leaving the field to the trolls and the haters. I don't think that this is good for gaming in the long term.

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