Friday, May 30, 2008

Durability and Crafting Revisted

Syncaine of Hardcore Casual has an excellent entry up about how he would handle "crafting" in an MMO. The article is really less about crafting and more about itemization. I wrote two articles on the subject in which I first discussed why the WoW system is broken and then followed it up with my solution for the next MMO.

The conclusion I wrote in those articles is that itemization in the next MMO needs to include a durability system in which equipment and inventory are eventually consumed, used or broken. Syncaine's article echoes those sentiments and goes on to explain how such a system could be implemented.

Syncaine and I are very much on the same page with regards to how this would positively impact crafting. The critical thing to consider is that when equipment breaks -- it needs to be replaced. Crafted gear could be a very viable and important component in keeping yourself properly equipped. A good crafting system shouldn't be allowed to become stagnant and it's a shame that the WoW system promotes the creation of so many useless items while you level the skill. I find it interesting that my 375 Leatherworking and 375 Engineering skills can make over a hundred different items and less than 10 are worth making.

Syncaine takes the idea farther by saying that the benefit gained from a Bronze Sword shouldn't be much less than the benefit of a Diamond Edged Mega Blade. While I like the idea of narrowing the gap between the two, I would say that making the difference between them "minor" might be a bit extreme. I believe I would prefer numerous "minor" upgrades (Bronze -> Iron -> Steel -> etc.) that resulted in a pretty significant difference by the time you got to the top-tier item. Perhaps the Mega Blade is 200-300% better than the Bronze. By comparison, a WoW item can often be 2000-5000% better. So I definately agree with a scale back, but maybe not to the extreme that Syncaine would indicate.

Syncaine also goes on to paint a scenario where a warrior discovers a rare gem and then seeks out a crafter to create the top-tier item. I definately like this idea and would take it even farther, allowing players to "upgrade" existing items into more powerful items.

One thing that is interesting about the crafting system in Warhammer Online is that it is not recipe based. Instead, it seems to be based on the idea of experimentation. Mix this, plus that and see what you get. In some cases, you get what you expected and in others you get something far more unique and powerful. The "what" of what you are creating is based on the ingredients you use to make it. The reagents themselves will appear to have properties, so this class of regeant determines duration while others may determine potency.

I find this system of "mix and match" much more appealing than the standard recipe based mechanic applied in Wow. For one thing, you could still create a potion or item with similar effects even if you couldn't find all the best regeants for the crafted item. If the +60 minute mat is too expensive, maybe I buy the +45 minute one instead. I lose 15 minutes, but maybe I can make two 45 minute ones for the same price as one 60 minute one.

Now imagine a durability system where items break due to durability and leave something leftover that could be used in crafting. Perhaps your favorite sword breaks but leaves a component that allows you to take it to a crafter who can use it to make a similar item.

The crafting and gathering possibilities are really endless in a system where items are constantly being used and consumed. Perhaps there are even "skills" that allow you to destroy an item as it nears the end of it's usefulness to gather a component from it for a future crafted item.

I'm very much reminded of a game called Dungeon Master which had a very unique spell system in which spells are cast by sequencing spell components together. The player could discover spells by finding scrolls that told them the order to sequence the spell or by trial and error. One of the more memorable things was learning what effects the various spell components was intended to provide (oh! that one is Fire and that one is Water!).

In other news... I am writing this from my condo in Hawaii. I've been on vacation for the last week and had pretty limited computer access. The weather has been good and the snorkeling has been great. I don't write about real life crap, but I thought an explanation for the lack of posting was warranted.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Lamaa Defense

Kirk over at Priestly Endeavors has a really lively discussion going on that is related to the recent banwave. The interesting thing I found about that conversation is not about the bans themselves, but about our rights after we get banned. The whole thing was stirred up by Temerity Jane who has a guild mate named Lamaa she feels was wrongly banned in the most recent wave. Kestrel outright questions Blizzard’s right to ban players without an appeal process. Others simply question Blizzard’s poor customer service. For many, the central issue seems to be “how should Blizzard behave to someone who was banned?”

My take is that there really is no such thing as a false positive. Or more specifically, that the “lone wolf” who gets lumped in with the masses does not exist. First, you need to understand that what Blizzard looks for in these banwaves are unique patterns. Secondly, they NEVER act unless they feel they are certain that those patterns ONLY exist when there is a violation. In fact, I would argue that they exercise too much caution in this regard.

The odds of you alone having one of these patterns and NOT cheating are incredibly small. While it’s remotely plausible that you could be a false positive, it’s nearly impossible for you to be a false positive and the lone victim. In every case where there have been false positives, there have been significant numbers of people with “the same story.” Blizzard also reversed these bans reasonably quickly.

It’s not that Blizzard can’t make mistakes, it just when Blizzard makes mistakes with this type of detection they are mistakes of great magnitude. In other words, it wouldn’t be just Lamaa but anyone in Lamaa’s situation.

The reality is that Blizzard feels they have done their due diligence PRIOR to issuing the ban. They take the loss of a customer very seriously and they require a hefty burden of proof before they will act against an account. Once they do act however, they already feel there is enough evidence against the user to warrant account closure. The email they send that seems to provide little recourse to reverse the ban reflects this sentiment that they have done the due diligence. After all – you DO have little recourse. The chances you will be able to sweet talk your way into a reversal are virtually nonexistent since you have no real way to provide evidence that refutes their decision.

As I pointed out on BBB’s blog, if Blizzard banned Lamaa, they didn’t act unless they felt they had very compelling evidence. Lamaa has little to no chance of being able to provide any supporting evidence to the contrary. At the end of the day, a nice appeal process isn’t going to change the fact that Blizzard thinks a thing and Lamaa has no way to disprove it. The call to action to improve the appeal process can’t change that.

Kestrel, in particular, takes issue with the tone of the email and feels that it shows a lack of due diligence. Quite to the contrary, they are taking great care to ensure that the person deserves the ban before severing the relationship. The email just makes it feel like that way because it is appears abrupt and cold. I may just be skeptical here, but a more friendly email isn’t going to take away the sting of losing your account. Telling someone you are breaking up with them is going to hurt no matter how nicely you phrase it. However, Kestrel does raise a very valid issue: What are our rights?

Tobold had an interesting discussion about virtual property rights back in March. The topic at the time was whether or not “we own” our virtual property. Who “owns” my level 70 rogue?

My response at the time (and still is) was that Virtual Property is very similar to the leasing agreements we make when we lease real estate. If I lease you a piece of property and then you build a office park on that piece of property, who owns the office park when the lease expires? By US law, I would own both building and property. Any improvements made to my property during the term of our lease become my improvements when our lease expires.

Likewise, your Warcraft subscription entitles you to store a character on Blizzard servers as long as that agreement remains in place. The character is tied to the server and since you don’t own the server, you don’t own the character.

But what about tenant laws? The US also has tenant laws in place to protect tenants from abusive landlords. There are laws enforceable in court that governs your rights as a tenant. For example, a landlord can’t just evict you without cause. There is actually a very detailed and time consuming process that must be followed (by law) in every eviction.

In the virtual world, we have no such rights. And to TJ’s and Kestrel’s point – perhaps we should.

A better call to action…
It occurred to me that I have been extremely unfair to Temerity Jane. At the end of the day, she just wants to have her friend’s account back. She believes Lamaa and wants to DO SOMETHING to solve the problem. The unfortunate thing for Jane is that simply improving or speeding up the appeals process isn’t going to get Lamaa’s account back. Blizzard already has compelling evidence they felt warrants a ban and Lamaa has little to no way to refute that evidence.

What I should have done is offered Temerity Jane some advice based on the assumption that her friend really is innocent as she believes. As I pointed out above, if Lamaa really is a false positive – then Lamaa is not alone. The better course of action for Jane is to use that considerable blogging power to try to find others like Lamaa who were banned in the same manner. There was a REASON that Lamaa got the false positive, find others with the same reason and you will start building a case for a ban reversal.

And that’s what Jane really wants – a reversal, not an appeal. Anything less won’t get her friend back. If it were me, I would start by having Lamaa detail out all his critical details. Operating system, hardware, anti-virus, other loaded programs, and so on. If it really was a false positive, then the answer will lie within other people who have a similar setup.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bot Wars: The Empire Strikes Back!

Mercury confirmed what Lax reported and I wrote about yesterday. The detection that banned the botters was patched into 2.4.2, not into Warden. He wrote that he expects any Glider or Innerspace user who used it between the 13th and the 20th got banned. He has also has a beta version up of Glider that circumvents the latest detection.

So let’s see… Blizzard bans on the 20th. It takes Lax one day to circumvent the new detection. Mercury has his circumvention up in two days. It’s taken all of 2 days for Blizzard’s latest detection scheme to be defeated by both of the major botting authors.

If the current trend continues of one major banwave a year, then the botters will be down for maybe four to six weeks while they level to 70. Then they’ll be able to happily bot for at least 10 months before the next major wave. All that’s standing between them and the banstick are player reports.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the win by Blizzard against Lax and Mercury. This is a significant setback that will certainly cost them users. They might be able to market themselves as “bot at your own risk” but people are really only going to bot if they feel they can do so safely. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to realize that this type of thing doesn’t instill oodles of confidence in Lax or Mercury. Banwaves strike at the credibility of the bot author and cause their users to rethink the whole prospect of botting.

However, I also think it greatly illustrates just how completely ineffective “client-side” detection is in the war against cheats. The client will always be the weak chain in this relationship and always be easily exploitable by cheaters. The simple fact is that a botter has free access to anything that loads into their computer’s memory. There are developer tools designed for debugging code that allow a knowledgeable user to dissect any program.

At the most basic level, it would be very easy to write a program that simply scanned known memory values for things like health, mana, nearby targets and positional data. Then, using this information simply automate keystrokes and mouse movements to make the bot act in the desired manner. This is EXACTLY what Glider does currently. The reason Glider gets caught is because it’s a known program and Blizzard can actively search for it and its behavior. If some guy wrote his own version and never distributed it, then Blizzard wouldn’t never even know to look for it.

Alternately at the other extreme, if you knew which data needed to be sent back and forth between the Client and the Server – you could write your own client. In other words, you wouldn’t even need WoW loaded at all to bot, just your own clientless bot that sent back bits of data the correct way. The advantage of such a method is that you completely eliminate the client as a detection method and you lower the resources required for a single computer to process the bot. In other words, you could have far more bots running on a single computer. While no such bot publically exists, I have seen some code snippets that indicate that significant progress on such a bot was made and that a private version existed.

Now – consider that it took TWO DAYS to circumvent the latest client-side detection. So while I applaud the success, I am disgusted that Blizzard spends such considerable effort in an area that can be so easily defeated. Understandably, you can see why I dislike how much Warden violates our privacy. It’s bad enough that we willingly give up our privacy to play the game, but what drives me nuts is that it absolutely serves no purpose. None. It stops no one for any prolonged period of time.

The only real long-term solution is SERVER side. The botters fear server side detection more than anything because the difficulty in circumventing server side detection is several magnitudes more difficult than client side. Blizzard has implemented some of these in the past (teleport hack, speed hack) to detect exploits, but they need to focus their considerable anti-cheat brain trust on things that can’t get circumvented easily.

I understand that server side detection places a bigger burden on the servers. However, computers are much more scalable then they once were AND I am not advocating monitoring every single person at every single moment. There are lots of ways to identify and selectively monitor suspicious accounts. I suspect that most botters often do so at non-peak hours as well to reduce the risk of getting player reported. It stands to reason that you can devote more server time to bot detection during these hours.

Also, I’m not saying to remove client-side detection all together. In fact, I think a strategy of frequent minor changes would be a very effective way to drive up costs for people like Lax and Mercury.

Every time something changes, they need to shut things down to figure out what is different. A very very minor change here and there to Warden every day or so would make it difficult and costly for them to keep up. In turn, it would also make them more susceptible to human error when you dropped something big on their lap since the expectation is that it’s just another minor update.

Many of their customers won’t even return to botting until a week or two has passed after a patch or Warden update. Keep updating and those customers will never feel it is safe enough to ever return to botting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kowabunga! It's a BANWAVE!!

There was a botting banwave that hit both Glider and Innerspace users yesterday. I’ve mentioned this before, but “bans” happen all the time and typically on Monday/Tuesdays on or around the maintenance schedule. A couple hundred people can get swept up in these weekly bans and they are often (mistakenly) confused with a banwave. Most of these types of bans come from player reports.

A real “banwave” however, hits virtually every user of a particular botting software and impacts thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of accounts. For Warcraft, the main two are Lavish’s Innerspace and MDY’s Glider. Technically, Innerspace has little to do with botting itself and has legitimate uses. BUT – since there are several extensions to the product that enable botting to occur (one of which is written by Lax, the author of Innerspace), Blizzard lumps anyone using it into the same category.

Since “banwaves” hit such large numbers of botters, the waves are not based on player reports but on some technical victory. In the past, these have always been attributed to an undetected update or change in Warden, which is Blizzard’s client-side anti-cheat program. Many botters have long suspected that Blizzard will implement more server-side detection, but with the exception of things like teleport and speed hacks, server-side detection has never been something Blizzard has implemented to detect cheats.

The last major banwave occurred about this time last year in early June. At the time, only ISXWarden (an extension for Innerspace and written by Lax) was capable of detecting a change in Warden. When it detects a change, it immediately shuts down Warcraft before any positive response can be verified by Blizzard. MDY’s Glider was less sophisticated and couldn’t detect these changes. However, Innerspace users often warned Glider users whenever Warden was updated. A few Glider users would get caught in the crosshairs, but many would avoid bans as Mercury (the author of Glider) made his product unusable whenever he received forewarning from the ISX community.

Prior to last June, ISXWarden and Innerspace had largely avoided any banwave by Blizzard due to Warden. The only real exception was when Warden was first introduced and took the entire botting community by surprise. In fact, many Innerspace users believe that the warnings they provided to Glider users only served to draw greater attention to them as the larger threat. The absolutely brilliant way in which Blizzard attacked both botting communities last June almost seems to validate that idea.

Sometime last may, Blizzard finally found a way to successfully identify Innerspace users protected by ISXWarden. Rather than ban these players outright, they simply marked those accounts as Innerspace users. Blizzard then proceeded to roll out a new version of Warden to everyone BUT the Innerspace users. Innerspace users were never alerted to the Warden change because they never received the newer version! Glider users (no longer warned by Innerspace users) were happily botting away while easily being detected by Warden.

Unfortunately, the exposure time was limited to about 48 hours because Mercury (Glider author) discovered the change while beta testing a similar feature to ISXWarden for his product. This feature would later be known as Tripwire and was intended to discover changes to Warden. As soon as he was alerted to the new Warden, Mercury immediately disabled it’s use for his users.

Of course, for a good many Gliders, the damage was already done and anyone botting that weekend (around Memorial day) was banned on June 11th along with every single Innerspace user. It was the single largest banwave since the release of Warden and a major triumph for Blizzard in the war against botters. In fact, the Innerspace detection problem didn’t go away immediately and Innerspace users received another more minor banwave in early July. Lax didn’t successfully solve his issue until mid August.

A similar banwave (perhaps bigger) just occurred that has hit all Innerspace and Glider users. Kudos to Blizzard on the big win. According to Lax, Warden was not updated and so ISXWarden and Tripwire were not alerted. Instead, the detection method was implemented in the 2.4.2 client itself. It’s not uncommon for them to roll out new detections in the patches. It’s actually expected that they make changes and Mercury and Lax actively look for and most often find changes. This time – they obviously didn’t.

At the time of this writing, Lax already has a version up that he believes circumvents the latest detection method. I don’t doubt that Mercury will follow suit shortly with an updated Glider. This is a game of cat and mouse and it’s a war that Blizzard can’t win with client-side detection alone. BUT—what they can do is make this a costly war for the botters and I sincerely congratulate them on their success.

Yes, the botters will be back. I expect you can venture into the newbie zones over the next few days and find a bunch of new low levels roaming around happily botting away. BUT—this sets them back considerably. Just reading the forums where they post their bans reveals that many of these botters lost 2 to 5 accounts, including their Main in some cases.

More so, I think this teaches botters a valuable lesson. You may bot and you will likely even get away with it. But – if you keep doing it, then eventually you are going to get caught. It’s a virtual certainty that one day the people who you trust to protect you from detection will let you down due to human error. It really is a game of cat and mouse – and eventually, the cat catches the mouse. And when he does… no more mouse.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The profitability of DRM

My last entry talked in detail about the legality of DRM as a solution for protecting digital media from piracy. I wrote that article because I often read critics of DRM inaccurately describe it as a violation of our rights or civil liberties. It may be intrusive. It may be inconvenient. But it is not a violation of our civil rights. That being said...

Is DRM is good for business or bad for business?

It’s one thing to be right in a legal sense, it’s quite another to be right in an economic one. The terms put into any contract exact a price from both involved parties. In order for someone to willingly enter into a contract, the perceived cost to them must be less than the perceived benefit of the thing that they receive.

I’ll digress for a moment to note that I wrote “perceived” cost and benefit. The actual cost and benefit won’t be evaluated until AFTER the agreement has been made. Buyer’s Remorse is a good example of reconciling perceived value versus actual value.

A big part of managing perceptions is the result of properly setting consumer expectations. There is actually a whole subset of marketing called Public Relations whose primary role is to manage these types of consumer expectations through the press.

DRM currently carries a pretty nasty stigma with it, so if your product is protected by DRM you are almost assuredly going to take heavy criticism in the press.

In other words, simply by including DRM with your product – you will suffer negative PR that raises the perceived cost of using your product. The actual cost of DRM may be pretty insignificant, but the perception of it being intrusive and inconvenient is going to make it more costly in the mind of your consumer.

On the other hand, you will presumably also be stopping piracy of your product. If you presume that at least some of those pirates will buy it outright, then you will be gaining a customer as a result.

Of course, my experience with piracy has been that one really smart guy cracks the protection and then distributes his cracked version to all the people who aren’t smart enough to crack it. That’s really the way most illegal software is distributed now and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I really question whether or not this type of protection would actually convert software pirates to legitimate buyers.

One thing that is interesting is that DRM is not perceived as protection for legitimate buyers. It would stand to reason that a legitimate buyer could gain some peace of mind knowing that he didn’t pay for something that others are getting for free. Of course, if the legitimate buyer believes that it will just be pirated anyway, then they simply see it as an inconvenience to legitimate customers.

So, at a first glance, DRM only seems to be bad for business. However, as I consider how users willingly accept blatant privacy invasions like Warden in World of Warcraft, I am left to believe that if people want to play something – they’ll gladly accept just about anything. My experience has been that the “moral objectors” will protest loudly and buy it anyway. Boycotts are largely considered ineffectual as a tactic. In some cases, the “name recognition” value resulting from the negative press of a boycott can actually improve sales.

Speaking from personal experience, I was barely aware that Spore was even on the horizon. Since all the press and DRM drama has floated around, I am well aware of it and even considering purchasing it for my wife as a game for her to play. So you tell me, is that good business or bad?

Friday, May 16, 2008


The possibility that Spore could use DRM to protect games has been inspiring some pretty heated debates lately in the gaming Blogosphere. For those of you not familiar with the topic, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and refers to using some technological measure to restrict usage of digital media, devices and intellectual property.

The central issue at the heart of DRM is ownership. When you purchase copyrighted material, you only purchase the media in which the material is stored – not the actual “thing” itself. When you buy music on a CD, you don’t own the music – you own the CD. However, as long as you have the CD, then you also own the right to play the CD and listen to the music stored on it. Similarly, when you purchase a book, you don’t own the words – just the paper on which those words were printed.

Purchasing a book or CD provides you the right of USE, but it doesn’t provide ownership of the music or literary work itself. These “creations of the mind” are called intellectual property and the creators of this content hold the same rights to that intellectual property as they would a piece of land. When you purchase a game, music or other piece of intellectual property, you are not buying the thing itself – only the right to use the thing.

From the moment the first man bartered with another man in trade, we have always held the right to make our own terms of agreement. I’ll give you three fish for your bear fur. What? Only three fish? My bear fur is worth at least ten fish.

You and I could also make an agreement for you to use my pool. Pay me $10 per week and you can come use my pool anytime you want as long as you follow all our pool rules: No running. No diving. Put the pool cover back on when you leave.

In fact, as long as I don’t fraudulently lead you or coerce you into the agreement then I can put almost any terms on the condition of your use of my pool that I want. I can’t ask you to do anything illegal, but there is nothing preventing me from putting in really ludicrous conditions. Sticking with our pool example, let’s say that one of my other rules was that “my pool” was a “no clothes” pool and you could only swim naked.

At that point, I think most people’s reaction would be to say, “Screw you, I don’t need your pool.” AND THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO SO. They can choose NOT to enter an agreement with me that asks them to swim naked in my pool. If I held you at gunpoint (coerced) or promised that it had medicinal properties that would cure your cancer (fraud), then the agreement wouldn’t be binding. But as long as you can exercise choice, then it’s my right to put whatever rules I want on that agreement.

That’s why DRM doesn’t violate any civil liberties. It’s not a privacy violation as long as there is transparency into the agreement that you are entering because you exercise choice while making the purchasing decision. The central issue is OWNERSHIP and by that measure, protecting what they own by using DRM is a perfectly acceptable LEGAL option that violates none of your LEGAL rights as a consumer.

The DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted to criminalize the circumvention of DRM technology to access protected media and devices. Contrary to what some appear to believe, the DMCA did not legalize DRM, it simply made it enforceable.

Prior to the DMCA, a company could have used DRM to prevent music on a CD from being converted into an MP3. However, a third party agency that sold software which removed the DRM would also have been allowed as the music copyright holder would have had no legal recourse against the third party. The only legal recourse they would have is against illegal use or distribution of the copyright material itself. The DMCA changed all of that by criminalizing the circumvention with similar penalties as those seen in distribution.

The point here is that government has endorsed DRM as a method of protecting copyright – as they should do. Companies and individuals have the right to protect their properties. The creator still owns the thing and you are conditionally being allowed it’s USE by the creator. If, as one of the terms of USE, the creator decides that he needs you to verify that you are a legal user, then that should be their legal right. Anything less than that would be inconsistent with the rest of our laws that protect copyright holders.

Now – to this point, I have limited the scope of the discussion to the legal circumstances revolving around DRM. As I clearly pointed out earlier, individuals can and should be allowed to CHOOSE not to purchase DRM protected software.

Which begs the question – is DRM is good for business or bad for business? And that discussion is really more on the level of “how many people can I get to swim naked in my pool?” It’s not a question of legalities, it’s a question of economics. Is the burden that DRM is going to put on my customers going to cause me to lose more customers than I will gain from not having my product stolen by piracy?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

You, Me, Attack Power and Dupree

Attack Power is one of the more interesting stats for physical DPS classes. At the most basic level, we can all understand one simple truth – more of it is better. And yet, why it is better and the intricacies of the mechanics it impacts are often misunderstood. I have often noted this to myself when discussions about Attack Power come up in Guild Chat and the ill-informed start chirping up with bad information. A series of blog entries over at Priestly Endeavors illustrated to me that even people I generally consider pretty knowledgeable can misunderstand Attack Power.

Before I go into detail about Attack Power, I want to provide a quick caveat. I know what I am about to discuss is applicable to Rogues, Warriors and Feral Druids. I am less familiar with the mechanics of Shamans, Paladins and Hunters – so I won’t talk directly about how this impacts them. Broadly speaking, these are general principles and SHOULD apply to the other classes, but I’m not going to offer prescriptive guidance on a class that I don’t have intimate knowledge about.

Attack Power and White Damage
The term white damage is simply a way to describe our standard auto-attack (or auto-shot) damage that comes from swinging our melee weapon. If we use an ABILITY other than auto-attacks, this is considered yellow damage – which I’ll talk about in a later section.

When we think about white damage, the easiest thing to figure out is how much damage is caused by our weapon. All you need to do is hover over your weapon and look at the item tooltip to see how much damage it deals. However, the formula for the actual white damage caused by each weapon strike also includes Attack Power.

All classes convert Attack Power to DPS at a 14:1 ratio (14 AP = 1 DPS). This holds true at level 1 and level 70. For example, 140 Attack Power converts to 10 DPS. Now, different classes derive Attack Power in different ways, but that 14:1 ratio always holds true. For example, a Warrior gains 2 AP for every 1 STR and a Rogue gains 1 AP per 1 STR. However, both of them convert AP to DPS at the 14:1 ratio.

So the formula for Damage Dealt by Attack Power looks something like this:

(AP/14) * Weapon Speed = Damage Dealt Per Strike due to Attack Power
Example: (2000 AP / 14) * 2.6 Weapon Speed = 371 Damage Per Strike

One thing to consider is that the amount of DPS remains constant at 14:1 regardless of the actual Weapon Speed. You don’t get more white damage DPS from a slower or faster weapon; it will always be the same.

Attack Power and Dual Wielding
The notable exception to how Attack Power scales for white damage is Dual Wielding. The reason is because Attack Power is applied at the 14:1 ratio for BOTH weapons. However, because your OFFHAND weapon suffers from a damage penalty – you don’t get the full benefit.

For your OFFHAND, the formula looks like this:

((AP/14) * Weapon Speed) / 2 = Offhand Damage Dealt Per Strike due to Attack Power
Example: ((2000 AP / 14) * 2.6 Weapon Speed) / 2 = 186 Offhand Damage Per Strike

When you consider that this damage is IN ADDITION TO the Mainhand damage, it becomes pretty clear that the benefit for scaling Attack Power is significantly better for Dual Wielders than Two-Handed or Single-Handed weapon users. In fact, if you use talents (like Dual Wielding Specialization) to increase your Offhand damage, then you can gain even more incremental benefit for Attack Power.

However – Dual Wielding does come at a cost and it exacts a 19% miss penalty. The base miss penalty on a same level mob is 5%, so anyone who Dual Wields gets an unmodified 24% chance to miss. This is one reason why +hit stats are very important to Dual Wielders. As that stat increases, more of the benefit from their scaling Attack Power is realized.

White Damage and Haste
As pointed out in the previous two sections, Attack Power is very much a part of White Damage. Therefore, anything that acts as a multiplier on your white damage works as a multiplier on Attack Power. The primarily multiplier I am talking about is, of course, Haste and it you can get it from items (like Drums of Battle), talents or abilities.

Now, the first thing to remember is that Haste is not going to change the amount of damage dealt in each individual strike. The formulas (above) used to calculate how much damage dealt from the strike remain unmodified. What DOES change is the frequency of attacks. If we use the first example, our strike will hit for 371 every 2.6 seconds. If we enjoyed a 30% Haste, that same 371 strike would occur every 2 seconds. The effective DPS from Attack Power increases from 143 DPS to 186.

You’ll notice that this is exactly a 30% increase in DPS for 30% Haste, so we can effectively assume that each 1% of Haste is the equivalent of an extra 1% in WHITE damage. Interestingly, your crit % has a very similar effect on white damage. The basic theory is that a 1% crit rate would lead to double-damage 1 time in 100 strikes. This is the same damage amount as 101 strikes or 1% more damage than 100 strikes. Therefore, a 1% crit rate leads to a 1% increase in damage.

Now keep in mind I am strictly talking about the effect on white damage (and I am ignoring the multiplicative effects). Haste vs. Crit vs. Hit can become very convoluted, so I point this out more as an illustration for how these things impact Attack Power. The purpose is to explain why talents (like Imp Slice and Dice, Flurry) and abilities that provide Haste are so valuable.

Yellow damage and Attack Power
I described yellow damage earlier as damage caused by your non auto-attack abilities. That’s not entirely true since yellow damage can also be sourced from things like Poison procs, but as it relates to melee classes it is generally true. Yellow damage comes in all sorts of variety because there are lots of different types of abilities. Some of them have nothing to do with Attack Power at all. Others, like Bloodthirst, are 100% determined by your Attack Power.

You can usually find the “formula” for how an abilities damage is derived by looking it up on Wowhead. For simplicity, I am only going to talk about those how Attack Power impacts yellow attacks that are based on Weapon Damage.

By now, you should be able to calculate how much damage is dealt in a single strike for white damage. A slower weapon will deal more damage in a single strike than a fast one.
Let’s compare a 2.6 one-handed sword to a 2.0 one-handed sword:

Example: (2000 AP / 14) * 2.6 Weapon Speed = 371 Damage Per Strike
Example: (2000 AP / 14) * 2.0 Weapon Speed = 286 Damage Per Strike

The 2.6 sword deals 85 damage more per strike at 2000 AP than the 2.0 sword. Well Blizzard, smarty pants that they are, figured out that was a bad idea for attacks that were instant, so they decided to normalize it based on weapon type in patch 1.08. So, all weapons of a type use the same weapon speed to calculate the Attack Power portion of the instant attack.

1.7 for daggers
2.4 for other one-handed weapons
3.3 for two-handed weapons
2.8 for ranged weapons

So, in our example above – the 2.6 and 2.0 one handed swords would have both been normalized to 342 damage per strike from Attack Power. If we had used a 2.0 Dagger, then the damage per strike would only have been 243 from the Attack Power. And a two-handed sword would have see even more benefit at 471 damage per strike.

BUT—here’s the kicker—they did NOT normalize the base damage provided in the weapon tooltip. The sword with 189-285 damage and a 2.6 speed and sword with 1.5 speed and 95-178 damage both have comparable DPS. However, the 2.6 sword has an average damage of 237 for each individual strike and the 1.5 sword has an average damage of 137 per strike. The net effect is that the 2.6 sword will do roughly 100 damage more on each individual strike.

Why is this important? Because when yellow attacks are INSTANT or faster than your normal weapon speed, then you want each of those attacks to carry as much punch as possible. Many of these attacks are also use modified weapon damage, like 150% Weapon damage. That means our above 2.6 weapon speed sword would provide 237+342 = 579 Weapon Damage which is modified by 150% to 868 damage. By contrast, your 1.5 weapon would have done 137+342 = 479 * 150% = 719 in damage. That’s a 149 point difference (or 17% decrease) in the amount of damage dealt by the instant attack of the 1.5 sword. This is why melee classes are generally advised to put the slowest possible weapon in your Mainhand.

Attack Power compared to other things
One terribly difficult thing to gauge is how important Attack Power is relative to other stats as a contributor to your overall DPS. Quite frankly, it can change pretty dramatically depending on how the rest of your gear is itemized and even as you level.

I pointed out in the past section that Critical Strike and Haste both effectively provide a 1% increase white damage per % point. At level 20, what is more valuable – a 1% increase or 28 attack power? Well if my DPS is only 20, then a 1% increase is only .2 DPS while 28 attack power is a 2 DPS increase (10% damage increase). Of course, at level 70, a 2 DPS increase may be almost insignificant particularly compared to a 1% increase for 800 to 1000 DPS.

Still – Attack Power is incredibly valuable because as I have hopefully pointed out by now, it’s one of the most basic building blocks of the DPS formulas. After all, 1% of zero is still zero. Dual Wielders, in particular, get even more incremental benefit from Attack Power and talents or abilities that provide Haste.

It also means different things to different classes and specs. One thing I always find pretty comical is the envy that some Rogues get over a Feral Druids Attack Power. The reality is that they are itemized very differently and for very good reasons. Of course a Rogue is going to have less Attack Power – they Dual Wield and they have abilities (like SnD) that provide significant Haste. Blizzard would be out of their mind to provide them similar Attack Power in the itemization. Instead, they very much force Rogues to look at +hit gear to take advantage of the Attack Power they are wasting in misses.

Sometimes we are asked things like, what’s better 100 AP or 1.21% to crit? Hmm. Well, that’s not such an easy question to answer now is it?

Edit: It should be pointed out that Kirk at Priestly Endeavors understands Attack Power, he just chose to ignore it in some of the theory crafting he was performing. His latest entry (here) does a much better job of explaining his point and including Attack Power in his discussion.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Curse has an interview up with Kaplan and Chilton that talks about Wrath. A lot of it is covered in the Gamespy articles, but there was some new tidbits:

  • Naxx is going to be tuned down into an entry level raid. That means some of the encounters will be a bit more forgiving.

    • Well, we knew they were going to need to tune it down from 40-man to some degree. What this tells me is that they’ll also be dumbing down some of the encounters to make the fights a bit more basic. That’s understandable if they want it to be entry level.

  • All classes will get 10 new talent points, they’ll also be adding core abilities, additional tiers of talents and retuning old abilities.

    • Nothing shocking. This was expected. This response was really more of a way to say – well, DKs may sound overpowered but wait till you see how we changed other stuff.

  • There will be a World event to open Northrend similar to Sunwell.

    • Yawn. That’s neat, but again pretty much expected at this point.

  • Legacy items that are bound to an account not just to a character as a way to hand powerful items to your alts.

    • I like this idea. It’s kinda like your big brother handing down his baseball glove to you. It also might be easier to get someone to do something they don’t need if there is something tangible in it for their alt. The downside would be unexpected competition for an item. Oh, can I roll on that too for my character that’s not here and didn’t help you? It’s worth pointing out that this seemed more like a tentative, not fully baked idea by Tom Chilton.

    • What I really like about this is that they are starting to think about ACCOUNT specific things and not CHARACTER specific. If you ran through it once already, you should be able to have an advantage. I’d like to see this concept extended to things like attunements that only need to be done once per account.

  • New battleground in an attack-defend scenario featuring siege weapons and destructible building components.

    • This reminded me of Starsiege: Tribes. I’m a huge fan of any PvP that is more tactical and objective based than simply kill the other guy, so this could be very very cool. Although I worry about too many bus drivers and not enough students….

  • In response to the question about 8 Million DKs running around, Tom Chilton said “8 million level 55 Death Knights; there won't be 8 million level 80 Death Knights”

    • I think they are betting the whole DK hero class on this idea that people will simply tire of DKs before they ever level them to 80. It’s a good thought. The description of the combat system for DKs seemed more difficult than any of the existing melee classes. Warrior stances with Rogue-like finishers is not what I would describe as simple combat. I’m also kinda interested about what they’ll be doing to address itemization from 55-70 for DKs. Will they just use Warrior gear?

  • They created the DK as a Tank class to fill a need in group activity.

    • As we all suspected, but at least this confirms that the DK is intended to help fill the tanking void felt at the 5-man level.

  • There will be “leveling” dailies in some zones that will be worth doing if you are in the area.

    • That’s a nice change. A repeatable quest that yields XP. I always felt those water bags in Tanaris should continue to yield XP.

  • Different vehicles. One-man, fast-moving catapults versus lumbering Demolisher that packs a big punch. Two man flyers where one person flies and another drops bombs.

    • OK. Maybe that does deserve some hype. Very very cool if well implemented.

  • Some classes will be given knockback abilities and others will pull players to you (Death Grip for DK).

    • That’s neat, but the knockback thing seems ripe for abuse in certain PvP environments. In particular, that’s nasty in Alterac Valley. Imagine getting bumped off the bridge or a tower. That’s seems more unfair than fun to me. Could one or two people chain knockback you off a cliff?

  • The 10-man and 25-man loot will have the same art, but different color variations. They will also work together for set bonuses (like Arena gear). So if you have the 10-man legs and the 25-man chest, you’ll get the 2 piece set bonus.

    • I think this is a great thing. It will be like having some S1 pieces and some S2 pieces. A person could even drop down from a 25-man to do some 10-man to get the piece he was missing in the lesser set (while waiting for it to drop in the 25-man).

  • They are discussing not unlocking 10-man content until someone on the server has beat the 25-man content.

    • This is not final, but it shows they are thinking about ways to keep the bleeding edge guilds from just doing the 10-mans to learn the encounters before trying the 25-mans. I hate that the bleeding edge crowd consumes such attention, but I agree with the strategy. Let them blow through the content too quickly and they’ll all be telling us how much the game sucks while I am level 73.

  • Arthas will be patched in as a killable NPC after the Wrath release

    • Well, I guess that’s one way to ensure people don’t blow through your story arc.
Gamespy has a bunch of new articles up on Wrath of the Lich King.

Here are the important tidbits I picked up from the articles:

  • Northrend (the new continent) is bigger than Outland.
    • That’s a damn good thing considering that 90% of the WoW population is going to be crammed into it.
  • Areas are pretty varied visually even within the zone.
    • Apparently there is even an Ungoro-like jungle area (which seems silly to have in a temperate-to-cold climate, but whatever).
  • Pre-Burning Crusade NPCs, faction and lore apparently make a comeback and some of the storylines are updated.
    • Another very good thing. There were several quests that did this in Nagrand in BC and those were by far the most enjoyable to me. It’s good to hear that Nesingwary won’t be the only one to make it to Northrend.
  • All players with a level 55 character will be able to create one Death Knight per realm, per account.
  • Vehicles will play a part in some dungeon encounters and quests.
    • I don’t know if this is really worth all the hype it recieves. We already have mounts bombing run quests that require flying mounts. Will driving around a Zepplin be all that different? Now – a siege weapon like a Catapult or Ballista – that’d be more interesting.
  • 10-man and 25-man version of every dungeon with varying loot.
    • For the life of me, I still don’t know why they don’t tune for 20-man. Two 10-mans can form a 20-man, but anyway… I’m glad to see they want to make more content accessible to more people.
  • Blizzard is purposely trying to make the 5-man content take 1 hour or less.
    • Agreed. I’d much rather run 3-4 smaller instances than one large instance (like Maraudon). One of the things I appreciated about BC was that the first instance was Ramparts and was something that could be quickly completed. Unfortunately, later instances turned out to be quite a bit longer.

  • All 5-man heroics will be itemized separately from the normal dungeons.
    • That’s certainly something that stinks about Heroic Shadowlabs, Arc and Black Morass. The boss drops are exactly the same. Of course, you can see with MgT that they already learned that lesson.
  • Designed zero raid bosses at this point (Kaplan interview)
    • Well, I suppose it makes sense that type of tuning comes last. Still… it doesn’t sound very promising for a release next week or a beta test anytime soon.

And about Death Knights in particular:
  • Death Knights start at level 55
  • Death Knights wear plate and summon a skeletal charger similar to Paladins (big surprise)
  • Death Knights don’t use mana, rage or energy – they have a mechanic built on Runes (?!)
    • Up to six Runes slot into your Blade of three types (Blood, Unholy, Frost) and once spent they refill after a set period of time.
    • Blade configuration will impact the frequency of spell use.
    • Talent trees will correlate to Runes (Blood, Unholy, Frost) but that doesn't mean that every spell in that tree will only use that rune type.
  • Death Knights gain “Runic Power” as they use Runes that decays like rage if not spent. Gamespy believes this will be used as a finisher similar to how Rogues spend combo points.
  • Death Knights have a self-buff similar to Warrior stance and Auras to define their role (Tank, Damage-Dealing, PvP?)
  • Death Knights will use Diseases to apply debuffs to targets.
  • Death Knights can raise undead.
    • One ability sounds like it will act like the Druid trees.
    • The other sounds you can raise a fallen ally (or foe) to temporarily fight for you as a ghoul. Apparently, if you are raised, you will even be provided a dialog box to decide whether you want to take over control.
  • Death Knights don’t use a shield. The emphasis will be on Parry instead.
    • I’ve maintained for a long time that this would be a very cool mechanic for a tank. Particularly since parrying increases weapon speed.
  • Death Knights will have at least one ability that significant reduce spell damage. The niche role they are intended to fill is tanking fights that require a lot of spell damage.
    • I’ve always thought it was silly when Warlocks tanked these fights, so this is a good change.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The World (of Warcraft) is Flat - Part II

This is the follow-up article to an article I wrote a few days ago: The World (of Warcraft) is Flat - Part I

As I concluded in the previous article, I have become convinced that all of the obvious “unfun” things about Warcraft are related to the unhealthy level of importance that Blizzard places on gear upgrades. While the acquisition of inventory items is an important part of the genre, the imbalance created by gear inequality is the very root of the most common complaints about the game. I noted last week that the solution to fixing PvP is to make gear more accessible or irrelevant. However, in the PvE game, the significance of gear acts as an entry barrier to the higher level raids. Fixing one quite literally breaks the mechanics of the other. The problem is also quite notably at the crux of the hardcore versus casual argument. Hardcores don’t want their hard work trivialized and casuals resent not having access to the top end-game content.

I have a solution.

Mind you, it is not a solution that is easily implemented into an existing game like World of Warcraft. No, I think we all need to accept that Azeroth is flat. The issue with “fixing” an existing game is less about implementing the change and more about convincing 10,000,000 trained lab mice to accept a different flavor of cheese. That type of solution is more revolutionary than it is evolutionary. Nonetheless, I do have a solution for the next MMO to avoid the same type of pitfalls that Blizzard has encountered with Warcraft.

The gear problem in Warcraft is like a stagnant pool of water. When the pool first forms, the water is clear, warm and fun to swim in. But after a while, it starts to get a bit murky and foul smelling as algae and bacteria begin to flourish. Eventually, the water just looks, smells and feels disgusting. It becomes something we wouldn’t even swim in, let alone drink for sustenance.

If we add a stream or river to that pool of water, then the clean water from the stream washes away the foulness that forms in the stagnant pool. The bigger the stream, the fresher the water. Right now, Blizzard has a big stagnant pool with only a very tiny stream to cleanse it. I propose the next MMO make the stream significantly larger. Not too big or we’ll all get washed away downriver, but big enough to keep the pool fresh and clear.

The stream does two things. It brings in fresh water and it takes away the stagnant water. If you simply drain away the stagnant water, then the pool will eventually be empty. Alternately, if you just add fresh water, then the pool will eventually overflow and start flooding the surrounding area.

Applied to an MMO, the stream is a durability system in which equipment and inventory are eventually consumed, used or broken. This mechanic works to remove used or stagnant gear from the game world. And as I’ll cover in a moment, broken or lost equipment can solve or reduce all of the game play issues that I talked about in the previous article.

But first I want to address the perceived negatives about a “broken gear” system. Most of the concern with replacing gear is that acquiring one item requires a lot of work. It would be ludicrous to expect someone to work hard for a T6 piece only to have that piece break before you could get the next piece in the set. As pointed out in the pool of water analogy, we can’t simply remove water from the pool without refilling it. A system that requires replacing broken or consumed equipment necessitates a system where inventory is more easily attained.

The players who can attain the gear more quickly and regularly will still be better equipped overall, but even a casual player could “save” or “bank” items for when they wanted to do something special to them. If content was “progression” level for you, then you would want to wear your best outfit. If it was more “farm” content, then you would want to downgrade to something less and “bank” your good gear. One distinction between the “hardcore” and the “casual” player is who can afford to be well equipped all the time versus only under very special and favorable conditions.

Consider how often “lesser” loot drops that gets disenchanted because no one needs it. That gear would instead get banked as your replacement kit or your farm kit. People who played the most would simply end up with high quality replacement loot in the bank ready to equip for the next raid.
However, a casual would presumably need to run around in his common gear and start collecting a good set in the bank. He would then “put on his Sunday dress” when he wanted to Raid (or do Rated PvP) with the big boys and be able to contribute (or compete).

The need to have replacement and farm gear also really works to stimulate the economy. Crafted equipment becomes far more important as a method of keeping your character equipped. You wouldn’t want to go farm Primals or run your friend’s alt through Scarlet Monastery in your best gear, but a nice set of crafted greens would work just fine.

I would even love to see a method to “destroy” an item for a % chance of being able to learn how to craft it. That could keep people from having to run the same instance repeatedly to source a favorite item or piece of gear. Instead, they could spend the time working to attain the materials needed to craft it. Maybe some loot even needs to be destroyed for a material component to a really nice crafted upgrade (i.e. you needed the belt buckle from the Belt of a Thousand Souls).

Increasing drop rate %s and the amount of items dropped is another way to enlarge the stream of incoming gear. Bosses could drop full sets of equipment instead of just a pair of gloves or boots. Elites could drop commons and greens to serve as a stop-gap replacement during a run if something broke and you didn’t want to run to the bank. If the Belt of a Thousand Souls has a 100% drop rate off a particular end boss, then the upgrade is both difficult to obtain (because you need to kill boss) and readily accessible (because it has a 100% drop rate).

New players to new guilds can also be equipped more quickly. If someone is skilled and plays often, they can quickly find themselves in a progression guild. The focus then becomes on finding people who you enjoy playing with that can pass the “skill barrier” not the “gear check” required for the higher end content. Encounters can be tuned on your ability to play the game and not as much on the raid having X amount of gear.

The importance of an individual piece of gear is dramatically less in this system but the overall importance of acquiring inventory and equipping your character is not trivialized as a consequence. In fact, it’s the opposite. When you always use your best gear at all times, then you are really only interested in equipment that is an upgrade over an existing piece. In a “broken gear” scenario, you are constantly faced with choices and options. However, because the reward incentive on a particular piece is less – you really aren’t losing much if you don’t win that drop or need to source an alternative.

While I am not a huge fan of the idea, I can see the argument for limiting some of the high-end content to only players who are truly hardcore. However, game designers have several mechanics they can use other than “gear checks” to prevent players from progressing too quickly. For example, I would suggest they use a system of difficult to complete attunements or “skill checks” instead of simply tuning an encounter to a particular amount of healing or DPS.

In the PvP game, items could be purchased for significantly less marks or points but would only last so many matches. The incentive would be to PvP in things like battlegrounds in your commons while acquiring the equipment for rated matches. This would act to significantly lower the gear barrier between the Arena elite and the entry level PvPer.

As I pointed out in the previous article, the major source of competitive PvP imbalance in an MMO RPG is gear inequality. The RPG nature of these games makes it difficult to eliminate entirely, but by making gear easier to acquire (and easier to lose), you reduce the degree to which the imbalance exists. It may be impossible for someone in greens/blues to beat an S3 equipped player, but it’s significantly more plausible that an S1 player could compete well enough to acquire S2 and then eventually S3.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The World (of Warcraft) is Flat - Part I

This article is going to be critical of WoW, so I ask that you suspend any beliefs you may hold that WoW is perfection and anything that deviates from the WoW model is an awful game design. Once upon a time, the populace at large believed the world was flat and we all know now that was simply ignorance and an unwillingness to accept new ideas.

My old boss had a theory he called his “super model theory” to describe picking out a Big Screen TV. His point was that if you took 5 gorgeous super models and asked me to choose which one I would like to take to bed, I would start finding flaws in all of them. That one has too big a nose, I only like blondes, she’s too pale and so on. However, the truth of the matter is I would be really happy to take any of them home with me. Right now, Blizzard is a super model I’ve been dating for a while and I’m starting to think she looks fat in those pants. I’m glad I have a super model girlfriend, but I’m also more aware of her flaws than I was when we first started dating.

I’ve really narrowed down the source of my angst to a problem I’ve written about in the past in my article “From newb to pwnage.” The main point of the article is that the incremental benefit received for each gear upgrade far outweighs any incremental benefit gained from becoming a more skilled player. The game puts an unhealthy level of importance on gear that forces players to do things they would characterize as “unfun” simply to get better gear. There is perhaps no better example of this than the player who feels forced to play Battlegrounds or Arena for the gear upgrades.

The incentive is to become better geared, not better skilled.

If you enjoy PvE Raiding, the priority is often focused on players who are well geared. In a social networking game like WoW, it seems ludicrous that the focus is not (first and foremost) on finding players that you enjoy playing with, second on players who are skilled and then (a distant) third on players who have attained the necessary gear inventory. Smart, well organized guild leaders recognize these are the qualities needed for a really great guild and act accordingly. Most don’t.

I think the biggest indictment of the significance of gear in PvE is how important it is to our overall satisfaction. It says something about a game when the most fun moments are the seconds immediately after looting the big bad boss and not the 45 minutes leading up to it. Of course, if you didn’t get the drop you wanted or lost out on a roll or were outbid then you can also end a whole session of gaming very unsatisfied and disappointed. In extreme cases, loot drama can cause guilds to break up or players to quit the game completely.

In PvP, the gear issue creates an entirely different set of problems. The center issue in PvP is competitive balance. If we set aside class balance issues for this discussion then the WoW version is really player + gear versus player + gear, not simply Player versus Player. Actual skill and experience are trivialized in comparison to the significance of gear. A player in Level 70 blues & greens could never beat a player in S3 Arena gear even if they were far more skilled.

The more you play, the more skilled you become at PvP. Battlegrounds rewards time played and BG wins with better gear. Likewise, Arena players are rewarded for winning by being given better gear. From a competitive standpoint, the player is actually benefiting twice. Once because of the skill and experience gained from playing and then again with a gear upgrade. The result is that the rich simply become more rich. In the PvE game, that logic holds a certain justice. In the PvP game, it’s about competitive balance and that type of mechanic simply works to further unbalance the game. In other words, it’s counter-productive to balanced gameplay to provide the most skilled players with the best gear but that is exactly how the PvP reward system is designed.

The solution to fixing PvP is to make gear more accessible or irrelevant. However, in the PvE game, the significance of gear acts as an entry barrier to the higher level raids. Fixing one quite literally breaks the mechanics of the other. Right now we have people PvPing to compete for PvE and PvP players that can’t advance beyond the gear barrier that denies them the ability to effectively compete in Arenas.

It’s also a major contributing factor In the war waged by the Casual against the Hardcore. The single biggest complaint by the Casual is the lack of accessibility to the very high end content. The mechanic that Blizzard chooses to erect as a barrier into that content is primarily gear related. If you don’t have a sufficient level of gear, then the content will be too difficult for you regardless of your relative skill level.

This design mechanic issue is really unique to MMO RPGs. In single player RPGs, the issue never really comes up because you aren’t in competition or cooperative play with anyone else so your progress is only measured against your own success. In other genres, like First Person Shooter or RTS, gear (or inventory) is never persistent from match to match. You may acquire more resources, weapons or wealth during a single match, but those acquisitions are only useful for the short duration of the current match.

However, one of the defining characteristics of all RPGs is the acquisition of inventory items. This is a very important part of the genre. As your character evolves and gains new skills, it also acquires more wealth and inventory. His success is often determined by the inventory choices he makes and how he uses these skills. It’s common for “events” to be tied to acquiring a particular piece of inventory (like a key) and for your character to equip inventory items that make him more powerful as he progresses through the game. It would be very frustrating to work to gather these items in an RPG only to have them “reset” when you turned off your computer for the night.

It’s an interesting puzzle, but there is a very tidy solution that solves all of these problems. You’ll just have to wait until Monday to find out… o.O