Monday, April 26, 2010

Do Gamers Fail at Real Life?

Let me start by saying that when I raise this question, I'm not talking about YOU and I'm well aware that the question I'm asking is a hasty generalization about all Gamers. Certainly, I don't believe that I have failed at Real Life. Quite the contrary. And I also think that bloggers and blog readers are a "cut above" the average Gamer.

That said, I do believe that the Gamer demographic on average is less successful in Real Life. I have no factual evidence to back up that claim, only my own personal anecdotal evidence.

I am solid member of Corporate America. I have a good job with a large corporation. I own a home. I am not in debt up to my eyeballs. I have a wife and three kids. I'm not the wealthiest person I know, but I am well compensated enough to support my family without my wife needing to work.

And yet, I've never met a single person at my level in the corporate ladder who actively plays Games regularly. Nor have I ever met anyone "in-game" that has enjoyed the same level of work success that I've enjoyed in my Real Life.

That's not evidence that such people don't exist -- but it is at least anecdotal evidence that such persons exist only few and far between.

So do Gamers Fail at Life because they play Games? Or do people who fail at Life, choose to play Games to escape that Life?

Gamers Fail Because They Play Games
I think the core idea behind this school of thought is that that Gamers fail because they don't outgrow Games. As all of us mature, our priorities change. What was important to us as children is not as important to us as adults. In fact, many of the things we thought were direly important as children may be perceived as childish in adulthood.

Extending this idea to Games, perhaps Gamers simply place too high a priority on Games as adults. For example, a Gamer's ambition might be more directed towards downing that next raid boss than getting that next real life promotion. Essentially, poor prioritization resulting in less than optimum life choices and goals.

Whereas, other adults re-prioritized their life to include other ambitions. Once these priorities are re-established, Gaming falls to the bottom and becomes a much smaller part of their life.

Perhaps you were a "hardcore" gamer in College only to become a "casual" gamer as you re-prioritize your life in a post-college world. The Gamers who didn't re-prioritize as they got older are the ones who ended up as less successful in that adult world.

The best analogy I can think of is Partying. To say that my close friends and I were wild in our teens and mid-twenties would be an understatement. However, as we grew older and settled into professional lives, the extreme Partying slowed down.

We outgrew it as our priorities changed in life. By 26, I was married with child and by all accounts a 'settled' man intent on providing for his family.

But not everyone in my core group of friends settled. Some kept at it for years and never changed their priorities. Those are also the same friends who have been the least successful in their professional lives. My brother also took this approach and today, despite a college degree, works as a landscaper.

Failures use Games to Escape Life
At the opposite spectrum, there is this idea of escapism. That the Virtual Life is better than Real Life. Not really a new idea and I think that most people will admit it exists.

If your Real Life is too boring, depressing, or stressful, you can escape it for at least a few hours every evening in the world of your favorite game.

Games act as a temporary sanctuary from real life providing both avoidance and distraction. The root problem never real goes away, it’s just masked.

The most tragic example of this escapism is the case where the Korean couple let their baby starve to death while caring for their virtual child in Second Life.

Obviously, that’s a pretty extreme example. But I think it’s a good illustration of just how powerful a hold these games can hold over someone.

So I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that someone can use Games to escape all kinds of other more mundane real life problems.  No Girlfriend.  Too Fat.  No Job.  Bad Job.  Bitchy Wife.  Noisy Kids.  Small Apartment.  Lots of Debt.  Etc.

Success is Arbitrary
This topic wouldn't be complete without at least some discussion into how we define success. Certainly, success at the workplace is not the only type of success. In fact, I’m well aware that my definition of success smacks of certain type of elitism.

My best friend growing up once told me when he was in his mid-twenties that he learned the secret to a happy life is to figure out the way to spend the least possible amount of time doing "Work".

This was right about the time when he was the Guild Master for a 200 player raiding guild in EverQuest, but I digress..

His point was that "success" is not best measured in financial terms but in how well we live our life. This is a topic that often gets discussed at my workplace as "Work-Life Balance". The idea being that Work can't be so all-consuming that you don't have time to live your life.

An idea that is best illustrated by what I call the 3:00am Email. Perhaps one of the funniest things that happens in the course of my work is when I, for whatever reason, decide to check my email late at night. Inevitably, this prompts me to send out some email in response.

Now the funny part isn't that I'm sending out emails at 3am. No, the truly funny part happens when I receive a REPLY back from someone else at 3:10am!

Comical, but also a sad reflection of the burden of work. I enjoy my life and wouldn't change it, but I can certainly see the appeal of a life that someone else might have led. One where they still live a life that is unburdened with the responsibility that comes with the type of “success” that I have in my life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Blog?

Ravious over at KT has an interesting post up about what motivates readers to unsubscribe from a blog. An interesting take, but I tend to look at it a bit differently.

What motivates someone to READ a blog?
I’ve never named a blogger I don’t like reading because I think that’s generally just bad form and impolite. That said, I’ll make an exception today because I think it provides some excellent context. So... I can’t stand Cuppycake. Prominent blogger, has a big readership, even ‘works’ in the industry now after cashing in on the blogging fame. I hold nothing against her personally, just absolutely can’t stand what she writes on her blog.

Now a big part of that is because her opinions are often the polar opposite of my opinion. If Syncaine is the opposite of Tobold, then Cuppycake is the opposite of me. Don’t believe me? Some recent entries:
  • Dun dun dun! SPARKLEPONY is mine!
  • Despite what you think, Farmville is a game!
Even in areas where we agree, we don’t really agree on the same points even if we reach the same conclusion. I tell you, if I were more unscrupulous, I could easily start an anti-Cuppy campaign that would rival Syncaine’s ongoing “war” with Tobold. But, as I said, that’s bad form and this is the only time I’m going to bring it up.

I learned long ago that the best way to win any argument is to understand the point of view of your opponent. If you can understand WHY they think that way, you are very well armed to counter their arguments and strengthen your own. So I actually like to read opinions that are contrary to mine. Particularly if they are well articulated and sensible.

BUT – I can’t stand reading Cuppy’s blog. Why? I think the problem is that her opinion is too different from mine. No amount of discussion would ever get us to agree. I don’t agree with Beau Turkey all that often either, but at least I feel I can have a discussion with him and he’ll be able to concede the point of view.

And I think that sums up why I read a blog. Because it raises topics that are interesting and warrant discussion. If I don’t feel like I can engage in that discussion, then I don’t want to read that blog. If a blog starts going way off-topic from the discussion I’m interested in, I don’t want to read it. If they fiercely moderate even reasonable comments they don’t like, I don’t want to read that blog.

In short, it’s about the discussion.

If a blogger blogs in a forest and no one was there to read it, was it really a blog?
By Ravious' definition, a blog "dies" when it starts to lose readers. Certainly in the context of blog popularity it dies, but a blog without any readers still provides the blogger a writing outlet.

Would I continue to write if I knew no one would ever read it regularly? I don't know. My most often linked to article to date (by far) was one that I wrote a LOOONG time ago about the Ethics of MMO Addiction. I actually started blogging as an outlet for continuing the discussions that I was participating in on blogs. I’m not only open to discussion, it’s what motivates me to write.

That’s why, for myself, I tend to blog about gaming related things that either really interest me or really irritate me. I've been a bit time constrained over the past couple of weeks, so I have about a dozen different "pending" blog entries to write (mostly about things that are irritating me).

I took a pretty significant break from blogging in 2009. I'm going to blame Wrath on that one. In retrospect, I think I just stopped blogging in 2009 because Wrath was neither boring and irritating nor interesting and exciting. I guess I can best describe that as a phase of mediocre contentment which wasn't positively or negatively inspiring enough to write about.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Prophet's Dilemma

Darren over at Common Sense Gamer seems to be struggling with the apathy and lack of outrage the average gamer is having about the Celestial Steed. He writes:
The question that the horse and the farm answer is, “They will buy this”…instead of “they will play this”. It’s completely bass-ackwards[!] The more I think about the conversations I have with people about the horse, quite obviously the consensus is that Blizzard and Zynga are just doing what they need to do to make money….so why shouldn’t this stuff be made available for those that want to buy it[.] Some, it seems, are quite alright with that….and worse…don’t seem to care.

I think it's not so much that "average joe" gamer doesn't care, as much as that they choose not to think about it deeply or it's complications. It's lots of "ooh, shiny" and not enough "wait. what's next? paying for the next raid dungeon?"

Is that not caring? I guess. But it’s more a “not caring” because they don’t understand (or care to understand) the broader implications. I’m of the school of thought that we need to question authority in order to police that authority. As I wrote in my Ayn Rand post several weeks ago, I think people are singularly motivated by self-interest. That interest for the developer is making money.

As a consumer of those goods, my self interest is best served by spending less money.  I wrote yesterday that just because I have more disposable income than I did when I was twelve, it doesn’t mean that I want to pay more. Particularly when that price increase doesn’t come with more “value” for my dollar.

It’s a matter of perspective. For the developer, they see my increased disposable income as “money left on the table” and are devising ways to get at that money. From my perspective, I don’t want to freely give away that money just because I have more of it. That’s a horribly stupid idea and a huge reason why, as a consumer driven economy, we are setting ourselves up for failure. From a political perspective, I have grave concerns over this trend towards consumerism. A country which produces nothing and consumes everything is not sustainable. But I digress…

Conspiracy theorist or the Prophet no one believes?
One of the tragedies of foreknowledge is that the Prophet is often never believed. This is not just a theme in fictional work, but something that happens all the time. There were plenty of people who knew that a major economic recession and financial collapse was looming on the horizon many many years ago. Rather than take steps to prevent it, people ignored it and pretended it didn’t exist.

Of course, as we know now, pretending something doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. It’s also worth pointing out that these same people are also warning that the same Banking trends that led to the last disaster are continuing. That the Banking “bailout” only narrowed the players; it didn’t eliminate the practices that created the problem.

Clearly, my qualms about Microtransactions are minor by comparison, but I do believe that Darren, myself and the other bloggers who have been outspoken about these trends are acting as the Prophets of the MMO industry. And just like the people who “got” the Banking and Real Estate crisis, those of us that "get it" for Microtransactions are viewed more like conspiracy theorists and doomsayers.

It's just a game, they say, why get worked up over it?

Well, put bluntly, it’s worth getting worked up over because it’s just the beginning. It’s an evolving trend that is familiarizing the MMO consumer with this new way of doing business. My prediction is that we won’t see Microtransactions acting as a replacement for the existing “box sales” and “subscription” revenue streams, but additions to it. After all, if you already have your hand in one pocket – why take it out when you can just as easily place your other hand in the other pocket?

And I’m just not all that willing to shell out more money without getting more value. I’m not interested in making some company more profitable just because I have more money to spend. You need to give me something MORE. And spending a week building some fluffy, shiny pony is not MORE – not when compared to the value I get for the “box sale” of an expansion or the usage rights of my subscription.

Unavoidable trend
Unfortunately, this trend towards “shiny ponies” is an inevitable and foregone conclusion. If only 1 in 20 people are willing to buy shinies, the profit margins are such that it’s well worth it for the developer to pursue that revenue stream.

The trouble is that the 19 people who don’t buy the Celestial Steed aren’t all up in arms about it. I think that’s more of a reflection of the lack of cynicism and willingness to question authority than anything else. Even those who would never buy the Celestial Steed don’t see a problem with it because it’s a choice. And that’s hard to argue with.. I mean, no one is forcing you to buy it, so why care?

The problem is that it sets a precendant as a valuable revenue stream. Which means more development time spent on such things and more creative ways to get you to spend. I think Blizzard is smart enough to avoid the pitfall of tying character power (XP potions, Weapons, etc) to a Microtransaction, but I do think that that it will lend itself to “gated” content similar to DDO dungeons.

My bold prediction yesterday is that sometime following the Cataclysm expansion, there will be a Raid/Dungeon added that will have an incremental cost associated to it. And I think people will accept this for two reasons:
  • Those that don’t raid will argue that people who DO raid should be paying more for the content they use. They will view it as something incrementally added that they don’t have to pay for. Which would be a valid argument if there wasn’t already a history of getting such patch updates as part of the subscription cost.
  • If the price is reasonable, Raiders will pressure other Guild members into paying for this content. This is social engineering at it’s worst. If you want a Raid spot, you need to pay your $5 to get “keyed” for the latest raid. “Oh, c’mon John! It’s $5, don’t be a cheap ass.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'd rather not get charged more for being Rich, thanks!

Tobold has a post up today in which he asserts that there is a price gap between what 30+ year olds are willing (and able) to spend on recreation and what the average 30+ year old gamer is spending on Video Games.

He sees "premium content" such as the Celestial Steed as a great example of how Game Developers can tap into the unrealized profits that are being left on the table by older gamers.

A truth known already to Consoles
There is absolutely some truth to this statement. Microsoft's whole reason for getting into the Video Game market with the Xbox was this exact same logic. The presumption being that Video Games aren't just for kids any longer. The kids who grew up playing games are still playing games and have lots of disposable income.

The impact was immediately felt in the Console market when the price point for the Xbox and PS2 was $100 higher than the price point of the previous generation at the same stage of release.

The approach in Consoles largely continues to be one about volume. Consoles are simple to develop for because they are standardized (unlike a PC game). A simple and easy Console platform is quick and easy to develop new games.

Middleware also exists to provide engines so that the bulk of the development isn't in the engineering or development, but in the game artist's work.

The most popular titles (Sports Games) have a yearly edition with little to no actual game updates. Something that has grown worse with things like the NFL exclusive licensing agreement with EA.

Profit is made here by rapid development times and lower costs. Gamers with more disposable income simply buy more games. I think this approach works because the cost of individual titles hasn’t increased an absurd amount in the last twenty years. It’s higher, for sure, but it’s holding steady against inflation (or even beating it).

This means that the system is fairly equitable. High income gamers can afford every title. Low income gamers can rent titles or just purchase the very best.

Premium content in an Online World
As much as I hate it, I believe that Tobold is right and PC Game Devs are trying to tap into this same disposable income. I also expect more and more gimmicks and “soft sells” to get your cash. Some of them will be blatant exploitation (like Allods) and others will just tap into your vanity (like the Celestial Steed).

Either way, I think the unfortunate trend is that we are ultimately going to see the approach taken where the very best content is locked until you are willing to pony up an incremental investment. I imagine a scenario where perhaps the “expansion” releases with a half-dozen dungeons and a couple of raids for free. But then at some point, a patch is released where the next raid level is considered “premium content” and requires an additional fee.

For argument’s sake, let’s just say that it is $5 for the extra raid dungeon. I can already hear the ensuing discussion for spending more: “It’s just $5. Quit whining and get in here with us.”

The more I consider it, the more I think this is the most likely implementation of Microtransactions we will see in “mass market” games like Warcraft. Nothing that overtly increases the power of your character, but gateways to premium content that can only be bypassed if you are willing to invest more to play.

But it’s just a game
I have no doubts that some gamers are willing to spend cash on premium content that way. I just find it hard to believe that most gamers feel that way. The reason is simple.

We have been conditioned from an early age that these games are just that – games. As such, there is a stigma about how much we are willing to spend on a game. Affordability is only half the equation. The other half is value.

The perceived value of Gaming is less than other activities. It’s less than Golf, Sailing, Snowboarding, Ballet, or even Gambling. As such, people are just not willing to spend AS MUCH on it as they would another activity.

That’s what bugs me about things like the Celestial Steed. The value of it is even less than what we received for the $40 expansion.

The Most Profitable Content

I think what I find most entertaining about all this Celestial Steed stuff for $25 is that the Wrath of the Lich King Expansion sells for $40.

Now consider how much development time (YEARS!) went into the Expansion and how much went into that Steed (maybe 1 artist for a week?). And by all accounts, they've sold at least a couple hundred thousand of the things.

  • $25 x 200,000 steeds = $5,000,000

OK. So let's say it took 3 artists an entire week. And we pay them each $100 an hour.

  • 3 artists x $100 = $300 per hour
  • $300 x 40 hour week = $12,000

Now I'm going to triple that amount just because I want to be conservative. I think 3 artists at $100 an hour is generous, but there might be some extra hidden costs. Heck, it probably cost another $12K just to list on the Blizzard store.

  • $5,000,000 Revenue / $36,000 Investment = 138:1 ROI (Return on Investment)

It's a bit like printing your own money.

What next?
My example is a bit unfair in that 200,000 people wouldn't have bought that steed if Wrath of the Lich King had never been released.

Or put another way, Wrath was needed to keep people playing. And now that people ARE playing, they can start paying for premium content.

The cynic (which I am) would say that means that more development time will be spent on these luxury items and less on other content.

That's my take on the Steed. By itself, it's merely cosmetic. But I think the precedent it sets is that we'll see less content "for free" in patches and more "for fee" enhancements.

I think the danger for a company like Blizzard is when they start to look at these "for fee" enhancements as the primary revenue stream and not the actual content updates. Once that starts to happen, I think it may quickly turn into a situation where you pay for "keys" to access certain dungeons and other content.

Perhaps not an entirely bad idea on it's own, but it could make for an interesting trend where the most valuable people in your guild aren't the most skilled -- but the ones able to afford the premium content.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thought of the Day: RPGs are Character Driven

All RPGs, by nature, are character driven stories – where YOU are the central character (or team of characters). As the story unfolds, your character evolves. At a minimum, this is the addition of new equipment and inventory to aid you in your adventure. And typically, it also includes some other type character advancement – usually in the form of new levels, skills or attributes like health.

MMORPG are no different in this respect. The character is the defining trait of a Role Playing Game. The core of a game lies not in it’s virtual world, but in the character each player controls.

MMOs add complexity by having multiple players and a persistent virtual world, but the core of the game – to progress the story of your avatar – remains the same as it does in single player RPGs. This is true even in “sandbox” games where there is no defined progression path.

And yet...

In some ways, character progression is the great weakness of MMORPGs. From a PvP standpoint, it lends itself to inequality. More advanced players are better by virtue of having played longer rather than having more ability or skill at playing the game.

From a PvE standpoint, what do you do once you have finished progressing the character as far as possible?

This problem is distinctly different than what we see in other games. For example, in chess or a sports game like Football, progress is isolated to just that game. Once any game is over, we reset the pieces and begin a new game. Persistent progress doesn’t exist, so there is no inequality and the "end" is welcomed and accepted as the finish until we start the next game.

The whole concept of the “end-game” is really just a way of describing what game gets played once you have reached a peak in character progression. The “end” in an MMORPG is a bad thing.

That’s one thing I always liked about Scenarios and Battlegrounds. They were some isolated games that have an “end” that could be played repetitively. In my mind, that’s not a horrible thing. It’s the implementation to make these games a grind through a reward system that cause problems.

In many ways, it’s too bad we need the reward to play these games. And I have come to the conclusion that we do NEED the reward. It’s become somehow tied to that character progression and without it, we’ve all been trained to think we’ve reached the end of our mousetrap.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Terms of Service

Inspired by Tobold's Terms Of Service and his emo outbreak on Whiny Post Day a few weeks ago, I decided to write up my own Terms of Service.
Article I – Freedom of Expression
1.1 The blog author reserves the right to blog about whatever he likes, as often as he likes.

1.2 The views expressed are his opinion, unless otherwise attributed to someone or something else.

1.2.1 The author reserves the right to attribute opinions to anonymous or even hypothetical individuals such as “Everyone”,“No one”, or "Some Guy". For further clarification on the right to attribute things to “Everyone”, see Article 1.1.

1.2.2 The author reserves the right to occasionally be lazy and not link or cite sources for quotes, figures or other meaningful information.

1.2.3 The author further reserves the right to paraphrase other’s views and opinions. Such paraphrases are to be considered the interpretation of the author and as such the opinion of what the author thinks or believed the other person intended to say. Such opinions will usually, but not always be, qualified with text similar to: “What so-and-so is trying to say is...”

1.2.4 The author reserves the right to create hypothetical numbers and scenarios as illustrative examples of a specific point.

1.3 Readers have the right to say whatever the hell they want in the comment section with the below conditions:

1.3.1 Unsolicited advertisements are not allowed.

1.3.2 The author has the right to delete comments for whatever reason without explanation. As of March 2009, blog author has never exercised his right of deletion.

1.3.3 The author prefers to police trolling with logic and reason. As a general practice, the right to deletion will not be exercised. However, the right to such deletion is reserved as stated in Article 1.3.2 if the author deems the situation warranted.

Article II – Disputes
2.1 In the event that you disagree with what the author writes on a blog topic, you have the right to comment on it. (see Article 1.3)

2.2 Readers who disagree with any of the author’s rights as expressed in “Article I” have the right to Go Fuck Themselves.

2.2.1 Complaints about the topics the author chooses to write about are advised to Fuck Off. (see Article 1.1)

2.2.2 Complaints about the frequency of the author’s posting are also advised to Fuck Off. (see Article 1.1)

2.3 The author reserves the right to not give a shit if you disagree with him and advises the reader to likewise not give a shit if he disagrees with them.

2.3.1 In the event that the reader does give a shit about the views of the blog author, the author would like to refer the reader to Article 1.1 and in particular, Article 2.2.1.

I think most of these points are simply implied by the nature of this type of communication. However, judging from some of the reactions on Tobold's post, it doesn't look like everyone gets the idea that blogs are about expressing personal opinions.

For clarity, thank you for reading and I hope you continue to read, but – this is MY blog.

Update 4-07-10: 
I wrote this several weeks back and then forgot about it. I don't actually take myself seriously enough to feel I need a TOS, but hopefully you found the humor in it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Darkfall: Stats in a Skill-Based game?!

I’ve been playing Darkfall for a little over a month and while I like the game, it’s becoming painfully obvious that it has a major flaw. It’s not the full body looting. It’s not the lack of moderation in chat channels. It’s not the scamming or other abuse that happens. It’s not even the unattended macroing (i.e. botting) that players use for skilling up.

Hmm. Well, I take that last one back. The macroing is a symptom of the greater problem, but not the cause. In any event, the flaw is not the macroing itself but the reason players feel compelled to macro.

Stats versus Skills
In Darkfall, everything you do levels up on use. Resting, Crafting, Archery, Spell Casting, Running, even Crouch-Walking – all level up based on usage. If you don’t Parry, you’ll never skill it up. Now there might be some benefit in wanting to macro up a particularly boring skill (like a magic buff) but for the most part, this is not a bad system at all.

Actually, it’s quite fun. How your character develops is really a function of how you play. If there are things you want or feel you need to develop, you need to work on them. In combat situations, this also has the added benefit of providing practice experience using the skill. For example, a special Power Attack is more difficult to land than a normal attack. Using it in combat not only ranks up the power of the skill, but also has the double benefit of improving YOUR ability to know how to use it through practice and repetition.

No. The issue is that this game isn’t just about Skills. It’s also about Stats. You see, every skill has associated Stats. Archery, for example, contributes to your Dexterity. The higher your Dexterity, the more damage you will deal through Archery. Now obviously, using a Bow will improve both the Archery Skill and the Dexterity Stat, but the Bow isn’t the only way to improve Dexterity. Sprint (a faster run) will also level up Dexterity.

Stats actually level up much more slower than Skills. How slow? Well, in a recent thread I was reading on the Darkfall Forums, the highest Dexterity anyone has ever heard of is in the 80s (out of a possible 100).

Admittedly, that’s one of the more difficult Stats to increase, but even players who put a hundred hours a week into the game don’t have these stats leveled to 100.

Stats are important
The amount of health a character has is determined by your Stats.  Players typically start out with a bit more than 200 health. All other skills being equal, a player with 300 health can take 1/3 more damage than a player with 200 health.

Of course, all skills won’t be equal, so the player with more health likely has other skills that will further reduce the amount of damage taken. Additionally, they’ll have better damage dealing skills which will deal significantly more damage.

Or in other words, not only is there a pretty high delta caused simply by the Stat difference, this difference is dramatically amplified by the Skill gain difference. For example, let’s say that our 300 health player also deals 1/3 more damage and takes 1/3 less damage.

It’s likely more than that, but let’s just pretend.

So if 200hp player deals 30 damage with an attack, then the effective damage dealt to 300hp player (after a 1/3 reduction) is 20. By contrast, the 300hp player deals (after a 1/3 increase) 40 damage.

The net effect in this scenario is that the 300hp players deals twice as much damage as the 200hp player. So, in addition to the 100 extra health, they also hit twice as hard.

It takes 15 successful hits for the 200hp player to win. But it only takes 5 hits for the 300hp.

Now let’s remove the extra 100hp from the scenario (so no Stat gain). It still only takes 5 hits for the more advanced player to win. But it now takes the other player only 10 successful hits.

Even in this reduced Stat scenario, the less advanced player is still not likely to win the engagement.

So why do they need the extra 100hp? My point here is that making something three times more challenging instead of twice as challenging is simply excessive.

And that’s just a very simple example. The reality is even more dramatic.

Suggestion: Get rid of Stats
Honestly, I’m 100% OK with the skill gain difference. A more developed character should be more powerful. My issue here is the amplified effect that Stats have on that Skill difference.

Simply put, the gains through Skills should be enough.

The only purpose that Stats have is to amplify the effect of Skills. This is totally and 100% unnecessary because you already have a factor that increase Skills: the Skill level.

If you want Skills to have a bigger impact, then add additional skills which modify the impact. But do so in such a way that players sacrifice something else. Want to increase Magic damage? Sorry – you lose access to that Skill which boosts Hit Points as well.

How much Mana, HP or Stamina does a player have? Make it Skill, not Stat based. Melee Skills determine HP, Magic Skills determine Mana, General Skills (Jump/Run/Sprint) determine Stamina.

If you insist on having Stats, then do it the way that EVE does it. Stats change the rate at which you learn Skills. They don’t amplify the effect of how you use the Skill.

Other Symptoms of the Problem
As I wrote above, the biggest issue I have is the amplification effect these Stats have on the outcome of a fight. I think the advantage gained from Skills is more than fair for having a more advanced character. Adding an amplified effect to it by modifying the damage with Stats like Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity is simply excessive.

Point being, I’m not against competitive advantage. I’m against excessive advantage.

And as anyone who has every played an MMO knows, if you make something rewarding enough (like Stats) then it influences how players approach your game. I think perhaps the best example of this problem are the AFK Swimmers. People AFK Swim or Run or Non-reagent Cast (like Heal Self) because it also increases Stats. If there were no Stats, then you might see some macroing to increase skills, but you wouldn’t see it to increase Stats.

But more importantly, it would also shift the focus to activities that generate the Skills that you want to USE. Players wouldn’t take the easiest route to increase the Stat, they would do the things that more often matched the style of play they want to develop the character into doing.

The point here is not to get rid of macroing, but to more narrowly focus on actually benefiting from PLAYING the game the way you WANT to play the game.

The whole Stat system also creates some other oddities. For example, in most games, the converted price of something is typically worth more than the non-converted price. The reason is simple. If it takes time to get thing A turned into thing B, then there is a value to players to not have to convert it.

However, in Darkfall, the stat gain benefit from converting it from A to B outweighs the time investment. Therefore, you end up with the oddity that unrefined Ore or Lumber go for more than the refined Ingots or Wood.  And the additional oddity that people actually WANT to waste 3-4 hours crafting useless crap like low-level cloth armor.

The long and the short of it is that I just don’t see the purpose in having Stats in a game like Darkfall. You already have Skills, so why do we need Stats?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chicks and Dudes, or Dudes and Chicks

Zubon at Kill Ten Rats brought up the topic of playing trans-gender characters in MMOs. Basically, being a guy and playing a female character. Or vice versa, being female and playing a male character.

Zubon covers a lot in the entry, including the possibility that it’s our perceptions about gender role that play a part in what type of character we choose.  I'm paraphrasing here, but Zubon more or less postulates that perhaps we choose big ugly males for our Tanks and cute little frail-looking women as our caster types because gender roles tell us women are weak and men are strong.

The unspoken central question Zubon tries to address is why do people choose to play trans-gender characters?

I think the reason this whole trans-gender thing bothers some people is because they see the character as some extension of the player. A trans-gender character is therefore an oddity or weirdness. You are a guy, you can’t play a girl. The more someone believes that the avatar should represent the player rather than the character, the more uncomfortable they feel about trans-gender characters.

Are you Role Playing?
If you are Role Playing, I think Zubon is right to some degree about gender roles. The character you choose to play embodies what role you want from that character. Big ugly male tanks are more popular as fighters because the gender stereotypes say that the tough bad ass is a guy. Of course, that doesn’t preclude someone from wanting to buck the stereotype and play Xena, the Warrior Princess.

In either case, whether you choose Xena or Ugly Tank guy, a Role Player is making that choice because that’s how they want to envision the character. I think this is where Zubon is going with his own personal choices about the characters he creates. Gender choice, in this sense, is about the story and nature of the character. Xena, the Warrior Princess, is cooler than Ugly Tank guy – so let’s model our character after her.

So why do trans-gender characters make some players uncomfortable?  Well, I think many players see such characters as an extension of themselves. The character chosen is what THEY want to be and perhaps even has the virtues and physical attributes they would choose for themselves if thrust into a fantasy world.

Obviously, for anyone with that kind of attachment to a character, it’s a bit weird or odd for them to role-play the opposite gender. And thus, the question of why another person would do that inevitably gets raised. As I said above, the people who struggle with this the most are the people who don’t feel the avatar represents the character, but the player.

Or are you just Playing?
Then there is an entirely other school of people who aren’t role-playing at all. They are just playing a game. The first commenter in Zubon’s article nails this sentiment on the head:
psartho wrote: Holy overanalysis, batman. I play a female character because she’s nicer to look at. If I’m going to be spending all my time staring at an avatar’s ass, I’d prefer it to be female.
These players don’t identify much with the avatar at all. To them, it’s just a pixilated little worker bee doing it’s MMO job. If you are going to look at pixilated worker bees, then looking at the coolest or most visually appealing one is the best choice. There is no gender strangeness or inappropriateness.

Or as I wrote in the comments at Kill Ten Rats:
It’s not a sexual attraction, but I definitely find the female form in some of these games alluring enough to go — hrmph, that’s better than looking at an Orc’s ass. It’s more on a level of “red is more visually appealing than yellow” type of thing. Don’t over-analyze why people find sexy toons visually appealing. Sometimes the simplest answer (they are nice to look at) is the right answer. It hardly makes me, or anyone else, afraid of being gay.
DOA: Volleyball didn’t sell well because it was a fantastic Volleyball game. It sold well because it was visually appealing to a lot of male gamers (myself included).

In a way it’s really ironic that some people question the sexuality of others because they choose to play a trans-gender character. When in reality, for many gamers, it’s that very same attraction to the opposite sex that causes them to choose a trans-gender character.

The Internet is Broken (again)

Funny how that happens once a year at the start of April...