Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tamriel Unlimited. Hololens

The news from Zenimax is that they are ditching mandatory subscriptions for the Elder Scrolls Online from St. Patrick's Day this year. It's going buy-to-play (which just means "buy" in everyone else's language). Wilhelm has the full story over here. One thing to which I'd like to draw your attention is that if you ever bought ESO, even if you let your subscription lapse (as I did), you won't have to pay a penny more after March 17 to play it again. Heck, they'll even throw in 500 crowns (whatever that's worth).

That's great news for me, because I got it at launch, but then found myself unable to devote enough time to it to justify a subscription, so I ended up letting my subscription lapse. Once it becomes free to play, I'll definitely be taking a look in (especially as Draenor is not floating my boat as much as I had hoped).

One of the games that attracted my attention recently is Elite: Dangerous. What particularly excited me about it was that the Oculus Rift works with it, and this amazing review from Ars Technica has just about sold me on it. What am I waiting for? Only for the Oculus Rift to come out of Beta.

But yesterday came fantastic news from Microsoft. They unveiled the Hololens, whose demo blew me away. The Hololens is not only a HUD display like Google Glass, it also holographically projects images onto your eyes so that you can see virtual elements (for instance a schematic) projected onto  the real world. Even better, it watches your hands, and allows you to interact with these elements (for instance zooming in or out, rotating, and so on). We will all be Tom Cruise in Minority Report. This is the future of gaming. Hell, this is the future of everything! Here's a review from Wired on it. Check out the video.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cosmetic items and paying for power

Gevlon has a very interesting article on what defines a "cosmetic item" in a game. While I generally agree with much of this I have a few reservations. The value of "cosmetic" in Gevlon's definition is one that won't affect anyone's gameplay. Gevlon goes further and suggests that this is the basis on which we can determine if a game is pay2win*. If an item affects somebody's gameplay it is a pay2win game.

Whilst I can agree with that, I don't think it is sufficient to determine that a game is play2win. There are items that may not affect my gameplay that nonetheless increase the power of other players competing with me.

To take an example, let's look at premium tanks in World of Tanks. Premium tanks are acquired in one of two ways: usually they are bought with cash, either directly through the web-store, or indirectly by buying a currency called gold through the web-store, and buying the premium tank with gold. The second and more unusual way is to win the tank by completing an in-game time-limited mission (for example, I won a ToG II by completing a mission called Togtober last October. Most dedicated players were able to complete this mission: it wasn't onerous, only time-consuming. However no new player can ever complete the mission, because the closing date is past). Most premium tanks aren't available in this way.

My premium tank may be no better in a particular match than your standard tank, and will not change your gameplay, but I have two extra advantages that I bought with my premium tank:
1. I earn extra credits, so I can afford more credit-bought premium ammo than you can (all else being equal), and
2. I can share a crew between my premium tank and a standard tank, thus training that crew twice as fast as  you can train your crew - I mean that I'll have one well-trained crew capable of crewing two tanks, to your two half-trained crews (or well-trained and untrained) after an equal number of matches.

Of course, in-game, you won't know whether my crew was fast-trained, gold-trained or simply normally-trained. You won't know if my premium ammo was credit-bought after a long grind, credit-bought after a short grind in a premium, or shop bought. And you won't care. You'll never meet me again, and it won't change your gameplay - driving a premium tank doesn't signal any level of competence or damage-dealing ability to other players, and plenty of non-premium tanks carry premium ammo**. The tank itself is nothing special in battle. Nonetheless I buy myself power when I buy a premium tank, which seems like a cosmetic item. In itself it is not more powerful than your standard tank. It gives me a little more power than you over the course of several matches, but that is irrelevant to you, because we will only meet once in battle.

See Hetzer Forever for more on that.

* Syncaine makes the point that it's more exactly pay-4-power. I think we can all agree that this is what we mean by pay2win.

** Of course, premium ammo is a clear non-cosmetic pay2win item. My point is that the premium tank seems like a cosmetic item, while also being pay2win.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Tobold's Game

Tobold is at it again: pretending not to know the difference between toys and games. I pointed it out to him back in 2013. He doesn't want to know, though, because he wants to buy his progress in the cash store, and doesn't want to acknowledge that this hurts other people's games (see Toys and Games for why)

By the way, that's the second time Tobold has used the title "Everything is Pay2Win". The previous time was back in 2013. which prompted me to ask how Free2Play games could be monetized without being Pay2Win. Nobody came up with any suggestions. Can you think of any?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Paying to lose

As I mentioned in "Plexing Warcraft", in EVE Online, paying for a powerful ship doesn't necessarily mean you become a powerful player. I'm learning the same lesson in World of Tanks, where my latest RMT purchase is the E-25. It's a light, fast, "tank destroyer". I put that in quotes because in fact, its accurate gun doesn't actually do a lot of damage per shot, though it does penetrate well, and has a fast reload rate. Anyway, I bought it for reasons of envy. Everybody else seems to have one, and they are in almost every battle where their tier is allowed. So much so that has decided to withdraw them from sale before every tier 7 battle becomes 15v15 E-25s swarming over each other.

So I bought one while I still could, and now I'm learning the hard way what EVE veterans know. I've paid for a tank that I don't know how to play. Its high speed makes me want to rush forward and spot. I seem to die very fast in every battle, though sometimes I grant you it is fun weaving between enemy heavies as they swing their guns in my direction, trying to swat the fly that's buzzing around their faces.

All the same, I've got to find a better tactic. It reminds me a lot of the ELC AMX, another tank that I can't play. Let me try playing as a sniper instead of as a scout.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

How much is a WoWPLEX worth?

To practical matters. How much will a WoWPLEX* cost? Let me first assume that it will be the equivalent of a 60-day game time card, which currently sells at $30. I checked a couple of gold selling sites, to get a feel for how much gold I could buy for that. It seems I can get around 40k-50k of gold for $30. Let's say 45k, to make the sums easy. $1=1500 gold.

That price sort of puts a bottom on the gold market for WoWPLEXes. At that price, a potential gold buyer can get the same amount of gold by selling a WoWPLEX as he could for buying the gold illegally**. Let's say the gold price of the WoWPLEX drops below the illegal exchange rate. Some potential WoWPLEX sellers will go back to buying gold illegally, at a better rate, and the supply of WoWPLEX will reduce. That should bring its gold price back up.

So, 1500 gold / dollar, or 45k gold /WoWPLEX  is the floor price. What is the ceiling price? To answer that, let's look at WoWPLEX  buyers in Azeroth: the people who pay gold to acquire a WoWPLEX. Apart from speculators, their purpose is to swap the WoWPLEX for 60 days of game time. This group can be broken into two: people for whom this is sustainable, because they earn more than 45k per 60 days (or 750g/day), and people for whom this is (currently) unsustainable. They earn less than this, but they have build up a stash of gold that allows them to afford several WoWPLEX purchases before the well runs dry. Some of this latter group will step up their AH and farming activities so that they can be sustainable, and some will buy a few WoWPLEXes and then stop. So initially the demand will be higher than it will be later. That means that the initial price will be higher, too (Belghast is predicting 100k initially).

It is the fact of having to earn in gold a sixtieth of a WoWPLEX that tends to put an upper limit on its price; but I don't know what that upper limit might be. I cetainly have less taste for farming and AH playing than I formerly did, but that might be because I have more gold than I need. Perhaps this new gold sink might encourage interest in me to improve my earnings. I'm sure the same is true of everyone. It will also reduce the demand for 'fluff' items, in order to conserve gold for buying WoWPLEXes.

What will the effect of this be on gold sellers and bot farming? I doubt any bot will stop running unless caught. After all, they can pay for their own accounts, now. The demand for their services will be greatly reduced. That in turn will lead to them reducing their prices. That'll feed back to affect the floor that I calculated earlier. If the dollar price of gold halves, then the gold price of the WoWPLEX must inevitably double (or else some gold buyers will revert to buying the gold illegally, instead of through WoWPLEX, reducing the supply of WoWPLEX and hence raising its value).

So those are the tensions that will govern the gold price of WoWPLEX. Illegal goldsellers set the floor price and to an extent determine the supply, and the determination of players to farm and trade in-game to improve their wealth governs the demand and the ceiling.

* I believe Wilhelm Arcturus originally coined the term way back in 2011, in a comment on Syncaine's  blog.

** I.e. breaking Blizzard's terms and conditions. This isn't really illegal on Earth in the sense that a court can send you to jail for it. But it does put your position in Azeroth in jeopardy. You might end up in the stockades for several months. You might even be executed.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Plexing Warcraft

Blizzard announced that they are now considering a version of Plex for the World of Warcraft: a game-time token that is exchangeable for gold in-game. In other words, I can buy with earthly euros a token that I can then sell for Azeroth gold. Or in my case, the other way round. I have to let that sink in. This would be immediately advantageous for me, since I am as rich as Croesus in Azeroth gold. I have already bought whatever useful BoE epics I can get. But I did this through in-game means. World of Warcraft, essentially, is a collector's world. Even those who are only interested in collecting boss kills must do so by first collecting gear. If that gear will soon be purchasable for euros, the point of most in-game activity ceases. Why bother skinning, mining, inscribing and so on to make gold, when its available on your credit card?

Then we need to look at the remaining activities, and ask if they are interesting on their own. Raiding with my guild is fun. We are not very hardcore and we raid once a week, sometimes twice. I spend the rest of my week preparing for those raids: collecting apexis crystals in order to buy better gear, gathering, crafting and selling stuff at auction to buy food and flasks, running heroic dungeons and LFR and killing world bosses in the hope of better gear drops.  There is a sense of being in a living world with all of these activities (except the random dungeons and LFR). Will that be enough to sustain in me a desire to continue with those activities? Knowing that I can buy whatever I need with my credit card probably renders them pointless. And what is the value of a living world in which your activities therein are pointless? Will I continue to remain in an Azeroth where I can buy the Sword of a Thousand Truths with my credit card? Of course, soulbound gear isn't purchasable like that. But the precursors will be: the crafted BoE gear that you need to even stand a chance of killing a boss and acquiring that better soulbound gear; all the buff food, potions and flasks that all make the difference between a kill and a wipe. They can all go on your credit card. So will I continue to be interested in an Azeroth in which I only need log on for raid night?

Edit: Alex tweeted "This article should have drawn more examples from Eve Online". That's probably true. Eve, which I don't play, has quite a different economy, based on constant destruction of ships through warfare. The replacement of these ships is what drives economic activity in Eve, and all economic activity is bought and sold in a currency called ISK, which an Eve PLEX can be sold for. In contrast, WoW's economic activity comes in waves, as each new patch makes obsolete the equipment of the previous patch, driving adventurers to to re-quip with the better gear. Sometimes that gear is valued in gold, and is freely tradable. Much of the time the new gear is not tradable (this in itself is a major drain on immersion), but upgrades to the gear (in the form of enchantments, gems and other enhancements) are. Eve players seem to have no problem accepting PLEX, as many feel that buying ships with ISK doesn't make you more powerful: it's personal skill that matters. I have my doubts. A pilot with lots of skill and no ship is not a match for a poorly skilled pilot who actually has a ship to pilot.

Many EVE veterans will say that far from paying to win, inexperienced players who buy top of the range ships with PLEX-bought ISK are simply paying to lose, as they lack the skill to use the ships effectively. That's a good point: buying better gear in WoW generally does improve your damage or healing output, or survivability, no matter how bad the buyer is.

Anyway, if it has worked for Eve, perhaps it will work for WoW. Perhaps an EVE player might put the case for PLEX in Eve? I'm willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt, for now. Let's see if it actually gets implemented, and how.

Tomorrow, I'll look at how much a WoWPLEX would be worth.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Who did I just free?

Uhm, Cho'Gall, Teron Gorefiend (under the nom-de-guerre of Teron'gor), and Gul'dan. The Iron horde had made them their prisoner, and I freed them. My first act in passing through the Dark Portal into Draenor. Maybe I should have taken the side of the Iron Horde in this. Are Garrosh and Grom really worse than that trio? Oh, well. As Gul'dan says "there will be time for regrets later".

From an Alliance point of view, I suppose it's all good. We get to kill orcs, either way. From an orcish point of view, there must be more ambivalence. Free Gul'dan? Really? At least Garrosh has saved the orcs of Draenor from drinking the blood of Mannoroth, The shattered planet that is Outland shows how badly that went!