Greedy Goblin

Monday, April 24, 2017

I'm afraid that was 70 Euros wasted

I promised a new game today and I attempted to deliver. I failed. I paid E70 for the cheapest Crowfall packages to test this well anticipated and very highly regarded game. I shouldn't have. Before everything else: this is not a don't play Crowfall post. Those are reserved for rigged and corrupted games. Crowfall was upfront that they are "pre-alpha 4", which clearly means that much work to be done.

However what I've found was extremely little. I mean a "2 people working on it from 200K" content and not a professional MMO developed by a whole staff for at least 2 years (successful Kickstarter campaign 2015 March) from 12 million dollars:

There isn't any form of tutorial, newbie quests, guide, mouseover tooltips for spells, not even a text screen with an OK button to explain the basics, which would be more than expected from something that you release to the general public. There is a graveyard, a landscape which looks about the same as WoW 2005, a bunch of trees to cut, stones to harvest and some empty buildings, with some random mobs. Oh, and 1000+ms lagspikes.

While they indeed promised no release date, so I can't blame them for lying, I was shocked how little I got for a price of half year of WoW subscription. Also, while they are free to monetize their pre-alpha game any way they please as long as they are giving honest information for decision making, I find this ... a bit of Star Citizen-ish:
I'm looking forward to getting updates about the game, maybe I'm totally wrong and they just need a little work for everything to click together. But I'd bet no release date before 2019 and wouldn't be surprised if they go bankrupt before releasing anything. Again, I'm not blaming anyone but myself.

But I've learned my lesson: no more pre-released games, unless they are in final beta with release date set. Albion was technically and content-volume-wise fine, I expect no less from any publisher before I give him a cent. If you want to support Crowfall or any other early access games, fine, I'm not going to stop you. But I'll be damned before I do this again.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Weekend minipost: some questions/notes about games

I've checked out (not played, just read/youtube...) about some suggested games and have some questions:
  • ARK Survival Evolved looks interesting, but it's not an MMO with a World, but a single player game with option to run multiplayer. Is it true? Or am I misunderstanding something and there is one developer ran server-side World that players join?
  • Archeage is OK-ish monetization wise and tax prevents real money speculation, but is there an effect on the World, or is it just Black Desert style capture, brag, no one cares?
  • Screeps looks like a genius concept. Too bad that I can't program Javascript, nor I think many people would follow me even if I'd learn it.
  • Naval action: while early access, it looks playable. Is it a single-World MMO? About how many players? Does conquering do anything? Is there a reason to care which Nation is winning, or one can just jump ship and make winner side alt?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Weekend minipost: more grinding is done

The About page is updated again, as I finished with the "new" posts gathering since 2016 June, classifying them into Ideas or Random. Now only the posts younger than 30 days are New, as they should be.

PS: I deleted 10 Albion posts in various stages of preparation. Some were just a title with "aaa" as text, some were fully written. Sad.

PS2: But unlike after EVE, I will be playing a new game soon, because I just pick one candidate and try. I will announce my new game on Tuesday, no matter what. I've checked Cameloth Unchained, Crowfall, Life is Feudal but all are Alpha, so not even playable beta like Albion was. Though LiF has a limited local server mode (LiF:YO) and if no better is found, I test that, though it has a big negative of being sold on Steam (so far I evaded having a Steam Client). Feel free to suggest more World MMOs.

Update: Archeage is out of question for the same reason as Albion: APEX speculation

Friday, April 21, 2017

Do not play Albion Online (and suggest me a World game)

I was hoping that the non-corrupted devs win the internal struggle and the gold speculation "feature" is removed from Albion Online. I waited a week after the threadnought started on the forum, but there was no response, leaving me with no other options than uninstalling the game and urging you not to play it. Permanent page is up!

I requested games many times before (this is how I've found Albion), this time I'm more specific and has less criteria:
  • The game must have a "World", so if one player does something (killing a mob, taking a resource, building a building), it must be visible and affecting other players
  • The game must not be totally dead (like a hundred players or something)
  • Played on a PC
  • Can be pre-release (I already know of Crowfall and Camelot Unchained)
  • Can be of any genre
Fire away! This time I'm not looking for the perfect game, I just jump on the first looking good and try it out. I will either find it great and stay, shallow and quit or rigged and make a page.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Game development ethics from a rational standpoint

I wrote Why games and devs must meet high moral standards. The post was a bizarre one. On the one hand I meant it seriously: without legal protection and ability to sue for refund when delivered a product that doesn't live up to the specifications one can only trust in the ethics of the other participant. On the other hand I realized how stupid it is to demand game devs to be particularly ethical and cited Derek Smart. Thirdly, writing about ethics by a business-focused kind-of-objectivist is weird as I don't even believe in its existence.

The Albion Online Corruption case (which with 99% chance ends up with a "Don't play Albion Online" page tomorrow), made this mess clear. There is absolutely no reason for Sandbox Interactive (the developer company of Albion) for allowing premium currency speculation. The speculators will have huge amount of currency making any kind of gameplay irrelevant while every penny they made will be RMT-ed at the expense of shop sales, directly hurting the company on top of the loss of revenue from frustrated customers leaving because their game experience was damaged. Why do they do it?

They don't. Corrupted devs do, who want to steal from their company. This is why there is no dev reply in the threadnought, despite they are very active in the forums to explain features that simple minded players wanting to "fix" something intentional, or admit that a broken feature indeed needs fixing. Funnily, the thread isn't banned either. None of them wants to put their name next to this "feature" with the post or with a deletion seen on the logs. They just hope that the whole thing fizzles out and when some scandal come out, they can just play innocent while the bitcoins from goldsellers is already in their accounts.

Funnily, goldsellers themselves aren't shy defending the "feature":
I miss the old days when goldsellers were hiding behind 1 days old alts and faced ban when caught. I don't know when did they realize that finding connections to individual devs is possible and profitable. Probably it happened by some small time sellers finished college and started "living the dream": became lowly paid, 14+ hours working devs and figured how much power they got with very little supervision. From there, "connected" goldsellers had nothing to fear short of a scandal, just remember how Somer Blink was promoted for being "one of the most awesome community sites" not long before having to ban them for RMT scandal. History repeated itself when they unbanned another major RMT site which was forced to be banned half year later after I threatened them with a lawsuit.

Why am I writing this? Because "ethics violation" in the business world can mean two things: sexual harassment and stealing. Companies don't want to air the laundry, they just fire the harasser/thief instead of pressing criminal charges. In this framework everything make sense: demanding "ethics" doesn't mean pleading to the tooth fairy, but calling investors to look after their own profit. What the gaming industry is lacking is audits of development. I'm sure that investors audit sales to prevent employees stealing product codes. They just don't realize the value of in-game assets despite the illicit RMT market is several billion dollars. I think investors believe that devs are just modeling orcs and coding fireballs which they have no business with and simply unaware how many million dollars of theirs can be stolen by "lousy" anti-bot measures and "features" that allow "connected players" to put their hands on half of the game economy and RMT it away.

I looked for salvation from game corruption everywhere, except the most goblinish place: the investors. This is why there never was a corruption scandal in WoW: the corporate behaves as a corporate, probably every department is properly audited and forced to adhere "ethical code". So the biggest red flags in a game studio are exactly those that make gamers excited "we are not corporate", "we are indie" and "crowdfunding" (hey, Star Citizen will surely be great from that $145M).

Sure, these corporates only run popular titles now which are naturally casual, easy and moron-catering. But sooner or later they will do what big film studios, having their "searchlight" department running smaller games for niches.

It doesn't mean that some indie-kickstarter games can't be done right. I'm sure that both the Crowfall and the Camelot Unchained directors are doing a work of love. But unless they can somehow audit their workers, their noble quests will be derailed by a few bad eggs who can't resist a couple $10K bribe. Albion could have been a great game, but it won't be. It will be shipped with a broken economy, with blatant goldselling and players turning away disappointed after a month.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Knights vs Demons vs Swarm (and Spirits)

After writing the classification of massively multiplayer games and reading about 6 hours about Camelot Unchained I realized that I need to collect and update my ideas about my dream game. Especially because currently I have little faith in Camelot, for the same reason why every faction based PvP game failed: players aren't loyal to their factions. It's most visible in EVE faction war where most players have alts in opposing militias, playing the one with the most rewards. In WoW, while Wintergrasp or Tol Barad had any relevance, they were often dominated by one side, because the other gave up on the optional feature. In the games I've know of (and Camelot isn't an exception), the factions are mirrors of each other with only lore differences. They mean nothing to the players who openly talk about "mobs", "content", "l33t", "pwning n00bs", "ilvl" and other meta-gaming terms, showing that they are rather interested in the social or competitive aspect of the game than in roleplaying in its World. There is nothing that keeps them in one faction when it is losing or can offer lesser rewards than others. It doesn't mean that developers can't balance the game in a way to avoid a faction being exterminated, typically with rewards for joining the one behind, but it means that you can't care less if your side is winning or losing.

My long-held idea is now complete. Please note that the idea itself is about factions, not game mechanics. You can design any kind of combat mechanics and graphics on top of it, from cartoon superhero FPS to dark fantasy turn based card game. The factions have completely different gameplay and philosophy, that lock the players to the faction: they simply love to play this way and would hate to play the other ways, so they are this faction, for better or worse. The basic setting is simple: the factions fight for territories that become vulnerable according to some timetable. Territory control give the faction access to resources and buffs in PvP in that territory.

How do these factions fight?
  • Knights, the achievers: the knight gameplay is most similar to (old) WoW gameplay. There are distinct classes with min-maxed specialization: tanks, healers, glass cannons and crowd controllers. While individual performance matters, even the best of the best is nothing alone, while a team with good synergy is strong. Adding more teams (zerging) doesn't add synergies, two teams are just two teams next to each other. Tanks have abilities to keep the enemy in place at the cost of them being locked to them, healers heal them up, CC-ers keep other enemies than the target away from combat, while glass cannons deal most of the damage at the cost of being one-two-shottable if the tank and CC fails or they position wrongly.
  • Swarmlings, the socializers: lore-wise they are beasts, fighting with fangs and naturally attained spells. They don't have many abilities and the mechanics are simple. There is no specialization among them, a more advanced swarmling is just bigger and stronger in everything. They fight in large groups (zerging), but they don't have to care about UI management as their strength is automatically gained from the swarm. Nobody in the swarm can die as long as the swarm itself is alive, as the swarm (swarmlings within range of each other) have shared HP. When the swarm is on half HP, it does half damage, so damaging the swarm weakens them, but no individual member is suffering for his bad luck or incompetent play. Similarly, there is no reason for a swarmling to be anti-social with another: every +1 swarmling makes you stronger by adding to your HP pool. Having the "shoot nearest enemy" spell on autocycle, and just chatting with friends while watching the combat visuals is completely accepted "competitive" play for swarmlings. The swarm either dies at once, or dissolves as more and more members run away to save themselves.
  • Demons, the killers: lore-wise they are lone demons. While they can form small guilds, they can't unite their forces. They are hindered by "demonic greed" a stacking debuff they receive from every demon nearby. Guildmates have weaker debuff, but still only a handful demons can work together before they become completely useless due to the debuff. On the other hand demons are strong. A single demon has 50-50 chance against proper 4 man knight unit (tank+healer+DPS+CC) of the same skill or against a 10-man swarm. Demons live and die by their skills, the proper execution of combos (like stun plus slow buildup avoidable huge damage) and the proper choice to engage or flee.
  • +1 Spirits the explorers: they are a strange addition to the game, as they can't conquer anything. They probably don't want to, because they are explorers. They are combat-unable faction with strong abilities to run away from combat.

How do these factions claim land?
  • Knights: They conquer land by building. After they destroyed the strongholds of enemy factions, they must gather and move resources and build a fort WoW Garrison style. Their task to build strongholds are huge compared to other factions, but so is the prize: a well-advanced fort, staffed by well geared and skilled knights acting as a unit cannot be conquered by demons and the swarm must outnumber them 30:1 to win.
  • The swarm captures land by ... swarming. After destruction of the enemy stronghold, swarmlings just have to be on the spot while a capture slider is filling (the more, the faster) and a living hive is built which has automatic, unmanned defenses protecting itself even when no swarmling around, and merging its HP with the swarm when it's nearby. There is one mechanic to prevent the swarm razing enemy forts just to grief (Demons can grief, swarm can't): hungry swarmlings can't attack structures. The land can't feed a huge swarm, they must either spread out to farm, opening them up for small gangs of knights and roaming demons or they must use rations from their hive. As hives grow, they give out bigger and bigger rations, so to be able to effectively siege, swarmlings must protect their captured hives long enough to be able to give out big enough rations for a siege battle.
  • Demons are unable to team up for a siege, so they can't really fight a properly formed knight army or a large enough swarm. They win territories by either finding undefended ones in the back, or wearing down the defenders by picking them one by one while farming forcing them to just go away - and due to no fast travel, being too far to fight when the timer is up. Demons don't have to build anything to own land, any land unclaimed by the Knights or the Swarm belongs to them with a defenseless demonic pillar growing on the stronghold spot. The longer it's there, the more powerful buff it gives to demons and more HP it has, but it sill can't defend itself, demons must show up and PvP to hold it. When the server starts up, every land outside faction safe zones are demon land.
  • Spirits don't own land besides their safe zone, which is in the middle of the map, while the other faction safe zones are on the edges, far from each other.

Character progression, death penalty, time spent outside battles for territories:
  • Knights: During breaks of fighting they have lots of tasks to do: gathering materials, crafting gear, upgrading the fort, killing natural monsters for XP. One can spend 10+ hours a day for years as a knight and still have something to do. The XP they gained is permanent. Gear is lost upon death and lootable by everyone. Looting takes time and interrupted by damage, so can practically done only upon victory. Fellow knights are noble, if they loot a corpse, the gear is automatically returned to the owner in damaged form. If enemies loot it, it's lost. Powerful gear acts as artifact for spirits.
  • Swarmlings grow naturally while fed and shrink when starving. On death they reset to basic swarmling, but it's not a big loss, as even the most powerful elder beast has just +100% damage and +200% HP (which is only relevant in single combat, as in group the HP is shared) stronger than the most basic newborn. When they grow, they also get a slow visual upgrade which they can't lose and make them look more and more badass. The only thing to do for swarmlings outside of combat is killing natural monsters for food, but as I mentioned, it's really optional as the reward is small. One can be (and most will be) small swarmlings playing casually, socializing most of the time and playing only on big, timer battles.
  • Demons progress their character by killing other players. They can't just farm the same noob or alt again and again, they must roam and find new ones to kill. Their strength grows by every kill with no limit, but they can lose a big part of it upon death. Multiple deaths can push a demon back to newbie state. They are anti-social, they are the only faction where killing another member is possible and it's even rewarded: killing a fellow demon gives the biggest reward to killer - and even larger penalty to the loser.
  • Spirits spend all their time outside of combat (unless they are caught) and their whole play is about exploring the land, while finding relics. They must also find mana stones to eat. With every relic delivered home, their HP and ability power grows, along with their capability to search relics. Upon death, they lose the relics they carried. For them, the other factions mean obstacle in their quests, as relics are seen as valuable building materials (or gear) by knights, huge chunk of food for swarmlings and powerful temporary buffs for demons. They are seen as thieves by other factions, creating interesting dynamic.

What is their UI look like?
  • Knights: Various windows and spreadsheets to properly manage various progress paths, buildings, resources and inventory. Outside of combat they probably don't see much from the World. In combat they have their map, their spell hotbar and group UI, similar to WoW.
  • Swarmlings: can switch between two modes. The normal mode has the minimap, the spell hotbar and a swarm counter, showing how many other swarmlings are in range. The combat mode is an RTS topside view where they can pan and scan to see the whole swarm and the battlefield, but of course they can only control their one swarmling.
  • Demons: have similar to the Knight combat UI, but they have various cooldown meters and combo counters and ability telegraphs on the ground, rather a WoW UI with the top raiding addons.
  • Spirits: have no minimap or any windows, only the spell castbar. They are probably locked into FPS view or closely behind-shoulder view. They have to do everything by seeing and interacting with the World. Their only "senses" are the ability to see their city beacon on the horizon to find the way home; a sunbeam-like effect showing the direction of nearby artifacts; and a danger sense that places red shadows to the distance where hostile players are.

As usual, everything on my blog is free to take. If you are a dev seeing potential in this, use any element in your game!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three big questions of massively multiplayer games

First thing first: EVE is back on discussing features. The "no EVE rule" was made because I compared everything to an imaginary unrigged EVE and everything looked pale. After I played Albion Online, this is no longer valid, as I successfully got involved in another game, so it's sure I can (and shortly will) do it again. EVE is a good comparison standpoint for many game features, it's dumb to act like it's not existing.

Another note: I haven't given up on Albion yet, and ready to return if they at least admit that gold speculation is a game-breaking, obviously corrupted feature and pledge to remove it before release. But I won't hold my breath and make the page this week if they don't.

I'm afraid most game devs are unaware of the big questions of MMOs and design their game from the standpoint of lore, visuals or combat system, then looking puzzled why their "awesome" game failed. The reason is that while bad lore, visuals or combat can kill an MMO, good ones don't make one. MMOs need other players - a community - and they are already somewhere. An "awesome" WoW clone will be empty, while WoW will be full. Not to mention that Blizzard can just import some of the "awesome" features (like they did with AoE loot) and beat you. I claim that MMOs that give the same answers to the big questions are mods/reskins of each other and only one can be successful. Sure, if you have a billion dollar, you can make a WoW-killer, but the only way to make a new MMO that coexists with existing ones is to give a different answers to the big questions. There are no right and wrong answers to the questions, just different games for different audiences.

Below you'll see the big question and the answers of WoW, BDO, EVE, Albion, League of Legends and World of Tanks (as they claim to be, ignoring rigging)
  1. Can you change the game World for other players? The simpler version is "Is there a World, or are you playing parallel single player games?" Many players prefer to be left alone, while others want to cooperate and compete with others. Please note that optional group-worlds do not apply, so just because your raid can kill a boss for a week and it's dead for all of you, it did not affect any other players who did not choose to be in your raid. Similarly distant and irrelevant elements (like who holds Tol Barad in WoW) do not count either. The World must be strongly affecting the gameplay of all players (besides total newbies in starter zones). While "sandbox" usually means a living World, they are not interchangeable. A Persistent setting where you can do whatever you want is sandbox (Hitman, Grand Theft Auto), while being a combat soldier commanded from one battle to another can be a living World, assuming your victories and defeats reshape the World for everyone.
    • WoW: Persistent
    • BDO: Persistent
    • EVE: World
    • Albion: World
    • WoT: Persistent
    • LoL: Persistent
  2. Is there meaningful trading? "meaningful" refers to "buying and selling items fundamental in progressing your character and/or affecting the game World". It's a big question, because trading allows non-combat cooperation and competition between players. Please note that trading irrelevant and auxiliary items do not count. If a player gains most of his power from his personal play and not traded it from others, the answer is no. This question has a weird connection to Is it pay-to-win? (meaning "throwing money to the game makes your character more powerful") If there is trading and there is any form of in-game spending, the players can trade their premium item for power items with other players. So a "meaningful trading" game is always P2W unless every player is strictly paying the same, which has no precedent in the last years (as devs want money). So the three answers are "No", "isolated P2W" (no player trading, but there is item shop), "trade-P2W":
    • WoW: No trade
    • BDO: Trade-P2W
    • EVE: Trade-P2W
    • Albion: Trade-P2W
    • WoT: Isolated-P2W
    • LoL: No Trade(remember, ignore rigging!)
  3. Is there PvP where you can lose character progression or the World changes against your will? Obviously important question. Please note that PvP being consensual doesn't nullify the question, as long as the loser loses progression or the World does change for everyone upon his defeat (for example nullsec citadel changes hands). Further question: is this PvP enforced to be at fair numbers or can one bring zerg to win? Both are valid answers, but result in very different games and cultures:
    • WoW: PvE
    • BDO: PvE
    • EVE: Zerg
    • Albion: Equal
    • WoT: PvE
    • LoL: Equal

After crossing out impossible combinations, I see 11 different options, 11 possible successful big massively multiplayer games. Instead we have a few successful ones and a bunch of WoW-clones looking puzzled why they don't grow. Let's look at the whole map:
  • Persistent, Notrade, PvE: this is WoW and no one else can take its place without a billion dollars. You only progress your character and do so by gaining stuff for yourself by fighting NPCs. There are PvP arenas but they give rewards for losers too, so they are just another non-competitive grind (many people do them AFK).
  • Persistent, Notrade, Equal-PvP: this is what League of Legends claims to be and probably is after Platinum. You only progress your rating and do so by fighting other players in an equal footing (you wish).
  • Persistent, Notrade, Zerg-PvP: impossible option as creating a zerg always means some World-changing thing, even if not hard coded into the game. The forums, chats needed to create such zerg would also mean some meaningful sub-culture that is a World of its own. Also, no one would play a game where you can only progress your character by ... being a meaningless cog in the zerg.
  • Persistent, Isolated-P2W, PvE: World of Tanks. The "PvE" part is what skyrocketed this game. As long as you play, even if you always lose (impossible due to rigging), you get XP, so you can buy new tanks. So while it sells itself as a PvP game, it's actually just a grind, that's why it can be botted. Credit income depends on your premium status and gold tank use more than on your combat results.
  • Persistent, Isolated-P2W, Equal-PvP: Clash of Clans and the rest of the moneygrabbing mobile crap.
  • Persistent, Isolated-P2W, Zerg-PvP: impossible option as creating a zerg always means some World-changing thing. Also, who would pay to win just to be zerged down and his progress taken?
  • Persistent, Trade-P2W, PvE: Black Desert Online. Get more and more powerful gear via trading and payin that you use for nothing (unlike in WoW where you claim it yourself from "hard" bosses)
  • Persistent, Trade-P2W, Equal-PvP: Impossible combination. The point of Equal PvP is to be considered (by himself or others) to be skilled. This can of course be cheated by P2W, see mobile crap. But trading would allow skilled players obtain premium currency by trading, and then pwn paying ones, giving them negative progression, killing the game.
  • Persistent, Trade-P2W, Zerg-PvP: impossible option as creating a zerg always means some World-changing thing. Also, who would pay to win just to be zerged down and his progress taken?
  • World, Notrade, PvE: Financially impossible, since the P2W versions will always pay more. Not P2W games can only exists where the focus is personal progression and players reject cheating via P2W.
  • World, Notrade, Equal-PvP: see above
  • World, Notrade, Zerg-PvP: see above
  • World, Isolated-P2W, PvE: I don't know any games like this, but is not impossible. It would be a player empire fighting against an NPC empire, changing the map as they progress, players using only items they gained themselves or bought in the item shop.
  • World, Isolated-P2W, Equal-PvP: I don't know of any games like this, but it's not impossible. Imagine player empires fighting each other for land, but only using self-gained items and fighting in enforced arenas. Actually WoT clan wars are somewhat similar, though they aren't really a "world" since most players can't interfere or be affected by it.
  • World, Isolated-P2W, Zerg-PvP: It would be my long held dream of Knights vs Demons (parts are all over my blog, I must write a comprehensive post some day)
  • World, Trade-P2W, PvE: I don't know of any games like that and not sure how it would look like, but is not logically impossible.
  • World, Trade-P2W, Equal-PvP: This is where Albion is, despite the devs didn't ask the questions before designing their game, therefore copied the "small highsec, middle lowsec, big nullsec" of EVE and look puzzled why black zones (Albion nullsec) are empty: it's because 5v5 GvG can't be zerged down, so black zone play is only for a small elite, while EVE nullsec alliances hire large amount of unskilled players for F1-pushing zerg. I believe Albion has a chance for success (because it has a unique niche), if they redraw the map and strictly redesign PvP in every other aspect to rule out zerg play (not because zerg play is bad, but because those who like zerg go to EVE).
  • World, Trade-P2W, Zerg-PvP: EVE Online
Please think about other games, try to place them on the map and tell me if they are somehow different than others on the map. Because I have a feeling that they are not and could be made as mods of the other game there.