Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Elite System

Playing through the Legacy quests of SWG today, and I got to one where you must kill 5 elites. This simultaneously made me nostalgic and frustrated, and I realize now that so many games have taken on the regular/elite/boss model that WoW uses (if it has a source before that, I do not know of it; if you do please mention the game that used it). Off of the top of my head; Aion, SWG, CoX, Warhammer Online, DDO, and so forth.

For those of you not familiar with the terminology, a regular mob is one that you should be able to kill solo at the same level (or +-2 usually) with little difficulty. An Elite mob has more health, deals more damage, and is hard to solo at the same level (though usually 5 or more levels above it you can solo it). WoW used a 3x health and damage modifier for elite mobs in vanilla, so they were roughly as hard to kill as 3 mobs attacking you at once (without the benefit of less dps as you kill one or two of the three mobs). Boss mobs are even more powerful, and usually their power varied greatly. These were meant to be final encounters, or chapter encounters that ended a wing, hallway, or instance in a climactic battle. They almost always required a full group, using good tactics and sometimes luck to beat.

Why does this make me nostalgic? SWG pre-CU had a system where level was effectively hidden. There was a level mechanic, but it was pretty involved, changing based on your group size, equipped weapon, pets, and dozens of other mechanics. Mobs would be tagged with a color on their nameplate that indicated if the game thought you could handle it. It was simple, and worked. Xp was based on the toughness of the mob, not the relative level, and since xp scaled with your class advancement, it worked out similarly to the tougher mobs for higher level players concept (and facilitated grouping as they gave more xp, but it was divided by damage done). What mobs did have was a HAM bar, health, action, and mind. If any of them reached 0, the mob died. Now some mobs had very high HAM totals for their level, they were effectively elites but you didn't know unless you moused over and saw their totals or had experience with that kind of mob.

I'm starting to blather on, so I will wrap it up here. I'm looking for games without boss and elite mobs, but wikth simkilar challenges. Please let me know if you play any.

Monday, April 11, 2011

the mmorpg quandry

The mmorpg industry is an interesting animal. Wow is a giant, most other games are lowly populated (by comparison) and many people question a game's potential longevity before playing (understandable when you will put hundreds of hours into the game). Many games find it hard to carve their niche and make it last, and one even challenges Wow to its own game (Rift). So what makes this industry so interesting?

Go big or go home: most mmos now have small populations, tending tiwards low revenue and even lower new subscription numbers. Mmoers don't like joining a game with a tiny community, and server pop is always an issue. Plus more money means more success as a game (it is a business after all).

Niche-tze: games like this find it hard to appeal to all audiences. Games that try tend to struggle and choose one audience over the rest at a later time. With millions of subscribers you will never please everyone, and a game 'good enough' for everyone will only hold interest for so long.

stability/longevity wow has been going strong for many years and is showing no signs of stopping. Everquest and its sequel are similar, as is ffxi, which some players of ffxiv are flocking back to. Players are investing their time into a game as well as their money. They want to not only be able to play, but also know that their characters and stuff will be available to them for years to come.

Just some thoughts

A look back at SWG's economy

To continue my economic discussion, I have been thinking a lot about SWG's economy. I've played it in all three of its iterations (pre-CU, CU, and NGE), and am currently playing it again. It is enjoyable enough, and I would rather be playing FFXI, but its registration system continues to give me headaches, and I am debating buying it for xbox to try one of the work arounds that have been offered to me. But enough about that.

Pre-CU, SWG's economy was what you might consider small. A million credits was a lot of money (what a million gold is to the current WoW economy, if you will), and few players claimed that they had such. There was also little or no credit selling, which was an interesting phenomenon. After the CU, inflation started, and in a bad way. Many reasons for this, which I will delve into later. NGE made the whole thing worse. The question is: Why?

Pre-CU had a balanced economic situation. Most items were player made, using resources that were player harvested (and had to be actively sought), money drops off of mobs were very low, and mission terminals were a primary source of income, and even then the income was rather low. So there was, overall, a very low amount of credits enterring the system. However, there were also many drains on these credits, leading to a very small net credit gain. Houses, factories, harvesters, skill training, vehicle repair...all of these things took credits. Also, all of your equipment had a durability rating, and slowly decayed. Sure you might spend 10,000 credits on an awesome gun, but you'll have to keep putting money into it (in the form of crafted weapon repair kits and the like) or it will become useless. I remember having a wall of carbines that I had used to level my character, most in poor durability, on display. I felt connected to all of them.

Basically, everything you spent credits on was a drain in itself, as those credits went to crafters, who spent credits on maintaining harvesters to gather resources to make your items (and on vendors, vendor fees, shops, etc etc etc). Which, oddly enough, works rather well as a system. Even rare loot drops used in crafting didn't become too expensive, and you could always barter with a crafter for materials they needed. If you had krayt tissues or whatever, you could ask a crafter, for a fee of course, to make you an item with them. Everyone would be happy.

To give you an idea of pricing at this time, a full set of doctor buffs was 10k credits and lasted about 2 hours. A single "solo group" mission on dantoine netted about the same, and took maybe 10 minutes. Nobody I knew who ran those missions became rich, but they did enough to buy what they wanted.

So what happened? CU allowd people to respec, removing a lot of training costs. Eventually they removed decay all together and that screwed over the economy. Now if you buy an awesome gun, you will have it forever...it will cost a ridiculous amount, maybe millions of credits, but you will have it forever. I wish the old system was back.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gold Devaluation

Looking at the last few expansions to WoW (Cataclysm, sadly, did not meet my expectations and made the game boring for me, more on that later), I've noticed a steep drop in the value of gold. Just in grinding out from 80-85 I made quite the load of gold, and there aren't that many drains in the economy. Training and the like is a big one, but only flying mount training (for fast fliers) and constant respeccing of talent points (I mean ludicrously) could be considered a balancing factor for the massive gold values we are now seeing. This is driving inflation so badly that you don't need to know even how to spell economics in order to spot it.

Is this a bad thing? Ultimately yes. One good result is the dying off of gold farming as a direct industry. You do not need hard to obtain amounts of gold for anything save buying the best equipment. Gold is also not difficult to obtain at all, increasing the supply. More supply, less demand, yields lower prices. It has reached the point where "human" gold farming, even in the East, is not profitable. This is a sad turn-around from an industry that was making boatloads of money off of the market. They are simultaneously suffering from a lack of power levelling need, as Blizzard made the game so much easier.

Now for the bad results. Newer players, and those without a lvl 85, have trouble even on developed servers 1. finding goods and resources they need and 2. finding them at reasonable prices. Things tend to balance out a bit, but not very evenly. If simple resources are ridiculously expensive, then newbie crafters cannot buy them, but newbie gatherers make bank off of them. This goes up and down the "brackets" until a balance is found, usually at a point where items up to say lvl 40 or so are super cheap, and after that are super expensive, leading to the difficult choice of grinding out a gathering profession to sustain your character's wallet for 30 or so levels until gold becomes easy to find.

A secondary problem, and one that will continue to get worse, is that with few drains, inflation will just continue. Soon it will get to a point that even newer players or players who don't grind out money will not be able to afford anything. This will lead to gold farming being a viable industry again, which, if Blizzard's goal was to kill it, will be counter-productive. If you need 100k of gold to buy a good item, and you can earn 3k gold a day, are you willing to waste a month of your time, or would you pay say...20 dollars cash in order to have it?

The third problem is the sheer "free money" aspect that guilds now have after they get their traits. One line of these traits generate additional cash from every looted amount that goes directly to the guild bank. Now, I've seen the direct result of this at low levels being a nice fund for discretionary spending, and realize the effects of it being used to pay for raid repairs and the like, however, this is removing a further drain on the economy, *and* generating even more money. This is essentially adding a 10% or so boost to the inflation rate, probably compounded even more by the fact its use is almost solely on economic drains.

Solutions to this problem? I frankly don't see any. We are in too deep with this system. Its a similar problem to the rampant increase of stats with each expansion, you cannot remove it without players getting mad. One option is for blizzard to introduce something that is a further drain on resources. An idea I will bring up again is the idea of guild bases. These should be something that is fairly expensive to create, requiring money to maintain, and subject to guild vs guild pvp. Not saying that is the only solution, but there needs to be something for all the money to be used for besides player to player trading. I would discourage them from using just an item worth x gold as a "drain" as it is a cheap way out, and would create more problems as people grind gold towards getting it.