Saturday, October 31, 2009

DDO: Autwind Where's your Trousers? (I hate Ooze)

You may wonder why Autwind Horogood, that precocious scholar of the arcane arts, is running around Stormreach in his underwear. If you are astute you may even have noticed the distinct lack of an imposing wizardly staff in his hands.

How has this sorry state of affairs come to pass? Oozes. That is what has led to this.  Squelchy slimy fetid oozes.

Autwind is working his way through a quest arc set in the Kobold infested tunnels of Storm-reach waterworks. Things went well enough for the first couple of missions and large numbers of Kobold were slaughtered.The third mission is set in Clan Tunnelworm's lair and these particular Kobolds are rather remiss in their housekeeping. The lair is filled with rapidly respawning grey oozing creatures. Not only are these oozes immune to my fiery magics they also exude an acidic slime which dissolves weapons and clothing. One minute Autwind was a powerful wizard commanding terrible arcane forces,the next minute he was standing in his underwear looking at the broken fragments of his staff. Autwind managed to complete the instance anyway with the help of his trusty hireling cleric but running around naked in a dangerous lair is no fun.

The repair bills for this are probably going to bankrupt me. I have already spent most of my cash learning new spells (surprisingly expensive by the way) and I amn't getting enough loot from these missions to cover the repairs. This may indeed mark the end of my career as a solo adventurer. Its not just that the missions are getting harder it is also that the economics of DDO seem to be firmly stacked against soloing. Most of the loot from an adventure comes from chests and quest rewards. As far as I can tell these are independent of party size. No /roll is required here, everybody gets to loot the chest. The solo adventurer takes longer to complete a mission and has a much higher repair bill but only gets the same rewards.  

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reasons I will not be buying Modern Warfare 2 on the 12th November

I have bought every Call of Duty game available for the PC. I think that Call of Duty Modern Warfare was a stunning achievement which raised the bar for both single and multiplayer gaming. I am very much looking forward to playing Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2 but I will not be buying it on the release date of 12th November. These are my reasons why.

Partly it is because the dedicated server issue has upset me. It not just because I think it is a bad decision although the case against it is strong. What really really upsets me is the response from Infinity Ward representatives. This sounds like a company that has no respect for PC gamers. I am a PC gamer.

Even more important that the dedicated server issue though is the price of the game. Quite simply €60 is more than I am prepared to pay to download this game. In a recent comment to an RPS article a poster called Bhazor summed up my feelings about game pricing almost perfectly:
"But I wouldn’t say this was budget priced but more rid range. To me budget is £0-£9.99, mid range is £10-£25, full price is £26-£34 and £35 is taking the piss Infinity Ward. Anything over £10 requires at least one reviewer I trust saying I need this."

Of course companies are allowed to charge whatever they like for their products. I have no doubt that Activision has a room full of MBA graduates who can justify this price tag. I also fully expect that the game will make a truckload of money even without Bhazor's custom and mine. I do wonder though if they might not make more money by lowering the price. Steam's experiments with weekend deals and Turbine's experience with DDO unlimited seem to indicate that there is plenty of room to increase revenue by lowering game prices. For digitally distributed games the marginal cost per unit is very low so any increase in revenue has a big impact on bottom line profit.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

MBPs musing on Entropia Universe, Online Poker, Spread Trading and Investing in Stocks and Shares

Simple proof that playing Entropia Universe is a bad idea if you expect to make money out of it: Look at all the money going in and all the money going out. All of the money going in comes from players. The money going out goes back to players less a cut for the developer Mind Ark. The total amount of money going back out to players is therefore less than the total amount going it. It follows that on average players get less back than they put in.

The same logic applies to many other activities

Simple proof that playing poker online is a bad investment if you expect to make money out of it: Look at all the money going in and all the money going out. All of the money going in comes from players. The money going out goes back to players less a cut for the casino. The total amount of money going back out to players is therefore less than the total amount going it. It follows that on average players get less back than they put in.

Simple proof that "investing" in spread trading is a bad idea. Look at all the money going in and all the money going out. All of the money going in comes from "investors". The money going out goes back to investors less a cut for the exchange. The total amount of money going back out to "investors" is therefore less than the total amount going it. It follows that on average players get less back than they put in.

Why is investing in normal stocks and shares any different than investing in spread trading? The ONLY reason is because when you buy a share (as opposed to a derivative) you have ownership of a revenue producing asset and you are entitled to dividends from that share. When you look at the total pool of money we have money coming in from investors and money coming in from dividends. Therefore it is possible (though not guaranteed of course) that the total pool of money paid out even after brokers fees and government taxes are taken away is more than the total amount invested.

But but but ... almost everybody who invests in stocks and shares does so in the hope of getting capital growth rather than for the dividends? Well the real underlying value of a share is only the net present value of the future stream of dividends. If the you do achieve capital growth it is only because of an expected rise in the future dividend stream.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dungeon and Dragons online: The Sun Also Rises

I am pleased to announce that Autwind Horogood has put his study of the arcane arts to good use and has freed the citizens of Korthos Island from the icy grip of a Sahuagin controlled dragon. Released from the control of a Sahuagin mindflayer (Misery's Peak Mission) the dragon lifted its siege of the island bringing sunshine back to Korthoses shores and permitting ships to travel once again to Stormwind.

Again I am reminded of Guild Wars. Just as in Guild wars completing the beginner quest arc opens up access to the rest of the world and also brings about a seismic change in the landscape of the starter zone. Unlike Guild Wars however it is still possible to go back and redo starter zone quests on the "sunny side" as the post dragon version of Korthos is known. Just as well, even though I have done many of the quests on hard at this stage it may prove useful to go back and do them on expert mode later in order to farm favour (the reputation grind of DDO).

PS: I would like to say that the title of this post is a clever literary reference to the fact that excessive mmo playing can interfere with your sex life but I am afraid I am neither literary nor clever enough to carry that off.

Why you should never ask "What's the screenshot key" in a public advice channel.


Friday, October 23, 2009

MMOs my way: What do you want and what are you prepared to do to get it?

In my experience one of the most important steps to taking control of your own mmo gaming is to make an informed decision about your  approach to end game content. During the leveling game you can log on and do whatever takes your fancy, comfortable in the knowledge that everything you do helps you level up a little bit. Once you reach end game the paths to progressing your character are likely to require much more focused playing, are likely to involve long repetition  and may even depend heavily on luck. I think that in this environment it is vital to know what you are getting in to. Decide what you want to achieve and most importantly decide what you are prepared to do to get it.

I helped out in a radiance dungeon run last night (running one of the starter dungeons which helps people gear up for raiding). It was an enjoyable encounter that was quite tricky in parts although the old timers had ran it so many times they knew all the tricks. When we killed the final boss and it came to rolling for the single radiance reward it was great to be able to say: "Pass, I don't raid so it would be a waste". When pressed further as to why I don't raid I could truthfully admit that while I enjoyed the few raids I have gone on  I amn't prepared to do all the things that raiding requires.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trials of a noob wizard in DDO

While Cap'n John and others talk cheerily about soloing DDO missions on Elite level my poor Wizard struggled to complete them  normal. (Duh..Did I mention by the way that I was doing all the missions on normal instead of solo mode because I wasn't ticking the correct box?).  The difficulty stems from the dilemma that a wizard must stand still to cast spells but is very vulnerable while standing still because the lightly armoured wizard can take very few hits (plus attacks have a chance of interrupting the spell you are trying to cast). Well I have got as far as level 2, having just completed the Aqueduct mission and I am finally beginning to get the hang of things.

I opted for the default wizard level up route. I like that you can customise your character but I amn't familiar enough with the game yet to take that plunge.

At level two I can prepare four spells. After a bit of trial and error I have opted for a fairly eclectic mix:

Mage Armour: A buff which compensates somewhat for my light robes. With the extend metamagic toggle I can get about 16 minutes duration on this which is useful.

Summon Creature: This gives me my very own sidekick (a big dog) to harry my opponents and keep them occupied while I nuke them from a safe distance. Sometimes I bring Charm Person instead which allows me to convert one of the enemies into a helper but as this only works on humans it is less generally useful. The trick to using this is to make sure the dog is summoned before the battle as it is almost impossible to successfully complete this spell while being attacked.

Hypnotism: This is a very useful crowd control spell which hypnotises nearby enemies for a variable period. This can be a life saver. While it is sometimes resisted it usually works. Very useful if you need breathing space to perform a summon spell in mid battle.

Burning Hands: I try to pack at least one nuke and this was always one of my favourite spells in NWN. It works great in DDO too. A cone of fiery damage shoots from your hands to toast any enemies in its path. The fact that it is directional means that with careful positioning you can safely use it with crowd control as long as you point it away from the mezzed mobs.

I generally wield the beginner staff (haven't got a better one yet) which does a satisfying amount of damage per whack providing the mob isn't hitting back but I also have a handy fire wand which gives me a ranged attack that doesn't consume spell points.  

In terms of stats I have chosen items to increase my hit point and spell point pools. I opted for an enhancement that boosts concentration  because concentration increases your chance of completing a spell while under attack. I made one foolish choice spending two talent points to increase my intelligence from 18 to 19 forgetting that only even numbers have any impact on the modifiers.

One useful hint to remember is that the recovery shrines recharge after 15 minutes so if you do run out of spell points you can always find a safe place and wait out the timer.

The toughest part of the game so far for me was the journey through the countryside getting to the aqueduct. I suffered my only death to date because I stumbled into a large group of enemies without proper preparation. At least with the above combination of spells I have finally gotten the hang of "normal node" beginner missions. I am now tempted to have a go at a few hard modes to try for better loot. If all else fails I can rent a hireling - the price for level 1 hirelings is much less than I make from vendoring the loot from a mission.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Europeans First First impressions of Dungeons and Dragons Online Unlimited

Spurred on by Thalian and Teshes recommendations and reassured by Elric's comment that it is posible to play on the US servers from Europe I installed DDO yesterday and spent two hours playing my noob wizard "Autwind Horogood" on the Thelanis server. In that time I got through the training instance and two beginner instances on set in a crypt and one in a store room. Fully accepting that this not even Ed Zitron could do a reasonable review after so short a play time I nevertheless want to capture my first first impressions (all good by the way).

1. The download and install were surprisingly painless. The whole thing took less than two hours for the high res client. Even minor patches to Lotro have taken longer than that.

2. No obvious discrimination against Europeans. I didn't have to falsify my address. The starter town seemed quite busy at 12:00 GMT. There was no obvious lag in the busiest areas of the town. I have only played solo missions so far but since everything is instanced I am hopeful that lag won't be a factor there either.

3. The tutorial is quite minimal. It just about sufficed for myself who has played previous mmos and who has also played a fair amount of Neverwinter Nights. You can find out quite a lot about the game by poking around talking to NPCS and asking other players but I suspect a complete beginner would struggle.

4. I love the relatively short instanced missions. I expect there may be longer missions available later but the couple of short simple missions I have done were great.

5. There is no locking on to a target! You have to aim your blows and your spells. I think this is great and greatly adds to the fun of combat. When my wizard, low on health and running out of mana was set upon by a giant rat who could eat him in one bite I survived by running  around in circles whacking it with my staff while I stayed out of reach of its jaws.

6. Health and Mana do not automatically regenerate between fights. Unless you can find a recuperation shrine you must carefully guard both to see you through to the end of the mission. Although I haven't checked I imagine you can probably buy recovery potions in the item shop. Why bother? 

7. The two beginner missions were more challenging and more enjoyable than I expected. My level 1 wizard could certainly not have auto-attacked his way through them.

8. I choose a Wizard because it is my favourite NWN class, weak at first but becoming very powerful. DDO's implementation is a little bit different to NWN. I was limited to preparing only three spells but I could cast each of them multiple times (in NWN you can only cast each prepared spell once). However I had a limited non replenishing mana pool so  I was still very limited in the total number of spells I could cast. There doesn't seem to be an equivalent of NWN's resting between fights to reset spells (which always felt a bit of a cheat) - mana can only be recuperated at a shrine and these are few and far between. I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few spells in my level 1 spell book even though I can only equip three at a time. This includes several old familiars like magic missile and mage armour. I found a wizard trainer but he refuses to teach me anything more until I have levelled up a bit. I note that other class trainers seem equally happy to talk to me so I guess that multi-classing is supported.

9. There is a lot of things I still don't know about the game (I haven't even gotten to Stormwind yet). I don't know how the item shop or premium mode works. I haven't experienced combat in a group. I noticed there are NPC hirelings you can add to your party but I haven't enough gold for one yet. I don't know how levelling works (my progress bar filled up but instead of getting to level 2, I went to level 1 rank 2).  Stats and ability modifiers seem to follow the AD&D standard and combat seems to be based on the D20 rule. (Aside: I still think that the AD&D rule-set has passed its sell by date - in this day of computers it is time to move on from multi-sided dice).

10. Perhaps my strongest first impression of the game was that it reminded me of Guild Wars: A limited shared world with with instanced missions, complex combat, complex and varied skill selection  and even the availability of NPC hirelings. In that light the transition to free to play makes perfect sense. This just doesn't feel like a €15 per month live in the virtual reality subscription game. It feels like a dip in and out for a quick mission game. 

Remember all of the above is based on a very limited play time so please excuse any errors (better still let me know so I can correct them).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nice things about Turbine making DDO Free to Play

1. I love that Turbine didn't let the game die but instead applied creativity and took a risk in turning it into a F2P.

2. I am delighted that the move seems to be working for them. 

3. Perhaps the best news of all for customers is that Turbine , just like Valve before them seem to be discovering that reducing the price of games actually makes you more money. Please let more game developers get this message. Quote:
""All aspects of our business are growing. Hundreds of thousands of new players in the world are playing for free, with a very high percentage using the store." The internal projections for growth were doubled. Even more surprising, subscriptions have gone up 40 percent since the game has gone free-to-play."

4. I like the fact that Turbines micro-transation model has a large element of pay for content rather than pay to skip the grind. Its much better to pay for stuff you like rather than to have to pay to avoid stuff you don't like and it removes the moral hazard which encourages F2P companies to design grindy games.

For balance I shoud mention a few not nice things:

1. Dungeons and Dragons Online Europe is still not Free to play :(.

2. In addition to adventure packs (pay for content) there is still the usual gamut of faster XP scrolls and other pay to skip the grind stuff in the item shop. These things are always a warning sign to me that parts of the game must be awfully boring if people are willing to pay to skip them.

2. Going a micro transaction rich model removes the ceiling on how much a game costs you. Committed players will probably end up spending more in the long run than in the old subscription only days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mr. Big Bank Executive You Owe Me.

This is a reply to Tobold post today about a Fair Distribution of Profits from Banking.

Tobold if you set-up up a company selling mousetraps and it goes bust due to mis-managament then I may feel sorry for you but unless I was foolish enough to invest in your enterprise I don't end up paying your bills.

The past year has shown us very clearly that this is not the case for financial institutions. Every citizen ends up paying dearly for  mistakes in the banking and financial services sector.

This shows us that although we didn't realise it at the time  they were actually gambling with public money, our money, because of our dependence on a working financial sector and the public necessity of underwriting their bad debts.

Of course this means that that we need strong regulation to prevent financial institutions from gambling recklessly with our money. This is a lesson we seem to have to re-learn every few decades.

I believe it also means that it is absolutely wrong for the profits of gambling with funds implicitly underwritten by the public purse to be commandeered by such a small group. Any claims that these are a super elite who can only be motivated to do the wonderful things they do by astronomical salaries and bonuses are made laughable by the rampant evidence of outrageous incompetence, general untrustworthiness and greed motivated recklessness that these high paid high flyers have exhibited over the last few years. Yes cap salaries. Yes get rid of ridiculous bonuses. In fact not only do I want to limit indivduals ability to cream off an excessive return from taking risks with my money I also want to ensure that the institutions themselves are forced to pay us back for that "free underwriting" they enjoy. Perhaps this means part public ownership. Perhaps it means higher taxation. Perhaps it means being forced to pay hefty "financial insurance" premiums. 

A New Theory of Organisation Behaviour

Being the proud possessor of an MBA and having worked in organisations large and small right from start-up all the way to managing director level of a multi-national subsidiary I think this is absolutely brilliant:

Thanks to Slashdot for the link.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lotro:Pulling one mob away from a bunch.

I am sure this is well known to most players but I thought I'd write it up just in case somebody finds it useful.

While soloing it is common to come across groups of mobs that are close enough together that hitting one will arouse the whole group. Most classes can handle two equal mobs at a time but three or more can get hairy so it is useful to be able to pull one mob away from a group to tackle on its own. As long as you have space to run to this can usually be done with careful pulling.

The basic principle to remember is that a mob you have damaged will chase you for longer than a mob you haven't. First make sure you have a safe path to run away. Then pick the mob you want to bring down first and damage them with a ranged attack. Then turn and run down your safe path. Glance over your shoulder occasionally to see if any of your pursuers have given up. Those you haven't attacked will generally retreat before the mob you have damaged. Be careful not to run too far or even that mob will reset.

It is generally best to pull melee mobs first when doing this because they are sure to chase you but be careful that you get out of range of any ranged pursuers before standing to fight.

Pay me what you think I am worth.

I am actually glad that I already own World of Goo because if I didn't I would probably feel it necessary to avail of their current  "Pay what you think it is worth" offer. Its not the first time I have seen an offer like this but it is the first time I have seen it on a game that I was interested in and it creates an interesting dilemma.

If I was going to avail of the offer I would have to decide what to pay for the game. I try to be honest. I don't want to steal the game but how much is a game worth anyway?

The easiest cop out would be to note that  the game was on sale for €20before the offer and to pay that amount but that would is not an honest answer to the question of how much I think the game is worth.

How much is any game worth? In truth  I think that all games are overpriced. If I ruled the world there would be a price cap of €25 on AAA gaming titles. I don't have a logical explanation for this its just what my heart tells me and although I do sometimes spend more than this to get  a premium title shortly after release it always pains me to do so. I suppose I could scale back from that figure for an indie title that doesn't have the big budget budget glamour of a AAA but is acknowledged to be a gaming classic and great fun to play. Perhaps €10? On the other hand maybe even that is too much for a game that I could have for free if I wanted.

Economists argue over whether the value of an item is intrinsic (ie the cost of producing the item) or subjective (determined by supply and demand). Applying the intrinsic value principle I have to accept that it costs time and effort to produce a game but to supply me with one extra downloaded copy costs little more than the badwidth involved. The intrinsic value of a downloaded game is as close to zero as makes no difference. Subjective value doesn't help much either - regardless of how great the demand supply is effectively unlimited so even by this measure the value of the game is zero.

The more I think about this the more I become convinced that the only honest response to an offer like this is to download the game and pay nothing at all. Zero. Anything else is not an expression of value but merely a gesture of charity towards the suppliers of the game. If you feel the game suppliers are in need of charity go right ahead and make a donation but otherwise the only logical answer is "I think your game is worth €0.00".

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Playing mmorpgs my way Part V: "Good Enough"

I have been playing a lot of Lotro recently and I am enjoying it very much despite there being a number of things about the game which could drive me to despair if I let them: the legendary weapon grind, the virtue grind, the radiance / raid progression grind.  The trick, for me, to not getting demoralised by game features I detest is the realisation that my characters don't have to be "the best". All they really need to be is "good enough". This is a very simple and you might think obvious position but it takes a conscious decision to embrace its implications. Game chat, game forums and gaming related blogs bombard us with specifications and stats. It takes a real effort to avoid slipping into a min-max mind set. It is well worth this effort though. It gives you the freedom to ignore those aspects of games that you don't like.  Adopting this position has improved my enjoyment of the game immensely. To borrow a phrase from previous commentators: I have learned to enjoy the journey without being too concerned about the destination.