Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Dunbar number

I wanted to write something intelligent about the Dunbar number, which often turns up in discussion of guild size, but then found that the Life with Alacrity blog had covered the subject already pretty well.

Basically the Dunbar number is the number of people your brain can keep tab of as belonging to "us", your maximum social network. The number of 150 for humans is an extrapolation of the observation that the group size in primates depends on the size of the neocortex region of the brain. While not being a hard fact, it has been observed that for example guilds in MMORPG often are limited to less than 150 members, and break up when growing beyond that number. Your brain is simply unable to trust more than 150 individuals, especially when these individuals are not instantly recognizable as belonging to your "tribe". Which explains (but not excuses) a lot about xenophobia and racism.

It also explains why you are not likely to see any MMORPG having raids of much more than 40 people. It is unlikely that all the people in your social network are online at the same time, so getting 40 trusted people together is already hard enough. Enough raids already break up in bickering after things go wrong as it is, and if you increased the maximum number of people in a raid, it would only make matters worse.

Children, Media, and Sex

The New York Times has an article on "Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors". Now that wouldn't usually be something I'd write about, if the article wasn't so totally idiotic. The article cites "sexual references and images from television, in movies and video games, in music, in magazines and on Web sites" as dangerous influences on teenagers, but mostly goes on discussing television.

About the internet it only says: "As for the Internet, one national survey of 10- to-17-year-olds found that one in five had "inadvertently encountered explicit sexual content, and one in five had been exposed to an unwanted sexual solicitation while online." What it fails to mention is the other four in five teenagers had voluntarily encountered sexual content on the internet while searching for it.

In my humble opinion it is absolutely useless to worry about a risque joke in an episode of "Friends", or Janet Jackson's boob hanging out during Super Bowl, while your kid has free access to the internet. Sexual content on television, in movies, video games, music and magazines tends to be very harmless in comparison to the hardcore freely available on the internet. The internet has no limits to any sort of sexual perversion, a fact jokingly referred to already long ago in the creation of the newsgroup alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.bestiality.hamster.duct-tape. Most filtering software simply doesn't work, and any healthy teenage boy will be motivated and clever enough to find sexual images on the internet. Especially if you just sent him up to his room because you didn't approve of him watching a scantily dressed Britney Spears on MTV.

Pretending to a 17-year old that there is no such thing as sex, and trying to keep all possible information about it away from him simply won't work. Parents should brave the difficult but important challenge of talking with their children about sex, and that includes talking about porn, and the use of sexual images for marketing purposes. These are facts of life, and it is much better to provide some guidance for your children than to let them find out for themselves. Having talked with your daughter about Playboy magazine now might prevent the nasty surprise of finding her being the centerfold during her college years.

Monday, January 30, 2006

EQ2 and the dangers of expanding

In November 2004 two major MMORPG were released, Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft, and that was widely seen as some sort of head-on battle. Now EQ2 is quite a successful game, having reached as many subscribers as the original Everquest. But of course in direct comparison with World of Warcrafts success, many people regarded EQ2 as a failure. Nevertheless, in one aspect EQ2 is clearly leading, beating WoW 2:0 in released expansion sets. And now this expansion is causing some trouble, which might serve as a warning to WoW.

Basically what happened was that the number of zones in the game nearly doubled, you might call it "Tobold's 40% per expansion rule". :) But while the number of zones grew, the number of players per server staid constant. Thus the average number of players per zone dropped, and the lesser populated servers began to feel empty.

In a producer's letter SOE is now announcing countermeasures. There will be first some free voluntary character transfers, and afterwards some emptier servers will be closed and the characters from them moved to other servers.

World of Warcraft will be expanding its number of zones as well, when the Burning Crusade expansion comes out in the second half of 2006. And with servers being limited to about 3,000 players, adding zones will also dilute the average number of players per zone. In general we can expect older zones to become deserted, while newer zones might be overcrowded at the start. I remember visiting Everquest after some years of inactivity, and finding all the zones that I remembered as being most popular now being totally void of players. While there is little risk of Blizzard adding expansion sets to World of Warcraft too fast, in the long run the thinning out of players per zone is something that will inevitably happen.

Now I believe that 3,000 players per server is a limitation that might be overcome with new hardware. My favorite solution would be to increase the total limit to 4,000, and then introduce separate limits of 2,000 players for Horde and Alliance. Thus the Alliance would experience no change, and the Horde would get some room to grow, for ultimately a better balance between the factions. That would make PvP a lot more viable, and even enable Blizzard to introduce a more interesting DAoC RvR type of PvP. And at the same time adding 33% more players to each server would counteract the dilution of players caused by the addition of new zones.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

WoW Journal - 30-Jan-2006

I had quite a nice weekend in World of Warcraft. I'm trying to concentrate on leveling Kyroc, my priest, who made it to level 47, unfortunately using up all of his rest xp bonus. But often there are guild activities that require a level 60, so I'm still playing my warrior a lot.

The greatest thing was a guild mate organizing a LBRS 5-man for me, so I could get the remaining gems for the UBRS key, and the first quest in the Onyxia key quest chain. That was one of the best groups I've been with for some time, we totally owned the place. 3 hours in LBRS and not a single wipe. We took a couple of shortcuts to the end boss, and arrived there is record time. There I got the first of two missing gems, but we couldn't find the documents for the Warlord's command quest. So we went back to the start and killed the other two bosses that normally have the documents, found the other missing gem, but still no documents. Meanwhile monsters had respawned, and we had to kill the pyromancers and spiders again. Passing the ogres for the second time I finally found the documents there. They must have despawned elsewhere and respawned there, I'm sure they weren't there when we first passed. On the whole trip we were quite lucky with loot, found a libram and a codex, a couple of nice blues, and a recipe for greater fire protection potion that I was missing.

The really interesting thing with that group was that I was one of two warriors, the other members being a priest, a mage, and a rogue. Two warriors turned out to be a lot more useful than I would have thought. True, when fighting only one mob, the second warrior is only a mediocre damage dealer. But during a long dungeon trip, there is always something going wrong, a surprising patrol, a resisted or breaking spell, somebody accidentally targeting a sheeped or sapped mob. And then when you fight more than one mob at a time, having a second warrior buys you the time to get everything back under control. As I said, 3 hours and not a single wipe.

On Sunday I participated in a raid to Molten Core. That was actually part two of a raid that I hadn't participated in on Friday, so Lucifron and Magmadar were already dead. Magmadar dead meant no more patrolling doggies, which enabled us to reach the next boss, Gehennas, in a very short time. That was the first time I fought that boss. We killed him on the first try, although at the end 90% of the group was dead as well. Lets call it a draw. He dropped two epic items, one of them being plate boots for warriors, but with 8 warriors in the raid I ended up losing that roll. I didn't mind that, it was nice to have at least had a chance to roll on it.

But what I did mind was that as one of eight warriors in a MC raid I felt like a sheep in a big herd. Although technically 2 warriors in a group of 5 is a higher concentration than 8 warriors in a raid of 40, in the group of 5 I was feeling as if I had a big contribution to the success of the group, while in the raid I was just chugging along. So when another guild mate logged on and asked if he could have a spot in the raid, I left, and let him have my spot. Which turned out to be a wise decision, as the raid had difficulties killing the next boss, Garr, which lead to the usual unpleasantries: repeated wipes, lots of waiting, and bickering between the participants. I was happy I came and had a look at Gehennas, but equally happy when I got out again. These big raids are just not my thing, even if they go well.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lunar Festival

Yesterday the Lunar Festival holiday event started in World of Warcraft. That is basically the WoW version of the chinese new year, with fireworks and chinese clothing. And that in itself is a good thing. More than half of the WoW players are Asian, so why should only Anglo-American holidays like Halloween and Christmas be celebrated in the game?

I did the main Lunar Festival quests with both Raslebol and Kyroc. With Raslebol because the quest is about killing a level 63 elite boss mob with 100k hit points. Then with Kyroc, because it turned out that in this case you just need to jump around over the mobs dead body, regardless on how much you actually contributed to killing him. The reward is a lantern that turns solid stones into Elune stones. Unfortunately it seems that the Elune stones don't do anything useful, they just produce a column of moonlight for show. Not very useful for Raslebol, but at least Kyroc got a big bunch of experience points for the quest.

Another part of the Lunar Festival is to visit the Elders, which are stationed in pretty much every village of Azeroth. Each one gives you one coin, and you can exchange 5 coins for chinese style clothing, a pant suit or a dress. I took a blue pant suit for Raslebol and a pink dress for Kyroc. :) Kyroc is running around in robes all the time anyway, he might as well wear dresses.

The last feature of the Lunar Festival are the fireworks, but unlike the other fireworks in the game they can only be used at specific points, where there are firework launchers.