Thursday, April 19, 2007

LotRO Journal - 20-April-2007

The game hasn't even really started yet, and the US LotRO forums are already in full flame war "nerf the other guy" mode. It turned out that the farming nerf was worse than expected, because while the patch notes said that only pipe-weed seeds would be reduced from 3 to 1 per poor plant, in reality the same nerf was applied to all other plants, fruits and vegetables. And as the farmers feel that this in no small part is the fault of people posting "nerf the farmers" posts on the US LotRO forums, they retaliate with "nerf the explorers" and similar posts. They demonstrate how a naked level 4 burglar, fresh out of the newbie zone, can make 100 silver per hour as explorer, gathering ores and woods, by just selling them to a vendor. Or how at level 15 a scholar can farm easy green mobs for materials, craft them, and make 100 silver per hour from vendoring the results.

Meanwhile Turbine posted a flawed policy on crafting, especially farming, which Nissl copied in a comment here. The relevant passage is "If you find yourself making money consistently by executing recipes and selling the proceeds to a vendor, do not expect that scenario to last. Farming is intended to be interdependent with other players, not vendors." Note that this excludes making *any* profit, no matter how small, by selling farmed goods to vendors. Now obviously you will always make a profit with the other gathering professions, even if you sell to vendors, so applying different rules to farming is very wrong.

Apparently the idea is that farming goods should be sold at a profit to cooks. Apart from the problem that only tinkers have the cooking skill without the farming skill, the larger flaw in that reasoning is that cooked food isn't really necessary to play. If you start with farming, which has fixed costs for seeds, water, and fertilizer, it is easy to calculate for how much vegetables have to sell to at least break even for the farmer. But if the cook buys the vegetables at this break-even cost, plus adds his own fixed costs for vendor-sold ingredients, a simple mushroom pie already costs a fortune, before the farmer and the cook have even made a single copper piece of profit. Nobody is going to use food that expensive, just to get a tiny buff or regenerate health and mana a bit faster.

Even worse is the situation with pipe-weed. Anyone can for free use the /smoke emote. Smoking pipe-weed grown by a farmer just adds cute smoke rings to the animation, and that only if the pipe-weed was one of the better sorts. The idea that players would pay large sums of money for that is ridiculous. Even if a few players would buy it, the market is necessarily tiny. It can be argued at which skill level exactly how much silver per hour a farmer should be making by growing pipe-weed and selling it to vendors. But saying that this activity should make a loss when selling to vendors is crazy.

My farmer on the Euro servers is still pre-nerf, and thus he is busy exploring the old farming system before the new rules break it. In the pre-nerf system there is a very interesting part on cross-breeding, where you have special cross-breeding recipes to grow new seeds. That is already costly at the old system, as you need lots of water and fertilizer to just try to multiply your seeds, and then cross-breeding them. But in the old system cross-breeding at least "works", in that you produce more seeds than you started with, so at the cost of the other ingredients you can sustain that activity, and slowly work your way up from Sweet Lobelia to Muddyfoot to Dragonsbreath to Eagle's Nest. Takes hours, costs hundreds of silver, and only produces pipe-weed that is worth less than the cost of the ingredients. But at least you can skill up this way and produce some rare sorts of pipe-weed for roleplaying. After the patch this system is going to be completely destroyed, as in future each field will yield less than half of the seeds needed to grow the next field. As you can't buy the seeds anywhere, there is no way to sustain cross-breeding. I don't know what Turbine was thinking when they decided to cut the seed yield instead of just reducing the price at which plants and seeds sold to vendors. Why first design a cross-breeeding system and then destroy it? It wasn't as if you would have made any money cross-breeding, so no risk of exploiting.

Anyway, as I like the pre-nerf farming system, and am highly sceptical that the post-nerf system is even remotely playable, I'm still spending all my time farming and not adventuring. I already had people here comment about that in an angry fashion, as they want me to tell stories of heroic deeds. But if you look at it from a story-telling point of view, starting LotRO like this is actually the proper way. There is a famous concept of hero's journey, which is the basis of much fantasy and scifi story-telling, including such famous stories as Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars. The hero's journey starts in the ordinary world, and the life of a hobbit farmer is very well suited to give such an ordinary world starting point. The story is more believable if the hobbit starts out as farmer, and then goes adventuring to battle the evil forces that threaten his peaceful existence. The typical MMORPG way, where you are born an adventurer and the first thing you do in the world is kill something, makes for really bad story-telling.

If you think of it, even in a fantasy world all wealth is produced by agriculture and crafting. If a dragon or orc has any treasure, it was stolen from somewhere, but produced by farmers and crafters in the first place. Thus the philosophy now explicitely stated from Turbine, but also present in all SOE and Blizzard games, that farming and crafting is a money-sink, financed by the gold that drops from monsters, is just the reverse of any realistic economy. Historically wealth is produced in peace times, and war destroys much wealth. In LotRO and WoW wealth is produced by war and destroyed by peaceful activities. And here we sit and lament that some people think that video games are a bad influence on children. They might actually have a point there.

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