Saturday, February 28, 2009

Open Sunday Thread


This is Tobold's MMORPG Blog, and today, like on every Sunday, we have an open house day. That means there is no regular blog post, just this placeholder, so you have the comments section all for yourself. Use it just like a forum, for discussion, for asking questions, etc. And if something interesting comes up, I'll post my thoughts on the subject during the week.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ordered a new computer

So I'm battling disappointment with blatant consumerism, and ordered a new computer. Actually it's right on schedule, I bought my current Alienware computer two years ago. That's my usual schedule, every two years I get a brand-new computer, and my wife gets my 2-year old one. Which means the computer that actually gets chucked out is 4 years old Dell, a Pentium 640 3.2 GHz CPU with a Nvidia Geforce 7800, and 2 GB of RAM. The Alienware computer I pass to my wife is an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4 GHz CPU with a Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS (640 MB), and 4 GB of RAM. So in a quite logical extrapolation the computer I ordered is a quad-core i7-920 with a Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX (1 GB), and 6 GB of RAM. Double the number of cores every 2 years, add another 1000 to the GeForce serial number, and add another 2 GB of RAM. :)

Yeah, I know, the video card is nothing to write home about. I could have gone for a new GX 285 or 295 or something. But the 9800 GTX supposedly draws a lot less power, is more silent, and is quite stable. It might not be bleeding edge, but it is fast enough, especially if I mainly play World of Warcraft and not GTA 4. If that turns out to be insufficient in a year or two, I can always replace it, or add a second 9800 GTX in SLI mode.

So where things get fast is the new generation of Intel quad-core processors, the i7-920 is a big step up in speed. Needs the latest generation of motherboard as well, so I got a Gigabyte EX58-Extreme. Add 6 GB of OCZ Reaper DDR3 fast memory, and a Western Digital HD Raptor 10,000 rpm hard drive, and the whole system should be visibly faster for anything where graphics isn't the bottleneck. As the fast hard drive is relatively small, 150 GB, it'll only have the operating system and programs on it. The data go to a 1 Terrabyte normal hard drive.

As I said, my previous computer had 4 GB of RAM, but actually he only could use 2.75 GB, because of the 32-bit Windows XP operating system. With the video card of the new system having more memory, with Windows XP I would now have even less RAM addressable. So now I'm forced to finally switch to a 64-bit Vista to be able to actually use the 6 GB of RAM. Well, I think I'll survive now that Vista is two service packs further advanced, and all the drivers are developed for it. My company is going Vista this year too, and it's good to have the same operating system at home and at work.

The whole thing costs just under 2,000 Euro, which is 1,000 Euro less than the previous machine, and should be ready in a week. I finally gave up on Dell / Alienware, not because their computers were bad, but because getting them sent by UPS, and having to send out pieces for replacement by UPS was such a hassle. Now I'm buying locally in a small computer store not far from my home. Have to support the local economy in times of crisis, do I? :)

Small company botches MMO release; film at 11

I wouldn't even have thought it to be news, but the fact that the Darkfall launch didn't go all that smoothly caused a lot of commentary in the MMO blogosphere. The best report is probably that by Keen, because he explains a bit where exactly the problems are.

Other commenters let their prejudices for or against PvP games get the better of them. Scott Jennings aka Lum the Mad had problems with the rabid Darkfall fan community before, so he lashes out in what he himself calls an unhealthy level of glee. Which promptly causes Syncaine to call Lum a whiny fat kid. Must be behaving childishly day, the blogosphere isn't doing any better than my guild.

Pretty much every single MMO launch has some sorts of problems. Aventurine being a small company launching their first MMO it was certain from the start that there would be problems with accounting and servers. Warhammer Online in Europe had pretty much the same stupid accounting problems, and the same subtitled Hitler movies on YouTube as response. Whatever future game you are eagerly awaiting, do you really feel safe and comfortable pointing a finger a Darkfall for the bad quality of their launch, being confident that your favorite game won't have the problem?

I do hope that Darkfall gets their technical problems resolved soon, and that everyone who wants to play that game can do so without server or accounting problems. I don't think Darkfall will be a huge success, even if it ran perfectly, because I don't believe that hardcore PvP is a viable business model. But the last thing I want is to be haunted for the next 10 years by people spouting revisionist nonsense here and on every MMO forum how wonderful and successful Darkfall would have been if only it wouldn't have had all those bugs. There are still far too many people believing Ultima Online would have been a bigger success if only they hadn't ruined the game by introducing Trammel. Ruined, I'm telling ya! When in fact UO was bleeding subscribers and would have gone under without Trammel. So I want Darkfall to deliver exactly what it promised, and see how tiny the niche of hardcore free-for-all PvP really is. So that everyone who tells me what a carebear I am, I can respond to "and why aren't you playing Darkfall?". :)

Metaplace review on CNET

My personal excursion into Raph Koster's Metaplace didn't last very long. I felt very disappointed, because what I had expected was a system to build virtual world games; it turned out that Metaplace is a system to build virtual worlds with little or no game functionality. Sorry, I'm about 40 years too old for playing in sandboxes.

So as I'm not going to cover Metaplace on this blog, I'll link you CNET's review of Metaplace instead. Just be aware that Metaplace is a "virtual social place", and doesn't really have anything to do with MMORPGs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Depressing guild drama

I feel really depressed now, having inadvertedly caused a guild drama. I had noticed that there were many more level 80 characters in my guild than we get raiders together. So I thought that maybe if I ask around why these people aren't raiding, I can find out whether it's the raid time, or something else that keeps them from raiding. And maybe we could find a solution, like organizing an inofficial raid for alts and people who can't come at our usual raid times.

But then somebody posts a very emotional answer how he doesn't raid because WotLK raiding is too easy and isn't worth it. And of course he gets a reply from people who do raid, who don't like being told their raiding is worthless. Plus some rather insulting remarks about the state of the guild, of the "if raiding is so easy, then why do we still wipe?" kind. Then everyone starts shouting at each other, and in the end several people who have been in the guild for a long time end up /gquitting, while others post that they are taking a break from WoW. And me, I'm standing helplessly in the middle, stuttering "but, but, but ... I only wanted to help!"

I raid because I like to hang out with the people in my guild. They are very nice people, and usually quite reasonable. But the guild never really resolved an underlying conflict between hardcore and casual raiders, and now some people are reacting quite badly to the changes that Wrath of the Lich King brought to raiding. Personally I have trouble understanding why some people take raiding so damn seriously. Isn't it more important to do something together with people you like than to conform to some completely arbitrary performance criteria? Isn't it great if there is a place where you can take even those guild members that aren't world class raiders, and still have some success? I certainly wouldn't want to be in a guild where people are judged by how much damage they can do per second, or by some other performance measure. I don't select my real life friends by how many horsepower their car has, or by how high their annual salary is, why should I select my online friends by numerical stats? Especially in Wrath of the Lich King, what is the point of ditching friendly people for strangers with better raid performance to advance raiding faster? There is nowhere to advance to! Even when raiding was a lot harder, raid progression was at best a hollow goal. But it seems that when this hollow goal is taken away, some people simply don't know what to do with their virtual lives. What ever happened to "lets get the boys together and have some fun tonight kicking ass!"?

WoW's third expansion to be announced at BlizzCon 2009?

I haven't responded to anything from the last open Sunday thread this week, mostly because you guys were slacking ;) and there wasn't much of a discussion going on. The only discussion was about the next WoW expansion, and the number of hero classes. I can't find the source any more, but I read somewhere some rather optimistic person predicting Blizzard would announce their next MMO at this year's BlizzCon. But I think Dillon nailed it by predicting that this year's announcement at BlizzCon will be World of Warcraft expansion number 3.

Basically it fits the Blizzard calendar better. TBC was announced at BlizzCon 2005, WotLK was announced at BlizzCon 2007, so BlizzCon 2009 announcement is likely to be the third expansion. And the previous two expansions took 15 months from the announcement to release, which would end up with the third expansion released in November 2010. You, me, and Blizzard itself, all wish they could make one expansion per year, but there is no indication at all that this is ever going to happen. End of 2010 is for the moment the safer bet.

I'm not an expert on Warcraft lore, so I can't make an educated guess whether the third expansion will be about the Maelstrom, or about the Emerald Dream, or about something completely different. My "Freezing Jihad" prediction was a play on words on the Burning Crusade, I didn't even think of Northrend being in the Warcraft 3 expansion at the time. I don't know how well an underwater expansion would work, and I do know that the portals to the Emerald Dream are already in the game, but I guess anything is possible.

On the other predictions, the third expansion having 10 more levels and 1 more hero class sounds highly likely to me. I do think that hero class will be a healer, probably one with great dps, because even Blizzard doesn't know how to make healing feel epic. I don't think there will be more than one new hero class per expansion. Balancing one new class with all the existing classes is hard enough.

The question that interests me even more about the next hero class, and by extension to all the hero classes in all future expansions, is at what level they will start. Probably not at level 1. But will they start at level 55 like the death knight, or will they start at level 65, to keep the same 25-level difference from starting level to level cap? And if they let the new hero class start at level 65, will they upgrade the death knight starting level by 10 levels to 65 as well, or will they leave it at 55? In the long run, do we really want a game in which 9 classes start at level 1, one class at level 55, one class at level 65, one class at level 75, and so on? I think sooner or later Blizzard has to come up with a way to unify all that, for example by giving all classes the option to start at level cap minus 25. They'd just need to introduce a sort of quick tutorial which teaches you your class in a few hours, like they did for the death knight, to all classes. Nostalgia apart, nobody really needs to play level 1 to 55 again. Even new players are maybe better served starting at a higher level where there are actually other players around to play with than with being forced to wander the empty continents of Azeroth alone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Plan B succeeds

My first character on the European WoW servers was my warrior, and that was also my first character to reach level 60. But then I leveled a second character to 60, my priest, and due to healers being always more in demand for raids that priest became my "main", my raiding character. So in the expansions I always leveled the priest up first, and then the warrior in case a tank was needed, as "Plan B". That never really worked in The Burning Crusade. Nevertheless in Wrath of the Lich King I still leveled up my warrior to 80, and having too much gold anyway, equipped him with 8 level 80 epics which were bind on equip, most of them crafted. But up to yesterday I just did one single heroic run, and one Vault of Archavon run (which by extreme luck netted me another 2 tanking epics).

So last night I had my priest at the Naxxramas meeting stone at our usual raid time, the raid leader invited everyone interested in raiding, and among 18 possible raiders there was just one tank, and several healers. So finally the Plan B kicked into action, and I could go with my warrior as off-tank to Naxxramas10. And that was a big success, and great fun. In spite of me being new to that off-tank role, and there being another raid newbie in the group, we cleared the abomination, spider, and plague wings of Naxxramas. I was quite happy that in most cases I was able to do the job satisfactory, there was only one boss fight where I ended up dead. And I not only gained a "I survived Patchwerk" bumper sticker, but also the T7 leggings, a tanking ring, and a staff for "off spec", when I want to go dual-wielding two-handed weapons as second build after patch 3.1.

Doing the same raid in a different role was great! Part of the fun was the increase in challenge, switching from an overgeared priest who had done all of these fights as healer multiple times to a not-quite-as-well geared warrior new to the off-tanking job. Of course being not-quite-as-well geared also has the advantage that you're more likely to still find an upgrade. But another big part of the fun was seeing the same old encounter in a totally different light. Doing the same boss in a different role is nearly as good as doing a new boss, because you end up watching a very different part of the fight. Instead of the usual healer's tunnel vision on health bars I suddenly needed a lot more spatial situational awareness, finding the adds and tanking them. That not only was very interesting, but I think I learned a couple of things about these fights that I wasn't totally aware of as a priest, and that might make my priest a better healer.

The only negative point of the whole off-tanking Naxx experience was that there are some bosses where the off-tank isn't really doing anything, except hitting the boss with some ridiculously low dps, and being ready to replace the main tank if he dies. What is an off-tank supposed to do at Maexxna or Loatheb? I'm not even sure the dual spec feature would help here. Would you want the off-tank to go full dps for these fights and end up *not* having a backup in case anything goes wrong with the main tank? I'm not talking about uber guilds who never ever have a single death in raiding here :), but your average raiding guild, where sometimes things go wrong, and a good recovery prevents a wipe.

Anyway, Plan B of having a reserve tank in stock if ever one was needed was a full success last night. And of course the fact that the starting raid dungeon in WotLK is much easier than the starting raid dungeon in TBC was enabled this success. So while I can see how some people are starting to get bored with WotLK raiding, and I'm kind of waiting for Ulduar myself, I still claim that Naxxramas has the right difficulty level for a starting raid dungeon. The only problem is Blizzard not providing more than that starting raid dungeon plus a few single-boss raid dungeons sooner. It is a perfectly good idea to offer bicycles with training wheels, there just has to be bicycles without them as well.

Group Dynamics

Larisa from the Pink Pigtail Inn is fascinated by group dynamics in WoW, and compares the management of a guild to what training she had for the management of a group at work. I've been at that sort of management training courses myself, and they *do* teach you useful stuff that can be used for your guild, for example in the field of conflict resolution. Nevertheless I'm asking myself whether World of Warcraft is a good example to study group dynamics, because WoW is seriously lacking in guild purpose and functionality.

If you look at how guilds are managed in WoW, you quickly realize that 90% of the effort goes towards raid organization. Who gets a raid spot? How is loot distributed? Is there a DKP system, and which one? Even guild recruitment is often linked to raids, with guilds only recruiting certain classes they are short of for raiding. Take away raiding, and a guild is reduced to a common chat channel, and maybe the opportunity to find a guild group using that chat. Much later in the game Blizzard added guild bank functionality, but due to the risk of guild bank robberies in most guilds the access is severly limited.

If you log into WoW outside of specified raid times, it is actually quite hard for you to do something "for the guild". Other games, for example A Tale in the Desert, have more opportunities for large collective guild projects, to which everyone can contribute in his own manner. In WoW the only big project is the somewhat nebulous concept of raid progression. And in Wrath of the Lich King that isn't much of a project, because even casual guilds already beat Naxxramas and are just waiting for the next raid dungeon to be patched in. So while there are some challenging management tasks left, like "how do I gear up the maximum number of guild members for Ulduar", there isn't much drive behind them. World of Warcraft guild dynamics suffer, and have always suffered, from the problem that guild progression doesn't really exist, there only exists individual character progression. The only thing a guild gets out of downing a boss is a screenshot on the guild website, the knowledge of how to do, and the loot, goes to individual players. If those individual players stop playing, or quit the guild for another one, guild progress proves to be hollow.

All this causes fundamental differences between what management techniques and group dynamics are good for work environments, and which ones are good for World of Warcraft guild management. The secret of managing people at work is to provide them with the resources and motivation they need to work on their own, without the manager's constant supervision. In World of Warcraft you can get away with much simpler management techniques, of the drill sergeant variety, because there simply is no possibility to let guild members contribute to the general welfare of the guild on their own. The only real guild activity is a raid, and there the guild members are under constant supervision of the manager aka raid leader. Thus guild management is often reduced to the minus 50 DKP variety that even anti-social Gevlon believes in. The third phase of group dynamics, mutual dependency, in which everyone values the other group members, is rarely reached in WoW, because it is a stage which isn't absolutely necessary to succeed.

Strangely it is the hardcore PvP games like Darkfall or EVE that often end up having stronger group dynamics, because people depend much more on their guild. If you talk to people about what attracts them to these games, it is rarely the ability to gank others, but quite often the stronger cohesion of guilds is mentioned. And I do think that it would be possible to create the best of two worlds by making a PvE game with stronger group dynamics, by giving guilds more projects to work on together, and not just together at organized points in time, but also individually. Everquest 2 and Warhammer Online are already experimenting with guild ranks and contributions, but I'd say they aren't quite there yet. If World of Warcraft has one weakness where it could possibly be overcome by a future generation game it is probably this lack of social interaction and long-term group dynamics.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hoping for artificial intelligence

I get a lot of mail from people asking me to promote their games or websites. You don't see all of them, because I don't grant those requests lightly. I check out the game or website, and then decide whether it is worth writing about. So when I got a mail with a press release on the closed beta of Ultimate Soccer Boss starting today, that being a "free-to-play soccer manager browser game", I was sceptical at first. There are lots of browser games, and most of them aren't very good. But then I visited the companies website, and found this interesting announcement:
Through its patented process that enables digital characters to evolve unique physical, intellectual, and personality traits, Digenetics is redefining the nature of traditional and online games - MMOs, social games, and virtual worlds. Imagine, for example, a world where a Game Boss in an online dungeon learns from its battles and other encounters with players. Each time it interacts with players, it learns and adapts its tactics possibly making it a more challenging fight. Additionally, players could try something novel and the boss might respond in a random manner, like stop attacking and throw a random quest chain, or perhaps even walk away from the fight. The result of this adaptive evolutionary learning is more fun, challenging and enormous replay value. Gameplay will never be the same. Our first project is Ultimate Soccer BossT coming in Spring 2009.
So basically Digenetics is promising better artificial intelligence, with some neural network functionality that makes the game "learn" from playing against you. I think I'll try to get into that beta, or the Free2Play version if I don't get accepted into the beta, and check it out. I'm not quite convinced yet that they actually managed to make a game with good artificial intelligence, but at least it sounds promising.

Seen any sheeps lately?

While people endlessly debate the relative importance of skill vs. gear, in the end it is obvious that you need both. Some people will always die at Heigan, no matter what gear they have. And nobody runs Naxxramas naked. The harder an encounter is, the more you need of both skill and gear. But when a challenge is easier, you need less. And as to some extent you can substitute one for the other, for the easier challenges you can choose whether to do them with little gear and lots of skill, or with lots of gear and little skill.

Where I am a bit disappointed with in Wrath of the Lich King is that people chose the lots of gear and little skill option for running heroics in so many cases. Certainly all PuGs do, which is maybe understandable, as you can verify a person's gear before you start, but have to assume he isn't very skilled. But that PuG approach ends up teaching players the general way to do heroics, and then even guild groups are run using PuG strategies: No crowd control at all, gather all mobs using AoE tanking, and then kill them with AoE spells. Blizzard even had to boost some classes AoE (e.g. Rogues) to make them playable in that environment.

When was the last time you saw a crowd control spell like polymorph sheep used? Contrary to popular belief Blizzard didn't remove those spells from the game. And I'm certain that heroics could be run with groups in much less good gear if we started to play better again, using crowd control like we did in the Burning Crusade. AoEing heroics down works, but needs better gear, and that somehow removes the purpose of running heroics in the first place. Everyone is expected to have gear better than the blues that drop, so most of them end up getting disenchanted, and the whole heroic loot is reduced to the one epic dropping from the final boss. And the fights aren't much fun, because the AoE strategy is dumb and repetitive. Another fine example of Raph's "players optimizing the fun out of games".

Word verification for commenting turned off

Several readers alerted me to the fact that word verification wasn't working due to some problem on Blogspot. As consequence I have turned word verification off. I plan to keep it turned off, which I should have done the moment I disabled anonymous commenting, unless I get major comment spam problems due to that.

Why aren't other MMORPGs doing better?

Ghostcrawler, a.k.a Greg Street, who is the lead game systems designer for World of Warcraft, recently advised WoW players to play other games:
Although WoW is a gigantic game, some players are just going to voraciously devour whatever content we can throw at them. There are certainly a lot of different ways to play the game that you can experiment with if you do get bored. I would suggest things like trade skills, achievements or completing all of the quests you might have skipped. Collect some offspec gear and try a different role (in PvP or PvE). Rerolling can also be a lot of fun. If you're just burned out, it's also not the worst thing in the world to try out some other games -- the past couple of years has been great for them. Just check back in with WoW every now and then. :)
Hmmm, sound advice I'd say. I'm already starting a bit to look around for other games, while waiting for patch 3.1. But I find that not many people are taking Ghostcrawler's advice; other MMORPGs than WoW are not doing all that great.

This week's news was that Age of Conan lost $23.3 million last quarter, after their subscriber base shrunk to less than 100,000. Or as they say,
Shorter average subscription periods than anticipated led to a decline in the number of subscribers following the launch of Age of Conan.
Yeah, right, that is one way to say that over 6 out of 7 people who bought AoC quit the game shortly afterwards. Funcom's chief financial officer has resigned, probably more in a desire to get out early than because anyone thinks that it was the CFO's fault that AoC bombed.

And Age of Conan isn't an isolated case. Pretty much every MMORPG except WoW is either keeping very silent about subscription numbers, or posting rather disappointing results. And all those news of layoffs aren't exactly painting a rosy picture of the industry either at the moment. So, if even Blizzard admits that they can't produce content fast enough and advises people to check out other games, why aren't those other games doing better?

One possibility is that people taking a break from WoW are taking a break from all MMORPGs, and rather play let's say Call of Duty or other single-player games. But personally I found that single-player games are extremely short in comparison with MMORPGs, and many, even good games, can be played through in a single weekend. And PC games sales figures aren't really all that good lately either.

So, in a context of economic crisis, are people playing Free2Play games instead? Predicting player figures for MMOs is hard, but you'll often hear multi-million player numbers mentioned for various Free2Play games. Of course these figures have to be taken with a large grain of salt: People tend to unsubscribe from games they don't play any more if they cost $15 per month, but never bother to unsubscribe from Free2Play games. So it is hard to say how many people are actually playing these games day by day.

While there is a lot of garbage among Free2Play games, there are some real gems too. Wizard101, one of the nicer games you can download and play for free (at least for some time), recently announced having 1 million players. Although that is registered players again, not subscribers, or maximum concurrent users. Nevertheless it is easy to imagine how the better Free2Play games could make life difficult for the less good monthly-fee games. Age of Conan wasn't completely bad, but seeing that you can play a game with a similar quality level for free really makes you wonder if AoC is worth it's monthly fee. For exactly the same monthly fee you could play World of Warcraft, and most games will find it hard to argue that they offer the same amount of content and quality as WoW does now. Why drive in a Honda Accord if you can get a Rolls Royce for the same money?

So I'm wondering whether it is the $15 standard price tag that is making life difficult for some MMORPGs. Free2Try games like Wizard101 or Puzzle Pirates appear to do better with a $9.95 monthly fee, or other payment options like microtransactions. Games that come with a cheaper price tag have the big advantage of not being automatically compared to World of Warcraft. And games with microtransactions at least *seem* to be cheaper than monthly fee games, even if ultimately you end up paying the same or more. Are games like Age of Conan simply too expensive for what they offer?

Monday, February 23, 2009

All WoW characters deleted!

Dear Blizzard customer!

During today's maintenance we noticed a bug that corrupted all character data. We immediately proceeded to roll back to the backup version, but accidentally overwrote the backup with the corrupted data instead of the other way round. Now we have no valid copy of any character data left. In consequence we were forced to delete all characters on all servers. Everybody will have to reroll at level 1 again.

As compensation we have credited every account with one free month of game time. We also made the old guild recruitment channel work in all zones, and put guild charter NPCs in all starting zones. Thus you should be able to find your friends back and get your old guilds up and running fast.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Your Blizzard Developer Team
Dream or nightmare? I don't think this could actually happen, but as hypothetical situation it is quite interesting. I am currently pondering the question of why we play, and attachment to our characters is certainly a big part of it. One of my pen & paper roleplaying friends just quit WoW because he felt Blizzard had nerfed his warlock too much, without even considering just rolling another class. So what if we removed character attachment from the equation, and deleted all characters? Would people be willing to start over, maybe use the opportunity to play a different class, rediscover the fun of old content, run low-level dungeons with their guild mates? Or would WoW crash and lose most of its subscribers? Are we only playing because we are attached to the characters we started?

I'd love to hear from you how you would react if all the characters were deleted and you would have to start over. Would you play or quit? Would you play the same class or a different one? Would you choose the same server and try to find your old guild back, or play on a completely different server? What would you do the same, what would you do different?

Failure to challenge

There has been a lot of discussion since Wrath of the Lich King came out whether World of Warcraft has become too easy, or whether making it easier and thus more accessible is a good thing. But these discussions have been mainly concentrated on the endgame, in particular the raiding endgame. The reason for that is that challenge and difficulty are better defined at the level cap. As by definition your character doesn't get any stronger any more through the gain of levels once he is at the level cap, the only variation of power is through gear. With some reasonable assumptions of what the character might have done just before reaching level 80, and what gear he might have acquired, we end up with a pretty good idea of what stats a freshly minted level 80 character has. And then the discussion of how challenging it is to do the very first raid dungeon with that sort of stats, or inversely, how much more gear somebody should be required to gather before entering the first raid dungeon can begin.

But patch 3.0 and Wrath of the Lich King not only changed the difficulty of the endgame. They made characters stronger over the whole level range. And, specifically for lower level characters, they introduced a whole new way of twinking (using your high level character to procure gear for your low level characters) in the form of heirloom items. Also the amount of experience points needed to level up has undergone several changes since WoW 1.0, so leveling up is now faster than it ever was.

Now normally the question of how difficult or challenging the lower level game is shouldn't pose itself, because the player has better options to choose what level of difficulty he wants to tackle. If the content at his level is too easy, he can simply fight monsters of higher levels, until he finds something challenging enough. Or can he?

It turns out, as so often, that players are not interested in a challenge per se, they are interested in bigger challenges that give bigger rewards. That is not only true of people who dismiss endgame heroic raid achievements are gimmicks, and aren't willing to fight with one hand tied behind their back for higher challenge, because there is no real reward for it. The same principle applies to lower levels. And it turns out that in World of Warcraft, fighting higher level monsters isn't really well rewarded.

The most extreme example of that is very visible to me with my level 70 mage. I have been visiting Dragonblight with that character, because the location to make Ebonweave has been moved there. I know by experience that I am able to kill the monsters in that zone with the spells and gear I have. But doing so would net me *less* experience points per hour than staying in Howling Fjord or Borean Tundra. Not only does killing a higher level mob give only a fraction more experience points per kill than killing a lower level mob. But more importantly at level 70 you don't get any quests in Dragonblight, they all have a minimum level requirement of level 71, despite being level 72 quests. As quest xp easily make half of the total xp you gain by playing, doing lower level quests in Howling Fjord / Borean Tundra gives more xp than just farming higher level monsters in Dragonblight. Thus I'm actively discouraged of seeking out the highest possible challenge I could handle, because I'm much better rewarded if I just stick to the easy stuff.

Besides my level 70 mage, I'm also leveling up a druid from scratch, now level 18. There is a certain fun to be had from the process of twinking. I just got my second heirloom item for the druid, going for the Dignified Headmaster's Charge staff after previously having bought the shoulders. As my raiding priest doesn't have anything he could spent emblems of heroism for (for himself), I'll probably buy the heirloom trinket next, once I got the emblems together. In addition to the excellent bind to account stuff, the druid is equipped with the best armor money can buy at that level. And my various crafters provide him with all the consumables (potions, food buffs, even scrolls) he could need. All that makes the druid significantly stronger than the last druid I played on the US servers in 2004, when WoW wasn't out in Europe yet (I switched to European servers when it came out there in 2005).

While being twinked and overpowered can be fun, I do have trouble finding content that is challenging enough. There is less of a problem with minimum levels of quests being too high. But the whole "flow" of quests guiding you through the various zones has been designed for characters who are weaker and level less fast. Previously by the time you were finished with a zone, you got a quest leading you elsewhere. Now you need to skip a lot of quests, otherwise you get stuck in far too easy green quests.

Of course when WoW came out, and everyone was low level, the real challenge was doing dungeons. Well, the dungeons are still there, but it is nearly impossible to gather a group for which the dungeon is a challenge. There simply aren't all that many low level characters around on the old servers. And those low-levels that are around often prefer to be "boosted" by some high-level character, be it a friend or by dual-boxing. And even those boosts are somewhat a waste of time: With the heirloom and bought items you already have, and given the speed at which you already level, spending time in a dungeon for better gear really isn't necessary.

So leveling my alts isn't as much fun as it could be, because it isn't as easy to find a challenge, except randomly charging into higher level monsters without having even a quest for them. As a twink it is hard to find a meaningful challenge giving a meaningful reward. While in a single-player game you might want to play at a lower difficulty setting the first time you play it, and then crank it up for the repeats, World of Warcraft doesn't have a simple switch to make the game more difficult. Due to changes in the game the alts now have it already much easier than the original characters we played when the game came out. And unless you have an iron will and force yourself not to twink your alts at all, the whole alt experience risks becoming so trivially easy that it isn't much fun any more. Especially if you are going through zones and quests you already know. No wonder so many people prefer to skip the first 54 levels and start with a hero class death knight right away.

I'm starting to wonder whether instead of making the low-level content so trivial, Blizzard shouldn't provide a different way to make alts. Either by simply giving other classes the same option as death knights, to start directly at level 55. Or by some way that requires some action from the higher level character, for example the ability to "buy" levels for alts up to a max of 70 using emblems of heroism or another currency. Hey, what about all those achievement points we collect on our high level characters, how about you let us buy levels for alts with those?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The value of targeting

Combat in MMORPGs hasn't evolved much in the last 10 years. In most cases it still consists of targeting an enemy by click or keyboard (usually TAB), and then attacking with a spell or ability by clicking on a hotkey or using the keyboard shortcut for it. So it isn't surprising that some developers at least try to do something new. Most notably, in Age of Conan and Darkfall, having combat without targeting. You do a sword attack, and hit everything in range in front of you. Is that a good idea?

Fighting without targeting can be fun, but certainly isn't adding to realism. If somebody were to swing a sword, even a very big one, with three enemies in front of him, it would be physically impossible to hit more than one of them. The sword you just get stuck in the first guy it hits. To go right through and hit the other two guys as well, you'd need a light saber. So maybe we'll see this in SWTOR.

Where fighting without targeting fails is particularly visible in Darkfall. Darkfall has very few restrictions on what you can attack, so hitting a player of your own faction is totally allowed. But Darkfall has a minor anti-ganking mechanism, in which the player who attacks other players is labeled a "rogue" for 5 minutes, and takes a hit to his alignment. But as there is not targeting in Darkfall, a player who wants to gank you, just needs to run between you and the goblin you are currently fighting. Thus without intent you'll hit the guy who wants to gank you, and it is YOU who turns rogue, while the ganker even gains alignment for killing a rogue player. A combat system with targeting would make that impossible, because it would make clear who you intended to hit.

Without targets Darkfall also isn't able to discern whether you launched a magic missile that simply missed its intended target, or whether you just launched that magic missile into thin air. Which matters because Darkfall has no xp and levels, but only skills, which improve with practice. So to improve your magic missile skill, the best strategy is to go somewhere where there is no monster or player around, and endlessly launch magic missiles against trees or rocks. Pretty quickly players realize that this can be done unattended with the help of programmable keyboards or other forms of botting. In consequence the best mage in Darkfall will always be a botter. Compare that to World of Warcraft, where you can't improve your weapon skill without actually hitting a monster (or recent patches even eliminated most monsters who can't hit back from giving skill). If there are targets in the combat system, the game knows what you are trying to hit, and whether your intended target is a mob that is in range and can hit back.

So the value of targeting is enabling the game to know your intentions better than it could without targets. Thus the game is able to properly reward or punish you for your intended actions. You aren't punished for hitting somebody you had no intention of hitting (unless you use AoE), and aren't rewarded for hitting thin air. So, nice try, but removing targeting isn't making MMORPG combat any better. Next idea, please!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Open Sunday Thread

As every Sunday I'm leaving the floor to you. You can use this thread to discuss subjects, or ask questions, or propose what I should be writing about next week.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Complete scalability

Last Sunday a reader suggested making instances in World of Warcraft completely scaleable, so you could visit them alone or in a group of any size, and they would scale in challenge to meet the number of available players. City of Heroes works like that, so why not World of Warcraft?

I think the concept has two major problems: Trinity and loot tables. If you scale the difficulty of a dungeon based on the number of players entering, you still don't know much about the actual power of that group. In a group of 3 or more players, the power of the group goes up dramatically if there is a mix of tank, healer, and dps. Same number of players but missing one or two of these elements is much weaker. Thus the system would need to take that into account to work, and that would start to be really hard to calculate.

The loot tables problem is that if you give out the same loot for soloing than for doing a dungeon in a group, most players will just run it solo. Setting up a group is an additional effort, and that effort has been traditionally rewarded by WoW. The larger the number of players, the better the loot, up to the point where Naxx25 gives better loot than Naxx10, without always being harder.

Complete scalability will be hard to reach, but I would love to see a solo mode for all dungeons of level 1 to 70. I think soloing these would be preferable to the current practice of getting "boosted" through them by a high-level character.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Darkfall Preview

So the Darkfall NDA dropped, which allows me to tell you that I've been playing in the beta. No wonder some people think a game is vaporware when the NDA explicitely states that you aren't allowed to mention that you are in the beta! This is my preview, as not to call it a review this early on. Anyway, the first big news is that Darkfall is not vaporware, and I expect it to actually be released on February 25th. The second big news is that from a technical point of view, Darkfall is in a very good state, less buggy than other games on release. And the third point is not news at all: Darkfall is a very hardcore game which is probably not enjoyable for a majority of players of other MMORPGs.

But let's start with general aspects, and speak about game design philosophy later. Here Darkfall surprised me in a positive way. Looking just at technical aspects, my beta experience was great. I didn't play all that much, but the hours I spent in the game happened without any lag, and with no bugs that affected gameplay. There were some graphical clipping errors, but hey, even WoW still has those after 4 years. The beta servers were not always up, and I experienced one server crash, but it is generally very difficult to extrapolate server issues from beta to release. The release version of Darkfall might be perfectly stable, or the servers might crash every 5 minutes, we simply can't say yet.

Graphically Darkfall also was better than I had expected. Yes, the game has been in development for 7 years, and probably didn't have the budget for the latest photo-realistic graphics engine. But Darkfall is using cell-shading graphics that look quite nice. Maybe the polygon count isn't as high as some other games, but in return your framerate doesn't go to pieces when there are more than a few players on your screen. I once stumbled upon a battle between two guilds in the middle of a town with over a dozen people fighting around me, and I didn't notice any lag at all. Can't say how large a battle in Darkfall has to be before it lags, but at least for typical skirmishes the graphics engine holds up nice enough. The world is generally quite beautiful, but it is a bit empty, with monsters being few and far between. Probably by design, because it makes players fight for mob spawns against each other.

So now I'll come to the part where I'll talk about gameplay. Remember that gameplay discussion is always subjective, and I'm not a friend of PvP, nor am I very hardcore. Thus it won't come to anyone's surprise that I didn't like the gameplay of Darkfall, and don't plan on buying the game. Nevertheless I'll try to give an as objective as possible description of gameplay, and let you judge for yourself whether Darkfall might be the game for you. Your preferences might be very different from mine.

The game starts with you creating a character, choosing a race and sex, and modifying your avatar's look. You'll notice that you don't choose a character class, because there aren't any character classes in Darkfall. There also aren't any experience points, or levels, in this game. Instead you have a wide range of skills, active and passive, and whenever you do anything, there is a chance that you are increasing those skills. Especially early in the game that leads to numerous "you skill in running/sprinting/swimming has improved" and similar messages. But more importantly whenever you fight, lets say with a sword, your skill in swords goes up, and your defensive armor skills go up. Thus while there is no "level" displayed anywhere, your character will get better with time, and will be able to tackle harder monsters. The downside of that is that these skills are completely invisible, except to yourself. You don't see how hard another player or even a monster is. The goblins you'll kill close to your starting point are easy enough, but a little further you'll find identical looking goblins having identical names, which are more skilled and thus more dangerous. And the only way to find that out is to attack them.

In consequence one of the main activities you'll do in Darkfall is running. Either running away from harder monsters or players, or running after weaker monsters or players who are trying to escape you. At which point I should probably mention that the artificial intelligence of monsters in Darkfall is high. Don't expect to stand toe to toe with a mob and exchange blows until one of you drops dead. The monster will strafe or run around you, making use of the fact that you can only hit them when they are in front of you. Monsters will also quite often try to run away if they obviously can't win, and they don't run just in a random direction: I never got far with the harder goblins I mentioned, because they kept running back into their fort and coming back with a bunch of their friends. They also often aggroed and attacked from quite far away with ranged weapons. If you are used to the artificially stupid mobs of classical MMORPGs, you might be in for a surprise when fighting the monsters of Darkfall.

You can't "tag" a monster in Darkfall, if you need to kill a mob for a quest, you have to be the player landing the last blow that kills it. There is no protection at all against kill-stealing. There is no protection either against ninja-looting: When a monster drops dead, the corpse is transformed into a gravestone, and anyone can come and loot that gravestone, completely independant of who fought the monster. At first you'll curse and complain about how hard it is to loot a corpse: You need to sheathe your weapon, target the gravestone with your cursor, press the "use" button on your keyboard, open your inventory, and drag and drop the items from the corpse one by one into your inventory. Takes bloody forever, and you are relatively helpless during that time, as you'll need to unsheathe your weapon again before being able to fight. After a while you realize that this is done on purpose. Yes, somebody can try to loot the goblin you just killed. But he'll have to put his weapon away to do so, which gives you the opportunity to attack him, kill him, and potentially loot both him and the goblin afterwards.

Yes, if a player is killed he can be looted. Completely. Every piece of gear he is wearing, every piece of gold he has, and every item in his inventory, all can be looted. Unless you die to a mob without anyone noticing, you're chance of getting back to your gravestone and getting your stuff back are pretty close to zero. After every death you'll be naked, except for a starter weapon. You can spend gold for more slots for starter weapons, if you want to have the choice between different types. But everything else is probably lost. Even quest items are lost, you'll have to start the quest over. Usually a player doesn't die immediately when his health goes down to zero. He first lies helplessly on the ground for 60 seconds. Every player has two abilities, "revive" and "gank", which do exactly what you think they do; you can either revive a helpless player to help him, or kill him to loot him faster. Thus we are back to our main activity: Running. After every fight with a goblin you will want to move away and rest back to full health. Even if you could take another goblin with less than full health, you'd just risk being killed by another player and robbed of all your stuff if you run around with low health. If you happen to find anything interesting from looting, you'll want to run back to town and put the loot into your bank, so it can't be stolen. You basically should never run around in gear you can't afford to lose, often you'll have several sets of reserve armor in your bank. Darkfall is less a game about gathering gear than a game about not losing it. Attacking another player turns you "rogue", which means you can't visit a friendly city for a while. Unfortunately the combat system has no targets. Thus if you are fighting a goblin and another player wants to kill you and rob you, he'll just run between you and the goblin, making you accidentally hit him, and turning *you* into the rogue, not him. Then he can kill you without penalty. Not a good system, I think.

Besides getting gear from dead monsters or players, you can also craft it. But the crafting system is about as hardcore as the rest of the game. You have only some basic gathering and crafting skills at the start, for anything actually useful to craft gear you first will need to buy the skill, which for a beginner takes many hours of farming goblins. When in the beta I finally had the tailoring skill plus the leather and iron ingots needed to craft some leather armor, it turned out my chance of success was 0%. I probably would first have needed to find or buy lots of cloth and skill up doing cloth armor, but by that time my patience had already run out. Anyway, don't count on a career as a crafter, unless you want to craft for some powerful guild. There is no auction house, nor any other safe system of trading. You need to meet another player in the game to trade with him. And there is always the danger that the player you meet to trade with will attack and kill you, getting the goods you wanted to trade for free instead.

I think you got the picture by now. Darkfall is UO pre-Trammel. It is EVE without empire space. It is a dog eat dog virtual world in which you are never safe. Darkfall makes WAR look like a complete carebear game. And this is exactly what some people have been asking for. Presumably those who still complain about Trammel having "ruined" UO, or those who spend all their time in 0.0 space in EVE, might very well enjoy Darkfall. I'm sure the Goons will play it, and Keen seems very excited too. But here is a lot of evidence that this sort of game is only enjoyable to a small percentage of MMORPG players, and incredibly frustrating to the majority. Syncaine's WoW tourists, players who just try other games because they are for the moment bored with WoW, will probably find Darkfall too hard, too grindy, too backstabbing, and too frustrating.

Does WAR end at level 40?

Squin from Dark Crag Dispatch is musing that while many people claim that World of Warcraft *begins* at the level cap, Warhammer Online rather seems to end at level 40. In WoW, the bosses you fight in the endgame are computer controlled, so each boss can be given a completely different behavior. Naxxramas has 15 fights, no two of which are the same. In WAR you fight players in the endgame, and the locations in which you fight them are strategically identical, even if there are minor optical variations. Thus every keep attack tends to play out very similar to the last one.

Well, I have no personal experience of the WAR endgame, but I must say that in WoW PvP the attacks on Wintergrasp tend to resemble each other. There are variations due to how many people turn up (mostly depending on time of day), and minor variations of composition of the two armies. Sometimes you get an organized PvP guild, which will be far more efficient. But on average you have two mid-sized PuG raids in PvP, which tend to behave in very predictable ways. And in MMO PvP there is no such thing as being able to outflank the enemy army and using the enemies predictability in your favor. So you end up with an infinite series of battles which are all very similar. Hey, I can even predict the outcome of your next Wintergrasp battle: The attacking side wins!

It is an interesting phenomenon that while individuals behave in very unpredictable ways, crowds tend to be far more predictable. Unfortunately that makes games with a PvP endgame difficult, because sooner or later players get bored to fight the same battle over and over. And while Blizzard can patch in a new raid dungeon when WoW players get bored, Mythic patching in another keep to fight over won't add any variety to WAR.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vehicular raiding

(Post #2,500 by the way)

Blizzard released an interesting preview of what the next raid dungeon, Ulduar, will bring coming patch 3.1. Quote:
Many players have already gotten their Wrath of the Lich King raiding feet wet in Naxxramas and the Sartharion raid, but Ulduar is the first example of the expansion's much larger, truly epic scope of raiding, as will be evident from the moment you set foot in the instance. The most obvious difference between Ulduar and its predecessors is that the new dungeon actually comprises two separate raid areas. The first section is an epic battle against a vast army standing between you and the entrance of the dungeon proper; in the second area, you will dive into the heart of the dungeon itself and finally discover the secrets of Ulduar.

Ulduar's new master has rallied a massive iron army to guard the entrance to Ulduar and prevent any unwanted guests -- including you, especially you -- from reaching the inner sanctum. Thankfully, you'll be able to face the Iron Army on even footing: a small fleet of siege vehicles will be on hand to aid you in the assault. You and your friends will have to use these vehicles wisely to break through Ulduar's defenses. A mix of Choppers, Demolishers, and Siege Engines will be at your disposal, each granting unique abilities to the pilot and the passenger.
Yep, that's right, Ulduar will be using vehicle combat in the first section. For me that sounds like fun, but I foresee some people will not like it. The "problem" with vehicle combat is that your success is determined by your skill in driving that vehicle. Your gear doesn't matter. So it looks as if for the first part of Ulduar a raid group in green armor could be as successful as one in full Naxx-25 epics. Not exactly the exclusive "leet only" place some people have been waiting for. Especially if that gear-independant part of the raid gives some epic rewards, some of the elitists will be complaining. Which is ironic, because it is usually them who claim that raiding is all about skill and has nothing to do with gear. If done right, Ulduar would start with a real skill check, no gear involved, and that will be very interesting to see how some people fare.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The meaning of role-playing

I was reading the news about the American Association for the Advancement of Science datamining a huge pile of information about MMO players in the form of complete EQ2 server logs. Yes, every inappropriate remark you ever made in chat is now being studied by science! But apart from that privacy issue, one specific result of that research peaked my interest. Quote:
“a small subset of the population—about five percent—who used the game for serious role playing and, according to Williams, “They are psychologically much worse off than the regular players.” They belong to marginalized groups, like ethnic and religious minorities and non-heterosexuals, and tended to use the game as a coping mechanism.”
Wow! It's one thing if somebody in Barrens chat says "roleplayers are gay". But from the American Association for the Advancement of Science I would have liked to see a bit more serious research. Or at least more careful wording. So lets have a look at role-playing in the context of MMORPGs. What does that "RP" in the middle of that long acronym really mean?

The first thing we need to do is to go back in history. To 1974 when a company called Tactical Studies Rules published their second game, called Dungeons & Dragons. As the name of the company suggests, Dungeons & Dragons, like TSR's first game, was planned to be a miniature wargame. With one innovative twist, that the players were controlling a single character, not whole squads or armies.

Now miniature wargaming was a serious hobby. If you were neighing like a horse when advancing your cavalry, people would look at you strangely. And early "fantasy role-playing", as Dungeons & Dragons came to be called, continued in the same vein. Players *controlled* a single character, who just like in a miniature wargame was defined by his stats, so that the success and effect of his actions could be determined by dice. I played a lot of the early modules of D&D and AD&D, and they were relatively simple affairs, with very thin plots and a distinctive lack of logic. "You open the door to a 10' x 10' room in which there are 12 orcs. The orcs attack. What do you do?" Nobody ever worried what the orcs were doing in that dungeon room, or why there were so many of them in such a small room with no furniture. Probably they couldn't get out, because the corridors before and after the room were lined with deadly traps and improbably monsters. :)

A lot of people continue to play role-playing games like that: Rarely, if ever, speaking in character, with the game being more about minmaxing your character through his adventures, to make him stronger. Even as pen & paper modules evolved to be more story-driven, more logical, for a large number of players "role-playing" was equivalent to "character development". But some people moved further into theatrics. They insisted on speaking in character all the time, imagined background stories for their characters, and tried to play them in a way which made them interesting, not necessarily optimal for advancement. Some people even started live action role-playing, running through the woods wearing plastic chainmail and wielding rubber swords. That didn't exactly help the image of role-playing games, which were already regarded with suspicion by some parents, and condemned by some nutters as being equivalent to devil worship. Meanwhile the average "role player" was just hanging out with friends, rolling dice, and eating a lot of junk food, trying to get his character to the next level, with very few theatrics involved.

And then computer role-playing games appeared, starting with ASCII-graphics games like Rogue, followed by great classics like the Ultima or Wizardry series, later followed by the Gold Box series using Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. And these games were mostly single-player games. They were called role-playing games, but there certainly weren't any theatrics or in character speaking Elizabethean English involved. You simply directed one or several characters through dungeons or other adventures, to gather experience points and levels. Role-playing meant character development. Even nowadays, if you read a review of a strategy game in which you keep your units from one chapter to the next and improve its stats, the reviewer will say the game has "role-playing elements".

And that approach to role-playing hasn't changed much, even when massively multiplayer online role-playing games appeared. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science remarks, 95% of players of MMORPGs consider role-playing to mean playing a character with a defined set of stats and abilities. The "role" is for example being a shaman in WoW, but "playing" that shaman doesn't mean you need to start chanting into voice chat or perform a rain dance in front of your computer. "Playing" a shaman means having certain stats and abilities, like all those totems, and using them to maximize the utility of your character, so you gain experience points, levels, and gear.

The 5% minority of people who think that role-playing means theatrics, background stories, and speaking in character, did achieve one important victory in insisting that their activity was called "role-playing", and was the only true way of role-playing. They even got their own "role-playing servers" in some games. Unfortunately for them, their triumph ends there. Many people still regard them as weirdos or at least geeks, and those scientists attesting to their "psychological problems" aren't helping. But in reality most of the self-styled true role-players are pretty normal, and just enjoy the added creativity. It isn't much different from people doing improvisational theatre, and few people think those have psychological problems (except those who think that all artists are weird).

So there you have it, the problem is simply a badly defined term. "Role-playing" means different things to different people, and there is no one true definition, as much as some people might disagree with that. In computer game terms it is more often used to simply mean a game with character development. That doesn't mean that people who enjoy playing in character on a role-playing server have any less right to do so. There are a lot of different valid ways to play a MMORPG, and this is just one of them.

PuGs are getting silly

My warrior is now wearing 10 epic pieces, due to participating in a guild run to the Vault of Archavon in which 2 warrior epics dropped and I happened to be the only warrior in the raid. But I still haven't seen the inside of Naxxramas with that warrior, as for the "official" guild raids I'm needed on my priest. So when I heard somebody advertising a Naxxramas PuG in trade chat, I was interested. I just didn't quite understand the "link your achievement" part of the advertisement. So I checked what achievement he wanted to have linked, and it was "The Fall of Naxxramas" of course. You were only allowed in the Naxxramas group if you had already completed it. Doh!

There is a general trend I've noticed in which requirements for PuGs are getting more and more ridiculous. You can get kicked out of a PuG for a simple heroic because you don't have 2,000 spellpower. Which of course is difficult to get to if you can't get into a group to do heroics in the first place. Basically what these people are advertising is that *they* want a free ride to some place, inviting only overgeared people. And then of course there will not be any crowd control, no sheeps, no shackles, no saps, no ice traps. Everything will be AoE'd instead. Minimum skill and time requirement, but only completely geared up people are welcome. Once I even saw somebody requiring the "Northrend Dungeon Hero" achievement for an heroic invite.

With the automated looking for group system still not good enough for anyone to use it, and the few people organizing pickup groups only taking overpowered people, I guess I'll stick to going to dungeons only with my guild. Otherwise I have to wait for the next expansion where Blizzard borrows the idea of public quests from Mythic before I can find a working pickup group. :)

New design philosophy on specialized classes?

WoWInsider has a very interesting post up on Blizzard's design of warriors. According to the author "Warriors are generally number two in everything, making them the best all purpose generalist tanks in the game". Oh great, as if more specialized classes weren't already disadvantaged enough with their lack of versatility compared to hybrid classes. Now Blizzard splits up tanking into several subcategories (AoE tanking, single boss tanking, etc.) and makes warriors not the best in any of these categories? Probably next step is to make priests the worst healers in the game, maybe using the spirit nerf. I'm suddenly dreading patch 3.1.

Passport to Shandris

A reader pointed out Passport to Shandris to me, a blog specialized on caster druids in World of Warcraft. The blog is currently running a series on druid healing, which is quite interesting. Of course the spells are druid specific, but the concepts (like "triage") are valid for all other healing classes as well. So if you are playing a druid or other healer in WoW, you might want to check this blog out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

When will they learn?

Of the top 20 best-selling PC games of 2008, 5 were various versions of World of Warcraft, and 3 were version of the Sims 2. Another Blizzard game, the original Diablo, still made it on the list at rank 19, eleven years after release. We discussed yesterday how Blizzard kept up a stream of best-selling games by taking proven concepts and polishing them to perfection, while the competition often tried more innovative things, but implemented them badly.

Even one of the most-talked about PC games of 2008, GTA 4, came with tons of bugs, and wouldn't even run on many graphics cards. Especially MMOs are often released in a half-finished state, scare their early adopters away with lots of bugs, and then never recover from the initial bad publicity. When will the other makers of PC games, especially MMORPGs, learn to only release games "when they are done"?

There is obvious pressure from the business side to release games early. But even the dumbest business manager should have learned by now that releasing a game in a shoddy state is not a recipe for success. Especially in the age of the internet, forums, and blogs, all your marketing can't overcome bad word of mouth. If your first customers aren't happy with the state your game is in, you'll get less buyers overall. And in every other industry that is understood, you don't see the latest model of car delivered without windshield wipers or faulty lights, because there wasn't enough time to finish the product. Why is that still accepted practice in the video game industry? Blizzard is laughing all the way to the bank, having a near-monopoly on quality. Why does it take the competition so long to figure that simple business reality out?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Can Blizzard fail?

From the open Sunday thread comes an interesting discussion on whether Blizzard's next MMO could fail. Short answer is yes, it could fail, you just need to define the criteria of success high enough. For example it is totally possible that their second MMO doesn't get 11 million subscribers, so some people will define not beating World of Warcraft as failure (by which criteria all other MMOs are failures).

One reader had the theory that the larger a project is, the more likely it is to fail. He cites the Great Leap Forward of Mao or the NHS computerisation programme as examples. But if you read the cited article, it becomes clear that both of these failed because somebody with lots of power and a great vision tried to make a huge system do something it couldn't do, something completely new and different. Does that sound like Blizzard to anyone? It is far more likely that Blizzard will be playing it safe with their next MMO: They will take lots of old ideas that have already been proven to work, and implement them much better and with more attention to detail than anyone else. In an industry where shoddy workmanship is the rule, and quality is the exception, making quality games is as close as you can get to being certain of success.

But as I said, success also depends on how you define it. World of Warcraft was revealed to have had a total investment cost of $200 million, and it makes an annual revenue of $1 billion, with $500 million of that being profit, which is a return on investment (ROI) of 250%. Such a level of success is unlikely to happen again, not without killing WoW, which wouldn't be in Blizzard's interest. But the good news is that a ROI of 25%, ten times less than WoW, would still be a very good investment. And for a game costing $200 million, that would mean a profit of $50 million, and assuming the same profit margin, revenues of $100 million, which at about $200 per player per year ends up being just half a million players. Anyone remember Mark Jacobs defining success as having over half a million players?

So the most likely situation is that Blizzard brings out a new MMO, it gets more than half a million players, but less than 11 million, and some people will call that a success, and others will call it a failure. As somebody commented, some people *want* Blizzard to fail, and will just interpret anything as failure in the light of that. Me, I'll stick to that half a million players success criteria. And to one even more important: Am I having fun when I'm playing Blizzard's next game?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Open Sunday Thread

This is the open Sunday thread, the place where you can discuss, ask questions, or propose subjects for future blog posts from me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blizzard's next MMO will be all about raiding

Just kidding, but that is one way to interpret the news that Jeff "Tigole" Kaplan is leaving the World of Warcraft team to join Blizzard's team working on the next MMO. Tigole famously was hired as lead designer for WoW for being a raid leader in Everquest, and many people believe that he is responsible for WoW being such a raid-centric game.

In Bartle-type speak, Tigole is certainly an "achiever". And there is an old saying that designers create the type of game they would like to play themselves. So Tigole having a big role in the design of Blizzard's next-gen MMO makes it at least more likely that the game will be focused on achievements again. And not a social / exploration game like SOE's Free Realms (which just announced their release date to be early April) or a PvP game like WAR or EVE.

The other way to interpret the news is that WoW raiding is now so easy and boring that even Tigole is leaving. :) There certainly doesn't seem to be much of an influence of hardcore raiders in the design of Wrath of the Lich King. Has Tigole gone soft with age, or didn't he have much to say on WotLK? I guess we'll see in the design of the next game.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Most important stat for priests

In my last raid I got the token for my T7 trousers, finally. That means that apart from one excellent jewelcrafting trinket, my complete gear is now epic (item level 200). Actually the trinket is item level 200 too, it just has a blue name. Anyway, while running around in full epic in Naxx-10 means I'm unlikely to get many further gear upgrades, I started to think more about whether I have the right gems and enchantments.

What I did was choose mostly gems and enchantments that add to my spirit. As a holy priest, spirit does add to my spellpower. But more importantly it adds to my mana regeneration. As I recently mentioned, I can't manage to run out of mana any more when soloing, and I last a very long time in a tough raid boss encounter. That is very much old school raid healing: During level 60 and 70 raids, a wipe occured when the healers ran out of mana. Thus mana regeneration was the most important stat, because the longer you could keep healing without running out of mana, the longer the whole raid survived.

But I'm wondering whether this is still current thinking for level 80 raid healers. Nowadays I very rarely see a fight last so long that I'm even getting close to running out of mana. Is spirit still the most important stat for holy priests? I could easily imagine to re-gem and enchant all my gear with +spellpower, which would raise my spellpower by about 200, but lower my mana regeneration per 5 seconds by over 300. So each of my spells would be more powerful, but I could cast less of them. Which in many cases in Naxx-10 wouldn't matter at all.

I'm a bit reluctant to switch, not because of the considerable cost (I have 3 prismatic gems alone, worth 200 gold each), but because I'm not quite sure whether I'd really be happier with spellpower. Because while I might not need all that mana regeneration, I'm not sure whether I really need more spellpower either. People very rarely die in our raids, and if they do it is because they weren't healed fast enough, not because the healing spells were too weak. Plus in patch 3.1 the way mana regeneration works supposedly is nerfed, so I might be changing right back again.

So I'd love to hear from other healing priests: What are the most important stats for you? Do you go for spirit, spellpower, intellect, something else? How high do you think spellpower and mp5 should be (buffed) for a healer?

Lum gets mad

Scott Jennings perfected the art of rant blogging at a point in time where the word "blog" wasn't even invented yet. And while I don't always agree with his opinions, I certainly respect the man, and in expressing my disagreement try to remain as factual as possible, and not attack him personally. Greedy Goblin Gevlon obviously had no idea who Scott is, and anyway isn't the type of person who'd express himself carefully to not be insulting. So he basically called Scott a crybaby, and of course Scott replied in his usual masterful style. The discussion is already at the Godwin stage, and makes for an interesting read.

I'll try to stay neutral, because both sides have their good points. Gevlon calling any form of social mechanism an "ape sub-routine" doesn't especially come over as a nice person. But then Gevlon is looking at the issue from a cold capitalist point of view, which doesn't justify, but explain, how layoffs happen. Scott is talking about business ethics and how things *should* be, and the problems of regular people caught up in that cold capitalist system. No wonder the two don't find much common ground.

In a way, both of them are right. Recessions have a way to bring out the nastier sides of the capitalist system. I know the inside of game companies only from various videos, but it always struck me how young the people working there are on average. Ever see any people over 50 in these places? You can't expect lifelong employment in a company that obviously has no use for older people. On the other hand few people really consider their long-term future when applying for a job somewhere, especially if its the first job. A game company certainly sounds like a cool place to work at, and if the salary is right and the atmosphere is great, I can understand that people want to work there. Whoever you talk to at such a company probably tells you how great their prospects are, and one would have to be exceptionally cool-headed to realize that many game studios depend on the success of one or two games. The developers at Vanguard who are said to have been fired collectively on the companies parking lot lost their job two years ago, without any recession or financial crisis involved. Getting fired is nearly always a personal tragedy, however much those layoffs appear inevitable in hindsight. And even if a wiser person might have chosen to work for something offering safer employment, lets say an investment bank for example, he could still end up in the same unemployment line. Economic theory is macroscopic, it might be able to explain the percentage of unemployment, but is completely unable to deal with individual suffering from the consequences. So while Gevlon's explanation of the capitalist system aren't wrong, Scott certainly is right in saying that these explanations aren't helpful. At least not to the people involved and their friends.

I'd also like to offer my apologies to anyone who felt offended by my earlier post on how layoffs aren't a betrayal. I tried to keep it respectful, but of course the same logic applies: Even if an explanation is correct, it isn't necessarily a good justification, and often doesn't help at all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm a healbot

So following the advise of half of my readers, I installed the Healbot addon and went raiding yesterday. The thing does pretty much what I asked for: One-click healing, although of course you need modifier keys like shift and alt to get access to more than 3 healing spells.

Nevertheless I wasn't totally happy with Healbot, because I couldn't get the out of range indicator to work properly. The manual even has a FAQ point about that, but I still couldn't get it to work. The problem appears to be that Healbot has the two states of "enabled" and "disabled", apparently to do with whether you are in combat or not, and the disabled state messes with the "out of range" state or something. Or it was just lag, or some other problem. Anyway, I couldn't get the damn thing to reliably show me who was in range of my healing spells at all times. Which is strange, because the standard Blizzard UI raid bars seem to do that fine (unless its some other addon I installed which adds the out of range functionality to the Blizzard UI raid bars).

The other problem I had with Healbot was that I'm not sure whether it is working as intended regarding debuffs. The bars change colors when somebody gets diseased or affected by a magic debuff, but clicking on the bar just heals the person. I still need to click on the other window provided by Decursive to dispel magic or abolish disease. Is Healbot supposed to work as decurse too? Is the fact that I have Decursive installed messing with Healbot's decursing feature, or did I just not set it up right. Guess I'll have to take more time to read the long documentation.

MMO Community Enhancement

Trenton sent me a link to his long, but very thoughtful and well-researched article on MMO Community Enhancement. It contains some great proposals, like an automatic "ally meter", which measures how much you interacted with various people, and acts like an improved friends list. Nevertheless I don't think he covered all the potential problems, or that his solutions are valid for every game.

One example is his proposal to let players join multiple guilds. Sounds great on paper. But in World of Warcraft the one thing that would make this difficult to implement is raid IDs / lockout. Even if I wanted to raid with two different guilds, I couldn't, because of raid IDs locking me out of participating to raids with a second guild.

Trenton is right on in his chapter on Crafting Attitudes Through Motivation, that is whether and how people play together depends on their motivation to do so. But his solutions here aren't complete, or not fleshed out enough. He is right to say that in a much more difficult game like Everquest, where you *need* a group to earn experience points, cooperation is stronger than in a game like World of Warcraft, where you can solo all the way up to the level cap. But I don't think that difficulty is the only parameter here: Rewards are at least as important. World of Warcraft could have significantly more groups forming voluntarily, if only grouping would give better rewards than soloing. As it is, you gain more xp per hour while soloing than when in a group, thus you only group for content that is too difficult to solo, like group quests and dungeons. But if you expand on Trenton's solution of "share results", and would make everyone in a group gain full xp for every monster killed, instead of xp divided by number of group members plus a small bonus percentage, then players would want to group much more often.

In any case, Blizzard would do well to read that article. There are a lot of tools in there which they could implement into World of Warcraft (or their next game) and make it better. WoW's guild tools for example are rudimentary at best. But I do think one thing WoW got right is how everyone *wants* to be in a guild, because raid content is very much linked to guilds, the occasional PuG raid notwithstanding. I often felt that I needed my guild a lot less in other games, even if that game had better tools.

Nobody minds EVE's legal RMT

I'm not a big expert on EVE, but I do follow several general MMO blogs which mention that game occasionally. So I was scrolling through my Google reader and in short succession stumbled upon two blog entries on EVE. In the first potshot proudly proclaims a new record for him in EVE, having reached 200 million ISK (EVE's currency). In the second Ancient Gaming Noob Wilhelm2451 reports on EVE's ingame game cards, called PLEX, which pay for a 30-day subscription and sell for 300 million ISK. CCP sells them for $34.95 for two. So in other words, if I started EVE now, I could buy two game cards for $35, use one for myself, sell the other on the ingame AH, and end up having more ingame currency than potshot after who knows how many hours of boring mining grind.

And unlike buying gold in WoW that would be completely legal. And unlike gold in WoW, you can buy pretty much everything with ISK, there are no bind-on-pickup epics or alternative currencies like emblems preventing gold buyers from reaching the best gear. And there aren't any xp and levels in EVE either, there are skills, that only real world time and ISK to train. Theoretically speaking, you could start EVE, fly to the next major space station, stay there forever, and still earn all the skills and gear the game has to offer. Without ever firing a single shot or mining a single asteroid. You don't even have to log on and play all that often. What is the point of EVE offline? And why does nobody seem to mind that RMT in EVE is legal?

I think the answer is that EVE simply isn't a game about achievements. In a game like WoW making your character more powerful or rich involves doing stuff. In EVE you can get more powerful by waiting (paying a subscription fee to CCP) and get rich by selling PLEXs (which you bought from CCP). That is obviously a good business model for CCP, but somehow unsatisfying for the achiever Bartle type player. Instead EVE seems to be very much about social interaction, politics, business deals, spanning from the honest to the downright scam. Which, like RMT, is legal in EVE. The advantage is that instead of the challenge being some raid boss, the strategy for which you can find all over the internet, including by video on YouTube, the challenge of EVE is in interpersonal relationships, which are by definition unpredictable. When you read about EVE, you rarely hear people talking about big fleet battles deciding a war; instead most stories deal with assassination, betrayal, scamming and treason. And the occasional multi-trillion ISK exploit.

And in a way, that is okay. It just means that EVE is a very different game than most other MMORPGs. There is no real competition between WoW and EVE, because those games would appeal to very different types of players. And it explains the different attitude toward RMT: Buying gold is equivalent to buying an achievement, which is a big deal in a game like WoW that is all about achievements. In EVE achievements are a side show, and if somebody decides to spend dollars on them, it isn't a big deal.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kel’Thuzad healing addon?

I'm 44. While I still get through life fine without Viagra and a Zimmer frame, thank you very much, my reaction times in video games are below average. That usually doesn't cause much of a problem in World of Warcraft, which is not a very twitchy game. But last time we were at Kel’Thuzad me and the other healers had problems dealing with his frost tomb ability. This ability deals 104% of the victims health in damage to him over 4 seconds. Which means the moment somebody is trapped in a frost tomb, a healer has to interrupt whatever other healing spell he was currently casting, target the frost tomb victim, and get a fast healing spell on him. Not easy, especially if you include problems like global spell cooldown and some lag.

So I was wondering whether I could improve my performance if I had an addon where I could with a single click target somebody and at the same time cast lets say Renew on him. A bit like Decurse, which lets me with a single click target somebody and cast Dispel Magic on him. Anyone know whether such an addon exists? Is there a "Defrost" addon working like Decurse? Or are there general healing addons (I'm not using any yet) which would have that functionality? What healing addons are you using, and what exactly do they do? Up to now I got along fine just targeting people by clicking on their raid frame and casting spells with the keyboard shortcuts. But for Kel’Thuzad I need something faster.

Blizzard's next MMO

On the open Sunday thread there was some discussion about what Blizzard's next MMO could be. As they aren't saying much, the possibilities are near endless. But lets assume for a moment that Blizzard is a company that wants to make the maximum profit. Or, if you prefer the idealistic version, that they want to make the maximum number of players happy (which then results in maximum numbers of subscribers, and thus maximum profit). Based on that assumption, how would they design their next MMO?

The one thing Blizzard doesn't want is their new MMO cannibalizing players from World of Warcraft. If you want the maximum number of subscribers, you have to go for both people who aren't playing WoW, and for people willing to pay for two accounts and play both WoW and the new game. That is nearly impossible to achieve if your new game is very similar to the old one. To attract different players, or to offer something very different to existing WoW players, the new game would have to have a very different gameplay.

Thus I do not believe that whatever MMO Blizzard is working on will have you talking to NPCs with a golden exclamation mark over their head, who send you out to kill ten foozles, in a hotkey-based combat system with tanks, healers, and damage dealers. Even if, as some readers speculated, the thing would play in a steampunk world, the game would be too similar to WoW in gameplay if it was playing on the surface of some world, with lots of zones, monsters, and some dungeons.

So my bet would be a game based on star systems and spaceships, although those could be steam-powered for more originality. Think EVE for carebears, given that so many of EVE's players never leave safe space, there would certainly be a market for that. Especially if you make the start a lot more welcoming, which is one of the weak points of EVE, still after lots of improvement. Think Earth & Beyond done right, with the usual Blizzard attention to detail and polish. Players could still have avatars walking through space stations, but most of the game would be centered around their ships. A good system of ship tuning, in which you have to balance various advantages and disadvantages, and upgrade your ship with ever new parts found, could replace the gear hunt of WoW. Trading, crafting, consentual PvP, exploring the galaxy. Blizzard could, in their usual manner, take the best of every existing single- or multi-player space game and combine it into one glorious masterpiece. The "Elite Online" we've been waiting for. I'd play that, would you?

Mana regeneration

Word is that Blizzard is planning to significantly decrease mana regeneration in patch 3.1. I can see their point: Yesterday I did some farming of level 80 monsters with my priest, and couldn't manage as hard as I tried to deplete my mana. I chain casted smites without end, but being specialized in mana regeneration gear and having put 3 points in spirit tap, my mana simply always stayed nearly full. By the time I done the three steps to attack the next mob, I was at full mana again.

I already wrote about how useless "mana efficient" spells like Greater Heal have become in an environment where people very rarely run out of mana. It used to be that the raid wiped when the healers ran out of mana. Nowadays bosses need an enrage timer, because healers don't run out of mana.

But of course changing the way mana regeneration works will have a huge impact on class balance. In healing suddenly mana efficiency could come back into favor. In damage dealing less mana means a fundamental shift in power between classes that use mana to deal damage, and those who don't. I wonder how all that will work out, and how many more changes to classes Blizzard will have to do in WotLK before they get class balance right.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Do we need guides to level and make gold?

I declined an opportunity to make money advertising Zuggy's Gold Mastery Guide, sticking to my no advertising policy. Looking at the free copy Zuggy sent me, I started to think about the sense or nonsense of guides like that. So you get a post with my thoughts on gold making and leveling guides, and Zuggy gets a free link.

The principal problem of gold making and leveling guides is that they are trying to sell you information you could get for free elsewhere. How to make gold in World of Warcraft, or how to level up quickly, is frequently discussed on various blogs, or the comments sections of the many database sites. WoW even has lots of addons which help you level (QuestHelper) or make gold on the auction house (Auctioneer). So where is the market for a guide costing around $50?

The answer is probably that the usefulness of such guides isn't in the fact that they contain secret information (they don't), but how they compile that information in one package. You could find the same information for free, but it would take you a lot of time to find it all and sift through it. Personally I prefer to experiment and find out things for myself, but that isn't necessarily the case for everybody. Some people prefer to have a clear and simple guide telling them which quests to do in which order to level up fastest, or where you can go and make gold by farming or playing the auction house. As long as the guide is up to date, I can understand somebody paying for it, even if I wouldn't. I'm not the target audience for them, people who are much less informed about WoW are.

As they often point out themselves in their advertising, gold making guides are in direct competition with gold selling companies. I haven't got a clue how much gold $50 is currently buying you in WoW, but obviously there is a choice between spending that $50 directly on that gold, or spending it on a guide that tells you how to make gold. A gold guide has the advantage that it isn't against the rules to use one, but the disadvantage that you still have some work to do after buying it to actually get that gold. And it isn't totally risk-free, you pay the money before knowing how updated the guide is. If some patch changed the usefulness of the information contained in the guide, or if it presents information that is used by too many people, which makes the farming spots and auction house strategies less profitable, you might end up paying $50 for a useless pdf file. But then, of course, if you buy gold from a website you heard about in ingame spam, you might also pay money for gold that you never receive, having fallen victim to some scammer.

On the other hand, the few guides I had the opportunity to check out without paying for them did at least have the advantage of being more useful than the "official" strategy guides you can find in print. Printing and distributing a book takes so much time, that the information contained in such a printed strategy guide on a MMORPG is almost always outdated. Also I often found printed strategy guides to contain long lists of items or recipes, which are much better covered in online databases.

In summary, while I would say that leveling and gold making guides aren't strictly needed, they can be useful for people who don't want to take the time to find the same information spread all over the internet. Like RMT you trade dollars for convenience, and you risk being scammed, but at least you don't risk getting banned for it.

Best farming spot in WoW

Markco of Just My Two Copper thinks he has found the best farming spot in World of Warcraft, killing Scions of Storm in Storm Peaks. He claims you can make 385 gold in half an hour there, from the eternal air and relics of ulduar you get from those mobs. Additional income if you are miner or engineer, or both.

I must say that I haven't even looked for farming spots yet, so I can't say how good that spot is from my own experience. So maybe you know more. Do you believe that this could be the best farming spot in WotLK? Or is farming lets say Wintergrasp when it belongs to your faction bringing even more? What's your favorite farming spot?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

80, again

I was having lots of fun with my warrior this weekend, questing in Icecrown. Very well made zone, using phasing to great effect, so that you get the impression that you are personally responsible for pushing back the Scourge. And without really having planned to, I suddenly dinged 80. So that's the second character to the level cap done.

Now I wouldn't mind trying to go to Naxxramas with my warrior, but I don't think it will happen. For understandable reasons guilds prefer if players stick to their mains, especially if that main is a healer. But I have already geared him up with crafted and bought epics. So now I got a tank spec warrior with 542 defense, over the defense cap, and thus I should be able to find at least heroic groups. I'd love to increase stamina a bit more, right now I only have just under 25k health, but for a start that isn't all that bad. I'll see how this works out.

Besides doing heroics and finishing Icecrown with my warrior, and going raiding with my priest, I still have two other projects: Level my mage from 70 to 80, and level my druid, who is only level 14 yet. So, still a lot to do. Up to now, I'm still having fun with the Wrath of the Lich King.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Open Sunday Thread

As every Sunday, this is the open thread where you can discuss among you, or ask questions and propose subjects for future blog posts.

A market crash

In the last weeks I made 24 Darkmoon Cards of the North. That did cost me around 4k gold in herbs (Adder's Tongue, Icethorn, Lichbloom, don't use the cheaper Northrend herbs, because they only give half the Snowfall Ink). From those 24 Darkmoon cards, 7 were "of Nobles", which is 1 more than the statistical average, lucky me. 6 of these nobles cards I sold for 1.5k gold each, making me 9k gold, for a nice 5k of profit. I'm still sitting on the last card, because the market crashed, and there are several cards for 750 gold on offer, half the previous price.

Which means that if I spent another 4k gold on herbs, milled another 100 stacks, and this time would get the statistical average of 6 nobles cards, I'd barely break even at the current price. And if I'm a bit unlucky with the number of nobles cards I get, or the price falls further, I'd spend a lot of clicks and lose money in the end.

Well, a market in which you can make 5k profit in a few days without leaving the city was bound to crash. But you might have noticed that I didn't talk about 17 other cards that weren't "of Nobles". I sold most of them too, but for prices as low as 20 gold. I had lots of chaos cards, so I bought a missing card cheap, made a complete chaos deck, and then tried selling that one. After continuously lowering the price for it every day until I could find a buyer, I ended up getting a lousy 250 gold for it. The people who bought my nobles cards for 1.5k needed 8 cards, or 12k gold for the nobles deck. So why is a chaos deck worth 250 gold, and a nobles deck 12,000? Because the nobles deck gives the best trinket in the game, giving you +90 of your favorite stat on equip, plus a chance of an additional +300 when you either deal damage or heal. The chaos deck on the other hand gives a rather useless trinket, which does nothing on equip, and just a minor bonus to crit and resilience when it procs. The undeath and prisms deck give somewhat better trinkets, but by far not as good as the nobles one.

I wonder why Blizzard designed these to be so unbalanced. Previous darkmoon cards were closer together in value. Of course it would be hard, if not impossible, to design the decks so evenly balanced that the cards would all be worth the same all the time. But the huge difference between the chaos and the nobles trinket is somewhat surprising. Well, if you happen to need a level 80 trinket and the chaos, prism, or undeath one are good enough for you, you might want to pick one up now. Every inscriber is apparently trying to make nobles cards, and in the process the other cards have become dirt cheap. Even the nobles trinket dropped from 12k to 6k. Me, I'm out of that market. I made my money and moved on before the market crashed.