Thursday, June 30, 2011

My monocle theory

You might have noticed that my blog post on the monocle affair was extremely short. That was a typical case where I didn't say everything I had to say because of the obvious possibility that the combination of two very contentious subjects, EVE and RMT, would result in a flame war in the comment section. Now with comments turned off, I can say what I believe happened. I think that the EVE item shop is not a sudden decision, but a natural result from previous decisions by CCP on RMT.

In my opinion the whole story started years ago, when CCP introduced their PLEX RMT. For the players the PLEX system looks like an indirect way to buy any item in the game with cash: You buy a PLEX from CCP, exchange that PLEX for ISK in game, and buy whatever you want with the ISK. The obvious advantage is that the players who buy virtual goods for real cash this way support the in-game economy.

So does this make the PLEX system the ideal RMT system? Well, not from the point of view of the company: The PLEX system has the curious effect that regardless of how many players engage in RMT, CCP doesn't make any more money from their game than if they had no RMT at all. All they actually sell is subscriptions in advance. That increases the short term cash flow, but in the long term they still only make as much money as they would have with a regular subscription system. Originally there was no way for PLEX to disappear from the economy except for somebody paying his subscription with one. The more PLEX accumulate in game, the less likely it becomes that somebody pays for his subscription with cash. It's a bit like a mortgage: Get money now, but the obligation sticks with you for a long time. A PLEX is basically an IOU from CCP.

For CCP to make money, the PLEX had to be removed from the in-game economy. Their first attempt at that was making them destructible. That obviously wasn't a very reliable method of removing PLEX, and it tended to very much upset the player who got shot down with over $1,000 dollars worth of PLEX in his cargo hold.

So what CCP needed was a way for players to voluntarily destroy their PLEX. And that is where the item shop and the monocle come into play. The fundamental feature of EVE's new item shop is not that you can buy a monocle for $68. It is that to pay for items from the shop, you need to destroy PLEX by turning them into Aurum. Every PLEX destroyed means somebody at some point will have to pay for his subscription instead of using that PLEX.

I think that the plan in itself is a good one. What CCP failed at was the implementation. On the one side the vanity items are overpriced, on the other side they don't fulfill the most basic function of a vanity item: Showing off in front of other players. Nobody but you can see your avatar running around in the space station, so it doesn't really matter what he wears.

According to the leaked memo from CCP the next step will be selling items with some use in game for Aurum, like ships or modules. From the point of view of the buyer, that doesn't change much: Instead of exchanging PLEX for ISK and then the item you want, you now exchange PLEX for Aurum and then the item you want. From the point of view of CCP that is a huge difference: Any item bought via Aurum is an actual income for the company. CCP will finally be able to financially profit from the RMT they had going on already for a long time.

So why the outrage? Well, money tends to be a zero-sum game. If CCP gains more money from their RMT, somebody else has to be on the losing end. In this case the people who lose are those who used to pay for their subscription with PLEX they bought with ISK they earned in game, effectively the "Free2Play" players of EVE. Remove a lot of PLEX from the game, and their price in ISK goes up. It will become more difficult to finance your EVE subscription strictly through ISK earned in game.

Is that the end of EVE? Not bloody likely. As Raph Koster once pointed out, every MMORPG has the same shape of curve of subscriber numbers over time. Just the height of the peak and the width of the timescale changes. It is likely that EVE has peaked, and will now begin a slow decline, just like it is likely that WoW is now on the decline. But for games who took years to peak, it will also take years to decline. And it is rather common for companies with a product that already paid off its development cost and is slowly declining to milk that cash cow to the maximum. It isn't the milking that causes the decline, but the decline that causes the milking. The fans would like EVE to be a special snowflake, but in the end CCP is a company like any other and has to make money.

Comments turned off

As announced, comments have been turned off until at least August 31st.

I had two differnt options on how to do that. The one I choose completely hides the commenting section, with the disadvantage of also hiding all old comments. The other option would have been to leave the comment section, but allow only me to post comments. After testing it turned out that the latter option wasn't good, because it created a comment window as usual, in which people could have typed in long comments only to find at the end that they weren't allowed to publish them to the blog.

Google+ lacks backward compatibility

So Google launched their Google+ social network in invite-only testing mode this week. And I got an invite from a fellow blogger. Only problem is that when I try to start Google+ on my work computer, I'm being told that my browser isn't supported. While I would agree with Google that the Internet Explorer 7 my company is using might not be the best choice, I don't actually have a say in that matter. If you are on a computer that doesn't belong to you, be that at work or in an internet café, you don't have total control over what browser you can use.

Thus right now I'm not impressed with Google+. One important feature of social networks is that they must be accessible from anywhere. Lacking backward compatibility with Internet Explorer is already a bad sign. And if the application is so picky, then how will it run on other platforms like iPads, tablet PCs, or non-Android smartphones?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tobold's Blog now Free2Read

A reader of mine donated via the "buy Tobold a coffee" button, and suggested I should change my business model: The Free2Read blog with an item store! Readers would be able to buy avatars with monocles, or bigger and bolder fonts in the comments section. Makes me wonder when we will see the first blogs working like that. :)

My game can beat up your game

Sometimes it seems our discussion of online games hasn't evolved much from the schoolyard days of "my dad can beat up your dad". The idea that one MMORPG can "beat up" another is quite common, a Google search on the term "WoW killer" gets you over 200,000 hits. That is based on the completely wrong assumption that there is only a limited and fixed number of MMORPG players in any given market, so that the success of one game comes at the loss of another. Small anecdote to show how wrong that assumption is: In 2004, a few months before World of Warcraft was released, a financial analyst determined that the size of the European MMORPG market was 280,000 players. Then WoW came and sold 380,000 copies on it's first weekend.

So I'm not all that happy that Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings ponders whether World of Tanks is to blame for EVE's item shop problems. While it is true that measured for example by number of concurrent users World of Tanks already passed EVE, growing faster per month than EVE per year, I don't really see how you can compare these two games directly. Yes, they are both "PvP games", but that is pretty much where their similarities end. EVE is a SciFi sandbox MMORPG in which PvP is actually a minority activity among many other possible activities, including a huge political game of grand strategy. World of Tanks is a series of WW2-themed PvP battles lasting no longer than 15 minutes, with a kind of Risk board game added as endgame.

It is pretty ridiculous to believe that the success of World of Tanks comes to the detriment of EVE Online. The majority of World of Tanks players are people like me, who love the idea of a game where they can log in, fight a few battles, and log out again, without any long-term committment. That is exactly the type of player who would hate EVE. The PvP isn't the same, I'd even say it is diametrically opposed: World of Tanks has instanced random battles between two equal forces, with players complaining about minor differences in the weight given to tanks by the matchmaker algorithm. EVE Online has open-world organized battles where the goal is to have them *not* balanced at all, but each side trying by all means fair or foul to get an overwhelming advantage. World of Tanks has positive sum PvP, there are more rewards handed out than lost in battle, and even the losing side will at least gain xp, and might even make money out of the battle. In EVE the PvP is negative sum, battles are a costly affair which serves as a money sink for the game economy.

Yes, World of Tanks has an extremely successful item shop, and EVE's current troubles are all about the introduction of an item shop. But there are lots of other games with item shops, and the EVE version is obviously very different from the World of Tanks version. You can't buy monocles or other fluff in WoT. In fact WoT doesn't even have "an RMT item shop" per se, the gold items simply appear in the same in-game menu where you'd buy the regular items, just for a different currency.

Fact is that constant change is one of the defining features of online games. We are the first to complain if a game doesn't change frequently enough. And all these ideas for changes come out of wider pool of game design trends and market trends. Any successful game influences that pool of ideas and trends, but that doesn't mean that game A is responsible for the changes to game B. No developer deliberately changes his game to the worse just because some other game was successful with some idea. You don't see WoW introducing Farmville style farms. If developers make major changes, it is to solve some problem.

I am convinced that Rift had problems with player retention at the level cap before they decided to nerf the dungeons, they didn't just do it because that is "what WoW would have done". And I do think that EVE had problems of their own, more likely with new player retention and a growing gap between new players and veteran ISK billionaires. Adding an item shop which can serve as a money sink for the ISK billions and later help the new players to advance faster and close that gap sounds like something any game company CEO could come up with. I don't think one can blame World of Tanks for that. World of Tanks did not beat up EVE, CCP just made a reasonable business decision which isn't all that popular with the veterans.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Does the endgame have to be at the end of the game?

Gankalicious isn't all that happy with the Clan Wars endgame of World of Tanks. The endgame is dominated by level 9 and 10 tanks, and his favorite tank is level 5. The high-level tanks also dominate the organized PvP tank company against tank company, where each side can bring 90 levels worth of tanks: 9 level 10 tanks easily beat 15 level 6 tanks. Thus Gankalicious proposes a second tier of Clan Wars with a level cap of 5. I think the level cap would be a good idea, but to keep the spread smaller I'd either make one alternative Clan Wars with a level cap of 7, or two with level caps of 6 and 8. With progressively lower rewards, of course.

Now you need to remember the peculiarities of World of Tanks compared to let's say World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft for historical reasons has raid dungeons not just at the level cap of 85, but also at 60, 70, and 80. But in WoW leveling is fast, and raiding is slow, so unless you'd turn off xp gain, you couldn't raid the level 60 dungeons without quickly outleveling them. In World of Tanks your tanks don't actually gain levels, you gain xp which allows you to unlock the next level of tank. Thus even somebody with a level 10 tank will still have lower level tanks in his garage. Having a lower level "endgame" thus doesn't exclude those who already advanced further.

As in World of Tanks leveling is slow, and the endgame is fast, a lower tier of Clan Wars would make sense. It would give clans an opportunity to play together without having to exclude those who are not yet level 9 or 10. Right now the only clan activity which makes sense for all but the top levels is doing random battles in platoons of 3.

Of course Wargaming.net might prefer to leave Clan Wars to the highest level of tanks for financial reasons. As mentioned before, while World of Tanks is really free to play at the lower levels, it becomes increasingly difficult to get to the higher levels without paying for a subscription or gold tank for farming. Thus the old mindset of "the game begins at the endgame" is a source of income for the game company in this case. Otherwise people might notice that you get pretty much the same content at level 3 that you get at level 10, and the game is equally fun at all levels.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Empires and Allies, new top game from Zynga

I've been checking some tabs yesterday with numbers where you can see which games on facebook gains highest numbers of new players. It is not the best tool how to find best facebook games, but it is one you can use while searching for new facebook games. I have found in this tab that there is new game that is gaining huge numbers of new players, the name of this game is Empires and Allies.

Empires and Allies is game from Zynga and that means that this game will really not be revolution of games on facebook, because Zynga is really not company that makes revolutionary games, but they makes them really perfect from the technical side. I think that reason why Zynga created this game is quite simple, soon there will be Civilization on facebook and Zynga does not want to lose their players to such popular game and that is the reason why they created this game that is similar to Civilization in some ways.

Well, I have to say that even this game is no revolution and that I don't like Zynga games too much because these games are too simply and stupid, I like this game because it least it is not only about building and visiting friends, you can finally also fight in this game and attack your friends, that is and always will be much bigger fun that just stupid visiting and helping with farm.

In this game you start with small island and few buildings and everything you want is to have really big empire. Well, that is not going to be easy. If you want to have big empire, as every time in human history, you need to have big army. If you want to have big army, you need to have lot of citizens and powerful industry. This part of game is very similar to CityVille, you just build your island and build strong army in your barracks, plant crops in your farms, build houses for citizens and other military buildings.

Now when you are on some higher level, you have some army and some friends, it is good time to start the real fun. Now you can invade your friends and it is really much better than helping them, because you can this way get every day money from them if your invasion is successful.

In this game there of course as usually in Zynga games different tasks and quests and also story. Story is avbout Dark Alliance that in the beginning tries to invade your island, you have to find why, you have to find who is the Dark alliance and you have to defend thme with help of your friends.

This game is good fun, but problem is that it is still too similar to other Zynga games. Well, it is still now one of the best facebook games.

Rating 8/10

Happy birthday, Anarchy Online

Ten years ago Anarchy Online launched, with what is until now unbeaten as the worst MMORPG launch ever. I was there on day one, and looking back I wonder why I didn't log off immediately on that day. Fortunately the game improved significantly from launch, and has survived a full decade today. Time to have a look at what AO brought to the genre:

Anarchy Online was probably the high-point of procedurally created content in MMORPGs. Pretty much everything in AO was randomly generated, from the landscapes to the random missions. That did sometimes lead to strange effects: For example weapons exist in 200 different levels, with the stat increase per level being linear. But somebody had balanced that system somewhere at mid-level, with some weapons having a stronger increase per level than others. That led to some low-level weapons having negative stats, even negative damage output! Furthermore the system resulted in a huge number of different weapons, with players camping the weapon store, which every hour got a new batch of 50 random weapons. It could take a long time before you got exactly the weapon you wanted at the right level.

Random missions turned out to be not so great either, a problem shared with Star Wars Galaxies: If you can repeatedly hit a "new mission" button on a terminal creating random missions, you'll do that until you get the random reward you want for a reasonable effort. Random landscapes looked great, but quickly became boring. And random dungeons became boring even quicker, because there weren't all that many tilesets from which to build them. (Which incidentally was my main reason to quit City of Heroes. Now that is going free to play I think I'll check whether they added significantly more tilesets for their random dungeons.)

So overall procedurally created content was not really a great success in Anarchy Online. I think there is a future for it in MMORPGs, but the random creation with algorithm has to be implemented better.

Anarchy Online was a pioneer of the Free2Play movement in December 2004, although financed by advertising instead of an item shop. While the announcements of 2011 of many games going Free2Play raise barely a yawn, that was pretty revolutionary in 2004.

As a final birthday present to Anarchy Online, I'd like to cite some previews of Star Wars: The Old Republic, in which the previewers complain about people standing toe to toe and shooting at each other with laser weapons, which doesn't feel all that realistic. Anarchy Online has this problem since a decade, and it's interesting to see how nobody has come up with a better implementation of Sci-Fi combat yet.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer schedule

Every summer I'm going on holidays for a large chunk of the July/August period, and during that time I have limited internet access. Besides from not being able to post much during that time, I also can't do comment moderation. Unfortunately Blogger's heuristic spam filter just plain sucks, having a long history of blocking real comments and letting through spam. So I was looking at my comments, and I didn't really like what I saw.

My blog is 8 years old, and has over 3,600 posts. As I'm not changing my beliefs all that often, my opinions on certain key issues have become well known: I believe that MMORPGs are just games that shouldn't be taken too serious. I believe that achievements in video games aren't real and certainly not a good reason to flout one's superiority over other players. I believe games should be entertaining for the majority of players and not cater to the small minority spending the most time on them. I believe game developers deserve a salary and people should pay for their games whatever the business model.

These opinions are contentious by their very nature. There are a lot of people out there who disagree. And some of these people are angered by my opinions, and are even more angry that I am able to express them in a coherent form on a popular blog. Thus over the time I have attracted a lot of commenters who systematically disagree with EVERY SINGLE POST they comment on. There is no discussion, no give and take, just pure antagonism. It's like a bunch of Republicans commenting on a Democrat blog.

I believe that this antagonism hurts my blog. And I fully admit that my own reaction to the antagonism is part of the problem. But I am not at all willing to cave in and change my core beliefs just because these beliefs upset a bunch of hardcore gamers.

Thus I decided that this year I will shut down commenting on my blog on July 1st at the very least for 2 months. I am considering leaving commenting turned off permanently. During the summer period there will also be significantly less posts while I enjoy life on the beach.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

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Friday, June 24, 2011

One point for EVE

As you might have noticed, I am not the world's biggest EVE fan. Having said that, I must admit that the CEO of CCP is completely right when he says:
Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say. Innovation takes time to set in and the predictable reaction is always to resist change.
I used to blog a lot more about ideas I have on how to make MMORPGs better. But the instinctive knee jerk rejection by commenters of absolutely everything new makes talking about new ideas a very unpleasant experience.

Star Wars Galaxies closes down

Star Wars Galaxies was announced to close down on December 15th. I'd assume that there aren't all that many players left, and a part of those leaving for SWTOR is a definitive possibility. Other than that, I can't say much about SWG, because I don't know the game. Well, I knew the *old* Star Wars Galaxies, but I never played the NGE SWG.

The one feature I am going to miss is the resource gathering system in Star Wars Galaxies. Resources in SWG have stats, they are collected by harvesters, not manually, and the locations of the resources change every week. That leads to a brilliant system where exploration for resources makes sense. Resources with better stats give crafted goods with better stats, so there is a real incentive. And the search for resources is a complete game on its own. The system is unique, and now it's shutting down. What a pity!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Numeracy and Democracy

Somehow it seems I'm writing this post at least once a year. But numeracy is actually something I am passionate about, and thus it hurts to see the huge amount of writing in which numbers are used in completely wrong and misleading ways. And disregard for the majority is one of eternal pet peeves of mine.

As this is a MMORPG blog, the relevant numbers most often represented in a completely wrong way are player numbers. There is actually not a single MMORPG in which player numbers are represented in a meaningful way. World of Warcraft famously lists total number of paying customers, thus bunching together the US/EU customer paying around $15 per month with the Chinese customers who actually pay by the hour, and normally much less. Rift reports the 1st million players, and you need to look in the small print to see that this is 1 million boxes sold, not 1 million players currently subscribed. EVE reports number of accounts, which in a game where most serious players have multiple accounts gives a much larger number than counting players. Free2Play games count accounts too, so if you open an account, play for 5 minutes, hate the game, and uninstall it, you will be forever counted as a player, as most of the time there isn't even a delete account functionality.

Now some people respond to this misleading bunch of numbers by claiming that numbers have no meaning at all. Nils loves to quote "Eat shit! Billions of flies can't be wrong." But if that would be a meaningful comment, we would also have to abandon democracy, which is built on the idea that the majority is right. Once you look closer at it, you quickly realize that this saying only means that what is good for one population (flies) isn't necessarily good for another population (humans). Now of course some people want to express that the players of WoW are shit-eating flies, while they are superior being with more refined tastes, but that is just the usual elitism. There is not one autocratic regime in the world which wouldn't argue that they know better what is for the best of the people than the people themselves would know in a democratic system.

MMORPGs are extremely democratic. There is very little other than personal tastes which would keep the player of one game from playing another game. Thus it matters very much which games people actually end up choosing. If out of their free will people vote with their feet and their wallets for one game, and not another, that really tells you something about how "good" that game is. With "good" of course being synonym with "fun", "entertaining", or "popular", not necessarily "acclaimed by some highbrow critics". Just like certain books or movies can catered towards very narrow tastes and end up getting great reviews and lousy sales, one can always find somebody giving a great review to a game only 10,000 people play. That game is "good" for its 10,000 players, but "bad" for everybody else. To be really worthy to be called a good game, a significant number of people need to spend a lot of time and money playing it, for a significant time, and out of their own free will.

What one has too look at to make these numbers meaningful is what are the scarce resources. By looking at how players spend their scarce resources, one can accurately say something about how good a game is. In the case of MMORPGs the scarce resources are money and time. A billion flies can be wrong as culinary advisors for humans, because flies have different food selection criteria than humans. A billion dollars can't be wrong, because money has value for all of us (albeit to different degrees, depending on your disposable income). You simply can't make a billion dollars a year with a bad game, without twisting the definition of what a "bad game" is to something irrelevant and not recognizable.

For time, the number of players or accounts is a bad measure, because you don't know how much time each of these players spends. Ultra-casual free games and "virtual spaces" quickly get millions of players, but most of them neither spend money, nor more than a few minutes per day on the game. Services like XFire or Raptr can give some idea of activity in a game, but usually there is only a small percentage of players who have thus tools installed, and they aren't necessarily representative of the whole player base. One better number one can see sometimes is maximum concurrent users, which at least after correcting for multi-boxing gives you some idea of how many people are actually playing. Server-based games usually have technical limitations of how many concurrent users they can support, and thus how many servers a game has, and whether they are opening up new servers or merging and closing down old ones is a valuable information here.

While there isn't much price differentiation between subscription games, these appear to be a dying breed, with every week bringing new announcements of some game going Free2Play (this week City of Heroes and Lego Universe). A Free2Play game will always have more players than a game of equal quality that charges a subscription. Hey, I'd actually might try CoH again now that it went free, although that is more about a lack of committment than a lack of money. Thus I'd argue that a game's revenue is a better indicator of how good it is than the number of players, unless you compare two games with the same business model and similar pricing.

If a game is very popular, one can use that fact for predictions and recommendations. If somebody of whose gaming habits I know absolutely nothing asks be recommend him a MMORPG, chances are that he will like World of Warcraft. That is not the same as saying that "everybody likes World of Warcraft", which obviously isn't true. If you don't know what dessert people like, ice-cream is usually a safe bet, while chocolate seaweed isn't. But once in a while you get somebody who is lactose-intolerant, and ice-cream would not be the best dessert choice. Some people are WoW-intolerant for various reasons, although the largest number of people actually disliking WoW are those who played it for hundreds or thousands of hours and burned out. Then you get into that strange area of discussion where people feel the urge to defend their game choices as if they were lifestyle decisions, so if somebody played a game for thousands of hours the game was obviously good at that point, and the miracuously turned bad just at the time that person was quitting.

So, player numbers are not totally meaningless, especially not if it is a subscription-based game, and there is a good correlation between player numbers and money spent. When Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out, the number of players it will attract (if actual subscription numbers are released) is a good indicator of whether that game sucks or is any good. That doesn't mean certain people can't have a very different definition of "good", and go totally against the majority opinion. Klepsacovic tried to persuade me to play Starcraft 2. For all I hear that is a good game, but I simply don't like real-time strategy games as much as I like turn-based strategy games. There is nothing wrong with not agreeing with the majority, and having different tastes. It is wrong to claim that the minority is right and the majority is wrong. As long as we can choose freely which games to play, that choice is like a democratic vote. Question the vote of the majority (if counted right), and you question democracy itself. Or as Churchill said: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". If you argue that your exotic choice is better than the majority vote, then why yours, and not that of somebody else having a very different minority taste? A single person can only answer the question which game is best for *him*, the majority says which game is best for most.

Zombie Lane

Hi, this is another game from Digital Chocolate, that is really funny and belongs among the top facebook games of 2011. It is really strange how many facebook games are very similar. I always think why there are no more lawsuits about this. If there was movies so similar like some facebook games are, I'm sure there would be many and many lawsuits about this. do you remember those aquarium facebook games people used to play about two years ago? These games was really amost the same and there are much more such games.
The game I have for you today is also very similar to some other game, but this time it is not just copy, it is much more like parody.
I'm sure that you remember facebook game FrontierVille. Well, this game Zombie Lane has really very similar concept and similar story, except..ehm.. instead chopping trees you are killing zombies in this game and it very refreshing after all those stupid games on facebook that looks like they were designed just for 5 year old kids.
So in this game you have your house on the normal suburban street. Well, there is something really very very strange about this street. Instead of nice neighboors, there are almost only zombies on the streets and yes, all these zombies wants one thing, they want to eat your delicous brain. Because most of people like their brains inside their skulls and not in digestive system of zombies you have to defend yourself. You can choose from many weapons. You start with shovel, shotgun, then you can get SMGs or even craft some crazy weapons that kills "special" zombies.

Well it is not only about killing, in this comedy style facebook game you have also to build (in this case more repair your house), you can also farm in this game and of course you have to do lot of funny quests. I really like this game, because it is not only funny, but also somehow survival game which I have always loved.

In this game every action consumes energy, zombie killing, reboulding your house.. simply everything. You get one energy point every five minutes or from food or you can buy it..I'm sure you will know if you ever played FrontierVille.

You really have to try this game, because it is great fun and it is one of the best facebook games I have ever played.

Rating 9/10

Useful or useless - What would you buy?

Imagine a Free2Play game with an item shop that offered both purely decorative items, and items which gave you some sort of advantage in game, without being an "I win" button. So on the one side you'd have clothing, decorative items for houses, and sparkly special effects. On the other side you have mounts, added inventory space, temporary xp bonuses, and the like. Which one would you rather buy?

I have the distinct impression that previous discussions on the subject were influenced by the contribution of people who actually wouldn't buy anything. It is kind of logical that people who don't want to spend money do not want the others to have ANY advantage from spending money, and would like item sales limited to useless fluff. But how about those who actually do spend money in games with item shops? Do you prefer decorative fluff, or will you only spend money if there is actually an advantage for you in it?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The $68 monocle

I can't wait to hear from the fans why a $25 sparkly pony (which actually serves a purpose as mount) is evil and overpriced, while a $68 monocle that does nothing is perfectly okay.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Don't play games with me

Don't play games with me is a presentation recently given by Sebastian Deterding on the subject of gamification. While it makes use of some philosophy and psychological theories about why we play and what games are, it is very accessible. The presentation makes good points, some of which aren't only applicable to gamification, but make you think about MMORPGs as well. Recommended reading!

The new Europe

For somebody born in the west, Europe used to end at the iron curtain. Behind that lay a somewhat scary region with which one simply didn't have any contact, and knew very little about, except from history books. That also was true for "European servers", on which everybody spoke English. But playing World of Tanks on European servers today shows how much this has changed.

At the start of each battle there is a forced 30 second break to give people with slower connections or computers time to load the map and connect. And that is a good time to be polite, wish the other players "good luck and have fun" or just say "hello". Only on the European servers more often than not what you read is something like "siema", which is "hello" in Polish. Or the Hungarian, Slovakian, or other east European language version of this.

One problem with that is that not everybody understands English. So if somebody writes in chat a proposed strategy, not only does he have the problem that not everybody might agree; he also can't be sure everybody actually understood what the said. Thus strategy discussions are usually done by pinging on the mini-map, which is quite limited as form of communication.

So in the end this great multi-cultural experience divides itself into clans based on language. National border recreate themselves on the internet, because most people prefer to hang out with others who speak their language. Not so much xenophobia than xenophonia, but the end result is pretty much the same. The new Europe is closer together, but there is still a lot that separates us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Active Age of Conan account frozen

I just received a curious e-mail from Funcom, telling me that my "active Age of Conan account was frozen". They suggested this might have happened because I failed to pay. This is strange, because I most definitively cancelled my AoC account already back in 2008, after finding out that Funcom had conned me with the old bait & switch trick: The post level 20 game of AoC was completely different from the game up to level 20 which was available in the beta.

Now apparently Funcom tried to charge my credit card again. I must consider myself fortunate that the credit card I gave them in 2008 has expired by now. I rather have a strange "Active Age of Conan account frozen" mail than having to try to recover a charge on my credit card I never agreed to. I can only assume their accounting mess is related to their switch to Free2Play.

Anybody else here received a similar mail?

[UPDATE: I verified on the Funcom account page, and they really tried to charge me $14.99 for a 1-month recurring subscription I never signed up for. I find that inacceptable. If you played Age of Conan in the past and have since cancelled, you might want to check the payment history page on the Funcom account website.]

[UPDATE 2: Funcom support e-mail reply: Sorry for the delay, we have deactivated your account, and removed the failed payment. Thank you for the email, and we hope you are able to enjoy your day despite the circumstances.]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Payslope

Even Free2Play games need to make money to be sustainable. Many have some sort of paywall, reserving certain content for people who pay. World of Tanks doesn't have such a wall, everybody has access to all the maps and tech tree tanks in the game. Instead WoT has something I'd rather describe as a payslope: The high-level game becomes very tedious if you don't pay.

The effect is first noticeable around level 7 (out of 10): Starting from this level regular tanks on regular accounts tend to spend more credits on ammo and repair than they get as credit reward at the end of the battle. There are some variables there, winning earns you more than losing, and dealing a lot of damage also earns you more. But with level 8+ tanks costing millions of credits, money definitely is getting tight at the higher levels.

People who want to play for free can farm credits with lower level tanks, which have a better revenue to cost ratio. But the general idea is obviously that if you play World of Tanks so much that you got into the high-level game, you should pay something for that privilege. There are two major ways how to increase your income of credits by spending real money: Gold tanks and a subscription.

When the level 8 gold tanks were added to the game, many assumed that these were mostly for the kind of players who wouldn't want to level that high with regular tanks. But by now many high-level players use such a gold tank to farm credits. All gold tanks are cheap to repair, and with credits earned depending on damage, the income from the higher level gold tanks is better. The gold tanks also appear to get more credits than other tanks for the same result.

Subscriptions are not paid for directly, but with the "gold" currency you buy for real money. At the most favorable rate, €100 or $125 buys you 30,000 gold, and 30 days of subscription cost 2,500 gold, thus the €100 or $125 buys you a subscription for a year. With a subscription you make 50% more credits and experience than with a regular account. You also get a nicer looking garage, but who cares? The 50% more credits shouldn't be underestimated, as this is applied to the credits you earn in battle before deducting the cost of repairs and ammo. So if with the regular account you made 8,000 credits, but paid 10,000 for repairs and ammo, you made a 2,000 credit loss. The 50% bonus increases your income to 12,000, and suddenly you made 2,000 credits profit. Thus effectively the subscription has a higher impact on your credits than on your experience, although of course the 50% bonus there are nice to have as well.

Theoretically you can exchange gold for credits directly, but I wouldn't recommend that. I already earned more credits with my Löwe gold tank than if I had exchanged the gold that tank cost directly for credits. Thus now that I have level 7 regular tanks and am close to the first level 8, I alternate driving regular tanks and the Löwe, so I'll have enough credits to actually buy that level 8 tank. At €25 the Löwe certainly wasn't cheap, but that one-time payment would be enough to get me over the payslope. I have a subscription on top of that, but that's just me spoiling myself. So if you want to buy only one thing, a level 8 gold tank is probably the best investment. You can get up that payslope without paying anything, but that would really tedious, with many low-level battles to farm credits. I like this business model, because it the pressure to pay something is more on the people who play the most. I find that more fair.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Syncaine on accessibility

Syncaine has an extremely well-written post up arguing against accessibility. I don't agree, but it is well worth reading to understand the point of view of the hardcore.

His main argument is that in a game that is too hard, the not good enough players can always work to improve, while in a game that is too easy, the too good players can't do anything to get worse. Let's have a look at that claim!

What is the difference between a casual player and a hardcore player? As one can see from the frequent use of words like "idiots" and "morons", the hardcore believe that intelligence is a factor here. That is almost certainly completely wrong. There is no single agreed upon definition of intelligence, but most scientists agree that intelligence is about figuring things out, being able to adapt to complicated circumstances. A raid encounter in which the boss would use random abilities, and raiders would have to think on the spot about how to counter these abilities would require intelligence. But we all know raids don't work like that. Scripted raid encounters in which your success depends on perfect execution of predetermined moves you can watch on YouTube does not require intelligence. It requires a lot of determination, practice, and motor skills, but little or no intelligent thought.

Thus the real difference between hardcore and casual players is how much effort the two different groups are willing to exert. Gevlon's "slacker" part of the description of casuals, while not nice, is a lot closer to the truth than the "moron" part. For example I did raid BWL up to the last boss during vanilla with a hardcore guild, proving I do have the skill or intelligence to do so if I chose. And then I decided a hardcore raiding schedule was more effort than the fun I got out of this activity was worth, so I continued playing as a far more casual player. The large majority of hardcore players could become casual in a instance if they chose to do so, and the large majority of casual players could become hardcore in an instance if they chose to do so. The number of people who are actually "too stupid to raid" is insignificantly small.

Syncaine is completely right in saying that if somebody applies the typical hardcore effort on a task not requiring that sort of effort, the task becomes trivial. But in games that is called "optimizing the fun out of it". From theorycrafting sites, YouTube strategy videos, boss kill guides, to a plethora of addons, hardcore players use an incredible amount of tools to make raiding easier. That only proves that any game can be beat if you apply enough effort. Pac-man was beat 19 years after release in the first "perfect play" yielding the maximum possible high-score in 6 hours. That tells you a lot about the amount of determination some players have, and very little about whether Pac-Man is "too easy".

Making a game too hard is not about making it "impossible" for the casual players. It is about requiring an effort these casual players are not willing to bring to the table. The G in MMORPG stands for Game, and there are a lot of people who believe that MMORPGs are "just games". If there was a game which would require you to simply press a button 1 million times to get a super reward, some people would do that, while most people would probably say that this isn't enough fun for the reward to be worth the effort.

In real life the possible reward for any given effort is often limited by laws of physics and nature. For example how much effort you have to exert to lose weight and become muscular by working out in a gym is not really optional. That limits the business opportunities of gyms. In virtual life no such limitations exist. A developer can require a grueling 6-hour perfect play for you to get any epic reward, or he can give it to you for pressing a single button, or he can sell it to you. It is true that the 6-hour perfect play epic would be "worth more" to the person having achieved it than the button-press epic everybody got. But that is an optimization problem, with a optimum solution somewhere in the middle. The 6-hour perfect play epic does not motivate a player to play and pay a monthly subscription if that player knows that he will never want to play for 6 hours straight, or do all the training and research required. The single-button press epic doesn't motivate anybody either. So the task for the developer is to design challenges which require enough effort to be considered worthwhile, but not so much as to be considered only accessible by the no-lifers.

MMORPGs are entertainment products. Game companies are in the business of selling these entertainment products. If developers design a game which requires too much effort from the average player for too little gain, the average players will start leaving the game. While Trion never published subscriber numbers, I am pretty certain that this is what happened to them. Rift wasn't nerfed because of some change in philosophy, or to mimic a move Blizzard made 2 years ago, or to do the opposite of what Blizzard did in Cataclyms. Rift was nerfed because it lost too many players who were complaining that the endgame wasn't accessible enough for them. Cataclyms will be nerfed end of this month for exactly the same reason. Accessibility isn't a philosophical concept, it is a business survival strategy. That some people would rather want to see their favorite game fail than to be made accessible speaks for itself.

Of course better solutions than nerfing exist. Single-player games have solved the exact same problem years ago by introducing variable difficulty. Most single-player games wouldn't be profitable if they only existed on their hardest difficulty setting. One day some MMORPG developer will get the risk-reward ratio of a variable difficulty system right and make a killing. Until then going for the largest number of players is more intelligent than catering to the hardcore.

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Keterangan
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Nils on Cataclyms

Just a quick link to Nils' analysis of WoW raiding. While I do not completely agree with his emphasis of blaming "the B team" and his belief that WoW suffers from underinvestment, there is a lot of truth in much of what he says. Choice quote:
"Unfortunately, this meant that shortly after Cataclysm's release the average player found himself confronted with a very trivial leveling game and very hardcore heroic dungeons that had often to be completed in an unpleasant social environment. And all this was necessary to start raiding which was rather hardcore and as such inaccessible for many of them.

The result was a 5% drop (after creative bookkeeping) in subscriber numbers shortly after Cataclysm had been released in Europe/NA and WotLK had been released in China."
I do think that the trivial and too fast leveling experience has other reasons than those Nils mentions (Team B was following a Team A policy of time to level cap having to be a constant), but I do fully agree that trivializing the leveling game and making the endgame less accessible are the main reasons for the relative lack of success of Cataclysm.

Now I'm reasonably optimistic that Blizzard understands at least the raiding problem, as some of the devs' comments and actions suggest. Thus there is a chance that the next World of Warcraft expansion will manage raiding better, hopefully with a better system of variable difficulty which makes raiding accessible to the majority of players, while keeping is challenging for the more hardcore. I am much less optimistic that Blizzard can reverse the trivial leveling problem. Assuming the next expansion adds yet another 5 to 10 levels to the game, Blizzard would basically have to double the time to level cap to reach a speed in which people don't outlevel zones before consuming the zones' content. While this would improve the game enormously (even my ultra-casual wife complains about too fast leveling), it would be far too easy for the people who hate leveling to paint this move as a huge money-grabbing nerf. Thus there is some doubt whether Blizzard can reverse this mistake. With WoW not getting any younger, it is quite possible that future expansions will not be able to recover subscription numbers, and that WoW has peaked.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What if every game company required commercial licenses from game sites?

I will make less than $99 from the "Buy Tobold a coffee" donation button this year, if I extrapolate year-to-date donations. Thus I do need to think about what happens if every game company follows CCP's move to charge game sites with any income which use their intellectual property $99 a year. By covering so many different games, I would be pretty much screwed if all these companies came and wanted money from me.

Fortunately I am not really at risk. Whatever you think about the originality of my blog posts, they *are* "original" in a legal sense of the word. My thoughts and opinions about various games are my intellectual property, not that of the companies that made the games. I do not need a license to write about a game, or even to describe it. However this isn't a carte blanche for all game blogs: Many blogs I know use screenshots to illustrate their adventures, and those screenshots are the intellectual property of the game company. Theorycrafting sites using lots of data from the game would also be at risk. That can move a blog into the grey territory where legally they would be required to pay a commercial license, but practically it is unlikely that any game company bothers to send you a cease and desist letter for that.

The kind of game sites that are really targeted by that are those that offer third-party services: Databases in which you can look up information about the game, Wikis, and especially sites that offer any sort of addons, macros, or programs. Even if these addons are not banned by any terms of service, as soon as the site is making any money from donations, advertising, or from asking users for money, they would have to pay the $99 license fee.

And it is this fixed amount for the license fee which makes me think that this is an extremely bad idea. If all game companies introduced similar rules, what would happen? Well, the really commercial sites like Curse or Zam would pay up, because $99 per year is probably not a significant deterrent for them. But as there are only a handful of big sites like this, the game company will at best make a couple of thousand dollars, not even enough to pay for monitoring compliance with the license terms. All the small "fan sites" which already work for peanuts, mostly out of love for their games, would go out of business. The game companies would lose huge amount of goodwill from the fans, in exchange for insignificant amounts of money. That can't be a good deal!

Monetizing EVE

  • If you have a website using EVE Online intellectual property (for example images or data from the game), you will in the future need a license from CCP.
  • If your website has a donation button, like my "Buy Tobold a coffee one", or offers an application or service which requires payment in virtual or real currency, that CCP license has to be a commercial one, and you will need to pay CCP $99 per year for it.
  • If you use Google AdWords or similar services, not only will you need to pay $99 per year to CCP, you also risk losing your license if those automated ads contains links to sites "associated with ISK selling/buying, macros or bots".

Highly derivative games

Doug Creutz, financial analyst with Cowen and Company, made headlines this week by calling SWTOR "highly derivative of World of Warcraft", and suggesting it probably wouldn't ship this year because it wasn't ready. The latter part tells you how little he knows: MMORPG's release date is independent of their state of readiness. My criticism of the former part is more subtle: I do think that SWTOR is highly derivative of WoW, but I don't think that it is that which might cause this game to flop. Rather I think that SWTOR will flop if it turns out to be not a well enough done highly derivate game.

For all it's failures, Cataclysm upped the ante on the new player experience of quest-based gameplay. My wife, who is still playing WoW, and is leveling a new paladin, called me over several times this weekend to show me yet another cool thing she discovered: From boats to being accompanied by a dozen mini-manticores, World of Warcraft now has a lot of quests which go way beyond the simple kill ten foozles quests of yore. If SWTOR would be highly derivative of the latest level of execution and polish of World of Warcraft, I think they would do quite well. If SWTOR is highly derivative of the WoW of 2004, just with voice-overs, it is far more likely to fail.

The main problem for SWTOR however is that its bar for success is so high. I would say that RIFT is doing quite well (in spite of being much more highly derivative of WoW than SWTOR will be, due to playing in the same genre), but if SWTOR only arrives at the same level of success as Rift, people will consider SWTOR a failure.

I don't know how many subscribers Rift has now. Trion is making misleading statements about being close to selling 1 million copies of the game. For comparison: WAR sold 1.5 million copies on pre-order. A million copies sold is not the same as a million subscribers. Given the number of subscribers, churn, and over 6 years of placing high in PC sales charts, I would estimate that World of Warcraft by now has sold over 50 million copies. And that is just the base game, not the expansions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Rift is doing well, but not quite as spectacularly as the initial hype suggested. Bloggers like syncaine pulled a Keen and now post mostly critical things about Rift, or have just silently dropped the game. My best guess is that Rift has between 300k and 500k subscribers, which is most probably a financial success, given the estimated 50 million development cost. But as SWTOR's development costs are rumored to have been 300 million, this level of success won't cut it for EA Bioware.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Atomic Strike

How many real time strategies (RTS) are there on facebook? Well, I didn't know about even one RTS on facebook until now. I thought that in the game engines like Flash they use on facebook for games it would be really very hard to make such games as RTS, but in this game you can see it is possible. It makes it instantly one of top facebook games, because it really could be the very first RTS on facebook.

What this game is all about? Atomic Strike is game about war, you build your base, your army and you have to fight with that army and you also have to defend your base against other armies and nucelar strikes.
Let's start with the visual side of the game. Well, graphics of this game is really awesome and one of the best I have seen so far. This game has also really great sounds and voices and sometimes you really feel like you are playing some "normal" game and not game on facebook. Everything looks simply very good, unfortunately that is really not all the game needs to become one of the top facebook games.
So in this game Atomic Strike you have to collect resources, you are also upgrading your home base like in many other facebook games. With upgrading your base you have better army and so. This part is really not very complicated.

What is also very good about this facebook game is that you have also there some quests and this game has some story, what is I think something that always helps to make game better I have to say that it is something I like and I think most of players do.

What I really don't like about this game is controlling your army during fights. I don't know why, but it has been really very hard to and I had some serous problems doing that. There is very good and comprehensive tutorial, so I would suggest don't skip it.

I still think that even I didn't like it so much, this game could have many and many fans, because it really looks excelent and if you learn properly how to control this game during missions, you gonna like it and this game will be one of the top facebook games very soon.

Rating 8/10

Teamwork

Stabs continues his very insightful analysis of raiding in World of Warcraft. In his latest post he says about raiding: "It's a team game where you "win" by succeeding on an individual level." That is the other side of medal we discussed previously, where we said that individual mistakes in WoW raiding lead to full scale failure.

Now as you know I currently play mostly World of Tanks, in which all gameplay is team-based. And obviously many of the players in WoT are familiar with raiding from WoW and other games, and carry with them this mindset that "if we wiped, somebody must have made an individual mistake (and I'm sure it wasn't me)". Which is completely wrong most of the time, because World of Tanks doesn't work like that. It is perfectly possible in World of Tanks for every player on a team to play flawlessly on an individual level, and the team to lose anyway.

To demonstrate, let me propose a game with very simple rules: Two teams with 15 players each face each other on a battlefield with 3 lanes. On every lane where the number of players is equal or plus/minus 1, the combat stalls. On every lane where one side is unopposed or has 2 players more than the other side, they rush through and win. Without seeing what the other team does, what would be your winning strategy? The trick is that there isn't one! For every combination you propose, let's say 5-5-5, I can find a countermove (7-4-4) which will win me the game. And World of Tanks can play out the same way: All maps have multiple paths (although not necessarily exactly 3 linear ones), and players often have to decide to go down those paths without having knowledge where the enemy goes. So sometimes your side's rush on one side just gets stalled, why the enemy marches through to your flag WITHOUT THAT BEING THE FAULT OF ANY INDIVIDUAL PLAYER.

That isn't to say that there is no skill involved. Organized teams on teamspeak have an obvious advantage over random pickup groups with little or no communication. And even individually players can sometimes beat the odds and win on some spot in spite of being technically less strong. But overall the final result is quite often a consequence of a sum of individual decisions, and that result can be a loss without there being one objectively wrong decision. I've won games with completely unconventional "stupid" decisions because I ran down some path unopposed, and lost games in which I played nearly perfectly and killed 5 other tanks, because everywhere else my team got outnumbered.

World of Warcraft raiding is a game of perfection in execution. World of Tanks requires a lot less perfection in execution, but demands much more strategic thinking. And unless there is good coordination via voice chat, the strategic thinking has to be done by each individual player. And even if they do that, a battle can be lost because by the time you get the information, it is too late to act on it. For somebody who only looks at his individual performance and execution, that can look suspiciously random. For a strategist the reason your team lost is often very clear, and has very little to do with any individual having made an obvious mistake. In hindsight you might say "oh, I should have gone left instead of right", but at the point you made it, your decision was probably quite reasonable.

Personally I get much fulfillment out of making correct strategic predictions in World of Tanks. By having played a map many times, and by looking at the composition of the two teams, one can often make intelligent predictions of what is likely to happen, and then act upon these. Enemy has lots of light tanks? Somebody will probably rush over and try to kill your artillery, so you better guard them. A correct prediction will not always win you the battle, but it sure will contribute. The big difference to WoW is that in WoT your best move depends on what moves the other players of your team make, e.g. two scouts running down the same road is probably not as efficient as them splitting up and covering two paths. Thus World of Tanks isn't simply about execution, but you constantly should keep the overall situation in mind, check sighting on the the mini-map, and make decisions accordingly. World of Tanks is a game about teamwork, and that in my eyes makes it far deeper than a game about perfect individual execution.

Conflicting desires

Players desire a maximum amount of fun and entertainment from a game for a minimum amount of money. Game companies have a profit obligation towards their shareholders, and thus desire to minimize their cost while maximizing their revenues. While there is a lot of pretense going on in the communication between game developers and players, the underlying desires of the two sides conflict on a fundamental level, and that has consequences on game design.

People are most aware of that conflict in the so-called Free2Play games, which are obviously not totally free. The profit obligation of the game company forces them to sell things that people would actually be willing to buy. Which more often than not tends to upset the people who wanted to play the game really for free, and see somebody else getting an advantage in the game for money.

But monthly subscription games aren't actually any better: To be profitable, the game needs to hang onto their subscribers as long as possible. And that means NOT giving them all they want right now. Content is expensive to produce, and infinite content is impossible anyway, so there is a lot of redoing the same content over and over: From daily quests, to having to visit the same raid dungeon for months, to various other forms of "grind", a lot of game elements are just in the game to keep people subscribing longer and thus paying more.

Even classic single-payment games have their problems. If a game is sold on the strength of first impressions, demos, and day-of-release reviews, we don't have to be surprised that these games tend to be flashy, but short. Replayability is often lacking, or is being sold extra as "downloadable content" (DLC).

Blogs and game forums being dominated by gamers, there is a lot of discussion of how "unfair" various payment models are, and how greedy the game companies. That always makes me wonder whether those companies have internal forums where they are complaining how unfair the players are to want all these games and all this content for free.

I do not think that anybody has a "right" to get any specific game or content for free. The company making that game or content has the right to set whatever price they want, and the player has the right to either pay the price and play, or to refuse paying and not play the game. I do not think that any business model is inherently more fair or unfair than another, because you couldn't even get people to agree on a definition of fairness. Is a game in which everybody pays the same, but some people play much more than others fair? Is a game in which everybody pays depending on how much he plays fair? Is a game in which everybody pays whatever he wants fair?

Every payment model has different advantages and disadvantages. In the end the only thing one can do is to take a long hard look at a game and its price tag, and decide for yourself whether this is worth it to you. And we need to accept the fact that this decision is highly individual: There is no absolute measure with which we could determine whether a sparkly pony is worth 25 bucks, or whether a monthly subscription is worth 15. This is just what it costs, and we are free to take it or leave it. The idea that just because we don't want this game or content for this price, everybody else also should refuse to buy it is silly.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Codemasters hacked

These sort of mails are getting depressingly common in my mailbox:
Dear valued Codemasters customer,

On Friday 3rd June, unauthorised entry was gained to our Codemasters.com website.
...
We believe the following have been compromised: Customer names and addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, encrypted passwords and order history. Please note that no personal payment information was stored with Codemasters as we use external payment providers, meaning your payment details were not at risk from this intrusion.

Members' names, usernames, screen names, email addresses, date of birth, encrypted passwords, newsletter preferences, any biographies entered by users, details of last site activity, IP addresses and Xbox Live Gamertags are all believed to have been compromised.
This pretty much answers my question whether Sony had unusually bad protection, or whether they had protection according to insufficient "industry standards", and any determined hacker could in fact get data from pretty much any game company he wants. On how many game sites is YOUR personal information stored? And for how many of them do you use the same combination of UserID and password?

The Sims on facebook

It took very long time, but now it looks that one of the best games ever and definetely one of the most successful games ever is heading to facebook now. Do you know what I really find strange about this? Why the hell now? Game like Sims should have been on facebook so long time before. It is absolutely PERFECT game for facebook, because it is social game and it always was. This game was made for facebook years and years before facebook even started. I think that some people who runs these big game companies are really true idiots. Such game as Sims should have been on facebook back in 2009 and it could have made that company huge money.
So it is just two days since EA announced that Sims will be on facebook. This game will have name the Sims Social. The Sims is game that sold more than 140 units worldwide so it has huge fan base and that is very good start for any facebook game. EA also announced that they will release app for mobile phones with Sims.

Experience points in World of Tanks

World of Tanks is not a MMORPG in any classical sense of the term. Nevertheless the game does have a "game of advancement" part, which can be compared to the game of advancement in MMORPGs. Thus today I would like to discuss the experience point system in World of Tanks.

Experience points in World of Tanks are used in the tech tree to research new equipment for your existing tanks, and to unlock the next tier of tanks. You play your battles, and you get experience points based on your performance, including factors of what you scouted, how much damage you did, and how much you participated to capture the flag. There are small bonuses for things like kills, but actually taking the last percent of health from a tank somebody else damaged doesn't give all that many points.

The experience points you earn are for the largest part linked to the tank you fought the battle with. Only a small portion is transferred to a separate count, "free xp", which can be used for any tank. Thus if you play a tank which is already at elite status, that is has all the possible technologies already unlocked, or if you play a "gold" tank which is outside the tech tree, most of the experience points from the battle are not useable at first. But there is a button to "convert" experience, which transforms the xp from tanks where it isn't useful any more to free experience, for a fee paid in gold, that is real money.

Now this system has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you aren't forced to play the tank you want to advance with. Free experience is especially useful when you get a new tank, with no advanced equipment, and you use the free experience to upgrade that new tank right away, without being forced to play it in a severely underpowered form. But of course it is also useful if you are playing your favorite "old" tank, or farm money with a "gold" tank, where converting enables you not to simply lose the xp. The disadvantage is that the conversion costs real money, about 0.01 cent per point of xp converted. That starts out being relatively cheap in the lower tiers, but once the xp costs reach the hundreds of thousands, that gets expensive quickly.

Apart from the cost aspect, I find the idea to play one "character" to advance another interesting. Usually in MMORPGs that sort of "twinking" only works with the transfer of virtual currency and items, not experience points and levels. Thus I was wondering whether this wouldn't be a possible solution for example for World of Warcraft, where the players interested in the leveling game find progress too fast these days, while the people leveling an alt only for the endgame find progress always too slow. What if your level-capped main would continue earning experience points for his various dungeons and raids, which he could then transfer to an alt at some sort of exchange rate? This would allow to make the normal leveling process slower, giving casual players enough time to explore the zones, and would give players interested in leveling an alt quickly a means to do so. What do you think?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gardens of time

Yes yes, best facebook games are here again with another game that is at least worth a try. There are so many games on facebook released almost every day, but the truth is that there is surprisingly low amount of games on facebook that really has some value and are worth playing. I think that today I have found another game you should at least try. The name of this game is Gardens of Time and it is game for everyone who likes visual quizes, especially hiden object games. I think that for all fans of hidden object games it will be really the ultimate game of facebook. Yes I have played games on facebook that are better than Gardens of Time, but there really probably is not any other hidden object game better than this one.

Ok let's take a look on what Gardens of time are really about.
Gardens of Time is game with really gorgeous visual, but that is definetely not all. There are games based on quality of graphics, but Gardens of Time has something more.
This game is divided to chapters and in every chapter you have some tasks in different scenes where you have to find hidden objects. Just classic hidden object game. You don't have usually any time limits, but of course the faster you are the more points you get. It is as simple as that.
This game also has story and it is about traveling in time. You are also building your garden and decorate it with famous objects from history and so with money you earn from collecting items. What is bad on this game is that you havwe to play the same scenes again and again, but the truth is that it is really one of the best facebook games with hidden objects.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thought for the day: Refund

While we play a game we consider the time and money we invest into that game to be well worth it. But at some point usually we stop having fun. If at that point you would be magically offered a refund, which one would you rather have back: Your time, or your money?

Best facebook games for May 2011

Ok here is something I would like to tell. I don't like when someone writes about best facebook games and uses only data from tables where you can see how many people plays the game. Well I still want to inform all you readers of this blog which games are now those most played. Just remember that these games really are not the best, because lot of games that lot of people on facebook playes are not best, they are even often quite poor and those games that should belong there are really are the best facebook games are not there. It sucks but it simply fact. Let's take a look at the table.
The winner for May 2011 is no surprise, it is CityVille with almost 90 millions players, that is really good number. On the second place you can find former king of Facebook games FarmVille with 46 million players. The third place is also no surprise, because on the third place of the best facebook games according to number of players you can find Texas HoldEm Poker. HoldEm is extremely popular game for at least five years now all over the world so it is just natural that this kind of poker game is also popular on facebook.
What is really also very interesting is that some games that were very very popular in the past are losing lot of players. For example Mafia Wars is losing 162 thousand players every day. That is really not very good, but it is very old game and also too simple, so I'm not surprised that people don't like so much now as they used to.

Now we will take a look on games that has some really very significant gains. These games are Gourment Ranch, Diamond Dash, Car Town and Monster Galaxy, if you don't know these games yet, maybe is time to try 'em.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New WoW announced at E3

Wargaming.net announced World of Warplanes (WoW) at E3. The description sounds a lot like World of Tanks, just with airplanes instead of tanks.

On the one side this is good news, and not totally unexpected. With World of Tanks Wargaming.net opened up a new chapter in Free2Play games, and it was a big success. The game has outstanding quality and polish for a Free2Play game, and one of the best systems balancing the needs of people who play for free and the needs of the people who can afford to pay I've ever seen. Any game company that believes that they have a recipe for success are bound to try to repeat that success.

On the other side I'm a bit sceptical whether the strengths of the World of Tanks game will still work in the air. World of Tanks is all about terrain, your strategy and tactics depend on the randomly chosen map, and the replayabilty is much increased by Wargaming.net adding new maps regularly. I'm not sure how they could even do different maps in World of Warplanes. Maybe with "bomb the flag" missions? But regardless of how those maps look, the terrain risks of playing no role at all, which would make each combat very much always the same. If you just have 15 planes vs. 15 planes in the air, the permutations of different tactics are limited without the influence of terrain.

Well, as long as it has the same business model as WoT, I'll certainly try the new WoW just to see whether I like it. But personally I would have thought World of Battleships to be a better idea.

Opening up the closed club

How would one design a raiding endgame which would not be a closed club? Samus describes the current situation: "Current raid design is based around individual mistakes leading to full scale failure for everyone. This is obviously going to lead to the exclusion of people who are more prone to mistakes. This is what raiding IS. The entire concept is high level perfectionism." As he says, it is blindingly obvious that any activity where you are supposed to be perfect ON YOUR VERY FIRST TRY is bound to end up a closed club. The solution is equally obvious: Create raid content with a margin for error, so people have the opportunity to train up.

Unfortunately there is a lot of polemic from hardcore raiders, which feeds the perception that they want their club to be a closed one. Any suggestion of easier entry-level raids is greeted with howls of "you just want easy epics", which couldn't be further from the truth. In fact I do think that the current plan of Blizzard to nerf existing dungeons is a rather bad one.

I propose the following raid concept: Average players run normal dungeons, which give them the equipment to start raiding in normal raid dungeons. The first normal raid dungeon is designed to be easy enough for at least 80% of the total player population to be able to succeed with gear from normal dungeons. The first raid normal dungeon is also designed to provide gear (and if you insist that gear can be colored blue) which enables the players to have an 80% success rate for the second normal raid dungeon. And so forth. Hardcore players run heroic 5-man dungeons, which give them the equipment to start raiding in heroic raid dungeons. The first heroic raid dungeon is designed to be hard enough for only the top 10% of players to succeed.

This concept keeps an air of exclusivity for hardcore raiding. But it also makes the raiding content accessible to the large majority of the players. And somebody who actually has a chance to raid without being perfect from the start will learn how to do better, and in the future maybe be a potential candidate for more hardcore raiding. The goal is NOT to make even the worst possible player to be able to beat the hardest content in the game. The goal is to give everybody access to SOME form of raiding, because you simply can't expect people to learn how to raid without raiding.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Generalizations

Just a short note to state for the record that I am fully aware that the hardcore vs. casual debate is full of generalizations. If I say "hardcore raiders are a snotty bunch of elitists", you need to mentally preface this with a "there is a wide-spread perception that ...", not with an "it is scientifically proven that all ...".

And no, I am not apologizing for that. This perception of hardcore raiders as elitist is not something I made up. You can read just about any WoW forum or blog discussing the hardcore vs. casual issue, and you will always find the same perception being repeated everywhere. For example the "closed club" I wrote about yesterday was a quote, not something I invented.

And of course the other side is using exactly the same generalizations. All they say about new players being unwilling to learn, not committed, just wanting easy-mode epics, etc. is also just a generalized perception with no absolute truth to it.

Are perceptions truth? Not absolute truths, that is for certain. But widespread perceptions come from widespread experiences. Can anybody honestly say that a new player trying to get into raiding will encounter only helpful people encouraging him, and will never be called a clueless fucking n00b who should l2play just because he got one enchantment wrong? And most of what the hardcore are saying on forums and blogs also feeds the perception of them being elitist: They will generally always argue for harder, less accessible content which is exclusive to a small minority of players.

Do you want to be perceived as less elitist and not a closed club? Start lobbying Blizzard for raid content which is accessible for everybody.

Stabs on raiding

Stabs has a brilliant post up on raiding. He writes "Raiding has become a closed club. I know of no raiders in Rift who weren't serious raiders in WoW and other games."

While I don't know about raiding in Rift, I do confirm that even just looking at WoW raiding has become a closed club. And while Stabs is right in attributing this to the steep change in challenge between the pre-raid game and the raid game, I must also say that it has become a closed club because the people inside that club prefer the club to be closed!

Ultimately I do think that raiding as an endgame activity is doomed because of this, in any game. Any game or activity lives from positive word of mouth, from the players actively promoting their game or activity. The business rationale of making content which attracts the largest possible number of players to your game, and the closed club attitude of people believing that the less people do the same thing as they are, the more valuable that content becomes, are simply incompatible. Imagine a MMORPG where everybody who plays it discourages you from even trying, and then insults you as a n00b if you try anyway. If the current MMORPGs hadn't been designed by hardcore raiders, there would be no business reason to have raiding as an endgame in its current "exclusive" form.

Games of Advancement

Have you ever wondered why a massively multiplayer online role-playing game has a need for “role-playing servers”? Apparently on the regular servers there is no role-playing going on, in spite of this being a RPG. The reason for this is that “role-playing” can mean two very different things, either “acting in character”, or “stat-based character development”. And it is the latter meaning which is more and more often used. I’ve seen World of Tanks described as a role-playing game, and nobody would suggest that one is acting in character as a tank in that game.

In yesterday’s thread, Angry Gamer asked ”would you classify the WoT gameplay as PvP battle centric game of advancement?”. “Game of advancement” is probably a better description than role-playing game, but I guess we’re stuck with the RPG term. The important thing to notice is that you can attach this “game of advancement” part to pretty much every sort of gameplay. Classic MMORPGs with mostly PvE and hotkey-button based combat is far from being the only possibility. I’ll just mention some games I’ve been playing this year:

World of Tanks is a game of advancement with first- or third-person shooter PvP. Age of Empires Online, currently in beta, is a game of advancement with real-time strategy PvE and PvP. Shakes & Fidget is a browser game of advancement in which the player has no influence at all on combat, he just watches his character fight, levels him up, equips him, and sends him out to battle. The Settlers Online, also in beta, is a city-building browser game of advancement. The Sims Medieval is a The Sims game of advancement. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is a puzzle-based game of advancement. And Glitch is a social online game of advancement.

Basically games of advancement are everywhere. Levels, experience, and stat gains have been added to pretty much every game, usually labeled on the box or in the reviews as “role-playing elements”. Even the simplest Facebook game has levels these days. And every company making games that don’t have stats and levels yet is thinking about how to add them.

The reason for this is simple: Gaining power in a game is seductive, some would call it addicting. It is certainly true that by the promise of advancement you can get players to play a game beyond the point where they got bored with the actual gameplay. If a game doesn’t have some advancement system, you only get better while learning how to play; that has obvious limits and diminishing returns. By adding an advancement system, players feel they are getting more powerful even after they have stopped getting more skillful.

The downside is that there have been games created in which the actual gameplay is just boring as hell, and which are only kept alive by the advancement system. But I believe that this is only a temporary distortion of the market: A game with less good gameplay and an addictive advancement system might sell better than another game with better gameplay and no advancement. But once all games have some of those “role-playing elements” advancement systems added, the game with the better gameplay still wins out. After all, the game of advancement can be reduced ad absurdum by making a game with no gameplay at all, only character advancement, as the nearly decade-old Progress Quest so brilliantly shows.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gold tanks

It is fortunate that I don't mind spending money on games I like, and that I can afford these relatively small sums. Because my explorer nature always makes me curious about the kind of content that is hidden behind a paywall, and sooner or later I end up buying lots of virtual goodies. So it happened in World of Tanks that after playing a good while without them, I finally decided to buy some gold tanks.

Gold tanks are the tanks in WoT which can only be acquired through the gold currency, which you buy for real money. For reference, €99.95 on the European servers buys you 30,000 gold, thus 1 gold is a third of a Euro-cent at the best exchange rate. There are currently 11 gold tanks in the game, ranging from tier II to tier VIII, out of 10 tiers possible.

The most important thing to know about gold tanks is that they operate outside of the regular tech tree. Thus you don't need any research paid for with experience points to access gold tanks. The downside of that is that you can do any further research on gold tanks either, thus you can neither unlock better equipment, nor can you unlock new tanks by playing them. As a consequence most of the experience points you accumulate with gold tanks is useless, unless you pay more gold to convert it to free experience.

The reason I bought my first gold tank was my clan. They were running platoons in different tiers, and if I wanted to play with the big boys sometimes, I needed a high-level tank. While I was pondering that decision a clanmate pointed out that the tier VIII gold tanks are wonderful money makers. Basically a gold tank earns more credits in a fight, and has lower repair cost. A high-level gold tank in combination with 50% credit increase from a subscription can make over 50k profit in a battle, and still makes 30k if the battle doesn't go all that well.

But while it is profitable, the tier VIII Löwe heavy tank I bought for 7,500 gold isn't all that good. He'll do okay against lower tier opponents, but is much less good than the regular tier VIII tanks, due to their upgraded equipment. So I bought another gold tank for a tenth of the price of the Löwe, the PzKpfw 38H735 (f), Hotchkiss tier II light tank for 750 gold, just for fun. While it will be nerfed in the future, right now this is probably the best tier II tank around. Makes a lot less credits per battle, but kicks some serious ass in its class.

So, gold tanks are available between €2.50 and €25, are useful to make credits, but don't make the regular leveling game of working your way up the tech tree obsolete. I do find the big ones too expensive, but I hear that one needs a credit-farming tank for the higher tiers, so I don't really regret having already bought it.

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