Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quote of the Week: Trust

Seen on Twitter, care of @:
You know your business is screwed when your customers trust the Goon CEO more than the real CEO. cc
Referencing, of course, the EVE Online CCP/CSM "MT emergency summit" taking place in Iceland today and tomorrow.

Comment of the Week: Player intolerance

Snipped and edited from a comment mordis mydaddy left on my post regarding World of Warcraft earlier today:
I had fun in WoW until the "endgame" required specific equipment and scripted moves to be successful, and more importantly, the people become intolerant of anyone without them.

I will note that of the 15 or so people that I introduced to both games, all of them found WoW fun and subscribed for years. None of them liked EVE past one day. I played EVE for the trial and left for several years before I tried it again. I felt the biggest problem with EVE was that the player intolerance comes at the BEGINNING, whereas it comes at the END in WoW.
Ain't that the damn truth?  It's another reason I won't be subscribing to Perpetuum, because it's the same thing there: player intolerance of other player's weaknesses right from day one.

Well put, mordis.

Avoidable fire

So after a few days with Perpetuum Online, I've decided that I'm not going to subscribe to it.  As I mentioned in my satirical little piece the other day, it's just too much like EVE.  It's copied EVE so well that it's copied all of EVE's worst flaws -- and even many of the niggling minor ones -- along with EVE's virtues.  There was an opportunity here for Avatar Creations to break with CCP's way of doing things when it made sense to do so, an opportunity that they let pass.

I'll continue playing with it through the end of my trial period, but then that will be that.  I have confirmed to my satisfaction that Perpetuum auto-cannons suck and magnetic weapons are actually quite good.  Very ironic, considering.  ;-)  But playing Perpetuum has crystallized my thinking around a couple of topics that seem to be the second-biggest decision (after genre) that an MMO-maker has to make: how to handle targeting and friendly fire.

I'm actively playing three MMOs right now (Global Agenda, Black Prophecy, Perpetuum Online) and inactively playing two others (EVE Online, World of Tanks).  To these five, I'd like to add for comparison Homeworld and StarCraft, two classic games that fit in the same general genre (sci-fi-based tactical shooters).  All seven handle targeting and friendly fire in different ways.

Let's talk targeting first.

At one end of the spectrum is Global Agenda.  You'd be tempted to think that GA has no targeting at all.  As you play, though, you slowly come to realize that it does, but it's just keeping the targeting somewhat invisible to the player.  The targeting reticle knows when you have something in your sights, for instance.  With many weapons, it will turn yellow if it thinks you have a moderate chance of hitting the thing you're aimed at, and it will turn red if it thinks you have a good chance.  Of course, if you trust the targeting reticle alone, you'll probably miss.  Particularly with Recons and Assaults, you either have to lead your target quite a bit from the reticle or adjust your sights for horrible Assault gun accuracy.  One of the Assault guns -- the rocket launcher -- has target-following capabilities, which relies on the player firing when the reticle turns yellow or red.  As long as the player does that, that weapon will not miss.  And many of the Robotics turrets will paint a targeting line from the turret to the enemy under fire.  That's useful for other players to use as a guide for firing at enemies in concealment.

Targeting is a huge strength of Black Prophecy and World of Tanks, both of which looked closely at their genres before making this critical decision.  Black Prophecy will let you target ships in your range, but it's only a guide to aid in tracking, following, and aiming, not a guarantee of hitting that target.  Sure, it gives you an auto-targeting reticle, but that reticle won't do you any damn good if the target is behind hard cover.  And like Global Agenda, if you let the auto-targeting reticle take the place of your brain, you'll miss every time as the target jinks and dodges.  World of Tanks was clearly tempted to go for the GA "no targeting, ever" rule, but then took a small bit of pity on its players and their human inability to differentiate the pixelated tanks from the pixelated landscape.  And so it will give you an outline of the target in your sights if it thinks you have a chance to hit that target.  It's a good compromise.

At far other end of the spectrum is EVE Online and Perpetuum.  Both will let you target and lock anything in range.  And if it's targeted and locked, you'll probably hit it.  In EVE Online, this makes total sense.  You're in space, after all.  There isn't exactly a lot of cover.  There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to target anything you like.  Perpetuum copies this mechanic exactly, to its detriment.  After all, Perpetuum takes place on the ground, in areas with lots of cover, both hard and soft.  It makes no sense that I should be able to target someone when there's a giant structure between me and him, but as long as I'm in range, Perpetuum lets me do it.

In the non-MMO field, like BP and WoT, Homeworld and StarCraft also both take a middle ground: you can attack anything that you can see, but you can't really target anything.  This is the model that Perpetuum should have followed, and didn't.  "If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?" is the parent's ancient lament against peer pressure.  Perpetuum's answer is clearly "Yes, I would."  By aping EVE Online so closely, they followed EVE into a place that EVE's genre supports, but Perpetuum's does not, to the latter's cost.

So, targeting is a huge weakness of Perpetuum.

Both EVE Online and Perpetuum also offer huge spreadsheet lists of all available targets.  GA, WoT, Homeworld, and StarCraft definitely do not.  Black Prophecy has the best compromise here: you can cycle between available targets using the "T" key, but if you're desperate to find a particular target in range, you can hit the "U" key to bring up the things your sensors can see and target anything on the list before putting the list away.  If Perpetuum insisted on letting you target anything, this is the way Avatar should have done it.  By copying EVE's Overview, they've also copied EVE's cluttered-screen inherent flaw.

Now that you've targeted something, let's talk about shooting it.

In a game chock full of clever innovations, one of StarCraft's most clever happened when you sent a large number of ground units to attack a relatively stationary target or set of targets.  I'm sure it would have been tempting to just clump all the attacking units into a blob.  This is what happens in Homeworld, for instance.  Instead, StarCraft units spread out.  Sometimes, this was frustrating, because -- other than Carrier drones for some reason -- StarCraft units only attack when stationary, never while moving.  But the "spread out" mechanic hid that and presented the illusion of a dynamic advance where that didn't exist.  It did something else as well: it allowed Blizzard to mask the fact that ground units such as the hydralisks pictured at right were firing solid projectiles right through each other.  It presented the illusion that the units were avoiding friendly fire when really, StarCraft had nothing of the sort.

Homeworld, by contrast, is plagued with blobby blobs of units firing everything from solid projectiles to doomsday weapon beams right through each other.  And of course, EVE Online has the very same flaw.  Even if there are 20 hostile ships between your heavy missile and your target, the missile will fly right through those obstacles to reach its target.  Pandemic Legion has had some success using firewall battleships using smart-bombs to thin out missile spam, but that's the only recourse.  You can't shield a damaged ship from an Armageddon's pulse lasers with your own.  Those lasers will go right through you.  And it doesn't matter if those pulse lasers are friendly or hostile, if you're in 0.0 or high sec.  Unless it's an AoE weapon, there's no such thing as unintended friendly fire in EVE.

World of Tanks takes the opposite approach: if that tank shell hits you, it doesn't care if you're friendly or hostile.  It hits and causes damage.  If you're stupid enough to be in the line of fire between two heavy tanks, even if you're scouting for one of the two, then you're going to get what you deserve.  Bravo.  GA and Black Prophecy take similar approaches, but are mitigated by the fact that both have cooperative game-play mechanics.  As a result, in both, if you try to fire through a friendly, the shot will hit the friendly but will not cause any damage.  It's not the choice I would have made, but given the mechanics of both games, it's a choice that makes sense.  And in both cases, if another hostile gets in the way of your shot at a target, your shot damages that hostile, not your intended target.  It opens up the strategy in both games of shielding your weaker players behind stronger players.

Which leaves Perpetuum.  Which again follows EVE right off a cliff.  This is, if anything, even more silly than following EVE's targeting mechanic.  Auto-cannon shells, gauss gun rounds, and laser blasts can be observed going right through friendly and even enemy robots to hit the intended target.  In World of Tanks, a cooperative element of three friendly tanks can advance in a wedge formation, allowing all three tanks to fire on a target while allowing two weaker tanks to hide behind a stronger tank to avoid counter-fire.  It's a mechanic that should have been included in Perpetuum, particularly given the great size difference between its various robots.  And unless it suddenly becomes available on Beta ground, it's not.

So, this is another huge weakness of Perpetuum.

So, no.  Not subscribing.  Not only does Perpetuum have all of EVE Online's weaknesses, it has other all-new weaknesses that it can call its own on top of the ones it copied from the other game.

It's a real shame, and could have been avoided.

Temptress

This might be old news or something that I just missed, but someone on #tweetfleet mentioned that World of Warcraft has instituted a limited F2P system.  This seems to replace their previous experiments with 10-day trial accounts, given the F2P accounts -- "starter accounts", Blizzard calls them coyly -- have no time limit.  Just a level limit (20), a gold limit (10), a conversation limit, a guild limit, and four or five other limits, too.

But of course, if you want to upgrade your starter account to a full account, Blizzard will be happy to help you with that.

As I've mentioned on this blog several times, I've never played WoW.  I don't think I've even seen WoW being played, now that I think about it.  When it came out, I was opposed to the MMO genre itself.  I've obviously gotten over that.  ;-)  But even when I became open to signing up for an MMO, World of Warcraft didn't appeal to me.  And that in itself is very strange.  I'm a spaceships guy as I mentioned yesterday.  But even more than a spaceships guy, I'm a high fantasy guy.  I grew up on Lord of the Rings and the Belgariad and Dungeons and Dragons.  I was into swords and sorcery long before it was cool to be into them.

I know a big portion of my reluctance about WoW is the Skinner box nature of the WoW existence.  At the micro level, you're not playing WoW.  You're looking for those last two spiders so the little "8/10" becomes a "10/10" so you can turn in the quest.  At the macro level, you're not playing WoW either.  You're looking for something that will move your gear score from 775 to 800 so that you can be a credible threat on the higher-level raids that will get you something that will move your gear score from 800 to 850.  It's process-oriented, not fun-oriented.

I said I hadn't played WoW.  I didn't say I wasn't familiar with the underlying concepts.  ;-)

But maybe that's just a WoW-hater's misconception.  I cheerfully admit that it's not based on any facts or experience.  Hell, I've probably gotten most of my opinion about WoW from listening to other people's opinions about WoW.  And as my wife told me last night, that isn't like me.

So, it might be interesting to take Blizzard up on this.  I'm told that level 20 is something that an experienced WoW-player could grind out in a couple of hours, but as a complete WoW-newbie, it might take me four or five.  That isn't a huge time investment.

Or am I just tempting fate?  Or worse, wasting my time?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Global Agenda Assault PvE Guide

In Global Agenda PvE, nothing will turn an average team into a losing team more quickly than a bad Robotics.  But on the flip-side, nothing will turn an average team into a great team more quickly than a good Assault.  A good Assault is the backbone of winning a PvE mission or raid in Global Agenda.  Their ability to hold the line against the ravening Commonwealth horde will make it easier for every other member of the team to do their jobs.

Here's what I'm increasingly coming to regard as the ideal fitting for a PvE Assault:

[Balanced], 4 points
Passive Protection ->
Advanced Passive Protection
Power Pool Increase
Power Pool Return

[Tank], 8 points
Built Tough ->
Built Truck-Tough ->
Built Tough as Nails ->
Built Brick Wall Tough
Shield Strength
Shield Readiness
Heavy Armor
Super Tank

[Destroyer], 1 point
Assault Guns Range

[Equipment]
Impact Hammer (dddddd)
Heatwrack M.A.S.E.R. (rpdddd)
iMINIGUN (ddrddd) or Inferno-X Cannon (rqdddd)
Assault Crescent Jetpack (pppppp)
Incendiary Grenade (dxxccc)
Range Shield (sscccc)
AOE Shield (sscccc)
Protection Boost (mmm)


As with my other guides, level 30 is assumed for skills, giving you 13 skill points.  It's critical that you skill up the Tank tree first, specifically your "Built Tough" skills.  It's incredibly tempting -- and horribly wrong -- to skill up the Destroyer tree, so don't do it.  As with the Robo, your ability to do damage is very Zen: don't try to do damage, and you'll do much more damage.  It turns out that staying alive greatly increases actual damage you can do.  ;-)  Take it from me: I've taken this fitting side-by-side into raids with Destroyer-fit Assaults, and beaten them on total damage and kills every time because I don't have to wait out re-spawn timers or spend time running back to the objectives after getting killed.

After you've skilled up the Tank tree, put your four points into Balanced.  The single point in Destroyer goes last, and is mostly useful for buffing your main weapon, which should nearly always be a Minigun or Inferno-X Cannon.  Again, this is somewhat Zen: other Assault main weapons do more damage, but also do less, because most of the heavier hitting weapons are massive overkill for single units in PvE.  The humble minigun variants, meanwhile, do very little damage per shot but can be rapidly switched from target to target as they fall.  The melee weapon requires level 32; use a Radiant Axe until then.  The Jetpack requires level 40; use a Hands Free jetpack until then.

The best Assaults are slow, lumbering, implacable, and unstoppable.  When immobile, you should be the proverbial immovable object.  Your minigun main weapon gets a massive energy-use buff when you're stationary, so plan on spending a lot of time stationary.  Your job is to stand between danger and the rest of the team.  Fit this way, you have massive resists and massive HP -- use them!  The Range Shield and AOE Shield just make you even more disgusting.  If you ever find yourself dropping or in danger of dropping below 75% HP, put up the appropriate shield to eliminate that source of damage and just keep on firing.  Your third off-hand should be a grenade of choice.  Some guys like EMP grenades; I like incendiaries.  Do not use the Perfect Target buff.  By using it, you are rendering yourself completely useless to the rest of the team for its duration.  You're supposed to be out front, keeping threat, absorbing damage, and dealing DPS.  The Perfect Target's disadvantages to these three requirements -- particularly completely cutting off your DPS -- far outweigh its advantages.

Use your jetpack rarely, if at all, when moving from room to room.  When you clear a room, just use normal walking speed to reach the next room.  This gives the other members of the team and yourself time to recharge energy, and gives the Medic time to heal anyone who might have taken incidental damage during the battle just fought.  Staying off your jetpack unless absolutely necessary also makes the Medic's job easier by making you easier to find.  All he has to do is stay near the noisiest member of the team.  ;-)  That said, your job is to stay in front of the main body of the team.  Let the Recon drift in front of you if he insists on it (particularly if he's cloaked).  But everyone else should be behind you.  Your job is to take the brunt of the initial blast, should it come.  You're built to take it.  The rest of the team is not.

One other note about your shields: use them early, use them often.  Your AOE Shield, in particular, is invaluable for soaking up AOE attacks that might otherwise destroy the rest of your team.  If you can get far enough ahead of the rest of the team, Sentinel missiles and Ballista grenades will just bounce off you and away from everyone else.

As weird as this sounds, though, don't be overly aggressive.  Advance only as far as you need to advance at any given moment to keep three or four enemies in your sights.  Then go stationary and right click.  As you open up with your gun, the very smart GA AI will send more enemies at you than you can immediately see, and will try to flank you.  If you advance too far, you'll soon find yourself and your Medic surrounded, which is the route to a quick death.  You'll also want to learn to balance the art of staying in front of damage without also blocking everyone else's line of sight.  This is a tough art to learn, but here are some general principles:

1) When facing single larger opponents such as spiders or foremen, get right up in their face, then crouch.  By doing so, you get their attention and will draw their full ire.  But by crouching, you then give the rest of your team line of sight so that they can fire over your head.  This will greatly increase the team's overall DPS and reduce the danger to you.

2) When facing mobs of enemies in a hallway, doorway, or otherwise tightly-enclosed space, don't crouch, but instead stand to one side or the other and open up a bit more distance from the rest of the team.  Again, this is about keeping enemy threat on you while opening up line of sight for the rest of your team.  You don't want to crouch because that will open up the rest of your team to fire.  But you do want to give the rest of your team the opportunity to fire back, then duck back behind your impressively large form to avoid counter-fire.

3) When facing enemies in a more open area, stand in the open, but very near cover, such as a doorway, pile of crates, or whatever.  This serves three purposes.  First, it gives you one protected flank.  Second, it gives your Medic and Robotics a place to hide while they perform their duties.  And third, it gives you the option of ducking behind that cover if things start to go way south.  When faced with a large open area, many Assaults will step right into the middle of the area, or do long, arching curves from open area to open area.  Both of these are bad moves.

While stationary, your main gun and grenades are your only weapons.  But while advancing, don't be afraid to swap for your longer range assault rifle.  You can use this rifle in one of two ways: to soften up upcoming opponents, or to draw the AI's attention back to you if it drifts to another member of the team.  As enemies approach the source of your fire, switch back to your main gun.

Your morale Protection Boost is most useful if the team is facing large numbers of weaker opponents, such as Alarm Responders, large flocks of Minions, or three or more Ballistae.  Try to save your boost for these occasions.  Keep an eye on the health of the rest of the team.  If two or more team members are taking damage at the same time you are, that's a good time for the Protection Boost.  That said, you can use it for your own benefit if you have to.  If you're facing two or three Helots and the Medic is having a hard time keeping up, go ahead and trigger it then, too.

Finally, you will find that your Robotics, if he's any good, will set up Medical and Power Stations near your position.  A smart Assault will stay just at the outer edge of the range of these devices.  Since you own threat, you will be taking a great deal of fire.  You don't want to be standing so close to the stations that whatever is hitting you is also hitting the stations and potentially taking them out.  This is particularly critical for AOE attacks, or even more importanly, for the Switchblade mission boss.  Once the Switchblade starts its spinning AOE attack, if you're standing too close to the Medical Station, the Switchblade boss will rip up the Medical Station while he's ripping you up.  This is not something you want.  So again, when you have friendly stations nearby, stand at the edge of their range, not right on top of them.

A good damage-soaking Assault makes the job of the Medic easier, by giving him one target to focus on.  He makes the Robo's life easier by giving the Robo someone to hide behind as he works his magic with Stations and Turrets.  And the Recon loves a good, stationary, heavy-hitting assault because that kind of Assault will keep threat, allowing the Recon to apply his huge DPS to targets outside the Assault's range.  The Medic might think he's keeping the team safe, but it's really a good Assault doing that job.

The next morning

Good morning, Perpetuum.  Yes, I slept very well, thank you.

Did I ever tell you that I was never a giant robots guy?  Yeah.  I was always a spaceships guy.  Sure, I watched Voltron: Defender of the Universe when I was a kid.  But to me, the cool part about Voltron wasn't the giant robot.  It was the five techno-magic lions that combined into Voltron.  They were cool.  But the whole Transformers-Battletech-Macross-Gundam thing just passed me by.  I was aware of it, sure, but I was never into it.  So it's kind of surprising that you and I hooked up.

You're very pretty, though!  Though I know it's not polite to compare, you're a lot like my old girlfriend.  But different, too.  When I was told I had to walk my giant robot all the way from here to there, my first thought was something that would let me walk faster in short bursts (afterburner).  Don't have those?  Huh, too bad.  What about jump jets?  Giant robots are always hopping around on jump jets, aren't th-- oh.  Don't have those either, huh?  That's too bad.  See, my old girlfriend was three-dimensional--

Yeah, I know it's not polite to compare.  But you know, it's really hard not to.  During your tutorial, you were telling me to open this tool, and that tool, and the other tool.  And I was doing it, only my brain was thinking: "See, this one's like the Overview, and this one's the Selected Item dialog, and huh... why do I need two Selected Item dialogs?  Oh, I see, this one's actually the list of locked targets.  And there's the HUD, and there's the mods I have fitted..."  And suddenly, my screen was badly cluttered with all these little spreadsheets and I was even moving them into the same places where they were on my old girlfriend's screen and trying really really hard not to.  See, everyone says she is just a spreadsheet game, with all these little spreadsheets filling up the screen.  And your HUD buttons and fitted mods are even square like a spreadsheet.  Hers are round.

Then, right in the middle of the tutorial, I somehow went into terminal (docked) by accident, and had to figure out how to undock... er... deploy.  And the button was in the second place that I looked, so that was good.  You feel really familiar, like I've known you for way longer than just one night.

Like I was saying, I was told I had to go from here to there, so I started walking along.  At least that's different.  And on the way, I saw one of my old girlfriend's friends that I know walking ahead of me.  That made me smile because I know a lot of my old girlfriend's friends are hooking up with you.  And then I got where I was supposed to get, and there were a bunch of us there, shooting four or five little red plusses... errr... rats... errr... drones, just like the old days.  And funnily enough, almost all of us were using auto-cannons because my old girlfriend really likes them (Minmatar).  There were a few people using little lobbed rockets (Caldari), and that was familiar too.  Nobody was using magnetic guns (Gallente), and that made me laugh a lot because even though my old girlfriend hates them, who knows yet what you like, right?

On the way back to the terminal (station), the tutorial told me that I would be earning 60 extension points (skill points) per hour, and that I had 20000 of them to start with.  I did a little bit of math... and sure enough, that's what my old girlfriend would have called 800,000 skill points.  Which is just what I started a couple of my relationships with her with.  Which meant that my Arkhe (noobship) must not be very impressive in the grand scheme of things.  Oh well, I can get something better when I have enough NIC (ISK).  Wait... why is my accumulator (capacitor) running out?  Oh, I see.  I forgot to turn off my armor repper (armor repper) after I fought those red plusses.  Let me do that now.

Then you had me bring up the map because my next assignment (mission) was to take something to another terminal (station).  And the map had all of these regions and little yellow lines connecting them.  And I zoomed out and it showed I was on Alpha (high-sec) ground, and out farther away was Beta (null-sec) ground.  And there would certainly be gates connecting all those little yellow lines, only you'd call them something other than gates, of course.  And I just started to get really sad.

Do I really have the patience to do all of this again?  I mean, you have a lot of really good qualities, and I like you a lot.  But let's be honest, it's like you copied my ex-girlfriend just a little too well.  You have all the same flaws: the horrible spreadsheet UI, the hugely cluttered screen, the need to click five different places just to fire one weapon...

No, I didn't mean to call you horrible and cluttered.  Let's not fight.  Maybe if I'd met you a few years ago... well, no, your giant robot fetish would have been off-putting then.  Sigh.  I don't know if this is going to work out, but I'll try again.  I'll give you a call tonight, OK?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hero worship

In the summer of 1980, when I was cough-cough-not-quite-a-teenager-cough, Luke Skywalker was a hero of mine.  The Empire Strikes Back had just been released.  The Star Wars phenomenon itself was only a few years old.  Darth Vader was still scary.  And yet Luke Skywalker faced him down.  That wasn't even the cool part, though.  The cool part was that at the end of Star Wars, Luke and Han Solo were offered big cash rewards.  Han Solo took the money.  Luke Skywalker, though?  He asked for and got his very own space fighter to do with as he pleased.  To my pre-teen brain, that was very, very cool.  The Millenium Falcon was always breaking down, but you could sink an X-Wing up to its cockpit in a swamp, tow it out, and it was still ready to rock.  An X-Wing was fast as hell, could cross the galaxy or land on a planet, could tangle with or dodge TIE fighters, and yet still be a threat to the Death Star.

But, I was conflicted because I was also a Star Trek fan.  And Star Trek starships weren't the same as Star Wars ones.  They were big and heavy and slow, but with planet-shaking weapons.  There were many episodes where Enterprise would fire her phasers down toward a planet, or fire photon torpedoes on proximity detonation, and if you were anywhere nearby, you were having a very bad day.  To my pre-teen brain, that was also very, very cool.  An X-Wing fighter couldn't do that.  But Enterprise also required hundreds of people to make that happen, and the combat was a little distant.  It wasn't immediate and loud and flashy like Star Wars combat.  And Captain Kirk didn't get to take his starship wherever he wanted (Star Trek III notwithstanding).  He went where Starfleet told him to go.

EVE Online is like Star Trek.  The ships are big and heavy and slow, with bad-ass weapons.  There's lots of people involved.  And if you're an EVE PvPer, you probably go where other people tell you to go.

Star Wars?  The place of Star Wars -- at least for a few more months -- is looking to be taken by an MMO in beta called Black Prophecy.

In the tutorial introduction for Black Prophecy, you are given your very own space fighter to do with as you please.  It's not much, but it's got engines and guns and a cockpit, and a shield generator if you can afford one.  You can tinker with it, modify the specs here and there, choose the types of guns and engines you want to use, and as you tinker, the appearance of your ship in-game changes.  And when you sit down, you are strapped in.  If a battleship goes by, it's not a little box 15 pixels across on a screen with a hundred other battleship boxes in the fleet.  It's a hulking behemoth that cuts off your vision of a third the sky, blotting out the local star.

And guess what, your wing commander just ordered you to fly along its hull and destroy as many of its turrets as you can.

You don't get to just lock them up and hit F1.  You need to get in there with the engines you've chosen, manually aim and fire the guns that you've chosen, and hope the shields you have fitted can stand up to the punishment.  Just try not to take too much damage, because repairs cost money...

Think of Black Prophecy as "EVE with aim."

It's sharded and instanced, but it hides it really well.  No sandbox here (yet).  And it's only a beta product.  Crafting doesn't work, painting your ship doesn't work, and there's not a huge amount of content available yet.  PvP is a big question mark.  There's only eight or ten types of guns, and limited selections of other mods.

But there's definitely a lot of potential here, just the same.

I was quite prepared not to like it.  And then I found myself still playing four or five hours later.  It's got the "wow" factor going on on a number of levels, from ship customization and graphics, to backgrounds, to models, to story.  The first time I fired one particular type of energy weapon, I laughed out loud.  It was a beam laser that I could fire for as long as I liked... or at least until the emitter burned out from overheating.  That is how an energy weapon should work, all right.  Oh yes, there's definitely potential here.

More to come.

The realities of EVE

Sigh, LOL.  No getting away from EVE today.

Curious if CCP's sudden dive into "macro-transactions" was the result of financial trouble, some folks on Failheap Challenge that are familiar with Icelandic law drafted an accomplice to go into the local tax office and request a copy of CCP's public financial statements.  I'm not a lawyer, but apparently, even privately-held companies are required, in Iceland, to post these statements.

Want to see the report yourself?  Download it here.

I'm still going through it between my own business commitments this morning, but the statement is a tiny bit troubling.  Here's the tl;dr version:

CCP, as I said, is privately held, in this case by a group of investors.  Those investors purchased additional shares of the company on what was essentially a two-year loan in 2009.  That loan was funded to CCP early in 2010, and was presumably intended to fund DUST 514 development.  That loan comes due in October of this year, and is just under 12 million USD.  This in and of itself is no big deal; every company in the world maintains its liquidity with short-term loans from creditors.  CCP is no exception.  At the end of the loan term, those loans are repaid from your cash reserves to ensure viability, at which point, the same creditors will almost always reissue the loan.

In short, I give you 12 million dollars.  You put that money in a bank account somewhere, and use it to make a profit.  At the end of the two years, you get to keep the profit as long as you give me my 12 million dollars back, presumably with some profit for me.  Once you do that, I have the option of giving the 12 million dollars right back to you: you're a solid investment.  However, if you can't pay back the 12 million dollars on schedule, then I have to question the soundness of my investment.  Got it so far?

From the financial statement, CCP currently seems unable to pay off this loan due in October.  I can see only a little bit under six million USD cash-on-hand.  So, they don't have the cash-on-hand to repay this due loan.  How their investors would react to this is anybody's guess.  I'm not all that familiar with their investors.  What they bought with that money is a large code base (presumably the code for DUST 514 and WoD), but that code base isn't making them any money yet.  And my first impression is that they're burning through cash at a slightly faster rate than the 12 million USD two-year loan should allow them to, indicating this pattern is not sustainable even if they got an extension.

Anyway, still looking into it, but this was my first impression.

EDIT (27/Jun/2011): OK, as I was typing this and busy with other meetings, on FHC has come to the same conclusions I have, and has written a much more detailed analysis.  In particular, he had time to do the burn-rate calc that I didn't, and came up with an $8.6 million burn rate for last year.

EDIT #2 (27/Jun/2011): Let me be completely clear: CCP is a profitable company.  They're making a profit every year in this report, and are even getting very decent tax breaks (presumably from Iceland) which would allow them to continue being profitable.  They're just having a liquidity problem: they're burning through cash at a rate a bit higher than their profit, and as a result, have low cash-on-hand at any given moment.

EDIT #3 (27/Jun/2011): Also, keep in mind that with DUST's release being imminent, despite some comments I'm seeing on Twitter, this isn't going to sink CCP.  They could make up the cash reserve difference with a trivial number of DUST 514 sales, 200k copies if my math is accurate.  They may have already made up the difference.  Who knows if Sony paid them some amount of money for DUST PS3 exclusivity, after all...

This financial statement just reaffirms the belief that Incarna/DUST are bet-the-company moves by CCP.  Page 23 of the report confirms that they've capitalized a big chunk of their development costs.  Those are costs that would have to be written off the books if DUST fails.  That might sink CCP.  So DUST 514 must succeed.

Pic of the Week: Reality distortion

One more post about the EVE Online week of rage, then I'm gonna get off the topic of EVE for a while, other than continuing to clear my "fit of the week" file.  I'm supposed to be blogging about other MMOs now.  ;-)

In my wrap-up yesterday, I didn't -- with some justification -- mention the atrocious devblog that CCP Zulu posted on Friday.  I didn't post it because, quite frankly, it wasn't deserving of any respect.  It was condescending and hostile in tone, full of CYA language, self-congratulatory, and generally ill-conceived from start to finish.  In particular, it compared EVE virtual clothing to real-life designer jeans costing $1000, which is not exactly something that your average EVE player owns a pair of.  ;-)  It went a long way toward exacerbating what -- until then -- was a relatively controllable situation.  Mittens characterized it (correctly) as a piece of work that turned a minor player brouhaha into a major marketing crisis.

And it was all avoidable.  Zulu asked the CSM for input on the devblog.  They provided extensive feedback on how this devblog should be changed and softened.  Advice that apparently wasn't taken.

Trebor was asked: how close was the final version to the draft you saw?  He responded:
Very close. We made many suggestions as to the problems we saw with the draft, and the player concerns it needed to address. The only significant change was the removal of an ill-advised analogy.
To which, the obvious response (quickly stated) was: there was an analogy in it that was worse than $1000 designer pants?

Unfortunately, the devblog combined with this revelation turned Zulu and other key figures in CCP into figures of fun.  In particular, T'Amber posted a funny parody video claiming Zulu needed monocles sold so that he personally could buy himself more $1000 pants.  The trend was ironic given that one of the paras in the offending devblog asked players to lay off individual CCP employees.  Yes.  But nothing summed up the feeling about this devblog more than this little pic:


Yeah.  This.

Gotta love the inventiveness of your average EVE player.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend's end

Off in Europe, this weekend is ending.  In Iceland, I'm sure this is a relief.

This has been, without question, the most cataclysmic weekend in the history of EVE Online.  Not long after I blogged last, EVE News 24 dropped another bombshell: a congratulatory message from CCP CEO Hilmar P├ętursson, sent to a CCP internal mailing list.  Out of context, this e-mail is a bland, somewhat empty string of attaboys commonly written at the C-Suite level.  I'm completely convinced of its reality.  Not only does the writing style match Hilmar's, but it's filled with exactly the sorts of things we'd expect him to say.

That said, in context, the e-mail is a bombshell because of one paragraph.  Here it is:
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.
Emphasis mine (but the same phrase was emphasized at EN24 as well).

Additional context: this e-mail was written about 40 hours after the release of Incarna.  That's noonish on June 23, Iceland time.  Therefore, this e-mail was written before the Fearless newsletter exploded across the EVE landscape (though somewhat after it was actually released).  It was also written before the "devpology" early on the 24th.  In short, it was written before any of this shit-storm happened.  So, let's try not to take the Hilmar e-mail out of context... if we can avoid it.

It didn't help, though, that when a link to the e-mail was posted to the EVE-O forums, CCP Navigator deleted the thread, stating that private communications from CCP employees were not to be shared with the public.

As a result, we know the Hilmar e-mail is genuine.

And the intent of it is clear: Hilmar knew that vanity MT, and likely the NeX prices themselves, were going to cause conflict within the EVE community.  He intended CCP to ride it out... for the wave to pass... for people to get used to it.  "This is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say," he says, clearly referencing the fact that -- despite the rage over their prices -- 50-odd monocles had been sold in the first 40 hours.  That's $80 U.S./hour, or enough money to pay the salary and benefits of two or three CCP developers.

The release of the e-mail and its attempted censorship unleashed a new wave of player rage.  The threadnaught I mentioned Friday is well past 10000 posts now and still climbing far too fast for any single human to keep up with it.  It has been read more than one million times now.  The comments thread on the Fearless devblog is itself approaching 3000 posts, making it the second-most commented-on devblog ever (only the response to the sanctum/haven nerf in April was bigger).

In context, we know that over the weekend, some 4500 EVE subscriptions have been cancelled and the number is still climbing.  That's $67,500 U.S. per month, or enough money to imperil the jobs of 15 or more CCP developers.  There's no question that CCP has to respond to "what their players are doing."(1)

And the names of some of players who have unsubbed are shattering.  Topping the list is Ombey.  Ombey was my very first introduction to what could be done with an EVE fan website.  I have a printed, laminated, and bound copy of his 2D EVE maps about two feet from me as I type this.  It was an invaluable tool to me during my EVE career.  Other key names: Angel HUN (former AT commentator and member of IT and now Raiden.), Don Pellegrino from HYDRA Reloaded, Lallante from Reikoku/BoB, Sokratesz (former CSM member)... the list goes on.  These are not casual EVE players.  These are -- you will forgive the pun -- titans of the EVE community.

CCP had to respond, and they did.  CCP Zulu wrote a second devblog called "The Realities of EVE".

It is... less than ground-breaking.

Fortunately, the first four or five paragraphs of it comes off as extremely apologetic and even a little contrite.  There's no question that the devblog was written by someone under a great deal of stress.  Even better, it comes off as much more Zulu's "voice" than the prior one, which people all the way up to CSM5 Chair Mynxee described as sounding like it was written by Zulu while someone held a gun to his head.  However, paragraph six is just goofy:
However, just to prove the point of the Fearless newsletter and give you a further understanding of what it is then there are no and never have been plans to sell "gold ammo" for Aurum. In Fearless people are arguing a point, which doesn't even have to be their view, they are debating an issue. This is another example of how information out of context is no information at all.
Those are some of the three worst-written, evasive sentences that I can imagine.  As a denial, they're very weak.  As an explanation, they're even worse.

Trebor of CSM6 quickly issued a clarification saying that:
I can tell you without fear of contradiction that "Gold ammo" is shorthand for "any non-vanity item".
Even if that is true, the fact that "there are no" and there "never have been" plans for "gold ammo", that doesn't mean "there never will be" such plans.  Sure, past tense and present tense are covered.  But what about the future?  What about non-"items", such as faction standing, attribute boosters, or even skill points?  Are they also out?  Even the name of the devblog is a little suspect.  "The realities of EVE"?  What does that even mean?

Given that the comments thread on this new devblog is already picked up 700 posts in about 2.5 hours, I'd say I'm not alone in these views.  Trebor has asked for player input for him to take to Iceland to be posted in the devblog thread.  At the risk of creating more work for him, I encourage you to do so.

However, the devblog does specify that the CSM has been called to Iceland this coming Thursday and Friday for an unprecedented emergency session to focus on this issue.  So far, I see confirmations from Mittens, Trebor, and Meissa that they are definitely going.  I haven't seen confirmation from Seleene yet, nor from the other five CSM6 full members.  Given the extremely short notice, it seems very likely that there will either be a lot of alternate CSM members in attendance or possibly even only a partial slate of CSM members.  We'll have to see.

EDIT (27/Jun/2011): According to two step, the attendees of this emergency session will be full CSM members Mittens, Trebor, Meissa, Draco Lasa, and White Tree; and alt CSM members two step, Elise Randolph and Darius III.

I personally would like to thank the members of CSM6 that are able to attend this session for their extraordinary dedication, and hope the session is productive.

But, yeah.  The drama hasn't ended.  This is -- if anything -- merely a short pause.

(1) Incidentally, if we assume that this rage is cutting across a spectrum of average EVE players, this post might be the best survey ever done of the number of EVE accounts per average EVE player.  2.25, if you're curious.  That means that there are about 140-150 thousand EVE players controlling those 325,000 or so EVE accounts.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pebble

Something that Goonswarm is insanely good at is messaging and propoganda.

Given the events of the past 48 hours, perhaps CCP should hire more former Goonies.  ;-)

One of my favorite Goonswarm propaganda posters is the one at left, which is an EVE Online retelling of the old "for the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost" story.  It's simple, elegant, and beautiful.  Every culture on earth has their "pebble that started the avalanche" analogy, and many cultures have more than one.

The Fearless newsletter is just such a pebble.

For the three or four of you not keeping track, about 48 hours ago as I write this, EVEnews24 posted an article that included an excerpt from what they claimed was a CCP internal newsletter that they had received about a month ago.  The excerpt was titled "Fearless" and subtitled: "Greed is Good, the Gordon Gecko issue."  EN24 spun the excerpt (you can download it here) as an official CCP position paper on micro-transactions on their three MMO properties, EVE, DUST 514, and World of Darkness.  It includes one page each on these three properties, detailing what were purported to be future plans for MT in each of those spaces.  It includes a second page for EVE detailing "pro" and "con" positions for greatly expanding the role of MT in EVE from "vanity items only" to "everything!  why not?"

A thread was created on the EVE-O forums pointing to the article and attributing all the most incendiary quotes to "EVE Lead Game Designer."  In particular, one quote was included that was particularly incendiary:
"Not all virtual purchases will focus on customization, some will simply be new items, ammunition, ships, etc. that can be purchased outright."
Given that the "official" CCP position for some time has been "MT for vanity items only", this -- if confirmed -- would represent a 180 degree shift from that position.  Further, it would seem to present evidence to the effect that CCP had been lying to the CSM and to EVE players on their future MT strategy for nearly a year.  The thread -- and corresponding threads on FHC and Kugu -- turned into rivers of flame insisting that the excerpt was a well-crafted hoax.

Except that it wasn't.  Seleene and other current and former CSM members came out to confirm that the format and title of the excerpt matched the style and length of the CCP internal company newsletter.  CCP soon sheepishly confirmed that the excerpt was the real deal.  The leaker was revealed as Helicity Boson, well-known and -respected EVE player.  He soon released the full issue of the company newsletter.

The thread on the EVE-O forums quickly grew to more than 2500 posts of player rage, and did it in less than 48 hours, making this thread one of the longest in EVE-O forum history.

In my job, I have had the opportunity to read dozens -- if not hundreds -- of internal company newsletters.  I spend a lot of time on the sites of other companies, and I can tell you, these things are not treated as particularly protected information.  You find them strewn around in cafeterias, break rooms, conference rooms, and in racks on secretary's desks and in hallways.  There are two types of internal company newsletters: official ones, that have the sanction of the company's senior management and are created by the management's staff, and unofficial ones, that are tolerated but otherwise ignored by senior management and created by the company's internal communication department to communicate and comment on company policy.

Know how you can tell the difference between these two types of newsletters?
  1. The official ones have a "quarterly message" or the like from the sponsor executive on page two of the newsletter (the unofficial ones don't).
  2. The unofficial ones are actually interesting (the official ones aren't).
Make no mistake: Fearless is a pebble.  It might start an avalanche, but it's still a pebble.  Here's the editor's LinkedIn profile.  She's been working at CCP for about three years.  Check out what isn't on her resume for her current job: leadership of a team.  She's done it in the past, so wouldn't have hesitated to list that responsibility again.  Which means she's not only editor of this newsletter, but chief writer and chief bottle-washer as well.  A company newsletter that jokes when profiling a half-dozen employees that these are "CCPers with nearly spotless prison records" hasn't exactly been run by the company executives or the legal department, know what I'm saying?  ;-)

Which means that this newsletter is articles begged from an editor, who went to people in the company, who in turn wrote about what they hope is happening and what they think is happening, not what is really happening or is planned to happen.

Again, I've seen dozens and dozens of unofficial company newsletters.  This one is only different in that it's a little more speculative and open than most, but I can assure you, having seen as many of these as I have, there isn't a company in the world that would want one of theirs published in the outside world.  Example: I have on my office credenza, right now, a company newsletter from a multi-national, but now bankrupt, trucking company.  The cover story is a serio-comic look at how to reduce driver accidents.  I say "comic" because the article is laced with extremely amusing stories of trucks that got away from their drivers, often with serious injury-producing results.  To call the newsletter "potentially embarrassing" had it ever gone public is understating the case by a great deal.  Needless to say, that newsletter was of the "unofficial" variety.

And Fearless isn't even documenting funny stories about how people were seriously injured by out-of-control big-rigs.  It's just detailing not-strategy for a video game, from a bunch of people who were in little or no position to say what the official strategy is.

So, 86 pages of fallout later, CCP tried putting out an official post on the EVE-O forums asking for calm.  That thread now has more than 5000 posts of player rage, and it did that in less than 24 hours.  It is the longest in EVE-O forum history.  For reference, the :18months: rage thread was fewer than 2000 posts total over about six weeks.

This is in the thread asking for calm, and asking for people to -- you know -- maybe put down their torches and pitchforks for a minute.  ;-)

Every bit of player rage about Incarna, :$99:, monocles, and Scorpions for Aurum is coming out, all at once.  Hundreds of people are unsubscribing EVE over this.  Unfortunately, the writer -- CCP Pann -- made the mistake of saying the following:
As I see it, the chief complaint is regarding the high cost of goods in the Nobel Market.
...which unfortunately kind of proves that CCP really doesn't get where the rage is coming from or why.

And yet, none of what's in the newsletter has actually happened, and none of it is in any sort of official future plan for EVE Online.

Fearless is a pebble.  But it's a pebble made of freakin' anti-matter, tossed down the mountain at exactly the wrong moment for CCP.

So... yeah.  CCP really has to work on their communications a little.  Ironic that this communications issue was caused by communications.


By the way, here's some of the fallout from this and responses to it:
Tippia has posted a fantastic analysis of the overall situation.  It's long and technical and brutally complicated and still worth every minute of your time:
     http://eve.beyondreality.se/NeXCQResponse.html
Helicity Boson (the runner of Hulkageddon) was banned from EVE.  CCP claims it wasn't because of the leak, but because he threatened one of their employees:
     http://pastebin.com/NtRB9bin
Liang Nuren, a noted CCP white knight, was also banned from EVE.  Only reason given that I've seen is because he posted a "Free Helicity Boson" poster where CCP could see it:
     http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1536859
John Turbefield, who wrote the "Microtransactions in EVE are bad, mkay?" position in the Greed is Good newsletter has himself a pointless but fun hero worship thread on the EVE-O forums:
     http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1534841
Meissa, easily the quietest of the CSM members, breaks his silence in a big big way with a long, really good post:
     http://meissaanunthiel.blogspot.com/2011/06/recent-ccp-fuck-ups.html
Seleene put up a much shorter post:
     http://seleenes-sandbox.blogspot.com/2011/06/good-morning-ccp.html
Tobiaz is asking everyone unsubscribes from EVE over this issue to make themselves known, and he'll track you.  As of this writing, the number is -421 subscriptions from 179 people:
     http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1536495
The Mittani has posted in the threadnaught, but unfortunately, his post is both inaccurate (CCP Soundwave isn't "EVE Lead Game Designer", but he's hardly "just some mook" either) and half-hearted at best:
     http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1536065&page=176#5252
CCP Fallout gets testy.  Can't imagine why:
     http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1536956&page=1#10
CCP Fallout expands on her testy post:
     http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1536956&page=2#56

As I write this, CCP has promised an official response in an hour or less.  Should be fun reading.

EDIT (24/Jun/2011): The official response is out.  The associated comments thread hit 900 posts of rage in about an hour, and so looks to completely dwarf the thread above as the new EVE-O threadnaught record holder before the weekend's over.  I'll post my own comments on the devblog in the next day or so.  The major unanswered question: will there be non-vanity items in the NeX someday?  "No answer" sounds suspiciously like "yes" in this context...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Value proposition

Day three of four on micro-transactions.  Tomorrow, I'll have something to say about the "Fearless" CCP company newsletter released into the wild this week, and that'll wrap up my musings on this topic for a while.

Today is about those EVE players that were actually excited about Incarna, and about custom clothing and other vanity items.  Yes, there are some.  Quite a few, actually.  Remember, this is the market that CCP is going to be courting.  Thanks to "Fearless", we have written proof that this is the case.
King Jaffe Joffer: So you see, my son, there is a very fine line between love and nausea.
There's an entertaining thread on the EVE Online forums regarding that leak.  Last I checked, it was up to 64 pages in length, which makes it one of the epic threadnaughts in the history of EVE.  Hidden in that threadnaught is a post that I won't link, and won't quote directly.  I don't want to embarrass anyone.  But in this post, the poster rants and raves about the AUR prices of the NeX clothing for a while, before revealing that he was upset because he had set aside a billion ISK to buy unique clothing items for his toon, and now he wouldn't be spending that ISK on it.

A billion ISK.

Or -- put another way -- something between $43 and $50 U.S.

In short, the poster came off as mostly upset that he had set aside 40 or 50 dollars to spend on virtual items, but that money wasn't going to go as far as he wanted it to go.

The unwritten rule of micro-transactions in MMOs is that MMOs that rely on MT are mostly about short-term players and high turn-over of those players.  People join, they play the game for a while, they are wowed by some MT item, they buy it, they eventually become bored with that item, the game, or both, and they move on to a new game.  Meanwhile, they are quickly replaced by new players that go through the same cycle.  Traditionally, brand loyalty in MT-based MMOs is extremely low; this is balanced by the fact that MT-based MMOs have a very low barrier of entry and a very shallow learning curve to off-set this churn.

World of Tanks is the classic example.  I've played it for a while, but you probably won't see any posts about it here because even hard-core players will eventually admit that the game quickly becomes freakishly boring.  And yet hard-core EVE players all the way up to Mittens have played Tanks and bought some of the high-end MT tanks and gear that the game offers.  Mittens pointed out in a recent FHC post that his WoT MT-purchased tank was cheaper than virtually all of the items on NeX, and infinitely more useful.  But it was also fairly obvious that he didn't have much of an emotional connection to that tank.

EVE obviously operates by a very different standard.  The very structure of the game is hugely reliant on its long-term players.  Without these long-term players, the T3 cruisers, capital ships, and T2 mods that many EVE players rely on would not exist.  Those skills and the initial outlay of ISK to set up those production chains simply aren't in reach of those who have been playing the game only a few months.  CCP is clearly motivated to reward long-term players (and for very long-term players, they definitely succeed) and they're motivated to create a large emotional investment between their players and the game.  Sometimes, this backfires: TeaDaze never created a new Incarna avatar in part because he had an emotional connection to his pre-Incarna avatar picture.
Arnie Cunningham: Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I'll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that's what we have.
Some EVE players and former EVE players have compared the game to a religious cult, and there's definitely a lot to say for that analogy.  CCP wants you to fall in love with the game and the setting, much more so than the typical MMO or even the typical video game.  They are actively motivated to get their players into corps and alliances because those social connections, once made, are both very hard to break and will tend to hold borderline players to the game.  See the handy chart below, specifically the second-to-the-last phase of the MMORPG addiction.

We've all been on this curve...

Here's the hard question we have to ask (and many are): did CCP cynically set the prices of the goods on NeX to further harden the emotional connection hard-core players have with EVE?
Ryan: You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?
After all, once you've spent $60 on a single virtual item, it's kind of hard to unring the bell.  ;-)  People place a tangible emotional value on things that they spend their money on, and fan-boy video gamers are worse about this than most.  Rationalizing and defending one's decisions, even one's bad decisions, is an indelible human trait.

Realize it or not, we're in the golden age of portable video gaming.  And we're there because all of us have become accustomed to $3 video games downloaded to our iPhones and Android phones.  We consider such amounts, and the games we spend them on, throw-away these days.  Micro-transactions -- even useless ones -- have been part of more expensive games going all the way back to Oblivion horse armor in 2006.  But the emotional connections that we make with items that we spend our money on probably go back thousands of years.  And the more money we spend, the stronger those emotional connections...

...positive, and negative.

Think back to the last time you over-spent for something in real life.  Flashed back to something expensive, didn't you?  All of us have been over-charged a dollar or three of some item.  Hell, it probably happens to most of us ten times a year, if not more often.  But we don't remember those incidents.  We only remember the times when we over-spent by a few dozen dollars, or a few hundred.  But "expensive" is in the eye of the beholder.  If we really want something, we overlook the fact that we're over-spending on it and the emotional response over being cheated is suppressed.  We rationalize our choice.

But if we want something and feel we're being over-charged for it, we rationalize in the other direction, and the negative emotions associated with that are enormous.

I can't count the number of times someone's said in some venue that CCP has forgotten the "micro" in their micro-transactions.  But I don't think they've forgotten.  As I said, they want you to forge an emotional connection with your new skirt or blouse or monocle.  But of course, I'm a bittervet.  I'm supposed to be cynical.  ;-)

These very same people that are bitching about space-barbies now, and making fun of people setting aside a billion ISK for doll clothes, will probably change their tune when ship skins, alliance logos, and other custom in-space elements start becoming available.

You're just going to have to decide what you love, and how much love is worth, that's all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Target audience

It's time to take a walk on the road of microtransactions. The road is going to be long and a bit winding, so you might want to hold my hand. Ready?  Let's go.

EVE Online and Global Agenda now something major in common: both have three units of currency, which can be used to purchase two types of products. In both EVE and GA, the two types of products are useful products and vanity products. In GA, the useful products are armor, weapons, and pets; the vanity products are suits, helmets, and dyes. In EVE, the useful products are spaceships and everything associated with them; the vanity products are the (so far) limited selection of items in the Noble Exchange. In GA, the three types of currency are credits, tokens, and agency points. In EVE, the three types of currency are ISK, PLEX, and AUR.

There, though, the similarity between GA and EVE ends, for two reasons. But I'll get to those reasons in a second. First, we need to look at this chart:

The ubiquitous EVE circle-of-life chart.

A lot of EVE blogs have been posting this chart in the last few weeks, but unfortunately, none of the EVE blogs really get what is critical about this chart. What's critical about this chart is that any of the three EVE currencies can be easily and quickly traded for an equal measure of any of the other EVE currencies. This is huge. Bought in numbers of two or more, a PLEX is $17.50 U.S. As I type this, a PLEX is worth both 3500 AUR and 400 million ISK. As a result, we have the current conversion for EVE currencies:
$1 => 0.06 PLEX <=> 200 AUR <=> 22.85 million ISK.
So, a 12000 AUR monocle is also worth either $60 or 1.37 billion ISK, about the same amount of RL dollars or ISK as a fully fit carrier or Machariel in-game. And only one of those transactions is one-way: the transition from RL dollars to PLEX. Once I hold that PLEX, I can (per the chart above) convert it into either of the other two in-game currencies, or into one of those in-game currencies and then back into a PLEX. Only the transition from dollars to PLEX is a one-way gate (legally, anyway).

GA does things quite differently. In GA, you purchase agency points for a flat fee of $5 for 400 agency points. I won't bore you with the math, but the equivalent conversion for Global Agenda currencies looks like this:
$1 => 100 AP => 45800 credits <= 2000 tokens.
Check out all the one-way gates. In GA, everything flows downhill to credits. You cannot purchase tokens with credits. You cannot purchase AP with anything other than RL money. It's a huge difference between the two games. And it's for this reason that I'm going to make a controversial prediction:

Items in the EVE Noble Exchange won't be getting any cheaper than they are right now. In fact, they're going to become more expensive.

Let's get to the two major reasons that GA and EVE are different before I explain why I make that prediction:
  1. In GA, vanity products are very cheap. A tier 5 dye (the highest level) costs between $3.50 and $5.00 U.S. The suits and helmets are even cheaper. The best suits in the game cost about 125,000 credits, or about $3. Changing your hairstyle or face costs less than a dollar U.S., and some of the specialty vanity items cost 2000 tokens, or about $0.80 U.S. By contrast, vanity items in EVE are hugely expensive. The cheapest item available on the NeX right now costs $5, and is a basic black pair of boots with no discernible difference from the free boots available in-game. The average item costs $15. The most expensive item available right now, as noted above, costs $60.
  2. In GA, both useful and vanity products can be purchased for two different types of currency, one of which is always agency points (RL money). Most useful items in GA can be purchased with either tokens or agency points. For instance, high end weapons cost 30,000 tokens, or 1195 agency points, about $15 either way. In EVE, as of right now, useful items cannot be purchased with real money at all. In EVE, useful products can only be purchased with ISK, and vanity products can only be purchased with AUR.
This makes vanity items entirely, 100% optional in EVE. Given the hugely greater flexibility that EVE capsuleers have not to purchase these products and the flexibility they have in terms of how to pay for them if they do, I doubt very much that CCP is going to fold on the prices of these items. As a matter of fact, I'd get used to that 12000 AUR price tag for desirable items. They don't see that as $60. They see it as 1.37 billion ISK, a high... but quite attainable amount of ISK in the game. Even with my greatly reduced EVE play time and my hugely reduced in-game income, I'm still bringing in about 50 million ISK per day. Which means that if I wanted one, I could have a monocle in under a month.

In EVE game time, this isn't a significant amount of time. I saved for about the same amount of time for my first carrier, or my first Machariel.

And remember: Noble Exchange items are not particularly intended for spaceship-flying EVE players. They're intended for the forthcoming predicted wave of walking-in-station EVE players! To these players, a carrier will be irrelevant.  They're never going to see or care about your carrier because they'll rarely be undocking.  But a monocle will be a cool status symbol that you save up for, every bit as desirable to them as your Machariel is to you.

So no, those Noble Exchange prices aren't coming down. On the contrary, given that the current items are very bland and grey, I think I can predict with a great deal of certainty that when more colorful, interesting items of clothing begin appearing in NeX, they're going to be every bit as expensive as that monocle.  Maybe more, since unlike your Machariel, they'll be difficult or impossible to destroy.

And they'll be every bit as desirable to their forthcoming target audience.

You heard it here first.

Assistant to the pic of the week: Gallente buff

Shamelessly stolen from Kugu.

Pic of the Week: Won't you please help?

Shamelessly stolen from EVE-O.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fashion police

And now an important message from Jester's evil twin, Garth.  The opinions of Garth are not the opinions of Jester (unless they are).

Like many of you, computer games are my hobby.  Like many of you, I like to spend money on my hobbies.  And happily, CCP has decided to take advantage of that fact.  Just listen!
CCP Zinfandel> Hello Kyle - we have been talking about the prices regularly in here. There are expensive items in the shop. Noble Appliances Corporation opened these shops particularly to target the wealthy capsuleer community.
What's he talking about?  The new Noble Exchange in EVE Online, of course.  I love plain grey just as much as I know all of you do, and CCP is being good enough to cater to my need for bland grey clothing by charging me 3600 AUR for a plain grey shirt.  This is about $20 U.S., which coincidentally, is how much a real plain grey shirt costs in the EVE Online store.  So that's really good planning on CCP's part there.
CCP Zinfandel> Some people treat EVE Online not as a video game but as a hobby. They enjoy investing in their hobby and find that it makes them feel more connected with their hobby. We want to support that for those players who want it.
Of course, with the busy summer fashion season coming up, I'm going to have to go for a new outfit: a sterling dress shirt, commando pants (me, I thought commando meant something else), and precision boots.  There's only one problem, though.  I'll have to decide if I want a full suit of EVE clothes, or a video card that is capable of displaying my new full suit of clothes.  Looks like they'll cost about the same.
CCP Zinfandel > And they are being designed by RL fashion designers.
I'd do it with my current video card, but running the Captain's Quarters on my current video card uses 68% of its GPU capacity.  With my toon just standing there.

Doing nothing.

It's OK, though.  My video card is probably too old, given that I bought it all the way back in late April 2011.  (Yes, really.)

I think my favorite part of this is how, since the Summer of Rage last year, CCP has refined their communications strategy for dealing with unhappy players.  The new strategy, "Double Down On Our Latest Bold Move And Tell The Stupid Customers To Shut The Fuck Up", is so much better, don't you think?

I don't think I'm gonna go for the monocle, though.  $68 seems slightly steep.  I think my good buddy Randomize All summed up the return on investment of this item best when he said "if the Ocular implant gives you x-ray vision, then it's possibly worth it.  If not..."  Indeed.  Besides, I can get one of those much more inexpensively elsewhere, it turns out.
CCP Chiliad > Chewiest, as Zinfandel pointed out, expensive things are for people with a thicker wallet.
Those of you who are saying that EVE just jumped the shark with a stuffed virtual shark that costs 8500 AUR have no true fashion sense and should be ashamed of yourselves.

Garth out!

The preceding has been an important message from Jester's evil twin, Garth.  Garth clearly believes that when it comes to sarcasm and overkill, if spanking a baby is good, spanking it with an axe is better.

Global Agenda Robotics PvE Guide

The Robotics is, probably, the easiest class to play in Global Agenda if you know what you're doing.  Unfortunately, it's also the hardest class to play well.  There are nearly as many bad Robos in GA as there are bad Recons (more on that when I get around to writing my Recon guide).  And it's for a simple reason: there's much more flexibility in the Robo class than there is in any other class.  For Assaults and Medics and Recons, most of the choices of skills and equipment are obviously sub-optimal and won't be chosen.  Not so for Robos, where it appears that virtually every option has some key advantage, and many of those options actually do.

Still, here's the best fitting and equipment for an ideal PvE Robo:

[Balanced], 4 points
Jetpack Power
Power Pool Increase
Team Boost Increase
Power Pool Return

[Engineer], 9 points
Repair Power Reduction
Repair Increase
Station Buff
Repair Overcharge ->
Repair Arm Speed
Heavy Artillery
Rapid Engineering
Cyber Specialist
Super Engineer

[Equipment]
Mace and Shield (dddddd)
HEL-TAC Rifle (pprddd)
Focused Repair Arm (rhhhhh)
Robotics Crescent Jetpack (pppppp)
Medical Station (hhxccc)
Power Station (xxnccc)
Personal Turret (rddddd)
Dome Shield (mmm)


Level 30 is assumed for skills, giving you the full 13 skill points.  As you build up toward level 30, put your points into the Engineer skill tree first, then finish the Balanced tree with your last four.  One of the big advantages of this build is that both stations and turrets use the Engineer skill tree, and as a result, you have lots of good options for your off-hand equipment later on.  Every other class has to make tough choices; all of them will almost certainly be carrying an unbonused main weapon or off-hand.  For Robos, your main weapon and all of your off-hands will be bonused.  The melee weapon requires level 32; until then, the Heavy Wrench is a fine substitute.  The Jetpack requires level 40; use a Hands Free jetpack until then.

One of the things that makes Robos so hard to play is that the key element of being a Robo is over-looked: you are a thin-skinned support character, the closest thing GA has to a Mage archetype.  A good Medic will heal himself first, the Assault second, the Recon third, and the Robo last... if the Robo gets any healing at all.  A competent Robo should be backing up the other characters, not demanding support himself.  And yet, so many GA Robos play extremely aggressively, often at the forefront of attacks, rarely using their turrets, pets, or stations, and blasting away with the ridiculous short-range Robo shotgun.  And then getting pissed on comms when they die because the Medic isn't healing them.  This is not how you are supposed to play this class.

The correct way to play a Robo: your job is to ensure that the team holds the ground that the Assault takes.  In short, your job as a Robo is to do everything you can to make sure the team isn't pushed back as it advances.  Don't worry about getting a lot of kills or doing a lot of damage.  Your Assault and Recon are the DPS characters.  By playing a Robo incorrectly, a lot of bad Robos try to rack up kills with their gun.  But the funny and Zen thing about playing a Robo correctly is that if you do it, you'll actually rack up just as many or more kills as the DPS characters.  You're just doing it defensively instead of offensively.  A correctly-played Robo shines in GA raids for this reason, since GA raids are defensive in nature.

With this in mind, start learning the PvE maps.  In each of them, there are obvious choke-points or defensive strongholds.  The game even hints at where they are by placing large clumps of enemies in front of these choke-points.  The Assault and Medic will charge into these choke-points.  Let them.  The Recon will find someplace behind and above the Assault and Medic to snipe away from.  Let him do that, too.  Let them all draw the threat away from you.  The team's advance will stop as the Assault and Recon apply DPS and the game's AI tries to dislodge them and push them back.  Once that's done, you can move in.  Find defensive cover near the Assault and Medic.  This is where your Medical Station and Power Station go.  This location will be behind a doorway, wall, or set of crates, tucked into a nearby alcove, over the ridge of a set of stairs, at the top of a ramp the Assault is firing down... as you gain experience, you'll learn the right spots for them.  You don't want these stations drawing a lot of fire.  Plant both of them, hit "3" to bring up your Repair Arm, then right-click your mouse and wave your mouse pointer back and forth over them to get them both up quickly.  This is referred to in-game as a "nest."

Once that's done, cautiously turn the corner and expose yourself briefly.  If the Assault is doing his job, you won't draw much, if any, fire.  Plant the Personal Turret, bring the Repair Arm back up, and right-click to add some hit-points to it quickly.  Then duck back behind cover near your Medical and Power Stations.  The turret is planted properly if you can repair it and keep it repaired without exposing yourself too much.  Do so, keeping your right mouse button held down and keep repairing that turret.  It will draw a ton of fire almost immediately.  The great thing about the Focused Repair Arm is that while you're holding down the right mouse button, not only does this focus maximum repairs on the turret, but it also increases the turret damage by 40%.  This combination of infinite free healing, infinite free power, and infinite free DPS really makes the Robo class unbalanced compared with the others.  When I'm playing a Robo, there are long stretches when I don't fire my gun at all and yet I can still run up a couple hundred thousand damage and get 40 or 50 kills with my turret alone.

There's a certain amount of disagreement about which turret is best.  There are four options: the Personal Turret, the Autocannon, the Flame Turret, and the Rocket Launcher.  In my opinion, there is no best option and a good Robo should have solid versions of all four in their inventory, because each has a key use.  The Flame Turret is most useful for boss encounters in solo PvE missions.  The Autocannon is fantastic in PvP, but is also useful in a couple of PvE missions because of its long range.  The Rocket Launcher is practically required for raids thanks to its long range and splash damage.  But the Personal Turret is probably, overall, the best PvE turret.  It does 20% more damage than the Autocannon and has a 180 degree firing arc.  Its range is rather sub-par, but given that you're going to be using it defensively, this really isn't much of a disadvantage, particularly since its cool-down timer is so short.  The most useful thing about it is that it instantly switches from target to target as each dies, allowing it to quickly mop up targets that the Assault softens up.

And even if the Assault is inadvertently killed, you'll soon find your turret taking his place... and ensuring that the team is not pushed back just because you've temporarily lost a person.

Your defensive options are only increased by the morale boost Dome Shield.  Robos should be using their morale boost most frequently of any GA class.  The Dome Shield is a huge defensive plus, particularly when the group is facing large numbers of weaker enemies such as Minions and Alarm Responders.  I can't count the number of times I've saved the entire team's life by dropping a Dome Shield at a critical moment and then planting a Healing Station inside of it.  This is particularly true in PvE raids, where the Dome can be used to stopper up entrances and exits.  This gives all of the DPS characters a safe place to hide from fire for a few seconds, and lets their Medics catch up and recharge.  And in a chaotic melee, with this build, your turret should rack up DPS so quickly that it will often only be 15 or 20 seconds after your Dome Shield drops before you have another available to use.  Use them early, use them often.

You're carrying a gun and a melee weapon, but it should be rare that you use either.  The gun can be used as the team advances; since your turrets and stations are only useful when the team is stopped, you can fire away when the team is not stopped.  Still, rather than worrying about damage, I prefer a gun with a power-saving mod so I can fire more or less continuously.  It is for this reason that I don't use the Colony Energy Rifle with my Robo, either.  I want to put a lot of shots out there.  Your melee weapon is most useful against Elite Techros, whose version of the Rumbleblaster "ping-pong ball gun" is so incredibly annoying.  The Mace and Shield includes a Power Sap bonus that quickly takes this weapon away from the Techros and makes them easier for the rest of the team to deal with.

I am not a particularly big fan of the Robo pet tree and the mechanical pets that go with it.  All of them are both short range and very short duration.  You're not helping your team nearly as much with these options.  Similarly, the Force Wall can be extremely tempting to new Robos and indeed, it is an invaluable replacement for the Power Station in solo PvE missions.  But longer term and particularly in Max security missions, the Force Wall is just not as helpful as the Power Station.  Both the Assault and Medic need the extra recharge coming off a Power Station to operate effectively in higher level missions.  You will catch a lot of hell if you're not carrying one.

Finally, when the boss fight comes, don't be afraid to strike off on your own a bit.  In nine out of ten boss encounters, you should wait for the Assault to draw threat before even entering the room, then enter and go in the opposite direction of the Assault, whatever that was.  Plant your Medical and Power Stations behind cover somewhere (call out "nest is up" on comms once that's done), then find a good place for your turret.  By splitting threat from both the boss and any support, you're making life easier for the Assault/Medic team and making it more likely you'll get through the boss fight without anyone dying.  Put up the Dome and the turret as soon as you can and you'll soon be rewarded with its cheerful little "phut-phut-phut" sound as it racks up DPS.  ;-)

Whew!  Long guide.  Playing a Robo correctly in PvE is an exercise in tactics, not twitch.  It's the class where you have to be most familiar with the maps and layouts and is therefore a very poor class choice for GA beginners.  But a good, involved Robo in PvE will make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful mission; or will keep an unsuccessful mission or attack from turning into a rout.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Microcosm = a really small troll?

Oh, and you might ask me: did I hear about the final for Alliance Tournament IX?  The answer: yes, I did.

And it was a perfect little trolling meta-game microcosm of EVE itself.

A simultaneous bravo and raspberry to all concerned.

And that's all I have to say about that.  </gump>

Postscript: about a minute after I posted this, I read the following on FHC which sums up my opinion better than I did:
Don't see what all the hurf durf is about. Finals was rigged, welcome to EVE. Game is about shooting people in space, scamming, trolling, "for-the-lulz", corp thefts, power-bloc backstabs and causing tears. The fact that it was broadcast this time makes no difference.

If anything, this just made the alliance tournament a more realistic advertisement for EVE.
Yes.  This.

Postscript 2: Duncan Tanner from Hydra has written up AT9 from Hydra and Outbreak's perspective.  It's an incredibly interesting read, but hugely technical.  You are warned.

Comment of the Week: Objectivism

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little post about the lack of an upper limit in terms of EVE's "levels", and argued that the lack of such an upper limit, combined with the long play times of some of the veteran EVE players (many going all the way back to beta) breeds a more cut-throat player base than the typical MMO.  In short, I argued that EVE's design itself contributes to a lot of the nastiness that permeates its user communities sometimes.

AcD started commenting on the article and we ended up in a discussion about it.  During the discussion, he wrote, among other things, this:
As for T3 in general, their abilities are arguably not entirely unbalanced relatively to their cost (uninsurable and all), but they do embody the "you can't touch me" issue you raised in your article.  There is a definite SP/ISK high barrier to entry for T3 cruisers (although SP-wise they're no heavier than a Logistics, that's still a lot).

I've raised the same issue about clones, implants, and the cost of failure in the past: if you're part of the old-boys club, it's pretty hard to run into any loss that will hurt you seriously because the relative costs don't scale up.

All of which points not so much to SPs as it does to the economics of EVE, which I believe are seriously screwed up from a "make things fun and interesting" perspective, and it turn brings us back to the proto-Objectivist dogma of EVE... but that's probably beyond the scope of this discussion.
I reproduce only one of his comments, and that only in part.  If you're interested in this topic, it's probably worth your time to read his comments in full.

He does bring up an interesting point about EVE which I had never thought about before, though: is EVE the first and only objectivist MMO?

If you played the first BioShock game, then you're familiar with the very basic principles of objectivism, which can be simplified down to the idiot's version: a rational man or woman is the center of their own moral universe.  If any sort of moral question arises, the objectivist looks at it in terms of the rational individual looking out for his or her own best interests and, in so doing, ensuring that everyone else does the same.  Objectivism also specifies a very laissez-faire capitalism.  To use a simple real-world example, an objectivist is morally opposed to welfare for two reasons:
  1. the objectivist has to pay for the support and upkeep of another man; and,
  2. the man on welfare is himself damaged by the fact that he is accepting the support and upkeep of another man.
To the objectivist, the morally superior solution is to end welfare entirely and therefore, force the man on it to seek out his or her rational self-interest instead of relying on the charity of others.

Altruistic, this philosophy is not.  ;-)

Objectivist philosophy, however, becomes extremely murky in terms of "what happens next" to our man previously on welfare.  If he decides his what is in his best interests is to pick up a gun and rob his neighbor, objectivist philosophy believes this is immoral: the first man is entitled to the benefits of his own work.  Even worse in objectivist philosophy, robbing someone -- particularly by force -- is considered irrational.  ;-)  Therefore, an objectivist society still needs police and courts, but they are intended to protect rational individuals from irrational ones.  You might even refer to such a robber as an irrational objectivist: they are acting in their own self-interest, but doing it in an irrational rather than a rational way.

This philosophy isn't particularly logical, either.  ;-)

But the conflict between rational and irrational objectivism was at the very heart of the first BioShock game, and was one of the things that made the story of that game so compelling.

So is EVE objectivist?  If it is, then it's a product of irrational objectivism rather than rational objectivism, since everyone has a gun, and virtually everyone shows no hesitation about using it.  But you could definitely argue that everyone is acting in their own self-interest, and that's certainly part of objectivist philosophy.  It also speaks to the lack of altruism in EVE's player community that I mentioned in my previous post.

Anyway, just a little Monday morning philosophy for you...  Thanks for your comments, AcD.  Gave me a lot to think about over the weekend!