Tuesday, 16 June 2015

[GW2] A Bigger Box - a Guild Wars 2 Analogy

I've spent this morning arguing with people about why I think Guild Wars 2 needs more skills for its primary professions. On the Reddit, at least, I think most people misunderstood my arguement. So I've got a little analogy to explain it.

Imagine I have a toybox. This toybox can hold 20 multicoloured building blocks, no more. Every day I take my building blocks out of the box and build a house, or a car, or a space ship.

It doesn't take too long till I've used every block in every workable combination. The blocks are interesting enough, but they are played out and I could do with some more.

Then a guy comes along and tries to solve my problem. He takes my box and takes out all the blocks, he repaints them, and buffs them up so that they are shiny. He hands me back my box of blocks.

This doesn't solve my problem. Even though they look different, I am still choosing from the same number of blocks and the number of things I can build has not changed. I want more choice, so I can make different structures - not just houses, cars and spaceships, but giraffes, skyscrapers and mobile anti-aircraft units. 

So the guy goes away, determined to solve my problem. After a while he comes back with another box entirely. This box has a whole new set of 20 multicoloured building blocks in. He takes my box away and places his new box, exactly the same size, containing the same number of blocks, in front of me. He says that I can use either box I want, but not both. If I want to switch between the boxes then I have to put all my blocks away in his box and ask for the other one.

Again, its not long before I've used every block in every combination in the new box. I don't want to go back to the old box, because that is played out as well.

What the guy doesn't realise is that I don't have a problem with the blocks. I have a problem with the box.

What I need is a bigger box with more blocks in it. Then I could build more houses, skyscrapers, hotels, mansions, maisonettes, bungalows, wig-wams or yurts than I could shake a stick at. Each time I got more blocks the number of interesting and exciting things I could build would increase exponentially - I could combine new blocks with old ones and put an anti-aircraft cannon on the top of my house, or giraffe, if I were that way inclined.

ps. My arguement has not been helped by the fact that I totally overlooked the addition of those new healing skills from 2013 in my original arguement. Yes, they do count as new skills, but seeing as most builds are built around the utilities, rather than the heal, they are not very impactful - hence why I forgot them.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

[GW2] Why I am not Hyped for Heart of Thorns

There is a post at the top of the GW2 Reddit at the moment which asks the question: "Why are you NOT hyped about Heart of Thorns?" It assumes that there is a significant number of players who are indeed not excited, or perhaps are even disappointed about the upcoming Guild Wars 2 expansion.
In my case this assumption is pretty accurate. I replied to the thread in what eventually became a bit of a rant, but I kinda felt I should elaborate on one particular element of my dissatisfaction with Heart of Thorns - so here it is.

I've said on this blog before that one of my favourite things to do in GW1 was to try out new and interesting builds. There were hundreds of skills, and the fact that you had access to not only your primary, but also a secondary profession and all of their skills as well meant that there were thousands if not millions of possible skill combinations waiting to be tried out. This was, I know, a complete headache for the designers in terms of balance. But what it did mean is that you were always seeing new builds come out to counter certain metas or take advantage of the latest skill balance changes. It might not have been balanced, but at least it was interesting.

Fast forward to Guild Wars 2 and we launch with the weapon/utility skill system. People tried to argue that it actually meant you had more variation in builds, I think that is demonstrably crap - when you only have the ability to switch out 3 skills on your bar from a pool of just 20 that is not comparable to a system where you can switch out all 8 skills on your bar from a pool of several hundred.

When you have a pool of several hundred, you can afford to have a few duds - when you've got a pool of just 20, you really really can't. But the simple fact is that GW2 has so many dud skills in the utility pool that out of a possible 20 skills you might find that only 10-15 are usable, but then out of that remaining (lets say) 15 you are further limited by the traits you can slot in.

When you doll out your trait points you have to invest in lines, some skills have traits which increase their efficacy, whilst others only become viable at all when taken alongside certain traits. when the trait-point investment required to make a skill work is to the significant detriment of the rest of your build because the line you are investing in has other effects which are not as strong, then it simply is not viable to run that skill. So between just having skills that are complete garbage, skills that require too much investment in traits and finally skills which are simply bugged, the already tiny pool of skills dwindles even further.

Now - this might  have been ok if, at some point over the past 2 and a half years we had some new skills introduced into the pool. If your pool of viable skills is about (a rough estimate) 12, then adding 5 more skills is a MASSIVE increase in possible variety. With each single skill the number of skill combinations increases exponentially, adding in 10, or 20 new skills would have been mindblowingly awesome for the health of the build economy. Creative people could get their teeth into a system like that. But instead we've had - nothing.

Other than a single classless heal skill designed for a specific encounter, we haven't had a single new skill added to the game in well over 2 and a half years. I sometimes wonder if the ArenaNet developers somehow think that their skills are SO UNBELIEVABLY FUN that they will keep a player interested and excited for that entire time. No. I'm sorry, if they think that is the case then they are delusional - even the most exciting and fun skills in the world will not keep a person entertained for 2 and a half years straight if they are given absolutely no alternatives. The skills are stale, and the game, I'm afraid, has become a chore to play.

So here comes Heart of Thorns. FINALLY - something new. New weapons, new skills, new classes, new traits, elite specialisations - think of the possible variations! I was so happy!

But - I'm not sure if they have fundamentally misunderstood how it works, but they seem to have fucked this up too.
Each class gets an elite specialisation. A new twist on their class. They can choose to take on this elite spec or stick to their original spec. For example, a ranger can choose to be a druid or they can choose to stick to ranger. ANet have assured us that there will be a reason to stick or twist and both will be viable. But here's the rub:

  • If you want to use the new weapon for your class you have to choose the elite spec.
  • If you want ANY new skills you have to choose the elite spec.
  • If you want ANYTHING NEW AT ALL you have to choose the elite spec.

So - just to spell it out. After 2 and a half years of waiting for a little bit, not a lot, just a tiny small miniscule amount of build variety, they finally release an expansion which adds absolutely nothing to the existing classes.  If you want any variety at all you have to choose your elite specialisation. Its a binary choice - either you stick with your existing class and absolutely nothing changes, you use the same skills you've used for over 2 and a half years with the same weapons you've used for over 2 and a half years, or you switch to the elite spec and gain access to some new skills and a new weapon. And to make matters worse, even if you do choose the elite spec, it locks you out of some other skills and weapons usable by the original class. (EDIT: wrote this, and have since reconsidered it - locking out of existing ranger skills is a good idea because it means that there is at least a reason to choose between the two specs)

I know they are tweaking some existing skills in a balance update prior to HoT release, but even if they get that 100% spot on and make every single skill viable in some way - that still only means that we are working with exactly the number of skills and traits we were supposed to be making builds with at release over 2 years ago and not a shred of new content has been added to the original classes.

Instead of increasing build variety they've effectively added ONE more build for each class. Because every single person who chooses their elite spec will use the new weapon, why wouldn't you? And every single person who chooses their elite spec will use the new skills, why wouldn't you?

The distinction to be made is between a binary and granular choice here.

I was hoping that they'd add skills and weapons so that each ranger will be different, you could make thousands of small choices about which new skill to take, and how to spec your new traits and which new weapon to use alongside them, or indeed to stick to existing weapons with new skills or new traits with old weapons etc etc. You could still have the druid, you could still lock out some skills from the "ranger line", but give the existing classes a bit of fucking variety as well - so any ranger you see could be using A, B, C, D... ad infinitum combination of new and old features etc.

Instead any ranger you see (if you see any at all) will be almost identical to the same rangers you've been seeing for the past couple of years because they have no new choices to make within their spec. But it won't matter anyway because most players will have switched to their elite spec, they will be using their new weapon, with a combination of the new skills. Either you're a same old ranger, or you're this new druid. 1 or 0. Off or on. A or B.

The sad thing is that people are so sick to death of their classes, they run through the same key combinations day-in-day-out that they will clamour for something new. So the original classes will likely not be seen for a long time after the expansion, at least in PvE - and this will give the illusion of variety. But it won't be variety, it will just be another class choosing from another pool of 10 useless skills, 10 viable ones and a single new weapon.

I'm happy to be proven wrong. And all of this could be washed away if they announce (or we find out during the beta that they've been hiding) new skills for original specs, otherwise its just another example of ANet blundering massively over something just so staggeringly simple as building a little variety into the game.

EDIT: Like my reddit post I linked at the top, this ended up being a bit of a rant. There are elements I am looking forward to in HoT. I don't think another Elder Dragon makes a compelling enemy, but I'm looking forward to the character development of the new Destiny's Edge, I think the Mastery system will provide focus for continued development and I want to see new weapon and armour skins. But the lack of skills being added just riled me up something fierce, and I needed to vent. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

[FIFA] How YOU Ruined FIFA15 (if you bought cheap reliable coins)

I've played a lot of games which have been plagued by illegal coin selling. By illegal in this case I mean outside the laws of the game or the terms of service set forward by the developer and effectively signed by each and every player who plays the game (that's the thing you scroll past and click "accept" at the bottom before starting the game for the first time!).

Coin Selling in Other Games
In various games these sites have varying degrees of authenticity (in terms of whether they will actually deliver the product they claim to be able to provide) for example, in Diablo 3 there is a bot which spams a link to a site which claims to be able to sell you Diablo 3 coins and armour - I have no idea how it could ever do that, seeing as item trading is removed from the game at this point, so its an obvious scam. And the players react as I'd expect them to - "please just block the bot" "ignore the spam" etc etc. Reasonable.

In Guild Wars 2 if you pass through the edge of the mists you might be bothered by the occasional coin seller. Generally they are detested, I'm not sure many people take them up on their offer - perhaps they do, but it is not discussed in polite company I can tell you!

What about FIFA?
Then there's FIFA15. Now, coin sellers have been around for a while and for the most part the big sites which operate will not scam you as such - you pay your money and then put a cheap bronze player on the market for the amount you paid for, and they will buy him from you - delivering your product. I'm sure there must be scam sites, which would steal your money or account details - but thats by the by for what I want to talk about in this post.

Games in FIFA15 reward around 350-550 coins depending upon a number of factors (whether you win, quality of your play and your DNF bonus), you might be able to fit three games in an hour considering the breaks between games for squad changes and finding a new opponent. That means that, end-of-season bonus aside, an average above-board player might expect to make around 1500 coins in an hour. If you buy coins you can purchase millions of coins for less than £5 in seconds. It has completely destroyed the Ultimate Team market and ruined this year's game for a lot of us.

So What?
This frankly lazy, selfish and illegal system of coin selling/buying for real money seems to have become an accepted norm amongst a lot of FIFA 15 players - I'll go into why I think this is in a moment, but first I want to set out the three reasons why FIFA15 coin selling is lazy, selfish and illegal. 

1) Coin selling forces card prices far far far outside the scope of any player who does not want to engage in this illegal practice. When you can buy millions of coins in the push of a few buttons, it means that the prices of the best players can be pushed further and further into the many millions of coins - a number of player cards have even reached the upper price limit of 15m coins. There is no way that a normal law-abiding player could earn that amount of money.
This is why buying and selling coins for real money is selfish. Imagine children who don't have free access to their mummy's credit card playing FIFA15, there is no way they could ever buy any high rated players, even if they played every day of their lives for hours on end. All because some lazy, selfish asshat 17 year old yob can't be arsed to earn his players and would rather pay his way to victory.

2) Coin sellers simply cannot be earning their coins legitimately, as I said - the reasonable yield per hour might be around 1500 coins - so its incredibly likely you are not only supporting one illegal industry (coin selling) but also another one (autobuying). 
What about those of us who don't want to support an illegal industry which is built upon bot autobuyers which trawl the online marketplace snapping up any players being sold for a below average price? Again, no chance we could ever compete. These coin selling sites must get their coins from some where and you can be damn sure they aren't playing the game legit to get them. And as the prices of players rise, so the autobuyers ensure they never drop - scalping any players being sold below the average and selling them on again for profit. So - just because some lazy arsehole doesn't want to put the effort in - the rest of us have to suffer through a bloated market trying to compete with autobuyers and coin buying dickweeds outbidding anyone who comes along with their ill-begotten gains. 

3) Coin buying begets coin buying. So, players buy coins, prices rise because people have more money, so players have to buy more coins and more coins. There is no way a new player could ever hope to buy a player worth more than a few thousand at this stage - so now they have to buy coins too - and the prices keep on rising until they hit the golden 15m ceiling. Its frankly ridiculous. For some people at this point the choice is removed - either you buy coins or your enjoyment of the game is severely reduced. 
You are forced to break the terms of service and risk having your account banned in order to compete all because some fucking lazy selfish mindless twats are too braindead to realise what they are doing is fucking up the game for everyone else. Good job you cunts, this is why we can't have nice things.

Morally Bankrupt YouTubers
But the actual buying/selling transaction is only one part of this story, the other half of the story are the morally bankrupt shills known as the YouTubers:

I've followed the FIFA YouTube scene for a long time. And in the past I've enjoyed the content they produced - but over the past year I've been slowly but surely unsubscribing from FIFA content creators one by one as they continue to sell out and lie to their viewers. These coin selling sites fund YouTubers with FIFA coins so that they can continue to make YouTube content without having to.. you know - play the game a bunch. So rather than try to build their fame legitimately with hard work, innovative content and building a fanbase upon trust, they create lacklustre content, and instead take money from shady sites which actively destroy the game they are basing their fame upon and advertise a service to their fans which might lead to any of their viewers who follow the "LINKS IN THE DESCRIPTION BITCHES" and buy coins to be banned from the game and their account terminated. 

The phrase "CHEAP RELIABLE COINS" has become an all-too familiar preface to any and all YouTube FIFA content. The creators themselves have become parodies of themselves - shrieking harpies who create the very lowest of the low - the "pack opening" video (simply a video showing them opening and overreacting to players pulled from FIFA ultimate team packs). HatFilms' recent parody of the whole Pack Opening/Coin buying/selling scene was eerily fantastic:

People (the YTers included) argue they are just trying to make a living. But they ignore the position of trust they occupy and their responsibility to be a role model to their viewers. There are few YTers who really make it in the scene nowadays and for the most part the way they do that is by building a respect amongst their peers and the companies upon which they build their reputation. Is that what KSI and Nepenthez and all the other morally bankrupt shills are trying to do with their content? Hell no - they are trying to make a quick buck while they can and who gives a fuck about anyone else, right? They are supposed to be representatives of the community - and perhaps in supporting coin selling, they are - and that is very very depressing.

The Excuses 
There are usually 2 main excuses touted by the lazy selfish greedy mongs who buy coins. And here is why they are bullshit:

"FIFA points are too expensive!!!!"
FIFA points are a currency introduced by EA - you buy points with money and then spend the points on card packs. They are expensive. But they are a luxury and if the market had not been vastly inflated by coin selling you wouldn't need to do anything but play the game and earn coins legitimately in order to afford the players you want. "FIFA points are too expensive so I have to buy coins!" is a tautological arguement - you only need to look for alternative revenue because people have bought coins, you need to buy coins because you've bought coins. It doesn't matter how expensive FIFA points are.

"You never get anything good in card packs, they aren't worth the money!"
No shit. Whenever you buy a card pack you are gambling and when you gamble the house almost always wins. If you buy a card pack worth 7.5k then you should never expect to get a player worth 7.5 out the other side - you are paying for the thrill of the potential payoff, not input money output player. 

The long and the short of it is that these people are too stupid or too ashamed to admit that the reason they bought coins is because they are lazy and selfish and greedy and would rather blame EA than themselves for fucking up the game.

So What are EA Doing about it?
So we've got punters buying coins, fucking up the market and funding botters, and the YouTubers who advertise the coin selling websites and then you've got the sites themselves scalping players using autobuyers and generally being the scum of the earth. What are EA doing about it? 

Well, up until recently they've been engaging in seemingly random strikes against coin buyers and YTers who advertise the sites:

But if the coin sellers are the pimps then the YouTubers are their girls on the street selling their wares, and if the police (EA in this loose analogy) take them off the streets (ban their FIFA accounts) then you can bet your bottom dollar it won't be long before they're back on the streets (ie, their coin funder will just give them a new account within minutes). This isn't just me being cynical, its exactly what Nepenthez said happens when his account gets banned 

The repercussions for players themselves (if they've bought coins, lets call them punters if we are carrying on the analogy above), are a little more severe. Typically they'll get a warning -  they've bought coins and been caught, and if they do it again their account will be terminated/wiped. Its a pain because they could lose everything they worked/didn't work for. But again - make a new FUT club, sure you lose the ill-begotten coins and players but spend another £10-20 or so and you're back up and running with a club worth several million.  

Random band-aids, really. There was no way for EA to strike at the sites themselves who were selling the coins.

Until a couple of weeks ago when EA took FIFA15's webapp (a browser based system which allowed access to the market and your ultimate team squads) offline. This was the first blow - most coin selling went on through the webapp - it was simply an easier interface. Not the mention that almost all of the autobuying went on through the app as well - without this autobuying we began to see the price of players drop down to more manageable levels (myself I was able to pick up a couple of decent bargains). But then today EA brought the hammer down in a MAJOR way. 

Starting from today all players in FIFA15 Ultimate Team will have a set price range including both a lower and upper limit. The price of these upper and lower limits will be set based upon previous purchasing history of the player and other factors (such as card weight etc). There are a number of repercussions of this drastic change, but primarily this strikes at the fundamental method through which coins are transferred from seller to buyer - typically a player would pay the seller online with real money, then agree on a trade - the buyer would list a cheap bronze card on the market for the price agreed upon by the seller (say 3m coins) and the seller would buy that card from the buyer - effectively transferring the coins over. Now that an upper limit has been set which should be appropriate for the card, you can no longer list a crappy bronze card for 3m - if you want to list a player on the market for 3m you'll have to have a player who is worth roughly 3m (at which point you might as well sell the player legitimately and avoid the risk!).

The price ranges are a blunt instrument. They have effectively removed the chance for traders to make any legitimate money - and that is a real shame. But I believe it is recognition from EA that FIFA15 is a bit of a lost cause. They were not able to quell the problems caused by coin selling in time  - so they've brought the hammer down on the market and the baby has definitely gone out with the bathwater. But if your baby is bathing in fetid bathwater then perhaps that's for the best. 

So what now?
My advice for anyone who was banned and lost everything, and now can't buy coins to make up the difference - fuck you, first of all, but second - adapt. Its perhaps a different game now - maybe you should try earning your money legitimately.
To traders - I'm sorry they messed it up for you. That's fucked up. Hopefully you got the money you needed in time, at least players will be more affordable now. 
To everyone else - enjoy that 150k Di Maria. Sweet.
\u\TheBeardedPole put it most succinctly in his reddit post today, better than I have above: here

Anyway... bring on FIFA16. Its going to be... interesting.


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