The Elephants in the Room: Microtransactions and Mindshare

poeadvert

Four days ago, Path of Exile hypes up the coming 3.0 expansion (due earliest in June/July) and a day later, they post information about the next Legacy League coming in a fortnight that promises nostalgia revisiting old leagues and the faint dangling hope that maybe, just maybe, one will strike it lottery rich and pop a valuable legacy item that cannot ever be obtained by normal means.

They also post on their website Legacy Supporter Pack bundles of $30 and $60 USD to complement the usual $5, $10, $20 for points offerings, and if you were -really- happy, the Atlas of Worlds supporter packs in the $50, $110, $220 and $440 USD ranges have always been available.

Oh, and you can combine microtransaction point purchases within a certain period towards these packs, so if you bought stuff at $20 and$20 before, you just need to top up $10 and qualify for the first tier…

And if you were like me and bought a $50 pack previously, the “Upgrade for $60” button stares at you in the face until you can’t resist clicking it, raking in a bunch of cosmetics for $5 and the 550 points that you wanted in the first place for storage and additional cosmetics and lockboxes.

Oh, and if you don’t believe in transatlantic or transpacific shipping of free advertisement T-shirts, you can have additional points to bling out your digital avatar.

Did I mention that all stash tabs are now on sale for this weekend?

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Three days ago, I sit and stare at the Steam store page where they advertise in large colorful banner headlines that Square Enix is having a 75% off sale and that Final Fantasy is celebrating its 30th anniversary with most games at 50% off.

And as much as I really like buying games at only 75% off, for the Final Fantasy series, 50% off is pretty much as low as it’s going to go, barring really aged games and the odd one or two day rock bottom sale offer.

I hem and I haw.

I look up reviews and try to decide between the better of one odd number or another. I’ve lost track of the franchise since playing through three quarters of 7 and a third of 8.

I have the sudden ambitious surge of an urge to attempt a marathon of Final Fantasy all the way from the original and up…

…except Steam doesn’t offer anything lower than 7 in my region, and it may make more sense to buy 6 and under for Android or IOS, since I’m always carrying phone and iPad around these days. Those aren’t on sale yet though.

I also kind of want to see improvements in what’s changed in the newer versions. Maybe I should attempt the marathon in reverse order!

There are THREE Final Fantasy 13s – the hell, that’s expensive, even at 50% off. Reviews for volume 2 are not great, claiming a bad port. Reviews for volume 3 are -very- good, but add that one should actually experience 1 and 2 for the story before playing 3. Reviews for 1 are mixed, some liking it, some disliking the linearity.

Ohh, this is confusing.

Reviews for Final Fantasy 10 are -very- very good. That seems like a good place to start.

Ha, maybe we should do it in descending order starting from 10 then.

But but if I don’t buy 13 now, it will probably be Christmas before it hits 50 or 75% off again…

Oh, what the heck, I haven’t spent anything on games lately. I can afford the equivalent of a collector’s box edition. Final Fantasy games are classics, after all, and offer tons of gameplay.

Long story short, I end up buying everything from FF8 to FF13, without 12 and the MMO in between (11). Local price $71, or $50 USD.

Given how little free time I actually have, this marathon will take me the better part of forever.

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Two days ago, a family member interrupts my morning ritual with excited shrieks over unrecognized Pokemon appearing all over the place.

Oh. Looks like Pokemon Go has finally released the anticipated Gen 2 Pokemon.

I grab my own phone, braving the risk of cubital tunnel syndrome (“keep my arm straight” is a thing I chant to myself now) and have an immense amount of fun watching new silhouettes resolve into cute critters I’ve never seen before.

You know me, novelty is a big deal for me.

Overnight, the phenomenon of locals starting to carry their phones in their palms, stop and make odd flicking motions is visible once more. Less than at launch, but still more than previously.

Oh, and Pokemon trainers? Niantic would like you to know that Pokemon storage upgrades are 50% off, so you have enough space to hold all the extra Gen 2 Pokemon, for a mere 100 coins!

*twitches*

I’d bought storage upgrades some time before, in anticipation of the Gen 2 launch, but that was a very long time ago – a month or two – and I’d been taking full advantage of the extra space, packing in Gen 1 Pokemon to the tune of 550 of them until the last Valentine’s festival, which offered double candy to clean out the Pokemon.

Suspecting that this was my last chance to do so and get extra candy to boot before Gen 2, I forced myself one night to sit down and do inventory management, tidying everything up.

(Glad I did, because sure enough, it happened.)

But I did have firsthand experience in just how HANDY these pokemon storage upgrades were…

*twitches again at the temptation*

100 coins!

I grabbed one from the free coins I had from fighting and sitting in gyms, but but surely one cannot go wrong with MORE storage?

7 local dollars (or $5 USD) gets you 550 coins. That’s a LOT of pokemons that can be stored – 5 x 50 = 250 – at the current discounted offer.

*twitches*

I have until Feb 26 to think about it.

Less than a Starbucks coffee, y’know. *twitch*

gw2advert

Over in Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet would like you to know that Episode 4 of Living World Season 3 is called the Head of the Snake; that there’s a new raid called Bastion of the Penitent, and that And More includes one legendary rifle in the shape of a ship with a giant cannon on it….

…and here, have some screenshots and a wallpaper.

Our watchword: The less said the better!

Oh, and Evon Gnashblade would like to sell you a $5 USD mini of Demmi Beetlestone (who will never make it back to his office to collect), a $5 USD set of recolored white and pink wings and a $6.56 USD outfit of Gwen’s clothing.

The less said the better, indeed.

Quote of the Day

Zubon has a post up on Overwatch matchmaking, which seems to be nearly a carbon copy of GW2 matchmaking issues, from my “limited grasp on the finer issues of PvP” perspective.

I enjoyed the link he provided to Jeff Kaplan’s forum post about Overwatch matchmaking – it’s a good read – and this particular part really tickled me:

For better or for worse, we focused the design of the game on winning or losing as a team. OW is not a game where you ignore the map objectives and then look at your K/D ratio to determine how good you are. We want you to focus on winning or losing and as a result you do focus on winning or losing. We tried to make it so that losing isn’t the end of the world, but to a lot of people they expect to win far much more than they lose. I sometimes wonder if we were able to clone you 11 times and then put you in a match with and against yourself, would you be happy with the outcome? Even if you lost?

I -immediately- knew what would happen if I could clone myself 9 times and put myself in a GW2 sPvP match with and against myself.

First, there would be a little charr and asura conga line / dance-off in the centre of the arena during which a lot of *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* would be exchanged.

Then there would be a frenzy of AP whoring during which we would take turns to die for achievements where deaths were necessary, a whole lot of class-switching and strategic win-trading.

Finally, we would all get banned for match-fixing and collusion.

But we would be laughing ourselves all the way to the bank and congratulating each other on not having a competitive bone in our bodies and what a hilarious time that was.

Yep, sounds about right.

(Well, ok, there might be one or two strategic “let’s play a real match for fun, and also mostly to throw off any data-sniffing algorithms” and the odd “yo, let’s collect some hard data on how much damage one class does to another using X and Y skills” experiments sprinkled in there too.)

See Keen’s post “I’m Not Competitive” for more on different peoples’ take on competition.

Digital Wanderlust, or You Can Never Go Home Again

So, what happened during “Top priority – Rest my wrist” week?

Well, there was the mildly amusing and somewhat painful observation that as the wrist in question healed, other parts of my body started to take turns aching.

Apparently, this is quite normal and to be expected, as one overworks the other muscles and tendons in compensation for the nonfunctional one.

First it was the other wrist (too much button pressing and door opening presumably), then the lower back protested, and yesterday the neck decided it hated life, committed suicide and went into rigor mortis for 24 hours.

I can only conclude that I’m getting old(er) and my posture is fucked.

The good news is that amidst this tag team symphony of minor strains, I ate healthily, slept earlier, stretched -very- carefully and whatever was bothering me that day seemed to heal itself up by the next day or two.

I imagine that within my body is a little ragtag cartoon group of muscle-repairing cells in an ambulance racing from locale to locate, going “Can things STOP breaking here for just a day, please? Sheesh…”

Or maybe that image just comes from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, one of the many games I’ve been sampling over the last 2-3 weeks.

As I was telling Syl in the comments over at MMO Gypsy, I think I’m done with MMOs for the time being.

GW2 has been becoming less and less of a home, beyond the obligatory raid night with friendly, understanding but not-my-generation people, and the lack of new and novel content is killing my interest slowly but surely.

Most of the achiever content that I cling to as a lifeline when the explorer isn’t sated is either done, or is SO long term that the anticipated grindiness stops me from even contemplating it. I -could- do it, but when faced with the question of whether to spend 12 hours incrementing tiny degrees of progress in GW2 or use those 12 hours to play other games, read and watch Netflix, well, the decision is a no-brainer. There’s no one I want to impress with herculean feats of treadmilling in a constructed game anyway.

See, the more I think about it, the more I think the allure of the MMO comes from two things. The first is the idea of a home and a community, a place you want to spend your virtual ‘second life’ in, surrounded by people you’re happy to live amongst. Hence the themes of longevity, of “I could stay here forever!” being an important consideration when people evaluate MMOs.

The second is the feeling of expanse, of openness, of discovery over a new horizon that a vast and deep virtual world that you don’t understand well yet and want to learn more about. Hence why people lament when any MMO world feels small, constricted, not open and go chasing after procedural sandboxes.

The tragedy of the second is that everything closes up and becomes smaller over the passage of time. GW2 was an immense bounty of new discoveries when it first launched, but now my perception of its world has shrunk to waypoints whose surroundings I can readily recall at will. Don’t get me wrong, the convenience is great for revisiting, but the point is that it was a lot bigger in my imagination when unexplored than after the fog of war disappears.

A mapped world is smaller, no two ways about it. A mapped world is great for everything that comes after, exploitation of its resources in fulfillment of goals and so on. But a mapped world means you already know what is coming up over the horizon as you get closer.

The more I think about it, the more I think the age of MMOs is past. An MMO cannot fulfill both themes at once these days.

How can it? A handcrafted world is finite, limited by the number of developers that can work on it effectively. The number of developers is limited by the number of customers and revenue it can generate. The age of the one single MMO where everyone congregates to is past, everyone is spread out to a million smaller online games now.

Even if we hypothetically assume a mythical game that attracts even more numbers than World of Warcraft pulled in its prime, there must be a limit to how many teams of developers can work effectively on its world without it becoming a Frankenstein mess that turns away players, dropping revenue, which drops number of devs.

A finite world will eventually feel small. It’s just a matter of time.

So then, let’s go for the infinite world. Let’s go for procedural generation on a way more refined and fantastical scale than any singleplayer game currently existing and do it well. Online. Massively multiplayer.

Assuming such a hypothetical behemoth works magically and perfectly, and we have a virtual world on the scale of Earth to explore and colonize and exploit… isn’t it likely we’re going to run into the problem of “Where IS everybody?” “Halp! I can’t find players to play with.”

Given limitless lebensraum, people are going to spread out. Sure, there’s probably going to be clusters of people forming towns and villagers because people are social creatures and like to be near each other, but how far are these towns and villages going to be from one another?

I think of A Tale in the Desert as a good small-scale experiment as to what this mythical MMO is going to look like.

At first, it’s going to look very nice. People will cluster in their towns and villages, forming little metropolises of trade and civilization, while the more adventurous wander out into the wilderness and start the exploration and mapping process.

But then everything around the civilized centers will be known, and the explorers will either venture even further away or grow bored and leave. People attrition from real life all the time in games, so these villages will wind up with abandoned house lots, imitating a form of urban decay. Other players look around, realize their community is breaking up and will either leave the game or accrete to another community in-game, preferably the largest and most populated one.

It will take an act of God for the most social and rooted to their homes to pack up and move from what-is-known and move to lands unknown. (In other words, not bloody likely. Even a dragon invasion on the scale of the Cataclysm is more likely to just chase the homemakers from the game when they’ve had enough of large scale change, or make them more stubborn to rebuild where they’ve decided to live.)

So at most, the ideal MMO of tomorrow is a small known world of established communities with some kind of connected interrelation with the more nomadic explorers that venture into the always-shrinking-once-mapped unknown.

There are so many things that could wrong in this MMO. If the communities don’t need anything from the explorers, there will be no reason to explore. If the explorers don’t need anything from the communities, there will be no reason to have social dealings with them.

Maybe -everybody- wants to explore, and so there will be towns but no one’s in them because everybody’s out in the wilderness. Maybe the balance of self-sufficiency is such that everybody just trundles out to find a nice spot of wilderness for themselves – RIP towns and social communities. Maybe there is too much inter-dependency and reliance on others for today’s players to accept, so few people want to play anyway – RIP MMO.

Anyway, such an ideal hypothetical MMO is years from coming into existence. Much less ambitious fare will come into the picture first, and I’m not at all sure I have any interest in those.

Anything with Fed-Ex fetch quests and collect 10 bodyparts after killling 99 mobs is right out of the equation. So done with those.

Tropes like holy trinity combat, raids, dungeons are pretty likely to show up in MMOs because that’s what most players are familiar with and used to. They do absolutely nothing for me.

To add a little insult to injury, region-locking for most smaller F2P MMOs is a thing. It becomes a principle not to pay any money to companies who are content with smaller pieces of pie in today’s globalized internet-linked world.

Innovation is expensive and dangerously risky. Not innovating produces stale MMOs that enough people will play to keep a small company alive.

Personally, I’m done with stale MMOs.

So over the last 2-3 weeks, this was what I did instead:

Games Played

  • Endless Legend – up to turn 85 of a Broken Lords campaign
  • Deathless: The City’s Thirst – finished a playthrough
  • Learn Japanese to Survive – Hiragana Battle – got up to 15 Hiragana word/letters?
  • Crusaders of the Lost Souls – lost count of the resets, idols in the 100-200+ range
  • Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten – in some spooky cave levels
  • Human Resource Machine – got to puzzle level 17 or so
  • Minecraft: Story Mode – playing on mobile, finished episodes 1 and 2
  • Reigns – also on mobile, finished a playthrough, didn’t manage to trick the devil, but not for lack of trying, gonna restart and try again
  • Minecraft: Simply Magic modpack – was doing good fulfilling my nomadic urge to wander and explore, until the last update crashed the client and I couldn’t move back a version. RIP.
  • Minecraft: BeeHappy modpack – so now I’m growing bees in a skyblock map!

 

Books Read

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone (Book 2 of the Craft Sequence)

 

Netflix Watched

  • Van Helsing – binge-watched the entire season 1, the zombie apocalypse with vampires instead of brainless zombies
  • Bitten – got up to season 2, episode 3, based on Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books, the books are way better, but it’s interesting to see the casting decisions and how like or unlike one’s image of the characters they are
  • Minority Report – watched again for fun, looks so dated now
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – made it through episode 1, which was like floating through a drug-haze of surrealism. I am convinced it will all tie together in the end, but it’s such a hard slog at the beginning that it’s hard to continue.
  • Trollhunters – binge-watching like crazy, up to episode 17. I am totally going to buy a ton of troll toys / collectibles when they finally come out. Got so many 80s cartoon and Amblin movie nostalgia flashbacks while watching – intelligent not-just-for-kids plotlines, what madness is this?

 

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In other words, I expanded inexorably through a fantasy landscape as a faction of fallen spirits encased in suits of knightly armor; juggled politics and morality as a necromancer lawyer negotiating water deals to prevent the desert city Dresediel Lex from drying up; and fought shadowy Hiragana warriors whose only weakness is enunciating the sounds they represent.

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Perhaps the most entertaining Spaced Repetition System ever created. This is ‘a’ – aka a man standing upright with two arms outstretched and a swirl of magic about him, going “Ahh!” Or maybe that’s just how I’ll ever remember what this word/character sounds like.

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Earned 7.79 tredecillion gold; summoned barbarians and rangers and knights to fend off a rampaging army of undead revenants;

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(while avoiding being traumatized by a ghostly barbarian’s manhood)

wrote spaghetti code to struggle to the next floor of a soulless office building;

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went on a Minecraftian animated adventure to assemble the heroes of the Order of the Stone in order to save the world; lived and died as a lineage of 63 cursed kings making tradeoff decisions to keep church, people, army and the treasury neither too low nor too high; wandered the wilderness, made a cave in the side of a mountain and started learning magic; and bred bees.

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Lots of bees.

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Industrial apiaries filled with bees. (The ugly yellow block things.)

Feels like the journey’s just beginning.