Blaugust Day 21: Sleep is for the Weak, and They’re All Ok By Me (On Gaming Priorities and Balance)

Yesterday, I managed to discover one thing I prioritized over writing a blog post and meeting the Blaugust deadline: SLEEP.

It was 9pm on a Friday night, all the time in the world to scratch out a blog post really, but since I’ve been nursing a mild cold that only fills up half a trash can full of tissues (as opposed to nastier ones that devours boxes of tissues and fills a trash can to overflowing) and feeling moderately woozy (which could also have been caffeine withdrawal from two Starbucks lattes downed mid-week to speed up the work day…)

…I looked from computer to bed, and bed to computer, and then said, “Forget it. Tomorrow’s Saturday. I’ll knock out two posts.”

The extra 2-3 hours feels really good this morning though. I suspect I’d been shaving off an hour or two the last few days and accumulating sleep deprivation that way.

Funnily enough, before I crashed, I managed to make time to knock out GW2 dailies and attend guild missions (and Trove dailies while feeling grumpy about how long weekly guild missions were taking this Friday.)

And dinner, of course. And a shower. Before game. Then sleep. Because health.

In my roundabout way, I’m trying to figure out how to segue into a topic that part of the blogosphere’s been talking about lately: Gaming priorities.

  • Apparently Izlain and Eri started it, with a Couch Potatoes AMA, where they talk about regrets from their gaming habits. (Which I will admit I have not prioritized any time to listen to, so am quoting off someone else’s summary. I’m a poor audio learner, ok?)
  • Braxwolf picks up the thread, where he wonders about the impact of having too many sources of short-term gratification tempting our younger generations and if this stands in the way of them being able to endure hardship for long term benefits.
  • Rowan Blaze adds on to it, pointing out that gaming is just one of a myriad other activities that it is possible to become obsessed with or addicted to, at the expense of other things. He goes on to cover gaming and its possible effects on relationships.

Then there are other posts that aren’t explicitly about gaming priorities, but seem to me to be related:

  • James over at Goobbue Crossing is feeling the grind in GW2, flooded with currencies he has little present use for and can’t figure out, and feeling under-motivated (and not really rewarded) to get past the learning hump.

Plus pretty much any and every other post that laments the fact that there are too many games out there (including those on one’s Steam list) and/or the need to focus playing only a few of those at any one time, and/or the challenge of finding enough hours in the day to knock out a blog post in addition to the above.

I find myself in total agreement with Syl’s comment over at Braxwolf’s:

There’s always something to learn in nature and it so happens that in nature too, substances that can heal you very often can harm/kill you too (aka ‘the dose makes the poison’). Games or rather escapism through games, has the potential to do a lot of good in a person’s life; it can get them through a time of hardship and tragedy, it can cure them of loneliness and insecurity. For a time. Until it stops doing these things and becomes the opposite.

The keyword is balance. Sometimes you know when to stop and re-balance, sometimes you’ll learn the hard way… It’s never too late to look at your life and change things if you really want to, especially if you’re still young and capable.

Moderation and balance, and becoming clearer in what you value, and thus should prioritize.

It’s easy to see that in Braxwolf’s case, one of his values is long-term benefits/greater good over immediate hedonistic happiness, and Rowan strongly values his relationship with Scooter, for example.

I can totally relate with James’ currency flood feeling, every time I try to get back to LOTRO, my bags overflow with things I’m sure I don’t need to bother with right yet, but have no idea where to put them in the meantime, and it feels like a hurdle I’m not willing to cross because some things about LOTRO just don’t appeal to me as much as other MMOs.

I try to play Eve Online, and while the learning hump there feels like a fun challenge to get over, I usually end up asking myself, but why would I do it? I would be paying a subscription (or grinding isk for one) to basically be someone else’s content, because I’m not really motivated by socializer or killer preferences. I’d be better off playing an MMO that hits my more favored Explorer or Achiever tendencies, and does so in a less directly competitive manner.

Different people may value different things more highly, and prioritize them differently as a result. It’s really all about balancing what we value first, and not let any of them take the upper hand and overwhelm everything else that we also value.

And if that does happen, well, it’s a learning experience… learned the hard way.

I dunno, but I rarely frame these things as a regret. Regret to me, kind of says that you wished they hadn’t happened. But in my opinion, I needed them to happen in order that I could learn valuable lessons and readjust my life as a result. One doesn’t learn by coasting through life. One only learns when one stumbles, or rams facefirst into a wall, or falls flat on one’s bum. Hurts, but learning to get up again is also another one of those important life lessons.

Incidentally, the longest continuous gaming session I ever experienced was in my foolhardy youth, where winning was everything, and my team raced two other teams on a MUD quest marathon to kill 30 raid-like bosses. It took us 9 hours. We won. One other team called it after that, and the last team gamely plodded on and finished at the 11th hour.

After that, I said “My god. That was crazy. Never again. Worth the experience once. But never, never again.”

No regrets. But I definitely learned the boundaries of one of my priorities that day.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 21.

Blaugust Day 6: Mind the Gap (GW2 / MMOs in General)

Mind the gap... the really big one...

Last night (or midnight, rather) I was idly listening to the GW2 Gamescom livestream and the panel that was mostly a recap of what we already know about Heart of Thorns and a lot of advertising to new players about how NOW is the best time to join the game.

No sub fee, buy one expansion and get the base game for free and available to play right away, probably the nicest community you’ll ever meet in online gaming, totally respectful of your time – if you want to play PvP, you can just jump in direct and immediately play without having to grind for stats in PvE; if you want to take a break for several months, you don’t have to scramble to “catch up”; beyond leveling to 80, you’ll be pretty much equal to any veteran player…

… albeit, one of the developers hedged, without the three years of gameplay experience that a veteran has.

It’s that exact skill-based knowledge/practice/experience gap that will absolutely guarantee that a new player stepping into PvP will get his face wrecked for at least the first few matches.

It’s that gap that lingers in the back of my mind casting doubts, even as I try to assure and encourage new players that the design of Guild Wars 2 puts everyone on a stats even playing field, letting friends downscale down to accompany those newly entering Tyria and still face a challenge, rather than blowing everything away with a sneeze.

It’s the gap that I suspect separates the veteran dungeon “elitists” who just want to earn four dungeon rewards in the space of one hour and not have to explain every last nuance to an unending stream of evidently-no-clue-what’s-going-on newbies from the regardless-how-long-I’ve-played-the-game I’m-still-nervous-about-grouping-in-dungeons-because-I-lack-that-specific-amount-of-repeated-practice crowd.

It’s the gap that tends to yield a very common behavior – just like Wilhelm experienced from his daughter when first starting out in Minecraft – an almost condescending god-you’re-so-slow here’s-the-RIGHT-way-to-play-this let-me-just-play-the-game-for-you impatient attitude.

People often forget to be patient during the learning curve, and to give others that space to learn at their own pace.

It’s often made doubly tricky by the fact that different people learn at different paces and like different styles of learning – one may be happy being spoonfed answers and fast-tracked to success, another may find it overwhelming to be a) fed too many answers too fast and smothered with handholding or b) fed zero answers and left to scramble around lost and frustrated.

(I’ve no solutions to the above besides the suggestion that the learner should take control of their own pace of learning and speak up if they’re overwhelmed – “Slow down! Hang on! Let me figure this out on my own!” or “Halp! I’m lost! Tell me outright what to do now!”)

But despite the existence of the gap, I’m of the mind that the stats-even playing field is still the best bet.

After all, what is the alternative?

Vertically progressing stats tend to WIDEN the gap between the veteran and the newbie, assuming they play at equal rates, one starting later than the other.

Not only does the veteran have more knowledge/practice, aka “skill”, they have numerical superiority on their side in terms of levels and stats and combat performance.

Err, no. That doesn’t help things.

The newbie only has the hope of “catching up” with the veteran if the vet stops playing, and that can also happen skill-and-knowledge-wise too, stats or no stats.

A stat reset with an expansion, leveling the stats playing field temporarily?

Well, this might help, if you only care about the people -currently- playing your game.

Basically the field temporarily equalizes, beginning a new race among current participants until the disparity begins to widen out and the gap makes itself known once again.

As for those that took a break, well, tough, you’re left in the dust. Not very encouraging motivation to return, is it?

Ultimately, one is probably better off just making sure that playing field -stays- equalized at all times.

How about sloping the field so that the newbies tumble down to where the veterans are at?

That is, making it easier and easier for the newbies to “catch up” to the vets.

I suppose this is what WoW has been doing for several years now, speeding the process of leveling, making ‘on-par’ gear a lot easier to get ‘now’ as compared to ‘then,’ and so on.

One does run the risk of pissing veterans off, the ol’ “I ran uphill in the snow at midnight to attain the same level of success, and here it just falls into your lap, bow-tied and gift-wrapped” protest.

And I don’t think it actually addresses the core issue of learning the knowledge and getting the practice required for competency or mastery. It probably makes it worse, because of less learning time experienced before getting on-par stats-wise.

One intriguing possibility is the prospect of making things ‘harder’ for the veteran, skew the playing field into a slope for the veteran, as it were.

But there are issues there as well.

One is player acceptance, especially from a ‘fairness’ standpoint. For instance, I still really think the present downscaling in GW2 is more than a little borked, mostly because the vet also has access to characters of that level range and can probably game/twink to better performance results over a true newbie or a downscaled level 80 character.

Another is incentive and reward structure. MMO folks tend to only willingly do something ‘harder’ and away from the path of least resistance when there’s something in it for them, that they -want-.

I think a key aspect is autonomy, is the choice to experience something harder within the player’s control?

I didn’t have issues with GW1 hard mode at all, for example. I knew it existed, I sometimes played on it, and mostly I chose not to, because I preferred the easier feeling while traveling through the world. I’m sure others switched immediately to hard mode and never looked back.

The increase in fractal levels appears to be something along this front, allowing players to voluntarily pick their difficulty level.

It’s what I do in Trove too, I try to find that point of flow where it’s not super-easy and unrewarding, and not super-hard to the point where I’m spending ten minutes beating on one boss monster. (Might do it once to say I’ve done it, but not a productive use of time otherwise.)

The last flaw in the sloped playing field is that of separation and exclusion.

That happens naturally. You must be ‘this tall’ to ride or pass that obstacle. Not skilled enough? Guess you can’t do this or that ‘hard mode’ then. Folks that can will tend to segregate themselves away from those who can’t, posing an ever-increasing dilemma of how in the world can those-who-can’t ever learn or cross the gap then?

I suspect the gap will always be with us though.

It’s the nature of the beast, humans are learning creatures and someone who is an old hand at something will always have an advantage over someone coming in brand new for the first time.

Perhaps where we need to focus on is not so much the threat of the gap, but the threat of words like “have an advantage over” and the impulse to segregate into exclusive silos.

And that, I believe, is where the perfectly flat playing field does its best work, if accompanied by incentives to cooperate and form open, loose communities.

If you’re not competing head to head versus each other, or if success is not hinged on 100% top-of-the-line 24/7 optimal performance from all participants, the fact that one player is somewhat better than another becomes less divisive or disagreeable.

Player B may be contributing less than player A, but hey, they are still contributing, and depending on how the game tweaks matters, the combined rewards for player B’s mere presence might benefit all.

Being even stats-wise reduces the number of hoops player B has to jump through to reach equivalency with player A, they just need to focus on the actual knowledge accrual and practice that player A has, rather than spend hours grinding from Tier 1 to Tier X.

The one critique that I can think of regarding this goes like so: “What if Player B is incapable of gaining the knowledge and practice of Player A?”

Vertically progressing stats would give Player B the ‘hope’ of matching Player A’s performance, if he or she puts in the time required to obtain better stats than Player A.

(We are, of course, assuming that Player A doesn’t use that same time to improve stats-wise, staying on-par or even getting better in terms of stats, while still staying ahead in terms of knowledge and practice.)

I guess it boils down to what we value. Especially in our games.

Is it more respectable for someone to be better than another person, due to having more knowledge or practice at something? Does it feel ‘fair’ as in “beaten fair-and-square?”

Is it worth more respect for someone to be better than another person, by clocking in the hours and ‘showing up,’ regardless of actual productivity or performance?

Is it worth more respect, even, for someone to be better than another by the virtue of how much real life cash they decide to put into a game?

Are there other measures of a person, beyond skill, time and money, that we are, for now, not really quantifying or rewarding – such as the person’s actual character (as in character development) behind the avatar, or attitude, or sportsmanlike conduct, or sociability or leadership or ability to be a community nucleus and pull in others to work and play as a team?

Perhaps we should support more games which are cognizant of and in congruence with what we value, and less of those that do not.

Maybe we need to be less obsessed with measurement altogether, less concerned with a gap that’s always going to exist and ranking people on this side as ‘better’ than people on the other side, then trying to figure out how to help someone ‘cross the gap.’

Maybe that’s a pipe dream, since there are, after all, gaps that should be crossed, such as gaps of poverty (something that cripples performance, yields a poor standard of living) or education (knowledge/skill) in real life.

Or maybe it’s just about having a baseline. We would probably want to (ideally) bring everyone across a poverty gap, but when we start to obsess over slight differences and segregate ourselves based on earning a hundred dollars more or less, well, that might be taking things too far.

Speaking of which, that’s about as far as that metaphor will stretch, methinks, so I shall stop.

No real answers here, just some food for thought.

Oh, and on your way out… Do mind that gap.

This post was brought to you by the letter B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 6.

GW2: The Value of Virtual Currency

I’ve always found games that offer a way to swap between a cash shop bought-for-real-life-money currency and an earnable in-game one rather fascinating. (As a layman observer anyway – I’d make a poor economist or statistician.)

Partially because it enables me as a player to make the decision to trade up my time or my cash for similiar benefits, but also mostly because it allows me to roughly peg a value on items being sold for the in-game currency in terms of real life money.

It’s kinda the same comparison as “Should I buy a $25 mount?” (or say, spend it on five starbucks drinks or 2-5 indie games instead) just a few more steps further.

(For the record, for me specifically, the coffee and the other games would win. The intrinsic enjoyment inherent in the latter beats any urge to prance around showing off to other people something shiny to make them envious, when other mounts are just as functional… and that thing looked hellaciously ugly to me – gimme a flying lava dragon on fire, maybe THEN I’ll have a dilemma.)

Some other people go even further and start pegging in-game currency earning rates with real life money equivalency at an hourly rate. Which is rather ruthlessly logical and makes a certain kind of sense.

Except I think it fails to take into consideration the kind of experience you’re having for that hourly rate. If your work is crummy and soulless, one is going to have a more miserable time for the extra cash you ‘earn’ versus leisure time spent/’wasted’ playing a game for enjoyment. If you’re grinding dungeons or farming mobs to the point of it feeling as crummy and soulless as work, then please examine if your days and nights are best spent ‘working’ at the game and in real life. (And if your work isn’t crummy and soulless and tires you out at the end of the day, you’re having a ball working overtime -and- earning lots of money to happily spend on the game, then I want your fucking job.)

Anyhow, Puzzle Pirates was interesting to me because I wasn’t willing to put down more than 3 bucks for a couple of Doubloons, and preferably spend no real life money at all, but I was quite content to “grind” out a couple hours each night a gold haul in pirating booty and exchange that for Doubloons until I had enough for the modestly priced badges that unlocked other aspects of the game.

My main purpose there was simply to get a taste of everything and practice puzzling, for free if at all possible, so it worked out well for me to stand around in rags with holes in it (swabbie pirate style, y’know) and offer up the in-game cash that was a byproduct of my game experience to others who were a lot more committed to the game and willing to feed real money into it.

Spiral Knights made me get the calculator out.

Pretty much anything you want to do in Spiral Knights will cost you some amount of Energy. If you’re a very casual player, you can wait out 24 hours for 100 ephemeral Mist Energy to recharge, but past a certain point, you’ll find you’ll need more than that (to craft better weapons/gear, or start a guild, etc.) and have to get it either via cash or by trading the in-game gold for it. I was okay with the concept, likening it to a sort of arcade game which costs you a quarter for each play and so on, but I wanted to figure out if the amount I was being charged was reasonable before I even gave them any real life money.

Now, the most expensive way to get Energy is to buy it for $2.45 which nets you a mere 750. Each “map level” you play through in Spiral Knights will cost you 10 Energy to experience. That figures to 3.27 cents per map. (That’s before calculating any potential returns from the gold crowns you earn while playing through it. I wasn’t, as I didn’t want to make myself ‘expect’ to earn a certain minimum sum in order to break even.) I was okay paying that amount for the experience of playing the game, assuming I played through 10 levels, that’s about 30 cents for some entertainment. Seemed reasonable to me.

The fun thing with Spiral Knights is because nearly everything costs Energy, you can put a dollar value on it very quickly. The death penalty in Spiral Knights occurs when you revive, as it has an associated Energy Cost. Depending on the tier of difficulty you are at, the first death and revive starts out pretty negligible, and then steadily ramps up to a frankly insane and uneconomic $3.27 (or 1000 Energy) by the 8-10th death. The interesting thing is where each player chooses to stop in the middle, of course, and whether they stop only when they run out of Energy for good.  (And I’m sure kids who have their Energy bought for them and people who don’t think about these things and just buy it when they run out contribute a huge amount to Three Rings’ coffers from this death tax. For the record, I back out after the third death most of the time. Repeating the level grind just means more opportunities to earn in-game cash rather than spend real life money.)

Want to start a guild? It’ll cost you $1.64, or 500 Energy. You can craft Tier 1 and Tier 2 weapons for free by waiting for your Mist Energy tank to refill each day, but at Tier 3 and up, it costs 200, 400 and 800 Energy respectively plus some amount of in-game gold crowns (which again I didn’t bother converting as I just wanted to get a ballpark feel.) That means a T3 item costs 65.4 cents to make, a T4 item $1.31 and T5 $2.62.

That last bit took a while to swallow for me. Facing the prospect of spending 2 odd bucks for a top of the line weapon, and possibly thrice that for an equivalent armor, helmet and shield meant around $10 for a max level character, assuming no experimentation with other weapon playstyles (and I love experimenting and playing around and didn’t want to be taxed that badly for it.) Was this a game I wanted to invest time and money in, knowing the ballpark ranges of how much it might cost at the top?

In the end I decided it didn’t seem that over the top in comparison to other blatantly pay-to-win games where a really good sword might cost upwards of $50 or more. (Won’t find me in those, ever.) And that I’d re-evaluate as I got closer to tier 5, as there was plenty of other content in between where I was starting and where ‘max’ might be.

Ultimately, I ended up dilly dallying around T3 with an odd T4 weapon here and there as the difficulty peaked, and I’m quite content with where I am and what I paid for the period of time experiencing the game, with the option to go back and play, only paying money when I decide to actively enjoy the game again.

With prior experiences like that, you’ll find that I’m quite comfortable with the concept of the Currency Exchange in Guild Wars 2, where players can exchange gold for gems or vice versa.

It’s a good way for players with too much free time and players with too much spare cash to trade with each other the scarcer resource, with developers taking much of the profit in cold hard cash for designing a game experience worth spending time on.

What is currently now perplexing me in GW2 is the surfeit of choice of things to spend $$$ on, and in which currency should I be doing it in.

Y’see, after very patient daily farming for an hour or two in Southsun and selling off most of the T6 materials (mournfully watching my Legendary hopes recede further into the distance), the odd rare collecting here and there, and selling off all the heavy loot bags that drop in WvW for me, very steadily, day by day, my banked gold increased by 2-4 odd gold until my short term goal of hitting the Golden title was reached yesterday.

(This is, of course, absolutely nothing compared to how much the dungeon farmers and TP traders make daily, but on the other hand, I’ve not gone insane, burned out on the game or become even more misanthropic from partying up with people I can’t stand, which is a net positive.)

Bottom line is, I now have 200 gold that have fulfilled their purpose screaming “USE ME” in the bank. And I’m pondering what to do with it. It’s not like it’s earning any interest in there.

A wise trader would naturally say, invest the gold in something, so that you can flip stuff on the TP and make your money work for you and all that sort of thing. I admit to being mildly interested in learning how to dabble with that sort of thing, but a casual look at the TP suggests there are already TP flippers in residence in many niches, and that I might lose money making unwise speculations while trying to start out. Still, it might be worthwhile reserving some amount of gold towards learning how to invest/speculate/sensibly gamble.

On the completely luxury spendthrift other hand, I am still watching prices for the Molten Firestorm miniature. What can I say. I have developed an unhealthy obsession about it. I blame spending way too long a time breathing in those lava fumes in the Molten Facility. The buyout prices are hovering around 72 gold. Take the current rate of approximately 3 gold for 100 gems, and you’ll find that this completely unnecessary and fairly useless (but prettily animated and fairly heftily sized) item costs an equivalent of 2400 gems. Or $30.

DUDE, THREE YEARS AGO YOU MADE FUN OF PEOPLE BUYING A $25 SPARKLE PONY. If you buy a $30 mini-robot, even with in-game cash, you’ll never live it down.

So… yeah. I could buy all the baby miniatures for less than that, and I haven’t bought any of ’em because they ain’t cute enough for me (the lion cub’s not too bad, but I’m waiting for the kitten to see if it tempts me.) As much as I would get a kick out of having a Firestorm the size of my Asura running around with me, shooting off its cute rocket jets, I just cannot bring myself to buy it at a $30 equivalency value. Which makes me a little sad, but possibly not as sad as I would be if I bought a $30 miniature and had the other voice in my head make fun of me daily.

A third more insidious voice in my brain points out that I had been overlooking something. When I buy stuff off the TP, I generally want it -now- and thus am very used to using buyout prices to benchmark my willingness to buy. In this case, the voices have a consensus that $30 is too much, no matter how fucking awesome I think that mini is. But if I put up a custom order, and the custom orders are hovering at around 55 gold (most of them flippers, I’m sure), ie, 1834 Gems, or $22.93…

Oh. So now that’s -less- than a sparkle pony (barely), with in-game currency, and it would be up to fate whether anyone would be willing to sell one to me at that price.

That is somehow slightly more palatable. I am not sure why.

Thing is, there’s plenty of other things I could be using the gold for.

I -could- spend all of it on a quest to build my Legendary and probably still need a shitton more gold to do it, which seems like pointless treadmill running to me. I’m already somewhere between 50-100 T6 materials just playing the game how I like it, so in about twice or thrice the time period I’ve spent, I’ll fill up to a stack of 250 without really noticing it that badly (and I do quite enjoy materials farming in peace and quiet and have learned a bit more on how to go about it since Southsun.)

I kinda want a really posh magic find set of armor and weapons and runes and all. That is, exotics and Ascended quality. With a similar Charr cultural look to my berserker set. Other people are running around with 400% mf in Southsun and I’ve been hovering at 300% in my cheapo rares, feeling somewhat inadequate and not as efficient as I could be. That would cost gold too.

I’ve also been dabbling with my extremely crummy thief in WvW, which I decked out in level 80 rares just to get a feel for it before deciding to go condition or crit. Fights are… not going so well. I’m not used to thief timing and playstyle to begin with, so it’s been uphill going with comparatively poorer stats. It’s been sufficient to see potential promise but it looks like I’ll have to invest in exotics and superior runes to get a proper baseline. So that would take gold too.

I -could- buy both a condition and crit suit for him so that I can keep swapping traits for 3 silver. But a) that would be very annoying without a way to easily save specs. b) they’ll soulbind to him and be useless for any other character, and he’s a bloody huge Norn, which is making me think is at least -some- of the problem of not being that stealthy for a thief. (Don’t ask me what I was thinking, it seemed like a good idea at the time.) So maybe one suit and build is good enough for him and I should make a new Asura thief too to try the other type of build.

Character slots cost money too, y’know. An altholic’s brain never rests, and has been desiring a female Norn warrior, an asura thief, mebbe a Charr thief, an asura mesmer or elementalist or both (asura master race! furry charr at heart!)… you get the picture. For 24 gold each, that seems okay to help unlock more character slots, rather than paying 10 bucks each time because I’m still reserving my rl cash budget for the Consortium pick and/or logging axe (if they ever show up.)

I got a bank slot that needs unlocking too. And one more bag slot for my asura, who keeps filling up with loot too fast in WvW and has taken over as my primary there, while the Charr is relegated to PvE. That’s 30 gold to gems.

Put like that, I can see 200 gold disappearing in a hurry. Just got to figure out which to prioritize first.

Decisions, decisions. Which would you guys go for first, and why?