Hearthstone: This kiddie pool sure has a lot of leaks

November 18, 2014

More observations as I roll my face across the iPad ‘playing’ Hearthstone:

Just like MtG (or basically most card games of this type), Hearthstone is a major Pay-4-Power game. Epic and Legendary cards are silly strong, and as soon as you see someone drop a few on you in a game, you might as well take your participation trophy and move on (unless of course you also have a stacked deck). The fact that you can’t trade cards further pushed Hearthstone into a wallet-warrior game, because smart trading can’t help you catch up; only grinding or cash.

Speaking of participation trophies, Hearthstone has a few major design flaws in its setup. For one, having a bot automate conceding ranked games for you is amazingly effective. You still get XP for your ‘effort’, and you don’t lose anything. Plus, should you run across another concede bot who goes first (roughly 1 in 5-6 games for me currently), you get a free win to grind towards the gold card/character rewards and the 3-win 10 gold reward.

The whole ranked setup is also a bit of a joke. The only reward is at rank 20, and you can’t drop below rank 20 once you get to it. Also you can’t lose progress while working towards rank 20, so that auto-concede bot will eventually (surprisingly quickly) get you to rank 20. At rank 20 things are an expected mess. Concede bot farmers aside, you will also run into a whole bunch of ‘smurf’ decks just looking to smash people, again because Blizzard designed the system to not only allow, but actually made it incredibly easy for them to sit at that level. Safe to say a solid 50% or so of ranked games aren’t competitive (generously calling any relatively even deck game of Hearthstone competition here).

The game is perfect for ‘playing’ while you do something more interesting, because during your opponents turn whether you are looking at the screen or not doesn’t matter; you can’t do anything anyway. On the surface this is just boring while you wait with nothing to do, but go a bit below the surface and this is actually a major, major removal of interesting decisions and strategy.

In MtG you had to always be aware of the status of your opponent. How many cards they have, how much untapped land they have, how much land could they potentially need to use during your attack phase based on the creatures they have out, etc. None of this exists in Hearthstone.

If it’s your turn, whether someone ends their turn with 10 crystals or 0 doesn’t matter. Whether someone has 10 cards in hand or 0 doesn’t matter (overdrawing aside). They can’t have tapped or untapped creatures. There is no regen they need to pay for. No creature abilities they need to pay for. So many tactical player decisions are gone. Not your turn in Hearthstone? Nap time!

Regeneration is one creature ability completely missing currently, as is its counter bury. Flying is another, as is landwalk (landwalk would be impossible since Hearthstone only has one type, not five like in MtG), so is first strike. So are any player-active abilities beyond on-summon stuff. The game does have a whole bunch of dice roll abilities; such as one creature who randomly deals 3 damage to anyone; friend or foe. Sure you can attempt to limit the randomness by having fewer potential targets, but that critical creature you need killed who has one hitpoint might still be standing if Hearthstone randomizes the card not in your favor and decides the damage is all going to go to heroes rather than that card. Super fun when that happens, and a silly amount of cards are designed with such randomization.

Then there are just more general problems. For instance, there are a TON of board-clear cards/combos. A ridiculous amount honestly. On top of this there are even more single-removal cards, and of course none of this can really be countered since when it’s not your turn, you just sit and spin until it is. Imagine if every deck in MtG had 10 copies of Swords to Plowshares (but without the healing aspect, and the card destroying everything) and you get a decent idea of what I mean.

This leads to basically only playing enough cards to gain board advantage, but not ‘too many’ to lose card advantage when the inevitable board-clear happens. Game after game this is the pattern, and because Hearthstone has so few real patterns, it’s just boring. Arena is again a bit better, but only slightly so, and Arena is (or should be, anyway) like the ARAM to the real meat of ranked/SR, to bring this into LoL terms. Imagine if ARAM was the only interesting/balanced version of LoL? That’s Hearthstone in a nutshell, except if you removed 99% of the needed ability from actually playing ARAM and gave every hero a 1m damage Karth ult on a 30sec cooldown.

It really is not only a shockingly shallow game, but a basically flawed game as well, not just by Old Blizzard standards, but just general game design standards. If this was an SOE or EA product, it would still be a sub-par effort from those studios. For Old Blizzard? This is Ghost/Warcraft Adventures, only released instead of rightly aborted.

 


AA: Trion does its best to ruin a good thing

September 29, 2014

ArcheAge makes for some rather interesting blogging fodder, and hopefully I can get through the major points and get my point across in a way that makes sense, but no promises, as this might get rambly.

Let’s start with the business model. Flat out, AA has one of the worst versions of F2P in the genre. For starters playing for free is basically a non-option due to the limits of labor point generation, among other crippling restrictions. What’s really awesome about this is that it encourages free players to stay logged in even when not playing to generate labor points. Such brilliant design was no doubt a major factor in the terrible queue situation that AA had (has?) at launch.

Then there is the pay-to-win (P2W) factor, which really should be renamed pay-for-power (P4P) overall, because that’s really what it is. In almost no game can you outright buy wins, but in many you certainly can buy power so that if all other factors are equal, the guy who spent more wins (or gets ahead, has an advantage, etc, as you can’t always ‘win’ in an MMO).

I don’t mind the P4P model if its honest and upfront (gold ammo in WoT before it was removed, for instance), because then I can decide if I want to get involved in something like that. What I hate is the “oh no we don’t sell power in the shop, just convenience” bullshit developers try to shill you, and Trion has plenty of this in AA. From labor points (buy a potion to get more!), to pet/mount levels (buy a potion to level them up!), to lottery item chests; if there is a scummy F2P itemization strategy for the cash shop, Trion has included it in AA.

The multiple currencies situation really brings this home, as AA has three. The first is in-game gold like all MMOs have. Then you have ‘loyalty’ points, which you earn 5 of each day if you sub and log in. This buys you a few things in the item shop, but not much, which leaves it as little more than an insult from Trion. “Thanks for your $15 a month, feel free to buy some table crumbs from our store”. The third is the cash-only currency, which buys everything else.

The double dipping ($15 for the basically required sub, plus a fully stocked, P4P item shop) is bad. Really bad. The fact that you have to run the game through Trion’s feeble little Steam-clone Glyph sucks as well. Trion has 2.5 games released (Rift, AA, Trove/Defiance), and the Glyph shop has an embarrassingly small selection of other titles to purchase (Not that you would want to anyway, though I would LOVE to meet someone who has, must be a fascinating creature). Glyph is just bloat garbage that delays getting into AA, so thanks for that Trion. Also thank you for your anti-hack program that installs itself without asking. I’m sure there will never be an issue with that, plus who doesn’t love random stuff installing itself on your PC, right? Also that program delaying getting into AA is another plus of you being the publisher!

The MMO that XL Games (the developer) made seems pretty great so far. It really does, and I’ll cover that in future posts. The trash Trion stacked on top of said game brings the experience down sadly. The translation that took Trion so, so long to do is at Google translate-level, and even some of the voice work in the game isn’t in English. The whole “Join us in beta” email campaign that was really a “buy into beta” message was insulting. The launch was a borderline disaster thanks to multiple Trion missteps. Plus given Trion’s history with Rift, I’m not exactly confident that they won’t find a way to (further) screw with AA.

AA the game is great. What Trion the publisher has done with it is terrible. Seems that even when we get nice things in this genre, they come with something that reminds us we aren’t allowed to just fully enjoy ourselves. So a big ‘Thank you’ to Trion, for going above and beyond in attempting to take a fun MMO and trying to ruin it, what you have done really is next-level incompetence and scumbaggery.

PS: While its possible XL Games forced Trion into all of the F2P-based crap (there is no doubt who caused the Glyph garbage), and they are just a helpless unthinking drone in all of this, until this is made clear, they get full blame.


Why we all need AA to be successful

September 24, 2014

I should have a “specific to me” post about my ArcheAge experience when I’m around level 30 (currently 23), but today I want to talk more ‘big picture’ about the game and the genre, because I think a lot of interesting things are happening.

Trion hinted that they have well over 2 million active players right now, which is double the number they had signed up for beta. As both beta and release are ‘free’, that’s pretty interesting. What caused a million+ people to get into AA now rather than show interest when it was in beta? Positive word-of-mouth, just general release hype, or something else?

The 2 million number is also interesting, as that’s also the number of subscribed accounts FFXIV has last we heard. With WoW down to 5 million or so and dropping, are we really that far away from the day WoW is no longer the biggest MMO out in the West (I think MMOs in the East have already surpassed it, but the East isn’t a place I keep an eye on for such things.)? One can only hope, as it will mean the genre is out of the shadow of that once-great, now-bleh title.

Another funny bit about AA and FFXIV; they both beat WoW, but in different ways. FFXIV is vanilla WoW done right for 2014; its focused, and what it focuses on it does very, very well. AA is a 2014 version of what WoW could/should be; it has a bit of EVERYTHING, but that everything fits together to form a virtual world rather than a collection of lobby activities, all without insulting the ability of the player.

Moving to AA specifically, what does this mean for the genre if the game is able to retain players like FFXIV has? What if AA has 2 million+ subs after 6 months? For one I think it would drive home the fact that launching the game as F2P was a mistake by Trion, especially because of how poorly the F2P crap has been layered over the otherwise solid foundation of the game (remember AA was developed and launched as a sub MMO initially). That said, if AA is successful, might it become the first MMO to move OUT of the F2P minor leagues? One can hope.

And if AA is successful, along with some of the other upcoming virtual world titles, does this mean the genre has finally turned the corner and will return to what it should be? That part still seems a little too good to be true, but at least there is some hope, unlike what we had in prior years. Cautious optimism everyone!


Candyman, candyman, candyman

August 18, 2014

Trollbold is back it seems, and in classic style.

Let me just cut that post down completely with one question before moving into the details: What day-one F2P MMO has been more successful than recently launched sub MMOs?

Because if the sub model is dead, surely some new F2P mega-hit must have replaced it, right? That’s what everyone must be playing now? The new F2P hotness called… what was its name again? You know, that F2P from day one MMO that is doing so well. Never can remember its name, or all those other really successful F2P MMOs before it…

I do find it hilarious that Tobold is linking to Superdata as well. Just trolls linking trolls and dancing around in a fantasyland circle together.

But let’s put aside fairyland numbers and look at something solid shall we? That recent NCSoft financial report for instance, that showed WildStar bringing in more money than GW2. Now GW2 isn’t F2P, but it’s also not good enough to be a sub MMO either, and NCSoft’s numbers back that up. An MMO made for the “1%” pulled in more than the MMO who’s manifesto told us was changing everything for everyone; funny how that works. And yes, WildStar will drop because its box sales drive the numbers up, but isn’t it cute that the “1%” consists of about 450k people initially? One would think you could sustain an MMO off such a population if you did it right, huh?

Of course the most glaring omission from the two troll sources is FFXIV, but it’s hard to call something dead when a 2m+ account behemoth is standing right in front of you, more than a year after launch. And while you’re at it, you should probably also ignore its previous iteration, FFXI, because that also isn’t helping your case.

The problem here is the same one we have had since day one; in order to remain a subscription-based game, an MMO has to be good-enough for its core audience to keep them. There are some MMOs at that level, and then there is a near-endless landfill of F2P titles below them trying to sell you a hotbar or the One Ring, because if you aren’t a quality game, you might as well try to dupe suckers out of a few bucks before they catch on. But just like with FFXIV, whenever someone has something they know is better than average, they go with the business model that best supports good games, and unless the genre just up and decides to stop making worthwhile games, the sub model will remain.


Cash shop item creation clarification

August 11, 2014

This somewhat jumped out at me about Pathfinder planning to sell in-game items, and how some argued that because said items are tradable in-game, the system is basically the same as PLEX. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Not even close.

The massive difference is that with cash-shop items, the store itself is creating something of use in the game. This means that, theoretically, there is an unlimited supply of, say, tents in PFO. No matter how many are bought in the cash shop, another can always be bough, at exactly the same price as the first. The game’s cash shop is creating items.

With PLEX, CCP isn’t creating an item or money. They are simply letting you trade/sell 30 days of subscriber time to others, represented in-game as a license. No item of in-game function is created. That is the critical difference. Without PLEX all players would pay there $15 a month directly, with PLEX some can opt to have others pay for them in exchange for trading some of their in-game work (ISK) for it. But PLEX doesn’t create that ISK, unlike in PFO where the shop IS creating something.

Just a quick note, but for whatever reason it stuck out and bothered me.


You pulled: “Go directly to F2P, do not go sub, do not collect $15″

July 31, 2014

I’m guessing someone has made this point already, but I haven’t seen it so here you go:

The recent trend of paying for the beta and/or alpha of an upcoming F2P MMO is just a re-branding of an MMO launching as a sub game to milk it’s core fanbase, failing with everyone else (and perhaps even the core), and switching over to F2P in 3-6 months, without all the obvious bad PR about moving down to the minors.

It would be cool if the genre could focus less on how best to position sub-par games and squeezing every last penny out of them, and more on producing something worthwhile that players will happily pay for.


Darkfall: Unholy Wars going F2P and other problems sink it

June 20, 2014

Darkfall and I have had an interesting history (the fact that I heard about the first game from Tobold entertains me to this day), and unfortunately I think this post marks the final chapter. The game is going in multiple directions that don’t appeal to me, the community has lost those who make the game worth playing overall, and comical developer incompetence and corruption was the final little push I needed to finally move on.

Let’s start with the game itself. Recently a cash shop was added, which sets the stage for the game’s F2P conversion coming ‘soon’ (it’s already F2P in Asia). I was asked here a while back if I would continue to support DF even if it went F2P, and at the time I said I would not. This is made all the easier since buying more than just fluff is already in the shop. You can pay AV $5 for a prowess (XP) reset, which is pretty ‘convenient’ when you have a game in constant flux due to a massive combat overhaul and general developer indecision about balance and the direction of the game. How many times will someone accept their current build being nerfed into the ground and told they can fix it for just $5 before they get fed up?

Plus how many times have MMO players heard the song and dance from developers about not selling power when F2P is announced, and a few months later the cash shop is offering you the One Ring? When things get dire, devs get desperate, and DF:UW’s core issues persist to this day.

And what are those core issues? The main one is the game is still an oversized arena PvP game, rather than an MMO. There is no reason to PvP other than for the sake of PvP, and this is reflected in the quality of the playerbase. Where games like EVE have people like The Mittani creating content for tens of thousands of players, those key people have long since left Darkfall, and in their place stand directionless ‘leaders’ providing little if any content. Even DF1 was able to initially attract some of these valuable players (Manus, Glut, Osium, etc), which is what kept that game’s meta interesting for the first two years or so. But as they saw the state of DF:UW’s beta, and the general design flaws of the game, they never even bothered showing up on day one. Inq to this day mocks me about trying to get them to give the game another shot.

The above is also why DF:UW gets laughable indifference from so many EVE players. My alliance would always wonder what I see in a game with no long-term plan, goal, or point, and admittedly I look a bit foolish now with my “they are working on that guys!” enthusiasm, because nope, they really aren’t. So why grind up to play in an arena when you can play a better version of exactly that in games like Chivalry or even your MOBA of choice. At least those games understand what they are, rather than awkwardly pretending to be something they clearly are not capable of delivering.

A more recent core problem has been the combat overhaul. To say it’s a surprising disaster would be unfair, because if you didn’t see it being a disaster pre-release you must be painfully blind. Imagine if CCP, in the name of ‘player freedom’, allowed any ship to fit a doomsday on it, and the balance explanation provided was that since everyone can use it, it’s balanced. That’s what AV did with DF:UW recently. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. They took armor, weapons, and skills all previously designed and balanced around fitting into classes, and just removed the concept of classes without the overhaul to everything needed to make it work. At least in DF1, which had the same ‘everyone can be everything’ system, balance was attempted with that in mind since day one. It was bad, but not “lulz doomsday spam” bad.

The result is not just the expected FOTM lameness that happens in every MMO with such a system that has poor checks and balances, but that combat overall is a cheesefest of who can come up with the cheapest AoE/CC combo to drop people with because nothing was designed with this system in mind. Imagine DAoC roaming 8s cheese but turned up to 11, and that’s DF:UW. The only reason the abuse isn’t nearly as bad as you might expect right now is because of the above point; the playerbase doesn’t have the top-tier talent to create the best builds quickly, but those who remain will eventually get there.

The above are further hurt by the still woefully pointless economy, made more comical by F2P-forbearing gimmicks such as double loot weekends. Having a ‘full bank’ in DF:UW is trivial, and once that happens, it’s just another brick stacked on top of the directionless mess that the game is overall. Again, imagine playing EVE with limitless ISK and you get a good idea of what DF:UW offers once you grind it out for a month or so.

The final and minor side note is how AV handles their community. The most toxic members are left unchecked, especially in-game, where global chat will drive away anyone who has evolved beyond 8th grade gym humor and the lowest of internet meme trash. On the forums the moderation team is all over the place, at times deleting an entire and often valuable thread due to one post, while at other times leaving a cesspool up no matter how low it gets.

When members of the community would try to work with moderators in a productive manner, the end-result was as likely a temp-ban for the one making the effort as it might be for those destroying it, depending on which moderator you happen to get. Double-speak excuses were put forth when confronted about this regardless of how far someone escalated things, which ultimately resulted in many once-helpful people leaving the game in disgust.

To list just one sad example, the head community manager specifically stated that since they somehow can’t verify the content of personal messages on their own forums (yup…), they won’t take any action for that content. If you ever want a place to throw out death threats without consequence, Darkfall is your place. Hell, it already has an Erotica1 clone running rampant, without that pesky CCP getting in the way of those community-building torture sessions.

Even the once-productive MVP forum has so many like-minded people included now that it really serves no purpose, especially since AV has stopped sharing key details and instead are now just throwing out pie-in-the-sky ideas (alignment system, one-off quests, etc) without following up. Even small, silly things like there recent survey, with all its mistakes, could have easily been improved with some feedback, but they don’t use the resources available to them for whatever reason.

Much like Shadowbane and other PvP focused MMOs that have come before it, I think future developers can learn a thing or two from this experiment, and hopefully MMOs like Pathfinder take some of these lessons to heart to become successful titles. This was a good run, with at least as many highs as lows, but with F2P lurking and things overall not improving (the number of bugs and exploits in the game right now is almost back-to-beta bad), it’s time to put DF:UW down.

#DF:UW #F2P


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