Boathammer : Age of Bloggening

June 29, 2008

Some Thoughts on WAR, Time Management, and Targets of Opportunity

Filed under: Theory — Tags: , — boatorious @ 3:07 pm

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Like many others I’ve been really banking on WAR to be a great game. I want to play a game that has so many neat innovations, but that really depends on WAR mastering the tried and true.

One of my biggest worries is the issue of time management, and how this affects the content accessible to casual players. Since I don’t know much about how this will function in WAR, let’s look at how the issue is handled in WoW. While many people fault WoW with limiting the access of casual players, they’ve actually done a number of things to even the playing field between the casual and the hardcore player. Unfortunately, they’ve kept a lot of the old standards that limit the ability of casual players to experience content.

Straight Time in WoW

I’m not sure what to call game tasks that take the same amount of time for hardcore or casual players, so let’s just call it “straight time”. Keep in mind that there is some amount of expertise that will shorten the task for more experienced players — it’s just that the game does not do anything specifically to penalize or reward players based on time played.

The perfect example of a straight time task would probably be the auction house. There’s no big time bonus or penalty depending on how much you play. There’s no penalty if you only spend fifteen minutes on the AH, since the AH is in town you don’t have to travel to get there.

Questing and rep grinds are also close to straight time tasks. There’s little bonus or penalty for either casual or hardcore players.

Evening the playing field with diminishing returns

I’m not a huge fan of penalizing hardcore players but at some point it becomes desirable. A skilled player with no job and a hundred hours of playtime a week is probably going to be the master of your game and there’s no way around that. The issue is how much better they are relative to other players. The hundred-hour-guy, all else equal, is going to be better than someone that spends 50, 25, 12.5, or 6.25 hours a week playing the game. But we probably do not want them to be twice as powerful, four times, eight times, or sixteen times as powerful as the less hardcore.

The best way to do this is with diminishing returns and WoW has a number of these. Some of these things are more overt — rested XP allows casual players to level in fewer hours played, and daily quests literally throttle every player to one iteration of that quest per day.

The biggest diminishing return is one that’s often thought of the other way — raiding. While much is made of the time requirements of raiding, it’s little mentioned how it levels the playing field among players that spend thirty or more hours playing the game every week.

Long before I had a son, my wife and I were “hardcore” raiders. We spent about 20 hours raiding a week, and probably another five to twenty additional hours just playing the game. This is a lot of time in the game, but many in our guild played even more. However, the timing of raids limited everyone in the guild. So the guy that played 25 hours a week spent 20 hours in the best raid dungeons getting gear. And that guy that played 75 hours a week spent … 20 hours in the best raid dungeons getting gear.

Of course, these days there are plenty of guilds that raid more than 20 hours a week. But there’s definitely a “weakest link” factor in raiding that limits the time a hardcore player can spend doing it.

Rewarding the Hardcore Player

Unfortunately, there are game mechanics in WoW that provide increasing returns on time spent. In other games this can be much worse, to the point where players can’t be competitive unless they can invest large blocks of contiguous time in the game. EverQuest and FFXI spring to mind as games where people would camp spawns for literally a day (24 hours) or more.

WoW removed the rare spawns that made spawn camping necessary, and hopefully removed that mechanic forever from the genre. But they still had outdoor raid bosses, which are cool in theory, but in reality these bosses are inevitably devoured by players that are online all the time. I probably killed five hundred raid bosses in my WoW career but only two outdoor raid bosses. Usually the outdoor bosses were killed during the day while I was at work, by people that either played WoW all the time (no jobs) or that could play WoW at work. Outdoor raid bosses were absolutely inaccessible to anything but the hardest of core.

But outdoor raid bosses, fortunately, were not a big part of the game. There might be a few great pieces of gear available only from an outdoor kill, but generally you could ignore them and still have awesome gear.

No, the biggest prize for the hardcore player is the five-man instance. Five man groups only take two or three hours to play, but it’s often difficult to find a group. If I only have a fixed amount of time to play each night (work the next day) there’s only a very small window to find the group I need.

For example, if I have four hours to play at night, that gives me only an hour to find a group for a three-hour instance. Even if I spent twenty hours a week playing the game, if I can only play at fixed times I might only have a few hours each week to find the group I need. If I spend thirty hours a week playing the game, the time to find a group doubles even though the hours haven’t. A player that spends forty hours a week playing (and has more flexibility) probably has twenty or thirty hours to find the same group. The 20-hour-a-week player on a fixed schedule only has 25% of their time to find a group, while the 40-hour a week player with a flexible schedule probably has 75% of their time available to find the same group.

So the five man, ad hoc instance is the biggest obstacle to the casual player.

Time and the Casual Warhammer Player

I’m not in the beta and couldn’t discuss if it I was, so this is all conjecture. But I do have some worries about WAR.

My biggest worry is the public quests — how hard are they? How many players do they require? If public quests require 20 or more players it’s hard to imagine that most players will even experience them. How long do the public quests last? If they last several hours will I get a chance to do them in entirety to get the best reward? Will they always be available?

My second biggest worry is other PvE content — I’m hopeful that there isn’t enough raiding content to require a “raiding schedule” like in WoW. I can meet with a guild once or twice a week to do a dungeon, but three to six raids a week is right out.

PvP content, from what I’ve gathered, is going to be available to pretty much all players, pretty much all the time. That’s good, but how important is winning? Will the game reward players that don’t play in guild (and so are losing a lot)? The Warsong Gulch battleground in WoW comes to mind as a particularly miserable experience if you are not winning, while AV and AB can still be rewarding in a losing group (if you are not getting completely rolled).

I guess time will tell. I’m hoping that my fears are completely unfounded 🙂

Setting the Odds on the WAR Release Date

Filed under: Speculation — Tags: , — boatorious @ 1:36 am

*** This blog has moved, it is now hosted at http://boathammer.com ***

The last time WAR was pushed back, it was pushed back from Q4 2007 to Q3 2008. Since Q3 is already upon us and we’re not yet in open beta, some of us are no doubt wondering — will we see the release date push back again? And if it is pushed back, how far?

I’d say we probably will not see the date pushed back, and if we do, it will probably not be pushed back very far.

The two reasons why I don’t expect to see much of a delay now are the original delay and the simple facts of MMOG economics.

Why the Original Delay makes another delay unlikely

At some point Mythic went to their bosses at EA, hat in hand, and said “Please oh please please please can we have another 9 months.” Their bosses at EA said, “Why?”, and Mythic replied “The game is not in good shape and it will make you a ton more money in 9 months.”

EA went along with the replan and I think it’s been a good decision. However this greatly reduces Mythic’s options for further delays. It’s one thing to ask your boss for a short extension (let alone a long one). Asking for a second is another entirely.

Why MMO economics favor release or at most a short delay

Mythic did the right thing in delaying the game the first time because, in terms of phase planning (or whatever gaming companies call it), they were still entrenched in the “development” phase. While in the development phase Mythic is paying, say, 100 artists and developers and also a skeleton support staff (for alpha or beta servers). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they are burning through (not a real number) about a million dollars a month in payroll and overhead.

So when Mythic asked for that first delay, they were basically asking for a nine-month delay of return on investment, and also nine million extra dollars.

What about now? Well, we’re now getting closer to release. As Mythic ramps up to release they are going to start burning through money much more quickly. They’ll need to buy or rent a ton of server equipment, the space for the equipment, the bandwidth for the equipment, and support staff for the equipment. They’ll also need to hire a 24*7 customer support (GM) staff. These are not things you can do overnight and are likely well underway.

So how much money is Mythic burning through now? We should be able to at least triple the original monthly cost of the game, so now Mythic is burning through (not a real number) 3 million a month.

So it’s likely that a relatively short three month delay, were it to happen today, would cost EA and Mythic about as much money as the original nine month delay.

If I were a betting man

The game will be no more than one month late.

June 25, 2008

This is My New Blog

Filed under: Boring And Useless Site News — Tags: , — boatorious @ 11:55 pm

*** This blog has moved, it is now hosted at http://boathammer.com ***

My Name is Boat.

I am a software engineer, I am married and have one son, and I play videogames. This blog is about Warhammer : Age of Reckoning, a game that hasn’t even been released. I’m not even in the beta.

That’s basically everything you need to know about me.

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