Thursday, April 16, 2015

Competition

As I have recently become interested in figuring out the nuts and bolts of publishing a board game I have been joining facebook groups and reading blog posts and such on the topic.  I haven't found much of use in terms of actual game design but I am beginning to get an idea of what the financial side of game design looks like.

It is terrifying.

There are *so* many people out there pouring out board games and publishing them.  A few hit it big and end up on everybody's shelves but 99.99% of them go absolutely nowhere and end up in the dustbin.  Many of them do far worse than the dustbin and end up costing the designer a ton of money as they desperately try to sell their games to no avail.  Whether it be constantly travelling to conventions to try to harangue manufacturers or just laying down the cash to self publish the story is the same:  Scraping out tiny amount of money at best, or losing a bunch at worst.

Now the creation side of game design is amazing.  There are so many communities out there of people building games that work together to make all kinds of interesting things and that is a really cool thing to see.  The terrifying part is just the money side, where people try to make a business but can realistically expect to make no returns at all... even making minimum wage for the hours they put in is pretty much an impossible dream.

There are just so many of designers and games out there I can hardly imagine trying to compete with all of them.  Even if you have a really top notch game it is such a lottery to become one of the ones that actually makes a bunch of money, and obviously 90% of the games aren't in the top 10% so there is a huge amount of drek being pushed out too.

I want to get my game built, made up pretty, and produced so that people who read my writing or know me IRL can see what I have created and have fun with it.  But man, I am so not on board with pouring all of myself into that cosmic lottery and hoping for the big score.  The Stoic voice inside me tells me that putting my happiness and success so much in the hands of other people is a foolish endeavour - I should do what I know will make me happy, which is to make games that are beautiful and not worry about whether or not people out there want to hand me fistfuls of money to play them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Who to recruit

My guild in WOW is recruiting.  Because we are doing flexible raiding this isn't a sign that we are desperate for any particular thing though.  It is just that we could use a few more regulars to make sure we never end up bashing up against that 'you must have 10 players online' wall.  Running really tight on numbers will always leave you high and dry sometimes because computers break, health fails, and families call.  I also think that there are good reasons to not go too close to 10 players that are related to interrupt rotations and such - it helps a ton to be able to reliably have 3 interrupters for many of the fights we do.

The current guild isn't nearly as choosy when letting people come to raids as Ogg Gulnath Tago was back in the day though.  I used to vet people before letting them raid and I was ruthless - if you showed up with subpar gems or enchants or without consumables you were getting laughed at.  (Also you weren't going to raid!)  Lightning's Hand is a much more casual environment though and we have some new recruits that showed up without standard raiding mods, potions, and enchants.

Those potions, gems, and enchants that I made such a big deal out of in years gone past weren't actually very relevant to performance.  As long as you weren't being completely insane you would only lose 2-3% of your dps by doing it incorrectly, and often less than that.  That 2-3% is nothing compared to the difference between various player skill levels, not to mention punctuality or attitude.  The main reason I was so picky about it was that I noticed that people who were really keen to maximize performance did all the things at once.  The players who were super aggressive in style, who knew their rotations, and who always showed up with their A game also gemmed and enchanted their gear properly.  They were ready to rock in every way.

A player who is missing an enchant that would increase their damage by 2% is rarely missing only that enchant.  They are usually missing lots of 2% improvements in both preparation and execution and usually end up doing 30% less damage overall.  The enchant is a signal of attitude, and that signal is rarely wrong.

We are more casual though, and our guild isn't aiming to be as ruthless as I was back then.  The overall attitude just isn't as focused on performance, and that is okay.  Every guild has their own standard and there isn't a right one, just one that fits the group in question.  I am hoping with a bit of nudging and training we can get the new folks up to speed and ready to push themselves to achieve more than they have before.  The only way to know is to try.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Its token time

The WOW token is live.  Blizzard did a good job in implementing it, mostly by making sure that it wasn't at all the same as the regular AH.  It isn't players selling to each other but rather just a floating price based on whether or not there are currently a positive or negative number of tokens in inventory.  If more have been bought the price rises and if more have been sold the price drops.  Every 15 minutes it adjusts either up 1% or down 1% based on that.

They launched with tokens costing 30k gold and just let it go.  It popped up just slightly but then went on a long slide down to about 20k on my server and is now back up around 23k.  It has only been two days so we don't know the long term trend for sure but it seems Blizzard hit the ballpark just fine.  Personally I thought the price would drop and didn't buy a token when it hit 20k hoping for it to go lower, but then it popped back up and I bought my 30 days for 23k.  Not as good as I could have done but better than buying right away.

After doing so I got curious about how long it would take me to earn that money.  Each day I run around my garrison doing chores, daily transmutes, picking flowers, sending followers out, etc.  I end up making about 2500g in 12 minutes and since I have 2 characters I rack up roughly 5000g per day.  My total time invested is probably closer to 30 mins though since I have to hit up the AH and farm wolves occasionally to feed the machine.  That puts my gold/hour at 10,000, so to fund my one month I put in 2.3 hours of time.  Since I could buy that time for $15, I am making $6.52 per hour.  Not great, even when it is post tax money.

Of course I can't think of all my money making in that light because I can't exactly exchange my gold at that rate continuously... I am capped at $15 a month.  It is also interesting that I can't amp up my production significantly because any activities I do to make gold beyond that baseline are drastically less efficient. I can run dungeons on Redcape as a tank once per day for 800 gold / hour, which is pretty great, but still not nearly as good as doing my basic activities.  There is also not much incentive to do that when I make 150,000g per month and can't possibly spend that unless I go completely nuts somehow.

Given that income I am definitely going to keep on funding my monthly fee with gold.  It will only take 15% of my income to maintain so I won't even really notice it in terms of capital accumulation.  That assumes that the price remains constant but I can't imagine it going outside my range.  I am willing to pay a lot more than 23k if I have to and it might well drop.

Here's hoping that this puts a massive dent in the illicit gold selling market.  I look forward to less hacked accounts and less gold spam as the 3rd party gold farmers are squeezed out of the market by legitimate alternatives.  Fighting them with bans never worked but I suspect legalization of their market will... where have I heard that before?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dividing by 2

While mucking about on TheGameCrafter.com to figure out how to publish Camp Nightmare I have learned many things.  All I have been doing for now is figuring out what various parts cost and how to enter them because I don't have finished images yet but this has still been quite the education.  I discovered that adding a game board to my game raises the cost by $8, which is an enormous chunk considering I am trying to keep the cost total close to $20.  (These are costs for single units, they drop by ~40% in bulk.)  Tying up 40% of my cost in a single piece that isn't strictly required for play seems like a terrible mistake.

Instead I figured I would just use chits, mostly 1x, but with a mix of 5x as well.  Doing this for the Food, Wood, and Fun resources would mean that I could do away with the board entirely and rely on a few printed cards for rules and chits for recording things.  However, Food regularly goes up to 40 and Wood and Fun to 30 and that seems like too many chits to be dealing with.  I don't want to inundate players with a shower of tokens to record things because I know how much time is taken up in games like Sentinels of the Multiverse when keeping track of damage.

However, I have the power of mathematics!   (Imagine me standing shirtless in a thunderstorm raising a slide rule up into the air above me, surrounded by a halo of lightning.  That, friends, is the way the power of mathematics looks.)

What the power of mathematics tells me is that I can simply divide every instance of Food and Wood by 2 and reduce the number of chits I need by, say, half.  This looks good at the outset because Food and Wood come into the game via Gather Wood and Forage by default in groups of 2 so I can just reduce those to 1.  Some Gear adds odd numbers to those base values though so I will need to tweak the cards that do that a little to make sure they still work.  The Saw that adds +3 Wood to Gather Wood has to be rewritten to add +1 Wood to Gather Wood and also grant 1 Energy, for example.

These sorts of changes are things you have to play with carefully though.  At the moment swapping Day/Night costs 5 Food and gains 1 Fun.  Under the new paradigm it costs 2 Food and gains 1 Fun.  This is a superior ratio and means that rapid swapping of Day/Night to convert Food to Fun is more efficient than before.  I altered a few things so the extra Food in the game from this change is sucked up by other sources but it still has the potential to change the way people play.

Another more serious change is that when you cannot pay Food/Wood for something you have to pay Fun instead.  It used to be that Fun was roughly 5 times as valuable as Food/Wood so doing so was disastrous.  Now though Fun is only 2.5 times as valuable so it is a lot more plausible that you would want to make that trade when in a difficult situation.  When that comes up it probably means you are doing something terrible or at least you are in a bad situation so it shouldn't matter at all for high scores but it will change game decisions when the squeeze is on.

This is an interesting part of game design, where my theoretical notions of how the game should be run into the monetary realities of actually producing things.  Overall though this is likely to be a great change because it means that the pieces for Camp Nightmare fit in a much smaller area.  I won't be able to get Camp Nightmare down to the size of Hanabi, but I might well be able to get it to that same size but double the thickness.  At that point it would be something you could put in a big pocket or a purse.  That kind of portability is probably a decent selling point, I think.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Monopoly

Today I am not talking about Monopoly, one of the worst games in existence, and surely the worst game there is when considering its quality / financial success ratio, but rather a monopoly, the economic situation.  On my WOW server Sorcerous Elements (Air, Earth, Fire, Water, naturally) usually sold for about 40g for quite a while.  However, the latest patch has been out for awhile so the pressure on prices is down, and everything has been slowly drifting down in price.  I had assumed that Elements would do the same, but then I saw the current prices around 100g and was astonished.

Then I noticed that one particular seller had hundreds or even thousands of Elements, and completely controlled all Elements of certain types on the AH.  Aha, I said, someone is trying to leverage a monopoly to make a fortune.  In the past I have seen people try this but it never worked and everyone (Sorry Corporate Plunderer) who made the attempt lost their shirts in the process.  The problem in the past was that if the AH was empty of a thing people could just go make a truckload of that thing and load it up again.  The amount of money and AH camping required to defeat the entire server simply wasn't available.

But in this case things are different.  Elements come into the game at a very predictable rate.  Some people might be neglecting their production, but even if they suddenly start up again they can probably only make 2/day or so because everything is totally gated by cooldowns.  The only serious restriction you have is having to buy up all the stocks of all the people who notice the prices rising and try to cash in.  If your bankroll is absolutely tremendous that does seem plausible because other people can't just step in and try to bleed you dry.

And they will try, oh yes they will.

I don't want to make money by just playing the AH.  It isn't bringing value, it is just scooping money out of the system.  However, when I see someone making a play like this I can't help myself but want to try to milk them for every gold piece I can.  This isn't taking candy from babies, it is just making sure the monopolist has to work for any gold they might make.  I don't have a big stash of Elements, only about 200, but I am very happy to twist the monopolist into paying me off to keep their prices up.  The trick is that I can't just undercut by a tiny bit as I don't want to camp the AH.  If I go under by a fraction, they undercut me.  If I go too low, I don't get paid off.  I need to undercut by enough that the monopolist wants to buy me to out to maintain their margin but close enough to their value that I get all the money I can.

This is going to be a short action though.  I will quickly run out of resources and the AH prices will, should this work, remain massively inflated.

Unless, that is, I try to buy in myself and out monopoly the monopolist.  How crazy am I?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ante up

I have spent a lot of time building games.  I also talk about them a lot, and thus everyone who knows me knows how much they mean to me.  This has lead to me getting an awful lot of questions about "When are you going to actually publish?"  Generally my answer is that since the self publishing game industry is pretty much a money pit for overzealous designers I don't necessarily feel obligated to publish.  I can make a thing of beauty without selling it and be happy with that, since selling it seems unlikely to generate money.

But money isn't the only thing.  I don't want to pour my dollars down a hole, but having a properly produced game that has nice art and looks beautiful would bring me great satisfaction, not to mention the smiles I would get from knowing others had it to play with.  This week I met with an artist friend who is interested in producing the art for Camp Nightmare.  He is eager to do it, but now the question of how the money gets handled comes up.  I could Kickstart the game and then publish it and send out copies to all the people who pay in... but that does involve me doing an awful lot of packaging and shipping and I know Kickstarters sometimes sink people on those costs if they aren't careful.  I could also just put it up on TheGameCrafter and get them to produce it while I take a cut.  Problem is that to do that I have to front all the money for the art first so if there isn't any interest then the outlay is all on me.

This means I suddenly have to be familiar with shipping costs, intellectual property rights for art, Kickstarter design, and a ton of other things.  It is a lot of work, and that kind of bureaucracy is a big part of why I hesitated to take the plunge before.  But this is a golden opportunity, to have someone with personal interest in the project and plenty of talent to get it done well.  If I just sit and don't do anything about it I am pretty much admitting that I won't ever do anything about it.

It is time to shove those chips in or walk away... no more checking and waiting.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bribes

WOW has some problems with groups.  One of the big ones is that groups tend to have fixed structures in terms of roles, and the other is that groups are only generally successful when they have some people involved that are overgeared for the content.  It is possible to win with bad role balance or poor gear but it tends to take practice and patience and so it rarely happens in PUGs.

Role balance pretty much boils down to there not being enough tanks.  Everybody can do damage, and many people can only do damage, so there is always a shortage of people wanting to tank.  Tanks also have the responsibility of deciding which mobs to pull, how to physically arrange the pull, and are generally assumed to be in a leadership position, and that responsibility drives people away.  For quite some time now Blizzard has bribed tanks to join up in the LFG tool to try to balance things out.  At the moment they are offering 200 gold and an item that can be handed off to another character on the account to get tanks to queue up.  I have seen people complaining about how tanks get such juicy rewards, usually something along the lines of "But my class can't tank, it isn't fair that tanks get stuff for free!"

On one hand it does seem unfair that some classes have options to make tons of cash while they get to instantly join up with groups and others do not, but overall the experience for everyone is way better with this system in place.  Without it dps classes just get to sit around for an hour or more waiting for a tank to show up and that isn't fun for them at all.  Better a little inequality than a worse experience all around.

Recently I have been PUGging heroic raids and I notice that an awful lot of them had specific items 'on reserve'.  This means that the raid leader (or their friend, presumably) will automatically take the item if it drops.  At the outset I was really pissed off by this behaviour and resolved to not join such groups, but eventually I noticed that although it was bothersome in theory in practice it seemed pretty fair.  Those people reserving gear were usually overgeared for the content and only needed one or two drops in the entire zone.  They were usually doing top damage and had a lot of responsibility in describing mechanics, making groups, and even just showing up first to wait for everyone to join.  If all it takes to get an overgeared, experienced person to lead the raid is giving them a single item while everyone else gets to roll on the rest, isn't that well worth it to the group?

Of course there always exists the possibility that a leader is undergeared, incompetent, and/or greedy and they don't bring much to the group to justify the reserved gear.  In those cases though I think the group generally accomplishes very little and often doesn't get off the ground at all.  I know I will never join a group with gear on reserve unless the folks getting it are otherwise geared to the nuts so this problem likely fixes itself fairly quickly.  I suspect that most of the time the people doing the reserving are actually in a reasonable position to do so.

What I was also mulling over though was what exactly this does to raid comp.  If I see a bunch of PUG groups listed and one has a piece of plate on reserve, should I join that group?  Seeing that probably means that other platewearers are likely to stay away, which is great for me, and it also means that all the other plate in the zone in unlikely to be desired by the leader.  It does seem bizarre that a group with plate pieces reserved for someone else would attract me to it, but that actually seem like how it shakes out.  I wish I could find data on how that works in general though - how do random players respond to gear of their type being reserved?  Clearly if that is the only piece they need they stay away, but what if they need a bunch of pieces including that one?  Do they stay away anyhow?

I do know that I am far more likely to get loot in a group that kills a bunch of bosses regardless of whether or not there is a piece on reserve and I suspect other players feel the same way.  Though it may not seem exactly fair to reserve loot, I think the rational response to people reserving loot is to require them to be awesome enough to warrant it and then just accept it and move on.