Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nerfing with that bat

When I joined my current guild in WOW I was assured that the guild had tanks and healers aplenty and that I would be just doing damage.  This was fine as I am quite happy to bend my will towards crushing the dps meters.  Fortunes being what they are though our tanks have proven uninterested in making raids so I am now in the odd position of being mainspec dps for gear but defaulting to being the second tank in each raid.  The main tank of the guild is a monk and he is a good person to be on a tank team with.  He has consistently managed to show me up in our heroic progression as I just constantly get oneshotted whenever I make a mistake and he very rarely dies before the healers do.  I often feel like I must be playing terribly because I am the squishy tank, the one who always needs to be battle rezzed.

Today I cruised over to the 6.2 patch notes and discovered that monk tanks are getting a severe nerfing.  Not just a slight adjustment either but a full on sack beating, the kind of thing that only happens when a spec is known far and wide as being heinously overpowered.  I checked the comments and discovered something telling - many top monk tanks were chiming in with comments that basically amounted to "Obviously I am ridiculously overpowered, but aren't these nerfs going a bit too far?"

That tells you something.  Normally people playing specs that are slightly overpowered sound like this:  "My spec is the worst and we are always struggling why does Blizzard hate us so much and does nobody at Blizzard play my spec?"  The rule is that you look at the comments by people getting nerfed and assume their class is a couple tiers higher than they admit to.  When the people playing a spec all step up and admit freely that they are overpowered they must truly be gods among mortals, playing on a whole different field than the rest of us.

So now I feel better.  I was pretty sure my spec, gear, and ability usage was solid but I couldn't quite figure out why exactly I was always the one who blew up.  Now instead of questioning whether or not I am missing something fundamental I can get back to just trying to click a little faster, bind keys a little more optimally, and keep more of the fight in my mind at any given time.

I was kind of hoping that I would get to swap back to doing damage when the next patch finally arrives but seeing that my damage spec is being slightly nerfed and I will no longer be the bad tank maybe I should consider staying on in my role as the tough guy.  After all, I won't be able to win dps meters nor healing meters but if you sum them I am crushing everybody!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A limit on spending

The WOW token hit a new low yesterday, selling for just under 19k gold.  Due to the way the system works this generated a ton of orders for tokens and that glut of orders pushed the price all the way back up to 25k, which is higher than it had been for quite awhile.  It is a bit of a bizarre economic system that is going on here where people buy in at 19k a lot and then stop buying in but the momentum generated by those purchases still matters.

Keep in mind that the way this system works is that it goes in cycles, with a lot of buyers cashing in at the lowest point in the cycle and a lot of sellers taking action at the high points.  As soon as the price starts to swing up again all the buyers stop but the bulk of the orders causes the system to keep on raising the price anyway.  Blizzard is actually creating a fair bit of gold this way, by allowing most buy orders at 20k and most sell orders at 24k, but that isn't actually a big problem.  They pump gold into the economy in any number of ways so this one extra way is no big deal.

What got me wondering though is why the token hit a new low.  It had been cycling predictably between 21k and 24k for awhile, so people are curious what changed.  My theory is this:  The token buyers are running out of months.  I know a couple people who have four accounts between them that are all paid up for the rest of 2015.  Their incentive to purchase more tokens is plummeting regardless of price because you can't just buy in infinite times.  Eventually you have to ask yourself if you are sure you are actually going to be playing in that time period!

People selling tokens don't have that limit.  They use their new found wealth to buy pets, pay for repairs, purchase gear, and any number of other things but those things are close enough to limitless that there is no practical difference.  Even if you ignore content churn the number of things to collect in WOW is immense and the amount of gold required to make it happen is astronomical.  Imagine I bought tokens to see me through the end of the year.  At the moment that would cost me something like 160k gold.  Now imagine a theoretical person on the other end of the bargain - they spend $200 and gain 160k gold.  That gold will buy 8 good pieces of gear but a new dungeon is coming out in a month or two that will have all new gear to buy and there will be a new dungeon later this year that will do the same thing.  Then they will want to drop 100k gold on a super fancy mount, and each epic pet costs 15k gold, etc. etc.  Just one person wanting to buy ALL THE THINGS could easily sell so many tokens that dozens of people like me are completely capped on our ability to buy tokens from them.

The demand is elastic to some extent though because of course there aren't just people sitting on a huge pile of gold and people sitting on a huge pile of dollars.  There are plenty of people at the margins who would buy a token for 15k but not for 21k so prices can't just collapse to nothing when all the people like me have all the subscription time they can handle.

If I am right though the price for tokens is due for a slow downward drift.  I can't predict very well what will happen just as the new patch 6.2 drops though.  There will clearly be a bunch of people resubbing by buying tokens and that will drive the price up, but there will also be a bunch of people laying down some serious cash to get the new materials and gear immediately.  Which group is larger I just can't say.  However, I bet that two weeks after the patch all of the resubbers will be done and the people wanting gold to get new shinies will still be there so I expect a huge crash in token prices around that time.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The threat of death

I did more Camp Nightmare testing this weekend, notably with Dancing Man.  Unfortunately I couldn't really test the thing I most wanted to figure out, which is how it feels to play the game with a bunch of tokens instead of counters on a scoring track.  My printed out tokens are just paper at the moment and that makes them difficult to pick up, difficult to sort, and generally quite annoying.  Proper cardboard ones would be much better but making those isn't cheap or immediately available so it will take some doing.  I suspect I will end up having to pillage Puerto Rico, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and some other game to really get a feel for it.

One thing Dancing Man pointed out though was that unless you are playing very badly you don't ever feel like you are going to lose.  Getting a terrible score is certainly possible and that is fear enough for me, but the threat of simply running out of Fun and the game ending isn't realistic for anyone but the newest of new players.  He was thinking that it might be a lot more tense and enjoyable if the game was a lot easier to fail, and if the players were on the edge of dying all the time.

That is a cool idea but after a bunch of consideration I don't think it is realistic to implement.  If a good player is on the edge of annihilation regularly then weak players will just die constantly.  The game has 50 turns in it and I would expect excellent players doing very well to generate 4.5 units / turn of stuff, while weak players would make more like 2 units / turn.    That difference of 2.5 units / turn of stuff is immense, as it adds up to 125 units over the game and being close to elimination is probably 25 units away from death at any given time.  Basically if the good players *can* lose, the bad players are pretty much guaranteed to lose without even getting through half the deck.  I think the only realistic option is to keep the game as is, where you look at your final score to figure out how well you did in the game.  Weaker players are going to see things like "Mildly Unpleasant" or "Fine but Forgettable" and the best players will get results like "Grand Adventure" or "Camping Perfection."

I did get an interesting idea though that cuts down slightly on complexity and also lowers the amount of tokens needed / shortens the length of the scoring track.  Currently when the players swap from Day to Night or Night to Day they spend 2 Food and gain 1 Fun.  Fun is the scoring mechanism and is valuable, so this is a good trade.  As long as the players have a ton of Food swapping Night and Day rapidly is a fine way to generate Fun.  However, if I remove the Fun gain from swapping Night/Day then the total Fun in the game drops dramatically, probably by around 10.  It also makes swapping Night/Day just plain awful so players are far more likely to push for longer Nights and Days.  Right now they do that anyway though so I am not sure it will actually result in different strategy except in the circumstance where players swap Night/Day rapidly in endgame to burn Food for Fun.

Doing this would shift the game away from stockpiling enormous quantities of Food towards drawing cards to try to find Gear that makes Fun.  People would be desperately hunting for Fireworks, Roasting Sticks, Mulled Wine, and other cards that directly generate Fun.  Food would still be plenty valuable because you need it for when you have to swap Day/Night, when bears come to eat your Food, or when you get the Munchies but the tactic of just cooking all the things to make a bajillion Food wouldn't be that great.  For new players making lots of Food would still be fine as it would make sure that at least you don't starve to death, but figuring out how much Food is enough would be an interesting puzzle for the advanced player.

It is an intriguing option.  I probably shouldn't be considering altering fundamental mechanics this much this far along in the process, but at least I don't have any cash invested yet!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Care about the numbers

This week I had a talk with a rep from a game publishing company about making Camp Nightmare for me.  It was informative, but mostly reinforced ideas I had already come to from a bunch of different sources.  The rep made it clear that Camp Nightmare is a really good game from a cost perspective because it has a simple list of parts and can fit in a small package.  He talked a bit about how game creators tend to have a strong attachment to making their games bigger and shinier and they often get far too carried away.  Usually the prospect of their game having a $250 price tag was enough to stop them in their tracks though.

That person trying to publish a game that is way too expensive was almost me.  I love FMB to bits but it is a game that really wants miniatures to achieve the best possible look and feel.  I could get by with cardboard chits but when I imagine that game built and published I imagine it with shiny miniature worgs and elves and dragons.  FMB just isn't the game I am going to publish though, at least not when I am footing the bill!  It is the best game for me but not the best game for the public.

I got the impression that a lot of game designers have intractable opinions on how their games have to be built.  I think it is common for people to have strong ideas about exactly how they want things to look and feel and they don't want to compromise on that.  I am not so much like that though - if a publisher wanted to rebrand the game with a new theme I would be totally okay with that.  If they wanted to change about the components so the game felt and looked very different that would be fine.  But if they wanted to change the amount of Food that Veggie Soup gives you from 3 to 4?  Go To Hell.  No Touchy!  Hiss!  I take the numbers of the game quite seriously.... the rest of it, not so much.

I also got a lot of specific numbers for constructing Camp Nightmare that will inform my design choices.  Making cards in units of 54 is apparently the thing to do, and this actually works out really well because Camp Nightmare consists of two ~50 card decks and a few extraneous extra cards that help track game state.  I will fit the game into a 2 deck 108 card limit easily and without compromise.
The other number I am working with is 15 cardboard chits per sheet.  At the moment I am liking the idea of having 14 Food, 14 Wood, 14 Fun, and 33 Energy tokens for a total of 75.  (Some of those tokens are x5, though most are x1.)  My other option is to order a cheap cardstock board and use three wooden cubes to track Wood, Food, and Fun instead and just order 30 Energy tokens.  I really like the idea of not having a game board though and I think tracking things with tokens will be easier than using cubes on a flimsy board.  People always bump the board and if it is small and thin it will fly all about and the players will lose track of their resources.

I want to test the new build that uses tokens instead of a board to be sure but I think I am going to end up going with 75 tokens. 108 cards, and a rulebook as my components.  Simple, sleek, and hopefully cheap.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


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 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


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?