Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stupid Bloggers and Their Stupid (Good) Points

This is frustrating as hell. Today is Fortuitous Friday, the day I usually take off from gaming-related posts and wax lyrical.... or something like that anyway. I've been in a crap mood all week, however, so anything non-gaming related would be tainted with my bad mood. I've also been mulling over a post by Syncaine which is annoying the hell out of me.

I like Syncaine. His strong support of sandbox-type games and forthright posts have always been of interest to me. I'm not alone, obviously, as he is likely one of the most read bloggers in the 'o-sphere. My approval, or not, of him and his posts means very little. One of the areas we had previously parted ways on (I lol at that as it's not like we had a dialogue on it or anything, me being a blogging noob beneath this radar) was the 'Buy to win' format of World Of Tanks.

It was in the comment section of a post by Tobold (sorry, can't remember which one) some time ago where I pointed out that WoT wasn't really 'pay to win'. Other than gold bullets which aren't used very often, the payment structure is more like 'pay to get some convenience and save some time'. Syncaine's post yesterday changed the way in which I look at the game and I find that frustrating.

My frustration comes from the fact that I realize he is right about the pricing model, but I still have a lot of fun playing the game. I stopped playing Warhammer Online on principle- the game was stale and the customer service sucked. My dilema with World of Tanks is similar in that the company, despite doing some really nice things, and making some improvements, has made some changes in the past couple days that have left me feeling less than enthusiastic about the future.

I still don't see the game as 'pay to win' as the gold-bullet discussion doesn't interest me and premium tanks aren't "op" to the point where they are a sure win. I play 4 of them and my win-loss ratio isn't any better than other tanks in the same class. On that, Sycaine and I will disagree.

The point he makes which is correct, and has me brooding, is that the game is designed around it's payment model, and that model doesn't allow you to play the game as you choose. You are beholden to the payment model in that you are forced to buy premium (subs), or premium tanks, in order to play the higher tier tanks. It's a fact (as he says) that the higher tier tanks lose money on a loss, and often with a win- even if you are a premium-account holder. This is what really pisses me off. A paying customer (subscriber even, if you will) should never, ever lose money after winning a battle. Ever.

I understand they aren't a charity. They need to encourage free users to pay. I agree, and maintain a premium-account for about $9 per month. I've also bought a few premium tanks over the last year and have had fun playing them. The T-59 I bought because I was told it was a lot like the T-44/54 medium tanks and wanted to try them.  I like the game-play of the T-59 (in-your-face-brawler) but a lot of people view using premiums as 'grinding' for credits. I did, of course, know the T-59 'made good credits' so that factored into my decision.....which bothers me.

I would happily pay $15 per month for this game, but that's not what the developers are after, and not how the game was designed. It is designed in the same way in which a Casino is designed: the house always wins. Why would they want $15 per month when they can get much more? While it is true that many users are free users and never pay a dime, it's not them the designers care about. The paying players are, quite literally, paying the way. My $15 per month (hypothetically) would have netted them $180 over the year since release. Add, say, $50 on top of that for the game (had they done this) and I'm in for $230. Instead I've pumped in around $370 and I know I'm at the mid-range of the average (daily) paying-player.

All's fair in love and gaming, though, and that's alright. Or it would be if Syncaine hadn't opened his big, blogging mouth. It does bother me that I can't play the game the way I want without paying extra, or, worse yet in my opinion, 'grinding'. I hate grinding anything in a game. The very world implies "this isn't fun" and it's not. I don't want to, nor should I have to, 'grind' with a premium tank to make credits to play other tanks at a loss: NOT when I pay for a premium account.

I enjoy the test-server a lot because of the fact I can quickly get to the top tiers, try a variety of tanks, and play the ones I like without worrying about making, or losing, credits. It's...oh my gosh, wait for it.....fun. Fun. The entire point of playing anything- or it should be. I want to worry about winning, or losing, killing, or being killed, not 'how much money will I lose this match'? The game is World of Tanks, after all, not World of Accountants. It's a game designed around a pricing model which ultimately holds the player back and that, as Syncaine has pointed out, is not good.

11 comments:

  1. Spot. On.

    Pay-to-win in general leaves a sour taste in my mouth; I enjoyed WoT before money was involved. Once they unveiled the model and I saw you needed to "buy the good bullets", my interest died.

    I really miss my little T1 pimped out arty. :(

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  2. It is possible to have 'free' fun on the lower tiers but I find the restriction/limitation to be frustrating. 'Making money' at tier 1-5 is no problem but if you want ot progress beyond, especially into 8-10 you need to have alternate ways of making credits. Having a premium account should settle the matter, but it doesn't and it's getting worse imo.

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  3. I stopped reading Syncaine a few months ago because I tired of his schtick but I did follow your link since I was interested in talking about the subject with another WoT player.

    It's confusing to me that he feels that increasing operating costs for top tier tanks is "bad game design". If you have a PvP game that involves leveling, encouraging people to play lower level "characters" is GOOD design, otherwise you become top heavy in your matchmaking.

    It also makes sense to me from within the game "universe". You rarely, if ever, see operating costs decrease as you increase in power, in just about any gaming universe. In traditional MMOs, your rewards are typically given in equipment that has a maintenance cost in game currency. WoT removes that additional layer of abstraction, your tank is your character AND your "gear" and you maintain it doing the SAME game activity that you would normally be doing (presuming you like playing tank games). You don't have to run daily quests to earn currency, you don't have to go farm consumables to use raiding, you don't have to earn reputation by doing tasks for NPC characters to equip your STUFF, you just PLAY the game you seemingly intended to play. All of those tasks are not "playing how you want to play" either, there not even remotely integrated with the activity that you're trying to support, and they are often mindless tasks that you're supposedly doing in your down time from the "real" game.

    So to me, this isn't a case where I'm sticking my head in the sand about the evil game developers trying to part me from my money. This is me actively supporting Wargaming because they are providing a game to me for free, which I can play for free, and I can play whatever I want as long as I level up the tank and have the in-game credits to afford to repair it and provision it.

    By the way, I'm a non-premium player, with no bought premium tanks and I run tier 8 arty and a tier 9 US heavy at a modest profit. Ironically enough for this particular comment, I just received a free premium tank (the T-127) from wargaming as one of their promos, its a cute little, heavily armored bugger. Don't have a real sense for what it can do, but I did think it was pretty cool that I got my first premium tank for free from them. The free day of premium was unfortunately wasted as I had RL stuff that interfered with my play, but a tank and tank slot aren't to be sniffed at.

    The only reason I ever feel like I need to "grind" for credits is when I buy a new tank and need to outfit it with equipment like vents, rammer, stabilizers, etc. Typically I want that stuff "RIGHT NOW" on my new tanks and I get pretty focused on that task, but generally, my normal play keeps me rolling in credits, especially if I am focused on a particular line of research. By and large, when non-premium players feel the credit pinch is when they want to pursue multiple lines of research, because then the pace that you level thru the trees can eventually outstrip your credit income for normal play. Like when I bought my tier 8 arty, tier 7 and 8 US heavy, and tier 5 and 6 USSR heavies within 3 weeks of each other.

    I can only imagine how many credits I'll be raking in once they swap my T34 for the M103 and make the T34 a tier 8 heavy premium. I'm on pace to have the T30 by mid-January at the very latest, so I'll also get another tier 10 tank and tier 10 TD. That will definitely make the finances interesting, but again, I don't object to the game design or model, if I "have" to run my premium tanks or E8 or KV to support my max tiers than I'll do it, but in all likelihood I'd be running those anyways because I enjoy playing them.

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  4. I have a bit more sympathy for Syncaine's anti-gold round argument, but the other reply was getting long and it didn't seem like you were focused on talking about it. Happy to participate in the discussion but for me, one of the big factors in overcoming my resistance was the simple fact that you can earn gold via clan wars, which is also where gold usage is predominant.

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  5. Sorry for the late reply.

    I can't speak for Syncaine, obviously, but I think that his point (or how I interpret it to be) more to be about the design of the game being based on getting income rather than the game itself.

    A good game, imo, should be, well, good. The goal of the design should be to make a great game that people will want to play, and pay for. Designing a game to generate income leads away from building a good game and toward building a profitable business.

    I too support Wargaming.net and think they are doing a pretty good job overall. I'm still managing to have fun but I think we can all agree that many of the recent changes (credit nerfs, new premium tanks, increasing shell costs) are not, in any way, based on game design or balance. It is purely based on the financial needs/wants of the developers.

    It is increasingly feeling, to me, like they are less interested in real game-enhancing changes, and more interested in getting my money. This could be because the game is getting a bit stale. There is only one thing to do: 15 v 15 battles.

    I was really looking forward to 7.0 as the graphics look nice, the in-game player reporting was much needed (and asked for by the community), and all the other UI enhancements were spot on. Then the sudden announcement they were changing the credit income from arty. It might not affect everyone, and some will argue it will balance arty and that is needed, but it's pretty sneaky in any case and has taken the thrill out of 7.0 for me.

    The issue of increasing costs for increasing power is an interesting topic. I agree that WoT has a lot less 'grinding' and I am pleased to be away from games that force you to do stupid quests for money/experience/influence, etc. You are right in that 'grinding' in WoT is (or should be) simply doing what you'd be dong anyway: tank battles.

    I'm not sure I can answer you in this short of space without a bit more thought. It just occurs to me, overall, that I have more fun when I don't have to worry about the credits, or the grind. I love the test server for that. 10X experience and credits are great! Does that mean less lower-tiered battles? I do notice that on the test server, but in fairness everyone is eager to test drive the top-tanks and premiums.

    In addition to the IS4, KV-5, Object 704, and E-50 I tried out the plain old KV (V) as well as a few tier III lights.

    Would we all simply play the top tiered tanks if all tech trees were open and money wasn't an issue? The tanks increase in power, yes, but so to does the competition so realistically your experience as the top tank as a KV is the same as when your in a Maus.

    What should we be willing to pay to access those higher tier tanks? Is 'forcing' us to 'grind' with lower tier tanks good for the game? Interesting questions.

    Would there be more focus on new game modes and other needed enhancements (match maker I'm looking at you) if they weren't focused on pushing premium tanks on us? What if there was a three tiered pricing model that gave even more credits per match so you could focus on the top tiers if you liked and not had to 'grind' for credits?

    In the end, no one is forcing people to 'grind up' and you're right: It's the pursuit of multiple tanks that gets people into credit-crunches but when the only new thing on offer is to try a new tank... what else are we going to do?

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  6. I don't think you can separate designing a great game that people want to play and pay for from designing a game to generate income. The only model I know which would work like this would be begging your players for donations, which I am pretty sure wouldn't generate enough income to keep the game going and pay for further developments.

    I think that World of Tanks is nice in that it doesn't put up a payWALL, but rather a paySLOPE. It gets increasingly difficult to play higher tier tanks without paying, but it never is completely impossible.

    And Syncaine is probably just ranting about it because he knows I like the game.

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  7. I think there can be a difference- perhaps in an ideal world though. If someone is passionate about what they do and put their heart and soul (as it were) into something they believe in the result can be a great product people are keen to buy. The reverse- hoping for the money- isn't necessarily bad, but there is a difference.

    It's like a hand-crafted piece of furniture (or anything hand-made by a craftsmen really) vs. an assemble-yourself, factory made one. Both can be good, but the former is usually better.

    Syncaine- trying to push your buttons?! Never ;)

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  8. Sorry to come back to this so late, I was distracted playing internet tanks!

    I disagree that the credit nerfs (arty,shells,etc) are purely business model driven. I think those changes were necessary primarily from the balance perspective, to keep things within scale internally. I'm primarily an arty player, my first max tier tank was a tier 8 arty piece and I've always found it a bit odd that my tier 7 and 8 arty pieces were extremely profitable, especially when compared to my friend and clanmates tier 9 and 10 heavies. While there will be plenty of forum angst, even I can tell there's something not quite "fair" with how much I was making from my top arty pieces. The top tiers of all classes are "balanced" to some degree against each other in terms of profitability and population balance. If you're going to maintain that sort of balance, the credit generation is the first lever you turn.

    Sure, the additional premium tanks aren't "balance" oriented, but we're also seeing pretty major additions to the game in terms of non-premium tanks so I don't begrudge them the additional profits from selling those tanks. Clearly, these issues are intertwined to some degree and I would be the first on the bandwagon if i really felt that the game was stagnating and the only things being added were premium tanks, but I'm just not seeing that yet.

    Obviously my bias is that I do think that matchmaking would end up top heavy without these little tweaks to encourage people to play a wider variety of tiers. This doesn't mean that I think this is the sole reason or that this subject isn't complex, I just mean that from a game design perspective you try and create multiple levels of incentives and linkages. If all tiers of tanks were self-sustaining per se, then you would just play those tanks over and over again while leveling up so that you made credit and exp gains while your tank wasn't elite, and once it was elite you would just easily shift to the next tier and repeat. That's pretty much exactly what my experience was as an arty player and one that skewed my view of the in-game economy and why I was expecting a credit nerf to arty.

    Additional questions or food for thought:

    What quality of play do you balance your "economy" for? i.e. if I play a stinker of a match, even were I a premium player, is the expectation still that I should lose no credits?

    How serious of a flaw is it to have 1 game mode that they focus on? I'm all for additional game modes, but as someone who probably played counterstrike for 15 years, and team fortress,quake,doom,etc, I'm not exactly turned away by single mode games that have interesting game play.

    Related note, I actually find the matchmaker fine, but I suspect its more of an attitude thing. As long as the teams are relatively close (which I believe they do by some sort of points balancing system) then I don't care what the individual tanks or per tank matchups are. Its a team game, in a war setting, where the goal of the matchmaker pretty explicitly is to create interesting matchups more than it is to create symmetrical or identical teams.

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  9. I wonder how limiting credits (income) from any tank can be considered 'balancing' the game. The game is about PVP tanks, is it not? This isn't Total War, where we have to manage an economy as well. I feel the balance should come with the power of the tank relative to it's role and tier.

    I do know what you're saying, though, that 'balancing' the costs will ensure people play multiple tiers which should, in theory, prevent 'ghost tiers' where there aren't enough people to play lower tiered tanks. I remember tier III in Warhammer Online which was a ghost town- and that was no fun.

    I'm not sure it would make for an unbalanced game, however, if credits weren't such an issue. If credits (and progression to top tier tanks) weren't an issue I'd happily add at least 3-4 lower tiered tanks to my garage just for fun.

    The primary reason that I can see, for restricting/limiting credits is to encourage people to pay for subs (premium) or premium tanks and that is a decision (for better or worse) based primarily on a business model, not a gaming one.

    - I do realize that 'never losing credits' as a premium player isn't likely an option as it would lead to botting and afk players. When I manage a kill (or two) and survive with a win in my Panther it is, however, very discouraging to only break even credit-wise :( I would argue for a 'premium top up' where if you win, you're repair costs will never exceed your earnings.

    - Only having one game mode is an issue, imo, because variety will always create more interest and challenge for players, and that can only be good for the game as a whole.

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  10. I suspect we're closer to a semantic argument than anything else, but its a fun discussion.

    If the main point is that the business model and game model are intertwined then yes, I concede that point, but I think that's true in online gaming in general. You can separate the two a bit more in single player games, but even there, business decisions do impact design decisions more than Syncaine is giving them credit/blame for.

    I understand that's it overly simplistic, but lets remove the credit system completely since its sort of an under-utilized currency currently. Lets say modules, equipment, and tanks all worked off purely an exp system. Without the credit pressures, people would just have to work up thru the tech trees and could play whatever tanks they wanted. I believe that over a period of time, what you would see is the middle tiers pretty much devoid of players. People would play the few tanks that have a particular advantage/disadvantage combo for that tier, and you would probably see much more homogenous matches. I think you're already starting to see this more in the tier 2 and 3 battles where people often have "fun" tanks that they know or feel comfortable working around their short comings due to the advantages they offer. Typically this has to do with 1-shot weapons, but the basic idea is similar to why there is some additional impetus to play tier 10 vehicles. With a tier 2 or 10 vehicle you are always near the top of the list in terms of performance.

    So, WoT added a currency system that also serves as sort of a secondary exp system. You not only have to earn the exp to elite a tank and then research that tank, you have to be able to pay for the modules and the new tank. This serves to slow down progression without making the pure exp grind huge, and yes, it provides additional incentive for people to buy premium tanks and/or premium accounts.

    The problem with a premium "top up" is that there will always be a threshold where people will try to get something for nothing. If you make premium accounts net positive no matter how they play,people will find that threshold, and they will exploit it. You also encourage people to treat matches as even more disposable than they might already do so.

    As a non-premium member, its also hard for me to reconcile my experiences with this. If I play "ok" in my Tier 9 T34, I make credits. If I do something harebrained, but fun, I lose credits. If I play badly in my Tier 6 E8, I make credits, if I play well in my E8, I make tons of credits. Guess which one I play more carefully and intelligently?

    This is one of the attributes of the T59 and why it causes so much whining. Its not overpowered, but because its cheap to run and the potential upside is so great with 0 risk, people play it much more aggressively, that aggression often leads to disaster, but it can also lead to spectacular victories.

    I bring this up because in my opinion, this is GOOD gaming. I should have a consequence if I drive into 7 tanks in my T34. If I manage to wipe them all out, my rewards are pretty spectacular, but the risk needs to be there to make you value the reward.

    I think the game mode issue is interesting, I just think its a lot harder to design and build than people are willing to accept. Its also incredibly difficult to balance, especially when your component characters are as disparate as WoT tanks. I don't think that designing and implementing premium tanks or even tank lines takes away from this task by the way. These are very different tasks usually handled by different teams.

    One last note, implementing different game modes is almost certainly going to have to involve creating or deploying a wholly different match-maker as the current one would be pretty inappropriate for anything other than the current game mode. I suspect that this is one of the major roadblocks.

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  11. It's been a good discussion, and one that I will come back to in later posts. Your points are well made, and I do think WoT is doing a pretty good job overall. They are at a distinct advantage with literally being the only tank game in town. It will be interesting to see if, and what type, of clones come out in the future.

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