There’s been a fair share of discussions about social fabric over the last few days, starting with Psychochild’s take on it. Several others have responded, including Rohan, Tobold, and Green Armadillo, just to name a few. Each of them has a rather unique perspective on it, and none really fully agree. As always, I suggest you read the posts themselves, but I’ll sum up what I take to be each’s main idea if you’re not in the mood for more reading:
1) Psychochild suggests more grouping, though he’s well aware that it’s neither a perfect solution nor what everyone wants.
2) Green Armadillo counters by suggesting that social fabric is what turns playing into working as you become bound by those social obligations.
3) Rohan also counters by saying it’s not that we need more social interactions, but more repetition within them to form stronger bonds.
4) Tobold overall addresses a different subject, suggesting that MMO longevity could be increased by having worlds that were constructed around more than just progression, but says of social fabric that he thinks it’s necessary, but too often done badly.
None of them really looked at the term fabric, though, which of course they wouldn’t because they’re discussing social mechanisms, not sewing. Examining the metaphor, though, might give us some insight into what we’re all really discussing.
A single string isn’t particularly strong (though you can supposedly hold down someone with a well-placed piece of floss held tight over their upper lip. I don’t think that’s standard Mossad practice, though). However, when you interweave them, you create something much more durable. I think that Psychochild’s argument is based on this metaphorical fact: that the interwoven fibers will “last longer” than many single strands. Consider, then, what you do when a single strand sticks out of your shirt or jeans: you cut it off.
And that’s what’s metaphorically happening to a lot of players; they’re feeling more and more cut off from their gaming worlds. The thing is, I don’t think you can re-integrate a loose thread back into a fabric from which it’s become detached. You may be able to ignore it, but often it comes more and more loose, sticking out more. If left too long, it can even begin to detach other fibers around it. Eventually, a hole forms, which weakens the overall strength of the piece of fabric. Cutting it off, then, is actually better in the long run than ignoring the problem.
I may be stretching the metaphor, but I think it’s still meaningful. Few of us have ever fallen back in love with a game that we’ve abandoned. We may have returned to it, but often it’s not for long and even when it is, it’s not really the same game, like my return to WoW mostly for pet battling instead of hard-mode raiding. I am still there, though, which at some level means I am strengthening the fabric by participating in game activities in view of others and discussing them with you, dear reader.
There is one obvious fallacy, though. People are not mindless strings to be combined into some unseen tapestry. Some of us want to be that string sticking up. Some of us want parallel play instead of multiplayer or cooperative gameplay. Each individual MMO seems to try to find the balance between forced grouping, forced soloing, or allowing players to choose what they want to do. Dungeons & Dragons Online forced players to group to do most of the leveling content. The Secret World forced solo instances into an otherwise great group game. Star Wars allowed the player to choose but increased the difficulty when bringing a group. Guild Wars 2 has very malleable grouping features. Each finds their own balance.
The problem, then, is more the individual interpretation of that balance. Some people, like Green Armadillo, find long-term social obligations to be a problem that ruins games. Psychochild welcomes those same obligations. Neither is right or wrong, but different games’ balances will appeal more or less to each.
In the end, I think what makes so many games 3 monthers now has less to do with social fabric than it does innovation and comfort. Think how much time most people put into their first MMO love. Whether it was EVE, WoW, LotRO, or an older one, the level of innovation that drew you in is what kept you there and made you, eventually, comfortable. It’s also what helped weave that social fabric, the mutually shared love of this new thing. New games can’t match that innovation any more; whatever they offer, it’s been done. As a result, you’re not as strongly drawn, aren’t as quickly made comfortable, and, as a result, are more apt to leave once you feel done. It’s also why so many of us end up back in Azeroth or Middle Earth after prolonged breaks. We’re comfortable there, damnit, even if we know we oughtn’t be.
I’ve said before that I think the only thing that will dethrone the mighty MMO – or even WoW in particular – is a style of gameplay we haven’t even realized yet, something that’s beyond the bounds of what we can imagine, like MMOs were twenty years ago. Maybe it’s being developed as we speak. Maybe it’s still years off. Regardless, in this long, cold winter of stale repetition, we need perhaps to be less picky about which hearth we choose to warm ourselves by. We should be more forgiving and less demanding of the new titles and accept them for what most of them are: a small new spin on an existing genre. If we can do that, perhaps we can be happy enough until the next big thing.
I have a shorter correspondence today, all about the Ray Smith Plan. If you missed what that was, it was an idea to make money while leveling through pet battles. The player starts by purchasing a cheap pet off the auction house, then works to level the pet up and resell it at a profit.
I started with an Ashstone Core, as it was a relatively cheap rare. My initial plan was to level it to 15 and start trying to resell it, but that was before someone pointed out how quickly one could level a pet from 1 to 25. Unfortunately, that didn’t get the correct character the experience he needed, but a modified version of that power-leveling plan worked just fine. Since I could access every pre-pandaria pet battler on my level 76 dk except for the one in Deepholm, I went around to each of those each day, earned a few bucks for beating them, and leveled the core up pretty quickly.
It leveled so quickly, in fact, that it jumped from pre-15 to 18 or so, so I decided just to hold on to it until it was 25 and resell it then. The last few levels took a little bit longer, but not much, as using two level 25 pets with the 24 core meant two higher level trainers would level the pet.
Overall it only took a couple of “days,” meaning two rounds of the master pet battle trainers. I heroically returned to Dalaran and began posting my pet in trade while also listing it on the auction house.
And that’s where the plan has fallen apart. Either there’s no interest in that pet or no market on the server I’m on. I haven’t gotten a single response either from when I put a price (I’d like 3k) or when I’ve asked people to whisper with a price. Nothing.
I also took another suggestion and upon getting a flawless mechanical battle-stone, offered to turn someone else’s cageable pet into a rare. The going rate for un-familied flawless stones is about 4k, so I offered for 3k – a nice discount. Nothing. No responses. No interest.
This has been going on for about 5 days now, including over this past weekend at peak hours, and still nothing. It’s entirely possible the next time I log on I’ll find a seller, or it’s possible I never do. So while the Ray Smith Plan looked excellent on paper, I’m not sure how viable it really is, even with the battle-stone addendum.
So we’ll see. I’m going to keep leveling and pet battling as I have been, and keep trying to sell the core when I’m in town and via the AH. When and if it goes, I’ll let you all know. Until then, though, we just have to wait.
I’m continuing to level other pets that can be resold, in hopes that perhaps the core’s just not popular. I’m eager to hear suggestions about what the most popular tradeable pets are, as I can’t find a resource with any data on what’s hot at the moment. I’m leveling a phoenix now alongside a sunreaver micro-sentry, so we’ll see how those go.
Stubborn (and working)
It’s my mom’s birthday! Happy birthday to her! She’s 30 years older than me, which doesn’t rudely reveal her exact age but gives a fair idea.
On to business. Tobold and Gevlon had a bit of a back and forth last week regarding player skill. As you should read for yourself (if you haven’t), Tobold argued along the lines of the Central Limit Theorem, arguing that most people are average, and thus when you have two dichotomous groups arguing with one another, there is, in fact, a huge silent majority in the middle, as I mentioned in my Dealing with Failing Management post. Gevlon on the other hand cites data that do not show a normal distribution curve.
I have huge respect for both these bloggers, but I’m going to have to go ahead and say that both are missing crucial elements in their argument, which is how they come to such different outcomes with a similar set of data (their gameplay experiences). Tobold’s not taking into account the interaction of skill with dedication (though he mentions both), nor does he factor in time, an important third axis that we’ll look at in a bit. Gevlon cites data that’s inherently flawed: household income data that’s vastly over-generalized and doesn’t account for a ton of relevant factors (number of workers in the household, level of education, geographical economic availability) but still lumps all the data together and dps from a single raid, which is simply too small a data set. Yet, while I’m simultaneously starting by saying they’re both a little wrong, in fact, they are both surprisingly in agreement and correct when you factor in those missing elements.
In reality, players in any game will trend towards average, but there are different sets of players and thus different opportunities for average outcomes. Gevlon’s essentially right about “good” and “bad,” but oversimplifies it (as he’s wont to do, which I’ve written about here before, as he loves a dramatic and impactful statement). Instead, we have a grid on three axes: time, dedication, and skill. Overall “bad” players are usually lacking in two or three of those areas, whereas overall “good” players are strong in two or three.
Each of these categories is an important factor in performance. The good players will have a high level of skill, which will show through their reflexes, accuracy, and timing. Poor players will behave more slowly and clumsily. Good players will also be dedicated enough – and this is the part where Gevlon is most often on point – to look up the best specs, rotations, and peripherals (gems, enchants, reforges, etc), but undedicated players may not. Lastly, a good player has to have enough time to learn their character, practice their skills, and time to do the research into the metagame. If they don’t, then their skills and dedication may appear to suffer when, in fact, they just don’t have enough free time to get those important things done.
I’m an English person, not a math person or an art person, so I’ll try to make an acceptable graphic to make my point. The bully graphic has shown up in odd places though, so maybe I’m better than I realized. Here we go:
So the “best” players would be in the foreground near the top right, as they have lots of skill, are dedicated enough to do their homework, and have enough time to practice. The worst players will be in the background near the vertex (I believe that’s the right word, but again, it’s been a while).
The beauty of this is that both Tobold and Gevlon are right. The law of averages hold true, but it holds true among the subgroups without necessarily being evenly distributed among all players. Those that have all 3, 2 of the 3, 1 of the 3, or none of the 3 are likely to form their own sets of averages. Additionally, because there are so many different combinations, a whole average for the entire playerbase won’t necessarily appear. Take Gevlon’s dps data: there’s two sets of folks there, clearly: those who know their role and those who don’t. If you split those two up, there are two bell curves, though the second is very steep.
I can even hypothesize about the economic data. If you look at the lower portion of the graph, the “blue collar” portion, you’ll see a pretty clear curve. The upper portion, though, does not show one. I suspect it’s because of the way the data is parsed: in “good paying” jobs, a $5,000 dollar margin isn’t going to mean nearly as much as in “worse paying” jobs. As a result, you get a rather flat distribution. If instead you clumped it into larger numbers, like you see at the end, I suspect you’d come up with a clearer curve, though I’m really able to test that simply due to my ignorance of how to do so (Gev, if you want to and then to get back to me, I’d be happy to highlight it). Try clustering by 10, 20, or 25k intervals; I bet you’d get the curve, then.
So the science in both arguments is, in fact, correct. There are even distributions, as Tobold claims, and there are also different subsets, as Gevlon claims. The problem is that the subsets will show a distribution that doesn’t appear over the entirety of the data. I see this all the time in my developmental classes. I don’t have that many C’s; I have more B’s and low D’s/high F’s. It’s because some students try, and often achieve a B, and other students don’t, and often get D’s or of high F’s (a D is a failing grade in my classes). There are a few A’s, C’s, and low F’s, but essentially my data has two bell curves, like the raid DPS: those who know their role as a student and those who don’t.
At any rate, both of those posts were quite interesting, and I like playing with data as a hobby, though I’m sure you can tell am woefully uninformed about it. Let me know what you think!
Stubborn (who can do simple math quickly and well but doesn’t understand specialized math at all)
By now, we’re all pretty familiar with Bartle’s player types: killer, explorer, achiever, and socializer. I’ve been giving a lot of thought about how those terms – whether a player is consciously aware of them or not – create a kind of player identity, and whether that identity goes through stages of development, as all other identities do.
I’ve spoken before about my identity crisis when I was no longer a desirable teaching candidate. When it became clear that no public school was going to have me, I faced a very dark time in my life. I was able to find a similar job, close enough, perhaps, to partially fill that void, but frankly I know deep down it’s not the same, and there are times I’m acutely aware of that and sit, going through old pictures, missing “my kids.” My identity has been forced back into a moratorium, where I’m re-examining formerly held beliefs about myself.
While there are, of course, different approaches to identity development, the most commonly referenced are Erikson’s 4 stages: diffusion, moratorium, foreclosure, and achievement. Diffusion means that a person has never really explored developing an identity. This can refer to children or adults who’ve never had to commit to anything, people in my generation I’d refer to as “30 year old teenagers.” Moratorium is a time during which a lot of self-examination takes place, and hopefully from which one exits, moving on to identity achievement, having a stable identity. Foreclosure is when a person takes on an identity from someone around them, often under duress.
At any time, a moratorium could again occur due to a change in circumstance. Plenty of stories are about this, a moment in a (usually) stagnant character’s life in which the character has to change. This Must be the Place is a recent movie about such an event, but there are many, many more; The Truman Show, Stranger than Fiction, and SLC Punk! are among my favorite.
I suspect that gaming identities develop over time, too, in much the same way. I suspect, too, that Bartle’s archetypes aren’t particularly stable “achieved” identities, either, as a player’s life changing even a little can shift their goals for game time. I’m a prime example. I used to be a hard-mode raider, an achiever, but once I moved, I didn’t have as many friends or as much satisfaction from my job, so I unknowingly shifted to much more of a socializer. However, I hit a hard resistance to it internally; at some level, I was foreclosing on myself, on my identity as a raider. I knew I should be playing the game a certain way, but I no longer really wanted to. Letting go of that took time, a time of “player moratorium,” so to speak.
I’ve found myself logging on to WoW specifically to talk to people more and more: Beshara, Navi, and some of my other non-blog friends. I always had times I just sat around on vent and talked while running or flying in circles around the world, using the movement and background as something for my eyes and hands to do while I was talking. I don’t do that nearly as much now, but mostly because my vent talks don’t happen as often. While I have recently started my new “Ray Smith” project, I think it’s mostly to have a reason to keep logging on to keep in touch with my friends in Germany and my various blog RealID’ers. My life and tastes have relegated WoW to the state of a former Zynga game. Still, my somewhat foreclosed WoW personality doesn’t want to just let it go.
At any rate, it brings up an interesting topic for further consideration: what are identity crisis triggers that occur specifically within game? I can easily look at my external change – moving – and see that it triggered both my in and out of game crises, but what about in-game only. I can throw one out there: guild break ups. What others are there, dear reader? What have you seen trigger a player identity crisis?
Stubborn (somewhere on the borders of moratorium and achievement)
After my last post, in which I was complaining about the unequal economic outcomes of various leveling paths, one of my wonderful commentators rather sardonically wrote
You want to make some gold from pet battles?
Step 1: Buy L1 pet on existing server where you have a bit of gold
Step 2: Level pet on new server where you don’t
Step 3: Sell pet at more than it would have been worth at L1
I don’t do pet battles but this seems pretty obvious to me…
Well, yes. When you say it like that, it does, doesn’t it? The tone of the rest of the comment was a bit more acerbic than that, too, but regardless, beggars can’t be choosers, and I was essentially begging for ideas.
So I wanted to take a moment to thank that commentator, Ray Smith, for the idea. I’m going to be starting a test on “The Ray Smith Plan” to see how it works. I’m going to buy a cheap rare pet off the AH, level it up there, though I’m not sure if 25 is the right choice or not, and then attempt to resell it.
Now I’m in a position, though, of almost total ignorance. I made a point about not wanting to conquer the AH markets on my servers, but perhaps this smaller, niche market might be more my speed. What I’m facing, though, is a starting dearth of knowledge. I know I can always turn to Navi for pet battling advice (as well as many of you other excellent bloggers, but she comes to my mind first), but I’m not sure that the pet market is really that strongly connected.
I’m going to have to do some work to answer these (and perhaps more, as a result of the answers) questions:
What pets are popular?
What pets work well at higher levels?
What’s the level to gold ratio for reselling?
Are there reselling “Sweet spots,” where you can max your price before going into another long leveling channel?
How strong is the buying market for pets?
Will people buy below level 25?
These are just off the top of my head; I’m sure more will come. I’m interested to hear from anyone else trying to work this market or getting some good websites on this information; a lot of what’s out there is too crowded with speculation; I’d prefer hard data, which is what I’ll try to present along the way.
Anyhow, it’s something to do!
Stubborn (Ashstone Core to 15 is my first data point: bought for 125g, what will people offer for it then?)
As you may remember, I leveled a lot of characters during Cataclysm, and I’m leveling a few more now. I leveled through traditional questing, through dungeons, and through PvP. I had an inkling then about the problems that come from various types of leveling, but it only struck me this past week precisely where the problem lies. It lies in the most common problem in most relationships: money.
We all already knew about the inequality of time in leveling: it’s far, far faster to level in quests or dungeons – or even to some extent PvP (though it slows down a lot at higher levels) than through gathering, archaeology, or pet battling (after the hotfix). That inequality, though, is somewhat of a given; if you’re looking for an “alternative” leveling path, you know you’re going to be sacrificing efficiency for diversity. The money, though, can be a bit of a surprise.
I struggled leveling Palmetto, my rogue, through PvP because I couldn’t afford some of the basic things I needed to stay viable in the bgs. I needed better gear at certain level brackets (BC gear at 68, etc), certain enchantments and gems at higher brackets. I simply did not have the money for even one of those things, let alone the amount I’d need to switch from one pvp set to another. You don’t make money in PvP, so you’re either forced to follow another parallel leveling path or be unable to afford what could be considered the basics of your leveling style. I ended up from Wrath on questing the first few levels of each bracket and PvPing the last few levels. It’s not what I wanted.
Quests and gathering give by far the most money. Dungeon-only leveling isn’t bad, as I could usually afford the basics, but not much more. PvP and pet battling, though, are simply not economically valid ways to level.
Sure, there are a lot of halfway-valid counterarguments. Sure, you can go do a few quests every few levels, or do some gathering every few levels and sell your products. Sure, everyone can play the auction house and make money if you put in enough time and effort. Here’s the thing, though; if I’m looking for alternative leveling options, I really don’t want to sacrifice even more time just trying to get the gear I need to survive (my level 76 Dk still has some starting pieces, even having done dungeons almost exclusively since 60) or have to learn an entire AH metagame just to level an alt.
So I feel there needs to be some more financial equality between the leveling options. I want to level just doing pet battles and exploring; that sounds like a lot of fun to me. However, it won’t make me a cent in a game where you have to maintain a certain gearing level just to survive long enough to find pets to battle against.
So in the end, the genre that grew up around the idea of questing is still pretty heavily reliant on questing for financial gain. There’s no real surprise there, I suppose, but hopefully we’ll see some evolution soon. So how about it? Can we get some financial rewards for alternative leveling options, please?
Stubborn (and broke on his DK)
Last night, my wife and I had a bad run of League of Legends games. I knew I’d have to pay the piper at some point, since I was sitting on only victories in my match history (bear in mind half of those were against beginner AI, but even half of all those games being live pvp victories was pretty impressive for me), but it didn’t make the pill any less bitter going down (the pill the piper gave me when I paid him – way to mix metaphors, eh?). We both struggled with our laning partners in several of those matches, so she brought up the point; how can you learn to work well with a stranger as a laning partner?
The short answer, the one I told her, was “clearly I don’t know,” since I was stinking it up in those games. It may be that our partners were too aggressive, which we weren’t suited for, or that they were idiots who kept running into certain death, but when you see the pattern repeated and you’re the common denominator, you have to wonder. I’ve done great laning with strangers as Shen, Teemo, Taric, and Nidalee (my four primaries depending on what’s needed), though, so I’m not sure.
That’s the problem: I’m not sure. I can’t always tell whether it’s me or my partner, and I’m not sure if I should be trying to match their sometimes-suicidal-seeming playstyles because I’m being too defensive or whether they need to consider who their partner is (me) and play a little more conservatively.
I don’t have this problem in WoW – not in dungeons, bgs, or raids. I can often tell you exactly who did what to screw up a pull and cause a wipe. Sometimes it’s me, of course, like when I overestimate a healer’s capability along with my own capabilities to heal myself on my baby DK and end up pulling too much. In raids, it can take a moment to parse data, but it’s usually there: one of the dps didn’t interrupt enough and the others became overwhelmed. The tanks weren’t blowing their CDs so the healers became overwhelmed. The healers were double-healing people instead of working in tandem. And so forth.
I also feel that overall there’s more time for coordination in WoW. That difference is not to say one or the other is better, mind you, just that it’s a difference. You can take time to type in WoW, for example, and there’s marks that can allow a player to more easily see their healer. I always mark myself as the tank and the healer so I can easily tell “Am I too far ahead?” That way, I don’t get myself killed from pulling too far forward and can more easily keep track of the distance between us. The same does not exist in League of Legends. Yes, there’s new “smart ping” features which are absolutely excellent, but there have been times that I haven’t noticed my lane partner go to base and that change in position was not communicated, and I have, as a result, run in expecting back up and gotten killed.
Really, then, what WoW provides that LoL doesn’t as smoothly offer is lack-of-communication tools. If my healer doesn’t tell me he’s stopping for mana, not seeing his mark anywhere on my screen is much easier than noticing it on the mini-map, which is all that LoL really provides. Sure, the information’s available, but how readily and how easy is it to spot? That’s what add-ons are all about, really – making information more easily accessed, and LoL could use some more of that easy access to help strangers lane together more smoothly.
Honestly, though, I think it comes down to confidence and knowledge. I’m pretty confident in WoW of my game play (tanking and healing more so than dps, which I have little confidence in) and my metagame (from raid leading and doing RBGs), but in LoL, I feel confident in a handful of characters, but not so much in my understanding of the metagame. I get the basic adc/support/solo top/jungler/apc mid stuff, but beyond that, I’m often a little lost. I wonder if it’s as simple an issue as time put in; obviously I’ve many factors more of time put in to WoW than LoL, or whether there’s a deeper level of understanding – grokking, as Koster would call it – that I’m missing.
That’s what scares – or, rather, irritates, perhaps – me about LoL. It’s a pure PvP game. The playing field is mostly flat (with the exception of runes and masteries). If I’m not seeing something, I’m not sure what it is that I should be seeing. To go with our former Secretary of War (yes, he was, even if that position hasn’t existed in a long time) Donnie R, “There are known knowns” (my primary characters), “known unknowns” (other characters and the human factor), “and unknown unknowns” (which of course I don’t know). It can drive an analytical soul a little crazy. I’m one of those people who’ll pick up a manipulable puzzle (like these) and not put it down until I finish it. That’s one reason I like games so much; the act of learning to master them is often a beautifully complex puzzle. It’s also part of the reason I sometimes just stop playing a game when I’m near the end (which makes my completionist friend crazy): I know I can beat it. I’ve mastered the gameplay. I don’t need it any more.
That’s also part of what has killed WoW for me, of course, which is why League of Legends is taking up more of my game time and interest. The human factor, too, means that often even a “mastered” game can have surprises from other players. I just hope that I can better learn how to work with my lane partner and counter my lane competitors, because right now I think I’m struggling.
Then again, maybe they just sucked.
Stubborn (who’ll do anything but jungle)