ESO – Public Dungeon Boss Bots

Massively wondered why public dungeon boss bots are so hard to stamp out in ESO. I thought I would answer this in a blog post, because any comment I posted would be lost in the noise.

I don’t have any first-hand “inside baseball” knowledge but from what I’ve pieced together from years and years of developer posts about how bots are dealt with, this is my guess on why they can’t just snap their fingers and make all the bots in public dungeons disappear:

I wonder where the boss is going to spawn?
I wonder where the boss is going to spawn?

Some percentage of the bots are stolen accounts, which means if they ban the account or the credit card, they are not doing anything to the malicious user, they are only affecting a legitimate customer.

Some percentage of the bots camping public dungeon bosses are probably real people. Not all of them are bots. Perhaps none of them are bots. If you just stand there next to the spawn point with everyone else and spam an ability key (say, the lightning spell if you’re a Sorcerer), you will look exacty like a bot, because the very second the boss appears, you’ll start attacking. In fact, that is about the only way you’re going to get credit for killing that boss and get some loot and/or an achievement. If you do that manually it is a perfectly legitimate, efficient (if cheesy and boring) way to grind out loot to turn into gold and become rich.

The point is that the developers need to spend time to sort out which players are actual bots and which players are just super efficient and/or super lazy. Only then can they start banning IPs or credit cards. Also, it could be gold farmers playing manually, too. Some kid in Korea might be sitting there getting paid 2 cents a day to stand in one spot and spam an attack key over and over and over again. How are they supposed to tell the difference between that kid and someone who is just collecting some extra loot while watching television?

(Personally I think they need to lay down a giant AoE that kills anyone who stands still. That is a tactic that Rift used for people who exploited Onslaughts. Or, you know, get rid of public dungeons. That would be the smart thing to do.)

Trying New Things In May

The Newbie Blogger Initiative runs through May, so, to celebrate, I thought I would try a couple of new things and see what happens.

T-Day Streaming

I’m going to do a regular stream during the month of May. The stream will run Tuesdays and Thursdays at roughly 7:00 PM Eastern Time for about an hour, starting on May 1. You can find me at http://twitch.tv/endgameviable.

Why would I do such a crazy thing? Well, everyone else is doing it, and we are all slaves to trendiness. I often talk to myself or the game while I’m playing anyway, so I might as well click on the “broadcast” button while I’m doing it. Also, I want to create an example of the kind of stream that I prefer to watch.

What kind of stream is it going to be? Well, it’ll be MMORPGs, obviously. And pretty casual. Possibly informative and/or amusing. My target audience won’t be hardcore gamers.

At this time I am planning to stream ArcheAge, because it’s all the rage. Other possibilities include ESO and … well, that’s about it. ArcheAge or ESO. Maybe I’ll alternate between them.

NPC Fiction

I saw that one of the topics for this year’s NBI is “Creative writing articles and guides.” I wouldn’t presume to try tackling the vastness of a guide on creative writing, but a while back I had an idea for some writing exercises, and this seems like the perfect time to give it a try.

The goal of my project is to write very short pieces of fiction, perhaps as little as 1,000 words each. The inspiration for the fiction will come from a random NPC in an MMORPG, preferably one who doesn’t otherwise have a part in a quest. You know how you sometimes run across an NPC who doesn’t seem to do anything but add atmosphere to an area? He or she may not even have any lines to speak, or may not even have a name beyond something generic like “Pact Soldier.” Those are the ones I mean. Why are they there? What are they thinking about? What are their dreams? If you could interact with those NPCs, what would they say? What quests might they give out?

So I will try to publish a short fiction related to those NPCs every Sunday during May. (I suppose technically it would be “fan fiction.”)

ArcheAge – It’s The New Black

Remember how I said I talked myself out of buying the ArcheAge Archeum Founder’s Pack? That only lasted through Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday. Then I bought it Sunday. I hadn’t even published my post about how I wouldn’t buy it before I bought it.

Stupid peer pressure.

Stupid ArcheAge RU not being in English.

Stupid ESO not being addictive enough.

Warning: I didn’t feel bad about spending the money because I already knew that I liked the game. If you’re not sure, and you want to try the game before spending $150, I highly recommend finding a way into the Russian version. Or the Korean version, for that matter.

Because it plays exactly like the Russian version, except most of the text is in English, most of the voiceovers are in Korean instead of Russian, and most importantly, you get 5 Labor Points every 5 minutes (online or offline).

But if you just want to take the plunge, rest assured Trion’s alpha is nothing like the Landmark or Trove alpha. ArcheAge is a finished game, it is only lacking English voiceovers and the occasional English text. And, well, it only has one server so it’s pretty crowded. It seems that tons and tons of people paid $150 to get into the game. The starter areas look just like a launch day. The housing areas aren’t quite gone yet, but it’s getting close.

This place is very safe from crows.
This place is very safe from crows.

I found a spot for my scarecrow way in a back corner.

Most of what I’ve previously written about ArcheAge still stands (see Foreign Invasion, Growing On Me, and Flailing Around). Now, however, I will be able to experiment more with gathering, crafting, farming, and trade runs, because I can actually read the tutorials that explain how those things work.

For example, I’ve now been able to build a farm, if you can call a piece of land the size of a postage stamp a “farm.” In a nutshell, the farming is exactly like Farmville (or at least, the ten minutes of Farmville I played before never playing it again). It’s a huge micromanagement time sink. You’re probably going to want to quit your day job in order to fully maximize the efficiency of your farm, because you’ll need to harvest and plant on precise schedules. This part of the game is very interesting, but over the long run I doubt that I will be able to keep up with it.

(As a side note, I have always wondered why more MMOs didn’t insert Farmville into their games, because it seems like a natural fit.)

Now the challenge will be to avoid playing ArcheAge too much. After all, you’ll have to start over again on launch day. (However, I think I heard that the alpha server will be transformed into the test server after launch, so it’s possible you’ll still get to keep your alpha progress in some form. Don’t quote me on that, though.) Ideally, I would want to time it so that I get sick of ArcheAge at precisely the end of the third month after launch. :)

ArcheAge – Founder’s Packs, Resisting Temptation

As announced on Trion’s live stream Thursday, ArcheAge Founder’s Packs are now available.

They are expensive. $149.99, $99.99, and $49.99 for Archeum, Gold, and Silver, respectively. Archeum gets you into the game right now, playing until launch day, otherwise you only get to play in beta “events” starting in June.

So let’s discuss. With myself.

My first Russian glider!
My first Russian glider!

I think they are fair prices.

Based on the laws of supply and demand, it makes perfect sense that it costs $150 to get into the ArcheAge alpha. If you’ve seen any of Trion’s live streams, you know that the hype and demand for ArcheAge is through the roof. I can’t remember the last game that I saw such blind, ravenous hunger for. (I’m not quite sure it’s justified but that’s another story.) People will do anything to play this game. It’s more of a cultural phenomenon now, I think. Like waiting in line to buy the first iPad.

There was a time when I might have waited in line to play ArcheAge. Instead, I went through the hassle of downloading the Russian client for ArcheAge RU. (Which was actually pretty easy at the time.)

Um, yeah, whatever you say. I guess? Don't mind me.
Um, yeah, whatever you say, I guess? Don’t mind me, I’m just a foreigner in this land.

In fact, if you’re dying to play ArcheAge and you don’t have $150 to plunk down for Trion’s alpha, I would highly recommend getting the Russian version from Mail.ru, if it’s still possible. It’s free. (It’s also incredibly restrictive, but hey, it’s free.) If you have any kind of experience with previous MMOs, you can play it without knowing a lick of Russian. I am living proof of this. In fact, it’s been an interesting exercise in observing core MMO game mechanics.

Of course, after playing around with ArcheAge RU for a while, I now know that the game is, while pretty good, not worth selling one’s kidneys for. The hype is a classic case of idolizing something that’s out of reach. So to all you people out there dying inside because you can’t pay $150 to get into the alpha right now – perhaps it will ease your mind to know that you are not missing the game of the century. You are only missing the cultural status of being one of the “chosen ones.” Okay, maybe that didn’t help ease your mind. Because you probably want to be a “chosen one” more than you want the game itself.

So having said AA isn’t quite all that and a bag of chips, it’s still really tempting to plunk down $150 for the Archeum Founder’s Pack. Because it looks like a great value. And omg y’all it’s ArcheAge in English!!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But UV, you’ve spent the last few months ranting and raving about how SOE ripped you off with that $99 Trailblazer’s Pack. You’re a filthy hypocrit!”

Well, yeah. But this is different! I swear!

Landmark was a poorly thought-out impulse buy, I admit it. It was a completely unknown commodity. I knew nothing about it except what I’d seen in a couple of highly-staged gameplay videos.

But I have actually played ArcheAge (in Russian), and I like what I’ve seen so far. I can make a much more informed buying decision here. Unlike Landmark, I know that ArcheAge is finished and running in two countries, ready to play. Trion’s testing for ArcheAge is mainly for translation issues.

Also, I have a lot more faith in Trion Worlds than SOE, just on general principles. They did an awesome job with Rift. I like Defiance too even though I don’t play it very much. And Trove is kind of cool. So I don’t feel bad about rewarding them.

Still, the majority of the “value” in that $150 Archeum Pack is getting to play in English right now, months before launch (I’m just going to guess a launch date in August, given they’ve said that the beta is planned for June). Most of the other perks are just cosmetic fluff. The value of the useful post-launch items (3 months of Patron status and 11,250 credits) only adds up to $120, and $75 of that can presumably be obtained by normal playing in-game.

Therefore I need to consider how much getting to play right now is worth to me. Maybe not very much, because I am already playing ESO, and I’m planning to play at least a little bit of WildStar in June. Not to mention that I want to play some Rift 2.7 whenever that comes out. In light of that, getting to play ArcheAge early is not that much of a benefit for me, since I wouldn’t have that much time to play it. If one could dedicate all of their time to ArcheAge, that $150 would have a lot more value, because you would have three or four months to develop characters on alpha (as a Patron, even) before launch.

So I think I’ve talked myself out of an ArcheAge Founder’s Pack. If I ever feel an overwhelming desire to play, I can always jump into the Russian client for a quick fix.

On the other hand, the Russian version does have a lot of annoying restrictions…

NBI – Support Your Local Blogger!

I first heard about the Newbie Blogger Initiative last year, sadly just as it was ending. I thought it was a great idea then, and I still do, so I’m supporting it this year in whatever small way I can.

New bloggers need all the support they can get, because it can be pretty discouraging at the beginning. I’ve been writing and blogging about various things for years, so I know all about how daunting it can be to find and build an audience. (Honestly I only know about failing miserably at it.) Blogger communities like the NBI help tremendously.

Case in point: A year ago, I had no idea there was anything like an MMO blogosphere. I’ve followed Tobold’s Blog for a long time, but I always thought it was an anomaly. Then I saw him post about the NBI, and that led me to find many, many other fantastic MMO blogs to add to my reader. And that is a great thing, because let’s face it, MMO blogs are essential for getting through those endless work days that interfere with playing time.

On a more personal level, I love the concept of a community of gaming bloggers because it feels like a place I can fit in. Once, I dabbled in blogging about politics. That got pretty stressful because there is always an "us versus them" sort of mentality in that community. I tried to focus on just being an observer looking at all the fighting from the outside (which I was), but it was easy to get sucked into it, and political readers generally don’t want to look at things objectively, so eventually I stopped.

But with MMO blogging, I don’t feel like I’m an observer of a strange community, I feel like I’m actually part of the strange community, so it’s much more comfortable for me. And even better, all MMO bloggers are basically on the same side, so there’s no real conflict to worry about. Well, let’s say less conflict to worry about. This is the Internet, after all.

One other reason to like NBI is that it began with Justin Olivetti. I’ve always liked his work at Massively (not to mention all the other things he does). I feel like he’s the lone voice of moderation there, whereas everyone else is at the extremes of MMO zealotry.

So I’m happy to be a part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative. Help support your local blogger!

ESO – The View From 30

My Templar has reached level 30, and I’m starting to notice a few long-term trends in ESO gameplay.

First, my character hasn’t really changed very much. I expected that having more skill points available would allow me to make significant changes to my gameplay style over time, but I am still using basically the same set of 5 skills that I started with. And to be honest, the newer skills available to me don’t sound very interesting or helpful. Consequently I have a surplus of skill points while I wait for something better to open up. (And that’s after spending many points on crafting.)

Second, the leveling process is starting to feel a little slow. That, combined with the way the zones always look the same, is weighing down my fun a bit. The only thing that really breaks up the monotony of going through a zone is the actual story in the quests. Sometimes the stories are engaging and it’s great, but sometimes they aren’t.

Third, ESO is a game that demands your full attention, and that doesn’t always fit with my lifestyle. (I have the same problem with The Secret World and SWTOR, to be honest.) Particularly on weeknights, I often want to listen to an audiobook or watch television while I’m playing my MMO, but that isn’t very practical with ESO because when you turn off the voice acting, you’re missing a big chunk of the game. Reading the sub-titles kind-of works but it really doesn’t do the game justice, and as I said before, without the story of the quests, there is little difference between one zone and another.

Don’t get me wrong. ESO is still the most fun thing to play among all the currently available options, and I will probably sub for at least one extra month. Most likely I’m just experiencing a completely normal post-launch letdown. It happens with every new MMO. (I set FFXIV aside after the first month too as I recall, and then went back later.) I’m at that point where the new paint and the new car smell wears off and you settle into a comfortable, daily routine. It’s a well-documented human phenomenon, and not my fault, or ESO’s fault. Yes, it’s science. That’s it. Look it up. (Actually don’t.)

But unless something dramatically different happens in the next zone or two or three, I don’t think I’m going to have much trouble setting ESO aside for “the next big thing.” Whatever that might be. Probably WildStar, but possibly Rift 2.7 or an ArcheAge beta.

P.S. In response to Tobold’s post, I would say that the state of ESO is somewhere between average and above-average. Good enough to try, good enough to pull you away from games that you’re burned out on, but maybe not good enough to pull you away from games that you still like.

GW2 – Feature Pack Survived

I took the plunge and jumped into GW2, post-Feature Pack. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The meaning of the traits came back to me as I was looking over them, and I dumped points into things that sounded familiar. I haven’t done anything even remotely close to min-maxing in GW2 so it probably doesn’t matter. Also I don’t do dungeons or anything competitive, so my lack of optimization won’t affect anyone but me.

I know that the new wardrobe thing is supposed to be easier, but I still don’t understand it. I have never been into skins, and honestly I don’t think I’ve done a single transmutation in the entire time I’ve had the game. Anyway it looks like it costs Transmutation Charges to change your wardrobe, which I don’t have and don’t know where to find (other than buying them with real money). Basically I got confuzzled and left the wardrobe for another time.

Then I wandered around killing mobs for a little while to see if anything was different. It seemed like the number 1 Necro Axe skill (“Rending Claws”) got weaker while the number 2 Necro Axe skill (“Ghastly Claws”) got a lot more powerful. Other than that I didn’t notice much difference, so I feel like I got my character back to a point where he can tour the landscape and see whatever new Living Story things might pop up in the future.

Overall, I averted the need to uninstall. On the other hand I didn’t see much to get excited about, either. Perhaps leveling another character would make the changes more obvious.

ArcheAge RU – Flailing Around

I thought I would do a quick update on my progress in ArcheAge RU. I have made it to level 12. Update complete.

Thusfar I have still not been able to enjoy any of the vaunted sandbox features of ArcheAge, because I still can’t read Russian*. I have sort-of puzzled out how to grow vegetables from seeds, and how to make food from the vegetables. (I don’t precisely know what happens when you eat food – you get a buff but it only lasts about 30 seconds.) Recently I also learned how to make potions from some of the plants I’ve gathered.

But that’s about it. It’s difficult to figure out the crafting because when you open up the menus, it tells you everything you can craft, whether you have the ingredients or not. (Probably because you always have to buy one or more components.) Scrolling through pages and pages and pages of Russian looking for the one thing that might list ingredients I have is pretty tiresome. I figure that I need to turn my raw ore into ingots, but I have not yet figured out how to do that.

In other news, I passed by an area that clearly held player housing, but I could not figure out who to talk to about buying something, or if I even had that ability. Nearby there was a portal that teleported me to some kind of island resort. I suspect it was more player housing, but again I could not figure out who to talk to or how to make anything happen, and there were no exclamation points floating over anyone’s head. I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford beach-front property anyway.

One serious problem in ArcheAge RU is the point system that I now know is called Labor Points. I am playing on a free account, so I don’t have very many of them (last night when I logged off I think I had 7). And basically every time you gather something, it uses up one or more points. They only replenish at a fixed regeneration rate, and that rate is quite slow, and they don’t regenerate offline. I’m guessing that if I paid real money, it would be much easier to get these points. I trust that Trion Worlds will not cripple their free players as much as ArcheAge RU seems to.

Oh it never seems to save my keybinds, either. You can change them in-game but it always resets them next time you login. I’m not sure if that’s a bug or a limitation of free accounts. That’s a pretty harsh restriction if it’s intentional.

So mainly the only thing I have successfully been able to do is go from exclamation point quest to exclamation point quest, killing mobs, which is about as mundane as it sounds. (I have only puzzled out a limited number of class features – in addition to the flaming softball, I have added an ice attack to my arsenal which slows the target for a few seconds.)

I’m hoping some of the ArcheAge footage from Trion Worlds or other streamers will illuminate how to do more things. Or that Trion’s will go into beta already so I can buy it and play in English. :)

* I’m a bit scared to install the English language patches.

Late breaking news: It looks like Trion labor points regenerate a lot faster, and have a cap of 1000.