Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 18, 2022
 
One D&D

 In an extremely nebulous and unspecific announcement on YouTube and Twitch, Wizards of the Coast announced "One D&D". What is One D&D? I'm not sure. It is a mixed bag of an updated fifth edition ruleset combined with digital tools from D&D Beyond, and apparently even a fully 3D animated virtual tabletop software made with the Unreal engine.

There seems to be some physical/digital integration, so ideally if you buy an adventure module, you get a code which allows you to access the content both digitally in PDF format, and as a module in the VTT environment. But of course the lawyers didn't let them promise this so directly. But with me having bought some adventure modules 3 times (once physical, once on D&D Beyond, and once on Roll20), things can only get better.

One D&D won't arrive before 2024, but playtesting of the revised rules starts today on D&D Beyond.

[EDIT: The first "physical & digital bundle" was announced later in the video: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, a 5th edition version of Dragonlance. Annoyingly only the US version can be directly bought on the D&D Beyond website, while for the European version (which is more expensive) you are redirected to a different "Wizards Online Store". If you are European and buy the US version, you'll pay $82.99 shipping, so it's well worth switching and just paying €12.99 on the Euro store. I just hope the digital integration with D&D Beyond still works for the EU version, but I am willing to try it out.]

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Monday, August 15, 2022
 
Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga

Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Tactics Ogre, there is a range of role-playing war games on square grids series that are mostly present on consoles, especially Nintendo consoles. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga is out on the PC and offers a very similar experience. The role-playing part is limited to cutscenes and dialogue without choices, and a forgettable story, but you can just skip through that and enjoy the 30 battles plus 4 arenas. In those battles you will control squads of soldiers, but between battles you can manage each soldier individually. Soldiers each have a class, and gain not only xp and levels, but also class mastery points that allow them to develop through a large class tree. You can also apply various items to soldiers, equip squads with various artifacts, and spend your faction xp on a talent tree for your whole army. At the end of the game your army will be very individually styled to your taste.

The combat system in Symphony of War is pretty good. Battles are turn-based, and each squad can move and attack once per turn, or do another action, like healing. Battles between squads are automated. There is a bit of randomness, but results are generally predictable by seeing the threat rating of the two squads involved, and their composition, e.g. spearmen have an advantage against cavalry, rogues can attack from behind and take out the healers in the back, etc. You get some additional rewards for finishing battles within a certain number of turns, but it isn't as extreme as in some other games (e.g. Valkyria Chronicles), where you feel gimped if you don't rush every battle.

Normally the problem with campaign war games in which the survivors of each battle progress and are available for the next battle is the long-term balance: A series of pyrrhic victories can leave you with you best developed troops dead and your raw recruits unable to compete. But in Symphony of War you can play at normal difficulty with permadeath turned off, so your veterans will be available next battle even if they died in the previous one. And the recruits you can hire also go up in level over the course of the game, and you can even hire "rare" mercenaries with quite good stats. I enjoy normal difficulty, because it gives me opportunity to play around with the various options, even if some of them are suboptimal. I don't really enjoy tactical games where you can only play a certain meta build to actually win at hard difficulty. Symphony at War is interesting enough at normal difficulty, but forgiving enough without permadeath to not force me into save scumming.

The 30 battles in the game are all fixed, and even the bonus arena battles are always the same map. However, I do think there is some replayability, because the items and artifacts you find are random, and you might go for different builds on a second run. One negative point for me is that certain game mechanics (charge, ambush) are not well explained in the game, and you need to go and watch a developer video on YouTube to see how they work. Personally I appreciate the pixel art, but the use of the RPGMaker engine certainly has some downsides, and you can't adjust resolution to something prettier.

Symphony of War currently has a 96% "Overwhelmingly Positive" rating on Steam, and costs just $20. Recommended!

Friday, August 12, 2022
 
Baldur's Gate 3

Shamelessly putting Baldur's Gate 3 in the title as click bait, but this post applies to other early access or beta version games as well, in my case for example Wartales. I have both Baldur's Gate 3 and Wartales installed on my PC, with Baldur's Gate 3 already played 66 hours and Wartales 79 hours. But the last played date of both games is from last year. There have been various content updates and patches since I played these games last, but I am loath to play the new content before the final releases, which won't be before 2023. The games are stuck in some sort of limbo.

The danger I feel is that by playing the beta/early access version of a game too much, on release I am already so bored with the early part of the game, that I don't want to play it again to see the new parts. I am all for Baldur's Gate 3 having added the bard class and the gnome race recently, but if I now try out a gnome bard, he is going to start the game in the same mindflayer ship and move on to the same druids' grove as all previous characters I tried.

This harks back to something I said yesterday in a comparison of World of Warcraft and Diablo Immortal: WoW has many different starting zones based on your chosen race. Most other games don't have that, which makes the notion of playing alts less appealing. But multiples starting zones are expensive to produce, and the typical reviewer won't play a game repeatedly before giving a review score. So the feature won't improve the game's score and thus the developers' bonus.

What are the games that you have already played a beta/early access version and are now waiting for the release version?

Thursday, August 11, 2022
 
Diablo Immortal at the end of the main quest

I played Diablo Immortal to the end of the main quest, killing Skarn, the Lord of Damnation. I reached the “normal” level cap of 60, and gained a few more “paragon” levels of the progression after that, playing at Hell I difficulty. I participated in the Shadow Wars, and pretty much every other activity the game has to offer. I’m pretty much through with Diablo Immortal, and I don’t think I will continue much longer.

The main subject of most reviews of Diablo Immortal is its monetization, which is excessive in how much you could spend on the game to reach maximum power. However, outside PvP, all that power is pretty much wasted. Monster scaling means that your experience of your character’s power isn’t actually changing much if you spend money to increase that power. I typically don’t mind paying money for a game, as long as it remains in a typical “$1 per hour of fun” limit. So I played Diablo Immortal for free up to level 50, and then spent a limited amount of money on a battle pass and a few cheap bundles “for research”. It turned out that beyond the initial dopamine rush for getting a bunch of shinies at once, the effect of spending some money on the game was extremely limited. Most mobile games give you a better return in quality of life improvements from spending a bit of cash, but not Diablo Immortal. Diablo Immortal just gives you a few percent more power, which you won’t notice.

I am pretty bad at action RPGs. I was only able to play even basic Elden Ring by using cheat codes, because I don’t have the reaction time to dodge big boss attacks. Diablo Immortal I played through the whole story content and died exactly once, due to one instance of me just not paying attention at all. For the rest of the content, I felt barely challenged until the last two zones, and even then I was able to beat the remaining content on the first try. Diablo Immortal is a very easy game, and very suitable for playing casually on a mobile platform. And for a mobile game that can be played through absolutely for free without hitting a paywall, Diablo Immortal is actually pretty good. Of course if you play the PC version and compare it with the graphics and gameplay of other PC games, Diablo Immortal is a pretty mediocre game. But other than Genshin Impact I don’t know of a game that offers me this sort of complete MMO experience on a tablet.

While the massive amount of free content in Diablo Immortal is appreciated, the game is somewhat overloaded with different sub-game systems, many different types of various currencies and side-activities. While those are introduced gradually over the course of the game, the purpose is clearly to create enough repeatable content that you don’t stop playing after reaching the end of the main story. Sorry, for me it fails at that. I got far enough beyond the story end to know how a daily routine of side activities to maximize progress on the battle pass or some other scale of advancement would look like. But that daily routine doesn’t really appeal to me.

In World of Warcraft I had a bunch of different characters of different classes and races, starting in different starting areas and playing through different zones while leveling. Diablo Immortal is extremely weak in that sort of replayability. You can make alts of different classes, but they go through exactly the same story and same sequence of zones. And there is a rather extreme separation between characters, with very little possibility of your main passing on stuff to your alts. Features like the battle pass are “pay per character”, which further discourages alts. There is a weird option to change class, so I could switch my barbarian into a wizard, but then I’d have a high-level wizard without knowing how that class plays.

Overall Diablo Immortal is okay as a free mobile game for 20 or so hours. But I don’t see a future for me in this as a long-term “game as a service”.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022
 
The joy of being offended

I was watching review videos of board games on YouTube, when I came upon a video about Vagrantsong, a recent game that has vagrants battling ghosts on board of a train. 20 minutes into the 30 minutes video I realized that I hadn't heard anything about gameplay yet. Instead the video was a long tirade about how problematic vagrancy as a theme was, and how the use of certain monsters was cultural appropriation, as the Wendigo was originally native American folklore. The whole video was not a game review, but the application of a woke purity test on that game. The woke purity test has a 100% failure rate, as the very purpose of applying it is the joy of being offended, and if you dig deep enough, you can find something offensive about pretty much everything.

Now this is not completely new in game reviews. The board game Puerto Rico originally had brown cubes as workers, and one can understand that somebody reviewing that game would point out that this was a bad choice (which was then fixed in later editions). However, lately people don't even bother with reviewing the actual game, the gameplay, but *only* talk about anything potentially offending. And more and more, with game developers and publishers having already avoided anything really egregious, the criticism is about stuff that you can't even notice without an in-depth research. Like Vagrantsong showing the Wendigo having horns, which is totally in line with a Google image search of the word "Wendigo", but apparently the original native American Wendigo didn't have horns. What an outrage! I am sure Native Americans all over the continent are up in arms about this! At least if their socio-economic situation wasn't so bad that most of them can't even afford expensive Kickstarter board games.

If you can't find something historic in a game to be offended about, you can just make something up. Dungeons & Dragons is being criticized for racism against orcs, who are shown as stupid and cruel, and have green skin. So somehow woke people get offended by that, thinking it has something to do with racism against black people. As a German I would like to point out that I have a better claim to be offended by orcs: The modern use of orcs dates back to Tolkien, and the army of orcs serving Sauron has a much closer thematic link to the army of Germans serving Hitler than anything actually racial. But high fantasy actually *needs* evil as an adversary to overcome; there is no slight, intended or otherwise, to any non-fictional identity.

What makes me so sad about all of this effort being expended on the search for the joy of being offended is the political consequences: Right-wing populists undermine democracy, capitalism is creating more and more inequality, and the left, instead of fighting the good fight for more democracy and economic equality is busy with frankly ridiculous criticism of any artistic expression. They assume the role of Mother Superior in last-century Catholic school handing out punishment to kids for "impure thoughts". In a political system where voters are forced to vote for the lesser evil, the left is increasingly succeeding in becoming the greater evil. Actually evil people score easy points, because a lot of "anti-woke" measures are more reasonable than the woke alternative. The Democrats conceded so much ground that today the Republican party can get away with claiming to be the party of being "anti-war" and defending the interests of the working people without a college degree, a group the left now calls "deplorables". That isn't going to end well!

Saturday, August 06, 2022
 
Finfluencers

Some of my blog posts are about specific games. And it happens that I recommend a game I liked to you. Thus it is at least theoretically possible that you buy a game based on my recommendation, because you have some trust in my judgement. And of course that could go wrong, and you end up hating the game I recommended to you. The good news is that the damage is somewhat limited: I mostly talk about computer games, where even a triple A title costs something like $60 to $70. And the most expensive board game I recommended this year was Return to the Dark Tower, with a $150 crowdfunding pledge.

Studies have shown that people trust influencers they follow nearly as much as they trust their friends, and much more than they trust brands or celebrities. That trust isn't always well placed. Yes, there are people like me who just produce content for the fun of it, and just say honestly what they think. But that is small scale, my blog only gets around a thousand visitors per month. Google Analytics helpfully converts viewer numbers into potential revenue value and tells me that my main page is worth $0.00. But modern influencers on YouTube or other social media channels can have hundreds of thousands of followers, and that can be worth a lot more money. So instead of promoting what they like themselves, they promote what they get paid for, with that hopefully having some overlap. Fortunately again, the potential damage of an influencer recommending an eyeliner to you is limited.

And then influencers discovered that you can make a lot more money by recommending financial products than by recommending eyeliners or video games. Even just running regular ads about financial products pays a lot better than any other kind of advertising on YouTube. And really popular influencers can make a fortune with sponsorships and "recommending" financial products to their audience for money.

For regular financial products, there is at least some legislation that will protect the audience. The "pump & dump" scheme for a share, where the scammer first buys something of low value, then talks the share up to get lots of other people to buy it, and then dumps the share before everybody realizes how worthless it really is, is illegal. You can see how perfectly this would work on YouTube, but the financial influencer ("finfluencer") doing that might easily get into all sorts of trouble with the financial authorities.

But then we have the world of virtual finance, cryptocurrencies and NFTs. These financial products claim not to be regulated financial products, and actually tout that as an advantage. But their functionality is that of any other financial investment product: You put money in for the sole purpose of hopefully getting more money out at the end. And because financial regulation of these products is still not established, there is nothing to prevent finfluencers from participating in pump & dump schemes, or Ponzi schemes, or all other sorts of financial scams. And now that the crypto / NFT bubble popped, a lot of regular people have been losing their shirts. And typically those were people who weren't highly educated in finance, but trusted some finfluencer. Crypto scammers made millions, the finfluencers were paid serious money for their services, and the audience was left holding the bag when the cryptocurrency or NFT dropped in value, some to being completely worthless.

So, the next time somebody (including me) on the internet recommends a specific product to you, be sceptical. Consider the size of the risk, how much you would lose if it turns out that your trust was misplaced. You can probably afford getting it wrong with that recommendation of the eyeliner or video game, but certainly shouldn't trust anybody on the internet with your life savings.


Thursday, August 04, 2022
 
Monster scaling

The feature used to be called "role-playing game", but these days a lot of different genres of video games have you playing a character who by the accumulation of experience points, levels, gear, and the like is becoming stronger and stronger. The general idea behind that is that the game has certain challenges in the form of enemies to fight against, and that you overcome those challenges by becoming stronger. But what if that is all an illusion?

The typical gameplay has two things happening in parallel: Your power goes up, but you also progress through the story and meet stronger and stronger monsters to battle. In the end, the actual difficulty of each combat over the course of the game isn't all that different, because both you and the enemies become stronger at the same time. In games like World of Warcraft you *could* go back into a low-level zone and kill low-level monsters to better feel how much stronger you have become; but the reward systems are made in a way that this wouldn't actually get you anything. Cartman killing 65,340,285 boars in the South Park episode ‘Make Love, not Warcraft’ doesn't actually work in most games.

I am still playing a bit of free-to-play Diablo Immortal from time to time, now at level 47. One of the various game systems, Bounties, has you go back farming monsters in low-level zones you have played through earlier in the game. And it turns out that if you do that, the low-level monsters are *not* easy pushovers. In Diablo Immortal you can be too low a level for a particular fight, but not too high; because if you were, the game just scales the monster up and makes it stronger. Killing zombies in Ashwold Cemetary took 3 to 4 hits when you were level 8, and the same zombies still take 3 to 4 hits to kill at level 47. Of course that has certain advantages: High-level players can't easily outkill newbies in low-level zones, and the zombies are still available as content for higher level bounties. But it makes you question why you put all that effort into trying to make your character stronger, especially in a game like Diablo Immortal, where you might have paid a lot of money for that privilege.

In Battle Brothers the monsters you need to kill in quests scale with your level, while the monsters roaming in the wilderness scale with game time. If you have some serious setbacks, or lost much time exploring without getting stronger, you can get into a situation where killing monsters outside quests simply isn't possible anymore, as they have become too strong for you. In many JRPG games, monsters don't scale at all, so if you get distracted from the main story and get stronger by doing a lot of side content, you can end up being far too powerful for the challenges in the main story. As you can see, each system has its possible pitfalls.

Diablo Immortal has shown again that the players' wish for more power can be exploited by game companies for profit. Maybe we should keep in mind that monsters often scale as well, and that this pursuit of power is often an illusion.

Friday, July 29, 2022
 
A different view on inflation

If you are following any financial or economic news at all, you will have heard a lot of talk about inflation this year. It is currently at a record high pretty much everywhere. Only the responses to inflation differ very much from one country to the next: In many European countries there is strong industrial action, strikes for higher wages. In anglo-saxon countries there is much less of that, and a strong political message that “inflation is bad for the average American, thus you should do your part to keep it down by not asking for more money”. In the UK the Labour party sacked one of their front men for participating in a strike, as if strikes were anit-labour. That is utter bullshit. Let’s have a look at what inflation really does.

Imagine an inflation that happened in an instant by a wave of a magical wand: All prices doubled, but also all incomes and savings doubled. It is easy to see that this would do absolutely nothing. If the money you have, the money you owe, the money you earn, and the money you spend for goods all rise by the exact same factor, everything remains the same in relation to each other. Even if the sticker price for goods changed, the amount of hours you need to work to buy that item hasn’t. The reason we feel inflation is because everything does *not* rise in parallel. What currently happens, and especially in America, is that prices have gone up, company profits have gone up dramatically, but wages haven’t followed all that fast. So, is inflation bad for the working person? Only if wages don’t keep up with it. It is completely possible that wages rise *faster* than prices, making workers better off. Currently companies and the people who own them are profiting quite nicely from inflation.

If you ever watched Downton Abbey, you might have wondered why a century ago we still had those big houses with lots of servants, and why those have largely disappeared. The answer is inflation. Wages went up faster than the fortunes of the rich. The housemaid or footman suddenly could earn more in a factory than by serving some rich guy, and the rich people lost money in the stock market crash and couldn’t afford those higher wages anymore. Overall that was quite a good thing, and inequality diminished. The decades after WWII were the least inequal in history. Those were the good years for the median income household, for the average worker.

There are big demographic changes ahead. A large generation is retiring, and there are fewer people around to work. That is an excellent opportunity to make the world a better place by industrial action for higher wages. Capitalism is the best system for the creation of wealth, but not the best for its distribution. People need to fight for their fair share of the wealth they helped to create, otherwise we will go back to Downton Abbey and an increasing share of poor people just serving the whims of the rich. Inflation is an opportunity to “tax the rich”, by making sure that wages, welfare, pensions, and other incomes of poorer people rise faster than corporate profits, stock market returns, and other incomes of rich people. But that won’t happen without a fight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022
 
Return to Dark Tower

A crowdfunding campaign for a second printing of Return to Dark Tower has started yesterday. One interesting aspect is that the campaign is on Backerkit, which used to only operate as a pledge manager platform, but now also started with crowdfunding campaigns. I bought the first edition of Return to Dark Tower this year, haven’t had the opportunity to play it yet, but I do know how the game works. And because I have recently watched a very misleading review of the game on Youtube, I wanted to give my thoughts on this game.

The misleading complaint I had heard about the game was about the power curve, with the reviewer complaining that he didn’t feel his character was getting stronger and stronger, like in other dungeon crawler board games. That is presumably because Return to Dark Tower is *not* a dungeon crawler at all. Instead it belongs to a category of games, together with other examples like Oltree or Siege of Runedar, which resemble the Tower Defense genre of computer games. The goal is *not* to vanquish all enemies, but rather to survive their increasing onslaught until you can fulfill a victory conditions, which could be killing the boss mob, or simply escaping. These games tend to start deceptively simple, but over time more and more threats turn up, which get nastier if not dealt with. Thus the power curve is very different from a dungeon crawler, and often things become increasingly dire before you can hopefully just eke out a victory. The main interest of Return to Dark Tower as a boardgame is that it is a great cooperative experience, with win or loss often determined by how well people can work together, and the external pressure creating great team spirit.

Now Return to Dark Tower is probably the most expensive version of this type of board game, at $190 MSRP, or $150 plus shipping for that crowdfunding pledge, which probably ends up about the same. Oltree has a MSRP of $70, and you can frequently find it cheaper, but it will provide a very similar gameplay experience. Siege of Runedar is even cheaper, but also somewhat simpler and doesn’t offer the modular replayability. The big difference is that Return to Dark Tower has the eponymous black plastic tower, which in combination with a phone or tablet acts as the villain of the game. This is a gadget, but an impressive one. While other games are perfectly able to generate a similar outcome with a deck of random event cards, the tower with its moving openings and glowing runes embodies the villain much better. Between people who love such gadgets and people who are nostalgic for the original Dark Tower game from the 80’s, there is a market for this game. But it osn’t great value for money, even if the game has a lot of replayability due to a modular design where you can select your quest, the main villain, and even the minions.

For me the question is whether I want to buy the Covenant expansion for $55 plus shipping. I like that the expansion has 4 new heroes, but I would have liked more foes rather than the addition of new game mechanics. 

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022
 
Multiplayer Tech Trees

There are a lot of single-player games which have a crafting tech tree, think anything from Don’t Starve to Valheim. You start out being to collect only a few basic materials, but can then craft those into tools that allow you to access more advanced materials. Often the discovery of new recipes is part of the game. In Prosperous Universe, and similar space trading and crafting multiplayer games, the tech tree is known to all players from the start. But other than that, the main difference is one of scale: Single-player games are designed so that a single player can gather all the resources and do all the crafting for a large project by himself. Multiplayer games usually have projects that need collaboration. In Prosperous Universe players group together to do large projects, like building space ships.

In Prosperous Universe there are about 400 planets in the galaxy, from which you can extract 34 different basic resources. As there are only a few resources on any given planet, and your number of bases is limited, you will never be able to extract all 34 resources. The idea is that different players cover different parts of the resorce gathering and subsequent crafting tech trees, and then trade with each other. I have been playing Prosperous Universe for three months now, and found that for many basic resources and basic crafted items this system of trading works reasonably well and is fun to me to plan and execute. But that is at the lowest out of five levels of workers, pioneers. When I explored higher level crafted goods, I quickly observed something: The markets for these goods are very “thin”, with not many players buying and selling these goods, and not much trade going on. As you can’t realiably find buyers and sellers, the corporations (guilds) trade these goods among each other, away from the public markets, which then makes the market even thinner.

And then I realized that if you have a given size of tech tree and a given capacity of each player how many diferent goods he can produce, you need a certain number of players to create an active market for all goods. Prosperous Universe, being quite a niche game, doesn’t have more than a few thousand players. And that is only enough to cover the lower end of the tech tree, and not the complete tree. There simply aren’t enough players out there to create enough supply and demand for higher level goods. Prosperous Universe isn’t badly designed, it just has a design that would work optimally with a much larger number of players.

One example I have been exploring is Hardened Structural Elements, a material needed to build anything on a planet with high atmospheric pressure, like the one I chose for my second base. These HSE need the second and third level of workers to produce. They also need Stabilized Technetium, which is another complete branch of the tech tree, so it would be extremely hard to extract the Technetium Ore and refine it and make everything else needed to produce HSE alone without trading. So I tried with trading, and now I have a production that depends on me being lucky and finding people selling the intermediate materials like Stabilized Technetium that I need. Sometimes the production just grinds to a halt, because the market is empty. And once when I tried to sell a batch of my production, somebody simply bought everything, and then tried to resell it for twice the price, because there was so little supply.

Much of the fun in Prosperous Universe has been about planning my economy for the weeks to come. While market prices moved up and down, there always *was* a market for the low level goods I was trading in. Now I realize that this liquid market doesn’t exist for higher level goods, unless Prosperous Universe suddenly attracts a much larger number of players, which is unlikely. I could play the game in a very different way, integrating my economy into the larger economy of my corporation. But I have grown wary of MMO guilds, and prefer to play mostly solo. So I am currently not sure how much longer I will continue to play Prosperous Universe. Anyone know another MMO which is mostly about crafting and trading, without combat?

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Saturday, July 23, 2022
 
Descending into hell

Having now successfully persuaded Apple of my German credentials, I was able to switch the region of my App store, giving me access to a bunch of apps not available on the Belgian App store. That included Diablo Immortal, which is banned in Belgium for its lootboxes and real money market. Time to check it out while I am in Germany, and make some comparison with other games with excessive monetization. For reference, I played a barbarian to level 36, which means I am past the first significant level hurdle at 35, and all the systems of the game have been introduced. And I haven’t spent anything, which is the good news: As long as you are content to play Diablo Immortal in a casual and non-competitive way, you don’t need money.

Having said that, I have a long list of “special offers” unused in the in-game store. Right from the start the game wants to sell you a 99 cent beginner bundle, and after every major dungeon you clear there are other bundles on offer, with increasing prices. There is also the battle pass, the player market where you can only buy things for a currency you get for real money, the infamous legendary crests, and a host of other options where I could have spent a lot of money and didn’t. It occurred to me that in many cases Diablo Immortal disguises your purchases as rewards for playing. You don’t buy legendary gems at random, you buy legendary crests that make elder rifts drop a random legendary gem. That is most noticable if you consider the timing when to buy the battle pass: If you buy the pass at the start of the season, it very much looks like you getting rewards for playing, as you fulfill the tasks of the battle pass and go up ranks. But you could also buy the battle pass on the last day of the season and suddenly get all the added rewards for all the ranks you achieved at once, which makes it a lot more obvious that you spent money on those virtual “rewards”.

Like Genshin Impact, for a mobile game played for free, Diablo Immortal is of quite good quality. A bit grindy maybe, but smooth gameplay and good graphics. Elden Ring it is not, there is a near total absence of challenge playing through the single-player campaign. I died only once up to now, and that was only because I didn’t hit the healing potion button in time. The barbarian is a very nice class for beginners and people who aren’t very good at action RPGs. With the basic attack Lacerate healing you on every third hit, I rarely drop below half health; and if I do, I can collect health globes or drink a potion, which regenerate with time. There are squishier characters, but as far I know they aren’t overly difficult to play either. The barbarian has a whirlwind attack which not only is jolly good fun, but also very useful in getting kill streaks, which reward extra xp. The game does a reasonable good job of making combat look exciting, even if most of the time I could easily get by with just my basic attack. The only difficulty is having to use a touch-screen “joystick” and buttons, which is far from my preferred control method, due to the lack of haptic feedback.

The tutorial is over 30 levels long because Diablo Immortal has a large number of different currencies and reward systems that all interact with each other. Typically loot is only found as drops, but then you can use various materials and gems to upgrade the items you found. If you find better gear, you can transfer all those upgrades from the previous item you wore in that slot to the new one. That has obvious advantages for the player, who can start upgrading gear before reaching the endgame. But it also enables wallet warriors to have massive advantages through highly upgraded gear from early on. I really don’t know why anybody would want to play the PvP mode of Diablo Immortal under these circumstances, it is pure Pay2Win. For the PvE part this matters a lot less.

If I compare with a list of other mobile games I tried recently, the battle pass is the feature that Diablo Immortal shares with a bunch of other games. Lesser mobile games frequently have lesser forms of monetization, like advertising, which Diablo Immortal thankfully is missing. Mobile games advertising is really, really bad: Usually you get the option to watch like 30 seconds of an ad for getting twice the reward for some in-game action. But the frequency of those ads can be quite high, leading to you frequently seeing the same stuff over and over. And mobile game advertising in over half of the cases is very misleading, with the content of the ad having little or nothing to do with the game being advertised. I had one game in which ads were so frequent and so annoying, that the game offered you the option of skipping all ads for $4 per week. On the positive side, most mobile games have fewer possible purchases than Diablo Immortal, and are clearly not designed to cost you tens of thousands.

Apart from the monetization aspects, Diablo Immortal is a very trivial game. What I am missing the most is a sense of exploration and discovery, Diablo Immortal is mostly on rails, sometimes literally so with auto-navigation to your quest target. There is a lot of content that can keep you slaughtering monsters for hours, but nothing very interesting in the story or the game mechanics. You can play this pretty much mindlessly, smash a bunch of virtual buttons more or less randomly, and for the most part of the game you will be okay. I’m not really tempted to spend any money on this: Why spend money to make the grind shorter when there is nothing more fun to reach behind the grind?

Wednesday, July 20, 2022
 
Lies, damned lies, and statistics

As I mentioned before, I recently went into retirement. People always ask you what you are planning to do with your time in that situation. In my case I have a big project for the moment: I will leave the city and build a house in a small village in the countryside. So for entertainment I currently watch a lot of TV shows about building and decorating houses, for inspiration. As I recently managed to sign up to Discovery+, I now have access to HGTV, which is full of shows like that. And after watching a wide range of those, something struck me: There were a lot of millenials on those shows, renting appartments in Chicago for $2,500 a month, or buying expensive single-family houses. Is that real, or a TV fantasy? Aren’t millenials supposed to be the broke generation, who somehow got robbed of all the money they were due by boomers like me? So I did some research on the topic, and it turned out to be a case of Mark Twain’s “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

Statistics in general is an attempt to make a statement about a group (e.g. of people), although each individual is different. It is very obvious that in a large group like “the millenials” there are both very rich and very poor people. So how do you make economic statements about the whole group, and what do these statements mean? Two very common concepts here are using the average (all the money divided by all the people) or the median (the amount of money where half of the population has more, and half has less). Both concepts have their flaws. The USA is a rich country, with a GDP per capita of over $63,000, but that is an average that doesn’t tell you much about the financial situation of a typical American. The median household income in 2021 was $70,000 , which gives you a better picture. However, the average household income was $97,000. In personal finance statistics, the average numbers are always higher than the median numbers, because the very rich impact the average much more than the median.

So how about those millenials? Of the 72 million millenials in the USA, over 600,000 are already millionaires. While the boomer generation has a much higher percentage of millionaires now, that percentage is very much a function of age. When the boomers were young, they actually had a lower percentage of millionaires than the millenial generation now. If you look at all the publications showing how poor the millenials are, they all use median incomes, which are very bad for this generation. If you use averages instead, the millenial generation is suddenly richer than the boomers were at the same age, because GDP has gone up every year. What has changed is that inequality has gone up: The difference between average and median is much bigger now, with the median having gone down and the average having gone up.

In a way, the COVID pandemic was a perfect showcase for the rise of inequality in the millenial generation: A lot of millenials in lower income jobs, especially in hospitality, lost their jobs and suffered severe financial consequences. But other millenials in high-paying tech jobs suffered no loss of income at all, being able to comfortably work from home. How comfortable working from home is depends very much on the size of of your home, thus one trend was richer millenials moving away from small appartments in cities and buying large and luxurious homes further away from their jobs, thanks to being able to work home office. HGTV isn’t lying, but they only show a richer slice of the population. I don’t think they have any TV shows on buying the cheapest houses on the market and decorating it from the dollar store, although that obviously is a reality too.

Regardless who you compare them to, rich boomers or rich millenials, the median millenial is in a bad economic place. While the boomers are starting to die, that generational wealth transfer will not fix the plight of the median millenials, it will only increase inequality. Even when all the boomers are dead, the median millenial will still be poor. Because this isn’t really a generational problem, but an inequality problem, and inequality is getting worse. It is the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands that make median households poorer.

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