Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 18, 2019
 
Bought a new computer - 2019 edition

I'm using this blog in part for myself as a journal of my computer and gaming life. As part of that, I always write a post when I buy a new computer. The last one of these posts was back in 2014. So it was time for a new PC, even if they don't age as fast as they used to. The new computer has the following specs:

Intel Core i7 9700K
Corsair Vengeange LPX DDR4 16GB 2133 Mhz RAM
Gigabyte Z390 motherboard
Geforce RTX 2070 graphics card
1 TB SSD hard drive as boot drive
2x4 TB SATA hard drive for data storage
DVD writer for the rare case of old software still coming on a disc
Corsair Obsidian Series 750D Full Tower Case

So, how much faster is that? Well, I'm using 3DMark as graphics benchmark. On the Fire Strike benchmark the 2014 PC with a Geforce 770 scored 7,500. When I installed a Geforce 970 in 2015, that went up to 9,950. And the new computer with the Geforce 2070 scores 20087. In other word, and I don't know in how far that is just a coincidence, there is a linear correlation between the number in the name of the Geforce graphics card and its 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark score.

In all honesty, I didn't really *need* a new computer, the old one was running all games I play perfectly fine. However my Windows 10 recently crashed, and I needed to reinstall everything anyway, so that removed one of the major arguments against buying a new PC. Might as well just install everything on a new computer. The other minor incident which made me think I might need a faster graphics card was pushing the button to "optimize graphics settings" in World of Tanks, and seeing that the software choose less than the prettiest options in order to run faster. I assume that now it will be able to run with highest graphics settings at good framerate. And this new PC is probably going to last at least another 5 years.

Thursday, January 17, 2019
 
The need of the many

The two characters I probably played the most in World of Warcraft were a tank and a healer. That is to say that I am perfectly willing and able to understand when a certain class or style of play is required for the needs of the group, and to fill that role even if it might not be the one that brings the most personal glory or fun. Having said that, I need to add that there are limits to that approach: If playing the role that is needed is no fun at all, I may need to reconsider.

In the D&D campaign where I think I found a good balance between personal fun and usefulness for the group, I am playing a dexterity-based, dual-wielding paladin. The basic idea is that by rolling more often for attacks, it becomes more likely that I'll roll a critical hit, and can then use Divine Smite for excellent burst damage. By playing a melee combatant with not-too-bad armor class and having healing spells and abilities, I fulfill two roles that are needed for the group. But rolling lots of dice and doing sometimes spectacular take-downs with Divine Smite is also great fun for me personally.

Yesterday I played a level 8 lore bard in another campaign. My surprise move in aid of the group was to polymorph the druid into a Giant Ape, which is a far stronger animal than he can usually transform into. With one spell I basically added 157 hit points to the group's health pool and increased the group's damage output by a good amount. However polymorph is a concentration spell. That means I can't cast other concentration spells, and I need to be careful to not get hit. So that forced me into a very passive role for the rest of the combats, while the druid went ape. I was casting cantrips and the like, while he was crushing the enemies. Very efficient, and fun for the druid, but less fun for me.

Maybe I have chosen the wrong spell. I could use it differently, e.g. polymorphing an enemy into a sheep in best WoW tradition, or in casting it on myself. However both of those options are a lot less efficient: Polymorphing an enemy gives him saving throws every round to cancel the effect, and polymorphing myself means I would then be in melee combat and likely to lose concentration when getting hit. I can understand for game balance why spells that disable an enemy have been limited a lot with frequent saves and the concentration requirement; but in the end that leaves those spells somewhat underwhelming compared to other spells of the same level. And the bard gets a lot of spells like that.

In an unfortunately much less active campaign I am playing a bard of the college of swords, that is more fun to play. He has means to use his bardic inspiration on his own moves, not just to help the group. And he gets to roll more dice and be in the thick of the fight, which is more exciting. Less useful for the group maybe, more selfish, but definitively more fun to play.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019
 
Effects of monetization

NoGuff asked in a comment on yesterday's post "How long do you think it will be before we see an honest postmortem on how F2P, micro-transactions and similar monetization methods have effected player retention over the long term?". I don't think he will like any of my answers.

First of all, I don't think it is a problem of honesty. Scientifically speaking it is a case of a missing baseline: We do not know how the player retention in World of Warcraft is affected by the sale of sparkling ponies, because there is no alternative World of Warcraft that does not have sparkling ponies. If game X does very well, or is a complete flop, is that because game X has loot boxes, or is the game just very good / very bad? Personally I would suspect that the main problem with player retention in mobile Free2Play games is that there are a million of them, many very similar to each other. Even if they were buy-to-own they would still have terrible churn. Unless they were very expensive, in which case nobody would play them at all.

The second answer NoGuff won't like is that I believe that monetization schemes could potentially have a positive effect on player retention. This is due to a very common psychological misjudgment people tend to make, called the sunk cost fallacy. The fact that a player has spent money on a game leads to him being less willing to abandon that game, and can potentially even make him spend more money. Of course the same works with time spent, but I would guess that money spent weighs heavier in that decision.

The third factor I was thinking off is that once you consider a "long term" over years and decades, you need to consider how people change over decades. 30 years ago I had little money and a lot of time, today I have a lot less time and more money. Your mileage may vary, but my case isn't exactly uncommon. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the average American household spent $3,203 per year on entertainment in 2017. While there are always stories about the few "whales" who spend thousands on a game, I would believe that my recent $40 for 25 loot boxes in World of Tanks is the more common type of what regular people spend on monetization schemes in games. $40 here and there on a $3,203 annual budget isn't a big deal, it is cheaper than a lot of other hobbies.

I made a purchase recently in World of Tanks which I consider a borderline excessive, and it had probably more to do with "retail therapy" than with me actually needing it: I bought a Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung J. Or rather, I bought the largest bundle of World of Tanks premium currency (30,500 gold) for the standard price of €99.95 which came with a free Pz.Kpfw. II Ausf. J included. As that amount of gold pays for a year of premium account and you still have gold over for other in-game stuff, I am not likely to make such a purchase very often. But even if I would spend several hundred Euros per year on World of Tanks, that wouldn't really break the bank.

However that Pz.Kpfw. II Ausf. J is certainly very much "Pay2Win", as I have a 68% win rate with it, compared to an average win rate of 48% with my other tanks. This particular tank has a very thick armor for its tier, and so some of the enemies you encounter will simply not be able to penetrate your armor. That enables sometimes spectacular wins, and the only way to get there is with real money. Okay, so the tank has a bunch of drawbacks, like needing expensive ammo and being very slow. And if the matchmaker pairs you against higher tier tanks, their bigger guns will easily penetrate your armor. But overall it is Pay2Win, because I am able to win more with that tank by having paid real money.

Whether a monetization scheme in a game involves Pay2Win, or whether it the game just sells you cosmetic items like sparkling ponies or skins, the effect of monetization on player retention is probably less on the player who spent the money, but on the players who didn't spend any. Whether it is wallet warriors able to beat you with the power of real money in a PvP game, or you just being jealous of having to grind slowly in a game for free while people who pay advance faster, or just have nicer looking outfits, this can affect the motivation of free players to continue playing. However game companies are probably more interested in retaining the paying players than retaining the free ones. And if the game wasn't Free2Play, but had an upfront payment required to enter, then many of those free players wouldn't have played the game at all. So I think over all games and all players, Free2Play with monetization increases the number of players rather than decreasing it.

Monday, January 14, 2019
 
How multiplayer game populations age

Yesterday I was playing World of Tanks in a tier III tank, which is low on the 10-tier scale. I ran into another tank and got shot to pieces. Well, that happens. However with the help of the XVM mod that I had installed, I was able to gleam two pieces of information: The player who had killed me was much more experienced than me, and he had used "gold ammo" to kill me.

Now in reality "gold ammo" isn't even sold for gold any more. You just buy it for credits. That gives you ammo which frequently deals the same damage as regular ammo, but has an easier time penetrating armor, so that is definitively an advantage. On the other hand the ammo costs a lot of "credits" / "silver" regular currency, so that you might actually be losing credits if you use it exclusively in battles. A new player who is playing World of Tanks for free will be short of credits anyhow, and wouldn't use the expensive ammo. A player who paid money for a premium account and maybe bought a premium tank for credit farming will be more likely to have the credits available to spend on that ammo, so indirectly it remains "gold ammo". But it is also possible that the experienced player just grinded a lot for those credits, and having already bought all the tanks he wanted doesn't need the credits for anything else any more. So he used his credits and presumably a maxed out tank and good crew with other consumables to farm wins in low tier games.

That got me thinking about how game populations age in multiplayer games. On day one of a new game, everybody is a noob. Frequently in the early months of a game, population grows, which means that while some players are staying and getting more experienced, there is a larger influx of new players. In a game with levels or tiers like World of Tanks, people are trying to level up as quickly as possible, so the more experienced players are more likely to be found in the higher levels, while the new players are more likely to be found in the lower levels.

But after some time, which can be months or years, the game isn't the new shiny any more, and the influx of new players diminishes. Of the existing players, some stop playing, others keep playing. So the shape of the population curve of number of players with a certain experience of the game becomes ever broader, but through a lack of new players it also becomes more bell-shaped. The race for the top level has stopped, and experienced players can be found playing all levels, in as far as that makes sense in the game. In a game like World of Warcraft you'd still find a lot of experienced players at the level cap, because leveling up a new character is fast and unless there are certain goals that can only be done at a specific lower level, it doesn't make much sense to deliberately hang out at lower levels. In a game like World of Tanks it can make more sense to play low tier tanks, and thus you get experienced players in lower tiers.

Unfortunately that system contains a negative feedback loop: Less new players join the game, population of experienced players in lower tiers goes up, experienced players have better skills and gear than new players and slaughter them in lower tiers (it's called "seal-clubbing" in World of Tanks), game gets less attractive for new players, back to step one of the loop. There used to be a "new player protection" is World of Tanks that would make it so that new players only fought each other, and not veterans in low tier tanks. But apparently that has silently been removed, as it leads to long wait times if not enough real new players are playing.

While some of this is particular to World of Tanks, I do think the underlying problem is similar in a lot of games, especially in multiplayer PvP games. At some point in time the game isn't attractive to new players any more, because they feel as if they are getting "seal-clubbed" by the veterans. But without an influx of new players, the game can't keep up its player numbers, queues to wait for matches are getting longer, and the income of the game company goes down. I am wondering how multiplayer games could be designed that don't have these negative feedback loops and that can run forever.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019
 
Remember Gearscore?

I was reminded of the bad old days in World of Warcraft where players used the Gearscore addon to judge other players and insult them. In World of Tanks that score is called WN8, it is supposed to measure skill instead of gear, but inevitably the reduction of a player to a single number leads to the same judgmental crap. Players with a bad WN8 are shown in various addons in red, and then get insulted as "tomatoes". I actually was in a tier II (that is beginner level) battle in which one player complained in chat that there were too many tomatoes on his team. Well, where else did he want the inexperienced players to play if not in the low tier battles?

The bigger problem with WN8 is the way it is calculated. Damage dealt affects the score very much, other contributions not so much. In particular for light tanks that is a huge problem: A very good scout is rewarded in the game, because the game counts the damage you contributed to by scouting and showing your allies where the enemy tanks are. But that value isn't accessible in the database, and so doesn't go into the WN8 calculation. Thus the world's best scout has a lower WN8 rating than a mediocre player of heavy tanks or tank destroyers. While I am not the world's best scout, I am reasonably good at it, and just finished the light tank 15 mission campaign. But as I have been playing light tanks a lot, also in earlier years, and 40% of my battles have been done with light tanks, my overall WN8 rating is tomato red. Looked at separately, my SPG (artillery) WN8 rating is a respectable blue, but with only 10% of my battles in SPGs that doesn't do enough for my overall score.

In spite of the occasional insults by other players, I wouldn't let that change what tanks I play. However the fact that I finished the light tank campaign also encourages me to move on and play other tank types. Which will automatically improve my WN8 rate, although that isn't the purpose of the exercise.

Saturday, January 05, 2019
 
Playing for progression

In the early days of video games, games did not remember you. When you started another game of Tetris or PacMan, you started in exactly the same state as your first game. Any "progression" came from what you had learned in earlier games, from you getting better at the game. But that sort of learning curve becomes slow after a time; yes, your 1000th game will score much better than your first, but you 600th will not necessarily feel much different from your 500th. But as players liked progression, and technology advanced, games acquired the ability to remember you and to boost your progression: Playing a game would not only make you better at it, it would also give you some reward like a bigger gun or experience points / levels which would make the game easier for you.

Players *really* like progression. While Progress Quest in 2002 was meant to be a parody, a game that had only progress but no gameplay, that sort of idle game actually became a genre. More importantly the mass market for mobile games is full of games in which the gameplay part is fundamentally very easy, and artificial progress, which can then be monetized, makes up most of the game. That led to some backlash with an endless discussion on monetization, Pay2Win, loot boxes, and the like. However that discussion only made the distinction between monetized and not monetized progress, not between progress by learning and progress by receiving virtual rewards. Most players are still totally content at getting visible and measurable progress in a game through "grinding rewards", even if they don't actually get better at the game at that point.

To me that "playing for progression" is losing its luster over time. At some point the brain's capacity for pattern recognition kicks in and dampens the dopamine effect of "shiny reward -> joy". I don't know in how far that is a universal phenomenon. But when I hit the typical "pay or grind" wall in a game, the question for me is less about which one of those options to choose (I might go either way), but rather whether the underlying gameplay is still interesting enough for me to want to continue at all. I currently play World of Tanks because even a battle of tier I tanks is fun gameplay and I am still learning with every battle. I am mostly playing tiers IV to VI (because the campaigns don't work before tier IV), and I am in no way impatient to progress to the higher tiers (which I easily could due to previously acquired rewards).

If more people felt like me, that would be somewhat of a financial problem for game companies. Artificial progress is much easier to monetize than fun gameplay. But I would say that fun gameplay is a necessary condition for longevity of a game, and so game companies should in any case make certain that their games are fun to play before trying to wring the last cent out of their players.

Thursday, January 03, 2019
 
My light tanks

I have improved my light tank gameplay in World of Tanks up to the point where I now reached the 15th and last mission in the first light tank campaign. That involved me realizing my limitations: I am not a very fast player, and if I run around in a light tank at full speed, I can't simultaneously aim and shoot very well. And the autoaim isn't working that well in that situation either. So how did I do the campaign missions which require me to do damage? By switching to the French light tank line, which for some reason I already had previously unlocked, but not used much.

The tier V French light tank AMX ELC bis is basically a tank destroyer in disguise. Not so good for zipping around, but excellent for hiding in a bush and sniping at enemy tanks. For comparison, the Russian tier V light tank T-50 with regular ammo has an armor penetration of 90, and deals 70 damage per shot. The French AMX ELC bis has an armor penetration of 120 and deals 240 points of damage. The T-50 reloads *much* faster and thus has in fact the higher damage per minute. But that would mean sticking around to shoot repeatedly, which a light tank can't do while stationary. So because I can't drive and shoot simultaneously, the AMX ELC bis is the better option for me.

For the later campaign missions I switched to higher tier French light tanks, the Bat.-Châtillon at tier VIII and the AMX 13 90 at tier IX. That was simply because those missions required a certain amount of damage from allies and/or me. And damage numbers are automatically much higher at higher tiers. For the last mission I need to do or assist with an overall 3,000 damage in one battle, which will require some luck.

So I already started on the medium tank campaign, with the Russian medium tanks. Very different gameplay than the light tanks, and I am still far from mastering this. I'll keep learning, and that is fun.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019
 
World of Tanks holiday loot boxes

While I can't buy loot boxes in World of Tanks on account of them being considered "gambling" in Belgium, I am able to receive them as gift. So I got 25 loot boxes from the current holiday event of World of Tanks, which enables me to better judge them.

Wikipedia defines loot boxes as "a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection of further virtual items". If you apply that definition strictly, every booster packs in every collectible card game is a loot box. However those card booster packs are a lot less controversial than loot boxes in other games. Why is that so? The answer lies in what happens if you have bad luck. What do you get if you don't get the "randomized further virtual item" that you were hoping to get? In many games with loot boxes, you might well get only stuff that is absolutely useless to you, e.g. a skin that you don't want to wear and that you can't trade away. The loot boxes in gacha games can contain low rarity items that don't help you at all in the game. The booster packs in collectible card games usually have guaranteed rarity distributions, so you don't need luck to draw a rare card (you still need luck to draw the rare card you wanted).

The World of Tanks loot boxes work a lot like booster packs in that they have a guaranteed content, which is 250 gold and a tier V holiday decoration. Which means that if you buy 25 boosters for 40 Euros, you at the very least get 6,250 gold, which would already cost you over 20 Euros to buy directly. And the holiday decorations also have value, because they raise your "festive atmosphere" level, which in turn gives you a bunch of other rewards. In my case, in spite of having come to World of Tanks after Christmas and thus missing much of the event, the 25 loot boxes were just enough to max my festive atmosphere level to 10 and get all 4 female crew members, tons of consumables, and several million silver worth of discounts on tank purchases.

And then of course if you open 25 loot boxes, chances are that many of them contain more than the minimum content and a few contain high value content. In my case, I got 9,000 gold, 17 premium account days, 2 garage slots, 2 unique styles (skins), 1.9 M silver, and two premium tanks: A tier V medium, and a tier VIII heavy. Now except for the unique styles, you can buy all of this stuff also for money (to be precise, you can't buy the exact premium tanks I got, but you can buy other tanks of the same type and tier). So you can calculate back the "virtual value" of the content of my 25 loot boxes, which in my case was about 100 Euro (not counting the holiday decoration). And I think the tier VIII heavy was my only really lucky draw. So 100 Euro is virtual value for 40 Euro in loot boxes is not a bad deal, in my opinion.

The obvious caveat in that calculation is that one probably wouldn't have bought that particular collection of virtual items for 100 Euros. I wasn't likely to spend 12,000 gold on a tier VIII heavy IS-3A, as I already got a tier VIII heavy Löwe. However the majority of the stuff I got, gold, silver, premium account days, and garage slots are universally useful, and already worth more than the cost of the 25 loot boxes. Which makes me think that if bought in moderation, World of Tanks loot boxes are close to a guaranteed good deal rather than gambling.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019
 
World of Tanks again

Happy New Year 2019, everybody!

In 2011 I played World of Tanks when it was a relatively new game. I even did some promotion for the game, by posting an interview about matchmaking with one of the developers. As a reward for that, my account was set to receive 250 gold every day when I logged on for some time. I never used all of that, I still have 54k gold left (which is just under 200€ worth of gold). I played over 5,600 battles, with a perfect 50:50 win:loss ratio. As battles can be just a few minutes short if you bail after having been killed, that probably represents less than 500 hours played. Then I moved on to something else. Now I spent Christmas with family, and it turns out that my brother, who is not the gamer in the family, has 24,000 battles played in World of Tanks, and my nephew is just starting to play. Time to revisit the game.

At first I used a secondary mail account to make another, fresh, World of Tanks account and get the new player experience. That was interesting, but turned out to be not necessary (I deleted that account). There is a "Return to Bootcamp" button, which allows you to play through the tutorial even on an old account. The bootcamp is nice, back in 2011 there basically was no tutorial at all. Now you can play a few battles against bots to get you started, or in my case relearn the controls and some basic game concepts.

Another addition to the game are missions and campaigns. Especially campaigns give you a guideline what to attempt beyond just racking up experience and silver. There are two campaigns now, one for tier IV+ tanks, and one for tier VI+. Every campaign has several chapters with increasing difficulty, and each chapter has 15 campaign missions for each of the 5 tank types, so there is a lot to do. I started with the easiest campaign for light tanks, and got until the 10th mission, "LT-10: The Best Result". The missions pushed me to improve my light tank gameplay, and that was good. Now I feel a bit stuck there, because the requirement for this mission is to be among the top 3 players in a battle, which obviously depends not only on myself. So I need to have a very good game (which is probably harder in a light tank than in other types of tanks) and I need everybody else to have a rather bad to mediocre game to finish this mission. I really preferred the mission types that depended mostly on my own actions.

World of Tanks is a Free2Play game which I feel is somewhat less exploitative than others. The best option to spend your money is a premium account (10 Euros buys you enough gold for 1 month, 100 Euros buys you over a year), which very much resembles an optional subscription, resulting in you getting more xp and silver per battle. You can also buy premium tanks with gold or money, but those are outside the normal tech tree advancement. There are now also lootboxes, which I can't buy, because they are specifically disabled for Belgian customers, Belgium having declared game lootboxes as a form of gambling. With a bit of luck you get more premium stuff out of lootboxes than you would have gotten if you bought the stuff directly, but you might end up with premium tanks that you wouldn't have chosen.

For me the big advantage of World of Tanks is that it can be played with relatively low commitment, in every sense. You choose yourself how much time and effort you want to put into the game, and get rewards in function of that. But if you absolutely wanted to play without bothering to improve your game, you could do that too. You don't need a clan, and your personal contribution to a battle of you with 14 other random guys against 15 random guys is low enough to make it possible to just try out some fun stuff with low enough impact on the team win chance. In fact many of the systems that push you to improve your game are based on player-made mods like XVM, and are not part of the standard game. I do want to improve my game, but I don't want either the game or my fellow players to constantly nag me about it.

I will play a bit more with my light tanks, and then maybe start the easiest medium tanks campaign. According to sites like Noobmeter or WoTStats or Tanks.gg, I mainly played light tanks and suck at doing so (red WN8 rating), while I really excel (purple WN8 rating) at playing SPGs (artillery). But that is probably because I remember that in 2011 I had a lot of fun with suicide scouting and didn't know about passive scouting. Now the light tanks campaign has pushed me to watch some YouTube videos and improve my game. Let's see if I can get that WN8 up a bit more before switching to the next type of tank.

Saturday, December 22, 2018
 
A different Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Would you play Assassin's Creed Odyssey if it had turn-based combat? Maybe with trading cards? My guess is that this would be a serious turn-off for many of the millions of people who bought the game, especially the console versions. But me, I looked at the Steam sale for Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and decided not to buy it because it *didn't* have turn-based combat. I really liked the ancient Greek setting, and the visuals of the large world to explore, but ultimately one spends just too much time in these games in combat for me to be able to ignore that I don't like button mashing.

That isn't just a matter of me being bad at action combat. I mean, yes, I am not great at it, but that can probably be remedied by playing at easy or normal difficulty level instead of hard or nightmare. The problem is more that I enjoy making clever tactical moves in a turn-based game, but in an action game these either aren't available, or rely on you being able to press a button sequence with split second accuracy, not on out-thinking the enemy.

So I ended up buying Dragon Quest XI and Battletech at that Steam winter sale instead. But I really liked the idea of game companies releasing different versions of their big open world exploration games with different types of combat. Too bad nobody does that.

Friday, December 21, 2018
 
Concentration casters in D&D

This week I played a new character in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, a bard of the college of lore. That turned out to be not so obvious, because that build has lots of spells that require concentration. In 5th edition D&D, concentration means you can only have one spell like that ongoing at any time, and if you get hit you need to do a saving throw to keep the spell up.

The first restriction is sometimes annoying, but in my opinion well-balanced. Those flying, invisible mages of previous editions are no more. My bard has greater invisibility, which allows him to remain invisible while attacking or casting spells. That is powerful enough, even if I can cast only non-concentration spells like lightning bolt while invisible.

I am much less happy with concentration breaking on a failed constitution saving throw when taking damage. If you look at a spell like Confusion, the enemy gets a saving throw when I cast the spell on him, then he gets another saving throw every round to break the effect, and the effect also breaks if I lose concentration due to getting hit by something and failing my save. That is a lot possibilities to negate a spell effect. The only class doing a bit better here is sorcerers, who are proficient in constitution saving throws. Other classes would need to take the war caster feat to improve their chances of their concentration holding, but that comes at the cost of not taking ability score increases.

In some cases the necessity to keep concentration up severely limits the options of a spell. For example I could theoretically use Polymorph to transform myself into a giant ape and kick ass in melee combat. However in melee I would lose concentration rather quickly, especially against enemies who have more than one attack per round. So the next best use for the spell is to cast it on the group's wild shape druid. But then I have to a) stand back in order to not get hit, and b) not use any other concentration spells while the druid is going ape.

On the one hand I do like to play a caster that doesn't simply blast enemies with direct damage, but rather works as a support character, helping his allies, and hindering the enemy with various effects. But to some extent I feel that the D&D rules on concentration somewhat discourage this style of play, and make throwing fireballs comparatively far more effective.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018
 
Not playing well with others

This blog had "MMORPG" in its title for years, so you might be excused for thinking that I like playing with other people online. Unfortunately the reality is more the reverse: Because I played with other people online for years, I don't like to do it anymore. The fundamental reason for this is probably human variability: Just like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you will get when playing with real people. Now imagine a box of chocolates in which 1 out of 10 chocolates is filled with shit, or cyanide. Would you want to take a chocolate? It doesn't matter that the majority of interactions with other humans online are unremarkable or even positive, it is that one toxic interaction that is going to ruin your evening.

Humans are unreliable when it comes to games. You don't know how competent they are going to be when they are on your team, or when you play against them. I dare you to find a single multiplayer online game in which the players haven't complained about matchmaking. Depending on what game you are playing, you might also be negatively affected if somebody else is going afk because his door bell rang, or his internet broke down. And then you have the real toxic encounters, in which another player is abusing the chat function or some game functionality to try to annoy you. If playing with other people is so great, why do modern games nearly universally now have systems that prevent players from talking freely to each other in game?

Apart from long years of negative experiences with other players online, I also have a more philosophical reason for not wanting to play that way any more: I often feel that I serve as "content" in a game in which the developers were simply too lazy to include an even half competent artificial intelligence. While graphics in games have improved dramatically over the last two decades, the AI opponents in games today are either non-existent or less good than in games from 20 years ago. Not only do I feel somewhat exploited by being used as content for other players, often in a setup in which my role is clearly pre-defined as that of a victim; the lack of AI also makes certain games less useful to me, because I can't play them when not connected to the internet. "PvP only" to me is a cost-saving solution to produce games on the cheap, and those cheap games just don't meet my personal standards.

Now obviously my dislike of PvP isn't absolute. Some games manage the interaction between players better than others. For example I do like Wargaming's World of Tanks, Warships, etc., because the 15 vs. 15 setup tends to moderate human variability by having a large enough sample. I also like mobile games which only pretend to be PvP, but in reality replace the other player by a more reliable AI; because that works both ways, you can be the designated victim for another human and the game doesn't even tell you about it. Other people get around the social problems with other players by exclusively playing in guilds / clans / groups of friends, but that is not an option for me anymore, as I am no more able to attend regularly like I did during my WoW days.

We live in a world in which every year more games come out than I could possibly play. So I'm warning game developers that if they don't put a decent AI in their game, I'll just play something else. And I doubt that I am the only one who thinks like that.

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