Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
 
Knockout criteria

I was playing the demo of Dawn of Discovery, aka Anno 1404, and then started reading some reviews. One review basically said "this is the best city building / economic simulation game we've seen in a while, but because it doesn't have violence and big explosions we downrank its rating to 7 out of 10". Which serves to show why using a numerical rating system is bad in the first place, if you end up using it to compare games of different genres. But it also shows that we all have certain "knockout criteria", where if a game has certain features, or doesn't have certain other features, we automatically downgrade it.

I'm certainly not immune from that, although I don't give numerical review scores, and always make it clear what exactly I didn't like in a game. If a game has for example non-consentual PvP, I automatically like it a lot less than if the same game had a PvP flag you could manually set. I also dismiss games that can't be played with the reflexes of a gamer in his mid-40s; note that most twitchy single-player games can still be played by us old foggies by using normal or easy settings, while that option obviously is missing in multiplayer games like team shooters.

The smaller the game, the more likely it is that the developers had to save money somewhere, and that in consequence the game is missing features that are "must have" for some. If you absolutely require 3D graphics, half of the Free2Play MMOs are already eliminated. If you can't stand any microtransactions, all of them are out. Me, I do have knockout criteria for Free2Play games that include that the game must have some sort of auction house, and not just personal shops, which are horrible if you are searching for something. On microtransactions I'm more flexible, but I do stop playing games where things bought with money make a major part of the game obsolete, instead of just speeding things up or adding convenience.

Of course the result of dismissing games due to some personal knockout criteria is usually somebody shouting "not fair!". To which I'd say that it is only not fair if it leads to some bad review score. The statement "I didn't like this game because of this feature, or because that feature was missing" isn't unfair, because everybody can judge for himself whether he thinks that criterion to be so important. If somebody tells me "great game, but lousy graphics", I might still be willing to try it, as I don't think graphics to be *that* important.

Nevertheless you have been warned about my criteria, so don't be surprised if I'm somewhat dismissive of your favorite game, because of one feature which is a red flag for me. Usually I at least test the game anyway, and only completely count it out when it has other flaws. For example while unlimited PvP is certainly a major reason for me not to play EVE, I also didn't like the extremely boring mining, and endless voyages where if you weren't ganked nothing happened. EVE also goes beyond my personal RMT threshold, with "I can make all that mining and flying around obsolete by buying ISK via a PLEX". But then, unlike others, I have no problem with EVE playing like a spreadsheet, and I would wish more games would have EVE auction house's buy order feature.

On the other side of the coin I am fully aware that the game I'm currently playing and like, Luminary, is full of features that are knockout criteria for quite a lot of people: 2D graphics, a requirement to participate in the economic game to be really successful, resource gathering / quests that require you to kill hundreds of mobs, and limited microtransactions. I'm not telling you that this aren't valid knockout criteria, they just aren't for me. You don't have to like Luminary, I can totally understand if for some reason you don't like this or any other game, especially if it is a niche game. Just don't tell me that I can't write about the game I like and have to write about your favorite game instead, because it is "better" or "bigger" or something. Especially don't criticize me for lack of coverage of your favorite not-yet-released game, I only cover major news on those, or when I played them in a beta and am not bound by an NDA. I leave the major pre-release hype, followed by the discovery of personal knockout criteria a month after release, to people like Syp and Keen. It is very difficult to say if a game doesn't have any knockout criteria for you hidden somewhere unless you actually played it.

We can argue until our faces are red about how valid any given knockout criterion is. Why do I accept microtransactions that speed up the game, but not those that skip it completely? Why do I insist on PvP having to be consentual? I have my reasons, and I could write long explanations (and often already did), but in the end there will always be people who disagree, because their personal criteria are different. Which brings us back to the statement that descriptive reviews are better than review scores, because if you have a list of pros and contras as a review, you can always weigh them with your personal preferences in mind. A score tells you much less, and might simply be the result of the reviewer preferring very different games than you, in which case the score is totally useless to you.
Comments:
I'm trying to enjoy Luminary, but the user interface is just driving me batty. Clicking around to move is really tiring, and every pixel on the screen feels like it's littered with data. I guess this is my own knockout criteria.
 
"EVE also goes beyond my personal RMT threshold, with "I can make all that mining and flying around obsolete by buying ISK via a PLEX""

It doesn't. A player with a PLEX is exchanging it for ISK. The economy remains intact and undistorted. The trade only works because someone else has put in the :effort: to acquire those in-game resources, and benefits, in the form of "sponsored access".

For every single person bypassing the asset-acquisition content, there's someone else loving it. Every single PLEX sale is a benefit to the game as a whole, via broadening access to the game to the cash-poor.

It's the most virtuous symmetry in RMT I can imagine.

It also seems to be the form of MMO RMT where the operating company benefits least directly from the cash->asset transition. CCP are indeed very cunning.
 
I agree with what you're saying here, Tobold. I also am annoying at the lack of descriptive reviewing. In order to judge a game, I need some real accounts of gameplay that show what it's actually like to perform those main features that are the selling points of the game. I also need to know what is annoying, problematic, or just plain poorly designed. Basically, I think that the purpose of an MMORPG review should be to list all the possible things that could fulfill a sane person's knockout criteria in an attempt to save them the time and money in trying the game and realizing in ten minutes that this game just isn't for them.

The issue that I have with your luminary coverage is that you completely skipped over the quality of the two fundamental actions you perform in-game: combat and crafting. You act as if these were executed in a completely fine way that would not be a cause of complaint.

Both of those activities are rife with points of complaint for any MMORPG enthusiast. They're too simple, boring, non-interactive, one of them is a poor rip-off of bejeweled, etc..

I would love it if you'd try harder to find game mechanics that would fulfill reasonable knock-out criteria AS WELL AS writing about what you love about a game. I believe that, in a post that is supposed to be a review of an MMORPG, the core mechanics--the actions you will be performing for most of your time if you actually play the game--need to be discussed in an appropriate amount of detail, not skipped over or given a glancing few words.
 
It doesn't. A player with a PLEX is exchanging it for ISK. The economy remains intact and undistorted.

Huh? I wasn't talking at all about whether EVE RMT is symmetric or harming the economy. What I'm saying is that when a player is not doing PvP in EVE, he is most likely to be involved in an activity whose main purpose is to gain ISK, for example mining or shipping goods from one system to another. The amount of ISK you can earn that way per hour, compared to the amount of ISK you can get for a PLEX, is rather small. Thus buying a PLEX and selling it for ISK makes large parts of ISK-earning gameplay obsolete.

And as I specifically mentioned, that threshold where I think RMT went too far and destroys the game is a personal one. For somebody who e.g. was mostly interested in PvP, and not so much in the economic game of EVE, bypassing it by buying ISK is probably perfectly okay.
 
"A score tells you much less, and might simply be the result of the reviewer preferring very different games than you, in which case the score is totally useless to you."

Hmm, were you possibly thinking of the Eurogamer vs Darkfall debate when you wrote that? I'm just curious.
 
That is certainly one extreme example, but there are lots of less extreme ones.
 
A number at the end of a review is nice to find out what the general feeling of the author about the game is.

If you try to substitude the review with the number you make a mistake. There's a reason the reviewer wrote don't the review and not just the number...
 
> On microtransactions I'm more flexible, but I do stop playing games where things bought with money make a major part of the game obsolete, instead of just speeding things up or adding convenience.

While reading this bit - I was reminded of this piece a week ago:

http://www.massively.com/2009/06/12/anti-aliased-my-first-30-levels-with-afk-er-jade-dynasty/
 
The amount of ISK you can earn that way per hour, compared to the amount of ISK you can get for a PLEX, is rather small. Thus buying a PLEX and selling it for ISK makes large parts of ISK-earning gameplay obsolete.
While that is probably true for a newbie, I believe the point was that it balances out on a global scale, because someone had to get that isk in order to be able to buy the PLEX. As one progresses in the game, one can get much, much more isk than a PLEX costs in a month's worth of play time, which tilts the equation to the opposite direction. POS tower maintenance is probably the clearest example: A few hours of effort for a bunch of towers and several hundreds of millions of isk in profit per tower per month.
 
I posted about a week ago "Anno 1404 would be great. I just hope they'll add some better military. Or well, no military at all". It has always been the least interesting part in the series. But that doesn't matter much, it is one of the best city building series out there. And with impressions studio closed my favorite series that still lives.

As to review rankings. They're very useful. They should at a glance show "I advice you to buy this game", "This is a mediocre game", "Stay away from this game". In fact, a thumb up, neutral thumb and thumb down would be sufficient. And for details you have to read the review.

A ranking is perfectly compatible with a full review. They're not mutually exclusive.
 
The other difference between buying a PLEX and say, XP books from an RMT shop is that supply and demand effect the PLEX market. You can't just sell 100s of them at once and buy yourself a Titan (assuming someone was selling you one, you could use it, ect), while there is no limit to how many XP books you can buy from the RMT shop.

And as others have said, while selling a PLEX is a lot of money to a newbie, any decent trader/miner will make more ISK playing than dealing with selling a PLEX.
 
And as others have said, while selling a PLEX is a lot of money to a newbie, any decent trader/miner will make more ISK playing than dealing with selling a PLEX.

And what has that to do with anything? That is just something you observe in every game, a character in the end game earns much more money than a character at the start of the game.

The last time I mentioned this issue I linked to a post from a blogger who after several months of playing EVE proudly reported having reached 100 million ISK. At that point a single PLEX sold for 300 million ISK. So one PLEX, which isn't all that expensive, replaces half a year of economic gameplay of a new player. Of course once you already played EVE for a long time, one PLEX is only the equivalent of a much shorter period of economic activity. But that changes nothing in the fact that the optimal way to start EVE nowadays is to make an account, sell one PLEX for ISK, and only log on once in a while to renew the skill training queue FOR 6 TO 8 MONTHS. I'm okay with you being a fan of EVE, but I don't let the fanbois tell me that this is good game design. It's just the same as Jade Dynasty.
 
The problem I have with a lot of these "knockout criteria" is that a lot of players seem to exclude games based on only superficial knowledge of how it works in a particular game, or exclude things because "this isn't how ---- type of game is supposed to play", or "This isn't what I expected", or other such reasons, as opposed to "this will likely make the game less fun".
 
"But that changes nothing in the fact that the optimal way to start EVE nowadays is to make an account, sell one PLEX for ISK, and only log on once in a while to renew the skill training queue FOR 6 TO 8 MONTHS".

That's a choice, yes, but it's not really an issue. If you REALLY want to skip the early game in EVE, just buy a 10m pilot account. If you want to do nothing but change a skill, you can do that in EVE and still progress. You won't really have an effect on the game in terms of the market, resources, or Corp affairs, while your money is being used to fund future patches. Win win in my book.

PLEX would be an issue if you could sell a whole bunch, fund your Corps capital fleet with them, and then dominate another Corp because you are PLEX-funded, like you can do in many RMT-shop games (Atlantica being the one I'm most familiar with).

That's the key difference, one impact many players and is a permanent advantage in the end-game, the other just determines how you play the first 3-6 months. I would rather actually play a game I'm paying for, see if I'm having fun, and make progress that way, rather than pay, wait, and then find out. It's not like you need that 3-6 months to see content in EVE you don't have access to in your first week, so the option to sit around and skill queue is 100% player driven, and has nothing to do with how EVE actually works.
 
I don't see how selling a PLEX and sitting around for 6-8 months is comparable with playing the game for 6-8 months.

1.) Social interaction is a huge part of EVE. You need to have people you can rely on if you're going to do the low-sec high-risk stuff. If you sit on your hands for 6 months, you'll have no one and no reason to play because you'll have all the ISK and no one to help you turn it into influence and power.

2.) You will be a complete newb with millions of SPs. If you join a corp, they're going to be pissed at how you don't know the basics of the game. An assumption of player skill comes along with the SP number, violating that is a bad idea.

3.) You won't know what skills to invest in. You're going to need to spend hours online reading about skills in order to know enough build your character as well as someone who is actually playing the game and learning about it as he plays. Chances are, you'll end up wasting a lot of SP on skills you aren't going to have a use for because you know way of knowing since you didn't actually play the game.
 

I don't see how selling a PLEX and sitting around for 6-8 months is comparable with playing the game for 6-8 months.


Well for me personally I can't stomach the fact that 6-8months I will be basically waiting for my SP accumulate till one day I will be able to pvp at the level I find fun.

I mean in release wow I started having fun at lvl 20 (when left barrens -frankly even first 20 levels were decent) - there was world pvp everywhere, killing (and sometimes being killed) all the way trough every quest zone .that was about 1 week in.

Now ...eve... Its not fun from start, not fun doing noob quests, grinding noob money, being podded in noob ships. You cant skip and powerlevel. But I could probably make arena viable lvl 80 in wow in a month if I had any desire to do so.

Its flat out 6-8 months you have to wait , except if you buy another account (but that's where I am not willing to go for any MMO though, RMT -yes, buying other peoples accounts -no)
 
This is all very well and good, but also bear in mind that some people just have awful taste in games.
 
"Obsolete" is not the same concept as "bypass". One pilot's PLEX<>ISK transfer does not make another's TIME<>ISK effort obsolete, in fact it mandates it.

A side-point would be that EVE provides this transfer in a manner that does not distort the economy. An other method of RMT - cash->buff, accelerating acquisition of resources, "speeding up the game", which is not one of Tobold's knock-out criteria - does distort the economy.

The people "do EVE" at a particular point on CCP's risk continuum, and receive a reward commensurate with their degree of engagement. A system that allowed some players to perform those tasks in an externally generated "easy mode" would be devastating to the delicate relations between Empire-dwellers and the Alliance space-holding capsuleers.

I choose to play EVE because I find the things I do in it enjoyable, and I am satisfied with the apparent ISK return for my efforts. Other pilots acquiring ISK via a PLEX sale has no impact on me other than a positive one. If they're going to spend the ISK on something that will get blown up, well that promotes economic activity. More pewpew in EVE is good for everyone.

Whereas, if other pilots being able to (say) mine veld at triple rate because they'd given CCP an extra five dollars this month, well that would crash the trit market, and reduce the apparent return on the time I invest in the game.

"For somebody who e.g. was mostly interested in PvP, and not so much in the economic game of EVE, bypassing it by buying ISK is probably perfectly okay."

For someone mostly in player combat - usually alliance members - ISK is like water (flavoured with strawberry, I hear). I do know some who have sold PLEXs - I think one was buying himself a dreadnaught, was short a few hundred million, in the midst of exams, so didn't have the time before his scheduled fleet op.

I think a gang of people in the same alliance later had a go at crashing the PLEX market. For fun. Strange people. :)

At the other end of the scale, the Empire dwellers I've seen selling PLEXs have mostly been young pilots intending to buy themselves their first Raven battleship. It's not that they didn't want to do missions (they were hardly going to use the Raven for anything else) but they perceive themselves has having the time to work up the ISK right then. Impatient to be in a big rigged ship, and not understanding the usefulness of salvaging, really.
 
Tobold: "But that changes nothing in the fact that the optimal way to start EVE nowadays is to make an account, sell one PLEX for ISK, and only log on once in a while to renew the skill training queue FOR 6 TO 8 MONTHS."

Erm "Fact" Where did the 6 to 8 months come from?

I had plenty of fun in my first six months. Joined EVE Uni, flew tacklers screaming into battle, blew up lots, jammed a bunch of high skillpoint players with my super-cheap ewar ships of doom, learnt the way of veldspar.

What's optimal about a new pilot has to sit out for half a year doing nothing?
 
" But that changes nothing in the fact that the optimal way to start EVE nowadays is to make an account, sell one PLEX for ISK, and only log on once in a while to renew the skill training queue FOR 6 TO 8 MONTHS. I'm okay with you being a fan of EVE, but I don't let the fanbois tell me that this is good game design. It's just the same as Jade Dynasty."

This is a bunch of nonsense. The "Optimal way to start EVE"? The Optimal way to play any game is to do whatever you enjoy in the game, not to leave it running AFK for 6 months!!! This is like saying the "OPTIMAL" way to play any nintendo game is with the game genie cheater installed. Who cares about "optimizing"??
 
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