Tobold's Blog
Sunday, May 22, 2011
 
Time vs. Money

If somebody who had never played World of Warcraft before were to buy an account with a max-level character equipped with the best possible gear, he still wouldn't be any good as a raider, because he would be lacking the skill. This example is widely used to show how getting a strong character by playing is good, while getting a strong character with real money is bad. Unfortunately the example is completely spurious: Somebody who had never played World of Warcraft before would feel no desire at all to buy an account with a maxed out character. The reality looks very different, and the moral questions aren't quite as black and white as some people would like.

By playing a game you get better at it. Somebody who played a lot more chess than me is probably better than me at chess, and very likely to beat me. But then my pawns haven't been upgraded with the Sword of Uberness or a Kalashnikov. In games with any sort of "character development", your overall power is a mix of skill and stats. The most skillful level 1 WoW character still can't harm the least skillful level 85 character in PvP. By how much exactly skill can make up for lack of stats depends on the game, but clearly skill isn't everything. Furthermore the learning of skills is very much a matter of diminishing returns: A few hours of play easily get you to 80%+ of the skill of a true master in most games, especially MMORPGs. In most games it takes considerably longer to get your character to maximum stats than it takes to get to a really good skill level.

When I last wrote about World of Tanks I mentioned that you could buy level V tanks for $5, but that this wasn't a very good option, because those tanks aren't very good. Meanwhile WoT has been patched to v0.6.4, and now you can buy level VIII tanks for $25. I still don't plan to buy any of these, and they still have the disadvantage that they are outside the tech tree, and can't be upgraded. But a n00b with a level VIII heavy tank has a very good chance of beating me (or even a more skilled player than me) in my level V Russian KV heavy tank I got from working my way up from the bottom.

Now World of Tanks players suffer from the same sort of jealousies than the players of other games and thus tend to dismiss people in these bought tanks as bad players. But again it is unlikely that somebody who never played World of Tanks before would feel any desire to buy a $25 tank before knowing whether he actually likes the game. And I can very much imagine somebody like me, having played WoT for 50+ hours and having played up to the first heavy tank in the regular way looking at 100+ hours it would take to get from there to a level VIII tank and deciding to take a $25 shortcut to there instead. That would probably still make him less skilled than somebody who put in those 100+ hours with heavy tanks to get to level VIII, but not by much. And if we are brutally honest for a second, we all know that in any MMORPG or other game with levels you can always find a way to "grind up" to a higher level without necessarily getting more skilled in the process. As much as we would like our level/gear/stats to be an reflection of our superior skills, in reality we are very well aware that this is at best a flawed image. We might not want to admit that about ourselves, but as soon as somebody else claims he is better than us because he has for example a higher gearscore, we immediately dismiss that notion as ridiculous.

So if time spent in game isn't really all that related to skill, is it really so bad to have the option to advance faster by paying real money? I didn't buy any tanks, but by taking the "subscription" option for about $8.50 for a month I'm advancing 50% faster than somebody not paying. I would need to seriously split hairs to argue that this is morally superior to buying a level VIII tank. I just decided to not skip ahead because I find leveling up to be fun (which appears to be a strange idea to many players in many games). Whether you get to a high-level tank or character with time or with money is ultimately no difference at all.

I would like World of Warcraft to have the option of buying level 85 characters with full iLevel 333 blue gear (the stuff you get from normal dungeons). Not because I necessarily would like to buy one. But because I feel Blizzard has tuned the leveling speed to a compromise between those players who level for fun, and those players who want to get to the "real game" at the level cap as fast as possible, and ended up making both groups unhappy. If players were able to skip ahead for $25, the leveling speed could be cut in half and be a lot more appropriate for people who enjoy that sort of leveling content. There will always be people complaining about the ability to buy your way up to the top, but behind all that acting morally superior there is often the simple fact that they just can't afford the money alternative. If your main advantage in a game is that you can spend a lot more time in it than the next guy, you don't want him to have the option of advancing by an alternate route.
Comments:
I partly agree. I would like Blizzard to make two different games, though. One with leveling and one without. At the very least they should have different servers (that are not connected by cross-server features).

I don't want to play together with people who don't level up, because leveling isn't fun every second for me. It is fun on a day-to-weeks timescale.

But then, I have a ever harder time to argue about how I would want WoW to develop. Not playing it for months now, I don't really care as much as I used to.
 
Where is the evidence that "Somebody who had never played World of Warcraft before would feel no desire at all to buy an account with a maxed out character" ? I'm sure anyone who's worked in a sports shop for a while will have met the would-be skier who has yet to set ski to snow but must have the absolute best gear there is, regardless of cost.

There are people who, when starting any new activity, must start as near the top as they can get. I think that, were Blizzard to offer an option "to buy an account with a max-level character equipped with the best possible gear", there would be takers among those who had never previously played WoW.

I'm also curious to see the evidence for the assertion that "A few hours of play easily get you to 80%+ of the skill of a true master in most games". That sounds like the result of some research. If so, I'd be interested to read a precis because it sounds quite counter-intuitive. Is it part of Anders Ericsson's research on the Theory of Skilled Memory, which entered the zeitgeist recently when Malcolm Gladwell referred repeatedly to the "10,000 hour rule" in his pop psychology best-seller "Outliers"?

Leaving aside the evidence base for the proposition and moving to your conclusion, I think it might prove difficult to reconcile the high-spending new entrant coming in at the top next to the long-hour player unable or unwilling to buy through. Very wide differences between wealth, whether real or perceived, lead to serious social divisions in non-virtual societies and I imagine virtual ones would be little different.

What might work, though, would be to segregate the two groups. If there were servers on which it was possible to start with a level 85 well-equipped character which were entirely separate from those where you had to do all the hard graft yourself, that might work.

As for leveling speed, a simple slider for xp would help. Other games have them.
 
I enjoy leveling.

However, i think the people against the max-level character way oversell the learning in playing pre-80 characters. Killing boars in Westfall or running through Scarlet Monastery just doesn't strike me as providing that much instruction for how to tank or heal BoT using different skills. Saying you don't get to leave the $25 starting zone until you have done all the non-heroic 5-mans excluding stonecore @ 85 could be reasonable. But I don't think many SM runs combined help you more than 5 minutes at a training dummy at 85.

As per your earlier post, I don't think playing your character is the most important thing. Certainly whether you can "do the Boss's dance" is more important than being good at your class. Whether you can reliably rearrange your reallife in order to make raid times may be as important as your skill at the class.

And then there is the heretical argument as to why should someone who started playing today have any
worse gear than someone who has Sinestra on farm? It was only when game developers started charging subscriptions that players who have spent more time, and thus money, were rewarded. It is consistent to say that everyone should always have 333 blues and skill determines what you do with that gear. Players should get recognition for their accomplishments. But if you are interested in fairness, then neither $25 or who you killed last week should affect your gear.
 
Very wide differences between wealth, whether real or perceived, lead to serious social divisions in non-virtual societies and I imagine virtual ones would be little different.

You get the same serious social divisions if you create an environment in which only time is wealth, and the time-rich have advantages over the time-poor.

At the if you put money in the mix, you get the advantage that it teaches teenagers that money has value and is something desirable they should work for. I'd hate to live in a society where many people believed that all their achievements that count are in the virtual world.
 
I'd be very interested to test the "Oh, someone who's just bought an 85 character would have no skill" assertion, or at least see how long it would take to get to equivalent skill levels of a hardcore raider.

My feeling is that the learning curve would be sub-10 hours for most DPS classes.

I might try testing this if I can find someone who a) has 10 hours free and b) has never played WoW...
 
At the if you put money in the mix, you get the advantage that it teaches teenagers that money has value and is something desirable they should work for

There are easier ways. And whether you should try to find a job to make money, or a job that is fun in itself, would be another question. I'm not so sure the happiest people consider working a means to an $end$ - which is what you seem to want to teach your children.

Anyway, I don't want to play a MMORPG for teenagers in the first place.
 
My feeling is that the learning curve would be sub-10 hours for most DPS classes.

I takes about 5 minutes to beocme proficient and about an hour to become about 90% as good as you will ever be. How do I know this?
Everybody who plays Rift knows.

The skill-through-250-hour-leveling argument is absurd.
 
I'm not sure where the concept of MMOs as a tool for the financial education of teenagers comes in.

"The average game player is 34 years old"

http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp

"The median age of an MMO player is 33"

http://jeffhurtblog.com/2011/02/21/why-online-games-will-change-work-events/

Not to say that there aren't plenty of teenagers playing, of course, but are design decisions being taken with a teenage audience in mind, given that they don't represent the core market? The heavy reliance of AAA mmos on access to credit cards would also suggest not.
 
I don't know -- bought tanks seem to be significantly easier for me to kill for their tier than others. I'm not sure how much of that is weak tank stats and how much is weak tank player, but they seem to do odd things.
 
In the time-to-learn arguments, you have to make a distinction between players who are already familiar with MMOs in general or even RPGs that use the same control layout and those who aren't.

WoW players can reach 90% of their potential in Rift after an hour of play because the games are so similar. Someone who has never played a computer game before would need significantly more time.
 
You can already make a L55 Death Knight in WoW if you have another character of that level.

Blizzard could easily offer the opportunity to make a L80 or L85 character to anyone who has reached L85.

I'm not sure it would matter so much these days. In some other MMORPG, I think I would dislike it - with WoW I would no longer really care.
 
As Quinn said - it would be a great alt option - as someone with 8 alts in WoW (not all at 85 - I do have a life!), I would have loved to have "pay-leveled" a few of them (but not all).

For the majority of WoT players, the new tier 8 premium tanks are just that - alts. You cannot upgrade them, you cannot research into tier 9 from them, and they are not uber by any regards (any tier 8 tank with most upgrades will beat the premium hands-down. They are credit-earners and if you want to spend some more money, you can transfer xp earned from them to grind up faster in other tanks.
 
I think Blizzard should sell max level or near max level pre-mades, but the character needs to have some kind of * on it so other players know it was bought.
 
What use would marking them be? To mark them as inferior? That makes little to no sense.

I've botted before (mainly in grindy Korean MMOs, not in WoW), and I don't see what the hush hush is about. You've saved yourself 1000+ hours of idiotic mind-numbing pain so you can enjoy the world itself. Buying max-level characters is no different. And really, what people are mad about is that they had to suffer through levelling to max-level while others didn't.

Marking people who bought max-level characters would be nothing more than a cute badge saying: "Hey, I've got money, and I'm not an idiot who likes to suffer through monotony." I'm not saying the levelling experience is a stupid thing to enjoy, or anything about that. But, a player who doesn't enjoy the levelling experience realizes that he doesn't enjoy it and takes actions to avoid things he doesn't enjoy is not something to be held against him.
 
Oh, and didn't Guild Wars do exactly this? How did that mechanic play out?
 
I just decided to not skip ahead because I find leveling up to be fun [...]

But not fun enough to do it 50% slower, eh?

As someone else mentioned, there would be a difference in skill between someone who never played a hotkey MMO before vs someone who played EQ, Rift, Warhammer, etc etc. A lot of those skills are transferable, especially when it comes to quick reaction times, being sure to be faced the correct direction once in melee range, and so on. It is the same for any veteran of basically any FPS: after messing around with the gimmick (bullet time, cover mechanics, destructible terrain) for an hour or two, someone who played Counter-Strike for a year can be a pro-player of any FPS thereafter.
 
@ Tobold

You get the same serious social divisions if you create an environment in which only time is wealth, and the time-rich have advantages over the time-poor.

You are forgetting a few major and important points here: How is the game designed and released from the git-go? If(using WoW as the example here) the game is released as a P2P game using the sub model, then please explain how a disadvantage exists to those who choose to sign-up for, and play the game as it is offered? It can be said with certainty that my costs for the game will most definately be "X" each month, no more, and no less. Regardless of how much time I invest in playing said game, I know going in that my available play time will be determined by a balance that I must strike with my real life demands.

However, as others have pointed out in the other thread, with the F2P/item stores/premium content microtransaction model, my "X" costs cannot be calculated relative to my available playtime.

The replies to this and other threads surrounding this issue clearly imply that people are willing to pay for certain things in a game if it suits their own personal playstyle, but how does one make an honest distinction between how much money is worth spending versus how much time is saved by doing so?

Also, the social issues you fail to mention with your WoW level 85 example is akin to the same thing that you mention with your WoT scenario of buying the level VIII tanks, where jealousies exists for the valid reasons you mention.

In short, if a developer is going to provide a shortcut for players, that shortcut should never impede on the enjoyment of the game by other players...ever. If Blizzard were to introduce the ability to purchase ILevel 333 equipped level 85 characters, then they should also create a seperate and distinct starting zone that is tailored to developing their skills in the game. In fact, if I were to consider buying a premade character I would demand that such an environment exists prior to playing. I would not expect to be able to immediately join LFD groups and subject other players to my obvious lack of knowledge.

The key here is that the content MUST correlate with the way the game is funded, and from all indications that is the holy grail of the F2P/Microtransaction model that developers are failing miserably at finding.
 
@ Tobold

You get the same serious social divisions if you create an environment in which only time is wealth, and the time-rich have advantages over the time-poor.

You are forgetting a few major and important points here: How is the game designed and released from the git-go? If(using WoW as the example here) the game is released as a P2P game using the sub model, then please explain how a disadvantage exists to those who choose to sign-up for, and play the game as it is offered? It can be said with certainty that my costs for the game will most definately be "X" each month, no more, and no less. Regardless of how much time I invest in playing said game, I know going in that my available play time will be determined by a balance that I must strike with my real life demands.

However, as others have pointed out in the other thread, with the F2P/item stores/premium content microtransaction model, my "X" costs cannot be calculated relative to my available playtime.

The replies to this and other threads surrounding this issue clearly imply that people are willing to pay for certain things in a game if it suits their own personal playstyle, but how does one make an honest distinction between how much money is worth spending versus how much time is saved by doing so?

Also, the social issues you fail to mention with your WoW level 85 example is akin to the same thing that you mention with your WoT scenario of buying the level VIII tanks, where jealousies exists for the valid reasons you mention.

In short, if a developer is going to provide a shortcut for players, that shortcut should never impede on the enjoyment of the game by other players...ever. If Blizzard were to introduce the ability to purchase ILevel 333 equipped level 85 characters, then they should also create a seperate and distinct starting zone that is tailored to developing their skills in the game. In fact, if I were to consider buying a premade character I would demand such an environment exists prior to playing. I would not expect to be able to join LFD groups and subject other players to my obvious lack of knowledge.

The key here is that the content MUST correlate with the way the game is funded, and from all indications that is the holy grail of the F2P/Microtransaction model that developers are failing miserably at finding.
 
But not fun enough to do it 50% slower, eh?

That wasn't really all that important. The big difference is the 50% more credits for the fight. As the 50% is applied before cost deductions for repair and ammo, it more often than not means twice the profit. And that makes the difference between being able to buy optional equipment or not.

On the leveling side the fun part is making the decisions which part of the tanks to upgrade first, and which way to go in the tech tree. The leveling speed would have been okay with or without the bonus. I just don't want to skip the fun part of decision making while leveling.

If Blizzard were to introduce the ability to purchase ILevel 333 equipped level 85 characters, then they should also create a seperate and distinct starting zone that is tailored to developing their skills in the game.

I'd argue Blizzard failed to create a zone that is tailored to develop the skills of the regular players. You can hit the level cap as a healer without ever having used a single healing spell, or as a tank without ever having used a taunt. A regular fresh 85 is exactly as clueless as a bought one would be.
 
Given the MMORPG market that exists today, I believe there would be a "market" for people to buy premade/equipped characters to begin at the end game of raiding and bypassing the level grind. Many MMORPG games are similar enough that dedicated hobbists could switch from game to game and experience the raiding scene until they get bored and move on to the next flavor of the month. Not my cup of tea but I can see that would appeal to a certain segment.

For example - I could see an experienced WOW player taking a break from WOW and buying premade raid level toons in Rift and enjoying that for a while. The games are similar enough. And raiders, almost by definition, want to bypass the level grind since their focus is on raiding and not questing.

-Sheldrake
 
"I'd argue Blizzard failed to create a zone that is tailored to develop the skills of the regular players. You can hit the level cap as a healer without ever having used a single healing spell, or as a tank without ever having used a taunt. A regular fresh 85 is exactly as clueless as a bought one would be."

I have to once again suggest solo dungeons where you go through it with 4 NPC bots. It doesn't have to offer big rewards, it just needs to be there so people could try out a new role, or check out bosses they had never seen before. I know a lot of people are scared of the responsibility of tanking or healing, but you wouldn't be scared of letting NPCs down.

If you wanted to take the elitist approach, you could actually require players to pass the solo version before they can queue up for it to play with random strangers. That would certainly offer a lot more assurance than item level.
 
I'm OK with this concept, having a number of alts which I've have to level through to the end.

For WoW the levelling "hump" through Outland is hated by most players, and they try and get through it as fast as possible. They use all kinds of workarounds - BoA, BG, instances - to speed it up.

I've just taken a rogue up to 71 and hit Northrend, and as much as love wrath content this is my fourth high level toon.

I think the DK is a good model, and could be expanded to other classes (don' like DK play style).

I love levelling as well, and have toons sittin at 60 on the horde side because I'd never experience their "story".

What I want is choice: the opportunity to enjoy the revamped old world, or the chance to jump into endgame.

I think it is about letting players select the content they want to see now, rather than placing them on a levelling treadmill and force them to do stuff they hate.
 
The issue with the DK is that it starts out at level 58 and completely unable to tank. You need to get a few more levels under your belt before you get access to the basic tanking toys (taunt, AoE high-threat ability). It's part of why the "OMG, Hellfire Ramparts with DK tank," groan is so widely-recognized.

I recall back in the day (when the argument was relevant and not quite so complicated by hackers and the ease of getting gold - when there was only ever one epic mount and it cost 1000g), our primary argument in favour of buying anything - gold, levels, potions, transfers, equipment, etc - was this: "I have maybe 4hrs per day with which to play. To earn 1k gold would take me around 12hrs of grinding. Or... I can work RL for 1-2hrs to buy the same amount, then spend my game-time doing dungeon runs or quests with friends instead of trying to grind gold."
 
"The issue with the DK is that it starts out at level 58 and completely unable to tank. You need to get a few more levels under your belt before you get access to the basic tanking toys (taunt, AoE high-threat ability)."

Not true. Well, it's true that I felt that I was missing key tanking abilities, but DKs are able to tank. Death Grip is a 40 sec cooldown taunt effect, and Death Coil can be used to reestablish aggro on targets running for another player if they're smart enough to stop generating threat.

Sinilarly, Heart Strike's current incarnation is a 3-target cleave. Works fine for AoE tanking on most fights, and for the ones with 8+ targets, there's Blood Boil and/or Pestilence, depending on how long the fight is going to be.

I recently tanked as a fresh DK at level 58 and 59, and while it felt weird not having some basic tools, it was by no means impossible. Holding threat off healers and usual LFD-quality DPS was quite easy, and survivability wasn't a big issue either. (The 1100-DPS DK was hard to keep aggro from, however.)
 
How to sort problem with fresh DK tanks?

Let them have an Army of Dead who act as DPS and healing NPC characters ;P

I mean, they could form their own party ala Guild Wars and LoTRO.

I jest only half seriously... I can see this coming in a few years.

Would solve the tank healer shortage, retain the trinity and ensure you don't have to run with "slackers and morons".
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
4-5 years ago I would shrug in contempt at your suggestion. Vanilla wow with all its exciting glory and goodness was very much about learning and exploring at different levels. Wow has evolved though and now I am close to agreeing with you. If I should pick up the game again now Im not so sure I would appreciate the exploring/leveling game so much. So buying a fully equipped char, some hours of dungeon training in pugs and Im ready to join the fun of high end raiding wich is my favourite part of the game.
There is a snag, a big disadvantage with your sugestion though. There is a chanse that the m&m`s would pile up and swamp your server instead of just leaving cuz their getting bored of failing at even the simple game of questing and grinding.
But whatever they do, Im not comming back before they make epic epic again. The gs whores is tottally ruining the game imo. I still remember running MC in only blues, did just fine with my resto druid.
 
At Phelps "I don't know -- bought tanks seem to be significantly easier for me to kill for their tier than others"

Thats really a different argument though. I agree broadly with the people who think you can hit 90% skill very quickly but with a couple of caveats. 1) If you are a gamer, especially an MMOer you'll pick up the skills rapidly, if not it will take a fair bit longer as the GUI etc also need to be mastered 2) AI is way easier to master as its predictable. PvP is much harder to get to grips with for a newb and no-one who doesnt have a strong pvp background will be able to win fights in such a short space of time as there is no script to learn, its about reaction time and cool-headedness.
 
re My comment to Phelps - Please note, I was thinking WoW Tanks, on re-read I now assume he means big shiny metal ones. The comment is still relevant though.
 
Bought tanks in WoT *are* significantly easier to kill than other tanks of their tier, because you can't upgrade them. That still makes them as good as a tank of one tier lower, and significantly better than the tier you could reach in a couple of weeks of playing.

How skilled or unskilled their drivers are is a different question. There probably isn't all that strong a correlation, because you might well learn all the skills you need in considerably less time than it takes to reach tier VIII in this game.
 
Prior to 6.4, three purchasable premium tanks were actually equal or better than the fully upgraded tanks in the same tier. For information see http://forum.worldoftanks.com/index.php?/topic/36230-what-premium-tanks-if-any-are-worth-their-weight-in-gold/

Don't think has been enough time to fully evaluate the two new tier 8 tanks of 6.4 but they are pretty good.
 
@Tobold:
I have less WoT experience than you but I would say the premium tanks are not a good option for a beginning player. As far as I know, they are not much better than the regular ones, most people say their biggest advantage is their price (i. e. cheap ammo and/or repairs) which makes them good tools to farm credits. (Credits seem to be a huge problem if you don't have a premium account, I regularly am at less than 70% of next tier credit-wise when I get my tank to elite.) On the other hand, I think that the battle increase in difficulty with higher tiers, especially going from T1 (only T1+T2 tanks) to T2 (arty and TDs as well) so the newbies might better get some experience in the lower tiers so they're not overwhelmed.

Premium account owners still have to go through all the tiers although at a reduced speed, so they don't have this disadvantage. I don't think either is morally superior, both of them serve to provide credits which seems to be the major problem when playing for free. (It's also possible to buy credits for gold.)

@Nils:
I'm wondering what does "fun on days-to-week timescale" mean.

@Bhagpuss:
The difference between skiing and WoT is that even if you have the best gear, you can still go to the blue (easiest) slopes. In WoW and WoT, your level/equip/tank tier will influence what content you can access and can block you from something that's considered too little or too much challenging.

@Tobold (22/5/2011 22:28):
The leveling dungeons could be such an area. They punish errors much less and allow the party to recover from their mistakes even if they aren't that good. On the other hand, they still have to be done with regular players, are optional (people can quest all the way to 85) and do not alert players of their mistakes (so they don't know whether it was their action that caused the problem or not).
 
You get the same serious social divisions if you create an environment in which only time is wealth, and the time-rich have advantages over the time-poor.

So true. Played a free MMO game once with no option to pay for anything (comepletely 100% free after you buy the box) and I was low on time. I can tell you that there was as trict division on time-rich and time-poor mates there, with me never having the up-to-date item set in the arena.
 
"I have to once again suggest solo dungeons where you go through it with 4 NPC bots. It doesn't have to offer big rewards, it just needs to be there so people could try out a new role, or check out bosses they had never seen before. I know a lot of people are scared of the responsibility of tanking or healing, but you wouldn't be scared of letting NPCs down."

This is effectively what Puzzle Pirates does. You can solo group content with bots, doing "Navy" missions to learn how to play. It's brilliant, and I'm honestly baffled why these holy-trinity-addicted games don't use something similar to actually teach players without relying on an increasingly hostile community.
 
Imakulata, it means that the immediate activity is not fun while the overaching activity is. That's quite normal.
For example moving stones in chess isn't fun, while playing chess is. Or wiping isn't fun, but beating the boss after a few weeks is. Or going to work in Monday morning isn't fun, but finishing that project and getting a pay-rise is. ...

Things can be fun on a days or week timescale, while the moment-to-moment gameplay isn't fun. It's always better if you can make the moment-to-moment gameplay fun, but that doesn't mean that everything that's not fun on small timescales is automatically un-fun on any timescale.
 
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