Tobold's Blog
Sunday, October 25, 2020
This isn't the MMO lite you are looking for

While Genshin Impact isn't really a MMORPG at all, it plays like one in many aspects, up to having a "looking for group" system for domains, allowing 4 players to tackle the challenge together. I am currently adventure rank 28. I have 14 heroes, of which 5 are level 50, the rest level 40. While I don't know exactly how many hours I played (there doesn't seem to be a "/played" functionality), I have played enough and am far enough into the game to understand all the game mechanics. And I don't really like it anymore. This isn't the "MMO lite" I was looking for.

If I would resubscribe to World of Warcraft today, and would make a new level 1 character on a new server, I could play through all the content except raid up to the level cap in a casual way, without ever feeling that the challenge was too much for me. The reason I don't do it is not the lack of challenge, but the lack of exploration: The exploration system of WoW isn't the greatest, and I've seen most of it before. Genshin Impact appealed to me because I hadn't seen the world yet, and the exploration system is a lot better than WoW: The climbing and gliding features stolen from Breath of the Wild, and the mini-challenges all over the world, where you need to solve a puzzle or kill some enemies to open one of the 1558 chests in the game, make exploration in Genshin Impact more fun.

What Genshin Impact doesn't have is the philosophy that a casual player should be able to get to the level cap without being blocked by raid bosses. The 5 characters at level 50 I have correspond to 2 elite monsters, air and fire, that I killed a total of 5 times to "ascend" those 5 characters from level 40. But that involved watching YouTube videos to learn "the dance", and then practicing it several times before I got it right and was then able to beat the elite boss. I haven't beaten the elite bosses of earth, water, ice, and electricity yet. Me beating the other two proves that I could probably do it, but I don't like that sort of gameplay at all, and it is too much of a hassle for me.

But it isn't just those elite monsters. There are a bunch of other elements in the game that clearly showed me that Genshin Impact plans to challenge me more the further I progress in the game. At adventure rank 25 I had to do a very hard ascension dungeon solo in order to unlock the next adventure rank. And doing so increased my world rank, so even the daily farming of commissions has now become harder. Unlike World of Warcraft, that doesn't really get harder with level, Genshin Impact clearly does. And I am sure that there are a lot of gamers who will welcome this. The "achiever" Bartle type, who likes a challenge of execution. But that isn't me. The only challenges I like in games are those where I need to think, not those where I need to react and press the right button in a fraction of a second. My dream game would be Genshin Impact with turn-based combat.

Obviously, mine is a minority opinion. Genshin Impact gets a lot of hate because it brought hated mobile game mechanics like "running out of energy that slowly regenerates over hours of real time" or the gacha system to triple-A PC gaming. And I am pretty sure that it will go down in PC gaming history as influential for pushing the envelope of which of those mechanics are "acceptable". They are raking in millions, so other people will copy them. But, funnily enough, Genshin Impact might just not be Pay2Win enough, because you can't buy your way past those elite bosses or ascension dungeons. Casual players like me will not be held back by the size of our wallets, but by middle age having slowed down our reaction times. I am simply not interested in a game in which the difficulty curve doesn't flatten, but goes constantly up. I'm not interested in proving my button mashing skills, or my ability to learn dances. I was happy with Genshin Impact at low levels, and the rising challenge made the game tedious for me.

Saturday, October 24, 2020
The 40%

Due to the importance that the holder of the office has on a global scale, the whole world is to some degree following the news of the upcoming US presidential elections. Outside the USA the preference for "what's his name, not-Trump" is pretty clear. What many people don't understand is why Trump is expected to get at least 40% of the vote, and given the inexactitude of polls last time around, maybe even more.

As it stands, "Trump voter" is basically used as an insult these days. There is a perception that anybody voting for Trump must be stupid, and probably a white supremacist. I think that it is extremely dangerous to consider any significant percentage of the voting population as stupid, or their votes and worries as not valid. In 2017, 12.6% of German voters opted for an extreme right party, causing the global press to speculate on how the Nazis are back. But if you looked closer, you found that all the other parties had supported or not opposed a large wave of immigration by refugees, and voting for the "Nazis" was the only option on the ballot if you were uncomfortable with that immigration. The established political parties basically missed the chance of properly addressing a worry that a significant portion of the population had. So, the question is not why 40%+ of Americans vote for Trump, but rather what valid worries this large segment of the population has that makes them too afraid to vote Democrat.

I have a sneaking suspicion that a large part of the answer lies in political correctness and "woke" culture. While I wholly support the goals of fighting racism, gender inequality, and social justice, I can't say I support the way that the left is fighting this fight. Even a good fight gets tainted if it is fought by bad means. The power to get somebody fired, ruined, or worse not for something that he did, but for something he thinks, is inherently evil. The woke thought police and cancel culture are a serious threat to the freedom of expression, however noble their goals might be. And I believe that the 40% can see that, and that they are more scared of the thought police than of the orange clown in the White House.

There is a greater than even probability that the left will gain a lot of power in November. And it will feel to them as if the good guys won, and they will want to use that newfound power to implement a lot of their policies. But maybe they should remember that making certain thoughts illegal isn't actually very "liberal" at all; and it has never worked for any government in millennia of human history. Punishing people for their opinions, instead of engaging with those opinions and trying to convince the other side, is just going foster resistance. And ultimately, America loves freedom. If the deeply flawed and incompetent champion of freedom can get 40% of the votes this time, what is going to happen in 4 or 8 years, if freedom of expression finds a better champion? The left would be better off to address the economic inequality sources of social injustice, rather than trying to suppress any opinion that they find offensive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
The monetization of tabletop role-playing games

Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are comparatively slow-paced. If you want to watch the first campaign of Critical Role on YouTube, it'll take you over 400 hours. The campaign I am currently running, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, has 23 levels of dungeon, with a thousand rooms. If you think of D&D in campaigns, it is normal that the players around the table are always the same, except for the occasional missing player. If you need many sessions to tell a story, you can't completely swap out the players, because the story only makes sense to those who played the early part.

Having said that, in the role-playing club that I am a member of, I've been running the occasional pickup game, usually with the purpose of introducing new players to the game. In fact, I met my group for Dungeon of the Mad Mage that way, and they liked that pickup game so much that they stuck with me. I am certainly not the world's best GM, I don't have voice-acting skills for example; but I do know a thing or two about how to tell an engaging story, and how to stage an interesting tactical combat situation. Even a one-off game of D&D can be fun, but it is hard to find a Game Master for it.

Tabletop role-playing games, except for a few GM-less exceptions, are asymmetrical: The GM carries a lot more responsibility than the players. That translates into the GM having to spend a lot more time for preparation than the players. Often he also has to spend more money: The players just need the player's rule book, the GM has additional rule books and the adventure module. In consequence, although there are on average 4 to 5 players per GM, the limiting factor to the number of games run in our local role-playing club is the number of GMs.

The current pandemic has accelerated a move away from tabletop role-playing games being run on real tables towards virtual tabletops, like Roll20. And finding a GM to run a game for you is still a problem. Especially online, any GM running a game for complete strangers risks those players not showing up, or abandoning the game. So, one thing that evolved over time, was GMs on virtual tabletop platforms demanding a small amount of money upfront for their services. On the one side that covers the cost the GM has on the virtual tabletop, which often force you to buy virtual copies of books you already have in physical form. But on the other side, it works as simple psychology: The player who paid $10 upfront for a place at the virtual table is more likely to turn up than somebody signing up for free.

With 5th edition, Dungeons & Dragons has become more widely known and accepted. So, some people would love to try it out, but have a hard time finding a GM. And "playing the GM" is pretty daunting if you never played as a player before. So GM for hire small businesses evolved. The same way that you can hire a clown for your kid's birthday party, you can hire a GM for your slightly older kids, or for your group of friends. The cost structure is the same as hiring any professional that has to come to your house and stay there for several hours, it ends up costing a few hundred bucks. And if you don't live in a densely populated area, this service might be hard to find.

Virtual tabletops allow GMs for hire to expand their business. More potential clients, no geographical restrictions (other than time zone problems), and easier ways for players to find a GM. And you don't need a group of friends to play either, players can join games individually. So now, there are services like StartPlaying, where a GM can set up a game and sell seats for around $20 per player per session.

I don't know how much Matt Mercer earns as a GM, compared to his occupation as voice actor. But "the professional GM" seems to be a possibility now. And, as an "experienced amateur GM", I'm not sure whether that is all good. Money does strange things to hobbies. Games change when their primary purpose is money instead of fun. Will we end up with professional GMs offering loot boxes in their dungeons? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Mythic Quest - Quarantine

I recently bought an Apple TV 4K to replace an aging 1st generation Apple TV. Buying that hardware from Apple got me a year of the Apple TV+ streaming service for free. After watching some Apple TV+, I can't really recommend that, unless you get it for free. There is *very* little content on there compared to Netflix or Amazon Prime. The best is probably The Morning Show, but afterwards there is nothing much.

But of course there is Mythic Quest, a TV comedy series about people running a MMORPG. How could I possibly not watch that? It isn't as if there are a lot of other TV series about MMORPGs. But while the references to MMORPGs and gaming culture were okay, the comedy was a bit flat, and the characters too over the top to be believable or engaging.

And then I watched the 10th and last episode, Quarantine, and it was probably the best episode of any TV show I've watched this year. It takes the characters you have come to know over the length of the series, and puts them into COVID quarantine, where they can only communicate via videoconferencing. And for anybody who has been in that situation, working from home and videoconferencing, this is pure gold. It is funny, and sometimes heartwarming, and the first time I see a representation on TV of what the pandemic does to the large majority of us who didn't yet catch the virus.

If you watch only one thing on Apple TV+, watch that one! (If you watch more than one thing, because you have for example signed up for the 7-day free trial but don't plan to subscribe, watch The Morning Show as well. A bit too "woke" for my taste, but the cast is exceptional, and the story is interesting.)

Monday, October 19, 2020
Cheating at Solitaire

In a comment yesterday a reader remarked about Assassin's Creed that he "didn't cheat/buy anything because it would feel like cheating at solitaire". I found that remark puzzling. I would say the exact opposite: I would never cheat in a game, except for solitaire! Cheating in a multiplayer game hurts the social contract that allows us to play games together in the first place. But in a solitary game, no such social contract exists!

For me, any solitaire sport or game allows you to set your own win condition. The world record for running a marathon is just a sliver over 2 hours. But given how most people wouldn't even be able to go the distance, I certainly wouldn't blame somebody for saying that he wanted to run a marathon in under 4 hours today. If that is a reasonable challenge for him, why not?

I recently mentioned that I was playing The 7th Continent solo at the moment. I haven't reached the official loss condition, running out of action cards and then drawing a curse from the discard pile, yet. It takes a lot of hours to get to this loss condition. But when I reach it, would I really want to declare the game a loss, pack it up, and start over? With the game being about exploration, doing the same part of the continent again would certainly be less interesting. What I would probably do is to count "1 loss", and shuffle the discard pile back into the draw pile to continue. The win condition of the game would change from "reach the end without ever losing" to "reach the end with the lowest number of losses possible".

Win conditions in video games are often harder to change. Sometimes you can set a lower difficulty level. In other cases, like Assassin's Creed, you would need to use a hex editor like Cheat Engine to modify the game data. For some games, for example XCom 2, there are mods on Steam that modify the game, or you can edit the settings files on your hard drive. Some mods, for example the famous Long War, completely change the flow of the game. Isn't that great? Why would I consider the completely arbitrary win conditions the game came with as sacrosanct, and not modify the game so that it is more fun for me to play? I am not some sort of a gaming masochist, who would rather play a less fun "original" version!

A game is whatever we want it to be. And sometimes altering the win condition makes a game better. As I don't hurt anybody else, I feel absolutely no compunction for cheating at solitaire.

Sunday, October 18, 2020
A gloomy experiment

The 7th Citadel board game finished its Kickstarter Campaign with over 3 million Euro, over ten times the requested funds, and over twice what the 7th Continent Kickstarter brought in. Due to the similarity of the two projects, it is rather likely that the game will be successfully made and delivered. And with the experience from the first project, the creators now more conservatively estimated the project duration at nearly 2 years instead of 1. So 2022 it is. What am I going to do until then?

In fact I started playing The 7th Continent solo from time to time. I do like complex board games with exploration and story, which I can play solo or co-operatively with my wife. And while surfing the internet with that interest, I came upon Gloomhaven again, the top ranked board game at BoardGameGeek. I watched again a couple of video reviews and play-throughs, and decided that Gloomhaven fits my criteria. And I noticed that on Steam a digital adaptation of Gloomhaven is in Early Access.

So I decided to do a somewhat expensive experiment: Videogame vs. board game. I ordered the board game from Amazon, including some helpful additions like inserts, for €200. And I spent €25 for the Early Access version on Steam, and already started playing through the tutorial. My initial sneaking suspicion is that for occasional solo play, the computer version might be superior, as Gloomhaven has a lots of parts and cards, and the board game version takes a lot of time to set up. But playing coop across a table is probably more fun than on two screens.

Saturday, October 17, 2020
Turning fun into work

I started up Genshin Impact today, and then didn't feel like playing it. I'm not stuck anymore, I managed to kill the fire elite boss twice, which enabled two more of characters to reach level 50. So my favorite fire character, at level 50 with a level 50 weapon, has over 1,000 ATK when equipped with my best artifacts. I'm at adventure rank 28, and I think I could ascend the rest of my characters before reaching AR 30, where I can raise the level cap again. And I know exactly what I would have to do, day after day, to get to that point. I just don't want to. It's such a precisely laid out path, that it feels like a lot of work, not like fun.

I've seen a few reviewers who liked Genshin Impact more than they liked Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Instead of Breath's level-free game, with infrequent character progression, and constantly breaking weapons, Genshin Impact offers a much clearer progression path, which only ever goes upward. If you felt a bit lost in Hyrule and weren't too sure where to go, the world of Teyvat will give you more incentives to do this activity, or farm that resource. However, personally I liked the freedom of Breath of the Wild; I liked that I could do a lot of the game without having to engage in major execution-based challenges. Genshin Impact in comparison feels a lot less forgiving: You get blocked at certain points, for example at AR 25, where you have to solo a difficult dungeon before being able to continue to advance in adventure rank. But when doing that, you also increase the world level, and all the monsters in the world become harder to beat. In the end I felt like playing catch-up: I'm trying to get my characters more powerful in order to overcome the challenges, but that makes the challenges harder. There is no easy difficulty level for casual players, the game gets increasingly hardcore after adventure rank 25.

I also made the mistake of buying the battle pass. Don't get me wrong, the battle pass gives out pretty nice rewards for the cost (and you can play a free version for less reward). But that added a list of things I had to do every day to collect the points I needed to increase my battle pass level. So when playing casually for an hour or so, the whole session was filled with must-do chores. Instead of going and exploring to see what lay behind the next hill, I did the grind of commissions, domains, and collecting specific resources.

So I decided to stop doing that, and instead went to collect all Anemoculus, a task that made me explore pretty much every corner of Mondstadt, the first region in the game. After having done that I realized that there is only one more region left that I can explore like that until a third region gets patched in. And even with a third region, the number of hours I could possibly spend to explore everything is limited. Just like many MMORPGs, the game is filled with lots of repeatable chores you need to do for character advancement, in order to hide that the content is otherwise limited.

But somehow in Genshin Impact I don't feel good about character advancement. Not if the world just levels up at least as fast as I do, and I never really become powerful. Not if I do things like running the same domain 8 times in a day, to get both artifacts to level up my other artifacts, and points for my battle pass. I think I need to get off that particular train. I don't think I want to play Genshin Impact every day anymore. Maybe play it from time to time, do a couple of quests, explore a little, but don't concentrate on character advancement anymore. Genshin Impact started to feel like a MMORPG, and to me that was not a good thing.

Thursday, October 15, 2020
So how much does a 5-star character cost in Genshin Impact?

There have been numerous reports of people spending thousands on Genshin Impact, looking for their favorite 5-star character. With a 0.6% chance of finding "a" 5-star character or weapon, and there being eight 5-star characters and multiple 5-star weapons, you could theoretically spend a fortune on the game and never get the character you are looking for.

However, in order to be able to calculate something, let us assume a slightly easier case: That the 5-star character you want is the one currently advertised on the Limited Character Banner. That would be Venti, currently. So how much would it cost you to get Venti? Again, it's lootboxes, so theoretically you could find him in the first lootbox you open. But let's assume you have terrible luck. What's the most you could spend before finding one?

The good news is that Genshin Impact has a system in place that guarantees you a 5-star result every 90 attempts. On the limited banner, you have a 50% chance that this results in the advertised 5-star character. And as an additional fail-safe, if you don't get the advertised 5-star character on your first 5-star result, you have a 100% of getting him on the next 5-star result. In other words, the most you can spend before finding the advertised character is 180 lootboxes. Assuming that you buy the in-game currency in the largest possible bundle for 110 Euro per bundle, 180 lootboxes cost you €392.

So, *if* you want the currently advertised 5-star character, even with the worst of luck you are guaranteed to get him for four hundred Euro. To get all eight 5-star characters would thus cost you at most €3,200, if you have the patience to wait for them to appear on the Limited Character Banner. Is it worth it? Not for me! But hey, maybe you are rich enough to be able to afford spending thousands on a video game. Just don't try to get those characters when they are not on the Limited Character Banner, because that could potentially be much more costly.

Personally, the money I spent on Genshin Impact is mostly used to buy the weekly "resource bundles", which contain the materials needed to increase the level of your characters and weapons. Basically I pay instead of grinding those materials, and the exchange rate is pretty good, cents on the hour. I don't feel the need to get any specific 5-star character. I did some pulls on the Limited Character Banner, and luckily got Venti in 50 pulls, not 180. And I didn't have to pay for all of these pulls, as the game gives you a limited amount of in-game currency and free pulls as rewards for game activities. So, for me Genshin Impact still works as a "pay as much as you feel like" kind of game.

Monday, October 12, 2020
The Playwall

I still haven't hit a paywall in Genshin Impact. However, I hit something which I would call a playwall: Yesterday I killed my first elite monster in the game. That is a scripted, action-based, combat event, not unlike a raid boss in World of Warcraft. You need to do a "dance", avoid the boss in certain situations, attack him in others. At some point I paused the combat and looked up a step of the dance on YouTube, because the boss kept healing himself back up, and I hadn't noticed that I needed to jump into an updraft and collect the globes he healed himself with to prevent it. Once I knew how to do it, it was doable. But I hated every moment of it. This is exactly the sort of gameplay that I abandoned MMORPGs for.

The reason I attacked the elite monster in the first place was that I had hit adventure rank 25, which means that I can now "ascend" my characters to the next star level, which raises their level cap from 40 to 50. But, you guessed it, that needs materials that only the boss mobs drop. Assuming that I want to ascend all my characters, I'll be farming elite monsters for weeks. And I don't want to. I want to do other parts of the Genshin Impact gameplay, explore the map, hunt anemoculus, gather resources, and so on. But if I do that, I am stuck behind that playwall. Only by doing the dance I hate can my characters advance.

Weirdly enough Genshin Impact has a good co-op system in place for domains, which are small events in which you need to kill a number a monsters within a time limit. You go to the dungeon door, press the co-op button, and in no time you have a random group of up to 4 players, which makes the domain a lot easier. The elite monsters would be a lot easier too in co-op, but there is no co-op button for those. You can visit other player's worlds, or let them into your world, but there is no system in place to look for people who want to kill the same elite boss than you do. So I can ascend my weapons to 50, because the materials are found in domains, but not my characters, because their materials are found on elite monsters. It is frustrating!

Sunday, October 11, 2020
Baldur's Gate 3 - First Impressions

I played Baldur's Gate 3 for nearly 14 hours and "finished" the early access part. Well, I certainly haven't searched every nook and cranny, but I finished most quests to the point where the game wants me to move to the next region. And then of course the next region "is not yet available in early access". I also managed to get to level 5, which was a disappointment, because in early access you get stuck at the character features of level 4, and don't get for example level 3 spells. Very sad for my cleric of light, who normally would get the fireball spell at level 5.

In hindsight, I should have rolled a ranger. Not just because a ranger is very good at dealing damage in D&D, but also because a cleric is the first character you meet after the ship crashes. You can also pick up a fighter, a rogue, a wizard, and a warlock, but not a ranger. So to see all character classes, you need to pick a ranger as starting character.

Overall I was having a lot of fun. While a lot of quality of life functions are missing (sort inventory, sort hotbar, a better tutorial on key bindings, etc.), the game played without crashes for me, just the occasional graphical glitch. However in its current state the game is hard to the point of being unfair. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition doesn't have a "taunt" mechanic, and so the enemies all just ignore your fighter and concentrate fire on your squishier spellcasters. And once those are down, they continue hitting them to make sure they are dead. Real DMs tend to not do that sort of stuff, as it makes players feel persecuted.

While combat is mostly D&D, it also a distinctive Larian Studios flavor of using the elements and terrain. Thus you can shoot exploding barrels, cast a grease spell and set it on fire, or electrify a puddle of water. A rarely used D&D spell like create water becomes a lot more useful in this game. There is also a very un-D&D combat aspect of height giving you an advantage. The annoying thing is that enemies are constantly running away from you, climbing up all sorts of ledges and towers, and fire arrows at you. The monsters in Baldur's Gate 3 are also a lot tougher, with higher armor class and hit points, than the same monster in the pen & paper game. So Baldur's Gate 3 is rather hard, even if you are an expert on D&D tactical combat. You'll do a *lot* of saving and reloading in this game.

Some of the saving and reloading you'll do because of the non-combat gameplay. You often have to make decisions, and sometimes you either don't know about the possible consequences, or the result ends up depending on a roll of a d20. You wanted to save the little girl, but failed the persuasion check, and now she is dead. Do you continue or reload? Obviously, for early access testing purposes, I also sometimes reloaded just to see what happened if I chose the other option. I wouldn't call the story very strong, there is a lack of connection between your goals and your activities. But by keeping it unclear which side in a conflict you should be fighting for, the game gives you both options. I like that more than a more linear story. On the other hand the openness also gives you the opportunity to make mistakes, so I did a whole dungeon with 3 characters, because I didn't know I was supposed to pick up a 4th one first.

While the story suggests that you if you don't hurry up, you will have a very bad fate, in reality there doesn't appear to be any time limit. Which means that nothing is keeping you from taking a long rest after every battle. That unfortunately "breaks" D&D to some extent. The warlock is pretty damn useless in an environment in which you take frequent long rests, and rarely a short rest. Which is probably why Larian Studios "balanced" the wizard by turning him into an eternal pincushion.

My biggest enemy in Baldur's Gate 3 was the UI. The lack of tutorial on basic stuff like camera movement made me miss some things. Only by going to the options, keybindings, did I find some functions. And I very much recommend to move the camera turning keys to Q and E, because on DEL and END they are not very accessible. A lot of functions in the game are well hidden. The game doesn't tell you that you can right-click NPCs with your rogue selected to pickpocket them. It doesn't tell you that the help function revives an unconscious character, or that the shove function used on a suspicious rock will reveal a treasure under it. But then you try to shove a bookcase, and can't make it work, because in that case you need to find a lever, which is only visible after destroying some crates. In short, often I knew what I wanted to do, but had to google what game function to use to actually do it. And some things, like jumping all your 4 characters across a gap, are fiddly even once you know how to do it.

I don't regret having paid 60 bucks for the early access game, because I certainly am going to play this more than once. However this is from the point of view of a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, so a lot of the tactical combat mechanics and game world lore speaks more to me than to the average person. For somebody who isn't a fan of D&D, and not enthusiastic about turn-based combat, 60 bucks is a lot of money for a game that is still a bit short and unpolished. I wouldn't blame you if you decided to wait a bit longer before buying this.

Friday, October 09, 2020
Baldur's Gate 3

I rarely buy full-price PC games these days. I can get a lot of games for "free" via the Gamepass subscription, and with a lot of other games I can wait for a Steam sale. In spite of that, I bought Baldur's Gate 3 at full price for an early access version yesterday (downloaded it in the evening, haven't had the time to play it yet). That shows you how excited I am about this game.

This is not because the game carries the "Baldur's Gate" brand. In fact, I am not the biggest fan of the Baldur's Gate brand, which I think went downhill fast from the first game. I am, however, a fan of Larian Studios and their Divinity: Original Sin series of games. I love the idea that Baldur's Gate combat went from real-time to turn-based. And I am very excited that it is based on 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. (I am also looking forward to the other 5th edition D&D videogame, Solasta: Crown of the Magister, which I pledged for at the Kickstarter).

While you can't really "roleplay" in a single-player videogame, I have always considered that the tactical rules of Dungeons & Dragons were solid enough to make a good computer game. While the 4th edition D&D rules are probably better compatible with computer games than 5th edition, 4E was kind of a flop, which led to nobody wanting to make a videogame out of it. 5E is a smash hit and all over the internet, so the commercial interest is higher.

So I will try out Baldur's Gate III this weekend, and probably post some first impressions afterwards. I am aware that the game is far from finished, but it still is big enough that I won't finish the existing content in one weekend. I am really interested how much it feels like 5E Dungeons & Dragons.

Thursday, October 08, 2020
The ethics of exploiting stupidity

Genshin Impact is both the most generous and the most exploitative free-to-play game out there. On the one side it has no paywall, and doesn't constantly shove monetization into your face when you are playing. You can play a game that is comparable in size and quality to Breath of the Wild completely for free. If you spend any reasonable amount of money on the game, you will get more characters and thus options how to play, as well as better weapons, and faster access to some resources which you'd otherwise have to grind.

On the other hand, Genshin Impact offers you a just 0.6% chance of finding "a" 5-star character or weapon in a lootbox that costs about $1.50. So if you get obsessed and absolutely want to find a *specific* 5-star character or item, you can easily spend thousands of dollars before finding that. That sounds pretty evil. If you watch several of those videos, you'll note that each of these whales is looking for a *different* 5-star character, which shows you how much that is personal preference, and not really necessary for anything in the game.

Of course we have to assume that the reporting on these excessive spending is skewed: Much of it is done on Twitch or YouTube, where sensational behavior is rewarded by donations. For some more successful streamers, pulling a $2,000 stunt like that might actually earn them more money than what they just spent. We don't know how many "whales" there actually are in Genshin Impact, and how many of those are people who can actually easily afford that sort of spending behavior. But with millions of players, it is obvious that there must be some people who are spending more than they can afford, and the game clearly lets them do that.

In the end we need to debate in how far this is an evil ploy, or simply a reflection of the world of growing inequality in which we live in. A business model in which everything from free to thousands of dollars is possible works because there are people who can afford nothing, and others who can afford to spend thousands.


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