Tobold's Blog
Monday, February 18, 2019
What is winning?

In case you have never played World of Tanks yourself, and the discussion of "Pay2Win" gave you a wrong impression, I have to state that this is one of the most skill-based games I know. Money can buy you an advantage, but that advantage is small compared to the difference in skill between even a bad and a medium player, and even more so between a medium player and a good player. I would consider myself a medium player, which is to say that if I multiply my own WN8 rating by 15 it comes out in the games I play below tier 10 to be about the sum of the WN8 ratings of the whole team.

Part of that is experience. I have "only" 7k battles played, 6k of which were many years ago. People who played a lot more, and more intensively, know the weak spots of every tank, know every bush on every map, and know where the other tanks are likely to go. So while I have an ambition to in general become better at playing World of Tanks, I am pretty sure that I will never get to Unicum level. I only play a bit on evenings and weekends, and I'll probably get bored by the game long before I master it.

But when we talk about ambition, we need to ask the question what "winning" in World of Tanks actually means. If you are a bottom tier tank (and Wargaming just realized that due to the way their matchmaker works with a 3/5/7 template, people are bottom tier far more often than they are top tier), chances are that whether your team wins or loses wasn't up to you. So if I played well and my team lost, did I "win" or did I "lose"? If I went too far ahead early in the game, turned around a corner and was instantly killed by the 3 tanks waiting there, but my team went on winning the game, did I "win" or did I "lose"?

When I started World of Tanks again after last Christmas, I was fixated on improving my win rate. That turned out to be a very bad idea. My win rate remains unchanged at between 48% and 48.5%, with ups and downs due to lucky or unlucky streaks. So now I am looking more at my WN8 rating per battle. That also is neither very good, nor very consistent, but at least I feel it gives me a better answer of whether I have just "won" or "lost" a game, by telling me how well I did individually. I does happen that I "carry" a game when I am top tier, but that then also is reflected by an excellent WN8 rating for that battle. The only flaw of WN8 in my eyes is that it doesn't work for spotting damage, and thus pretends I am not doing well when I play light tanks as passive scouts.

The advantage of looking at WN8 per battle is that you can decide for yourself the level of your ambition. I'm happy enough if I finish a game at "yellow" level, which is probably way below the ambitions of the really good players.

Sunday, February 17, 2019
Firing gold

I gave up on the idea that firing normal ammo in World of Tanks is somehow a good idea. I got hit by premium ammo so often now at all tiers of the game that it has become pretty obvious that firing gold is the standard. I especially noticed that the highly rated players all fire gold. Firing normal ammo apparently now is for noobs and losers who can't afford a premium account.

That sort of attitude is pushed very much by the design of the game, where normal ammo tends to bounce a lot, even if you aren't a particular weak tank or low tier. The reward system also favours firing gold: Having less shots not penetrating means you deal more damage, and for more damage you get more xp. This weekend is a 4x XP weekend, meaning you get twice as much xp as usual for the first win of the day with each tank. Firing gold ammo for all those first games really pays out in terms of experience gained.

Gold ammo also does wonders for my WN8 rating. I just finished a game as a top tier heavy tank with a 3,949 purple WN8. And for the bottom tier games in which your side gets totally overrun, premium ammo is still the difference between getting a WN8 of 0 or 500. And apart from all the external rewards, shooting at an enemy tank and actually damaging it is obviously a lot more fun than shooting it to no effect.

From a game design point I still think gold ammo is a bad idea. It simply creates a two-class system of advantaged paying players vs. disadvantaged free players. But me giving up on normal ammo is probably exactly the reaction that Wargaming wants, because it makes them more money. However for every free player pushed to pay, there are probably a bunch of free players pushed out of the game, which isn't a good idea.

Saturday, February 16, 2019
Zortrax M200 Plus replacement parts

I don't know if you noticed that I haven't been blogging about 3D printing for months. This is not because I lost interest in the subject, but because my Zortrax M200 Plus printer broke down, after just 6 months. And if that isn't bad enough, it turns out the broken part (stepper motor casing) is not one of the parts that Zortrax sells on their website. I brought my printer to the shop where I bought it for repairs, and they have been trying to get that replacement part since October. No luck yet. Apparently Zortrax said they would have to manufacture that piece extra for me.

I consider that lousy customer service from Zortrax. In a few years larger printer companies will get into the 3D printing business, and they will have a well-organized supply chain and customer service. If the existing 3D printer companies don't get their act together, they will go out of business fast.


Friday, February 15, 2019
Going heavy

After successfully clearing the Lunar New Year celebration event in World of Tanks, I had to find a different project. So now I am working on my various heavy tanks. As heavy tanks have better survivability, and tend to do more damage than light tanks, I am hoping that this will stop my WN8 rating from falling further. My games still aren't very consistent, but it is more likely to get a shot or two in when I'm playing heavies, and thus my bad games don't drag my score down all that much. And my good games score higher as well.

I have heavy tanks up to tier X, and the heavy tanks I play to progress in the tech tree are up to tier IX. Which means that researching the next level of tank costs a lot of experience points and takes a long time. However, besides having a premium account, I also use my reserve of gold to convert experience from fully researched tanks into free experience. So I am playing not just the tanks I need to progress on, but all my heavy tanks. On a weekend like this one, with 4x xp for the first win, that makes a big difference. However I'm not spending the free xp on researching tanks, but rather *after* having researched a new tank I spend it on modules, so I don't have to play the new tank as stock.

My main weakness is still being impatient. I often move forwards too much, when staying behind cover would have been better. On the other hand, some of my pushes end up winning the game for my side, or at least result in me dealing a lot of damage before exploding. I'm happy enough if I am doing well. I don't plan to compete with people who have 50k+ battles fought and know every weak spot of every tank, I can't beat those anyway.

Sunday, February 10, 2019
World of Tanks matchmaker balancing

The matchmaker of World of Tanks has been changed several times over the years, and in a developer's diary further changes were announced. Since patch 1.4 I have installed a new mod pack, and one of the features is calculating a "win chance" from the WN8 scores of the players on both side. And however flawed using WN8 or Wargaming's own WGR score might be, that "win chance" indicator clearly shows two things: That a) when a large imbalance exists, the side with the "better" players is extremely likely to win, and b) the matchmaker doesn't appear to include any of those skill scores, not even their own.

I do wonder in how far that is working as intended. Extremely unbalanced games are very fast, don't block much time for the losers, and are quick fun for the winners. More balanced games take a lot longer. Of course more balanced games can be more nail-bitingly exciting, at least for those tanks that survive long.

In general the problem with matchmaking algorithms is that the more conditions you introduce, the longer people have to wait in a queue to play. However the addition of the WGR score to match balancing would be easy enough: The current matchmaker already gives you two lists of equivalent tanks, and one could just switch a few tanks from one team to another to balance the skill better. I think that would make the game somewhat better.

Friday, February 08, 2019
Pay to win what exactly?

There is absolutely no doubt that World of Tanks is a pay to win game in the sense that you can clearly buy things helpful for advancement, and not just cosmetic items. But if you consider the idea of paying to win, you need to think about what winning actually means. And it turns out that there are ways in which you can sell "wins" to your customers without upsetting anybody else, because one player's win isn't necessarily another player's loss.

The trick comes from the dual structure that so many games have today: In World of Tanks that is the tank battles on one side, and the garage with its tech trees and tank tiers on the other side. In the tank battles you are in direct competition against other players in a zero-sum game, so selling wins there is a very bad idea, because it upsets the losers. But the garage has no such limitations. Getting to a higher tier faster is desirable for the player, but doesn't give him an advantage in battle, because he will always fight equally strong opponents.

In general, World of Tanks does this very well: The premium account for example gives you no advantage in battle at all, but enables you to advance faster along the tech trees in your garage. The same is true for the various "personal reserves" you can buy, which also boost only garage progress. Even most of the premium tanks are not more powerful than regular tanks in battle, and are more useful for farming credits or crew xp than for winning. A few of the premium tanks are overpowered, but that appears to have been more accidents of design, and often Wargaming realized their mistake and stopped selling the premium tanks that turned out to be too good.

The only point where the pay to win in World of Tanks is really hurtful is the use of premium ammo. It doesn't matter that you can now buy premium ammo for credits; the economy is thus that without a premium account and some gold, the constant use of premium ammo isn't possible. And premium ammo affects the tank battles themselves much more than it affects your advancement along the tech trees. There simply are a lot of situations where without premium ammo you can't hurt an enemy, while with premium ammo you can. You can easily imagine duels of tanks where the use or not of premium ammo would decide the winner. This is pay to win at its worst.

Now Wargaming is planning to review how premium ammo works. Right now premium ammo often is strictly better than regular one, having better penetration for the same base damage. We don't know what will come out of the changes, but one idea is to make premium ammo more situational, giving it less damage for better penetration. It would still be bad "pay to win", but at least it would stop people from just using premium ammo all the time.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

I just collected the 50th "China Token" in the Lunar New Year celebration of World of Tanks. I'll need 75 of those to get the reward, but as I have time until March 1st, that shouldn't be a problem. Otherwise the China tokens are proof that I don't always totally suck at play WoT: You need not only to win a game in a Chinese tank to get them, but also be among the top 10 players of your team.

Now this week patch 1.4 came to World of Tanks, which meant I had to reinstall all my mods. Instead of doing so one by one, I went with the best-knows mod pack, from Aslain. As part of that, I now also see not just my over WN8 rating, but the WN8 performance in each individual battle. And those data paint the same picture as my China tokens: Sometimes I am doing quite well, with a blue WN8 rating, a China token, and even coming in the top 3 of my team. And in other games I don't manage to get a single shot in before exploding.

I'm still watching YouTube videos about World of Tanks, trying to learn and improve my gameplay. However many of those videos just pretend to be guides, but are in reality just replays of some of the games that went exceptionally well for the YouTuber in question. While I am too old-fashioned to switch from blogging to YouTubing, I'm pretty certain I could create pretty much the same videos from my exceptional games. However I don't know how to consistently reproduce those exceptional results, and I suspect the same is true for those YouTubers.

In the end I learn the most in the games where I died, but could identify what mistake I made. I wish there were more videos about games going badly on YouTube.

Sunday, February 03, 2019
Inherent fun vs. external rewards

My main problem with World of Tanks is that various external rewards and score systems are getting in the way of me having inherent fun with the game. For example I just finished a game with my Chinese premium light tank, the Type 62. The game was an absolute blast! On the Sand River map I managed early in the game to sneak into a very central cluster of bushes from which I had an excellent scouting position. So excellent in fact, that I could even fire on tanks without them seeing me. I ended up killing 3 tanks, dealing twice as much damage as my own health. Which is pretty awesome for a light tank, and got me to the top of the team score list, plus earning me 41k credits.

And that is where the good news ends. Unfortunately the rest of my team didn't have such a good game and we lost. As a result, I didn't get the reward I was looking for, the Chinese New Year celebration token, which requires a win as well as a top 10 team score. I also didn't get the reward for the "Choose your difficulty" missions, because for light tanks that only counts assisted damage, not damage I deal myself. For my WN8 score the high amount of damage was good, but in general WN8 undervalues light tanks dramatically by not counting assisted damage, so playing a light tank generally lowers my WN8 score. And of course by playing a premium tank I am not advancing any of my tank lines to higher tier.

So I would clearly be better off without all those external rewards, just concentrating of playing tanks that I have fun with. But of course these days most games are so built around a flood of external rewards, that they are very hard to ignore. So in spite of a great game, I end up being disappointed about the rewards I missed out on. While rationally I understand that, the Pavlovian conditioning is hard to overcome.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Carrying games

At the end of a tank battle in World of Tanks you get a window showing the contributions of the 30 players involved in the battle, in terms of kills, damage dealt, and experience gained. It is very obvious that within a team there is a large variance in these data, from the guy who died before he could achieve anything, to the guy who achieved multiple kills. However if I look how much talk there is of "carrying games" on the forums or on YouTube, I must say that I think that the idea is somewhat spurious, at least in as far as we are talking about random battles.

World of Tanks now has more different play modes than it used to have when I first started playing. Most of the new modes involve you playing with some sort of non-random team, a clan / guild. In that sort of organized team play, it is perfectly possible for one team to be consistently better than another. Thus if as a player you play a lot of those games, you can have win rates which are very different from the statistical 49% of wins (due to about 2% of games ending in a draw).

But if you play only in random battles, your win rate will be somewhere around those 49%. Mine always has been, as I never joined a clan. This is not just a reflection of me being an average player. But it is a mathematical problem: As there are 29 other players in a battle, a single player would need a very extreme performance in order to outdo the contribution of all those other players. If you spent a full day playing battles in which you deliberately drove off a cliff at the start of every battle, you statistically would still end up with a win rate of above 45% in spite of never having contributed anything to your team. Thus in the other direction, if you were a really good player and played perfectly in every game, you would still have difficulties reaching a 55% win rate.

What applies very much in World of Tanks is a phenomenon of selective memory. If things go very bad in a battle, they do so very quickly, and are then quickly forgotten. If you watch replays on YouTube, you'll see that the large majority of posted videos are victories, or at least losses in which the player posting the video still did very well. People just usually don't post the videos of the game in which they decided to go in one direction which just happened to be the one where the enemy was making his big push and they killed after 2 minutes of battle. But these games happen all the time, they are just not recorded or remembered.

If I hadn't a mod running that showed my win rate at two digits behind the comma, and showed me how many wins I need to do more than losses to reach 49% win rate, I probably wouldn't be able to tell at the end of long session whether my win rate had been above or below 49% that day. Without tools, humans aren't good at probabilities and statistics, and 45% doesn't feel all that much different than 55%. Yesterday evening I had a 100% win rate, but I only played 3 battles. But I know that as long as I stick to random battles, over time I will win "about half" of them. And that is okay with me, because there are battles in which I am having fun despite my team losing. And fun is the greater purpose of playing games.

Saturday, January 26, 2019
World of Tanks Blitz

World of Tanks is a difficult game to do well in. Not only is it very complex, and the game doesn't tell you half of what you need to know, but also the player base is rather experienced. I'm doing okay, with a winrate just under 49%, but I am far from being one of the good players. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that all those players posting replays of great games on YouTube are selectively only posting their best games, and fail to mention the games in which they didn't achieve much. Anyway, following the advice of one of my commenters, Klievhelm, I tried out World of Tanks Blitz on Steam instead.

Oh my god! Although I have never played World of Tanks Blitz (I tried out the mobile version for 5 minutes before giving up on the touch screen joystick controls), my mediocre knowledge of how to play regular World of Tanks makes me an absolute super hero in World of Tanks Blitz. At least on tiers I to IV, because I haven't gotten any further yet. But while in regular World of Tanks all the enemy players are always hidden behind terrain and have only their hardest to penetrate parts sticking our, in World of Tanks people just stay in the middle of the field and don't move at all, just turn their turret. If I hide my tank in a bush, they never find me, and just stand there until I kill them. I already have finished several games in which I did 4 kills, which is pretty astounding in a 7 vs. 7 game.

Apparently the Steam version of World of Tanks Blitz is connected to the mobile version and maybe those mobile players just don't have the good controls. But compared to regular World of Tanks, the Blitz version feels like shooting fish in a barrel. I actually think I won't play that very long, because it risks diminishing my skills in the full game.

Friday, January 25, 2019
Freedom and money in World of Tanks

People generally don't think of World of Tank as a MMORPG. But in some respects there are similar structures: A combat system that is embedded in a progression system. These days World of Tanks even has "quests" in the form of missions and campaigns. And the premium account much resembles a subscription business model. With progression come restrictions to what you can and cannot do in the game: You can't start on a new account and jump into a tier X tank, you start at tier I and then need to work your way up. And because there are so many different tank lines, of different types and different nations, there is always some progress to aspire to.

In a way, that progress is illusory and a trap. Yesterday I noticed after having won a battle with a tier X tank that I was at 100% win rate with that tank, having used it for the very first time. But I got that tank in 2011, and just didn't play since. And even now, driving that tier X tank isn't necessarily any more fun than driving a lower tier tank. You are more powerful, but so are your opponents, and there are more experienced players at the higher tiers, so you might in fact do better at the lower tiers.

If I had to state a progress goal of mine in World of Tanks, I would say I want to complete the Russian tech tree. Most of my tanks are Russian, and I have already several Russian lines up to tier IX or X, so getting all the rest would appeal to what completionist gamer instincts I have. That goal somewhat influences what tanks I drive: Tanks that haven't won a battle that day yet, to get double xp, rather than always the same. Tanks that lead to not-yet-researched tanks rather than those that are fully researched. And sometimes premium tanks for credit farming.

But lately I have been wondering whether this is actually a good idea. It is definitively how World of Tanks is designed, following the progress of lines to highest tier. But the end result is that I drive too many different tank types without concentrating on one type. And that I drive tanks that aren't always fun to play, in the unfounded hope that the higher tiers are more fun. Fact is that I am better at some things in World of Tanks than at others, which makes me perform better in some tank types than in others. And at the end of the day it is often more fun to perform better. It is just that if I always drive the tanks that are most fun to me in the combat system of the game, I end up doing not so well in the progress system of the game.

Now in the defense of World of Tanks one has to say that this is less prominent in WoT than in other games. If you would choose to play some low level content over and over in World of Warcraft, your progress would totally stop. In World of Tanks you still progress your crew skills of that low tier tank you are driving, you still accumulate credits (actually more so in lower tiers than in higher tiers), and the xp you gain with your tank you can convert into free experience and use that to unlock tanks of other lines.

Now what I noticed about this plan of not following the planned progression, but concentrating on whatever tanks are most fun to drive for me at the moment, is that money helps. My Pz II J is fun to drive, but at a loss of credits. But that is a problem that is easily solved with money, because you can buy credits directly, in bundles, or indirectly via gold. Converting the experience of tanks that are fully researched into free experience also costs gold, and thus money. And of course the whole plan works a lot better with a premium account, which also costs gold or money.

Me, I don't mind. So yesterday I bought a bundle of 12.5 million credits and 12,500 gold for €99.99. I fully agree that hundred bucks purchases are expensive if solely regarded on the price scale of how much game you can get for your money. Or as Bigeye said in yesterday's post, it isn't a Free2Play game when you don't play for free. But I have developed a healthy skepticism towards the idea that you can get things for free. Free stuff can end up costing you more than stuff you pay for. Ultimately as a player of a Free2Play game one always has to check what one values more, money or fun. In World of Tanks, sometimes things like costly premium ammo are the answer to your problem. And as the overall game is very good, for me spending that money to remove some fun blocks is worth it.

Thursday, January 24, 2019
A shooter in which you can't damage anything is not much fun

Yesterday I had battle in World of Tanks with one of my heavy tanks, the Russian tier VII IS. Nothing really special happened in that battle: I drove with some other heavy tanks to the area of the map where the heavy tanks usually go, no side had a distinctive advantage, both sides traded shots for a while. At some point my tank exploded. I went back to the garage, and a while later I got a notice that my side had won the battle, so I received some xp and credits. However when looking closer at the statistics of the results, I noticed that I had shot 12 times, hit the enemy 10 times, and did a grand total of 0 damage. Needless to say that battle wasn't much fun. Unfortunately this unfun outcome isn't really all that uncommon.

The main factor in this is the combat system in which armor works the same way as it does in Dungeons & Dragons: Armor determines whether you are damaged at all or not. Now if you look at D&D, you notice that most monsters are relatively easy to hit. If you take a typical armor class of a monster and compare it to the typical attack bonus of a hero of the appropriate level, you'll see that the players have a chance of more than 50% to penetrate armor. In World of Tanks that is not necessarily the case.

Several factors play into this in World of Tanks. One is definitively that the skill of the average player is now higher than it was years ago when I started playing. People have learned techniques like side-scraping or hull-down which minimize the exposure of their weak spots. But Wargaming also modified tanks and added new tanks to the game over the years, and there are now far more super-heavily armored tanks around. Plus the matchmaking system usually results in battles between three tiers, let's say VI, VII, and VIII. Now the tank I was driving at tier VII hasn't got the a very penetrating gun. Which means that the tier VIII tanks I met were so heavily armored, that my chance to penetrate their armor in a regular face-to-face brawls was close to zero. And unless your side has a numerical advantage locally, trying to drive around the enemy and flank them from behind is a suicide mission. Thus when I am in a mid-tier heavy tank and I don't use premium ammo, I run into this sort of battle where I don't deal any damage. That is rather frustrating, and in my opinion bad game design.

That is not to say that every low-tier light tank should be able to damage a top-tier heavy. But if fast matchmaking requires that a battle has tanks of different tiers, a mid-tier heavy tank needs to be likely to do some damage to a top-tier tank. A system in which a big gun hitting an even bigger armor deals reduced damage instead of no damage would be a lot less frustrating to the players who didn't have the luck of ending up in top tier. A shooter in which you can't damage anything is not much fun.


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